Monday, 25 November 2013

Peach Spice Bran Muffins

I make muffins almost every weekend, and put them in the freezer so that we can enjoy them for breakfast or lunch throughout the week.  

There are an almost endless variety of muffin recipes available on line but I often make mine up as I go along, based upon the ingredients I have on hand.  That's how this recipe came to be.  I wanted to make something a little bit different, using ingredients I had in the pantry.  

I pulled a jar of homemade peach pie filling from the shelf and built around it.  The resulting muffin was very moist (always nice in a bran muffin, I think), with a pleasant gingerbread-y flavour from the spices.  We enjoyed them warm from the oven with just a little butter.  When they were cooled, we served them with cream cheese.  Both were yummy.

To make Peach Spice Bran Muffins, you'll need:

  • 1 pint canned peaches or peach pie filling (I used homemade pie filling this time.  Canned or jarred peaches or pie filling from the store will work just fine too.)
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 cups wheat bran
  • 1/3 cup sunflower oil
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Begin by preparing the peaches. If you're using canned peaches, pulse them in your food processor until the pieces are chopped but still have some texture.  Remove about half the chopped fruit and then process the remainder into a puree.  Transfer both the peach pieces and the puree to a large bowl.

If you're using pie filling, process it just until the pieces are chopped but still have some texture, then transfer it to your bowl.

Beat the egg and add it to the pie filling, along with the bran, oil, and brown sugar.  Stir until well combined.

Set the mixture aside and let it rest for 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

Add the flour mixture into the wet mixture and stir just until combined.  The batter will be quite thick and a little lumpy.

Portion the batter into an oiled muffin pan.  These muffins don't rise very much, so fill the cups of the muffin pan quite full.

Depending upon how much batter you spoon into each cup, you'll get between ten and twelve muffins.  I got eleven from this batch.

Pour a small quantity of water into any empty cups in the pan.  This will help distribute the heat more evenly and also protect the pan from warping.

Bake the muffins on the middle rack of a 350F oven, for about 25 minutes, until they spring back when you press on the centre lightly with your fingertip.

Allow the muffins to cool 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store the muffins in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or freeze them and thaw them as needed.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Fish Condominium (A Betta Bowl With Planter)

I seem to be in a fishy frame of mind this week.  lol! Yesterday I wrote about the Vancouver Aquarium.  Today I'm writing about building a new home for Ozzie, our office fish.

Ozzie is a betta, or Siamese fighting fish.  His ancestors hail from the enclosed rice paddies and riverside marshland of southeast Asia so he's well adapted to still water.  Bettas can survive perfectly well in small bowls or tanks and don't require water filters or other fancy equipment to provide conditions in which they can flourish:  Good news for me because I inherited responsibility for his care and I have only a little (mostly unsuccessful) experience in caring for fish.

Ozzie came to the office in a tiny glass bowl, with no gravel and barely a cup of water.  He seemed okay with it, but it was bothering me.  He's such a pretty creature.  It seemed a shame to confine him to such a tiny, uninteresting space.  

My sister-in-law, Leanne is - unlike me - something of a fish whisperer.  She's has an aquarium at home, has raised some amazingly large koi in the tank at her office, and has been known to successfully nurse sick fish back to health: something I can't even imagine doing.  She keeps her bettas in glass vases topped with planters.  The plants' roots reach down into the water, feeding on the nutrients the bettas leave behind and, in the process of doing so, filter the water, helping to keep it clear and oxygenated.  

It looked like a good arrangement to me, and far more appealing than Ozzie's original bowl so I decided to make one for our office. It was an easy project to do and, since it would make a nice decorating accent or even a nice gift, I've decided to show you how to make one too.

Here's what I used:

  • One urn-shaped vase, about 2-1/2 litres in capacity
  • 1 plant (Leanne had a spare plant to share with me and I used it for my project.  I'm not even sure what kind of plant it is - perhaps one of my plant loving readers can help me here - but I know it will work because Leanne has had the same plant in her betta bowls for a long time.  Other plants will work too:  Bamboo and ivy both spring to mind but I'm sure that your local nursery will be able to suggest many others.)
  • 1 clear plastic soda or juice bottle, well washed and rinsed (I scrounged several out of the recycling bin at my apartment building, then tried them all until I found one that would sit top-down into the neck of the vase without tipping over or falling through)
  • a roll of jute twine
  • tacky glue
  • aquarium gravel
  • a pair of scissors
  • a soft craft-sized paint brush

The planter portion of this project will rest in the neck of the vase.  I didn't want the mechanics of it to be visible so I decided to wrap the neck of the vase in twine.  You could use a wide ribbon or even some decorative paper instead if you prefer.

Use tacky glue to adhere your twine (or ribbon, or paper) to the vase.  Pour the glue into a shallow container and apply it  with a paint brush.  

Press the covering material gently into the glue.  If you're using twine, you'll want to hold the ends in place for a couple of minutes to ensure that they're properly adhered. 

Wipe away any excess glue before it dries.

Here's what mine looked like when it was done:

Allow the glue to dry for a couple of hours.  

When the glue is dry, rinse some aquarium gravel and spread it 1-1/2 to 2 inches deep in the bottom of the vase.  Fill the vase with water to an inch or two below where then neck narrows. 

If you're using tap water, you'll need to add a betta water conditioner to the water before pouring it into the vase.  

Leave the filled vase to sit for at least a couple of hours so that the water reaches room temperature and any dust or debris from the gravel has had an opportunity to settle.

Prepare the planter portion of your project.

Cut the screw top portion off of your plastic bottle.  Then make a second cut a little further down.  My bottle narrowed where the label was attached so I used that as my cutting line.

Discard the screw top portion you've removed, and the bottle label. Keep the bottom portion of the bottle.  It'll come in handy later on.

Clean any soil or algae from the roots of your plant.

My plant had been sitting in its container for a long time so there was lots of algae in the water.  When I removed it from the container, I discovered that it had several stems, all of which had roots attached. 

I split the plant into individual stems and rinsed away any algae that was clinging to the roots.  Here's what the prepared plants looked like:

I used two stems for my project and put the remaining pieces in a vase for another time.

Position your plant in the top portion you cut from the soda bottle, feeding the roots through the hole left where the screw top threads were removed.

Carefully fill in aquarium gravel around the plant.

Put the planter portion in the neck of the bottle and check the length of the plant roots.  Trim them if needed.  They should extend into the water but not all the way to the bottom.  Your fish needs room to move around too!

Now you're ready to move your fish into his new home.  This is where the bottom of the soda bottle comes in handy:  

Lift the planter out of the neck of the vase and sit it in the soda bottle while you transfer your fish into the water in the vase, then put the planter back in place.  You'll do the same thing when you remove the plant in order to feed your fish.

That's it.  

Easy, right?  

I really like how this project turned out.  My fella says it's 'way too fancy to be called a fish bowl so he's dubbed it the betta condominium.  I think it's a fine name, don't you?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Beef and Mushrooms in Cream Sauce

My husband joined the navy at the age of 16.  After training, he was assigned to a ship and put to work in the galley.  Not the adventure he'd imagined when he enlisted, but the experience served him well.

The navy fed her sailors afloat very well.  My fella had learned good basic cooking skills from his mom, and in school (he was the very first male Home Ec student in his school district) and the navy further refined them.  By the time he returned to civilian life my guy was a competent saucier, knew the rudiments of butchering, could cook an excellent meal, and was an accomplished baker.

Cooking aboard a ship is governed by some limitations that one simply doesn't encounter in a home kitchen. Space is limited, weather and the ship's motion can make even the most basic tasks a challenge, and storage is limited.  So, while fresh food is served as much as possible, there are times when conditions require that the cooks fall back upon staples in storage.  When that happens, old standards from the military menu are likely to appear on mess trays.

One of those storage staple standards is SOS - Stuff on a Shingle (although sailors do not say it so politely).

Creamed chipped beef on toast:  I haven't heard of a single branch of the service that doesn't serve it from time to time. Made with rehydrated dried chipped beef and canned milk, it provides a filling meal when fresh meat is not readily available.

Oddly, while it may not sound very appealing, many military folk develop a real liking for SOS and will continue to enjoy it even after they return to civilian life.  My guy is one of them:  He misses this old standard dish.

Chipped beef is about as common as unicorn horns hereabouts so, if my fella wants to replicate the flavour of SOS, he needs to do so with fresh beef.  This is basically the recipe he came up with, with some mushrooms thrown in.  

I often find them for half price on the manager's mark down cart at our store, and they help to stretch the meat in the recipe to cover more servings.  They add flavour, texture, and nutrients too.

I do hope you'll try this.  It may not be the prettiest dish in the world but it tastes great, and it's a frugal meal too.

To make Beef and Mushrooms in cream sauce, you'll need:

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups of sliced mushrooms (I used cremini, from the sale rack)
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, cut in quarter inch dice - about 3/4 cup
  • 1 - 3 cloves of garlic finely minced (I used one because, as you can see, it was huge.)
  • 12 ounces extra lean ground beef
  • 3 Tablespoons butter*
  • 3 Tablespoons flour*
  • 3/4 cup beef stock
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk or 3/4 cup cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by sauteing the mushrooms.  

Heat your pan, add in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.  

Add in the mushrooms and sprinkle the poultry seasoning over them.  

Saute the mushrooms until any moisture they give off has evaporated and they've browned nicely.  

Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper to taste and set them aside.

In the same pan, add another Tablespoon of olive oil and the onions.  

Cook the onions until they're tender but haven't taken on any colour, then add in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds more.

Add in the ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Cook it until it's browned.  

Season the meat mixture with add salt and pepper to taste.

While the meat is cooking, make the cream sauce in a separate pan.

Melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the flour.  Cook the roux for 3 to 5 minutes.

Gradually add in the stock, stirring constantly, then mix in the evaporated milk.

Continue stirring the sauce until it boils and thickens.  Taste it and adjust the seasoning.  

Keep the sauce warm until you need it.

Add the mushrooms to the beef and stir until they're reheated.  

Mix in the cream sauce.

Serve your Beef and Mushrooms in Cream Sauce immediately, over rice, noodles, or toast.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to three days and reheated as needed in the microwave.

*If you prefer a slightly thinner cream sauce reduce the butter and flour quantities to 2 Tablespoons each.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Decoupaged Candle Lamp

During my visit to the Old Country Market in Coombs, I came across a package of napkins that caught my fancy:  A moose silhouette that was filled in with lace.  The pairing was so incongruous it tickled my funny bone.  

The napkins were only $1.25 so I bought them, and brought them home with the intention of using them in a craft project of some sort or another.

I dug through my cupboards for something that I might embellish with my new moose napkins.  I found a heavy, square glass vase that looked like it might fit the bill.  

Thin papers like those used to make napkins are wonderful for decoupage.  They become translucent when exposed to the moisture in the decoupage medium, and work wonderfully well on glass objects.  

I measured the vase.  Each side was five inches square.  The napkins were 6-1/2 inches square.  

I marked a 5-1/8 inch square on one side of one of the napkins.

When I laid the napkin flat for cutting its folded edges were at the top and at the left hand side.  

I cut the square I'd marked, then trimmed 1/8 inch from each of the folded edges, making four individual sheets, each 5 inches square.

Once the squares were trimmed, I turned them over and peeled away the extra plies of paper, leaving only a single thickness.  The paper was very thin and rather fragile.

I painted one side of my square vase with decoupage medium (I used equal parts of white glue and water mixed together, but I'm sure Mod Podge would work just fine too) 

and then carefully laid one of the trimmed napkin squares over the wet medium.  

The paper wrinkled up some and I did my best to smooth it out, but it wanted to tear if I moved it around too much.  I decided the wrinkles and creases looked okay, and maybe even added some charm.  (Kinda like my face:  Those lines give it character, right?  ;^)

Once the paper was applied, I painted over it with another layer of decoupage medium.

When the first side was dry, I turned the vase over and applied a matching napkin piece to the other side.  I figured that working on opposite sides would allow for adjustment if the pieces I'd cut were too scant.  

It turned out the squares I'd cut were fine, but it's better to take the extra precaution I think.  I've been known to mess up a measurement or make an incorrect cut from time to time.  ;^)

The remaining two squares of napkin had a white moose on them.  I used them on this lantern but, if I were to make another one, I'd cut a second napkin and use all black.  The white doesn't provide enough contrast to show up very well.  

The finished lantern is kind of fun, I think.  I'm pleased with it and, since the project was so easy, I thought I'd pass it on to you.  You can give it a try with any paper napkin that strikes your fancy, or even just regular tissue paper from the dollar store.  I'll bet kids could make this project too.  

Have fun with it.  :^)

Friday, 8 November 2013

Night Before Payday Eggs

We live on a tight budget and it's important to us to stay within it.  Some months that's easier than others.  There are times when it feels like there's a whole lot of month left at the end of the money!

We recently had a week without grocery money.  By the end of the week, things were looking pretty scant.  It was one of those times when I found myself really grateful for eggs in the fridge and a well stocked pantry.

The night before payday, I needed to come up with a quick, after-work supper from what we had on hand so I made frittata of sorts, filled with tomatoes, potatoes, and onions, and topped with havarti cheese (from our freezer, bought on sale, shredded and frozen).  I served our eggs with some frozen green beans, simply steamed in the microwave.  

They were good!  Good enough that I thought I'd share the dish with you for days when you, too, need a quick, tasty pantry supper.

To make Night Before Payday Eggs, you'll need:

  • 3/4 cup onion, cut in 1/4 cup dice
  • A little oil to coat your pan. (I used safflower oil this time.)
  • 1 pint (or one small tin or half of a large tin) of canned tomatoes, drained, seeded, and torn into bite-sized pieces.  (I ended up with about a cup of tomato pieces and saved the drained liquid and seeds for use in stock.)
  • 1 cup of bite-sized potato pieces.  (I used home canned yukon gold potatoes, just roughly broken apart with my hands but leftover cooked potatoes of any sort will work too.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) dried oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup of shredded havarti (or whatever cheese you prefer)

Prepare your pan.  If your saute pan's handle is not heat resistant enough to withstand broiling, wrap it in foil to protect it.

Preheat your pan over medium high heat and then add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom and sides of the pan.

Add in your onions and saute them until they're tender and have begun to take on a little colour.

Stir in the tomato and potato pieces, the oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.

Beat your eggs until the whites and yolk are well combined, then pour them over the vegetables.

Cook the eggs on top of the stove until they set at the bottom of the pan, then transfer them to a 350F oven and continue cooking until they're almost done, but still a little moist on top.

Remove the pan from the oven and turn the oven on to broil.

Spread the shredded cheese over the top of the eggs. 

Place the pan under the broiler until the cheese melts.

Remove the finished eggs from the oven, and portion them into wedges.

We had one portion left over.  I popped it in the fridge for lunch the next day.  It made an excellent sandwich filling.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Not Your Mama's Mixed Vegetables

Do you remember frozen mixed vegetables?

My mom served them a lot when we were kids.  I think she liked the colours and, of course, they were convenient.

What I remember most about those mixed vegetables was their singular lack of flavour.  They tasted like...nothing at all.  They were filling, but that's really all that could be said for them.

Funny how things come to mind, isn't it?  

I was surveying the contents of my fridge recently and came across a bowl of leftover cooked carrots. 

There were frozen peas and frozen corn in the freezer.  

And there was a fair bit of month left at the end of the money.  

I could make mixed vegetables.  If I really wanted to.  

But why would I want to?  They're so boring!

Still, I had the ingredients on hand and there must be something a person could do to make mixed vegetables more interesting.

I wondered if I could change them up, into something that actually tasted good.

A few simple steps accomplished my task.  The result was a bright and pretty dish of vegetables with a lot more flavour than the mixed vegetables my mama served.

To make my mixed vegetables, you'll need:

  • 1 cup each diced cooked carrots, thawed frozen corn, thawed baby peas
  • 1 Tbsp. bacon fat (or olive oil, if you prefer)
  • smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper

Mix the diced carrots and corn together.

Melt the bacon fat and drizzle it over the carrots and corn.  Stir and toss the veggies to ensure they're completely coated, then spread them in a single layer on a parchment coated cookie sheet.

Season the veggies to taste with smoked paprika and salt.

Roast the vegetables in a 400F oven stirring now and again until they lose some volume and just begin to take on a little colour.

When the carrots and corn are roasted, leave them in the oven but turn the oven off.  They'll stay warm and continue to cook a bit more in the residual heat.

Heat the peas in a steamer or the microwave until they're cooked through but still have a firm texture.

As soon as the peas are ready, transfer them to a mixing bowl. Take the carrots and corn out of the oven and add them in, stirring the vegetables gently until well mixed.

Taste your mixed vegetables and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

That's it!  So simple, but so good! 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Ridiculously Simple Pumpkin Soup

I like pumpkin.  Really I do.  It's inexpensive, versatile, and crazy good for you, but even a pumpkin lover like me gets a little weary of the annual recipe onslaught on Facebook and Pinterest.  I mean, seriously, there's pumpkin everything and - while I do enjoy my pumpkin - there are lots of other wonderful fall foods out there too.

So why, then, am I posting a pumpkin recipe?

Because I mentioned making this soup in my "What's for Dinner" post on Facebook one day last week and one of my readers requested the recipe.  

I'm always happy to help when I can.  :^)

This soup is ridiculously simple to make and doesn't require exact measurements.  It's easily adapted to suit large quantities or small, and it comes together very simply.  If you don't have pumpkin it can be made with other winter squashes too.

To make Ridiculously Simple Pumpkin Soup, you'll need:

  • 1 small pumpkin, peeled and cubed (mine yielded about 4 cups)
  • Half as much coarsely chopped onion as you have pumpkin (I used about 2 cups)
  • Enough flavourful chicken or vegetable stock to barely cover the vegetables in the pot (I used about 3 cups of chicken stock)
  • Heavy (whipping) cream (I used about a cup)
  • Salt to taste
  • Nutmeg to taste

Put the pumpkin and onion together in a large pot and add enough stock to barely cover them. 

Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover the pot and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender.

Working in small batches, puree the cooked vegetables.  Do this carefully!  Hot liquid expand with startling rapidity.  Never fill the blender or food processor more than half full with hot food, and always cover the lid with a folded cloth to help catch any possible overflow.

Return the pureed vegetables to the pot and stir in just enough cream to give the soup a thick but smooth consistency.  (I used about a cup.)

Reheat the soup over medium-low heat until the temperature comes to just below boiling.  

Add salt to taste, working a little at a time, and tasting after each addition.

Add nutmeg to taste.  It's a very strong flavour so work in 1/8 teaspoon increments, adding and tasting until you attain a flavour you enjoy.  (I used about 1/2 teaspoon in my soup.)

Serve your pumpkin soup piping hot.  

Pumpkin seeds, creme fraiche, croutons, or dumplings all make good garnishes for this dish.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days.  I don't recommend freezing this soup.
This recipe has been shared at the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop hosted by The 21st Century Housewife, Premeditated Leftovers, and Zesty South Indian Kitchen

Hearth & Soul Hop

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Salmon and Potato Cakes

Here on Vancouver Island, autumn is salmon time.  Salmon return to our rivers to spawn, and school in the salt water near river mouths waiting for the fall rains to raise the water levels enough so they can swim upstream.  Their numbers draw all sorts of fishers:  Whales, seals, and sea lions avail themselves of the feast, eagles and bears visit both shore and river, and of course humans fish for them too.

We have a friend who is an enthusiastic fisherman and spin casts for salmon each fall.  This year pink salmon were particularly abundant and he caught his limit every day, kindly sharing the bounty with us.  We now have some beautiful fish, each around four pounds, wrapped and stored away in our freezer.

A four pound salmon will provide my husband and I with several meals.  I recently baked one in a parchment packet with onions, dill, and lemon juice.  We enjoyed the baked salmon for supper, I used the fins, tail, bones, skin, and head to make a rich fish stock, and flaked the rest of the fish to make salmon and potato cakes.

Salmon and potato cakes can be made either with freshly cooked fish or with canned, making them a practical option for most everyone, so I thought I'd share the recipe with you.  They are a tasty, frugal meal, and they freeze well too.

To make salmon and potato cakes, you'll need:

  • finely diced onion and celery (I used about 3/4 cup of each.  You can use whatever quantities you prefer, and add other vegetables too.  I often mix in some finely diced bell pepper, shredded carrot, or shredded zucchini.)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Salmon, either fresh or canned.  (I used about 1 pound of leftover baked salmon.  Two tins of canned salmon, or one pint of home canned, broken up into large flakes, would yield an equivalent amount.)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Finely chopped fresh dill (I used about 2 teaspoons of dill but my fish had already been cooked with lemon and dill and carried those flavours over from the cooking process.  If you're using canned salmon, you'll want to adjust the amount of dill upwards to a Tablespoon or more, and to mix in some grated lemon zest too.  Other herbs like parsley and chives also make good additions.  It's all about what you like, and have on hand.)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Leftover mashed potatoes
  • Bacon fat to mix with the oil when frying your salmon cakes (Optional, but we like the flavour it adds.)

Begin by sauteing the onion and celery (and other vegetables if you're using them) in olive oil over medium heat.  You want to sweat the vegetables; cooking them until they're tender but haven't taken on any colour.

Allow the vegetables to cool to room temperature.

When the vegetables have cooled, transfer them to a bowl and add in the salmon, mustard, dill (and lemon zest and other herbs if you're using them), and some salt and pepper.  Mix them gently to combine without breaking up the salmon too much.

Add in just enough potato to bind the ingredients together.  I used about a cup.

Form the salmon mixture into patties and put them on a baking sheet.  

Refrigerate them for at least two hours before cooking, or freeze them and then transfer them to a ziploc bag.

If you're cooking your freshly made salmon cakes in a frying pan as I did, fry them either in a neutral flavoured oil with a high smoking point (sunflower or peanut oil work well), or in a combination of bacon fat and oil melted together.  

Put about 1/4 inch of oil in the bottom of the pan and preheat the oil before adding in the salmon cakes.

Salmon cakes are fragile.  To keep them from breaking up, you'll need to let them get quite dark.  They should form a good crust on both sides.

If you prefer to deep fry your salmon cakes, you'll need to bread them first.  I coat mine in flour, then in egg, then in seasoned bread crumbs and fry them at 350F until they're golden brown.

If you prefer to cook your salmon cakes in the oven, you can cook them either plain or breaded.  Line your baking sheet with parchment and bake your refrigerated salmon cakes at 350F just until heated through.

If you're reheating your salmon cakes from frozen, baking works best.  Put them on a parchment lined baking sheet and reheat them from frozen (don't thaw them) at 400F for about 20 minutes, flipping them halfway through the cooking time.

Salmon cakes pair well with herb infused cream sauce, with tartar sauce, or with seafood cocktail sauce.  Used instead of a traditional English muffin, they make an interesting and flavourful foundation for Eggs Benedict.