For the Cook:
Schmidt Brothers – 15 PC. Knife Set with Block $165.32 CAD: This sleek knife set probably won’t cut it in a professional kitchen, but it is a good deal and well above average for the home cook who doesn’t mind putting in the extra care that is needed to preserve the beautiful acacia wood handles and block.
Cuisinart Cast Iron Enamaled Dutch Oven $60-130 US: If you want the best dutch oven that will last a lifetime, get a Le Cruset. You really do get what you pay for. But for those of us who can’t make that investment, a more affordable Cusinart pot is a reasonable alternative. I have two: a 3-quart and a 5-quart that I got on sale at Winners, the Canadian TJ Maxx. I honestly didn’t realize how useful these pots would be until I got them. The smaller of the two quickly became my go-to pot and is used daily, if not multiple times per day. The white enamel interior has suffered some staining from added use as a jam making pot (I hear that Le Cruset pots don’t stain as easily as they have more layers), but other than that it is in really good condition and I expect to get plenty more years out of it.
GreenPan Non-Stick Fry-Pan Set $82.77 CAD We’ve tried a handful of “eco-friendly” ceramic, non-stick pans over the years and like all cookware it comes down to this: you get what you pay for. All of the cheaper pans we tried were crap, losing their coating quickly with careful use, or simply not working at all. We bought a 2-piece set of GreenPans very similar to this about 3 years back and they’ve been great. Although, there is some noticeable wear and tear, it’s in keeping with what you’d expect with daily use. I do agree with some consumers that they can be difficult to clean, but beyond that we’ve been really happy with ours.
For the Home Baker
Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce $19.77 US: This is our go-to book when we are baking from a recipe at home. No other baking book has seen nearly as much use as this one. While I have been baking primarily with spelt flour for years now, when I bought it in 2010, this book really pushed me to start experimenting with other overlooked grains such as buckwheat and barley. I also like that many of the recipes aren’t sugar-heavy. P.S. I have tried all of the scone recipes and while I tend to cut back further on the amount of sugar used, they are all really exceptional. This book is worth it for those recipes alone
One of the first homemade brews I made last year when the bug for fermenting things caught me was a jug of hard apple cider. I played it safe that first time out of fear and trepidation, which in hindsight could have entirely ruined those good bottles of expensive, unpasteurized, organic cider had it not worked out in the end. The process I followed had me boil the cider to kill off any naturally occurring yeasts and then add grains of commercial yeast. The reasoning behind this process is that the commercial yeasts are a known quantity, while allowing the cider to ferment from the yeasts that naturally occur in it and the air in your home is an unknown that can result in a nasty, undrinkable batch of hooch.
Since then every natural yeast brew I have made in this house has turned out wonderfully so I’m moving away from a dependancy on the commercial stuff and prefer to give over to the magic and surprise of the unknown.
Despite those early fumblings, my first batch of hard cider was a hit with friends and I was eager to make more this fall. Unfortunately, local apple crops suffered this year due to an abnormally warm early spring followed by a sudden and severe cold snap. Cider hasn’t hit any of the markets that I frequent yet. Fortuitously, I discovered a couple of large crabapple trees on derelict land this year. The fruit had recently fallen off of the trees but were still in very good shape with only light bruising and few that were too far gone or rotten to bother. They smelled sweet and were only slightly sour — not great for eating, but certainly worth foraging and brewing into some kind of apple wine/cider-like drink. Worst case scenario I waste time, but the actual cost to try is pretty much negligible.
I don’t have a cider press and did not have the ambition to construct one. My goal with this brew was to go as simple and straight forward as possible. No fuss and minimal work. I consulted my country wine making books and found Andy Hamilton’s Sort of Cider in his fantastic homebrew manual, Booze for Free [Note that this is a yet-to-be-released paperback and Kindle edition. I was able to get the original on Kindle but could not find it on Amazon.]. You can see the ‘Sort of Cider’ recipe online here. I did not follow Andy’s instruction exactly. I did not want to use packaged yeast and I did not want to add flavouring (although the ginger does sound good).
Here’s how I did it:
The quest to preserve what remains of the fall garden bounty continues at a fevered pitch. I used to complain that I didn’t have enough green tomatoes at the end of the season, and now… let’s just say, Be careful what you wish for.
One nice way to use up the last of the herbs is to make herb-infused salts. I’ve written glowingly about them in my books — they’re use in the kitchen is endless. We use them as rubs, to flavour roasted veggies and potatoes, to season eggs, as an aromatic baked salmon crust, and as a finish on just about everything.
Sage and rosemary are common culinary companions, but I didn’t think to make a salt of it until I came across jars in a local Italian greengrocer. I initially thought that the strong, resinous herbs would limit the salt’s potential, but we keep a jar of it next to the other salts and I have found myself turning to it far more often than I imagined.
I taught a group how to prepare this particular mix in my Banking the Bounty workshop last month and recently made up a huge batch at home to give to friends as holiday gifts. I’ve provided instructions for a small batch, but it is easily multiplied.
p.s. You’ll love the way your kitchen smells as you make this.
The killing frost came a little early this year and I spent the weekend hustling plants inside and preserving up a storm. I don’t actually grow grapes, but one of the perks of living in an Italian neighbourhood is that they are everywhere. I’ve already made up two batches of jelly/jam (one pink and one Concord) and if I ever get through the legions of green tomatoes from the garden in time, I will surely try to do up a small batch of grape wine.
I don’t know whether to call this a jam or a jelly as it sits somewhere between the two. I included grape flesh but omitted the seeds and skins.
It’s canning season! To get in the spirit, Margaret of A Way to Garden and I are hosting a canning extravaganza and giveaway thanks to our newest sponsor, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. Giveaway details can be found at the bottom of this post.
Canning is joyful, fun, and creative activity, but make no mistake, it is work. I’m not sure if it is the creative impulse or the fact of the hard work, but all canners inevitably seem to follow a trajectory that begins in hesitation and fear (OMG will I accidentally kill my friends and family!?), and ends in crazed jar hoarding and pimping. Many of you have followed along on this website or social media where I have mentioned the lengths I have gone to to acquire and schlep home pretty jars that I can’t buy here in Canada. For practical and budgetary reasons I still put up the bulk of my wares in the cheapest jars I can find wither thrifted or new, but the fact remains that I want the aesthetics of my handiwork to reflect the quality of the work I put into filling them. I gotta have nice jars!
I’ve tried all manner of jars over the years, and so far the jars that I love and covet most are simply crafted, glass and rubber works of art made by a German company called Weck. I bought my first set of fancy pants Weck canning jars 4 years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. Several boxes later and I have managed to assemble a collection that includes at least one of very nearly every size and shape in their catalogue. The first jars I bought back in 2008 were the larger deco and tulip designs. They are absolutely gorgeous jars to be sure, but I immediately discovered that their awkward sizing and shape makes them difficult to can. I fumbled around over the course of two years, sustaining several minor burns, before giving up and deciding that they would be better used elsewhere.