Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Brown Eggs and Jam Jars

Brown Eggs and Jam Jars
Author: Aimée Wimbush-Bourque
Publisher: Penguin Canada (2015)

I often joke that I live on a farm – between the spacious backyard packed with various gardens to the literal cattle and sheep over the back fence, it’s easy to forget that I’m actually in a fairy major suburb of Toronto. That said, I’m still mentally a rural girl and have a passion for the art of homesteading – particularly making my own pantry items like jams and sauces, baking my own bread, and dehydrating leftover garden or local produce. Those techniques are about as far as I can go, but fellow Canadian, food blogger and now author Aimée Wimbush-Bourque takes it a step farther – both online on her website Simple Bites ( and in her new book (named for two of my favourite things): Brown Eggs and Jam Jars.

Brown Eggs is definitely a season-oriented cookbook, with distinctly marked chapters for each quarter of the year as well as a preface of Useful Ingredients (xvi) and Helpful Tools and Equipment (xxii). These sections are further broken down into richly photographed sub-chapters with recipes prefaced by a heart-warming story from Wimbush-Bourque’s family life. Even if the particular dish never makes it to your own table, reading why the author adores it herself is entertaining and truly captures your heart. The recipes themselves are everything I’ve loved about her blog since finding it – no fuss, whole-food concoctions that don’t “preach” a certain diet or lifestyle. Brown Eggs is simply a book full of good food to feed your family. All this said, most dietary lifestyles can enjoy at least some of the dishes in this book, although modification will be required for vegetarians and vegans for the majority of the main courses.

Roasted Ontario Peach BBQ Sauce!
Roasted Peach BBQ Sauce (p. 81)
Given the author’s location in rural Quebec (on a third of an acre of land backing onto a maple forest), it is not surprising that a large quantity of honey and maple syrup is utilized – a fact that can cause some items like the delicious looking Chocolate-Beet Sheet Cake (p. 204) to be rather expensive for “city folk” to pull off. It is worth noting, however, that most of the maple syrup Wimbush-Bourque calls for is only in the “sugaring off” seasons, where most sugar shacks offer decent prices. Desserts aside, total sugars in Brown Eggs are kept to a minimum – usually no more than a few tablespoons, if any). Instead, fruit and naturally sweet vegetables are brought forward – a hearty serving of Honey Ginger Sweet Potato Puree (p. 225) only has ¼ tablespoon of the namesake sweetener, but it is worth noting that a dark, flavourful variety (chestnut is my favourite, while buckwheat is my mom’s) really shines through. Even the rich, smoky sweetness of the book’s Roasted Peach BBQ Sauce (p. 81) is almost exclusively from the caramelized, nectar-oozing fruit, augmented with apple juice and just a whisper of honey. I particularly enjoyed Wimbush-Bourque’s take on traditional cranberry sauce – Cranberry Clementine Relish (p. 224) – because it wasn’t cloyingly sweet, and was bright with the citrus, berries and a touch of vinegar. All the recipes I tried in this book were easy to follow, albeit slightly difficult to find in the sense that they are not organized within the sub-chapters by type (i.e. appetizers, mains, desserts). I haven’t tried any of the “basic” pantry items like the Mayonnaise (p. 35) or Strawberry-Honey Jam with Orange Zest (p. 152), but if the need arises I’ll know where to turn.

Cranberry Clementine Relish
Cranberry Clementine Relish (p. 224)
While full-on homesteading life is not for everyone, anyone can do one or two things to bring less processed, more local and overall delicious food to their table. Brown Eggs and Jam Jars by Aimée Wimbush-Bourque is definitely a fantastic place to start, and is gorgeous enough for any coffee table too!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Dehydrator Bible

The Dehydrator Bible
Authors: Jennifer MacKenzie, Jay Nutt, Don Mercer
Publisher:  Robert Rose (2009)

The art of preserving food has always been crucial to the livelihood of humans around the globe. Ancient peoples savoured (often accidentally) fermented vegetables, fruit in honey, salted or smoked meats and dried perishables of all kinds, eventually documenting and refining their processes so that future generations could continue eating year-round, regardless of the season. With the invention of modern refrigeration, flash freezing, vaccuum-sealing and untrapasteurization (not to mention worldwide import/export trade) making essentially every food accessible any time, the "old fashioned" methods of "putting by" at home are slowly, but surely, becoming extinct. Before home preserving practices completely dry up, I strongly suggest taking a look at some of the dedicated manuals out there and trying your hand at the craft yourself. The Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer MacKenzie, Jay Nutt, and Don Mercer sets out to encompass everything you could ever want to know about this method of homesteading, from times and temperatures to dealing with the question of what to do with it all at the end.

Dried Blueberries
Dried Wild Blueberries

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to make food shelf stable indefinitely (or at least longer) is dehydrating. Removing the water from foods reduces the likelihood of spoilage greatly and allows for higher volume per gram ratios - a boon for backpackers or bikers - and saves freezer and fridge space for fresh, local foods. Dehydrating preserves nutrients and (in most cases) flavours, and allows even the most casual homesteader to have a "just in case" section of their pantry primed for unexpected guests or financial stress. All these benefits can cost as little as $40 for a serviceable dehydrator, and for the truly obsessed more upscale models can be purchased for upwards of  $200.
Teriyaki Tofu Jerky
Tofu "Jerky"

This book is filled with lots of ways to not only dry your own foods at home safely, but ways to use them too. Some of the recipe are a bit hit-and-miss texture wise (like Teriyaki Orange Simmered Beef (p.122)) especially if you are used to eating 100% fresh. However, other recipes like Pear, Raisin and Walnut Chutney (p. 160) and Mushroom, Garlic and Rosemary Soup (p. 96) seem to be made for the technique. Desserts, snacks and quickbreads abound as well, and are a great first choice for those learning to cook with dried food. Black Forest Cookies (p. 203) and Secret-Ingredient Fudgy Brownies (p. 208) are on my to do list for sure!

If you're looking to try a new way of looking at food and cooking, why not try a new method? The Dehydrator Bible will open your eyes to a delicious, nutritious world - and I'm sure you'll be hooked too.

Saucy Simmered Teriyaki Tofu Bowl
Teriyaki Orange Simmered Tofu (p. 122)

From the Back Flap:

This 50,000-copies-sold bestseller on food dehydration has been updated!

Whether you grow your own food, buy it locally from farmer’s markets or farmstands or even buy it from a regular supermarket, seasonality still affects its price and abundance. Therefore, it makes sense to preserve food for those times when it’s not as plentiful, or not available at all. Drying food is a wonderfully tasty and easy way to do this.

All of the wonderful original recipes are still here. What has changed is that the “Dehydrating Foods” section has been expanded to include even more comprehensive and complete information about dehydrating foods, along with even more tips and techniques.

The book includes more than 150 recipes for dehydrating herbs and seasonings, fruits, vegetables, meats and fish, and more than 250 delicious recipes that actually use the dehydrated foods as ingredients so you can put home-preserved food to work for you in your home, RV, boat or campsite.

The easy-to-follow drying instructions and time guidelines will make even a novice cook feel like a seasoned professional in no time. So plant a few extra rows of tomatoes or beans, pick a heap of strawberries at their peak or buy that big basket of freshly harvested carrots. Then load up your dehydrator. You’ll be thrilled to be cooking with your own dried foods the whole year through!

Available on Amazon