Time out

Chances are posts will be more infrequent then ever for awhile.  I’m having a lot of shit happening right now and haven’t been cooking much.  There might be a chicken finger recipe coming up soon as well as some more canning as vegetables come into season, but I don’t know when that will happen.  It’s just too much to deal with right now.  Thanks for reading.

-Raylene

Vegetable Lasagna

I had my first vegetarian lasagna ever while working in the kitchen of an assisted living home in Winnipeg.  It was one of the easiest suppers we served and quickly became my favorite meal to make.  We didn’t really follow a recipe and I still don’t follow a recipe for lasagna, something with amazes and confounds my mother.  I’ve become very comfortable cooking things without a recipe, especially easy things like lasagna, chicken parmesan, and stirfry.  Harder recipes are also sometimes made without an actual recipe, but normally tweaking is required like my granola bars.  Baking things, however, always requires a recipe.  Baking is closer to science then everyday cooking and requires much more precise measurements and such. 

Because I often share recipes with my mother, I do need to write things down and estimate measurements for her benefit.  She never, ever cooks without a recipe, so if I want her to try something new, I need to provide her with a recipe.  Having said that, here is my recipe for vegetable lasagna.

Vegetable Lasagna

1 box oven ready lasagna noodles (whole wheat if you can find them!)

1 can salt free tomato sauce

2 tsp italian seasoning

1 tsp sugar

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1tbsp olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic

2 carrots, diced

1 onion, diced

1 zucchini, diced

1 red or green pepper, diced

3 stalks of celery, chopped

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup frozen sweet corn

Motzarella cheese

Fresh Spinach

1.  Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan or wok.  Add the onions, carrots and celery, sauteeing until soft.  Add the garlic and rest of the veggies (except spinach).  Sautee untill all the veggies are soft and have released their juices.  Drain and set aside. 

2. Mix the tomato sauce with the spices and sugar.  Lightly grease a 9×13″ pan with pam or olive oil.  Put a layer of tomato sauce down, then noodles, veggies, spinach,  tomato sauce, and motzarella (can user ricotta or cottage cheese).  Continue layering untill you reach the top of the pan with a layer of noodles.  Put some tomato sauce on top of the noodles to make sure the cook, top with a thick layer of motzarella cheese.  Bake @350 for about 30-45 minutes or until the noodles are cooked through.

Lasagnas can be covered in tin foil and saran wrap and frozen for up to 6 months.  Let them thaw in the fridge overnight before baking as above.  The veggies are very flexible, I used what I had on hand but you could throw in eggplant, cauliflower, sweet potato, squash, red potatoes sliced thin, asparagus, or use kale instead of spinach.  The possibilities really are endless with lasagna.

Lack of Sleep and Jam

This post is being written in a vague attempt to not fall asleep at my desk this afternoon.  It’s only vague because pretty much everything I’ve done all day has been pretty vague.  Vague is also fun to say.  The more I type it out, the weirder it looks so I should maybe stop now.  I feel like I’m at risk of falling asleep on the phone this afternoon because sleep and I were mortal enemies last night, and due to this discrepency in our schedules, I got very little of it.  I already requested some nap time this afternoon but was promptly denied.  Apparently there is no rest for the wicked.  Or the sleep-deprived. 

This weekend was fairly productive.  Laundry and floors were done on Saturday,  along with Rhubarb Jam and canned Peaches in Syrup with help from my dear Mother.  Groceries were picked up as well.  I also have another ice cream pail and a half of frozen rhubarb.  It’s going to be a rhubarb-y winter.  My freezer is becoming a cornucopia of rhubarb.  Good thing I adore rhubarb! 

Rhubarb Jam

2lbs rhubarb

2 cups sugar

1. Chop rhubarb into 1″ pieces.  Put in a medium size bowl and add sugar.  Mix well and cover with a tea towl.  Let the rhubarb macerate in the sugar overnight. 

2. Pour everything from the bowl into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Let boil vigorously for 5 minutes.  You can let it cook longer if you want the rhubarb really broken down, otherwise don’t let it go over the time.  Ladle jam into hot jam jars, place seal on top and tighten the ring.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Let it sit on the counter for 24 hours.  Check seals and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

I have a sneaky suspicion that this would be good with cardamom added, but I don’t know why because I’ve never really had a lot of cardamom.

Thinking Ahead to Winter Pt2 – Canning

This is the 2nd part of what is going to end up being more than 2 parts all about preparing items for the winter ahead.  The key to all of this is to get as fresh and local as you can find or afford.  While traditionally Canning is thought of as a fall activity, there are many things in season now that can be prepared.  If you do things as the fruit or vegetable comes into season, you’ll be doing a bunch of little projects as you go instead of trying to attempt one big marathon session of canning, the thought of which makes my feet hurt already! 

Canning involves a lot more preparation then freezing does.  If you want to be able to keep the items you make, safely, in your cupboards or root cellar, they have to be processed in a water bath before putting them away.  The main items you’ll need to successfully can your own jam, pickles, spaghetti sauce, or whatever else you can think of are the following:

– Large, Heavy bottomed pot for cooking sauces or jams in. 

– Jars.  My favorite sizes are jam jars, pint jars (2 cups or 500ml), and quart jars (4 cups or 1000ml)  Jars can be bought at Canadian tire for a decent price or you can search kijiji or MCC/Value Village for cans.

-Lids.  Canning lids come in 2 parts.  There’s a metal ring that screws on and a metal snap lid with a rubber seal on the bottom.  If you buy your jars brand new, they will come with both parts.  Otherwise, both the metal rings and snap lids can be bought at Canadian tire, sometimes dollar stores.  It’s best to replace snap lids after one use, although if I’m just canning soup without processing it and am keeping it in the fridge I will re-use them.

– Tongs.  Metal tongs will help you lift the hot jars in and out of the water bath before and after processing.  It also helps you grab the lids and rings from the hot water before putting them on the jars.

– Funnel.  Really handy if you don’t want to make a huge mess when trying to ladle your hot jam/sauce into the jars!

– Cookie Sheet.  Makes moving the jars in and out of the oven that much easier…and we like easy.

– Canner.  A canner is a large pot used to process jars in.  It usually comes with a rack and is cheaper to buy then a stock pot.  Although I suppose Alton Brown would be upset with me for buying an item that isn’t very multipurpose.  Oh well.

The general steps to canning involve heating (read, sterilizing) your jars in a 200 degree oven, heating (sterilizing) your lids and rings in a small sauce pan of boiling water, cooking your jam/sauce as per the recipe, ladling it into the hot jars, wiping off the edges, placing the lids and rings on the jar and then processing it in a canner filled with boiling water for the recommended time.  The jars are usually left in the water for about 5-10 minutes after you’ve removed it from the heat and then removed to the side.  Let the jars sit on the counter for about 24 hours, check the seals to make sure it’s sealed properly and then store in a dark, cool place for about 1 year.  I find it very simple, the most tedious part of the entire thing is preparing your fruit or veggies for cooking. 

The first item I canned was a batch of cherry preserves.  I’ve never had cherry preserves or used cherry preserves but it sounded like a good idea at the time and bing cherries were on sale for under $2/lb.  I brought 4lbs home with me and proceeded to de-step and pit all 4 lbs of cherries.  It took me about an hour by myself.  Two days later and my fingers are still stained.  (!)  3lbs of cherries were turned into preserve and the other lb were frozen for use in the winter, probably for smoothies.  Since I had already removed the pits, I didn’t want to just eat them.  I ended up with about 3 pint jars of preserves.  I don’t think I let them cook down far enough, cause they seem fairly runny in the jars but I don’t have any fruit float and you can see cherries throughout the syrup.  Although since I’ve never HAD cherry preserves, I don’t know how thick it’s supposed to be!

Simple Cherry Preserves

3 lbs sweet or sour cherries, stems and pits removed

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

1. Place the cherries in a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  Add a splash of water and bring to a boil.  Crush cherries to release the juice. 

2. Add sugar and mix to dissolve.  Then add lemon juice and stir.  Bring to a nice boil and let it go for about 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until desired gel is reached.  Turn off heat and let fruit sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release any trapped air (helps prevent fruit from floating to the top of the jars).  Skim off any foam.

3.  Ladle into hot pint jars.  Wipe the edges clean and place a new seal lid on top.  Screw the ring down until just tight.  Process in water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove lid and remove pot from heat, let stand for 5 minutes.  Remove jars from pot, let sit on the counter for 24 hours. Check seals and store in dark cool place for about a year.

It really is that easy!

Thinking ahead to Winter Part 1 – Freezing

This is the first year ever where I’ve had my own apartment and really want to start canning and preserving things for winter.  The easy stuff is making sure I have fruit prepared and in the freezer for winter green smoothies and baking. I’m going to be doing a 2 part series on preparing foods for winter.  This is the first post and will be all about freezing food for later use.  I mostly freeze my own berries, I usually buy pre-frozen veggies.

I found a place just north of the city that has u-pick raspberries that will be ready in a few weeks.  These people purchased the land last fall and found out that there’s 5 acres of raspberry bushes!  They’re also selling plants, but I don’t have anywhere to grow a raspberry bush so unfortunately can’t take advantage of that, but at least I can go pick my own raspberries.  Raspberries don’t travel well and go bad very quickly after they’re picked so it’s impossible to buy a large quantity from the grocery store, especially if you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for them.  My plan for the raspberries is one ice cream pail frozen and a batch of raspberry jam.  I looooove raspberry jam, but store-bought is never sour enough for me.

The other frozen goods I’m planning on are strawberries, blueberries and I still have rhubarb from last year.  I’m now thinking that I should maybe go pick my own corn and freeze a bunch of that…that’d be good too, I love sweet corn and add it to pretty much everything!

Frozen stuff is easy to prepare.  First you wash everything and make sure you got rid of any bugs/dirt if you picked them or got them directly from a farmer.  If you’re doing strawberries, you then remove the green tops and cut them into halves or quarters, depending on the size of the berries.  Once they’re cut, and for every other berry, the next step is to line a large sheet pan with parchment paper or saran wrap and spread out the berries in one layer.  If you have more then one layer worth, make sure you put another layer of parchment paper or saran wrap in between the layers.  The point of freezing them in one layer is so that they don’t freeze into one huge chunk of berry, making it easier later on to take out the amount you need while cooking.  Place sheet pan in the freezer and let freeze till solid.  Once they’re frozen, store in ziploc bags or 4L Ice cream pails.  My preference is Ice Cream Pails.

I usually try to have at least one ice cream pail of raspberries, and two ice cream pails each of blueberries and strawberries.  Strawberries and blueberries are integral ingredients in my green monsters.  If I can find nice peaches I would probably do some of those as well, but they require blanching which I’m not terribly familiar with but can probably get my mom to help.

Sick…Bleh

Last week Saturday, the day of my first lengthy bike ride, also marked the day of impending doooooooom.  Substitute doom with sore throat and runny nose that won’t stop and you’ll have a fairly accurate picture of how my week has gone.  Add a sprinkling of “job-that-makes-you-talk-all-day” to that and you have a very cranky Kam. 

My throat was somewhat sore on Saturday after my ride, which I assumed was due to dehydration and possible mild heat stroke.  Saturday night it got worse.  Woke me up a few times too.  Sunday was scratchy throat city, and by the end of my work day on Monday I had all but lost my voice.  Monday was most definitly a rest day.  Tuesday marked the change from a sore throat to a running nose and clogged sinuses.  I love sneezing constantly and sniffling in people’s ears all day, it’s the highlight of my week really.  A girl’s gotta have something to look forward to when it feels like her nose has been replaced with a wide open faucet. 

One thing that I’m questioning is how I got sick.  The only thing that’s changed is the increase in activity, which is apparently supposed to be good for you.  I was feeling fine prior to my bike ride on Saturday.  I’m wondering if I would’ve gotten sick even if I hadn’t gone for the ride, or if it started it?  I also wonder if the increase in exercise has made my lymphatic system go into overdrive and try to KILL ME.  Cos is convinced that my body is rebelling and probably hates me.

Despite the leaky faucet on my face and sandpaper in my throat, I have kept up with the activity this week.  Tuesday and Thursday (yesterday) were Bike days of about 3.5 miles each.  Yesterday was also a 20 minute Yoga and 15 minute Dance cardio workout day.  I’ve also been drinking a ton of tea, mostly ginger lemon or organic throat coat tea I picked up at a local health store.  I love tea.