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Holiday Cookie Exchange- Year 3

Every holiday season for the past few years I have hosted a Cookie Exchange. The last two years the party was especially unique because we lived in Korea and having an oven was pretty much unheard of so baking was a huge challenge. So this year Christmas baking was a breeze! I invited a few friends and family members over for an afternoon of lunch, music, and baked goods. The thing I love about cookie exchanges is that you get to sample so many treats and add new recipes to your collection.

I always am faced with the dilemma of what cookie recipe to share because if I had my way I would find an excuse to bake about 10 different kinds myself, but I exerted some self control and only baked two of my favourite cookies. The two recipes I chose bring me back to my childhood and memories of preparing for the holidays with my mother and my sisters. I guess I shouldn't leave out my dad either he made a wonderful taste tester. They both come from Betty Crocker’s Christmas Cookbook published centuries ago!

The Chocolate Peppermint Pretzels are a twist on a chocolate shortbread cookie drizzled with semi sweet chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes which make them absolute heaven. My mother used to take hours to roll this dough out and shape each individual pretzel. I started to roll out a few and for some reason the dough was crumblier than I remember. I was not blessed with the same amount of patience as her so I resorted to rolling the whole recipe of dough out and used a star cookie cutter to shape each cookie. They still turned out lovely and absolutely delicious!

Now the Cranberry Ginger Pinwheels are my most favourite jam cookie. The recipe is so easy to make and rolls out beautifully. Now these are also time consuming but they are worth every second. The dough gets chilled so that it is nice and easy to roll out. Once you roll out the dough, you must cut the dough into 2 1/2 inch squares and cut a diagonal in each corner of the square. A blob of jam goes in the centre of each square and then you fold every other corner to the centre to resemble a pinwheel. Now in the past I have just used raspberry jam from the store, but since I have become very keen to making chutneys and fruit sauces this year, I made up a concoction of my own to go in the centre. Plain Jane I am not, therefore I like to create what I call “Gourmet Simple.” I took some of the everlasting supply of cranberries from my freezer and boiled them with some sugar and water for a few minutes. Then I added some orange marmalade and fresh ginger. I let it set up into a jelly like consistency and it was good to go for the centre of the cookie. I dusted the finished cookies with some powdered sugar and voila perfection!

There were massive amounts of cookies to share this year and everyone brought something different which was wonderful. Some of them included Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies, Gingerbread, Chocolate Fudge, Shortbread with Chocolate Chunks, Peanut Butter Balls, and Chocolate Butterscotch Candies. My freezer is full of goodies that will last throughout the holiday season. Wait who am I kidding they will be gone in no time!

Chocolate Peppermint Pretzels
From: Betty Crocker's Christmas Cookbook
Makes: 5-6 dozen

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp salt
Chocolate Glaze
1/4 cup crushed candy canes

1. Mix powdered sugar, butter, shortening, egg, and vanilla.  Stir in flour, cocoa, and salt.
2. Knead level tablespoonfuls of dough with hands until the right consistency for molding. Roll into pencil like rope, about 9 inches long. Twist into pretzel shape and put on ungreased cookie sheet.
3. Bake at 375 F for about 9 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from tray.
4. Drizzle with chocolate glaze and sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

Chocolate Glaze: Melt 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate and 2 TBS of butter over low heat until melted.  remove from the heat and add 2 cups of powdered sugar.  Add 3-4 TBS of water until smooth and no lumps remain. 

Cranberry Ginger Pinwheels
Recipe From: Betty Crocker's Christmas Cookbook
Makes: 5-6 dozen

 Ingredients for Dough:
 1 cup sugar
 3/4 cup shortening (part butter, part shortening- I used 1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup shortening)
 2 eggs
 1 tsp vanilla
 2 1/2 cups all- purpose flour
 1 tsp baking powder
 1 tsp salt
 about 1/2 cup Cranberry Ginger Marmalade (see below)

Ingredients for Filling:
1/2 cup cranberries
1/4 cup sugar ( or less for a more tart filling)
1 TBS water
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger or 1/4 tsp powdered ginger

Directions for Cookies:
1. Mix sugar, shortening, eggs, and vanilla.  Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Divide into thirds. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
2. Roll out about 1/3 of the dough at a time into a large square on a lightly floured surface.  Cut into 3x3 squares, smaller or larger depending on your preference. Cut squares diagnolly from each corner to almost the center.  Place 1/2 teaspoon of cranberry mixture into the center.  Fold every other corner to the center to make a pinwheel.
3. Heat oven to 400 F. Bake until golden brown, about 6 minutes.

Directions for Filling:
1. Bring the berries, sugar, and water to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 5-6 minutes. or until slightly thickened.  Stir on ginger and marmalade.  Set aside to cool.


Traditional Mincemeat Pie

The holidays are quickly approaching and for some reason I seem to be in the Christmas spirit much earlier than in previous years. The Christmas “fever” has already hit me and it is not even Thanksgiving yet. My house is decorated, the shopping is almost done, cards are being made, cookie lists are being prepared, visits with family are in the works, and the list goes on. One of the things I love about the holiday season is that it always brings back memories of my childhood.

I was blessed to have had a very good childhood that is chock full of family memories. When I was really young, my parents used to pack the car so tight with stuff (that we were never allowed to see on the way there…hmm Santa maybe) and then jam all the kids and dog into the minivan to take a road trip to Ohio to visit our grandmothers and our extended family. Ohio was the gathering place for both sides of the family. We used to go back and forth to different relatives houses to celebrate. Our visits would include so much food that is surprising that they managed to bring us all back in one piece!

One of my fondest memories during these visits was Grandma Hengesbach’s desserts. She always had enough cookies to feed an army, pumpkin pie, and mincemeat pie. Now when I was a kid I would have never dared to try mincemeat pie because the thought of meat for dessert was not appealing. However it was not until later on that I discovered that her mincemeat didn’t even contain meat at all… oh how naïve I was as a child! Sadly she is not around anymore to share her recipe with me, which after all of these years I thought was homemade but my mother tells me otherwise. To keep alive her holiday tradition I have attempted to make my own mincemeat totally from scratch.

I did a lot of research on mincemeat recipes which was not originally the plan but I became so intriqued with what I found. Traditional mince pies trace back to England and the idea was created as a means of preserving meat for the winter. The combination of meat, lard, fruit, vinegar, and molasses helped to preserve them for the cold months ahead. When the British arrived in America they brought their tradition of mince pies with them. But eventually over time, the authenticity changed and the meat was omitted and replaced with dried candied fruits. This is now what people think of when they think of mincemeat pies. Since I enjoy keeping to tradition, I chose to make a recipe that includes real beef and beef suet which provide for a more authentic mince pie.

I went to my local butcher and asked for a chunk of beef suet and he happily obliged to give me a piece of the lard at no cost might I add. I gathered the rest of the ingredients and came home to start preparing. I simmered the beef cubes for about an hour until they were tender, then proceeded to shred them in the food processor. Then I mixed the fruit, shredded meat, spices and suet and simmered them for about an hour. I couldn't find currants around here so I used a mixture of golden raisins and sultana raisins.  I had a large amount of difficulty getting the suet to melt, therefore I managed to scoop most of it out and added a few tablespoons of butter to coat the fruit instead. This was my first time using suet so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The reason it didn’t melt is unclear to me, but it could have been because the suet was not traditional in that it came from around the kidneys, or because I did not cut the suet small enough to melt. Regardless, butter worked as a nice substitute. The fragrance from the simmering mincemeat was wonderful and overtook my house for hours. I opted to try a new recipe for pie crust which I will not even post because I was not impressed with the consistency of it. Sometimes it is best not to mess with a good thing.

Overall I was impressed with the filling. The pie was very rich and full of flavour. The combination of the sweetness of the fruit and spices mixed with the meat was delicious.  The addition of the whiskey at the end added a nice British touch.  I will add more next time to make the flavour a little stronger.  This will definitely be a keeper and I am eager to try to make it again with the leftover filling, but next time I will use my no fail pie crust recipe. Unfortunately since the pie crust didn’t turn out well, it affected my photos.  Therefore I am not going to share my photos.  You will have to wait until round two to see how it turned out or you can try to make it yourself!

Mincemeat Pie
Recipe From: Teri's
Makes: 2 pies

1-1/4 pounds lean beef stew meat
2-3/4 pounds Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped
1/3 pound beef suet, coarsely ground
3/4 pounds dark raisins
1/2 pound dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 pound currants
1/2 cup apple juice
3/4 teaspoons ground cloves
3/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoons ground allspice
3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup bourbon or rum, divided
Pastry dough for two double crust pies
1. Place stew meat in 2-quart pot; add water to cover. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 1hour or until tender. Drain and put through a meat grinder or into a food processor until a coarse grind.

2. Place the ground meat and the remaining ingredients, using only 1/4 cup of the liquor, in a 4-quart pot. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool. (Can be made several days ahead and refrigerated, or frozen for several months.)

3. Roll out one-quarter of the pastry dough and place it in a 9-inch pie pan. Place one-half of meat mixture into pie shell. Roll out another quarter of the dough and place on top, crimping it with the bottom crust to seal. Put a hole in the center of the top crust to allow steam to escape while baking. Repeat with the second pie, or freeze the meat for future use. Bake in preheated 375° F oven for 1 hour or until brown and bubbly. Place pie on a cooling rack. Using a funnel, pour in the remaining 1/4 cup bourbon or rum. Tilt pie back and forth to incorporate. Serve warm.



This one's for you Carol: Apple Squash Soup and Cranberry Chutney


A few weeks ago, a great friend came to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with us. While Caroline was here, we took a road trip and drove through Prince Edward County which is a very scenic area not too far from our home. It is a new hotspot for wineries and vineyards, spectacular farmland and some of the most gorgeous waterfront properties around. We  stopped in at Huff Estates Winery during our drive before we made it to Lake on a Mountain Restaurant fur lunch. This spot is very interesting because the title exactly explains the natural phenomenon that exists here…there is a lake on a mountain. It is so neat to see.

The whole point of this blog is not to tell about my trip to the county, but rather share a wonderful fall recipe that was inspired by my trip to the county with Caroline. We had the most delicious Butternut Squash soup flavoured with fresh ginger for lunch. I have tried since this day to make a similar tasting soup, but have not had much luck until today. I have been reading this cookbook called Clean Food by Terry Walters which focuses on all natural foods and cooking seasonally. The beginning of the cookbook explains a variety of less common ingredients that provide healthy alternatives for more common ingredients. Many of her recipes are gluten and egg free which is wonderful for those who have food allergies. In her book she has a recipe for Apple Butternut Squash soup. I had to try it and see if it could compare to the soup at Lake on the Mountain. I slightly modified the recipe based on what I had in my kitchen and also based on my taste preference. The subtle flavour of the coconut milk really mixed well with the sweet apples and savory onions and sage. But overall this soup was amazing and will definitely be added to the favourite recipe pile.

While I was making this soup, I was provided with some rather amusing entertainment. My porch is lined with pumpkins that slowly make it inside to my kitchen. But I suppose I was taking too long to bring them. I noticed that something was eating one of my pumpkins. The side had a huge hole in it. I couldn’t think what might eat a pumpkin. Then I looked out the window and caught the bugger red-handed. A gray squirrel had gotten into it and was taking all of the seeds out and burying them in my yard. The funniest part was that his whole body was inside of the thing with only his bushy tale sticking out! A few minutes later I looked again and there was a black squirrel getting into one of the other pumpkins! I quickly ran outside and saved the only pumpkin that did not have teeth marks in it. I was not trying to deprive them of food, but rather I was thinking of the pie that I have yet to make this season!

I have also included another one of Terry's recipes for Cranberry Chutney which is amazing.  Her recipe calls for sucatant (minimally processed liqud cane sugar) which I omitted altogether to make for a more tart version of the recipe.  I served the chutney over pork chops for one meal, ate it as a side dish with chicken another night, and topped a wheel of brie with it for a lovely appetizer.  This is definately a nice twist on classic cranberry sauce which is usually loaded with suagr and sweetness.

Apple Squash Soup
Recipe Adapted from: Clean Food by Terry Walters
Serves: 6-8 

1 large butternut squash
1 large yellow onion, chopped (I used red)
2 TBS grapeseed oil (I used olive oil)
4 large apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I used Empire apples)
4 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
1 cup rice milk (I used 3/4 cup white milk)
1/4 cup coconut milk (I increased to 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper
** I added 1 tsp sage

1. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds and pulp. Put face down in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees or until soft. Peel away the skin and cut into chunks.

2. In large pot, over medium heat, heat oil and sauté onions until soft. Add squash, apples, stock, milk, and herbs. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until apples and squash are soft.

3. Using a hand blender, puree until smooth. This can also be done in batches in the food processor.

Cranberry Chutney
Recipe From: Clean Food by Terry Walters

2 cups cranberries
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup sucatant
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 TBS cinnamon
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup water
1 small onion chopped
3 medium apples, cored and chopped
4 stalks of celery chopped
1 tsp grated lemon peel

1. Combine cranberries, raisins, sucatant, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and water in Dutch oven. Place over medium heat and cook for 15 minutes.

2. Stir in onion, apples, and celery and cook for 15 more minutes.

 3. Remove from heat, fold in lemon peel, and serve.


Pumpkin Garlic Knots

I am at home today with the day off. Can you believe it a Friday off? The day care was overstaffed for today so they needed a volunteer to take the day off and I happily volunteered. I do have to work tonight so it is not a full day off, but nice to have off when there is daylight. I started the morning with 3 cups of coffee uninterrupted and treated myself to some leftover apple cranberry crisp for breakfast. I threw a stew in the crock pot and made some fresh pumpkin garlic knots for supper tonight. All of this was done before 9am!

Lately I have been cooking pumpkins like crazy because they are so plentiful. I use them as a decoration for a little while them cut them in half, deseed them, and roast them face down for about 45 minutes to an hour until they are tender. I remove the skin and puree them in the food processor. It is so easy to do. I put all of the puree into a large bowl and it keeps in the fridge for up to two weeks! I have added the puree to muffins, pancakes, oatmeal, soups, and rolls. I am going to share the recipe for Pumpkin Garlic Knots today that I found on Taste Spotting. The creator of the recipe is I love homemade rolls and since we are having beef stew for supper tonight, I thought that these would be the perfect accompaniment to the stew.

The recipe is so simple and easy to follow. I have also included the recipe that I adapted for beef stew. The beauty of this meal is that with the exception of the beef, flour, salt, pepper, yeast, and olive oil, everything else was something that we either grew or made! Now how about that for being sustainable!

Beef Stew
Servings: 4
Source: Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever

1 1/2 pounds cubed stewing beef
2 TBS flour
2 TBS olive oil
1 large red onion cut into chunks
4 red skinned potatoes cut into chunks
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup pinot noir (I used our homemade wine)
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt/ pepper

1. Rinse and pat dry the beef. Put into a bag with the flour and shake to cover the beef.
2. Heat the oil and add the beef to brown it on all sides.
3. Add the beef broth to deglaze the pan and scrape away all of the brown bits.
4. Add the chopped veggies to the crock pot. Pour the beef and broth on top. Add the spices and wine.
5. Cook on low for 8 hours or until meat and veggies are tender.

Pumpkin Garlic Knots

Yield: about 15 rolls

• 1 cup warm water
• 1 envelope active dry yeast
• 2 tablespoon maple syrup
• 1/2 cup fresh pumpkin puree 
• 2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup olive oil
• 1-1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
• 3-1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• salt & freshly ground pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1. For the dough: Pour the warm water into a medium bowl and whisk in the yeast. Let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the agave nectar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and pumpkin puree.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients then pour in your wet ingredients.

3. Using a rubber spatula, pull all the ingredients together. When you can no longer mix, use your hands to start kneading the dough. Knead the dough until it comes together in a smooth and elastic ball, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking.

4. Lightly oil another large bowl and put your dough ball inside it -- flipping over once to coat both sides lightly with oil. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 hours; or until nearly doubled in size

5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F, put in a pizza stone (you may use a pan, too, but it works best with a stone), and divide the dough into two equal pieces. If you're planning to use the other half the next day, just put it in a large zip-lock bag and store in the fridge. You may also freeze the dough for up to three weeks.

6. To create the garlic knots: tear off sections of dough (2 tablespoons at a time) and roll them into a long snake shape. Tie that snake in a knot. Set aside and continue with the rest of the dough.

7. Once you've made all your knots, put them on your stone (or on your pan) and let bake until golden brown on the tops, about 10-15 minutes depending on size of knots.

8. While the knots are baking, in a bowl mix together the 1/3 cup olive oil with minced garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano. When the knots are done, toss in the olive oil mixture to coat.


Like a few of my blogs that I have written in the past, I have forgotten to post them right away, making this one a little outdated but still a good experience to share.

Today was the first Sunday that I have had off in weeks! So Rob and I planned to get out and explore. I have had my heart set on going up north to visit a cranberry bog to pick fresh cranberries for Thanksgiving since Canadian Thanksgiving is next weekend. We talked about going here all week and relooked at the map and realized that all together it would be about 9 hours of driving to get a bag of cranberries. So we scratched that idea and I was a little bummed. Instead we took a drive to Bon Echo Provincial Park and drove along some very scenic roads. The trees were some gorgeous shades of red, orange, and yellow. Since most of the drive was through the Land O’ Lakes region, it provided for some amazing waterfront views.

Most of our day was spent hiking through Bon Echo, which is home to ancient Native American rock paintings. The unfortunate part was that we arrived without a canoe and most of them are only visible from a boat. We plan to come back here in the summer with a canoe and to camp at one of the portage sites.

Ok so the whole point of this blog is that on the drive back, we just drove in the direction of home but turned on a bunch of roads not on our map. We passed by this long driveway all surrounded by bush and there was a small “Open” sign in the drive. I asked Rob if he could turn around because I just had a feeling it was the entrance to something you can pick. We had no idea what it might be until we pulled in the drive and the small little handmade sign said.. .you guessed it.. cranberries! The feeling of a little kid in a candy shop quickly filled my boots. We pulled up the long windy dirt road and were greeted by a woman in flashy rubber boots. She guided us to a safe parking spot and handed us a bunch of bags. She showed us how to pick cranberries because we had never picked them before and quite honestly I didn’t even know how they grew.

Cranberries grow on a long vine like shrub that hugs the ground. They take over the entire area. The patches were not in neat little rows like many other berries that you might go and pick. You have to get down on your hands and knees to spot the little buggers hiding under all of the vines. Picking cranberries is very time consuming, but well worth it. We tried a few of the berries and boy were they sour, but good! We picked about 5 pounds of berries and were so shocked when she told us they were only $1 a pound. In the stores, these things are outrageous.

The owner told us that about 7 years ago the growers used to sell to Ocean Spray, but too many rules came into play so they got out of the deal. Now they just run the U-Pick operation and don’t even sell to Farmer’s Markets or anything. The locals are enough to keep the place in business. No pesticides are used, but like many farmers the cost of paying for organic licensing is outrageous so she can’t call them “organic.” So she advertises them as “just cranberries.”

This farm was such a good find and I know we are going to be back next year! What a nice little hidden secret off the beaten path. Now off to gather all of the recipes to make a blog about cranberries.

Since going to this farm, I have made cranberry sauce, eggless cheesecake with spiced cranberries, and apple cranberry crisp. They have all been tasty. Unfortunately my camera was not charged and our tummies could not wait for the battery to charge before these goodies were devoured.


Chicken Pumpkin Stew, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, and Double Chocolate Pudding

Pumpkins are here! We picked up a bunch of them at my in-laws and I have been searching all week for the most perfect recipes because I am determined to use all but one to eat. The pumpkins really turned orange early this year and it is funny to drive along a variety of country roads and find lawns adorned with an assortment of them and a little table with a coffee can for donations for pumpkins and of course squash and baseball bat zucchinis. Even the pumpkin patches are ready for picking. I am almost wondering if there will even be any left for Thanksgiving or Halloween, but luckily Canadian Thanksgiving comes earlier than American turkey Day, October 11!

Now cooking with a real pumpkin is practically unheard of today since there are so many varieties that come in a can. But since I have a personal mission to only purchase canned veggies when absolutely necessary, I am going to make the following recipe with a real, live, orange jack-o-lantern that most people think are only for carving. So today’s quest was to make pumpkin stew inside the pumpkin and put all of the ingredients into the pumpkin and roast it in the oven. I prepared my ingredients: chicken breast, onion, garlic, red pepper, chicken broth, water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt/ pepper. I cut the top off of the pumpkin and scooped out all of the seeds and set them aside. I then filled the pumpkin with all of my ingredients, put the top back on and set in a shallow roasting pan in case of spillage or worse case scenario…explosion! I put it into a 400°F oven for at least an hour. It wasn’t long before my house smelled like a holiday! I loved the idea of this stew because it meant no pot to clean. Now would it work? After about 45 minutes I pulled it out and checked on it. The broth inside was still cold and the chicken was still pink. I put it back in and thought maybe my pumpkin was much bigger than it was supposed to be for this mission. After another half hour, I checked on it and the whole top had caved into the stew and the broth was simmering and the chicken was almost cooked. The part had me a concerned was that the pumpkin itself was very soft and very brown. So since I didn’t want my house to burn down today from a pumpkin explosion, I decided to take the pumpkin out of the oven and transfer the insides to a pot and simmer it for a bit longer to make sure the chicken was cooked through.

I then proceeded to cut the pumpkin and chopped some of the inside to add to the stew. I even puréed about a cup of it and added that to the stew to make it thicker. I simmered it for about another 20 minutes before garnishing it with freshly chopped green onions and basil leaves. I was a little disappointed that the idea of the stew in the pumpkin didn’t work out for me, but I was happy that I played it safe because I was in no mood to clean up a huge mess!

Meanwhile while the soup was simmering, I rinsed and dried the seeds that I previously scooped out and tossed them with some olive oil and Old Bay seasoning and lined them on a cookie sheet. I roasted them for about 5 minutes or until they were golden brown. I love roasted pumpkin seeds! They are such a good snack or a substitute for croutons on a salad and are packed with so much goodness too.

Pumpkins all around are so good for you. They have a variety of health benefits including rich in beta carotene, anti-oxidants, zinc, fiber, and the list goes on. I am trying to convince Rob of all of these things as our stew is simmering and he is thinking of what he is going to make for his back up dinner in case he doesn’t like it. We haven’t even eaten our first pumpkin dish of the season and I am rattling off plans for the other orange beauties on our porch! I tasted the stew and I was impressed. The broth was very flavorful and the vegetables added a wonderful flavor. We enjoyed the stew with a side of whole wheat bread toasted with pesto. It made for a very lovely meal.

To top off dinner, I made a classic favorite, chocolate pudding and added a twist of dark chocolate to make it interesting. Now to many, pudding means a box of Jell-O brand powder in which one adds milk or water, stirs and voila, something edible is formed. But today I am talking about homemade, completely from scratch, pudding that it so easy and absolutely delicious. It takes 30 seconds longer to make than any kind from a box, so that is enough reason to convert right now! I made the pudding before I began my stew so it had ample time to chill and set. I topped it off with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprig of mint. Anything made with chocolate has a special place in my heart. Hope you enjoy as well!

Pumpkin Pot Stew
Recipe Modified From: Project Fidgety Fingers
Serves: 4-6

Small pumpkin
1-2 chicken breasts, diced
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Chicken Broth
White Wine
Green Onions, for garnish

1. Cut lid off of pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Put to the side.
2. Mix the chicken, onions, garlic, pepper, and spices together. Add to the pumpkin.
3. Add a splash of white wine. Fill two thirds of the pumpkin with chicken broth and the last third with water. Put the lid back on the pumpkin. Put the pumpkin into a shallow roasting pan in case of spillage.
4. Cook on 400°F for an hour or more depending on the size of your pumpkin.
5. Note: If your pumpkin is too big like mine was…cook until the pumpkin shell gets browned and very soft. Remove from the oven and pour into a large soup pot. Scoop out some of the pumpkin and add cubes of the pumpkin to the stew. Cook until chicken is cooked through.
6. Garnish with chopped green onions. Serve with frsh bread, over pasta, or mixed with rice.

Old Bay Pumpkin Seeds
Recipe From: Gretchen Brown

Pumpkin seeds
Old Bay seasoning or your favorite spice blend
Olive Oil

1. After scooping the seeds out of the pumpkin, rinse them to remove the pulp. Lay them flat on a few sheets of paper towel to dry them.
2. Put them in a bowl. Drizzle a little olive oil on them and toss to coat. Add Old Bay seasoning to your liking.
3. Roast, in the oven with the stew, for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Double Chocolate Pudding
Recipe From:
Serves: 4-6
3 cups of milk (3.25%)  (I used 1% and the pudding tasted great!)
5tbsp cocoa
4 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup dark chocolate chunks (75%)

1. Put the cocoa, corn starch, sugar and salt in a pot. Add the milk, heat on medium-high heat and whisk to combine everything together.
2.Cook until it is thick (enough to cover the back of a spoon) whisking once in a while. Once you have the desired consistency, remove from the heat, add the butter, vanilla and dark chocolate and whisk well into the pudding.
3.Pour into small bowls and chill for a few hours before serving. Garnish with whipped cream and fresh mint sprig.


End of Summer Bounty: Canned Bruschetta, Herb Infused Vinegars, and Pesto

The air has turned cool and the leaves are starting to turn beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow. I am totally in love with this weather and cannot think of a better time of year than the fall. There is just something magical about it. All spring and summer you have watched things grow from seed and produce the most bountiful crops and now it is time for them to slow down and take a rest. But of course not without producing a few more fall goodies from the garden. Don’t get me wrong the things harvested from the garden all spring and summer are delicious and fun to cook with, but there is something about picking a bright orange pumpkin cutting it open and making fresh pumpkin puree, or stewing a bushel of apples all day to make applesauce that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There are just so many things that can be done with the fall harvest.

So now that I have gone on about fall and all of the things to come in the next few weeks, let’s talk about what is happening now in the garden. Our tomatoes are dwindling down, now let’s get this straight…these plants don’t really understand dwindle very well. We went to go pick yesterday and got the impression that there were just a few red tomatoes left on the vine… wrong…wrong..wrong. We came home with over 30 huge red ones in our box and there were still several dozen hanging out on the vine. Since we were harvesting tomatoes, we took a gander at what else was available. All of the new potatoes were harvested and ready to be eaten. Now let me tell you something about these potatoes, Wendy and I planted about 1 1/2 dozen seed potatoes in the spring and the harvest this year provided us with over 100 pounds of red skinned beauties!! Some of them were the size of my face. And to think that we planted another whole row to be used as late picks that haven’t even been touched yet! Amazing! Onto the zucchini, we took home another baseball bat and browsed at the collection my in-laws have of about 20 more bats left to try and pawn off. The pumpkins were all harvested because a beetle got into the patch and was starting to eat them all, so they harvested the good ones and took out the patch. They were able to save about 30 plus good ones. I scooped up 5 of them and my mind started spinning of ideas for these babies…pies, muffins, cakes, stews, roasted seeds, and the list goes on. The acorn squash was ready so we got a few of those. Bugs got into the onions as well, so they were all harvested and drying in the sun before they would be stored in the cold room for the winter. The pepper plants were slowing down as well and all of the red beauties were ready to be picked. We went over to the garden to pick up a few tomatoes and ended up with 30 tomatoes, 5 pumpkins, 3 acorn squash, red onions, yellow onions, leeks, red peppers, potatoes, zucchini, beets, basil, mint, and carrots! Now, where to start with all of this goodness.

Since the tomatoes spoil the fastest, I will begin with them. I keep saying to myself I have done enough canning for the season, and then I find another super recipe that I really want to try. This time it was for canned bruschetta. I think the taste of bruschetta is so refreshing on a slice of toasted bread that I couldn’t imagine going all winter and spring without it, because we are trying really hard to only eat things in season. So I thought let’s can it.

Lately we have really gotten into this whole canning thing and found that the biggest expense is the jars. We like to give some of our canned goods away as gifts, so that means the jar needs to be replaced… no big deal. The jars are on sale all of the time. Now the other day we were at one of our favorite thrift stores and found a whole box of practically brand new canning jars. We were able to get 15 jars for $3.00 and some of them were vintage beauties. We also found some really cool corked blue glass bottles for our herb infused vinegars which are also great to give for gifts.

The bruschetta recipe was pretty straightforward…chop veggies until your arm is just about ready to fall off, put them in a jar, and cover them with hot herb infused brine. So simple! Rob and I set up quite the system to make the whole process of chopping tomatoes a little quicker because I did choose to take on this project in between shifts at work. I changed a few things about the recipe. I added a chopped onion to the tomato mixture to give more flavor and I also didn’t peel the tomatoes before chopping. All in all, this recipe went smoothly. The only things I would do differently is add the herbs directly to each jar instead of into the vinegar brine because they did not distribute evenly in each jar. During the hot water bath, we heard a strange sound, so we opened the pot and didn’t notice anything wrong, so we closed the pot. Later we found out that one of our jars cracked so it had to be tossed. Out of the nearly 60 plus jars that we have canned this summer, that is the first one that has cracked or not sealed properly!

The beauty about canning is that you can enjoy the summer’s harvest all winter long and not feel guilty about eating fruits or veggies because they were processed in your own kitchen when they were in season. After growing so many neat things and supporting local farmers all summer, it doesn’t even make sense to purchase items grown in labs or in other countries just because you want a tomato for example in January. This is just ludicrous. Ok enough of my opinions and onto the recipes. In addition to the canned bruschetta recipe, I have included a recipe for Herb Infused Vinegars. This one is really simple to do and makes a lovely gift. The idea came from a woman who I met while we were WWOOFing on Amherst Island about a month ago. The herbs were also from her garden. I have also included a simple pesto recipe using walnuts instead of pine nuts. It is excellent tossed with pasta, sundried tomatoes, and chicken. Enjoy!

Bruschetta in a Jar
Recipe From: Ball Canning
Makes about 7 (8 oz) half pints

You will need:
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp dried basil
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
9 cups chopped cored peeled plum tomatoes (about 4 lb or 12 medium)
7 (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands


1.) PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.

2.) COMBINE garlic, wine, wine vinegar, water, sugar, basil, oregano and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes or until garlic is heated through. Remove from heat.

3.) PACK tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot vinegar mixture over tomatoes leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.

4.) PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

Herb Infused Vinegar

Large bunch of herbs
White wine or white vinegar
Mustard seeds
Chili Peppers

1. Get a large jar and stuff it with washed and dried fresh herbs. Choose one herb or a combination of your favorite herbs. Tarragon, Thyme, and Mint work well.

2. Cover the herbs with your choice of vinegar. Note.. if using white wine vinegar, your finished product will have a brownish tint to it.

3. Set the jar in a dark, cool place for 5-6 weeks undisturbed.

4. Place herbs from large jar into smaller fancy bottles. Cover with vinegar. Add peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander, dill seeds, etc to the bottle to adjust the flavor. The possibilities are endless.

Two combinations that I tried:
French tarragon, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, and white vinegar
Habanero chili peppers, peppercorns, fresh basil, white vinegar

Basil Walnut Pesto
Created by: Gretchen Brown
Makes: 1 cup

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup walnuts
Salt/ pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1. Pulse the walnuts a few times in food processor. Add basil and continue to pulse. Add olive oil in a steady stream and continue to pulse. Add cheese to blend. Add salt and pepper if needed.

2. Toss with hot pasta, grilled chicken, and sundried tomatoes for a fast dinner. Can also be used as a base for a pizza instead of a tomato sauce.


Farmer's Cheese, Caesar Salsa, Italian Sausage Pizza

I signed into my blog to post something that I made today and realized that I never posted my last post which was quite a personal feat. A while back, I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and became inspired to make my own cheese from home. I even went so far as applying for a job as a cheese maker’s assistant when I returned to Canada, but due to the commute and the lack of public transportation I couldn’t figure out a way to get to work without purchasing my own car. This was not in the budget at the time. So anyway, I continued to research the cheese making process. During our WWOOFing experience on Amherst Island back in July, we met a man named Armando who was completely blind and has been making cheese at home for about a year. We tasted him Asiago cheese and it was not too bad for being made at home. I wanted to begin with something a little simpler than an aged cheese so I opted for a version of Farmer’s Cheese otherwise known as Ricotta.

Everyone knows that cheese begins with milk, so I bought a milk bag of whole milk from Reid’s Dairy. I already know that next time I will attempt to get milk directly from a farm to try this recipe instead of milk that has been treated for consumers. I added my milk to a large stainless steel pot and put in my salt and waited for it to boil. The whole time I was thinking this will sure be a lot of salted milk to drink if this cheese doesn’t work! I mean who drinks whole milk anymore. The boil started and I turned off the heat and added some lemon juice. I waited like the recipe said and nothing happened so I added more lemon juice. I thought why not. The milk concoction started to curdle, so I poured it through some cheesecloth that lined another stainless steel pot. The curds rested in the cheesecloth while the whey drained through. After about an hour all of the liquid had drained through. I looked at the amount of curd that was left and the amount of whey in the bowl underneath and I was disappointed. There was enough cheese to spread on about one bagel…bummer. I didn’t give up though. I continued to research and learned that if the whey is still white, then the whole process can be done again because there are still cheese particles in the whey. If the whey was yellow then the process is finished. So I began again. Luckily I did because the second time around yielded a lot more curd!

After all of the whey drained through the second time, it was yellow so I knew I had extracted all of the curd. Before I dumped the bowl of whey, I researched if there were any recipes that used it because I have seen whey in so many things before. Whey is very nutritious because it is protein rich. So I put the whey in a container and saved it in the fridge. I would later use it instead of water to make pizza crust, and replace the milk in muffins and pancakes with whey.

All in all the cheese turned out delicious. I served it a few different ways. We served it with crackers and used it as a spread and topped it with a horseradish tomato salsa. The next day we made pizza with Italian sausage, fresh basil, red onions and our fresh cheese. We even spread it on bagels with fresh tomato and cucumber slices. When I make this cheese again, I will increase the salt because it was slightly on the bland side and I will also try to add some fresh herbs into the finished curd. I think it would also make a perfect substitution for ricotta in lasagna. Definitely a culinary feat well accomplished!

Farmer's Cheese
Recipe From:
Servings: 1 pound?
1 gallon whole milk
1 pinch salt
1 large lemon, juiced
1. Pour the milk into a large pot, and stir in a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot.

2. When the milk begins to boil (small bubbles will first appear at the edges), turn off the heat. Stir lemon juice into the milk, and the milk will curdle. You may need to wait 5 or 10 minutes.

3. Line a sieve or colander with a cheesecloth.

4. Pour the milk through the cloth to catch the curds. What is left in the cheesecloth is the Farmer's Cheese. The liquid is the whey. Some people keep the whey and drink it, but I throw it away. Gather the cloth around the cheese, and squeeze out as much of the whey as you can. Wrap in plastic, or place in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator.

Caesar Salsa

Recipe Created by: Gretchen Brown
Yields: A lot

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
8 cups chopped tomatoes (about 11 large ones)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup horseradish
2 TBS salt
1-2 TBS Worchestshire sauce
1 TBS dill weed
1 tsp dill seed
1 TBS mustard seed
1 1/2 tsp black pepper

1. Bring sugar and vinegar to a boil. Remove from the heat. Cool completely.
2. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add vinegar mixture and mix well. Spoon into storage containers. All 1/2 inch of headspace. This will keep in the fridge for a about a week. It also freezes well. After defrosting, drain some of the excess liquid before serving.

Italian Sausage Pizza with Fresh Basil, Cherry Tomatoes, and Farmer’s Cheese
Recipe Created by: Gretchen Brown
Yields: 1 pizza

1 recipe of quick pizza dough (see past blog posting)
1 cup of chipotle pepper pizza sauce
1 cooked Italian sausage cut into rounds
Handful of basil chopped
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halfed
1/4 red onion, sliced
Mozzarella cheese
Farmer’s Cheese

1. Prepare pizza crust and spread with sauce.
2. Put a handful of mozzarella on the sauce before adding any toppings. Arrange all toppings except for the basil and sausage.
3. Add the rest of the mozzarella and scoop the farmer’s cheese into blobs. Add the sausage. Cook for 10-15 minutes at 450°F. Sprinkle with fresh basil when finished.


Blueberries and Herbs

The past few weeks have been crazy busy and not allowed me enough time to post all of the delicious things that we have been making. This summer has given me a chance to totally change the way I think about food and what to make for dinner. For some, making dinner is quite a challenge when it comes to thinking about what to make every night. Now since we have been making bi-weekly trips to the “farm,” aka Rob’s parents garden, we let the fresh produce control what we are going to make for our meals. Usually each week there is an overabundance of one particular thing and for many weeks that particular vegetable has been zucchini. Some of these things are the size of Louisville sluggers! Now we are onto tomatoes which are being picked by the dozen several times a day. Having so many fresh ingredients that need to be used quickly, not so much because they will go bad, but because the taste is affected and we know that we will get another basket of produce in a few days so we need to eat as much as possible. Now most of the time this is not possible, so I have been preserving a ton of stuff and hiding produce in things that otherwise might be vegetable free. Anyone who knows me well knows that I spend a lot of time researching new ways to use food… I mean a lot of time. Some people are addicted to watching tv and some people are addicted to food and I am one of them. To make a long story short, today’s blog will focus on a few of the recipes I have made centering on a feature produce item.


We are nearing the end of blueberry season, but we were able to get one good pick at a nearby farm, West Moira Orchards. We waited for a nice sunny day, grabbed our berry basket, picked up Rob’s sister and took a drive to the u-pick operation located minutes from our house. The u-pick operation is enclosed with netting to prevent stray birds from coming in and eating all of the berries. But luckily for the birds, they are clever enough to make their way into the area to enjoy the delicious berries as well. This was my first time blueberry picking and I instantly became satisfied. My mind kept filling up with all of the wonderful things I could make with the berries when I returned home. I have to admit that it took me a very long time to fill my basket because I think I may have eaten more than I actually put into my 4L basket. After we were finished picking we went across the street to have our basket weighed and we were charged accordingly. I am convinced now that buying berries at the supermarket is a no no because you have no idea where they come from. Farm to plate is what I am talking about.

So once we got home we dove into the berries and had a few handfuls each. I washed them all and started to organize my recipes. But I didn’t want to use all of them because I wanted to freeze some as well to have on hand for the winter. The first thing I made was Blueberry Lime Muffins. The combination of blueberry and lime was something that I just tried. I had a bunch of limes in the fridge and needed to use them up. I got out my dusty zesting tool, gave it a rinse and made pretty little lime curls with the zest. I made my eggless muffin batter and folded in the lime zest and blueberries at the end. I just had a feeling that these were going to be good. Within seconds of being in the oven the house smelled of fresh blueberries with a hint of citrus…what a perfect Saturday morning breakfast.

Blueberry Lime Muffins
Recipe From: ???
Makes: 12 muffins

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Zest from 2 limes
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp lemon extract
1 TBS white vinegar
1 1/2 cups blueberries
Cinnamon sugar


1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Combine flour, soda, salt, and zest.

3. In a bowl mix the sugar, milk, oil, extract, and vinegar. Mix.

4. Add dry ingredients. Fold in berries. Top with cinnamon and sugar.

5. Bake for about 22 minutes or until done.

Every Sunday we have a family dinner and often it includes Rob’s parents, sister, and his grandparents. Last Sunday it was “Surprise Me Sunday.” This meant that everyone was going to bring a surprise potluck item. Our dish was classified top secret information until we arrived at the dinner. Obviously since we had just picked over 20 cups of fresh blueberries, we were going to make something with blueberries. A few months ago, I found a recipe for Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake. I have been putting it in my to try soon pile of recipes, but really I was waiting until we could go and pick the blueberries ourselves. With that being said, I knew exactly what I was going to make. This recipe is technically supposed to be a breakfast cake, but since I don’t do technical very well I ignored that. I followed the recipe, but lately I have been cutting back on the sugar in sweets because it is just way too much. So I only used about 1/2 cup sugar, and it was plenty sweet enough with the berries. This cake was very easy to make and was definitely a crowd pleaser and eggless too! Enjoy!

Blueberry Coffee Cake
Recipe From:
Servings: 8


• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1/3 cup butter, at room temperature

• 3/4 cup sugar

• 1/2 cup applesauce

• 1 tsp vanilla extract

• 1 tsp baking powder

• 1 tsp baking soda

• 1/4 tsp salt

• 1 cup low fat sour cream

• 1 cup fresh/frozen blueberries ( dont thaw if frozen)

• 3-4 tbsp cinnamon sugar ( add sugar + cinnamon powder) for topping


1. Cream the sugar and butter together.

2. Add the applesauce and vanilla and blend some more.

3. Combine the dry ingredients except for the blueberries in a bowl, mix well.

4. Add these slowly to the wet ingredients alternating with Sour cream and blend. Fold in the blueberries.

5. Grease a Cake tin and spoon half the batter into the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and then spoon the remaining batter. Top it off with some more of the topping.

6. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 40-45 min or until the skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Last week we had company over and the weather was supposed to be nice but instead it down poured all day. My plans for grilled pork tenderloin quickly turned into pork tenderloin in the crock pot. The highlight of the dish was going to be the blueberry balsamic barbeque sauce that was going to glaze the pork. I couldn’t let go of this idea so I served it on the side of the sliced pork. It was still fabulous and the flavors in the sauce blended together so nicely. I didn’t have garlic powder so I used one garlic clove minced. I have made this before a long time ago but I had never made it with fresh berries from the farm and boy do they make all of the difference. I am still awed at how much better food tastes when it comes right from the field to your plate. I have yet to buy produce at the supermarket this summer and hope that I won’t have to. This recipe also goes nicely with grilled chicken breasts.

Blueberry Balsamic Barbeque Sauce
Recipe From: Cooking Light
Servings: 1/2 cup of sauce

2 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until slightly thick. Remove from heat; cool.

2. Place blueberry mixture in a blender; process until smooth.

Fresh Herbs

I tried to grow my own mint and basil this summer and they were doing so beautifully on my patio. And then all of a sudden they looked really sick, but they are still hanging in there. I was not born with a green thumb as my success rate with plants in the past has been similar to that of my mother’s in which plants don’t make it for very long. But in the past few years I have taken such an interest to plants and have done very well with many kinds of indoor and outdoor plants. I kind of have a feeling that I over picked them at the beginning of the season when I was so excited to use the herbs that we grew in our cooking. But anyway to make a long story short, luckily my mother in law also grows fresh mint and basil so I visit her garden frequently to get my pick since she doesn’t use them herself making for a ton of the stuff! I have adopted the philosophy, once you start cooking with fresh herbs it is hard to go back to using dried herbs or even worse cooking with no added herbs. So I will share a few recipes that I have made using basil and mint.

I frequent the library often and check out a new cookbook almost every time. I go through phases of cuisine I cook or techniques for my recipes. Lately I have been on a preserving kick due to the enormous amounts of veggies and fresh herbs that we have been getting. I found the recipe below in the book Classic Preserves which has so many classic recipes with a unique twist. This recipe is fantastic if you have access to tons of fresh mint like I do. The more mint the better. I was seconds into the recipe and my kitchen was overtaken by the aroma of fresh spearmint as the mint was steeping. The sauce itself is very fresh tasting and is the perfect accompaniment to grilled meat or even as a salad dressing for a salad with a fruit accent. It also would make a lovely gift. I went to the local thrift store and found a decent selection of beautiful blue glass bottles. I took them home and sterilized them, bought a cork for them and filled them with the sauce, and voila!

Mint Sauce
Recipe From: Classic Preserves
Makes: 1 cup

1 large bunch of mint
7 TBS boiling water
2/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 TBS sugar

1. Wash and chop the mint very finely. Put into a cup or bowl, one with a spout preferably, to make for easy pouring later.

2. Pour the boiling water over the mint. Let this mixture infuse for 10 minutes.

3. When the mint infusion is at room temperature, stir in the wine vinegar.

4. Add the sugar, and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.

5. Transfer the mixture to a sterilized bottle or jar. Seal the jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Best used within 3 weeks.

This spring, I had the opportunity to work on an Asparagus Farm and met some wonderful people while doing so. Two of my coworkers had particular food allergies and were on strict gluten free diets, so eating was sometimes a challenge for them. They kept ranting and raving about a member of the grain family called quinoa. I had never heard of this before so I did some research and learned that it is only found in the Andes Mountains and grows at an extremely high elevation. It was one of the original staples in the diet along with corn. The best part is that it is rich in protein, higher than almost any other grain. So I went on a search for it, but before I could find it, I tried it at a restaurant in Maine while we were there this summer. The recipe that follows is my attempt to recreate the dish that I had at the Lakewood Restaurant in Maine, however I added beans and used basil instead of cilantro. I wouldn’t normally ever take cilantro out of a recipe because it is one of my all time favorite flavors, however I couldn’t bring myself to buying grocery store cilantro when we have so many herbs growing at the garden. But this salad would work nicely with cilantro as well.

Quinoa Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Basil
Recipe Created by: Gretchen Brown
Servings: 4-6

1 cup red quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 cups water
Handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
Handful of fresh basil, chopped
2 TBS olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Splash of vinegar
Lemon juice, adjust to taste
Salt and pepper

1. Soak quinoa for about 5 minutes. Rinse and drain.

2. Put the water and quinoa in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.

3. Prepare dressing of with olive oil, vinegar, Dijon, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Adjust to your liking.

4. Toss quinoa with tomatoes, onions, beans, and dressing. Add basil right before serving.

Note: Keeps well in the fridge for a few days and best enjoyed cold.  When I make this again, I would add feta to give it a bite of saltiness.

When I made my quinoa salad, I needed a main dish and I have been craving barbequed chicken. I found a recipe for Honey Lime Chicken on Taste Spotting which an online potluck of recipes which is amazing… thanks to Chera for showing this to me many months ago. What I particularly liked about the ingredients in this recipe is that it includes some of my favorite flavors, garlic, lime, chilies, honey, and the list goes on. I knew when I was preparing this marinade that we were going to be in for a special treat. I let the chicken marinate for a few hours in the fridge, rotating it in the middle of its stay in the fridge. Then we heated up the grill and slowly cooked our chicken legs on the grill. The recipe noted to remove any skin, but I couldn’t be bothered and left it on which worked out beautifully because it got all crispy on the outside and burst with juices inside. I rotated the chicken often but made sure to let the chicken guide me. When cooking meats it is best to only turn when they are ready. If something is sticking to the grill, then leave it alone. Give it some time to cook and turn when it no longer sticks to the grill. After about a beer and a half, the chicken was done.

After taking one bite, I was taken back to the islands of Thailand with the flavors. We have spent a lot of time in Thailand and were in one particular place called Cham. Everyday a little old husband and wife team would bicycle along on their rickshaw. They attached a grilling apparatus to it and would park alongside of the road and set up shop. They sold four things: barbequed chicken, sticky rice, sweet Thai tea, and spicy papaya salad. Every day we were in Cham, we would wait for the duo to arrive to the corner nearby our beach hangout and get our fill. This was hands down the most delicious street food ever and the steady line up proved that the locals agreed with this statement as well!

Honey Lime Chicken
Recipe From:
Serves: 4-6

4-5 chicken drumsticks
2 Tbs canola oil
6 Tbs soy sauce
7 Tbs honey
The juice of 3 limes
The zest of 1 lime
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs chili garlic sauce

1. In a large bowl whisk all of the ingredients together and marinade the drumsticks for about 1 hour or more.

2. Once you are ready to cook, remove the chicken and pour the marinade into a small sauce pot and simmer, reduce into a nice glaze and set aside.

3. Grill on medium heat, making sure not to burn the skins, brush the drumsticks on every side multiple times so the chicken has a nice thick glaze. Cook thoroughly and serve with a few lime wedges.


WWOOFing at Windswept Farms

On Friday, July 23, we woke up to a violent thunderstorm, which happened to be the only day of rain that has hit this area in about two weeks. Of course we had plans and had to be up early. Today we were embarking on our first WWOOFing experience on Amherst Island. Both of us, but more so myself, have  been waiting a long time for this. We set out in the rain and made it to the ferry dock in Millhaven, just east of Napanee before hitting Kingston. The ferry leaves at 30 minutes past the hour and is very punctual. The ride took about 20 minutes across Lake Ontario. On arrival to the island, it was just as Rob had remembered as a kid.

Once we arrived on the North Shore of the island we had about a 10 minute drive to the farm. We passed through the “town” of Stella, which had one General Store and a Blacksmith shop and no other modern elements. We also drove by many old stone churches and gorgeous farmland that is yet to be spoiled by commercial property. From here we turned onto the third concession, which is nothing more than a gravel road that eventually runs right along the coast of Lake Ontario. The views are stunning. We turned down the driveway to Windswept Farm and were pleased to be greeted by Geoff and Bill, the owners of the farm.

They quickly welcomed us into their home and gave us the history of the farm. It has been owned for almost 30 years by Geoff and began as an undeveloped piece of land. Since then he has planted thousands of trees including black walnut, butternut, and ash. He built the farmhouse, a barn, garage and shelter for the cows all on a bare piece of land. He has been friends with Bill for decades and brought him on as a farmer. They have raised several kinds of animals in the past including chickens, ducks, pigs, and cows. This year they have 3 cows, who we named Beef Steak, Sirloin, and Hamburg. They have several types of crops including hay, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, celery, peppers, onions, a variety of root vegetables, cucumbers, and a beautiful  selection of herbs. The potatoes and root vegetables grow right on the shores of Lake Ontario in beach sand which I found fascinating. The field is actually on another gentleman’s land, but Geoff has been growing the  potatoes there for years so the family has allowed him to keep the patch. In the rear of the farm, they are working to develop a series of grape vines to eventually make their own wine. The barn is home to a  woodshop and several freezers containing last year’s catch. Beside all of this are hundreds of hay barrels which are stacked to the ceiling. In the yard, a pond has been created for ducks when they are around, and a mobile chicken coop for years when they farm chickens. You can also find several greenhouses so that some vegetables can begin to grow a little earlier. All in all, the property is laid out in such a way that it exerts a feeling of splendor deep inside the soul. It is amazing to be completely surrounded by life in all stages.

After the tour, we went back inside and waited for the sun to come out. We chatted about our backgrounds and learned about Bill and Geoff. Bill just celebrated his 82nd birthday and has had a variety of careers over the years. Now he takes care of the crops, enjoys creating things in his woodshop, and maintains the upkeep of the house. His philosophy on life is “It is better to wear out than rust out,” which explains why he is always knee deep in some sort of project. At least he has his golf cart to help him get around the farm easier! Geoff is the owner of the farm and lives on the North Shore with his wife Jocelyn. He comes over daily and helps to care for the crops with Bill. His wife Jocelyn maintains the herb garden and sells some of the greens to a variety of restaurants in Kingston. She visits a few times a week. There are quite a few others who visit the farm frequently who we met during our week stay there. Joe is a contractor from Kingston who helps Bill and Geoff out with building repairs and helped to design the greenhouses. He also creates stuff in the wood shop. Almando is a blind man who uses the wood shop once a week and is learning how to make  homemade cheese, kindly allowing his friends to be his guinea pigs. Doug comes over during the week to help around the farm and in return Bill and Geoff grow some food for Doug’s pigs. It was so interesting to watch a mini community work so well together. They all contribute different skills and at the end of the day everything gets done with plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of the countryside and each other’s company.

During our stay we had a variety of jobs, none of which had any deadlines. The pace of life here was very relaxed. You do what you can and there is always tomorrow. In the mornings, we helped Bill in the woodshop with small sanding projects and learned how to use a variety of tools. During the afternoons, we made our way to one of the various gardens and weeded, harvested, staked, or planted. In the evenings, we prepared many of the meals and enjoyed them on the porch taking in the sounds of the country and watching the sun go to rest. There were several odd jobs completed during the week, such as wiring electricity, adding trim to the greenhouse, cleaning, and taking trips to the dump after cleaning out the barn. In between jobs, we would meet on the porch with a glass of wine or a cold beer and tell stories before getting back to work. The whole lifestyle was almost like a step back in time. There were no sounds of the city heard in the distance, no tall buildings to spoil the view, no television. The whole atmosphere on the farm is one that I long for.

Our stay was not just work, we had time to explore. One day we took a drove around the island and Bill gave us a map and historical guide of the island to point out places of interest. Most of the farmhouses on the island were built in the 1800’s and many of which are still in their original state. Several houses are lined with stone fences which were created by an Irishman using local rocks from Lake Ontario. There are only a handful of roads since long ago all property was divided so that each piece of property would have access to water. Not much has changed, so it is pretty safe to assume that many of the residents of Amherst Island own a large chunk of land. During our ride, we stopped at one of the only pieces of shoreline that looked to be public. We walked along the shores of the Lake and quickly noticed lots of wildlife including geese, ducks, seagulls, mink, butterflies, and snakes. The water was so clear and blue that we felt like we were standing in the ocean. The views were breathtaking.

Another day while we were harvesting potatoes and pruning the patch, we decided to go for a swim in the Lake. The shoreline in front of the patch was a little rocky, but we heard about a mysterious sand bar that on a calm, shallow day, can take you all the way out across Lake Ontario to neighboring Nut Island. We searched for the sand and after about a 5 minute hike we found it. The water was so cool and calm, the perfect remedy for a hard day’s work. It was so neat to be standing in the middle of the Lake with land on both sides of us watching the birds fly above us. On our way back to the potatoes, we came across a nest of killdeer eggs on the sand and a frog camouflaging in the grass. We drove back to the farm in Bill’s truck with a whole heap of potatoes that we dug up, both red potatoes and fingerling potatoes.

Bill is a man who is very embracing of other cultures and was very interested in our time spent in South Korea. He also loves to eat. Therefore one afternoon he sent us into Kingston and asked us to visit the Asian Market so that we could buy supplies to cook a Korean meal. He invited about 12 of his friends over for supper. I was eager to comply with his request, obviously because I love to cook! So we took the ferry into Millhaven and continued on to Kingston. It took about a half hour to arrive. There were two Asian marts in town. We picked up the ingredients to make Dwenjeong Chigae, Pork Galbi, and Vietnamese Spring Rolls. We were able to find Samjeong, Kimchi, and Kim which would make our meal complete! While visiting one mart, we had a nice conversation with the shopkeeper about his hometown, My Tho, Vietnam. It was so neat because we visited that town two years ago during our backpacking excursion. What a small world! After our trip to the store, we headed into a small pub to grab some lunch before heading back to the island. The Korean dinner was not for another two days but since there is no grocery store on the island it is best to prepare in advance. The night of the dinner arrived quickly and two hours before the guests were expected to arrive, the power on the island went out leaving the house in complete darkness. I didn’t panic, but I did begin to get a little concerned about how I was going to cook for 12 people arriving in less than 2 hours. Bill and Joe came to the rescue and fired up the backup stove which was powered by propane. We used this to cook the meat. Since the burners in the house were all propane as well, it turned out to be a success. 7:00 arrived and only one guest came, so the dinner I prepared for 12 was eaten by 5, with enough leftovers to feed Bill for a month! The dinner turned out well and everyone seemed to be happy with the food prepared, although it is hard to replicate true Korean cuisine after eating so many dishes traditionally prepared.

Our stay at the farm was coming to an end and we both started to get a little sad. Over the past week we have been surrounded by wonderful hospitality, great conversations, good food, and amazing people. As we drove back to the city, we already missed the sounds of the birds, the peace and quiet, the bright blue skies, being surrounded by life in all directions, the moo of the cows, and the chatter of old friends. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience and are eager to plan our next trip to Windswept Farms and Amherst Island.