Archive for May, 2009

Saturday Breakfast: French Toast

May 30, 2009
Leftover Challah

Leftover Challah

Friday night I baked some homemade challah for a family dinner, and were sent home with the leftovers. So this morning? French Toast with challah!

Challah really does make the best French Toast – so buttery (or, uh, margarine-y) and lovely crispy edges. French Toast is also one of those great last minute breakfast ideas as you don’t need a recipe or more than a few basic ingredients… I mixed:

  • 1 Egg
  • A bit of milk – maybe 1/4 cup
  • A teaspoon of buttermilk powder for flavour*
  • Some cinnamon mixed in for good measure

*Who knows where you can get buttermilk powder in Toronto? I originally go this when visiting family in the states and we’re almost out! I’ve heard Bulk  Barn carries it… any confirmations on that?

Then slice challah, coat in the above, and cook until lightly browned on both sides.

Ta-da! Yummy French Toast:

 

Challah French Toast

Challah French Toast

And now we’re off to the the Green Barn Market.

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Please Support Us for Relay For Life 2009!

May 24, 2009

n59391904208_8426-1Adam and I are both participating in the 2009 Relay For Life in Toronto Central, and with just three weeks to go – we’re looking for your support.

This is our fifth year participating in the Toronto Central event, and this year I am playing a large role on the steering committee and am working to make this the best event yet. 

This year I Relay for Daniel Smith, a family friend who passed away on December 23, 2008 at the age of 13. Daniel’s life was cut far too short – and I will continue to Relay until no one has to fear cancer. I Relay for Betsy, who not only introduced me to Relay For Life in the US several years ago, but who is a cancer survivor and a true inspiration. I’m lucky to have her as a friend, and I will continue to Relay in her honour. I Relay in memory of Jojo and Grandma Jean. Two incredible women who I was lucky to have in my life. I Relay for all of my friends and family who have been affected by cancer.

I’ve set my personal fundraising goals high this year – I’m hoping to raise $1000. So far I’m almost halfway there, and with just three weeks to go any and all donations are greatly appreciated. Please visit http://convio.cancer.ca/goto/CariRelay to help support me in this cause.

Yes, we’re total dorks.

May 23, 2009
71 ...to go.

71 ...to go.

Canning: Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

May 22, 2009
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam!

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam!

I’m not sure when we decided that canning was something we’d like to get into – but it’s something we’ve talked about for awhile now. Gardening certainly got us thinking about it – every year in August we end up with waaay more tomatoes than we can eat, so it makes sense to try to preserve it so we can enjoy the garden goodness all year long.

My sisters-in-law were kind enough to get me a book for my birthday all about home preserving – and while we won’t have fresh garden veggies for awhile yet, we did pick up a pound of rhubarb at the farmer’s market over the weekend and decided no was the time to try canning! We picked up everything we needed at Canadian Tire on Tuesday – 500ml mason jars, a wire rack for our big pot, and a kit of canning essentials (including a magnetic wand to pick up the metal lids out of hot water, a bubble remover that doubles as a measure to check head space, a funnel sized for mason jars, and tongs designed to get the jars in and out of the hot water).

We actually made jam last summer as well – using our bread maker (Yes – our bread maker has a jam setting! So cool!) – but this time we decided to try it all on the stovetop. Making jam is really pretty simple – you mix the mashed up fruit or berries with a bit of lemon juice and get it nice and hot then mix in a load of sugar, get it to a hard boil, and then transfer into the jars. I’m not sure how I’ll do it next time.. the bread maker is certainly easier (very little hands on time), but it takes about an hour longer.

Back to the canning itself. It’s not a hard process in the slightest – though I already feel like the next round will be even easier now that I know what I’m doing and won’t be reading the instructions constantly. The process is basically this:

  • Wash all of the mason jars and lids thoroughly with soapy water. Don’t worry about drying them.
  • Put the jars into a large pot with wire rack, fill with water to cover the jars and heat. Don’t get it quite boiling – just nice and hot. (around 180°F).
  • Warming the jars.

    Warming the jars.

  • Put the metal lids (just the flat part – not the screw top part) into a smaller pan of hot, but not boiling, water.
  • Prepare the jam/whatever you’re canning.
  • Carefully remove a mason jar from the hot water, pouring the water back into the pot as you pull it out. Place it on a heat proof surface – a kitchen dish towel folded over works just fine.
  • Ladle jam into the jar using the funnel. Be careful – it’s very hot and sticky (… That’s what she said?)
  • Leave 1/4″ headspace and remove the bubbles (a chopstick would work for this if you don’t have a fancy bubble remover). Adjust the headspace if needed.
  • Wipe the rim and place the metal lid onto the jar – the magnet wand thing was awesome for pulling it out of the hot water. Highly recommended. 
  • I love the magnetic wand!

    I love the magnetic wand!

  • Screw the screwband part over the lid and tighten. Instructions say it should be “fingertip tight” – essentially tight, but not crazy tight.
  • Getting the screw band "fingertip tight."

    Getting the screw band "fingertip tight."

  • Put it  back into the water and repeat with all of the jars.
  • Carefully placing the prepared jam back into boiling water.

    Carefully placing the prepared jam back into boiling water.

  • Boil the jars in the water for 10 minutes.
  • Boiling for 10 minutes (it should be covered, though).

    Boiling for 10 minutes (it should be covered, though).

  • Remove the pot from heat and let cool (in the water) for about 5 minutes, and then carefully pull out of the water. Let them cool for 24 hours in a draft-free area where they won’t be disturbed and then check to make sure it formed a seal. The lids should be concave – so there should be no give when you tap the top. If it didn’t seal – no worries, just eat it right away or try to boil again. If it sealed properly it should keep for about a year with no refrigeration!

We’re hoping to do some sort of canning once or twice a month through the summer… next project: Pickles!

Betty & Cari & Adam: Cranberry Orange Muffins

May 18, 2009
Yummy.

Yummy.

Tonight we made part 2 of our Betty Crocker challenge, and man was it tasty!

We made the Cranberry-Orange Muffins (without the suggested streusel topping). Stuck with the lighter variation, and used a wee bit of whole wheat flour instead of all all-purpose (Betty said we could!). 

They are delicious. No, they were not as good as the perfect muffin that inspired us to start this blog, but definitely one to keep in the rotation.

Betty & Cari & Adam, Pt. I: Waffles with Blueberry Sauce

May 18, 2009

 

Everything you need to know to cook!

Everything you need to know to cook!

Growing up, the name Betty Crocker was familiar to me only inasmuch as that I had seen products bearing her name, like cake mix, on my frequent visits to the supermarket.  That changed in 2003, when Cari and I first started dating.  The first thing I ever ate that she had cooked was a baked macaroni & cheese dish from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.

 

Through the rest of our time in England, through our frequent visits to one another, and finally into our life as cohabitants, Betty Crocker’s macaroni & cheese has become a fixture.  We’ve served it at numerous dinner parties and gatherings, and it has also been the perfect dose of comfort food on more than a couple occasions.

About a year ago, Cari’s mother handed over an extra copy of Betty Crocker’s cookbook and since then it has been a great guide for basic info like cooking time for hard boiled eggs, along with recipes for basic foods like chocolate cake, quiche and crepes.

A few weeks ago, Cari and I watched the trailer for Julie & Julia:

Based on a true story, the film is about a woman named Julie Powell (Amy Adams) who decides to shake things up by cooking all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I by Julia Child (Meryl Streep) over a period 365 days.

Now, Betty Crocker is hardly the gourmet chef that Julia Child was (heck, Betty Crocker wasn’t even a real person), but we liked the idea and thought it might be fun to try a similar exercise with this other cookbook that falls at the other end of the spectrum.  It’s not that we are averse to gourmet cooking (in fact, quite the opposite).  But Cari and I both agree that to evolve as cooks does require some level of going back and making sure we have a solid grasp of the basics.

Which brings us to Recipe #1: Waffles.  

 

Waffles with Blueberry Sauce

Waffles with Blueberry Sauce

 

This morning Cari cooked us waffles with a blueberry sauce, and we used Betty Crocker’s recipe – this time opting for the “lighter variation,” which used apple sauce in place of oil and egg whites instead of whole eggs. A nice, basic waffle recipe that was made even better by the blueberry sauce – made with frozen blueberries, orange juice, honey and corn starch to thicken it up a bit.  Mmm…

Summer Walks: West Queen West to Queen West

May 18, 2009
Victoria Day 2009 Walk

Victoria Day 2009 Walk

Not such a lengthy walk today, a little over 5kms total (2.5kms each way), but a productive one. We didn’t have a whole lot of time to devote to walking, but it had been awhile since we’d made it to Queen West – so we drove down and parked just outside the Drake Hotel at Queen West and Beaconsfield and walked down to Spadina and back. A few highlights:

  • We stopped into Urban Barn and picked up an awesome decorative accent piece: A bright orange and very happy Buddha. I’ve always been a bit on the fence about Buddha knick-knacks for decor… but… I can’t look at this guy and not smile. He’s so happy!
  • Look at that smile!

    Look at that smile!

  • We grabbed a bite to eat at The Dog’s Bollocks, primarily because the name is pretty awesome. A really nice solid pub meal with great service – Adam had a burger which he seemed pretty wowed by, and I had a simple grilled cheese. A nice relaxing and yummy break from our walk.
  • That’s… about it. I guess it wasn’t so productive. But it was a pretty awesome couple of hours.

Weekend Project: Painting our Sideboard!

May 18, 2009

We were extremely lucky to get all sorts of hand-me-down furniture when we bought our house. Our entire basement is furnished with pieces from Adam’s parents: a couch and loveseat, coffee table and end table, and an entertainment unit – not to mention the surround sound speaker system and a 32″ TV. On the main level we have a beautiful table and chairs (seats 6 to 10 depending on number of leaves) that is perfect for our many dinner parities from Adam’s aunt & uncle, and a sideboard to store our fine china and other dining room necessities from Adam’s parents. We’d have a pretty empty house (or empty wallets) if it weren’t for their generousity.

That said, hand-me-down furniture sometimes means you get pieces that don’t quite suit your tastes or the look you’re going for in a room. Our basement couches were an easy fix: we covered them up with nice solid brown slip covers which better goes with our blue walls. The sideboard has been a project on our “to do” list for ages… we just weren’t quite sure what we wanted to do. It’s a really great piece – very well made and great quality wood. But it was a very dark piece: 

The "before" picture.

The "before" picture. Missing one door.

And we always felt like it made the whole room feel a bit dark as a result. We knew we wanted it to look different, but went back and forth on what exactly we wanted to do.

Months ago (I’m talking probably January) we decided that we needed to book a weekend to just do it. We’d have to have decisions made by then and book the time to do it. That was this weekend. We decided the easiest thing to do was to just paint the whole thing. Last week we spent a bit of time at Lowe’s looking at paint samples and talking to the people in the paint department. We brought a door for them to see and got advice. Luckily all we needed to do was paint the whole thing with a multi-purpose primer to start… we were worried we were going to have to sand the whole thing down.

We painted it a nice olive-toned green. It turned out a bit lighter than I’d expected (I guess the glossy paint makes it appear a bit lighter), but I like! It really brightens up the room:

 

The "after" photo. It's still missing handles for the drawers - we bought the wrong size. I'll replace it with an updated photo as soon as those get added.

The "after" photo. It's still missing handles for the drawers - we bought the wrong size. I'll replace it with an updated photo as soon as those get added.

The room really has a much brighter and more colourful feel now.

Now to find a few accessory pieces and a rug for the living room, and I dare say the main level of our house is “done.”

Soapnuts!

May 10, 2009
Soapnuts!

Soapnuts!

I first read about soapnuts on a blog I visit occasionally, No Impact Man. This is a blog that a friend introduced me to – a guy living in NYC who decided to try to live with no environmental impact for a full year. He had to take a lot of pretty drastic steps in that year – but it resulted in some really interesting ideas and discussion. While his year of living impact-free is over, he still updates pretty regularly.

While we’re far from impact-free, I like to think that Adam and I try to live a fairly environmentally friendly lifestyle, though there’s certainly still a lot of room for improvement. 

So, soapnuts. Someone commented about using soapnuts as a way to use an environmentally friendly laundry alternative. I was intrigued. I read up: what the heck are soapnuts?  Apparently they are actual nuts that grow on trees in India… and they release soap! Soapnuts!

I learned you could use it for washing clothing by simply putting a few nuts into a small bag and throwing it in with laundry… and apparently it would not only get the clothes clean, but you’d not need fabric softener, and it’s gentler on the clothes so they’ll actually last longer. Oh, and while you use 4 or 5 half shells in a load, you can re-use them for 4 or 5 loads! Ok, I’ve gotta try these magical nuts out.

I got a small bag at Grassroots in Toronto – 250g for $10. A pretty little bag.. but I have a feeling it’s going to last me months. I wasn’t so sure it would work, so I tried it first with rags… and I was impressed. They came out quite clean and soft.

Sure enough, I re-used the same 5 half shells in four loads before they started to break down, and each load came out clean and soft. The softness is actually what impressed me the most. I’m a liquid fabric softener junky. I’ve not used dryer sheets in years – never thought they got my clothing soft enough. 

So yay! Soapnuts! I highly recommend others check them out.

Framing Fabric, Part 2

May 10, 2009

It’s been nearly a month since we framed some fabric in our dining room. While we really liked the fabric I bought, I didn’t want all four pieces to be the same thing… a bit blah. Today, Adam and I stopped off at Fabricland together and got something that we thought would compliment the purple flowery fabric nicely. So we ended up with a green flowery pattern – we like!

Check it out:

Our new dining room art!

Our new dining room art!

It’s quite bright, but I think it works.

Next, a new rug. We looked at many today – but didn’t pick yet. Give us another week or so (or month, knowing us) and maybe we’ll make up our minds…