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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, September 28, 2008

Tomatoes Continued - Days 4 & 5

It has been a very busy week of processing tomatoes. At this point I have now processed 5 1/2 hampers of tomatoes. I'm tired and very achy so by the time you are reading this I'm already well into enjoying a much appreciated weekend away.
Tomato Harvest

Ladies and gentleman as promised here are pictures of the tomato harvest.  Tomato wagons are connected to tractors then a tomato harvester follows along side the wagons.  Pickers stand in the harvester to remove green tomatoes.  As the tomatoes are harvested they travel up conveyor belts to be deposited into the wagons.  When full the tomato wagons are hooked to transport trucks or tractors depending on the distance needed to travel to the processing plant. 
  
Testing pH

When home canning pH is very important.  In general if the pH is above 4.6 then the food is considered low acid so it must be processed using a boiling water bath canner.  If you only use tested USDA approved recipes (which all new canners should use) then all you have to do is simply follow those guidelines.  However, I wanted to can my own sauces using recipes it has taken me years to perfect so that means testing pH.  The simplest method is to use pH paper but if the sauce is strongly coloured it will throw off the reading.  Another problem with pH paper is there is a level of guestimation by simply trying to match the colour to the indicator.  For example I tested 5% acetic acid white vinegar with pH paper that read at pH 2.5 however using a pH meter the pH was 2.1.  In terms of pH this is a big difference.  So while pH paper is a useful indicator a pH meter is better for more accurate readings.  Tomatoes and tomato products for the most part can be processed using a boiling water bath or pressure canner but in both cases the current recommendation is to acidify by adding either citric acid or lemon juice.  Virtually everything I can that is tomato based is tested for pH mainly for my own records.
Spaghetti Meat Sauce

Pictured is 14 - 500 ml jars of my famous spaghetti meat sauce.  This is a slow cook sauce that takes a fair amount of preparation and about 4 hours cook time before being ready for canning or freezing.  I use one particular variety of plum tomatoes.   The tomatoes are peeled then quartered.  Other ingredients including fresh ground, lean ground beef, fresh herbs and fresh mushrooms combine to make a mouth watering hearty sauce.  This sauce originally was made from scratch for dinner with left-over sauce being froze.  About 6 years ago I decided to try canning some as a convenience product.  The results were wonderful!  While making this sauce fresh is still the primary way I make it having  several jars on hand is a real time saver!

Marinara Sauce

Pictured are 5 L of marinara sauce and you would have seen the other 6 - 500 ml jars but they were in the canner and I needed the photo since we were leaving for the weekend.  This sauce is an improtu since it was not on my original list of tomato products to can but that list really changes anyways as I do the canning.

Marinara sauce is named after the mariners who made this simple yet tasty sauce.  It consists of tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic and fresh basil.  That's it.  Yet this sauce is tasty by itself as a pasta topping or can be used for a blush sauce.  It is a bit thinner than some pasta sauces.  

The simplicity of this sauce is one of its beauties.  You must use all fresh ingredients with the basil being picked within minutes of going into the sauce.  For canning purposes, a greatly reduced amount of olive oil is used added for the flavour since pressure canning increases the antioxidant properties of lycopene much the same as olive oil does.  


Friday, September 26, 2008

Putting Up Tomatoes - Days Two & Three

A reader commented on the previous post that I had a lot of tomatoes and wanted to know if they were all for our family's use. The answer is yes, all of the tomato products I put up are for our family's use. A few jars find their way to friends but that is factored in to what is needed to get up to the next tomato season. So I'm putting up at least a year's worth plus a bit extra of tomato products. Less jars are actually processed some days during my busy tomato canning season. The reason for this is as the product increases in complexity it takes longer to get the product ready which affects the number of loads that can be processed in the day. I also start getting tired and quite achy by about day 3 which slows me down a bit.

Pasta Sauce

Pictured is the yield from one hamper of tomatoes, a meatless pasta sauce. A hamper looks like a lot of tomatoes but once purée the average yield will be 16 - 500 ml jars. My canner holds 14 - 500 ml jars so I put the rest in a refrigerator container. The sauce was pressure canned. sauce is made essentially the same way I make my meat sauce with two variations. The tomatoes are run through a food mill first. Then vegetables are puréed are added to the tomato purée. No meat is added. The seasonings are added then the sauce is then allowed to cook slowly on low heat. Seasonings are adjusted during the cooking period. From purée to final sauce ready for canning the cooking time is about 4½ hours. That means I'm waiting on the sauce to finish cooking. Why? I'm using extra large stock pots and the canner meaning I have to use the reinforced heavy pot burner on the cartridge. I only have one of these special burners so can only run one huge pot at a time.

Three More Hampers

My husband picked up three more hampers of tomatoes Tuesday afternoon. I almost forgot to take a picture so half a hamper is missing as the tomatoes were already in the sink being cleaned. These are are different variety from the first three hampers I processed. This is quite normal as I get the tomatoes as the fields are being harvested so it depends on where they are harvesting that day. I'll post a picture or two of the harvest shortly. I keep track of the varieties because some plum varieties are better for certain products than others. The first three hampers are my preferred tomatoes. This variety is smaller and firmer than the first variety. Over the course of my tomato canning season I will go through at least 4 plum varieties but of those I use the first variety the most.

On the Grill

Roasted tomato sauce means long, slow roasting on the grill. They are roasted from start to finish without a lid. As the tomatoes reduce more are added. It takes quite a bit of time but the results are worth it! It is one of our family favourites.

If you have been following this blog you will know that I always maximize grilling capacity and even when we are busy I like to make a nice meal for dinner. The grill was going for the sauce so it was perfect timing to wrap a pork shoulder roast in foil for slow cooking. Part of the foil packet is just barely visible to the left of the tomatoes. The roast was cooked from frozen taking about 3 hours. Later I added a foil packet of sliced potatoes and there was our dinner.

Dinner

Dinner consisted of pork shoulder roast, sliced potatoes and the last of the niblet corn from 2007 all cooked on the grill. I just finished putting up the 2008 corn crop so that was cutting fairly close. Pork done in foil on the grill is so moist and tender that you really don't even need a knife to cut it! The important thing is to be sure the foil packet is tightly sealed so as to keep all the juices inside preventing the pork from drying out. Wrap the foil packet inside at least two more foil packets tightly sealed. Be careful when opening as there will be a lot of steam escaping. Use a sauce of your choice, garlic pepper and chopped onion to add more flavour. The potatoes were simply sliced thin, placed on a sheet of tin foil then drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and garlic pepper. The foil was formed into a packet and tightly sealed. Cook time for the potatoes was about 30 minutes.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

After dinner puréed the roasted tomato sauce then canned with a yield of 10 - 500 ml jars. I pressure canned the sauce even though it was pH 4.0 so it could have been processed using a boiling water bath canner. By processing using the pressure canner I was able to process all 10 jars in one load rather than two loads and processing time is less when using a pressure canner.

Roasted tomato sauce gets its unique flavour by slow roasting on the grill on low heat. The top tomatoes will caramelize a bit. These are stirred in when adding more tomatoes. The tomatoes, vegetable mixture (onions, celery, green pepper) and fresh herbs are added in stages as the original mixture boils down. The end result is a rich, full bodied, thick tomato sauce for pasta or other dishes.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Processing Tomatoes (Day 1) & Pizza Sauce Recipe

I had planned on getting an early start processing tomatoes yesterday and while I was up early, I didn't start tomatoes until mid-morning. It was a beautiful, warm autumn day with no breeze. I took one look at my nice white countertops and decided using the food mill outdoors would be a great idea. It was also a practical idea as the counters are now ⅞ inch higher after the renovation meaning I would have to be standing on my step stool to run the food mill, not quite a pleasant position when processing a lot of tomatoes.

Outdoor Setup

I set up the food mill on one of the picnic tables just off the covered patio the kitchen opens onto. I had a pleasant view of the water and the warmth of the sun's kisses while I worked so it was quite relaxing. What I notice was it was a lot easier to use the food mill when set to the lower level of the picnic table. The seat made a dandy leg rest for shifting weight while working. Another thing I noticed was there was very little mess.

Pictured is my outside set-up. Not pictured are the bar towels that I used to cover the food mill hopper and shoot as I transported tomatoes from the kitchen and the purée to the waiting stock pots. I washed the tomatoes in the kitchen. Field tomatoes tend to be dirty resulting in dirt pieces on both the countertop and floor. This was easily kept in check with my hand held vacuum cleaner as well as wiping the counter. I should mention that I'm a firm believer in clean as you go whether it be cooking or home preserving.

Tomato Purée

A food mill is essential for making smooth tomato sauces. I'm still using a manual food mill but plan on buying the food mill attachment for my KitchenAid® stand mixer. A food mill consists of a hopper (where you put the food), an auger covered with a screen (the work part of the food mill), a wide shoot where the purée exits and a funnel shaped shoot where the waste exits.

Pictured is the first bowl of tomato purée for 2008. Tomato purée has a deep, rich, orangy-red colour that is just a beauty to behold. It's enough to tantalize the taste buds and that's before turning it into mouth watering sauces. Two hampers were processed into tomato purée with the third hamper left until the following morning.

Day's End

A large portion of the tomatoes I process are made into various sauces and convenience products for the pantry. The reason for this is I enjoy convenience as much as anyone else. The only difference is I prefer homemade convenience. I also prefer to make sauces our family likes that you can't find in the stores and I like to put them into jar sizes that will be used entirely when I use them.

Kitchen Tip: Lately there has been a lot of talk about BPA (Bisphenol A) in plastics marked with 7 or PC in the recycle symbol. However BPA also is found in the coated liner of some tomato products. BPA leaches from the plastic when exposed to high heat, acid foods/drinks and harsh detergents. Any commercially canned food is exposed to high heat and some foods are high acid so the BPA in the coated liner can leach into your foods simply through the commercial canning process. As more and more is known about the effects of contaminates such as BPA and the health effects of food additives and preservatives, home canning and freezing becomes a viable solution. The glass mason jars are inert so you never have to worry about anything leaching into your food.

Yesterday's yield from 2 hampers of tomatoes was:

  • 8 - 250 ml jars pizza sauce (1)
  • 3 - 500 ml jars pizza sauce (1)
  • 3 - L jars plain tomato sauce (2)
  • 16 - 500 ml jars meatless pasta sauce (3)
I pressure canned (PC) the tomato products for two reasons. First, pressure canning increases the antioxidant properties of lycopene so it is a healthier product. Second, sauces processed in a boiling water bath (BWB) canner take 35 minutes for 250/500 ml jars and 40 minutes for L jars with burner on high heat. Processing using a pressure canner takes 7 minutes vent time (high heat) and 15 minutes (setting 7.5) for 250 to L sized jars. So not only am I saving time by pressure canning I'm also saving electricity (every kW counts) at 22 minutes per load verse 35 to 40 minutes per load. My cost for electricity goes from 6¢ - 8¢ per load down to 4¢ per load, clearly not a huge amount but consider as many as 4 or 5 loads per day over the period of just tomato season. At an estimated 10 days averaging 3 loads per day I'm saving 60¢ to $1.20 as well as reducing my carbon footprint. However, those savings are actually greater because I'm able to process 14 - 500 ml jars in the pressure canner verses 7 in the boiling water bath canner reducing the number of loads needed saving more time, money and electricity.

Pizza Sauce
modified from:  Bernardin, Tomatoes Canning & Speciality Recipes, (2000), Pp. 61
13 c tomato purée
½ c lemon juice
½ c tomato paste
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp garlic powder

Put half of the tomato purée into a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Maintain a constant boil and the remaining purée 1 c at a time. Stir in remaining ingredients. Boil hard stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Continue boiling to desired thickness. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Wipe rim. Adjust two piece caps. Process using one of the two following methods;

BWB Processing: 35 minutes for 500 ml (pints), 40 minutes for 1 L (quarts) for altitudes below 1,000 feet above sea level, for higher altitudes adjust using the altitude adjustment chart.

PC Processing: 15 minutes for 250 ml, 500 ml or L jars at 10 lb pressure for altitudes below 1,000 feet above sea level, for higher altitudes adjust using the altitude adjustment chart.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Tomatoes Starting & Easy Pasta Dinner

I have seriously been dragging my heels when it comes to putting up tomatoes this year likely because I am still tired from the kitchen renovations or maybe it is just being tired in general. At any rate, I'm a good two and a half weeks behind schedule! With September quickly coming to an end I really cannot procrastinate any further. So tomorrow morning bright an early I start processing the first of the tomatoes. Unlike other years where I was able to take a day or two break between processing batches, this year will be processing the same amount of tomatoes in a shorter period of time. My goal is to get as much processed by Friday as we are celebrating our family Thanksgiving this coming weekend.

Tomato Hampers

My husband picked up three hampers of beautiful looking plum tomatoes late this afternoon. If you recall one hamper is ⅝ bushel. By the time I am finished all the tomato products I will have gone through at least 10 hampers.

This afternoon I did a stock count of what tomato products were in the pantry and what I need to make. This is an important process for me because it forms a game plan that determines what products I make on a given day. Generally I like to keep those products that involve a lot of preparation like salsa and chili sauce to do at the same time. They take longer to prepare so less canner loads can be run in the day.

On this year's tomato products to can (click links for recipes):

* Recipes will be posted as I make these tomato products.

Jars

When I'm planning on doing a large amount of canning over a short period of time I do a jar assessment. I have a bit of preference for wanting a particular product all in one brand of jar not that it makes any difference other than mixing the old pint/quarts with the new 500 ml/L jars because the heights are different. At the moment, I am seriously low on 500 ml and 250 ml jars but I have enough L jars for the whole and crushed tomatoes. I also have enough 250 ml jars for a couple of the tomato products I want to process and enough 500 ml jars to at least start. So that means the first products out tomorrow are going to be whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, meatless or roasted tomato sauce. My husband is away tomorrow so will pick-up more jars and three more hampers of tomatoes Tuesday.

Ingredients

Processing tomatoes more so than any other produce means pantry eating and easy prep meals. The main reason for this is I try to get as many canner runs in per day as possible. That means early morning starts and long days that run into the early morning hours.

Sunday night's dinner started with three simple ingredients from the pantry - tomato soup, seasoned ground beef and elbow macaroni. With the addition of a couple more ingredients I had a tasty, nutritious and low cost dinner on the table in 15 minutes! These are the kind of meals I depend on when I'm busy canning.

Easy Pasta Dinner

Starting with the three ingredients pictured I added chopped Spanish onions, milk, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley for a quick but tasty meal. Despite being quick and easy to prepare the meal was a success. As far as costs go the entire meal cost just under $3 or 75¢ per serving making this an ideal budget stretching meal.

On the topic of budget stretch meals. Too often people thing that these kind of meals have to be plain or tasteless or boring. There is no need for them to be anything but tasty, satisfying and filling. Stir in home grown herbs or a little fresh grated Parmesan cheese or fresh ground pepper. Add a dash of hot pepper sauce or Worcestershire sauce to give a dish sparkle without adding a lot to the overall cost. If anything when trying to save money on your food budget, creativity can be a huge plus!

Method: Fill a large saucepan with water about half full. Add sea salt and a little olive oil. Bring to a boil. Stir in elbow noodles. While the noodles are cooking chop onions and cut parsley. When noodles are al dente, drain then return to saucepan. Pour in the tomato soup, a half jar of milk, ground beef and onions. Heat through. Ladle into a bowl. Top with fresh shredded Parmesan cheese and a sprig of parsley.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pickled Cauliflower Two Ways

rSome vegetables simply do not can well and are better frozen. Cauliflower is one of these vegetables (how to freeze). In general vegetables in the Brassica oleracea species (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, collard greens and brussel sprouts) do not can well by themselves. These strong flavoured vegetables discolour and become stronger in flavour when canned. Cauliflower cans nicely by itself or with other vegetables when pickled and cabbage cans nicely if fermented (sauerkraut).

Pickled Cauliflower

When I was growing up one of our neighbours made the best dill pickles you ever tasted. She also made cauliflower pickles. A few years ago I decided to make cauliflower pickles but the only recipes I could find had turmeric in them. I remembered her cauliflower pickles being creamy white not yellow so I set about re-creating her recipe tweaking until I had cauliflower pickles like I remembered.

I pickled cauliflower yesterday using two lovely heads of cauliflower. Pictured are the creamy white cauliflower pickles as well as three 500 ml jars of yellow cauliflower pickles. Wide mouth jars are ideal for these pickles for ease of packing and later removing.

Pickled Cauliflower
recipe by: Garden Gnome

For both white and yellow pickled cauliflower:
2 large heads cauliflower
1 large Spanish onion, sliced thin
8 c white vinegar (5%)*
4 c granulated sugar
¼ tsp mustard seed per jar
pinch celery seed per jar
1 tbsp pickling spice

Additional ingredients for yellow pickled cauliflower:
½ - 1 tsp turmeric
pinch hot pepper flakes per jar
1 tbsp bell pepper (red or green) per jar

Cut cauliflower into 1 to 2 inch flowerets. Steam 4 minutes. Slice onion into thin rings. Dice bell peppers (if making yellow pickled cauliflower). Place pickling spice into tea ball or make a cheese cloth bag to hold the pickling spice. Combine vinegar and sugar. Heat until sugar dissolves. Place the pickling spice into the hot vinegar solution. Simmer 2 minutes. If making yellow pickled cauliflower stir in turmeric, ½ tsp for half the amount of vinegar solution or 1 tsp for whole amount. Separate one slice of onion into rings and place in jar. Add mustard seed, celery seed and if making yellow pickled cauliflower add the hot pepper flakes and bell pepper. Fill jar with hot cauliflower flowerettes leaving ½ inch headspace. Fill with hot vinegar solution leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Adjust 2 piece lids. Process in boiling water bath canner 15 minutes.

Yield: 8 - 500 ml (pint) jars

* White vinegar may be substituted with another vinegar as long as acidity is 5%.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Discovered Restaurant - River Rat Restaurant & Bar

We had decided we would be eating out Friday night. Originally we were planning on going to one of our favourite places by boat but we changed our minds (reason here) and made a road trip. After checking out a couple of boats my husband was interested in we started heading back when my husband spotted a restaurant. We actually went by it and had to turn around. Now my husband has an uncanny knack of being able to spot restaurants that serve good food! As you know if you have been following this blog we tend to avoid fast food preferring to eat at good quality, sit down restaurants. We eat out on average twice a month with the exception of being on vacation.

River Rat Restaurant & Bar

River Rat Restaurant & Bar is located in historic Brown Town (aka Harrison Twp.), Harrison Twp., Michigan. It is nestled amongst several marinas in the Clinton River region of Lake St. Clair. The premises were neat and tidy with an appealing deep sea blue building with white trim. I especially liked the sign, a bit cutesy but with a relaxed, let's have fun look. The parking lot was packed, a sure sign of a good restaurant.

I would say the dress code is dress casual given the location resulting in a fair amount of boat traffic. The interior is clean, bright and homey. As far as waitstaff, you could not ask for any better. They were very friend and attentive to our every need. Address, contact information and menu can be found on their website.

Tony's Combo Platter

My husband ordered the Tony's Combo Platter ($14.95) consisting of a side salad, bread basket, lasagna, veal Parmigiana and Fettucine Alfredo. This is an eastside Italian classic and it is no wonder! The platter was loaded to the sides with very generous servings of the three pasta dishes.

The lasagna was layered high with meat and fine imported cheeses and baked with meat sauce. My husband said it was very good. The veal Parmigiana was the star of the dinner according to my husband. It was a tender piece of veal topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. The Fettuccini Alfredo was fettuccini noodles tossed with their rich, creamy, homemade Alfredo sauce. He said it was a very filling meal!

Broiled Whitefish

I had the broiled Lake Superior whitefish ($13.95) served with tossed salad, bread basket, sliced house potatoes and string beans with carrots. The fish was broiled to perfection seasoned with salt, fresh ground pepper and paprika. This was a change from my normal lemon pepper broiled whitefish. The paprika gave a lovely, deep rusty orange colouring yet the fish was flavourful without being overpowered by the seasonings. I will definitely be trying broiled whitefish seasoned this was at home.

The vegetables were nicely cooked to al dente. I really hate it when restaurants serve vegetables over cooked so this was a lovely surprise! I opted for the potato of the day that was a peeled, broiled potato that had been sliced. It had a nice, slight hint of smokey flavour. The string beans and baby carrots were steamed.

We each had one alcoholic drink for a grand total of $42.59 without gratuity. The atmosphere and service was well worth the price but the food was really the highlight. It was well worth the money! River Rat is one restaurant I would really recommend if you want casual, relaxed dining with superb service and excellent food. We have added it to our list of restaurants to go back to.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Homemade Pizza and Bosco Sticks

Have I ever mentioned how much we love cheese? If you follow this blog it quickly becomes apparent that we eat a lot of cheese. Cheese is the ultimate comfort food! A little cheese can go a long way in adding flavour to otherwise bland dishes. We made pizza and our homemade version of Bosco sticks for dinner last night. This was a frugal yet fun dinner!

I have often mentioned making homemade bacon bits yet have only described how to do it without pictures. This time I remembered the pictures. Real bacon bits adds a lot of flavour without adding a lot of meat so they are a good budget stretcher. Buy bacon when it is on sale. Remove the bacon from the package. Place on a cutting board with the long side facing you (1). Using a sharp knife, cut across the strips at about ½ inch intervals. Place the bacon into a fry pan and fry until crisp. Remove from fry pan and drain (3). Divide the bacon into smaller quantities of about ¾ c. Put the bacon bits into small vacuum seal bags. Vacuum seal and freeze. You now have convenient to use bacon bits. Use them on salads and pizza or toss them into bread dough or soups. The ways to use the bacon bits are endless.

Part of the fun of eating out is discovering new foods and ways to present foods. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Bosco sticks we had enjoyed at a bar & grill we stopped at while boating. I did a google for a recipe for Bosco sticks only to find out these cheesy bread sticks are made and distributed by Bosco's Pizza Co. in Warren, Michigan. They can be found in the freezer section of some stores but I've never seen them here. Failing to find a copycat recipe I decided to try and duplicate Bosco sticks myself.

To my way of thinking since these cheese sticks were made by a pizzaria there was a good chance the breading was pizza dough. So for this attempt my husband and I used pizza dough, 4 mozzarella and 2 cheddar cheese strings (1). Our homemade version of Bosco sticks were very close to what we had in the bar & grill. The dough was formed into oblong pieces about an inch longer than each cheese string and wide enough to go around the cheese string with some overlap. To form the breaded cheese stick we put the cheese string in the middle of the dough and folded each narrow end over the ends of the cheese stick then wrapped the long sides around and sealed. We baked the cheese sticks at 400ºF until golden brown (2) and served with homemade pasta sauce. [I'm completely out of pizza sauce so that will be one of the first tomato products I make this weekend.] When cut the cheese filled the cavity just the way it should (3).

Did you know you can make a gourmet style pizza at home for a fraction of the price of delivery pizza? Seriously if we order a large pizza with 3 toppings and extra cheese along with 2 lb of wings the total cost with delivery is $38. A homemade pizza with as many toppings as we want costs under $5 even when factoring in the cost of electricity. If we add 2 lb of wings the cost increases to about $8 total or when compared to delivery $30 cheaper!

Two tried and true pizza dough recipes are my best pizza dough and cornmeal pizza dough. Both can be made fresh or in advance and frozen until you want to use them. Making the dough only takes a few minutes with a KitchenAid® stand mixer or breadmachine. You will have to plan for the thawing time if frozen as well as the rise time whether fresh or frozen.

My husband and I like making pizza together something we started just after our first child was born. Even then we realized how much of a savings it could be to make our own pizza. As the kids grew we had weekly pizza nights and allowed them to choose their own toppings. It was a lot of fun as the tradition continues even though they are now adults and we pass it down to the grandbabies. This pizza was a thick crust topped with thickened pasta sauce, mozzarella cheese, Spanish onion, bell pepper, sautéed mushrooms, chopped ham and bacon bits (7). If you notice the toppings are sandwiched between two layers of shredded mozzarella cheese. The pizza was baked at 400ºF until the crust was golden brown and the cheese was bubbly. Once baked the pizza we removed the pizza from the oven to a cutting board. Cutting is best achieved using a pizza wheel (8). As you can see from the sliced pizza (9) this homemade pizza was delightfully yummy!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Grilled Pork Steak

If you have been following this blog you know we use our outdoor gas grill for more than grilling. It serves as a barbeque, oven and smoker as well. The weather has turned cooler with a strong hint of autumn in the air. The sun was out and it was dry so my husband decided grilling would be nice. He's been away since early Sunday morning and arrived home late last night so really needed home cooked comfort food.

Grilled Pork Steak

Tonight's dinner consisted of grilled pork steak, foil pack potatoes and steamed spinach. Old Fashioned Chile Sauce made the perfect autumn flavoured complement. It was a nice comfort meal!

We buy pork on the hoof meaning we buy the pig live from the farmer who then takes it to the abattoir for us. We pay the farmer for the pig and the abattoir for the cutting and wrapping. This affords us the luxury of having the meat cut exactly as we want it. Pork steak is a cut from shoulder blade roasts. Unlike the extra thick (1¼ inch) pork chops we have pork steaks cut to ½ inch thick. The steaks have a fair amount of fat that keeps the meat moist and flavourful while cooking. The meat is not as tender as other cuts of pork. Grilled then simmered in barbeque sauce is one way to tenderize the meat but slow cooking will give nice tender results as well.

Method: Heat the grill to medium low. Grill the pork steaks slowly without flare-ups. Turn when grill marks are well defined.

The potatoes were cooked in foil on the grill. They were lightly seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and garlic pepper. They were perfect topped with the deep aromatic flavours of the chili sauce.

Method: Wash the potatoes. Slice thinly using a mandolin. Place the sliced potatoes on a sheet of heavy tin foil or in a foil baking pan. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the potatoes. Season. Add another layer of heavy tin foil. Seal edges tightly. Place on grill on indirect heat about 15 minutes before putting the meat on. To serve, poke a hole in the top layer of tinfoil to release the steam then remove the tinfoil. Use a large, wide blade knife to lift the potatoes in a step fashion row for plating. Top with chili sauce if desired.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Roast Turkey

It seems like the rising price of food is on the forefront of every one's minds which is one reason I try to share some budget stretching ideas as well as comparing cost of homemade to store bought. In most cases homemade is less expensive and often tastes better. One of the most frugal meats you can cook is turkey. Not only can you make a lovely meal with all the fixings there are so many things you can do with the left-overs. I roast 6 to 9 turkeys per year usually when I know the kids will be home but also for entertaining.

The kids, parents to oldest grandbaby and now expecting our third grandbaby were home for the weekend. We were hosting a larger event (mostly guys) Saturday night so they were here for dinner and stayed through the event. The current craving is turkey. Well you don't have to twist my arm to roast a turkey! I decided to work in the turkey as part of the food for the event as well.

Roast Turkey

On first look my turkeys will not win a beauty award but I will guarantee you they are always moist, tender and tasty. Well actually I have had a few that were picture perfect but this isn't one of them. I cook turkeys exactly the same way every time despite reading so many tips on how to get better results. The turkey is in the oven before 11 am depending on the size and slow cooks for the afternoon, followed by browning and resting with dinner served around 5:30 - 6:00 pm. I cook the stuffing in the turkey, stuffing tightly the abdominal and neck cavities. For clarification, stuffing in cooked in the turkey whereas dressing is cooked in another vessel than the turkey.

My stuffing is simple and unpretentious but gets rave reviews. It consists of bread chunks, chopped onion, fresh ground pepper, sea salt, celery salt, poultry seasoning and butter. That's it! Once the bird is stuffed I place it on a rack in the roaster and pour about ¼ c of water on the bottom. This simply stops any sticking until the juices from the turkey start to collect. I then put several pats of butter on the turkey being sure to get into the leg and wing joints. After a sprinkling of sea salt and fresh ground pepper, the turkey is covered and put in the oven at 275ºF (135ºC) for two hours. The temperature is then turned up to 325ºF (163ºC) for an hour then the lid is removed and the temperature raised to 350º (180ºC) for final roasting and browning. I baste at each temperature change and a couple of times while browning. While the pop-up indicator in some turkeys is a good indicator of being well done, use a meat thermometer to confirm. Internal temperature should read 165ºF (75ºC) using a thermometer. I remove the turkey from the roaster and let rest on a platter while I make the gravy and get the rest of the food on the table.

Gravy: Mix about 3 tbsp of cornstarch with water to make a thick slurry. Stir in a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring the drippings to a boil. Stir in the slurry and stir until thickened. If desired stir in a few drops of browning (optional).

Dinner

Turkey dinners need not be fancy or time consuming. We knew that people would be arriving around 7 pm so that really didn't give us a lot of time to eat and clean-up. I kept dinner on the simple side with corn niblets (home frozen), steamed potatoes, stuffing, gravy and home canned cranberry sauce. Instead of salad I made a smaller version of the vegetable tray I planned on serving for the later get together. Oldest grandbaby loves finger food so everything was geared towards that as well as keeping things a bit simpler.

The turkey did not disappoint! It was moist, tender and juicy. My husband deboned the turkey while I cleaned up just in time as for early arrivals. By the time he was finished I had two large containers of turkey pieces as well as all the bones.

Turkey Sandwiches

We host this type of event monthly from September through June. Guys will begin arriving around 7 pm then more will trickle in throughout the night. Quite often the activities will last until breakfast the following morning when I'll cook breakfast for those still here.

I'm telling you these guys sure can eat and I try to keep things interesting. Aside of the typical snacks like chips and peanuts, I usually make at least two hot snacks and something along the lines of dessert. This time I made two platters of pigs-in-a-blanket cut into about 1½ inches pieces (not shown) and two platters of hot turkey buns, 20 total. I thought the pigs-in-a-blanket went fast but the buns went like wildfire!

Method: [You will need 20 dinner rolls, iceberg lettuce, Miracle Whip® or mayonnaise, honey mustard and warm turkey pieces.] Warm the turkey in a covered baking dish at 275ºF (135ºC) until warmed through. Cut buns in half. Spread each half with Miracle Whip® or mayonnaise. Place lettuce on the bottom half. Top with turkey pieces. Squeeze on honey mustard. Place the top bun on the sandwich. Serve while still warm.

Putting Up

Any time I cook turkey that means there will be left-overs going in the freezer and the bones will be used for stock then or froze to make stock later. The turkey was just over 14 pounds, quite a bit smaller than what I normally prefer to cook. If you are going to cook turkey, bigger is better! We bought the turkey in the US where it wasn't on sale so cost $18.40 but considering the same size of turkey would have cost $46.06 here, I can't complain. Still just before the US Thanksgiving the price will be around $7 for the same size so take a guess when I prefer stocking up on turkeys?

A 14 lb turkey is rather small but it fed 4 adults and a toddler comfortably for the main meal. About 3 cups of turkey pieces was used for the turkey buns (above) that served 14. Not shown is the 9 c (2100 ml) Ziploc® container of turkey pieces with a little stuffing that the kids took home. This was enough for at least two meals for the three of them or turkey sandwiches for most of the week. I froze the remaining turkey pieces with the gravy for open faced turkey sandwiches later. I made stock with the bones that gave a yield of 13 pints (6.5 quarts). Stock is one of those things you can never have enough of in your pantry. Over all that 14 lb turkey was a rather frugal purchase.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Buying Locally

Despite growing a lot of vegetables and herbs as well as living in a rural area we simply cannot produce all the food we eat. We are very fortunate to live in an area where I can buy a fair amount of locally produced foods directly from farmers, orchards and roadside stands. This includes beef, pork, eggs, fruits, vegetables We also take advantage of local hunting through friends and fishing ourselves. Why do I stress buying locally?

Buying locally ensures you get the freshest produce often shortly after picking or in some cases you can pick your own. The produce is at its peak when purchased in season so always tastes better. Both fruits and vegetables begin losing nutrients as soon as they are picked. Ideally for canning or freezing you want to have as short of a time frame between picking and processing. When you buy locally you get to know who is growing your food. You get to know the animal husbandry practices as well as their field management and produce growing practices. Buying locally keeps local farmers in business creating a stronger community. Did you know the average food travels 1,500 miles from farmer to your table? Buying locally greatly reduces this distance quite often to well under 10 miles. Talk about an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint while saving money on food! Finally buying locally is in my experience always less expensive than buying in the grocery store. So if you want to save money on your food bill, buy locally produced fruits and vegetables.

My Purchases

Imagine my disappointment when the closest orchard/farm stand closed up shop last winter. This is a place I frequented two or three times a week! It is normal for some of these types of markets to close over the winter but this one had always remained open. The reason for the closure was mis-management by the new owners of the business end. As produce came into season it looked more and more like this farm market would not be re-opening. Resigning myself to that fact I set about finding a weekly farm market, a traveling weekly farm stand and an amazing organic farm market. All of them are local within about 30 to 40 minutes drive, not the best solution but better than nothing.

A week ago Monday I was reading through the paper last week when I noticed an ad. The former owners of the farm market had re-opened the market under their own management. The still owned the land, orchard and buildings so rather than let the community down by keeping the market closed and despite being well beyond retirement age, they opened it back up under their old business name. I excited called them to thank them for opening back up and told them I would be there that afternoon. Suddenly a day that really was making a valid attempt at being very much annoying took on a whole new meaning. I finished what I was doing in the kitchen, quickly changed and grabbing by eco-friendly cloth shopping bags headed out the door.

It was like greeting a long lost friend when I walked through the door. We chatted for awhile then I set about choosing what I wanted. I bought 10 lb cooking onions, 10 lb Spanish onion, 10 lb L-star apples, 3 nice looking field tomatoes, a quart of peaches and a quart of grapes. The total cost was $16.50, definitely under grocery store prices and oh so much fresher. The L-stars had been picked that morning! The price was a bit higher because of the smaller quantities I bought as well as the apples just starting. The prices will drop within a week or so as larger quantities become available. I noticed the potatoes were $12.95 for a 50 lb bag so at 26¢ per pound is a good deal but she assured me the price would be going down to my familiar $7.95 which works out to 16¢ per pound, a better deal. All of the variety of apples they grow will quite inexpensive as will the squashes and other root vegetables. Spanish onions will likely be down to their normal $3.95 for 20 lb. I have to tell you I am a very happy camper!


Monday, September 15, 2008

Coffee, Espresso & Cappuccino

Beverages have not been something I've written about much on this blog. I should though since they tend to be a fundamental part of any meal. Beverages can consist of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. In the category of non-alcoholic drinks, coffee has to be the leading after dinner drink especially in the morning. The magic ingredient in coffee is caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulate making coffee the ideal morning eye-opener and anytime pick-me-up drink. However, coffee is popular because of the taste!

We live in the land of "a doughnut shop on every corner"! Well we don't ourselves because we live in the country but a short drive can get us to a coffee shop and a bit longer drive to one of many doughnut shops. Stopping at the doughnut shop for a coffee and a doughnut is a normal part of the morning routine for many people. The doughnut and coffee shops are where the senior citizens hangout in the mornings so there is more of a social aspect to consuming coffee as well. The two closest chains to us are Tim Hortons® (affectionately called Timmy's) and Country Style®. The closest Starbucks® is about a 40 minute drive from us.

Coffee Making Equipment

Pictured is our coffee making equipment. The Melitta® One:One (1) is a single serving brewing system that uses coffee pods. This coffee maker used to sit on the breakfast bar along with coffee pods and tea bags. I have opted for a more streamlined look for the kitchen so the coffee maker now sits on the counter in the laundry room just off the family room. In terms of coffee, this machine produces a better tasting coffee than instant. The coffee is similar to drip coffee. This really is a convenience coffee maker for those times you don't want to make a full pot of coffee. It is also perfect for entertaining where one person may want decaffinated coffee and everyone else wants regular coffee or only one person wants coffee. To use this machine, fill the removable reservoir with cold water and press the middle button. It will flash slowly while the water heats. Rapid flashing means it is out of water. Place a pod in the holder and shut the lid. Press either the large cup or small cup size and wait for the coffee. Depending on the size of your coffee cup you may have to press again to get the right amount.

The Melitta® Espresso Maker (2) was a gift and while it doesn't see extensive use it earned its place on the counter by adding a touch of class. You really need an espresso maker to make espresso. While the instructions made this appliance look complicated to use it really isn't. You simply fill the removable reservoir with cold water and turn to the heater mode. Place fine ground esspresso coffe in the filter basket and tamper to compress then twist the tamper to polish the surface of the grounds. When the ok light comes on you switch to brew and fill the cup(s) to the desired level. That's all there is to making espresso! If you want to make latte or cappuccino, place the cup on the warming plate. Turn the indicator to steam then place the steam nozzle in the milk turn steam knob at the side to create frothy steamed milk. The important parts are shown in the second picture (5).

We have not used a regular drip coffee maker in years! My husband swears that percolator coffee is better tasting than drip coffee and I have to agree. By far the most common method we use for brewing coffee is a vintage Faberware Superfast percolator (model 142AE) circa 1960 that I bought at a thrift store for $3. True to its name this percolator begins to perc within seconds of plugging it in. A full pot will be ready in under 3 minutes and it will stay hot as long as it is plugged in. I should mention that we tend to brew what we will reasonably use within a short period of time rather than leave the perculator plugged in for any length of time. At 1,000 W cost of opperation works out to under a penny per hour still I'm always scared I will forget to unplug it which may have the potential of overheating. It brews 2 to 12 cups of wonderful, rich, full bodied coffee. This percolator sees almost daily use 8 months of the year with lower use during the heat of the summer. Just in case this percolator gives up the ghost we have a new West Bend electric percolator sitting in the closet. Not pictured is the percolator for stovetop use brought out to make coffee on the gas grill side burner or campfire. Both percolators are stored in cabinets when not in use.

The best coffee is made using fresh ground beans. For that you need a coffee grinder, either manual or electric. I use a White-Westinghouse™coffee grinder on a regular basis but also use my Osterizer blender with the small container attachment (not shown). This is useful for entertaining when I know I will more than likely need to make more than one pot of coffee. The container holds up to 8 ounces of ground coffee and can be tightly sealed with a plastic screw on lid until the coffee is needed. In general the finer the grind the stronger the coffee. Use a coarser grind for French press, percolator and basket-style drip coffee makers. Use a finer grind for cone-style drip coffee makers and espresso.

Coffees

Like any food product I keep a good stock of various coffees in the pantry. Pictured is a small portion of my coffee stocks. Not pictured is instant coffee. I keep a couple of jars of instant coffee on hand used more for cooking than drinking.

Coffee Pods: Coffee pods are for single use coffee makers. The coffee is packed in between the filter material resembling a round tea bag. My biggest problem is finding the pods. At one time Sobey's had two flavours ($6.99/18 pods) but they no longer carry the pods. The only way I buy them is online from Melitta® ($4.99/18 pods plus shipping) or when we are in the US. However, Meijer's in the US sells Folgers® coffee pods for $4.99/18 pods regular price but $3.99/18 pods on sale. So for single use coffee we are paying between 22¢ and 39¢ per cup, still quite a savings over coffee/doughnut shop prices and we can use our travel mugs in the car instead of disposable coffee cups. Both companies offer a variety of roasts as well as flavoured coffee pods. Now I have to say I prefer the Folgers® pods over Melitta®'s because they are not individually packaged in foil packs. I try to avoid as much over packaging as possible. Folgers® pods come packaged in a resealable bag but I prefer to put the pods into a mason jar.

Coffee Beans: The best tasting coffee is made from whole beans ground just before making the coffee. Coffee beans come in various roasts (light, medium, medium-dark, dark, decaf) and the variety of coffee bean will determine the caffeine content. For example Coffea arabica coffee beans have a lower caffeine content than other coffee bean cultivars. Arabica coffee beans also produce a better coffee in comparison to C. robusta which tends to be bitter with less flavour but has about 40% more caffeine. Robusta is used in cheaper commercial blends. Other cultivars include C. liberica and C. esliaca. The flavour of the coffee beans is also influenced by where they are grown. Coffee beans may or may not be labelled as to the country where they were grown (eg. 100% Columbian) as well as the variety (eg. 100% Arabica). More and more I look for Fair Trade Certified and Certified Organic Shade Grown coffee beans. Both are little more expensive but I think they are worth it.

Commercially Ground Coffee: We keep a good stock of commercially ground coffee on hand. The two brands we use most often are Maxwell House and Tim Hortons®. Maxwell House coffee often goes on sale we stock up then. It is our normal breakfast coffee during the colder weather. Tim Hortons® coffee is a bit more expensive but one of our kids loves it so we keep a can or two on hand as well. Once commercially ground coffee is open it will lose flavour and aroma quickly. Therefore buy in smaller sized containers (326 g) and refrigerate after opening to preserve flavour and aroma.

Dessert Coffees: I keep a few dessert coffees on hand. These are flavoured ground coffees with enticing names like Eggnog, Strawberry Shortcake, Sugar Cookies and Irish Cream for use in the percolator. I also keep a couple boxes of dessert coffee pods on hand. Dessert coffees are an ideal after dinner drink where you get a lot of flavour without all the calories. They are also perfect for entertaining.

Mugs & Espresso Cup

There is no point having a 6 oz cup of coffee in the morning! Our favourite mugs are 12 oz; the burgundy match our daily dinnerware. We have another eight 12 oz mugs that match our alternate blue dinnerware set. Like many who do a lot of entertaining we also have smaller 8 oz mugs that match a 4 place setting white dinnerware set and the coffee cups with our 4 place setting china set. Then we have a large variety of ceramic mugs, most of them in the 12 oz size. Now that sounds like a lot of mugs and cups but we do a lot of entertaining and I prefer to use mugs to disposable cups. Not only is this an environmentally friendly choice I think it nicer for our guests. The creamy white expresso cups (3 oz) and match oval saucers are porcelain which retains heat better.

Fancy Coffees

The big chain coffee shops have made specialty coffees quite popular. These coffees much like regular brewed coffees come with a high price tag. You can make specialty coffees at home for a fraction of the cost to enjoy anytime.

Espresso is a very strong coffee that is pressure brewed. This brewing process results in the flavours and chemicals being condensed. In general espresso has about 3 times the level of caffeine content of regular brewed coffee. Espresso has a thicker consistency than drip coffee as well as a layer of rich crema, a reddish brown foam on the surface. The crema consists of vegetable oils, proteins and sugars. Espresso is served in small 3 oz espresso cups. Since the flavour is so condensed it is the perfect base for other specialty coffees.

Cappuccino is espresso coffee with steamed milk plus the froth. In Italy, cappuccino is usually one part espresso and 2 parts milk pluth the froth. Cold skim milk gives the best frothing results. When frothing the milk with the steamer the volume will double. Pour the milk into the hot espresso and spoon the froth on top. In North America cinnamon, sugar, shaved chocolate, nutmeg and/or various liquors may be added. Serve cappuccino in a porcelain cup because it has better heat retention than glass or paper.

Latte
is made using ⅓ c espresso and ⅔ c heated milk. A thin layer of froth can be placed on top. Unlike cappuccino, latte contains about half the milk and a much thinner layer of froth. A flat white latte is made by adding only the steamed milk and not the froth. Flavourings such as vanilla, chocolate and caramel can be added. Lattes are often served in glass cups.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Classic BLT

It's tomato time! That means for the next two or three weeks I will be canning tomatoes, pasta sauce, meat sauce, chili sauce, salsa, soup, juice and putting up tomatoes in any form I can. At the same time our consumption of raw tomatoes will sky rocket compared to other times of the year and we eat a lot of raw tomatoes. Home gardeners will attest that tomatoes have been available from their gardens for awhile. In many cases these tend to be heirlooms, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes as well as yellow and purple tomatoes. These are the same tomatoes that are either unavailable in the stores and/or high priced.

Did you know? - One of the worst things you can do is refrigerate tomatoes. Refrigerating causes a loss of flavour as well as a change in texture causing the tomato to become mealy. When growing your own tomatoes, leave on the vine and pick when ripe just before you are ready to use. The exception to this is if you are like me with upwards of 50 tomato plants sometimes you will want to do a clean pick of all ripened fruit. This encourages more fruit as well as prevents over ripening. In this case set aside what you can comfortably use in three or four days and turn the rest into sauce. When buying tomatoes buy vine ripe if possible and only buy what you will use within two or three days. Keep the tomatoes on the counter out of direct sunlight.

Beefsteak Tomato

Tomatoes have to be one of our favourite fruits. In general tomatoes fall into one of three categories - slicing, sauce or salad. We eat tomatoes in some form almost daily if not more often. As soon as the beefsteak tomatoes start to ripen the taste buds are in high gear patiently waiting for the first juicy bite. Beefsteak are huge, firm, meaty tomatoes bursting with a rich, robust flavour.

Beefsteak tomatoes are by far my favourite tomato as they are the perfect slicing tomato. Serve the slices sprinkled lightly with sea salt and fresh ground pepper or light dash of Italian seasoning as a side. Top the slices with fresh mozzarella and lightly grill.

Classic BLT

The classic bacon, lettuce and tomato aka BLT is simply just that, a toasted sandwich made with iceberg lettuce, slices of tomato and a few pieces of bacon. Mayonnaise, salt and pepper complete the sandwich. The origin of the classic BLT is unknown but I can remember when I was first introduced to them. I grew up in a small village that had one restaurant and the Met (Metropolitan Five & Dime). I loved the Met because it had a squeaky wood floor that smelled awesome. I was probably about 7 years old when my Mom took us on the bus [Mom never learned to drive] to the nearest larger town and there was the sign I recognized! My Mom took us to the Met for lunch. They had a long counter where you could sit on stools. We ordered BLTs and milkshakes. I was hooked on BLTs with the first bite! They are still my favourite sandwich.

With rising food costs everyone is looking for ways to save a bit on their grocery bill. BLTs make for a very frugal meal especially if you grow your own lettuce, tomatoes and make your own bread. However even with having to buy lettuce, tomatoes and bread they still fall into the very frugal meal category. The most expensive ingredient will be the bacon but bought on sale and using two pieces per sandwich the cost can be kept to a bare minimum. In fact a rough calculation at buying everything the total cost per sandwich works out to be about 56¢ so a family of four at 2 sandwiches each would cost $4.48 using a price of $2.49 per 500 g or 30¢ per slice. Again if you grow your own tomatoes and make your own bread you could easily shave off a good $1.50 making the total cost $2.98 for a family of four. That is what I would call a very frugal meal! Not only are BLTs frugal but they take under 15 minutes to make and really for some fit into the comfort meal category.

I am a BLT snob! Sorry, I won't settle for those anemic, cardboard tasting, flavourless tomatoes for a BLT. Well I won't settle using those at all for anything so perhaps I am really a tomato snob. The best tomatoes for a BLT are one of the beefsteak varieties. Ideally it should be picked while still warm from the sun's kisses and sliced within minutes of picking. You really want this sandwich to be about the tomato with the other ingredients being accents. Each slice should be about ⅝ inch thick. One slice should cover almost the entire slice of bread.

Method: Toast bread. Fry or bake the bacon (not too crisp). Spread Miracle Whip® or mayonnaise on each slice of toast. Place a nice layer of crisp iceberg lettuce on one slice followed by a thick slice of beefsteak tomato. Sprinkle on sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Add two or three pieces of bacon and the other slice of toast. Cut the sandwich in half.


Friday, September 12, 2008

This Blog Has Received an Award!


I would like to thank Laurie, author of Crocodile Soup for the Soul for honoring this blog with the I Love Your Blog Award. Oh my gosh! I am so very flattered [blushing profusely]. Thank you so very, very much!

Thank-you, hugs and much love to my family and friends who without them this blog would not exist. As my [willing] taste testers [aka guinea pigs] they are my most loyal supporters and loving critics. I can't tell you how much it means to me each time someone says they enjoy this blog. For me it's all about sharing something that brings me great pleasure. Cooking is a necessity of life but you can have ever so much fun with it at all levels.

Thanks again Laurie! Please stop by Laurie's blog and see her cutest new additions to her family. They are just adorable. I can't wait to read about their progress.

The instructions for the passing on of this accolade are:

1. The winner can put the logo on his/her blog
2. Link the person from whom you received your award
3. Nominate up to 7 other blogs
4. Put links of those blogs on yours, and
5. Leave a message on the blogs that you've nominated

I would like to nominate the following blogs for the "I Love Your Blog" award. I enjoy reading these blogs and I'm sure you will too. I hope you accept this award. It is my way of expressing how much I enjoy reading your blog.



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bell Peppers

We live in an area where local produce is quite abundant and often priced well below the grocery store prices. This is an ideal way to get produce for preserving if you don't grow that particular fruit or vegetable or if your garden didn't produce enough. If you have been following this blog and my gardening blog you know that the focus this year continued to be ripping out in the gardens and starting new raised beds with no vegetable garden other than that planted in containers. Still container gardening is better than not growing any vegetables.

Bell Peppers

I knew I would have to buy bell peppers this year. We use a lot of sweet peppers in cooking so freeze them for use during the winter months. Pre-cut and ready to use the packets of frozen peppers are nice convenience ingredients to keep on hand. Oh sure I can get green peppers in the grocery store year round (and for fresh during the winter I'm force to) but home grown and locally grown are superiour in flavour and size!

My husband brought home 15 lovely, large bell peppers bought from the same farmer as the sweet corn. The price was a reasonable $5. As their name implies these peppers are sweet in the sense they do not have any heat to them. Sweet peppers are green but will ripen to yellow, orange, purple or red depending on the variety. Green bell peppers are unripe so are less sweet with a slight bitterness. When fully ripe they have a sweeter, mellow flavour.

A bell pepper is a bell pepper, or is it? Did you know that some bell peppers are better for eating raw while others are better for cooking even within the same variety? It's true! Look at the bottom end of the pepper and count the bumps. A pepper with three bumps is sweeter so is best used for eating raw. A pepper with four bumps is firmer and not quite as sweet. They are better for cooking.

Cutting

Use a sharp knife for this type of food prep. I cannot stress this enough! More accidents happen in the kitchen as a result of trying to cut with a dull knife than with a sharp one. A knife sharpener is an inexpensive yet essential piece of kitchen equipment. While on the topic of knives, your food prep knives should never be put in the dishwasher. They should be hand washed and dried after each use then placed on a magnetic rack or in a knife block to protect the blade. Keep them sharp and honed so they are ready to use.

Bell peppers are quite easy to prepare for freezing. Prepared this way they are suitable for cooking. I cut from the stem on one side around to the stem on the other side then cut around the stem and pop the pepper in half. After lifting the stem and core out, I cut away and of the pith and tap to get any remaining seeds out. With the pepper cut side up, I cut into strips then cut across the strips to form pieces. Then I gather the cut pepper into a pile and work the knife with a tip to heel motion without lifting the tip from the cutting board from one side of the pile and back. The pepper pieces are then ready for packaging into freezer bags.

Vacuum Sealing

As you know just about everything I freeze with the exception of bulk meat purchases that come wrapped in butcher's paper is vacuum sealed using a FoodSaver® (model V2480). Vacuum sealing is the number one method for preventing freezer burn. Eliminating freezer burn extends the freezer life of your foods as well as having to toss a food because it is freezer burnt.

I vacuum sealed the pepper pieces in pint size bags ending up with 6 bags. Two green bell peppers went into the fridge for an event we are hosting this weekend. Four partially ripened bell peppers were set aside to continue ripening for use on a vegetable tray for the event.

Ripening

Bell peppers that are entirely green will keep that way for several days in the crisper. If there is colour changes as pictured indicating ripening, set the peppers on the counter out of direct sunlight until they fully turn to the ripe colour depending on the variety. This should take a day or two. Once ripened put the peppers in the crisper to keep for a few more days if desired. To shorten the ripening time place a well ripened tomato, apple or banana by the peppers. The natural ethylene given off by the ripen fruit will help hasten the ripening of the unripe peppers.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lazy Weekend Food

We had the best of intentions for the past weekend. Plans included shopping and getting more work done around the yard and house. Friday night we went shopping and stopped for all-you-can eat fish and chips. It wasn't a real late night but it was very tiring! We woke to rather chilly weather late Saturday morning. Sleeping in late is not normal for either of us. It ended up being more of a grazing type day rather than sitting down for an actual meal. Sunday was cold and rainy so we stayed in, puttering a bit and watching football. So it was a lazy, relaxing weekend.

Garlic Bread

Garlic bread is always a welcomed appetizer or snack. It can be made with fresh garlic or garlic powder and a variety of cheeses. The bread is usually a French style of bread. My husband used part of the second loaf of French bread I made Thursday to make garlic bread for a snack. Instead of topping with mozzarella cheese he used Wisconsin mild white cheddar.

Method: Melt 2 tbsp butter. Stir in finely chopped fresh garlic or about 1/2 tsp garlic powder. Allow the garlic to warm but not overheat. Cut loaf of French bread in half, lengthwise. Spread garlic butter on the bread. Top with shredded cheese. Bake at 350ºF until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned. Remove from oven. Cut into individual servings.

Pizza Snacks

This snack goes back to the time our kids were little except we used hamburg buns and more toppings. Likely every Mom at one time has made a version of these using processed cheese slices. The problem with using processed cheese slices is just that. They are processed! They lack flavour as well. You can get a lot more flavour by using a variety of shredded cheeses and don't just limit your choice to mozzarella or cheddar. Try Asiago, Emmental, Colby, Monterey Jack or even flavoured cheeses.

We now make a grown-up version as an appetizer usually with only cheese as a topping. By simply changing the sauce or the cheese you can get a lot of nice variations. My husband wanted to make pizza snacks using home made pizza sauce. I can pizza sauce each year and since it is into tomato processing season we are completely out of pizza sauce! He used home made pasta sauce instead. This is a smooth, flavourful sauce that I can and looking at my dwindling supplies of it I will be making extra this year. He used the rest of the French bread and Wisconsin mild white cheddar for the snacks.

Method: Cut loaf in half. Spread sauce on loaf half. Top with shredded cheese of your choice. Bake at 350ºF until cheese is slightly browned and bubbly. Remove from oven. Cut into individual servings.

Baked Rigatoni

Rigatoni is a wide, tube shaped, ridged pasta with blunt ends. It has a larger diameter than penne. The ridges allow the rigatoni to hold more sauce. This pasta works well with a variety of sauces from hearty vegetable sauces, chunky meat sauces or creamy sauces. There was a half jar of home made pasta sauce left-over from the pizza snack but not enough for baked rigatoni so I used another jar as well. Topped with that lovely Wisconsin mild white cheddar mixed with sharp cheddar it was a comforting meal on a cold, rainy day.

This really is a budget stretching type of meal. It's meatless and using homemade sauce it is just pennies per serving. Yet it tastes anything but inexpensive! If you don't make homemade tomato sauces then a similar meatless sauce would be something like Ragu® pasta sauce. Shred your own cheese for extra savings and use cheeses that have a lot of flavour because you can use less (aka save money) but still get excellent results.

Method: Bring salted water with a little oil to a boil. Stir in the rigatoni (450 g). Cook 12 minutes or until al dente. Drain. Pour into baking dish. Pour pasta sauce over the rigatoni, mixing well. Top with shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 350ºF until cheese bubbles. Remove from oven and serve.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Freezing Corn and Home Canned Cream Style Corn

Friday I froze niblet corn and canned cream style corn so the kitchen was a buzz of activity. Ontario sweet corn is available from July to October. By far the most popular sweet corn available is the hybrid varieties of peaches and cream aptly named for the tender yellow and white kernels of quite sweet corn. While this is lovely fresh eating corn I don't find it the best for canning or freezing. I previously posted the method for freezing and canning sweet corn as well as the recipe for making corn relish. When choosing corn for canning or freezing look for yellow sweet corn mid-season that has tender, large kernels. Late season corn can be used but the kernels won't be as tender.

Yellow Sweet Corn

I haven't grown corn since my earlier gardens mainly because I use the square foot gardening method and corn takes up too much space for the yield. Instead, I buy local sweet corn in season. For years I bought a variety known as Libby's yellow sweet corn. The cobs were quite large with densely packed even rows of plump, bright golden yellow kernels. When peaches and cream sweet corn became popular the old fashioned yellow sweet corn became virtually impossible to find for a few years. Finally a couple of years ago a few local farmers began growing yellow sweet corn.

We have had a rather poor growing season this year so the price of corn has not come down much. Gone are the days of being able to buy corn for 99¢ per dozen but I can usually find it for $1.75 per dozen from the farmers. My husband paid $3.50 per dozen for this lovely yellow corn Thursday afternoon. He bought 5 dozen; 4½ of that was slated for freezing and canning. That night we had some with dinner. The kernels were full, tender and sweet with a wonderful flavour. Friday morning I husked the corn then set aside 1 dozen ears for canning. I had already decided instead of canning niblet corn, I would can cream style corn. The ears were a nice size with dense rows of good sized, golden yellow kernels not quite a large as Libby's but still large enough for my needs.

Freezing Prep

This was my first preserving session since the kitchen renovation was completed. I had to establish a new work pattern as we had moved the sink. I stacked the 3½ ears of husked corn (2) ready for blanching (1). Working in batches of 6 - 7 ears of corn I blanched them then transferred to ice water in the sink (3). When the batch was cooled I moved them to a glass baking dish (4) ready for cutting. This sequences was repeated several times. I used another glass baking dish (5) to catch the kernels as I cut them from the cobs. This dish was emptied into my large stainless steel bowl. By the time I was finished this bowl was filled almost to the top. The bowl was covered and placed in the refrigerator to ensure the kernels were cooled before packing. The last dozen (7) was set aside for the cream style corn.

Weighing In

Niblet corn is one of the very few things that I prefer zipper style bags to vacuum sealing. Instead I press out as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. I generally leave the vacuum sealing for corn that has had butter or seasonings added for boil-in the bag pouches. Zipper style bags allows me to use what I want and reseal the rest.

The yield of the 3½ dozen ears of corn was 12.5 lb (200 oz) at a cost of $12.25, so just shy of $1 per lb. This is comparable if not slightly less than brand name frozen corn. Sorry I don't have a price per lb for store bought but the next time we stop I will check and post a comparison.

This brings me to the kitchen scale. The number one question when it comes to canning and freezing is "Is it cheaper?". The only way to answer this is to figure out your yield, convert it into comparison units then calculate the cost per unit. Now you can easily see if your product is cheaper than store bought. Some home frozen or home canned foods will be very close in price so then it depends on uniqueness and quality rather than price. For calculating costs of foods prepared for freezing a kitchen scale is a must. It need not be a fancy or expensive scale but it should be accurate.

Cream Style Corn Prep

Cream style corn despite its name has no cream in it rather the cream comes from the preparation method. This takes a bit of practice to master the technique so expect a bit of a mess. If you hit the kernels the wrong way the milk and/or bits of corn will fly everywhere. One thing about any large amount of white in a kitchen is it keeps you honest. There is no hiding or overlooking splatters like those created while prepping cream style corn. Keep a wet washcloth handy to wipe up those splatters as they happen.

Method: Blanch corn 4 minutes. Hold the cob at a 45º angle. Working from the centre of the cob cut mid way through the kernels with blade of knife facing away from you. Work around the cob. Turn you knife so the blade faces you and place your thumb on the mid portion of the blade for pressure. Scape the knife across the the remainder of the cut kernels to extract the pulp and milk. The cob will be clean. Turn the cob and working from the center repeat. Once you have all of the corn prepped measure the kernels, pulp and milk together. For each 2 cups (500 ml) add 1 c (250 ml) water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently 3 minutes. Ladle corn and liquid into 500 ml (pints) jars. [Do not use 1 L (quart) jars!] Wipe rims. Adjust 2 piece lids. Process 85 minutes at 10 lb pressure in weighted gauge pressure canner.*

*Altitude adjustment chart here.

In The Canner

With the cream style corn safely processing away in the All American 921 and 81 minutes to go according to the timer, it was time to reflect on how the changes to the kitchen were working. If you recall, the original sink was in the corner less than an inch from the corner of the stove. That meant there was no work space beside the stove on the right and a very small of about 18 - inches work space on the left occupied by the KitchenAid® stand mixer. So that meant there really wasn't much work space on the left. The grill cover can serve as a small work space but most times when I'm canning I have the other burner cartridge in instead of the grill. Removing jars from the canner meant having to lift hot jars from the canner over the sink to the waiting cork board. This was not an ideal set-up! Moving the sink created a large, deep work area with the stand mixer out of the main work area. Removing jars from the canner would now mean the jars would go right to the waiting cork board beside the stove. This is important because unlike jars coming out of a boiling water bath canner, the contents of the jars coming out of a pressure canner are still boiling. The less movement when taking them out the better to prevent breakage or seal failure.

Cream Style Corn

The first time I tried cream style corn it was a disaster! The recipe I used did not say to add water so the contents were too thick. This is really a product I wanted in my pantry. For this attempt I added a little extra water to be on the safe side figuring I could easily thicken later. This batch of cream style corn was just slightly thinner when first out of the canner but has thicken a bit after cooling.

One dozen ears of yellow sweet corn gave a yield of 5 - 500 ml (pint) jars. Total cost including lids and electricity was $4.20 for a cost per ounce of 5¢. In comparison Del Monte cream style corn with no salt added ($1.09/14 oz US) is 8¢ per ounce. This is not a huge savings but given the rising food costs every penny counts. In perspective it is a 48¢ savings per jar. I was surprised at any savings with paying $3.50 per dozen ears corn. While not totally free, if you grow your own or can buy corn at a lower price, you will realize a greater savings.