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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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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ranch Pizza

It's always interesting eating out because you never know what you will find. The experience can serve as a catalyst to creativity in the home kitchen. Other sources like the Food Television Network, magazines and cookbooks can do the same thing. I came across the idea for ranch pizza somewhere along the line. The basic idea stuck in my mind so I set about to recreate what I thought it should be.

Ranch Pizza

Pizza is such a versatile food that can be served as a meal, snack or appetizer. Crust options are as varied as topping offerings. The most common pizza sauce tends to be tomato based. I made this pizza using ranch dressing for different spin. Instead of mozzarella cheese I married the flavours of cheddar and Harvarti with the ranch dressing. The end result got rave reviews!

Ranch Pizza

2 pre-made pizza crusts
1 c ranch dressing
½ c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
¼ c shredded medium cheddar cheese
½ c shredded Harvarti cheese
1 pk spinach, steamed and drained
¼ c chopped onions
¼ c finely sliced green onions
¼ c finely chopped red peppers
1 c cooked turkey, cubed
½ c bacon pieces, cooked

Prepare vegetables and shred cheeses. Rinse and steam spinach. Drain then cut into pieces. Cut bacon into inch pieces then fry until cooked but not too crispy. Drain. Cut turkey. Spred ranch dressing onto pizza crusts. Top evenly with cheeses then toppings. Bake at 400ºF until cheese is melted and bottom of crust is golden brown. Remove from oven. Slice into wedges.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chickpeas, Another Mini Cheesecake and Tips on Buying Meat in Bulk

This entry is going to be all over the place because that is really how things are going in the kitchen right now. Health problems are causing a few limitations and at the same time we are working on the kitchen renovation. The prep work is finished and the cabinet restorer arrives tomorrow. We are picking up the sink and ceramic tile tomorrow night so everything is a go. If the restorer doesn't work as expected we have a cabinet maker who will make new cabinet doors for us.

So cooking has been rather laid back here. I canned a few jars of black beans and chickpeas today. It will be the last canning until after the countertops are tiled. Krissi from Cooks Academy asked me to post some entries on buying meat in bulk. My tips for buying meat in bulk follows the blurbs on today's cooking ventures. This is a longer entry with a lot of information.

Black Beans & Chickpeas

My husband discovered he liked black beans during our recent trip to Florida. I decided to take advantage of that and can up a few jars. To fill the bottom layer of the canner, I added in some chickpeas. Both will be a convenient product on my pantry shelves.

Method: [I used the quick soak method for the black beans and chickpeas.] Rinse the beans then cover with water. Bring to a boil and let boil 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let sit at least one hour. Spoon the beans using a slotted spoon into hot, sterilized jars until the jars are half full. Pour boiling water over the bean leaving 1 - inch headspace. Wipe rim. Process at 10 lb pressure 75 minutes for 500 ml (pints) or 90 minutes for 1 L (quarts) at altitudes to 1,000 ft above sea level. For higher altitudes follow the chart here.

Tacos

You really can't get much easier than tacos for dinner. Normally we turn the fixings into taco salad but tonight decided to make tacos instead. I used pre-made white corn taco shells. The meat was boiled then seasoned unlike the normal frying for taco salad. Boiling gives a bit drier texture suitable for taco shells.

Method: Place the ground beef into a saucepan with strainer. Cover with water and bring to a boil, breaking up the meat as it cooks. When fully browned remove from heat and drain. Return to pot with a little of the juice, chopped onions and taco seasoning to taste. Heat thoroughly. Drain any liquid before filling taco shells.

Toppings: homemade salsa, shredded mesclun mix, tomatoes, green onions, onions, jalapeno peppers, sliced olives, sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese

Mini Cheesecakes (2)

I stumbled upon a recipe for mine cheesecakes using vanilla cookies. I would have pulled out the digital and took a picture of the recipe, something I do quite often, but this seemed pretty basic and something I could adapt to my regular no cook cheesecake recipe. I used blueberry jam for the final topping.

Mini Cheesecakes

12 paper cupcake liners
12 vanilla waffers
2 - 8oz packages cream cheese
1 c granulated sugar
2 c CoolWhip
fruit topping

Line each cupcake holder with a paper. Place one vanilla waffer in the bottom of each. Blend the cream cheese, sugar and CoolWhip with a stand mixer. Spoon the mixture evenly over the waffers. Dab a generous teaspoon of your favourite topping on the filling.

Tips on Buying Meats in Bulk
(by request)

The vast majority of the meats we eat have been bought in bulk. Bulk means:

  • sales/family packages bought in multitude
  • butcher shop packages - 50 lb at a time or similar
  • whole/half/quarter - bought through a butcher shop or directly from the farmer
In this context we use 99% the third option and 1% the first option although we have considered the second option.

Why?: If I buy directly from the farmer, I know the farming practices, how the meat was handled and in many cases can see the cow(pig) raised from a calf (piglett). Price per pound is always cheaper.

Finding a Source (aka farmers): One of the best ways to find a reputable farmer selling good meat is word of mouth. So if your friends or family has had a good experience with a bulk meat purchase they will have no problem recommending who to go to. We live in a rural area where we are fortunate to have a rather wide social network. Word of who to avoid buying from for whatever reason spreads like wildfire. In larger communities this may not be the case but always talk around. Ask at local butcher shops. Check the local Yellow Pages. If you are considering buying from Farmer Brown ask if he has any referrals. Talk directly to the farmer before ever committing to buy.

Choosing a Source: This gets complicated depending on where you live. Ideally you want grass fed beef because it it lower in fat and calories while being higher in Omega-3. But location matters. We live in Ontario so that means if we get a cow early spring it has more than likely been grain fed. The reason being during the winter what grass there is is covered with snow. If we get a cow in the fall it is grass fed knowing the farmers we deal with so we normally like to buy our bulk beef in the fall. Be sure to ask the farming practices such as the use of growth hormones. Visit the farm and look around. The number one thing to look for is cleanliness.

Considerations: The price is per pound plus a cutting and wrapping fee. Generally you pay the farmer directly for the cow/pig. He gets the cow/pig to the abattoir who will then cut to your specifications. Once out of the farmer's hands it is your responsibility. You need to know what these are. For example my some of my cutting specifications are:

beef:
  • hamburg - 1 lb packages
  • 3-5 lb roasts
  • 1" thick steaks
  • keep soup bones
pork
  • 1" thick pork chops, 2 per package
  • side bacon (not cured)
You need to know if you want the soup bones, tongue, heart and etc. Then you pay a separate fee for cutting to the abattoir. Once your cutting choices have been made the only thing left is picking up the meat. A quarter of beef will weigh 200 lb or better. That's a lot of weight. You will need boxes as they normally aren't supplied. I recommend smaller boxes to keep the weight down as you are transferring from car to house.

That should cover the basics but if you have anything on this topic that needs clarifying or even just questions, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.

Tips for Buying Eggs in Bulk

Again, it is important to find a farmer who practices good husbandry. The key consideration with chickens for eggs is whether they are free range or grain fed. Free range chickens produce eggs with a deeper flavour and beautiful yellow yolk. Grain fed chickens produce lighter coloured yolks that lack the depth of flavour, Fresh from the farmer eggs regardless whether free range or grain fed will always taste better than store bought. The best deals are in flats of 2.5 dozen.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hearty Bean Soup

Quite often an idea for a soup comes to me just out of the blue or it is triggered by opportunity. Out comes my kitchen journal so I can write down what I did as I develop the recipe. It's critical to taste along the way to get just the right flavour. Some of my best soup recipes have been created in this manner. We knew our recent beef purchase would put a huge strain on our freezers so before we picked up the meat, I pulled a few things out of the freezer to use up. One of the packages was two large pork hocks so I put them into the refrigerator to thaw with making soup in mind. The immediate problem with my plan was there were events scheduled for almost every day of the up coming week meaning a large pot of soup likely wouldn't get used up. I decided to work around our commitments so the soup was started on Monday and canned late last night (Tuesday).

Hearty Bean Soup

This hearty bean soup is packed full of flavour. No salt is added as it would prevent the beans from softening during the canning process. It is also low fat because the stock is defatted before making the soup. The soup was made in three stages before canning. The yield was 12 - 500 ml (pint) jars of soup and enough left over for a small bowl of soup for the cook.

Hearty Bean Soup

900 g (2 lb) navy beans
2 pork hocks, defatted with stock
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, chopped
4 lg carrots, peeled and cubed
2 stalks celery, diced
1½ c niblet corn
¼ tsp liquid smoke

Step 1: Place pork hocks in large pot and pour enough water over to cover. Bring to a boil. Add one unpeeled onion quartered, 2 unpeeled carrots cut into large chunks, celery heart with leaves. Reduce to simmer and continue cooking until the pork is tender. Remove the pork hocks. Trim skin from meat. Remove meat from bone and pull into smaller pieces. Strain the stock. Cool completely and skim off any fat. Return meat to stock.

Step 2: Rinse the beans. Place in large stock pot. Cover with water to about 3 inches over beans. Bring the beans to a boil. Boil 15 minutes. Remove from heat and place lid on the pot. Let sit 4 to 5 hours. [This is called a quick soak and can be used to cook any beans. After the quick soak, cook the beans as normal.] Do not drain the remaining liquid.

Step 3: Prepare the vegetables. Bring the beans to a boil. Pour in the pork and stock. Add the vegetables. Boil about 10 minutes. Stir in the liquid smoke. Remove from heat. The soup is now ready for canning. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and reserve. Extra liquid may be needed for canning. [If you do not intend on canning the soup reduce to a simmer and continue cooking until beans are soft and soup is slightly thickened.]

Canning: Ladle hot bean mixture into hot, sterilized jars until they are about half full*. Ladle the soup liquid over the bean mixture leaving 1 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims. Adjust two piece lids. Pressure can at 10 lb pressure 90 minutes for quarts or 75 minutes for pints at altitudes to 1,000 feet above sea level. For higher altitudes follow the altitude adjust chart here.

*Note: It is important to only fill the jars half full with the bean mixture as the beans are not fully cooked. They will absorb liquid during the canning process and will expand so the jars will be full when finished. Filling the jars more than half full of the bean mixture may result in seal failure.

To Serve: Pour the soup into a sauce pan. The soup will be thick but still have some liquid. Add enough water to get desired consistency (optional). Heat and enjoy :)


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pot Roast Using HamiltonBeach® Roaster

We bought our previous home solely on the basis of location. Unfortunately storage was almost non-existent so I decided to eliminate as many single use appliances as possible. We also bought this house because of location however, there is more than ample storage here. Still I stuck to the decision to not buy any single use appliances. A countertop roaster was tempting after a couple of overnight boat trips as a few of our fellow boaters swore by their Nesco® roasters. While I could see the usefulness of such an appliance, I kept putting it off buying one because of the size as storage on a boat is always limited and because it reminded me too much of a slow cooker, something I'm not really fond of using despite owning two.

A couple of days ago I asked my husband to stop at the hardware for a couple of items needed for doing the preliminary prep work on the kitchen for the remodel. He came home with four appliances! The hardware store was having an appliance clearance and he just had to take advantage. Three of the appliances were stashed for gift giving but I decided to keep the fouth, a HamiltonBeach® countertop roaster, for myself. The HamiltonBeach® countertop roaster had an original price tag of $59.99 on sale for $15.99. Similar savings were on the perculator ($66.99 for $20), hand held blender with chopper ($29.99 for $10) and personal coffee maker ($19.99 for $10).

The Roaster

The HamiltonBeach® countertop roaster is smaller than the Nesco® roaster (18 qt) at 6.5 qt. The outside is a crisp white with black lettering. The white metal lid (not shown) has two small vent holes. The black metal roasting pan is large enough for a 5 lb roast or large chicken and is removable for easy cleaning. It does not have a non-stick surface. The temperature range is 200ºF to 450ºF controlled with an easy grip knob. There is an indicator light as well. I was disappointed that instructions and a recipe book were not included with this appliance. The box was still factory sealed so obviously these were simply not included. I was also disappointed that the temperature markings are in fahrenheit only.

Cost of operation is always something that should be considered for any appliance. Remember every kW counts so we should always be striving to use less electricity. This roaster is 750 W compared to my oven element that is 2400 W. In terms of cost the roaster will cost $0.09 per hour where the oven costs $0.28 per hour. Unlike the calculated costs for my slow cookers that end up being more expensive to operate than using the large burner (2000 W) and a pressure cooker, the roaster appears to be on the money saving end.

I placed a frozen blade roast in the roasting pan, seasoned it with Montreal Steak spice, sliced onions and added about ½ c of water, put the lid on the roaster then set the temperature to 250ºF much the same as I would do if roasting in the oven. After two and a half hours the roast was progressing quite nicely so I added the potatoes, carrots and corn but unlike doing a pot roast in the oven, I did not increase the temperature to 350ºF. It seemed to me that the roast was cooking too fast so I was immediately concerned that it would not be tender. The vegetables took about 40 minutes to cook. Instead of removing the vegetables and roast as I would with oven cooking, I poured the cornstarch slurry directly into the juices and allowed it to thicken about 5 minutes. This eliminated using the large burner (2000 W) on the stove but the real reason for doing so was to do everything in the same dish.

Pot Roast

I have to admit I was very surprised at the results. Normally a roast done this way would take me 4 to 4½ hours (10.8 kWh or $1.29) but it only took 3 hr 15 minutes using the countertop roaster (2.44 kWh or $0.29). So on the green scale for energy use, the countertop roaster used about ⅕ the kWh of the oven.

The next test was the appearance. In comparison to oven cooked the vegetables and roast were more than comparable. There was a bit less caramelization likely because I did not increase the final cooking time. The vegetable colours were bright and enticing with a firm texture without being overcooked and mushy that often happens in a slow cooker . Making the gravy directly in the pan was a simple convenience for me and I often do the same when using a slow cooker. The end result was stew-like vegetables with the meat separate. The final test was of course the taste.

Plated

Unlike cooking this type of dish in the oven or slow cooker, the vegetables and meat were still steaming when being plated even though we let the meat rest for 5 minutes. One notable difference is the house was not filled with the smell of dinner but more of a hint. Despite my reservations, the roast was extremely tender, almost melt-in-your mouth tender. The vegetables were very impressive, cooked perfectly! The gravy was tasty giving a nice addition to the vegetables even though there was not extra for the meat.

So I am quite impressed as I ended up with quite a nice meal while saving a lot of kilowatts, both of which are very important to me. Given this was the first time using this appliance, I was pleased. The results were definitely better than a slow cooking and far superior to a microwave oven. However, next time I will cook the roast at a lower temperature (200ºF) to get the end result medium rare. I will also add a bit more liquid for extra gravy. Mushrooms would have been a great addition to the vegetables as well.

All in all, I'm pleased with the energy savings and cooking results of this countertop appliance. The size is just right as well. Depending on what you are cooking, a meal for four is easily obtainable and I think it will be perfect for baked beans or casseroles. It is also small enough that it doesn't take up a huge amount of room for storage. We often have fresh baked bread with dinner so that means juggling the oven space sometimes so this is an easy solution as well. It will also be ideal for my bulk cooking sessions.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Bulk Beef, Road Trip and Chicken Stock Revisited

Saturday finally arrived. After several weeks of eating from the freezers the day to pick up our beef arrived. I should point out that bulk meat purchases are the norm for us and they usually come with a phone call from one of our farming friends to say they are butchering a cow or pig and do we want any. So it was with this purchase. It was a good deal so we had to act and right then. My only concern was the meat was going to an abattoir's we have not dealt with before. When making a bulk meat purchase the cutting is an additional fee and the cutting options as well as pick-up is left to the buyer not the farmer. With all of the arrangements made, we headed out on a road trip Saturday morning.

The Beef

The total dressed weight for the whole cow was 820 lb. Initially two of our kids were taking 1/4 each and we were taking 1/2 but then one kid's friend wanted in on the deal and one kid decided that was a bit too much red meat. Sound confusing? What ended up happening and good thing for us is one kid and the friend took 1/4 each, the kid's inlaws took 1/4 and we took 1/4. The abbatoir divided the meat for us. It was cut to our specs of 1 inch thick steaks, 5 lb roasts, 1 lb packages of burger and keeping the soup bones. We had to bring boxes for the pick-up.

It was a bitter cold but bright sunny winter day when we left home for the hour drive to the abbatoir's where we picked up the entire dressed meat. The photo is of two of the bins in the trunk. Four smaller boxes went into the trunk and the back seat was filled with the other half of the meat. Each couple ended up with a bin as shown and two boxes of meat (205 lb total) at a cost of $1.89/lb plus $0.60/lb cutting and wrapping costs. It was a bit higher price total than we normally pay but still a great savings. After leaving the abbatoir's we headed to a truck stop some 40 minutes away to meet up with our kids and grandbaby where after eating (see below) we divided the meat in half. They headed back to drop of their small freezer and half of that meat at their friends then headed home while we made our way back to our home stopping to drop off half of the meat at our kid's inlaws. Ok that should be as clear as mud :)

Eggs & Pepperettes

I have to tell you, I love farm fresh eggs! I buy mine from a farmer not far from us who free ranges so the eggs are wonderful. Well, I knew we were getting low on eggs at home and it is the norm for country abbatoirs to have eggs for sale so I wasn't disappointed. I picked up 30 white and 19 browns for a very good price of $5 figuring my kids would take some but they didn't so that left me with 5 ½ doz eggs with what I had at home. No problem as another kid with spouse and soon to be grandbaby was home when we arrived home so I thought they would take some. Nope! So I have lots of eggs to use up.

I couldn't resist the fresh pepperettes either. One of these days I'm going to make my own pepperettes because not only are they perfect for snacking they are great for entertaining. I just had to try one after getting the car loaded. They were tender and beefy, just perfect hitting back with a nice peppery after taste. Yummy!

On the Road Food

As mentioned our first stop was meeting up with our kids and grandbaby to divide the meat. We stopped at a Flying J as it was a convenient meeting spot for both of us. We decided to get lunch while we were there so the five of us settled in. The adults enjoyed the generous buffet while grandbaby ate from everyone's plate.

I think I've mentioned before here that we would rather stop and get a buffet meal than a fast food meal when on the road. One of the reasons is for the price you end up with better food for the most part. Saturday's offering was fried and barbeque chicken. I chose the barbeque chicken with roasted potatoes, stuffing, steamed carrots and green beans along with a tossed salad for a starter and fruit bowl for dessert. For $10.99 is was a very substantial meal. My only complaint was they used margarine on the carrots and beans but that was indicated on the labels above the dishes. I don't use margarine so I would have liked to see these vegetables offered plain for the customer to add what they wanted.

Mesclun Salad

Normally our heavy meal is at dinner somewhere between 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm usually just after 6 pm. Eating a heavy meal as we did at lunch time had me thinking light foods for dinner. Seriously, we were both stuffed so come dinner time we didn't feel like eating much. A mesclun salad was just perfect because it was light and filling at the same time.

Mesclun mix is my number one favourite green mixture for sandwiches, salads and growing. The mixture differs from grower to grower but normally consists of lettuces, mustards, dandelion, cresses and parsley. If you want bang for your buck, mesclun mix sometimes called spring salad mix in the grocery store is the way to go!

I like keeping mesclun salad simple because the greens add a lot of flavour themselves. This was a dinner salad so I added tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, carrots, green onion (not shown), hard boiled egg slices (not shown), cheddar cheese cubes and simple fresh lemon juice for the dressing. Lemon juice makes all the flavours sparkle!

Concentrated Chicken Stock

Chicken stock is something I make from scratch and keep on hand. My basic method can be found here. Now chicken stock or any stock for that matter can be made fresh for immediate use, froze or my preferred method is to can. I like canning my stocks because it becomes a convenient food ingredient for me at a later date. However, concentrating the stock is an ideal way for preserving stock for those with limited storage.

My freezers are so stuffed a flea would have a hard time finding a spot in them. Getting the freezers ready for the beef purchase meant a few thing had to come out and one of them was the chicken bones I save for making stock. The problem was I really didn't have time to can the stock and I needed to free up freezer space so concentrating the stock made very good sense.

Method: Concentrating stock is not difficult. Start with your favourite stock recipe or use my basic stock recipe from the link above. Take it to the point of draining but not defatting. Bring the stock to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Simmer until the stock is about 1/3 the volume of the original. Cool. Remove the fat layer on top. The bottom layer should be as pictured like gelatin.

This is a concentrated stock of which you do not need a lot of to add a good impact of flavour. Spoon the gelatin into ice cube trays (about 1 oz) or into muffin tins (about 4 oz). Freeze then vacuum seal in individual packages (preferred method) or pack into a zipper style freezer bag to use as needed. Because this is concentrated stock you only need one cube or puck (muffin) depending on the size of dish you are making. The main bonus of course is the flavour punch but because this is concentrated it eliminates water that would have to be boiled out for some dishes. So even if you can or freeze chicken stock keeping concentrated chicken stock on hand is a very good idea.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Dinner and Dessert

We don't celebrate Valentine's Day as set out by Hallmark or other commercial dictations. Instead we choose to celebrate our love each and every day of the year. However, with all the hype we quietly reinforce our love with a good home cooked meal usually with my husband's famous oven baked breaded pork chops. I make a desert for a special touch as desert is not the norm with our dinners so that makes it a little special. Then after dinner we spend time just enjoying being together.

Key Lime Tarts

We had such a wonder time in Key West I wanted to recapture just a bit of it. I made the filling using Key Lime juice I bought while in Key West. The tarts were a definite two thumbs up, coming back for seconds dessert. They were extremely easy to make as well, my kind of dessert!
Key Lime Tarts
You will need 12 prepared pastry tart shells. While I normally use home made pastry dough, today I used pre-made frozen tart shells because I'm supposed to stay off my feet as much as possible. Either way the results are quite good. I ended up with a little extra filling so I filled two custard cups with just the filling then topped with meringue as well. The extra meringue was formed into small nests for filling.
Key Lime Filling
4 oz Key West Key Lime juice
1 can (14 oz sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks

Blend milk and eggs then slowly add in the juice. Mix well. Pour into prepared shells. Bake at 350ºF for 8 minutes. Top with meringue while the filling is still hot.

Meringue
4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
½ cup organic sugar
¾ tsp pure clear vanilla

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Slowly add in sugar until mixture is smooth, glossy and holds soft peaks. Beat in vanilla. Top the filling ensuring no gaps around the crust. Use the back of a spoon to form soft peaks. Bake at 400ºF until the tips of the meringue turn a golden brown.

Meringue Nests

Meringue Nests


Make meringue as per above recipe. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon about 2 tbsp of meringue onto the parchment paper and spread to about 2 inch diameter. Then with the back of a spoon form an indent in the centre of the meringe about 1½ inch diameter. The result should look like small clouds with an indent for filling. Continue making the nests using up the rest of the meringue. Bake at 200ºF until slightly browned and dry. Store in an air tight container until ready to fill. Fill just before serving.

These look wonderful will filled with a sparkling jelly but any filling can be used. The meringue is light with a bit of a crunch while having a melt in your mouth texture. They are a sure crowd pleaser so be sure to make a lot.

Key Lime Dessert

I used the extra filling and meringue to make two crustless desserts baked in custard dishes. This method works nicely for any meringue topped pie filling giving a sweet dessert without the fat of the crust. I often use lemon curd to make this dessert. The Key Lime pie filling worked nicely though. Aside from being low fat this dessert is low in sugar.

It makes for a lovely presentation especially when garnished which I didn't do. Garnishes are eye candy enticing your taste buds. Normally garnishes give a hint of what to expect as far as flavour. In this case a slice or two key lime and a sprig of mint would have been nice, neither of which are available here right now. However, since it was Valentine's day candied violets would have been equally special.

Pork Chop Dinner

This is not a fancy dinner but it is one of my husband's signature dishes and he does not believe in garnishes either! Despite the plain looks it is a very good meal and very filling. The pork chop requirement is at minimum of ¾ inch thick but because we buy our meat right from the farmer and have it custom cut our pork chops are 1 inch thick. His coating method is a secret. All I know is it involves bread crumbs, seasonings and eggs. He's not giving up the secrete so I will draw your attention to the lovely baked potato.

Foil Baked Potato
This method for baking potatoes came from a local restaurant we enjoy. The potatoes are nice a moist with a lightly flavoured skin. We've modified it as far as seasonings used with my husband preferring a garlic blend while I like using Montreal steak spice. The method lends itself particularly well to grilling.

Method: Wash potatoes and dry. Place each potato on a single large square of tin foil. Drizzle olive oil over the potato. Sprinkle on seasoning of choice. Carefully bring the sides up to form a seam then seal tightly. Repeat for the other seam. Bake at 350ºF for about 40 minutes or until the potato gives when pressed. Carefully remove the foil then serve.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Two Easy Sandwiches & Roast Chicken

Kitchen Update: The holidays are over and being well rested from our winter vacation we are now moving onto the kitchen and at least one bathroom renovations. Friday, we found the perfect border for the family room that merges into the kitchen. At the same time we bought a Mohen kitchen faucet with sprayer and Mohen shower fixtures. Saturday, my husband and I spent a wonderful day shopping yet bought little but we finally decided on the ceramic tile for the kitchen counters. We have a woodworker coming in to advise us on the kitchen cabinets since six of the twenty-five cabinet doors need refinishing and we would like two custom doors installed. I could likely do the refinishing myself but our best price may be getting him to do everything. So within the near future you will no longer have to see that horrid green laminate counter and back splash. I'll be posting a bit on our kitchen renovations here with greater detail on my homemaking blog. We are quite excited!

Good tasting and healthy meals need not cost a fortune. With rising food costs it is important to get the best value for your food dollar. That means buying organic, buying local and often making meals from scratch. One easy way to save money on lunches is to brown bag it but that doesn't mean you have to eat boring sandwiches. A home made sub can cost almost a third of the price of one bought at a sub shop. More important is a home made sub can be made using healthier choices like using organic produce, mesclun mix that has more flavour and nutrition than iceberg lettuce and low fat sauces. We aren't big sandwich eaters but I do have a few favourites for the times we decide on sandwiches. Dinners can also be healthy, inexpensive and easy to prepare as in last night's roast chicken. While this entry has a heavy dose of economics in terms of cost the nutrition value for my food dollar is always my primary concern.

Sub Sandwich

It amazes me the price that a 6 inch submarine sandwich costs and it amazes me more that folks will pay that price. Subway 6" subs range from $3.19 to $4.89. At first glance this does seem to be a reasonable price until you consider how inexpensive subs are to make at home even if you buy the bread. Ok, so let's work out the cost.

Normally I make sub loaves but with little baking time last week, I bought 2 - 18 inch loaves of the bread at Sam's Club for $2.17 (about $1.09 per loaf). That seems to be a fairly consistent price at many grocery stores for this type of bread. Toppings: 1 oz organic mesclun mix ($.06), 3 turkey and 3 ham slices ($1.68), tomato ($.31), 3 slices cheddar cheese ($.54), onion slices ($.05), and sauces (est. $.05) for a total cost of $3.78. Consider though that the cost is for an 18 inch sub so each 6 inch piece ends up costing $1.26. So the big picture is if you were to buy three 6 inch subs per week at an average price of $4.04 for a total of $12.12 you could save $8.34 per week or $433.68 per year. Also consider the time savings. It takes only a few minutes to put a sub together when you have the ingredients on hand or basically the same amount of time it takes for the counter person to put your sub together. What you end up saving is the time to commute to the sub shop, stand in line and commute back. Finally, you can make a healthier version at home. Economics aside, give the home made sub a try for an economical lunch anywhere.

Tuna Pockets

Pita bread is available in two styles, without a pocket (Greek) or with a pocket. It is rather inexpensive at about $.40 per pita and even less expensive when home made. I'll post the method for making home made pitas the next time I make them. Pitas with pockets (pocket bread) is an ideal sandwich holder. The brand I buy (Mr. Pita), one full pita is comparable in calories to 2 slices of some white bread and less than other brands. However, this brand is cholesterol free, low fat and lower in sodium making it a healthier choice than bread. I like using mesclun mix to line the pita before adding the filling. Not only does this add a lot of nutrition and taste it helps to keep the pita from getting soggy. For this sandwich, I used canned tuna that is high in Omega-3 mixed with chopped green onions a little Miracle Whip topped with tomato. While the sandwiches were low fat, omitting the Miracle Whip would make them even lower. Served with cucumber slices, these sandwiches were a healthy lunch choice.

Roasted Chicken

It has been a long time since I have been able to get reasonably priced whole chickens here. A whole roasting chicken was averaging about $8.50 uncooked whereas some grocery stores with cooked rotisserie chickens were selling them for about $5. Buying one cooked for less than buying one uncooked made little sense and since I prefer to do my own cooking, whole chickens weren't on the agenda. Recently No Frills put whole hens on for $.99 per lb. They were small averaging 3 to 4 lb. I bought four and would have bought a lot more if the beef wasn't coming this Saturday meaning I have to free up a lot of freezer space. I roasted two of the chickens for Sunday's dinner and for making wraps.

Method: My method for roasting chicken usually includes stuffing the chicken but I omitted that for these chickens. Place two chickens in a large roasting pan. Put small pats of butter on the chicken. Sprinkle on sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Cover and bake at 135ºC (275ºF) for 3 hours. Remove cover, increase temperature to 177ºC (350ºF) and continue roasting until golden brown. Transfer the chickens to a platter.

Gravy: This gives a thinner, low fat gravy. Make a slurry with corn starch and water. Bring the juices in the roasting pan to a boil. Slowly stir in enough slurry until mixture just begins to thicken, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat. Pour through strainer into gravy separator.

Roasted Marinated Potatoes

Potatoes are a family favourite here. Finding different ways to serve potatoes can be a challenge especially when a lot of toppings can be high in fat and calories. So I have been experimenting with different methods. Last night I marinated potato pieces in Kraft Sundried Tomato & Oregano dressing then roasted them. This dressing has a lovely flavour but is a little higher in sodium than I would like even though it is low fat with no trans fats and has no cholesterol. This dressing packs a lot of flavour, perfect for marinating so will be one I will make from scratch using fresh herbs. However, the store bought gave tasty results so I wouldn't hesitate to use this ready made product again. The nice thing is the potatoes gained a lot of flavour without being oily.

Method: Wash and peel the potatoes. Cut into bite size pieces. Put into a mixing bowl. Pour dressing over the potatoes. Mix well. Pour mixture into a covered baking dish. Bake at 177ºC (350ºF) until potatoes are tender. Remove and continue roasting until golden brown.

Roast Chicken Dinner

It is important when making low fat dishes to use ingredients that impart a lot of flavour punch. That means using marinades and fresh herbs. Visual appeal becomes even more important. Play the colours off of each other. Bright, fresh looking colours enhance any foods so be sure to include them.

This meal did not intentionally start out to be a low fat, healthy meal. It just sort of evolved. The wonderful flavours hid the fact that this was a very low fat meal.
I served the chicken with gravy, roasted marinated potatoes and sweet peas.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Superbowl Weekend & Easy Appetizers

Superbowl weekend was filled with a lot of activity here. It started Saturday afternoon continuing overnight and into late Sunday evening. The numbers were a little lower than normal as a result of the weather but it was still a good turn out with an average of 24 Saturday and 15 Sunday not counting our kids and grandbaby. The numbers varied throughout the day and evening as folks dropped by. Saturday was more of a constant snacking during the afternoon and evening. Some of the guys stayed all night so I served a hearty breakfast for them followed by another round of breakfast when the kids woke.

An abundance of food is never a problem. The rule is no one ever leaves our house hungry. The problem ends up being too much food as the guys tend to bring snacks and anything alcoholic they are drinking. It's a great bunch of guys who tend to be quite generous with what they bring. We supply the mix and lots of coffee. Aside of the snacks things like our friend's famous banana cake tend to make their way into the house.

On the menu
Saturday afternoon/evening: cheese & kielbasa tray, sausage puffs, peanuts in the shell, a variety of snacks (chips, pretzels)
Saturday dinner: ordered in pizzas, salad
Sunday breakfast: bacon, peameal bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, muskmelon and English muffins
Sunday afternoon: nut tray, meatballs in sauce, mini stuffed pitas, ham spirals, pepperettes, KFC chicken
Sunday dinner: barbequed pulled pork on buns, baked beans, vegetable tray, dill pickles, banana cake

Three Appetizers

Appetizers need not be time consuming to make or expensive to be enjoyed. I planned on making a home made version of bagel bites having seen miniature bagels that would have been perfect. However, when I needed them the grocery store didn't have any so I settled on mini pitas. Ham spirals always go over well. Despite their look they are very easy to make. Pepperettes cut into thirds are just the right size for snacking. I ended up making three trays of these appetizers.

Mini Stuffed Pitas
An 18 size package of mini pocket bread (pitas) will make 36 appetizers. Cut the pitas in half. Add filling of your choice. I used a simple egg salad filling.

Egg Filling
6 hard boiled eggs
¼ c finely chopped onion
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
dash sea salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
½ c Miracle Whip
Place eggs in cold water, bring to a boil. Boil 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour cold water over the eggs. Peel and chop. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spoon into mini pita halves.

Ham Spirals
I used whole wheat (not shown) and whole grain chipotle & red pepper tortillas.
4 - 6 tortillas*
spreadable cream cheese
honey mustard
about 3 thin slices of cooked ham per tortillas
Spread a thin layer of cream cheese over a tortilla. Lay a single layer of ham slices evenly over the cream cheese. Spread a thin layer of mustard over the ham. Roll the tortilla applying slight pressure to help the roll hold together. Cut across the roll forming spirals. Secure with toothpick if necessary.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Three One Dish Budget but Comfort Meals and Oven Baked Ribs

By now anyone reading this blog knows we were on vacation in the sunny south. I shared a few foods we ate there but since the majority of the food pictures include my husband and I smiling broadly, playing tourist before we indulged a lot of the food pictures I took won't appear here. We arrived home to very nasty weather that took twice as long for us to make the final drive home. It was early morning and I was ready too cook but being tired caught a few z's then went about catching up. Thankfully one of our kids who was housesitting had picked up a few fresh vegetables for us as there wasn't a chance I was going out in that weather. If you recall, I'm working through a lot of freezer foods to make room for the beef that will arrive shortly, considerably shorter time frame than anticipated. Apparently the beef will be ready the first part of next week! Yikes!

Ok, so it was cold and we were tired so comfort foods were a must. At the same time, easier to prepare meals that used foods from the freezer were and continues to be the primary dinner fare. I should note that all the following meals were served with side salads. Heavy dressings were replaced with simple, fresh lemon juice that really enhances the flavour of the vegetables without adding calories.

Chicken Stew

The first day home I was running on about three hours of sleep but was anxious to get things back to normal. Vacations result in a different kind of tired and there's always the extras like laundry, putting away luggage and restocking the fresh fruits and vegetables. We were lucky as one of our kids restocked the kitchen for us just before we arrived home. While we were away condensed soups were on sale and even though I don't use a lot of these the price was where our kid thought a case was warranted as well. Our first meal was chicken stew using what was on hand. The chicken and bacon were pre-cooked in the freezer so ready to use. The end result was a rich, creamy one pot meal.

Chicken Stew

4 washed, unpeeled and cubed potatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1 bag steamed spinach (about 14 ounces)
1 c homemade chicken stock*
1 can (10 ounces) condensed mushroom soup*
1 ½ c cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
½ c cooked bacon pieces
1 tsp Tone's garlic and onion seasoning
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

Prepare the potatoes, steam and drain. Clean and steam spinach. Cook chicken and bacon**. Combine all of the ingredients. Mix well. Pour into a casserole pan. Bake at 350ºF until slightly browned and warmed through.

* Substitute about 2 c of homemade cream of mushroom soup, slightly thickened.
** Use pre-cooked from your freezer stores.

Chicken Pot Pie

Any kind of stew base can be used for making pot pie. My normal pot pies have a bottom and top crust. However, flipping though a couple of magazines during the flight gave me the idea to use store bought puff pastry for the top crust. This was an ideal dish because it used up three packages of food from the freezer, a jar and half of home canned food from the pantry, a can of condensed soup and it was oh so easy to prepare. I actually started out following a recipe then went off on my own tangent. As always please read my notes on this recipe.

Chicken Pot Pie

3 chicken breasts, bone and skin removed
1 c clarified home canned chicken stock
2 c condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 c home canned carrot coins
1 c frozen peas
1 c frozen niblet corn
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 10"x10" sheet puff pastry

Thaw the puff pastry according to instructions on the box. Cube the chicken and brown. Stir in the stock and soup then add the rest of the ingredients except the pastry. Mix well and warm through. Pour into baking pan. Place the puff pastry over top. Cut four holes in the crust for venting. Bake at 400ºF until pastry is golden brown. Remove from oven. Rest for 5 minutes then cut and serve.

My notes: The flavour of this pot pie was wonderful. It was rich and creamy playing a lovely contrast against the crust. The next time I will thicken the filling a bit as I thought it was just a bit too runny even though the pie got two thumbs up from all.
Pork 'n' Noodles

In keeping with the theme of using foods from the freezer while making comfort foods, I made a filling dish aptly named pork 'n' noodles. It really was a one pot meal almost a home made version of boxed meat extenders.

Method: Cut the pork into cubes then brown in a little olive oil in a large sauce pan. Stir in about 1/2 c of water to deglaze the pan. Add enough water to bring the level about 2 inches above the meat. Toss in 1/2 chopped onion and broad egg noodles (about 450 g). Cook the noodles until el dente. Stir in about 1 c each of frozen peas and corn niblets. Stir in 2 cans condensed mushroom soup and 1/4 c chicken broth. Mix well and heat thoroughly. Plate.

Oven Baked Ribs

Ribs are one of my favourites so I have a few ways of preparing them. I've previously gave my methods for grilling (my favourite method) and crockpot ribs. With several inches of snow on the ground and more threatening to come down, I decided to do oven baked ribs. Now the real secret to delectible ribs is slow cooking. You want low heat and a long cooking time. Oven baking gives a much nicer result than using a crockpot. I served the ribs with frozen peas, steamed cauliflower and a side salad.

Method: Place a rack of ribs in a large roasting pan. Add about 1 1/2 c of water. Add a few thin slices of onion. Cover. Bake at 250ºF for about 3 hours. Remove from oven. Drain most of the liquid leaving about 1/4 c and remove onion slices. Pour barbeque sauce of your choice over the ribs covering entirely. Cover and return to oven for 1 hour. Increase the temperature to 350ºF for about 1 hour. Remove the lid and lightly caramelize. When done properly the meat will literally fall off the bones!


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Last of Vacation Foods, Poker & Superbowl Party

By now I have likely bored you to tears with some our vacation foods so this is the last of them. I must remember to take pictures of each meal to share as this vacation I forgot to take some and others have both of us in the picture so I can't really post those even though the food was excellent. This weekend we are hosting my husband's monthly poker game. This is a normal event we host. There should be about thirty-five for the poker that has esculated for this event to continue over night with me serving breakfast to about seventeen. That number will grow to about forty for the Superbowl party we are hosting. I have the menus set, some foods already made so am taking a bit of a break before going into full gear.

Blue Crab

Our last night before flying out from Fort Lauderdale we stopped at one of the casinos then ate dinner at the Rustic Inn Crabhouse. I ordered their World Famous Garlic Crabs entree and a side salad. This was Blue Crab clusters sauteed with garlic and their secret family recipe. My husband ordered the steak with sea scallops. Both meals were meant to please from the nicely prepared salad to the tasty seafood and perfectly prepared steaks.

This really is a restaurant to visit when in the Fort Lauderdale area. The atmosphere is quite pleasant and the dress is casual. Crabs are cracked with a wooden mallet. Bibs are offered and I do suggest them but they are optional. The staff really deserves kudos for fast, friendly service while attending to your every need.

Jaxon's Ice Cream Parlor

Trust me on this one, my husband can find the very best of the best ice cream parlors so it was no surprise when he found Jaxon's. I'm not a huge ice cream fan so waited in the car while he went into to get an amazing looking sundae made using old fashioned ice creams and real. He also took several pictures something he's learned from being around a foodie. I took a few pictures as he was enjoying the sundae.

So there you have it, a few highlights of just a few of the foods we enjoyed on our recent vacation. During this vacation we enjoyed bed & breakfast and condo accamodations instead of motels. Each have their pros and cons. It was a wonderful vacation with a lot of great foods!

Tomorrow I will be posting about this weekend's entertainment plans. By mid-week I should be back to the normal posting of recipes. Please stay tuned.