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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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Monday, November 30, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Water

Frugal Kitchens 101
This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 topic is water. Water is the universal solvent so it is no surprise that water plays a huge role in cooking. Fresh water is taken for granted with the only time missing it is if the main water supply is shut off for even a short period of time. Water is something we simply just assume is always going to be available. As useful as water is for cooking it presents a few problems but first let's consider the benefits.

Benefits: The biggest benefit to using water is it is in most cases a very inexpensive ingredient. It's abundant and easily used to cook foods in or stretch sauces.

Problems:

  • Fresh water is not as abundant as it seems and in fact there have been reports of Canada running out of fresh water. An incredible amount of fresh water is used for other activities besides cooking so it is imperative that everyone practices water conservation in any way they can and that includes cooking.
  • Some municipal and well water can have an off taste to the point it may render it quite undesirable for cooking.
  • Most municipally treated water has both chlorine and fluoride in it. These are two chemicals many are trying to avoid due to health concerns. It has been shown that chlorinated water in the presence of dishwasher detergent and even coming straight from the shower faucet releases chlorine gas into your home.
  • Water takes a fair amount of energy to heat. In fact the term calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1ºC from a standard temperature at 1 atmospheric pressure.
  • Water adds no flavour when cooking!
Solutions:
  • Water conservation is a must which means when you are cooking with water use the least amount of water possible. Rather than boil vegetables steam them. Not only does this use less water and less energy to heat the water and it gives better results.
  • If you have a problem with an off taste or smell from your water, use a filtering system for drinking and cooking water. In some cases you may need a whole house filter as well. A good filtering system will also remove residual chlorine and fluoride.
  • Anytime you are cooking always substitute water with another liquid that adds flavour if at all possible. Think fruit or vegetable juices, stocks, broths, coffee or tea. All of these can be used to cook pastas, rices and vegetables in and they make wonderful substitutions in baking.
  • Think outside the box. Is there another way you can cook that particular food without using water? For example I very seldom boil potatoes or carrots. They are either baked or steamed.
Considerations:
  • Every household should store several gallons of water per person in water safe containers. This water is meant for drinking and cooking in the event of an emergency. If you home can save any test batches consisting of water only as this will give you a bacterial free source of water. However, canning water is not quite practical for larger storage so pick up at least 1 - 20 L (5 gal) portable water container per person in your household. These can be found rather inexpensively in the camping supplies section of most department stores. Fill each container with clean water and make a point of rotating your water stock.
  • Water can in emergency situations be collected through rainfall, snow and natural waterways. However. you need to purify this water to prevent any water born illnesses. For this reason every household should keep a good supply of water purification tablets in their emergency stores. The tablets will allow you to safely purify any collected water for drinking or cooking.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Monster Cookies

I am always watching for new recipes to try. Many food products include a recipe on the label mainly are a marketing ploy to get you to buy their product. If you like the recipe then chances are very good you will buy their product again. The Monster Cookie recipe was printed on the inside of a Grassland Butter carton. Had I not been paying attention I would have missed it!

monster cookiesMonster Cookies

What I found interesting about this cookie recipe is there was no flour. I thought it might be a typo but decided to try them anyway. I modified the recipe to make a half batch as well as changing weights into cups. This ended up being a wise decision as the half batch made 5 dozen cookies!

The cookies came out quite lovely! I think they are ideal for gift giving. I used the and if you are in Canada you can substitute the M&M®s with Holiday Mix M&M®Smarties®. For those outside of Canada Smarties® are candy coated milk chocolate candies very similar to M&M®s. I do think this recipe could easily be adapted to a gift in the jar if you don't have time to bake.

Monster Cookies
source: modified from Grassland Butter carton

3 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½c butter
1¼c brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
1½ c peanut butter
4½c oatmeal
½ c chocolate chips
½c M&M candies

Place the first 6 ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium until well mixed. Mix in the oatmeal. Remove bowl from stand mixer. Stir in the chocolate chips and candies. Drop teaspoon size portions on Silpat® lined cookie sheet. Bake on convection at 163ºC/325ºF [normal bake - 180ºC/350ºF] until golden brown.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkey Run

Any Canadian living within an hour drive of the US border has more than likely heard the term turkey run. Now why would that be interesting? The simple reason is in Canada the turkey prices are regulated so getting any kind of a bargain is very difficult. This week one Canadian grocery store has turkeys on for 99¢ per pound which is a fantastic Canadian price. However due to the US Thanksgiving yesterday turkeys were on for as cheap as 29¢ per pound at some US grocery stores making a turkey run even with the price of gas well worth it!

We did our turkey run on Wednesday. Kroger had turkeys on for 49¢ per pound with an additional $10 purchase with a limit of one per customer with their store card. We shopped separately and each of us used our store cards so we were allowed 2 turkeys coming in a $10.86 and $10.39. Our next stop was a grocery store where turkeys were on for 29¢ per pound, limit one per customer with an additional $25 purchase. My husband insisted we get a turkey each even though I tried to tell him we didn't have room in the freezers for 4 turkeys. We paid $5.37 and $5.68 for the turkeys here. The total spent including the extra groceries and the 4 turkeys was $110.53. Considering the turkeys will give a yield of at least 28 L of stock and at today's sale price for stock of $1.63/500 ml would cost $91.28 it's easy to see how a turkey run saves considerably!

turkey dinnerTurkey Dinner

As I told my husband we didn't have room for 4 turkeys in the freezers. He had alteriour motives though claiming he wanted his Thanksgiving feast Thursday night. I reminded him he wasn't American and he had had his Thanksgiving feast on our Canadian Thankgiving to which he responded with those puppy dog eyes and a bit of a pout so one turkey was put in the sink to thaw overnight.

Thawing Method: Place plug in sink then put the turkey in the sink. Place two t-towels over the bird and fill to almost covering the bird with cold water. Let sit overnight. The next morning remove the bird from the sink. Remove packaging and prepare for roasting.

I've talked about how I roast turkeys so there is nothing really new there and I've talked about how I make stuffing as well using homemade poultry seasoning. What is a bit different is the gravy and potatoes. I find corn starch makes a nicer textured gravy than flour does with a lot fewer lumps.

Gravy Method: Pour any liquid from the roasting pan into a large sauce pan. Deglaze the roasting pan and pour that through a strainer into the liquid. Make a slurry using about 2 tbsp cornstarch and enough buttermilk to make the slurry pourable. Bring the resulting mixture to a slow boil. Stir in about ¼tsp browning. Slowly pour in the slurry while stirring constantly. Let thicken while stirring then remove from heat.

Rustic Potatoes: Wash and cut unpeeled potatoes into bite sized pieces. Steam until tender. Place potatoes in bowl of stand mixer. Pour in about ½ cup buttermilk. Add about 1 c sour cream, a tbsp butter, 8 oz cream cheese and 2 tbsp roasted garlic. Beat on low to mix well but don't over beat.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Saving Bones

kitchen quick tips
Larger cuts of meat with bone in and whole birds (duck, turkey, goose) are often served during the holiday season. All of the bones are ideal for making stocks but there may not be time to do so. After the meat or bird has served, debone then pop the carcass into the freezer. Once the holidays are over remove the bones from the freezer and make your stock as normal.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Alberta Indoor Smoker

Humour can be found anywhere you look for it. What better way to get your point across than using a bit of humour. Canada's favourite funny man, Rick Mercer shows his considerable cooking skills in this shopping channel spoof that hints at the Alberta Oil Sands controversy. Atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution produced is being pumped underground to store it (carbon seqestration) but the carbon dioxide is still being produced, it is still there and still has an environmental impact.

Just take a look at those gorgeous racks of ribs! I would love a smoker that size too but will have to settle for a smaller model for outdoor use of course. Enjoy the chuckle :)




Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Weekend Comfort Food

Over the years our food tastes do change but comfort foods tend to stay the same, quite often prepared the way we remembered them. Winter is quickly approaching and I've been under the weather for the last few days so we wanted homemade comfort foods over the weekend. The weather has actually been quite mild for the time of the year so Saturday night we grilled steaks for dinner with getting things cleaned up just in time for guests (about 30) arriving. We were both exhausted on Sunday so the meal was even simpler yet a traditional comfort dish.

blade steak, oven baked potatoes and herbed carrot coinsBlade Steak

It's funny but when my husband and I first started dating the only way I would eat steak a steak was well done and with a steak sauce. Thanks to his influence I learned the error of my ways over the years. My taste buds have now changed to medium-rare/rare with occasional steak sauce but not very often. Grilled properly as I have learned the flavour of the steak becomes the highlight of the meal.

I served the grilled blade steaks with oven baked potatoes and herbed carrot coins with sweet butter and French Grey Sea Salt. Homemade sweet butter does not melt like store bought butter but the flavour is well worth it. IOven baked potatoes are very easy to make but you need the right potato. I like Russet or Yukon Gold for baking.

Method: The potatoes are simply washed well then dried. Poke a fork into the potato to help release the steam to prevent the potato from bursting and to keep the potato skins crispy. Bake at 180ºC (350ºF) until flesh give when pinched.

Herbed Carrot Coins: Steam carrot coins until el dente. Place into bowl. Top with sweet butter and parsley flakes. Mix then plate. Top with a little French Grey Sea Salt.

hubby's homemade mac and cheeseHubby's Mac & Cheese

Nothing says comfort more to my husband than cheese. I'm serious he would have cheese on everything if he had his way. Now this is what makes it so interesting having two people who like to cook in the kitchen because quite frankly we really do even similar dishes quite different. The way I make mac & cheese is quite different from his but both are quite good.

His method starts with pulling whatever cheese strikes his fancy from the fridge and like many meals we make there are no actual recipes. In this case he chose Asiago, mozzarella and Velveeta. Once the elbow macaroni [of which he cooked too much so I have extra to use up this week which is quite fine] was cooked and drained he mixed in some browned lean ground beef the stirred in the cheeses and baked at low heat 121º C (250ºF) until the cheeses were melted. After stirring he topped with dry bread crumbs then increased the heat to 180ºC (350ºF) until the top was golden brown. Simple, easy and comforting :)


Monday, November 23, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Baby Food

Frugal Kitchens 101Commercially prepared baby foods have been on the market for quite some time. Manufacturers have convince new mothers that they need to feed their children commercially prepared foods that are not only costly but are eco-friendly. Now there are some commercially prepared baby foods that might be necessary such as baby formula and pablum but for the most part the idea you have to buy commercially prepared baby foods is a myth! Countless children have survived their infant and toddler years without so much as a spoonful of commercially prepared baby food passing their lips! Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 is all about baby food.

When our kids were infants they were breastfed so we never had to deal with the baby formula problem that now costs as much as $30 per week! I only know that figure because youngest grandbaby is on formula. One of our kids started pablum early but other than that our kids right from introducing solid foods ate pretty much the same foods as we did sans any sugar, salt or seasonings. This really was not as difficult to do as some seem to think. By the time children are walking aka toddlers they have enough teeth specialized food should not be necessary although you may have to cut things like meats into smaller pieces.

Key equipment needed for making baby food:

  • blender - An electric blender will allow you to purée foods to the desired consistency for infants. In general start with a very smooth purée then gradually less smooth to add texture for older infants and toddlers
  • tabletop food grinder - This is a specialty item that has come on the market recently making it easy for you to prepare baby food when you are traveling or away from home.
  • fork - It's surprising just how well a fork will work for mashing foods for older infants and toddlers.
  • small containers or ice cube tray - If you want to prepare baby food ahead of time you will need small (4 oz or less) containers for storage or you can freeze the food in an ice cube tray for 1 oz portions. Pop the frozen food out into a zipper style freezer bag then use one cub as needed. If using plastic containers for storing baby food this way it is very important you do not heat the food in the plastic container. Transfer it to a small glass bowl (eg. custard bowl) to heat in.
When our kids were in the infant stage there were very few food restrictions. Rice pablum was always the first to be introduced because there was the least likelihood of any problems. Other than that any food was pretty much fair game. From experience I recommend not giving the following foods to infants under the age of one:
  • honey - There is a recognized risk of developing Botulism if honey is ingested under the age of one year.
  • egg whites - The protein in egg whites can cause a severe allergic reaction in infants under the age of one year. If you would like to introduce eggs to your infant use the yolk only. To make scrambled eggs mix in a little water with the yolk.
  • cow's milk - Cow's milk can cause two problems. The first is an allergic reaction and the second is lactose intolerance. It's best not to give cow's milk to infants.
  • cruciform vegetables - Cruciform vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts. These vegetables tend to cause gas that will make the infant quite uncomfortable.
  • legumes - Legumes also produce gas that will cause discomfort.
  • refined anything - This includes white sugar, white flour, white toast, corn syrup etc but also includes hidden sugars in fruit juices, processed fruits, apple sauce and yogurt. Older infants can have yogurt but it should be plain yogurt with at most a little fruit purée or unsweetened apple sauce stirred in.
  • citrus - Most citrus is quite acidic so it is best not to give citrus to infants.
  • fatty foods - Fatty foods should be avoided as infants can't digest them well. Any meat should be as lean as possible.
  • seasoned foods - Avoid adding salt, pepper, herbs and seasonings. Keep food on the bland side.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Homemade Dairy Products

I am by nature a chronic musser as my Mom would say or in more refined terms as perpetual experimenter. Either way I love trying different things especially in the kitchen. Quite often the goal is to see if I can do it not so much as trying to save money. The secondary goal is to create a homemade substitution for those times I may need to. A homemade substitution may be a bit more expensive in terms of ingredients but it ends up being cost effect in terms of both time and expense by saving a trip to the grocery store for one ingredient. Any time you can eliminate a trip to the grocery store you will end up saving money because it eliminates impulse buying as well as the travel costs.

raw dairy ingredientsRaw Ingredients

I usually have whole milk (3.25% MF), skim milk (2% MF, 1% MF), half & half (10% MF) and whipping cream (35% MF) on hand all the time. The heavier milk fat (MF) products are used for things like creamed soups where I want a creamier flavour while the skim milks are great for frothing on lattés and cappuccinos. Buttermilk and plain yogurt is something I buy only when having to refresh a starter. Both need to have active culture for this purpose.

Milk in Canada comes in plastic bags 4 L divided into 3 bags. This tends to be the cheapest way to buy milk however, some milk products can only be bought in waxed cardboard containers as pictured. While whole milk can be bought in bags, cultured buttermilk, whipping cream and half and half comes in the waxed cardboard containers. Milk and dairy prices are controlled by the Canadian Dairy Commission (CDC) so the price per L is fairly consistent across Canada and it is seldom possible to find any great sales on these products. Some grocery stores will put milk or butter on at loss leader prices occasionally.

homemade dairy productsHomemade Dairy Products

It is surprising how many products can easily be made from a few ingredients. I made sour cream (1), cultured buttermilk (2), plain yogurt (3), sweet butter (4), ricotta cheese (5), yogurt cheese (6), ricotta whey (7), buttermilk (8). Of these products the sweet butter (4) was not cheaper than current store prices but this method allows me to easily flavour it with herbs, citrus or cranberries and gives a small amount of buttermilk (8). The homemade products cost: sour cream 50¢; cultured buttermilk $2.17; yogurt $2.49, butter $3.47; ricotta cheese $1.99 with the whey and buttermilk free by-products. These are the costs with buying cultured buttermilk and plain yogurt to inoculate the fresh product. A batch of yogurt only takes 2 tbsp of starter yogurt so the rest went to the cook and yogurt cheese. Once the fresh product is ready it can be used to inoculate future batches eliminating the cost of store bought cultured buttermilk and yogurt further reducing the cost of the homemade. The cost per batch will continue to decrease using the homemade cultures until the only thing you are paying for is the milk or cream so at today's milk prices (CDN) the cultured buttermilk will go down to $1.49/L and sour cream down to 48¢. So while the homemade products are not going to save a lot per product it is still a savings.

Sour Cream1 c whole milk
2 tbsp fresh active buttermilk

Mix together and pour into mason jar. Cap. Let sit at room temperature 12 - 24 hours then refrigerate.

Cultured Buttermilk

8 oz fresh active buttermilk
3 c whole milk

Mix together and pour into 1 L mason jar. Let sit at room temperature 24 - 36 hours then refrigerate.

Butter

2 c (500 ml) whipping cream

Pour the whipping cream into blender. Beat at high speed until butter fats separate. Pour into cheesecloth lined strainer. Pat butter lightly to remove as much of the buttermilk as possible. Reserve buttermilk for cooking. Place the butter into molds or container then refrigerate. If desired season with salt or herbs.


Friday, November 20, 2009

The Duke of Devon in Toronto, Ontario

One of our favourite Canadian destinations is the beautiful city of Toronto, Ontario. The area around the city of Toronto has many smaller communities like Rexdale, Mississauga, Burlington and Oakville. This area is officially known as the Greater Toronto Area or GTA. You can find just about everything in Toronto and the GTA including some of the world's best in fine dining. We are rather partial to Chinatown and have been visiting the same Chinese restaurant since our kids were infants. We usually get to the GTA several times yearly often visiting Toronto as well.

Exploring Toronto and the GTA is quite easy thanks to the great transit system (TTC) consisting of subway, trolleys, city buses and Go Train. Of course you drive around sight seeing but walking and using the TTC gives you a better flavour of the city from the street entertainers to the sidewalk cafes and street venders. It's the sights, the sounds, the smells that just makes Toronto an amazing place to visit!

The Duke of DevonThe Duke of Devon

On one of our visits to Toronto we parked at a subway station and road the subway around to explore a bit. The Duke of Devon is a small, cosy pub with plush red velvet seating. It is located on the concourse level of the Toronto Dominion Tower in the middle of Toronto's banking district. The pub is within easy walking distance to the Rogers and Air Canada Centres and Union Station. They a nice selection of premium beers and mixed drinks as well as a nice variety of pub grub.

The atmosphere of The Duke of Devon is just wonderful. It is the type of place you would just like to sit a spell and enjoy. Both their food and service is quite good!

spinach, artichoke and Stilton cheese dipSpinach, Artichoke and Stilton Cheese Dip

We each ordered a drink then shared the spinach, artichoke and stilton cheese dip. This appetizer is a tantalizing marriage of vegetables and gorgeous Stilton cheese served with grilled focaccia spears ($9.99). Stilton cheese is a British historical blue cheese. Stilton has its own Certification Trade Mark and is an EU Protected Food Name. Stilton cheese can only be produced in the three Counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.

The dip came nicely presented with the focaccia spears stacked log cabin style. The hot dip was rich and creamy with a nicely balanced tang from the blue cheese. This was a lovely appetizer!


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Cleaning Stainless Steel

kitchen quick tips

Pour baking soda over and stuck or burnt on food. Cover with about half inch of water. Bring just to a boil while keeping an eye on the pot because this will foam up and you don't want it to spill out onto the stove. Remove from heat and let sit 20 minutes or so. Dump out the liquid then use a spatula to remove any remaining food that will pop off almost like magic. Wash your pan then polish if desired. Any stains inside the pot or on the outer bottom clean up nicely with Bar Keeper's Friend either liquid or powder. Buff up the outside of the pot or pan with a soft, dry cloth for a nice sparkle.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oven Roasted Spare Ribs (spareribs)

When it comes to home cooked comfort foods you can't beat spare ribs (spareribs, rack of ribs). We love visiting North American ribfests where we enjoy wonderfully barbequed racks of ribs. Our favourite cooking method for spare ribs at home is a long, slow barbeque. I have discovered that this method can be almost duplicated in the oven for those times during the winter months when running the outdoor grill for long periods of time is not all that appealing especially when you have to dig through the snow.

spareribs and sauce ready for ovenPreparation

Spareribs are the most inexpensive cut of pork and beef ribs. Typically they are a long cut from the lower portion of the pig or cattle, from the belly to breastbone, behind the shoulder including 11 to 13 long bones. Typically they are barbequed long and slow with or without a rub and quite often finished with a mop (wet sauce).

There was very little in the way of preparing the ribs.
I use both a slow braising and roasting method when cooking spareribs in the oven. I place the ribs in a roaster without a lid with about 2 c of water and sliced onions. I place the prepared on the lowest rack in the oven at 112ºC (250ºF) for 1½ hr. Then I pour on the desired barbeque sauce. This time I used Bulls-Eye Hickory flavoured barbeque sauce. I covered the ribs and continue cooking at the same temperature for 3 hours. Then I removed the lid, raised the temperature to 176ºC ª350ºF) and allowed the sauce to caramelize.

cooked spareribsCooked Rack of Ribs

The beauty of combining braising with roasting is you can enjoy great ribs without using the barbeque in the colder months. The end result using this method is richly flavoured ribs with meat that literally falls off the bone. The meat is very moist and tender. Pictured are the two steaming hot rack of ribs just out of the oven. There is not nearly as much sauce as it looks on the bottom but enough to spoon a little sauce over the ribs if desired.

Usually 4 - 6 ribs is a good sized serving although at ribfests and in many restaurants they sell full or half rack of ribs. A half rack of ribs would be about 6 ribs. Two rack of ribs are enough to feed 4 to 6 people but some have been known to eat an entire rack of ribs themselves.

Rack of Ribs Dinner

Dinner consisted of a 4 rib piece from one rack of ribs which was more than sufficient. I didn't cut it into individual ribs because cutting it is part of the fun of eating ribs. The ribs were served with home canned green beans and oven baked potatoes. Since the oven was already heated cooking the ribs it was only logical to put potatoes in for baking. Oven baked potatoes with their crispy skins and soft flesh are always delightful!

The sauce was true to form deep and richly flavoured while a nice hickory smoke aroma filled the house. The meat was melt in your mouth tender. It was a lovely, comfort meal that was easy to put together bringing the tastes of summer barbeque into the kitchen during the cooler weather.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eating Out on a Road Trip in Southwestern Ontario

Have you ever had one of those weeks where things just kind of piled up then the unexpected happened? Now it might start innocently enough with deciding to splurge for pizza delivery because the weekend was a planned work at home weekend. Such was the case on Thursday evening when my husband and one of the kids decided to hook a new audio system and didn't feel like a traditional dinner so we ordered out. Ordering out is quite rare for use because we pay premium delivery charges since we are rural. From there things snowballed to unexpected but welcomed travel. The problem with this kind of week is cooking quickly becomes the last thing on your mind. Well it was on my mind but life got in the way and sometimes that becomes the priority :)

take-out pizza and wingsPizza & Wings

Thursday night we ordered pizza and wings from our favourite pizza parlour. The intentions was this would be our night out (but in) because we had a work weekend planned that included two smaller home renovations projects.

This was a lovely pizza topped with ham, mushroom, pepperoni and extra cheese. The sauce is quite tasty on a somewhat thinner crust. It was as always an excellent pizza! We always order the wings with the sauce on the side. I like the extra hot sauce while others like either medium or honey garlic sauce. Ordering the sauce on the side allows everyone to have their choice of sauce.

quarter pound cheeseburger not fast foodQuarter Pound Cheeseburger

Thursday saw a bit of an unexpected phone call that would see us on a weekend road trip. We had to pick up a few items for this trip so did the necessary shopping on Friday then stopped at our favourite burger joint. Now this definitely is not fast food but it is well worth the extra wait. The quarter pound burger comes topped with cheese served with sliced onions and pickles. Ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper is available on the tables. This burger is so large that it is takes a lot of effort for me to finish half of it!

It is nothing fancy but the restaurant has an excellent, cosy atmosphere. The food never fails to please either. It is not fast food but it is good food. We always bring doggy bags home.

Wendy's fast foodWendy's

When we are on the road we prefer to stop at trucker's restaurants that offer small sit down restaurants usually with a buffet. This allows us to take a much needed break while enjoying a nice meal. Saturday morning found us on the road fairly early so instead of stopping at a truck stop we ended up stopping at a Wendy's on the highway. Wendy's is one of the very few fast food restaurants I like because they offer so much more than just burgers and fries.

The food was good but unfortunately the service was not! I kid you not, my husband stood in line 36 minutes to get the food. Had it been me I would have walked away. Apparently they only had one register opened with a huge line so then they opened another where those just arriving got service before those who had been standing in line. The service here gets 2 thumbs down and something we will remember in the very unlikely event we are ever tempted to stop there again.

Bavarian style wiener schnitzelWiener Schnitzel

Saturday afternoon was extremely busy especially for the guys. We (the girls) stayed home to entertain the grandbabies. Later we did a bit of sightseeing with the kids then took them to a quaint little restaurant called The Old Country Restaurant for dinner. The restaurant is located at 105 Peel Street in the picturesque town of New Hamburg, Ontario. The feature home cooked food in a nice family style restaurant. When they say home cooked they mean home cooked! The service was excellent and the food even better. The restaurant has gone onto our list of to visit again.

Their house specialty is Bavarian Style Wiener Schnitzel. Wiener Schnitzel is a thin piece of veal coated with bread crumbs then fried. My husband and I both ordered the Wiener Schnitzel. It came with a choice of potatoes, vegetable, homemade soup of the day or garden green salad for $9.95. We both chose baked potatoes but he ordered the soup of the day (beef noodle) while I ordered the salad. This would be a very easy and inexpensive meal to duplicate at home!


Monday, November 16, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Holiday Baking

Frugal Kitchens 101
The topic for this week's Frugal Kitchens 101 is holiday baking. It has long been a tradition for many to do extra baking for the Christmas holidays. Typically the baking includes fancier decorated cookies such as sugar cookies and gingerbread men along with fruitcakes. The problem for many especially in today's economy is the extra cost of holiday baking coincides with increased winter utility costs and combined holiday costs (gift giving, entertaining, decorating, travel) along with unemployment and threat to job security. Holiday baking can have a huge impact on your holiday budget simply because many popular holiday recipes use higher priced ingredients like candied fruits, chocolate and nuts. This is the time to rely on frugal kitchen skills.

  1. start early and with a plan - This is one case where planning early is a must. I would recommend you start planning right after the previous holiday season. Take notes of likes or dislikes and amounts needed, what didn't go over well and what did. This allows you almost a full year to pick up all the necessary supplies and take advantage of sales.
  2. KISS (keep it simple silly) - The holiday season is busy enough so keep your holiday baking simple. It is surprising how many baked goods can be made using simple ingredients. The thing is they don't have to look like they are simple ingredients and most don't after baked.
  3. don't forget the recipe - The recipe is a must for some home baked goods so print it out either by printer or handwritten for a gift that will be cherished. Check the craft section of dollar stores for pre-cut tags perfect for using as the recipe instructions or print your own on cardstock.
  4. ingredients - Buy any ingredient you use for holiday baking in bulk if at all possible. Most baking ingredients will keep for upwards of a year or longer. There are two ways to save here if you have a bulk food store. Those ingredients that you may only need a tsp or so buy in bulk in double the amount you need. That way you have enough for another batch. Those ingredients that you use more of buy in bulk simply because bulk usually is cheaper per unit and avoids the pesky packaging. Now, the exception to this is if an ingredient is on sale and/or you have a good coupon or rebate then figure out the unit price as sometimes it might be less expensive to use this method over the bulk food method. If at all possible rather than a large expenditure just before the holiday season, gradually stock up throughout the year.
  5. energy usage - Where ever possible use the full capacity of your oven. Once your cookies are baked use the already heated oven to cook your dinner. Small batch baking can be done using your toaster oven or countertop roaster.
  6. no time to bake - Give the gift of cookies, soups, breads and brownies by making gifts in jars (homemade mixes). Essentially you assemble the dry ingredients in a mason jar or similar then add a recipe tag and any other desirable embellishments. The recipient adds any liquid, oil or egg when they are ready to make their gift.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gift From the Kitchen - White Chocolate Chip Cookies

A couple of our kids need a bit of extra loving so I decided I wanted to make something special from the kitchen. I ended up testing out a gift in the jar idea so in essence the kids became taste testers but in this case I doubt they will mind. Besides who can resist a bit of Mommy's love straight from the kitchen?

gift from the kitchen ingredientsIngredients

One of the neat things about gifts from the kitchen is you can incorporate a definite craft element. True the gift itself is edible but the presentation is very much on the craft making side. So aside of the edible ingredients there were extras needed to make this gift special. For the extras I relied on my scrapbooking and crafting supplies.

Extras include things like decorative brads, eyelets, ribbon, punches and wooden spoons. Surprisingly most of these can be bought at department stores and increasingly at dollar stores so you don't need to invest a lot to give a nice presentation. You will also need craft scissors or an exacto knife to avoid using kitchen scissors for this project. You will need one 1 - L mason jar with lid and ring to package the finished mix in. I should point out that any of the decorative elements can be eliminated. In general they add a lot towards the presentation and very little towards the expense but they are entirely optional.

gift from the kitchen tagGift Tag

One of my favourite scrapbooking mediums is card stock. This is a heavy weight paper available in many different colours allowing me a variety of options. I scanned the tag then with a bit of Photoshop® magic I ended up with an instruction tag suitable for this project. What is really neat about this method is I can pretty much customize the tag as I want then size it to fit anywhere from 3 to 6 tags per sheet to print. Once the sheet is printed I can further customize it using any number of scrapbooking techniques ranging from adding embellishments like eyelets or brads to using decorative scissors or punches. So this really becomes a very personalized approach. In this case it was extremely important for me to use a heart on the tag to symbolize that little extra needed hug from Mom.

white chocolate chip cookies in a jarWhite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Making gifts in a jar is actually quite fun. It really becomes more of a craft project even though it is edible. There is a chance to branch out just a bit further to tweak that creativity. For this gift I really wanted something that said hey I'm thinking about you and I love you. So I chose to make a white chocolate chip cookie gift in the jar. It was really important to me that a heart appeared on the tag and oh my gosh did that heart brad cause me problems but I finally got the results I wanted. This seriously is a project from start to finish that you could easily put together in about 15 minutes and while I did not calculate the actual cost it would definitely come in under the $2 mark. This type of gift is not about the cost though. It is about the thought that goes behind the gift to make the gift fit the recipient. I'm sure the kids are going to love these cookies, just what they need a taste from home :)

White Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Jar

¾ c granulated sugar
¾ c lightly packed brown sugar, divided
1 c chocolate chips
2¼ c unbleached flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt

Pour the sugar into a 1 L mason jar then shake slightly to form a level layer. Add half of the brown sugar and pack down tightly (seriously push down hard as this mixture will fill the jar). Pour in the chocolate chips then the remaining brown sugar. Again pack down tightly. Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt well. Pour the flour mixture into the jar. You will have to tap it down and even carefully tamp down to get the mixture to fit. Wipe the rim then place the 2 piece lid on top and tighten.

Garnish with a wooden spoon and recipe secured with a ribbon.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Quesadillas

Left-overs can present a problem as far as using them up which is why sometimes you just have to get creative. Several years ago we were introduced to quesadillas. Now essentially a quesadilla is a filling usually ground meat and cheese sandwiched between two tortilla shells then baked in the oven until just turning golden brown and a bit crispy with nicely melted cheese. Served with a dip of choice usually homemade salsa makes for a perfect snack or light meal.

quesadillasQuesadillas

We have taken quesadillas to a new level using the basic technique as one of our favourite ways to use up left-overs. We still make quesadillas with ground beef and cheese filling served with homemade salsa. Sometimes we add black beans along with jalapeno peppers, chopped onions and tomato pieces. What we discovered is almost any left-over meat can be used in quesadillas.

We had left-over braised outside round roast so I decided to make quesadillas for lunch. The filling consisted of cubed outside round round roast, cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes and chopped onions. It was nothing fancy or complicated just an easy way to use up a few left-overs yet is was quite tasty.


Friday, November 13, 2009

London Fog

I posted earlier about making espresso, cappuccino and latte at home using an espresso maker. These fancier drinks are quite costly at the coffee shops so the frugal thing to do if you want to enjoy these drinks on a regular basis is to invest in an espresso maker, coffee-maker/percolator a few specialized cups, a coffee grinder, a tea ball and a tea pot and you are all set to enjoy great hot beverages at a fraction of the cost. Now before you start panicking over the cost of all this extra equipment if you have been reading this blog you will know frugality is the underlying theme.

I have bought in my lifetime one new teapot and that's only because it was a French chef I fell in love with. The rest of my teapots were bought at resale stores and yard sales for seldom more than $1. I have 2 - 4 piece sets of cappuccino cups with one bought at a resale store for 50¢ and the other as part of a porcelain dinner set bought for $2.50 at a liquidation store. My four tall glass latte mugs cost $1 each at the dollar store. The percolator (circa 1950's) cost $2 at a resale store and so far has given us faithful daily service for the past 9 years. Other equipment such as the espresso maker which was a gift are best bought on sale and you don't have to go really expensive here either.

One of kids told me about a beverage they were enjoying called a London Fog. This fancier tea drink has been made popular by Starbucks® but it is ever so easy to make at home as well. It is a latte made with tea flavoured with vanilla rather than coffee. A London Fog is a nice sipping drink while curled up on the chesterfield watching a movie on a cold Autumn night.

London Fog specialty drinkLondon Fog

Don't be tempted to make tea in the heathen fashion of pouring boiling water over a tea bag in a mug. If you are going to make tea you need a warm teapot and a tea ball filled with your loose tea blend. London Fog is made using a strong brew of Earl Grey tea.

Method: Fill tea ball with loose leaf Earl Grey tea. Pour hot water in teapot to warm. Bring 2 c of water to a boil in electric kettle. Empty teapot, add tea ball then fill with boiling water. Allow to steep 5 minutes. Add about ¼ tsp pure vanilla to a warmed tall glass mug. Once the tea has steeped, pour into mug until about three quarters full. Steam 2 oz of skim milk using the steamer on an espresso machine. Pour into the hot tea then spoon milk froth on top.

Pictured is my small 2 cup morning tea pot that sits on top of a matching tea cup. Beside it is my lovely London Fog and doesn't it look gorgeous? Many a morning is enveloped in fog this time of year. This drink comes so close to mimicking a heavy fog! Traditionally London Fog is made using vanilla syrup but I don't like my tea sweetened so I use plain pure vanilla. This is a lovely drink for sipping on before going to bed. It's warm and relaxing without a lot of caffeine and all the benefits of warm milk to help you sleep.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Coconut

kitchen quick tips
Revitalize dried out shredded coconut sprinkle a little milk over it then mix and let sit to soften.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Braised Outside Round Roast

Early this week I posted about cherry picking the sales and there have been some great local sales recently. The sales included fresh pork shoulder picnic roasts and outside round (bottom round) roasts for $1 per pound. In addition to the meat values various sizes of beets, carrots and onions were on sale for $1. I decided to take advantage of the sales picking up one of each roast for the freezer and one each for immediate use. This is a nice way to do a bit of stocking up without spending a lot of money at one time. The great sales continue this week with fresh pork shoulder picnic roasts, pork loin and sirloin halves on for $1 a pound so you know what I'm stocking up on this week.

preparing the outside round roastPreparing & Cooking

The weather turned cooler yesterday so a comforting winter meal was in order. I decided to cook one of the outside round roasts. Outside round roast is a Canadian term for the cut called bottom round outside of Canada. The outside round roast is the outer part of the round where muscles are well exercised. It consists of tough muscles and some connective tissue making it the least flavourful of all the beef cuts.

Braising is a great way to tenderize this cut of meat. Braising is simply a moist type of cooking is which the meat being tenderized is covered with liquid. The cooking time is usually long and slow. I decided to use braising combined with a pressure cooker which also helps to tenderize tougher cuts of meat without the longer cook times of braising. I heated a little olive oil on medium high then seared all sides of the meat (1). Searing locks in the juices while adding colour and flavour. I used a stainless steel fry pan with copper encapsulated bottom for the searing as that gives better results than non-stick pans. Once the meat was seared I deglazed the pan with a little beef stock to pour over the roast waiting on a layer of carrots and onions in the pressure cooker. Deglazing gets all those tasty bits and pieces that really boost the flavour. Carrots and onions add both moisture and flavour. I would have added celery but found myself in the rare position of being out of celery. I seasoned the roast with Montreal Steak Seasoning and Worcestershire sauce poured in 500 ml of beef stock then I put the lid on the pressure cooker, locked it and brought it to pressure (2) then cooked for 20 minutes. The roast looked gorgeous (3) with a nice amount of juices to lightly thicken for gravy. The roast was cooked to medium rare (4) with the smaller end medium.

outside round roast dinnerDinner

I really wanted a nice, tender, juicy yet flavourful roast using a cut of meat that is not really known for that. At each step of the way adding both flavour and moisture became the primary goal. The results were well worth it! In hindsight a bayleaf and the celery would have added a bit more flavour. I also think a parsnip would have added a nice flavour so will keep that in mind for the next time. I served the roast with Himalayan Basmati rice, tender beets with butter then garnished the plates with carrots removed from the roast juices. I removed the carrots from the roast juices but did not strain the juices for the thinly thickened gravy. It was a frugal, comfort meal perfect for a cool autumn dinner.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scandinavian Rosette Cookies

It's that time of year where I'm looking for a few new things to add to my gift baskets for gifts from the kitchen. As promised here is one of the cookie recipes I tried out. Now I do have to point out these are one of the most frugal cookies I have come across. They are made from 5 low cost ingredients and despite this they look quite fancy. I really like foods that look like they took a lot of time to prepare when they really didn't!

making rosettes equipmentGetting Ready

These cookies are not baked in the oven but rather fried in oil. Don't let that turn you off though as the are light and fluffy. They are also very versatile as to what topping you want to use and depending which orientation you want the cookies. Bottoms up and the cookies can be filled. Tops up and the cookies are nice simply topped.

Materials needed: deep fryer, rosette mold set, wooden skewer, paper towel lined cake cooling rack.

Scandinavian Rosette Cookies

1 c unbleached flour
1 c skim milk
½ tsp sea salt
3 tsp organic sugar
1 egg

Combine dry ingredients and mix in KitchenAid® stand mixer bowl. In a separate measuring cup combine the egg with the milk. Slowly mix into the dried ingredients then using the whisk attachment whisk until you have a smooth mixture. Heat the mold then dip into the batter into hot oil. Fry just to the point you can pop the cookie off the mold with a skewer. Fry until golden brown then turn to cook on the other side. Using your skewer, remove the cookie onto a paper towel lined cooling rack.

making Scandinavian rosette cookiesThe Steps

When I first looked at all the steps to making these cookies I thought they were just too complicated but really they aren't once you get into a rhythm. First the mold is attached to the handle then the mold is heated for 15 seconds (1). Once the mold is heated it is dipped into the batter (2). I noticed there is always a sizzle sound when the properly heated mold hits the batter. The batter cannot come above the lip of the mold but a little jiggle helps coat the mold well. The coated mold is then placed into the hot oil (3). New molds will need a bit of encouragement to get the cookie to pop off but I really didn't find this to be a huge problem. After using the mold (4) for three or four times the cookie dropped off into the hot oil allowing a reload so I was able to get 3 to 4 cookies cooking at one time. The hot cookies went from the fryer to a paper towel lined cooling rack.

cooling Scandinavian rosette cookiesCooling

There were 3 molds included with the kit I bought - a flower, a butterfly and poker oriented. I had to try all three. The flower one mold worked like a charm once I got the hang of it! The butterfly mold worked just as good but I simply could not get the poker mold to work. The mold was different in that there was more mold if that make sense. It was designed to create small cups shaped in spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds. Now this is really the one I wanted to work because it would fit in so well with our larger get togethers. Apparently I still have to practice!

Despite essentially frying one cookie at a time it took little time to get a nice plateful of rosette cookies. In the end with a little co-ordination I was able to get a nice rhythm going so there were 4 rosettes at a time in the fryer. I thought they looked rather pretty

Scandinavian rosette cookiesScandinavian Rosettes

When making Scandinavian rosette cookies you are supposed to give up a prayer to the Norse Gods dedicating the first batch to them. I tend to be on the frugal side so any mess-ups would get eaten anyway. At any rate and despite being my first attempt at making Scandinavian rosettes the Norse Gods would have got very little.

What is really a neat feature about the Scandinavian rosettes is you can really use them two ways. Turn them over and sprinkle with icing sugar and a chocolate/sugar/cinnamon mix (pictured) and well you just can't get much better! The shells are rich and crispy. However, reducing the amount of sugar added to the batter turns it into nice shells that could be paired with meat or savoury fillings. The shells when turned upside down hold a lot more so work nicely for dips as well.

The rosette cookies will keep at least 2 months frozen. Simply thaw then top or fill as desired. When it comes to gift baskets these cookies look amazing yet cost you very little to make.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Beverages

Frugal Kitchens 101
Beverages are a part of every meal and they can be budget busters. One reason for this is dollar for dollar beverages give very little nutritional value for their dollar. This week's topic for Frugal Kitchens 101 is how to save on beverages.

  • water - Water by far is one of your most frugal choices for a beverage providing you are not using costly bottled water. It hydrates your body best! The average adult should aim for 8 - 250 ml (8 oz) glasses of water daily for proper hydration. Water is cheap and easily transported in refillable water bottles. Avoid using individual sized store bought water that is not eco-friendly. Install a home water filtration system or use portable water filtration jugs for nice tasting water. If you don't like the taste of plain water add a slice or two of your favourite citrus fruit.
  • juices - I'm sorry but I am not a huge fan of any kind of juice. The reasoning behind this is the juice has been stripped of any beneficial fiber that you would get from the actual fruit or vegetable. If you want home made juices there are four juicers I'm aware of. The old fashioned juicer is preparing the fruit then pouring it through a cheesecloth lined strainer or jelly bag. A hand held juicer or reamer is suitable if you are doing a small amount of citrus juice. An electric juicer is nice for family sized volumes of fruit or vegetable juices. Some models are better than others so do a bit of research to find one tailored to your needs. Finally a steam canner is a piece of equipment that allows you to do large batches of juice at one time. Many home canners use this device. I do not because we don't use a lot of juices and I question using heat to extract the juice. Of the juicers I would recommend a cold, electric juicer. In general if you buy commercially prepared juiced frozen concentrates are the best value for your dollar and with less packaging they are a bit more eco-friendly. Don't hesitate to water juices down just a little. If the instructions say to add 3 cans of water add 4 and you won't even notice the extra dilution so you end up getting just a bit more juice than normal.
  • teas/coffees - If you are going to drink tea or coffee, do yourself a favour and buy good quality even if it means drinking less. Any fancy tea or coffee drink you can buy out you can make at home for a fraction of the cost. Buy beans (Fair Trade, Organic) not pre-ground coffee and invest in a coffee grinder to get the best flavour because that is what it is about. Buy loose teas and use a tea ball not tea bags. An espresso machine will pay for itself if you like cappuccinos, espresso and latté plus it can be used for frothing milk for fancier teas.
  • milks - At one time powdered milk was the answer for anyone wanting to be frugal. That is no longer the case. It is still frugal to keep powder milk as part of your emergency supplies but the price has risen to the point it is no longer a frugal substitution. Except in the case of infants where milk (not cows milk) is a necessity children and adults can get by quite nicely without milk. Good substitutes are cheeses and yogurts. There is some indication that contrary to initial beliefs soy milk (not an animal milk) should not be consumed by women of reproductive or post reproductive age because of the estrogen content. Milks seldom go on sale so if you find a sale keep in mind they freeze nicely.
  • pop/soda - A good portion of many food budgets go to soda drinks. These for the most part are extremely poor value for your food dollar. In fact some brands have as much as 17 tbsp of sugar in on drink! You wouldn't think of eating this much sugar yet have no problem drinking this much sugar in the matter of about 10 minutes. In addition to this some of these drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup compounding the problem and for those going to diet there is the whole issue of Aspartame something I certainly would not put in my body. An additional problem many may not know is all pop sold in aluminum cans has a low level of mold content and soda fountains are worse. That isn't a providing you aren't allergic to molds or molds are a trigger for your asthma. So your daily pop could be making you sick without you knowing it.
  • alcoholic beverages - The ultimate way to eliminate this cost is just simple don't serve these type of drinks. If you do there are ways to save. This becomes very much a personal choice.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Last Week in the Kitchen

Sometimes a day goes by without a blog post here like yesterday. That's because life gets in the way. The kitchen hasn't come to a standstill. Saturday morning I spent doing a bit of straightening and and cleaning with the kitchen getting extra attention. So by lunchtime everything was squeaky clean just in time for parents of our middle grandbaby to arrive. At 18 months this grandbaby is about as adorable as you can get with a vocabulary that would amaze most people! After a nice visit they all changed into dress clothes for a wedding so the house was quiet again. I decided to get a little fresh air since it was so nice. Then my husband arrived home after being away for a week so things got really busy!

I had bought a pork loin as part of helping my husband get ready for his trip. He took half of it for pork loin chops so I put the other half into cure for pea meal bacon. The stores have been running some nice beef and pork sales along with great deals on beets (10 lb/$1), carrots (5 lb/$1), onions (10 lb $1) and kiwi (2 lb/$1) so I've been doing a fair amount of preserving. Coming out of the kitchen last week include home canned carrots and beets, dried kiwi along with frozen meats and onions. My secret indulgence for the week was daily cappuccino.

taco saladTaco Salad

I kept dinners on the simple side planning for two because most evening one of our kids stopped by for dinner. The week started off by using up the rest of the lasagna followed by using a large container of homemade spaghetti with meat sauce from the freezer. I made a nice batch of butternut squash soup as well. I planned on treating myself to dinner out Friday night as we normally eat out Friday nights however a sinus attack convinced me staying in would be a better choice. So, I thawed a package of hamburg from our bulk meat purchase and made taco salad. Included in the toppings were homemade medium salsa and taco hot sauce. This is one of my favourite meals that is always sure to please!

pickled beetsPickled Beets

The beets were it this week! At 10/$lb I just had to get a bag. I canned plain beets (not shown) and pickled beets (pictured). I love beets so a good portion of the hot beets were popped into my mouth as part of quality control I still have a large bowl of cooked beets to use up in the next couple of days but that shouldn't be a problem! Even though my husband was away it's apparent the mouse or should that be gnome still had time to play in the kitchen!

The sales continue this week with boneless pork loins and sirloin halves on for $1/lb The fresh whole pork picnic shoulder are still n at $1/lb. Fresh bay scallops and smelts are on for $4.54/lb. It's going to be another great week for stocking up!


Friday, November 06, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

Autumn is the perfect time for homemade soups. The weather is cooling and life tends to get a bit busier with kids back to school and preparing for the holiday season to come. One of my favourite homemade soups is tomato soup because it reminds me of my childhood. This is the time of year instead of greeting the day with coffee, cappuccino or espresso I love a large mug of tomato soup. I did a bit of flicking through the weekly flyers to see what was on sale to do a bit of cherry picking the sales. On the back of one of the flyers there was a recipe for Butternut Squash Soup. I just had to try the recipe!

stick blender for making soupStick Blending

The recipe started off simple enough involving only a few ingredients. I decided to do a bit of substituting when I opened the evaporated milk and decided that was not something that was going into what was shaping up to be a lovely Autumn soup. After a couple more substitutions I decided to just wing it then change the method and well the rest is history.

Pictured is my funky stick blender that doesn't see a lot of use outside of making sauces and smooth soups. Despite the colours it does a nice job. It really needs to get out a bit more! Here's the recipe I came up with.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash
1½ c half & half
1 onion, chopped
1 large potato
3 tbsp butter
4 c homemade turkey stock
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp brown sugar
salt & pepper to taste

Peel, de-seed and chop the squash. Peel and chop the potato and onion. Put the butter in a large saucepan and melt on medium high heat. Add the squash, onions and potatoes. Cook while stirring often to prevent sticking until vegetables begin caramelizing (turns golden brown). Add sliced garlic and continue cooking 1 minute. Stir in broth and cook until squash is fork tender. Stir in milk, sugar, salt and pepper cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Use a stick blender to purée until smooth. Garnish with a dab of sour cream and parsley flakes.

Note: If you want a slightly thicker soup stir in a tbsp of powdered instant potatoes.


butternut squash soupButternut Squash Soup

The soup had a deep, rich, beautiful colour reflective of autumn and wonderful, cosy aroma, a true comfort food. As soon as I tasted this soup I was quite pleased. I have to tell you the rich creaminess combined with wonderful butternut squash flavour was amazing. The soup had a lovely texture, just right, not to thick and not too thin. The two changes in addition to those already made would be adding a bit of garlic powder and a bit less sugar. Fresh ground pepper worked well in this recipe but it does need to be set to a fine grind or substitute a bit of ground white pepper for the flavour without seeing it. This soup could easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth, soy milk and omitting the sour cream. This soup has gone into my personal recipe book for a bit more tweaking but as it stands it gets a hearty two thumbs up!


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Flavour

kitchen quick tips

Always substitute an ingredient with not flavour with one that has flavour. Use stocks, broths, juices and wines in place of water. Use coconut in place of regular milk. Use any sweetener that adds flavour (honey, molasses, etc) in place of white sugar. Don't forget the flavoured vingegars and to use oils with depth.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lasagna Revisited

The weather is chilling so the comfort foods are coming out in full force as well as testing out new recipes that may become family favourites. These are the foods that later become comfort foods. Comfort foods are a true must have during the winter months!

lasagnaLasagna

Lasagna is one of our family favourites so I've posted a lot about it. Just to wet your whistle pictured is one of three lasagne I made last Friday. We enjoyed this beauty Friday night with left-overs for Saturday. I always make lasagna using a home meat sauce that can easily be substituted using your own homemade meat sauce. Once the sauce is made it really becomes a method for creating lasagna. I always start with sauce, cheese mixture, noodles, cheese, spinach/cottage cheese/sauce/cheese then the rest of the layers are comprised of noodles/cheese/cause/cheese ending with a cheese layer.

Now a few things come to mind. First some don't like adding spinach but it adds flavour, nutrients and texture. Second is the issue of adding cottage cheese. Cottage cheese adds a wonderful flavour but if you do not like using cottage cheese due to the texture, try blending it or substituting with ricotta. Both will add a rich, creamy flavour to your lasagna.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Cherry Picking the Sales - Beef & Pork

My apologies for a later than usual post. I try to get a post out daily usually in the morning hours as I know many look forward to them. I ended up doing a bit of a foodie run for the shear purpose of taking advantage of a couple of excellent sales. That ended up with me not getting home into the mid-afternoon hours so by the time I put everything away and vacuum sealed the dried foods this is the first real chance to sit and get caught up.

One of the grocery store chains is running their dollar sale. I decided this was an excellent opportunity to cherry pick the sales. Cherry picking refers to going in and buying only those items on sale. This is one way to stock your freezer and pantry without having to spend a lot of money. Pork shoulder roasts (bone in) and boneless outside round (bottom round) roasts were on sale for $1 per pound. Well this is such a good price that I just had to pick up a couple of each regardless of the fact that both the pantry and freezers are stuffed. The roasts are cryovaced so will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or longer.

pork shoulder roast and outside round roast or bottom roundBeef and Pork

I bought 2 pork shoulder roasts totaling just slight over 17 lbs for $17.21 for both roasts. One common question regarding pork shoulder roast is "How do I cook a pork shoulder roast?". I've posted the following methods for cooking pork shoulder roast: home canned barbeque pork, maple glazed pork, slowcooker (crockpot) pork shoulder roast, and glazed pork shoulder roast. All are excellent ways to cook a pork shoulder roast! These are bone in pork roasts so I'm going to be trying at least one different method such as dry roasting with rub. I'm also considering curing one of the pork shoulders. The bones can be used to make hearty bean soup or Canadian split pea soup.

I bought 2 outside round roasts totaling just over 7 lb for a total of $7.35 for both roasts. Outside round roast is a Canadian term. The same cut of beef is also known as bottom round roast outside of Canada. The outside round roast is cut from the hip part of the cow so can have a chewy texture if cooked improperly due to connective tissues. This cut is ideal for for braising but can also be dry roasted long and slow. It is important to not over cook this cut of meat. I have a couple of ideas for cooking the roasts but haven't decided yet.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Gifts from the Kitchen

Frugal Kitchens 101
While homemade goodies have always been popular for gift giving over the holiday season there is a renewed interest in gifts from the kitchen this year. Part of the reason for this is the forced belt tightening of the recession. The fact is many have lost their jobs and many more are facing the very real possibility of losing their jobs. At the same time the holidays are a time of celebration and a time for a brief period of time to put the cares of the world aside for a few days. Gifts from the kitchen need not be expensive and it is surprising how creative you can get. Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 will focus on some of the basics necessary for getting the necessary materials needed for creating some gifts from the kitchen.

There are two main components for making gifts from the kitchen:

  • the edible component - For the most part choose foods where refrigeration is not a concern especially if the gift needs to travel any distance.
  • the non-edible component - This consists of any wrapping and/or containers for the food itself, the container to carry the food in and/or any additional items such as stuffings and decorations.
Edible component (of course as many homemade as possible):
  • good choices - breads, cookies, cakes, dry mixes, many home canned foods, jams, jellies, maple syrup, candies, vinegars, oils, chocolates, spices, herbs, coffee, teas
  • themes - Try to establish a theme for gift baskets or packets. One year we made movie theme baskets for friends of ours who had younger kids that included a video tape, a coupon for a free video renta, popcorn and pop. They still talk about that! What really matters with the theme is to come up with something that really reflects the recipient.
Non-edible components:
  • think non-disposable - Choose baskets or re-usable bins to put the packaged foods in. Get creative! For example one of your friends brown bags it. Make a cute and thoughtful gift basket using a reusable lunch bag with water bottle packed with appropriate eco-friendly lunch goodies. If at all possible use non-disposable wrappings for the food itself. Consider the reusable food container part of the overall gift. Find cute but inexpensive mugs to include as part of breakfast basket. Add in inexpensive items like serving spoons or butter knives to accent the the basket. Package in reusable but inexpensive tin cans and wood boxes found in discount stores, dollar stores and department stores (bought on sale). One cute idea would be to fill those a large silicone gloves with a few different spices and maybe a kitchen gadget then give it that way. There are so many possibilities. Many store bought baskets have some type of stuffing usually plastic or paper to make the basket look fuller than it is. Replace this with T-towels for a useful part of the gift baske.
  • wrapping - Most store bought gift baskets come wrapped in some type plastic wrap. If you need some type of wrapping aside of the actual basket or tin get creative using inexpensive T-towels or dishcloths something the recipient will find quite useful.
Please watch for next week's Frugal Kitchen 101 post that will continue the discussion on gifts from the kitchen.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

October Contest Wrap-up & Kitchen Chit Chat

Campbell's Soup Kids Cook

My gosh I can't believe it is November 1st already! Where has the year gone? We are now starting to gear up getting things ready for the holiday season. So it's time to sit and do a little chit chatting in the kitchen. October began with a lovely five day road trip of which I shared some of the highlights. When we arrived home I was back into preserving mode thanks to the generosity of a friend who dropped off nine dozen ears of corn. As you know my husband and I ran a small contest in October to discover a couple new ingredients. My husband chose ground turkey for his two creations and I used coconut milk. This contest was fun simply because neither of us built on what we already knew. I'm not going to create a poll for this contest because it was just meant to add a bit of inspiration in our cooking. Towards the end of the month I ran a poll regarding microwave usage. I have to tell you I was a bit surprised at the results.

Of the seventy seven voters 46% used their microwave ovens 2 or more times a day, 24% used their microwave ovens at least once a day, 14% used their microwave 2 to 6 times per week, 2% used their microwave oven once a week, zero used their microwave oven less than once a week and 11% did not have a microwave oven. From this data it appears for those owning a microwave oven use them. What I also realized is we are in the minority at using ours at maybe at best just barely squeaking into using our microwave oven 2 to 6 times a week but that is really stretching it. In keeping with my philosophy that every appliance in my kitchen must earn it's keep I am embarking on an adventure on how to use the microwave oven more effectively.

I have a few ideas for what is to come in November's posts. Many are trying to find frugal Christmas presents so I will be posting a few loving from the kitchen ideas that aren't going to cost you a lot. It also a busy and expensive time of the year so I will be posting a bit more about using the microwave oven. Finally I have venison, moose, wild geese, wild duck and fresh caught fish (perch, bass, pickerel) so will be posting on that as well. Aside of that you will likely notice a few subtle changes in the layout but nothing disruptive of major. If there is I will be sure to give you a warning.