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Dinner is such a fun time at our house

Child: There’s bacon on my pizza ewww! Poor piggies!
Me: Oh no! And the cheese is made from milk stolen from baby cows!
D: And the wheat! Have you heard how wheat screams when it goes into the grinder to become flour!
Us: Just eat the pizza.

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Science! And spaghetti sauce.

Every year about this time we make a metric buttload of tomato sauce. Well, not quite tomato — mine has onions, garlic, peppers and stuff in it too. From a canning perspective this has been a problem because tomatoes alone are only borderline acidic enough to be canned without using a pressure canner and once you add even lower-acid veggies nobody will make themselves liable for your death by botulism by giving any kind of canning time or direction even for pressure canning.

We like the flavour of our sauce when it’s been frozen but of course fitting the amount of sauce produced by 75lbs of tomatoes in our World’s Smallest Chest Freezer is a challenge.

Last year I pressure-canned it following the time and pressure directions as if it was meat sauce. Massive overkill, but again, nobody is willing to give directions for random veggie mixes. It worked reasonably well and we loved having it on the shelf and not in the freezer but we found the flavour much less fresh. It had a bit of a stewed taste to it. And the pressure canning took forever. I’d much rather water-bath can it so the flavour stayed fresher.

To avoid botulism I’d have to do at least one of two things:

  1. Make the sauce acidic enough (below pH 4.6) that botulism spores won’t thrive.
  2. Make the sauce hot enough to kill botulism spores (240F for a good while)

Then it dawned on me: really, the problem is that I don’t know the pH of the thing being canned. Secondarily, if it’s natively over pH 4.6 I need to know what it takes — what it absolutely, reliably, definitely takes — to give it a pH under 4.6, because I am not in the business of giving myself and my family members botulism.

So: science!


How much, I wondered, do decent pH monitors cost? (I don’t think the cheap little test strips are sensitive enough for this application.) The answer was only ~$20 after tax and shipping, so I ordered one.

Then I did a bit more research online and found this paper, which found that 1/4 cup of lemon juice very reliably acidified a pint of either single or mixed low-acid veggies and tomatoes while still not tasting terrible. Useful information, but 1/4c of lemon juice (4 tablespoons) is kind of a lot — it’s 4x what you’d use for plain tomato canning, and I thought it might make the sauce runny. We like our sauce pretty thick.

Many tomato canning sources recommend 1 tablespoon of lemon juice OR 1/4 teaspoon citric acid to acidify plain tomatoes. I decided to go with citric acid for this experiment since it’s powdered thus not runny. The paper above found that 4T of lemon juice per pint jar produced a pH well below 4 so if 1T lemon juice = 1/4t citric acid, then 4 x 1/4t = 1 teaspoon of citric acid might be hypothesized to do the same.

Also, I had citric acid around because I use it to clean the dishwasher and I didn’t have bottled lemon juice. Science! Perhaps I should submit that to Overly Honest Methods. You can buy citric acid at bulk food stores, usually near the spices.

Overly Honest Methods

But what’s the dose-response ratio to citric acid, since pH is a logarithmic scale? And does the sauce taste okay? Will it need sugar to counteract the extra sourness from the citric acid (I hate sweet tomato sauce)?

There were about ten cups of sauce left after the freezer was full. So I water-bath processed five clearly-labelled pints of sauce (40 minutes processing time, probably 5 minutes more than necessary at this altitude) with these additions:

  • 1 pint with 1/2 tsp citric acid
  • 2 pints with 3/4 tsp citric acid
  • 2 pints with 1 tsp citric acid

As soon as they were reasonably cool I put them in the coldest corner of the fridge instead of on a shelf, because again, not in the business of botulism.

Now we had to wait for the pH meter to arrive. Why do things not arrive immediately? Tappy foot tappy foot.

We had an extra frisson of excitement when our main fridge/freezer died and the jars of sauce spent 36 hours at room temperature. Since they’re properly sealed and processed they’re sterile, but were they acidic enough to be safe from botulism? Would we have to boil them for yonks just to be sure? *Where* was that pH meter?

Eventually the pH meter arrived and I calibrated it using the buffer solutions provided.

pH meter and buffer solutions

I am not a hand model

And so we had pasta for dinner. We had a jar of frozen, unadulterated sauce open so that was first — pH of 4.6 so yes, without some sort of intervention it was out of the comfort zone for water-bath canning for sure. My family wouldn’t eat pasta for a week straight though so it took a while to work through the jars with citric acid. To make a long story short:

  • Plain sauce from the freezer: pH 4.6
  • Pint of sauce with 1/2 tsp citric acid: pH 4.4. Taste was normal.
  • Pints of sauce with 3/4 tsp citric acid: pH 4.3, 4.2 (for the two jars). Taste was a bit sour.
  • Pints of sauce with 1 tsp citric acid: pH 4.1, 4.1 (for the two jars). Taste was distinctly sour; remedied with 1/2 tbsp sugar.

None of them were likely dangerous to us during the interval when the fridge was dead. But for long term non-fridge storage I’m not comfortable with a pH of 4.4 so half a teaspoon of citric acid really isn’t enough. Given the limitations of the pH meter, which is accurate to +/- 0.1, and possible variation across a huge pot of sauce, I’m going with the highest dose — 1 tsp of citric acid per pint, equivalent to 4 tbsp of lemon juice — as the safest, most reliable intervention for water-bath canning my own particular sauce. This agrees with the dose suggested in the paper I linked above so while it sounds high it’s not particularly surprising.

I’m going to thaw, re-boil and water-bath can a number of jars of sauce with 1 tsp citric acid and will continue to pH test them (recalibrating the meter regularly with buffer solution) to check the effects of longer-term storage and also to check repeatability.

Your sauce may — probably does — vary. Please don’t take my word as recommendation but as a place to start your own testing, because botulism, while rare, is deeply unfun and pH meters are both cheap AND fun.

Bonus cat picture, because it’s the Internet:

Bonus picture of a kitten, because this is the Internet

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An encouragement: Tomato sauce

Tomato sauce! We go through so much of it I’ve always thought it might be one those things that’s worthwhile to make in bulk, but so many recipes involved peeling endless tiny tomatoes and/or removing seeds, neither of which sounds the slightest bit appealing. This method involves slow-roasting, which makes the skins more or less melt away and which takes very little effort indeed. It does need a food processor.

Time involved: Five or six hours total
Active time: Maybe a little over half an hour

First, have it be August when there’s a ready supply of nice cheap Roma tomatoes. Buy a 25lb box of tomatoes (don’t pay more than $1/lb), a couple of onions, a few heads of garlic and a few red peppers.

81/365 Sept 11: Tomato sauce - before

I say 25lbs because that’s how much my oven holds either in two large roasting trays or four smaller foil trays from the dollar store. The oven’s going to be on for hours; may as well fill it up and make it worthwhile.

Put on some music. Wash everything. Take the stem ends off the tomatoes and cut them in half or in quarters. This works well as an assembly-line kind of thing, if there’s someone else you can lasso into helping. Toss the tomato chunks right into the trays. Do the same for the rest of the veggies. It looks like a huge pile of tomatoes but really it’s about 20 minutes of work here.

Tomato sauce - before

Pour a bit of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar (if you have it) over each finished tray then pop them in the oven and set it to around 300F.

About once an hour, switch the trays around and give everything a good stir. You can ignore them the rest of the time.

After a number of hours — probably five or so — it’ll get to a point where the volume has decreased to about 1/3 of the starting volume and there’s very little obvious liquid left in the bottom of the trays. Now it’s done. Don’t worry about cooking it too much though. If it ends up too thick for your taste you can always thin it down with a bit of water or wine.

Tomato sauce - after

Scrape the trays directly into the food processor, process it until it’s smooth, then pour into containers and freeze. It’ll need salt but I find salting is best done at the point of use. If you think you’ll forget and end up eating oddly bland sauce, salt it while it’s in the food processor.

There! Easy tomato sauce.

Other encouragements: jam, chicken stock.

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An encouragement: Soup stock

Soup! A foundation of winter food in our house for sure.

I’m a huge proponent of making one’s own soup stock. It costs pretty much nothing and if you start with your own yummy stock it’s very hard to make a soup that’s not also yummy (as well as being free of excess salt and preservatives and who knows what else). It’s also really easy, since it’s more a general technique than a recipe and it doesn’t need any special equipment. It does take a number of hours but the active time is very minimal.

First, save up some chicken (…duck, turkey) bones. Chuck them in a ziploc and toss them in the freezer. A friend once added the brilliant notion of also tossing parmesan rinds in there — definitely do that if you have any.

Once you have some bones and a longish afternoon, it’s time to make stock.

Put all the bones in a big pot and cover them with water.

Chicken stock - start

While the pot comes to a boil, poke through your veggie bin and pull out any or all of these according to your taste and whatever’s in the bin: carrots, celery, celeriac, onions, shallots, garlic, mushrooms. How much? Not a lot. Some. Doesn’t matter much. A carrot or two, an onion or two, a few cloves of garlic. Whatever strikes your fancy. They don’t have to be lively fresh veggies — elderly limp-ish ones will do.

Chicken stock - chopped veggies

Wash them, cut them up roughly (no need to peel) and toss them in the pot too.

Chicken stock - with veggies

Add some seasonings. I usually put maybe a dozen peppercorns, some savory (a teaspoonish pinch in my very large pot), some thyme (another teaspoonish pinch) and a small pinch of rosemary. Sage is nice too. But again, whatever strikes your fancy and/or whatever’s handy in the cupboard.

Once the pot boils, put the lid on and turn it waaaaay down. You want to keep it boiling gently but not at the point where it might boil over or otherwise cause you to pay attention to it. You want a nice quiet simmer so you can stir it once an hour or so and go about your business the rest of the time.

Chicken stock - mid-boil

So yeah, stir it once an hour or so. At this point your house will smell strongly of yum and your stomach will rumble so make a sandwich or something.

At some point you have to declare it done. In our house this happens in one of two ways: either I notice the chicken vertebrae have totally disarticulated and I’m sure no further goodness will boil out of the bones, or I get really bored and declare it done just because.

Now comes the only boring part: getting all the icky bones and drowned veggies out of the actual soup. I usually get a strainer and a second large pot and pour or ladle the soup and bones through the strainer and into the second pot.

Chicken stock - straining

When the strainer fills up, dump it in the green bin & repeat. Take the garbage out right away because it’ll stink really quickly, but make sure it’s safe from raccoons because they LOVE this stuff. Don’t even think about eating the veggies; they’ve given their all at this point.

Now you’ve got a pot full of soup stock, hurray! Except it’ll have a layer of fat on top.

Chicken stock - strained

You can either cool it off a bit put it away right away, in which case the fat will rise to the top in whatever containers you’re using, or you can leave it overnight in the fridge and skim the fat off before putting it into containers.

Chicken stock - skimmed

Either way it’ll keep for a short while in the fridge and approximately forever in the freezer.

Chicken stock - packaged

Then whenever you get sick all you need to do is pull out a container of stock, some salt (I never salt my stock so whatever soup I’m making will need salt) and some noodles and there you are, chicken noodle soup. Or for a quick dinner: container of stock, finely chopped random fridge vegetables and/or meat, bit of cream, cook it, done.

Oh! I should mention that homemade stock will gel when cooled. It may also still have a little fat in it or seasonings that settle to the bottom. This grosses some people out (my husband for one) but it’s totally normal. Actually the gelling is very convenient because nice thick soup is less likely to leak out of its container if you take some to work to heat up for lunch.

Related post: Jam, an encouragement

Libations, election, for the watching of, 2011 version

(H/t to the lovely Melle for finding the photo)

Again we ponder the eternal question of what to drink while awaiting election results. Last time around we went with Irish whiskey. It was an excellent choice but it feels a bit ponderous for a May election. Sunshine and daffodils and Irish whiskey? Nah.

I’m deciding to count anything other than a Harper majority as a success. While there does seem like a reasonably high probability of success thus defined, we’re still feeling it would be wise to employ some fiscal restraint, just in case. So we’ve settled on some cheap Aussie fizz, which D has just gone off on his bike to fetch. It’ll have time to chill before results start coming in.

Crossed fingers.

Go vote, if you haven’t yet. Polls in Ontario are open until 9:30 tonight. You don’t need to be registered in advance and you can find your poll here if you’re unsure (the link is to the official Elections Canada site — don’t believe any robo-calls you might get; apparently there are some dirty tricks being played to send people to the wrong place).

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‘Tis the season for Expert Curmudgeons again

In previous years we’ve had warnings about Santa’s fatness setting a bad example and how we should all abjure cookies and eggnog and subsist on carrot sticks and water at holiday parties. This year it’s eating leftovers and Santa’s sleep (or lack thereof) habits that are under fire:

Surely Santa will feel jet-lagged at the end of his trip! To deliver presents at exactly mid-night all around the world he will have to spend 24h in trans-meridian travel with rapid changes in time zones and little time for his body clock to adapt. He will travel in darkness all the time, so he will be more likely to fall asleep. Catch-up sleep helps to recover from the short-term tiredness and fatigue, but will not help avoid the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation. If he were to do this all year round, he would definitely run the risk of dying prematurely.

How cheerful!

The thing the Expert Curmudgeons always overlook, and I think this is a real issue, is that health is about more than sleep hygiene and carrot sticks. Health is also about having a good time with friends and family, relaxing, enjoying yourself and enjoying eating and drinking yummy seasonal treats.

Western concepts of health and medicine should take a page or two (or, hell, the whole book) from the Aboriginal Medicine Wheel concept, in which health comprises physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health all together. Eggnog, cookies, gravy, friends and family may not be absolutely helpful to our physical wellbeing, but they’re a very important part of the total picture of what makes us happy, content and — therefore — healthy in a more inclusive, absolute sense. You can go to a party and eat carrot sticks and drink water and feel all virtuous and abstemious, or you can go to the same party and actually enjoy yourself: which is better for you as a whole? I’d argue a certain amount of seasonal indulgence is good for the soul. It’s a long, cold, dark winter and we’re in the darkest bit: eggnog and cookies are perfectly reasonable coping mechanisms.

At this point I will link back to a post from four years ago with much better holiday tips.

This biologist says drink the damn eggnog, eat the damn cookies, sleep in (or get up early, whatever floats your boat) and enjoy yourself. So you might gain a pound or two or suffer the odd hangover. So what. Your emotional, mental, spiritual self will probably thank you. Your physical self can correct any lingering issues in January.

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Better safe than sorry

Walking up the street today on the way home, M and I were passed by the ice-cream truck, which then stopped a hundred metres up the street by the park.

M: The ice-cream truck comes every day in summer!
Me: Yep.
M: But not in winter.
Me: No.
M: (thoughtfully) When do you suppose is the last day of summer? For ice-cream trucks?
Me: Dunno. Soon, though.
M: Yeah.


Me: We’d better get some ice cream just in case it’s our last chance this year, eh?
M: Good idea.

We’ll call it cheap insurance against Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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WWI vs. recession

You’ll probably need to click through to the original site (a wonderful exhibition of WWI and WWII posters) to read this:

USDA poster, 1917

Eat local. Preserve at the height of the harvest. Keep chickens.

Could be 1917, could be 2010.

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Tue Jun 22, 2010

This is actually a more interesting article than one might guess by the title. As one might’ve expected, they find hunger does affect how we perceive risk and make decisions.

A few years ago there was a paper on how to get decisions made at conferences. The answer was, of course, to put the decision point right before lunch.

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Jam: an encouragement, with pictures

I like to make my own jam. Unless you buy the crazy-expensive kinds, store-bought jam tastes kind of blah — over-sweet, too much filler, not enough fruit. I think I was spoiled by home-made jam when I was growing up and as with so many things (air conditioning, dishwashers, high-speed Internet) there is no going back.

You can probably make jam with stuff you have in your kitchen right now, but it helps to have some equipment. None of the extra equipment is very expensive — everything I show here would run you about $30 or $40, which you’ll make back pretty quickly if you make jam instead of buying it. It really is cheaper (especially once you own a bunch of jars) and you can’t beat the quality.

Here are some general instructions for fruit jams, like strawberry or raspberry — most fruit jams are easy and not a botulism risk, but if you’re doing something low-acid like blueberries, please use a real, tested recipe.

First, you need some jars. You can buy a dozen 250ml Mason jars plus lids at most grocery stores, Canadian Tire, etc. This will run you about $8.

Second, you need a big pot in which to boil and thus sterilize your jars. If you have a big stock pot you can use that. Or you can buy one of these cheap purpose-built enamel jobs. Sears, Canadian Tire and a bunch of other places usually carry them in the spring and summer.

Boiling water jar sterilizer

Now you need some way to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot so they don’t break while they’re boiled. You can buy a metal insert like this (if you bought the enamel jam-sterilizer pot, it probably came with it):

Jars being sterilized

Or you can use a small metal rack, such as a roasting rack or even tie a bunch of the screw-tops for the jars together with string.

Here’s some other handy stuff:

Other useful stuff

In that picture there’s a jar lifter (for picking jars out of the boiling water), a plastic funnel for pouring jam into jars, a box of snap lids, a magnetic wand for lifting heated snap lids, and screw tops for the jars. You probably have the snap lids and screw tops already if you bought a dozen jars. The other stuff is nice to have but not at all necessary.

OK, now we need some fruit and some sugar. That’s all the ingredients in real jam: fruit and sugar, in that order. It’s best if a quarter or a third of the fruit is a little under-ripe.

Ontario strawberries!

That’s waaay more fruit than you need for one batch. One batch of jam takes about four cups of prepared fruit. (Don’t try to double it; it just doesn’t work well.)

Now for the boring part: you need to wash and destem the fruit. Put some music on and make any available small children, spousal units, etc. help you.

I like my jam pretty smooth so at this point I like to toss the prepared fruit in the food processor and puree it a bit. Then, measure out 4 cups of fruit and put the rest in the fridge or freezer for later.

Ontario strawberries

Now for the actual jam-making part.

You need a large, flat-bottomed pot and a sturdy implement to stir with. Something with a flat end that will scrape the bottom of the pot is good. You want to keep the jam moving and prevent it from burning to the bottom of the pot.

Good large flat-bottomed pot & wooden stirrer

You also need a small pot in which to boil the snap lids. Put 6 or 7 snap lids in this pot and cover them with water.

Small pot for heating snap lids

Before you start the jam itself, fill your sterilizer pot with water, with the insert that keeps the jars off the bottom, and with 6 or 7 jars. Bring it to a good rolling boil before you start cooking the jam. Then, as you’re cooking the jam, boil the jars for ten minutes and leave them in the hot water.

Also before you start cooking the jam, put two small plates or saucers in the freezer. You’ll use these later to check if your jam is done.

When you start cooking the jam, also start heating the snap lids. You want those to boil for about five minutes to soften the rubber stuff around the edge so that it will make a good seal on your jars.

Now you need sugar. Put 3 cups of sugar and 4 cups of your prepared fruit in your big flat-bottomed pan. Don’t skimp on the sugar, it’s important for helping the jam gel properly. Console yourself with the thought that you’re using nice fresh in-season fruit and so your jam will be healthy despite the crapload of sugar. Turn the heat on your stove as high as it can go — the idea here is to bring it to a boil FAST and then boil it FAST. Stir constantly.

After a very few minutes the sugar should melt and everything should be boiling nicely.

Jam, 3min into boiling

At this point, make someone else stir for a minute and cover your arms. You’re probably wearing a short-sleeved shirt since it’s probably summer and you’re in the kitchen with three pots on the stove. But jam splatters in a particularly vicious way, so either put on a long-sleeved shirt or wrap some tea-towels around your arms.

After a while (fifteen or twenty minutes for strawberry, but it depends on the fruit – black currants can be less than ten minutes) the texture and sound of the jam will change. It’ll feel thicker and more lava-like, it’ll start spurting molten globs onto your arms (and everywhere else) and the sound of the bubbles will be louder. It’s kind of a horror-movie boiling-entrails kind of effect here.

Almost done

When it starts to do this, drip a small amount of jam onto one of the plates you put in the freezer. Put the plate and proto-jam back in the freezer for about a minute, then check to see if the jam has gelled. If not, try again in two minutes (using the other plate) and repeat as necessary. You don’t want to overcook it; it’ll get all stiff and hard to spread.

When the jam gels properly, turn off the heat. Now lift your sterilized jars out of the boiling water and line them up on the counter. I like to put them on a tea towel to catch any drips and help contain the mess.

Jars ready to be filled

Pick up the jam pot and using the funnel (if you have one) pour jam into each jar. It’s a nice idea to have someone else move the funnel from jar to jar so you don’t have to put down the jam pot. Leave 1cm airspace at the top of each jar.

Pick hot snap lids out of their own pot (using a magnetic wand or two forks) and put them on the jars.

Hold the snap lids down with the screw tops, but don’t overtighten them. It’s not the screw top that matters here; it’s the snap lid. Just make them finger tight. That’s tricky enough, since jars and lids are really hot at this point!

Put the filled jars back in the sterilizer. You’ll see bubbles. Don’t fret, it’s just air expanding within the jars; they’re not filling up with water. Boil the jars for ten minutes or so – this step is actually optional but it’s a good idea as it both ensures a good seal and compensates for any errors in sterility you might have made while filling the jars.

Finished jam jars being processed

Lift the jars out onto a heat-proof flat surface. Separate them as much as you can so they can cool, but don’t put them anywhere too drafty in case they cool unevenly. Uneven cooling can break the jars.


Now is the moment when you look around and realize that someone’s going to have to clean up a big mess. Toss the jammy dishtowels in the direction of the washing machine, fill the dishwasher with whatever will fit, rinse whatever won’t fit in the dishwasher and leave it in the sink, and be sure to use your finger to get all the yummy remnants off the jam pot and the stirrer.

As the jam cools, you should hear loud PING! noises as the snap lids seal the jars. This may take a few hours. When they’re properly sealed, the snap lids should curve slightly downwards. If you push down on the middle of a snap lid and it moves, it’s not properly sealed. After 24 hours, jars that haven’t sealed should go in the fridge and you should eat those ones first. Jars that DID seal can go in the cupboard.

Now you have jam! Even if winter is long and cold you will be happy!


Thank you, sir, for worrying about the right things:

John Williams has been making wine in California’s Napa Valley for nearly 30 years, and he farms so ecologically that his peers call him Mr. Green. But if you ask him how climate change will affect Napa’s world-famous wines, he gets irritated, almost insulted. “You know, I’ve been getting that question a lot recently, and I feel we need to keep this issue in perspective,” he told me. “When I hear about global warming in the news, I hear that it’s going to melt the Arctic, inundate coastal cities, displace millions and millions of people, spread tropical diseases and bring lots of other horrible effects. Then I get calls from wine writers and all they want to know is, ‘How is the character of cabernet sauvignon going to change under global warming?’ I worry about global warming, but I worry about it at the humanity scale, not the vineyard scale.”

“We have no idea what effects global warming will have on the conditions that affect Napa Valley wines, so to prepare for those changes seems to me to be whistling past the cemetery,” he says, a note of irritation in his voice. “All I know is, there are things I can do to stop, or at least slow down, global warming, and those are things I should do.”

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Chocolate-mint ice cream

I mentioned this recipe on Facebook and got requests, so here it is. It’s adapted from the KitchenAid ice-cream maker book, but of course any ice-cream maker will work.

I should mention that making your own ice cream, although pretty easy, is a vanity project and not a money-saving one. This is REALLY good ice cream but it is not cheap to make. It is not the slightest bit low-fat. It creates an impressive pile of dirty dishes. And it takes three days.

This recipe makes about two litres.

Before starting, make sure you have room in your fridge for a large bowl of proto-ice-cream. Also, if you have to put some part of your ice-cream-maker in the freezer for pre-chilling and it isn’t already there, do it now.

Day 1
Step 1:
1/2 cup whipping cream
120g mint-flavoured dark chocolate, cut into chunks. You want good-quality chocolate here — hit your local yuppie gourmet food emporium. If you can’t get mint-flavoured chocolate, buy good dark chocolate and add a bit of peppermint extract.

  • Put the whipping cream and chocolate in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate melts. Remove from heat and set aside.

Step 2:
2 cups table cream

  • In a medium saucepan, stirring often, heat the cream over medium heat until very hot and steamy but not boiling. Remove from heat and set aside.

Step 3:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
8 egg yolks (put the whites in the fridge and pretend you’re going to make meringues with them)

  • Combine the sugar and cocoa in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Put the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the wire whip attachment. On low speed (speed 2) gradually add the sugar mixture and mix about 30 seconds, until well blended and slightly thickened.
  • Continuing on low speed, VERY gradually add the chocolate mixture and then the cream. Mix until very well blended.
  • Return the mixture to the medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until small bubbles form around the edge and the mixture is steamy, but don’t boil.

Step 4:
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
4 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt

  • Transfer the hot mixture to a large bowl.
  • Stir in the whipping cream, vanilla, and salt.
  • Cover and chill thoroughly (at least overnight, preferably 24 hours)

Day 2
Step 5:
200g mint-flavoured milk or dark chocolate, chopped into tiny bits. I use leftovers from Step 1 here plus some Laura Secord Frosted Mint bars for this part, mostly because I like a bit of green in my mint stuff.

  • Follow your ice-cream maker’s directions to turn the chilled mixture into ice cream. Add the chocolate bits in the last couple of minutes of stirring.
  • It’ll now be the consistency of soft-serve, so transfer it to containers and freeze it overnight for the best texture. In the meantime, content yourself with licking all the ice-cream-maker parts clean.

Day 3
Step 6:

  • Eat!
Sensible words from Michael Pollan

Well, you know, it’s very interesting. Since this book came out, where I argue don’t buy high-fructose corn syrup and don’t buy products with more than five ingredients, suddenly the industry is—you know, they’re so clever. I have to hand it to them. But now they’re arguing that their products are simpler, and there’s new Haagen-Dazs 5, which is a five-ingredient Haagen-Dazs product. You know, it’s still ice cream. Ice cream is wonderful, but we shouldn’t treat it as health food because it now has only five ingredients. … Frito-Lay potato chips now is arguing that they’re local. Now, you have to remember, any product is local somewhere. Right? This food doesn’t come from Mars. But to think that Frito-Lay as a local potato chip is really a stretch.

So, I’ve had to update my rules. And with all this new marketing based on these ideas, my new suggestion is, if you want to avoid all this, simply don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised. Ninety-four percent of ad budgets for food go to processed food. I mean, the broccoli growers don’t have money for ad budgets. So the real food is not being advertised. And that’s really all you need to know.

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Estonian apple cake, an ongoing saga

Once upon a time I tried to make apple cake from my grandmother’s verbal recipe: “It’s a sweet dough, with yeast and cardamom. Then apples and some sugar and flour on top.” Yeah.

My sister had the rather more practical idea of going over to Vanaema’s place and watching her make it. That sensible approach resulted in this excellent illustrated recipe, which involves kneading the dough by hand.

Since I had visiting parents who wouldn’t mind being guinea pigs, since we were making pasha anyway, and since we’d be visiting Vanaema it seemed like a good time to have a whole Estonian-dessert-making extravaganza and try making apple cake again too.

First attempt, I used my grandmother’s method. I suspect I killed the yeast with milk that was a bit too hot. The dough turned into a liquidy gloop which I poured down the drain. I’ll try it again sometime with milk of the appropriate temperature but it still seems like a lot of liquid (1/2 c water, 1 1/2 c milk, 3 eggs) for only 4 cups of flour. I’d be inclined to reduce the amount of milk by at least 1/2 a cup.

Still, the gloop smelled good, so I gave it another try. Second attempt, I cut the liquid and tossed everything in the bread machine on the dough setting.

Then we pressed out the dough and added the apples and topping as per the official recipe. Success!

On the left, my grandmother’s apple cake. On the right, mine. Applecake

The main difference is that hers has a rolled edge on the crust, a feature which means that when choosing pieces from a serving tray one must be virtuous and choose at least SOME pieces for one’s plate that are edge pieces instead of hogging all the best crust-free middle pieces. My aunt once whispered to me that it was possible to make apple cake without the rolled edge, so while doing so reduces one’s opportunities for public gastronomic virtue my helpers and I decided to take the crustless route.

I had also added a bit of cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon to the topping mixture. My grandmother agreed it was good, but not correct. Hers, she says, isn’t totally correct either. My mother tried to open the door to innovation, but Vanaema was having none of it:

Mom: “But surely every Estonian mother makes it slightly different–”
Vanaema: “No.”
Mom: “–puts her own touches on it–”
Vanaema: “No.”

So this isn’t the Platonic-ideal-if-Plato-were-Estonian apple cake. I’m sure somewhere legions of Estonian grandmothers are deeply disapproving of the use of a bread machine for the dough (and the lack of the rolled crust edge, and the continued existence of Russia, and my failure to marry an Estonian, and and and.). But it is good.

Vanaema’s recipe, as recorded and illustrated by my sister.

My dough variation:

In a bread machine, combine:
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp (8g package) yeast
1 1/2 c milk
4 1/2 c flour
2 eggs
1/4 c butter (plus 1 tbsp)
1 tsp ground cardamom

Use the dough setting.

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It’s a good thing there aren’t many in a package

For some years now various people who’ve spent time in Australia have been telling me about Tim Tams, which are a sort of chocolate-covered cream-filled cookie.

Tim Tams

It’s not their cookie-ness (although they are fine cookies) that makes people pursue them across oceans, though, it’s what you can do with them. The thing to do is to bite off two opposite corners, dip one into a hot drink, use it as a straw as long as possible and then just at the instant it falls to bits, slurp it into your mouth. This is a Tim Tam Slam.

Since Tim Tams aren’t widely available in Canada I decided I’d avoid them. The last thing I need is another junk-food addiction.

Bailey's CaramelBut recently someone mentioned the specific name of a store which carries Tim Tams, and the other day I ended up walking past it and thought I’d pick some up and give them a try. Melle had mentioned something about melty mouthfuls of chewy caramel, and who can resist that?

And so I offer the following recipe:

Take a mug of hot coffee.
Add 1 oz Bailey’s Caramel and mix well.
Open package of Chewy Caramel Tim Tams.
Perform Tim Tam Slam.
Die happy.


Tomorrow when we wake up, the sun will rise a bit earlier and set a bit later. Hurray! Light!

Happy solstice. To celebrate I made cookies with a very large quantity of instant espresso,* figuring a bit of extra perkiness was seasonally appropriate, however substance-induced it may be.

* which is not ever to be used as an actual drink, blech! — but is a decent baking ingredient

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Two thumbs up for Supper Solved

Supper Solved

M and I went to Supper Solved a week or so ago to make dinner entrees. It’s one of those newish places that’s designed to send you home in a relatively short time with a whole pile of dinners ready for the freezer.

It’s set up in stations, one station per recipe, and each station has the recipe posted and everything you need to make that recipe. If it says “add one cup chopped beets” there’s a bin of chopped beets in front of you with a clever 1-cup scoop/measuring spoon in it, and so on. When you’re done making the recipe you put it in aluminum freezer-to-oven containers, stick a pre-printed label on top so you’ll know later what it is and how to cook it, and then just walk away and leave the mess behind for staff to clean up. They change the recipes monthly.

It’s not really set up for kids, but it worked OK — M read the recipes and did the majority of the prep work, except if it required touching raw meat (“ew! slimy!”) or if the bins were out of her reach. If we go again I’ll take a little step-stool for her.

The quality of the ingredients was very good and I was happy with the quantity for the price. Chicken entrees had 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, salmon had 6 good-size salmon fillets, pork tenderloin had 2 large tenderloins, etc. While it’s still a relatively expensive way to do dinners, it’s certainly not usurious and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than going out or ordering in. And boy, is it ever nice to have all the prep work and cleanup done by someone else.

We split most of the entrees in half (they provide smaller packages for that purpose) since we don’t have all that many occasions on which we need to feed six people at once. A bunch of them have now gone to some friends who have a very new baby so they don’t have to eat lasagne constantly*.

We were in & out in ninety minutes, but that’s with a six-year-old reading the recipes, doing most of the work and slooowwwly making sure the label stickers were JUST SO. With two adults doing different recipes at different stations at a reasonably brisk pace you could probably finish six entrees in half an hour or forty minutes.

I took our wire-frame granny cart to schlep everything home, which worked very well. It was light enough to lift up our stairs at home so I imagine it would be fine to lift onto a bus too.

We’ve now eaten three of the entrees and they’ve all been excellent. So, two thumbs up!

* not that there’s anything wrong with lasagne, but after a week or two one does crave a bit of diversity in one’s dinners…

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Oh, fine, eat it then.

Me, having picked M up from a birthday party, as she dug into her loot bag: “Honey, don’t fill up on sugary junk. We’re going out to dinner.”

Her: “I wouldn’t call it sugary junk.”

Me: “No? What is it then?”

Her: “Candy!”

Libations, election, for the watching of

La Fin du MondeA week or two ago we were sitting around debating what form of libation this election might require. Tequila, suggested D. Hmm, maybe. A novel idea, because La Fin du Monde, while entirely appropriate, tastes like licking an ashtray and hey! you can do all kinds of fun stuff with tequila. But then we happened across something from our current Tidings magazine:

The next day, I woke with the taste of the evil liquor in my mouth, a head full of jackhammers and the realization, to my horror and agony, that I was, unfortunately, still alive.

and we remembered aaaallll about tequila. So no.

Fizzy? — nah, could jinx things.

Plain old wine? — nah, too boring.

Scotch? — nah, gives me migraines*. But whiskey generally sounded like a solid, non-presumptuous drink which could lend itself to either celebrations or the drowning of sorrows, so we settled on Irish whiskey which does not (in moderation) give me migraines. Our local LCBO had a grand selection of Bushmills or Jameson’s, so Bushmills it is. The garden-variety Bushmills, not the fancy-froufy stuff. Serious but fiscally sound whiskey** for a serious and (we hope) fiscally sound election.

And so we sit back and wait for the ice cubes to freeze and the polls to close.

GO VOTE! You still have an hour.

* I still blame this fact on Mel Lastman, because it is his victory speech (complete with drunken wife swanning through the frame in the background until, between cuts, someone took the drink out of her hand) that last incited me to drink scotch and realize it was a massive migraine trigger.

**D calls it “cooking whiskey” but he is snobby like that.


(Source: GraphJam)

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