Spicy Squash Soup

We’re getting a lot of squash in our CSA right now, so I figured we should make use of it. Now that the cooler weather is approaching, one of the easiest ways to deal with excess produce is to make soup.

Those who know me know I don’t typically follow recipes when I cook, nor do I measure. So this ‘recipe’ will involve a lot of estimates and approximations. That being said, soup is a food that’s typically made ‘to taste’ anyway, so hopefully this is at least a good starting point.

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Here’s what I put in the soup:

2 average sized crookneck squash

1 medium onion

A splash of sunflower oil (any cooking oil will do here)

2 peeled carrots

1 average sized potato

2.5 cups of vegetable stock

1 small chili pepper

Paprika to taste

Cumin seeds to taste

Turmeric to taste

Chili powder to taste

Salt, to taste

Approximate instructions:

In a large soup pot, put a splash of sunflower oil, add your chopped onion, turmeric, chili powder, paprika, cumin seeds, and chopped chili pepper, and put over low heat. Allow to simmer while you prepare your other ingredients.

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Peel and roughly chop your squash, carrots, and potato.

Add the vegetable stock to the pot, stir, and then toss in your chopped veggies.

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Stir together, and turn up the heat to high. Continue stirring until the pot comes to a boil. When that happens, cover, and reduce the heat to medium.

Allow it to continue to simmer for approximately 20 minutes, or until the veggies are all soft. At this point, you can taste the soup and see if you need to add any additional spices or flavours.

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Remove the soup from the heat, and allow it to cool a bit before you blend it. You can use an immersion blender or a food processor to blend until smooth once it’s cooled a bit. At this point, you can add salt (a small dash at a time, you can always add more, but you can’t take it away), until you’re happy with the taste.

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Serve hot, with fresh crusty bread. Delicious!

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Button Boutonnieres

A few months ago we were online checking out ideas for boutonnieres for our wedding. We came across some button based boutonnieres we thought looked pretty cool and figured it didn’t look too difficult, so we decided to make them for the men in our wedding party.

We ordered a seemingly endless supply of fabric buttons off of Etsy, picked up some green fabric from the fabric store and set to work. If you’re interested; check out the steps below.

What you need:
• Buttons (ideally fabric covered buttons)
• Fabric (we used a heavy textured silk, but other heavy fabrics like linen could work too)
• Fusible webbing (this is sold at fabric stores)
• Floral wire
• Floral tape
• Ribbon
• An iron
• Scissors
• Chalk
• Cardboard or cardstock (to use as a stencil for your leaves)
• Clear nail polish
• Glue gun (not essential, but makes life easier)

The Fabric Leaves

To begin, draw and cut out a leaf template from your piece of cardstock. This can theoretically be any shape you want, but I’d recommend sticking to fairly simple leaf shapes. The size is up to you, but keep it proportionate with the overall size you’re hoping to make the boutonnieres. You may want to make your stencil slightly larger than you intend to make your leaves, to allow space to trim the leaves if they fray.

Next, cut two long strips of fabric (they should both be the same length and width). These strips should be wide enough to fit your leaf stencil (with a bit of extra room) and long enough to fit the number of leaves you want to make with a bit of space in between each one. If you’re making lots (we made 10) you can do this in two batches instead.

Take your fusible webbing, and follow the instructions provided on the webbing package to secure it to one strip of your fabric (cut your webbing to fit first). Note: Use an ironing board, we tried doing this on a rug and were not successful…


Remove the paper backing, and then cut some of the floral wire to make the stems for your leaves. Each piece of floral wire should be roughly double the length of your leaf.  With the fusible webbing side up, place your cut wires in even intervals along the fabric, using your stencil to make sure you’re leaving enough space between each wire to fit the leaves in. Half of each wire should be on the fabric, with the other half sticking out the bottom as the ‘stem’.

Take the other strip of fabric and place it gently over the fabric and the floral wire and use the iron to seal everything together (again, following the instructions on your fusible webbing for timing and heat settings).

Now, take your template and your chalk and draw leaf shapes on  the fabric, with each leaf centred over each piece of wire.

Use sharp scissors to cut out the leaves (cut with the grain on the fabric). We used chalk so we could see the markings and because it wipes off really easily. You should now have fabric leaves with a bendable wire stem that runs the full length of the leaf, with a few extra inches sticking out the bottom as a ‘stem’.

Once you have cut out your leaves, take the clear nail polish and lightly dab the polish onto the edges of each leaf to prevent the fabric from fraying. Let the polish dry.


Take the floral tape and wrap it around the stem from top to bottom— the trick with floral tape is you have to stretch it a bit to make it stick to itself, so pull it tight as you wrap it. You’ve now completed your leaf! (and that was definitely the hardest part!)


The Button ‘Flowers’

You can use any number of buttons per boutonniere, in our case, we used three. We used assorted sizes in each boutonniere, and one button in each boutonniere is specific to that groomsmen’s personality (for example, one groomsmen who is a pilot has a button with a plane on it).

For each button, cut a length of floral wire about three times the length of your leaf ‘stem’. Feed the wire through the back of the button (there should be a loop for this purpose) and fold it in half. Wrap the wire a few times around the button backing so it’s secure and doesn’t wobble, and then twist the two halves together all the way down to make the flower ‘stem’.

Like you did with the leaf, use floral tape to go around the wire stems on each button.

Lay the buttons and a leaf together, in whichever fashion you desire, and use more floral tape to tape all the stems together.

Adding Ribbon

If you know a fancy way to tie a bow, feel free to do that – we tried a few and failed so we opted to use a glue gun to attach ribbon on the reverse of the boutonniere stem and twist it to the top, where we glued it in place on the reverse side so the ribbon can’t move.
If you like, you can also glue safety pins onto the back of the boutonnieres, we did with one or two of them but haven’t decided if we are going to go with that method or use straight pins to attach them.

The Finished Product:

As DIY projects go, this was pretty time-consuming, but we’re really happy with the end-result!

Homebrewing Pt. 3 – Bottling

View Part 1 and Part 2

And now for the final post in the homebrew series:

One Week Later…

After a week of bubbling activity, and trying to peer through the translucent bucket lid to see what’s going on – your beer should have completely fermented. You can either set yourself up for bottling now, or if you want your beer to age you can put it into a sterile glass carboy, what is known as secondary fermentation.

Note: You can probably leave it in the bottling bucket for another week but the only beer that I brewed that turned out poorly was the one I left in primary fermentation for approximately two weeks.

If you want to get straight to bottling, you can skip the next couple of paragraphs. If you’re opting to go for the secondary fermentation route, use your auto-siphon to put the beer into the carboy and be careful not to suck the dead yeast and proteins (known as the trub) from the bottom of the bucket into your carboy. Once it is added you can, if you like, add other flavourings; such as more hops, fruit or spices if you are feeling adventurous (I wouldn’t recommend this for your first attempt though).

Close the carboy off with a rubber stopper and an airlock, and store in a cool, dry place. You can leave it as long as you like really. Especially with darker beers, they really benefit from a lengthy storage period.

Close Up of the Carboy

Before you bottle your beer you will want to take another gravity measurement. Mine was 1014. I was hoping for a number in and around 1008 but using the equation ((OG-FG)/7.46)+0.5=ABV (Alcohol by Volume), I managed to get an ABV of 5.06; fairly standard for beer.

Bottling

When you decide to bottle your beer you will want to prime it. Priming beer is adding sugar to some sterilized water and then adding it to your batch of beer. Boil 3/4 cup of water, add 120g of sugar, and let it cool. Assuming you opted for secondary fermentation, you will need to siphon your beer (sans trub) into your fermentation bucket again (assuming it has a tap at the bottom like mine) and mix the sugar water with the beer. Let it sit for 20 minutes to a half hour. Now you are ready to bottle! Into clean, sanitized bottles!

Capping the Bottles

Attach a bottling tube to the tap in the fermentation bucket to bottle the beer efficiently and with few spills. Your bottling tub should come with instructions, so follow the relevant instructions for your model. Then bottle and cap them (I use an Emily Capper, but there are easier – more high tech – more expensive options). Try and convince a friend to help for the sake of efficiency.

After a week – or just to be safe – two weeks, your beer should have carbonated and it will be ready to drink!

Yes, the process can be long but it’s worth it. There’s nothing quite like drinking a beer you’ve made. The beer I made was light amber in colour and tasted like a traditional ale. Not particularly bitter but slightly spicy because of the hops. Hope yours turns out just as well, or better!

BEER!

Homebrewing Pt. 2 – Brewing

View Part 1

We’re back with part 2 of the homebrewing process.

Process

The barley needs to be milled (broken up so the starches can be accessed). You can buy a barley crusher/malt mill for this purpose, but I don’t have one, so I use a blender. You should go through all your malts (barley), blending them in fairly small quantities.

Put a metal grate into the bottom of your pot (such as a small roasting rack, or a canning rack), so the brew bag doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot. Ideally the bag will be elasticised at the top, so you can fold the edges over the top of the pot.

Add the milled barley to the bag. Add enough water to the pot to cover the barley. Heat the water up. Since the bag method isn’t the most efficient I recommend heating the water to resting temperatures (40C and 60C), and holding the temperatures for a period of time. Typically I do each rest for 30-40 minutes, depending on the amount of grain used. Stir periodically with your big spoon.

After about an hour and a half I then remove the bag with the grain from the pot. The liquid you have left in the pot is called ‘wort’. Bring the wort to a boil, and let it boil for an hour or more (I let it run for an hour and a half). I also put the grained bag in a smaller pot, and pour boiling water over them to remove more wort and sugars from the grain, which I then add to the boil.

Wort Boiling Away

During the boil you will want to add your hops. The earlier you add your hops to the boil the more flavour will be taken from the hops into the beer.

After the boiling stage has completed, you need to cool the wort. The best bet is an immersion chiller. I don’t have one, I plan to make one eventually but in the meantime I opt for an ice bath. Put the pot in the sink; fill the remaining space around the pot with ice. You may need to grab a few bags from the store.

It will be best to try and get the wort to cool down to under 30C within 30 minutes. Once it has cooled sufficiently, use a hydrometer to measure the gravity of the beer (the amount of sugar in the batch). When you purchase a hydrometer, it should include instructions for how to use it properly to measure your beer, so follow the instructions that come with your specific model. My beer had an original gravity of 1048. This measurement is important because it helps to determine how much alcohol is in the beer.

The next step is to add the yeast. It’s best to follow the instructions on the package, or on the website of the yeast company. More often than not though you can add it to lukewarm, sterile water in a bowl and let it activate (can take up to about 20 minutes). Add a small amount of cooled wort to the bowl, to bring the temperature of the yeast mixture to the temperature of the wort.

Now you will want to get your wort into the fermentation bucket! Get an auto siphon and siphon the wort into your bucket, leave the grimy stuff (hops and bits of barley that might have gotten through the bag) in the pot, you don’t want that in your fermentation bucket. Toss in the yeast paste and ‘aerate’ it – stir it with your (freshly cleaned!) large plastic spoon, put the bucket lid on tightly and placed the airlock (with some water in it) in the hole so carbon dioxide can get out but no gas can get in while it ferments. When you buy your fermentation bucket, it should include specific instructions about how to use your airlock, so follow those for your specfiic model. Store the container in a room temperature or slightly cooler location if you have the ability, base it around the ideal fermentation levels for the yeast.

I was ideally aiming for 20 litres of beer but I only managed to get 15 litres out of this batch. Even though I added just over 26 litres of water in total, I didn’t factor in how much water would evaporate… Oh well. Less water means stronger beer!

Tune in tomorrow for the final steps, fermentation and boiling.

Part 3

Homebrewing Pt. 1 – Preparation

A few weekends ago, I decided to brew some homemade beer, a hobby I first got into about a year ago. Making beer at home is surprisingly easy if you’ve got the right equipment, so over the next few posts, I’ll take you step-by-step through the process! For my first post in the series, I’ll take you through the equipment and basic ingredients you’ll need to have on hand to get started.

To start, you’ll need the following equipment:

A very large pot, or two. (VERY large – the biggest you can fit on your stove, ideally)

Brew bag(s) (unused nylon paint bags are fine)

A large plastic spoon with a very long handle

A hydrometer

A brewing thermometer

A fermentation bucket

A carboy

An auto-siphon

A bottling tube

Empty beer bottles (not twist-cap bottles)

A box of new bottle caps

A bottle capper

If you’re starting from scratch, there’s no shortage of beer brewing starter kits out there that will equip you with all the basic equipment you need for a reasonable cost. These beginner kits don’t typically include the large pot or the brew bags, so you’ll need to pick those up separately. Most major cities (and even some small cities) have homebrew supply stores where you can pick up anything you need.

When I brew, I use the ‘bag brewing’ method, so this equipment list assumes you’re brewing the same way. I don’t quite have the funds for all the equipment to go with the traditional way of brewing beer but the beer in a bag method works. The only drawback is it isn’t quite as efficient as it could be.

Once you’ve got all your equipment, you’ll need to get an all-natural cleaner – if the bottle has children smiling on it and the colour green – you are probably set. You don’t want to add any chemicals to your equipment. Clean everything (bottles included) and rinse with warm water to remove any soap residue – total cleanliness is key to brewing good beer. You may need to do most of your cleaning in the bathtub, since some of the equipment is pretty large, so make sure your tub is clean.

Next you’ll need to pick up your ingredients. The homebrew supply stores that I mentioned above should have everything you need.

The ingredients I used for this particular batch are:

Malted Barley:

  • 2Kg Pilsner malt
  • 500g Munich malt
  • 283g Carapils malt
  • 250g Carared malt
  • 250g Crystal malt

Hops:

  • 14g Fuggle (placed 15 minutes into the boil)
  • 19g Tettnang (placed 30 minutes into the boil)

Brewer’s Yeast

Sugar

Distilled water – lots of it.

Malted Barley

Hops

Tomorrow I’ll be back with part 2, which is the actual process of brewing!

Part 2

Part 3

Some Recent Vintage Finds

This is a post we’ve been meaning to write for a while. We enjoy picking up vintage pieces for our apartment at markets, antique stores, and garage sales, and we’ve collected a few things lately.

A few weeks ago we found a few things at a place called the Tin Barn Market, a place just out of town (which has now set up a holiday store in town!). We got a pretty funky suitcase, a stylish lemonade jug, a small bowl (which is perfect for stashing keys, change, and sunglasses), and some silver platters. We need to figure out how to polish the platters without using chemicals, so that will be a DIY post for another day.

Here’s the vintage suitcase:

At the local vintage store I picked up a nice mini-gingham red shirt. Judging by the size of the collar it looks like it was from the 70s. It cost $30 but the shirt is in excellent condition and made by a reputable Canadian company (Lipson), whose shirts sell for around $160 new. From the same store, I also picked up a Harris Tweed riding jacket for only $25, a great price for a quality jacket. Both items have become part of my wardrobe and I even wore them at our engagement photo shoot last week.

As an early birthday present, Rach surprised me with a 3-piece tweed suit that she found on eBay, something I’ve been wanting for a long time. The suit is made by Hart Schaffner & Marx, a prominent British company whose suits sell for around $1000 new. Rach found this vintage piece in immaculate condition for 1/10th of the original purchase price, and it only needs minor tailoring.

So that’s that, our latest vintage finds. Shopping this way is always an adventure, and you really can find some pretty awesome stuff. Doesn’t hurt that buying used is better for the environment!

A Late Night Epiphany

Last night I couldn’t sleep. An unconventional work schedule led to me being wide awake at five in the morning. I figured a hot drink with a bit of a kick might do the trick. I started to heat up milk in a pot and started flipping through my cocktail book. Nothing looked good so I decided to improvise.

I bust out the vanilla infused vodka we made with a leftover vanilla bean and as I didn’t fancy scotch I opted for Drambuie—a whisky made with herbs.

After the milk had boiled I added the alcohols to the milk to taste. It turned out better than I had expected! The vanilla wasn’t overpowering, just a pleasant aroma and a light taste, while the sweetness of the honey and the slight spiciness of the Drambuie really added to the overall flavour.

I used about 2oz of the vanilla vodka and 3/4oz of Dram for a reasonably sized mug of hot milk. It wasn’t strong tasting and really hit the spot.

This may become my drink of choice for cold winter nights!

Homemade Coffee Liqueur

On Sunday Rach and I were bored and got to talking about coffee liqueurs. On a whim we decided we’d make our own! Yeah!

We went to the LCBO; grabbed a bottle of dark rum, headed for the natural food store for vanilla beans—it was closed—zoomed to the grocery store and bought a couple of beans and headed home.

The basic ingredients! Those are vanilla pods in my hand, not a cigar…

We scoured the internet for a good recipe, but they all seemed to conflict with each other. Some used four cups of water, two cups of sugar and two cups of vodka (or rum); while others used two cups of water, 3 cups of sugar and a whole 26er (750mL) of liquor.

We opted for the middle ground and decided on three cups of water, three cups of sugar and three cups of rum. Oh right, and half a cup of fresh ground coffee and a vanilla bean.

First boil the water in a pot. Once boiled, add the sugar. Mix until dissolved. Once the sugar has been added and dissolved (the process shouldn’t take more than five minutes), let the syrup cool a bit and add the coffee. Forget about the coffee mix for a bit and make pizza. Once you’ve eaten, you are ready to move onto the next steps.

In our excitement to make the coffee liqueur we forgot we don’t own any large, airtight containers that are large enough to contain the whole batch. So three large mason jars it was… We cut the vanilla bean in three, and split the pieces down the middle so the seeds and the resin inside could mix with the rum. We put each vanilla third into a mason jar, added one cup of the coffee/sugar/water mixture (including grinds) and added a cup of rum to each of the jars. The volume of each jar is about two cups.

Again, not thinking the process through properly, I forgot to consider that adding three cups of sugar and a half cup of coffee to three cups of water is not going to leave me with just three cups of coffee… Not wanting to waste this delicious coffee; I figured I’d toss part of a second bean I had into another mason jar with the coffee and instead of rum I added vodka.

For the next three to four weeks I’ll be shaking them on a semi-daily basis, and storing them in a cool, dry place. Then the jars should be ready to be strained of coffee grinds, bottled and drank. I’ll let you know how it tastes!

Salsa Verde

A few weeks ago we bought a ton of tomatillos (they look like green tomatoes in husks) and we didn’t really know what to do with them. We’ve cooked with them before but always just as an addition to a recipe.

Tomatillos! Sans-husks

We decided to put our food processor to use and make Salsa Verde.

Ingredients:

  • Tomatillos (roughly the amount you see in the photo above will make a nice amount of salsa verde – enough for cooking a couple of recipes while still having some left over for dipping)
  • Garlic
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Juice of one lime

Remove husks and rinse the tomatillos (they’ll be sticky!). Put them all into a pot of boiling water. Boil until soft, approximately five minutes.

Let the tomatillos cool off a bit and put all of the ingredients into the food processor or blender and mix. Add as much of the other ingredients as you like depending on preference. More jalapenos will make it spicier, more garlic will make it more garlicky and more cilantro will make it more… uh…. cilantro-like.

Once the ingredients have been all diced and mixed, let it cool before serving. You can serve it with nachos, or use it in your favourite Mexican dish. We made enchiladas with some of ours and they were fantastic!

Sole and Shrimp Red Thai Curry

When Rach isn’t around I like to explore food groups I enjoy but Rach doesn’t. Yesterday she was assisting with a wedding photo shoot so I decided to whip up something she wouldn’t eat. Which means copious amounts of seafood!

Last weekend I helped a couple move and they generously fed me delicious Thai food. I figured it wouldn’t be hard to make this with seafood. In this case, shrimp and sole. My attempt below:

Ingredients

Garlic
Ginger
Spring onion
Shallots
Cumin seeds
Coriander
Cardamom pods (3)
Star anise (1-2)
Fish sauce
Red thai paste
Tomato paste (1/2 can)
Coconut milk (1/2 can)
Dried chilis
Juice from one lime
Fresh cilantro
Fresh basil
Brown sugar
Sole (1/2 pound)
Shrimp (10, deveined and peeled)
Yellow cherry tomatoes
Green beans

Directions

Dice up garlic, ginger, green onions, shallots.

Grind star anise, coriander, and the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle.

The fresh ingredients

Heat some olive oil in a pan.

Add the garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, spring onions and shallots to the pan. When appropriately cooked, add fish sauce and the star anise/cardamom pod/coriander mix (I removed the husks and took out any large chunks of star anise I couldn’t be bothered to grind some more).

Add in the red thai paste and mix with the previous ingredients. Also add in the yellow cherry tomatoes, whole but with the tops cut off.

Add the sole (whole) and quickly cook on each side. Add the tomato paste at the same time.

Once the sole is lightly cooked on each side pour in the coconut milk and stir in with the pastes.

Add the dry chilis. In reality I’d rather have used fresh green chilis but I wasn’t going to drive to the next town to go get some…

Mix in the juice of a whole lime.

Continue cooking on a medium/medium-high temperature.

Start steaming the green beans. I used this satellite-inspired steamer.

I meant to cut them in half and remove the stems...Ooops.

Steam for 2 or 3 minutes so they won’t be overdone. While they are steaming add the cilantro, basil and maybe a teaspoon or so of brown sugar to the curry.

Cook until the shrimp is mostly done and add those beans. After a few more minutes of cooking, serve on a bed of rice and garnish with cilantro.

The final product.

There were a couple of things I might do differently next time: Sole is a very flakey fish and pretty much disintegrated, so it might be advisable to go with a sturdier white fish. The same with the yellow tomatoes – I think if I make it again I’d add them later to the recipe as they disappeared after the recipe turned red.

It tasted fantastic and made enough for two.