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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

For Your Information

Please watch this area for important information like updates, food recalls, polls, contests, coupons, and freebies.
  • [January 15, 2016] - It's National Soup Month so this month's posts will focus on soups. Yum!
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
  • Sticky Post - Warning: 4ever Recap reusable canning lids. The reports are growing daily of these lids losing their seal during storage. Some have lost their entire season's worth of canning to these seal failures!

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

French Bread

I've baked one or more loaves of bread almost day for years. Over the years I have tweaked and developed recipes to get the desired effect. I mentioned in yesterday's post that baking bread is very frugal. Not only are homemade breads less expensive but because you control the ingredients, the resulting bread is more flavourful. Even specialty breads can be made at home for a fraction of the cost of store bought. Contrary to some beliefs, when using either the breadmaker or KitchenAid® stand mixer breadmaking is quite easy.

Homemade breads do not contain preservatives and for that reason will not keep as long as many store bought breads. While bread is best hot as most of us know it should be cooled on a rack before storing. This will prevent the bread from getting soggy on the bottom and will also soften the crust. Wrap the bread well with plastic wrap. This method will keep the bread nice for a couple of days. Breads made using milk and/or oil will keep for about four days. Once the bread has been cut, I like to vacuum seal any remaining bread in a FoodSaver® vacuum sealed canister. This will extend shelf storage time by a couple of days. Any bread that feels not as fresh during storage can be ground for homemade breadcrumbs then frozen or cubed for homemade croutons.

French Bread

I made a couple of loaves of French bread yesterday. Not only does it have a nice flavour, the shape lends itself well for making submarine or party sandwiches and it is the bread of choice for cutting on a diagonal to make garlic bread or bruschetta. One of our favourite ways to use French bread is to cut on a diagonal and lightly grill either indoors or outdoors. Served topped with a little butter it makes a lovely toast. Add a bit of homemade jam or honey and it is a nice complement to morning coffee made with fresh ground beans!

French Bread
modified for stand mixer

1 ½ c water
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp organic sugar
1 ½ tsp sea salt
4 c unbleached flour
1 ¾ tsp instant yeast

Combine butter and dry in the mixing bowl. Attach spiral dough hook to the mixer. Mix on speed 2 for about a minute. Slowly pour in the water while continuing mixing on speed 2 until the dough cleans the side of the bowl. Knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Remove the dough hook. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise until doubled. Punch down the dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a long, smooth rope shape. Place both on a parchment lined baking sheet sprinkled with a little cornmeal (optional). Cover with parchment paper and top with a tea towel. Allow the bread to rise until double. Bake at 400ºF (200ºC) until golden brown.
Yield: 2 loaves


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bagels

The smell of fresh baked bread wafting through the house is one of life's little pleasures. Store bought bread just does not compare. Homemade breads are very frugal to make regardless of how you make the dough and you control the ingredients. I've been making homemade breads ever since we married years ago and still make most of the breads we eat. It always surprises me to hear someone marvel at the taste of my breads followed by the comment that breadmaking is so much work. You would be surprised at how easy making bread is!

Breadmachines and stand mixers take a lot of the work out of kneading the dough and free up valuable time. I have and still occasionally use a Black & Decker All-in-One Plus™ breadmaker bought in the late 1980s. It still works nicely and has been a real workhorse but more and more I was using for making the dough only as we prefer breads baked in the oven. The second problem I ran into with the breadmaker was the limitation of the amount of dough that could be made at one time. Traditional recipes had to be adjusted for the breadmaker as well. This often meant making two or more batches of dough and because they were proofing at different times the oven had to be on for longer periods for the baking. This year I bought a KitchenAid® Professional series stand mixer as a way to eliminate as many single purpose small appliances as possible. I have been testing and converting my favourite breadmachine recipes to use with the stand mixer.

I made bagels yesterday using the recipe (see below) from my breadmachine manual except I used the KitchenAid® stand mixer. The yield was nine large bagels. This recipe could easily be doubled.

I think the biggest change for me was determining when the dough had been kneaded enough. The dough was mixed on Speed 2 until smooth and elastic (1) for a total of about 4 minutes. Then I covered the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough proof. Once the dough had proofed, I divided it into somewhat equal portions (2) on a sheet of parchment paper to rise. I omitted the step of greasing the top electing instead to cover them with parchment paper then laying a tea towel on top.

What gives bagels their unique texture is boiling them for a short period before baking. According to Breadtime by Susan Jane Cheney it is the shape and method of cooking not the dough that makes a bagel a bagel. Her method is to boil a minute or two on each side in lightly salted water. The instructions for this bagel recipe was to simmer 5 to 6 minutes per side in water with a tbsp of sugar added. Either method will give good results. Before baking the bagels were brushed with an egg yolk and water mixture. The end result (4) was worth waiting for.

Ready to Enjoy

The outside of the bagels is a nice golden brown. I opted to leave them plain as this was a test batch. After brushing on the egg mix, the bagels can be sprinkled with poppy or sesame seeds, diced onion, garlic chips or cheddar cheese if desired. The taste and texture got two thumbs up from my husband and son who basically just inhaled. Five of the nine bagels are already gone so by tonight they will likely all be gone! I will be making a double batch next leaving half plain and topping the other half but I have decided with what. Now I just have to work on forming them a bit better.

Bagels

modified for using a stand mixer by Garden Gnome


1 c water
1 1/2 tsp organic sugar
1 tsp sea salt
3 c unbleached flour
1 tsp instant dry yeast

Combine the sugar, salt, flour and yeast in the mixing bowl. Mix on Speed 2 with spiral dough hook then slowly pour in the water. Continue mixing on Speed 2 until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl adding a bit more water if needed. Knead on Speed 2 for 2 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Remove the dough hook, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot free from drafts to proof. When the dough is double in size, remove from bowl and divide into 10 equal portions. Form into round, smooth balls. Using your thumbs make a 1 1/2 inch hole in the center of each ball. Place on parchment paper and cover with parchment paper with a tea towel on top. Allow to rise for 30 minutes or until double. Bring 3 quarts of water and 1 tbsp of organic sugar to a boil. Reduce the temperature to simmer. Simmer 3 to 4 bagels at a time in the water for 5 to 6 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon. Place on greased baking sheet dusted with cornmeal (optional). Brush with egg yolk mixed with a little water. Sprinkle on toppings if desired. Bake at 400ºF (200ºC) 25 to 30 minutes.
Yield: 10 bagels


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Home Canned Barbeque Pork

There are many reasons for canning meats, poultry and fish. Quite often an excess of meats coincides when the freezer space is as well so canning is one method of being able to preserve the excess for later use. Jars of homecanned meats are convenient foods to have on your pantry shelf. They are already cooked so all you need to do is heat and serve. Canning allows you to take advantage of hunting and fishing but also allows you to take advantage of meat sales. Just as in other home canned foods, you can control the ingredients and tweak the flavours so it is a win-win situation.

A couple of question from my readers:

  1. How many 6 quart baskets are there in a hamper? A. A hamper is 5/8 of an Imperial bushel or 32 quarts. There are 20 quarts in a hamper or 3 1/3 - 6 quart baskets.
  2. Do you have a food preservation schedule for home use? A. I do not use an actual schedule because I follow the growing seasons for the heavy preserving season of May to October. Anything that can be canned or frozen outside of the growing season is fit in. For me this means starting with asparagus. Each crop lasts a certain length of time so that gives me a time frame to work in. For example strawberries start mid-June and generally runs for 11 days. During the time frame, I will focus on that crop but will also be doing other preserving.
  3. Can vegetable beef soup be canned? A. Yes, vegetable beef soup and most soups can be canned providing they do not contain rice, barley, noodles, thickeners or dairy. The hot soup should be ladled into hot jars. Wipe the rim and adjust the two piece lids. Process in a pressure canner at 10 lb pressure 60 minutes for pints, 70 minutes for quarts.
As you know from my previous post, pork shoulder roasts are on sale for $1 per pound which is a very good price. My husband picked up a 16.4 lb piece that had not been cut into roasts yet for $16.40. The regular price would have been $53.97! I processed the first batch of roasts into canned shredded barbeque pork (read more here) and while the results were good, I was not pleased with the amount of fat in the jars. The focus of this batch of canned shredded barbeque pork was fat reduction.

Pork Roast Prep

This pork shoulder came cryovac sealed and was not cut into roasts. Since the meat contained a couple of bones, it was actually more convenient for cooking. I placed the pork shoulder into a large roasting pan fat side down. I knew I would be defatting later so fat side down made sense. That way I could lift meat later leaving as much fat and bone undisturbed as possible. The shoulder just fit the roaster!

The pork shoulder was prepared much the same way as the pork shoulder roasts. The nature of this cut is it will be fatty. The fat is needed for the long and slow cooking process. It keeps the meat tender while adding flavour so I did not cut any fat from the meat prior to cooking.

I rubbed Blazin BBQ Rib Rub into the surface of the pork shoulder. Then topped with Spanish onion slices. The onions add both moisture and flavour. Unlike the first method I used, the sauce was not added until the pork shoulder was about half way through the cooking process. The pork was cooked at 200ºF for 6 hours then the temperature was raised to 250ºF and the meat was allowed to cook for another 2 hours.

Defatting

Once the pork was cooked, I removed it from the oven. The pork was transferred to the lid of the roaster while the sauce was strained into a large saucepan. Using tongs and forks, I carefully pulled as much meat from the fat and bones as possible. I ended up with a large saucepan of strained sauce (1) two large baking pans of shredded meat (2). Both were allowed to cool then were refrigerated overnight.

The fat congealed on the surface of the sauce (1) that had taken on a jelly like consistency and yes the fat was that yellow having picked up colour from the sauce. I carefully removed as much fat as possible from the top of the sauce. There must have been a good almost two cups of fat, all that would not be going into my finished product!

The two baking pans of shredded meat were reshredded using forks. Any obvious pieces of fat were removed. The pans were covered with tinfoil then to heat in the oven set to 250ºF not only to heat for the canning process but also to allow and fat to melt out. While I knew this would not remove a lot of fat, any fat removed would be a good thing. Once the meat was heated, I brought the sauce to a boil then prepared for canning. The meat was put into hot jars leaving 1-inch headspace and hot sauce was ladled onto the meat leaving 1-inch headspace. I wiped the rims, adjusted the two piece lids then pressure canned at 10 lb pressure for 75 minutes (500 ml jars).

Comparison in the Jars

The end result was 7 - 500 ml jars of shredded pork barbeque roast and one gallon vacuum sealed freezer bag. In comparison to the first batch (1) the second batch (2) had considerably less congealed fat in the jars when they cooled. I had two concerns after the first batch cooled. The first was the amount of fat left in the final product. Lowering the fat for a healthier product was something I really wanted to do. The second concern was the aesthetics. A large amount of congealed fat in the jars simply does not look good. Reducing the fat in the finished product gave a much nicer result.

Overall, I'm pleased with the results of the defatting process for barbeque pork. The extra defatting steps did add more time and work so processing could not be done the same day but at the price, I have no complaints. This is something I'm willing to do to get a lower fat finished product. Any step that will result in a healthier homecanned version is always of primary concern for me. Now I have the method worked out for canning barbeque pork and have another pork should weighing in at 16.95 lbs, I will do up another batch using the defatting method.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pub Grub & Homemade Onion Rings

Following a busy canning weekend that continued into Monday meant simpler meals. A 16.4 lb pork shoulder roast is in the oven and will be ready for canning shortly. I've had the house to myself all day So I thought I would make a post on pub grub most often eaten when we are boating but we also have two favourite haunts we frequent by car after the boating season. But first let me answer a few questions from some of my readers:

  1. How big is a hamper of tomatoes? A. A hamper is 5/8 Imp. bushels.
  2. How many jars are in a bushel of tomatoes? A. The number of jars will vary depending on what you make with the tomatoes. In general, I get 7 L (quarts) of whole tomatoes from 1/2 of a hamper or 5/16 of a bushel.
  3. Can freshly cooked tomato sauce be stored in mason jars? A. Yes providing you process using a boiling water bath canner for plain sauce (no meat) or use a pressure canner for sauce with meat.
  4. Can I use white vinegar to pickle beets? A. Most certainly and at least two recipes for pickling beets using white vinegar are already posted on this blog.
Ok, back to talking about pub grub. Pub grub generally consists of hamburgers, finger foods, appetizers, chicken wings and anything else normally washed down with cold beer while watching football on some type of tv in the setting of a pub, tavern or bar. The food is usually unpretentious, inexpensive and deep frying is often involved. It is served in paper lined baskets or on simple plates.

Pub Grub

The neat thing about pub grub is it is a treat for us. On our last overnight boat trip the weekend of September 8, we ate at one of our favourite pubs. Of course, the football game being on was a bit of an incentive. We had to walk from the marina to the pub and back again somewhat justifying adding a couple of "appetizers" to the meal. Seriously, I don't do much in the way of breaded foods so these are things I don't make at home other than the occasional breaded fish.

For appetizers we had deep fried mushrooms (1) and onion rings (2). This pub know how to make both of these just right! They were fried to a golden brown then served in paper lined baskets. I had the bacon cheese burger (3). Now anytime you order anything with cheese on it at a pub it is almost always processed cheese slices. That means if you are lactose intolerant dose up on Lactaid before hand! The burger was average but the atmosphere made it a bit better. My husband had the Philly cheese steak sandwich (4). Again it had the processed cheese, not the best but the sauteed onions made up for it somewhat.

Homemade Onion Rings

I don't do a lot of breading or coating for any foods so the real challenge was to be able to make homemade onion rings that duplicated what we had on the pub grub. It was more of the challenge since this is one thing I do not cook well. But a home based pub night especially for poker nights would go over good providing I can duplicate at least the deep fried foods.

Method:
I used thick sliced Spanish onion then dipped them in flour seasoned with Old Bay Seasoning. Then I dipped the slices into Bisquick mixed with water. I figured if this method worked for fish except using beer for the water, it should work for onion rings. I set the deep fryer to hot then deep fried the onion rings until golden brown. The end result wasn't bad. The onion rings were tender and sweet while enclosed in a nice crispy coating. It was a bit more coating than the pub grub version but pretty close.

What I think might work a bit better is complete pancake mix but being the cooking musser that I am, I want to come up with a nice home made version not using mixes. So I'm going to say this version was good and would definitely fit the needs for most. I'm thinking a bit thinner coating so stay tuned for an updated version as I get to it.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Weekend Home Canning

It was a weekend filled with cooking and canning. One of the grocery stores has whole pork shoulder picnic roasts on sale for $1 per pound. With four nice roasts tucked into the refrigerator, I decided to cook one for Saturday's dinner then can the other three. I also had two hampers of tomatoes and 8 lb of L-star apples to process. In total, I canned 4 - 500 ml apple butter, 12 - 500 ml salsa, 7 - L whole tomatoes, 4 - 250 ml tomato paste and 5 - 500 ml barbeque pork. This productive weekend left the house smelling wonderful while it added to my pantry stock!

Apple Butter Bars

The weekend started off with of course cooking. Friday I made Anna Olson's (host of Food Network's Sugar) Apple Butter Bars. One question that often comes up on the canning groups is "I canned this but now how do I use it?". I saw this segment and thought it would be interesting to try so I did.

I used the recipe as written except for substituting organic sugar, unbleached flour and sea salt. The bars were more of a cake texture but had a very lovely flavour. I'm going to modify the recipe a bit to use a larger pan for a thinner bar-like layer. Other than that, this recipe gets two thumbs up from our family. It is a wonderful way to use up a jar of homemade apple butter!

Roast Pork Dinner

Saturday's dinner was of course long cooked pork shoulder roast. I had ulterior motives as I wanted something easy to cook since I was canning tomatoes and I wanted to determine cooking time for the pork I wanted to can on Sunday. I poured Uncle Sam's BBQ Sauce (voted best 2006 Etobicoke ribfest) onto the roast then topped with sliced Spanish onions. The roast was cooked at 250ºF for five hours then increased to 350ºF for 1 hour in a clay baker. A side of calrose rice completed the meal.

The meat was melt in your mouth tender and moist but clearly for bulk cooking, I would need to modify the cooking method. I also thought cooking at a lower temperature over a longer period of time would work better for canning. After making careful notes in my cooking journal, I knew I was ready for canning barbeque pork the next day.

Whole Tomatoes & Salsa

Tomatoes are classified as heirlooms or hybrids and may or may not be organically grown. They are further divided into slicing (beefsteak, etc), cherry (grape, etc), plum (paste), pear-shaped and striped. The choice of variety will determine the outcome of homecanned tomato products. If the tomato is not meaty, it will mean more prep work and a longer cook time for some homecanned tomato products.

Two hampers of tomatoes were sitting in the kitchen Saturday morning. These were very meaty, very few seeds paste tomatoes. I decided on making salsa and another batch of whole tomatoes. I've made previous blog entries on both. This would be a higher prep work canning session using the boiling water canners. Salsa has more prep work so I worked on that first slipping the skins from the first hamper of tomatoes. The size of the batch meant running two canners as well. This is the first of four larger batches of salsa of varying degrees of heat that I will make this year. A smaller test batch is also planned for tweak besides heat.

The whole tomatoes were prepared as in the previous blog entry. Instead of pressure canning, I decided to use the boiling water bath canner. The main difference between the two processing methods is time. Processing for L (quarts) is 85 minutes for boiling water bath. The choice to use one method over another is purely preference and timing if you have both types of canners. If you do not have a pressure canner then the boiling water bath method is a must.

Before & After

Large pots and pans are essential when doing a lot of canning or bulk cooking. Over the years I have accumulated quite a few. A large square enamelware roasting pan was ideal for this test run. It held the three roasts comfortably so since I have another of similar size I know I can prepare six roasts for canning by also using the grill. The roasts were prepared using a method I've often used and know results in tender, juicy pork.

Method: I put three pork shoulder picnic roasts in a large roasting pan, sprinkled with a little garlic pepper then topped with Diana sauce (rib&chicken) and sliced Spanish onions. I slow cooked at 200F about 6 hrs then increased the temperature to 250F for about 2 hours. Then I carefully removed each roast, took off the fat and pulled into shreds. I strained the resulting sauce. What meat was left after DH helped himself as official taste tester and ferreted away a bowl for his lunch today was hot packed into 500 ml (pint) jars. I poured the sauce over the meat leaving 1 inch headspace. Processing was at 10 lb pressure 75 minutes.

It is very important to me that the food in the jars look as good as I know it will taste. The barbeque pork looked wonderful when it was first removed from the canner but as it cooled the fats congealed. I'm not overly impressed with the final appearance. This is one reason why I will be experimenting with different cooking methods. The other reason is I want to make a lower fat end product. Eliminating all of the fat would be impossible and I wouldn't want to as it does add flavour. Instead of using a strainer for the next batch, I'm going to use a gravy separator to remove more of the fat in the sauce.

I'm getting more roasts today and more daily until the sale ends. Now I know this works well, I'm going to be playing with cooking methods, rubs and sauces so each batch will be different. We will be able to decide which versions we like best then make larger batches of them.



Tomato Paste, Barbeque Pork, Apple Butter

When preparing long cooked foods for canning it is a better use of time to make more than one kind. I like to plan so I can run the boiling water bath canner back to back on one burner and the pressure canner on the other. This is how I canned on Sunday. Shown is tomato paste, canned barbeque pork and apple butter.

Homemade tomato paste has a nice robust flavour without any of the tininess of store bought. It isn't difficult to make just time consuming. My tomato paste is made using only paste tomatoes unlike some recipes that include other ingredients. A food mill is essential to get a smooth sauce that is reduced to paste over low heat.

Method: Wash the tomatoes and cut in half. Bring to a boil in a large stock pot, reduce heat and simmer slowly for an hour. Run the mixture through a food mill. Return the sauce to the stock pot and continue slowly cooking until mixture mounds on a spoon, about 2 1/2 hours. I like letting the sauce reduce on the grill in a roasting pan as the larger surface area decreases the reduction time. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Wipe rims and adjust two piece lids. Process in boiling water bath canner for 45 minutes.
Yield: Yield depends on the amount of tomatoes and how meaty they are. About 11 kg (16 lb) will yield about 9 - 250 ml (1/2 pint) jars.

Apple Butter
8 lb L-star apples (or similar tart apples)
2 c water
8 c organic sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Wash and cut the apples into quarters. Place in a large stock pot with 2 c water. Slowly bring to a boil while stirring to prevent burning. Run the apples through a food mill. Return the sauce to the stock pot or crockpot. Set the temperature to low and allow to slowly simmer and reduce. When the butter is thick, ladle into hot sterilized jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the rim and adjust two-piece lids. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath canner.
Yield - about 8 pints


Friday, September 14, 2007

Dried Apples, Applesauce and Grilled Salmon with Garden Mayonnaise

Local apples and new potatoes are now available at the farmer's market. It has turned into a mecca of wonder fresh fruits and vegetables many of which I will be preserving over the next couple of months. Yesterday I took a break from canning tomatoes to make the first batch of apple sauce and dry apples. The house smelled heavenly! On the menu for dinner was grilled salmon with garden mayonnaise, grilled asparagus and steamed new potatoes.

Dried Apples & Applesauce

By far my favourite apple for baking, drying or making applesauce is the L-star. This is a nice firm, tart apple that holds it's shape well. Cooked apple pieces need only to be run through the food mill for perfectly textured applesauce eliminating the need to boil down further. The method I use for making applesauce can be found in an earlier blog entry here. The only modification I make to the method is to omit the sugar.

Dried apple slices are very easy to make. They can be used for snacking, cooking or garnishing. Be sure to make a lot of these as they will quickly become a favourite treat.

Method: Wash and core apples. Slice into thin slices. Dip into a solution of water with about 2 tbsp of lemon juice added. Arrange the slices on drying trays. Dehydrate at 130º F until the slices are dry to the touch and are pliable. Remove from tray and store in vacuum* sealed mason jars.

* Vacuum sealing will prevent any moisture from getting in that could cause the apple slices to mold. It also protects them from rodents and insects.

Grilled Salmon

I keep a good stock of salmon fillets and steaks in the freezer as it is one of our favourite fish. Grilling salmon is quick and easy, under 15 minutes. When paired with grilled or steamed vegetables I presented the meal as shown in the picture with the salmon sitting on top of the asparagus then topped with Garden Mayonnaise. Steamed red and white potatoes completed the meal.

I came across a recipe called Grilled Salmon with Garden Mayonnaise in the August issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Their method for grilling the salmon fillets and asparagus spears differed from mine so I decided to grill them the way I always do. I also leave the skin on salmon as I find it gives a better result when grilled. Their recipe included Garden Mayonnaise which sounded interesting so I made it and then tweaked a bit (recipe follows).

Grilled Salmon

1 salmon fillet or steak per person
1/2 tsp butter per fillet or steak
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice per fillet or steak
sprig of lemon thyme per fillet or steak
citrus slices (optional)

Pre-heat the grill to medium. Place the salmon skin side down for fillets or brush with half the butter for steaks and place on the grill. Brush the top side with remaining butter. Pour about 1 tbsp lemon juice on the salmon. Place 1-2 citrus slices (optional) and lemon thyme sprig on the salmon. When salmon looks cooked on the bottom side, turn. Brush with butter and lemon juice. Remove from grill. Use citrus slices and thyme sprigs as garnish if desired.

Grilled Asparagus

Wash and trim ends from the asparagus. Dry then place on pre-heated grill on medium heat. Lightly spritz the asparagus with olive oil using a health mister or lightly brush on a little olive oil. Sprinkle on just a light pinch of sea salt. Let cook about 4 minutes, turn and repeat. Remove from grill.

Garden Mayonnaise
adapted from: Garden Mayonnaise, Better Homes and Gardens, August 2007. Pp. 202

1/2 c finely chopped celery
1/4 c thinly sliced green onions
1/3 c mayonnaise
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp snipped fresh tarragon
pinch Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp fresh lemon thyme leaves

Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Use as you would tartar sauce to garnish salmon.

My notes: This is a fancier version of tartar sauce with a nice fresh flavour. The first five ingredients are the same as the original recipe. I did just a bit of tweaking by adding the other ingredients. This is one recipe I will continue tweaking a bit.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Liver & Onions Revisited

It's that time of the year when I'm doing some type of preserving daily with a large emphasis on canning. That means I want simple to prepare meals that take advantage of the extra produce I have on hand. It's always nice when the meal happens to be both frugal and comfort food. Such is the case with liver and onions. In an earlier blog entry, Three Simple Budget Stretching Dishes, I gave the method my husband uses for cooking liver and onions.

Many people turn up their noses at eating liver quite often because of unpleasant childhood memories. Liver should never be dry or tough. It should be melt in your mouth, full of flavour and nicely textured. If you refuse to eat liver because of previous experiences, consider cooking it using our method. It might just change your mind. Liver is generally quite inexpensive making it a very frugal meat choice. It is rich and filling so less goes further. Leftovers heat nicely in the microwave but I don't know if they would freeze. It's high in protein and iron but also high in cholesterol so those watching their dietary intake of cholesterol should limit their intake.

The original instructions I posted follows this discussion.

The total price for 3 packages of fresh liver was $6.58 giving enough for dinner for three adults, lunch for one adult, and dinner for two adults. Paired with new crop Spanish onions (50 lb - $8.99) and new crop potatoes (50 lb $7.99) it makes for a nice frugal meal. Choose firm, fresh liver (1) preferably calf liver with the intent of cooking it the day you buy it. The liver should have good colouration with glistening appearance. Do not buy if there is excess blood leaking around the liver. Open the package to allow the liver to breath about 5 minutes before coating.

The coating should be kept simple with a little seasoning to accent the liver but not so as to overpower it. We used about 2 cups of unbleached flour (2) with a couple of dashes of garlic pepper and garlic salt but you can add whatever seasonings you like as long as they don't overpower the liver. Old Bay seasoning works nicely too as does simple salt and pepper. The best way to coat the liver is to dredge using your hands. Once coated the liver is placed into a medium sauteé pan to brown only (3). You will need two fry pans, one for the liver and one for the onions. Sauteé sliced onions until translucent in butter then add the browned liver (3). Butter is the best for flavour but it can be cut in half with extra virgin olive oil to reduce the saturated and trans fats or you can use half ghee and half extra virgin olive oil for the flavour. Continue cooking the liver and onions on medium heat stirring often until the onions are caramelized (4). Remove from heat and let rest about 5 minutes.

Method: You will need a sautee pan and fry pan for this method. Timing is important so be sure to use mis en place. Cut two large spanish onions in half then into slices against the layers. Melt about 2 tbsp butter in the sautee pan then add onions. Stir occasionally and if need be add a little extra butter. While the onions are sauteeing, dredge the liver in flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper or garlic salt if you prefer. Lightly brown on both sides in heated fry pan on medium heat. Remove from heat. When the onions begin carmelizing, transfer the liver to the sautee pan. Continue cooking until the onions are carmelized, stirring often.

Presentation

Liver and onions are comfort food so choose comforting sides like potatoes and/or carrots cooked simply without added fats. I served the liver with steamed new potatoes with a just little butter and sea salt. A side garden salad with lemon juice instead of dressing rounded out the meal. Lemon juice brings out the flavour of a salad without adding fat or calories. It was an ideal side for this dinner. We had plain yogurt with a bit of fresh fruit for desert.

So all in all, liver is a very frugal, comforting and healthy meal. Do give it a try.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Meatballs, Homecanned Meatballs in Sauce and Homecanned Sauce

I'm a bit behind on my tomato schedule this year so hopefully the motivation will strike soon! The fourth hamper of tomatoes was sitting in the kitchen waiting processing yesterday. I decided it would be a good day to make a smooth tomato sauce for canning and using some of that sauce for a homecanned convenience product. A family sized package of lean ground beef provided the inspiration. My husband loves meatball subs so I routinely make up a large batch of meatballs then freeze them. However, the prospect of having ready-to-use meatballs in sauce sitting in the pantry would be even easier for a quick meal. With the decision of what to can settled it was time to set to work.

The sauce (see below) was prepared first and simmering while I made the meatballs. I had the meatballs in sauce processing in the canner just in time for dinner which of course was meatball subs made from another batch of meatballs. After dinner, I processed most of the remaining sauce, cleaned up the kitchen and smiled each time a jar pinged.

Meatballs

When I make meatballs I don't use any fillers or eggs. I want pure lightly seasoned meatballs that let the flavour of the meat shine though giving me a versatile meatball that can be used with a variety of sauces. My method follows. There are no measurements as I just use what I have.

Method:
I start with freshly ground lean ground beef. The KitchenAid food grinder attachment is ideal for this purpose. I mix in a couple of healthy dashes of Worcestershire sauce, light sprinkling of salt and fresh ground pepper. Once mixed I pour in cold milk and mix adding more cold milk until the meat holds together when pinched. The meat is then formed into balls using a meatballer (1). I use a little extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick skillet to brown the meatballs (2) on medium heat turning as needed. Once cooked*(3) the meatballs are ready to enjoy or can be cooled for freezing**.

* for canning - Brown only but do not cook through. Keep hot until ready to fill the jars.
** for freezing - Once cooled, spread the meatballs in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Freeze. Remove from cookie sheet and pack into zipper style freezer bag or vacuum seal into meal sized portions.

Meatball Sub

Meatball subs are inexpensive, quick and easy to make sure to please. This was my husband's meatball sub so he decided against the nice green (upper right) romaine lettuce. His excuse was it might interfere with the full flavour of the meatballs!

Method: Start with a submarine bun. Cut down one side of the top on an angle from end to end. Repeat. A "V" shaped wedge will be formed leaving a "V" shaped well in the bottom. Fill the well with meatballs. Sprinkled on fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Place the wedge on top and enjoy!

Sauce & Meatballs in Sauce

I decided to make a smooth tomato sauce that would do double duty. Again there are no firm measurements only the method so adjust the seasonings to taste. I used approximately 3/4 of a hamper of tomatoes for the sauce. A food mill is essential for making smooth sauces. It makes quick work for easily removing skins and seeds. The sauce can be canned using a boiling water bath (BWB) canner but the meatballs in sauce must be processed using a pressure canner.

Method: Wash the tomatoes then cut in half. Place about 1/4 of the tomatoes into a large stock pot and slowly bring to a boil while stirring to prevent sticking. Continue adding cut tomatoes until all are used. When all the tomatoes are heated through remove from heat. Run then tomatoes in small quantities through the food mill. Return the sauce to the stockpot reserving the skins and seeds for drying (good for tomato powder). Add one finely chopped Spanish onion, 2 finely chopped stalks celery, 2 cloves garlic pressed and 1/2 finely chopped green pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Seasonings are optional but if using: Stir is Italian seasoning, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 1 tbsp garlic/onion powder mix, 2 cans (369 ml/13 oz) tomato paste (or same amount homemade) and light dash of salt. Simmer 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings as necessary then simmer for another 15 minutes. The sauce is now ready for canning or freezing.

canned sauce only: Ladle the hot sauce into sterilized mason jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe the rims. Adjust two piece lids. Process in a boiling water bath 35 minutes for 500 ml (pints) jars. Remove from canner and allow to cool undisturbed. Check for seal. Label and store.

meatballs in sauce, canned: Pack hot meatballs into 500 ml (pint) jars leaving 1-inch headspace. Ladle hot sauce over the meatballs leaving 1-inch headspace. Wipe the rims. Adjust two piece lids. Process at 10 lb pressure for 75 minutes 500 ml (pint) jars or 90 minutes for 1 L (quart) jars. Allow to depressurize then remove jars to cool. Check for seal. Label and store.

to freeze: Allow sauce to cool then freeze as is in freezer containers. If adding meatballs, allow the meatballs to cool. Stir into the sauce and freeze in freezer containers. For longer storage, pop the frozen sauce or meatballs in sauce out of the container and vacuum seal.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Making Ghee

The results of my recent poll showed: 60% of those responding (63) used butter for cooking, baking and eating; 11% used margarine only; 22% used both and 6% used neither. Butter brings a rich flavour that just can't be duplicated. I'd rather reduce the amount of butter used to get that flavour than use margarine, something I don't buy.


Boiling

Ghee is clarified butter with the water and milk solids rendered out. It is traditionally used in Indian cuisine. Ghee can be substituted for butter when baking but may affect the recipe's outcome. It is higher in saturated fat so can be substituted with corn oil or vegetable oil which will affect the flavour of the recipe. Ghee has a higher smoke point making it ideal for sauteing and because the milk solids have been removed, it is well tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. Ghee is very easy to make using unsalted butter.

Bring 1/2 lb of butter to a full rolling boil over medium heat while stirring to prevent burning. Reduce the heat to low and allow the butter to simmer slowly.


Simmering

As the butter simmers, the water will evaporate off, the milk solids and proteins will rise to the surface. Allow the butter to slowly simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly pour through a fine mesh strainer. Pour the strained liquid through another strainer lined with a double layer of cheese cloth. Pour the strained liquid into a sealable jar.

In the Jar

I poured the strained ghee into a 250 ml mason* jar. After cooling to room temperature, the jar was placed in the refrigerator because I knew I would not be using it right away. Ghee is easier to use at room temperature and because the proteins and milk solids have been removed does not need to be refrigerated.

Ghee enriches the flavours of both sweet and savory foods. It can be used in much the same way as other oils but because of the higher smoke point you can use higher temperatures when frying. Give ghee a try. I think you will be pleasantly pleased with the results.

* Please note:
This is not canned butter. I know recipes are floating around on the world wide web for canning butter. These are not shelf stable and must be refrigerated!


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Canning Tip and Preserving Onions

The heavy canning season is in full swing here. I've already processed three hampers of tomatoes and have one sitting ready for processing today. However, there are also things like onions, peaches, grapes and apples to preserve so it will be quite busy here for the next couple of months.

I can foods year round so my pressure canner is in use at least weekly except during the heaviest canning season (May to October) when it can be in use as often as three times a day. A good rule to follow is always test your pressure canner before the heaviest canning season and any time you have even the slightest concern over the canner's performance.

Method: To test the pressure canner, follow your manufacturer's recommendation for the amount of water in the canner. Check the gasket, vent and pressure release. Prepare at least three 500 ml (pint) jars by sterilizing then fill with boiling water leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust the two piece caps. Place them in the canner. Place the lid on, bring to a boil then vent as per your manufacturer's recommendation. Place the regulator on the vent and bring to pressure. Process for 15 minutes at 10 lb pressure. Turn off the heat and allow the canner to depressurize. Remove the jars and allow to cool undisturbed. Check for a good seal then label and store.

Note: Since you are testing your canner's performance, do not leave it unattended. You need to observe if the seal (gasket) is failing or if the canner is doing any number of things that is not normal. Any abnormalities should be corrected before using again.

Vacuum Sealed Onions

My rule of thumb for anything I'm preserving is use more than one method. The reason for this is if for some reason the electricity or even freezers failed to the point of spoiling the food, I would have at least two (canned, dried) longer term storage back-ups. I think this is the frugal approach to home preserving. I also follow the rule of using home preserving to make things convenient for my style of cooking. Making my own ready to use convenience foods means that I can still put a nice meal on the table with little effort on the days I don't feel like a lot of prep work.

My husband picked up a 50 lb bag of Spanish onions. A good portion of these will be used during the canning season with another bag stored in the pantry to be used fresh. I keep several pints of chopped onions in the freezer. Not only are these convenient but they are very easy to prepare. A large Spanish onion will yield a bit more than a pint bag for vacuum sealing. I coarsely chop the onions, place it in the vacuum sealer bag, vacuum seal with the FoodSaver then freeze.

Carmelized Onions

Onions will keep for quite sometime when properly stored but I came across a method for canning carmelized onions that I just had to try. We have carmelized onions quite often so the idea of canning them was interesting. I only made six 250 ml jars and will likely use them to blend into mashed potatoes. It was more of a can I do this and novelty recipe.

The end result was a gorgeous and versatile product for the pantry shelf.  I was quite pleased with the results!  The carmelized onions looked rather pretty in the jars as well.

Pickled Onions

Pickled onions have always been one of my favourite pickles so I make a batch each year. It is important to use the small white pearl onions. Sometimes they are labeled as pickling onions. Pickling onions is a two step process involving an overnight soak in salt water so do plan extra time for this.

Pickled Onions
adapted from: Jean Paré, Company's Coming, Preserves, Pickled Onions. Pp. 75

4 c small white pearl onions
boiling water to cover

4 c boiling water
1/2 c coarse pickling or sea salt

1 c granulated sugar
1 c white vinegar
3/4 c water
1 tbsp mixed pickling spice

Wash onions then cover with boiling water in a large bowl. Cover and let stand 4 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water and peel. Place into large bowl. Pour salt and boiling water over the onions. Cover and let stand on the counter overnight. Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain again.

Prepare the brine by combining the last three ingredients in a saucepan. Place the pickling spice in a tea ball or make a small bag using a double layer of cheesecloth. Put into the mixture and bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes. Discard the spice. Add the onions and return to a boil. Fill hot, sterilized jars with onion leaving 1 inch headspace. Ladle the brine over the onions leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims. Adjust the two piece lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

Yield: 4 - 250 ml (half pint) jars


Monday, September 03, 2007

A Food Filled Labour Day Weekend 2007


Waterside Entertainment
Sept. 1, 2007

As many of you already know we go to as many ribfests as possible. Canada's largest ribfest is held in Spencer Smith Park, Burlington, Ontario on the Labour Day Weekend. This is a family event for us each year. We left Thursday night so we could spend a whole day with our grandbaby while her Dad was at work and her Mom was getting her classroom ready for the new school year. That meant we got to spoil her a lot. In the early afternoon we took her shopping at IKEA. We saw a kitchen in their catalogue we liked so was considering it for our remodel. Then we stopped at Fortino's to get the ingredients for a homecooked dinner to surprise them when they got home. We bought rib steaks, baking potatoes, salad fixing and a few other goodies for a nice barbeque. Our grandbaby is now 8 months old and eats directly from her parents plates, steak included! The following morning our mouths were already watering in anticipation of sights and smells of the ribfest.

The smell of the ribfest hits you well before entering the enclosed area. The smokey aroma from wood fires intertwines with the sweet tang of sauces and rubs. From there it is sensory overload! The lines are long, the sun is hot and the people are friendly. The smells continue to entice along with the sights and sounds. The anticipation builds as you watch the ribbers in action. The ribs all look wonderful promising a lip smacking, finger licking culinary delight!

There were 16 ribbers at this year's ribfest:
Camp 31
Gator BBQ
Uncle Sam's BBQ
Bibb's BBQ
Turtle Jack's
Carolina Rub King
Hog's Gone Wild
Kentucky Smokehouse
Memphis BBQ
Billy Bones BBQ
Blazin BBQ
Howling Coyote BBQ
Jack on the Bone
Bone Daddy's
Silver Bullet
Toney Romas

Some ribbers were barbequing chicken and beef ribs this year so of course we just had to get some of those. Saturday was people's choice voting so some of the ribbers decorated their take-out packages. As per our normal quest at ribfests each family member gets $20 from my husband to go off, stand in line and bring back a rack of ribs except the designated ones to get corn, a blooming onion, fried vegetables and beverages. I had to get the blooming onion and fried vegetables this year.

We settled around a picnic table in the shade to enjoy six full racks of ribs from various ribbers, a blooming onion platter with fried vegetables and all dressed fried potatoes. With the exception of our grandbaby and daughter-in-law who expecting, the drink of choice was beer. The little one happy munched with as much gusto as the rest of us. Afterwards we chose the ribs we liked best and filled in our ballots. Camp31, Bone Daddy's and Hog's Gone Wild were our favourites. Sufficiently stuffed we packed up the left overs then headed to the ice cream stand. With treats in hand, we wandered through the rest of the ribbers and booths then strolled leisurely along the waterfront.

Part of the fun is finding sauces that made the "best of the previous year" all for sale for $6 each or 2 for $10. What we normally do is bring a list of the sauces that won best last year and we liked the ribs as well as picking up a bottle or two of sauce from the favourite ribbers of this year. I picked up two bottles of sauce from Uncle Sam's Albuquerque Style BBQ Sauce while my husband picked up Rib Rub from Blazin BBQ. He really liked the flavour of those ribs! Unfortunately their sauce is not available yet but should be soon. I was disappointed that Smokin' Joes wasn't there as I had wanted to buy more of their sauce. I was also disappointed that the Jet Set Spice Co. booth wasn't there either.


Our son and daughter-in-law took us to Whole Foods Markets in Oakville, Ontario. This supermarket specializes in organic and fair trade foods. The market is huge, a visual culinary delight! I could have stayed there for a few hours slowly going up and down the isles seeing many things that I can't easily get here. I bought Dabur Red Rose Water, Turtle Reef Alca Hawaiian Sea Salt and Organic GD Herbes de Provence. Unfortunately I was not able to buy much in the way of perishables because we had plans to stop at the Charity Casino in Brantford on the way home but the next trip I will be stocking up on a few items.

We arrived home in the early Monday morning hours yet I was up by 6:30 am ready to get the car unpacked and laundry done so I could get a bit of canning done. When I canned the caramelized onions, the canner had lost almost all of the water even though it had maintained pressure. While I hadn't noticed it in the rush to get ready to leave, I discovered the canner bottom had just slightly warped. Now I'm likely the only one who would have noticed this but it was cause for concern so I put the canner through the paces yesterday canning water. This is a standard canner test. Then as if we had not had enough ribs over the weekend, I put a rack of ribs on the grill for dinner much to my husband's delight.