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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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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is the Psoas major muscle along the the central spine between the shoulder blade and hip joint of the pig. This muscle supports the inner organs and is not used for locomotion. As a result it is the most tender part of the pig. One of the local, smaller grocery stores often puts pork tenderloin on sale so whenever I stop there I aways check.

Sliced Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is very easy to cook. My preferred method is braising. Braising is simply searing the meat then cooking in a liquid or sauce. This is an excellent way to cook tougher cuts of meat which really isn't necessary for pork tenderloin but it gives lovely results.

To sear: Heat vegetable oil in a cast iron or stainless steel fry pan on medium-high heat. The oil should sizzle with a drop of water. Add the meat and brown on all sides. Remove the meat. Deglaze the pan. Add to whatever sauce you are using.

To moist cook: Place the seared pork tenderloin into a 9" X 9" baking pan. Pour the glaze (recipe follows) over the meat. Cover tightly with tin foil. Bake at 350ºF for 1 hour. Partially remove the foil to allow the sauce to reduce for about 15 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan. Allow to rest 5 minutes. Slice on the diagonal.

Maple Glaze

½ c maple syrup
2½ tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp butter
sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Sprinkle the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper. Mix the maple syrup and lemon juice together and pour over the meat. Add butter in smaller chunks. After cooking the remaining sauce can be thickened with a cornstarch slurry if desired.


Pork Tenderloin Dinner

Pork tenderloin is one of my favourite meats because it is small enough to thaw quickly, it's easy to prepare and simply by changing the sauce you can quite lovely results. It is a small enough cut of meat that if feeds the two of us with little or no left overs.

Thursday's dinner was maple glazed pork tenderloin. The flavour of maple just melds so nicely with pork making maple syrup the perfect accent ingredient for pork. I served the pork tenderloin with steamed potatoes and home frozen cauliflower as pictured. The cauliflower was boiled just to heat through then drained, lightly buttered and sprinkled with nutmeg. Nutmeg enhances the flavour of the cauliflower and it goes well with the flavour of maple syrup. Butter is a must! As many of you know I use only butter but in this case butter rounds out the overall flavour of the meal. It was a lovely winter meal!


Friday, January 30, 2009

Homemade Shake & Bake Chicken

Anytime we have a traditional or family favourite especially those from the days of being a young bride, I look for ways to improve it while still keeping the favour and feeling of the dish. Our fancy Sunday dinner when I was a young bride was Shake & Bake® chicken, mashed potatoes and niblet corn. I've talked about this before on this blog. This meal is still considered comfort food even though I have made a few changes. Quite often I serve this meal with baked potatoes because the oven is already on so making baked potatoes saves energy. The biggest change made was making my own coating mix for a fraction of the cost of store bought!

The Mix & Storing

Shake & Bake® is a simple, ready to use coating mix that comes with two packets of the mix and 2 plastic bags. When it first came out in the original flavour for chicken it immediately became quite popular. The concept was very simple - pour the mix into one of the bags, add the chicken pieces then shake to coat and bake the coated chicken.

The last time I looked and it has been quite some time ago Shake & Bake® was $2.49 for about 2 cups of mix or $1.25 per cup. The Bulk Barn sells a chicken coating for $1.49 per lb or 37¢ per cup. But if you make your own using homemade bread crumbs the cost per cup is 7¢ per cup. Not only is homemade chicken coating cheaper you can easily adjust the sodium and do a bit of tweaking to get exactly what you what. You are also eliminating any artificial flavourants, colourants and preservatives. The best part is whipping up a batch of this coating mix takes less than 10 minutes on a slow day! This coating mix is every bit as good if not better than store bought!

I use my KitchenAid® stand mixer to mix the ingredients thoroughly (1). This recipe makes 9 cups but for most uses only 1 - 1½ of the coating mix is needed so I vacuum seal in a 1.5 L mason jar (2) using my FoodSaver. This will keep the coating mix fresh until needed. The rest is put into a 1 L (quart) mason jar (3) for immediate use. About 1/3 of this jar was used for dinner but that could have been cut back just a little. I don't measure just pour a bit into a Ziploc® container then add as much chicken that will comfortably fit. Then I shake to coat well and remove the coated chicken to a waiting Silpat® lined baking sheet (4). I repeat this if needed adding a bit more coating mix if necessary.

Homemade Shake & Bake Chicken Coating
source:  Garden Gnome

4 c dry bread crumbs
4 c unbleached flour
2 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp organic cane sugar*
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried parsley
3 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp pepper
¼ c vegetable oil

Place all the ingredients except the oil into the bowl of a KitchenAid® stand mixer. Set to setting 1. Stir 1 minute. With the mixer still on setting 1 drizzle the oil into the mixture. Allow to mix well. Pour into jars for storing and vacuum seal.

Yield: 9 cups

*I have not tried this recipe using a sugar substitute but it should work fine although the substitute may not cause the same degree of caramelization.

Chicken Dinner

I use the coating mix just as you would store bought coating mix except I use a re-usable container to coat the coating in place of a disposable plastic bag. Anytime you an eliminate something disposable in the kitchen you save money and you lower your carbon footprint. Once the chicken is coated, I bake at 375ºF for 40 minutes or until juices run clear.
This mix is ideal for chicken (bone in or boneless) or you can use it for chicken fried steak.

Pictured is our updated shake & bake chicken using the homemade coating mix and served with baked potatoes instead of mashed for Wednesday's dinner. Occasionally I still serve this dish with mashed potatoes for old time sake. One thing that hasn't changed is the niblet corn although that is no longer store bought either. My husband gave the meal another thumbs up while enjoying this family favourite from our early married days.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Garnishes


Garnishing even a very simple dish will take it from ordinary to special. Choose the ingredient (eg. garnish lemon pepper white fish with parsley and lemon slices) you want to highlight from the dish then garnish with that to give a visual clue as to the flavour of the dish. Alternately choose your garnish from an ingredient that offsets your dish (eg. spicier soups garnish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt).


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sweet & Sour Chicken Wings

You just can't beat the old, tried and true family recipes handed down through the generations. When we were first married my cooking skills were limited, something I worked hard to remedy since my husband loves to eat. My Mom was a great cook with all her recipes stored safely in her head! I watched, learned and took notes. My MIL shared several recipes of their family favourites as well. More often than not these were not actual recipes but more verbal add this, this and this. They weren't written down so I would be frantically writing as she told me how to make the dish and what ingredients to use. I'd watch her make the meal to see her methods. Sweet & Sour chicken wings was one of those recipes. Over the years this has remained one of our family favourites as well.

Sweet & Sour Chicken Wings

I don't think I've seen Sweet & Sour chicken wings done this way anywhere else. The wings are not coated and they are not crispy as most wings are in restaurants. The meat is extremely tender and juicy. The sauce is thinner than a Chinese sweet & sour sauce. There is no pineapple chunks or juice yet the sauce is nicely flavoured.

This recipe was one of the first ones I got from my MIL. There were no actual measurements. It didn't take me long to figure our the portions through a bit of trial and error. We like the sauce as is without thickening beyond the reducing stage but you can thicken with a corn starch slurry if desired. I often use frozen chicken wings for this dish.

Sweet & Sour Chicken Wings

5 lb chicken wings
5 c water
3 c ketchup
¾ c white vinegar
¾ c packed brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp prepared yellow mustard
1 finely chopped onion

Place the chicken wings in a roasting pan. Pour the water over them. Cover and bake at 275ºF for about 1½ hours if the wings were frozen, 1 hour if the wings are fresh. Pour most of the liquid off the wings reserving it for making stock later. [Cool reserve liquid, freeze until ready to make stock.] Mix the remaining ingredients together. Pour over the wings. Stir the wings to coat. Cover and return to the oven at 300ºF for 1 hour. Raise temperature to 350ºF. Remove lid. Allow the wings to continue cooking until the sauce is reduced to desired consistency.

Plated

As you can tell from my husband's plate, he loves sweet & sour chicken wings cooked this way! I always served the wings with rice. I use a large slotted spoon to carefully remove the wings. They are rather delicate because the meat is so tender it falls from the bone easily.

This time I served the sweet & sour wings with Arborio rice cooked in chicken stock and butter using a rice cooker. The sweet & sour sauce flavours the chicken wings through to the bone and gosh are they ever good! It clings to the wings as well. We like ladling some of the sauce over the rice. Served with a garden salad the wings make a lovely, low prep meal.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Open Face Roast Beef Sandwich

One of the problems with traveling is there is always the possibility of unexpected delays. So it was on our return flight. First the airplane was delayed by about 2 hours. Once at the airport that kind of short delay isn't too bad as you can amuse yourself online or in the bar (tvs turned to sports) or people watch. We finally boarded where the real problems started. A computer glitch knocked out cabin communications so the plane could not leave. After sitting on the plane for another 2 hours we were deplaned then waited for them to replace the computer which didn't go according to plan so we had to wait for another plane. So we arrived at the point where we were to start the driving leg of our journey home just after 5 am and checked into our room we were supposed to get the night before. By lunch time we were on our last leg of our journey. We stopped at a Meijer's to pick up a few groceries since we wouldn't be home until late and the prospect of grocery shopping over the weekend was not all that appealing.

star fruitStar Fruit (Carambola)

I would have loved to have brought home fresh picked Florida oranges but thought this could be a problem at the border since there would be no way of proving origin. So we passed on the oranges. I bought 3 star fruit at Meijer's.

This lovely fruit is difficult to find in our area although it can be found at larger grocery stores. Star fruit has a sweet, tart flavour similar to combining plums, pineapples and lemons. When cut across the ribs, the star fruit forms pretty star shaped slices perfect for garnishing and fruit trays. It can also be eaten as is simply washing without peeling. Star fruit is rich in Vitamin C and free of sodium and cholesterol so this is a good fruit for you although those with chronic renal failure or end-stage renal disease should not eat star fruit.

Open Face Roast Beef Sandwich

We picked up a fresh roast and bread at Meijer's for that night's dinner. I very seldom freeze homemade breads so we had to settle for store bought but that was fine. I cooked it in the counter top roaster with onions and potatoes for a quick, home cooked meal. The snow started the following morning and continued throughout the day.

Sunday's dinner was simple open face roast beef sandwiches. I can remember to the Metropolitan with my Mom on the two trips we made each year to the city. We rode a bus that stopped in our town then another and finally took us to the city. We only had a few hours to shop before we had to be back at the bus stop. Unlike the five and dime in my home town that had really neat smelling, squeaky wood floors and was somewhat dark inside, the Met was huge at least in the eyes of a child. They had a snack bar and soda fountain! We always ate lunch there because my Mom said you could never shop with an empty stomach so the Met was always our first stop. My favourite was their open faced sandwiches either turkey or beef. Oh gosh were they good! I pondered a bit while eating Sunday's dinner then told my husband we should have these more often. Well you didn't hear any complaints from him as he went back for seconds :)

This is a perfect way to use up left-over meat and gravy. Keep a pack or two of meat with gravy in the freezer to warm for a quick meal. You will need a knife and fork to eat these sandwiches. To make an open faced sandwich you will need two slices of bread. Slightly stale bread will work as well since the gravy will soften the bread. Mix the meat with gravy and heat through. Spoon over the bread slices. Serve with a side of coleslaw or tossed salad.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Herbs

Frugal Kitchens 101
Herbs! They are a must have for any cook. Herbs compliment meats and vegetables, they enhance flavours and add depth as well as roundness to many dishes. You really cannot cook without herbs but that doesn't mean you can't get herbs frugally.

In general, herbs are found in three forms:

  1. fresh - In most cases this is the preferred form for many cooks. If a recipe calls for a particular dried herb use 3X the amount in fresh form.
  2. dried - This is likely the most common form used for most cooks which is very unfortunate. Unless properly stored dried herbs lose both flavour and colour. Guess where a lot of people store their dried herb? Over the stove! Both heat and light causes the herbs to lose their aromatic flavours so by the time you use them you are really adding nothing more than filler. Dried herbs should always be store in a dark, cook location to preserve their flavour. Do not store herbs directly above any source of heat and keep them protected from humidity.
  3. frozen - Some stores are now carrying a small selection of frozen herbs and anyone who grows their own can easily freeze
By far the best way to get fresh herbs is to grow them yourself. Herbs are classified as perennials, annuals or biennials depending on your zone. They can be woody (eg. rosemary) or soft stemmed (eg. basil). In recent years bunches of fresh herbs have become available in some grocery stores. Consider though that a small bunch of fresh herbs goes for about $1.99. Established herbs can last for years in the garden. They tend to be relatively problem free. Some herbs especially those in the mint family (eg. spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, etc) are very easy to establish but can be invasive. These are perfect for those small areas between your sidewalk and house where spreading will be confined to that space. You can get a package of seeds for about $1 and start several pots. Cell packs are another easy way to establish your herb garden. Grow some indoors and some outdoors for a year round supply. Harvest herbs just before you want to use them in the quantity you will use that day. Rinse well the place the sprigs in a mug of water, cut end down until ready to use. If you buy herb springs remove them from the package, rinse and place in a mug of water, cut end down until ready to use. Extra mint in particular can be left in a mug of water where they will form roots. They can then be potted and later transferred outdoors.

I think everyone is familiar with dried herbs. If you grow your own herbs dry by tying together in bunches then hang upside down out of the sun until the herbs are fully dried. Untie the dried sprigs, then crush or grind as desired. Pour into small glass jars and vacuum seal. Store in a cool, dark location. Both light and heat cause dried herbs to quickly deteriorate. The most commonly available commercial dried herbs are found in the spice aisle in small glass bottles or small metal cans. You really are paying for the bottle! Some stores have a limited variety of dried herbs available in plastic bags that are less expensive per gram than the bottled variety because you have to use your own container. Tone's produces larger containers of a variety of spices considerably cheaper than the small containers or the plastic bags. Consider Italian seasoning, the small glass jars cost about $3.50 in the grocery stores for about 20g or 18¢ per gram. A plastic bag at 40 g costs $1.59 or 4¢ per gram. A 171 g container of Tone's Italian Seasoning costs $3.88 or 2¢ per gram. Clearly Tone's is the best cost per gram and similar savings can be found in the rest of their line. Old Bay and French's also have larger sized containers. However, only those seasonings you use a lot of should be bought in these larger containers so they can be used up before losing flavour. Again store in a cool, dark location. The final way to save on dried herbs is to buy in bulk. Many herbs are available in bulk dispensers where you can choose the amount you want. This is an ideal way to buy just what you need for a particular dish if it an herb you seldom use or one you aren't sure you will use again. The price per gram is always cheaper than that of the bottled herbs and usually cheaper than any herb bought in containers or plastic. A good source for some smaller container packaged herbs can be the dollar stores but only if the store has a large turn-over. If it doesn't avoid this source as they are more than likely stale. An excellent source for dried herbs that you can't find locally is online.

Freezing herbs is another excellent way to preserve the bounty from your garden. The woody herbs tend to freeze nicely. Basil can be made into pesto then froze. Soft stem herbs can be blended into a puree with water then froze in ice cube tray. Once froze pop out of the trays and store in zipper style freezer bags to use as needed. You may be able to find frozen herbs commercially but they the variety is limited to mainly basil and garlic.

Before we leave the topic of saving on herbs, two additional ways of preserving herbs are in oil or vinegar. Preserving home grown herbs in oil presents the risk of botulism so don't use this method for long term storage. You can however, use fresh herbs blended with oil for immediate use so only make what you can use for that meal and as close to the meal as possible. Fresh herbs blended into fresh made butter or softened butter are simply wonderful so do try that but again only what you will use for that meal. On the other hand, you can make some very tasty herbed vinegars using your home grown herbs. Try using other vinegars besides white as long as they are 5% acetic acid.

Finally, make your own herb blends. Grow or buy the basic herbs then combine them in the way you want to get your own custom made herb blends. I mentioned the Italian seasoning above but if you have the basic dried herbs on hand, you can make your own without worrying about not having the blend on hand. One example posted before Christmas was poultry seasoning using basic herbs and spices kept on hand. So even if you buy your dried herbs you can combine them easily to make your own herb blends saving the costs of buying the blends.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winter Vacation Highlights (Final)

This post concludes our winter vacation foodie highlights while we were in Florida. We stopped before making the final leg of our journey home by car. I managed to pick up a few great food items to bring home so will discuss those as I use them. We left the rental house Thursday morning, stopped for breakfast in Lakeland then made our way along the Gulf coast. It had been a great break from the snow and cold but it was time to go home.

Fresh Picked Orange

Picture is the last of our fresh picked oranges. Oh how I would love to be down there during the orange harvest! Residents told us that many picked the oranges and grapefruits then put them to the road with a sign "free" simply because they could not use them up. I would be canning orange slices, making marmalade and squeezing juice! If I lived in Florida for any length of time even as a snowbird, I would certainly buy the juicer attachment for my KitchenAid®.

I seriously would be in seventh heaven being able to walk into my backyard and pick fresh citrus fruit! This last lone orange was popped into my purse with the intentions of eating it on the plane. But the plane was delayed and then there were problems which meant we had to deplane. Almost six hours later we were finally on our way so I forgot until we were in the car. We can't bring citrus into Canada so we ate it before getting to the border, enjoying once again the sweet taste of Florida sunshine!

Poached Eggs

Normally we eat breakfast out a couple of times or more during our vacation. This time we didn't. Since we were flying out that night we figured a hearty breakfast was the way to go. On our way through Lakeland we found a nice little cafe called Nana's Kitchen featuring "homestyle cookin" (exact spelling). Well how could we resist stopping for breakfast?

My husband ordered the chicken fried steak ($5.99) with home fries, toast and poached eggs. It was a substantial, home style breakfast. The eggs were soft poached. Chicken fried steak is a thin cut piece of steak dipped in the same kind of coating you would put on chicken. It is then fried and served with a white gravy usually sausage gravy.

Eggs Sunny Side Up

I ordered eggs sunny side up with bacon, home fries and toast ($4.99), another substantial home style breakfast. When I was little these were called dipped eggs and I still eat them this way. First I sprinkle a nice amount of pepper and just a bit of salt over the eggs. A piece of torn toast is dipped into the yolk then eaten, continuing this way until there is no yolk left. Then the egg white is cut into pieces and enjoyed last. Eggs at their finest :)

My biggest problem was my mouth so for this meal I did not use any salt or pepper. It was painful eating and I made sure to keep any food away from my lip. In hind sight cream of wheat might have been a better choice but despite that I still enjoyed most of my breakfast. It was a good way to start the day!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter Vacation Highlights (5)

We met up with our friends Wednesday afternoon for another fun filled afternoon of sightseeing. I mentioned happy hour in one of the other highlights. A very popular social activity for those vacationing in Florida is to meet for happy hour. At one time almost all restaurants and bars had happy hour at some point through the day. That has changed now with the worsening economy but still a good portion of them still offer it. Happy hour usually includes certain beers, house wine and bar drinks either at a greatly reduced rate or two for one. Our friends suggested we go to Chili's Bar & Grill for dinner. We agreed since we had never tried a Chili's Bar & Grill before so it would be interesting to see what the atmosphere, service and food was like. This is a chain restaurant specializing in Tex-Mex foods. For those interested, the Chili's Bar & Grill in Lakeland has happy hour all day, every day.

Fajita Trio

My husband is not a huge fan of Tex-Mex especially if it is strongly seasoned. It is not so much the heat of the seasonings as it is the flavour of the seasonings used that he doesn't care for. He ordered the Fajita Trio ($14.69). The meal consisted of tender grilled steak, marinated grilled chicken and spicy garlic & lime grilled shrimp on a bed of sautéed onions and bell peppers. The toppings included a fresh tomato salsa, sour cream, guacamole, shredded lettuce and shredded cheese. The hot tortilla shells were served in a tortilla warmer.

This was a good choice for my husband as nothing was really heavily seasoned. He asked the waiter to omit the bell peppers but the waiter forgot. The shrimp had a lovely flavour that he found agreeable despite being labeled as spicy. The fresh salsa had cilantro as an ingredient that he did not care for so he picked out the tomatoes for on his fajitas.

Comment: A good waiter or waitress makes sure the customer gets exactly what they want. Even if the kitchen sends out the dish incorrectly a good waiter or waitress will catch the error before it gets to the customer and correct it. In this case either the waiter did not place the order correctly or did not catch the error. There are two ways of dealing with this kind of situation. If the error is totally unacceptable, politely tell the waiter or waitress the problem and ask for the problem to be corrected. It would have to be a huge error for us to ever do this! If the error is minor but not what you wanted you can tell the waiter and waitress as well as reflect your dissatisfaction in the tip left. The current standard for tipping in restaurants is 15%. If the service is above average you can tip higher. If the service is less than average tip less with or without an explanation but do not be insulting. Insulting would be leaving a penny for a tip or leaving no tip, being polite but effective would be reducing the tip left to 10%. Many chain restaurants have surveys online where you can rate your food and service as well so do be sure to use that. The final method if you are really upset is to voice your displeasure directly to management. In this case we simply left a tip of 10%.

Southwest Cedar Plank Tilapia

I ordered the southwest cedar plank tilapia ($11.59) continuing on my fish theme. This meal consisted of a seasoned grilled tilapia fillet topped with chimichurri (cilantro, garlic & lime) sauce and house-made pico de gallo served on a cedar plank. Sides were rice and seasonal veggies. The cedar plank gave a lovely flavour to the tilapia that would be easy to duplicate on a home grill. I found the seasonings overall a bit strong but in fairness my mouth was very sensitive that day from the starts of a cold sore* that morning and that definitely affected my sense of taste. Still the seasoning on the tilapia could have been toned down just a little allowing the flavour of the fish to shine a bit more. I really did like the rice. It was seasoned as well with pieces of corn and carrot in it so that will be one side I try duplicating at home. I also liked the chimichurri so will be trying that at home as well. It's very much like pesto except using cilantro instead of basil.

One of the nice things about eating out is trying new dishes as well as seeing how they are prepared or presented. A few years ago I tried cooking salmon on a cedar plank. I followed all the instructions but when it started charring I gave up, removed the plank then finished the fish on the grill. I now see that the plank was supposed to be charred! You can bet I will be experimenting with grilling fish on a cedar plank as soon as the weather turns warmer.

*I awoke in the middle of the night with a searing pain in my lip. By morning there was a blister so we headed into the drug store. I have never had a cold sore in my life so this was not anything I had dealt with but let me tell you they are not pleasant! It even affected my stomach and as of typing this post today (January 23) I'm still experiencing the end effects.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Winter Vacation Highlights (4)

Half way through our vacation we moved from the guest house to a rental house in the same resort. Pictures of the rental house will be posted here over the next few days. Originally we had planned on traveling to Treasure Island, Florida and had acommodations pre-arranged however we liked Cypress Lakes resort enough we decided to stay. This last minute change of plans worked out rather well!

rental kitchenRental Kitchen

Recall that Cypress Lakes resorts is a community of manufactured homes set in a beautiful park like setting scattered with many ponds, wildlife and two amazing golf courses. Some of the residents live there year round while others rent out their homes during the times they are not there. We moved down the same road as the guest house to a triple wide rental house. If the guest house looked nothing like a trailer inside and out, well the rental house quelled any suspecions of it being a trailer and really even a manufactured home!

Take a look at this beauty of the rental house kitchen. It was love at first sight and yes those are granite countertops. I really love my ceramic tile at home thanks to our renovations last year but our next renovation will be granite. The appliances were mid-range stainless steel GE's. There were a lot of really neat features built into this kitchen. The draw front under the sink pulled down for small item storage. There was a copious amount of counter space with a lowered section for a built-in desk just barely visible in the lower right hand picture. One of the most impressive features was the solar tube (red arrow). I've been looking at these for ages so after seeing this one it is a must have. It lit up the kitchen nicely without having to have any lights on!

chicken caesar saladChicken Caesar Salad

Tuesday of our vacation we were back to eating at the Big Cypress Grill. I have to tell you it is a pity this restaurant is not open to the public as their food is top notch. The service is beyond average! I should also point out that aside for buying food on site and eating out a couple of times that is the almost only money spent while there. We made one emergency trip into the drug store (more tomorrow) but that was it. In terms of money spent this was an extremely frugal vacation.

I ordered the chicken caesar salad for lunch ($7.99). The dressing was the clear type rather than creamy dressing. The croutons were homemade. The generous chicken breast was nicely cooked and seasoned. Chicken caesar salad is a real family favourite easily made at home. It's so easy to make and a lovely meal for those hot summer days. Keep cooked, sliced, seasoned chicken breasts in your freezer then top my favourite caesar salad recipe for a quick summer meal.

Meatloaf Sandwich

My husband ordered the meatloaf sandwich ($7.99). The hearty sandwich came with a side of French fries and dill pickle spear. The sandwich was made using marbled bread topped with mayonnaise, sliced meatloaf, tomato and onion. This really was a lovely presentation!

The only negative thing my husband made about the sandwich is that it wasn't my meatloaf. He really did enjoy the meal! There was nothing fancy or pretentious, just good home style cooking. This meal would be extremely easy to duplicate at home. I'll do a post later on how to get this effect making your own bread.

After lunch we met up with our friends to do a little sightseeing around the Lakeland area. Lakeland is a We saw the Florida home of the Detroit Tigers (Joker Marchant Stadium). It was quite impressive and very similar in design to their summer home in in Detroit (Comerica Park). After a bit of sightseeing we headed back to Big Cypress Grill for happy hour and dinner.

Clubhouse Sandwich

I ordered the clubhouse ($6.99) on whole wheat for dinner. You just can't go wrong with a clubhouse as far as value goes. This clubhouse was ham, turkey and beef with lettuce, swiss and cheddar slices, and tomaotes. It was served with a dill pickle spear on the side. It was a very large sandwich so I ended up taking half home with me.

This hearty meal reminded me of what a great meal this would be for those hot, summer months when you don't want to heat up the kitchen. With little more than a toaster, you can put a lovely meal like this on the table with little time or effort and without heating up the kitchen. It can easily be made with thinly sliced roasted meats from your freezer instead of using processed lunch meats. This is a sandwich to put on your easy meal list for when the temperatures soar.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Dip Presentation


When serving vegetable and fruit dips think outside of the bowl. Use scooped-out fruits (eg. green peppers, leeks, melons, citrus fruits) and vegetables as serving dishes for dips.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Winter Vacation Highlights (3)

Our winter vacation is all about rest, relaxation and sun but this year we had a slightly extended agenda so the entire trip was a bit different. Much of our time was spent on the grounds of Cypress Lakes. We met up with friends the day after arriving and arranged to get together throughout the week. They are Canadian snowbirds who live in the Lakeland area from November to April. As a result three of our dinners were away from the Big Cypress Grill. On the Monday of our vacation we met with our friends for happy hour and they suggested eating dinner at Red Lobster.

Lobster Tank

When we are on vacation we prefer eating at unique restaurants but Red Lobster is one chain restaurant I don't mind going to on occasion. Honestly it has been almost four years since we ate at a Red Lobster! I only remember that because I scrapbooked the special occasion. Their food is fairly good, the prices are decent and the staff is always friendly.

The large lobster tank is the first sight to greet you when you enter a Red Lobster. I have to tell you I love lobster! Heavy rubber bands on the claws prevent the lobsters from fighting with each other as well as pinching the cook when being handled. Something you may not know is lobsters stop eating once they are caught. This results in weight loss and is one reason that unless there is a high turn over of lobster at the grocery store, frozen lobster may be a better deal. When using fresh lobster buy as close to being caught as possible. Fresh caught lobster is available for ordering online with next day delivery if you want as fresh as possible.

Berry Mango Delight

Strawberries were in season in the Lakeland area of Florida during our stay. They were huge, firm, sweet berries with a heavenly fresh strawberry aroma! Not only did we enjoy eating fresh strawberries, my husband enjoyed them in this fancy mixed drink. The Berry Mango Delight is a frozen combination of Bacardi rum and tropical mangoes swirled and topped with sweet, blended strawberries. The large cocktail served in pilsner glass was every bit as pretty as pictured in the menu! I had a sip and was pleasantly surprised at the cool, sweet flavour and creamy texture.

Mango and strawberry would be a lovely combination for a fruit smoothie sans the rum. A little rum extract would give the flavour of the rum to highlight the mango and strawberry flavours without the alcohol. I think a sprig of mint or splash of lime would add a lovely flavour as well in place of the rum. One thing to consider when seeing these types drinks on the menu is there are usually non-alcoholic versions available for those who want a fancier type cocktail without the alcohol.

Lobster Pizza

It's always nice to start an evening out with an appetizer. An appetizer sets the mood and gets the conversation going while waiting for the main course. One consistent problem we've found with appetizers is they tend to be a bit on the heavy, filling side.

We ordered the lobster pizza ($8.99) for the appetizer. This is a crisp thin-crust pizza topped with langostino lobster meat, melted mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes and sweet basil. The pizza served 4 easily with two good sized pieces each which was almost too much. The topping combination was quite lovely! This would be an easy to duplicate appetizer at home but I would cut the pizza into smaller wedges or even make the pizza rectangular then cut into squares for serving. The toppings would also be a nice combination for bruschetta or even crackers.

Island Citrus Rum Shrimp & Scallops

Dinner entrées include a tossed salad or coleslaw and biscuits. My husband ordered the island citrus rum shrimp & scallops ($17.50). The meal consisted of two skewers of jumbo shrimp and a skewer of sea scallops, grilled over a wood fire and topped with a spiced citrus-rum sauce. The shrimp & scallops were served over a bed of wild rice pilaf, a baked potato and asparagus. I thought the presentation of this dish was quite nice.

Scallops and shrimp are my husband's favourite seafood. He liked the way these were prepared and the sauce was quite tasty. This would be a nice sauce to duplicate at home especially as a shrimp dipping sauce. The wild rice pilaf would be another nice dish to duplicate at home.

Tilapia

I love fish and this vacation I was in the mood for fish! I ordered the half portion of wood-grilled tilapia ($10.99) served with a baked potato and steamed broccoli. Wood-grilling gave the nice sized piece of lightly seasoned tilapia a lovely flavour. The potato had been oiled then rubbed with sea salt. While we use sea salt on a daily basis, I found the skin too salty to eat. The broccoli was also seasoned with a herbed salt blend. Overall the meal was average.

There are three parts to eating in any restaurant and while the quality of food is primary, both service and atmosphere are important factors. Unfortunately the waitress forgot our salads! We thought he would bring them after the appetizer but he brought the hot food instead. About half way through the meal we realized he still hadn't brought the salads. In general the food was good but not outstanding, the atmosphere was nice, the waiter was friendly but forgetful. Overall what really made the meal was sharing it with friends.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Winter Vacation Highlights (2)

I mentioned in the first winter vacation highlights post that we stayed at the exclusive Cypress Lakes outside of Lakeland, Florida. The beautiful grounds feature two spectacular golf courses surrounded by beautifully kept manufactured homes. I'm telling you one look at these houses both inside and out with dispel any myth you have about manufactured homes. They are stunning!

Orange Tree

The main mode of transportation around the ground is via golf cart. This gave me ample opportunities to capture the flavour of the park using my digital camera. Citrus fruit means Florida so I would have been disappointed to not see any citrus trees.

Many of the well manicured lawns had orange trees. Orange trees are not particularly large trees but they are rather pretty. The bright orange fruit set against the green foliage is enough to get those taste buds in action! These trees were heavily laden with fruit and we did enjoy a couple of fresh picked oranges while we were there. We also enjoyed fresh, in season strawberries! Oh how I would have loved to bring both fresh strawberries and oranges home. Unfortunately those pesky customs restrictions prevented me from doing so.

Guest House Kitchen

As Canadians we tend to have a rather snobbish attitude towards trailers aka manufactured homes. If someone says they live in a double wide visions of Cops and similar shows flash through our minds. If that isn't enough we also get a good dose of American news so really trailer parks have a negative connotation. However this negativity doesn't not apply to this type of gated, high security resort.

We stayed in the guest house for about half of our stay. More pictures will be My Journey later this week. I love checking out kitchens! I'm always looking for what I can incorporate into our kitchen, what I like and what I don't like. Pictured is the guest house kitchen that is about the same square footage as our home kitchen. The fridge and stove were lower end GE and if there was an EnergyStar® sticker on the fridge it had been removed. There was no dishwasher something we discovered many of the homes did not have. There was a garburator. The countertops were laminate with a painted edge. All in all it was a nice kitchen aesthetically and functionally. If it were mine I would be making a few upgrades.

New York Strip Steak

We ate the majority of our meals at Big Cypress Grill. This quality on site restaurant caters exclusively to the residents and guests [of residents] of Cypress Lakes. They do not offer a breakfast menu. The kitchen closes at 4 PM on Mondays and 6 PM on Wednesdays. The lunch menu is available daily except Sundays. The Big Cypress Grill has daily dinner specials on the days they serve dinner. You can tune to their private television channel to view the specials prior to going down to the clubhouse. This is a rather nice feature allowing you to check the specials before heading to the clubhouse as the specials do change from time to time. Saturday's dinner specials were New York Strip Steak ($12.49), Chicken Tortellini with Gorgonzola cream ($10.99) and Grilled Salmon ($11.99).

My husband had the New York Strip Steak cooked medium rare. The lovely sized steak came cooked to perfection and topped with a fresh tomato salsa. Sides were tossed salad, sautéed zucchini wedges and mashed potatoes. He gave the meal his sign of approval!

Grilled Salmon

I ordered the grilled salmon. The large piece of nicely grilled salmon came on a bed of mashed potatoes or rice. I chose the mashed potatoes. The salmon was topped with a rather sweetish but spicy fruit chutney with walnuts that complimented the salmon nicely. Sides were tossed salad and sautéed zucchini wedges. This really was a lovely dish that could easily be duplicated at home.

Salmon is a very easy to prepare fish whether steamed, broiled, baked or grilled. For best results choose wild salmon rather than farmed salmon. Farmed salmon is fattier (up to 52% more fat) than wild and it contains higher levels of PCB and artificial colourants. While farmed salmon is cheaper in price, wild salmon is higher in quality. Salmon being a stronger flavoured fish melds nicely with sweet and spicy chutneys and particularly any sauce maple syrup based.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Stocks

Frugal Kitchens 101

Many people over look a fundamental way to save in the kitchen simply by not making their own stocks. However stocks are made using many food items that are going to be tossed or put into the compost bin anyway. Essentially you are taking a waste product and turning it into something useful while eliminating a commercial product from your pantry. If you use 2 L (quarts) of stock per week at a cost of purchased stock $1.59 you will over the year save $165.36 and you will have a healthier product.

Consider how useful stocks are. Used in place of water they add flavour to breads, rice and pasta dishes. They form the basis for homemade soups. The problem is most people think it takes a long time to make stock when in fact it doesn't. In general you will want a good variety of vegetable and meat based stocks. You can home can or freeze them. There are three basic ways of making stocks.

  1. long stove top cook - This is the age old method of making stocks. Essentially the bones along with carrots, onions and celery are cook for an extended period of time on simmer until the meat falls off the bone. The stock is then strained, cooled and defatted. If canning it is reheated then canned or if freezing it is packaged into freezer containers and froze.
  2. pressure cooking - This is my preferred method of making smaller batches of stock. Unlike the long cook method you can easily make a tasty and rich stock in 40 minutes or less. Once strained the stock can be froze or used as the base for soup. Unless you have a yield of 7 pints or more I don't recommend canning simply because you will be running the canning at well under full capacity adding to the cost of the final product. That doesn't mean you can't can stock using the pressure cooker method only that it will cost you more to make.
  3. slow cooker - This method is very similar to the long stove top method except you are using a slow cooker. Place your bones, onions, celery and carrots in the slow cooker then cover with water and set on low for the day. Strain. This method limits the amount of stock that can be made at one time but it is still a very useful method.
There are a few ways to make a richer stock. Using these methods takes little time but are well worth the effort.
  1. roast your bones - Any bones used for making stock should be roasted. This will add depth, colour and flavouring to your stock. I suggest roasting the bones uncovered at 350ºF for 40 minutes prior to using the bones to make stock.
  2. add fat and skin - Fat adds an incredible amount of flavour to your stocks as does the skin. Make sure both are added to your stocks as they are cooking. Remove when the stock is finished cooking and defat prior to canning or freezing. If making wild game stocks such as venison add a couple of pieces of bacon because a fat is needed not only for flavour but for the mouth feel. Remove the fat after cooling.
  3. add vegetables - Always add onion with the skin, a couple of washed but unpeeled carrots and a stock or two of celery or preferably the center leaves of celery to your stock pot. Add a bay leaf to beef stocks. Surprisingly adding a washed, unpeeled parsnip really boosts the flavour and richness of any meat or poultry stock as well as vegetable stocks.
  4. when making vegetable stocks - Every vegetable is fair game. Be sure to use a wide variety then strain well after cooking.
  5. in general - Do not add seasonings, salt or pepper. This will give you a versatile stock that can be used for many purposes.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Vacation Highlights (1)

Just a little over a week ago we left on our winter vacation to the sunny, warm land of No Snow aka Florida. The first night we stayed at a nice little motel because we arrived in the Lakeland area just after 4 am. The following day we were arrived at Cypress Lakes, an exclusive and private golf & country club where we stayed for the remainder of our vacation. Once back in the land of Snow we stayed briefly at a motel near the airport where we had parked our car for the trip. Originally we were not going to stay but after a six hour flight delay we needed a bit of sleep before setting out on the final drive home.

Over the next few days I'm going to post a bit about the kitchens and food we ate while on vacation. Originally I had planned to do a bit of cooking while away. This time it did not work out that way but when you see the kitchens it is easy to see how easy it is to cook while away from home simply by choosing the right accommodations. Any time you can make your own while on vacation you are going to save money. It is an ideal way to keep your food costs down especially with respect to breakfast and lunch. Snacking costs can also be kept low. However, you do have to remember this is a vacation so budget accordingly in case you decide once there that cooking may not fit into your vacation plans. Be flexible and if you choose to cook this is the time to take advantage of a few prepared items from the outer perimeter of the store as well as deli offerings.

Motel Kitchen

We arrived at the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel in the wee hours of the morning, more precisely just after 4 am. It had been a long drive from Fort Lauderdale so all we really wanted to do was crash especially since we had to be at Cypress Lakes before 11 am. That meant no cooking or even making coffee. I wanted to point out a few things about this type of a motel.

The kitchen is small and compact but more than adequate. Pots, pans, dishes, 2 burner stove, microwave, coffee maker and fridge are available. Essentially you are getting a miniature but very functional kitchen. What isn't included is coffee or sugar/creamers as is expected with any motel that has a coffee maker. These can be bought in the reception area for a nominal fee in some cases but don't count on it. If you are staying at one of these types of motels, bring your own! Other than that you should be able to cook a wide range of basic foods in this type of unit.

Twistee Treat

I love novel looking food buildings so just had to snap this picture of the Twistee Treat in Lakeland. Can you tell I was half asleep from the blurring? This cute little building just beaconed visiting and although we passed it a few times, we never did stop.

Back when I was knee high to a grasshopper we used to have a Tastee Treat that served the same type of frozen custard treats. I can remember hanging on tightly to that quarter all the way there to get one of their cones on a hot summer afternoon. It was always rich, creamy and cooling. Later we introduced our kids to these treats but the kids are now grown. I seldom indulge in frozen custard these days not so much as I can't but more so due to what little sweet tooth I had becoming less tolerant to sweets. Still it was fun to see this great building design and reminisce a little.

Grouper Sandwich

We arrived at Cypress Lakes and checked into the guest house (more on this here over the next couple of weeks). After settling in we headed down to the Big Cypress Grill in the club house for lunch. Honestly, you really cannot go wrong with the food here! That is being said in hindsight and after enjoying several of their offerings. The average price is about $8 per meal and they have a happy hour with 2 for 1 drinks. There is no breakfast and the kitchen does close early certain days.

My husband had the grouper sandwich. Grouper is very similar to in texture and flavour as bass and is even referred to as sea bass. It is a mild, meaty, flaky and moist fish. The grouper was lightly battered then deep fried. It was served on a bun with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes. Sides were French fries and a dill pickle spear. This meal would be extremely easy and inexpensive to duplicate at home!

Chicken Caesar Wraps

I had the chicken Caesar wraps. They were made using a lightly seasoned tomato, basil tortilla shell with grilled chicken breast and romaine lettuce with a bit of Caesar dressing. The Caesar dressing was not the creamy version but it was quite good. I opted for coleslaw as a side. The meal also came with a dill pickle spear. Again this is a very easy to duplicate meal at home. My favourite recipe for creamy coleslaw can be found here and some of my basics for wraps can be found here.

Anyone who has followed this blog knows that wraps are one of my favourite quick meals especially during the warm weather. So you just can't go wrong by adding a bit of salad dressing to the lettuce. It adds a punch of flavour with very little effort. Caesar salad dressing is a perfect match for chicken but don't stop there. When eating out wraps are always a good choice!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lemonade Award


Many thanks to Tahtimbo of Everyday Living and Ambrosia of Brosia's Blog for awarding this blog with the Lemonade Award. This award is given for inspirational qualities, great attitude and decor of the blog. I am very, very honoured that my blog would be considered for such a prestigious award! Thank-you so very much.

I come across so many wonderful blogs every day, each of them unique in their own way. There are some blogs I make a point to visit on a regular basis that I think are well deserving of the Lemonade Award. These are the blogs with a good layout and visual appeal. They have above average content presented in a personable manner.

To accept your award, please place the award on your blog. Acknowledge the blog that nominated and link to it. Choose the blogs you would like to nominate. Leave a comment on their blog to say you have awarded them the Lemonade Award and link to them on your blog.

I have nominated the following blogs for the Lemonade Award. Their combination of design and content make them stand out above the crowd! Please take a moment and visit their wonderful blogs. Nominees, please accept this award for a job well done. Thanks for adding such quality to the blogosphere!


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips: Kitchen Odours


Lingering kitchen cooking odours can be bothersome. Place a bowl of white vinegar in the kitchen after cooking and leave it overnight to eliminate those offensive odours.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cappuccino


Cappuccino

Cappuccino has quickly become one of our favourite coffee drinks. I posted awhile ago about cappuccino and other coffee drinks (here). Cappuccino is based on using a strong coffee specially brewed called espresso. You can drink the espresso as is or kick it up a notch to make latte or cappuccino. It is also perfect for making dark rye breads. We use an espresso maker to make the espresso. It has a steamer to steam the milk for cappuccino or latte.

What I have found is to get the best froth use skim milk. It foams up nicely giving a beautiful topping for the cappuccino. Sprinkle on a little sugar cinnamon or just cinnamon for a delightful taste sensation. Now I do have to point out the cutesy cup and saucer. Cappuccino really is nice served in squatty type cups. You want it to look fancy. I happened to be at a kitchen clearance centre and found a whole 4 piece setting of porcelain dishes with platinum detailing for $2.99! There was only one set. I'm always in the market for inexpensive serving ware that isn't disposable and at that price I was not about to leave them behind. Yep that is right and your are looking at the cup and saucer. The down side is there was no indication they are dishwasher safe so I have to hand wash but they look really lovely, don't you think?


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Milk in Canada

I find it rather interesting being Canadian that those from other parts of the world don't know what a bag of milk is. So I thought I would do this short post on how we buy milk so when I say a bag of milk you will know what I'm talking about. Years ago we used to get our milk in glass quart bottles delivered to the house. When I was growing up that changed at some point to plastic gallon jugs. They came with red plastic handles and a pull tab cardboard lid. Shortly after we were married maybe earlier and maybe a bit later milk came packaged in plastic bags, 4 L to a bag divided into 3 bags. I know for sure the bagged milk was quite the norm in 1981 because those are the bags my MIL recycled to show me how to freeze corn. At that time you could still get home delivery and we did until well after moving to our first purchased home. It was only after moving to our second purchased home that we stopped home delivery even though it was still available. The milkman would simply open the screen door and put whatever bags of milk we wanted in the space between the screen door and entrance door. We paid monthly.

Bag of Milk

This is what our 4 L bags of milk look like. Neilson® is one brand but there are others. Inside the bag is 4 L of milk packaged into 3 bags or 1.33 L. The milk packaged this way is available in skim, 2% or whole milk as well as chocolate milk. The bagged milk is in crates in the grocery stores in the dairy section. Above the milk or nearby there are plastic pitchers that usually come with a little corner cutter. If you look very closely at the pitcher you can see two little divots on top of the handle near the bag that holds the corner cutter for easy access.

Packaging milk this way greatly reduces the impact on landfills. Frugal homemakers everywhere immediately saw how the bags could be recycled. The outer bag is great for garbage eliminating the need to buy garbage bags but they can be used for a lot more. The smaller bags can be re-used several times for freezing other food items. I know they can be used for vacuum sealing as well so the bags are not just immediately tossed. In some urban areas the bags are recyclable. Environmentally the cost of production is a lot less and the reduced packaging decreases the weight for transportation. The ultimate downside as just about everyone can attest who has bought milk in bags is a leak can be a huge problem!

Creams

Some of our milk products do not come in bags, they come in cartons. Even those available in the 4 L size are available in 500 ml, 1 L or 2 L cartons. Mind you the cost per ml is higher than the 4 L size but sometimes paying a higher cost to avoid waste is a good economical choice.

Two products we use a fair amount of are half & half and whipping cream. Half & Half is a natural dairy creamer for coffee. A few years back they started adding a plastic twist cap with an inner pull tab likely because enough people complained about having to open the end to pour. I seriously think this in unnecessary but they didn't ask me and they are on all 1 L containers but not on the 2 L so go figure. You won't find non-dairy creamers in our home but half & half is a must have! Whipping cream is used for two main purposes here - fresh whipped cream or fresh butter. Fresh whipped cream is a treat served with dessert about four times a year. Fresh butter is made for special occasions or just when I want something different. The resulting buttermilk is then used in soups, stews or mashed potatoes.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Mixes

Frugal Kitchens 101

The results of the last poll were rather surprising. Of the 61 voters 67% used no mixes while 31% used 1 - 3 mixes per week. Only 1% used more than 6 mixes per week. So you really need to give yourselves a well deserved pat on the back! Congratulations on not using a lot of commercially prepared mixes.

The average commecial cake mix contains about 30¢ of ingredients and you still have to add oil, water and eggs. The bake time is the same as homemade so essentially you are paying three times or more as much as what you could put together yourself. The same thing can be said for muffin mixes, any baking mixes, hamburger stretcher mixes, pasta/rice mixes, salad mixes and basically any mix you can find in your grocery store. You seriously do not need to buy a mix to make a vinegarette or salad dressing or a dip. Virtually any mix can easily be made at home with ingredients you already have on hand and homemade is always cheaper especially when it comes to mixes.

What you are buying is the convenience of mixes combined with the packaging. Eliminate the packaging and make your own mixes. In areas where packaging is not recyclable you prevent the packaging from going to a landfill as well. That way you have the convenience of a mix without the packaging so you are reducing your carbon footprint while you are saving money. At the same time you are putting homemade convenience products in your pantry for use when you don't feel like doing a lot of measuring. If you take 20 minutes on a Saturday and make up say 10 jars of a white cake mix, look at how much you will be saving and you are getting a healthier product with less salt, sugar and preservatives!

There are a lot of online resources for making your own mixes. Click here for a recent Google search then explore some of these mixes. There's everything from cookies to cakes to pasta and so much more. Make up one or two jars of whatever strikes your fancy, try it out then if you like it make several jars. Most homemade mixes will keep 1 - 2 years in your pantry providing it is cool and dark.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Ham & Broccoli Casserole

We are preparing for our winter vacation which means we need to use up what is in the refrigerator before we leave. I've froze what I could. Last night I made a lovely casserole using up a bit of the frozen ham from Christmas entertaining. Some of the best casseroles come together simply by tossing simple but compatible ingredients together.

Ham & Broccoli Casserole

This really was a clean out the fridge casserole but there was a plan. In my mind ham is best served with scallop potatoes and not those fancy scallops but the real scallops the way my Mom made them. Whenever we have a ham I cut a thick slice into cubes then freeze for a quick start. These handy packets are great additions for casseroles and soups.

Ham & Broccoli Casserole

2 c ham, cubed
1½ c broccoli, chopped
4 mushrooms, sliced
4 med potatoes, cubed
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
3 tbsp unbleached flour
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
3 c milk

Prepare ham and vegetables. Pour the seasoning and flour over the ham and vegetable mix. Stir to mix. Shred cheese and add to the ham and vegetable mix. Stir to mix. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish. Scald the milk. Pour the milk over the mixture. Bake at 350ºF until casserole is bubbly and potatoes are cooked through. Garnish with dried parsley or chives.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Introducing Kitchen Quick Tips


I came up with the idea of doing a weekly Kitchen Quick Tips back in November but didn't follow through on it until now. Over the years I've picked up a lot of little tips and tricks that make cooking a bit easier. While some are sprinkled throughout the regular posts and will continue in that fashion I thought it a separate label of quick tips would help you find these little tidbits easier and making it easier for you to collect them. The quick tips will not be limited to just cooking. They will be short, sweet and to the point likely averaging one sentence. You will be able to identify these tips by the banner I made just for them and searching the new label kitchen quick tips. Kitchen Quick Tips will appear each Thursday. I hope you enjoy these quick tips and find them useful.

Here's your first Kitchen Quick Tip:

Wipe your counters with hydrogen peroxide to kill germs just as effectively as chloride bleach without the harmful nature of chloride bleach. Hydrogen peroxide will keep your counters stain free as well.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Using Left Over Bread

Frugal Kitchens 101

Buying store made croutons or breadcrumbs is a colossal waste of money regardless of how convenient they are. Even if you do not make your own breads making your own is going to save you money. If you make the majority of your own breads at some point you are going to need to use up some of that bread that went stale before you had a chance to use it. Not only is this a frugal practice it basically will give you at least two more homemade products for your pantry that will eliminate store bought and save you money. Virtually any homemade yeast breads can be used to make croutons or breadcrumbs but pumpernickel and dark rye being stronger flavoured are a bit more difficult to use later.

  • croutons - Slice the bread into ½ inch slices. Cut across the slices to form strips then cut across the strips to form cubes. Spread onto a Silpat lined baking sheet. Spray lightly with a health mister using extra virgin olive oil. Add seasoning if desired but go lightly. Bake at 350ºF until golden brown. Turn and bake until the other side is golden brown.
  • moist breadcrumbs - Moist breadcrumbs are ideal for things like quiche and stuffings. Grind these using a KitchenAid® stand mixer with food grinder attachment or similar, a blender or a food processor. Pack into a freezer container. Freeze until ready to use.
  • dry breadcrumbs - Dry breadcrumbs are suitable for using in meat loaves. Oven dry the bread until dry but not browning. Use a KitchenAid or similar with a food grinder attachment to grind the dry bread. Do not use a blender or food processor as it will be too much of a stress load for either. Grind finely. Store in vacuum sealed mason jars for up to 3 months in the pantry or for longer term storage freeze.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Home Canned Clementine Oranges

Living in the northern hemisphere means certain fruits and vegetables simply are not grown locally so must be bought at the grocery store. These include the fruits and vegetables in season from the southern American states as well as tropical and southern hemisphere fruits and vegetables. These fruits and vegetables are imported into Canada from several foreign countries. Even though most of these fruits and vegetables are available year round in Canada the prices fluctuate depending on when they are in season in their home country.

Prep

Clementines (a variety of mandarin oranges) are a normally available in our area from early December to mid January earning them the title of Christmas oranges. They are the smallest (about 2" diameter) of the mandarin oranges. They are easily peeled without squirting juice. Their easily separated segments are seedless. The clementines commonly available here are imported from Morocco, a coastal country in Northern Africa.

Clementines are usually sold in 2.3 kg (5 lb) thin wooden crates covered with plastic mesh to protect them during shipping. Each crate contains about 34 of the sweet, candy like clementines. When they first become available in the stores a crate costs about $5.99 but some stores put them on sale. Yesterday my husband bought a crate for $3.99 so I decided to can a few. Why?
Commercially canned mandarin oranges are sold in 125 ml cans for about $1.49 and they never seem to go on sale. At the sale price the clementines worked out to be 12¢ each. Each 250 ml jar (double the size of store bought) would use about 2 clementines (24¢), a little bit of sugar, lids (8¢) and the electricity (4¢) for processing so 5 - 250 ml jars cost a total of $1.76 compared to the cost of store bought (125 ml x 2 x 5) or $1.49 x 2 x 5 = $14.90 for a total savings of $13.14. The total amount of sugar used for the syrup was 6¢ per cup and was factored into the final cost. I'd say based on the savings this is one home canned product well worth making.

Bottling

The prep work for canning the clementines was very, very easy. The clementines peel very easily and there are no seeds to worry about. I peeled the clementines and removed any of the white pith mainly a bit of stringy white in the core and set aside. The pith needs to be removed as it turns bitter during canning. I simply made a thin syrup using 2 cups organic sugar and 5 cups of water. While that heat to just the boiling point I filled the hot, sterilized jars with clementine segments leaving ½ inch headspace. Then I ladled the hot syrup over the segments leaving ½ inch headspace, wiped the rims and adjusted the two piece lids. The jars were processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. If you are over 1,000 feet above sea level use the processing adjustment

Home Canned Clementines

Pictured are the five 250 ml jars fresh from the canner waiting for the ping indicate the jars sealed. You will note that while I did remove any pith I did not remove the membrane surrounding the segments. Some sources indicate the membrane can turn bitter when canned while other sources indicate only the pith turns bitter. I plan on canning another small batch of clementines with the membrane removed then compare the two to see which ones we prefer. I will report back on the comparison.

Aesthetically the clementine segments are pretty in the jars. I do think that removing the membrane will give a pretty product but won't know for sure until I try a batch. I plan to use the home canned clementine segments in fruit based salads, in fruit smoothies and in a couple of poultry dishes.


More Tweaking Today

You have likely noticed a bit of tweaking of this blog's elements today. A lot of the tweaks have been behind the scenes and a few are noticeable, both necessary. I've tried to get the first blog post above the fold as one reader suggested but even with the tweaking it just won't work. There is still a slight scroll to get to the first post however I feel the welcome and canning messages are necessary and need to be where readers can easily see them. I'm really liking the toned done effect I'm getting with pink still on the blog but less prominent. I hope you like the effect. You will notice I changed the blog post and sidebar backgrounds to shades of grey in keeping with the the layout design. So that took a lot of pink away. The pale grey should give a nice background for the food pictures while making it a bit easier to read than a white background.

Please stay tuned for today's food related post.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Hearty Vegetable Beef Soup (Pressure Cooker)

Another new year has begun. I hope everyone enjoyed their New Year celebrations and thank-you for all the well wishes for the new year. May 2009 bring you peace, joy, love and lots of yummy food!

Over the holiday season we did a fair amount of entertaining that resulted in a variety of left overs some that found their way into the soup pot. The weather has been quite cold with snow and blustery winds combined with being exhausted from the holiday season means the soup pot is working overtime. Soup is just so comforting! I especially appreciate that there is very little work to making soup as well.

Last Tuesday afternoon and evening we babysat oldest grandbaby while her parents went to a hockey game. At age two a favourite food is soup so I made a large pot of hearty vegetable beef soup. The basis for this soup is meaty soup bones. Soup bones are always very inexpensive even at the butcher shop where they cost about $1.50 each. These are nice meaty soup bones with enough meat on them for a larger pot of soup.

A common misconception is that making soup is a long, drawn out process when it isn't. Next to a stockpot the most often used kitchen appliance for making soup is a slow cooker. If you have been following this blog you will know that my slow cookers are the least used kitchen appliances I own. I prefer using a pressure cooker for making flavourful broth soups quickly.

Broth

2 meaty soup bones
2 ribs celery cut into chunks
2 carrots or 4 cocktail carrots
1 bay leaf
1 tsp Montreal Steak Seasoning
water to fill pressure cooker to ⅔ mark
Note: I would normally add a quartered, unpeeled onion except I was completely out of fresh cooking onions!

Vegetables
Note: I used home canned vegetables. To substitute store bought use 398 ml (15 oz) cans.
1 500 ml jar carrots
1 500 ml jar green beans
1 500 ml jar niblet corn
4 medium potatoes, cubed and cooked
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, sliced

Place the ingredients for the broth into the pressure cooker. Cover with water to the ⅔ line and no further. Place the lid on the pressure cooker. Bring to a boil on high. When the lid begins to vent (steam comes out) place the weight on the pressure valve. Let come to pressure then reduce heat and to keep a gentle rock. Let cook 20 to 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker depressurize before removing the weight. Total time for making the both and cooking the meat will be about 45 minutes.

Finished Soup Bones

While the pressure cooker is depressurizing steam the potato cubes. Steaming gives a firmer texture to the potatoes, preferable for soups. Cooking them separately will keep the broth at a lovely clarity. When the pressure cooker has depressurized, remove the weight and lid. Use a large slotted spoon to carefully remove the soup bones. The meat will very tender and easily fall off the bone. It may already have fallen from the bone. Cut the meat into bite sized pieces removing any gizzle and fat (arrow) as you cut. Set the meat aside. Use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetable chunks. The broth will be rich and flavourful yet clear. At this point the broth can be quick chilled and defatted (for canning) or used as is. There isn't a lot of fat on soup bones so it is fine to omit defatting.

Return the meat to the broth. Add the green onion and celery to the broth. Bring the soup to a low boil. Drain the vegetables reserving the liquid for later use. Pour into the soup. Add the potatoes. Cook about 5 minutes to heat throughly. Serve with homemade bread or crackers.

Hearty Vegetable Beef Soup

The total time to make this hearty vegetable beef soup including prep and cooking was just slight of one hour. The majority of that time was cook time with very little prep that freed up time for me to entertain oldest grandbaby while the soup was cooking. The yield was about 6 L of gorgeous vegetable beef soup, more than enough for dinner and lunch the following day. Notice the clarity of the broth despite the soup being chuck full of vegetables? Don't let the clarity fool you either because the broth itself was very rich and flavourful. This was a lovely and easy to make soup perfect for a cold, blustery day! Oldest grandbaby really enjoyed it and I enjoyed being able to spend time with her instead of in the kitchen, not that being in the kitchen is a bad thing just this time of year I'm tired. Ah well, winter vacation time will be here shortly giving me time to rejuvenate.