DIY All-Purpose Cleaner

I’m posting this here today because Wednesday’s post is a sticky one, and you’re probably going to need this by then. This is a quick way to make an effective all-purpose spray for a fraction of the cost of the ones you buy in the store. In my first mix I made the mistake of using lemon juice (a solid antibacterial agent), but the mixture curdled when I added the Castille soap and smelled terrible. So don’t do that.

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Leave the lemon juice out of the picture (though you’ll be able to see its curdling effect in my pictures below).

DIY All-Purpose Cleaner 1

Start with about 2 cups water. Add in 4 tablespoons Castille soap (this one is orange-flavoured, to go with my citrus theme).

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Now tip in about 40 drops essential oils. I used 10 tea tree, 10 lemongrass, and 20 sweet orange.

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Give it a good stirring and pour it into an empty spray bottle.

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Don’t forget to label it carefully and with style!

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Guacamole Hummus

Guacamole Hummus 9

I made this Martha Stewart dip for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary party and it was a lovely and cool addition to the nibblies section. It’s also got all the best parts of guacamole and of hummus without the extra effort of the hummus and the non-storability of the guacamole as separate entities. I made quite a few Martha Stewart recipes for this party, as Ms. Martha sure knows how to throw a shindig. It goes well with tortilla chips or any flatbread and lasts a couple days wrapped up in the fridge.

Start by thoroughly washing a large bunch of cilantro. And by washing I mean fill your sink with a few inches of water, plop the bunch in, and swish the stalks around with more water pounding down on top.

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Because cilantro is filthy. This is the sink after I pulled it out, shook it off, and towel dried it. Chop the leaves off and shove them into the bowl of your food processor.

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Halve as well two to three ripe avocados (the original recipe called for only one but that didn’t seem like enough). Chuck those in the food processor as well.

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Then drain a 15oz can of chick peas and rinse them well. Pour those into the food processor too. I also added in one of my pucks of roasted garlic purée.

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Start the machine running and chopping all your dippy goodness up. While it’s going, drizzle in some olive oil and some water until it’s the smooth consistency that you like. A couple tablespoons of each should suffice. Tip in a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice too.

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Season it to taste with salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges and all sorts of scoopable tortilla chips and flatbreads.

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Quick Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars 4I picked these lemon bars from the Barefoot Contessa because they didn’t involve making lemon curd ahead of time and also because they froze well. Next time I think I’d make them a little less sweet. I like my lemon squares to kind of punch you in the face and these didn’t quite do the trick. Lemon Bars 6

Start with a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Butter it and line it with parchment (otherwise you will never get the bars out alive). Then juice and zest about 4 lemons, until you get about 2 tablespoons lemon zest and 1 cup lemon juice.

Lemon Bars 5In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together 1 cup room temperature butter and 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Lemon Bars 1

Bit by bit, add in 2 cups all-purpose flour and mix until just combined.

Lemon Bars 2Form the dough into a ball and press it firmly into the base of the baking dish. Lemon Bars 3

Chill that for about 10 minutes, then bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes, until a light golden. Leave the oven on.

Lemon Bars 8In a bowl, whisk together 6 room temperature eggs, 3 cups granulated sugar (I would use probably half this amount next time), the lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1 cup flour (this flour seemed a little out of place to me and made for a very solid lemon bar. Next time I’d either halve it or leave it out altogether). Lemon Bars 7

Pour the filling onto your still-warm crust and bake for a further 30 minutes, until the filling is set.

Lemon Bars 9Let that cool before cutting into triangles or bars and eating. You can also dust the tops with icing sugar prior to serving for extra pizzazz. Lemon Bars 10

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Not *quite* what I was going for, but still good.

Jam Session: Saskatoon Berries

Saskatoon Berry Jam 27You may remember that last year I surreptitiously liberated several service or Saskatoon berries from city property. This year it rained on Canada Day, our national holiday, and between thunderstorms I went out and hauled in about 4 litres of them. Everyone who passed through the kitchen during our Canada Day get-together asked where I’d gotten so many cranberries. I got a little testy explaining that they were service berries each time. I guess they DO kind of look like cranberries, but whatever. Saskatoon Berry Jam 2

I decided to make jam out of all my berries (and I actually ended up with so many berries that I had some leftover even after two batches of jam). I bought two dozen of the wee 175mL Bernardin canning jars and popped them into my canner to sterilize. I turned on the stove and brought those to a low boil.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 4I put the rings aside and put the discs in a heatproof bowl. Saskatoon Berry Jam 3

I heated a kettle and poured almost boiling water over the discs to let the rubber soften.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 9I gathered my other canning tools and had them handy. Always use non-metallic implements when making jam. Saskatoon Berry Jam 12

I get very irritated when I make jam because I always end up either burning myself on boiling sugar or burning myself with steam or hot water and everything ends up sticky and it’s already hot making jam in the summer so I decided to double my batch so I wouldn’t have to repeat the process in the same day. When you do this you have to make sure that your proportions are exact so you don’t mess up your ratios of acid to sugar to pectin.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 23The recipe I used is from the Bernardin website and advocates the use of the crystallized pectin, but the liquid stuff had been on sale so I used that instead. The process is a little different using liquid pectin in terms of when you add the sugar and stuff so the process below reflects that. Saskatoon Berry Jam 7

It’s a good idea to pre-cut the packages and sit them upright in a cup so they’re handy when you need them.

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Now that all your canning stuff is ready to go, you can get onto the actual jam component. Grab your berries, about 9 cups service berries (for a single batch, though in these photos that’s doubled), and plop them in a pan. I like to use my Lee Valley maslin pan because it’s kind of designed for jam and candy making and I love it. Plus it has a great handle that is very useful. Mush up your berries with a potato masher so they don’t explode on you later and so all the berry goodness gets out there early on. Saskatoon Berry Jam 6

Tip in as well 4 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine (apparently this helps prevent it from foaming too much but I don’t think it helped in my case).

Saskatoon Berry Jam 8Start heating the berries on medium-high and give them a good stirring. Measure out 6 cups granulated sugar and add that in as well. Saskatoon Berry Jam 10

You’ll find the berries very quickly become way more liquidy.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 14You want the berries to be at a decent boil that doesn’t go away when you stir (watch out for flying berry juice that can burn you). Saskatoon Berry Jam 16

When you get to that state, grab your pectin and quickly add it to the jam and give it a quick but thorough stirring.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 17Let it come back to a rolling boil again and leave that for 1 minute before removing the jam from the heat. Don’t burn yourself! Saskatoon Berry Jam 18

Skim off any foam with a non-metallic utensil. The jam foam was always a huge treat for us as kids to eat with a spoon. I offered it to the Pie and he refused it. I was miffed about that.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 19Grab your jars from the canner and drain them. Saskatoon Berry Jam 20

Fill them with your jam, leaving about 1/4″ of headspace between the jam and where the lid will go. Use a wet towel to wipe off any jam on the edge of the jar where the disc will need to be tightly sealed.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 22Plop the disks onto the jam jars and add the rings and tighten to fingertip tightness. Return the sealed jars to your canner and bring the water back to a boil and leave it for the time required by your canner and the number of jars you have in there. Saskatoon Berry Jam 21

I set my jars on a cookie rack to cool completely. These are the first batch of my DIY holiday gifts this year.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 26And I bought some overflow jars for myself, knowing I didn’t have enough jars for the jam I made. And I quickly filled the overflow jars, and then a bunch of plastic containers I had lying around. SO MUCH JAM. Saskatoon Berry Jam 25

SideBar: Earl Grey Gin Cocktail

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This is very much my new favourite cocktail for summer, and I’m really not a gin kind of person. Here is a very slight variation on a recipe from Sugar and Charm and I hope you find it as delightful as I do. I already had a batch of Earl Grey tea sitting in my fridge so it just seemed like a logical choice. Just remember that if you’re planning to drink these late at night you might want to go with decaffeinated tea bags.

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Grab yourself a pot of chilled Earl Grey tea (mine was vanilla Earl Grey which I think simply added to the goodness), some gin, some honey, some lavender (fresh sprigs are better but this was what I had), and a lemon.

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In a cocktail shaker (or the ol’ Captain-America-glass-and-sundae-spoon), plop some ice, a teaspoon of dried lavender, 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice, 3/4 oz honey, and 1 1/2 oz gin.

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Tip in 6 oz chilled Earl Grey tea and shake it up (or give it a good stirring).

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Strain into a tumbler over ice and garnish with another sprig of lavender. I left the dried ones in, which meant I required a straw so as not to sip them up.

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SideBar: the Side Car

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I really should wait for Trav when I want to make fancy drinks. He has all the hardware and the appropriate and pretty glasses. But sometimes I get impatient (you’re all going, duh, REALLY?), and I wing it. This one is pretty easy, so there wasn’t a lot of room for error. Start by grabbing a pretty cocktail glass (or in my case a heavy tumbler) and rubbing the rim with lemon juice. Then dip it in granulated sugar.

Sidebar Sidecar 1

Grab yourself a cocktail shaker and dump in some ice. I do not own a cocktail shaker, so I made do with a Captain America glass and a sundae spoon. Sorry, Steve.

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Feel free to play with the following proportions to suit your taste. In the shaker, pour 1 oz lemon juice, 1 oz Cointreau, and 2 oz Cognac. Shake vigorously (or stir with enthusiasm) and strain into your cocktail glass (tumbler).

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I should probably have served this with twist of orange or lemon but again I didn’t have any so a young sprig of rosemary did the job. Tada!

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Banana Oatmeal Bran Muffins

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I’m not a huge fan of bran muffins, to tell the truth. I mean, the older I get the more I appreciate their functionality in my diet, but they’re still not a favourite. The Pie absolutely LOVES them, though. I swear he’s actually seventy. So I thought I’d play around with the mixture a bit and see if I could come up with something that still had all the benefits of bran with a bit more of a flavour, and these not-too-sweet muffins did the trick.

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These can also be frozen in their unbaked form for cooking up later, which is handy for me as I am yet again filling up friends’ freezers in anticipation of future little ones. All you do is scoop the mixed batter into cupcake liners, freeze them, and then add five minutes to the baking time when you bake them from frozen. Easy peasy.

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But of course you want to try some of these puppies right away. So preheat your oven to 350°F and line some muffin tins with liners (or give them a good spraying or buttering, whatever suits). I doubled this recipe (so I could freeze some) so don’t be alarmed at the massive amounts in the pictures. Deep breaths.

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In a bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour, 1 cup oats (rolled, not steel cut), 1 cup bran, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. That’s your dry bowl.

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For your liquids you’ll likely need a bit more preparation. First, I had some bananas in the freezer that needed thawing out, but when they were good and squishy I went ahead and mushed up 3 ripe bananas.

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You’ll also need some buttermilk. If you don’t have buttermilk you can simply sour regular milk by adding 1 tablespoon lemon/lime juice or vinegar to every cup of milk you use and letting that sit for about 5 minutes. For this recipe you’ll need 2 cups buttermilk/soured milk. I also opted to switch out the traditional molasses used in bran muffins for 1/2 cup honey. In addition to that in your liquid bowl you’ll need 1 large egg and 4 tablespoons melted butter.

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Mix both the liquids and the dry stuff well, but SEPARATELY. The whole trick with muffins is not mixing them too much. I think in this case with me trying to incorporate the bananas I ended up overmixing but you should try not to do that.

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Your batter should still be pretty lumpy when you tip in 1 cup raisins or nuts (optional).

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Scoop your batter into your prepared tins and either freeze them or bake them for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre muffin comes out clean.

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Let those cool in the pan about 5 minutes before scooping out to a wire rack to cool completely.

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I like eating them still-hot with a wee bit of butter. So good!

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