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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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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Yeast

kitchen quick tips

Yeast is considerably less expensive when bought in bulk, usually 1 lb packages in comparison to small packet or containers.  Keep the yeast fresh by storing in the freezer.  Use directly from the freezer as needed.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stoke's Bay (Sarnia, Ontario)

During the summer months we do a fair amount of boating on the Great Lakes Waterway and smaller tributaries.  This includes Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and connecting waterways.  We also often enjoy meals on our dock.  Dining overlooking the water either inside or outside is a wonderfully pleasant way to dine.

Stoke's Bay in Sarnia, Ontario
Stoke's Bay is located at 485 Harbour Road in Sarnia, Ontario.  The restaurant offers dine in, catering and online ordering as well as private rooms for weddings.  Stoke's Bay is a wonderful, cosy bar and grill with an outdoor patio featuring broasted chicken, barbequed ribs, and so much more.  It has a fun, lively atmosphere with friendly waitstaff.  The food is quite good!  Reservations are recommended.  While there are no docking facilities at Stoke's Bay, the restaurant is across the road from Sarnia Bay Marina making it possible to arrive by boat.  Day docking fees are $20 and reservations are recommended.  If arriving by boat from the United States you will need a valid Nexus or I-68.  Be sure to call Canada Border Services Agency (aka Customs) upon arrival.

potato skins appetizer
Our party of six was promptly seated upon arriving at Stoke's Bay.  We ordered cocktails and appetizers.  One of the appetizers was cheddar and bacon skins served with sour cream ($8.49).  The skins were nicely done, quite tasty.  The potatoes had been seasoned before baking.

Baked potato skins are very easy to make at home simply by cutting baked potatoes in half then scooping out the meat leaving about a quarter inch of potato.  Add a bit of extra flavour by seasoning the skins before baking.

Seasoning Potato Skins Method:  To season the potato skins prior to baking, place on a square of tin foil.  Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with seasoning of choice.  I often use Montreal Steak Seasoning or garlic pepper but sea salt works nicely too.  Wrap the potato tightly in the tin foil and bake until tender (about 40 minutes).   Remove tin foil then prepare the potato skins as desired.  Note that potatoes cooked this way can be done in the oven or grill.

broasted chicken
Stoke's Bay offers a wide variety of entées served with soup or salad, vegetables and choice of potatoes.  Dinner prices per person range from $11 to $25.  Pictured is the broasted dinner one member of our party enjoyed.  Stoke's Bay is known for their great food, especially broasted chicken.  Broasting is a trademarked method of cooking chicken that combines pressure cooking and deep frying using a specialty foodservice equipment called a broaster.  It is manufactured by the Broaster Company in Beloit, Wisconsin.  The broaster creates tender, juicy chicken with a delectable golden brown coating. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Baked Chicken Breasts

There are so many ways to cook chicken and each method gives different results.  Chicken is higher in fat than some alternatives but that can be reduced by removing the skin along with any remaining fat before cooking.  Removing the fat can result in drier meat especially if grilling or baking.  It can also result in a less flavourful meat.  The work around for both is to use some type of sauce that will provide both moisture and flavour when using a dry cooking method (eg. grilling, baking) or use a moist cooking method (eg. braising, slow cooking, pan frying).    It is also important to not over cook chicken especially when using dry cooking methods.  Cook until the juices run clear and/or use a meat thermometer for an internal temperature of 165ºF (74ºC).

baked chicken breasts
Baking chicken is one low fat method of cooking chicken.   I like using a sauce when baking boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Diana Sauce is always a nice tomato based sauce for oven baked chicken.  An alternative to sauces is chutneys, jellies and marmalades.  I served the baked chicken breasts with home canned Old Vermont beans and baked potatoes. 

I discus home canned foods here quite a bit because that is what is in my pantry.  There is a myth that commercially canned foods are safer and generally better than home canned foods.  That simply is not true.  In fact, home canned foods are safer and better than commercially canned foods.  Government standards for commercially canned foods actually allow a low level of bug parts in commercially canned foods.  The allowable bug parts in my home canned food is zero.  With home canned foods you know the source, control the quality and eliminated food additives that can cause food allergies and other health problems.  

Dried beans are very economical even in comparison to store bought canned beans.  Cooking dried beans takes a bit of planning as they need to soak overnight before cooking.  An alternative method is the quick soak method where the beans are covered with water, brought to a boil then covered and allowed to soak for one hour before cooking.  However, dried beans can also be home canned at a fraction of the cost of store bought canned beans. 


Monday, June 27, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Choosing Small Kitchen Appliances (colour)

Frugal Kitchens 101

Small kitchen appliances come in a wide range of colours because manufacturers realize that kitchens come in a wide range of colours.  During our married life I have enjoyed 16 permanent kitchens and 5 temporary kitchens.  Of the temporary kitchens, 2 were smaller spatially challenged RV kitchens and one (current) a larger, fully equipped kitchen.  Surprisingly I can describe down to minute details of each of those kitchens including the small kitchen appliances.  Our very first kitchen was peach and rust.  We went through the harvest gold period, moving on to the black glass, onto country blue and finally arriving at the mainly wood with white.  I already have the colours picked out for my new kitchen when we move.  It has a black marble floor so the colour scheme will be black, white, and grey with red accents.  What does this have to do with small appliances?

Quite often small appliances are purchased based on colour under the premise it will match the kitchen decor.  This is a mistake because the right coloured appliance may not have the features another one that doesn't match has.  Replacing small kitchen appliances is costly but for many if the appliance doesn't match the decor, it will be replaced for one that does.  It's a vanity thing but one that can be quite costly.  For that reason the frugal choice is to buy high quality small kitchen appliances that can be integrated into any kitchen decor without having to replace them because they now longer match.  I will be doing a series on Frugal Kitchen 101 posts based on making frugal small kitchen appliance choices.  Here's a few of my tips:

  • never choose based on colour - A small kitchen appliance should be chosen based on function not colour.  The cavate is if there is a colour choice go with the most neutral choice you can.
  • avoid strong, current fad colours - Notice how harvest gold and avocodo green is no longer available in small kitchen appliances?  That's because they were fad colours.  They came and they went.  That beautiful red stand mixer may look wonderful in your current kitchen but won't look as well in deep forest green of your newly decorated kitchen.  Keep your small kitchen appliance colours neutral so they will match any kitchen decor. 
  • avoid white - While white is considered a neutral colour, avoid any small appliance that is white.  Many small kitchen appliances have plastic parts.   If they are white they tend to yellow over time making them look gungy.  There's nothing wrong with the appliance just it looks dirty but there is the tendency is to replace. 
  • avoid decorative paint - Some small appliances have decorative paint/designs on them to reflect the current trends or they may reflect a sports team or seasonal use or something similar.  Avoid these.  The thing is over time your tastes change and it makes little sense to have a small kitchen appliance that will be used seasonally or becomes too cutesy for your new modern looking kitchen.
Bon Appétit!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lemon Peppered Chicken

Pork has been the bargain meat for the past couple of years.  The price went as low as 99¢ per lb ($2.47 per kg).  At the same time the price of other meats rose significantly especially chicken.  All of this was due to the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak.  Chicken was always one of the least expensive meat choices but prices rose well over $1 a pound.  I refused to buy whole chickens that were going for about $2.50 per pound.  A four pound chicken was averaging $10 for awhile.  Chicken prices have not returned to their former low price per pound.  Current sale price for boneless, skinless chicken breast is $4 per lb ($8,82 per kg) and chicken legs with backs attached are $1.99/lb ($4.39/kg) which is quite a jump from the former 69¢ per lb.  So the days of inexpensive chicken are long gone but chicken is still a frugal choice of protein.

lemon peppered chicken

Chicken is a very versatile meat so despite the price increase we continue to enjoy it once or twice a week.  I particularly like chicken breasts because not only are they quite lean, they cook quickly.  I've been taking advantage of some of the chicken sales as well as just buying chicken breasts and chicken kiev from Elite Gourmet Foods.  It's been awhile since I have been this well stocked for chicken!

Bone-in, skinless chicken breasts were on sale so I picked up a couple of packages.  Each package contained four large chicken breasts (two plus meals) for about $6.  I don't mind removing the bone myself because the bones can be used to make stock. 

I seared the two chicken breasts then seasoned with lemon pepper, reduced heat and continued cooking until the juices ran clear.  I served the chicken breasts on a bed of long grain rice topped with steamed baby spinach.  I ladled mushroom gravy over the chicken breast.  I love easy recipes and mushroom gravy is ever so easy to make.

Mushroom Gravy

1 can condensed low sodium mushroom soup
¾ can milk
2 tbsp flour
milk

Mix the flour with just enough milk to make a slurry.  Mix the condensed soup and milk together then heat to a low boil.  Slowly stir in the flour slurry.  Continue stirring until mixture is thickened.  Ladle as desired.

[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.]


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sweet Baby Ray's Onion Burger

We love to go to ribfests.  Not only is there great food to be had combined with the wonderful social element, they are one of the best places to meet award winning ribbers.  Where there are award winning ribbers there is award winning barbeque sauce.  Quite often the sauce is available only at the ribber's booth but every once in awhile the sauce will make it into commercial production.  Even then the sauce may be only regional.    Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce was a family recipe that entered into one of the largest ribfests (rib cookoff) in 1985 by Chef Larry Raymond.  The sauce was named after the Chef's brother David who's nickname playing basketball on Chicago's West Side was Sweet Baby Ray.  Larry, David and a friend Mike took the sauce commercial the following year. 

sweet baby ray's onion burger
My husband's signature dish is his famous homemade grilled burgers.  They are specatular!  I'm usually in charge of the toppings so they end up being burgers with attitude.  They are the absolute when it comes to burgers.

A couple of nights a go he made his famous grilled burgers then mopped with Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue Sauce.  The thick, juicy burgers were topped with grated cheddar cheese and caramelized onions served with dill pickle spears.  They were delicious, mouthwatering, packed full of flavour burgers!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Oriental Noodle Bowl

It's surprising that being on vacation for an extended period of time makes you a bit sluggish at getting back into your normal daily routines.  Compounding the problem were the health problems my husband was having.  Between being in Las Vegas we were home for about eighteen hours before flying out to Florida.  He was seen in emerg during that time period and prescribed medication for unexplained edema.  The following first full day after arriving home, on the Friday he was back into emerg.

oriental noodle bowl
We still had not been to the grocery store so the evening meal would be from the freezer and pantry.  That's not a bad thing.  I decided to make a simple noodle bowl for dinner that night.  Noodles bowls have become one of our favourites this past winter.  They are versatile, warm and comforting.  This time I used two beef soup bones from the freezer to make fresh stock using one of my pressure cookers.  Once the stock was made, I cut the meat from the bones in bite sized pieces adding it back to the stock.  Then I added in about a third of a bag of oriental vegetable mix.  This is one of the few frozen vegetables mixes I buy and I always buy it at M & M Meats.  I just love the tender baby corn!  I spooned the meat and vegetable mixture over cooked angel hair pasta then finished off with a ladle of stock.

The following day my husband wasn't feeling well and late Sunday night was admitted to hospital.  Needless to say there wasn't a lot of cooking going on that weekend.  The immediate cause for his hospitalization has passed.  He is home now and on the mend, back to the office on greatly reduced hours and taking things easy.  For all who have asked, thanks for your concern.  They are still doing a lot of tests but his appetite is somewhat back so that's a good sign!  We will be making some dietary changes as a result of some of the tests but more on that after we get the big picture.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

All Dressed Red Potatoes

Had our return flight not been delayed we would have arrived home in the early evening hours on May 25.  We would have stopped to re-stock a few groceries needed after being away for three weeks.  Instead we arrived home just after midnight on May 26 with no groceries and an empty fridge.  The next day my husband picked up a few essentials like milk, potatoes, sour cream, and bread because quite frankly neither of us felt like doing a larger grocery shopping that day.  Our first meal at home was a simple, easy and frugal meal.

all dressed red potatoes
We like having a meal consisting of topped baked potatoes as the main course on days when we just don't know what we want for dinner.  It doesn't happen often but it is a great, comforting meal.  Baking takes about 45 minutes and there's no doubt about it, the crispy texture of the baked potato skin adds to the flavour.  Instead of baking, I decided to try steamed potatoes that cook in about 10 minutes making them a better choice than baked for a summer meal or when at our vacation home.  Gosh, it gets hot there!  I'm working on a few tried and true meals I can make at the vacation home that don't produce a lot of heat during prep.

I steamed red potatoes then topped the bite-sized pieces with cheddar cheese, sour cream, steamed broccoli, bacon pieces and fresh cut chives.  The cheese, bacon and broccoli were from the freezer so only needed brief thawing although I did warm the bacon and broccoli slightly in the microwave.  This really was a nice substitution for the traditional topped baked potato.  It came in at the 15-minute meal mark and is so easy to assemble that a beginning cook would not have any problems putting it together.  It is a rather frugal meal as well.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nachos at Sam Adam's in Atlantic City International Airport

When flying from Detroit to Tampa and visa versa we have always been able to get a direct flight.  I'm not sure why but we could not get a direct flight from Tampa to Detroit for our return trip.  It was supposed to have been a direct flight but was changed to a brief stop in Atlantic City with no de-planning.  We had been keeping a close eye on how the storms were tracking throughout the week, the worst in Joplin, Missouri.  We knew our travel day was full of storms.  When we arrived in Atlantic City rather than picking up passengers and traveling on, we were asked to deplane.  My husband and I immediately looked for a restaurant and it's a good thing we did as the delay ended up being three and a half hours long.  Seating in the restaurant was quite limited with a line forming rather quickly waiting for a table.

nachos at Sam Adam's in Atlantic City International Airport
The Atlantic City International Airport is rather small in comparison to Tampa and Detroit.  There was a Samuel Adams Brew and Pub near our gate on the second floor terminal.  This is a small pub and grill specializing in casual dining and craft beer.  We decided that would be a good spot to spend a bit of our delay time.  We would have liked to have taken a cab to see the Boardwalk but thought it best to stay at the airport.

As airport pubs go, the prices at Samuel Adams were not bad.  The atmosphere was very much like a British pub, warm and cosy with lots of dark wood.  Bar, table and booth We ordered beer battered onion rings ($5.60) as an appetizer.  My husband had New England clam chowder ($3.50)  and build a better burger ($8.90).  I had the fireside nachos ($8.75).

Nachos are a popular pub and grill food.  The fireside nachos consisted of crisp tortilla chips topped with chili, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  Jalapeno peppers and sour cream were served on the side by request.  The nachos were good but I do have a couple of complaints.  The biggest complaint is the cheese was a cheese sauce not actual sredded cheese and more than likely it was a cheese product similar to Cheez Whiz.  As a result the flavour was somewhat lacking and the tortilla shells softened where the cheese sauce hit.  These would have been much better using real shredded cheddar cheese.  The jalapeno peppers and sour cream came in small, disposable plastic containers that negated any savings to the restaurant by using the cheese sauce.  Other than that, the nachos were average pub grub food. 


Monday, June 20, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Yogurt

Frugal Kitchens 101

Yogurt is one of the best foods you can eat.  The problem is most people get tied up in buying the expensive individual, not eco-friendly serving sizes.  Despite the fact that one larger company makes unsubstantiated claims regarding the actual bacteria in their yogurt, yogurt with active bacteria cultures (Lactobacillius acidophilus, Bifidobacillus) is should be part of your daily diet.  Yogurt when bought in individual sizes is expensive.  Larger containers are less expensve per unit price and homemade yogurt is even less expensive and with using re-usable containers homemade yogurt is environmentally friendly.  The best part is homemade yogurt is extremely easy to make.  All you need is fresh milk and starter, about 2 tbsp of yogurt with active bacteria.  That's it!  If you want to sweeten it, us raw honey or homemade preserves.  Do not use sugar or any sweetener containing sugar or artificial sweeteners. 

Why yogurt is good for you:

  • easier to digest than milk and generally well tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant
  • contributes to colon health even reducing the risk for colon cancer
  • improves the bio-activity of other nutrients especially absorption of Vitamin B and calcium
  • helps to heal intestinal infections by re-establishing the good intestinal flora
  • decreases yeast infections
  • a rich source of calcium and protein
  • it can help lower cholesterol
If you choose to buy yogurt rather than make your own, avoid any yogurt that is:
  • pre-sweetened with anything including fruit or artificial sweeteners - Sugar encourages the growth of bacteria whether good or bad but more importantly sugar is the fuel for yeast growth.  Artificial sweeteners have a host of other problems associated with them including being carcinogenic. 
  • contains artificial dyes or flavours - Artificial dyes and flavours can cause allergic reactions.  Some have been implicated in ADD/ADHD as well as being carcinogenic. 
  • labeled as low fat - Low fat yogurts have been sweetened to make them more palatable. 
  • individually packaged - Individually packaged anything including yogurts should be avoided because they are more expensive per unit price as well as being environmentally unfriendly.

    Bon Appétit!


    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Chicken Marsala at Ruby's at the Avenue in Lakeland, Florida

    Our final night in Florida was spent at the Early Bird Entertainment Revue and Buffet hosted by Ruby's at the Avenue in Lakeland, Florida.  Ruby's is located at 3405 South Florida Avenue in Lakeland, Florida.  Doors open at 5 AM with music starting at 5 PM.  Reservations are a must!  The food is buffet ($10.95 each) although some events are a bit higher priced.  The buffet is very much homestyle cooking with offerings varying depending on the event.  The main attraction here is not the food though.  It is the absolutely incredible music!  I blogged about our first amazing night at Ruby's during our winter vacation in December.  I am still star struck that we have had this wonderful opportunity to meet such great people!

    chicken marsala at Ruby's of the avenue in Lakeland, Florida
    That night the buffet menu consisted of: baked Atlantic whit fish, chicken marsala, corned beef & cabbage, Chef's choice of veggie, mashed potatoes & gravy, fresh salad bar, homemade soup, dinner rolls and dessert.  I had a side salad with herbed red potatoes, green beans and chicken marsala.  Chicken marsala, an Italian dish,  is a very easy dish to make at home.  Chicken cutlets are coated in flour and briefly sautéed.  They are removed from the pan then the dripping are used to make a Marsala wine reduction sauce to the consistence of syrup.  While reducing onions, shallots or mushrooms are added.  When the reduction sauce is finished it is poured over the chicken for serving.

    It was a lovely meal followed by wonderful entertainment shared with friends.  I took a lot of pictures!  The following day we were on our way home, sad to be leaving but filled with outstanding memories.  We are already planning out next trip!


    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Left-over Porterhouse Steak

    Our first home cooked meal at our vacation home during our recent vacation was grilled porterhouse steaks.  Steak is normally the first meal we cook there and we always buy extra.  The reason being, leftover steak is quite versatile, suitable as the meat portion for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Left-over steak gives all the wonderful flavour of the grill without having to do the grilling.  There was a fair amount of steak leftover.  We warmed some for breakfast with the kids then froze the remainder for later in the week.

    leftover porterhouse steak
    We like our steaks medium rare to rare.  Re-heating not only cooks the steak a bit more but has the potential to dry it out.  I like using a quick stir fry method for warming slices of grilled beef, often adding the slices to caramelized onions.  A couple of days before our departure we were into use it up mode.  I thawed the steak then cut into strips.  I didn't have an onion so used a little olive oil.  The warmed steak was served with the last of the carrots along with a micro-waved potato.  Unfortunately we bought too many potatoes so I gave the rest to a neighbour.   I also made a small side salad.  It consisted of the last of the lettuce, tomato and cucumber sprinkle with a couple of shredded baby carrots then topped with the small packet of salad dressing I found in the deli section at Publix.  I also managed to use up most of the butter leaving just enough for a couple of sandwiches the next day (last full day in Florida). 

    This was a simple, quick to prepare meal.  There was nothing fancy about it but I sure felt good knowing that food wouldn't end up being tossed out.  The cost of food just keeps going up.  My husband said we have to expect some food loss under the circumstances.  I am trying to minimize that food loss as much as possible. 


    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Spaghetti with Sausage

    Our meals tend to get a bit on the creative side during using easy recipes the last few days of being at our vacation home.  That is because most things that need refrigerating can't easily be brought home when we fly and only and limited number can be brought home when we fly.  My frugal bones tells me to use up what we can rather than wasting it by throwing out.  So it does get rather interesting but out of that experimentation born of necessity comes a few good dishes worthy of tweaking a bit further.    So it was with the spaghetti with sausage dish I whipped up.  

    spaghetti with sausage
    I need fresh basil so always buy a small pot for harvesting when we are at our vacation home!  Dry pasta stores well so I can still buy that at Sam's Club but a lot of other foods are problematic.  I had a half package of bulk breakfast sausage and butter to use up.  My husband wanted pasta for dinner, specifically buttered garlic pasta.  I decided to kick the dish up a notch.  Normally I would pair butter garlic pasta with shrimp but this time I added browned breakfast sausage, chopped onions, shredded carrots and a sprig of basil.  The dish was quite tasty!  It surprised me because normally I would have gone for a saucier type of topping and in hindsight this would have been very good with a béchamel sauce but the last of our milk was in reserve for my morning coffee.  What I really liked is the flavours melded nicely even though that wasn't apparent when I first set out to create the dish.


    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Kitchen Quick Tips - Keep a Well Stocked Pantry

    kitchen quick tips

    Our weather on a global basis has been greatly affecting the price of food.  One way to offset the rising cost of food is to keep a well stocked pantry that will allow you to ride out the temporary high cost due to food shortages resulting from adverse weather conditions.  I recommend a 6 month to one year supply of food for a well stocked pantry.


    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich

    Our cooking style at our vacation home is a simpler version of that at our main residence.  There are a few reasons for this.  First we do not have some of the kitchen equipment there that we are used to using at home.  We are slowly getting there but still haven't bought a KitchenAid stand mixer, percolator, panini press, higher quality knives so basically the higher end equipment we are used to using.  Part of this is due to needing certain equipment for our short term tenants while needing storage for items we don't want them to use.  A second problem is cooking there (central Florida) has to be adjusted somewhat to keep heat out of the house, reducing the strain on the air conditioning.  The final problem is the duration of our stays so we want to minimize leftovers that can't be brought back or stored.

    Asiago cheese bread
    We eat a lot of homemade breads.  I don't have either a stand mixer or breadmachine at the vacation home so have not made bread there yet.  We have discovered that both Wal-mart and Publix have nice, fresh bread selections from their in store bakeries.  The breads are more expensive than homemade but for now it means I don't have to worry about how to store the raw ingredients when the house is rented out.

    We bought a loaf of Asiago bread.  Note the beautiful air pockets in the bread.  They are formed from the gluten in the bread dough.   The air pockets can be increased in homemade breads by using a high gluten flour or adding a dough enhancer such as gluten flour or lecithin granules.

    grilled ham and cheese sandwich
    Grilled cheese sandwiches fall into the category of comfort food but that doesn't mean they have to be boring.  It is surprising how much a different bread can accent the flavour!  The bread had a lovely Asiago flavour that melded nicely with the Swiss and Cheddar cheeses.  Again this is taking advantages of layering the flavours.  The rule of thumb when layering flavours is to use three.  In this case three cheese flavours were layered resulting in a delightful grilled cheese sandwich.  The bread really made this sandwich though with the deep air pockets capturing the wonderful flavours.  Doesn't it look scrumptious?


    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Our Vacation Home

    Our vacation home is located in a gorgeous retirement resort.  The club house is absolutely stunning and so it should be at the price $3M price tag it cost to build it!  We went down in early 2009 specifically to see a house my husband was interested in.  While we did not buy that year we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  The following year we managed to get a great deal on a house in the resort in March but did not see our newly acquired home until May.  The club house has been a regular attraction for us each trip we have made.  The food was always quite good or at least it was up until last December.

    Club House burger
    During our winter vacation we noticed that the quality of the food had diminished somewhat.  It was still good but nothing like before.  Our kids visited us during our recent spring vacation so we took them down to the club house for dinner.  What a disappointment.  The menu has been pared down to mainly sandwiches and even at that the selection was very limited - hamburger, chicken burger, club house and chicken wrap.  The taco salad remains on the menu.  The wonderful pasta bar on Thursdays has been discontinued as have actual dinner meals like roast beef with potatoes and vegetable.  The hours that food is available have been reduced.  The price of the food has increased but the food itself has become much plainer.   While there likely will still be special event meals from time to time, these will likely be considerably more expensive. 

    This really is a shame!  It has been the same chef ever since we have been going there.  He's a nice enough guy with good cooking skills but he can't decide whether he wants to cook or sing opera.  As a result he doesn't focus on putting out good quality food.  Many are voicing their complaints over this.  Unfortunately our home owner's association has had difficulty attracting another chef.  We don't eat out a lot when at our vacation home.  Occasionally eating at the club house was a bit special with the social element added in.  We'd go down for dinner then stay for a bit of dancing and socializing.  Unless something changes it appears we will only be going for the socializing now.


    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Frugal Kitchens 101 - My Essential Small Kitchen Appliances

    Frugal Kitchens 101

    Small kitchen appliances have an actual lifespan and depending on the quality one brand may more than outlast another.  I recently replaced our Melitta One:One single serving coffee maker with a Keurig single serving coffee maker.  Given our entertaining life style the Keurig was the frugal choice because I can offer a guest coffee without having to brew a percolator of coffee when no one else wants any.  That purchase has me thinking about replacing the slowly dying food processor and small kitchen appliances in general.  I'm honestly not fond of single use small kitchen appliances.  Some single use small kitchen appliances can save a lot of money but when kitchen counter space and storage are stretched, a multi-use small kitchen appliance may be a better value for your kitchen equipment dollars.  In other cases the choice is between manual and electric.  Manual will save you the cost of electricity but may not be the best choice for those with motility issues.  With that in mind here is a listing of what I consider my frugal small kitchen appliances.  I've listed brand names as well since these are the ones I have experience with and have been tested extensively in our home.

    • KitchenAid® stand mixer - This small appliance is one I would replace without blinking if it ever quit.  I use almost daily sometimes a few times a day.  It replaced my bread machine and manual food strainer as well as the broken portion (shredder/slicer) of my food processor.
    • Melitta espresso maker -   We do a lot of entertaining so being able to offer specialty coffees is a plus for me.  We can enjoy specialty coffees at home for a fraction of the price of coffee shop coffee.
    • Keurig single serving coffee maker - This small appliance is almost a must for entertaining.  I bought the reusable filter system that takes the cost of a cup of coffee from 79¢ (K-cups) to under 9¢ using regular coffee.  I have the convenience and savings so it is a win:win for those times making a full pot of coffee isn't needed.  
    • Faberware percolator (circa 1958) -  We love percolator coffee.  Drip coffee does not compare to the richness and deep bodied flavour of percolator coffee.  I bought mine at a thrift store for $2 several years ago and it is still going strong.
    • Betty Crocker electric teakettle - I bought my electric teakettle on sale for$19.99.  It has proven to be a real work horse especially when canning.
    • Hamilton Beach toaster - Ours has the bagel and defrosting cycles.  It's sleek, easy to clean and does a lovely job.
    • slow cookers - At one time the brand of choice for slow cookers was Rival and while I had three Rivals when the last one needed replacing I bought a Hamilton Beach programmable slow cooker.  I now have two Rivals and the Hamilton Beach. I also bough a Hamilton Beach for our vaction home.  All save money and from what I am seeing Hamilton Beach is the brand quickly taking over Rival.  They are quality made, nice looking appliances with a lot of features.  
    • Salton yogurt maker - I bought my yogurt maker at a yard sale for 50¢ eons ago!  Hey, it is harvest gold to tell you how old it is and I do have the original box with recipe book.  It sees weekly use.  My only wish is I could find one for our vacation home. 
    • Aroma rice cooker - My rice cooker is a must have.  I swear one of these days I'm going to learn how to cook rice on the stovetop but given the microwave experience, a rice cooker is a must.  The rice is edible too!
    • Cuisinart Easy Pop popcorn maker - Popcorn is one of the most frugal snacks you can make.  It costs me $1.49 for a kg (2.5 lb) of popcorn kernels.   One batch of popcorn uses about a quarter cup of kernels (about 4¢) considerably less expensive than potato chips and other snacks but healthier for you.  The Easy Pop is an electric version of the WhirlyGig so the popcorn stays nice and moist, light and fluffy without the drying effects or noise of an air popper.  
    • Hamilton Beach countertop roaster - This small appliance has proven to be a real budget stretcher.  I use it year round not only to save on the costs of running the big oven but during the summer to keep heat out of the kitchen.  Anything I can cook in the regular oven can be cooked in the countertop roaster.  
    • Osterizer blender - My blender is about 20 years old if not older.  It has special little containers that can be attached for grinding coffee or blending small amount.  Better yet a mason jar of which I have plenty can be used for sauces, salad dressings, dips, grinding coffee and so much more. 
    • FoodSaver vacuum sealer - My gosh this is one of my absolute must have small appliances.  Vacuum sealing prevents freezer burn but can also protect dried foods from rodents, insect and moisture damage.  
    • Black & Decker food processor - Mine is likely close to about 20 years old if not older.  The shredder/slicer attachment broke so I can only blend but it still works so I won't replace it until I really have to.  Part of that comes to the fact that this food processor has been a real work horse. 


    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Porterhouse Steaks

    Despite technically being on vacation when at our vacation home we very much eat the same way we do at home.  Our first stop  before reaching our vacation home is a grocery store where we buy enough food for the first couple of days.  Breakfasts and lunches are home made.  Dinners end up being a come as you go affair.  Unless we have definite plans to eat out, we cook at home as well.

    porterhouse steaks
    We have not found an actual butcher shop where our vacation home is.  What we did find is the meat counter at Publix that will cut meat to order.  It is the next best thing to a butcher shop.  My husband is extremely picky about the way steaks are cut for the grill.  He wants them about an inch thick and nicely trimmed.

    We arrived at our vacation home on May 15.  We were expecting a couple of our kids arriving the following day so one of our purchases at the grocery store was fresh cut porterhouse steaks weighing in at over 2 lb each.  Aren't they gorgeous looking?  Steak is one of the most expensive cuts of meat you can buy in the grocery store but in perspective even if you were to pay $12 for a steak, cooking the steak at home is always less expensive than going out for a steak dinner!

    Steak is normally our first dinner at our vacation home.  We bought a lovely propane grill that does a wonderful job of grilling the steaks.  My husband has hash marks down to a perfection.  The hash marks really are for presentation but the method for making them is quite easy.  Steaks should be grilled partially to form well defined grill marks then turned a quarter turn to form the hash mark.  The steak is then turned and the method repeated on the other side.  The trick is to get well defined hash marks while grilling the steak to the correct level of doneness without over cooking or charring.  The key is a hot grill.  Now don't you wish you had smell-o-vision?


    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Miniature Bananas

    We have flown down to our vacation home three times and driven twice.  We have already established a routine when flying.  We like to take an early flight, eating breakfast or brunch at the airport.  When we arrive in Tampa we pick-up our rental car then head towards our vacation home with one stop, the grocery store.  We buy enough groceries to get through the first day keeping in mind the few groceries we were able to store there.  I seriously hate grocery shopping in the huge super centres at the best of times so after flying I more than detest having to stop for groceries!  What makes it bearable is finding a few foodie finds that we can't find at home.  We live in a very small rural area where getting things like okra or even ground chicken can be challenging.

    mini bananas
    We like shopping for groceries at Publix where our vacation home is but also shop at Walmart and sometimes Sam's Club.  My husband had been in emerg a few hours before we left for Florida.  He was prescribed medications that required an increase in potassium.  Bananas are high in potassium so one of my first stops in the grocery store was produce section.  I spotted these cute mini bananas that were about a third of the size of regular bananas.  They were about as adorable as you could get.  I ended up buying the regular sized bananas though under the circumstances.  Still I think the mini bananas would really appeal to children and I can see them being a nice addition to a fruit platter.  Hmm, I might have to pick some up during our next trip.


    Thursday, June 09, 2011

    Kitchen Quick Tips - Dried Herbs and Spice Storage

    kitchen quick tips

    Both heat and light cause the breakdown of aromatic oils in herbs and seasonings.  Moisture can cause clumping a spoilage.  Maximize the lifespan of dried herbs and spices by storing them in a dry location away from  heat and light exposure.


    Wednesday, June 08, 2011

    Hockeytown Cafe in Detroit Metro Airport

    Our spring vacation began on May 8, flying out to Las Vegas.  We returned home for about 18 hours on May 14 then flew out to our vacation home in Florida where we stayed until May 25.  It was actually less expensive to do it this way than fly from Detroit to Las Vegas to Tampa to Detroit!  During our brief time home on the 14th we hosted a games night followed by my husband being seen in emerg and still managed to catch our flight on time.  I kept things simple for the entertaining and we had no checked baggage for the Florida so that made things a lot easier.

    Hockeytown Cafe in Detroit Metro Airport
    We prefer to fly out of Detroit rather than Toronto.  Detroit is home to the Detroit Red Wings, my husband's favourite hockey team.  As such the term Hockeytown was coined to describe Detroit which is also known as Motown (Motown records) and Home of the Big Three (motor industry).

    My husband prefers to get to airport and clear security with plenty of time to spare.  We have spent a few hours sitting in Hockeytown Cafe located in North Terminal of the Detroit Metro Airport near Gate D12.  This is a lovely little pub style restaurant where you can relax and enjoy free Wi-fi while waiting for your flight.  It's also a great place to people watch.  Airport food tends to be a bit higher priced but the price of missing your flight is higher.

    chicken Caesar salad wrap
    Hockeytown Cafe is tastfully decorated in all things Detroit Redwings!  It has a cosy, comfortable atmosphere with friendly service and good food.  I ordered the Chicken Lavesh ($10.20) while my husband had the Philly Cheese Steak ($10.50).  The Chicken Lavesh was a chicken Caesar salad wrap served with seasoned French fried potatoes.  I've eaten a lot of chicken Caesar salad wraps but this is the first time I've ever had one that had the croutons in it.  It was a lovely wrap but I'm not sure about the croutons.  I think it was more that I wasn't expecting that added crunch that isn't the norm for most wraps.

    I really liked the seasoned fries.  I think the seasoning used was simple fry seasonng salt something similar to Lawry's Seasoning Salt.  These can easily be duplicated at home by making homemade French fries then sprinkling the desired seasoning over them.  When seasoning homemade French fries place the drained fries into a large bowl, sprinkle on the seasoning then use a flipping motion to distribute the seasoning evenly.


    Tuesday, June 07, 2011

    Our Last Dinner in Las Vegas

    This will be my last post on our food adventures in Las Vegas during our 2011 spring vacation.  We have vacationed in Las Vegas several times so have learned how to eat frugally there.  When visiting Las Vegas, we buy a copy of the current year's American Casino Guide.  My husband buys the guides through Insider Las Vegas that saves $3 per guide.  This book is chock full of coupons for saving money on food, rooms, and much more.  The 2011 guide includes more than $1,000 in savings.  The second way to save money on food in Las Vegas is through comps from your play.  Our first stop at any casino is the player's club for a player's card if we don't already have one.  New members often get free gifts for signing up.  In some casinos the player's cards earn not only points but also money that can be spent in the casino's restaurants and gift shops.  If you eat at a restaurant in the casino you are staying at, charge it to the room.   The host will determine your comp at the end of the trip, removing room charges first followed by food charges.  The third way to save money on food in Las Vegas is to know where the specials are.  These are specials like the Ellis Island steak dinner for ($6.99) that is not on their menu; you have to ask for it.

    We at at Magnolia's Veranda in the Four Queens Resort & Casino the final night as we had another two for one coupon.   Each dinner came with soup or salad and dinner rolls.  My husband ordered the country fried steak.  He was still in the mood for white gravy that he won't enjoy again until the next time we drive down to our vacation home.

    The country fried steak was tender on the inside, crispy on the outside.  The real mashed potatoes were rich and creamy, topped with a white mushroom gravy.  The corn and pepper medley was a nice change.  It was lightly seasoned.  This would be a very easy meal to duplicate at home.  I will be experimenting with the corn and pepper medley.

    As long as I can remember my favourite restaurant meal has been spaghetti.  Everyone makes spaghetti sauce from scratch differently.  As a result there are subtle nuances in one homemade sauce that may not be present in another.  This has been a wonderful inspiration in the development of my own homemade spaghetti sauces.

    I ordered the spaghetti with meatballs.  The spaghetti was topped with a rich marina sauce and two large meatballs.  I have been told that in traditional Italian restaurants and homes the meat is not served as part of the sauce but rather on the side.  In fact mixing the meat in with the sauce the way I do for my signature spaghetti with meat sauce would not be considered Italian by some Italians.  I very seldom serve meatballs with spaghetti and when I do they are not the large ones but rather about an inch diameter.  The meatballs were nicely seasoned though, complimenting the pasta a sauce nicely.  This is inspiration to create a spaghetti and meatball dish. 

    Each dining experience while on vacation presents the opportunity for inspiration.   This leg of our vacation spent in Las Vegas inspired me in cooking omelets.  I loved watching the chefs cook the omelet and marveled at fillings I wouldn't have thought to use in an omelet.  I also discovered a couple of other meal ideas that I would like to expand on like the spaghetti with meatballs and white gravy variations.  Tomorrow I will start the series of posts highlighting the foods on the second leg of our vacation spent at our vacation home.


    Monday, June 06, 2011

    Frugal Kitchens 101 - Cooking for Someone Who is Sick or Incapacitate

    Frugal Kitchens 101

    Back in February I had an injury that took me out of the kitchen and off my feet for about three weeks.  Once I got back into the kitchen the issue was a motility issue in that I couldn't use the step stool to reach things I was used to reaching or doing things I was used to doing.  Our spring vacation presented a whole new kitchen issue and that was the sick kitchen.  We spent the first leg of our spring vacation in Las Vegas with him being seen in emerg during the eighteen hours we touched home before flying out again.  Our second leg of our vacation was spent at our vacation home.  We arrived home on May 25 and it has been a nightmare of emerg visits, a hospital admission, medical tests, and discovering underlying problems which bring up the whole issue of cooking for someone who is sick or incapacitated in any way.  The way do deal with this very much depends on the nature of illness.

    My injury fell into the incapacitated category.  I was on crutches so mobility and motility was an issue.  Getting a steaming hot cup of tea from point A to point B was a huge issue.  Getting hot food from the microwave to the counter was a problem then getting it to where I wanted to eat was a huge problem  Anytime you are dealing with mobility and motility issues it becomes paramount to make access easy.  This allows the patient to keep as much independence as possible.

    My husband's illenss fell into the sickness category.  He was diagnosed with viral gastroenteritis thought to have been contracted during the last day of our travels in one of the airports.  Tests revealed a couple of other problems but the primary concern in the initial days was dealing with the viral infection.  In this case it became very important to keep nutrition to help with the healing process but also to go with bland foods.  Any time there is any kind of gastointestinational problem the rules are:

    • clear liquids - If you can't see through the liquid the patient should not be drinking it!  That means no milk, coffee, soda and most juices.   Some herbal teas providing they do not interfere with any medications the patient is on may be fine.  Caffeine in particular is a stomach irritant to avoid any beverage containing caffeine.  If the patient is vomitting or has diahhorea an electolyte replacement is necessary.  There are homemade versions or you can use a sport's drink like Gatorade.  It is also necessary to keep the blood sugar level as close to normal as possible.  Jello is classic used and contrary to belief it can be used while still in liquid form.  Ginger ale can help as well to maintain the blood sugar level.  Stir it to remove the fizz. 
    • avoid dairy - All dairy with the exception of plain yogurt (helps re-establish intestinal flora) and poached eggs (provides easily digested protein) should be avoided.  Until all symptoms have subsided avoid all cheeses, any eggs cooked in fat or undercooked, milk and all milk products.
    • bland - Foods should be bland to prevent triggering nausea or irritating the stomach and intestines.  Seasonings including salt should not be used.  Bland foods include plain white rice, steamed or baked potatoes, plain pasta, and unseasoned broths. 
    • avoid white sugar - White sugar is an energy source for both bacteria and viruses.  White sugar will cause fevers to spike or worsen as well as increase both nausea and diahhorea.  Avoid anything with white sugar in it while ill.  If the patient really needs a sweetener use raw honey that has natural antibiotic properites.
    • avoid fiber - Fiber is nature's way of scrubbing out the intestines.  Normally this is a good thing, however, when the intestines are irritated the last thing you want to do is scub them.  Avoid things like vegetable peelings, legumes, pulses, beans, whole grains and that type of thing.


    Sunday, June 05, 2011

    Dinner at Magnolia's Veranda (Four Queens, Las Vegas)

    My husband and I are very much homestyle diners even when traveling, not fast food or gourmet or formal dining.  Our dining choices very much reflect this.  Now I can easily explain our choice as being we don't feel that fast food is a good nutritional value for our food dollar and gourmet or formal dining tends to be overpriced but you are paying for the whole experience.  Still justifying spending $250 or more for a formal dining experience is still difficult.  It's not like we wouldn't and definitely would if there was the opportunity to meet one of the celebrity chefs like Michael Smith, it's just we choose not to when traveling.  We have dined at a couple of higher end restaurants in Las Vegas but the meal was comped.  Any, we are both more comfortable eating home-style meals so tend to know where to find them when traveling.

    rib dinner at Magnolia's Veranda
    Magnolia's Veranda in the Four Queens Resort & Casino in Las Vegas is simply delightful.  The prices are excellent and the food is very much home style cooking.  Meals are prices about $11 each with soup or salad and dinner rolls included.  We had a two for one coupon so while the meal was not comped it was quite frugal.  We ended up eating there two nights so I will share the second dinner we had next week.

    My husband ordered the rack of ribs with soup of day, baked beans, baked potatoes and green beans.  They looked wonderful with a nice, tangy aroma earning two thumbs up from my husband.  This meal is about as home style as you can get!  The secret to cooking mouthwatering ribs at home is long and slow.  When I make barbeque ribs at home, I set the grill to the lowest setting then slowly barbeque for about 5 hours before using the mop (wet sauce).  The biggest mistake made with barbequing ribs is putting the mop on too soon and at too high of a temperature.

    chicken dinner at Magnolia's Veranda
    I ordered the grilled chicken special that was bonless, skinless chicken grilled to perfection served with salad, green beans, real mashed potatoes and gravy.  The potatoes were rich and creamy.  The gravy was definitely not a mix gravy either.  Real mashed potatoes with homemade gravy is one of the sign posts of home-style cooking!   The chicken was nice and tender with a lovely flavour. 

    The grilled chicken would be easy to duplicate at home.  The boneless, skinless chicken breasts were pounded out and lightly seasoned before grilling.  Pounding out the chicken breasts breaks some of the fibers making them more tender.  It evens out thick spots so the chicken breast cook evenly and faster without drying out. 


    Saturday, June 04, 2011

    Loaded Omelet

    My normal hot meal when traveling is eggs sunny side up, whole wheat toast, hash browns and choice of meat.  During our Las Vegas leg of our vacation I only had this hot breakfast twice.  Instead I chose fresh made omelets from the egg station.  It's not that I couldn't have had sunny side up eggs as the chef cooks your eggs to your specification, it was more that the omelet fillings looked so good.

    loaded omelet
    I chose a loaded omelet then topped it with salsa with sides of bacon, a chicken taquito and Portuguese sausage.  The omelet was stuffed with green pepper, mushroom, onion, hot peppers, and cheese.  The salsa topping is a new use for salsa for me.  I know in some areas it is sacrilegious to not use hot sauce or salsa on eggs but I prefer mine lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.  I must say the salsa was a tasty edition meaning I will have to can up a few more jars this year to meet the extra requirements. 

    Omelets are an extremely frugal dish that can easily incorporate leftovers.  They can easily be adjusted for personal tastes.  Served with a side of bacon, ham or sausage and optional hash browns, omelet make for a complete meal.


    Friday, June 03, 2011

    Spinach and Cheese Omelet

    My husband and I are creatures of habit when traveling.  We love indulging in a hot breakfast usually egg based.

    spinach and cheese omelet
    We had a two for coupon for the breakfast buffet at Main Street on Main Street one block east of Fremont Street.  Total cost was $10.20 for two which is not bad for a full breakfast buffet with an egg station.  I do not like the scrambled eggs on a breakfast buffet.  They are generally something like 'egg beaters' and don't taste like real eggs to me.  The only time I will get eggs on a breakfast buffet is when there is an egg station where the chef cooks fresh eggs to your specification.  I ordered an omelet with spinach and cheese.  I also got a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers along with sausage, hame and hash browns.  Coffee and orange juice rounded out my meal.

    Watching the chef cook eggs in the egg station was quite fascinating.  We chit chatted as he cooked and that is one of the things I enjoy the most because I learn through the dialogue.  He did not use an egg flipper until plating and then only to help fold the omelet.   This would be  a very easy omelet to duplicate at home using steamed spinach.  While this omelet only had spinach and cheese I think adding mushrooms and onions would be very good as well.  Oh and smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese and capers is just absolutely delightful!  It would be very easy to make at home as well.


    Thursday, June 02, 2011

    Kitchen Quick Tips - Cleaning Those Cracks

    kitchen quick tips

    The kitchen is filled with a multitude of small cracks ranging from large appliances, small appliances, and joints like where the sink meets the countertop.  All of these cracks are perfect hosts for bacteria that can cause food borne illness.  Sanitize these cracks by washing using an old toothbrush.  Dry well.  Then spray with rubbing alcohol working it into the cracks.


    Wednesday, June 01, 2011

    Dinner at California Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

    Las Vegas is not just about gambling!  Surprisingly it is quite possible to enjoy Las Vegas without ever gambling.  The food choices are limitless!  We always make a point to eat at the California Hotel and Casino each trip.  The food is excellent especially their prime rib and mahi mahi!  The butterfish is quite tasty as well.  Each dinner special comes with salad bar, main course, beverage and dessert.  Their menu is available online.

    mahi mahi dinner
    I ordered the mahi mahi with papaya seed vinaigrette special ($7.95).  Sides included a generous sized baked potato and mixed vegetables as well as salad bar and dessert.  Mahi mahi is a delightfully mildly flavoured fish.  It is an oceanic fish that with quick growth patterns in the warm currents.  Unfortunately I do not get to enjoy mahi mahi with the exception of a dinner in Las Vegas when we are there.  Mahi mahi, despite being a commercially important fish, is not as eco-friendly as it could be unless line caught  but it is a low mercury fish.  I occasionally see it in the frozen food section in the grocery stores here but it really is a hit a miss.

    prime rib dinner
    My husband ordered the prime rib special ($7.95).  This special is not on the menu but it is well worth getting.  The prime rib is ordered according to desired doness.  As you can see my husband ordered his medium rare.  Sides included green beans and baked potato. 

    The generous portion of prime rib was cooked to perfection.  That is one thing to stress about any meal in Las Vegas.  The portion sizes are very, very generous especially for the price.  Honestly, I doubt you could eat at a fast food restaurant for this low price and you certainly would not get the quality of food at a fast food restaurant.

    vanilla ice cream
    We are not big dessert fans, seldom having dessert at home other than special occasions.  When dining out my husband sometimes orders vanilla ice cream.  Dessert was included with the meal at California's so my husband ordered vanilla ice cream.  It came with a generous dollop of whipped cream and a sugar cookie wedge.  I like the presentation!  Sugar cookie wedges are ever so easy to make or you can use any cookie that is crispier when baked.

    Method:  Roll your dough of choice to about 1/8-inch thick.  Cut an eight inch circle then cut the circle into wedges pie shaped.  Bake as normal.  Cool then use as a garnish for ice cream.