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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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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hubby's Weekend Cooking

I have often mentioned on this blog my husband's wonderful cooking skills. He makes one of the best burgers you will ever taste but his real signature dish is his breaded pork chops! This past weekend he decided to take over the kitchen! Here's what he came up with.

rib roastRib Roast

Thursday morning I was rummaging through one of the chest freezers holding our new supply of organic, hormone free beef. I wanted ground beef but as I was looking for that I spotted a rib roast that somehow had two corners torn. This does happen with bulk meat purchases from time to time with the transporting from the abattoir to home freezer. It was hot and humid not really nice roast weather day so I put the roast into the refrigerator to thaw.

Saturday my husband wrapped the roast tightly and cooked it on the grill. At the same time he cooked potatoes seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper then wrapped in foil on the grill. The side vegetables were cauliflower with a little butter and nutmeg, sliced tomatoes and cucumber quarters. It was a lovely meal that kept most of the prep heat out of the house.

eggs and baconBreakfast

Yes I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day but I have to admit that during the week we very seldom eat breakfast especially a cooked one. I'm quite happy with a bit of homemade yogurt with my coffee or latte while my husband occasionally enjoys a toasted bagel. When we are on vacation or on the weekends we make up for it by having a hot breakfast.

There were left over potatoes from Saturday's roast dinner and half a ream of frozen bacon left from the omelet made the weekend before. In true frugal fashion he fried the bacon on the indoor griddle then set it aside to warm the potatoes. When the potatoes were warmed though he put the eggs on while I made the toast. Once plated we sat eating and chit chatting while watching the beauty of the water.

barbeque rib roast pizzaBarbeque Rib Roast Pizza

The rib roast dinner on Saturday had been an unplanned meal. It was a larger roast as well so there were left overs. Saturday night as we watched a bit of television a commercial for a steak pizza came on. That became the inspiration for a different way to use up some of the rib roast.

I put in a batch of pizza dough just after 3 PM. With the heat and humidity the proofing went a bit quicker than expected. My husband took it from there. Instead of a tomato pizza sauce he used Diana Sauce® for the sauce. After spreading a even layer of Diana Sauce® he layered on thin slices of the roast beef and chopped onions then topped with mozzarella cheese. This mouthwatering pizza tasted every bit as good as it looked! What a wonderful and unique way to use up roast beef!


Monday, June 29, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Ingredients

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

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

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

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


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

It is a standing joke with both my family and friends at how many excuses I can come up with to not go to the grocery store. By far a very, very small portion of our food dollar is spent in a regular grocery store. That means I really don't get to see the food trends other than online. Last one of our friends visited with his little 8 yr old who had a package of mini muffins for a snack. There were 6 mini muffins in the package. That idea made a lot of sense to me because sometime you just want a snack and not a whole muffin. So I was off to buy a mini muffin tray. I chose a non-stick Wilton® 24 -cup mini muffin tin to use for mini muffins, cupcakes and tarts.

banana chocolate chip muffinsBanana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Banana just pairs nicely with chocolate so I decided to make banana chocolate chip muffins in between storms today. This muffin is easy to put together quickly and is a good way to use up any very ripe bananas. These muffins have a cake like texture and a lovely flavour!

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
adapted from: Company's Coming, Muffins & More. 1983. Pp10.

1¾ c unbleached flour
½ c organic sugar'
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
½ c semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 egg
¼ c cooking oil
¼ c milk
1 c mashed bananas

Measure the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly with fork. Make a well in the centre. Beat egg until frothy. Mix in oil, milk and bananas. Pour this mixture into the well. Stir only to moisten. The batter will be lumpy. Fill the lightly greased muffin tins ¾ full. Bake at 200ºC (400ºF) for 20 minutes or until golden brown.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Truly Canadian! - Butter Tarts

A lot of readers have likely been wondering when I would write about another truly Canadian treat - butter tarts. For those who do not know what butter tarts are they are a gooey, sweet filling inside a rustic flaky pastry crust. They are available commercially but trust me on this they are considerably better homemade.

pastry doughTart Shells

The basis of butter tarts is the crust. I was always told that cold hands make the best pastry as well as meaning a warm heart. Pastry crust must be flaky! My favourite pastry crust recipe works nicely for this recipe. The important thing to remember with any pastry dough is to not overwork it as that will make. You want to get the dough just to the point that it hold together. Roll the dough on a chilled surface if possible or use a chilled marble rolling pin. Cut the dough into 4 - inch circles (left). Hold the circle using both hands. With the thumb and forefinger pinch lightly together forming a cup then lightly push into the muffin tin. Lightly push the sides to fit the opening. Do not trim the crust! The crust should look wrinkled, uneven and rough.

butter tartsButter Tarts

Once you have your tart shells prepared you need to prepare the filling. If you have not tried butter tarts you are in for a real Canadian treat! Just look at how gorgeous these tarts are!

Butter Tarts
adapted from Kate Aitken's Canadian Cook Book, 1965. Pp. 230

pastry for 12 lg tart tins
1 c corn syrup
⅔ c brown sugar
2 eggs slightly beaten
¼ c butter
¼ tsp sea salt
⅔ c raisins
½ tsp vanilla

Prepare pastry and line tins. Pre-heat oven to 232ºC (450ºF). Mix corn syrup with brown sugar in saucepan. Cook over medium low for 5 minutes. Cool slightly. Pour over slightly beaten eggs, beating continuously. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Fill unbaked tart shells ⅔ full. Bake at 232ºC (450ºF) for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 180ºC (350ºF) and bake 15 - 20 minutes or until filling is set.
Yield: 12 tarts


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Butter Wrappers

kitchen quick tips

Fold and save butter wrappers in the butter compartment of your refrigerator. Use these wrappers to grease cookie sheets, muffin tins and other bakeware.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Bit of Kitchen Chit Chat

Goodness we have been waiting for the warm weather that has taken forever to arrive this year. Does it ever feel lovely despite the high humidity. It's days like this that I am very appreciative of having the kitchen in the lower level of a semi earth bermed home. Cool breezes off the water keeps the kitchen comfortable most summer days. Even though this is the second smallest kitchen we've had since owning houses, it is by far the most energy efficient.

Decker's Landing Mel BurgerMel Burger

Summer weather means boating! Monday we took a spur of the moment boat ride. It was beautiful out especially desirable when boating. After enjoying fun in the sun on the water we stopped at Decker's Landing for dinner. They have a new burger called the Mel Burger. This burger is ½ lb of ground round with bacon, American cheese, iceberg lettuce, sliced onion and Cajun ranch served with fries. That day they had a buy one get one free special. We ordered a side of onion rings as well. The total with beverages came in at just under $24 for two people. The service as always was friendly and fast. The atmosphere was delightful!

strawberries jamStrawberries

Ontario strawberries are ripe for the picking! My husband brought me home a flat. I was astonished that they had gone up to $18 up $3 from last year. Obviously this farmer is taking advantage of other U-picks closing in the area meaning he has a bit of a monopoly. Even the grocery store prices are cheaper! I'm hoping to have our new strawberry bed producing enough next year that I won't have to buy them again.

I made 4 jars of low sugar strawberry jam for the pantry with half the berries using Pomona's pectin as well as reducing the sugar from 4 cups to 3 cups. Using this method I can get the sugar down to 2 cups or substitute the sugar with honey or Splenda® so the next batch will be made using local honey. I also ended up with almost a full jar (forefront) of jam for immediate use. The only downside I find to using Pomona's pectin in unlike regular pectin where it thickens before pouring into the jars so stirring prevents floating fruit, the Pomona's continues to thicken as the jam cools. So there is a bit of floating fruit that won't win a county fair award but simply stirring after opening this gourmet style low sugar jam is sure to please!

bulk chicken purchaseBulk Chicken

A few weeks ago I wrote about Maple Lodge Farms in Brampton, ON. One of our kids brought us home a box of chicken wings and a box of legs with backs attached. Pictured is how the chicken is packaged in a large plastic bag inside a box. I vacuum sealed the chicken legs for longer storage. Vacuum sealing prevents freezer burn during longer freezer storage. I ended up with 10 - 2 piece vacuum sealed packages.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Knives

Frugal Kitchens 101
Knives are a fundamental tool in the kitchen. There are many styles each designed for a specific purpose. There is also a myth that you must by expensive knives for decent kitchen results. Did you know the number one accident in the kitchen is caused by dull knives? It's true! So today's Frugal Kitchens 101 will discuss some of my views on kitchen knives, what I like and what I don't like from a frugal perspective.

As a newlywed setting up a kitchen, I knew very little about knives other than I knew I needed a paring knife and a butcher knife. As my cooking skills increased I realized the importance of a serrated knife. Other than that I really did not pay much attention to my knives. Over the years I would pick up a knife or two that struck my fancy at yard sales or the resale shops. I'd use the sharpening steel on them, wash then casually put them in the large knife holder in the silverware drawer. A few years and I discovered knife blocks. The knives were moved from the silverware drawer to the knife blocks. About 5 years ago I bought a set of knives on a whim and have been into upgrading my knives ever since. Fast forward to 2009 and I now have a very defined vision of my knife preferences, how I use them and how I store them.

The knife set I bought on a whim was Cuisinart Continental 8-Piece Stainless Steel Knife Set. It included 8-inch chef's, 8-inch bread, 8-inch slicing, 4-1/2-inch straight utility, and 3-1/2-inch paring knives, plus 10-inch steel, shears, and storage block. What attracted me to this set was the hand feel and the fact they are all one piece with no cracks for food to hide. This set has proved to be a very good performer that keeps a nice edge but they are only part of the knives I use. Here's a few things I've learned about knives:

  1. hand feel - If the knife does not feel right in your hand the first time you pick it up, don't buy it. You will need different knives that fit the hand of those who cook in your kitchen. The feel includes the shape of the handle and the weight of the knife.
  2. stainless steel - German steel is preferred because it keeps a good, sharp blade longer. However, there are some good knives coming out of Brazil, Japan and Mexico. Avoid knives made in China due to inferior stainless steel. Some of the high end respected knife manufacturers are now putting out a lower end knife often referred to as "international". Avoid these as the stainless steel is of lower quality and the knives are stamped.
  3. forged vs stamped - Forged knives are cut from a larger piece of stainless steel giving them a higher quality than stamped knives that are simply punched out of a piece of stainless steel.
  4. handle - My preference in a handle is a one piece all stainless steel knife with no wood or plastic handle. On knives without this option I like fully riveted and prefer wood over plastic. Properly looked after both wood and plastic handles will give you years of dependable serves but from experience if the handle gives while you are using the knife you can get quite a nasty cut.
  5. cost - Surprisingly for the home cook knives do not have to cost a lot of money. My Cuisinart set cost $60 at a liquidation centre! Sam's Club has a 2 piece package of NSF® Suduko knives with German steel blades for $12.76. Canadian Tire® carries the Wiltshire® Professional series at rather decent prices. Expect to pay more than a knife bought at a dollar store but you don't have to break the bank either. By all means if you decide to buy high end chef's knives do a bit of research first.
  6. don't buy a knife set - Yes I know I bought one but in all honesty had I know then what I know know I would not have bought a set. The reason being of the set only one or two will see regular use while other pieces will see little or no use.
  7. buy frugally - Do a bit of research then keep a summary list with you. You would be surprised at what knives you can find at yard and estate sales. Know what to look for so you get the quality you want. Check the liquidation stores. Buy online or shop the sales. There are a lot of great online deals if you know what you are looking for. If possible check the feel of the knife at a kitchen supply store first so you know you will like the knife. Keep in mind that you have been using the less than perfect knife for the past 10 years, so waiting for a good sale is not going to make a huge difference aka buy only what you want at a good price!
Knives need to be cared for properly to give you years of dependable service. Caring for knives cost little more than a couple of minutes of time after use and a bit of common sense.
  1. hand wash - Your prep knives should always be hand washed. Do not put them into the dishwasher that can cause nicking the blade as well as wood handles drying out enough to crack and plastic handles to crack.
  2. care - Sharpen your knives after each heavy use or more often as required and be sure to hone the blade. A good knife sharpener will cost about $25. Sharpening puts a good cutting edge on your knife while honing keeps the edge straight.
  3. storage - Do not store in the cutlery drawer where they can come into contact with other knives or get knocked. Store your knives in a knife block or on a metallic strip to protect the blade.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

On the Father's Day Menu

My husband and I have never celebrated special days with paper cards or gifts between us. It stems back from our early years of high school sweethearts and quite frankly I would not have it any other way. What we do instead is do a few extra things to show our love and cook a special meal for the other. We have a couple of rules when it comes to cooking special meals for each other. First it has to be within our range of cooking abilities and second it has to be something the other requested. There is usually a slight element of surprise just to keep things interesting.

Father's Day graphicHappy Father's Day

Pictured is the special graphics I made for my husband this year for use in my blogs and scrapbooking. I recently posted my thoughts about my husband's role as a father. I have to tell you I love Photoshop® not only for creating my own graphics but also for tweaking the images for my blogs.

What many might not realize is virtually all of the images of food on this blog have been tweaked to some degree. Edges and a © mark is added. In most instances the background is removed and changed to black to put the focus on the food. At the same time I try to keep the tweaking to a minimum in order to show you the dish as it really looks. Ok so there is a little tid bit about the behind the scenes workings of this blog.

omeletOmelet

Pictured is the bacon and red onion omelet I made my husband for brunch. As you can see it is a fluffy omelet. Over the years I have seen many ways to make omelets and the main complaint is they are not light an fluffy. The main reason is cheese or milk or water is added to the egg mixture. This results in a rubbery textures far from fluffy and I like fluffy omelets! So I developed my own method of making fluffy omelets. The resulting omelet is light, fluffy with a wonderful texture.

Method: Chop onion and fry bacon pieces until almost crisp. Place bacon pieces on paper towel to absorb extra grease reserving grease. Beat 6 eggs until lemony yellow. Heat a non-stick fry pan on medium heat with a little butter or bacon fat for flavour. Pour the beaten eggs into the hot pan. Sprinkle onion and bacon pieces over the eggs. Cover the pan checking until the mixture is almost cooked through. Fold over and let cook until set. Plate. Garnish with shredded cheese and parsley.

grilled rib steakGrilled Rib Steak

My husband's dinner request was grilled steak with sautéed onions and baked beans and baked potatoes. Now for the past week he has not been able to have any red meat so I can understand the steak. I paired the grilled rib steaks with Old Vermont Baked Beans and oven baked potatoes.

The steak was grill to medium rare then topped with sautéed onions. This is a very common pairing that has appeared on this blog several times. So let me tell you how I prepare oven baked potatoes.

Method: Wash large baking (Russet, Long White, Idaho) potatoes and dry. Poke a few holes in each potato. Place in a pre-heated 180ºC (356ºF) oven. Bake until skin is crispy and flesh has a good give when pinched. Remove from oven. Split down the middle. Fluff the inside and top as desired.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Fifteen Minute Prep Garlic Shrimp Dinner

The biggest misconceptions when cooking from scratch are that it must be both labour and time intensive. This is this vision of a harried, frustrated homemaker with crying kids straining to cut and chop to get a nice, healthy, cooked from scratch meal on the table. It doesn't need to be that way! It is surprising at how many interesting and tasty meals can be made in 30 minutes or less. In fact there are many meals you can make that only take 15 minutes from start to finish!

garlic shrimpGarlic Shrimp Dinner

One trick for getting quick meals on the table that I've often talked about on this blog is to keep pre-cooked meats in your freezer. When it comes to pre-cooked seafood one of nicest to keep on hand is jumbo shrimp. It is a versatile seafood that can be used as an appetizer, in salads or as the main course meat. This is a case where a little goes a long way too so pre-cooked jumbo shrimp ends up being quite cost effective. If you want to save further on pre-cooked shrimp buy according to the sales cycles. Shrimp tends to go on sale just before the Christmas holiday season and again just before the main grilling season so stock your freezers then.

Pre-cooked shrimp was used for my garlic shrimp meal. This time I prepared spaghetti. As the spaghetti was cooking I removed the tails from the thawed shrimp and set aside. I warmed 3 cloves of minced garlic in ½ c of melted butter allowing the butter to just lightly brown. Then I tossed in the shrimp to warm through and removed from the burner. I diced tomato, red onion and green pepper mixed with balsamic vinaigrette for the side salad and cut straight 8 cucumbers into quarters for the second vegetable side. Then I drained the pasta, mixed with the browned butter shrimp sauce and plated. Fresh parsley from the garden was the garnish. It was a very deliciously simple yet filling meal that took me under 15 minutes to put together.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Homemade Granola

I am always looking for ways to make our favourite foods from scratch. The reason for doing often has little to do with saving money but rather getting a healthier, preservative free version of a commercial product. The cost savings is just an added bonus. It's funny that I had just made a batch of homemade granola when one of my kids called to tell me how they had made homemade granola that apparently is oldest grandbaby's new favourite morning cereal. We don't use granola as a cereal very often. We use it instead as a topping.

homemade granolaHomemade Granola

Homemade granola is ever so easy to make and it's cheaper than store bought granola. What makes homemade granola even better than store bought is the ability to change the ingredients. Add whatever extra dried fruits you desire making it your own special blend. You can even add in ½ tsp of seasonings like cinnamon or ginger. Add ½ tsp vanilla or almond extract to the liquid mixture for a nice blend. Shop for the ingredients at a bulk food store for additional savings. Add your homedried fruits like blueberries or strawberries for even greater savings. Make several small batches with different ingredients for variety. Just make the base portion of the granola then tweak as you desire. My recipe for granola also included wheat germ to boost the fiber content making this granola a slightly healthier granola than other homemade granolas. The yield was 3½ c at a cost of $1.17 or 4.2¢ per ounce.

Homemade Granola

2 c old-fashioned oats*
½ c wheat germ
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
¼ tsp sea salt
⅓ c sweetened flaked coconut
⅓ c sliced almonds
⅓ c dark raisins
¼ c pure maple syrup
3 tbsp light vegetable oil
1 tbsp water

Mix first six ingredients together. Place the maple syrup, vegetable oil and water in small sauce pan. Heat just to a simmer. Pour over the oats mixture. Pour the mixture onto Silpat® lined baking pan. Bake at 135ºC (275ºF) for 30 minutes. Stir in the raisins. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Let cool. Pour into air tight container. Store up to 2 weeks.

* Do not use quick cooking or instant oatmeal.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Flours/Grain Storage

kitchen quick tips
To keep flour and other grains from getting buggy freeze them overnight then transfer to an air tight container for long term storage.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Murphy Inn Restaurant, St. Clair, Michigan

We love to spend summer afternoons boating between and on Lakes Huron, St. Clair and Erie including the smaller rivers and tributaries. Quite often that means docking to enjoy dinner as well. Last Sunday was likely the warmest day of the season so far. We had spent a good portion of the Saturday ripping out and adding a new square foot garden bed. We fully intended to continue working on the vegetable garden on Sunday but by mid-morning it was really too hot, just perfect for boating.

Murphy Inn, St. Clair, MIMurphy Inn

We decided to make a trip to St. Clair, Michigan. This is a quaint and pretty little town on the St. Clair River just a bit south of Port Huron, Michigan. There is a lovely little marina on Pine River that is within walking distance of a few good restaurants. The fee to dock for a half day is $5 at the marina and free along the river. Gas and clean-out are available at the marina.

The Pine River and St. Clair River is patrolled by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency. They are stationed out of the marina so it is very common for them to check boats both in the marina and those docked along the river. When arriving by boat in the US you must have valid acceptable identification (Nexus, passport, security driver's license) according to the new rules that went into effect on June 1, 2009. You must call into Customs upon arrival if you are not an American citizen prior to leaving your boat. You must declare anything you are bringing into the US as well.

Murphy Inn located at 505 Clinton Avenue in St. Clair, Michigan is a historic 1836 boarding house that features quality Irish food and lodging. Live entertainment is also featured. To the left of the spacious entrance is the non-smoking dining room. To the right is the pub and pub style dining. Both rooms are tastefully decorated according to the style. The pub features a lot of wood for a cosy, comfortable atmosphere. Happy hour is from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM Monday to Saturday and all day Tuesday (draft beer only). In addition to that there are daily food specials and food is available for carry-out for a slight extra charge. Murphy Inn like other restaurants in the area is very reasonable priced. They have a wide selection of food sure to please everyone. They are kid friendly complete with a kid's menu also very reasonably priced.

We enjoyed our nice leisurely meal in the pleasant atmosphere of the pub room. The total cost with cocktails was $38.66 plus tip. I really must comment on the atmosphere. Murphy Inn is just a real delight to visit! The staff is some of the friendliest you will ever meet. They are attentive with quick service and never make you feel like you are being rushed out the door. The pub side is a particularly pleasant way to spend a few hours and enjoy the live entertainment. This is one restaurant well worth a stop!

broiled codBroiled Cod

Most of the restaurants along the Great Lakes basin and within close proximity to the water offer a good choice of local fish such as lake perch and pickerel. Almost all of them have fish & chips on their menu as well. The dress code for most of these restaurants is dress casual as they cater to the boating community and locals.

My husband ordered the broiled cod (pictured) and potato sausage soup (not pictured) in lieu of vegetables. The meal came with two nice sized pieces of seasoned broiled cod, soup or vegetables, choice of potato and a thick slice of homemade bread for $10.99. This cod was cooked perfectly, nicely flaking yet moist. The seasonings used were not overpowering. Of note was the potato sausage soup that I will be duplicating at home.

barbeque chicken specialBarbeque Chicken

I ordered the Sunday special of all you can eat chicken. The waitress said there would be a little extra charge for all white meat but I didn't mind. The meal came with choice of chicken (bbq, roasted or fried), mashed potatoes, stuffing and coleslaw for $9.99 plus $1.99 for all white meat. The chicken breasts were huge, considerably more than I could eat! I definitely did not have to order extra. The potatoes were homestyle real mashed potatoes complete with peels. The stuffing was just a bit different as it was seasoned with caraway. This is not a seasoning I would have paired with stuffing. The creamy coleslaw was a nice mix of sweet and tang. This really was a lovely meal!


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Onion Rings & Chicken Wings Version 2

The kids were home last weekend so we decided to have a deep fryer feast. One of the easiest ways to give deep fried foods a different flavour and texture is to modify the coating used. There are so many ways to modify the coating! If using a dry coating simply changing the seasonings will give different results. Adding coarsely ground cornmeal to the coating mix will change the texture and flavour while adding finely ground cornmeal will change just the flavour. Changing the liquid used to make the dry coating adhere to the food will also give different results. If using a batter the liquid can be club soda, beer, water or milk. Each gives a slightly different result. Another way to get different results is to use a coating where you normally wouldn't or omit the coating where you normally use one.

deep fried onion ringsOnion Rings

A few months ago I posted about making homemade onion rings. There are two things to making great homemade onions - the onions and the batter. Start with nice, firm Spanish onions. Slice them about ¼ - inch thick. Separate into individual rings. Once you have the rings then you have the basis for making homemade onion rings.

Instead of using a baking mix made into a batter for the coating, I used seasoned flour and buttermilk. The seasonings were Old Bay, salt and pepper. The rings were dipped in the flour, then buttermilk and into the flour again. They were fried at 180ºC (356ºF) until golden brown. The result was a lighter coated onion rings than onion rings made using a batter. They were nice and crunchy on the outside with the onion cooked perfectly. The thinner coating allowed the flavour of the onion to shine. The thinner coating also made these onion rings less filling than batter coated onion rings.

The biggest complaint about deep fried foods is they are greasy. To avoid this problem use clean oil heated to the proper temperature. If your oil is not at the correct temperature, the food will soak up more oil. Deep fried food needs to be drained to allow any excess oil to drip off.

Chicken Wings

Deep fried chicken wings are a family favourite. Several years ago I think just about every local restaurant held a wing night with a going price of 10¢ a wing. Those days are long gone! A couple of the pizzerias still offer wings in the $6 per lb range and at least one restaurant has a weekly wing night ($5 per lb). We like making them at home.

Hot wings can be thin coated, breaded or simply left uncoated. Thin coating will give a crispy texture while breading will give a bit doughier texture that can be greasier if not fried properly. Wings coated in breading will soak up the sauce giving a soggy texture as well so always serve the sauce separately. The reason for using a coating aside of texture is to boost the flavour by adding seasonings to the coating. Common additions are paprika and cayenne pepper for added heat to hot wings or garlic powder to enhance honey garlic wings. However, chicken wings are quite delicious without a coating. When deep fried at 180ºC (356ºF) they are crispy on the outside with moist, tender meat on the inside perfect for dipping!


Monday, June 15, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Kitchen Garden

Frugal Kitchens 101
One of the easiest ways to save on your food dollars is to put in a garden. There are a few problems with this recommendation in the minds of many. First there is the idea that in order to have a successful garden that will put food on your table it has to be big and that means land. This belief causes those living in apartments or rental property and those with small urban lots to give up on the idea of gardening because they think there is not enough room to garden. It is surprising at how much produce a small 4' x 4' raised bed can produce. A raised bed planted in the square foot gardening method is an ideal gardening solution for tenants and small lot owners because it can easily be removed. It is also surprising at how much produce can be grown on a small urban balcony using containers. Herbs and greens can easily be grown in pots indoors year round. Make use of hanging planters for strawberries and herbs. Even cherry tomatoes can be grown in hanging planters. A few years ago we knew we were moving the first part of June. That year I planted our garden in large containers filled half way with Styrofoam packing peanuts then filled the rest of the way with soil to reduce their weight. When moving day came, we loading all the containers into a pick-up truck and simply brought our garden with us. It took three truck loads but we still had a very successful garden that year! So really where there is a will, there's a way.

A popular gardening trend is to plant a kitchen garden. Ideally this small garden will be just outside your kitchen. It usually includes cherry and/or beefsteak tomatoes, radishes, green onions, leaf lettuce and herbs or it may simply be all herbs. There is no restriction on what vegetables you can grown although some plants do not grow well with others. It is meant to supply you with produce for salads and fresh herbs for cooking. Using the square foot gardening method is ideal for a kitchen garden. A 4' x 4' bed will hold 16 different plants. Any sprawling plants are trained to grow upwards by staking making use of vertical rather than horizontal space. The bed does not need to be square either. Run a 2' x 8' bed along the side of your house and plant your kitchen garden there.

There are many ways to save money when setting up your kitchen garden. Containers for growing do not need to be fancy or expensive. Look for discarded 5 gal food grade pails or ask for them at doughnut stores and restaurants. Quite often they are free but some may charge a small fee of $1. You can even use an old kiddie pool or tires to make raised garden beds! Growing from seed can greatly reduce your costs. Seeds are quite inexpensive but if you get involved in a seed exchange group they will cost no more than postage. Get to know other gardeners who will gladly give you clippings.

How much can a kitchen garden save you? Your savings will really depend on what you grow and how you use your produce. We eat salads almost daily. Leaf lettuce usually averages about $1.29 at the grocery store. On average we use 4 heads of leaf lettuce per week or $5.16 per week. Over the course of the outdoor growing season, growing lettuce saves us $103.20 which is a pretty good return on the cost of the seeds at about $3.95 (5 pk 79¢ each). A flat of strawberries cost $15. An established bed will produce at least 3 flats so a savings of $45 less the cost of the initial plant. Yes, that is one plant because strawberries spread rapidly and they come up every year. Considerable saving can be seen with growing herbs as well. About the only thing I do not grow in my gardens is corn because it does take up a lot of space for the yield. Essentially anything edible you grow is going to save on your food dollars!


Friday, June 12, 2009

National Peanut Butter Cookie Day


Today is National Peanut Butter Cookie Day! Now as far as my husband is concerned everyday should be peanut butter cookie day. I originally posted about peanut butter cookies on October 25, 2006. While I did make a batch of these today there really is nothing new to report other than as always they are yummy! Pictured are the cookies exactly as I always make them. There is nothing fancy or pretentious about them still they are a crowd pleaser!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Saving Steel Wool Pads

kitchen quick tips
After using a soapy steel wool pad put it in a plastic bag then in the freezer until the next use. It will thaw quickly without rusting.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Loaded Potato Soup

I recently wrote in a Frugal Kitchens 101 article about finding inspiration for cooking (here). A couple of days ago I was searching YouTube for a video to use on one of my other blogs. After finding what I wanted I decided to search the cooking videos. What is nice about cooking videos is you can pause and rewind as necessary which is quite useful for noting methods used. The methods are those little tips and tricks the cook uses that are not always noted in the recipe.

I found the following video for making Loaded Potato Soup that I thought would be interesting to blog about. Some of the ingredients are listed at the start of the video but watching reveals a couple of errors in the list including the omission of a couple of ingredients. Following the video is the recipe as used with corrections from the list of ingredients along with my comments.



Video courtesy of Dave Can Cook

Loaded Potato Soup
source: Dave Can Cook

10 c potatoes, cubed
8 oz bacon
2 c onions, chopped
1 c red onion, chopped
1 c green onion, chopped
1 c celery, chopped
2 tsp garlic
salt
pepper
2 c chicken broth
1½ c milk
1 tsp corn starch
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
fresh grated Parmesan cheese
fresh chopped chives

Wash and peel potatoes. Cut into bite sized pieces. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook until just soft. Drain and set aside. Using the same pot, cook the bacon slices. Remove the cooked bacon and set aside. Prepare the vegetables. Stir into the bacon grease and cook until onions are translucent. Stir in the potatoes. Pour in chicken broth and just enough of the milk (about 1 c) so the potatoes just start to float. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Mix remaining milk with the corn starch and stir into the soup. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat. Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with fresh grated Parmesan cheese, crumbled bacon and chives.

My comments:

A recipe is just a starting point. While watching the video and reading through the list of ingredients I came up with a few things I would change when I make this soup. I would make the following changes to both the methods and ingredients.

Regarding the methods there are a few things I would change. First note the way he peels the potatoes. This is an accident waiting to happen. If the knife is slightly dull or the wet potato slips the result could be a lovely gash. Instead use a paring knife or better a potato peeler then cradle the potato in your palm while peeling. Second, I would steam the potatoes rather than boil for nicer texture and higher nutrition. Third, I would cut the bacon across the strips to form small pieces before cooking. This will more consistent sized pieces for garnishing. I would also blot excess grease from the cooked bacon. Finally I would change the entire method of thickening the soup by using part of the potatoes for thickening rather than using a corn starch slurry much the same as in my recipe for potato & leek soup.

What came to mind when I first saw the video was there as a lot of fat in the soup. About half of the bacon fat would give the flavour while reducing the fat. I would use a sharp cheddar cheese reducing it to 1 cup and substitute 1 cup of Asiago cheese for the mozzarella or 2 cups skim milk mozzarella cheese. The choice of milk used would of course affect the fat content. My first choice would be 2% M.F milk but a creamier flavour would be had by using 1 cup of ½ & ½ (10% M.F.) while eliminating the ½ c of milk for the slurry. Homemade defatted chicken broth would further lower the fat content. As you know sea salt and fresh ground pepper is my choice for those ingredients. I would use fresh ground white pepper in this soup.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Meat Grinder

Frugal Kitchens 101
Years ago if you wanted ground meat, you ground it yourself, went to a butcher shop or an abattoir. Now the vast majority of people buy their ground meat at their local grocery stores. With the advent of large meat processing plants, the meat is often ground several days before you purchase it. The actual ground meat is usually a combination of meats from several sources mixed together so the package of ground beef you put in your cart could contain a combination of ground meats from several farmers! Quite often the ground beef is sold in opaque tubes in a pre-measured amount so you can't see the meat that were packaged off site. All of these practices are meant to keep the price per kilogram low for ground beef. In recent years ground chicken, ground turkey and ground pork have become more popular however in smaller communities finding these ground meats is hit or miss at best. If you buy beef or pork on the hoof you pay a flat price per kilogram whether the meat is ground or not. If you have wild game you either have to grind it yourself or whoever packages it for you will likely grind if you ask.

So, how can a meat grinder save you money? First off ground meat spoils very quickly because of the large surface area. If there is a pathogen on the surface of a steak it will be destroyed by cooking but with ground meat there is a lot more surface area that aids in the multiplication of bacteria. Whenever someone else grinds your meat you are relying on them to use safe preparation methods but we all know that doesn't always happen. Grinding your own meats just before using them gives you the freshest ground meat possible. Even if there was surface bacteria on the meat chunk you ground, it would not be in levels enough to cause spoilage or illness. The mains ways you can use a meat grinder to save you money are:

  • cutting out the middle man - Grinding your own meats eliminates the person(s) who do the grinding. That is reflected in the cost of grinding that is built into the ground meat product.
  • avoid spoilage - If you have used ground meat then you will know it is very discouraging to open a package only for it to have that off smell. Some will go ahead and use the ground beef while others such as myself will not. If you use the ground beef then end up sick or worse. If you don't use it which I highly recommend you waste the price of the meat. Grinding your meat just before using reduces the spoilage problem.
  • meats on sale - Grinding your own meats allows you to take advantage of meats on sale. For example chicken with backs attached go on sale for 79¢/lb. If you remove the skin and bone then grind you get ground chicken for that price instead of the much higher price of about $2.49/lb for pre-ground. Watch for in store specials or just those really great meat deals then grind your own. A local grocery store had an in store special on pork loin shoulder at $1/lb. I bought several to can as barbeque shredded pork but also used a couple to make fresh ground pork.
  • grind novelty meats - A meat grinder allows you to grind meats you can't readily get at your grocery store. These include pork, turkey, chicken and game meats that can be store bought, raised by yourself or from a successful hunt camp. A meat grinder is a must for making homemade sausages!
  • use to grind other foods - Use your meat grinder to: prepare cucumbers for relish, grinding cooked meats for dips and spreads, grinding cheeses and making bread crumbs.
There are three basic styles of meat grinders: manual, electric or attachment for another electric appliance. A manual model clamps to your countertop. It will cost about $80 new but will last a lifetime however finding used manual meat grinders at yard or estate sales is rather easy. Expect to pay anywhere from 50¢ to a few dollars. The nice thing about a manual meat grinder is just that. You can grind meat and other foods anywhere! If you have a lot of food to grind or do a lot of canning and bulk food cooking consider and electric meat grinder. These start at the $120 range and go higher. If you have a stand mixer check for an affordable food grinder attachment. I bought the food grinder attachment (FGA) for my KitchenAid® for $35 in their discount section which was a $30 savings.

Regardless of the style of meat grinder you use, cut the meat into thin strips then feed them into the hopper. I find cold or partially frozen meat works best as does twice grinding. Run a slice of bread through the hopper when you are finished grinding the meat to make clean-up easy. Unfortunately you should not put these bread crumbs into the compost or out for the birds as they will have small bits of meat in them. If you do not want to waste a slice of bread simply do as I do. Disassemble and hand wash in hot, soapy water.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Rhubarb Pie Filling & Rhubarb Pie

I grew up with a rhubarb patch and have had one at every house we've owned. Rhubarb grows almost like a weed once it is established. We moved here almost 2 years ago just as the rhubarb patch was starting to produce nicely in our former garden and too late to put in a patch that year. Last year we were still in the process of ripping out a lot of the overgrowth so we didn't plant rhubarb although in hindsight we should have. So our rhubarb patch did not get planted until this spring which means if we are lucky it might be big enough to get a pie or two out of next year. Instead we have been getting rhubarb from family, friends and neighbours. That means I'm being very frugal in using some fresh rhubarb and preserving rhubarb for later use.

rhubarb pie fillingRhubarb Pie Filling

My husband loves rhubarb pie so the primary use for rhubarb is making pies. Normally I either freeze or can stewed rhubarb for later use. This year I decided to make a ready to use rhubarb pie filling. The problem was I couldn't find a plain rhubarb pie filling for canning so I relied on my canning knowledge to create one. The end result was a tasty, gorgeous looking, ready to use pie filling testing in at pH 2.9 suitable for boiling water bath canning. If you make this pie filling do not substitute the Clear Jel® with flour or corn starch. Clear Jel® is currently the only USDA approved thickener for canning.

Rhubarb Pie Filling

9½ c prepared rhubarb
2 c water

2 c organic sugar
⅝ c ClearJel®
1 c water

4 tbsp lemon juice

Wash rhubarb then cut into ¾ inch pieces. Place in stock pot. Pour the 2 c of water over the rhubarb. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Drain the rhubarb reserving the liquid. Set hot rhubarb aside. Combine sugar, Clear Gel®, 1 c water and reserve liquid in sauce pan. Heat on medium high while whisking until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice. Stir the thickened mixture into the hot rhubarb pieces. Ladle into hot jars leaving 1-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims. Adjust two piece lids. Process in boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.

rhubarb pieRhubarb Pie

My husband would have been very upset had I not made him a rhubarb pie. I have made the same rhubarb pie from my aged Betty Crocker cookbook that includes my favourite pie pastry  for as long as I've had the cookbook. This time I made a couple of changes. First and this has always been a problem with my pies is I changed the thickener. The recipe calls for flour but I substituted Clear Jel®. This is a modified corn starch that tolerates high heat without breaking down and doesn't thicken until the pie starts cooling down. By the time the pie had cooled enough to slice the filling had nicely thickened unlike my normal runny results.

Rhubarb Pie

pastry for 10-inch two crust pie
2 c sugar
½ c Clear Jel®
1 tbsp lemon juice
5 c fresh cut rhubarb
3 tbsp butter
organic sugar

Heat oven to 219ºC (425ºF). Prepare pastry. Wash and cut rhubarb into ¾-inch pieces. Mix Clear Jel® and sugar together then mix with rhubarb. Pour the rhubarb mixture into the prepared pie shell. Drizzle the lemon juice on top. Add the butter in small pieces over the rhubarb. Top with pastry top. Crimp the edges. Poke a few holes in the pastry top with a fork. Sprinkle organic sugar on top of the pastry top. Cover edges with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning. Remove during the last 15 minutes of baking. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through the crust.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Deep Fried Perch

Monday night we deep fried perch for dinner. This is fresh perch a friend of ours recently caught. Perch is a a smaller fish with a mild taste. Normally I pan fry perch because the small size of the fillets cook quickly. It's very important to not overcook perch!

deep fried perchDeep Fried Perch

Have you ever wondered why some fish coating appears crunchy and flaky while others appear smooth? One reason for this is the way the fish is coated before frying. If you want a crunchy, flaky coating dip the fish first in the liquid you are using then dredge in the dry coating. If you are pan frying omit dipping in the liquid and simply dredge in your dry coating. If you want a smoother coating dredge your fish in the dry coating first then dip into the liquid. Most smooth coatings also have a bit of baking powder it it to make them rise a little.

Pictured is the deep fried perch sitting in the microwave oven to stay warm while the rest cooked. Perch really lends its self well to using the smooth coating style when deep fried. I used Krusto Fish Batter which is a lightly seasoned fish coating I wanted to try from the abattoir's. The liquid was a thin solution of the batter mix in water. The fish was then dredged in the dry batter mix. The fish was deep fried at 190ºC (356ºF) until golden.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Vanilla

kitchen quick tips
vanilla extract - Cut a vanilla bean in half lengthwise but not full through. Place in a tall, narrow jar. Pour vodka over the bean and cap. Let age several weeks.

vanilla sugar - Place one vanilla bean in a 500 ml (pint) mason jar. Pour organic sugar over the bean. Let sit for a couple of weeks until the sugar is nicely flavoured.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hot Wings

The problem with a new kitchen toy is it tends to get a lot of use in the first week or so. That can be a good thing though. Let me tell you, the new deep fryer is getting a lot of use. My husband seems to "think" that 50 lb bag of potatoes needs to be used up making fresh cut fries! I'm sure the novelty of the new fryer will wear off shortly!

hot wingsHot Wings

I decided to make hot wings for Sunday's dinner. There are a few ways to prepare chicken wings for deep frying. Surprisingly just patting dry and frying with no coating works nicely. I've also had good results by coating lightly with unbleached flour and seasonings. The kids made buttermilk fried chicken the last time we were there so I decided to use that method. I used a lightly seasoned unbleached flour mixture consisting of unbleached flour, fresh ground pepper and sea salt but other herbs and spices can be added depending on what kind of wings you want. The buttermilk results in a flakier crispy type of coating. Individual dipping bowls of traditional hot sauce (recipe follows) and fresh cut fries completed the meal. When you make chicken wings plan on about 8 to 10 pieces per adult. Use 1 to 2 large potatoes per person for the fresh cut fries.

Method: Prepare chicken wings by cutting at the joint to form drumettes and winglets. Remove the thin tips from the winglets (reserve for making chicken stock). Pat the chicken pieces dry. Dip into buttermilk then seasoned flour. Deep fry at 180ºC (356ºF) until golden brown.

Traditional Hot Sauce

1 part Frank's® RedHot Original*
1 part butter**

Place equal amounts of the hot sauce and butter in a heat proof bowl. Microwave until butter is melted. Stir well and place into individual dipping bowls for serving. I used this method but it one of my kids said a better way to make the sauce is to melt the butter in a small sauce pan then whisk in the hot sauce. This method prevents separation so I will be using it next time.

*Frank's® RedHot Original is medium hot cayenne pepper sauce. You can substitute but will get different results.
**Butter is a must because of the flavour. This is one recipe where margarine does not work well.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fiddleheads

If you recall I wrote about finding inspiration for cooking in a recent Frugal Kitchens 101 post. We went grocery shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables Saturday morning as we were having company for dinner as well as entertaining that evening. The grocery store can be a great place to browse for cooking inspiration. Imagine my surprise at finding fiddleheads! As I put the little treasures into the cart I knew that dinner would be featuring fiddleheads.

fiddleheadsFiddleheads

Fiddleheads are a seasonal delicacy! They are tightly wound immature fonds (new growth) of the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) found in the lowland forests from the Great Lakes to the Maritimes of Canada. They emerge around the first week of May. The most common way to find fiddleheads is to forage for them where they grow. In some areas they are harvested commercially. Like rhubarb are rarely found fresh in the grocery stores although some stores sell frozen fiddleheads. Like rhubarb a prudent gardener will grow a patch of Ostrich fern that serves as edible landscaping.

Fiddleheads are rich in Vitamins A and C. Their flavour mixes nicely with cheeses, tomatoes and Oriental cuisine. The flavour is very similar to asparagus but a bit nuttier. Use much the same as your would asparagus or broccoli flowerettes. Do not eat them raw as they will cause stomach upset in larger quantities. Fiddleheads should be lightly cooked either steamed or sautéed leaving them crispy. If there is more than 2 inches of stem left on the fiddlehead it can be removed while preparing. This step is optional for aesthetics. Any browning of the stem should be trimmed off. Any of the paper chaff that may be on the fiddlehead should be removed.

tomato saladTomato Salad

Salads do not always mean lettuce or greens. I made a lovely tomato salad inspired by the memories of a cooking show I saw on the Food Network. I don't recall the show or the main dish only the way they served tomato slices. I suspect it may have been from one Giada's Everyday Italian shows.

This tomato salad is really an easy presentation. Remember if at all possible pair tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil as the oil make the beneficial anti-oxidant lycopene available to your body.

Tomato Salad

1 - 2 large, meaty slicing tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
fresh ground pepper
fresh ground sea salt
fresh grated Parmesan cheese
sprig of fresh parsley
leaf lettuce (optional)

Wash and slice the tomatoes about ¼ inch thick. Arrange the slices neatly on a serving plate or bed of leaf lettuce. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the slices. Sprinkle on pepper, salt and cheese. Garnish with fresh parsley.

pork loin chopsPork Loin Chops

We are really low on pork in our freezers but the freezers are too full to order our pig yet so I picked up pork loin chops for dinner. I wanted to keep the meal rather simple as there would be a lot of time spent in the kitchen that evening. The boneless pork loin chops were pan seared then baked in Diana Sauce at the same time the potatoes baked. The fiddleheads were delicious with just a little butter and sea salt.

Oven baked potatoes are always nice with their fluffy insides and slightly crisp skins. Potatoes have received a lot of negativity because of their starch content. However, potatoes are one of the healthier foods you can eat. They are a good source of Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, copper, potassium and manganese. The skins are rich in dietary fiber which is why I leave the skins on potatoes where possible.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Foraging

Frugal Kitchens 101
Many do not consider foraging for wild foods when trying to pare down their food costs. Unfortunately they are missing an excellent way to supplement their food dollars. You need only to look as far as your own back door for foraging starting with dandelions! Foraging in the wild is not exactly free if you have to drive but it is about as free as you can get. If you forage in your area or within comfortable biking distance it is free. It is an inexpensive hobby that provides good exercise while increasing your knowledge base and at the same time puts free food on your table! Foraging really is a win-win activity. I highly recommend you read through Foraging the Edible Wild! Before you start foraging there are few things you must know.

  1. identification - Many wild plants and plants we consider as weeds are edible (eg. Ground ivy, dandelions, chickweed, wild sorrel, wild mushrooms and etc.). Buy a good field guide to help you identify edible wild plants and carry it with you when foraging. Know what part of the plant to harvest and how to prepare it. Know when the plant is available for harvesting. If in doubt, do not pick!

  2. harvesting - Any wild plant that is endangered or protected should not be harvested. Whether a wild plant is classified as endangered or is protected will depend on the location so do your homework first. Never harvest wild edible plants from locations that have been treated with herbicides or insecticides. Never over harvest an area! Over harvesting of plants such as fiddleheads can eliminate the entire patch! Conservation is a must! Over harvesting of berries (eg. mulberries, wild raspberries, wild blueberries) removes the food source for local wildlife so never strip a bush of all fruit. When harvesting plants make clean cuts with a sharp knife or scissors. If harvesting roots use a hand held garden trowel. Quite often when you are foraging you will find more than one kind of plant you want to harvest. Keep them separate. Carry wet wash cloths or paper towels in a container to wrap the cut ends to keep plants like wild mint from wilting. Use recycled buckets with handles for berry picking and re-usable cloth bags for plants and roots.

  3. dress appropriately - This is quite important! You may encounter biting insects, snakes and poison ivy or poison oak when foraging in some areas. Some areas may be marshy. Wear long sleeves and sturdy shoes, preferably hiking boots. A hat, sunblock and insect repellent are also recommended. In some areas, especially when foraging for wild blueberries you may be in an area where there may be bears. One trick from hiking is to wear a bell or make noise while foraging in that area.

  4. private property - Woodlot owners and farmers may allow you to forage on their property. Never assume it is ok to forage on property without permission. Ask first! Whether on private or public property, always use consideration. Do not damage other plants or leave rubbish behind. Carry a garbage with you to remove any garbage you may find. This eco-friendly practice of leaving the area in a better condition than you found it ensures that private property owners will continue to allow you to forage. If you notice a potential problem where you are foraging, report it to the land owner if private property or the municipality if public property. This practice also ensures that you will be welcomed to forage in that area.

  5. safety - Before going foraging let someone know where you are going. Carry a cell phone with you but be aware that in some areas you may not get a signal. Park well off the road. Carry a small first aid kit with you. Foraging is a great activity for families, couples and friends so take someone with you.

  6. protect your source - Why is that? If I discover a lovely patch of fiddleheads or other foragable wild food I'm not going to tell anyone because if I did it wouldn't be long before that patch is picked cleaned and likely destroyed by those not realizing the importance of conservation. Yes that sounds selfish but it is really the only way to help ensure your foraging location remains as is.