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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, August 27, 2008

Grilled Half Chicken

I've written before about doing your own meat prep not only for freshness but also to save money. When it comes to chicken buy it whole on sale then cut as desired. The method for preparing boneless skinless chicken breasts can be found here. While I can get chicken pieces on sale for as low as 69¢ per pound, whole chicken sales are few and far between with the regular price averaging around $8 for a small chicken. So when a local store held an in store special at the same sized chickens for around the $3.50 range, I had to pick up a few.

We had planned to go boating Sunday but after a very long and productive weekend working on three rooms including the kitchen, we simply were too tired. I had thawed a whole chicken with the plans of using the rotisserie on the grill but then couldn't find the clamps to hold the chicken on the spit. They are in my notorious safe place so may take awhile to find! It was onto plan B of cutting the chicken in half and grilling. It ended up being a good plan as it started raining shortly after we turned off the grill.

First Cuts

The first thing to remember when cutting a whole chicken in half is not to use a knife. What you want to use for best results is kitchen shears. [Oh and never use or let anyone else use your kitchen shears for cutting anything else but food!] Lay the chicken breast up on a cutting board. Make the first cut from the tip of the breastbone clear through to the neck (upper scissors). It will be slightly unequal as far as size of halves but that's fine. Once you have cut through to the neck it is time for what I call the clean-up cuts.

Carefully go around the chicken removing any excess fat (lower scissors) and extra skin. This lowers the fat content but also reduces flare-ups on the grill. The fat and skin can be froze for adding extra flavour when making chicken stock.

Back Cut

Spread the chicken open after the clean-up cuts. Turn the chicken so the bottom end faces you. Using the kitchen shears cut strain up along the vertebrae. Check for any extra trimming that might be needed.

I should note that the recommendation is to have a separate cutting board for poultry. In fact you should have separate cutting boards for vegetables, pork, beef and cheese. Although mine are not colour coded, you can now buy packages of colour coded cutting boards. You will also notice that my cutting board is sitting on a tea towel. This is not my normal practice. It's on the tea towel because the grout has not been sealed yet so believe me I was being extra careful not to get anything on the tile. After the chicken is cut either wash the cutting board and kitchen shears with soapy, bleach water or put in the dishwasher. Wipe down the countertop with an antibacterial solution (5% ethanol, 5% liquid Lysol, 50% vinegar). A bleach solution can be used but it is a respiratory irritant and can damage surfaces as well as materials so should be avoided.

Chicken Halves

Once the chicken is prepped you will have two half chickens. This makes for a lovely presentation regardless of the way it is cooked. At this point a rub or marinade can be used.

I decided to not use a rub or marinade for the chicken halves. Instead I decided on a slower grilling method then finishing with Diana sauce. The best way for grilling half chickens is to use tongs. Place the chicken wing side up on the grill and let cook until there are well defined grill marks. Turn using tongs. Once the chicken is grilled on the other side, pour the desired sauce if using and allow the sauce to caramelize.

Grilled Half Chicken

This meal really falls under the categories of budget stretching and frugal meals cooked on the grill. The chicken cost $3.58 for two with half left over. The zucchini was free with onions and corn being well under 50¢ per serving. So total cost per serving was about $1.40 which accounts for the energy used to cook the meal. It is important to consider the cost of the energy used to prepare meals because that is part of your food costs.

Yep, and there is my onion and zucchini mix sans mushrooms. Sorry but I love zucchini and would eat it daily if I could. Considering I'm working through those lovely zucchini we were gifted with I'm a pretty happy camper. I used Diana Sauce® Gourmet Honey Garlic for the sauce. Niblet corn and a side salad rounded out the meal.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Breakfast on the Grill

I have to admit that we don't eat hot breakfasts on a regular basis. When the kids were younger I would make bacon or sausage and eggs or pancakes Sunday mornings and when we were camping. After we became empty nesters we eat hot breakfasts mainly when traveling or on weekends the kids are home. Since moving here I've decided to resume making a hot breakfast Sunday mornings. Our house is on a beautiful wooded lot on the water so we basically enjoy camping year round. A nice cup of fresh brewed coffee combined with a hearty breakfast while sitting on the dock is just a wonderfully relaxing way to great the day!

Bacon

Smelling bacon and eggs cooking outdoors is still one of the things I really love about camping! Somehow my campstove is still missing in action from the move but if you consider we moved one of our kids twelve days before we moved and we still have a lot of things we are storing for the other kids, that is to be expected. The garage needs a huge major clean-out! I'm digressing so back to breakfast.

Some time ago I heard about cooking bacon in bulk in the oven with very good results. The problem I immediately saw was bacon splatters grease when cooking meaning the oven would have to be cleaned. At that time I had to clean the oven manually but then we bought the stove with a self cleaning oven. Still the prospect of running the self clean cycle after cooking bacon was not overly appealing. So I reasoned, why not cook the bacon on the grill? The mess would stay outside and the grease would burn off. I tried it using a sided baking sheet and now it is my preferred way of cooking bacon. This method does result in the bacon staying in straighter strips rather than curling.

Method: Heat the grill to medium high. Place the strips of bacon on a non-stick, sided baking sheet. Pepper if desired. Put the pan on the middle shelf of the grill (indirect heat). Allow the bacon to cook turning with tongs keeping the strips straight. When cooked place in a warming dish on the top rack to drain and remain warm until serving.

Over Easy

My husband's preferred eggs for breakfast are over easy or poached both with soft yolks. This is quite easy to do using the side burner of the grill but I have made them over a wood fire as well. I like using a non-stick fry pan for cooking eggs which is about the only time I use one. My husband wanted three eggs for breakfast so his went on first.

Our side burner runs on natural gas that has good temperature control but it is affected by wind. I grew up using natural gas but when we set up our first home after marrying I quickly got used to electric. Since then I've learned to cook on wood, propane, charcoal, naphtha gas and solar. Natural gas is dependable and cheaper than electricity here but a good portion of heat is lost so your cooking style needs to be adjusted.

Pictured are my husband's over easy eggs, bacon and he couldn't wait for his toast for the photo shoot. He likes eggs cooked this way for breakfast occasionally and for making fried egg sandwiches. The real trick is letting them cook on the one side, flip then count to three slowly. Remove from the heat and there you have perfect cooked yet runny yolks.

Sunnyside Up

Yes that is my new counter top although we are only using it for photo shoots until the grout is sealed. That should be finished tomorrow so I will post an update later this week. Things will soon be back to normal :)

I like my eggs with a bit crispy whites and sunny side up. I seriously hate it when I order eggs sunny side up at a restaurant and they come out with slimy egg whites. My trick is I let the eggs cook until the whites are opaque then cover with lid and allow to cook until just the edges of the yolks are clouding. This results in perfect dipping eggs just the way I love them. A dash of sea salt and fresh ground pepper make these eggs a true taste sensation!


Monday, August 25, 2008

Grilled Pork Chops and Vegetables

Saturday was a very long day of working on the kitchen, the furnace room and extending the walk-in closet. The kitchen was mainly finishing details but they need to be completed before the grout can be sealed (more on that later). The furnace room was somewhat of a disaster pushed to the back burner after our flooding issue last October. We did the clean-up but no organizing. The walk-in pantry is about 8' x 10' that lies under the entrance, the only area on the official second level of our house. Off the pantry is a space under the stairs that to this point we had not taken advantage of but with the kitchen renovation and wanting to put an access panel to the stove, we decided to clean it out. There wasn't a lot, basically the mess from knocking out the wall and the pieces of carpeting left by the previous owner. Anyway, it was a very long day. I decided we needed a nice meal to enjoy while watching the water.

On the Grill

We buy pork on the hoof. That means we buy the pig before it goes to slaughter from a farmer we know often while it's still a piglet. The farmer calls us about a week before it is ready for slaughtering. From there we make all the arrangements with the abattoir. We control how the abattoir cuts and wraps the meat. We pay the farmer for the pig then pay cutting and wrapping fees to the abattoir but it does work out to be considerably cheaper this way.

We get pork chops cut 1 - inch thick. The most common way we cook them is using my husband's breading method, one of the very few things I do like breaded. We seldom grill bone-in pork chops even though the thicker cut is ideal for grilling resulting in a moist and tender meat.

Method: Heat grill to medium high. Grill pork chops until well browned then turn. Cook to medium or well done (24ºC) internal temperature. Apply barbeque sauce if desired. Allow sauce to slightly caramelize.

The Vegetables

Once again the entire meal with the exception of the salad was cooked on the grill. I marinated the zucchini and red onions in Kraft Signature Tuscan Italian dressing. This dressing is made with extra virgin olive oil with only 2 g sugar and 25 calories per tablespoon compared to PC Italian dressing that has the same amount of sugar but 60 calories. It is also 1% lower in sodium. We eat a lot of salads so I like a nice variety of salad dressings in addition to my homemade dressings but I also use dressings as marinades. I want those dressings to be packed full of flavour yet healthier. What I like about the Tuscan Italian dressing is the flavour as a marinade.

When I use the oven or grill I like to maximize the use so often the entire meal is cooked along with another meat or vegetable I might be planning to use the following day or preparing for freezing. This means I'm getting more value for the energy used. During the summer months it just makes good economical sense to keep the heat out of the house by using the grill. At the same time using the grill for the whole meal reduces the amount of pots, pans and utensils that have to be washed as well as kitchen clean-up. While your food is happily grilling away you can chat with family members or the neighbours so it really is a win-win situation.

Potatoes often wrapped in foil tend to be the most commonly grilled vegetables. Corn grilled in the husk is also popular as are foil packets of vegetables. Cooking vegetables directly on the grill gives vegetables a whole new spin. Grilled vegetables are a delight! Cooked on the grill to al dente they have lovely grill marks for nice visual appeal. Some vegetables require a bit of oil to prevent sticking on the grill. This can be achieved using an oil based marinade or brushing lighting with olive oil just before placing on the grill. I decided to grill zucchini and red onion to serve as sides with the pork chops.

Method: Cut a medium zucchini in half lengthwise. Remove pith and seeds. Place in baking dish. Pour about 3 tbsp salad dressing over the zucchini. Cut red onions into ½ inch slices. Place on top of zucchini and pour about 3 tbsp salad dressing over. Let sit ½ hour. Turn coating the other side with the dressing. Let sit ½ hour. Using tongs, place the vegetables on the pre-heated grill on direct medium low heat. Allow to cook until there are well defined grill marks when checked with a metal flipper. Turn and repeat.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Grilled Chicken Stir Fry

Kitchen Update: We had a bit of a set back with the tile edging but have solved that problem. We are now in the finishing stage. The kitchen still is not fully functional as I don't want to use the countertops before sealing the grout. The most recent update with pictures can be found here.

In the last few entries I've shared some of the foods we have cooked on the grill without them being grilled. While this has been necessary because of the drawn out kitchen renovation (hey we are DIYers aka slow and nit picky) In short I'm using the grill as an oven. Yesterday I planned on using some of that lovely zucchini in chicken kabobs for something different but my husband said to KISS (keep it simple silly) and came up with another idea, grilled chicken stir fry.

Grilled Chicken Stir Fry

His idea was to use the grill for the chicken then use the chicken for a stir fry done on the grill side burner. If you are in the market for a propane or natural gas grill be sure to get one with a side burner. They have really come down in price and that side burner can be a real summertime energy saver. It can also serve as an emergency burner if your power is out.

The resulting meal was quite lovely! It was simple yet elegant with lots of flavour. It was an easy and quick meal as well coming in right near the 15 minute mark including the prep time. This was also a very frugal meal and could easily be a budget stretcher by using less chicken. The grill does add a slight smokey flavour to the chicken that can't be duplicated in a skillet. I give my husband two thumbs up for merging grilling with stir frying to come up with a unique meal.

Grilled Chicken Stir Fry

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ large red onion
2 c sliced mushrooms
medium zucchini
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp Hoisin sauce
2 tbsp butter
extra virgin olive oil

Cut the onion into strips. Slice mushrooms. Wash and cut the zucchini into quarters lengthwise. Remove pith and seeds. Cut across the the zucchini strips to form chunks.

Place butter and olive oil in a fry pan. Heat on the side burner of the grill. Add vegetables. Grill the chicken on each side until lightly browned. Cut the chicken into strips. Add to the vegetables and continue cooking until zucchini is tender and onions are translucent. Stir in soy and Hoisin sauces.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Foodie Gifts

Important: I just finished a blog entry for my gardening blog about the importance of growing a garden. There is a lovely video put out by Eat Your View that is a must see. If you are on Digg, please digg the entry to help get the word out about this very worthwhile endeavour.
The nice thing about being a foodie is everyone knows what to gift you with! This is rather convenient as instead of buying trinkets of travels anyone who knows me knows something food related would be very much appreciated. Trust me, bring something from the region or gift me with something food related and that does not mean expensive either and I will be drooling. My family and friends know this. At the same time my family and friends are foodies as well so I always know what to give them. Anytime a gift comes from the kitchen it comes from the heart :)

Gift Baskets

Parents to oldest grandbaby [and who just found out today they are expecting another] gifted me with two very generous gift baskets for Mother's Day and my birthday. The contents include several hot sauces with names like Pain 100% as well as salsas and popcorn from the Pain is Good line. I collect hot sauces so this was a very lovely and thoughtful gift.

My husband is being on his best behaviour carefully checking the baskets to make sure none of these hot goodies escape. He likes spice but not heat on his foods with my homemade chili being about the hottest in terms of spice that he will eat. Seriously my chili is not a mouth burning chili but it does have a nice heat to it. You would not get him crunching on jalapeno peppers or eating hot pepper jelly either. Honestly, he doesn't know what he's missing!

Zucchini

I've heard so many complaints over how zucchini can be so prolific. My rule of thumb is to grow 5 zucchini plants and because I pay attention to their needs they tend to thrive. We love zucchini! I normally pick it when it is about 6 to 8 inches long. My gardens are in progress this summer so I did not have zucchini plants. A good friend gifted us with these two huge zucchinis. I'm thrilled! Now what to make with them? Hmm, a zucchini loaf and zucchini muffins will definitely be in the making. Some will be grated and froze. We are going to be enjoying some sautéed in butter with mushrooms and onions, one of our favourite ways to serve zucchini. I think I'm going to try a couple of new ways to use zucchini so do check back to see what I come up with.

Lasagne

Throughout the year jars of my home preserved goodies and bounty from my garden make their way to family and friends. Last weekend the kids with youngest grandbaby were home visiting. I wanted a nice meal without a lot of effort as we have been spending a great deal of time working on the kitchen and as of Friday the sink and stove were not hooked up. Looking through the freezers I settled upon the tray of lasagne a friend had generously gifted us with. Served with a tossed salad and bread it would make a lovely meal while still giving me the chance to put a lot of tools away and straighten the family room.

I heated the grill to 350ºF then placed the foil pan of lasagne on the middle rack of our grill (indirect heat). From there the lasagne heated through much the way it would have if heated in the oven. I tented the top to allow the top to brown a little during the last 15 minutes of heating.

Note: When packaging lasagne for the freezer use a tin foil tray, top with wax paper then wrap the top tightly with tin foil. This allows you to re-heat in an oven or grill as well as make it convenient for gift giving.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Using a Grill as an Oven (Country Style Ribs with Fries)

Kitchen Update: The grout is finished! The sink is scheduled to be installed tomorrow as well as re-installing the stove. A more detailed update with pictures will be post here shortly. One more day and things can start getting back to normal. I'll be cooking in style again! Now I have to come up with a nice meal to celebrate the completion of the renovation.

I've mentioned a few time here that I use our outdoor grill much the same as an oven during the summer months. Unlike an oven the grill imparts a slightly smoky flavour to the food that can be enhanced by using smoking chips like maple or hickory. This is one of the secretes behind my roasted tomato sauce that I just can't make enough of. There are a couple of tricks to using an outdoor grill as an oven.

Ribs & Fries on the Grill

Thursday's dinner was country ribs with French fries and niblet corn all cooked on the grill. Well the corn was cooked on the side burner but if you don't have a side burner then a small pot on the grill itself will work. The first trick is to co-ordinate your food cooking time much the same as you would on a range. For the most part cooking times will be close to the same. I keep a separate set of baking sheets and ovenware for use on the grill but use my stainless steel pots and pans on the side burner. The second trick is getting the temperature right. Our grill has a thermometer on the outside and I know when both burners are set to low the temperature is 350ºF. To go lower than that, one burner must be turned off. So with a bit of experimentation with the aid of the grill or oven thermometer getting the temperature correct is rather easy and considerably less tinkering that over charcoal or wood (more on that in a later entry). The third trick is knowing your hotspots. Every grill has at least one. This will be the spot where most flare-ups tend to occur. Flare-ups are not desirable when using the grill as an oven. The fourth tick is the timing. You really have to take weather conditions into consideration. Cooler or strong winds and rain will cool the grill whereas no wind or hot, dry weather causes the grill to be a bit hotter.

The Meal

I grilled the ribs first then after the sauce was almost caramelized I moved the ribs to the middle rack of the grill and moved the French fries from the middle rack to the lower rack to brown. Yes, I cheated and used purchased crinkle cut (McCain's) fries simply for ease because cutting home fries would have taken more time and I would have to do them on the picnic table. This way I was able to continue help work on the kitchen while the food was cooking.

Method: Spread the frozen fries on a sided baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with Old Bay® Seasoning. Place the fries on the grill in indirect heat (medium or top rack). When fries are thawed fully and warmed through move to direct heat (rack closest to heat source). Allow to brown turning occasionally.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Fluff Salad

The neat thing about kids who learn to love food and enjoy cooking at an early age is they develop their own style. At some point they become the teacher teaching the teacher that taught them. That sentence should count for something! I'm not much of dessert person at the best of times and there is only so many ways you can present a bowl of fruit. Yes, I know my family is deprived not having dessert daily. Last year and before our newest member to the family was in the family as they were waiting on the visa so they could get married, we had a huge celebration at our house complete with a pig roast to celebrate a milestone wedding anniversary. The kids (now in Wisconsin) made one of the desserts.

Fluff Salad

I have seen fruit salads made with CoolWhip® and in fact my mother-in-law used to make a really nice one although I think is used sour cream that my husband loves. Hmm, maybe if I make it for him the speed at getting my kitchen done might go up a notch! Ok, back to reality.

This dessert was a huge hit! I've had several people ask for the recipe. I asked them to take pictures and send the recipe the next time they made it. Mars bars were originally manufactured in the UK then imported to Canada. It is a sweeter version of the Milky Way bar produced in the US. Mars bars were at one time available in Canada but not the US so if you can't find either of the bars in the recipe, try a Milky Way bar.

Fluff Salad

1 Jar of Marsh-mellow Fluff®
4 Mars bars (or Snickers)
1 Jar of Cherries
4 Diced Apples
1 Pkg of Cream Cheese
1 Tin of Coolwhip®

[Chop the Mars bar and cherries into bite size pieces.] Mix, Chill & Serve


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Salmon Cakes

Kitchen Update: A glitch yesterday meant removing a part wall of tile and re-tiling :( We are grouting tonight! So we are a bit behind our goal of being finished by Tuesday. We are in it this far so we are going to give the grout the full 3 days cure time meaning the stove and sink will be in place late Sunday night. It is looking good though. Oh and I should mention we haven't killed each other yet and we still have all the body parts we had when we started the project.

I've mentioned before that as a family we send pictures of our meals back and forth to each other by email. These tend to be the meals we were impressed with, not just meal pictures for the sake of sending the picture. We usually include the recipe and method as well so other family members can duplicate and/or tweak. It's really our virtual recipe box to share with each other. The neat thing about this is we get a chance to try dishes we might not have thought about. The picture serves much the same purpose it does in a recipe book, to show you this is what the dish should look like.

Our kids grew up in a home with a lot of emphasis on home cooking. They are all good cooks so it is no surprise that their spouses are also good cooks. I refer to the spouses as my kids also so when I say this recipe is from my kids it could be from anyone of them. The only distinction I use is the © designation on their photos. So far b1 has appeared and now with this entry JD but you will at some point see EJ and JZ. My husband who is also a very good cook uses my ©. So now you don't have to wonder but I usually tell you when it is one of the kids' recipes and usually make some reference as to which ones.

Salmon Cakes

Our kids in Wisconsin sent me several pictures including this one of their salmon cakes. It sure came at a good time too as my kitchen is still torn apart. Don't they look delicious? I love the presentation as well. The tomatoes just beckon to dig in and enjoy. What I really like is there aren't a lot of ingredients. It's simple yet elegant. Thanks guys and I can't wait to try them!

The sauce in Tzatziki sauce and I didn't think to ask if they made it themselves. It likely is as Tzatziki is a yogurt/cucumber sauce that is quite easy to make. A recipe for homemade, authentic Tzatziki sauce can be found here.

This meal likely took under 30 minutes from prep to finish making it an ideal meal for those nights where you need a quick yet nutritious meal. Served with home fried potatoes it makes for a frugal meal as well. I think the cream cheese would be a lovely addition. Portions within [] are my additions for clarification.

Salmon Cakes

~1 cup of Salmon
1 Egg
Bread crumbs (add to thicken)
Cream Cheese (optional)
Onion
Garlic

[Lightly beat the egg. Stir in the salmon. Add bread crumbs, cheese, onion and garlic. Mix well.] Fry like pancakes, top with diced tomatoes & Tzatziki sauce (Gyro)


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mediterranean Pasta (Vegetarian)

Sunday was cold and nasty with rain on and off most of the day. It stopped raining long enough for me to cook angel hair pasta on the side burner of the grill. By the time we were eating dinner it was raining again! Doing without the normal kitchen amenities stimulates the creative juices.

Mediterranean Pasta

I decided to make a vegetable based pasta dish that was a bit different. Instead of a heavier sauce I tossed the hot angel hair pasta with a Mediterranean salad dressing containing kalamata olives, feta cheese, sundried tomatoes and herbs. Then I topped the pasta with steamed broccoli, fresh red onions, cherry tomatoes and jumbo stuffed olive slices. The olives are the kind bought in the deli section not in jars. The cherry tomatoes are from one of my tomato plants grown in a container. This plant is producing tomatoes faster than we can use them which highlights what I've been saying all along. A lot of produce can be grown in a small space and even in containers.

Mediterranean Pasta

1 454 g (1 lb) package angel hair pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
salt

½ c small broccoli flowerettes, cooked
½ c cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ c red onions, chopped
8 stuffed jumbo olives, sliced
½ c Mediterranean salad dressing with sundried tomatoes

Fill a large sauce pot half full with water. Add olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt. Bring to a boil. Stir in the angel hair pasta. Boil about 5 minutes or until al dente. Drain. Toss the hot pasta with the salad dressing. Plate. Top with vegetables.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Local Food Event - Chicken BBQ Dinner

Quite often when making the choice to eat out it is either at a sit down restaurant, a fast food restaurant or take-out. What many overlook is the wide variety of local food events throughout the year. These range from competition food events like cook-off and ribfests to fish fries to charity food events to socials to street vendors and everything in between. Local food events tend to serve good, old fashioned home cooking at well under the going rate for a comparable meal in a restaurant but they offer so much more. There is the social aspect of these events that make them even more special.

Chicken BBQ Dinner

As you know our kitchen is not quite functional right now so when my husband suggested eating at a local food event on Friday I sure wasn't going to decline. Two local charities were running barbeques, one a steak dinner and the other a chicken dinner. Well we have gone to this particular chicken dinner for years so we chose it again. We support them because the proceeds go back into helping the community. They put on a lovely meal consisting of a barbequed half of chicken, cob of corn, coleslaw, potato, roll and local grown tomatoes (not shown) all for $11.

What is even more impressive is watch how this group of volunteers barbeque the chicken! Sorry the picture I took didn't come out well so I will have to describe it. Each barbeque is about a 8 ft long half barrel on a metal stand with a diameter of about 4 feet. They are prepped early in the day for the event
that serves upwards of 750 hungry folk for the event. Corn is prepared onsite as are the potatoes. Both are wrapped in foil then put into foil lined containers to keep warm. It really is a lovely meal for the price plus you get to visit will all those community members you don't always get a chance to see :)


Monday, August 11, 2008

Organic Produce & Freezing Blueberries

Last Thursday I had to take a short road trip and as always I was on the look-out for places to stop for farm fresh produce. Even though the kitchen is not functional at the moment if I really had to I could can a batch of jam or prepare a small amount of food for freezing using the side burner on the outdoor grill. I stopped in at an orchard on the way home to find that the orchard is now owned by the same owners who operate two nearby health food stores. Everything is being grown using organic methods. The produce is chemical and pesticide free. Not only that but they are supporting local organic growers by buying produce they do not grow from them and selling it in their store. They have two key criteria that must be met. First the produce must be chemical and pesticide free, grown using organic methods. Second the produce must be local grown. I'm elated! One of the organic farmers I bought from decided there was no longer enough money in organic farming so has moved on leaving me looking for other organic growers.

How does this relate to this blog? Anyone who has been following this blog knows that I grow as much as possible using organic methods in raised gardens planted in the square foot gardening method using companion planting. What produce I can't or don't grow myself, I prefer organically grown local produce. Organic means I'm not getting those chemicals I work so hard to avoid. Locally grown means lower prices and keeping local area farmers aka friends, family and community members earning an income to support their families. This results in a stronger community. So the short answer is organic, locally grown produce fits in with my value system.

Organic Berries

Pictured are the organically grown blueberries, blackberries and raspberries I purchased. Now what I noticed is the organically grown raspberries were $1 per quart cheaper than where I normally buy them. Now I'm hit with a delimna as where I normally buy them is considerably closer to where we live. It is a small mom & pop operation and we know the family. What I will end up doing is supporting both as you really can't have too many raspberries.

The organically grown blackberries are huge! They have a wonderful flavour as well. The first quart is destined for topping plain homemade yogurt for breakfast. I will pick up enough for low sugar blackberry jam my next trip. I will also be picking up other berries to make a low sugar, tri-berry jam.

Blueberries are one of the healthiest berries you can eat. They are rich in anti-oxidants that neutralize the damaging free radicals in your body. The organically blueberries are large and sweet. At $4 per quart they are less expensive than those in the grocery store! I will be buying blueberries for canning syrup, jam and pie fill but blueberries are ever so easy to freeze!

Method: Pour ripe, unwashed blueberries onto a sided baking sheet in a single layer. Flash freeze. Pour the desired amount (1 c or 2 c) frozen berries in a vacuum freezer bag or zipper style bag. Vacuum seal. To use, pour the berries into a food strainer. Rinse with cold water then use in your recipe of choice.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ribs Using Dry Rub

Kitchen Update: We are slightly behind our estimated completion of the kitchen tiling for this coming Tuesday. The tiling itself will be completed and grouted but the grout has to cure for three days before we can re-connect the stove and hook-up the sink.

I decided to do ribs on the gas grill Thursday. Ribs can be barbequed using a dry rub or sauce (wet) or a combination of rub and sauce. My preferred method is with sauce. The important thing with ribs is they should be cooked long and slow (low temperature). This keeps the meat tender and juicy. The second thing to remember is too not add the sauce too soon. Most sauces contain sugar that will burn if the heat is too high. Add the sauce about a half hour before the ribs are finished. This allows the sauce to caramelize without burning.

Rib Rub

Rubs are easy to make using herbs and spices. You can tweak and be creative combining your own or use a tried and true recipe. Pre-mixed, commercially prepared dry rubs but by far the best pre-mixed rubs you will find are available from the ribbers at ribfests. Be sure to read the label as some dry rubs contain sugar. I used Blazin BBQ Rib Rub bought from the Blazin BBQ ribbers at the Burlington Rotary Ribfest (2007). Ingredients in the rub are salt, white sugar, paprika, black pepper, lemon pepper, garlic, brown sugar, ginger and parsley. Note that this rub has sugar in it so temperature must be low.

Method: Place the rack of ribs on a sided baking sheet. Pour a generous amount of rub onto the ribs then rub in. Turn the ribs and repeat. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 4 to 8 hours. Heat the grill on low. If cooking on wood or charcoal, it will take 35 to 45 minutes to reach the proper grilling temperature. You should be able to hold your hand palm side down at cooking height over the coals for 5 seconds for low heat*. Add wood or charcoal and spread coals as needed to maintain the temperature. Place the ribs on the grill. Allow to cook until browning then turn and allow to continue cooking. Grilling time should be about 4 hours. A half hour before the ribs are finished top with a wet sauce or glazing sauce if desired.

* 4 seconds - medium, 3 seconds - medium high, 2 seconds - high

The Storm

The ultimate factor in outdoor grilling is the weather. From experience you need to have an alternative plan just in case. Such was the case Thursday as you can see from the wall of rain heading across the water. It took less than a minute from taking this picture when it hit. We have had a series of vicious storms going through the area but Thursday morning the skies gave no hint of storms. The ribs were ready to go on the grill but another storm blew in. It came in with a real furry complete with pelting rain, half inch hail stones and high winds. I thought it would blow over but it didn't. As Zeus and Thor fought out their battle once again I went onto plan B, thankful that the electricity was holding.

Cooking in Countertop Roaster

Since my stove is not hooked up I decided to do the ribs in the countertop roaster set at 200ºF. This appliance cooks a bit faster than either an oven or grill but the results can be just as good. I put ½ c of water on the bottom to prevent sticking. I let the ribs cook for 2½ then added about ½ cup of Diana's Gourmet Sauce (Western Smokehouse) on top of the ribs to add a bit of smokey flavour. Then I added red skin potatoes and continued cooking on low until the potatoes were cooked through. Red potatoes work nicely for this application because they stay firm enough to hold their shape well. Although this was a practical way for me to cook the potatoes the end result was delightful with the potatoes picking up just a hint of the herbs, spices and sauce.

Rib Dinner

The meaty ribs came out tender and juicy with just a little sauce. The rub added a nice nip bordering on spicy so the paprika was hot not sweet. The rub was just a bit saltier than I would have liked so I'm going to be working with the ingredient list to come up with a rub that is not quite so salty and a bit less heat as my husband doesn't like spicy foods with too much bite. The flavour was quite tasty with just a hint of smokiness from the sauce. The same effect could be achieved by adding a drop or two of liquid smoke to the water added to the roaster.

As any cook does when cooking, I had to taste. The reason for this is tasting along the way ensures you don't end up with an unbalanced food that is too salty, sweet, sour or spicy. This is very important when the food will be consumed by those who don't like a lot of heat in their food. Realizing the heat of the ribs was just borderline for my husband, I made a creamy cucumber salad to help tone down the heat. The key to this salad is the yogurt.

Creamy Cucumber Salad

1 whole cucumber
1 c plain yogurt
1 tsp Windermere garlic & onion herb mix

Peel the cucumber and slice. Place in small mixing bowl. Mix the herb mix into the yogurt. Pour over the cucumber slices. Mix well. Refrigerate 1 hour before serving.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Walleye

Living on the Great Lakes waterways we eat a lot of fish although that is not always apparent with this blog. Common local caught or caught ourselves fish we enjoy include perch, pickerel, walleye, small and large mouth bass, blue gill, smelt and whitefish but there are other fish like pike, catfish, muskie, sturgeon and salmon. I usually broil or grill fish without any coating or with a light coating when pan frying. I very seldom deep fry fish as in English style fish and chips either because I don't like a heavy coating. Since the method remains the same there is really little to add after the initial entry. When I stop to think about it even though the my methods remain the same, the fish does not. Some fish are better for grilling while others are better for pan frying and others are better for deep frying. Most of the fish we eat have lighter, delicate flavours so are best not overpowered by heavy seasonings or heavy sides.

Decker's Walleye Dinner

Walleye (Sander vitreus vitreusis), a member of the perch family is a freshwater fish common to the Great Lakes, most of Canada and the northern US states. It gets its name from the large light reflecting retina. They can grow up to 30 inches long and weigh about 15 pounds. They are an excellent fish for angling in still waters using minnows, worms or lures.

Walleye has a mild, delicate flavour with a thick, flaky texture. This fish lends itself nicely to pan frying with a light coating. The important thing to remember is the coating should not overpower the fish. It is also very important to never overcook walleye Sides should be kept light as well. The walleye dinner came with sautéed yellow and green zucchini, onions, green peppers and tomatoes, boiled red potatoes and a side tossed salad made with iceberg lettuce, red onions, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. Properly pan fried fish should be a light to medium golden brown outside, moist, tender and flaky on the inside. It should be cooked to the point the fish is opaque and no further.

Method: Walleye should be cleaned and filleted. [I'll post this method with step-by-step details the next time I'm cleaning fish.] Place 2 c of unbleached flour in a shallow baking dish. Season the flour lightly with salt, pepper and Old Bay Seasoning or just a little paprika to give just a light hint of colour to the flour when mixed together. Heat a fry pan with about an eighth inch cooking oil to hot which will prevent the fish from sticking. Dredge the fillets in the flour mixture. Place in the fry pan. Fry until light golden brown, turn and fry on the other side until golden brown. Do not over cook!


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Kitchen Renovations Continued - Braised Ribs

I have to tell you that I am tiring of the ongoing kitchen renovations. They basically started the moment we moved in with removing built-in appliances and roughly fitting ours in. At that time we had planned on having the kitchen completely renovated within a month. Then came injuries for both of us, his 5 stitches across the knuckle and my 8 stitches in the arch of my foot. Then came family events, electrical issues, plumbing issues, flooding issues, Christmas, winter vacation, sewer issues (yep we had a blue port-a-potty for 5 days!), spring vacation, one of our kid's weddings and finally we are getting the kitchen done! In short, life got in the way and when you are a DIYer that can really slow things down.

Surf & Turf

Before I get into a bit more about the kitchen I want to share my husband's birthday meal. We don't do things like birthday gifts, cards or go out. The reason for this is we try to make each other feel special every day of the year. Besides instead of small gifts throughout the year we save that money for our quarterly vacations. What we do for each other if make a special birthday meal.

This year my husband wanted steak and scallops for his birthday dinner. The steak was grilled to rare served with broiled bacon wrapped scallops, steamed red potatoes, sautéed mushrooms with red onions and side salad consisting of mesclun mix, tomatoes and cucumbers with fresh lemon juice in place of dressing. We dined in the upper screened in sunporch enjoying the sights and sounds of the water.

Tiling Started

This is how my kitchen looked Monday (August 4) night after both of us spending a very long and sometimes frustrating day of working on the kitchen. The night before my husband burned out the circular saw for cutting the sink and base which resulted in an unexpected trip and purchase setting us back. The water was beckoning us to forget the kitchen and get away on the boat. It would have been ever so easy! We resisted and kept plugging away.

The tiling is going amazing smoothly considering up to this point the only thing I had tiled was the base for a wood stove in one of our former homes. My husband has no tiling experience aside from observation. He had to learn quickly how to use a tile saw and the clippers but picked it up nicely. We started with the window frame and were going to leave the top piece because he thought it needed bracing but after checking online we found we could go ahead and do it. Miracle of miracles it stayed up! We moved down to the walls where the first obstacle was cutting an opening for an outlet. By now hubby has learned a few tricks so the end result is quite nice looking.

Tonight (Aug. 5) we are working on the bridging for the back of the stove and small counter. I doubt we will get to the breakfast island but if we do that would be great. The time frame looks to be by Wednesday night we will have all the tiling finished. The tiles need to sit 24-36 hours before grouting of which I want to do all the grouting at once so we won't be grouting before Friday morning. The grout has a 3 day cure period where you have to mist it for proper curing. Then we can put the grout seal on - 2 coats at 3 hours dry time so by next Tuesday the kitchen will be fully operational!

BTW, the new sink and downdraft system can be seen where the stove opening is. The stove is in the right foreground, fully protected with the cartridges removed. Oh and the grout is white so that will really change the look again.

Braised Ribs

I am determined to put good food on the table despite the renovations. From previous experience (4 houses) renovations create laissez-faire attitude towards meals. Let's face it kitchen renovations are the worst as far as disruption! Either the meals are kept so simple they are boring no cooking required meals or more often that not end up being fast food or take-out. Both really are expensive and cut into the unexpected expenses of remodelling. So I'm relying on a well stocked pantry and freezers because grocery shopping is the last thing I want to do right now as well as those resources I have at hand.

My stove is out of commission until at least next Tuesday but I'm not concerned. I have a gas grill with side burner, slow cooker, rice maker, deep fryer, toaster, microwave oven and countertop roaster so being without a stove shouldn't be a huge problem. I also have a campstove somewhere in the unorganized garage from our move here. We also have room for a fire pit so that could be in place within a day and I do love cooking over an open fire. The dishwasher and fridge are operational but will be disconnected for brief periods of time and I have a large sink in the laundry room. Anyway, I'm digressing.

Monday night's dinner was braised ribs done in the countertop roaster. When they were partially finished I poured on a little Diana's Gourmet Western Steakhouse sauce. Then I added quartered red potatoes. I steamed the broccoli on the grill side burner. It was a nice hearty meal that didn't take much in the way of preparation.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Freezing Cauliflower

Edited Aug. 5, 2008 - My sincere apologies. It would appear this entry somehow was published partially without the remainder of the entry or pictures. I don't know if this was because of Blogger's recent problems that took this blog and my garden blog down or what caused it. I have corrected the errors for the entry. Enjoy!

I am in the what some would say enviable position of having both chest freezers and the freezer component of the side-by-side almost totally stuffed. There is very little room for anything which is not a desirable position to be in this time of year. There are some good deals on produce and local produce is becoming increasingly available. Some vegetables do not can nicely so freezing or drying are the other options. What I am going to be forced into doing is pulling out every bag of bones and that isn't going to be a lot and can up stocks not a good thing to be doing when the temperatures are soaring!

I stock up on cauliflower when it comes into season. The going price per head for local cauliflower ranges from 69¢ to 99¢ compared with off season prices as high as $2 or more. One large head of cauliflower will yield a bit over a quart of flowerettes. Cauliflower freezes nicely and is very easy to freeze with minimal prep work. It can later be used for cream of cauliflower soup, cheesy cream of cauliflower soup, as a side or as an ingredient. I recommend preparing no more than 5 or 6 large heads of cauliflower at a time because more than that will cause your freezer to work harder until the cauliflower is frozen.

Method: [note: the lemon juice keeps the cauliflower nice and creamy white; it does not affect the flavour of the cauliflower] Choose firm heads of cauliflower (1). Fill the sink with cold water about half way and add 2 tbsp salt. Soak the heads upside down in the salt water for 20 minutes. Remove from water and let drain. Cut the green leaves away from the stem. Break or cut the cauliflower in to flowerettes (2) and place them in a very large bowl. Bring a large stockpot with collander insert filled about half full of water and splash of lemon juice to a boil. At the same time fill the sink with cold water, generous splash of lemon juice and ice about a quart of the way full. Working in batches, place enough cauliflower in the boiling water ensuring all is covered with the water. Blanch 3 minutes (3). Immediately raise the collander out of the pot allowing the cauliflower to briefly drain. Pour into the ice water (4). By the time the next batch is almost blanched the prior batch will be cooled. Spoon it into a collander to drain. When the next batch is in the ice water pour the first batch into a large bowl.

Bagged

Once all of the cauliflower has been blanched, iced and drained I package it into quart vacuum sealer bags. If you look closely you will see my bags differ from the brand name bags in that there is only a channel panel on the back of the bag. This ensures a good vacuum each and every time. I discovered these bags while looking for a cheaper solution to the brand name vacuum bags that cost about 54¢ per bag. I buy these bags online from The Sweet Attack for as low as 28¢ per bag depending on the quantity and size including shipping costs.

When filling the bags it is essential to leave a 4 - inch headspace so they will fit in the vacuum sealer properly. When the bags are filled, fold the tops over and place the bags in the freezer. When the cauliflower is frozen remove from freezer and vacuum seal. Label.

Vacuum Sealed

If you have been following this blog you will know that my preferred and most recommended method for storing foods in the freezer is vacuum sealing. This method is the most cost effective way of ensuring your food dollar investment is protected. The normal storage time in the freezer at 0ºF for vegetables with the exception of onions is 12 months or roughly from one harvest season to the next. After that period of time the vegetables will lose both flavour and nutrition. Vacuum sealing will extend the freezer life by 3 to 4 months which is handy when you froze a bit more than your family could use within a year. Freezer burn may occur at any time during freezer storage. Not only do foods store longer when vacuum sealed that nasty freezer burn is eliminated.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

It Could Happen

cartoon coutesty of NewsTarget


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Watermelon

I love fresh watermelon! I have very fond memories of watermelon. As a child spitting the seeds was the only form of spitting I could get away with. We always had and still have watermelon on my birthday because I seldom eat cake and when I do it is a small forkful as a taste test. Local watermelon is viewed as a summertime fruit to be eaten mainly in season. The fruit is shipped in when not in season and while the flavour is not as nice as local watermelon, it is available year round. The most often recommended methods of preserving watermelon is as a wine or pickles using the rind. I have done neither although I plan on making a small batch of the pickles this summer. Despite watermelon having such a high water content it does dry nicely. A few years back I found an old recipe for making watermelon jam. I made a small batch that was never impressive enough to make again. It was horribly sweet so we ended up using it as a topping for ice cream. Now that I'm using Pomona's Pectin for my jams and jellies I plan to make another batch of jam. Pomona's doesn't rely on sugar for gelling so the amount of sugar can be greatly reduced or even substituted with other sweeteners. I will make entries on the results of both as I do them.

Watermelon

Not only does watermelon taste good and quenches your thirst on hot summer days it is a fun food that is good for you. One cup of diced watermelon contains
51 calories, 1.0 g ptotein, 11.5 g carbs, 3 mg sodium, 0.6 g fiber, and 0.7 g fat, 0 g cholesterol [source: Dr. Art Ulene, The NutriBase Complete Book of Food Counts, 1996, New York. Pp. 720.] However, watermelon is rich in Vitamin C as well as being a good source of Vitamin A and beta-carotene. These are powerful anti-oxidants that neutralize damaging free radicals in your body. Watermelon is also a good source of Vitamins B6, B1, potassium and magnesium. However, it also contains a high level of lycopenes, even higher than tomatoes. Lycopenes lower the risk for many types of cancers especially prostate, lung and stomach but is also beneficial in reducing the risk of other types of cancers. Watermelon also helps reduce inflammation that contributes to conditions like asthma, arteriosclerosis and arthritis. With all of these benefits, watermelon is definitely a health food!

Cubed

Several years ago we discovered fruit smooties. These healthy drinks are great for a summer or quick breakfast as well as an after school or anytime snack. I like to keep a lot of fruits on hand including frozen fruits. Frozen cubed watermelon works lovely in fruit smooties adding not only to the flavour but the texture. The seedless watermelons are easier to prepare for this otherwise you will have to remove the seeds but that isn't as much work as it sounds.

Method: Wash the watermelon rind well and dry. Cut the watermelon into 1 - inch thick slices. Lay a slice on a cutting board. Go around the slice just into the red with a sharp knife to remove the rind. Reserve rind if making pickles otherwise compost. Cut across the slice at 1 - inch intervals. Turn the slice and cut across at 1-inch intervals to form 1 - inch cubes. [Note: cutting does not have to be precise; just guestimate] Spread the cubes onto a large, sided baking sheet. Place in freezer until frozen. Package into freezer bags. Label and freeze.

Vacuumed Sealed

Zipper style freezer bags can be used but as always, vacuum sealing with give better results. Watermelon has a tendency to get ice crystals on it even during the flash freezing stage leading to freezer burn. Vacuum sealing prevents the freezer burn. I package into quart sized vacuum sealer bags then vacuum and seal. This is roughly the amount watermelon that we would use for 6 to 8 smoothies. To use: open the bag and place as many cubes as desired in the blender with other ingredients. It is essential that any left-over cubes be resealed by placing the original vacuum seal bag with cubes into a zipper style freezer bag and removing the air with a straw. Although this method could be used initially I find it is only good for short term freezer storage. The vacuum bags tend to be heavier than zipper style freezer bags.