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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!

Popular Posts

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Coconut Shrimp

Years ago at an alumni event I discovered coconut shrimp.  I was hooked on the first bite!  Oh my gosh they are so good.  So I decided to make them at home.  The trick to making coconut shrimp is two fold.  First you need large 16 to 20 count per pound uncooked shrimp peeled with tails attached.  The second tip is you panko bread crumbs, a crunchy Japanese style of bread crumbs.

coconut shrimp
Shrimp goes on sale here from time to time.  I usually buy larger shrimp either pre-cooked or uncooked.   Both may need peeling before using in dishes or serving.  My husband and I fried the coconut shrimp to a golden brown.  We served them with home canned plum sauce

I created my own recipe for making coconut shrimp.  It is really easy.  Just mix equal amounts of panko bread crumbs with flaked coconut.   Place about a cup of flour in a separate bowl then in another bowl whisk two eggs.  Dredge the prepared shrimp in the eggs then the flour then eggs and finally pat good with the bread crumb and coconut mixture.  Fry on medium high in peanut oil in about a half inch of oil.  Deep frying is an option but I didn't want to change out the oil for peanut oil, an oil I feel performs the best for coconut shrimp.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Irish Fries

French fries are the ultimate pub grub food.  They are served as a side for a variety of pub grub foods like burgers or fish as well as appetizers and starters like chili cheese fries, ugly fries and poutine.  The best tasting and most economical fries are fresh hand cut fries which is the only kind we make at home.  Frozen fries are available in a wide range of cuts: crinkle, thick, thin, wedge, buffalo, chunk and more.   Many restaurants resort to using frozen fries out of convenience. 

Irish fries
We enjoy going to Murphy Inn Restaurant in St. Clair, Michigan during the summer months.  Quite often we go by boat.  The past couple of weeks we have introduced Murphy's to some our our friends.  A couple of weeks ago we enjoyed the pizza special on Monday nights with good friends.  We repeated that again last week.  Our group ordered a variety of appetizers.   One of the appetizers was Irish Fries

The Irish Fries were thin cut French fries topped with cheese sauce, green onions, bacon and sour cream on the side.  They were a gooey, delicious delight!  These will be something I will be making at home but using hand cut fries and fresh made cheddar cheese sauce.  The sauce they used was likely canned similar to what the cheese sauce is for nachos.  I'm not fond of cheese products like cheese sauces or spreads.  While I do use them on occasion, if I can substitute with a fresh made cheese sauce or spread, all the better. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Cooking Dried Beans

kitchen quick tips

When cooking dried beans save time by using the quick soak method.  Save more time by cooking extra to be used through the following week or freeze the extra for later use.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lemon Bean Cake

We have been to the dietician to help get us on track for my husband's impaired glucose tolerance (pre-diabetic).  Our diet in comparison to most is quite healthy because of cooking from scratch, home canning and avoiding things like HFCS, excess salt, artificial additives and preservatives.  The dietician was quite impressed since this makes her job a bit easier as we are both open to any recommended dietary modification.  There is a wealth of information there including recipe booklets.  I've been working on getting more beans into our diet so I picked up The Supreme Bean by the Ontario Bean Producers recipe booklet.  It has a lot of interesting recipes.

lemon bean cake
Beans are a very healthy choice as they are gluten-free, high fiber, low cholesterol and they act as an appetite suppressant.  Beans are digested slowly causing a low, sustained increase in blood sugar.  I was surprised to learn that beans and bean flour can be used to make healthy, gluten free desserts and muffins as well. 

I made the lemon bean cake in the recipe booklet.  I omitted the fresh fruit sauce for the cake, choosing to simply garnish with icing sugar, lemon peel curls and strawberries.  The cake is made with well-cooked white pea beans.  Note the well-cooked as I don't think I cooked mine long enough so the texture was slightly grainy.  My husband didn't like the texture so next time I will cook the beans until they are quite mushy.  The flavour was very good so with a bit of tweaking this will be a lovely cake to add to my gluten free recipes!

Lemon Bean Cake
modified from: The Supreme Bean by the Ontario Bean Producers recipe booklet.

1 lemon (zest, ¼ c juice)
2 c well cooked white pea beans
3 eggs
1 c organic granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
icing sugar

Pre-heat oven.  Wash then zest the lemon setting aside.  Juice the lemon and set aside.  Place drained beans in food processor.  Add all but ½ tsp of the zest (reserve for garnish) and juice.  Process until smooth.  Add eggs, sugar and baking powder.  Process until ingredients are well mixed.  Pour into prepared 9" - round cake pan.  Bake at 180ºC (350ºFº) for 45 minutes or until the centre tests clean with toothpick.  Cool then invert onto serving plate.  Dust with icing sugar.  Garnish with fresh fruit and remaining lemon zest.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Bit of Chit Chat Coming From My Kitchen

I have pictures of the ribfest we enjoyed recently and the anchovies but today I want to share a bit of kitchen chit chat.  My husband was recently officially classified as being impaired glucose intolerant.  So we went to the dietician only to to find out our diet is very healthy other than portion control.  I picked up a couple of free recipe books because they were free and you can never have too many recipes.  I also got a really neat recipe book from the Ontario White Beans Producers. Beans and bean flour is one ideal way to go gluten free so beans helps not only with diabetes but also celiac disease and glucose intolerance.  I am actively working at getting more special diet recipes on this blog.  There are some here already - low sugar, low fat and low sodium.  But I will be increasing those recipes to include special diet recipes.  Please watch for those recipes under the label of special diet.  I have to say that the majority of the recipes under this category that I'm testing really can be eaten by anyone without compromising flavour or singling a guest out.  That is very important to me.    I am in the kitchen testing recipes so will be sharing them starting tomorrow.  Keep an eye on the special diets recipes in future.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Beverages

Frugal Kitchens 101

Beverages are a normal part of most meals.  Depending on your choice of beverage the cost of a meal can be greatly increased when dining out and even when eating at home.  In addition to the added costs, many beverages simply are empty calories, high in carbohydrate content especially HFCS.  These types of beverages should be enjoyed on a limited basis in moderation.  Most restaurants do not mind if you bring a sippy cup of some type of beverage for toddlers but it would be inappropriate to bring your own beverage into a restaurant.  I have brought in herbal tea bags though with some restaurants charging the price of a cup of tea for the hot water.  The variety of beverages available at home are almost endless.  Some are more frugal than others.  Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses beverages and ways to save on their costs.

  • alcoholic beverages - The following prices are based on alcohol prices in Ontario, Canada.  A litre bottle of hard alcohol (eg. whiskey, vodka, etc) averages about $32 or $1.23 per ounce.  A case of beer (24 pk - 355 ml) costs about $36 or $1.50 per beer with premium beers (eg. Sleeman's) considerably higher.  Wines will come in at about $2 per glass to considerably more depending on the wine.  Clearly, alcoholic beverages will raise the price of a meal.  When serving alcoholic beverages, serve in moderation reserving for special meals and entertaining.
  • milk and dairy beverages - At one time milk was the beverage of choice for growing children but now that has changed.  Milk still remains popular in some homes.  Buy milk on sale then freeze to use as needed.  Reduce the serving size from 10 ounces to 8 ounces.  Reduce the number of milk servings as it really is not necessary to have three glasses of milk per day.  The biggest nutritional  concern with milk is the fat content.  Switch from whole milk to 2% or skim milk to address this issue.  
  • carbonated soft drinks - I really am not a fan of carbonated soft drinks at all.  I occasionally drink sodium reduce club soda but seldom any other kind of carbonated soft drink.  A 24 pack case of brand name carbonated soft drink averages about $8.99 here but they do go on sale for about $4.99.  Carbonated soft drinks really are a nutritional nightmare.  Regular soda is laden with empty calories in the form of sugar and HFCS.  The average regular soda contains the equivalent of 17 tablespoons of sugar!  Cola drinks also contain caffeine.  The problem is some adolescents are drinking as many as ten cans of regular soda daily.  Diet soda is usually sweetened with asparatame, a known haepatocytic chemical thought to contribute to liver cancer as well as being a neurotoxin.  If serving carbonated soft drinks, don't serve them with the actual meal.  Keep them as a treat and restrict to only one or two carbonated soft drinks per day preferably not daily.  Always buy carbonated soft drinks on sale.
  • non-carbonated soft drinks -  These include fruit drinks, KoolAid, drink mixes (eg. ice tea, lemonade).  In general, fruit drinks are not a good value for your food dollar.  Some of them contain only 10% fruit juice with the rest being nothing more than artificially flavoured water. 
  • fruit juices - Fruit juices can be high in sugar but in general can be a good value for your food dollar.  Consider making your own fruit juices if you grow a garden or have fruit trees.  If at all possible never buy reconstituted fruit juice as you are paying for the water.  Frozen fruit juice concentrate is by far the least expensive way to buy fruit juice and it often goes on sale increase the savings.
  • coffee - Coffee is a popular drink for many but too much can be a huge problem creating stomach irritation and increasing and problems with GERD.  Coffee is for the most part less expensive than carbonated soft drinks coming in at 9¢ to 80¢ per cup depending on your brew system.  While coffee plain coffee itself has only 4 calories per cup, flavoured coffees can be as high as 60 calories per cup.  If you use cream and sugar in your coffee as I do, the calories are about the same as flavoured coffee.  We restrict our coffee intake to two cups per day occasionally three.  If you like iced coffees, brew a pot then cool to be used for iced coffees at a fraction of the cost of coffee shop iced coffees. 
  • herbal tea - Herbal teas can be quite inexpensive depending on whether you  grow and dry the herbs yourself or not.  In general, store bought herbal teas cost 9¢ to about 30¢ per herbal tea bag although K-cups are available that will cost as high as 79¢ each.  Save on this cost by using the re-usable filter, My-Kcup and regular herbal tea bags or use an electric kettle.  
  • tea - I grew up drinking tea and still enjoy a few cups of tea each day.  Tea is about half the price of coffee because each tea bag brews two cups.  Plain tea only has 2 calories per cup but some teas like green tea have health benefits.  A gallon of iced tea or sun tea can be made for about 18¢ well under the price of store bought ice tea mix and without all that sugar!
  • water - By far the most frugal beverage is water.  Water comes in at well under 1¢ per glass.  Most people do not drink enough water either.  Ideally an adult should drink at least 2 litres of plain water daily to help flush their body of toxins.  An added bonus is drinking more water helps reduce water retention while aiding in weight loss.  Do not buy bottled water unless absolutely necessary like longer travel trips or while on vacation.  Instead invest in a pitcher style water filter and two refillable water bottles per household members.   Flavour with a fresh lemon wedge if desired.  Find excuses to drink water rather than another beverage.  Most restaurants don't charge for water so you can save on the meal but your body with thank you with softer, silkier hair, fewer skin blemishes, weight-loss and a better feeling of well-being.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thousand Island Dressing

Summertime is here meaning we are eating more salads.  That translates into more salad dressing and by far salad dressings are homemade.  Honestly we eat some type of salad daiy throughout the year but during the summer we eat more because salads are easy to make, low or no cook dishes.  Dressings range from simple lemon juice to homemade viniagrettes as well as a few creamy based dressings.  When it comes to salad dressings, I won't buy something I can easily make at home.  At the same time I like to get a bit creative with salada dressings.

thousand island dressing
I've been making Thousand Island Dressing from our newlywed days.  This rich and creamy salad dressing is so easy to make with three ingredients most home cooks keep on hand.  They are: MiracleWhip, ketchup and relish.  I honestly don't measure when I make this dressing.  There is about 2 cups of MiracleWhip and don't use mayonnaise as the MiracleWhip adds a bit of zest to the dressing.  Stir in about 3 tbsp of ketcup and 2 tbsp of sweet relish.  Adjust the ketchup and relish if needed to taste.  Don't worry about the initial consistency of the MiracleWhip as the other ingredients will thin it out to the right consistency.  This salad dressing will keep nicely in the refrigerator for several days. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bread and Pizza Sub Baked on Outdoor Grill

We are in the midst of a heat wave here with temperatures soaring into the 90's (ºF) but with the humidex it feels over the 100's (ºF).  The air is so heavy that breathing outdoors is difficult.  Environment Canada has issued ozone alerts, smog alerts and humidex warnings.  Cooling centres have been opened in larger communities while anyone who can is staying indoors in the air conditioning.  This is the type of weather that I don't like to do much cooking that will put an additional strain on the air conditioning.

bread dough on grill
I was browsing through the easy recipes on the Life Made Delicious website.   A recipe for cooking a sub sandwich on the grill caught my interest so I decided to put my own spin on it.  I made a batch of French bread dough then divided into two pieces.  After shaping and proofing one loaf was placed in the oven while the other went onto the grill.  I know I should not have used the oven but it was the only way to compare oven baked to grill baked bread.  I've often mentioned here how I use the grill as an oven in the summer months but haven't shown much as to how I actually use it. 

I turned both burners on to heat the grill then turned one burner off so the bread would bake on indirect heat to prevent excess browning on the bottom of the loaf.  I placed the prepared loaf on a heavy, parchment paper lined oven pan.  Our grill is quite old as grills go, now onto it's eighth year of heavy year round use so a couple of things like the auto ignite and thermometer no longer work.  From experience though, I'm able to get the grill to the proper temperature for baking bread.  We've already bought a new dual fuel grill (more on that later) for when we move.  It's sitting safely in the crate in the garage.

bread baked on grill
Part way through the baking process I noticed the bottom getting a bit darker than I wanted.   So I carefully place a cake rack under the baking pan, raising it just enough from the grates to slow the browning.  The loaf of bread was looking good while filling the air with the wonderful aroma of baking bread.  Meanwhile the kitchen was smelling yummy as well.  I just love the smell of baking bread!

I've always wanted a wood fired outdoor oven for baking breads and pizza.  That just might be a goal for our new house if we ever get this house sold.

bread baked on grill compared to oven baked
I don't bake breads according to time but rather to doneness using the tap test.  Pictured are the two loaves of bread.  The oven baked loaf (top) was a bit smaller than the grill baked bread (bottom).  The oven baked loaf was destined for that night's dinner and sandwiches the next day.  The grill baked bread was just a little over a foot long, ideal for my grilled sub experiment.  The crust was nicely browned on both loaves of bread.  There was no difference in texture. 

Breads baked on the grill have a very subtle smokiness.   It is quite possible with breads baked on the grill to add a touch of additional smokiness if desired.  This is easily done using a small foil smoking packet of soaked wood chips of your choice.  The packet should be small enough to give just a hint of the smokiness, not overpower the flavour of the bread.  The hint of hickory in grill baked bread pairs nicely sliced ham for sandwiches. 
pizza sub on grill
Years ago when my husband and I were dating we used to get pizza subs at a little family run pizzeria, Bella Pizza.  The subs were wrapped in foil and warmed through in their pizza oven. They were delicious!  Unfortunately, the place closed down over twenty years ago so those pizza subs are only fond memories now.  I decided to make the grill baked loaf of bread into a pizza sub with my husband's help.  We sliced the loaf of bread in half the topped each piece with homemade pizza sauce.   We covered the bottom slice with sliced mozzarella cheese and cooked ham.  We wrapped the sub in foil then placed it on the grill to warm through (about 10 minutes).

The pizza sub was quite good!  It was a very quick meal to put together at about 15 minutes from start to serving.  There was minimal clean-up and no heat from cooking in the kitchen, perfect for a blistering hot summer day.  Subs done this way would make for a great camping meal as well.  I will definitely be experimenting with more subs on the grill!

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

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Keurig K-cup Purchase

A couple of days before leaving on our spring vacation in May, I spurged on a new Keurig single brew system to replace my rapidly failing Melitta One:One.  I promptly set up a new coffee centre making it easy and convenient to use the Keurig but did not have time to tweak the layout or even experiment.  When we arrived home from vacation, I had a lot of fun discovering my new toy!

The K-cups are expensive coming it at 79¢ each if bought on sale.  I bought the My K-cup re-usable filter system so we can use regular ground coffee (9¢ per cup), loose tea, tea bags and herbal tea at a fraction of the cost of K-cups.  I recycled a revolving spice rack for the K-cups rather than buying one of their carousels that would take up more counter space as it is wider.  I quickly realized that using the K-cups can be quite convenient especially when entertaining.  For example, out of twelve guests at the first get-together after returning home: one guest wanted decaf coffee, one wanted regular coffee and one wanted herbal tea.  I was able to quickly make these beverages without having to brew two pots of coffee, resort to instant coffee or get the tea kettle out.  The Keurig has quickly become the most used on a daily basis kitchen appliance we have.

I honestly don't mind cleaning the re-usable filter and we often run a couple of cups cleaning the filter in between rather than brew a full pot of purcolator coffee.  I decided that I would also like a good supply of K-cups.  I was contacted by a representative of One Cup Connection inviting me to check out their site.  [Note:  I have no affiliation with this company other than being a satisfied customer.  This is not a paid post.  The opinions expressed are my own.]

K-cup purchase
Their prices were the best I've seen yet at $11.99 for a 24 pack of K-cups in comparison to a sale price of $12.99 for an 18 pack (regular price $17.99).  I bough five cartons (120 K-cups) for a total of $45.96 that included free shipping and a free carton coupon code.  The price came in at 38.3¢ per K-cup less than half the cost of K-cups on sale in the stores.  Had I bought 5 cartons of K-cups on sale in the stores not only would I have less of a selection but it would have cost me $64.95 for 90 K-cups.  Other online sources (eg. Green Mountain) have raised their prices to almost $17 per 22/24 pack carton

Shipping is free if you buy at least $45 and they had a special if you bought 3 cartons you got one free.  They do have specials as low as $7.99 for K-cups past the best buy date and $9.99 for K-cups nearing their best buy date.  Their shipping time is really good, as low as 2 days.  They ship buy ground and unfortunately do not ship to Canada yet so I shipped to one of our US addresses.  

I bought Tully's Breakfast blend (nearing best buy date of August 14, 2011), Green Mountain Columbian Fair Traid Select, Green Mountain Caramel Vanilla Cream, Coffee People Donut Shop (Perks for the Planet) and Green Mountain Limited Edition Island Coconut Fair Trade.  Now 120 K-cups sounds like a lot but I'm sharing the order with our kids who also have a Keurig.  We will each have 60 K-cups which will likely last us well into the fall considering we both use the re-usable filter.  I really like that I can get Fair Trade Coffee in K-cups!  So my next order will reflect that.  I like that I can get flavoured coffees as well.  We don't use a lot of flavoured coffee but this is a way to be able to offer our guests other beverage options.  I will test out a couple of flavours as well.  All in all, my experience with One Cup Connection was quite positive.  I will certainly be ordering from them again!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Emergency Back-up Cooking

kitchen quick tips

Power outages can be quite annoying especially if using electricity for cooking.  Buy a single burner butane or propane burner that can be used indoors with proper ventilation (cold weather) as well as an outdoor campstove (warm/cold weather) and some type of grill (warm/cold weather).  Foods can also be cooked on a wood stove or fireplace (indoors) as well as an open firepit (outdoors) and solar ovens (outdoors). 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Grilled Pork Chops

You just can't beat barbequed pork!  It is a wonderful, lower fat meat that is flavourful and budget friendly.  Thanks to media misinformation over the H1N1 scare, the price of pork plummeted so we are able to enjoy barbequed pork in many forms.  While we enjoy barbequed pulled pork (I even can it) as well barbequed ribs and roasts, we don't bargeque (grill) pork chops very often. 

grilled porkchopsPork chops are easily grilled but you do need to be careful to not dry them out.  One trick is to use extra thick pork chops which we often do.  Another trick is to grill just until there are well defined grill marks and no more.  The threat of trichinosis is no more and modern pork has been bred to be leaner meaning less fat.  What this really means is when cooking modern pork the cooking must be adjusted to prevent drying of the pork.  Use a moist heat or when grilling use a sauce or mop especially with thinner cuts of pork.

I served the grilled pork chops with grill baked potatoes and home canned green beans.  The potatoes were simply topped with home canned Old Fashioned Chili Sauce.  Old Fashioned Chili Sauce is a wonderfully rich, warm aromatic condiment that pairs nicely with pork and potatoes.  In fact one of my favourite winter meals as a child was a mountain of mashed potatoes and chili sauce lava.  I can at least one case (12) of 500 ml (pint) jars each year.  By far, we pair the sauce with potatoes often served with pork.  It is a wonderful no fat topping for potatoes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Weekend Pig Roast

We have enjoyed pig roasts for years and held  our first pig roast in celebration of our 30th Anniversary shortly after moving here.  We did everything from arranging the pig roaster, picking up the pig and roasting the pig.  It was a lot of fun.  The huge, propane powered pig roaster was hooked trailer fashion to one of our vehicles for transportation from where we rented it to our home then back again.  At one time these roasters were easy to find for rental, perfect for larger summer get-togethers.   The following year we called to rent the roaster again to find they no longer rent out their roaster.  I called around looking for one without success. Apparently we are going to have to breakdown and buy one.

pig roast
A couple of weeks later we went to relatives for their   Canada Day weekend pig roast celebrations.  This is a massive get-together that starts early in the afternoon lasting into the late evening hours.  Some stay overnight where the party continues onto the following day.  Their firework display outshines many community firework displays.  In recent years, they have moved the get-together to the weekend after the Canada Day weekend.

This is large scale summer cooking at it's finest.  They have built a room inside the garage where the guest of honour, the roasted pig resides.  This year's pig was simply gorgeous!  It is prepared for them by a firm in Amherstburg, Ontario.  Unlike most pig roasts we attend and even the way we roasted our pig, this pig was roasted without the legs and bones other than the head.  The body was stuffed then secured with butcher's twine for the roasting process.  The presentation as always was impressive.  The black countertop roaster on the table (upper left corner) was filled with homemade black beans.  There was a variety of salads, vegetable and fruit trays.  Just outside of the garage to the right, two massive grills were going full tilt turning out hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages.  The grills continued throughout the evening.  Trays and trays of desserts mainly squares, cookies and bars were passed around.  There was a large, bottomless candy bowl of various penny candies was passed around much to the delight of the little ones as well as some of the not so little ones.   It was a non-stop foodie fest followed by amazing eye candy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Dealing With Humidity

Frugal Kitchens 101

By the very nature of cooking, kitchens tend to be rather humid rooms while cooking.  Compounding the problem for some is high humidity locations.  Humidity can cause salts, sugars, dried seasonings and other powdered kitchen products (eg. cleaners, dishwasher detergent) to clump.  It can cause dried herbs to mold as well as herbs and seasonings to lose their flavour.  During the winter months, humidity caused by cooking can cause condensation that can lead to molding issues in the home.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 deals with controlling humidity in the kitchen.

  • use lids - Lids on pots and pans not only reduce humidity while cooking they also reduce cooking times making them energy efficient.
  • choose cooking methods that create less humidity - It goes without saying that choosing steaming over boiling creates less humidity.  Baking, slow cooking and pressure cooking create less humidity that steaming and boiling.  
  • take it out -  An outdoor grill or camp cookstove is one way to keep the humidity out of the house especially during higher humidity months.  Slow cookers and countertop roasters can be used in enclosed or sheltered areas outside the home as well.
  • glass - Sealed glass storage is your friend for things like powdered dishwasher detergent, flours, grains and other dried foods.  It is important to have an airtight seal.
  • the old switch-a-roo - Powdered detergents in particular are affected by humidity causing clumping and reduced efficacy.  Both result in product wastage.  Curb this by switching to individual dishwasher tabs or liquid/gel dishwasher solution that humidity does not effect. 
  • create air circulation - Use a ceiling fan and/or exhaust fan to help remove humidity from the kitchen.  An open window can also help to remove humidity while cooking.  
  • chemical control - If using powdered dishwasher detergent or cleansers place a container of Damp Trap or similar in the cabinet where they are stored.  The crystals will absorb any extra humidity in the cabinet so your dry cleansers and detergent will stay free flowing.  These traps are available at our local dollar store, Dollarama.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Parmesan Popcorn

Almost a year ago, I wrote about my new Cuisinart Popcorn Maker.  This popcorn maker is an electric version of a Whirly Pop.  Unlike hot air poppers, the Cuisinart popcorn maker uses a hot plate with stirring rod so the popcorn is fluffy and tender, never dried out.  Popcorn is one of our favourite snacks at home.  It is high in fiber, low in calories and quite economical if not the cheapest snack to make at home.

Popping corn is cheaper and healthier than microwave popcorn that should be avoided due to health risks.  A 1 kg (1,000 g) bag of yellow popping corn costs $1.49.  A ¼ cup (50 g) of unpopped corn is used for each 5½ cup batch giving 20 batches (110 cups) of popcorn per kilogram bag at a cost of 7.4¢ per batch.  Homemade popcorn is considerably less expensive than store bought potato chips, pretzels and cheese or caramel popcorn.  It can easily be made into candy corn, caramel corn or seasoned as desired at a fraction of the cost of store bought. 

parmesan popcorn
Popcorn is so easy to make either on the stovetop or using a popcorn maker.  Our grandkids are ages four, three and two.  They love watching popcorn pop.  The oldest one could easily operate an hot air popcorn maker with supervision. 
Our favourite way to enjoy popcorn is simply seasoned with butter and sea salt. Omitting the salt then shaking the hot popcorn with fresh grated parmesan cheese gives yummy, full flavoured results with a lower sodium content than using salt.  Unsalted butter can be used to further reduce the sodium if desired.  Parmesan cheese has a natural saltiness combined with the rich cheese flavour so omitting salt and using unsalted butter won't give a noticeable flavourful reduction. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Steamed Vegetables

kitchen quick tips

Steaming vegetables uses less energy and water than other cooking methods while retaining more nutrientts as well as better texture and eye appeal. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Betty Crocker Gluten Free Cake Mix

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.   About 1% of the general population suffer from celiac disease.  Gluten damages the small intestines impairing it's ability to absorb nutrients.  As a result a lot of foods that are wheat based should be avoided including breads and other bakery products, many cereals both dry and hot as well snacks containing gluten.  The recommended treatment is a gluten-free diet.  However, about 15% of the general population while not having celiac disease have a gluten sensitivity.  In recent years some have noticed an improvement in their child's autism by following a gluten free diet.  There are only two reliable studies connecting autism to gluten and one of them found no correlation between autism and gluten but both studies involved a small study sample.  At any rate, a gluten-free diet is a must for some and desired by others.  One of the biggest problems faced by those wanting or needing this special diet was the lack of convenience products.  In smaller communities even finding the gluten-free raw ingredients can be a problem.

I am interested in gluten-free products for entertaining purposes.  This past year, a wonderful friend who cannot have gluten joined our monthly parties.  Not only does he have a gluten sensitivity requiring a gluten-free diet, he also has multiple food allergies.  As someone who is lactose intolerant as well having both food sensitivities and allergies, I try to be very cognizant and accommodating of these types of problems when entertaining.   General Mills has introduced two gluten-free cake mixes.  I was ecstatic! 

I had a box of Betty Crocker gluten-free devil's food chocolate and golden cake mix to try.  It is very important for me to do a test run of any product or recipe before serving it too my guests.  I decided to make the gluten-free golden cake mix into cupcakes.

The ingredients in the gluten-free cake mix are:  rice flour, sugar, potato starch, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt, sodium acid pyrophosphate and monocalcium phosphate.  The product may contain soy ingredients.  Ingredients needed to complete the batter are 2/3 c of water, 1/2 c butter, 2 tsp vanilla extract and 3 eggs.  The batter was quite easy to make, similar to any other cake mix.  I used my KitchenAid stand mixer then baked in a silicone muffin tin for 20 minutes at 350ºF.

I did not put any icing on the cupcakes, the reason being I wanted to be able a assess the cupcakes with respect to flavour and texture without icing distracting the taste test.  Oh my gosh, these were really good!  They would make excellent mini cupcakes.  I think a butter cream  or chocolate icing would be quite lovely.  Life Made Delicious has a few more easy recipes using this cake mix but essentially use it just the way you would any cake mix.

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce

Spaghetti meat sauce was my mother-in-law's specialty dish.  Needless to say I quickly learned to make my husband's favourite dish from home thanks to my mother-in-law generously sharing her tips.  Over the years I have tweaked the basic recipe to the result in the amazing meat sauce that it is today.  It is a long cook sauce made entirely from scratch.  Like all aromatic sauces, this meat sauce is better after the flavours have a chance to meld together.

spaghetti with homemade meat sauce
I have tweaked the recipe so it can be home canned and it does freeze nicely but by far I prefer to make it fresh then freeze or can the leftovers.  The house just smells heavenly when it is cooking!  The only commercial ingredients I use in this meat sauce is a couple of secret seasonings and commercially canned tomato paste.  I use fresh produce, fresh organically grown herbs and home canned tomato products that are layered to maximize the deep, rich flavour.

The meat sauce is perfect served simply over spaghetti, one of our favourite ways to enjoy it.  However, it is the sauce of choice for my homemade lasagne.  Doesn't is look yummy?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Plastics in the Kitchen

Frugal Kitchens 101

Plastics in the kitchen are quite the norm today, ranging from plastic wrap to food packaging to storage containers and kitchenware.  In recent years there has been a lot of concern with bis-phenol A (BPA) as well as other chemicals from the plastic leaching into food.  Like many, I have been working at eliminating as much plastic as possible.  The reality is that plastic is a normal part of any kitchen.  It is virtually impossible to eliminate entirely.  In some circumstances plastic is a safer choice to use than glass as well.  When we had pools and once we move will again have a pool, glass was never allowed anywhere near the pool or deck.  We currently have a dock and don't want glass on it.  We pack picnic lunches for taking by boat to the swim hole in the summer.  Plastic is really the only safe way to transport via boat as things tend to get jostled around a bit.  Of course some metalware is available to replace plastic without the problem of glass breakage but not the wide variety you can find in plastic.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses how you can safely use plastic in your kitchen. 

When using plastics in the kitchen:

  • look for food grade plastics - These are wonderful for storage.  Don't use a non-food grade plastic to store any food that will come into direct contact with the food.  There could be potential leaching problems that would contaminate the food.
  • hand wash - Plastics should be hand washed in hot, soapy water then rinsed and dried.  The dishwasher is an extremely harsh environment that can cause plastics to leach, warp, and develop scratches on the surface that comes into contact with food leading to an increased possibility of chemicals leaching from the plastic.
  • do not heat foods in any plastic container - Heating foods in plastic containers in the microwave oven can cause chemical leaching, warping and pitting of the plastic.
  • think cold - Reserve your plastic ware (eg. cups, bowls, plates, platters) for cold foods or things like hot dogs and hamburgers where the plastic will not be warmed enough to leach any chemicals.  Allow hot foods to cool before putting into plastic storage containers. 

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Just the Burger

Hamburgers are one of the most popular sandwiches there is.  My husband has burger making down to a fine science with his famous homemade burger patties, aka burger with attitude.  They are some of the best burgers I've ever tasted.    They are made with hormone, anti-biotic free lean ground beef that is part of our bulk beef purchase each year from a famer/friend.

burger pattie
Burgers do not always need to be served on a bun.  What is nice though is burgers patties tend to be portion controlled.  We grilled burgers a few nights ago then the following night used the leftovers for a easy to put together dinner.  I served the burger patties sans buns topped with Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce and sautéed mushrooms along with steamed spinach, steamed corn on the cob and baked potatoes. 

Steaming the vegetables keeps the nutrients where they should be so it is one of my favourite ways to prepare vegetables.  This was the first run of local sweet corn.  It was tender and juicy.  Steaming the corn results in more flavour as well.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Fruit Flies

kitchen quick tips

During the summer months when more fresh fruits are available many find themselves with a problem with fruit flies.  To solve this, cut a banana into small pieces then put into an empty 2L pop bottle or similar narrow necked bottle.  The flies will go into the bottle but won't be able to get back out.  Clean out to re-use if neccessary.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Chicken Penne Soup

It is easy to get into a rut when cooking, falling back on the tried and tested family favourites.  One way to break out of that rut is eating out.  Restaurants tend to put a bit of a new spin on dishes that the home cook might not think of simply because they have always made the dish a certain way.  During the summer months we like to boat to Decker's Landing located  the mouth of the St. Clair River where it meets Lake St. Clair.  There are special events as well as various bands playing during the afternoon and evening.  It's a gorgeous spot to enjoy a meal, and watch the sunset over the lake. 

chicken penne soup
Decker's offers pub grub and full dinner meals.  My husband ordered the soup of the day, chicken soup.  I make a lot of chicken soup, usually chicken noodle and occasionally chicken vegetable soup.  Invariably the pasta of choice is broad egg noodles.  Decker's chicken soup was made with penne!  I thought this was a rather interesting pasta to use in a soup.  Penne with its deep grooves and hollow centre is usually paired with thick, cream based or tomato based sauces.

The soup was in between a chicken noodle and chicken vegetable soup.  Another interesting touch was the parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.  Parmesan cheese is a wonderful cheese for adding that extra flavour.  It really was a nice soup that can easily be duplicated at home.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


Nachos are a very popular pub grub food.  They are tasty, inexpensive, and the perfect party plate to share with others.  I think every pub adds their own spin on how they make and present the nachos as well but there is no doubt about it, a nacho platter is a party platter!  There is a lot of lee way with ingredients ranging from yellow or white corn chips, round or triangle shaped  cheese product or real cheese, chile or ground beef, toppings on or served on the side. 

nachos at Crabby Joe's
We stopped at Crabby Joe's awhile ago where I ordered the nachos.  Crabby Joe's is a lovely pub and grill with a varied menu sure to please any palate.  Their nachos are quite good.  The white  corn chips are topped with chili (with beans), and melted mozzarella and cheddar cheeses.  Sour cream, jalapeño peppers and salsa is served on the side.  Something just a bit different is the shredded lettuce.  Chopped onions and tomatoes are quite common on nachos but it is not often that lettuce is included.  Occasionally but not very often, nachos are served on a bed of lettuce.  This is not the norm though.

Nachos are just so easy to make at home.  You will need nacho chips, chili or cooked ground beef, one or more cheeses (mozzarella, cheddar) for the base.  Simply top the nacho chips with the chili or ground beef one an oven proof plate then place in the oven at 350ºF to  melt the cheese.  Sprinkle on chopped onions and tomatoes.  Serve with jalapeño peppers, salsa and sour cream on the side.  This fun filled pub grub food can easily be made at home for about $2, a third or less of the cost of that bought in the pub.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Coffee

Frugal Kitchens 101

A couple of weeks ago I caught a new segment warning of the rising price of coffee.  According to the segment the price of coffee is predicted to rise 98% before the end of the year.  That is a substantial increase that will have the highest impact on coffee drinkers who indulge on buying coffee at coffee shops but will also affect those making coffee at home.  Coffee prices at the coffee shops and restaurants range from included with a meal, to just over a dollar to as high as $6 or more for specialty coffee.  Coffee made at home ranges in price from about 5¢ per cup (brand name, on sale), 9¢ per cup (brand name coffee, not on sale), to as high as 79¢ for K-cups (Keurig single cup brewer).  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses some ways to save money on coffee. 

  • buy organic - Organic coffee is worth the extra expense because it eliminates pesticide and herbicide residues.  
  • buy fair trade if possible - Fair trade is a certification that indicates the producers are being paid fairly so they are able to provide themselves and their families with the necessities of life.
  • buy on sale - The rising costs of coffee will make it a loss leader in grocery stores.  A loss leader is an item sold below what it cost the grocery store to stock in the hopes that when you are in the store you will pick up a couple more items that the store will make money on.  An example of this is Maxwell House ground coffee was up to $10.48 per 926 g container at No Frills.  This past week, the same size container was on for $5 at Sobeys, limit of 3 per customer.  We bought six total that will help us ride out the rising prices for almost a year.
  • coffee shop loyalty - Tim Horton's is Canada's coffee shop chain and while their prices are reasonable they are still more expensive than coffee made at home.  However, ground Tim Horton's coffee is available at each of their coffee shops as well as in some grocery stores.  So you can enjoy your favourite coffee shop coffee at home.  It is more expensive than the regular brand name ground coffee at 34¢ per cup but about a third of the price of a small Tim Horton's coffee at the coffee shop.  Other larger coffee shop chains are selling their whole bean and ground coffee in their coffee shops and grocery stores as well. 
  • make coffee at home - If at all possible, make coffee at home.  The savings will be substantial allowing you to indulge in good coffee making equipment that will continue to save money for years to come.  Even if you don't want to take a thermos to work, there are now coffee bags much like tea bags at well under the price per cup of coffee shop coffee.  If your place of employment has a Keurig, Melitta One:One or Tassimo single serve coffee maker, buy your own K-cups or pods if you have to pay for the coffee there.  Bring a small can of coffee and the re-usable K-cup filter if there is a Keurig. 
  • splurge on the necessary equipment - If you enjoy coffee, buy good equipment that will last.  For example, we have: a Melitta espresso maker; Keurig single serve coffee/tea brewer, percolator, coffee grinder, specialty coffeeware, and travel mugs.  Pamper yourself a few specialty items like espresso cups, a French coffee press, and a good coffee grinder.  Put things in perspective as far as cost. Take-out coffee at $1.50 per cup, one per work day per year will cost $360.  That buys a lot of nice equipment and coffee but then the equipment continues to pay for itself saving you the cost of coffee shop coffee.
  • storage - Coffee beans should be stored away from direct light.  Ideally, coffee should be ground just before making the coffee for best flavour and aroma.  Don't grind more than you will use that day as coffee once ground quickly loses the essential oils for flavour.  Ground coffee should be stored in the refrigerator.  K-cups and Tassimo pods should be stored in a cool, dry location away from direct light.  One:One pods should be stored in a sealed, glass container in a cool, dry location away from direct light.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Norpac All Beef Franks

Canada Day for many signifies the official start of summer.  The traditional fare for this holiday is barbeque, usually hot dogs and hamburgers.  Both are perfect crowd pleasers and larger family get togethers.  We don't eat hot dogs very often but when we do, they must be all beef.    We discovered Norpac's all beef franks so decided to try them.

norpac all beef franks
Norpac is a Canadian beef processing plant located in Norwich, Ontario.  It is owned by the Heleniak family.  Twenty percent of all the beef fed under their program are raised by the family.  Their philosophy on raising and processing cattle is quite impressive.  The cattle in their program is locally raised under their strict guidelines.  All cattle grown under the Norpac program must be less than 24 months old and BSE free.  The cattle are fed a 100% vegetarian diet that is hormone and antibiotic free, free choice system.

Norpac's all beef franks made from Ontario corn fed beef.  The ingredients are:  beef, water, soya flour, salt, spices, sodium phosphate, sodium erythobate, sodium nitrate, and smoke.  Sodium erythrobate is the salt of erythorbic acid, a variation of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).  It is extracted from the sugars in sugar beets, sugar cane and corn.  It replaces sulfites as a response to increased consumer sulfite allergies by food manufacturers as a preservative and to retain the colour in cured meats.  Of note though is this ingredient should be avoided if you have a corn allergy, something that is also increasing.

hot made with norpac all beef franks
We sliced open the franks lengthwise then pan fried them.  They were topped with cheddar cheese that was allowed to melt before placin on toasted sesame seed hot dog buns.  Additional toppings included mustard, ketchup and caramelized onions.

These delicious, mouth watering franks are considerably more expensive than other brands of weiners and about double the price of all beef wieners.  A package of six costs $5.99 or $1 per frank.  They are a bit larger than regular wieners though.  These franks are well worth the extra cost!  I'm looking forward to trying them on the grill. 

Saturday, July 02, 2011

An Update - My Husband and Food

It is not very often over the life of this blog that I have made a simple update post.  I apologize for the messed up posting recently.  If you have been following this blog you will know that for the last week of May and all of June we have be dealing with my husband's health problems.  There are still some unknowns and still more tests but what we did discover is he is officially diagnosed as impaired glucose tolerance aka pre-diabetic.  I grew up with my Mom having Type 2 Diabetes so have always been very concerned about developing diabetes which is reflected in our diet.  Now the good news is we have a very healthy diet that avoids artificial anything including sweeteners, food preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, fast foods AND desserts are not a normal part of our daily diet.  About 90% of our meals are made from scratch using whole ingredients.  So in terms of diet there will be little adjustment.  What it will mean is:

  • regular  meals no further than six hours apart
  • portion control 
  • regular exercise
All of these will be a challenge because even though  we eat healthy foods, we tend to not pay attention to portion control.  And lets face it we are getting up there in age so exercise is not all that appealing and neither of us do breakfast unless traveling.  Watch for a few more health conscious meals on this blog.  Now we are still dealing with a few other other unknowns that we don't think is diet related but in all honesty all health is related to diet somehow.  I really think that many fail to realize that if they eat a cheap diet of processed foods they will at sometime pay for it with their health.  There are high blood pressure problems and trust me that is not related to dietary sodium intake.  I home can and cook without adding salt and salt is seldom on the table so I know we eat low sodium.  There is the issue of unexplained edema and we still don't know what the recent batch of medical tests uncovered.  At the moment, my primary goal is to serve healthy, homemade meals as always.

Having dealt with diabetes for so many years I know how deal with this.  I think with portion control and exercise his blood sugar will return to normal.  I heard of a recent study where Type 2 diabetes can be cured by going on a starvation diet (600 calories per day) for two months.  Six hundred calories is the minimum needed to sustain bodily functions and nothing more.  Being educated in the medical sciences, I do not think this is a good idea as a starvation diet could cause other problems but it is something I will be keeping a close eye on.  Should we decided to try this diet, I will be posting more about the method, meals and the results.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy Canada Day 2011 to All My Foodie Friends

Happy Canada Day

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian foodies.  I'm enjoying our holiday but will be back tomorrow to share some of our Canada Day celebrations.  Enjoy your day!