fauna et flora
Casa Unruh and So Many Pickles!

Have I ever mentioned what a fantastic cook my boyfriend’s mother is? Or how about his Kiwi sister in-law? Well, if I hadn’t now is definitely the time. This morning I was invited over for a lovely, long day of pickling; one of those things I’ve always wanted to try but figured would prove too tedious and confusing. And it may very well have been if I tried to tackle the task all on my own, but with the work of three chefs the day seemed to fly by, with a little boiling, and a lot of shoving! (our cucumbers were massive!)

Sandra managed to track down piles of beautiful fresh dill weed right at my own local fruit market on Roncesvalles. It smelled amazing and looked even better with it’s flowering tops floating in the jars. We also used red chili’s (for a bit of heat), Ontario garlic, and a little extra dill to flavour our cucumber friends.

Our brine was simple: 12 cups of water, 3 cups of white vinegar, and 1 cup of coarse salt. This brine made about 6 small jars and 3 large, each jar holding approximately 4 pickles for the small and 7 pickles for the large. Bring brine to a steady boil making sure all salt is dissolved and pour into hot jars, sealing tightly and quickly. Making over 40 jars meant we were constantly brewing a new batch of brine while baking and boiling our jars and lids, making sure all of our materials remained hot and well sterilized

Key tip: Sandra warns against trying to double or quadruple this amount of brine. The longer you boil the brine base, the more water evaporates and the saltier your pickles will be, essentially ruining all future jars and making a salty mess. (A disappointing, salty mess. Don’t expect to break into your jars for at least 6 weeks!)

Sandra checking our final lot of fresh dills.

After about 15 minutes or so, check your hot jars to make sure lids have completely sealed. Press down on the lids to check for air pockets. No clicking and you’re good to go. Sandra tipped the jars over after being totally sealed to double check for leaks. The colour of the cucumbers will change almost immediately, going from a deep green to a much paler hue. 

Victorious shot of two gorgeous ladies and their pickles!

Place in a dark pantry for 6 weeks or longer to ensue the crunchiest, sourest, homemade pickle delights!

Amy giving the thumbs up to one giant jar and a job well done. 

What to pickle next? :)


Bento for the road…

Kellen and I took a trip up to my Aunt Sue’s cottage for a few days (the highlight definitely being my Aunt’s awesome waffles and a nights worth of serious drinking). I decided to bring along a few bento’s to keep us away from gross road food. 

Amy’s Bento: perilla leaf furikake and black sesame onigiri, balsamic beet filled onigiri, shitake mushroom and sesame oil filled onigiri, lemon cupcake, pink lady apple slices, and baby carrots.

Kellen’s Bento: vegetable furikake onigiri, perilla leaf furikake and black sesame seed onigiri, balsamic beet filled onigiri, rose water cupcakes, pink lady apple slices, and more baby carrots. 

(a brought a little bag of nori sheets to wrap around the onigiri, to make sure they stayed deliciously crunchy. :) )

Cannot wait for another onigiri bento!


Lily was asking for it!


rose water + lemon zest mini cupcakes

Summer desserts are never easy for me. Summer in general, in fact, can be quite trying, especially towards the end when it’s a million degrees and I just really, really, want to wear boots (like, really).

However, I’ve been stocking up on baking supplies lately and really all things cute, and figured it had been long enough since I baked…anything. Especially cupcakes!

Do you guys like rosewater/are you aware of how insanely delicious it is? If you’re not, go try some. It’s kind of a love hate thing though, like avocados or cilantro, where you’re either lifted to a land of floral-berry-sandy goodness or you’re left wondering why everything tastes like perfume. I’m obviously of the former, so on with it. (sidenote: avocados AND cilantro are delicious. ya’ll crazy!).

little lemon zesty with pinky icing!


totally ready for baking

So let’s be clear here. This recipes actually makes two kinds of cupcakes: rose water, and lemon zest. The base recipes is out of the book below, which is really too small to be called a book but whatever. The whole thing is more craft ideas than anything. I usually use a standard sponge or pound cake recipe for vanilla cupcakes but figured I’d give it a shot, and it turned out fantastic! buttery but light tasting. I halved this recipe to make just short of 24 mini cupcakes. (I also tweeked certain things in this recipe enough to maybe in future claim it as my own)

Tools:

1 electric mixer (or one really strong arm)

1 large mixing bowl, for dry ingredients

1 medium mixing bowl, for wet ingredients

2 smaller bowls, for each flavour

1 medium bowl, for mixing icing

2 smaller bowls, for colouring finished icing

1 spatula

1 wooden spoon

1 sift

2 small ziplock bags

some scissors

Ingredients: 

Cupcakes

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (important!)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

about 5 tblsp milk (whole, 2%, skim, whatever you’ve got is fine)

1 tblsp rose water (found at any greek or arabic grocery)

1 tblsp lemon zest

2 drops food colouring (the choice is yours, colour wise)

Icing

3/4 a cup unsalted butter, room temperature (seriously, you guys)

3 tblsp cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups icing sugar


I didn’t have a mini cupcake pan so I winged it and tried to keep the liners as closely packed as possible to avoid weird shapes. This worked for approximately half of them, the rest were pretty deformed. If you’re making these for something important or giving them away as a gift, I wouldn’t recommend it…

How do?

Cupcakes

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set up your cupcake liners in a mini cupcake tin (see above).

2. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into your medium bowl and set aside. In the large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixture on medium for a few minutes until smooth.

3. Scrape the sides and add egg and vanilla and beat for another 2-5 minutes, depending on how good your mixer is. Personally, mine is from the late 80’s so it usually needs an extra push.

4. Lower your speed and add your flour mixture until fully incorporated. Try not to over mix.

5. Seperate your mixture into 2 small bowls. To one bowl, add the tblsp of rose water and blend well. To the other bowl, add your lemon zest. 

6. Colour coding is a good way to separate your two flavours. Just sayin’! 

7. Fill paper liners using two dessert spoons. One for scooping, one for scraping. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from cupcake tin. Let cool completely before icing. This could take hours but they’ll be a runny mess if they’re not handled with care.

little finished cakes firming up in the fridge

Icing

1. Blend your first three ingredients with your electric mixer on medium for a few minutes.

2. Add the icing sugar a half cup at a time to avoid lumps and blend until smooth and glossy.

3. Seperate your icing into 2 small bowls. In each of these add your food colouring. Note: food colouring is very strong, so if you want more of a pastel look, like I was aiming for, all you need is ONE DROP. Or even half a drop in some cases. 

4. This bit is slightly difficult. Fill one corner of each ziplock bag with icing until full. Squeeze the icing to the corner of the bag twisting the opposite end closed. Make two small, half centimeter cuts into the corner of the bag in a cross action to replicate it’s shape "X". When squeezing onto the cupcakes, push the end of the bag through your first and your middle finger and hold the bag like you’re squeezing a water balloon. (When I worked at Casa Loma the head chef would always say a proper piping grip was like squeezing a boob. It’s still the most accurate description I’ve ever heard). Use your other hand to steady the bag, if necessary.

Ice your little cakes and serve!


dreaming about: these delicious looking brownies! sweet potatoes always taste like autumn and crisp air and cardigans and scarves and cinnamon. bah! august is the cruelest month!

http://blog.bakeitpretty.com/2011/07/sweet-potato-brownies/

dreaming about: these delicious looking brownies! sweet potatoes always taste like autumn and crisp air and cardigans and scarves and cinnamon. bah! august is the cruelest month!

http://blog.bakeitpretty.com/2011/07/sweet-potato-brownies/


midweek obento

I recently left my job and since have had all the time in the world to tackle all the little projects around the house that have been collecting these last few stressful months. (which is awesome!) The house has never been cleaner OR more well organized and I’ve had countless hours to dedicate to reading, writing, baking, dancing and playing with the cats. (more specifically the kitten, who is an obsessive hunter, and definitely the most adorable cold blooded killer I know) 

here’s a few bentos before the big bake post…

stuffed chicken breast with roasted red peppers, hot sopressata and aged cheddar, mini marmite sandwich, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, a slice of roasted turkey, mini bocconcini, cherries, and strawberry hearts. (and a little pickle sauce container filled with dijon)

homemade sushi bento! with spicy salmon roll, avocado, scallion, and cucumber roll, wasabi tilapia roll, and mystery roll. also featured: mixed sweet bell peppers, yet more strawberry hearts, golden delicious apple slices, and clementine sections.


Wishlist

Summer edition.


Ohayou!

Well hello! It’s been too long. What have you been up to this summer? I’ve mostly been listening to  1960’s french pop and stroking out in the heat. But there’s more! I’ve also been preparing for uni! That’s right! Little Amy is finally going back to school. How exciting!

Having worked for one of Toronto’s most highly regarded catering companies for the past year and a half, I’ve pretty much never had to make my own lunch during this time. Or my own snacks, coffee, and sometimes dinner or dessert. (It’s good to be me)

However, this will no longer be the case! I hate fast food and I’m going to be on a crazy budget, so I absolutely have to make my own lunch. Why not Bento?

This bento has salmon cakes, a bit of cheese, strawberry rabbits, cucumber hearts, raddish hearts, lychees and cherries.

Adorable, right?

Defined: Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container.

To be fair, this definition is pretty rigid. A bento box can contain anything! As long as it’s balanced and delicious.

A few other examples:

This is a slightly more traditional version, featuring a couple onigiri (Japanese rice balls). Except they’re not traditional at all as they’re a sweeter version, flavoured with coconut milk and contain cherries instead of umeboshi (traditional japanese pickled plum) Although, I’ve recently tried umeboshi onigiri from Sanko, a Japanese grocery on Queen west, and it is crazy good! Highly recommend it if you’re ever around Trinity Bellwoods.

These guys also contain apple rabbits, hot dog octopi, hard boiled eggs, strawberry, cucumber, and raddish hearts, and a tiny mochi. (Japanese dessert, most commonly filled with red bean paste. mmm…)

Brand new bento box! :)

Today I’ve filled it with lentil salad w/green onions and loads of parsley, lemon and herb marinated chicken leg (from a whole chicken I butchered and roasted last night), roasted beets with balsamic vinegar, and banana, blueberries, and yet more cherries. I REALLY like cherries. And summer will soon be over and they will be no more!

I still can’t believe it’s August! Ahhh!


Sophie Dahl has a cooking show now and it kind of sucks. Thankfully, someone agrees with me.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1260165/Sophie-Dahl-pouting-6ft-ex-model-trying-dethrone-Nigella-But-Jan-Moir-finds-new-TV-hard-swallow.html
P.S. those meringues are fully store bought. Just sayin’.

Sophie Dahl has a cooking show now and it kind of sucks. Thankfully, someone agrees with me.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1260165/Sophie-Dahl-pouting-6ft-ex-model-trying-dethrone-Nigella-But-Jan-Moir-finds-new-TV-hard-swallow.html

P.S. those meringues are fully store bought. Just sayin’.


Sick ick, real quick

Here’s Amy hanging out with good pal Bill Murray.

So I’ve been sick on and off for ages, which is awful for someone who loves food as I’m either too sick to eat anything at all, or forced to mouth down whatever takes the least amount of effort. (It also explains for my lack of contribution to this blog!)

This is why I’m a freezer freak. I always make too much and it’s great, as I then have go to meals waiting to be defrosted. Stews, chili’s, soups, all delicious and all amazing when you’re sick.

My throat feels like death, so I figured I’d share a soup recipe I’m particularly fond of.

Mixed Mushroom Soup



necessary:


1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 medium white onion, finely chopped

4-6 cloves of garlic, minced

half a large leek, chopped

2  1/2 cups chopped mixed mushrooms, large pieces are good (I used shitake and cremini)

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme

small handful loosely chopped parsely

2 cups chopped kale, about 1 inch pieces

10 cups beef stock (side note: by no means do you need to buy or make this much beef stock. for this recipe, I honestly just used 3-4 bouillon cubes mixed with 12 cups of water and encourage you to do the same, especially if you’re all gross and shooting flem all over the place. but watch any additional salt, bouillon cubes are notoriously super salty)

2 cups water

salt and pepper to taste

how do?

1. Get a large pot and place over medium-high heat, adding your olive oil. Sautee onions for five minutes or so then add garlic and leeks, stirring.

2. Once these have shrunk a little, add your mushrooms, herbs, and desired salt and pepper.

3. Cover and leave to simmer another 5-10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. When the mushrooms start to sweat and smell amazing, add your stock and water.

4. Bring soup to a boil and let simmer for a minimum of 3 hours, stirring every half hour or so.

5. Add kale 20 minutes before taking the soup off the heat.

6. Serve with crunchy baguette and butter for dipping, though it’s just as wonderful on it’s own.

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