A trick for Straining Food (and clear jelly/ stock)

A few years ago (in 2009) I had the amazing opportunity to listen to Chef Thomas Keller speak to a live audience which was mostly comprised of Chefs.  His talk changed the way I cook in many tangible ways and those few hours of my life have left a profound effect on me.

Keller claimed that many young Chefs were too restless; that they were constantly trying new things but not using focus or discipline to perfect small skills that could lead to significant skill improvement.  To this day I reflect on two of his points several times a week:

  1. Creativity comes from repetition.
  2. If you want to become a truly fantastic cook, you should cook the same thing every day for 2 years.  He was specific about this: the ‘same thing’ didn’t just mean the same ‘type of dish’ – it meant the same ingredients, same recipe and same technique.

Keller’s ‘prescription’ for becoming a better Chef was cooking stock.  As a home Chef I couldn’t take his recommendation to cook it daily but I’ve been working on my stock ever since and it has taught me to be a better cook.

But that’s not why I’m writing today’s article.

When Keller talked about stock he mentioned several common mistakes people make.  According to him, one of the most common mistakes was how we strain our stock.  His theory was simple:

  • When you try to strain a significant volume of liquid through a sieve, most people pour it in.  This is a problem; the sheer force and weight of the liquid is often greater than the strength of the strainer and small particles will be forced through the strainer.

I realized I had experienced this – and worse.  The force of the liquid often embedded the solids in the sieve which slowed straining (and sometimes stopped it) unless I used a spoon to clear the strainer of sediment and that often forced small particles through the strainer.  I couldn’t win.

Keller recommended that you use a spoon to gently pour small quantities of stock into a strainer.  This is probably still the best method but, as a home cook, I often lack the time and patience to do so.

I was on a mission to find a way that, as a home cook, I could have clearer stock (and, in turn, jelly, fruit wine and more).  I tried cheesecloth, microfiber, dishcloths and coffee filters.  The best results came from using a combination of 3 different strainers at the same time (I still use this technique and it’s very effective).

A few weeks back, after 4 years of casual experimentation, it occurred to me that I was approaching the problem wrong.  I was looking for a finer filter but I wasn’t really having a filter problem – I was fighting with gravity and the force the solids and liquid placed on the strainer.

That was when everything changed.

My new technique is incredibly simple: place a small bowl or saucer (I prefer the bowl) inside the sieve.  Pour your liquid into the bowl – it captures the impact and many solids will stay in the bowl as liquid pours over the top, into the sieve and is strained with little to no direct pressure on the sieve itself.

I’ve used this technique with stunning results to filter chicken stock, raspberry cider, strawberry wine and raspberry brandy.  All 3 items had been infusing/ resting for more than a year and were filled with sediment.  The raspberry worked the best but the strawberry is the clearest I’ve seen (other than from the steam juicer).

I’m not sure Chef Keller would approve – but I also know I’ll never cook at his level.  What I do know is this: I now have virtually crystal clear liquids and I have them because of the creativity that came from repeating the same problem over-and-over.

How do you strain your liquids?

Pickled Pheasant Eggs with Hops and Honey

Dana came home with 2 dozen pheasant eggs.  She had been visiting Pheasant Hill Farm and was excited to have brought part of their namesake home.

Can you pickle them?

It was more of an excited proclamation than a question!  I had to oblige!

Pickled Pheasant Eggs with Hops and Honey pickles pickled eggs Pheasant eggs hops Honey fridge pickles eggs [Read more...]

WellPreserved – The Book Announcement!

We shared two secrets with you yesterday.

We held the biggest secret for today:

WellPreserved   The Book Announcement!

Dana and I are thrilled to finally share the news that we’re working on our first cookbook! It will be published in the Spring of 2016 under the Appetite by Random House imprint. We’re thrilled to be working with Robert McCullough and his team at RHC. The instant we met Robert we knew we wanted to work with him (and talk butter churns and rosé among a tonne of other things…)

Previous International titles from Appetite include River Cottage Veg (Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall), Jerusalem (Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi), The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Deb Perelman) and What’s for Dinner (Curtis Stone).  They are also massive supporters of Canadian talent and have printed The Toronto Star Cookbook (Jennifer Bain), The Butler Speaks (Charles MacPherson)and Beerology (Mirella Amato).

We are both thankful and completely excited!

There are so many people that have helped with this journey – and so many more that we’ll need to thank before we’re done.  We could list 50 or 60 people – plus every reader, tweeter, facebook sharer and more to say a big thanks to.  For now we just want to share the excitement – and the credit – that has brought us to today.  This announcement is the result of hundreds – if not thousands – of people who have added their voice to WellPreserved over the years.  So thank you.

We’ve been working on the book for almost a year. From pitching to publishing – it will take almost 3 years to complete.  We’ll share some details as we continue to work on it.  Here’s what we’ll tease you with for now:

  • All of the recipes are 100% new content.
  • It will showcase many different styles of preserving.
  • It’s going to feature preserving as well as showing how you can use preserves in regular everyday cooking.
  • It’s going to feature some awesome photography and feature a lot of Dana’s art and design.

We’ll also be sharing our adventure as we go! Follow #WPcookbook

We’re looking for recipe testers – No Experience Required

Are you interested in being involved in the project?  Are you willing to test a recipe – or several?

If you’re interested in testing, we have a form (it should take less than 5 minutes to fill out) which will help us stay organized and help ensure that selected testers get to test things that they want to eat.

Onwards and Upwards

We can’t wait to see what the next 2 years have in store – and we’re so excited to have so many people joining us in this journey – we hope you’ll be part of it with us!

The Home Ec (Big Outdoor) Kitchen Party

Dana and I are excited to share news of a project that we’ve been quietly working on for the last little while:

The Home Ec (Big Outdoor) Kitchen Party HomeEc Big Outdoor Kitchen Party HomeEc harbortfront center

Inspired by community gatherings in the East Coast of Canada (where my Mother is from) we’re planning a family-friendly festival celebrating small food, preserving, blogging, food writing, music and more.  We also have some surprises to share soon!

We’re hosting the outdoor event at Harbourfront center and we couldn’t be more excited about the venue!

Here’s how we described it on the Harborfront website:

Meet some of the city’s finest picklers, beekeepers, hot sauce makers, fermenters and chefs in our pop-up local grocery store. Each producer will have a unique demonstration to teach you about their craft. Have a bite on your way to visit our demo area to learn the basics of preserving food, learn simple meal ideas, cooking techniques and more.

No kitchen party is complete without music, so our day will culminate with live music to celebrate the harvest!

As events are becoming a bigger focus for us, we’ve launched a new website to share our events on.  You can find it at: ILoveHomeEc.com

We’re looking for potential partners as well.  There are two types of partners we’re hoping to find:

  • Potential participants.  Artisan food producers, community organizations with a focus on food, cookbook authors, speakers and more.  The ideal participant will have a demo, tasting, display or something interactive to share with our guests.  We’ve had beer brewers offer hops for people to smell, hot sauce makers offering a taste of hot sauce and fermenters offer a sample of their pickles in the past.  You can find out the benefits of being a vendor here and apply over here.
  • Potential Sponsors.  Are you a larger organization who would like to participate with community and be involved with innovative, agile and amazing smaller brands?  We have a full sponsor package to share; send me an email (joel (a) wellpreserved.ca) and I’ll share it with you.

And, of course, you can participate by attending!


Strawberry Preserving Round-up

We send a weekly newsletter focused on a single-topic related to preserving, cooking, local food, foraging, gardening or something else.  Our goal with the newsletter is “to be the most useful resource in your inbox.”  The newsletter includes links to many other websites with ideas sharing knowledge about the topic as well as original content, announcements and occasional contests from us as well.  As an added bonus we send all subscribers the link to a file for labels that Dana hand-designed so you can print your own designer labels to decorate your jars.  You can sign up here.

This weeks theme was: Strawberries!  New preservers will find everything they need to learn to preserve strawberries and veterans will (hopefully) find new ideas and great preserving ideas for the first fruit of the year!  Strawberry wine, spicy preserves and recipes for beginners are all included.

Strawberry Preserving Round up Strawberry strawberries round ups [Read more...]

4 Things I’m Learning About Homemade Hamburgers

I’m particular about hamburgers – mostly in a bad way.

Like many people, I have a strong emotional connection to food.  It’s not my parents fault or the fault of society or my upbringing; this one falls squarely on my shoulders.  This doesn’t make a difference on most days but I catch myself craving certain foods on days that are particularity fantastic or horrible.  I have a fairly healthy relationship with food but when I’m having an stressful or emotional day it is the place I go to find comfort or celebrate success.  I’m aware enough to know that I’m eating in ways that are been triggered by emotion but seemingly powerless to change my behavior.

Which brings me to hamburgers.  If there’s one food that I eat way more than I felt philosophically comfortable with, it’s frozen hamburgers.  You know the ones; the ones you get at diners.  They come in packages with waxed paper dividing frost-ridden layers of meat mixed with filler and meat bi-product.  Meat-like burgers really.

My connection to them is even more ironic given that I grew up with many homemade burgers that were made with ‘real’ ingredients (often including moose or deer) and were cooked perfectly.

We eat a lot of vegetarian meals, especially at home. Nearly 100% of the raw meat and fish that comes into our home is from small farms and/ or sustainable sources.  But the odd diner hamburger comes through – and I’ve struggled to find a homemade version that connects with the same emotional appeal as the ones I grew up with.

Until now.

Before sharing my four ‘secrets’, allow me to share one that didn’t make the list.  In the search for a better homemade burger I made super thin patties last year.  They were about the size of a frozen patty.  They cooked quickly on high heat, charred well and had a great texture when combined with condiments.  I played with all sorts of additional ingredient and almost wrote this article back then.  I’m glad I didn’t; my burger strategy has done a completed turn-around!

Here’s my 4 tips for better burgers:

  1. Weigh your meat.  This isn’t essential if you’re cooking 1 or 2 burgers but essential if you’re cooking more than that to ensure that all burgers are cooked evenly.  An extra pinch of meat can easily weigh 5-10% more (and take that much longer to cook).  I like to use 225-250 grams (about a half-pound).
  2. Hands-off.  Food television tells us to handle the meat minimally.  While this makes sense I think it’s more important to make sure that the meat is built into a perfect cylinder.  If you form the patty between your hands it will often be thick in the middle and thinner around the edges.  I form the patties on a cookie sheet and push a second sheet down on top to evenly press the patties.
  3. Salt and pepper.  Lots of both.  Nothing else.  Meat, salt a pepper.  No egg. Not breadcrumbs or brown sauce or crackers.  Good (great) meat and salt and pepper.  Treat it like a steak – and it will be amazing.  Place patties in the fridge to help them ‘come together’ and cook without effort.
  4. Heat.  Medium-high high and flip once.  If you cook them too hot, they’ll need frequent flipping and risk burning.  Place them on medium-high and, when the edges start to change color and blood appears on the patty, it’s ready to flip.

What’s your secret?to a better burger?

2 Days Left to Support the Farm Curious Kickstarter and Their Fermenting Set

I had intended to write about this project long ago; through a comedy of self-invoked errors, I failed to do so until now.  I am so excited for the folks at FARMcurious who have clearly mixed a great idea and the willingness to take a risk to make it happen.

They’ve beaten their goal by more than 300%!


This project is intended to help people learn to ferment while also giving experienced fermenters a way to ferment small batches with ease.  The fermenting kits include a ReCap kit and an airlock.  We’ve used similar homemade contraptions; it’s an awesome system!  The airlock makes it very difficult for mold to form and makes fermenting a breeze.

In addition to the kits, there’s something bigger about supporting a project like this; this project supports some amazing people who are trying to make a difference.  I don’t know Nicole personally but we do share some friends, have traded a few emails and I love how she’s brought so many people from the preserving community together through her project.  When you support this kickstarter you aren’t supporting an anonymous organization but a person, driven by passion, who is chasing a dream.  And that gets me excited.

Just because they’ve met their goal doesn’t mean there’s no reason to support.  There’s still plenty of incentives left including a double-fermenting set and recipe collection for $33!

Head over and check out the project; you’ll be able to participate until Monday when the kickstarter completes!  You can also learn more about FARMcurious on their site.

Already Hot in the Kitchen; 5 Ways to Stay Cool when Canning

It’s just after 11:00PM and I still have two burners rolling on the stove.  I’m experimenting with a recipe for an asparagus soup concentrate that can be pressure canned and preserving a few odds and ends.

And it’s hot as heck.

Canning, pressure canning, dehydrating and cooking preserves can really heat up the house.  Here’s a few ideas for lowering the heat when preserving on warmer days:

  1. Move canning outside.  If you’re lucky enough to have an overhang or a covered porch, this is an easy step.  Create a small outdoor kitchen space and cook over a camp stove or the side burner of a BBQ.  I actually move our dehydrator onto our small fire escape when the weather gets really warm in order to stay cool.
  2. Change techniques.  I’m pressure canning soup and stock.  If I had a deep freezer I could easily freeze both items and cut a lot of heat out of my kitchen.
  3. Convert your garage.  OK, this is extreme – but it’s common in much of Nova Scotia; Garages are converted into rough kitchens (i.e. a fridge, sink, stove and counter are added to an otherwise ‘normal’ garage).
  4. Be a night owl.  Preserve later at night or early in the morning when it’s cooler (and energy is often more affordable).
  5. Work slower.  This may sound counter intuitive but multitasking (such as heating water while you’re chopping vegetables) can create extra heat in the kitchen (i.e. your water boils before your jam has cooked).  By working one-task-at-a-time you can ensure the heat is only on when it’s needed.

How do you stay cool in the kitchen?

Kick-Up the Jams Round-Up

We send a weekly newsletter focused on a single-topic related to preserving, cooking, local food, foraging, gardening or something else.  Our goal with the newsletter is “to be the most useful resource in your inbox.”  The newsletter includes links to many other websites with ideas sharing knowledge about the topic as well as original content, announcements and occasional contests from us as well.  As an added bonus we send all subscribers the link to a file for labels that Dana hand-designed so you can print your own designer labels to decorate your jars.

This weeks theme was: Kick-Up The Jams!  Bourbon, pepper, balsamic, habaneros, elderflower, ramps and candied ginger all find their way into jam in this weeks round-up as we take a look at some of the less common combinations of flavours that can be added to fruit and jam!

Kick Up the Jams Round Up waterbath round ups Jam

You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Every Wednesday we share the links from the previous weeks newsletter as we know that some of you would prefer to read these on the site and that sharing the links here increases the reach/ exposure of many of the writers working so hard to share their passions.  These links celebrate the work of so many people working hard to share knowledge and their passions of cooking, preserving and the love of the kitchen and we want to help spread the work of great sites and blogs. [Read more...]

Urban Gardening: Finding Critters

We’ve been gardening in our urban alley for 4 or 5 years.  We’ve had success and failure and a whole lotta learning.  This year was looking to be promising – I had a new strategy and was sure this would be the year we’d grow a significant amount of food in our parking space.

And then company came to visit.

Urban Gardening: Finding Critters urban gardening urban garden Fence Garden [Read more...]