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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, February 28, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Nix Take-out Containers for Restaurant Doggie Bags

Frugal Kitchens 101

Restaurant portion sizes are often too large resulting in not being able to finish the full meal.  Most restaurants will package the left over food in styrofoam clamshell take-out  containers.  Compounding the problem is some restaurants put these containers into plastic bags for easy carry-out.  We try to eliminate these types of containers as much as possible in our quest to make our frugal kitchen eco-friendly.  Our recyclers won't take the containers so they end up being sent to the landfill.  The second problem with these clamshell containers is they don't seal tightly allowing foods to deteriorate quickly if not used the following day resulting in food spoilage.  Not bringing home the unfinished meal is wasteful of both food and money.  Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses how I solved the restaurant doggie bag problem.

What I have noticed is many restaurants have resorted to bringing out the container for you to put your leftover in rather than take the plate to fill the container themselves.  That sparked an idea that works quite nicely.  I carry the following with me in the car so they are handy if we decide to stop to eat where we know there will be leftovers:

  • three  plastic Rubermaid® Lock-its (1 - 5 c container, 2 - 3 c containers) - The 5 c size is perfect for holding the two halves of the huge burger we enjoy from our favourite pub.  The 3 c size is perfect for the majority of any other leftovers like spaghetti.  I carry the appropriate container into the restaurant in my purse.   Plastic is best for this purpose as well as a secured lid.  So far I have not had a problem doing this.  I think what helps is when the waitress asks if we would like a take-out container I tell them we avoiding disposable containers so brought our own container.
I don't bring containers in if eating at a buffet style restaurant or all you can eat dinner.  Generally doggie bags are not offered at either however, portion control is considerably easier as you can take only what you will eat. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How It's Made - Lettuce in January

The grocery stores are filled with an abundance of fresh produce year round.  A good portion of that produce is not locally grown but rather shipped in from other locations like Yuma, Arizona.  The reason being that in northern areas with short growing seasons and cold winters it is virtually impossible to grow certain fruits and vegetables.  Large commercial greenhouse operations have been quite popular in Southern Ontario with their numbers growing each year but even those are not enough to meet the demands of consumers.  The average food travels 1,500 miles from farmer to your table spanning five or more days in transit.  Here is a good video showing how lettuce gets to the grocery store during those cold winter months.

Bon Appétit!

Garden Gnome

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Frozen Concoction Maker

My apologies for not posting earlier today.  I suffered an injury a week ago that has kept me off my feet which is rather annoying when it comes to cooking.  I have to tell you this is when a well stocked pantry comes in handy!  So with lack of cooking blog fodder I was browsing through my photos looking for a foodie picture to blog about for today.  Here it is :)

A couple of years ago we went to Key West much to the delight of my husband who is a huge Jimmy Buffet fan.  We've seen him in concert and eaten at his restaurant, Margaritaville.  My husband has been talking ever since of getting the Margaritaville blender.  There are a couple of models available.  Our kids very generously gifted us with the Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker (Model DM0500 Series) for Christmas.  It came with one shot glass.  They also gifted us with the lemon/lime serving tray complete with cutting board and shot glass. 

This is one extremely heavy duty machine.  It is too tall when assembled to sit on the counter as it will not fit under the cabinets and it is too heavy to move around.  We have not tried the blender yet but you can bet the first drink out will be a margarita.  I can't wait for fresh local strawberries and other fruits to put this blender through the paces.  Sitting on the dock watching boats go by sipping on a lovely frozen doesn't get much better!

Friday, February 25, 2011


Come with me down a trip of memory lane.  Eons ago much to my Mom's dismay I got a job one town over for the summer.  Now Mom saw things as being my responsibility was to get straight A's and I did but I begged for this jog.  I'm not kidding, I seriously begged to work at A & W.  My first night there I met the most amazing guy with the most gorgeous smile I had ever seen,  It was love at first sight.  Neither of us were 18 (age of consent) but we were so in love!   I still love that guy I first saw with the big toothy smile that lights up his face after all these years!  Oh my gosh, what a ride it has been in over 30 years of marital bliss :)

A&W Drive In Restaurant
The A &W we met at wasn't quite as modern as this one but this is the one we go to about twice a year when going to the movies.  Back in our day we had the autowaiter so folks pulled up and gave their oder then us waitresses would take the order out to their car.  My Mom hated the whole idea but I loved it. 

At that time my two best friends for ever were guys.  It's funny but I have always been able to relate better to guys than gals.  Anyway onto the scene came the guy I really became smitten with.  Much to the dismay of his parents and my Mom we wed less than a year after meeting.

We are not fast food people but A&W holds a special place in our hearts.  Our best friends worked at A&W with us.  He was a manager and oh my gosh the trouble we put him through!  I can still remember the look on his face when my now husband had 28 patties on the grill with not a car in the lot.  True to form too my husband ate all 28 patties.  It is still a well talked about time of our lives.  Our best friends are still our best friends and you know what, sometimes somethings just don't change!

A&W Rootbeer
Gone are the days of ordering in your car via the autowaiter and food delivered to your car on a tray that clipped onto the window.  That's a pity because it is another sign of our childhood gone.  And let me tell you it was a fun time! 

If you are going to A&W the very first thing you need is their root beer served in frosty mugs.  Back in the day nicking a mug was the norm but we've grown up since then.  You can buy the glass mugs just by asking.  The current attraction A&W is offering is the oldies cruise usually on Friday nights.  This really is the place to go if you waant to see the older cars mainly from the 50's and 60's while enjoying good food.

A&W Grandpa burger
My husband's burger of choice has tamed a bit from his 28 pattie we don't know what to call it burger.  He always orders a Grandpa burger and a mocha milkshake.  Eighteen patties is is not but you know what that isn't such a bad thing given our ages.  It is still a nice looking burger with 3 patties, cheese and bacon.  Toppings include a choice of mayo, ketchup, mustard and relish. 

We really miss the old A&W with the autowaiters.  Perhaps that was part of the charm that just can't be captured sitting in the restaurant.  The food is still good with pretty much the same menu from yesteryear.  Speaking of which it has been years since I've had their fried chicken.  It was always tastier than KFC.  I'll have to remember to get the chicken the next time we visit.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Reheating Soups and Sauces Containing Sour Cream

kitchen quick tips
Soups and sauces containing sour cream will curdle if reheated in the microwave oven.  Instead, slowly and gently reheat on the stovetop to ensure they stay creamy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Italian Seasoned Bread

Quite some time ago I went from buying store bought breads to making my own as much as possible.  This helps me to avoid the preservatives and additives that I don't like as well as allows me a bit of creative freedom to make a loaf of bread you could not buy in the stores.  I make a lot of homemade breads and I am quite the tweaker.  Once you understand the principles behind bread making tweaking is not so mysterious.  One of my most tweaked bread recipes is my basic white bread that really was a fluke in the first place.

Italian seasoned bread
Years ago I had a bread-machine.  I now make all of my breads using a KitchenAid® stand mixer.  All of my tried and true bread-machine recipes have be converted to using the stand mixer.  It is amazing how much you can tweak a standard bread recipe and still come up with a great loaf of bread. 

The Italian Seasoned Bread was very much a tweak as I went loaf of bead.  The end result was anything but a plain loaf of bread.  I added lecithin which is a dough enhancer.  The results were quite favourable so I will try it with my next loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Bread.

Italian Seasoned Bread
by  Garden Gnome

1⅔ c water
1 egg
2 tbsp skim milk powder
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp sea salt
4 tbsp lecithin
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp tomato powder
4½ c unbleached flour
1½ instant dry yeast
olive oil

Mix dry ingredients in bowl of stand mixer.  Stir wet ingredients together then with mixer on setting 1 slowly pour wet ingredients into dry.  Add extra flour as needed to get the dough to clear the bowl.  Increase the speed for kneading.  Knead until dough is smooth and elastic.  Rub dough lightly with olive oil.  Place in bowl and cover with damp towel.  Allow dough to proof until doubled.  Punch down and form into a loaf shape then place in loaf pan.  Cover with damp towel and allow to double.  Bake at 400ºF until golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped with the back of a spoon.  Remove from oven.  Tip loaf onto cooling rack.  Brush crust with butter.

power sandwich made with Italian seasoned bread
A few years ago I coined the term Mom's Power Sandwich.  A power sandwich is usually served on whole grain or multi-grain homemade bread.  The filling is meant to be nutritious and healthy so the focus is on home grown preferably fresh picked and vegetables. 

I made a power sandwich using the Italian seasoned bread.  The filling consisted of leaf lettuce, sliced ham, tomatoes, onions and condiments.  The outcome was a delectable sandwich sure to please! 

Now, you just can't go wrong with a sandwich made with home made bread!  Turning the sandwich into a power sandwich is just a win win.  I can't wait for the fresh vegetables from our garden to start producing again so I can enjoy power sandwiches on a regular basis made with homemade bread.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Slow Cooker Braised Beef Ribs

In my quest to learn how to use my new slow cooker I decided to start mainly with tried and true family favourites to see how well they could be duplicated in the slow cooker.   I normally cook braised ribs in one of my pressure cookers.  Braising means to cook in liquid usually long and slow.  This method helps tenderize the meat so it is tender, juicy and falling off the bone.

slow cooker braised beef ribs
By far our most used commercial sauce is Diana Sauce®.  This is a very nice sauce available in several flavours distributed in Canada only.  I used about 3 lb of beef braising ribs, a half bottle of Diana Sauce® along with potatoes, whole mushrooms and cabbage.  I set the slow cooker to low for 7 hours. About a half hour before the finish time I stirred in about 3 oz of cornstarch slurry.

The meat was very tender and juicy with lots of flavour.  The vegetable medley was perfect as a side.  I served the meal with homemade bread and a small side salad.  This will be a meal I make again on those days I know we will be out and about wanting a nice home cooked dinner ready for us when we get home.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Portion Size

Frugal Kitchens 101

North Americans have huge portion sizes compared to their European counterparts or even the rest of the world.  What a lot of people don't realize is the North American portion sizes served in restaurants and at home are well above the serving sizes recommended by Health Canada or the USDA.  These large food portions cost not only in terms of food dollars but also in health costs.  The reality is larger food portions are not better!  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 addresses the issue of food portion sizes.

North America is certainly the land of gluttony.  We live in the land of plenty and barring any finacial problems most of us eat well more than we should.  When I look as some of the food portions I serve with respect to what Health Canada recommends, clearly our meat portions are very much larger than they should be but before I go into that detail let's look at a commercial example.  Campbell's condensed tomato soup is 284 ml.   Each serving size is 125 ml condensed or just a little over 2 servings and yet many would have no problem eating the entire can.  Aside of leafy vegetables the recommended serving size is 4 oz.  Now back to meats, the recommended serving size for meats is 4 oz or the size of a deck of cards so that 20 oz steak my husband enjoys should be feeding five not one!  The problem is in North America we are used to large and extra large portion sizes so how can we reduce portion size (aka saving on the food budget) without feeling deprived?  Meat tends to be the most expensive part of any meal so some of my tips focus on reducing meat portions.  Here's a few of my tips in no particular order:

  • take small steps - If you or a family member is used to 20 oz steaks then trust me all of a sudden giving them a 4 oz steak is not going to cut it by any stretch of the imagination.  What you can do is go with the same size steak only thinner shaving off a couple of ounces but visually it looks the same or you can go with a slightly smaller steak then continue reducing slightly until your or the family member gets used to the smaller sized portion.  You may never get a steak serving to 4 oz but each time you reduce it by even an ounce you are saving money.  If a recipe calls for 2 cups of ground beef reduce it to 1½ c.  You will get all the flavour, the ½ c won't be missed and you will save slightly on the cost of the meat.
  • drink water - Drink at least 8 oz of water before each meal.  This will naturally reduce your appetite which in turn will naturally reduce the desired portion size. 
  • always serve soup or salad and bread - When you are trying to reduce portion size always serve some type of soup or salad and bread.  Both fill you up so you won't notice smaller portion sizes and both are a lot cheaper than meat.
  • go meatless and make it fun - Going meatless can be a lot of fun while saving money.  Make it a game that involves all family members to come up with a meatless dinner. 
  • know serving sizes - Reduce side dishes to the recommended serving sizes of ½ c to 1 c depending on the side.  A serving of fruit or vegetable is 4 oz with the exception of leafy greens being 1 c.  Gradually reduce meat servings to closer to the recommended 4 oz (size of a deck of cards).  A little reduction goes a long way when it comes to food dollar savings.  Use measuring cups or a kitchen scale if necessary.
  • servingware - Use dipping cups (2 oz) for salad dressings and dips.  Use custard cups (4 oz or 6 oz) for foods like puddings, cottage cheese and applesauce.  Use 8 oz drinking glasses rather than 10 oz and use 4 oz glasses for fruit juices.  Use an ice cream scoop for mashed potatoes for a pretty but reduce portion size presentation.
  • reduce the plate size - We eat with our eyes first so if serving sizes are reduced to those recommended it may look as if the plate is half empty.  The trick here is to use a smaller plate.  A smaller plate with the recommended serving sizes looks full so it tricks the brain into thinking you are getting the same amount even though you end up eating less. 
  • cook in stocks - Cook vegetables, rices, pastas and beans in low cost meat stocks for full flavour without actually using meat.
  • read those labels - Mandatory nutritional labels on food products include the serving size.  For example one brand of potato chips specifies a serving size at 15 chips or 50 g. 
  • effectively manage left-overs - I routinely cook extra with planned meals from the left-overs in mind.  This method would not be feasible if the planned left-overs were eaten before they could be used for the next meal.  I tend to separate the planned left-overs from the main meal immediately before the meal is served.  That removes the temptation of the planned left-overs being eaten at that meal rather than being used for their intended purpose.  Freeze left-overs in individual serving sizes using muffin tins or create homemade, portion controled tv dinners.
  • borrow from the restaurants - Restaurants usually garnish just about every dish.  The reason for this is when properly executed, garnish adds not only interest giving a hint of the flavours in the dish but also makes the plate appear fuller than it is.  For example, if you notice how sandwiches are presented in a restaurant, they are usually cut on a diagonal with one half propped up on the other to show off the filling then the plate is finished off with a couple of pickle spears (¼ pieces of dill pickle) and fairly close to the recommended serving size for potato chips.  Essentially what they do is cut costs by keeping the potato chips to a portion size, reduce the pickle serving from one whole pickle to a half pickle and show off the sandwich.  The customer is happy and yet the restaurant saves a little on each sandwich served.  The same thing goes for desserts where the portion might be right in line but it would small if served plain so they drizzle a little sauce on the plate, centre the dessert and add a garnish of perhaps a couple of fresh berries or a mint leaf.  It makes for a pretty presentation but the restaurant saves money by keeping the portions controlled.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How It's Made - Large Scale Chicken Farms

Chickens have been on sale here since mid-January.  Like many I have taken advantage of the sales even though I buy a good portion of chicken from a local organic farmer.  Many folk don't realize how large scale commercial chicken farms operate.  There has been a lot of controversy over how chickens are treated in these facilities.  As this video notes the chickens are bred for certain genetic traits such a large breasts because boneless, skinless chicken breasts have become very popular.  I did find it interesting that the feed these chickens eat has been reduced by almost a quarter!  One could argue that the chickens are malnourished and the meat nutrient deficient.  It is quite apparent when comparing the living conditions of these chickens that overcrowding is an issue as well especially when compared to free range chickens.  They do however, strive to combat the spread of pathogens that could spell disaster for the entire chicken farm.   This video explains how a commercial chicken farm operates.  Most large scale chicken growers raise using this method although there may be very slight variations.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bacon Mushroom Omelet

Like many home cooks I always find myself with leftover bits and pieces of various foods.  Quite of there may be only a couple of ounces and at best a half of cup but these tid bits down get tossed.  I freeze some of these leftovers if possible for later use.  Others sit in the fridge so I can work them into a soup, stew or other dish within a day or two.

mushroom bacon omelet
Sunday morning I found myself wanting a hot breakfast.  It was too cold to get dressed to go out for breakfast and besides both of us were tired from entertaining the night before.  At the same time I wanted with a bit less muss and fuss of making bacon, eggs, hash-browns and toast.  Looking in the fridge I spotted a half of onion, 4 fresh whole mushrooms and the eggs.  I took about 3 tbsp of pre-cooked bacon pieces from the freezer.  I cook these ahead of time so always have some in the freezer.   With that I had the makings of an omelet.

My omelets always start with briskly whisked eggs poured into a medium hot pan.  I cook undisturbed until the top starts to set.  Then I add whatever fillings I want.  In this case I added sautéed mushroom slices, onion and bacon pieces.  I cover for 2 minutes to set then carefully pull one half of the omelet up and over to form a wedge shape.  I cover and let cook another 2 to 3 minutes until the centre is fully set.  This omelet was topped with shredded Monterey  Jack and cheddar cheese added after the centre was set.  I removed the pan from the heat and covered to allow the cheese to melt.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Superbowl Party Foods

We host a Superbowl Party each year and this year was no exception.  Unfortunately this time of year the weather can be a bit unpredictable so while we were expecting about thirty we ended up with about half that.  It really was a rather nasty day and evening with a fair amount of snow and drifting.  The party usually starts about 11:30 AM and runs into the wee hours of the morning depending on weather conditions.  It is not uncommon to have a few overnight guests as well.  This means I have to plan for afternoon and evening snacking as well as dinner.  The offerings included: pigs in a blanket, sausage rolls, nachos with salsa and cheese, chili with toppings and dinner rolls, mac & cheese (my husband's insistence), vegetable tray with sesame garlic dip, potato chips, pretzels and peanuts.   I had decided on what I was serving earlier that week so it didn't take much to pull things together.   One of our guests brought meatballs and venison sausage.  There was a lot of food and I had back-ups to bring out if necessary.

superbowl chili
I made the chili the day before the party.  Now this is my famous from scratch chili and I do mean from scratch.   I use home canned tomatoes, home canned tomato sauce and home canned kidney and black beans.  Sometimes I use the beans from dry after being soaked overnight.  It is a long, slow cook chili that takes several hours then is always left overnight to allow the flavours to develop. 

We were expecting about thirty.  I found that my largest stock pot was taking a bit too much attention while the chili slowly simmered.  We devised plan B by pouring the chili into two roasting pans and letting them reduced enough so that the chili would fit in the largest roasting pan.  This roaster will easily hold a 24 lb turkey.  As you can see it was quite full!  I put some of the chili into the slow cooker to warm the next day

my husband's superbowl mac and cheese
During our recent trip to our vacation house we enjoyed a multitude of some of the best BBQ ever.  My husband loves anything with cheese!  One of his favourite sides during our BBQ adventures was a mac & cheese with a smokey flavour.  He set about duplicating the dish.  I will tell you his recipe is not for the faint of heart but it was ever so tasty!  He made a large batch that went in a flash with only about a cup left over that I scooped out for his lunch the next day.

Superbowl Smokey Mac & Cheese
source:  Mr. Garden Gnome aka my dear husband

1 - 900 g package elbow macaroni
1½ c mozzarella cheese
¾ large spanish onion, chopped
1 lb Velveeta cheese
1 lb Monterray jack/cheddar cheese mix
½ lb cheddar cheese
¼ lb butter
3 tbsp cottage cheese
4 tbsp sour cream
3-4 drops liquid smoke

Shred cheeses.  Finely chop onion.  Cook and drain elbow macaroni according to instructions on package.   Pour hot macaroni into roasting pan.  Stir in remaining cheeses and liquid smoke.  Stir well to mix.  Let cool and refrigerate until the next day.  Place the roasting pan in the oven at 250ºF about a 1½ hrs before serving.  Heat through until golden brown on top and cheese is melted.

Serves 20 - 25

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Cooling Stocks for Defatting

kitchen quick tips
Meat stocks are best prepared with the fat for flavour then defatted for freezing or canning.  Strain the stock to remove solids.  Allow to come to room temperature then place the stock pot in in the sink on a bed of ice.  Surround the stock pot with ice.  Once cooled, peel off the layer of fat.  Strain again then proceed with canning or freezing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chicken Marinara

It interesting that a few years ago during the H1N1 outbreak, the sale meat was pork.  By about this time then I was scrambling to find all the pork recipes I could.  This year it seems like deja vu except the meat is chicken.  There have been some rather good sales recently so we have been taking advantage of them but in moderation as we need to use up a fair amount in our freezers in order to be ready for out half of cow this year.

chicken marinara in the slow cooker
After the disappointing slow cooker whole chicken I decided to try cooking a whole chicken in the slow cooker using the remaining fresh whole chicken.  I placed the chicken in the slow cooker with 8 oz of fresh whole mushrooms and four 1 - inch thick cabbage wedges.  Then I poured a 1 - L jar home canned marinara sauce over the chicken and set the slow cooker to high for 4 hours.

We were running a bit late that night so the slow cooker automatically switched to the warm setting.  This is a nice feature that keeps the dish hot but not to the point of it being over cooked.   The house smelled wonderful when we walked in the door to an almost fully cooked meal!  I'm starting to like this slow cooker.

chicken marinara
Oh my!  This was a delightful meal that was ever so easy to make and on the frugal side.  I served the chicken marinara with a bit of the sauce ladled over the chicken.  Sides were sweet peas, buttered egg noodles and the mushroom cabbage mixture.  The chicken was melt in your mouth tender with a lot of flavour.  The marinara sauce gave a nice flavour not only to the chicken but also the mushrooms and cabbage.  Cabbage is one low cost, nutritious vegetable I have been trying to work more of into our meals.   I didn't thicken the sauce although it could easily have been thickened with a little corn starch slurry.  

What struck me about this meal was in it's simplicity there was an abundance of beautiful, bright flavours.  We ate half of the chicken for dinner with the other half leftover for the following day's lunch and popped the remainder into a quick homemade soup.  This will be one meal I will be duplicating again! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Slow Cooker Whole Chicken

I posted about the whole chicken sale that Walmart (Canada) was running.  They had whole chickens regardless of the size packaged into two on sale for $10.  That has been the best price I've seen for whole chickens in a few years!  We took advantage of the sale buying two the first trip then four the second trip.  As a bit of an aside, Walmart has been running these packaged lot sales since the new year.  Two weeks ago it was the whole chickens.  Last week it was 3 strip loin steaks and this week it is chicken legs with backs attached.  Again the price is based on number not weight so is a rather good deal.

whole chickens on sale
As mentioned we bought four the second trip.  They were quite nice looking chickens.  As per my normal with respect to sales of this type, half were put-up for later use.  In this case I froze two of the chickens.  I really should have canned them and used the bones to make stock.  However I had just canned up 42 - 500 ml jars of beef, chicken and turkey stocks so decided to freeze the chickens whole in the hopes of making beer can chicken or cooking them on the outdoor grill rotisserie.  That left me with two whole chickens for fresh cooking.  Given the events of the week I decided to test out my slow cooker rather than cut the chickens into pieces

slow cooker whole chicken
If you recall I have a new slow cooker that I am learning to use.  Despite all the cooking that I do and the fact I have three slow cookers, the slow cookers remain my least used small kitchen appliance.  I find I can get better results with my countertop roaster and pressure cookers.  So I'm off on an adventure. 

I did a quick search for a recipe to cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker and settled on Kathy's Delicious Whole Slow Cooker Recipe from  I served the chicken with buttered egg noodles.

The chicken cooked nicely and looked gorgeous in the slow cooker.  The chicken was nicely browned, tender and juicy so I was please with that result.  The problem was the flavour.  It was sadly lacking!  I was a bit disappointed to say the least but this goes to show that not every recipe is a keeper.  This will be a recipe I will work on tweaking but as it stands there just isn't enough flavour as the recipe is written.  I am rather please with the results I can get cooking a whole chicken in the slow cooker though!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Kitchen Journal

Frugal Kitchens 101

Like many cooks and chefs, I keep a kitchen journal.  A kitchen journal is essential for testing and tweaking recipes especially those you create yourself so that you can duplicate the recipe at a later date.  I have a very strong scientific background with advanced degrees so my kitchen journal is set up very much lab manual style.  In many ways this make a lot of sense when it comes to setting up a kitchen journal because the kitchen really is a lab.  The important thing to keep in mind is the kitchen journal can help you save money as well.  It's where you try, test, experiment and correct.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses how I set up my kitchen journal.

  • the book - I prefer an A91 lab manual which is a bound book available through any university bookstore.  You can also use a composition bound notebook available through most department and dollar stores.  The important thing is the book you use should be bound and not loose leaf (eg. binder) to prevent pages from going missing.  
  • the format - Each time I start a new kitchen journal I write the title and start date on the front along with my name.  The first two full pages are labeled i, ii, iii, and iv.  These are for the index that will help easily locate entries later.  All pages after that are numbered.  This takes a few minutes to set up but again helps the organization in the long run.  All entries are dated with the entry added to the index.
  • journalling - All journalling is done in blue ink pen with the exception of tweaking that sometimes is entered in the margin in pencil but most often done in green ink pen.  All dates are underlined in red.  If there is something about the recipe itself or instructions that is important I highlight it with a yellow highlighter marker.
  • data recorded - I record the recipe and method.  If the recipe is regular cooking I record: source, prep time, cook time, cook temperatures, comments, any problems, tweaks, and cost per serving.  If the recipe is a canning recipe I record the recipe, source, canning method, pH of the product, pressure, processing time, cost per ml and anything else that will help me develop the recipe further.  I also record weather conditions for some recipes something that is important when making candy.  I'm a bit of a stickler too as far as adding additional comments with dates when I make that recipe again.
  • loose papers - Like many home cooks I come across recipes online that I print off to try.  I also test recipes for a couple of magazines which require printing off and carefully recording notes.  Loose papers are securely attached in my kitchen journal using scotch tape.  I write any comments and notations directly on the sheets.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How It's Made - The Mushroom Farm

I've mentioned going to the mushroom farm several times on this blog.  There are three mushroom farms within driving distance of us.  The one I like going to is a rather nondescript building, very much industrial in appearance.  While they have a sign there is no indication that they sell to the public and they don't advertise that they sell to the public.  I've been going there for mushrooms since I was a newlywed.  I found out about this particular mushroom farm the same way everyone else finds out about it, via word of mouth.

When I go to the mushroom farm I go in a regular door that leads to the actual mushroom farm.  There is a mustiness that is hard to describe and it is always cool even in the high heat of summer.  Workers can be seen sorting the mushrooms from large trays into 5 lb boxes.  To the left is a very small office.  I ask the receptionist there for the grade and number of boxes I want then pay for them.  A worker goes and gets my boxes that I carefully stack in my car then I'm off to home ready to can, freeze and enjoy mushrooms fresh.

Mushrooms are grown on farms but very different farms than other produce.  The reason being is mushrooms are grown in the dark and they are grown year round.  I found this video on YouTube showing how mushrooms are grown.  It's a bit longer but well worth watching.  I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Smoking - A New Culinary Adventure for 2011

smoked turkey drumsticks
Smoked Turkey Drumsticks
(St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida)
December 20, 2010

I've spent a bit of time since our winter vacation going through all 1,780 pictures I took while away.  A large number were of course of foods we enjoyed while away.  It didn't take long for a general them to emerge either.  It would appear we focused on BBQ - long, slow, wood smoked BBQ.  It wasn't planned, it just happened that way.  We enjoyed some of the best Q!

BBQ seemed to be available just about everywhere we went.  What was interesting is take-out BBQ was available at venues like Busch Gardens and St. Pete Times Forum.  Pictured are the smoked turkey drumsticks at Boneyard BBQ Company in the St. Pete Times Forum.  They were priced at $8.50 the same price as their BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.  Oh my, did they ever look gorgeous!  We didn't have any because we had eaten at The Luxury Box just across from the Forum.

I have been wanting a smoker for quite some time but after this vacation, I now know I need a smoker!  So I've been doing a bit of research.  I found plans on how to convert an old refrigerator into a smoker similar to what Michael Smith uses.  I found smokers that attach to grills, smokers that stand alone, an electric pressure smoker and several plans for building my own.  I even found a way to smoke meat on the stovetop that I might try just to see how it works.  Smokers tend to be fueled by wood, gas (natural or propane), electricity.  What I want is a wood smoker that uses only wood.  It is supposed to be the best way to smoke meats and fish.  The Ontario Government has annouced that our hydro bills will increase 7.9% annually over the next 5 years so an electric smoker is out of the question.  I'm not sure what style I want yet as to whether movable or stationary.  I'm getting a lot of good ideas from Smoking Meat so I will have a good knowledge base when I get or build my

Friday, February 11, 2011

Roasted Chicken (Whole Chicken Sale)

A few years ago when the threat of swine flu (renamed H1N1) was at it's peak and misinformation ran amuck, many Canadian pig farmers gave up raising pigs.  This resulted in the price of pork products plummeting.  Concerned consumers misinformed that they could contract the flu via eating pork hastily switched to other meats causing their prices to rise considerable.  Pork roasts were going for as low as 99¢ per lb but chicken pieces with backs attached that normally went on sale for 49¢ per lb increased to a new low price of 69¢ with the sales becoming less frequent.  It has been virtually impossible to get whole chickens here for a decent price for a couple of years now.   Of course, whole chickens are what I've been trying to find on sale for grilling.  Finally, I found whole chickens at a stock up price.

whole chicken sale
The local Wal*marts (Canada) are currently running a sale of two whole chickens for $10.  The surprising part is regardless of the size of the prepackaged two pack the price is $10.  This means a frugal shopper will search through the packages to find the heaviest weight ones.  My husband picked up a 3.46 kg package.   The chickens are packaged on a foam tray wrapped with plastic (not my favourite packaging).  They have been cleaned so no necks or giblets but they are trussed with twine for easy roasting.

A nice sized whole chicken will make two to four dinners.  At the sale price that ends up being between $1.25 and $2.50 for the meat portion of the meal.  I can stretch it a bit further if I make soup or stew.  In addition to that depending on what I make, the carcass can be used to make chicken stock furthering the savings.  In comparison to other meats it is still a rather good deal.

roasted chicken
I put one of the chickens in the freezer and roasted the other.  I roast chicken very much the same way I roast a turkey, low and slow then increasing the temperature towards the end for browning.  I usually stuff the birds.  That is I make stuffing (in the bird) rather than dressing (outside the bird).  Stuffing is an excellent substitution for bread or rolls for the meal.  My stuffing is about as simple as you can get, exactly the way my Mom made it.  I use day old bread, chopped onion, poultry seasoning, sea salt, fresh ground pepper and butter.  Then I stuff the bird in both cavities (breast, neck) as full as I can get it.  After roasting I remove the bird from the oven and scoop out the stuffing into a serving bowl.  I use the pan drippings to make gravy.

roasted chicken dinner
Roasted chicken is not a meal that needs to be restricted to weekends only.  It is quite easy to make during the week as well.  It's even easier if you keep the sides simple like baked potatoes that can be cooked during the last 45 minutes of the chicken roasting time.  I served the chicken with baked potatoes, home frozen niblet corn and freezer pickles.  This really is a comfort meal during the winter months.

My husband is going to pick up a couple more packages of the chickens before the sale ends.  So far this year the sales seem to be focusing on chicken so perhaps that will be the bargin meat of 2011.  All food sales are cyclic and they are usually triggered by external forces.  It will be interesting to see if the chicken sales continue.  Chicken will be a nice change from pork that has held the cheap meat crown for the last couple of years.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Crusty Breads

kitchen quick tips

Store crusty bread cut-side down on the countertop for up to 24 hours.  For longer storage, wrap in aluminum foil and seal in a freezer bag then freeze.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

My Homemade Tortilla and Taco Shells

Here is currently snow covered Ontario I would not think twice about making dough for fresh baked bread for dinner.  In the southern US most would not think twice about whipping up a batch of homemade bisquits or corn bread for dinner.  The same applies to Mexican cuisine where taco shells and tortillas take the place of bisquits, corn bread or yeast bread.  I showed a short video of how to make homemade taco shells a few days ago. 

Rather than use store bought tortillas for wraps or pre-made taco shells I used the tortilla press to make both.  I did not do this because store bought tortillas and taco shells are expensive.  While I did end up saving on making both with 8 taco shells costing about 30¢ verses 12 store bought for $1.99 and 8 tortillas about the same verses store bought at $1.79 for 10, the primary goal of this exercise was not saving money, it was all about discovery and experimenting in the kitchen! 

using the tortilla press
Using the tortilla press was not difficult at all.  I ended up using two methods.  The first method involved using plastic wrap to sandwich the dough between for the taco shells.  The second method (pictured) used flour on the tortilla press.

To use a tortilla press you break off a piece of the dough, form it into a ball then press between your palms to flatten a bit.  Place the flattened ball in the centre of the tortilla press then close the top portion over the dough.  Pull the handle up over the top portion using enough pressure to flatten the dough.  The flattened, shaped dough is now ready for cooking on a hot griddle.

homemade tortillas
I followed the recipe that was included with my tortilla press.  The recipes was fairly straight forward but the results were not.  The tortillas were thicker than I would have like and it didn't matter how I adjusted the press the tortillas thickened up when cooking.  Now all is not lost because the tortillas I made are very similar to Greek style pocketless pitas so serendipity has given me another homemade product to do a bit of tweaking.  If I did them a bit thicker they would be just like the thin breads (Fill'ems) I was telling you about.  This really is what cooking is all about!  The recipe didn't work as I was expecting but I ended up with a result that works for another purpose.  I will be testing out more tortilla recipes in the very near future.

Homemade Tortillas

2 c all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp lard
¼ to ½c lukewarm water

Combine dry ingredients then mix in lard by hand.  Add lukewarm water to form dough into a ball.  Rub the dough with a little lard.  Cover with plastic wrap and rest for 30 minutes.  Pinch off balls of dough and shape into balls.  Dust the tortilla press with flour.  Place a dough ball in the centre and close press.  Press down the handle.  Remove the formed dough and cook on a hot griddle (450ºF) until just browning.  Turn over and repeat.  Remove from griddle.  Keep warm for serving or allow to cool for later use.

homemade taco shells
Making taco shells is a two step process using two cooking methods.  First the dough is formed into tortillas using a tortilla press and cooked briefly at 450ºF for 20 to 30 seconds on each side.  Next the cooked tortillas are allowed to dry then then are fried forming their shape with whatever kitchen utensil gets the job done to create the desired shape.  In the video the taco shells were fried in a pan on the stovetop first on one side then turned using spatulas to create the shape while frying.

Homemade taco shells are nothing like store bought other than shape.  Oh my the flavour is incredible!     Mine were a bit rough around the edges but considering this was my first attempt, I was rather pleased.  I used instant corn masa bought as a foodie find while at our vacation home in the fall.  This is made with 100% premium white corn.  te the shape while frying.  I decided to modify this to use my deep fryer and tongs making the whole process a bit easier and streamlined.  This method worked quite nicely.  Unlike store bought taco shells homemade ones puff a bit when frying.  I wasn't put off by this though as this just adds to the crunch.

Taco Shells

1 c harina de maiz (instant corn masa)
¾ c water

Mix together to form a smooth ball.  Divide the ball into 8 equal sized pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball then flatten between your palms.  Place on a piece of plastic wrap on a tortilla press.  Place another piece of plastic wrap on top.  Close the tortilla press and press down with firm pressure.  Remove from press and peel off the plastic wrap.  Cook on hot grill at 450ºF for 20 to 30 seconds then turn and cook for another 20 to 30 seconds.  Cover and keep warm for serving.  If making taco shells:  Allow the cooked corn tortillas to dry then fry while shaping.

Clearly I need to do a bit more practicing to get both the tortillas and taco shells looking closer to what I want but this really was a valuable learning experience for me.  First off a flub turned into another product that certainly will not go to waste.  It planted the seed as to how to make those new thin sandwich breads.  Homemade came in at 3¢ a piece for both taco shells and tortillas.  In perspective a family of 4 using 12  of either for one meal could save $1.56 on that meal which doesn't sound like a lot of money but consider if they had tacos twice a month for the year the overall savings would be $37.44, enough to make a difference.  The most important thing though is the whole experience has sparked the desire to explore a bit more to see how I can tweak the recipes and methods to get exactly what I want.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Seafood Breader Mix (Foodie Find)

We eat a lot of local fish (bass, perch and pickerel) as well as non-local fish (cod, haddock).  My husband is always picking up fish coating to try in addition to our homemade fish coating.  As a result we have been able to tweak our homemade fish coating to give a couple of different results.  We have also discovered a lot of nice fish coating mixes in the process.

seafood breader mix
One of our foodie finds from Bravo in Florida was Dixie Lily Seafood Breader Mix.  This coating can be used dry as a breading or mixed with water to form a batter for fish, seafood, and vegetables.  The 24 oz bag cost $3.19 which is rather inexpensive as fish coating goes although it is still more expensive than homemade fish coating.

The main ingredients in any fish coating is flour, yellow corn meal or yellow corn flour, and seasonings.  Other ingredients such as powdered eggs, corn starch, baking soda, sugar and preservatives may also be added.  Fish coating really is a mix that can be made at home with simple then tweaked to get the desired results.  You can even make up a couple of different versions.  It will keep nicely in the pantry.

cod fillets with seafood breader mix
Cod is one of our favourite fish usually enjoyed deep or pan fried.  This is such a nice thick yet tender and flakey fish.  When we have cod in a restaurant we usually order it English style (beer battered) or broiled with orange sauce.  We tried the seafood breader mix on pan fried  Atlantic cod loins.  I served the fish with fresh cut French fries

The mix performed nicely giving a gorgeous golden coating without being too heavy or overpowering.  It was light yet tasty.  This would be a nice mix to create a clone recipe for.  I had best get doing a bit of tinkering in the kitchen!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Estimating Number of Jars of Home Canned Foods for Pantry

Frugal Kitchens 101

Canning is a year round activity here.  Quite frankly I will can whatever I can if it is available.  In reality canning really is comprised of two seasons here.  From May through October is my busy canning season as I process produce as it is in season and in quantities large enough to get us through to the next season.  November through April is my slow canning season.  This time is used to can foods that essentially can be canned year round (eg. soups, stews, meats, stocks, beans and some jellies).  While there is a lot of planning to be sure I have the necessary supplies on hand (eg. jars, lids, pectin, ClearJel, etc) especially for the busy well before the season starts I already have a list of the number of jars that I need of each product I intend to can.  In this week's Frugal Kitchens 101 I discuss how I go about planning the number of jars I need to keep my pantry well stocked.

I process between 1,000 and 1,400 jars of home canned foods each year.  Of that some of those jars are given to our kids and friends.  Note that this is the quantity canned each year not the number of filled jars I have in the pantry at any given time although it can get that high especially towards the end of the busy canning season.  Jars are cleaned then refilled on an ongoing basis.   Here's how I do my planning for the busy canning season:

  • inventory - I do a complete pantry inventory in early April each year.  This gives me a good idea as to what my remaining stock is on certain products especially the tomato based ones.  It also uncovers any product like stock or beans that I'm running low on and will need during the summer but would rather can outside of the busy canning season.  I create a list of needed home canned products for the pantry which I divide into two groups - must can now and can wait until slow canning season.  The reason being is unless I have to can a product that could wait until the slow canning season like stock then I will hold off in order to focus my attention to the in season produce.
  • the books - I scan through all of my canning books in early April as well making a list of a few different  products I would like to try.  All of these will be small batch canning worked around the bulk of the other canning.
  • the list - The final list is comprised of products needed from the inventory (both groups) and those new products I want to try.
  • focus on what's in season - From May through October I follow what is in season locally and in my garden focusing on what produce I will need for canning.  For example, May I focus on asparagus and rhubarb while June is strawberry month, September is tomato month and so on.  Of course there is an abundance of other produce that ends up being canned as well and they each have their own seasons overlapping the main ones. 
Now that I'm prepared it's time to figure out how many jars of each product to make.  This really is not as difficult as it sounds.  Here's what I do:
  • small batch new products - My rule of thumb if 4 jars as a test batch.  If the product is a jam or jelly then I usually use 250 ml jars.  If it is a new sauce I use 500 ml jars.  
  • tried and true products - This includes products like salsas, vegetable based soups, tomato sauces, vegetables and etc.  My calculation is [#of jars per week X 52] + 24 for each product I make if using 500 ml jars.  The additional 24 jars is to take into account extras for entertaining and gift giving.   For example, on average we go through 2 jars of roasted tomato sauce per week.  That works out to:

    [2 X 52] + 24 = 128 (500 ml jars)

    If I'm calculating for a product that we don't use as much of like a condiment then I usually plan on using a jar per month so the total needed is 12 jars (125 or 250 ml) or for something like dill pickles I reduce that down by half the number of jars but packed in 1 L jars.
The slower canning season is a bit more sporadic and relaxed with canning products as the ingredients become available.  I try to keep anywhere from 12 to 15 cases (144 to 180 jars) of empty jars on hand at any given time.  As we use filled jars from the pantry they are cleaned then put back into their cases ready to be called into action when the opportunity presents itself.  From time to time I have to buy a box of jars to replace jars that are temporarily at our kids, friends or vacation home but both Canadian Tire and Home Hardware carry canning jars year round so that is never a problem.

I don't do a lot of actual planning as to total number of jars needed for any product I can during the slow canning season.  This tends to be canning necessary to keep the pantry well stocked with products that can be canned year round.  If the product is low acid (eg. beans, soups, etc) I aim for 16 - 500 ml or 7 - L jars so I can run a full canner load.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

How It's Made - Frozen Fish Sticks

Fish is a delicate meat that quickly spoils after being caught.  For that reason hobby anglers and commercial fisheries know the sooner the fish is cleaned and frozen for longer term storage the better.  Commercial fishermen clean the fish aboard the ship then it is rapidly frozen.   Depending on the variety it may be minced and rapidly frozen into large blocks that will later be cut at the processing plant into logs and finally sticks.  Other fish is rapidly frozen as fillets on the fishing vessel. 

Frozen fish sticks are the fish of choice for many families.  They come conveniently packaged,  breaded and ready to pop into the microwave  or oven for a quick meal.  Most kids like fish sticks so moms tend to buy them.  Have you ever wondered how fish sticks were made?  Here's a video that shows the process.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A Simple Tuna Sandwich Using Fill'ems

A good portion of the breads we eat at home are homemade but that doesn't stop me from checking out what is new in the bread aisle.  Sometimes I even buy a new item just to see how it is supposed to taste and create a recipe clone if we like it.  About six months ago I noticed a new flat bread that was available in burger bun size except much thinner.  When I was shopping for our Christmas celebration I bought a package of 100% whole wheat Fill'ems that are elongated.

tuna sandwich using fillems
This bread choice is thicker than Greek pita but thinner than regular bread slices or buns.  It is available now in round and oblong shapes meant to replace hamburg and hot dog buns.  They come in a variety of flavours as well.  Each piece will make one sandwich but at about half the calories of 2 slices of bread.

The nice thing about this bread is the versatility.  I wasn't impressed with the price tag though at $3.50 for a 16 count package (22¢ per sandwich) verses $1.69 for a loaf of 24 slice bread (14¢ per sandwich).  I used the bread to make basic tuna sandwiches.  What I really did not like was the flavour.  This bread was sweet beyond belief!  I'm sure other flavours are not as sweet but whole wheat bread should only have a hint of sweetness that accents but not distracts from other ingredients in the sandwich.  That was a definite con for this bread.

While this may be the newest range in commercial bread offerings, I'm quickly formulating a way to make this bread at home.  I will start with a Greek pita recipe then work with that to get the shapes I want.  In perspective any yeast bread dough can be used as really this is only a shaping issue.  In fact you can even cut yeast bread dough with cookie cutters for a unique shape and I have two Pampered Chef shaped bread loaf pans.  So the possibilities really are endless when it comes to homemade breads!

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Stock Making Week

We arrived home from our vacation home to realize my stock supply with the exception of tomato stock that I guard like gold was at rock bottom.  I had to scrounge through the freezer to find enough chicken stock for the comfort meal I wanted to make!  There are two reasons why my stock supply was low.  First our house has been on the market since March of 2010 meaning I've been reducing canning where I can to allow the house to be shown more often.  Second, I took a total of a case down to our vacation home over the last two trips.  I'm used to cooking with my home canned stocks so wanted a taste of home there as well.

beef and chicken stocks
I had no choice but to get busy making stocks.  Stock making is always a two day event here.  I prefer making stocks in the dead cold of winter because the stock can sit in the sunporch over night for defatting rather than take up refrigerator space.  First on the agenda was beef stock (far left) with a yield of 12 - 500 ml jars.  Next on the agenda was chicken stock (right) with a yield of 14 - 400 ml jars.  Within 4 days total but nowhere near that time length in work 26 - 500 ml jars were stored safely in my pantry.

That very weekend we were having our belated Christmas celebrations complete with a 22 lb turkey.  I knew I would be canning turkey stock the start of the week.  There is absolutely no reason to let a perfectly good turkey carcass go to waste!

turkey stock
My turkey stock is never nice and clear even if I strain it.  One reason for this is the turkey carcass has bits and pieces of meat and stuffing which affects the clarity of the stock.  I always make stuffing (in the bird) rather than dressing (outside the bird).  Another reason is the turkey carcass has a higher percentage of collagen that causes gelatin to be released so the stock gels somewhat that gives a cloudy appearance when cooled.  My yield for the turkey stock was 16 - 500 ml jars.

As far as cost effectiveness goes, homemade stock is always a frugal choice.  I ended up with 42 - 500 ml jars that if bought in the grocery store at $1.49 each would have cost me $62.48.  My costs for 3 batches cooking for 3 hours each (total time 9 hours),  processing time at 20 minutes each (total time of 1 hour),  24 metal snap 2 - piece lids (18 were Tattler reusable lids) and miscellaneous supporting ingredients (onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, bay leaves, and etc) came out to a total of $3.40 for a grand savings of $59.08.  Now the beauty of making homemade stocks aside of the huge cost saving is you can freeze them if you don't want to can them.  I can mine because it is then ready to use so more of a convenience product.  I use a lot of stock in everything from soups and stews to bread and muffins!

If you notice on each batch of stock I have used the Tattler reusable lids for some of the jars.  At the moment I have 2 dozen vintage glass inserts,  6 dozen Tattlers and about 70 dozen metal snap lids.  I am reusing my Tattler lids as soon as I empty enough jars to get another canner load.  I plan to buy several more dozen Tattler lids this spring in preparation for the busy canning season.  Eliminating the single use metal lids will reduce my canning costs by 8¢ to 12¢ per jar.  At an average of 1,2,00 to 1,400 jars per year that alone will be a nice savings!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Taming the Heat in Hot Peppers

kitchen quick tips

Most of the heat from capsaicin in hot peppers is found in the seeds and ribs.  Remove both to reduce the heat of a hot pepper.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Our Christmas Dinner 2011

We spent this past holiday season at our vacation home in the sunny south.  It was a very different Christmas not being surrounded by family and friends.  We have only been away from our home on Christmas day on one other occasion when we took the kids south one year.  It was hard then and it was hard for use to be away this past year.  Prior to leaving we knew a couple of our kids would join us for the holidays but we had arranged to have our big Christmas celebration on January 22, 2011. 

our Christmas dinner
My husband and I were up bright and early full of anticipation.  We sipped on our coffee while getting the turkey ready for the oven.  Then we moved on to making the many appetizers we would enjoy throughout the afternoon (eg. kibbeh, crabmeat dip, hummus, crudites, and etc.) First to arrive were parents of oldest and youngest grandkids.  The kids were extremely excited to see us so there were a lot of hugs and kisses.  Next to arrive were parents of middle grandkid who was excited to see Grandma and Papa as well as cousins.  It is so cute to see these three little ones interact!  We chit chatted enjoying an abundance of snacks while waiting for one of our kids with significant other to arrive for the magic present opening time.  We were all saddened a bit that one of our kids with spouse could not make it.  We had stopped by their place to stay a couple of days before returning home so brough well wishes for the sibs home with us.

I kept the dinner quite traditional this year.  We had turkey with stuffing (not dressing, stuffing), gravy, peas, corn, and home canned cranberry sauce.  I put out freezer pickles and pickled beets in Depression glass pickle dishes.  We had fully planned on making Swedish potatoes, a family favourite but we were enjoying simply being with the family so much that my husband decided to put potatoes in to bake during the last hour of the turkey roasting.  We brought down the large fold-up table to adjoin the dining table so we could all sit together.  In total there were 12 of us.   It was a wonderful dinner filled will lots of laughter and good memories!  That is what it's all about :)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


One thing I've learned over the decades of entertaining is to listen to our guests especially the little chit chat that goes on during entertaining.  A few years ago I started hearing little tid bits about vegetarian dishes.  At one time I think all of our guests were omnivores but over time some have for whatever reason given up meat entirely or stopped eating one type of meat.  Others have developed a food insensitivity.  As an hostess in tuned to the needs of her guests I try to offer a variety of dishes that all can enjoy.

Most of my dip recipes are mayonnaise and sour cream or yogurt based.  I wanted a vegetarian dip to add to my offerings for those who want a dip other than dairy based.  Hummus is a vegetarian type dip made from chickpeas that satisfies what I was looking for.  It is a versatile dip that can be used with breads, crackers and raw vegetables as well as a spread on sandwiches. 

I served the hummus with whole wheat sandwich thins that had been cut into 1 - inch wide strips.  This is a new style of sandwich bread that is quite similar to Greek style pita bread only oblong in shape.  The hummus went over well.  Even the grandkids were eating it!

By Garden Gnome

2 garlic cloves, minced and then mashed
16 oz cooked chickpeas
⅓ c tahini
1 tbsp  freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ c water
1/8 c olive oil
pinch of sea salt
toasted pine nuts and parsley (optional for garnish)

Combine all ingredients in food processor.  Process until smooth   Smooth into dipping bowl.  Garnish if desired. Serve with pita bread or raw vegetables.