Saturday, 23 January 2016

Bottling summer (lilac/pear mead)

In the last couple of years I have discovered a serious love of brewing. I started with a few wine kits (two malbecs and a Syrah) but then I started looking for more information. I didn't just want to follow the instructions, I wanted to know why I did each step and what each ingredient did to the final product. My e-library is mostly useless, but I managed to find a couple of things to read on brewing.
One of those books was True Brews, by Emma Christensen. It's phenomenal! She covers every kind of yeast brewing, from soda through kombucha and beer to wine. She even has recipes for sake!

I've tried a couple of recipes: sparkling cherry wine that I made from cherries I grew in my yard, and chai mead - which has made me realize how much I like dry mead. I always thought I disliked mead, but apparently I just dislike sweet, renfair-style mead. Dry mead is delicious!

This June, we had an amazing profusion of lilacs. Lilacs grow like crazy in my climate, so almost everyone in town has tangles all around their yard. This means that June always smells amazing. I had been doing a bunch of reading about dandelion wine and while I was in my yard, breathing the scent of my favourite flower, I thought "why can't I made something with lilacs?" I decided to try my hand at a lilac mead, using one of the recipes in True Brews as a starting place.

I picked a huge bucket of lilacs, then removed the blossoms from the stems. This was a long, sticky process. I also learned that you should keep the sprays in water so they don't wilt. From about 4 gallons of sprays, I eventually ended up with about 6 quarts of blossoms.

I boiled up 14 cups of water and mixed in 2.5 lbs if honey, then poured it over the blossoms. I let it sit overnight to steep. It smelled.... odd. And it was an incredible pink.

<- Honey

                     Pears ->

I'm not going to post the recipe here as it would mean my straight-up copying Emma's recipe for Blueberry-Lavender Mead with a different fruit and flower (other than the fact that I made the lilac tea first, instead of adding it with the pears). I'm not okay with doing that. Plus, if you are really into brewing, I think you should get this book. It's so very worth every penny.

I'm so high-tech

Straining the after the primary fermentation
Anyway, after the normal 4 weeks of fermentation I decided it wasn't ready to bottle (it was still fizzy and the SG wasn't where I wanted to to be) so I left it. Then I got crazy, stupid busy and never had time to get back to it. So it ended up bulk aging for another 5 months, which isn't a bad thing. When I finally got around to bottling it, the colour had changed to a much more orange-copper instead of the bubblegum pink I started with.

So pink!

Much more orange
I tried some while bottling, and it's very interesting. It starts with a punch to the face, but finishes amazing, leaving you with a very delicate floral flavour. I'm quite excited to see what it's like in another few months!

Starting Gravity: 1.093
Final Gravity: 0.998
Approximate ABV: 12%

Monday, 20 April 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn

After supper tonight I asked the kids if they wanted popcorn. To the surprise of no one, the answer was a resounding Huzzah! However, Rowan wanted chocolate popcorn and Willow wanted peanut butter. Ahh, flavor dilemmas... What's a girl to do?
Throw stuff in a saucepan, what else?

Thankfully, as a human on this planet, I am well aware that chocolate and peanut butter often go well together. 
Like, so well.

Yes. I made Reese's popcorn. And it was just as amazing as you're thinking it might have been. 

I couldn't get a picture without hands!

It's not crazy sweet, just enough to make this stuff almost impossible to stop eating. The coconut oil definitely adds a flavour, but it works beautifully with the peanut butter and chocolate. I might try butter next time, though. Or just more peanut butter! In our house, I can't go wrong with more peanut butter.  

This was taken on a high counter.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn

6 cups popped popcorn (you can do this in the microwave, just make sure it's plain)
1tbsp coconut oil or butter
1tbsp honey
2tbsp peanut butter
1/8-1/4 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 
2. In a small saucepan, melt the honey, oil (or butter), peanut butter and chocolate chips till smooth. 
3. Put the popcorn in a large bowl. Drizzle the sauce over the popcorn, tossing gently to coat. 
4. Spread the popcorn out on the baking sheets. Bake for 5 mins, remove from oven and stir. Repeat until the popcorn is almost dry. 
5. Allow to cool completely before eating. 
6. Store in an airtight container, should you have any left over. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Holy pants, I made soap! (Beer&Bacon soap)

I make a lot of things that most people would buy in a store. I'm not just taking about baking and sewing projects, either, though I certainly do a lot of those. I make my own laundry detergent. I make a hair tonic we use in place of conditioner, the recipe for which I had to divulge to my mother-in-law so she could make it herself. I make deodorant not just for myself but also for my husband and my mother. I made a bug bite salve this summer that ACTUALLY WORKED.

Earlier this year I tried to explain to my father why I do these things; why I make it myself instead of doing the much simpler task of going to the store and giving them money in exchange for finished goods instead of ingredients. I'd like to say it's for environmental reasons, or ethical reasons, or health reasons. Those are part of it, sure. However, the real reason is twofold. 

The first part, unsurprisingly (as we are a young family and I am self-employed), is money. Making things myself is so much cheaper than buying in a store. The laundry detergent cost me $4 for close to 5 gallons. You just can't beat that. 

The second and major part was perfectly demonstrated to my family this afternoon, when I made some soap. I danced; I jumped up and down; I kept yelling "holy crap, I just made soap!" The basic reason I keep doing all these things? I get SO DAMN EXCITED when it works. When I can look at something and say "Hell YES, I made that!" That feeling is worth any amount of effort. 

The soap I made today has been in the works for literally years. We always collect bacon fat. There is always a can or jar on the stove to pour the pan into. I use it to cook sometimes, I made biscuits with it once, I grease the cornbread pan with it. A few years ago I decided I wanted to make soap. I researched it, I looked for lye everywhere I could think of, but always it stayed on the back burner: I'll admit it, I was mighty intimidated by the idea. Especially since the smallest bags of lye I could find were 10lbs!

Then, a couple of months ago, I discovered that I could, in fact, buy small amounts of lye from a couple of Canadian suppliers if I was willing to pay the dangerous goods shipping price. I decided I was. So now there was a jar of lye, sitting on a shelf in my workroom, staring at me. Disappointed in my seeming inability to pull up my big girl pants and just bloody do this!

Today was the day. I got out my bacon fat, gave it one more clean, and let it cool (this blog gives great instructions for cleaning the fat and is also where I got most of the instructions for this project). I poured a can of beer (Original 16 Copper, graciously donated to the cause by my lovely husband) into a bowl and made it go flat. There are lots of great lye calculators out there, I used this one to figure out my lye amount. 

Fat and lye, the basic bones of soap!
this beer took a ridiculous amount of time to go flat.
I melted my bacon fat in a stainless steel pot that I normally use as a dye bath, then set it in a warm place to stay at 88F. 

mmmmm.... melty bacon...

I was so nervous/excited about adding the lye to the beer that I completely forgot to wear my gloves. When I realized, I almost freaked out. Bad me! I wore them for the rest of the process, I promise you. I had to do this outside as there is nowhere in my house with the proper ventilation....

ahh! gloves! where are my gloves!!!

it begins to bubble...

lots o'bubbling now! it smelled very strange...

Once the lye had cooled to about 88F, I added it to the fat and used my immersion blender to blend it. 

can YOU use a thermometer?

THERE are my gloves!

a blender in a metal pot on a glass table = lots of noise

Using the stick blender makes the stirring stage go extremely fast. Once recipe I read basically said "Blend by hand for 2-4 hours, or blend with a stick blender for 2-4 minutes." Once it got to trace (like pudding or whipped cream. If you lift the blender, the shapes stay on the surface) I added some cedar essential oil and stirred that in by hand. I had read that using the blender at this point can make it set up too fast and figured I'd rather chance uneven scent. 

see the trace? i'm pretty sure i did this right

lots of drops.....

and stir. doesn't it look delicious? it's not.

I used a couple of milk cartons for molds because they were what it had on hand and I had read that they work well. My soap at this point looked like butterscotch pudding. It was seriously lovely and smelled pretty nice.

and gloves, again. 

big bars and little bars!

The soap is now sitting on top of my refrigerator (a warm place), wrapped in a towel. I'll unmold it in a day or two (and update this post) and then in 4-6 weeks it will be ready to use! (And I'll update again)

soap, concealed from predators 

Today is a proud day. 

UPDATE: I cut the soap up today. It looks lovely, smells interesting and has a texture like firm cheese. I put it on edge on a baking rack, covered it with a light tea towel to keep the dust off and put it in an out-of-the-way place. Now, we wait!

the milk cartons worked great!
it sliced so nicely....

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Snack time! (Puffed Rice)

This recipe came from Karen Solomon's fantastic book, "Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It." I'm a trifle obsessed with it right now; there are some truly amazing recipes in there. Plus so many "holy crap that's so easy, why am I not doing that every day??" recipes, which are my favourite kind. This one is great, it uses up leftover rice and is insanely delicious.

I think she sums it up really well in the intro to the recipe for corn flakes (the page before the puffed rice): "There come moments in kitchen projectry when one has to ask oneself, "Is this insane? Have I crossed the line from food-craftiness into utter madness, making my own cornflakes?" Search inside your gut and you will find the answer to that question yourself."

Yes, I am mad. But it's a pretty awesome madness, and my family seems to enjoy reaping the benefits.

Puffed rice

Cooked rice (long grain is better, but I've used short as well)

Once you've eaten whatever meal the rice was for, spread the leftover rice on a baking sheet. You can either leave it out for as long as it takes to dry completely, or put it in the oven at 180 with the door cracked. Stir it occasionally, breaking up clumps, until it is totally dry.

Line a baking sheet with paper towel and prepare your seasonings. We prefer cinnamon and sugar. 

Looks like it's uncooked again!

Heat a couple of inches of oil in a round-bottomed skillet (a wok is perfect) until smoking hot. Pour the rice in in no more than 1/2 batches and stir. Use a skimmer to scoop them out as they start to get brown, onto the paper towels to drain. 

Season. Eat!

A note on oil: I usually use peanut oil for these. It's a nice, light oil that leaves the rice fluffy. Tonight I discovered to my chagrin that I was out of peanut and I had to substitute canola. Though still good, I find them to be not AS good. The canola oil seems to have made the rice much crisper; almost to the point of painfully so. Also, I don't like the way it makes my house smell and the smoke from canola oil really bugs my eyes. I conclusion, not using that again. Definitely going back to peanut.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Meeting Noms (lime-coconut cupcakes)

We're having a production meeting at our house tonight and so, as I am wont to do, I did some baking. Astro makes this to-die-for lime yoghurt that I'm kind of obsessed with right now and I really wanted to try baking with it, so I decided to make up something that (in my head, at least) sounds divine: lime cupcakes with coconut frosting. All it needs is tequila, right?

I'm really into texture (fabric, food, anything) and I have to say the batter for these was possibly the sexiest cake batter I've ever seen. Like, wow. So excited to eat these!


I adapted a recipe from this awesome KitchenAid cookbook I have and the only problem I ran into is that the recipe yields 24 cupcakes but I only have tins for 18. This is only sort of a problem. See photo:

Oops. Oh well. 

The frosting was made using flour, which I've never tried before. It's delicious, but more of an icing. The coconut oil has such a low melting point that it's keeping the frosting rather liquid-ey. I put it in the fridge for a while before putting it on the cupcakes, then only frosted what we were going to eat right away.  The original recipe used butter and shortening; I think I'd like to try it that way next time, but this was still so good!

Recipe (adapted from KitchenAid's The Cakes & Cupcakes Book)

Lime Cupcakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup Astro Lime yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla
3-4 tbsp lime juice or to taste
3 eggs

1) preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 standard muffin cups with paper liners
2) mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in electric mixer until well-blended. Add butter, beat at medium speed for 30 seconds. Add yoghurt, vanilla and lime juice; beat for 2 mins. Add eggs; beat 2 minutes. 
3) divide batter evenly among muffin cups.
4) bake 20 or until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 5 mins; remove to wire racks and cool completely.

Coconut Creamy Frosting

1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
Dash salt
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar

1) combine flour and salt in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in coconut milk until well-blended. Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, cool. 
2) beat coconut oil and butter with electric mixer at high speed until creamy. Add sugar, beat until light and fluffy. Add cooled flour mixture, beat till smooth. 
3) ice cupcakes, eat!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Free furniture rehab

When we took possession of our house, we discovered that the previous owners had left us a bunch of furniture. Thankfully, mostly nice stuff, but there were a few questionable pieces. This double deck chair, though useful, was badly painted and peeling, matched nothing an had two cushions that were probably made when I was 10.

We did not have a ton of money to spend on this project, so after sanding and scrubbing, I painted it using leftover paint from our bedroom topped with several coats of outdoor varathane. The cushions we found in the superstore end-of-season sale; don't you just love the colour?

Funny story: we went for a walk the other night and discovered that a house two blocks from us has a similar piece of outdoor furniture painted the same colour and with the same cushion. Great minds, amirite?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sneaky veggies (Coconut-carrot oatmeal cookies)

I have small children. This means I am forever trying to find ways that they will eat vegetables. I try not to be too sneaky, I want them to realize what they are eating when they enjoy it. Sometimes, though, I just want to be able to feed them something I know they will eat (i.e., cookies) and be happy in the knowledge that they are also eating something healthy (i.e., carrots). 

I toasted the coconut before putting it in. It makes my house smell so good and adds a nice nuttiness to the cookie.

tried to make the recipe as healthy as I could (cutting most of the sugar, swapping out most of the butter for applesauce...) but they are still cookies. 

They aren't a meal, but they're a reasonable snack. 


They would probably also be good spread in a 9" square baking pan and cut into bars, too....

Recipe: (adapted from Joy of Cooking oatmeal raisin cookies)

Preheat oven to 350, grease or line two cookie sheets.
Whisk together
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated or ground nutmeg

Beat together until well-blended
1 cup applesauce and butter (about 1-2 tblsp butter, the rest applesauce)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 tsp vanilla

Add flour mixture, stir. Mix in:
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 1/2 cups toasted unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Drop by tablespoon fulls about 2" apart on cookie sheets. Flatten to about 1/2" thickness. Bake until lightly browned, 12-14 minutes. Let stand briefly, then move to wire rack to cool completely.