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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Please watch this area for important information like updates, food recalls, polls, contests, coupons, and freebies.
  • [January 15, 2016] - It's National Soup Month so this month's posts will focus on soups. Yum!
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
  • Sticky Post - Warning: 4ever Recap reusable canning lids. The reports are growing daily of these lids losing their seal during storage. Some have lost their entire season's worth of canning to these seal failures!

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas At Our House

We spent last Christmas and New Year's Eve at our vacation home in the sunny south.  It was wonderful but I really missed our family and friends.  When my husband was making plans for December's trip to our vacation home, I insisted on being home here for the week between Christmas and New Year's.  It's been a year of turmoil so it only seems fitting to end it out surrounded by family and friends.  We left for Wisconsin on December 4 where we spent a couple of days before flying out to Florida where we stayed until December 21, arriving back at our house the following day in the late evening.  That gave me two days to prep the house for the holidays!

dining room ready for Christmas
We moved here on September 1 and took legal ownership possession on 15th then off to our vacation home from the 18th to October 6.  Needless to say we are still in the settling in stages having done no painting or decorating.  For the most part, we are fairly organized though.

Pictured is the dining room from the stairs at the top of the entrance (bi-level house).  The palm trees to the right and over the stairs going to the lower level was the Christmas tree for the upper level.  There's a funny story behind it!

The dining room seats six comfortably.  There is a candle arrangement on the table, a vase with glitter sticks and a ceramic reindeer that I made.  Nothing fancy.  Two of our kids, parents to oldest and youngest Grandchildren  arrived for lunch Christmas day.  We enjoyed baked chicken fingers, homemade fries,  as well as a fruit and vegetable tray around the dining room table.  They left to visit in-laws returning in the evening.  Another of our kids parents to the middle Grandchild had arrived.  By then the dining room table was laden with goodies and had become a catch spot for sipping coffee while the little ones played.

the orange and nut bowl in the family room
My Mom always had a bowl of oranges on the coffee table along with a nut bowl.  I've continued that tradition much to the delight of the kids and Grandkids.  A very dear friend who passed several years ago made us the lamp (matching lamp and pole lamp not shown).  It is very much treasured.  It's hard to see but under that lamp sits a rectangle shaped vase I turned into a candy dish for one of our kid's favourite M&Ms - mint.  They are only available at Christmas time.  Not pictured is the must have ribbon and satin hard candies I put up for adults only because it could be a choking hazard for little ones.

serving cart loaded with Christmas goodies in the games room
The utility cart I used in the kitchen at our former house is now getting a lot of use in the games room.  This room is set up to comfortably seat 25 - 30.  The games room was set up with another Christmas tree laden with gifts (to the left out of camera range).  To the left is the entrance to the utility room.  Immediately above the cart is a wall hung television and behind the wall is a full sized refrigerator, the one we bought about five years ago.  Beside the refrigerator is a new bank of cabinets creating a dry bar.

I should have taken a picture of the cart as soon as the tinfoil came off the trays but little hands were already helping themselves.  Grandma and Papa have one rule regarding any of the treats set out.  The Grandchildren are allowed to help themselves as long as they ask one of their parents first.  On the top shelf of the cart the were homemade mincemeat tarts and a fruit bowl.  The second shelf held holiday Hershey's Kisses and a tray of mixed bars.  The bottom shelf held the Christmas gingerbread train kit that was intended as a craft project for the Grandchildren.

hubby and SIL made butter tarts
We are a family that loves to cook.  Each one brings a special culinary element to the mix.  We are sitting in the family room, grazing here and there on various snack Christmas night when my husband and SIL decided it was a good time as any to make butter tarts.  They did not use my recipe but rather one my daughter loves which is fairly close.   AND... they used two pounds of butter in that pastry dough!  Right from the start they were modifying ever her recipe and that's what cooking is all about.  When they ran out of muffin tins rather than do what most cooks would do, they collected up as many of my glass baking dishes as they could.  I have to give them kudos for this ingenuity as most of my glass bake/storage ware was in use at the time.  Oh and they did cook all those tarts at once because there is no sense waiting cook another batch.  I can see from the looks and tastes of that pastry crust I might be tweaking my tried and true, favourite pastry crust recipe.

baked brie topped with honey and walnuts
We celebrated Christmas on December 26 starting with breakfast.  The little ones loved sitting up to the breakfast bar in the kitchen but I was scared they would fall off the tall stools.  The oldest Grandchild helped tear up the bread for stuffing the 22 lb turkey.  Once the bird was tucked safely in the oven and a couple more of our kids arrived it was time to open presents followed by a catch-all lunch focusing on dippables (vegetables, nacho chips) with hummus, salsa and cheese sauce.  Other dishes included classic crab meat dip, jumbo shrimp with home canned seafood cocktail sauce, and a new dish - baked brie topped with unpasteurized honey and walnuts.

Dinner was served in the games room set up for dining for 11.  The meal consisted of turkey, stuffing, corn niblets, baked potatoes along with a pickle and condiment tray.  We shared a lot of laughter, enjoyed good, home cooked food and made a lot of memories for our first Christmas in our new home.  We enjoyed a final cup of coffee then the kids packed up, two couples and little one heading home with the other couple stopping overnight at inlaws before heading home.  The following day we had company for the afternoon that went into evening.  I am so glad I insisted on being home for the holidays!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Gluten Free Snowman Cake

Incorporating special diet dishes into your menu at the best of times but when only one person has special dietary needs it can be rather challenging when hosting a get-together.  I have a fair amount of experience dealing creating dishes for those who are lactose intolerant, diabetics, those with certain food alleries and those on sodium restricted diets but until this past year had no experience creating dishes for those who eat a gluten free diet.  One of our friends cannot have gluten so I have been looking for gluten free recipes.  Earlier this year I wrote about how happy I was to find Betty Crocker gluten free cake mix

Betty Crocker gluten free cake mix and snowman cake pan
During the holiday season and when hosting larger gatherings I like to rely on tried and true, easy recipes.  I was quite impressed with the gluten free cake mix so bought another box.  As much as I love cooking and baking, I have never mastered the finer art of decorating cakes.  I tend to use simple glazes, frostings, fruits or a dry topping.  Thankfully a few formed cake pans help to make it a bit easier.

Specialty cake pans (as pictured) are available in a wide range of sizes and themes.  They are available in the box stores at a very reasonable price but limited selection.  The best selection can be found in specialty kitchen or baking stores.  Some can be pricey but if you make a lot of cakes can be well worth the small investment.

decorated gluten free snowman cake
This is precisely why I don't make decorated frosted cakes!   I was not overly pleased with the decorating results but the cake was declared a success without so much as a crumb left.  The icing was a simple buttercream.  I used a cupcake stencil for the holly leaves and berries.  The eyes, nose and buttons are mint M&Ms.   The mouth is a thin slice of Australian candy similar to Twizzlers.

I had a lot of fun making the cake, happy knowing I would be able to offer a dessert he could have.  Next on my agenda is to find a few gluten free recipes to add to my tried and true entertaining recipes.  I best work on my cake decorating skills as well!

[Disclosure: I am part of the Life Made Delicious Connector program and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.]

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Thickening Stew

kitchen quick tips

Add 1 tsp of instant potato flakes to stews to thickening until desired consistency.  The instant potato flakes thicken without adding lumps.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Christmas greetings 2011

From our home to yours we wish each and everyone of you all the joy, peace and cheer of the holiday season.  For those traveling a special wish that your travels go safely so as to enjoy this wonderful time with your families.  Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dining on the Yacht StarShipII, Channelside Dock in Tampa, Florida

My husband and I returned home yesterday day from a wonderful two and a half week vacation to our vacation home in sunny Florida.  I'm sure some of my regular readers realized I was blogging from there.  We had a wonderful, delicious break from home flying out first to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to spend a couple of days then onto to Florida where we spent the remainder of the trip.  We had a lot of fun and ate a lot of great food.  The day of our departure, I tripped at the airport suffering a rather nasty looking shiner.  I'm not impressed especially since my husband said my fancy rocker sole trainers have to go since this is the third time they have tried to kill me.  Anyway, today I wanted to share a very special dinner my husband and I enjoyed during our vacation.

Yacht StarShipII at Channelside Dock in Tampa, Florida
My husband and I do a lot of boating home side since we own a boat.  The last two visits to our vacation home we have made it a point to include boating of some type into our side trips.  The beauty of boating is you get to see a lot of things you would not see by land.

My husband bought tickets for a dinner cruise aboard the Yacht StarShipII docked at the Channelside Dock at 603 Channelside Drive in Tampa Bay.  Isn't she a gorgeous vessel?  Tickets included a three course dinner prepared by Executive Chef Bob Barfield with an optional fourth course.  The YachtStarShipII is America's first three diamond rated dining yacht.  The two and a half hour dinner cruise also featured dancing on the second level, ane amazing view on the promenade.  The total retail value for two was $181.90 but going through Groupon he got the tickets for $80, gratuity not included ($8 per person).  Alcoholic drinks were not included as well.  We spent a total of $150.82 but it was well worth it!

dance floor above the Yacht StarShipII
Looking back on the pictures I took, I realized I did not take a picture of the dining room, on the main level below the entertainment room (pictured).  You are assigned a table in the dining room that is tastefully decorated.  It had a warm and cosy feeling with a navy blue and white theme to accent the beautiful cherry wood. 

The entertainment room carries through the them of blue and white accenting the cherry wood.  There is ample windows to enjoy the beautiful view while relaxing after dinner.  The door on the end leads to the promenade where you can take drinks or simply enjoy gliding over the water in open air during warmer weather.  We went up to take a few pictures but didn't stay long as the air had turned cool

Tampa Bay as seen from the Yacht StrShipII
The dinner cruise is designed so that not everyone eats at the same time.  The wait staff take your order then bring out the courses when you want time leaving you free to enjoy the sights and dine at your leisure.  They recommend the first hour and a half for dining leaving the last hour for relaxing and dancing. 

The spacious windows and promenade offer many photo opportunities.  Pictured is the city of Tampa as seen from the cruise ship with the setting sun on the buildings.  Gliding along the water taking many, many pictures was just a wonderful way to dine!

dinner rolls
I really apologize as I got so captivated in being on the yacht and enjoying the water I did not take as many pictures of the food as I should have.  We ordered citrus peppered calamari served with two dipping sauces as an appetizer (not pictured).  The calamari was flash fried.  The sauces consisted of a very lightly seasoned puréed tomato sauce along with a tomato based tartar sauce.  Also not pictured are the dinner salads served before the entrées.

The dinner rolls were not rolls at all but rather squares of delicious flat breads.  There was a white, whole wheat, multi grain and sourdough each topped with a suitable topping.  The rolls were served hot with a side of butter.  This would be very easy to duplicate at home by rolling out the prepared bread dough then cutting into squares before baking.

angus filet on the Yacht StarShip11
The menu selection on the Yacht StarShipII is limited.  There were four available entrées - chicken benville, fresh catch of the day, pumpkin ravoli and premium reserve pork chop.  I'm sure this varies by season.  My husband ordered the angus filet ($11.95 additional charge) medium rare with the au jour on the side.  The entée consisted of 8 oz of black angus filet of beef with porcini marsala sauce served with bleu cheese yokon gold mash and roasted broccolini.

I liked the presentation!  It was clean, sleek with nice eye appeal.  My husband said it was quite delicious, well worth the extra price. 

Atlantic wild salmon dinner on the Yacht StarShipII
I ordered the fresh catch of the day which consisted of Atlantic wild salmon topped with a delectable creamy sauce.  The generous portion of salmon rested on a bed of seasoned rice and side of steamed green beans.  I did not catch the name of the sauce used but it was slightly citrus flavoured. 

The piece of salmon was absolutely delicious but far more than I could eat.  Salmon is a dense and filling fish as it is but this was quite a large serving.  After dinner we retired to the entertainment room where we enjoyed cocktails and dancing before the yacht returned to port.  Waiting for us on our table were two slices of pumpkin cheesecake in take-out containers as we had opted for no dessert with our meal.  It was rather good with coffee the next morning for breakfast!

sunset aboard the Yacht StarShipII
I will leave you with one of the sunset pictures we took during the dinner cruise.  We have very fond memories and a lot of photos of our dinner cruise.  It is something I would highly recommend to anyone.  The experience was quite delightful!

Yes, it was a bit more expensive and had we paid full price it would have been about $260 for the evening but it still would have been worth it.  My husband and I don't gift each other at Christmas.  Instead we pamper ourselves  through-out the year.  You only go through life once and while most of us would not dream of paying that price for dinner on a regular basis, a one time splurge makes it worthwhile be frugal 99% of the time.  This dinner cruise was definitely well worth it!  Just look at that beautiful sunset...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Prevent Steaks From Curling

kitchen quick tips

Prevent steaks from curling when pan frying by making slashes using a paring knife on the outer edge (fat edge) of each steak at ¾-inch intervals.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas Nutbowl

My foster Mom came out from England, actually born on the boat during the journey.   Her parents settled in southern Ontario making a living as farmers.  With a large family to feed there were not a lot of treats.  She told us the story of how special she felt getting a Christmas orange.  When she married having nuts on the table at Christmas was a sign of prosperity.  As long as I can remember oranges and nuts graced the coffee tables during the holiday season.  I carried that tradition on to our home.

cheese tray and nut bowl
My nut bowl is not fancy and it varies from year to year.  It's only partially filled so I will end up having two nut bowls this year which is fine as we will be doing a bit of entertaining.  Along with the nut bowl, I have a few other goodies that always grace the table during the holiday season.  Kibbeh and crab dip is a must, bringing in traditions from my husband's family. We've added a few of our own traditions over the years.

I always have one or more cheese trays.  This year I received a very generous pre-Christmas gift of a fancy cheese tray.  I will be serving brie with a maple topping on this gorgeous tray for its maiden run.  Watch for pictures coming shortly.  Let the entertaining season begin!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Steak 'n Shake

I am on a lot of foodie lists because being a foodie I'm always looking for a new dining experience.  Foodies tend to talk.  They share the good, the bad and the nitty gritty of their dining experiences.  My husband and I are not big fast food diners by any stretch of the imagination so even though so many recommended Steak 'n Shake we viewed it as a fast food restaurant so passed it by.  During a recent road trip we finally decided to try Steak 'n Shake and was pleasantly surprised.

Steak 'n Shake burger restaurant
Steak 'n Shake is a chain restaurant famous for their steak burgers.  The first Steak 'n Shake was founded in February of 1934 in Normal, Illinois.  The founder, Gus Belt was determined to serve the finest burgers and shakes possible.  He would wheel in a barrel of steaks then grind the meat into burgers in front of his customers leading to their famous slogan In Sight It Must Be Right.  Steak 'n Shake is a diner style restaurant chain in the Midwestern and Southern United States.  While most have a drive-through and front-window service, the main attraction is the diner-style sit-down service.

We were quite impressed.  The restaurant was quite busy yet we were seated promptly.  The decor was delightful, almost retro.  The wait staff was extremely friendly and very attentive.   The prices are very reasonable, if even a bit lower than the main stream fast food restaurants.  Steak 'n Shake offers soft drinks, tea and coffee.  It is very family friendly, just an overall very pleasant dining experience.  I honestly would not put this eatery into the fast food category.

steakburger with cheese
The burger patties at Steak 'n Shake are made from ground T-bone, sirloin and round steaks.  The burgers are packed full of delicious flavour.  My husband ordered the cheesy cheddar steak burger (not pictured) and the double steak 'n cheese burger meal (pictured) and a white chocolate milkshake (not pictured).  The burger meal came with seasoned fries.  You can buy the seasoning if you would like to make the seasoned fries at home.  The predominant flavour of the fry seasoning was nutmeg, something just a bit different but absolutely delicious.  Believe it or not this delicious burger meal was only $4.99!  Now that is a frugal meal if you ask me.

guacomole steak burger
I ordered the guacamole steak burger meal (pictured).  This double steakburger is topped with fresh guacamole, lettuce, tomato, pepperjack cheese, red onion and chipotle sauce served with fries.  Oh my gosh, this burger defines the reason for discovering new eateries and I'm not kidding.  This burger was amazing!  I am definitely going to be duplicating the flavours of this burger at home!

I love avocados but seldom use them for much more than guacamole or in salads.  This was a wonderfully refreshing way to use avocados on the burger.  I really liked the chipotle sauce as well so will be working on a clone recipe for that as well!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Hand Washing vs Using a Dishwasher for Dishes

Frugal Kitchens 101

For years there has been a debate amongst frugalistas as to which is more frugal - hand washing dishes or using a dishwasher.  There's no doubt that a dishwasher uses electricity in addition to water heating costs but it is not as simple as saying that hand washing is more frugal.  The reality is even if you have a dishwasher you will be doing hand washing as well for certain kitchenware.  It is inevitable that certain items simply are not dishwasher safe.  I've had a dishwasher since the first portable used one bought for $25 for our first house.  Modern dishwashers have come a long way since those old machines no longer being energy and water guzzlers.  We do a lot of scratch cooking, usually three meals a day plus snacks and I do a lot of home canning a preserving.  For me, a dishwasher is very much a frugal choice but that doesn't mean I don't have to do a bit of hand washing each day.  Others who do not do a lot of cooking, don't can and perhaps are only cooking for two may find for them hand washing is the frugal choice.  Years ago the mother of a family of twelve (IIRC) told a talk show audience that neither were frugal for them but rather disposable plates were the frugal choice, bought on sale using coupons.   So the actual answer to this debate lies in your cooking style and household size.  Here's a few tips for hand washing dishes and using a dishwasher"

  • hand washing
    • order - Wash chef's knives first, followed by glassware, then lightly soiled pot and pans and finally heavily soiled items.
    • soak - Soak heavily soiled items in hot water with a tbsp or so of baking soda. 
    • water - Use hot, soapy water for washing and clear hot water for rinsing. Avoid using dish detergent with antibiotic properties.  Soap is quite effective in killing off bacteria.   If concerned, you can add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to the dish water.  Do not use chlorine bleach as it is a respiratory irritant.
    • sponge vs dishcloth - Sponges have the tendency to accumulate bacteria, although they can be sterilized in the microwave.  Use a clean cotton dishcloth each time you wash dishes to avoid this problem. [A 24 pk of wash cloths costs about $4 in stores like K-mart and Walmart.].  Hang dishcloths to air dry before putting in the laundry to avoid attracting moisture seeking insects.
    • air dry vs towel drying - Air drying is fine if you are in a hurry and you have no pets in the home.  However, towel drying using a clean t-towel is preferred to avoid any air contaminates from settling on the clean dishes. Cotton bar towels (Sam's Club, 24 pk $12) are thick and absorbent yet inexpensive enough that you don't need to worry about staining.  Air dry t-towels before putting them in the laundry.
    • energy efficiency - Use hot water (125°F; 140°F can cause scalding in only 6 seconds) and don't leave water running while rinsing dishes.
  • dishwasher
    • do not use the dishwasher for - The following items should not be washed in a dishwasher:  any item marked not dishwasher safe, plastics containing BPA, vintage lusterware, Depression or pre-Depression glass, cut lead glass crystal, non-stick bakeware or cookware with the exception of silicone bake ware, chef's knives, wood chopping blocks, anything aluminum based,  and non-kitchenware like golf balls, lego, ball caps.  I'm sure there are a lot of other things that should not go into the dishwasher as well.  Use common sense here.
    • scraping - Older dishwashers and some newer ones have built in grinders so dishes only need to be scraped to remove larger food particles.  Some brands (eg. Bosch) do not have a built in food grinder which keeps the dishwasher quieter so be sure to scrape.
    • rinsing - Rinsing dishes before loading into the dishwasher is not necessary.  It wastes water as well.  I do rinse anything that had a tomato product in not because the dishwasher won't clean well but because the tomato residue will stain certain kitchenware.
    • rinse agent - Newer dishwashers are designed to use convection heat in the dishwasher for drying the dishes.  This reduces the energy usage.  Rinse agent is mandatory for the convection heat to operate properly without leaving spots or streaks.  Now the good news is, you don't have to pay the high costs of brand name rinse agent you just have to use rinse agent.  The dollar store brand will do just as nice a job as the brand name.
    • loading - Load your dishwasher according to your dishwasher's manual.  Be sure taller items are not blocking other items.  Don't overload the dishwasher but don't run it if it is not fully loaded.  
    • diswasher detergent - Use a phosphate free dishwasher detergent.  Most newer dishwashers need only a tablespoon of detergent for proper cleaning although some are reporting that a little as one teaspoon of detergent still does a good job.
    • pre-heat the water - Before starting the dishwasher, run the hot water tap briefly just until hot. This pre-heat helps the dishwasher clean better.
    • dishwasher detergent - Try to use the detergent recommended by the manufacturer for best results.  Most dishwashers will clean nicely with reduced amounts of detergent.  Powdered or liquid detergent is best if reducing the amount as it is difficult to divide the dishwasher tabs in half.  Dishwasher detergent does have an expiry date so never buy more than what you will use within a 3 month period.
    • cleaning - Do not use harsh chemical cleaners on the exterior or interior of your dishwasher. Clean the exterior with a soft cloth with soap and water.  Do the same on the portion of the door interior that  seals.  Once a month, pour in a cup of white vinegar then run the dishwasher empty.  This will remove any mineral deposits and built-up soap residue.
    • energy efficiency - Run the dishwasher only when full and during off peak hours.  If replacing your dishwasher, look for the EnergyStar certification.  Choose the most energy efficient dishwasher possible with the desired features in your price range.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

4Grain Vegetarian Eggs

Humans are the only animals capable of modifying their environment and food supply to the point it is detrimental for all future generations.  Recently the attention has been focused on genetically modified organisms (GMO) with respect to food but we don't have too look far to find additives like artificial colourants, flavours and preservatives.  It is surprising just how many foods have high fructose corn syrup (HFC) as a sweetener despite a suspected correlation between HFC and autism.  Corn is used to such a degree not only in foods but the manufacturing of other products that severe corn allergies are increasing.  Just when I thought I had heard it all, I spotted vegetarian eggs in the grocery store!  Hello!  Eggs are one of the perfect foods, high in protein and a good value for your food dollar.  Now they are just one more thing for the food industry to muck up.

vegetarian eggs
Pictured are the 4Grain vegetarian brown eggs I saw in the grocery store.  These are eggs produced by chickens fed an all natural vegetable diet with no hormones, anti-biotics or animal by products.   The diet consists of four grains (wheat, corn, flax, and milo) and soy products only.  They are certified by the United Egg Producers.  The premise is because the hens were fed a vegetarian diet these eggs are suitable for lacto-ovo vegetarians.  However, they don't mention the ethical treatment of these hens nor do they mention these eggs may be deficient in some nutrients due to the lack of proper nutrition.

Chickens are insect scavengers.  In the garden, they can be beneficial for controlling slugs, grasshoppers, fire ants, termites, fleas, flies, lawn grubs and many other damaging insects.  They will literally destroy a vegetable garden with their constant pecking to get at the insects so for this reason they need to be fenced to the perimeter of the vegetable garden or use portable coops.  Vegetarian eggs definitely are not cruelty free!  They are factory farm raised under restricted conditions.  Removing insects from a chicken's diet requires penning them in a fashion off the ground where they cannot get to the soil, something that is most unnatural for them.  According to their website, the chickens are free to roam but it would not be on soil otherwise they would be eating insects and worms so their entire existence is likely spent on a fenced cement pad where they are free to roam in the enclosed area, more than likely in crowded conditions.  Denied of their natural pecking tendencies, chickens will turn on other chickens often  pecking them to death.  From an ethical animal husbandry perspective simply the way these chickens are being raised is a far cry from a cruelty fee manner.

From a dietary perspective, the eggs are lacking nutritionally.  In comparison to regular large eggs, the 4Grain eggs are slightly lower in protein, 6.3 g compared to 7 g but they are supposed have more Omega-3 fatty acids.  A full comparison of nutrients would likely uncover what is not being shown that soy is not the best estrogen replacement for women and excess corn products in our diets is already reeking havoc.  Since wheat is part of the diets there could be traces of gluten in the eggs that would make these eggs unsuitable for those on a gluten free diet.  Nutritionally, I would make and educated guess that these eggs are inferior to even the chicken farm raised eggs.  I would also question whether the density of the shell has been affected by the vegetarian diet.  If so, it makes these eggs more susceptible to bacteria contamination like Salmonella as well as reduced storage time.  As far as using the colour of the egg, this is only a marketing tool.  Brown eggs come from brown chickens; white eggs come from white chickens.  The colour of the shell is determined by the breed so has no bearing on the flavour or nutrition of the egg so should not be used as a marketing ploy.

Avoid the hype and marketing when it comes to eggs.  The best eggs are those from free range, organically fed chickens preferably from a local farmer.  These chickens are humanely treated, not penned or prevented from pecking.  In other words, they are raised in a cruelty free manner.  Nutritionally, free range eggs are superior to factory farm raised including vegetarian eggs.  If you can't find them from a local farmer, free range eggs are available in some grocery stores. They are the same or a bit less when bought from local farmers but  bit more expensive.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Benders Sports Pub in West Bend, Wisconsin

We love discovering small, family owned restaurants featuring home style cooking during our many travels.  Don't get me wrong as some of the chain family restaurants are quite good but there is some unique about the family owned and operated ones.  We have visited a few attractions in Wisconsin, one of our favourite being the Cedar Valley Cheese Store in Belgium, Wisconsin.  West Bend is located in Washington County in the heart of the Kettle Moraine in southeastern Wisconsin.  It is about forty minutes north of Milwaukee.  It was home to West Bend Aluminum Company (later named the West Bend Company) that first produced a water dipper and cookware in 1911. In the 1920's West Bend introduced the Waterless Cooker and Flavo-Drip coffee maker and continued introducing new small kitchen appliances  through the 1990's.  The West Bend Aluminum Company remained in West Bend until 2003 when it was purchased by Focus Products Group, LLC headquartered in Lincolnshire, Illinois.  Back to Basics appliances joined West Bend during the 2000's after it was bought.  The West Bend brand celebrated it's 100th anniversary in West Bend, Wisconsin on September 27, 2011.

Benders Sports Pub in West Bend, Wisconsin
Benders Sports Pub is located in a small strip mall at 1102 E. Paradise Dr. in West Bend, Wisconsin.  This small family owned and operated pub has been in business for five  years. Don't let the modern facade fool you as the pub is packed full of delightful charm with a warm and beckoning atmosphere.  The wait staff is extremely friendly!  The food is delicious and the prices are quite reasonable.  There are daily specials and various events like college and trivia nights throughout the week as well as Green Bay Packers specials on Sundays.  They even have a couple of slot machine that are rumoured to be rather lucky.  It really is just a fun little pub!

Benders' Famous Jumbo Garlic Wings
Benders Sports Pub is famous for its jumbo garlic wings (pictured) and there is a story behind them.  Owner Tim fondly remembered the famous Mr. Chibs Garlic Buffalo Wings in Philadelphia.   He flew to Philadelphia, told the owner of the restaurant about the new restaurant he was opening then asked if it would be possible to get the Mr. Chibs Garlic Buffalo recipe.  The Philadelphia restaurateur gave him the recipe without hesitation.  That is how Benders got its famous, award winning jumbo garlic wings!

Mr. Chibs Chicken & Ribs Restaurant is located at S. Lenola Rd & Kings Hw in Maple Shade, New Jersey on the outskirts of Philadelphia about 8 miles to the east.  While they don't have a website I did find their menu online.  It will be a restaurant to discover when we are in the Philadelphia area.

We just had to try the jumbo garlic wings.  Don't they look delicious?  Oh they were mouthwatering, nice and garlicky, dripping with butter!  That is fresh garlic on the wings too.  Five of these beauties cost $7.99 and they were worth every penny.  Chicken wings are ever so easy to make at home.  This will be one recipe I will be working on a clone for after the holidays.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sweet Potato Casserole

During the Christmas holiday season we manage to attend several events that have buffet style dinners followed by entertainment.  It's interesting to see the various foods offered as they tend to be a bit on the fancier side than normal. The nice thing about buffet foods is most of them are easily made at home and for the most part buffet foods tend to be quite economical.

sweet potato casserole
Sweet potato casserole is an easy to prepare, low cost dish that quite often appears on the buffet table during the holiday season.  It can be used as a side dish or topped with a drizzle of maple syrup, fresh whipped cream and chopped pecans as a dessert.  I personally find sweet potato casserole too sweet to use as a side dish.  If you love pumpkin pie but are eating gluten free or are avoiding the crust of pumpkin pie, then sweet potato casserole is a lovely substitute.

Sweet Potato Casserole
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

3 large sweet potatoes
2 large eggs
3 tbsp soft butter
2 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp sea salt
½ c milk
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
¼ c coarsely chopped pecans (optional)

Scurb the sweet potatoes.  Pierce each potato with a fork the bake at 400° until tender.  Set aside to cool.  Scoop the sweet potato flesh from the skins.  Place in medium bowl and mash until smooth.  Slightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl.  Mix eggs, milk, butter, brown sugar, and seasoning into the sweet potatoes.  Mix until smooth.  Pour the mixture into 8 x 8 - inch a non-stick baking pan.  Sprinkle the top with pecans if desired.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until casserole is a bit puffy.  Serve casserole hot.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Baking Powder

kitchen quick tips

Baking powder loses its potency over time so it is best to buy in smaller containers.  To test if the baking powder is still good, pour ½ tsp of baking powder into ⅓ c of hot water.  If it bubbles vigorously then the baking powder is still good to use. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Easy Red Velvet Cake

'Tis the season for yummy treats!  There is an abundance of cookies, desserts and snacks at every holiday get together.  I have a repertoire of holiday recipes that I use during the Christmas holiday season.  One thing I look for when adding a new recipe to that collection is that it must be easy.  I don't want to be rushing out the door to pick up an ingredient to make a treat an hour before company is coming.

red velvet cake
Red Velvet Cake is a nice, easy to make holiday cake.  I use the Easy Red Velvet Cake recipe from the Betty Crocker website.   The nice thing about this easy recipe is it is a perfect recipe for Christmas baking with kids to make holiday baking a family affair.   Like many easy recipes, this recipe does not require a lot of ingredients or special equipment.  The recipe uses buttermilk or water.  I recommend using buttermilk for a richer flavour.  The red food colouring does not add any flavour, it just adds a festive touch to the cake.

Red Velvet Cake is generally served as a cake, cut into pieces but I like making mini Red Velvet Cupcakes for a delectable tiny treat.  I use the Christmas theme mini cupcake paper liners for the cupcakes to add a festive look.  After frosting the mini cupcakes, I garnish with a few chocolate sprinkles.  These are perfect for the dessert table and for bake sales.  They are a keeper  for the holiday season!

[Disclosure: I am part of the Life Made Delicious Connector program and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Quick Spaghetti

As a newlywed my pasta sauce of choice was Ragu but then my dear MIL taught me how to make homemade spaghetti sauce so there are very, very few times I ever buy pasta sauce.  I make can cases and cases of a wide variety of tomato based sauces each year.  We bought our vacation home in March of 2010 with the first trip there in May of 2010.  The next two trips both in 2010 we drove so I had the luxury of bring down home canned foods.  Well, my husband the King of Frugality sometimes, figured out we could fly and rent a vehicle cheaper than driving down and we would be there a lot quicker.  Then he figured out that if we didn't have checked bags which really aren't necessary as we now have the vacation home well stocked, we could save more money.  The down side is...I cannot bring home canned foods in my carry-on bag.  That means none of my beautiful home canned sauces or salsas when we fly.  I am going to try shipping by USPS if possible but that means a special trip to do that before flying out as we usually fly out rather early in the morning before the post office is open.

Bertolli Organic Olive Oil, Basil & Garlic pasta sauce
During 2011 we made three trips to our vacation home, all via plane.  The kicker is I can't bring anything over 3 oz on the plane so can't take foods from home or bring left overs home.  I would make a batch of homemade tomato sauce at our vacation home but I'm telling you the fresh tomatoes here are about as horrid as you can get!  They have no flavour what so ever!  So I had to go to plan B.

Bertolli has an organic line of sauces that are 100% natural with no preservatives.  I bought the Olive Oil, Basil & Garlic sauce.  It was more expensive than other tomato sauces but it is certified USDA organic with no preservatives.

Of note is my little bottle of extra virgin olive oil.  It was an 8 oz bottle, the smallest I could find and the worst part is knowing I couldn't take it home or store it until the next trip, I had to toss the remainder.  That is the cost of having a vacation home where leftovers cannot be brought home.  It was worth the money though as EVOO is a must have ingredient!

quick spaghetti using Bertolli organic pasta sauce
I warmed the sauce then served it over angel hair pasta topped with shredded carrots, tomatoes and green onions.  I am quite impressed with the Bertolli sauce for making quick spaghetti.  The flavour was quite delightful!  I will actually be making a clone recipe for this sauce at home.  Doesn't it look yummy?  The sauce was just a bit runnier than I would like but as is would be considered a vegetarian meal.  I think stirring in browned ground beef or adding meatballs would work nicely too.

Sometimes you have to work with what is available and I am certainly learning that valuable lesson at our vacation home.  It is nice that I can find 100% natural, certified organic sauces that are in keeping with what we are used to eating at home.  I seriously need to ship food here from home or convince my husband that driving down is really a bit more frugal since I can bring home canned foods.  I doubt he will go for it as long as it is less expensive to fly so I need to adjust.  Still shipping is a viable option.  I am going to try shipping a box of home canned foods to enjoy the next time we are at our vacation home.  The worst case scenario is the food is compromised during shipping

Monday, December 12, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Never Ending Soup Pot

Frugal Kitchens 101
Quite some time ago I participated in a frugal group where frugal ideas were shared.  One of the frugal ideas was the never ending soup pot.  This is not in any way a new concept.  Our ancestors, well at least my ancestors used this method well before the great land of Canada was born.  My seventh great grandfather was born on what would become Canadian soil in 1721, his father arriving in 1703 from France.   My favourite grands I've researched are my third great grandparents.  I have listings as to what was in the larder, what foods they had in barrels and what foods were stored for winter as well as what they were growing.  What I found quite interesting is they lived within a stones throw of the Great Lakes waterway but had no fish in barrels meaning they likely fished year round much the same as I do.  What I do know from the research is they had a never ending soup pot.  This was a common practice in the 1800's and one that is still in practice today.

A never ending soup pot really means that the leftover bones and meat from Sunday's dinner are turned into stock on Monday.  Leftover vegetables are added.  During the week the soup is used for lunch but any leftover dinner meats or vegetables or legumes are added to the pot. It is simply an age old way of using up leftovers.  In modern times many frugalistas keep a container in the freezer that they add leftovers to so soup can be made when the container is filled. While I have done this in the past it is not my preferred method.

I keep bones, any bones (not bones someone has eaten off of) specifically for making stocks and soups.  A stock (meat and bones) makes a richer, deeper flavoured soup than a broth (meat only).  When I get enough bones of one particular meat I roast them.  Roasting deepens the flavour and colour.  Once roasted I make stock.  That stock is divided with a quarter towards the soup pot for the week and three quarters home canned for later use.  Sometimes I simply use one of the pressure cookers to make stock.  With stock all I need is seasonings, vegetables, meat and either rice or pasta.  The neat thing with soup is you don't need a lot of any one ingredient, all you need is a bit of stock, which is why it was our ancestors had a never ending soup pot.

Honestly, bones you were going to toss anyway because they can't be composted are easily turned into stock.  Add leftovers and build on that for very frugal, ultra cheap soups that are sure to please.  The average homemade soup will come in at under 50¢ per serving.  That makes homemade soups extremely frugal and true budget stretchers.  So haul out those stock pot, quickly make the stock then let your imagination soar.  Use leftovers or a combination of leftovers and added ingredients base on you whim.  Have fun with making soups.  Your tummy and pocket book with thank-you!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Beef Noodle Soup Made with Leftover Chuck 7-bone Roast

A couple of days ago I was talking about the differences in culinary terms in various regions and between countries.  The term chuck is often used in the US to describe a cut of beef from the shoulder and neck region of the cow.  It is not a widely used term in Canada.  Since we live in Canada and our vacation home is in the US, I have found The Cook's Thesaurus to be extremely useful.

beef noodle soup made with leftover chuck 7-bone roast
We bought a chuck 7-bone roast (pot roast) intending to grill it as a thick steak but ran out of propane so ended up broiling it.  After dinner, I divided the leftovers into two portions.  Of note, there were not seven bones at all but rather one large bone and three smaller ones.  I used the half with the larger bone to make beef noodle soup.

Making homemade soup is about as easy as you can, not even needing an actual recipe.  The basic requirements are a good sized bone with or without meat, bayleaf, vegetables of choice, and optional rice or noodles.  Any bone that has been roasted or grilled gives a deeper, richer flavour to the stock.  I put the bone with meat in a large pot then filled about three quarters full with water.  I added a bay leaf and brought to a boil.  At this point I usually add one unpeeled carrot, one unpeeled onion (quartered) and one stalk of celery.  These add flavour and colour to the stock.  They are removed along with the bone before completing the soup.  I let simmer about 30 minutes then removed the bone and vegetables, then cut the meat from the bone.  I added the bone and cubed meat back to the stock then stirred in 3 sliced small carrots, a half onion (chopped) and one medium potato (cubed).  I brought this to just a boil and let simmer until the vegetables were tender then stirred in a half a tomato cubed, cooking five minutes longer.  I added about 2 cups of water, removed the bone and brought the soup to a low boil then stirred in about a cup and a half of broad egg noodles.  I reduced the heat to a high simmer and continued cooking until the noodles were al dente.  I garnished with sliced green onion for serving.  The yield was enough for two adults for two lunches.

This particular soup was a bit heavier on the onions for a reason.  Quite frankly I should have added a bit more.  Both of us have been sick with some type of cold that seems to be affecting mainly the chest and throat, with little nasal congestion.  Onions have natural antibiotic properties.  They are one of the best foods you can eat if you have a cold or flu.  Be sure to include them with every meal if at all possible either raw or cooked when you have a cold or flu.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Blade Roast (Chuck Roast)

Yesterday I wrote about the chuck 7-bone roast (pot roast) that we broiled.  According to The Cook's Thesaurus, a chuck 7-bone pot roast is a cut from the shoulder and neck of the beef.  It is a tough cut of meat so should be braised or cooked in liquid.  Well it cooked up nicely under the broiler as we found out.  Even though we used a dry heat the meat was still nice and tender,

blade roast also known as chuck roast
We buy our beef on the hoof  from one of two local farmers.  While the term chuck is widely used in the US is is not a common term in our part of Ontario, Canada.  I like using a blade pot roast for making a pot roast dinner but quite frankly will use any cut, adjusting the cooking temperature and timing accordingly..  A blade pot roast is the same as a blade chuck roast.

When we visited the kids last, we offered to cook them dinner as they both had to work one of the days we were there.  We went shopping for a blade roast and other ingredients to make a pot roast dinner.  The grocery stores had nothing that looked decent so we stopped at a small specialty meat shop very similar to a butcher shop where we found a lovely blade chuck roast.  They put a light seasoning on the roast for us.  Note the nice marbling?  This gives a lovely flavour to the meat, roasting vegetables and resulting gravy.

blade roast with vegetables ready for the oven
My tradition method for making a pot roast is very simple.  I place the roast in the middle of the roaster then season with garlic pepper and Worcestershire sauce.  At home I add tomato stock for a richer gravy.  The tomato stock also acts as a meat tenderizer.  I didn't add any to this particular roast as we flew so I couldn't bring that sized jar of liquid on the plane.  I usually add a bay leaf as well.  [Not having checked bags has a few downsides! I couldn't bring them a few jars of home canned salsa either so will have to mail it to them.]  I added carrot and potato pieces, sliced onion and whole mushrooms to surround the roast.   Then I covered the roast and let it cook for about four hours at 350°F.

blade roast ready for serving
Once the roast was done to medium rare, I removed it to rest before cutting.  If you cut a roast or steak immediately after cooking, the juices will run out losing all that yummy flavour.  Allowing the roast to rest 5 to 10 minutes before slicing keeps the juices in the roast giving tender, juicy and tasty sliced beef.

Left over roast beef cooked this way slices beautifully for hot open faced or cold sandwiches the next day.  That is one reason  I prefer to use a boneless cut of roast.  Allow the roast beef to chill though before slicing.  Slice thinly with a knife or put thought a slicer for lovely fresh roast beef slices for sandwiches the following week.

roasted vegetables from the pot roast
I scooped out the roasted potatoes, then set about making a thin gravy with the pan drippings using a flour slurry.  A flour slurry consists of flour, dash of salt, sprinkle of pepper and water or milk  The slurry should be the consistency of maple syrup.  In this case, there wasn't a lot of liquid left so I stirred while scraping and poured into a small saucepan to make the gravy.  I brought the liquid to a boil then while stirring slowly poured in the slurry.

Vegetables roasted in this manner take on a rich depth in flavour that you can't get from other cooking methods.  They are truly delightful!  Part of that flavour comes from caramelization of the vegetables mixed with meat juices and seasonings.  They are perfect just the way they are topped with a little gravy.

Left over roasted vegetables can be used in soups as is or using the stick blender for a smooth soup.  Simply stir them in if using as is.  If using a stick blender make the basic cream soup then add the roasted vegetables, warm the blend with the stick blender.  Add a bit of extra seasoning if desired and garnish with dried parsley.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Broiled Chuck 7-Bone Roast (Pot Roast)

Culinary terms can vary significantly from region to region, country to country.  When we are at our vacation home we love to grill.  For example, in our little corner of Ontario, Canada the term for ground beef is ground beef but in sunny Florida where our vacation home is, the term for ground beef is ground chuck.  Complicating the ground beef choice in Ontario we have regular, lean and extra lean but in Florida they use a numbering system like 80/20 for 80% beef, 20% fat and making it even more confusing if ground beef labeled as hamburg then beef fat has been added.  We stopped at Publix where my husband looked for a nice piece of meat for the grill.  He chose a chuck 7-bone roast but missed the pot roast in brackets.  Just because a cut of meat is labeled as a roast does not mean it cannot be cooked via another method.

broiled chuck 7 bone roast
I have cooked many a pot roast but have never come across the term chuck 7-bone roast.  It looked like an extra thick steak.  The piece of meat was about an inch and a half thick, 3.25 lb at $3.9 per pound for a total price of $11.99.  My husband fully intended cooking the roast on the outdoor grill just as a steak.

The outdoor grill at the vacation home is propane so we had the pleasant experience of running out of propane just after the roast went onto the grill.  Without flinching, he fired up the broiler then transferred the roast to a baking sheet and broiled it.  The result was a tender, juicy all be it quite thick steak.

chuck 7 bone roast dinner
I served the broiled chuck 7-bone roast with grilled garlic pepper potatoes and grilled carrots cooked in a foil packet.  That is Greek style 10% MF yogurt, not sour cream.  The yogurt is rich and creamy with more flavour but less calories than sour cream.  The sauce on the meat is Heinz 57 Steak Sauce made with Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.

We cut two generous portions of meat from the roast for dinner.  The remaining meat will be used for two to four meals, like a soup and a stir fry.  That should give at least one lunch and two dinners for two.  Per meal over all the meals (8 servings) it works out to $1.49 for the meat portion, which isn't bad given today's prices.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Peppers

kitchen quick tips

The Scoville Scale (0 - 10) measures the degree of heat in peppers.  In general, the smaller the pepper the higher the Scoville Score meaning the hotter the pepper.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Fundraiser Dinners

While supporting charitable organizations is always encouraged, the holiday season is one where giving to and supporting charity is highly encouraged.  In Canada, food insecurity is one of the largest growing social issues.  A surprising number of Canadians go hungry daily.  At this time of year it is extremely important to support those organizations who help those who cannot help themselves and who through volunteerism give generously back to the community.

kitchen utensils in a community service kitchen
Many community service groups hold fundraiser dinners to help them raise funds to give back to the community.  Service groups have a kitchen that is stocked and manned by members and/or volunteers (aka family of members) during service group events. A lot of times the food itself is donated by members or others in the community.  In today's busy world, it is very difficult to get volunteers to help with these events and harder still to get donations to help support the causes.

"Tis the season for all kinds of fundraiser dinners.  We went to one of the local fish fries hosted by a local community service club.  We know these guys so they are used to seeing me and my camera.  I took a few pictures of some of their equipment but I thought this wall of kitchen utensils said it all.  This is a very small community service club too!  Obviously a good portion of their fundraising is done via hosting community dinner events.

perch and pickerel dinner
This particular community group is well known for it's locally caught perch and pickerel dinners.  They hold wild game dinners (eg. muskrat) and used to host turtle dinners but that's become a bit complicated due to the changing environmental legislation.  Every single person working the dinners is a member (aka volunteer) or a family/friend (aka volunteer) so it is quite impressive that they can consistently get the number of volunteers and donations required to put on these types of fundraisers.

The food at these types of fundraisers is about as close to good, old fashioned home cooking as you can get.  There is nothing fancy or pretentious about the food, it's just good food shared with great company.  These events really are all about the social aspect, the good food is just an added benefit!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Kitchen Equipment Brand Names

Frugal Kitchens 101

I recently wrote about brand names with respect to food.  Generally unless it is a propriety product (eg. Kraft Dinner, Alphaghetti, D'Italanio breads) there is no difference between brands of fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.  There is no difference between brands of sour cream, cream cheese and butter.  There is a difference between mass farmed eggs and free range eggs.  With this in mind, the frugal home cook will buy the least expensive per unit item where brand names don't matter and stock on those products where the brand does make a difference when they are on sale.

Cooking involves using a variety of kitchen equipment ranging from pots, pans and utensils to small kitchen appliances.  Does brand name matter when it comes to kitchen equipment?  The answer is not a simple yes or now.  Some brand names are superior or considered superior because of their high quality products. There are some qualities to look for especially in pots, pans, skillets, utensils and cutlery.  Here are a few tips on choosing, what to look for as well as a few recommended brands:

  • utensils - Look for high quality, one piece, nylon utensils that can be used in all pots, pans, baking dishes and non-stick.  Two high quality brand are Oxo and Praderno.  If buying metal utensils look for those that are NSF certified.  Avoid utensils that a constructed of two materials as the joints create crevices for bacteria to hide.  Look for the heat rating of safe for use to 500°F if buying silicone utensils.  Avoid the cheap wood cooking utensils.
  • pots/pans - Avoid Teflon coated pots and pans.  Choose stainless steel with a thick core plate bottom to avoid hot spots.  A core plate with a copper layer is better than one without.  Handles should be securely riveted and oven proof.  I recommend Lagostina stainless steel pots and pans for durability, function and price.  Wolfgang Puck has a nice line of stainless steel cookware as does Paderno.  Buying as a set may save money but there will be invariably one or two pieces of the set that will seldom get used so buying one piece at a time may be the more frugal option.  Look for restaurant quality pots and pans that will provide years of durable service.
  • non-stick cookware/bakeware - Avoid Teflon coated cookware if possible.  Look for the new ceramic skillets, pots and pans.  Paderno has a nice line of ceramic non-stick cookware and bakeware.  If buying silicone bakeware bend it then  pinch the piece.  If a white line appears when pinched the silcone contains additives that may leach into your food.  Choose a higher quality silicone that does not do this.  Look for silicone lined glass bakeware (Nami).  Use a Silpat mat or parchment paper on baking pan to avoid using Teflon.  If buying non-stick baking sheets the recommended brand is Wilton.
  • bakeware - Use glass, ceramic or enamel coated bakeware.  Le Creuset is the the recommend brand for enamel coated bakeware.  I use Anchor Hocking  glass bakeware and older Pyrex.  Beware any glass bakeware can shatter due to thermal shock however older glass bakeware made with borosilicate glass is less susceptible to thermal shock than newer glass bakeware made with soda-lime glass so take that into consideration.
  • flatware - Cutlery is a matter of personal choice with respect to design.  Choose 18/10 (18% chromium, 10% nickle) for best corrosion protection.  A solid, one piece design is better than a design made from two materials (eg. metal blade with wood handle).  Look for the NSF certification.  One sturdy, restaurant grade brand is Bakers & Chefs in the medium price range but there are many brands offering nice quality flatware in the mid to high price range (eg. Oneida, Henckels, Waterford Mont Clare, etc.).
  • small kitchen appliances - Choose a small kitchen appliance based solely on your needs and whether that appliance meets those needs.  Unless absolutely necessary always buy on sale.  I recommend stainless steel with black trim finish as being most practical with it's timeless good looks.  Always choose an appliance based on function.  Avoid trendy, gimmicky small appliances (eg. individual pie makers, cotton candy machine, and etc.).  I have had excellent luck with KitchenAid, HamiltonBeach, T-fal, Rival, Sunbeam, Keurig, Melitta, Black & Decker, and ProtorSilex.  
  • large kitchen appliances - There are several brands available but the reality is some names like Kenmore is not really a brand it is store trade name meaning the appliance is a model made specifically for that particular store to distribute.  So even if you have a kitchen full of Kenmore appliances you actually have one or more manufactures of those appliances.  I like the Whirlpool appliances, having had good luck with HE washer, gas dryer, one refrigerators, dishwasher and natural gas stove.  When it comes to dishwashers the premium brand is Bosch and having owned one in our last house I highly recommend them for energy efficiency.  Whirlpool has the reputation for having the best designed interiors for refrigerators with lots of light for finding foods.  At one time JennAir was the top home kitchen range and I do miss mine somewhat.  JennAir was taken over by Maytag and remains their high end line.  Serious home cooks will turn to Viking for a gas range.  Quite frankly microwaves are so inexpensive now and they all do about the same thing so find one that meets your needs in your desired price range.  Avoid buying all your appliances from the same manufacturer just so they match.  Instead base your choice on function.  

Saturday, December 03, 2011

French Onion Soup

This past Thursday I woke feeling quite under the weather with a sore throat and painful sinuses.  While it is the time of year where illness increases, it is not a good time of the year for me to be sick.  Normally at the first signs of a sore throat my thoughts turn to making homemade chicken noodle soup.  It isn't called Jewish penicillin for nothing!  The noodles are easy on the tummy and throat, the soup is nourishing and the onions have natural antibiotic properties.  Slicing or chopping the onions help get the sinuses flowing which is always a good thing.  This time, I turned to French Onion Soup, chocked full of onions and quite easy to make when you aren't feeling well.

onions caramelizing for French onion soup
The basis of French onion soup is onions.  I like using Vidalia or Spanish onions but cooking onions work well too.  I prefer using homemade beef stock.  A stock (made with bones) has a deeper, richer flavour than broth that is made with the meat only.  I like roasting the bones to deepen the flavour before making the stock as well.  Next to tomato products, meat stocks are my most home canned product. 

A critical point in making French onion soup is the at point of caramelization as pictured.  This is just when the onions begin to caramelize and where they will begin to stick.  When this happens it is time to keep a close eye on the caramelizing onions.  The goal is good, rich caramelization without burning or scorching.  

French Onion Soup
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

⅓  c butter
6 c sliced onions
6 c homemade beef stock
½ tsp browning
sea salt/fresh ground pepper to taste
1 slice of bread per serving
2 slices cheese (eg. Provolone, Havarti, Swiss) per serving

Place the butter in a large sauce pan.  Melt over medium heat then add onions, stirring occasionally.  At the point of the start of caramelization stir often to prevent sticking or burning.  When the onions are caramelized, pour in the beef stock and browning.  Warm through then add salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a low boil.  Remove from heat.  Set oven proof onion soup bowls onto Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Ladle soup into the bowls leaving about a half inch head space.  Place one slice of bread on top in each bowl.  Add two slices of cheese of your choice.  Bake at 400ºF until cheese is bubbly and slightly golden.  Remove from oven.  Serve.

Caution: French onion soup retains heat considerably longer than other soups creating a burn risk as does the soup bowl itself.  Be sure to allow the soup to cool sufficiently before consuming.  

French onion soup
French onion soup is simply delightful!  Doesn't it just look delicious?  A bowl of French onion soup usually costs around $6 in the grocery store and yet homemade, it is one of the most frugal soups you can make using your own homemade stock.  A bowl of homemade French onion soup costs about 75¢ if that meaning you can make 8 servings of French onion soup at home for the same price as you would pay for one serving in a restaurant.   It is a great way to use up those last couple of pieces of homemade or bakery bread that is not quite a fresh as it should be.  French onion soup is the perfect soup for a cold winter's day!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Southside Cottage Grill in Oakville, Ontario

We have lived in larger cities, small towns, villages and rural but much prefer small towns of the four.  I'm very much a small town gal but I love visiting cities.  My favourite Canadian city is Toronto, Ontario along with the other cities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) like Mississauga, Oakville, Milton and Burlington.  It is just an amazing area to visit with something to please everyone from entertainment, attractions (eg. Ontario Science Centre, Canada's Wonderland), six publicly funded universities, as well as every shopping and culinary experiences you could ever want.  We were in the GTA last weekend

Southside Cottage Grill in Oakville, Ontario
The Southside Cottage Grill is located at 234 Lakeshore Road East in Oakville, Ontario tucked between quaint and unique shops.   Lakeshore is a lovely street to stroll along, do a bit of window shopping and just enjoy!  Be warned to bring a lot of money though as some of the shops are on the expensive side but then it is Oakville and they can be pricey.

The Southside Cottage Grill is really a small pub and grill that offers a bit more than pub grub as well as live entertainment.  The food is quite good, reasonably priced for the GTA.  The service was excellent and very kid friendly!  We were a party of five with one being a toddler.  There is a kid's menu and they give the kiddies crayons and a colouring sheet as well.  What we really appreciated is our grandchild is only three years old and while a mature three year old, waiting patiently can wear thin.  They brought that dish out first, spaghetti with three meatballs :)

bacon wrapped hot dog
We ordered the potato shells filled with mixed cheese, bacon bits and green onion, baked & served with chipotle sour cream ($7, not pictured).  Every once in awhile I spot a menu item that I just have to try, usually because it is just so different.  So it was with the bacon wrapped hot dog ($7.50 for one, two for $10.50).  A gluten free bun is available for an additional $1.50.

Who would think to wrap a wiener in bacon?  I just had to try this culinary specialty of the house!  I substituted Caesar salad for the fries to make the meal a bit healthier but I doubt it helped much.  The jumbo all beef wiener was wrapped end to end with bacon then grilled served on a toasted bun.  The flavour combination was quite delicious.  I doubt I would make this dish at home but it would be quite easy to make should you desire to do so. 

Canadian shield burger
My husband took the Canadian Shield Burger challenge.  This burger consists of a 20 oz patty topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, peameal bacon and side bacon.  It is served with the Canadian classic side, poutine made with crispy fries smothered in a three cheese blend and topped with their signature gravy.  The meal is $21 but if you can finish everything on this plate in less than 12 minutes, the meal is free.  If you conquer the Canadian Shield, you are in the “Hall of Fame” and can come back any time to enjoy another for only $16 but you are only eligible for the free meal challenge once.

In case you are wondering, the Canadian Shield Burger has been conquered but not by my husband.  He did finish the burger but not all the fries and declared himself well fed for the following week!  Here is a video of Furious Pete conquering the burger.  It is not for the faint of heart and will likely give you a tummy ache but here's proof it can be done:

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Ground Meats

kitchen quick tips

Ensure the ultimate freshness (aka best flavour) in ground meats and poultry by grinding shortly before using them.  In most cases you will save money by grinding the meat yourself.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Baked Salmon with 7 Cheese Mac 'n Cheese

I grew up in a small town with a population just under 2,000.  We had one restaurant, a soft ice cream shop that was open only in July and August, a tavern,  a bakery and two very small and I do mean small grocery stores.   Oh, and we had a canning factory so the whole town smelled deliciously like tomato soup in the fall.  To this day, my favourite fall drink in the morning is not coffee but rather tomato soup.  My high school Home Economics teacher was adamant that using good quality food and easy recipes  was all that was necessary to prepare tasty home cooked meals.  Well, she would have to because she lived in the same small town where the choice of ingredients to cook with was rather limited.  Mind you back then there was not the variety of ingredients readily available like sea salt, organic sugar, fresh seafood, exotic seasonings and those types of things.  There was a lot less commercially prepared convenience foods (eg. cake mixes, etc.).   Even back then she taught us the value of food dollars and how to get the most for our food dollars.  I still use many of the recipes learned in that class!  One of the very first dishes she taught us was how to make macaroni and cheese.

baked salmon with seven cheese mac and cheese

When I was growing up, the only fresh fish we had was smelt.  We had canned tuna, canned salmon and once they came to town, frozen fish sticks.  My Mom was not a huge fish fan.  I can remember my excitement the first time I saw fresh fish at the market!  Now I buy fresh fish at one of the grocery stores or nearby fisheries.  We also enjoy locally caught fresh fish like bass, perch and pickerel.  While I enjoy a wide variety of fish, salmon is one of my favourite.

I baked a salmon fillet for dinner a couple of nights ago.  The fillet was about 10 - inches long, enough for two people.  I served the salmon with homemade 7 Cheese Mac 'n Cheese (recipe below) and an Asian vegetable mix consisting of yellow and orange carrots, snap peas, shelled edamame, whole baby corn and garlic sprouts.  It was delicious, easy to prepare, and frugal meal!

Baked Salmon
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

1 salmon fillet
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp Herbes de Provence

Place the salmon fillet on Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Divide the butter into four portions then put the portions along the centre of the fillet.  Sprinkle the herbs evenly over the fillet.  Bake at 350ºF until salmon is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

seven cheese mac and cheese
Our Home Ec teacher taught us to make macaroni and cheese from scratch using a simple cheese sauce consisting of milk, flour and cheddar cheese.  It is still a classic method but I love experimenting with macaroni and cheese.  There are so many wonderful cheeses available so I've developed several versions of macaroni and cheese. The cheese sauce in this version is rich and creamy.  The liquid smoke is a secret ingredient I discovered in the macaroni and cheese served at Mike's Smokehouse BBQ & Grill in Tampa Bay, Florida.  It adds a wonder note to macaroni and cheese!  The trick when using liquid smoke is to add one drop at a time until you get the desired aroma and flavour.

7 Cheese Mac 'n Cheese
recipe by: Garden Gnome

¼ c Asiago cheese
¼ c Parmesan cheese
¼ c sharp cheddar cheese
¼ c mozzarella cheese
¼ c colby cheese
¼ c cream cheese
1 tbsp Cheez Whiz
¾ c milk
7 cups cooked elbow macaroni
4 - 6 drops liquid smoke

Grate the Asiago, Parmesan, cheddar, mozzarella and colby cheeses.  Stir the grated cheeses to mix.  Cook the elbow macaroni and drain.  Pour the hot pasta into a mixing bowl.  Stir in the cream cheese and Cheez Whiz.  Mix then stir in the grated cheeses.  Mix well then stir in 4 - 6 drops of liquid smoke.  Mix.  Pour the macaroni mixture into a 2 quart baking dish.  Pour the milk over the macaroni mixture.  Cover with foil and bake at 350ºF until cheese is bubbling.  Remove foil and bake until the top starts to brown slightly.  Remove from oven and serve.

[Disclosure: I am part of the Life Made Delicious Connector program and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.]