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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, January 31, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Calculation Your True Food Dollars Spent

Frugal Kitchens 101

In these hard economic times it becomes even more important to know where your food dollar is being spent.  Whether you buy your food at a grocery store or grow and/or preserve your own food, eat mainly home cooked or eat out there are associated costs that should be factored into the true cost of your food dollars spent.  Consider many families do their grocery shopping on Friday night.  They have budgeted perhaps $150 for groceries but some of that isn't edible.  At the same time before they stopped at the grocery store they ate at a fast food restaurant for about $20.  Their actual food dollars spent then on that particular day would be $170 plus acquisition costs (eg. gasoline or public transit), plus the lunch they ate out earlier in the day, their morning bagel and coffee bought on the way to work and perhaps a stop or two during the week for an impulse food purchase.  If you want to save money on your food dollars you have to get very honest with yourself.  Face it that $1.25 cup of coffee every morning on work days ends up costing you $325 total annually and that is part of your food dollars!  If you take those little food expenditures that you never really think about like the vending machine snack, the quick run through the drive-thru,  the coffee shop morning coffee and doughnut, and those impromtu grocery store stops.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 focuses on those extra costs that most people don't factor into their food budget and how to get them in check.

  • get honest - If you don't know exactly where your food dollar is going there it will be very difficult to control or reduce.  Get a small notebook to record each and food purchase made for a month.  Include: purchased lunches, coffee and specialty drinks, vending machine snacks, take-out or delivery, and etc.  At the end of one month you should have a fairly good realization that you are spending a lot more food dollars than you think.  You will end up with a very good idea of where you should start trimming your food dollars.
  • be realistic  - When making changes that will help save on your total food costs, start small and be realistic.  Quite often socializing plays a large part in spending food dollars.  For example one of our friends who has an amazingly gorgeous kitchen got into the habit of eating breakfast out during the work week but now he has retired he continues to do this at a cost of about $7 per day or $1,820 per year.  Eliminating even one breakfast out would save $364 so he could easily save just by cutting back by one breakfast per week. 
  • consider all costs - All food requires some acquisition costs that's a given but if you are driving 5 miles out of your way to save 20¢ on a particular food item it's time to rethink that plan.   Any time you cook anything it costs you in terms of cooking fuel so choose the most cost effective method for cooking that particular meal.  Home canning saves a lot of money and I can't stress that enough but you do have to buy at the bare minimum canning supplies (eg. pectin, lids, canner) and if you want to can low acid foods you need a pressure canner (free to $250+).  If you home garden, unless you use seeds collected by yourself and others combined with using compost and a rainwater collection system then the garden comes with a price.  Some seeds can be expensive per packet too as can plant plugs.  That all adds to the cost of food your garden produces.  It is a very low cost but it is still a cost.  Consider our neighbours who put one of the most amazing raised bed systems in last year at a cost of well over $500 but realized almost nothing as far as a crop.  It's going to take them a long time to recoup their costs.  Driving through the countryside for a foodie trip is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon but that price of gas really ads up!  It is also wonderful that many foods are available online but shipping and handling can really add to the cost of the food purchased.
  • recognize the facts - In general and there are very few examples where this does not hold true, home cooked or homemade is less expensive using store bought whole foods than commercially prepared foods, eating take-out, ordering in or eating out.  If you like eating out reduce that to once or twice a month at a sit down restaurant where you will get a better quality of food.  
  • stock-up  - Each and every time you shop for groceries set aside $5 to $10 of your grocery budget to stock your pantry and freezer.  Focus on whole foods like dried beans, dried pasta, rices, as well as foods in the perimeter of the store as these can be preserved at home.  If you use coupons, take the savings to help you buy extra for your pantry supplies. 
  • stay out of the grocery stores - It goes without saying if you want to save on your food dollars stay out of the grocery stores.  Shop only when absolutely necessary which will reduce your cost of acquisition and lessen impulse buying.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How Its Made - Milk

Most milk sold in grocery stores comes from cows but have you ever wondered how that milk got to your table?  The whole process is a lot more automated than you would think.  Long gone are the days of manual milking in all but the smallest of dairy operations.  Larger dairy farms are automated from the time the cow is lactating to milk collection and once collected the process is further automated for transportation to the dairy.  Here is a short video showing the first steps in getting milk to your table.  Notice that the cow herself decides when she is ready to be milked.  This is all possible due to the automation of the entire milk collection process.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Cookbooks

cookbooks by Cece Neef Brune
Five Steps to Chocolate Rehab & Chocolate Crimes
by Cece Neef Brune
January 28. 2011

A couple of weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised to see a message from Cece Neef Brune graciously offering to send me two of her cookbooks.  I of course accepted her very generous offer!  Cece also authors the blog Texas Jot.  Cece's cookbooks are all about chocolate.  Yesterday the books arrived along with a chocolate bar and wonderful hand written note.  Thanks so much Cece! 

Cece's cookbooks benefit the Aphasia Centre in Midland, Texas.  Aphasia is an acquired language disorder that disables self expression.  It is one the most devastating effects of a stroke or head injury that can isolate a person because when you can't speak others stop talking to you.  They host Chocolate Decadence in February as a fundraiser and to raise awareness of aphasia.  If you are in the area or plan to be in Midland, Texas on February 10, 2011 please support this worthwhile delicious event.

Cece never asked me for a review of her books but I will be writing one for each of them as I go through some of the recipes.  I'm looking forward to exploring through her recipes.  Please take a few minutes to visit Cece's blog and leave a message that Garden Gnome sent you. Watch for her recipes as I test them along with a review of each book in the very near future.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Make Homemade Taco Shells (video)

One of my foodie finds from our recent vacation was a tortilla press.  I've been wanting a tortilla press for ages because I have heard like pita bread once you make them fresh at home you won't go back to store bought.  A tortilla press can be used to make flour or corn tortillas.  Once the tortillas are made they can be used as soft shells or to make taco salad bowls, taco shells and even nacho chips.  Why would I want to do this?  I think making my own will give me a bit more flexibility while giving me a superior product to store bought.  It allows me to control the ingredients as well, something that is quite important. 

I watched several videos on how to make homemade taco shells before settling on this one.  The method itself is not difficult.  Since the taco shells are hand made they will not be as perfectly shaped as store bought but that's fine with me.  I will be using instant corn masa for the taco shells and unbleached flour for the soft tortilla shells.  Here is the method I will be using although I may make a couple of modifications.  Look for the results this coming week and I hope you enjoy the video!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Kitchen Twine Dispenser

kitchen quick tips
Keep kitchen twine neat and tidy by placing the roll in a zipper-lock bag dispenser.  Cut a small slit near one of the bottom corners.  Place the roll in the bag then feed the end through the slit.  Seal the bag.  Pull the amount needed while the rest of the roll stays clean.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I Did With 16 Chicken Legs Backs Attached

Chicken used to be relatively inexpensive here but over the past several years the price has crept up there.  One of the local grocery stores had their $1 sale on so I decided to take advantage of the chicken that was on sale.  The chicken pieces were legs with back attached.  As little as a year ago these would go on sale for 69¢ per pound but now the sale price is $1 per pound.

packages of chicken
My husband picked up four packages of the chicken.  Usually this store has the chicken packaged in plastic bags but now they are on foam trays with plastic wrap.  I'm not fond of this type of packaging but that is all that was available.  I ended up with 16 legs back attached at a total weight of 5.932 kg (13.07 lb) and cost $2.20 per kg ($1 per lb), $13.05 total cost.  This would break down into 8 meals for us at a cost of $1.63 or about 82¢ per serving for the chicken which is not a bad price given the costs of other meats.  However, I had plans to stretch the chicken out a bit further than 8 meals.  Chicken stock was on the adgenda since I was completely out here although two jars are safely tucked away at our vaction home. 

vacuum sealed chicken for freezer
The first thing I did was vacuum seal eight of the chicken legs into meal sized portions.  That was enough for four packages for the freezer.  As a rule with a sale like this I tend to put up half then use the other half fresh and/or make other products for the pantry.  Of the remaining eight legs I used two for garlic pepper chicken with TPC Sesame Garlic Spaghetti for dinner that night.  Three of the chicken legs went into the stock pot for stock.  Realizing that our Christmas celebration was on the up coming Saturday meaning I would have a turkey left-overs and turkey stock to deal with, I put the remaining three pieces of chicken into the freezer as well.

chicken stock
I allowed the chicken legs to cook through then removed them from the stock and deboned them.  The bones and skin went back into the stock pot for a long, low simmer.  I seasoned the meat then used it for two meals of wraps and chicken tacos.

I ended up with 14 - 500 ml jars of chicken stock which is about my average yield when making stock.  As you can see I used Tattler reusable lids on seven of the jars.  The more I use these lids the better I like them!  For those wondering if I had to buy the chicken stock the equivalent would come in at approximately $20.86 ($1.49 each).  The cost of the homemade stock came in at $2.86 including the lids and electricity for both cooking and processing the stock.  It is easy to see where making homemade stock is very cost effective.  The stock can can be home canned or frozen.  I prefer canning mine for the convenience of ready to use.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tacos (Beef)

We have never been much of a fast food restaurant family.  I grew up in a very small town that had no take-out food other than frozen pizza from the grocery store.  I can still remember the very first time I ever had a Big Mac and to this day I will very rarely splurge on one.  Taco Bell was established in 1962 and franchised in 1964 but it took a while to spread into Canada.  We discovered Taco Bell in the early 1980's.  It was an immediate hit as to the idea but not so much for eating there.  Tacos were novel, different from burgers and simply fun to eat.  We loved the idea of the hard and soft shells so from there created our own tacos, taco salad and a wide range of wraps.

beef tacos
What many don't realize about Taco Bell tacos is they can't be easily duplicated at home simply because the meat they use is precooked and dehydrated then sent to the restaurant.  The meat is rehydrated and warmed for serving at the restaurants.  As a result of all of this processing the meat has a texture that you can't duplicate at home.  Boiling the ground beef comes close to the Taco Bell meat but it still isn't the right texture.

We make tacos with extra lean, hormone free ground beef that is browned, drained then seasoned while simmering.  Unlike taco salad I keep the toppings a bit more simple.  Offerings include leaf lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream and shredded cheese.  I use store bought taco shells but hopefully will be switching that to homemade taco shells now that I have a tortilla press.  They aren't identical to Taco Bell tacos.  I think they are better and they do get rave reviews from our family.

Taco Bell was the inspiration for a few of our family favourites and while we seldom go to Taco Bell, we've taken those food ideas and made them our own.  I try to keep that in mind each and every time we visit a restaurant.  Each meal becomes the potential inspiration for home cooking and that's what it is all about!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Rising Costs of Food

Frugal Kitchens 101

A few days I followed a thread on a forum I participate on regarding the rising costs of food.  Some were reporting an increase in a box of cereal from $2.89 to $3.59 so on that box the price increased by 60¢ almost overnight.  Similar increases are being reported across North America.  According to one article I read, there is a predicted food shortage as a result of changing weather patterns, natural disasters and rising oil prices.  On the Canadian front, food insecurity has been a topic I have addressed a couple of times on my Canadian Perspective blog.  Food insecurity is growing in Canada.  More Canadians are going hungry with the largest sector being singe moms with children.  With the ever rising costs of food now is the time to make those frugal food choices that will enable you to continue to ensure your own food security.  This weeks Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses ways in which you can increase your food security.

  • cook from scratch - By far the greatest increases in food costs will be seen in heavily processed foods.  This will widen the price gap between whole foods and those already prepared or partially prepared for you.  Avoid buying any processed foods you don't really have to especially if you are on a bare bones food budget. 
  • watch the global food market - Certain foods will increase in price due to their adverse local growing conditions.  Avoid these foods if at all possible during the actual crisis.  However, if a potential problem is announced (eg. recent rice shortage scare) make an informed decision as to whether to stock up a bit on that particular food. 
  • grow what you can - The first bit of frugal advice when trying to curb your food dollars is to grow whatever you can.  The problem is this takes a bit of planning as the food will take a couple of months or longer until you can harvest You do not need a huge garden to supplement your diet with home grown fruits, vegetables and herbs.  Most herbs will grow nicely indoors on a sunny windowsill.  Leafy greens, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers can be grown indoors as well.
  • raise your own - There is a growing trend of families where permitted raising backyard chickens mainly for their eggs.  Many more are raising rabbits as a meat source because there are few restrictions as to where you can raise them.  Some enterprising families are keeping bees where permitting and have even turned backyard swimming pools into small trout farms.  Before you even think about doing any of this, any type of raising your own must be researched fully so you understand exactly what is involved.  If your lifestyle is such that you are gone most of the day or you go on extended vacations, raising your own likely is not for you.  In the case of chickens and rabbits, if you are not close enough to a feed lot, feed may simply be too expensive to make raising your own worth your while.  Another thing to consider is chickens that have stopped laying become a liability in that they are costing you money in feed and you are getting nothing out of it.  That is time for the chicken to go into the stew pot but slaughtering a chicken and prepping it for the stew pot is a bit more involved and not something everyone is comfortable doing.  The same goes for rabbits.  However, in times of food shortages and rising prices it may be necessary to overcome this
  • preserve what you grow and raise - Preserving the excess bounties of your garden and the animals you raise is an easy way to line your pantry shelves with good, wholesome food ready for use when you may not be able to afford to buy food.  Preserving includes: curing, drying, freezing, fermenting and canning.
  • establish a pantry - Ideally aim for a one year supply on all foods your family enjoys.  Initially focus on those foods that have a long shelf life and are inexpensive to buy in larger quantities: dried beans, split peas, dried pastas, rices, flours, sugars, grains (eg. oatmeal, bulgar, couscous,  salts, preserving supplies (eg. Pomona's pectin, citric acid, Morton's Tenderquick).  Add in smaller quantities of the powdered extras like: cheddar cheese, peanut butter, butter, eggs, honey, and milks.  From there start stocking with home canned or commercially canned fods and extras.
  • establish a network - Establish a network of family, friends and neighbour with whom you can share in food acquisition, preserving and in time of need a helping hand. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How It's Made - Frozen French Fries

French fries are thought to have originated in Belgium.  During WW1 they were popular with American soldiers in French speaking areas which is likely where the name came from.  Fresh cut homemade French fries are quite easy to make and yet many turn to higher priced, store bought frozen French fries.  Have you ever wondered how frozen French fries are made? 

The best potatoes for making French fries, fresh or frozen, are russets.  Russet potatoes have an elongated shape that give a longer potato string when cut and they are lower in sugar content so stay white longer.  Once the harvested potatoes arrive at the processing factory they are loaded onto rollers to remove debris like large clumps of dirt and stone.  They travel to the washing station where mud is remove any dirt then to the sizing machine for sorting.   The sorted potatoes travel to the steamer to soften their skins then onto the peeler where special brushes remove the skin.  The peeled potatoes travel through a manual inspection check to remove an potatoes with green spots or skin left on.   The inspected potatoes pass onto the slicing station where they are crinkle or straight cut then into the separating station to remove any small pieces.  The larger pieces move on to be blanched which firms the flesh and enhances the flavour then they are off to the fryer for 2 minutes in non-hydrogenated oil.  The fried potatoes are drained then travel to the freezing area where they are quick frozen then packaged for the store.  Here is a video I found showing the process to make frozen French fries.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

TPC Sesame Garlic Spaghetti

Despite the fact that I make a wide range of homemade seasoning blends, I still like to buy interesting seasoning blends that I come across.  So it was during our recent vacation when I bought three varieties of The Pantry Club seasoning packets (6 packets total) as part of our foodie finds.  A recipe sheet was included with the seasoning blends.  I used half of one packet of the sesame garlic seasoning blend to make a chip dip.  It was quite yummy!

TPC sesame garlic spaghetti
We love our pasta so it is always fun coming up with a different sauce.  I used one full packet of the sesame garlic seasoning blend to make the TPC Sesame Garlic Spaghetti on the recipe sheet.  I served the pasta with pan fried garlic pepper chicken and sautèed whole mushrooms.

The sesame garlic sauce got two thumbs up from my husband.  It was rich and creamy with a nice flavour.  I definitely would buy this blend again and will be working on a clone recipe for it.  I was surprised at some of the ingredients especially the jalapeno powder so it will be interesting to see what I come up with.

TPC Sesame Garlic Spaghetti
source:  The Pantry Club

2 c heavy whipping cream
1 packet sesame garlic seasoning

Whisk seasoning mix into the whipping cream.  Simmer on low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and let stand to thicken.  Serve over a bed of noodles.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Willow Creek Mill Stoneground Fisherman's Choice Breading & Batter Mix

We eat fish at least once a week but quite often a few times a week.  Our fish of choice tends to be locally caught perch, pickerel and bass but we enjoy other fish as well.  My husband has a tendency to pick up a pack or two of fish coating to try. 

Willow Creek Mill Stoneground Fisherman's Choice Breading & Batter Mix
One of the foodie finds we brought home from our recent vacation was Willow Creek Mill Stoneground Fisherman's Choice Breading and Batter Mix.  It was packaged in a resealable, waterproof bag inside a cotton bag decorated with a small bobber.  Willow Creek Mill is located in Valders, Wisconsin.  The added tag gave the nutritional information and best used by date.  Ingredients on the back of the cloth bag indicated the mix was made with unbleached flour, cornmeal, triticale flour, seasonings and salt. Checking their online site, lemon pepper and horseradish root are also listed as ingredients for this product.   Instructions for using dry or a batter were also printed on the back of the cloth bag. 

perch fish fry dinner
We made a tradition perch fish fry using the Fisherman's Choice mix served with fresh cut French fries.  Pictured is our perch fish fry dinner.  This was a good coating but somewhat lacking in flavour.  Until I read online that the coating had lemon pepper and horseradish root in it, I definely would never have guessed it.  The coating mix was quite on the bland side.  Not that you want a really spicy coating for perch but you need a little flavour besides the taste of flour.  It did not adhere to the fish as it should have but other than that, the fish was good. 

I would rate this fish coating mix just slightly under average in terms of flavour and performance.  Don't get me wrong as it was still a good dinner but nothing spectacular with respect to the fish.  The fresh cut French fries on the other hand were superb as always.  We enjoyed the meal in front of the television watching Coronation Street while the snow fell is swirls outside the window.  This was a great Friday fish fry without having to leave the house!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Pot Lid Safety

kitchen quick tips

When removing a lid from a pot or pan always raise the side furthest from you first to prevent accidently scalding yourself.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Planned Left-overs Using Homemade Shake & Bake Chicken

Having spent the majority of our time at our vacation home in temperatures above freezing and reaching as high as 72ºF we arrived at one of kids home in well below freezing temperatures.  We had take-out fish the first night and they made us a wonderful homemade cheese soup the second night.  Well that soup was enough to give the craving for good old fashioned, homecooked comfort food!  We arrived home to ice and snow with an almost empty fridge but since I wasn't cooking that night we left it to the following day when my husband picked up potatoes, milk, cream, sour cream, chicken thighs and a few fresh vegetables.  His request was he wanted homemade shake & bake chicken for dinner.

homemade shake &bake chicken dinner
If you have been following this blog for any length of time you will know the story behind shake & bake chicken.  There were 6 chicken thighs so I decided to coat them all with   homemade shake & bake mix and bake along with potatoes with planned left-overs in mind.  I seved the chicken and baked potatoes with home canned green beans. Now you might question how I could possibly use left-over baked potatoes and with shake & bake chicken but as I pulled the first meal together the second meal was already in the planning stages.  My goal was to create another comfort type meal that would mimic some of the flavours of the first while introducing a couple of new flavours using the left-overs.

baked potato and chicken soup
What could be better than a soup that picked up the essence of a favourite comfort meal while at the same time becoming its own unique comfort meal?  The snow was blowing, roads were closed, buses weren't running so making the left-over based soup while it howled outside was a nice diversion.  The kitchen smelled wonderful!

I had left-over chicken and baked potatoes to work with so that's what I started with and built from there.  The end result was a rich, creamy, filling soup full of warm, comforting flavour just perfect for a wintery day.  I used sour cream as a garnish but when stirred into the soup it really adds a nice flavour element.

Baked Potato and Chicken Soup
source:  Garden Gnome

2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
2 chicken thighs, pre-cooked with skin and chopped
3 slices thick cut bacon
3 cold baked potatoes
6 c chicken stock
1½ c asparagus pieces
1½ c sautéed mushroom slices
1 c heavy whipping cream
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp sour cream per serving

Cut the bacon across the slices.  Place in fry pan on medium.  Add onion and celery.  Cook until onion is just becoming translucent.  Cut baked potatoes into smaller chunks.  Place in fry pan with the onion mixture.  Warm through.  Cut chicken from the bone leaving the skin on the chicken.  Set aside.  Cut into bit sized pieces.  Transfer the potato/onion mixture to a stock pot.   Pour the stock into the pot and bring to a low boil.  While that mixture is heating sauté the mushroom slices in butter and set aside.  Wash and cut the asparagus into 1 - inch pieces.  Using a slotted spoon mash the potatoes in the stock mixture leaving just a few smaller pieces.  Pour in the mushrooms.  Let heat through.  Add the asparagus pieces.  Cook just to warmed through.  Stir in the whipping cream.  Remove from heat.  Ladle into bowls.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chicharrones (Pork Skins)

A couple of days ago I posted about our foodies finds during our recent vacation to the sunny south.  I always find it rather interesting what is considered a snack food in other geographical locations.  I am not a snack type person.  Rather I am a grazer who can easily eat almost constantly throughout the day but I tend to go after fruits, vegetables, cheese, beef jerky and believe it or not beans.  My favourite snack food is steamed broccoli with just a little butter followed by hot buttered popcorn or almonds if I want something crunchy.  Years ago, well before we had kids and were just dating I discovered pork rinds.  They never became a staple in my snack choice but then I discovered pork cracklings that I get to indulge in about once couple of years.  Then I discovered chicharrones (pork skins) sold in large bags in the area of our vacation home.

chicharrones (pork skins)
Chicharrones (pork skins) are similar to pork rinds but they are huge!  Just look at how gorgeous they are.  They are delightful so once again I brought a bag home. 

Chicharrones give the crunch you are after but unlike potato chips you can eat a bit because you can snap off what you want and they are filling.  I don't have a bag of plain potato chips to compare the nutritional values to but when compared to sour cream & onion potato chips, a serving size of chicharrones at 14 g (about the size of a normal cracker) while the chips serving is 50 g.  It's important to realize though that the serving size of chicharrones is more than sufficient to satisfy your crunch craving while 20 chips (50 g) is not.  If factoring the chicharrones to 50 g the nutritional value is quite similar to the chips except there is cholesterol, no carbohydrates and more protein. The bottom line is neither chicharrones or potato chips should be part of a regular healthy diet but on occasion it doesn't hurt.

I think this is a really different snack.  The last time I brought home a bag I broke the chicharrones into cracker sized pieces and put it out for the guys when we were entertaining.  It was gone in no time and I got a lot of compliments off of it!  I may just talk to our butcher to see if I can buy pork skin to try to make these at home.  It would be a very interesting experiment!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Cooking Oils

Frugal Kitchens 101

In recent years there has been a lot of bad publicity surrounding fats and oils as part of the diet.  Products suddenly appeared in stores with low or no fat labels followed by no-trans fats and even fat substitutes.  In many ways what this has done is create a lot of confusion for consumers and more so for new cooks.   The bottom line is a certain amount of fat is necessary as part of a healthy diet.  In children fats are necessary for proper neurological development.  So fats aren't something you can arbitrarily omit from your diet without suffering later health consequences.  At the same time cooking oils and fats are a necessary part of cooking.  There needs to be a balance though.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses cooking oils for home cooking.

Fats and oils can be classified as:

  • saturated - raises total blood cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), solid at  (eg. vegetable shortening, hard margarine, butter) or semi-solid  (eg. palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil) at room temperature
  • trans - raises LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol)
  • monounsaturated - lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and increase the HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
  • polyunsaturated - lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Omega 3 fatty acids belong to this group
Bad cooking oils : vegetable shortening, hard margarine, butter, palm oil, lard, palm kernel oil, coconut oil

Good cooking oils : canola, flaxseed, peanut, olive oil, non-hydrogenated soft margarine, safflower, sunflower, corn, grapeseed 

I use fats and oils in cooking, baking, deep frying and dressings.  Here is a list of my favourite oils and what I use them for.  Most of them fall into the good cooking oils:
  • canola oil (rapeseed oil) - pan frying, baking
  • peanut oil - stir fry, deep fry, fondu, the oil of choice for frying turkey
  • vegetable oil - usually a combination of soybean, canola and corn oils, a generic oil suitable for deep frying, used in baking and breadmaking, doesn't impart much of a flavour
  • corn oil - baking, dressings and pan frying
  • cold pressed extra virgin olive oil -  wonderful flavour and my favourite oil, used in salads, as a bread dip, cooking, flavoured oils
  • extra light olive oil - baking, frying, flavoured oils
  • medium olive oil - cooking, salad dressings
  • grapeseed oil - an oil with a high smoke temperature ideal for oiling grills
  • safflower oil -  adds no flavour, cooking, salad dressings
  • clarified butter/ghee - this is butter with the milk solids removed so gives all the flavour of butter without the milk solids and scorching problems, topping, cooking
  • shortening - pastry dough
  • lard - pastry dough, tortilla shells
  • butter - cooking, baking, as a topping/flavouring

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    How Its Made - Liquid Smoke

    While we were on vacation we enjoyed some excellent "Q", barbeque that is!  The flavour of the Q comes from long, slow cooking in a smoker using the pitmaster's wood of choice, usually a hard wood like hickory.  The home cook has a lot of choices with respect to setting up a smoker but if you only want that smoky flavour for one or two dishes a year then one alternative is to use liquid smoke.  Liquid smoke is available in 150 ml bottles in the same aisle as other seasonings and spices.  I've only seen natural hickory liquid smoke but other flavours may be available.  Be warned, a little liquid smoke goes a long way!  If adding to a dish like baked beans always add a drop at a time then stir well and taste after each addition until you get the degree of smokiness you want.  Here is a short video on how liquid smoke is made.  Enjoy!

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Foodie Finds from Our Recent Vacation to the Sunny South

    As you may have guessed we were on an extended vacation to our vacation home in the sunny south.  We left here December 8 and returned on January 9.  Our travels spanned over one Canadian province and eight US states.  Over the month we put a lot of miles on our car, did a lot of sightseeing including both coasts, ate a lot of wonderful food, visited family and friends and in short had one heck of a good time!  As always we managed to bring a few foodie finds home.

    mugs with food advertising
    I have a small collection of mugs with food advertising on them.  Some of them are antiques but others are classified as collectibles.  This trip I expanded my collection by three mugs - Morton's Salt, Maxwell House Coffee and Campbell's Soup.  The Maxwell House Coffee is the oldest made by the same manufacturer of a Campbell's Soup mug I already had.  The newly purchased Campbell's soup (circa 1998) is still a nice addition to my collection. 

    Most of my collectible mugs are in daily use.  My theory is why collect something you can't enjoy.  Some say the enjoyment should come from display only but I don't live in a museum so most of my pieces do get used.  I do use a lot of my antique glassware including Anchor Hocking's Fire King bakeware and lusterware.  My carnival ware pickle dishes get a fair amount of use.  I'm a bit more protective of my American Sweetheart by MacBeth-Evans Glass Company but it doese see a bit of occasional use.  As a home canner I do have a collection of old canning jars with the oldest ones for display purposes and those from the 1940's still in use mainly for dry storage.

    miscellaneous foods found
    Surprisingly we did not go overboard with the foods we brought home.  I was looking for foodie finds that were a bit different.  Pictured are all of our foodie finds including the only carbonated beverage, Vernor's, that I like other than club soda.  I'm looking forward to using the pure sugar cane syrup.  It is quite thick like corn syrup.  We did a tour of the Jelly Belly factory!  The wacky mac is 4 - colour vegetable bowtie pasta from Illinois.  The seasoning packets (chipotle chili, bacon cheddar, sesame garlic) are from The Pantry Club in Clearwater, Florida.  Currently their seasoning packets are only available through shows they hold at select Sam's Clubs in a few states.  Shows last 4 to 18 days.  They sell online through their website as well.  We bought two brands of fish coating to try, White Castle mustard, chicharrones (pork skins), lychee drink and hot sauce from Harry's Seafood Bar and Grille.

    a variety of Wisconsin cheeses
    Cedar Valley Cheese Factory in Belgium, Wisconsin is on our must stop when in the area list.  Our two main stock up items there is the mozzarella block cheese and the cheese sticks.  These are the best cheese sticks I've ever tasted.  I especially like that they are not individually wrapped too, making them an eco-friendly food choice.  We only bought a small block of cheddar this time.  Two new cheeses we bought were white cheddar horseradish and cheddar caraway cubes.  The white cheddar horseradish cheese will be quite lovely slice thin on roast beef sandwiches.  The Willow Creek Mill Fish coating pictured in the last picture and beef jerky from Mike's Country Meats in Campbellsport, Wisconsin were also part of our purchases at the cheese factory.

    cookbook and kitchen gadgets
    As a foodie I love browsing kitchen specialty shops.  We stopped at Vero Fashion Outlets in Vero Beach, Florida.  While my husband checked out the clothing deals I amused myself in Kitchen Collection.  As with all kitchen specialty shops this one was filled with a lot of foodie eye candy as well as a few thing to drool over.  I settled on a tortilla press and a pro meat tenderizer.  I've been told once you start making tortillas fresh you won't go back to store bought so I'm looking forward to using this gadget.  There is a story behind the meat tenderizer that I will tell when I post about using it.

    When we bought our vacation home we knew we would be either flying or driving down so I decided on driving trips I would expand my recipe book collection to include a cookbook from each state we travel through.  We enjoyed two trips to The Florida Aquarium - an amazing must visit attraction.  While at the gift shop I bought a copy of Best of the Best from Florida Cookbook (2004).   This is a series cookbook with one from every state although I did not notice that at the time.  I can't wait to report back on some of the great recipes from this cookbook!  Although I won't be collecting this specific series as I already have cookbooks from other states we have visited, it does look to be a good series. 

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Triple Crown Steakhouse & Lounge, Shepherdsville, Kentucky

    In case you hadn't guessed, we were at our vacation home in the sunny south.  We left here on Dec 8, 2010 and arrived back here on January 9, 2011.  It was an eventful trip filled with a lot of great foods, some of which I have shared with you already.  We left our vacation home on January 5th setting our sights northeast towards one of our kids homes where we stayed a couple of nights before making the final leg of our journey home to the ice and snow.  While on the road towards our kids we stopped for a nice sit down meal on the second day. 

    Triple Crown, Sheperdsville, Kentucky
    Triple Crown Steakhouse & Lounge is located at 441 Paroquet Springs Drive in Shepherdsville, Kentucky (I-65, Exit 117).  The steakhouse opened in February of 2010.  It features steaks and ribs but fish and chicken are also available.  They have a lovely, large selection of side dishes to choose from as well.   The exterior is wood siding.  The wood theme extends into the interior where lacquered wood tables with the Triple Crown insignia in the center set neatly on the natural finished wood plank floors greet you.  The are booths under the wrap-around bank of windows that give the restaurant a light yet still cosy atmosphere.  There are several large screen televisions as well.   While the restaurant is licensed and offers happy hour from 2 to 7 PM there are no Sunday sales of alcohol due to the municiple by-law prohibiting restaurants from serving alcohol on Sundays.

    We visited on a Thrusday during the late afternoon so the restaurant was not overly busy.  Food Network was on one of the televisions and golf on another so it was a nice break from being cooped up in the car. 

    big brown New York strip steak
    My husband ordered the big brown New York strip entrée with baked beans and mac & cheese as sides.  The name might not get it any brownie points (pun intended) but the steak itself will.  It was grilled perfectly to medium rare with gorgeous grilling hash marks.  The sides were served in separate small bowls which is a bit different presentation but well suited for this type of setting.  I liked the presentation.  The steak was served on a metal plate to keep it hot to the table.   It was clean and unpretentious letting the food appearance itself tempt the taste buds.
    brokers tip bourbon pecan chicken
    I ordered the brokers tip bourbon pecan chicken with a loaded potato and steamed broccoli.  The chicken breast was coated then deep fried and topped with their special bourbon pecan sauce.  The chicken was quite tasty with a nice combination of textures.  There was a bit of crunch from the pecans in the sauce that had been added just after frying the chicken but before serving so the coating remained on the crunchy side as well.  This would be one dish I would like to duplicate at home so will be doing a bit of researching to see if I can duplicate the bourbon pecan sauce.  The sauce had a nice depth and sweetness about it.

    Our bill totaled $36.21 with one drink each.  Our waitress was friendly and efficient so we left a nice tip.  I would have liked to see how well this restaurant performed when busy.  We will aim for a busier time the next time we are in the area.  As far as food, service and price this restaurant is definitely doing something right!

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Kitchen Quick Tips

    kitchen quick tips

    Make it easy to remove spices and herbs like bay leaves, whole peppercorns and cloves from brines, soups and stews before serving by placing them in a spice packet for the cooking process.  Cut a couple of squares of cheesecloth then place the spices and herbs in the middle.  Bring the corners up and give a twist then secure tightly with kitchen twine and add the packet to the pot.  When the dish is ready, simply remove the packet.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Sautéed Zucchini Mix

    Many home gardeners lament over the prolific nature of zucchini complaining that one plant produces much more than they or their family, friends and neighbours can use.  I beg to differ in opinion.  We love zucchini and I normally put in at least five zucchini plants.  I pick the zucchini when it is about 8 - inches long and no longer.  It is nice and tender at that stage, full of flavour perfect for grilling or sautéing.

    zucchini stir fry
    One of our favourite side dishes is sautéed zucchini with mushrooms and onions.  We make this combination quite often, adapting it to cook in foil packs on the grill or open fire as well.  When sautéed there is a wonderful caramelization that takes place giving a depth to the flavour that is unbeatable.

    We had a couple of left-over potatoes that had been baked on the grill.  This gives a smokiness to the flavour that can't be duplicated in the oven.  I heated a fry pan with a little olive oil and butter then added the cubed left-over potatoes.  When they just started caramelizing I added the onions followed by the mushrooms and finally the zucchini.  Each vegetable is added just as the previous one starts to caramelize.  The end result is a tasty side dish that is sure to please!

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Grilled Shrimp

    Seafood is always a delight!  We enjoy it at home every chance we get but at our vacation home we indulge even more.  As they say when in Rome do as the Romans do!  Florida is almost synonymous with seafood so there is no end to finding great fish and seafood like crab legs and shrimp.   There is just no end of the opportunities to indulge on seafood!

    grilled shrimp
    My husband picked up cooked, tail on shrimp to grill as an appetizer with our New Year's steak dinner.  Shrimp can be purchased pre-cooked or cooked, peeled or unpeeled, fresh or frozen.  It is usually served by the count if frozen as in 36/45 per pound or simply by the pound fresh.  Both cooked and uncooked shrimp can be grilled.  Grilling imparts a slight smokiness to the shrimp while adding gorgeous flavour.

    Peel the shrimp if necessary and remove tails.  Thread the shrimp onto skewers. If using cooked shrimp it should be warmed through just until grill marks appear.  If using uncooked shrimp, grill until the shrimp is pink with characteristic grill marks.  Carefully remove from the skewers.  Serve on a bed of leaf lettuce with seafood cocktail sauce garnished with a couple of thin wedges of lemon.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Frugal Kitchens 101 - Citrus Fruit

    Frugal Kitchens 101

    According to the  Canada's Food Guide by Health Canada fruits and vegetables should be a large part of your diet with those in the 19 to 50 age group daily recommendations of 7 - 8 servings for females and 8 - 10 servings for males.  While this sounds like a lot, in reality it isn't since a serving size is 125 ml or 4 ounces for most fruits and vegetables except leafy greens that is 250 ml or 1 cup for a serving size.  Citrus fruits are a great way to help meet the daily recommendations.  A half of grapefruit or a small orange would be one serving.  Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 focuses on citrus fruits.

    Citrus fruits are rich in anti-oxidants and Vitamin C.  They come conveniently packaged in their own peel ready for packed lunches.  Citrus fruits can be enjoyed fresh, juiced, dried, as desserts or in salads, as a garnish or home canned.  There are a few considerations to get the best value for your dollar:

    • seaonal - Citrus fruits like any produce have a season.  When they are in season where the citrus fruits are grown they are inexpensive locally and less expensive at locations they are shipped to.  For example, clementines are in season mid-November through late January so can easily be found by the case in grocery stores for $4 - $5, but off season they are only available hit and miss, sold by the kilogram or pound.  Lemons and limes may go as high as 99¢ off season to as low as 5/99¢ on season.  In northern areas such as Ontario the best prices for citrus fruits can be found mid-November through mid-February.
    • store non-organic bought - Most store bought citrus fruits have been harvest before their peak of ripeness to reduce spoilage during shipping.  Food colouring is often used to enhance the colour of the citrus fruits making them more appealing to the consumer.
    • skin (peel) - Citrus fruits have a thin to heavy skin that is removed for eating.  However, the skin can contain pesticide residues as well as other contaminates.  All citrus fruits should be washed prior consumption even if the peel is to be discarded.  Peels that will be used for zest or drying or citrus fruits that will be used with the skin on as beverage and seafood garnishes so be thoroughly washed to remove any traces of pesticide residues and other contaminates.
    • preserving - Citrus fruits can be juiced for freezing.  The segments can be home canned and whole fruits can be sliced for drying or can be candied.  
    • juice - Nothing beats fresh squeezed citrus juices especially orange.  You can use a manual or electric juicer for smaller amounts or a steam juicer for larger quantities.  Citrus fruits can be purchased as fresh squeezed, reconstituted and concentrated.  The best value is the frozen concentrated juice as you aren't paying for the additional weight of the reconstituted juice and it has less packaging.  The frozen concentrated juices often go on sale as well making them an even better value.

    Sunday, January 09, 2011

    How its Made - Mozzarella Cheese

    Cheese making is quite an interesting process.  We've watched cheeses being made at Pine River Cheese & Butter Co-op in Riply, Ontario.  Cheese making has continued to be an artisan activity in many rural areas with cheeses being made from goat and cow's milk.  Buffalo milk is also used in cheese making.  Cheese making supplies are available through some specialty stores, catelogue order and various online sites.  In general the only supplies you need are rennet, cheese cloth, cheese molds and a cheese press.  Some cheeses are coated in wax for storage so if making those you will need the wax as well.  Some cheeses like cottage cheese, mozzarella, yogurt and ricotta can easily be made at home with minimal cheese making supplies.  Hard cheeses can also be easily made at home but you will need a cheese press.

    Commercial cheese operations are quite impressive.  In the following video 30,000 L of fresh milk was turned into 1,400 - 2.5 kg blocks of mozzarella cheese.  Rennet causes the milk to curdle, separating into milk solids that will become cheese curds (cheese blocks once pressed) and lactoserum (whey).  The whey is used as a milk by-product in other foods.  Whey from making cheese at home can be frozen for later use if desired.  It can be added to soups, stews, breads and anywhere else you would use milk.  Brining the cheese blocks serves to salt the cheese while curing.  This is not a part of all cheese making, only certain cheese.  Enjoy the video!

    Saturday, January 08, 2011

    JD's Restaurant & Lounge, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

    The exterior decor of a restaurant can help influence whether we stop in or not.  Now don't get me wrong because we have found some excellent restaurants that have very non-de-script exteriors to the point that if you didn't know it was a restaurant you'd drive right on by.  Some exteriors though just warrant a closer look to see what's inside.  So it is with JD's Restaurant & Lounge!

    JD's Restaurant & Lounge
    JD's Restaurant & Lounge is located at 125 Gulf Blvd. in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida.  The colourful exterior beckons you to enter, promising a delightfully enjoyable time.   The building is painted bright orange, yellow and turquoise!  A grand pirate stands guard ready to greet you and there is a giant, friendly octopus the kids are sure to love.  The Downing family has owned and operated JD's since 1985.  JD's is a casual dining featuring a lot of extras like live entertainment with exceptional local artists performing at their piano bar and on the back patio.  They offer breakfast from 8:00 AM to 11:45 AM, an early bird menu from 12:00 noon to 6:00 PM and beach basket lunches from 12:00 noon to 4:00 PM.  There is a kids menu for those 12 years old and under.  Happy Hour is from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM.    JD's gift certificates are available as well.  The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

    The interior of JD's is every bit as much fun as the exterior.  Folks are warned of possible neck injury trying to read all of the signs, sayings and jokes hanging from the ceiling throughout the restaurant.  The decor is eclectic and just down right fun.  The waitresses are extremely friendly and very attentive.

    loaded potato skins
    We ordered the potatoes skins with bacon and cheese sauce as an appetizer.  These tasty potato skins were delightful!  We also ordered a crab cake as an appetizer.  It was large enough to share between the four of us.   I ordered the fish fry entrée with 3 large pieces of cod served with choice of soup, salad or coleslaw and coice of mashed potatoes and gravy, French fries, baked potato, spaghetti or vegetable.  My husband ordered the all you can eat fish fry with clam chowder while I ordered mine with the garden salad.  The thick cod pieces were thin breaded, fried to a beautiful golden brown. 

    crab legs
    One of our kids ordered the 1 lb snow crab legs.  The entrée came with a choice of soup, coleslaw or endless salad, and choice of potato, spaghetti or vegetable.  Aren't those crab legs gorgeous?  They were every bit as tasty as they look!  I know our kid really enjoyed eating the crab legs.  I took lots of pictures of the crab leg experience.

    Our bill came in at $88 including the tip and drinks for 4 adults.  This is quite a reasonable price given the quality and amount of the food as well as the wonderful service that we enjoyed.  I highly recommend a stop at JD's if you are in the area.

    JD's was just a very enjoyable dining experience all the way around!  What attracted us in the first place was the exterior decor but what will keep us coming back is their great food combined with their friendly and fun atmosphere.  JD's has made it onto our must visit when in the area list of restaurants. 

    Friday, January 07, 2011

    A Simple Ham Dinner

    Meals do not have to be fancy or complicated to be enjoyable.  Quite often the simple meals based on left-overs are those that become family favourite meals.  I like planning left-overs just for this purpose especially when cooking meat.  It is easy to cook extra for a planned left-over meal later in the week or to pop in the freezer as a quick meal start.

    ham dinner
    Bone-in ham is a frugal meat choice in that along with a good amount of meat and little fat, the bone can be used to make soups or chowders.  I cooked a ham for our Christmas dinner rather than our traditional turkey dinner.   It was a lovely ham with bone in.  There was of course left over ham.  Later in the week I warmed up a few slices of the ham to serve with baked accordion potatoes and whole kernel corn.  It was a simple, easy to prepare meal with a definite taste of home.

    I discovered baked accordion potatoes last summer and did them on the grill.  They do not develop the same skin crispness of normal baked potatoes.  Cut in this fashion the baking time is reduced making them a perfect grill side.  The cuts are not just for presentation.  The cuts increase the surface area so theere is a bit more caramelization adding to the flavour.

    Thursday, January 06, 2011

    Kitchen Quick Tips - Trust Your Nose

    kitchen quick tips

    When you open your spices, waft (wave hand over container towards your nose).  If you can immediately identify the smell of the spice it is still good to use.  If the scent is not immediate, it is time to replace the spice.

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011

    Brano's Italian Grill in Cocoa Beach, Florida

    We tend to eat out a lot more when we are on vacation even at our vacation home where we tend to have company staying for extended periods of time.  A lot of the homemade meals at our vacation home are breakfasts and lunches with the occasional homemade dinner.  The nice thing about this is we get to experience a lot of nice restaurants that serve as inspiration for later home cooking. We love our pasta dishes so I am always looking for a bit of inspiration to come up with something just a little different in a pasta dish.  What better place to look than in a restaurant that specializes in classic Italian pasta dishes?

    Brano's Italian Grill
    Brano's Italian Grill is located at 3689 North Atlantic Avenue in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  It is a smaller restaurant set back from the road a bit but don't let that fool you.  This restaurant that specializes in classic Italian pasta dishes is a definite gem!  The atmosphere is warm and welcoming.  The wait-staff are friendly, attentive and very efficient.  The wonderful pasta dishes are tasty and nicely presented.

    We visited Brano's on Christmas Eve with a couple of our kids.  It was busy but the food and service was excellent!  With an appetizer and drinks our bill came to $91.21 for four adults which isn't a bad price for what we enjoyed.  The only negative thing that I can say about Brano's is the overuse of dried parsley flakes as a garnish.  It was virtually on every dish we ordered.  It was even on the salad, the soup and the bread so it was rather redundant.  Other than that we had no complaints so this restaurant has made it onto our must visit when in the area list.

    snapper with shrimp
    We ordered the shrimp & crab parmesan dip served with warm pita bread (not pictured) as our appetizer.  It was a lovely, rich tasting appetizer to start the meal with.  Entrées are served with your choice of soup or salad and dinner rolls.  The salad is simply romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers & onion with your choice of dressings but it is nicely presented.

    One of the kids ordered the backened snapper with shrimp entrée.  Sides included mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables on a bed of baby greens.  Blackened refers to a Cajun seasoning  blend used to coat the fish before pan frying.  You can buy prepared blackened seasoning or make your own blend as desired for home cooking.

    fettucini alfredo with chicken
    One of our kids ordered the Fettucini Alfredo with chicken entrée.  And doesn't it just look scrumptious?  Alfredo sauce is simply a bechemel sauce (white sauce) with parmesan cheese added.  It is rich and creamy, a true comfort food.  What was a bit different with this Alfredo sauce was the consistency.  It was thinner than most Alfredo sauces giving an almost borderline stoup to borrow from Rachel Ray's favourite saying.  A stoup is thinner than a stew but thicker than a soup.

    This would be a very easy dish to duplicate at home.  I think the only thing I would do a bit differently is to sear the chicken for a bit of colour and flavour.

    veal parmigiana
    I ordered the spaghetti your way with a plain meat sauce (not pictured).  It was delicious!  My husband ordered the veal parmigiana.  This gorgeous entrée came with a serving of spaghetti with a choice of marinara or marsala sauce.  He had the marsala sauce.  The veal was smothered with a marsala wine and mushroom sauce then topped with a wonderful coating of parmigan cheese.

    This too is another easy to duplicate dish at home.  Veal cutlets can be purchased already breaded or you can easily bread them yourself.  Marsla is an Italian fortified wine very similar to a port wine.  The marsala spaghetti sauce is essentially a marinara sauce with marsala added for flavour and body during the cooking process.

    Tuesday, January 04, 2011

    Vacation Home Tomatoes

    We are extremely blessed and very much spoiled living in an area of Ontario where tomatoes rein supreme!  We are very much accustomed to enjoying some of the very best tomatoes you can ever taste.  They are rich, full of flavour and have a depth of colour not readily available in other parts of the country.  We came down to our vacation home right in the midst of the heavy tomato season last year.  Silly me, I thought tomatoes there would be pretty much the same.  My gosh was I wrong!

    vacation home tomatoes
    Pictured are two tomatoes I bought while there.  Both were very good size with the largest one being almost 5 inches at its widest.  The first thing I noticed is compared to my home grown or locally grown tomatoes, these tomatoes were downright anemic looking!  I had been canning tomatoes and my garden was overflowing with beautiful tomatoes when we left on vacation.  I took one look at these tomato-wanta-bes and immediately wanted to go home!

    Notice the tags on the tomatoes?  I hate those stupid little stick on tags on every piece of produce bought in a grocery store!  What I found very interesting though was on the larger tomato if you look close you can see the words uglyripe and heirloom.  Why anyone would call a tomato ugly ripe is beyond me but that is indeed its name.  The ugly ripe tomato developed by Joe Procacci is named for the deep wrinkles in its shoulder and misshapen shape.  The ugly ripe does have a lovely tomato flavour despite its appearance.  It is an heirloom tomato which means you can collect the seeds from this tomato to grow in your garden the following year.  What is interesting is Florida Agriculture will not let this tomato be sold outside of Florida because it is too ugly!  Being a home gardener, I diligently fermented then collected seeds from the ugly ripe tomato and brought them home.  I won't know how well this tomato will perform until next growing season but here's hoping it does perform nicely for me. 

    Monday, January 03, 2011

    Frugal Kitchens 101 - Cooking on Vacation

    Frugal Kitchens 101
    When most people think of vacationing, cooking is likely the furthest thing from their minds.  However, it you are RVing cooking does become an issue since you are essentially taking your home with you.  There is another sub-set of vacationers as well.  They tend to rent condos, homes or efficiency motel room.  Then there are folks like us who have bought our vacation home and while eating out on traveling to and fro or occasionally there, the goal is to save on food costs.  In general breakfast and lunches are rather expensive so making those yourself wherever your temporary vacation home is makes good sense.  Eating out every night for dinner is nice but if you are on an extended vacation of a month or more that can really break the budget.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses a few tips for cooking while on vacation.

    • check out what cooking equipment you have where you are - This does make a huge difference.  Our RV and vacation home was/is equipped very much like I'm used to at home with the exception of some small appliances like a deep fryer and that will likely change at our vacation home.  We have rented condos and efficiency units in the past that honestly you would be lucky to be able to cook the bare minimum though.  Knowing what equipment you have on had will help determine the groceries to buy.
    • bring a taste from home - When we had our RV and now with our vacation home I bring a box of home canned foods.  It's what we are used to and while I can't feasibly bring enough food with us for a month or more at the vacation home, some is better than none.  With the RV I always took a homemade meal ready to enjoy after setting up.  I bring my favourite recipe book and seasonings with me too.  When vacationing in the US I bring what I need to make pea meal bacon and always bring Canadian maple syrup.  It's those little things that while you are having a wonderful time remind you of home and sometimes can help ward off a full blown homesickness attack.
    • find a grocery store - More than ever it is very easy to do a bit of online research of your destination to find a good grocery store.  This is where your vacation food dollar is best stretched.  I even look for coupons to help save a little.
    • KISS - Use the KISS hypothesis - keep it simple silly.  When it comes to cooking on vacation keep it a little simpler.  That doesn't mean plain or not exploring a bit, just simpler.  You may have to adust for available cooking equipment and different weather.  Take advantage of deli offerings and take-out sides specials to make meals a bit easier to put together.  Find a good pizzeria that delivers as well.
    • focus on local foods - If you are vacationing in an area known for seafood focus on that rather than other meats as the seafood will be the best value for your food dollars.  Focus on any in season produce as well.

    Sunday, January 02, 2011

    How Molded Chocolate Is Made

    There are so many great ingredients to work with when creating great foods to enjoy.  Have you ever wondered how some of them are made?  The Food Network has a show called Unwrapped that I love watching just to see how various foods are made.  While many of the foods shown are done on a large scale commercial operation, many of the methods can be modified to do on a small scale in the home kitchen.  I thought it would be fun to run a series of how its made food videos throughout 2011.

    Chocolate is a wonderful ingredient to work with.  It's the top selling confection for Valentine's Day and Easter.  Molded chocolate like Easter eggs and bunnies are made in two pieces then melded together.  Melting chocolate, finishing chocolate and molds are available for making chocolate confections at home in stores like the Bulk Barn and Michael's.  Here's how they make molded chocolate Easter bunnies on a larger scale.  Enjoy!

    Saturday, January 01, 2011

    New Year's Eve Event

    We have been married over 30 years and aside of a couple of house parties, we are home bodies on New Year's Eve.  Last night we changed that.  The club house had a New Year's Eve party featuring The Full Monte (DJ/entertainer), full dinner, dancing and breakfast just after midnight.  Tickets were $75 per couple.

    shrimp and salmon
    The appetizers were set up buffet style in a separate room.  They included peeled tail on shrimp, cooked salmon with capers, and a cheese and cracker tray.  I really liked how the flavour of the capers worked nicely with the salmon so that will be something I try at home. 

    It was nice that the appetizers were serve yourself too especially for this type of event.  Those who wanted appetizers could help themselves as much as they wanted.  This reduced the work load on the small workstaff allowing them to focus on serving beverages and getting the prepared dinner plates to the table while the food was still hot.

    New Year's Eve dinner
    The dinner had been billed as sirloin steak or chicken with making your choice when purchasing tickets.  We chose steak.  Pictured was the way our entrée was presented.  Our meal included a cut of roast beef, twice baked potato, asparagus and horseradish sauce.  The plate was garnished with dried parsley flakes, an often overused garnish but in this case it presented a festive note quite fitting for the occasion.  It was delicious other than the meat not being steak and a bit over cooked for our tastes.

    My gosh though there were a lot of complaints over the meat.  Like others we expected steak not roast beef.  The chef at the club house was originally put on a pedestal by the community but has slowly been working on a down turn which is unfortunate.  There were a lot of upset folks last night!  I'm sure management will be getting an earful Monday.  In all honesty, it was a good meal that had it been promoted as roast beef rather than steak there likely would have been no complaints at all.

    Dessert was tiramisu.  This is a delicious, easy to make dessert.  It consists of biscuits dipped in coffee then layered with a whipped mascarpone cheese mixture.  I have seen a lot of tiramisu presentations.  Unfortunately this one was very much lacking as far as presentation.  I was a bit disappointed especially when a chef should know presentation is a key component to any dish.  Making up for the lack of creative presentation was taste.  The tiramisu was delicious!

    Breakfast was served at 12:15 AM.  It included scrambled egges, bacon, sausage patties, and tater tots.  Quite frankly it was too heavy for us that late at night but many enjoyed it.  I can't imagine it sitting well with those who had spent the night drinking either.  I noticed too that coffee, tea or something a little lighter was not available for the late meal. 

    All in all we had a good time. Neither of us feel it was worth the pricetag if just considering the meals but the entertainment factor counted for something.  As foodies we would rate the food as average, definitely not spectacular.  But it was a different experience for us, certainly a different way for us to greet the new year.  I'm glad we went!