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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

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Ingredients

Frugal Kitchens 101
By popular demand the Frugal Kitchens 101 will remain a regular feature of this blog. Thanks so much to all who voted. You're input is greatly appreciated!

If you have been following this blog for any length of time you will notice that I do specify certain types of ingredients. Mind you this is very different that ingredient brands. A couple of weekends ago we hosted a larger event and one of our long time friends asked me about my choice of sugar. I did not give a full answer at the time due to other distractions so I'm going to address this issue in a bit more detail here. I know she reads this blog so will see the answer.

To me frugal means getting the very best value for your money. In some cases this means you might have to pay a bit more but the additional cost is worth it. In other cases it means you simply will not compromise on what you want. Yet again it also means saving money and in our case it means being eco-friendly. If I specify a type of ingredient (eg. white vs unbleached flour) or a brand it is because there is a specific reason for using that ingredient. It means that is a superior ingredient that while it might cost a bit more in some cases it is well worth it. So here are the explanations for some of the ingredients I insist on.

  1. organic/hormone free beef - We buy beef on the hoof that is organically raised and is hormone free. On average we pay $2.50 per lb across all cuts so while we pay more for ground beef we are paying significantly less for roasts and steaks. Organic means the farmer is using good animal husbandry practices including refraining from using hormones like GTH. In this case the price of our beef is cheaper than store bought yet far superior and we are supporting local farmers.
  2. free range eggs - I don't think I've ever really specified the eggs I use other than saying I buy them from a local farmer. Again we are supporting local farmers. Depending on the price of store bought eggs I save 25¢ and more per dozen by buying higher quality eggs.
  3. organic vegetables - I try to grow as much as I can then shop for the rest. I'm very lucky that we are smack in the midst of farmland. Last year a nearby certified organic orchard was selling their produce 10 - 20% less than the chain grocery stores!
  4. sea salt - Regular table salt is iodized and may contain fillers to help keep the salt free flowing. Both will interfere with the canning process causing clouding and possible discolouration in some homecanned products. I honestly feel that natural sea salt is better for you. We use a salt mill to grind non-iodized salt for table use and I use bulk non-iodized sea salt for canning and cooking. Sea salt has a milder flavour that adds a sparkle without the harshness of regular iodized table salt and you really do need less. In terms of cost sea salt is more expensive than regular salt.
  5. organic sugar - Organic sugar means from start to finish the sugar is organic - no pesticides, no herbicides and no bleaching. Organic sugar does look a bit different in that the grains are not sparkly white and that is because the molasses has not been bleached out. It gives organic sugar a richer, deeper flavour somewhat in between white sugar and light brown sugar but it is a flavour not just a sweetness. Organic sugar does cost more depending on where you buy it with Sam's Club being the cheapest.
  6. unbleached flour - White flour (aka bleached flour) has to be one of the worst things you can put in your body. First bleached flour has been stripped of all nutrients leaving basically calories. Second it contains alloxan, a contaminant that can cause diabetes. Years ago when I switched to unbleached flour it was difficult to find. Now nofrills® in Canada sells a 10 kg (22 lb) bag of unbleached flour for the same price as bleached flour so it really becomes a matter of personal choice.
  7. local honey - Local honey is a must for anyone with allergies. The reason for this is the person has already been exposed to local allergens so is less likely to react to the local honey. At the same time local honey is not pasteurized so you are getting a far superior product. Prices will vary depending on the beekeeper and time of purchase but it general local honey is slightly cheaper than store bought.
  8. butter - Butter is a natural dairy product. It packs a lot of flavour to any dish but that doesn't mean you have to use a lot. I use butter as an accent and for cooking certain dishes. You can even make ghee from the butter to use for flavour without the milk solids. In general I use salted butter for regular use and unsalted butter for baking
  9. pure vanilla extract - I firmly believe you cannot make quality tasting anything using artificial ingredients! Pure vanilla costs a bit more but you use less and the flavour is top notch.
  10. ClearJel - This modified corn starch is currently the only approved thickener for canning. This is the non-instant ClearJel and in most cases has to be ordered online but it is inexpensive and gives lovely results. It gives a superiour product!
  11. Pomona's Universal Pectin - Anyone who has made jam know they need pectin and up to to recently commercially prepared pectins like Certo® or homemade pectins were the only available. The problem many canners faced is the pectin has a relatively short shelf life. Compounding the problem was the necessity of sugar for the pectin to gel. In any given batch of jam 7 c of additional sugar was not uncommon. A couple of years ago I discovered Pomona's pectin that does not require sugar for gelling. Instead it uses calcium water for the gelling. The monocalcium phosphate comes with the Pomona's so making the calcium water is very easy. What this essentially means is you can greatly reduce the sugar content even substituting it with other sweeteners and you aren't bound to a specifc recipe. You can easily create you own recipes. Pomona's is shelf stable forever and is considerable cheaper than other forms of pectin.

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