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Skills For Life

Substitutions in the Kitchen

Hi Society!

This is not a list of acceptable substitutions in the kitchen. This is my cooking style.

I grew up cooking with my mom who would never follow recipes. She just made stuff up. Most of the creations were palatable, but some weren’t exactly. Having the exact same thing twice (whether you liked it or not) wasn’t an option. It could have been frustrating, but it wasn’t. I only have good memories from cooking with my mom. She taught me to trust myself and not be afraid to experiment. Challenge accepted mama!

Of course, this type of cooking doesn’t work for everyone. My husband for example will follow recipes to the letter. If the recipe says to heat the pan on high, it will be on high; regardless of the fact that the content might be burning. I still encourage him to cook. It’s usually very tasty. But it makes me laugh (and occasionally cough or cry). Substitution or cooking with your gut feeling (not cooking actual guts) also doesn’t work if you don’t understand what basic ingredients do in recipes, especially in baking. I once lived with a friend who was very passionate about baking but…. it just wouldn’t agree with her. Burnt rocks were a staple at our house. It’s important to be able to listen to your recipe and be willing to learn from experience.

Once I moved out (from my mom’s, not my baker friend), Chef Michael Smith helped me broaden my cooking horizon following the same relaxed mindset. In one of his cooking shows, he always starts by saying that a recipe is a mere collection of words, a canvas, and that it’s basically just a suggestion. I like that. He doesn’t impose but proposes possibilities. He’s also really good at teaching techniques and explaining how to achieve a certain result. And he’s Canadian. Just saying, eh! 🙂

With this background, I continue inventing and substituting a lot and it’s been a real confidence booster and a life saver! Sometimes, you just have to make do with what you have. In those moments, I pretend I’m on Chopped, the cooking show what forces you to come up with great food from weird ingredients that you wouldn’t think to combine. I also know that if I don’t have a specific ingredient, let’s say evaporated milk, I can simply make it from scratch. Same with vegetable broth: I can make it from vegetable scraps that I stash in my freezer until I have enough. Or miso paste in water. If someone doesn’t like cilantro, parsley can be used. If I don’t have a pie crust for a quiche, left over cooked rice will do. Enough seasoning and good techniques will go a long way!

What are your favorite substitutions?

Origanum Vulgare

Hi Society!

Today we’re talking about the joy of the mountains, also known as oregano. It’s a popular herb in my house, but not for the mediterranean culinary reason you might be thinking of. Of course I love pizza! But I love staying healthy even more 🙂

Oregano ”has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, it aids digestion, and helps prevent gas. Oregano stimulates blood flow in the uterus and so helps treat menstrual pain and irregularities. It supports healthy liver function and perspiration. Supplements of oregano essential oil are a popular treatment for colds, fevers, fungal infections, indigestion, parasites, and menstrual problems. Use topically as an antiseptic or as a liniment for its warming qualities. It is a well-known kitchen remedy for toothache. The oil is strongly sedative, so use moderately.”, wrote Rebecca Wood in The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.

My mom used to give me a few drops of oregano oil to put under my tongue for a few seconds when a cold was approaching. It would always scare it away (it’s very potent, have a glass of water ready!). I just harvested all the oregano I could find in the garden because fall and its frost is upon us. Making essential oil is a little too daunting for me at the moment but simple oregano oil isn’t. Google it if you are curious! Basically, you steep the fresh oregano in equal amount of oil in the sunlight for two weeks, and then you strain the liquid and put it away in a dark cool place. It’s obviously not going to be as strong as an essential oil but I bet it’s going to give your immune system the extra kick it needs! I’ll let you know over the winter if it helped me.

P.S.: Did you know that drying oregano actually intensifies its flavor? You’re welcome, society!

Radish Seeds

Hi Society!

This spring, I planted my second garden ever. I made it big thinking I would have much more time than I actually had. Oops. I also planted my radish seeds the beginner way: scattering them (in the wind) on a cramped spot, ALL AT ONCE. I’m not sure what I was thinking. What I’m thinking now? Never again!

Next year, I’ll definately sow seeds in neat rows, giving them proper space to grow, and only sow 1 or 2 rows at a time so I can stretch the radish season and, most importantly, not be overwhelmed at the quantity of cherry bells! I’m really happy about my learning experience though. Because I had so many radishes, some plants started bolting and flowering. I let them be because I was curious. Seed pods then started to grow and then it occured to me “that’s how radish seeds are created!”. I guess I never took the time to think about those things. I feel a little dumb, but I’m so glad to be gaining all this knowledge right now.

Credits to gardenbetty.com
Credits to gardenbetty.com

Discovering seed pods made me realize that I could start saving seeds. One more step towards self-sufficiency and one more life skill being learned! I just read that you simply pick the pods at the end of the growing season (pretty much now for Alberta) and you let them dry. Then, you split the pods open and transfer them to a cool and dry location. I’m thinking in an envelope inserted in a glass jar. I read some people advise to freeze, some advise against… I still have some learning (and blind experimenting) to do before I can pick my own method. I’ll use some of the seeds during the next gardening season but I’ll also save some (in case something goes wrong), and sprout the rest! Radish sprouts are really refreshing and make a great addition to salads and sandwiches. They also make interesting stir-fry garnishes. Apparently, you can even pickle or stir-fry the entire fresh pod. Food for thought 😉

Wax to Do with Beeswax?

Hi Society!

Last night I went to our local farmers’ market and I found a block of beeswax. I was so excited that I bought it (a whooping $3). I had a vague idea of what I could do with it but I was sure it would be great 🙂 It’s such a versatile product! Here’s a non-comprehensive list of things you can do with beeswax:

  • skin care products: moisturizer, lip balm, soap, hair pomade
  • tool care
  • leather care: shoe polishing, furniture restoring
  • waterproofing: fabric, shoes, outdoor furniture, matches
  • wooden care: furniture polish, restoring kitchenware (spoons, cutting boards)
  • sinking construction nails
  • ”greasing” furniture (aka stuck drawers)
  • candles!!!
  • fire starters
  • coating cheese
  • chewing gum
  • strengthening threads: sewing, shoe laces, cordage
  • making a bow?
  • seal stuff…

Oftentimes it has to bee be combined with other ingredients. This video is gives you a cool overview of some uses! Happy Friday 🙂

Overnight Bread Recipe

Hi Society!

Self-sufficiency, for me, includes breadmaking. Not only is it nice to save some cash and to know exactly what is in your food, but what’s even better is the taste of freshly baked bread! I use a few different bread recipes; most of them require at least a few hours of your day (prepping, proofing, baking). Not everyone has time (or wants to take the time) to labour in the kitchen for a loaf that is bound to disappear quickly. This overnight bread recipe is the solution! Bonus: it even has a mild sourdough taste 🙂

Before going to bed, mix together in a large bowl:

  • 3 C flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp traditional yeast
  • 1 1/2 C warm water *

Next, go to bed.

When you wake up, put a dutch oven or big pot with its lid in your oven and preheat it at 450 F. Meanwhile, shape the dough in a ball, adding flour to remove the stickiness. Let it sit in the same bowl it was in and dust a little flour on top of the ball. When your oven is ready, remove delicately flip over the bowl containing the dough in the hot pot. Put the lid back on and put the whole thing in your oven for 30 min. At the 30 min mark, remove the lid and keep baking for another 15 min. Take everything out, let your loaf cool over a rack. Eat for breakfast!

*About the warm water: you want your water to be warm enough to activate the yeast, but not too much to kill it. I was once told that if you can count up to 3 before you have to take your finger out that’s the right temperature.

I also encourage you to wing this recipe and play with different flour types. You might have to adjust the amount of water. Have fun making something nutritious and delicious!

Crockpot Yogurt

It’s unofficially the end of summer: Labour Day is here. I feel I’m being ironic right now, writing this post on the day celebrating the Toronto Typographical Union’s win on reducing work hours. But then again, this is not my job 🙂

I recently started thinking about my personal consumption of goods and I’ve developed an affection for multipurpose items that I already own. Today, I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite slowcooker use: yogurt-making!

I haven’t invented the principle. You can surely find many recipes online. Here’s what I’ve been doing for the last 2 years. No need for fancy cultures. All you need is:

  • 1 L milk
  • 1 Tbsp probiotic plain yogurt (room temperature)
  • slowcooker
  • thermometer
  • towels

You can choose to make more or less yogurt. The reason why I like this quantity is because I use a square candy thermometer that I lay flat in the bottom of my crockpot and I like the convenience of being able to read the dial without moving it. Simple laziness. I personaly use 1% or 2% milk but you can use skim or whole too. This recipe works for previously frozen milk.

Instructions: Pour milk in slowcooker. Heat on high until it gets to 185F. This should take approximately 1.5h. Carefully let the milk stay between 185F and 199F for roughly 15-20 min to increase thickness of final product. Don’t let it go over that temperature otherwise you’ll get weird runny watery milk instead of yogurt. Unplug the crockpot and set dial to warm up (this might be useful later). Let the milk cool down to 110F. Long way: simply remove the lid and wait. Quick way: if you can remove the ceramic part of your slowcooker, remove lid, and put the pot in an ice bath (to decrease the chance of breaking your pot, make sure the water level is equal to the level of liquid inside). Once you reach the 110F (not more than 119F, not less than 100F), whisk in your yogurt. Put the lid back on, put the pot in the metal frame if you need to and wrap the entire thing in towels (I use two). Place your bundle somewhere it won’t get disturbed, preferably draft-free. You want the mixture to incubate at roughly 100F for 6-8hrs. The longer you let it, the tangier the taste will be. Worried the temperature has dropped too much? Plug your crockpot for a few minutes to warm up the liquid a little (this is why you want to have previously turned the dial to keep-warm mode before wrapping it). After the prefered amount of time has passed (6h for me), unwrap the slowcooker and give it a little shake, just to confirm you have a nice ferm content. Successful? At this point, you can either put the pot directly in the fridge or strain the content in a cheese-cloth-like fabric to get a thicker yogurt (30 min of straining will give you greek-like yogurt, 12-24h: cream cheese). Store in glass jar(s) in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. Unsuccessful? Bake something like bread of muffins with your watery non-yogurt mixture. This happens. Be more careful with temperatures next time!

What to do with the whey (yellow-ish byproduct of straining)? More baking! Substitute water or milk in a bread (or muffins, etc.) recipe. It will give it a mild sourdough taste. Bonus: extra protein! Do I need to keep buying probiotic yogurt to start my homemade yogurt? Nope! Simply freeze a Tbsp of your freshly made yogurt and use it thawed in your next batch 🙂 I recommend freezing at least 2 starters in case something goes wrong with a batch. It happens. Don’t like plain yogurt? Stir in fruits, jams, honey or maple syrop!!!

There are many other ways of making yogurt without a yogurt-maker. Try one and amaze yourself!

Do you use your slowcooker to make something unusual? I’d love to hear about it!

Mother Nature’s Most Recent Stunt

Hi Society!

Last night, out of the blue (at least for me as I previously checked the weather and there were no advisories), we got a huge storm. There was lots of rain, thunder, lightning and… hail. The golf ball size kind. I wanted to take pictures of the storm but Shiloh, my dog, was shaking uncontrollably so I stayed with her to comfort her. Dog trainers will say I need to teach her not to be scared and reward her good behavior but I’m not there yet. I also still hug my pet. Judging by her waging tail she seems to appreciate the love too. Oops, I’m kind of side-tracking here. Where was I? Right, the storm. My friend Jenny watched it and said it looked like a mini-tornado. Wahh!

Mini-Tornado Damage
Mini-Tornado Damage

Part of the life skills I’m currently learning is gardening. Like I mentioned, I wasn’t prepared for a storm so here’s what I found in the backyard this morning:

hit tomato

crushed pepper

hit peppers

poor pumpkin

sad eggplant

total hit harvest

I could be devastated but I’m not. I’m gaining gardening experience after all and I much rather have this happen to me now, before I get my micro farm and mostly rely on what I grow. I will definately research how to best protect a garden against storms for next time, though! My newbie self thinks a raised tarp covering the garden should do the trick. I’ll let you know what I learn. The other reason I’m not really upset is that I still have those healthy babies growing:

eggplant

good tomatoes

good pumpkin

In the meantime, we’re going to eat roasted green tomatoes with supper tonight. I might look into green relish recipes too. I’m also excited about tasting the green peppers that were hit. This is providing me with a great excuse! To everyone in the same boat: don’t get discouraged! This is life afterall 🙂

My Canning Début

I’m really excited to share this new life skill I just added to my résumé this summer: canning! So far (this month), I’ve canned blackberry jam, blueberry jam, saskatoon berry jam, strawberry rhubarb compote, applesauce, pickled sugar snap peas, peach butter, peach pie filling, peach slices and I’m looking forward to canning pickled beets, pickled cucumbers, and salsa in the near future – aka, when I’m ready to harvest my garden 🙂

I can’t believe how easy hot water bath canning is! Moreover, I love that I no longer have to try to squeeze food in my freezer. This food preserving method doesn’t require electricity! And you know exactly what’s in your food. No preservatives. Well, sugar and lemon juice are preservatives but you know what I mean.

I’m a little bit of a rebel when it comes to following recipes. However, canning is not the time to joke around because there’s a chance you could get sick if you mess with the chemical magic of the process. I had to test if it was necessary to wipe the rim of the jar before adding the lid. Turns out it’s a necessary step! The only consequence my experiment had was that I ended up having to put a blackberry jam jar in my fridge and eat it. So sad 😉 Talking about blackberry jam, I’ve learn that you might find little white worms in freshly picked blackberries. All you need to do is soaking them in salted water, like for broccoli, and the worms come right out! I also learned that blanching peaches for 1 min makes peeling efficient according to many. I prefer to call it fun.

I bought my canning kit online (using ebates.ca to get cashback) and realized afterwards that there could be an issue since I own a glass/ceramic stove top. The stove used to belong to my mom so I called her to get her two cents and she said to try it out. I did and I have had no issues so far. Next step (probably next year): I want to invest in a pressure canner to safely can low acid fruits and vegetables like carrots, beans, potatoes, and meat products like broth and stews.

I’m Digging These Potatoes!

potatoes from a bag

Earlier in Spring my friend gave me extra potato seedlings. Having never planted potatoes before (this is only my second year growing a garden), I researched what to do on Pinterest. Apparently there are quite a few possibilities when it comes to planting potatoes! I chose to grow them in bags, using a bit of the soil that was originally in the said bag and the rest from the pile of dirt I’m growing beside my shed. I planted 4 seedlings per bag as an experiment. At first, I did as suggested: keep adding soil to cover everything but a few inches of the plant to maximize your yield. I ended up stopping this for one simple reason: my bags weren’t as tall as they should have been. So I let the plants grow!

potatoes in bags

At one point, my plants wanted to start flowering but I kept nipping that idea in the bud as I was told the potatoes would no longer be edible if the plant flowered. My Alberta Vegetable Gardening Guide didn’t seem to think the same so I let that go too (no flowers ended up growing afterwords though). I read that the potatoes can be harvested as soon as the flowers come out or when the plant start to yellow and die. I was too curious to wait so I dug up one of the bags today! Some potatoes are of a nice size but some are minuscule; I expected that hehe! Those little ones are soooo cute.



I understand the concept of growing potatoes – place seedling in soil, water, harvest potatoes at the end of summer – but it still felt like a magical surprise! I’m fascinated by root vegetables for this reason 🙂

What fascinates you?

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