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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, February 28, 2009

Cowboy Steaks

When our kids were young the favourite school fund raiser was selling chocolate bars or chocolate coated almonds. Sorry but these were not a huge hit in our family that has never been into sweets. As if that wasn't bad enough when then got into Boy Cubs and Brownies they sold apples and cookies. The only thing that sold for us and I didn't mind buying was the apples. Fast forwarding to the school fund raisers of today we are able to get a lot of rather neat foods. True they might not be something I would rush out to buy but they are a far cry from the standard chocolate bars or cookies.

Cowboy Steaks

I'm sorry but if a kid rings my doorbell selling something for their school or organization, I am buying. This is one way I support my community. I'm frugal but I will spend a bit more than I normally would because it goes to a good cause. Besides it inspires the young ones. Last year we scored a few good deals this way.

Last year a local soccer team was selling meat deals. Now this was rather good in that you bought the coupons for the meat in the spring but you had until the end of August to turn in the coupons at the butchershop. I thought this was a nice way to do it because I could support their team then pick up my meat when I wanted it.

One of the packages was 5 lb of cowboy steaks. Not only was I supporting a local team I was supporting a Canadian company. The steaks are distributed from Leadbetters in Orillia, Ontario through their retail store, a few select retail stores and through fund raising events. The steaks are tenderized with papain, bromelain and are lightly seasoned. They come frozen. As steaks go these are very tender, moist steaks.

Cooking

I thawed two of the steaks for dinner Wednesday night. Originally I planned on grilling the steaks but by the time my husband arrived home the sun had set and freezing rain had set in. Grilling outdoors was not all that appealing and grilling indoors meant using the downdraft that still isn't hooked up after moving in. [Unbelievable! We have to drill through a thick cement foundation. My husband was unsure how to do this so put it off until I complained a lot. Long story short, the recent estimate was $350 so now we are renting the blade and borrowing the special drill so grilling indoors will be in the very near future :)] So we decided to pan fry.

Most of the time you get to see the food nicely plated and ready to serve but these looked lovely while they were cooking. My husband added cubed, pre-cooked potatoes, onions and slice mushrooms to the fry pan after the steaks were lightly seared. Everything was cooked in one pan with the steak added first then the mushrooms and onions with finally the potatoes. The steaks lived up to their reputation of being very, very tender.


Friday, February 27, 2009

A Taste of Summer

I don't know about you but I am more than wintered out! It's been a long, cold winter that started early and just doesn't want to go away. At the start of this week I decided to make a couple of dishes to give us a taste of summer. It was just the little change we needed!

Lunch Goodies

My husband takes a homemade lunch to the office. Sometimes it is left overs but quite often I make him something different. Lunches tend to be garbage free meaning no paper, no wrappings and anything compostable is brought home. I have a few plastic lunch containers used only for cold foods (more on the plastics issue later). Anything that needs reheating is sent on a regular dinner plate or in a covered glass dish. Monday's lunch was chicken caesar salad (1). I assembled the salad in a lunch kit (2) leaving the dressing separate to prevent the romaine lettuce from becoming soggy. This is a hard plastic lunch kit that came with a small container perfect for dressing or sauce and a fork in the outside compartments. This is a perfect container for salads and wraps but nothing that will be reheated. Despite the fact the container is labeled as being microwave safe, it will only be used for foods that do not need heating.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a 24 mini cup Wilton muffin pan. While I have a 12 mini cup muffin pan, it is used mainly for freezing small amounts of things like roasted garlic. I thought the larger Wilton pan would be perfect for making snack and grandbaby sized muffins. Tuesday I made bran muffins using the new pan. Half of them went to the office for my husband's snack. Tuesday night I made a lovely batch of tuna salad, a summer favourite.

Guacomole

When the winter drags on who can resist the beautiful bright colours of fruits and vegetables to brighten the day? I just love the colours of the fruits and vegetables in guacomole almost as much as I like eating guacomole! I make guacomole using ripe avocados, ripe tomato, onion, lemon and lemon. Aren't they just simply gorgeous?

I simply chop half of the tomato and half of the onion fine. They I cut the avocados in half and remove the pits for growing. I scoop the avocado flesh into a small mixing bowl. I cut the lemon and lime in half and squeeze the juice over the avocado and mash to make a smooth, lightly chunked mixture. Then I stir in the chopped onions and tomatoes. That's it. It's nice and simple yet very tasty and always goes over well.

I usually serve guacomole with round corn tortilla chips (if I'm serving as a snack. However, two ways I really enjoy guacomole is using it as a filling for either soft tortilla shells or leaf lettuce. Both are very tasty appetizers sure to please!


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Freezing Cookies


Most cookies freeze well. Allow freshly baked cookies to cool thoroughly. Stack into rigid freezer containers (eg. GladWare®, Ziploc®) pressing the air out by "burping" the lid. Freeze until ready to use. Remove from freezer and thaw.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Foodie Weekend

From February 13 to the 19th there was something on the go every day and evening so my husband and I did not get a chance to eat together. During the week I made dinner as normal packaging up my husband's meal for the following day's lunch. We like going out for dinner Friday evenings so I found a community event with all you can eat pickerel that sounded good. Saturday night we were hosting our monthly larger event with the kids home so I kept dinner simple with homemade individual sized pizzas. I had several goodies planned for the event despite the bad weather that was threatening. In little time the weekend shaped up to be a foodie weekend!

Pickerel Dinner

If you have followed this blogs you will have already read how much we enjoy small community food events. Quite often these are hosted by community service clubs or charity groups as fund raisers. We like to support these efforts whenever possible. Not only does this give back to our community it gives us a nice social night out with good food and entertainment at a very low cost.

Friday night there was an all you can eat pickerel dinner for $12 per person. We went with another couple then stopped at their house for drinks and socializing afterwards. The meal included all you can eat fish, vegetables, French fries, pickles and coleslaw. Pictured is my plate and just take a look at that piece of pickerel! Each beautiful, meaty fillet was a good 12 inches long. I finished one with the fixings while my husband had three fillets. Oh and where they ever good! The nice meaty fillets were cooked to perfection. We will definitely be at their next all-you-can-eat event.

Individual Pizzas

Saturday afternoon I made pizza dough for dinner. Normally we make one or two large pizzas but this time we made 6 individual pizzas topped as desired. My husband even formed a small, grandbaby sized pizza for the little one. Toppings included sautéed mushrooms, pancetta, onions, green peppers, ham and fresh tomatoes. The pancetta was a nice addition.

Italian pancetta is salt cured pork belly that has been spiced then dried for about three months. It is not smoked. It is either rolled as ours was or straight with the fat on one side. Pancetta is usually very thinly sliced. It is more expensive (here $2.69/100 g) to purchase than regular bacon or you can make your own pancetta.

Cured Meats

Three other kinds of homemade cured meat were served during our get together. The kids brought home some Italian sausage (top) made by grandbaby's babystitter. This tasty, spicy sausage that was sliced quite thin. I think this sausage was cured then oven cooked similar to my easy homemade sausage as there was no casing present. The sausage had a nice, firm texture. I really must get the recipe for this sausage!

Two of our friends make homemade venison sausage that is just wonderful. Unfortunately they aren't parting with their recipes so I'm going to have to experiment. One of these friends brought venison sticks (bottom). These spicy, homemade meat sticks are simply delightful! Everyone loves them. They have the texture of the pepperettes (not pictured) that I also served. Perhaps he will share the recipe for the venison sticks.

Making your own sausage and meat sticks is really quite easy. You don't need a lot of equipment either. One reason for making your own is to season according to how your family likes it. Another reason is to take advantage of good meat sales and/or use meats from a successful hunt. In many cases homemade sausages and meat sticks are cheaper than store bought.

Nilla Dips

It always amazes me that sometimes the simplest treats like chocolate pretzels are the most popular at get togethers. Of course this makes entertaining a bit easier. I'm also pleasantly surprised that despite being asked not to bring anything a lot of our guests bring some type of treat. Over the holidays a box of Vanilla wafers made their way into the house. I decided to use them up Saturday night. What I came up with was ever so easy yet went over well.

I melted regular chocolate chips but next time I think I'll use chocolate wafers. Then I spread peanut butter on the bottom of a vanilla wafer and sandwiched another vanilla wafer on top. Once assembled I dipped the little sandwiches into the melted chocolate and set on wax paper to cool.

Normally I have a large batch of chili on the go for this particular monthly get together. The guys love it! Saturday night I decided to do something a bit different and make ultimate hot dogs. My gosh did these ever go over well! So it went for another foodie weekend.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Think Green (Acquisition)

Frugal Kitchens 101
Your additional food costs aside of the actual cost of food can be broken down into four main categories: acquisition, packaging, cooking and storage. I will cover these in four separate Frugal Kitchens 101 posts. All of these factors add to the total cost of your food but these are often overlooked when calculating overall food costs. If you make one 30 mile round trip per week for groceries that cost certainly becomes a factor to be considered. If you use your oven to cook a couple of pieces of chicken and nothing more you need to consider that as well. Essentially every cost incurred for you to get that food on the table is a cost that adds to the overall cost of your food. One easy way to save money on your food bill is to think green in all areas of the actual cost of your food.

Aquisition:

Food costs you money in terms of transportation for that food to get to the grocery store and for you to travel to get it. The average food travels some 1,500 miles from farmer to grocery store. That cost is reflected in the price you pay in the grocery store. Think green to reduce your acquisition costs for food which in essence lowers your overall food costs.

  1. The number one green way of thinking is to buy locally if you do not grow your own. Buying locally reduces transportation costs of that food that in most cases gives you a less expensive product. Supporting local growers and smaller shops like bakeries makes for a stronger community. Locally bought food is often fresher so will keep longer than store bought. Finally locally bought produce does not require costly refrigeration and storage for the producer so that is reflected in the price to the consumer.
  2. Grow whatever you can yourself to eliminate the cost of transportation. The produce is as close as your garden. Growing your own is always a win/win.
  3. Buy produce in season when it is cheapest and at its peak. In northern areas this is not possible year round but you can still follow the produce seasons. For example, tangerines are in season December to mid February so even though they are not grown in Canada this is the best time of the year to buy them in the stores with respect to price.
  4. Shop farmer's markets where a wide variety of produce can be found BUT only if traveling costs makes it cost effective. If you have to travel more than 10 miles one way it likely is not cost effective. If however, you can combine that trip with a few other stops (eg. fish market, grocery store) on the same route then it may be cost effective. It may also be cost effective if you are buying produce in bulk (eg. 200 lb potatoes, several hampers of tomatoes) for the purpose of home preserving.
  5. Plan one large trip with a few stops and shop in succession. For example I travel to the orchards I stop at a couple of fish markets, the mushroom farm, the grain mill, the bulk food store, the organic market, the health food store, the grocery store all pretty much on the same route.
It costs you money to get to the local growers, farmer's markets and grocery stores. Every trip adds to your food costs. For example if you buy $100 in groceries but the trip cost you $10 the total you really spent for that food is $110. That stop at a second grocery store that saves you $2 on a couple of sales may actually cost you more in terms of gas so you are really behind in the game. Trust me the cost of gas is not getting any cheaper. Then if you stop for a snack or a meal while out grocery shopping that adds more to the cost of acquisition. Financially and environmentally it is poor economics to travel further or more often than you have to for food. Ideally in urban areas you would walk, bike or use public transport to get back and forth from grocery stores. In rural areas it's not that easy. Driving is a must but you can still save on this.
  1. The less trips to the grocery store the cheaper acquiring food is and less vehicle emissions go into the air. Less trips to the grocery store greatly reduces impulse buying as well. Aim for a large once a month shopping with picking up only dairy and fresh fruits/vegetables if necessary. If it costs you $10 in gas to make one trip to the grocery store (close estimate for many rural residents) and you shop weekly that effectively works out to $40 just in gas. If you change your shopping to once per month your gas cost goes down to $10 effectively saving you $30. If you find that once a month grocery shopping just doesn't work for you try shopping every two weeks. You will still save money by eliminating two trips. If at all possible always combine grocery shopping trips with other stops instead of making a special trip just to grocery shop.
  2. Team up with a neighbour or family member to car pool or even share the grocery shopping with one shopping one trip and the other shopping the next trip. I often do this for my orchard trips.
  3. Keep a well stocked pantry especially of the basics.
  4. Buy in bulk at the lowest unit price the least number of times per year as possible.
  5. Be well prepared for a stock-up trip, knowing exactly what you need to buy. Make a list then only shop when the list is long enough to warrant spending the gas. Check out the sales online before leaving home.
A common misconception is that if you garden the produce is free. If you buy any seeds, use municipal water, buy soil amendments or buy equipment, gardening costs even at a low level. It is very, very cheap depending on your gardening practices but it is not free. Hunting, fishing, trapping and foraging are not free either although they may be very close to free depending on how you do these activities. There are costs associated with some of these activities but costs can be minimized. While they may be putting food on your table you still need to consider the costs of getting that food. There is often licensing involved along with equipment, bait, transportation costs, processing fees and so much more. So do take that into consideration when factoring in the cost of acquiring these types of foods.

If you think green with respect to acquiring your food you will ultimately be saving on the overall costs of your food.

next week: Thinking Green (Packaging)


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Roasted Garlic Revisited

Roasted garlic is a true culinary delight! The problem with roasting garlic is it takes a long time for a little bit. For that reason I like to roast up a lot of garlic at one time then freeze it for later use. I posted my method for making roasted garlic on the grill. When we were at Sam's Club I picked up a large sleeve of garlic so decided to roast garlic except the grill is under a good foot of snow. I decided to use the countertop roaster. Why? My oven costs 27.6¢ per hour to operate whereas the countertop roaster costs 9¢ per hour. Now this isn't a lot of money but it does add to the overall costs.

Roasting

I only needed the countertop oven roaster, a large sleeve of garlic and extra virgin olive oil (1). I had 19 large heads of garlic but only 18 would fit in the roaster pan. I removed the excess skin and cut across the heads to reveal part of the garlic cloves (2). The tips of garlic cloves were saved for another use so as to not waste while the heads were drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. The roaster was set to 200ºF then left alone to roast until the house smelled of wonderful garlic and the cloves were a golden carmelized colour (3). The only way I know of being able to get the luscious roasted golden garlic nuggets (4) out of the skins is to use your fingers. A bit of pressure or a little persuasion will have those beauties right in the bowl ready for freezing.

Freezing

Once I had all of the roasted garlic cloves into the blow I washed my hands well then was on to mashing them up. The cloves mash nicely. Then I spooned the roasted garlic mash into a mini 1" cupcake tin for freezing (5). This gave me a 1" diameter by ½" high or about 1½ tbsp of roasted garlic. This is just the perfect size for adding into soups or stews. If you haven't had potato soup with roasted garlic you seriously do not know what you have been missing! Once the garlic was frozen I transfered the small pucks into two freezer bags. I like using zipper style bags for this purpose but what I do to protect the garlic is to pack with a soft vacuum until frozen then place that bag inside a freezer vacuum bag and vacuum seal. This protects the flavour and prevents any freezer burn.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Chicken Portobello

I can remember the first time I saw portobello mushrooms in a grocery store. At that time they were considerably more expensive than the common mushrooms. I bought one to use in my first attempt at making beef burgundy. The dish itself was a disaster beyond being edible but I learned the valuable lesson to never cook with a wine I wouldn't drink. Sometimes cooking lessons are hard learned! Over the years our preference has remained the common white mushroom. We do use a lot of them not only fresh but home preserved (some ways here). Not only are mushrooms low in calories they are high in vitamin B, potassium and phosphorus.

Chicken Portobello

A few years ago I began experimenting more and more using portobello mushrooms. I find these meaty, flavourful mushrooms are even more versatile than the common mushroom so watch this blog for more ways we enjoy this wonderful mushroom. Unlike the common mushroom I have not canned portobello mushrooms but I have dried then both as pieces and powdered.

When we were at Sam's Club on Saturday I bought 4 lovely portobello mushooms. Normally I do not like to buy mushrooms in plastic wrapped trays because moisture tends to make mushrooms tough and rubbery but also because this type of packaging is not environmentally friendly. I made an exception since these were such lovely looking mushrooms. As you know two of the mushrooms were made into very tasty portobello pizzas. Last night I used the remaining two mushrooms to make chicken portobello using a mushroom chicken sauce I often serve over rice or egg noodles. The result was a wonderfully rich and creamy yet very filling entrée.

Chicken Portobello

2 lg portobello mushrooms
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 can condensed mushroom soup*
½ can skim milk
500 ml jar home canned green beans
125 ml (½ c) chicken stock
1 tsp Montreal Steak seasoning
1 tbsp butter
sour cream (optional)

Heat a little oil in a fry pan. Sear chicken breasts on both sides. Remove chicken breasts from pan and deglaze pan with chicken stock. Cut chicken breasts into cubes then put back into the pan. Sprinkle with seasoning. Stir in mushroom soup and milk. Bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and let sauce reduce to half. Stir in the green beans to heat through.

While chicken is simmering, heat oven to 350ºF. Place mushrooms gill side up on Silpat® lined baking sheet. Melt butter. Brush onto the mushroom using a pastry brush. Bake until cooked through about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place in centre of plate. Top with the chicken mixture. Garnish with a teaspoon of sour cream if desired.

* Although we do not use condensed mushroom soup as a soup I keep a good supply on hand for making creamy mushroom sauces. Homemade mushroom soup is often used for the same purpose either fresh or frozen.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Perfect Cookies


For evenly browned cookies, use a shiny, bright baking sheet at least 2 - inches shorter and narrower than the oven. Do not grease unless called for in the recipe. Line the baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper in place of greasing. Allow baking sheets to cool before putting more dough on the sheet.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Portobello Pizza

The past five days have been a whirlwind of activity with little time for cooking. Saturday we managed to siphon enough time to get to Sam's Club. While the purpose was not for stocking up on food I managed to pick up a few food items, mainly large containers of seasonings. I also picked up a package of beautiful looking portobello mushrooms.

Portobello mushrooms are the mature form of brown crimini mushrooms. These mushrooms are often used in vegetarian cooking. They are very impressive simply by size often reaching diameters of 6 inches. They have a bit deeper more pronounced flavour than the juvenile crimini mushrooms which is to be expected. Portebello mushrooms are ideal for used as a bread replacement because they have a lovely texture when cooked. Believe me you won't even miss the bread when you substitute porobello mushrooms!

There were four lovely portobello mushrooms in the package. Now generally portobellos are viewed as expensive but these worked out to $1.05 each I will tell you I really do not like buying any kind of mushroom in a plastic wrapped tray. Mushrooms are like sponges so absorb moisture. This type of packaging can cause the mushrooms to be soggy and soil quickly plus it is not very environmentally friendly. Mushrooms packaged this way should be repackaged into a paper bag for storage in the crisper.

I decided that an easy meal of portobello pizza was in order. Toppings included home canned pizza sauce, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, bacon and Asiago cheese. Essentially the portobello mushroom is used in place of pizza dough.

Method:
Place the mushroom on a baking sheet with gills facing up. Top with pizza sauce and desired toppings. Bake at 350ºF until cheese is bubbly.

You will need to use a knife and fork for eating portobello pizzas when eating a whole one. Portobello mushrooms have an intense enough flavour that they can easily accent stronger flavoured cheeses. One of the real beauties of homemade pizza based dishes is they are versatile. Use the toppings you want and leave omit the rest.

My husband wanted only sauce, cheese and bacon on his portobello pizza. I chose an Asiago cheese for this purpose as it has a bit more flavour that pairs nicely with the depth of flavour of the portobello mushroom. Bacon is another topping that pairs nicely with the flavour of portobello. Mine was topped with onion, green pepper, tomato slices, bacon, sauce and cheese. Both were quite lovely but very filling!

Portobello pizzas are very filling so don't let the smaller size fool you. Baked they are still a good 5 inches in diameter but are very meaty. Even though you are not getting a lot of carbs, the portobello mushroom itself is quite meaty and filling. One large portobello is more than sufficient per person for this meal. If anything it is more filling than the bread crust version. This dish would make a great appetizer as well although you may want to cut them into quarters.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Refrigerator

Frugal Kitchens 101
A week ago I decided to tackle the refrigerator. We have a newer Whirlpool® ED2FHGXS EnergyStar® qualified refrigerator bought in 2006. Over the holiday season and entertaining during January the refrigerator saw a lot of extra use. I kept things in order by cleaning and washing shelves one at a time as they were temporarily cleared but with spring just around the corner I decided to do a large scale, top to bottom cleaning. Why?

Refrigerators in General
First before I talk about why it is important to keep your refrigerator clean I want to make a couple of comments about refrigerators in general. From the time you put a food into the refrigerator you are essentially paying to store that food. That increases the overall cost of that food. Keeping foods in your refrigerator beyond their expiry dates or as science experiments is costing you money! It is also a waste of energy usage to keep things like soda in your refrigerator as these can bee cooled using ice cubes something you are paying to make whether you have an ice maker or not.

Depending on the age of your refrigerator, you are spending a considerable amount of money annually simply to store your food in the refrigerator. If you have a refrigerator that is over 10 years old, replace it if at all possible with and EnergyStar® qualified refrigerator. The payback in energy savings alone is 3 to 4 years or less. However, do not make the mistake of keeping that old refrigerator for a bar fridge or to take the pressure of your main fridge when entertaining. If you need extra refrigerator space for entertaining or beverages you are further off buying a small, energy efficient bar (under the counter) refrigerator. Leave it plugged in only when needed. Alternatives to this is using a large cooler or in cold climates use a protected outdoor space or unheated sunporch.

If you are not in the position to replace your refrigerator or are renting and cannot replace the appliance make sure the seal is tight. Do the dollar bill test. Take a dollar bill and place between the door opening frame and the seal. Shut the door. If you can easily pull the dollar bill out the refrigerator seal needs to be replaced. Two more ways to save on the costs of operating a refrigerator are to set the temperature properly between 3ºC (37ºF) and 4ºC (40ºF). Do not rely on the graded fridge settings but rather use a refrigerator thermometer. Do not keep your fridge colder as that wastes electricity and warmer can cause food spoilage.

Why You Should Keep Your Refrigerator Clean
The obvious answer to why you should keep your refrigerator clean is of course it is storing foods that will go in your body. For that reason alone molds and spoilage should be avoided because let's face it these things can make us quite ill and in some cases even be fatal. But there are other reasons to keep your refrigerator clean, organized and decluttered with the many reason being saving money in electrical costs. Air circulation is critical for proper refrigerator operation and that applies to both outside and inside. Outside keep those coils squeaky clean, dusting often as a layer of dust reduces energy efficiency. In warmer climates consider installing a solar operated refrigerator fan to help cool the coils like those used for RV's and travel trailers. This type of set-up is an easy DIY project that will cost about $40 but will save you a considerable amount more than that by improving the energy efficiency of your refrigerator. Using solar means this cooling boost will not cost you anything in terms of electricity.

An over stuffed refrigerator costs more to operate because air circulation within the cooling compartment is restricted. This results in warm spots in the refrigerator that can cause food spoilage without you realizing it even if your refrigerator thermometer reads correctly. An over stuffed, cluttered fridge costs you much more though. It can greatly increase food wastage as smaller bits and pieces of left-overs get shoved to the back hidden out of sight until they start growing and you have to toss them.

Ideally your refrigerator should be cleaned top to bottom weekly the day before you do your major grocery shopping or before adding a large influx of food for entertaining. Realistically doing a complete cleaning once per month is sufficient while wiping down shelves as spills happen. At least twice a year but preferably quarterly go through all sauces and bottled goods in the refrigerator getting rid of any that are expired. Recycle the bottles and compost the contents. Keeping your fridge decluttered will minimize any waste but be brutal. It is better not to take chances with possible illness or worse!

How to Effectively Clean Your Fridge The Low Cost Effective Way
Vacuum or use a Swiffer® dust cloth to clean the coils. Pull out the drip tray and wash out with soap and water. Replace any water filter cartridges if necessary, usually every 6 months. Turn off your refrigerator. Start with the top shelf and remove everything. Wash the shelf with hot, soapy water and the sides of the fridge. Remove any marking or stains with a Magic Eraser®. Rinse with a mixture of hot water and baking soda. Dry the shelf and sides. Go through everything that was on that shelf removing anything that is past it's expiry date or shows sighs of spoilage. Replace the rest on that shelf and move onto the next shelf. When you get to the cheese drawer and crispers remove and wash. Rinse with the baking soda mixture and dry. Once you have gone through the entire fridge in this manner re-organize if desired. Try to keep one empty shelf. My kids get a real laugh out of this one but seriously during the week this can be used as the left-over shelf and when entertaining for any dishes that need to be refrigerated until serving.

Effective Refrigerator Storage
It is very important that left-overs not be left on this shelf for more than 3 days. Either use them within 3 days, freeze or toss/compost. This will keep the refrigerator clutter under control. It is also very important to store foods properly. Vacuum seal produce in canisters for short term storage and always vacuum seal cheeses to maximize the storage times. Set the humidity settings for your crisper to higher for leafy greens and produce without thick skins. Set it to lower for citrus and thicker skinned fruits and vegetables. Don't store foods that do not require refrigeration in the fridge (eg. bread). Use well sealed, lidded containers such as Tupperware®, Gladware®, Ziploc® reusable containers or casserole pan lids. Avoid using tinfoil, plastic wrap, plastic storage bags and wax paper as these are single use, disposable. All of these ultimately add to your overall cost of food storage. For example, Ziploc® storage bags cost me about 19¢ for the large size and 24¢ for the freezer bags so every time I use one of these bags I have added that cost to the food being stored along with the electricity to store that food until being used. Recycled sour cream or cottage cheese containers work well too just be sure to label. Vacuum sealed mason jars or any jar that a standard mason jar lid will fit (eg. Renee's, mayo, some store bought pasta sauces) can be used and re-used for refrigerated food storage at no cost for the container. Keep those lids as well for sauces and dips you want to store in the fridge until using.

Enjoy!

Garden Gnome
©2006-2009


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lemonade Award (2)



I'm pleased to announce that Stephanie of From Huskies to Husbands and Wanda of 1 Blog 2 Sides have nominated this blog for the Lemonade Award (2). This prestigious award is given to blogs that show great attitude and/or gratitude. I am truly honoured to be the recipient of this award. Thank-you so very, very much for the nomination!

Please take a moment to stop by the blogs of those who nominated me. Both are very good blogs, well designed with interesting information.

Here are the instructions for the Lemonade Award:

  1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
  2. Nominate at least 10 blogs that show attitude and/or gratitude.
  3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
  4. Let them know they have received this award by commenting on a post.
  5. Nominate your favorites and link to this blog.
I visit a lot of blogs daily. Some I stop and read and some I make sure to visit daily because they are that good. I have nominated the following blogs to receive the Lemonade Award:
  1. Family History for Beginners
  2. One Earth, One Life, One Chance
  3. KookyCulinary
  4. Lola's Diner
  5. Mom Two Ways
  6. CrAzy Working Mom
  7. Hairstyles for Girls
  8. Colloquium
  9. Doin' The Working Mom Thing
  10. Grandmother's Pattern Book
Please take a moment to visit these blogs. I'm sure you will enjoy them as well.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Ocean Perch with Orange Sauce

Sauces are one of the easiest ways to give a plain meal a little pizazz! You could serve the same meat, poultry or fish every day for a week yet simply by using different sauces each meal would be very different. I make a lot of jams and jellies but surprisingly we very seldom use them as spreads. Instead they are used as sauces, fillings or ingredients in other dishes. I've mentioned here that I'm a huge fan of breaded fish so on one occasion we were eating at the restaurant owned by friends when I asked for the fish pan fried instead of being coated. It came served with a lovely orange sauce that I immediately thought I should make a few jars of orange jelly to have on hand as a sauce for fish.

Ocean Perch with Orange Sauce

The orange jelly has a firm texture so if the jelly is dumped out from the jar it could be cut with a knife. Using Pomona's Universal pectin means the jelly is low sugar as well. Spenda® can be used in place of sugar in the jelly recipe if desired. To use as a light refreshing sauce the jelly is warmed in the microwave oven until pourable. Orange sauce is wonderful for any light tasting whitefish that has been either broiled or pan fried. It enhances the flavour of the fish without overpowering it.

Wednesday night I made pan fried ocean perch (as opposed to our normal local perch) with orange sauce served with cucumber slices and steamed potatoes as sides. I garnished with a tangerine wedge in place of a slice of orange because I didn't have oranges (need to go shopping). The fish was pan fried and seasoned lightly with garlic pepper. The orange sauce was simply spooned over the fish. Steamed potatoes are one of our favourite sides because they are easy to make, low calorie and they have a nice firm texture. The entire meal was light in calories yet filling. Rice would work well in place of potatoes.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Fun Garnishes


Add a touch of whimsy and fun to your vegetable or fruit trays as well a garnishing your meals using small to medium cookie cutters! Cut thin slices of carrots into small butterflies or flowers. Cut cheese slices into gingerbread men to garnish steamed broccoli. These are easy kid pleasers and you are only limited by your collection of cookie cutters.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Social Event Barbeque

Last Saturday night we were invited to a social event hosted by a service club in a community about 40 minutes from us. I've mentioned before on this blog how much I enjoy going to local food events. They are always filled with good food, lots of laughter and tend to be overall just a very lovely way to spend and evening.

Taygur Barbecue on Wheels

Saturday's dinner was a barbequed rib and chicken dinner catered by Taygur Barbecue on Wheels for the social event. I couldn't find a website for them which is a pity because their food is really good! The ribs were nice and meaty with lots of flavour as was the chicken. The ribs and chicken were served with baked potatoes, baked beans, a vegetable mix as well as the usual rolls. The vegetable mix included parsnips a vegetable that is not widely served unless requested. Parsnips look like carrots but are usually a creamy, yellowish white and they have a stronger flavour. Now parsnips by them selves may be too strong from some tastes but they add a lot of flavour to soups and stews. Parsnips are also quite lovely roasted served they way they were. The baked beans were quite tasty, rich and robust with larger pieces of onion and tomato. They also had a lovely fruit tray, something that is not always served at these types of events. Overall this was really a nicely presented meal that packed a lot of flavour. We will certainly be watching for their name to come up again when determining which events to go to.

For the most part these types of events cost $8 to $12 per plate. There is usually some type of social either structured or unstructured takes place after the meal. They are usually dinners but some service clubs host breakfasts and luncheons as well. On our list to attend events to attend for February are a pickerel fish fry, a roast beef dinner and possibly a Chinese dinner. To find these kinds of events, check the community section of your local newspaper.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Baked Venison Loin Chops

I posted earlier that the guys had a successful hunt so were able to split the meat of one deer between those who wanted venison. This is done traditionally for the members attending hunt camp. Also traditional is bringing a dish made with the previous kill to the next hunt camp for good luck. We ended up with about 16 lb of venison, most of it ground. That doesn't sound like a lot of meat but everyone got a bit to keep the tradition going. I'm just happy they had a successful hunt! I'll use the ground venison for venison chili and venison burgers. I'm planning on making venison meatloaf as well.

Baked Venison Loin Chops

There was a package of 4 venison loin chops so I decided to bake them for Sunday's dinner. Venison chops are generally not cut very thick and they are not all that big but 2 each per person is a nice serving size. Bacon or pork is generally added to venison when cooking. Venison is a very lean meat and in some cases can have a strong gamey taste The gamey taste can be solved by removing any fat and soaking the venison in a solution of water, vinegar and salt or use a vinegar based marinade. Then use a longer, slow cook method. Venison fat has a low mouth feel as it begins to cool. Replace the venison fat using pork fat which has a a nicer mouth feel and ads to the overall flavour of the venison. I think that maple syrup pairs nicely with venison too so like to use that as an ingredient when cooking venison. I served the baked venison loin chops with home canned herb glazed carrots and baked potatoes. The aromatic rosemary overtones in the carrots were quite pleasant with the baked venison loin chops.

Method: I lined the bottom of a 9" x 9" baking pan with bacon then placed the 4 loin chops on the bacon. I poured about a cup of 100% pure maple syrup over the chops then topped each chop with a piece of bacon. I baked at 350ºF until the chops were cooked through.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Brand Loyalty

Frugal Kitchens 101
Last week's poll asked the question "In terms of your food and household sundries (eg. laundry soap, toothpaste, etc) purchases, how brand loyal are you?" Seventy-three people voted in the poll. The results were:

1% I'm very brand loyal and refuse to try any other brand even if it is cheaper.
19% I'm brand loyal for the most part but will occasionally try another brand if it is cheaper.
56% I'm brand loyal but only for certain products.
23% I am not brand loyal and will buy whatever brand is cheapest.
I am essentially in the 56% category and because I do so much as far as home preserving, staying brand loyal does not have that great of an effect on us. At the same time I am flexible because you never know when you might find a cheaper but just as good alternative. I am not surprised at the results but I do think the last category will increase with the ongoing recession. Buying the cheapest brand is to be expected when money is tight. Quite often one of the first pieces of advice given to anyone trying to cut back their food costs is to not be brand loyal. However, I feel this is bad advice. Being brand loyal can actually save you money if you use brand loyalty properly!

When Not to Be Brand Loyal
Certain foods have to meet specific standards. For example 2% milk has to contain 2% milk fat (M.F.) regardless of the brand. In this case buy the cheapest brand based on unit pricing instead of being brand loyal. The same holds true for most dried pastas, cream cheese, eggs, butter, dried beans, popcorn, white sugar, most flours although some brands differ in gluten content, some herb or spice blends, white 5% acetic acid vinegar, corn starch, iodized regular salt, baking soda, yellow prepared mustard and the list could go on. Most canned fruits and vegetables are canned in the same factories with no difference other than the label. So if you buy whole tomatoes for example, buy the cheapest brand available. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are the same regardless of the brand. If you notice many of these foods are basic ingredients and these are the things that should be bought in bulk if possible for the cheapest unit price.

When Being Brand Loyal Is Frustrating
Every family has their favourite brands. These tend to be propriety type products such as Campbell's chicken noodle soup where a particular recipe is used and other brands have not duplicated the taste or texture. The problem is trying to substitute a cheaper brand that does not taste the same. You might get lucky on your first try but quite often that is not the case. In the long run it will be cheaper and less frustrating for you to use the desired brand name and cut back elsewhere. Remember that a bargain priced food is not a bargain if your family won't eat it!

Being brand loyal can also be frustrating when that brand produces a food no other brand does. These are very specific food products and may even be available only in certain countries or regions of the country. A good example of this is the Diana sauce I often mention on this blog. It is only distributed in Canada and I have not found a close substitute for it in the USA. Another example is the specialty barbeque sauces we buy at ribfests. These are not widely distributed and some of them are only available in certain regions. The only way you are going to get the exact taste of these types of foods is to buy that particular brand name.

How Brand Loyalty Can Save You Money
First and foremost if this is your family's favourite brand then that food will not go to waste. Remember that food wastage costs you money. Second, there always more coupons available for brand name products and in some areas those coupon values are doubled or tripled depending on the store. Where we live coupons are not doubled or tripled and they aren't all that popular but if you can do take advantage of coupons keeping in mind to only buy what your family will use in the first place. Coupons are a good way to try another brand as well. A third way brand loyalty can save you money is buying the store brand. Each larger grocery store has their own brand. For example, here No Frills™ brand is No Name®; Price Chopper, Foodland® and Sobeys brand is Compliments; Food Basics is Selection; and Loblaws, RCSS, Independent, Fortinos, Zehrs, Valu-mart, No Frills™ and Freshmart is President's Choice®. Note that those stores using the same store brand are actually owned by the same company and the stores range from higher end to low end as far as price goes. That means you can buy the store brand at say No Frills™ than you can at Zehrs because Zehrs is the higher end store in the Loblaws chain. Many of these store brands are of equal or better quality than national brand name foods as well. However, some are not as good and might not meet your family's standards so when trying a store brand for the first time buy only enough for one meal. If the store brand is well received then stock up.

The Final Line
Shop smart when being brand loyal. Always, always, always buy on sale! Sales are cyclic so learn the sales cycle for your area. For example pasta always goes on sale here near the time the heating season starts. It also goes on sale again right around March break. Always buy enough to get you though to the next sale on that product. Use coupons if at all possible but only for those foods your family will eat. Don't be so inflexible when it comes to brand loyalty as to not try another brand. At some point your favourite brand may no longer be available which will force you to find a substitute. Trying other brands may give you a pleasant surprise in a product you like better as well.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dressed Up Shake & Bake Chicken

I posted earlier about making a homemade shake & bake mix for chicken along with our traditional way for serving this comfort food. However, this homemade coating mix can be used for boneless, skinless chicken breasts as I did in this meal or for homemade chicken nuggets or chicken fried steak. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts can even be cut into smaller pieces then breaded an baked for a healthier version of chicken popcorn.

Chicken & Egg Noodles

Provence seasoned Last Thursday I decided to make a quick and easy dinner using baked coated boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I paired the chicken with buttered extra broad egg noodles then topped both with an Herbs de Provence Parmesan white sauce. Tomato slices added a nice accent to the meal.

Method: Coat the chicken and bake at 350ºF until golden brown. Cook the egg noodles to al dente. Drain and stir in about 1 tbsp butter. Plate and top both with white sauce.

Herbs de Provence Parmesan White Sauce

2 c half & half cream
½ c fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp Herbs de Provence
2 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp water

Warm the half & half and Parmesan cheese until cheese is melted and mixture comes to almost a boil. Stir in the herb mixture. In a small bowl mix the corn starch and water. Slowly pour the corn starch mixture into the milk mixture while stirring. Continue to heat the mixture while stirring until the sauce is thickened.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Snack Mix

As promised here is the recipe for the snack mix our friend brought to the Super Bowl party (picture here). The recipe is from our friends as I received it yesterday. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe. It was a huge hit with the guys.

My Notes: Dill weed and dill leaf are the same to distinguish the foliage from the seeds for culinary use. What I like about this version is there is no baking involved so it can quickly be mixed and set aside while you other dishes prepared for entertaining. It is a perfect snack for events like Super Bowl parties. Store in an air tight container.

Snack Mix
recipe by a friend

1/2 cup oil
2 teaspoons dill leaf
1 dry package ranch dressing

Mix these 3 ingredients together and pour over 8 cups mix

Goldfish crackers
Cheese nips
Broken pretzels
Crispex cereal
Cheerios
Mini Breton Crackers
Corn Bran cereal
1/2 mixed nuts

This is the recipe [edited] as we received it. Put whatever you want in it, but just 8
cups. We put 2 kinds of pretzels in it. I bought Presidents Choice mini
crackers for it, they look like Mini Breton crackers but are $1.00 cheaper.
Also we used just peanuts not mixed nuts. It looks really greasy when you
first make it, but after a few hours it all soaks in. Also I used dillweed,
I don't know if there's are difference between the two or not.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Recipe Changes


Any time you try a recipe make a note feedback and/or any changes you made. Tweaking this way will help you develop the recipe to your tastes. This is one time it's ok to write in books :)


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Blender

Note: I have added a new feature that you may have already noticed. At the end of each blog there are three pictures or three links of similar posts from this blog's archives. Clicking on one of them will take you directly to that post. I hope you find this feature useful.

Next to my slow cookers my blender is likely right up there as one of my least used on a regular basis kitchen appliances. Usage tends to be quite seasonal with higher use during the summer months, preserving or doing bulk canning sessions. A couple of weeks ago someone on one of the Yahoo!® groups I read mentioned using canning jars with the blender. It was as if a light bulb went off!

Blender & Jars

When I got my blender ages ago it came with two mini jars (red arrow) with lids that I used quite a bit for grinding coffee before getting a coffee grinder. I use the jars mainly for grinding herbs. The white lid shown in the picture is a Bernardin® storage lid for mason jars available where ever canning supplies are sold. The heavy plastic jars screw onto the blender fitting then are turned into the blender seating. Standard (70 mm) two piece mason jar lids fit these jars.

I did a bit of research after hearing about the mason jar tip. One source said that at one time a mason jar with lid was included with every new blender along with instructions for using it. Now it makes perfect sense to mix sauces and dips directly in the container you want to store them in. Many sauces and dips need to sit for a period before serving so the flavours meld together. Grinding herbs directly into storage jars eliminates that fine powder from going everywhere when the blender pitcher is opened. More importantly there is a lot less mess and clean-up using the smaller storage jars.

Method

I make a lovely vegetable dip for the Super Bowl party using the mason jar method. If you don't have a mason jar a recycled mayonnaise jar or any jar that a mason lid fits will work. I spooned the sour cream, herb blend (garlic & onion) and Miracle Whip® into a 500 ml (pint) mason jar leaving about an inch headspace (1). Then I screwed on the blender fitting (2) and inverted the jar with fitting onto the blender seating (3). I held the top of the jar while blending just as I would when using the regular blender pitcher. I stopped once mid through the blending to give the jar a good shake. When the dip was fully blended I removed the jar with the fitting from the blender and inverted it allowing the contents to settle for about 5 minutes (4).

Ready for Refrigerator

After the contents settles a little I removed the blender fitting and placed the plastic storage lid onto the jar. The jar went into the fridge while I did the clean-up of washing only the blender fitting and two spoons - no spatulas, no bowls, no large pitcher, no funnel. There was no mess or spills either. It was quick and convenient!

This really was a case of having the equipment but not using it to its potential until I was reminded of the possibilities. True I had been using the method for grinding coffee and herbs but there is so many more possibilities when it comes to sauces and dips. So check your blender to see if you can use this tip. It will save you time and ultimately money with less clean-up.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

More Highlights from Super Bowl Party

Anyone who follows this blog knows we do a lot of entertaining and quite often host events of 20 to 30 people but sometimes more on a regular basis. Sometimes we will host more than one of these larger events in a month. Usually the Monday before the event I sit down to do a bit of planning which seriously is one of the few times I menu plan. I'll tweak the menu to try new dishes as well as tried and true. By the Wednesday I have the grocery list ready and have already started some of the prep work.

I estimate the length of the event them break it down into 2 hour periods. So for an event like the Super Bowl Party with people arriving just before lunch the first hot appetizer or snack was scheduled to be served about 2 pm, dinner at 5 pm, evening snack at 7:30 pm, hot late dinner 10:00 - 10:30 pm. At the same time a wide variety of snack type foods were served on a continuous basis. I have to keep in mind that some guests arrive with snacks and food so that has to get out as well.


Snack Mix

One of our friend's wife more often than not sends a homemade banana cake that is simply to die for. It is one of the best I've ever tasted and no I do not have the recipe (sorry). For this event she not only made her famous banana cake but also a snack mix similar to Scrabble except to my understanding was this snack mix was not baked. I have an email out to our friend so hopefully she shares her recipe.

In the meantime I have found several recipes for a similar mix online so will be doing a bit of experimenting. What I like about this type of mixture is you can really customize it not only with the individual snack ingredients but also with the seasonings used. It's a popular type of snack mix for those who like to pick and choose as well as for those who want just a little of this and a little of that.

Refillable Squeeze Bottle

Entertaining on any scale often requires extras you might not use on a daily basis. Sam's Club sells a package of 6 clear (really translucent), red or yellow 6 oz squeeze bottles for $4.34. They are food grade plastic perfect for all your homemade sauces and are perfect for casual type entertaining on the table or behind the scenes for more formal entertaining. The only fault I have with these squeeze bottles is there is no lid so I just use as small piece of tin foil to cover the nozzle.

Sam's Club is a great place to pick up commercial grade items like this and so much more. While some of the serving extras they carry are disposable a lot of them are not. Their restaurant grade cutlery and serving items are well worth checking out.

Nachos

Nachos and cheese are served at many of our events so I wanted something that was a little special and not necessarily disposable. I bought a package of 125 nacho clear plastic trays for $5 at Sam's Club. What is nice about these trays is they can be washed and re-used. At the same time if you are hosting a larger event and don't want to wash them they can be rinsed then popped into the recycle bin.

My husband won the football themed Crock-Pot at a golf tournament so it was perfect for the Super Bowl party. I used that to keep the cheese sauce warm. Not shown are the really cute football shaped serving dishes from Planters® that I used for extra nacho chips and late homemade popcorn. Using these types of themed servingware really adds to the event.

Taco Dip

One of our friends' wife sent a taco dip with Tostitos® Scoops®. This appetizer became popular well over 10 years ago and remains one of the most popular appetizers to appear at any gathering. It is popular because it is an easy, inexpensive dish to put together in very little time with no cooking. It travels well and everyone likes it. It is also a very versatile dish that can use a variety of toppings and toppings can be omitted if desired. There are many, many variations of this dip including my specialty Mexican Layered Dip.

Essentially the base is made using taco seasoning, cream cheese and Miracle Whip® or mayonnaise. The base is spread on the bottom of the serving dish. The selection of vegetables and/or sauce are then placed on top along with grated cheese of your choice. As you can see there is a lot of lea way as far as toppings and choice of cheese. At any rate this is a must make appetizer that is sure to please.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Reducing Food Waste

Frugal Kitchens 101
Two important areas of avoiding waste in frugal kitchens are food and energy usage. Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 will focus on avoiding food waste. Every time a food spoils before it can be used or anytime food including any portion of that food is tossed you are basically tossing out your hard earned food dollars. The average home kitchen can loose hundreds of dollars each year just on wasted food. It is virtually impossible to prevent all food waste in the kitchen but it is certainly possible to minimize this waste.

To lessen food wastage, the following points should be considered. On the surface you will likely say "I already knew that." but hopefully I will add a few tips you didn't know that will help you.

  1. proper storage
  2. food prep
  3. planning
  4. serve smaller portions
  5. use every last drop
  6. buy/preserve only what you will use
Proper Storage
It goes without saying that all foods should be properly stored in terms of temperature, air and light exposure. In many areas food also needs to be protected against insects, rodents and humidity. All foods stored in your pantry should be in glass, metal or food grade containers. Vacuum sealed mason jars are ideal for storing dried foods as they offer the best protection against the aforementioned problems. Larger 1 and two gallon glass jars can often be found for no charge simply by asking at restaurants or other institutions like nursing homes. Quite often these large jars can be found at yard sales as well. I save any of the institutional sized jars when empty from other products I buy in bulk. If someone you know buys at the warehouse stores (eg. Sam's Club, Costco's) and they use institutional sized jars ask them to save the jars for you.
You can prevent a considerable amount of food spoilage by investing in a FoodSaver® vacuum sealer. Not only can this relatively inexpensive kitchen appliance vacuum seal special storage/freezer bags it can vacuum seal mason jars or optional canisters extending the shelf life of pantry foods and prevent food loss from freezer burn. Vacuum sealing in glass is a sure fire way to protect your food from rodents, insects and humidity. At the same time the FoodSaver® can re-seal opened bags such as potato chip and snacks bags keeping the food fresh for later use.

Food Prep

How many times have you peeled potatoes then toss out the peelings? Now consider if you pay $2.49 for a 10 lb bag of potatoes. If about 10% of that bag is just potato skins you are essentially tossing out 25¢ per bag or $6 per year. Sure it's not a lot of money but if you extend this idea to all your food prep you can see where this can add up to a substantial amount of money over the year. Vegetables should be well washed then if peeled the peelings can be froze to use in making vegetable stocks when you have enough. Once the stocks has been made, strain it well and put the remainder of the peels into the compost bin. You have now added another product to your pantry shelves or freezer while enjoying the vegetables earlier and you have put the used peelings towards a product that will put more food on your table. It's a win/win situation. Bones can be froze until you have enough to make stock. Unfortunately bones should not go in the compost so should be discarded. Some vegetable peels (beets, onion skins) make great natural dyes for Easter eggs, paper and textiles.

Extend this thinking to include egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, left-over coffee and left-over tea. These are all foods you have paid for so maximize that cost. Ground egg shells sprinkled throughout your gardens is a natural, organic slug and snail control. Coffee grounds can act as a natural, organic nitrogen supplement, a soil amendment and slug/snail deterrent in the garden. Tea leaves are a good soil amendment for increasing the acidity in alkaline soils. Used tea bags can be used for reseeding bare spots in your grass. Cold, used tea bags are great for soothing puffy eyes. Both tea and coffee can be used as a natural dye for paper and textiles. Use dried tea leaves as a potpourri for a natural, light scent. If you have a baking dish with caked on grease, fill with water then drop a tea bag in and leave overnight. The acid will break down the grease. Use left-over coffee for making rye and pumpernickel breads, coffee ice cream, coffee ice cubes and iced coffee. Dilute left-over coffee to use for watering house plants.

Planning
Anytime you are cooking, plan to maximize the energy you are using. For example, cook two roast instead of one. Use one for dinner and planned left-overs. Slice half of the other roast for sandwich meat and freeze. Cut the other half into slices then pour any remaining gravy over, freeze. When you make soups, stews, chili or spaghetti sauce always make a large enough batch for that day's dinner plus enough to can or freeze. In this manner you are constantly adding to your freezer and pantry. Cook extra during the winter months when you want the heat indoors to stock your freezer and pantry with ready to use meals and quick meal starts for the summer when you don't want the heat indoors. Focus on planned left-overs. For example if you have a traditional meatloaf dinner on Monday plan to use the left-over meatloaf Wednesday in meatloaf sandwiches served with a pickle spear and homemade French fries for an easy, frugal meal that is different from the original.

One of the biggest wasters of food dollars is putting a left-over into the fridge then it gets pushed to the back of the fridge where you pay to store it until the resulting science experiment is tossed. Ideally you should not have your refrigerator so stuffed that this happens and a stuffed fridge costs more to operate because of reduced air circulation however in reality this happens to all of us. Try keeping one refrigerator shelf dedicated to just left-overs. For normal day to day use this works nicely. If a left-over is on the shelf for more than two days, use it or freeze it. However, events such as holidays and entertaining can greatly tax your refrigerator with a lot of left-overs, stuffed where ever they will fit. The best way to deal with this is tackle the over flow the following day. Freeze what ever you can that will not be used in the next two days.

Serve Smaller Portions
Anyone who has had children knows to reduce their portion size because they simply do not eat as much as an adult. The same principle applies for all servings. Reduce the portion size with the option of having seconds if they are still hungry. This reduces uneaten food on plates that cannot be safely saved. However, food scrapings are money! Unless they are meat, cheese or bones all food scrapings should be composted. Even if you do not garden, compost can be used as a natural fertilizer for your lawn. If you live in an apartment think vermiculture to reduce those food scraps to compost for use in growing edible plants indoors. Food scraps can also be fed to chickens and pigs if you are fortunate to live where you can have them. By far the first two choices will see those small bits of food dollars go back into providing you with more food. Left-over pieces of fruit that have a bite or two out of them can be put out for the birds if desired. Partially eaten bread products that cannot safely be used again can be put out for the birds as well but be careful doing this as you may attract rodents. If this is the case, you are further off putting the scraps into a secured compost bin where rodents and other small animals will not be able to get into. In some progressive communities (eg. Guelph, Ontario) food scraps can be separated from other household recyclables and put to the curb for recycling as well. This is an ideal solution for those living in apartments so give your local waste recyclers a call to see what they accept.

Use Every Last Drop
One way that food gets wasted is by not getting it all out of the container. This particularly applies to anything in a squeeze bottle or jar. There's only a smidgen left so it's easy to just say to heck with it. A spatula is ideal for getting that last little bit out of jars and you should have several sizes of spatulas on hand for this purpose. When using that last little drop from a squeeze bottle or jar as an ingredient use one of the liquids from the recipe to rinse out the bottle. That way you are not diluting the ingredient for the recipe. Save butter and shortening wrappers for greasing baking dishes. Use a toothpaste squeezer for getting that last little bit out of foods that come in tubes.

Buy/Preserve Only What You Will Use
For day to day food purchases buying a little extra makes good common sense because part of that extra can be used for another meal. It also makes good economic sense to buy in bulk those staples you use a lot of. So many are now realizing the value of a well stocked pantry. What I have noticed is some are doing this type of stocking up without taking into consideration what they will and will not use. This just does not make good economic sense. The same hold true when you are home preserving. Never buy or preserve anything for your pantry you will not use! Even something bought on sale on the premise that you might use it is not a good frugal practice. Tossing stored food that is beyond it's expiry date is not frugal either. Know your eating habits and stock your pantry accordingly. For example, if you use on average 16 oz (purchased or home canned) corn per week, you should stock 52 jars/cans of corn plus 8 extra to round it to 60 and give you just a bit extra. If you are home canning that means going from one growing season to another so you will need to stock all 60 jars but if you are buying canned corn you could get away with stocking from sale to sale so would only need 20 - 30 cans on hand depending on the sales in your area. Always buy or can/freeze/dry based on your family's usage.

Now is a good time to aim for that one year supply of food. That doesn't mean you need to go out and buy all that food at once. Shop the sales focusing on one or two products that you do use then buy $20 worth of those products. Chances are good that product will be on sale again so don't worry. Continue in this fashion for those items that you use. Avoid mixes, convenience foods and snacks. Focus on whole foods, grains, dried pasta, beans, fours, baking supplies, nuts and that type of food. Other good foods to stock up on include instant potatoes, dried milk, canned tuna and canned fruits/vegetables if you do not can your own. Consider canning, drying and freezing foods even if you do not garden. Garden in anyway that you can for a cheap way of increasing your pantry stores. Whatever you do, keep the primary rule in mind.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Superbowl Sunday

[My apologies for not posting this in advance. This blog entry is being created as food is served so is a bit delayed for the photo shoots.]

Well it is that time of year again. This year we are hosting a superbowl party of 20 to 30, mainly guys but some of the wives are coming out as well. They started arriving just before lunchtime. They are playing poker watching one game and waiting for the big game to start. The party will continue into the wee hours of the morning. The menu is rather a mish mash of finger food trying to keep things easy but interesting.

Appetizers: vegetable tray, bacon wrapped cocktail wieners, cocktail wieners with various dips
Dinner: homemade chili with nacho chips, rolls or crackers
Deserts: date squares, chocolate chip cookies
Snacks: stovetop popped pop corn, nachos with cheese & salsa, pretzels dipped in chocolate, pretzels with mustard

I made the chili Saturday , a huge pot so will fill the largest crockpot (about 1/4 of the chili) with enough to heat for about 5ish. After dinner I'll set it up again for a later evening snack. Everything else will be out except for the hot appetizers that I pass around on trays. Quite a few attending also bring snacky type foods even though I always say no so I'll have to work those into the day as well. For these types of events snacks are constantly out for those who want to nibble. I aim to serve a hot appetizer or snack about every 2 hours with dinner served about 5:30 PM. The last hot snack is served about 10:30 PM with finger foods left out for snacking after that.

Chocolate Pretzels

I came across the idea of chocolate dipped pretzels from a gift basket we received but apparently this is not a new idea. Something sweet, specifically chocolate nicely accents the saltiness of of the pretzels. The crunch is just a nice snack effect.

Sam's Club sells a 55 oz barrel of large pretzel sticks for $5.57. These pretzels are the perfect size for dipping in chocolate or other sauces. Chocolate wafers for candy making can be found anywhere they sell candy making supplies. Bulk Barn in Ontario sells them as does Goulda's KitchenI had about a half pound of white chocolate mint wafer's left over from Christmas candy making that I decided to use for dipping the pretzels in. I was a bit unsure of the mint but one taste of the combination told me it was fine. The guys loved the chocolate dipped pretzel sticks so this will be a snack I will be making again for these types of events.

Method: Bring water to boil in a double broiler or use a large sauce pan for the water and a smaller one for the chocolate. Place the chocolate wafers in the smaller pan letting the hot water from the larger pan melt the chocolate. Dip each pretzel about 2 inches into the chocolate. Swirl a little then place on a sheet of wax paper to cool. When the chocolate has hardened place the pretzels on a serving platter for serving.

Date Squares

The superbowl party much like the monthly card parties means finger foods even for desserts. Bars, squares and cookies are an ideal choice. Date squares are great because they go over well and left overs make great breakfast bars.

Date Squares

3 c chopped dates
¼ c organic sugar
1½ c water
¾ c butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
1¾ c unbleached flour
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp baking soda
1½ c quick-cooking oats

Mix the first three ingredients together in a saucepan. Cook over low heat while stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Allow the date mixture to cool. Place the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a KitchenAid® stand mixer or similar. Mix well. Grease a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan. Pour half of the flour mixture into the pan. Press it evenly in the bottom of the pan. Spoon the date mixture over this and spread evenly. Top with the remaining flour mix and press lightly. Bake at 400ºF for 25 to 30 minutes or until light golden brown. Cut into 1 x 3 inch bars while still warm.

Bacon Wrapped Smokies

I am always trying new appetizers so when I came across a recipe at Allrecipes for using smokies as an appetizer that was different from using a sauce so I just had to try it. I read through the recipe then decided it really was more of a method with no hard set amounts. So I went with that. These appetizers were a huge winner!

I bought a 3.5 lb package of Hillshire Farm's Lit'l Smokies for $7.73 (US) and a 500 g package of President's Choice bacon for $3.49 (CDN). I used about ⅓ of the package of smokies and almost all of the bacon.

Method: Cut across the bacon strips to form three sections. Wrap each smokie in a strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place the wrapped smokies onto a Silpat® lined baking sheet. If you do not have a Silpat® use parchment paper. Sprinkle brown sugar over the wrapped smokies. Bake at 325ºF for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and place on platter for serving.

I hope everyone enjoyed their superbowl Sunday :)