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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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Preserving Rosemary

kitchen quick tips
Rosemary should be air dried by hanging upside down in bunches.  Once dry the rosemary leaves can be easily removed.  They can be used whole, ground course or ground to a power then stored in an airtight container.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Make Your Own Bisquick Mix

Homemade mixes are something I have stressed on this blog because they save both time and money as well as being eco-friendly with no packaging.  These mixes are easy to make, cost a fraction of store bought and perform just as well if not better than store bought.   I came across this video on YouTube demonstrating just how easy it is to make your own Bisquick baking mix.  My comments follow the video.

First, here is the recipe used in the video:

Homemade Bisquick
source:  Homestead Series

8 c flour
1½ c powdered milk
¼ c baking powder
1 tsp salt
1½ c lard (or shortening or butter*}

Place ingredients in mixing bowl.  Mix with pastry blender until well mixed.  Store at room temperature.  Use as you would Bisquick.
*if using butter, store in the refrigerator

This is a very quick, easy to make and low cost baking mix but is it cost effective?  I did the math and yes, you do save money by making your own Bisquick plus you eliminate that pesky packaging.  Bisquick ranges in price from 8¢ per ounce to 13¢ per ounce depending on where you buy it.  The current price here at our No Frills location in southwestern Ontario is 8¢ per ounce.  The homemade version varies in price per ounce depending on whether you use lard, shortening or butter as well as whether it is brand name or store brand..  Butter is most expensive and shortening is the cheapest if using store brand.  The same applies to the powdered milk but it is even cheaper if bought at the bulk food store.  The price works out to 3.4¢ per ounce to 5¢ per ounce for the homemade Bisquick.  Even using higher priced ingredients you will be saving 3¢ per ounce.  Consider if you make biscuits using 2 cups of the homemade mix you end up saving 48¢ and if you make those same biscuits once a week the savings amounts to $24.96 over the course of a year.

The nice thing with homemade mixes is not only are you saving money, you know what ingredients are in the product.  It's a way of being able to have all the convenience of store bought mixes without the added cost and packaging.  All around, homemade mixes are a win/win that will save you both time and money.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Bread

Frugal Kitchens 101
Years ago when I was knee high to a grasshopper my Mom make homemade bread by hand, bought from the local bakery and very occasionally bought a loaf of bread at the grocery store.  Prior to that, bread was homemade made, baked a couple of times a week.  Bread baking is a very frugal thing to do especially if making specialty breads but even plain white homemade bread is less expensive than store bought.  Back in the 1980's I bought a bread machine to save a bit of wear and tear on my wrists.  It ended up being a glorified bread dough mixer and proofer with the actual baking done in the oven but I still made a fresh loaf of bread almost daily.  A few years ago I bought a KitchenAid® stand mixer and now use it for making fresh, homemade bread two or three times a week.

Homemade bread really takes very little time to prepare.  Seriously, mixing and kneading the dough takes only about 7 minutes using a stand mixer.  Once the dough is ready, the real time eaters are proofing and baking but nothing beats homemade bread in terms of flavour and price. Or, you can shorten the prep time by making a batter/quick bread that takes only a few minutes to mix and no proof time. Here's a few tips on how to save a bit extra when making homemade bread.  Don't forget homemade breads can be either quick beads or yeast breads and both are very good!

  • buy in bulk - Yeast is sold in 2 lb packages at some grocery and warehouse stores for considerably less than the price of those little packets or jars  so if you make a lot of bread buy yeast in bulk.  Watch for flour to go on sale then buy in the largest package possible with the lowest unit price.  The bulk food stores are ideal for buying other ingredients like lecithin granules as well as some sugars and flours.    
  • keep it simple - You can use the same recipe yet make it into loaves or rolls.  The shape doesn't matter all that much so keep it simple.
  • fancy it up - Ok, this is quite contrary to the last point but you can easily make a homemade bread taste like a gourmet artisan bread by simply tossing in an extra ingredient or two into your regular white loaf of bread dough.  If your recipe calls for water substitute juice, stock or milk  Brush the top with a little butter which softens the crust then sprinkle sesame seeds or oat flakes over it.  Toss in a quarter cup of fruit or vegetables for a wonderful flavour burst. Toss in a couple of cherry tomatoes and tsp of Italian seasoning for a delightfully pinkish yet savory loaf of bread.  Combining a bit of shredded cheese and onion pieces results in a delightful loaf of bread.  The possibilities are endless and need not be expensive either.
  • soft insides - Certain ingredients make the bread softer.  These include lecithin, milk or powdered milk, potato flakes, yogurt, sour cream and egg.  Add a tbsp of powdered milk to the water in the recipe or substitute the same amount of fresh milk.
  • crusty crust - The trick to a crusty, chewy crust is adding steam when the loaf of bread is cooking.  The easiest way to do this is to place an oven proof baking dish with about 2 - inches of water in the oven on the rack below where the bread will be baking.  
  • salt - Salt is balances the flavour in breads but it inhibits the growth of yeast.  Do not use iodized salt as the iodine will kill off the yeast.  Do not increase or decrease the amount of salt in a bread recipe.
  • sweeteners - Sugar supports the growth of yeast.  Honey will add to the moisture of the bread.  Maple syrup and molasses can be used in bread making as well.  Artificial sweeteners should not be used as the yeast will not react properly with them.
  • liquids - Any liquid used in bread making should be luke warm before adding to the dry ingredients.  You can be creative with the liquid substituting milk, stock, potato water or juice for the water.  If using juice, use unsweetened.  Water alone gives a crispier crust while milk gives a smoother texture and softer crust.  Juices add flavour.  For example, apple bread made with water is very good but apple bread made with apple juice is divine!  If using stock, use de-fatted stock that will give flavour without extra calories.
  • flours - A wide range of flours can be used to make breads and you can grind you own if desired.  I prefer using unbleached flour for white breads.  Whole wheat flour is lower in gluten content so is usually mixed with white flour but if you want to make a 100% whole wheat bread add gluten flour or lecithin to the dry ingredients to increase the rise.
  • the rise - Bread recipes give a timing for the dough to double but that is not carved in stone.  Let the dough rise until double even if it takes an extra half hour or so.  In particular, sour dough bread doughs benefit from a longer rise than most recipes state.  The longer rise helps to develop the sour dough flavour.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Canning Differences Between Canada and Great Britian

Home canning is the process of putting up a variety of foods in jars for a shelf stable product to be used as needed.  It is an old way of food storage to ensure a good food supply during the months that fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are not available.  This practice in North America saw a decline during the war years when women began working outside the home.  During the 1950's home freezing and commercially frozen and canned foods further aided the decline of home canning.  However, across North America homemakers, farm wives and some religious sects continued home canning.  When I was growing up, I didn't know any homemaker in our very small town who did not home can.  In recent years, as a result of the y2K scare, those advocating preparedness, and those disillusioned by food industry from their added preservatives and artificial ingredients to outbreaks of food born illness via the food industry, home canning is quickly becoming the in vogue home activity.

[rant] In North America, the leading authority on home canning is the USDA.  The problem with the USDA is they tell you not to can something based on either safety or quality of the final product BUT they do not tell you which.  In some cases they don't recommend canning a particular food simply because they have not tested it.  The second problem is, some in North America mainly of course in the USA regard the USDA as the bible, meaning you should not do anything the USDA doesn't recommend.  Well, this really just wrong!  The USDA has been known to be wrong and in order to get approval of something as simple as alternative lids or even a recipe, you have to pay big bucks.  That means the USDA's recommendations are biased.  In addition, the USDA is beyond anal about botulism in home canned foods to the point they use fear mongering.  Although all home canners should take precautions to prevent the botulinum toxin in their home canned foods, the risk is so minimal the chances of botulism from home canned foods is rare.  You have a better chance of getting botulism from commercially canned foods than you do from home canned foods.  If you wash all produce properly and process low acid foods properly, the spores are destroyed as well as the toxin.  The reality is while the USDA is the leading expert for home canning they are not the only source![/rant]

Home canning exists in most countries.  It tends to be fairly popular in rural areas and those locations where having a well stocked pantry is very much desired.  In some areas of Canada it is quite possible to be snowed in for a month or more so a well stocked pantry becomes a matter of survival.  We have a shorter growing season so tend to preserve whatever we can't use.  Hunting and fishing are still popular ways to put food on the table so home canning is a way to put up the large influx of food from those activities especially if you don't have a freezer.  Here is a video I found on home canning in Great Britain courtesy of River Cottage Bites.  My commentary follows the video.  Enjoy!

There is a difference in terminology with Canadian calling it canning and the British calling it bottling.  Some countries call it jarring which really describes the process better because you are packing the food in jars.  The first jar she shows is a Kilner jar that was invented by the Kilner family of Yorkshire, England and produced by the John Kilner & Co. in the 1840's and are still in production by Kilner.  It is very similar to the mason jars we use in Canada, the only jars approved for home canning by the USDA.  These jars use a two piece metal snap lid the same as mason jars.  Now the Kilner jars would not be approved by the USDA even though they are the same as mason jars, they are Kilner not mason.  Clearly the British know a thing or two about home canning!

Pam also uses apothecary jars (clip jars) jars.  In Canada, these jars are called ball & bail jars and they can still be found in thrift stores and at yard sales as well as new in some stores.  While the USDA does not approve of these jars, they are still widely available throughout the world.  Those in North America wishing to used these types of jars can buy through Weck Jars but be warned they are considerably more expensive than mason jars.  Contrary to the USDA's recommendation, these jars do work perfectly well for home canning just the same as the Tattler lids and glass inserts work perfectly well for home canning.  The reason they are not approved by the USDA is there isn't a readily visible indication the jar is sealed for the new canner followed by the number one reason is the manufacturer has not paid the USDA to do the testing to get their jars approved for home canning.

Pam did one thing I'm not familiar with and that is to leave no headspace.  The headspace is the distance from the top of the food to the top of the jar.  The USDA recommends a ½ - inch headspace but she left no headspace.  I personally would leave the headspace because over filled jars can cause failed seals, lid buckling and jar breakage from the expanding foods when heated.  I am familiar with the method of application of the ring using the ¼ - inch turn back as that is used for glass inserts and Tattler lids but not for metal lids.  The biggest difference to processing I noticed is she processed at 88°C/190°F rather than the recommended 100°C/212°F but she did a slow warm to temperature over 20 minutes rather than the recommended 15 minutes boil time recommended by the USDA.  The USDA recommended temperatures to destroy pathogens when processing high acid food is 180°F to 212° so Pam is right within the necessary range and processing at a slightly lower temperature may give a better result.

The bottom line is while the USDA is the leading home canning resource, they aren't the only one.  Other countries have their own guidelines and surprisingly, contrary to what the USDA would have you believe,  those guidelines are quite safe because those countries also have very knowledgeable food scientists.  I tend to follow Bernardin (Canadian canning expert), Health Canada, the USDA and I test the pH of all of my products to ensure they are processed correctly.  The reality is the USDA recommendations are biased as far as jars, closures and recipes go and since they no longer have funding, I doubt they are going to do much in the way of home canning testing any time soon.  Without current research the USDA recommendations are no longer valid although some of the university extension services continue to do a bit of testing.  It is limited at best.  They are the best but little testing has been done since 1994 making much of their data old and out dated by scientific measures.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Oak Grove Cheese Factory Limited, New Hamburg, Ontario

Southwestern Ontario is sprinkled heavily with various food venues well worth the visit.  These include roadside stands, orchards, mushroom farms, farmer's markets, vineyards, fisheries and cheese factories.  At one time the large commercial food manufacturing  plants like Dare, McCormick's and Libby's had little factory outlets on site where both their employees and the general public could get fabulous deals on foods produced at the plant.  While some of the factory outlets are no more, other factories like the cheese factories and some chicken processing plants (eg. Maple Lodge Farms) still have small on site shops open to the general public.  During a recent visit to the kids in the GTA, we made a side trip to Oak Grove Cheese Factory Limited.

Oak Grove Cheese Factory Limited building
Oak Grove Cheese Factory Limited is located at 29 Bleams Road East in New Hamburg, Ontario.  This is a family owned and operated business.  It was established in 1879 by the Langenegger family.  There are currently fourth and fifth generation family members working within the business that continues to manufacture cheese the same was as it was when the business was first established.  The building itself is quite large but that is because the cheese is being manufactured on site using Ontario milk.  Unlike some cheese factories, there is no viewing window in the retain store to see the cheese being made but you can take a virtual photo tour of their cheese making process on their website.

selection board at Oak Grove Cheese Factory Limited
The on site retail stores of most food manufacturing factories have two things in common.  They are small, bordering on tiny and they are not fancy.  In most cases they have enough room behind the counter for one or two wait staff and room for about four customers on the other side of the counter.  Signage is generally simple, often hand written.  The staff is generally very friendly and knowledgeable about their product.

The retail outlet at Oak Grove Cheese Factory Limited is small and well organized.  A neatly organized, easy to read price list hangs on the wall facing you as you enter the store.  The price is per pound (lb) not kilograms.  The counter is simply a raised closed front counter without a display where the cheese is cut, weighed and wrapped.  The staff will cut and wrap you cheese as desired, either chunk or sliced.  Our grandkids love going to this cheese factory because they always get a free sample of cheese.  

a display case at Oak Grove Cheese Factory Limited
The cheese is arranged in neatly lined rows of block cheese.  Cheeses available are:  Borgonzola, brick, brie, caraway, cheddar (medium, extra old), Swiss, Colby, cook cheese (available fall to spring), havarti (plain, dill), hot pepper, Limburger, marble, Monterrey jack, mozzarella, new bra, onion & garlic, Parmesan, Romano, cheese curd, smoked old cheddar and black pepper.  They also offer cheese trays, cheese balls and gift baskets.

We had a lot of fun making our cheese choices.  Our grandkids were beyond excited.  This is one of their favourite places to visit!  I definitely share their excitement.  All that cheese just gets the creative culinary juices flowing.  Of course I overspent a bit but this is high quality cheese well worth that little extra cost!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Preserving Sage

kitchen quick tips

Sage is a hardy herb that lends itself nicely to drying either by air or heat drying.  Once dried, crush the leaves from the stem.  Blend the crushed leaves to a powder.  Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fancy Hot Dogs

As a foodie my camera is always close by.  I take a multitude of food related pictures on any given day.  The pictures are not restricted to those dishes I have made but rather encompass anything food related that strikes my fancy.  I take pictures of food in restaurants, diners, community events as well a photograph recipes I want to try from magazines when flipping through them in waiting rooms. I am particularly fond of taking pictures in the bakery section of supermarkets.  Some of the foods are just so delicious looking and then, there is the presentation.

fancy hotdogs
A few days ago, we were in a supermarket where I spotted they absolutely gorgeous fancy hot dogs.  Two things immediately popped into mind.  First, these fancy hot dogs would be a lovely, unique addition to BBQ ideas for a family get-together even though they are not actually grilled.  Although, they could easily be baked on the outdoor grill.  The second thing that came mind is that these fancy hot dogs really would not be difficult to make.

You could use Pillsbury* crescent rolls (refrigerator section of grocery store) or pre-made puff pastry (freezer section of grocery store) or homemade puff pastry as the fancy hot dogs are all about presentation.  The bottom of hot dog is a solid sheet of pastry for the wiener to rest on.  The top dough is a fancy pastry cut using a series of alternating slits on the folded dough  then gently stretched open.  Once in place covering the wiener, simply seal the edges.  Bake at 400°F/200°C until the crust is golden brown.

[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.]

Monday, May 21, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Frugal Kitchens 101 Series

Frugal Kitchens 101
I introduced the Frugal Kitchens 101 series of posts on November 24, 2008.  From its inception, the posts were designed to discuss frugal kitchen practices going live each Monday morning. About a year later I ran a reader poll to help me decide whether or not to continue the series.  Hands down readers voted a resounding yes to keeping the series going.  Here it is going on four years later and the series is still going strong.  There are days I struggle to write an interesting post simply because a lot of the frugal practices I use in the kitchen are so deeply ingrained I honestly just do them without thinking about them.  Of all the cooking and foodie post I write, the Frugal Kitchen 101 posts really are the most challenging.  There are no pictures of food, seldom any external links to help with the writing just pure writing. 

I really do hope these posts help others with frugal kitchen ideas.  While they work for me, they may not work for others and that's what it is all about.  Take what information you can use and will help you then leave the rest behind :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Quinoa Salad

My husband was away on a golfing trip a couple of weeks ago so I made an impromptu visit to one of our kids.  We visited on of the local cheese factories in the Greater Toronto area then did a bit of grocery shopping before enjoying a delicious barbecue at their house.

quinoa salad
We eat a lot of salads.  Although salad commonly refers to lettuce based dishes, salads also include those that are grain based.  Our kids made a wonder quinoa salad, perfect as a side for steak.   Quinoa, pronounced ki:nwa, is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium), closely related to beets, spinach and tumbleweed.  It is a grain-like crop  grown primarily for it's edible seeds.  Nutritionally quinoa is comparable to common cereal grains.  It has a light, fluffy texture with a mild, nutty flavour.

The beauty of any salad is there really are no set ingredient amounts.  If you really like cucumber, add a bit extra.  If you don't like onions, omit them.  Salads can be served hot or cold as well, although they are usually served cold.  The quinoa salad was very much the same way.

Quinola Salad
source:  Garden Gnome's Daughter

1 small zucchini
½ c seared mushrooms
½ c green pepper
1 lg carrot
1 c quinoa
2 c water
½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Bring two cups of water and quinoa to a boil.  Cover at a low simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the germ separates from the seed.   The cooked germ resembles a tiny curl.  It should have a slight bite to it similar to al dente pasta.  Remove from heat and fluff.  Wash and chop the vegetables.  Sear the sliced mushrooms.  Pour the vinegar and olive oil over the vegetables.  Mix well.  Stir in the cooked quinoa.  Mix and serve.

grilled steak with quinoa salad
The kids grilled steak to perfection.  Just look at those beautiful hash marks!  Quinoa and Caesar salads rounded out the meal.  Desert was the orange cream cheese coffee cake I brought, cut into fingers then topped with a mixture of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.

This was a perfect warm weather grilling menu!  When looking for BBQ menu ideas, think outside the box while keeping it simple and nutritious.  Not that there is anything wrong with the tried and true grilling favourites, just that over the course of the warmer months you can get into a grilling rut.  The easiest way to spice up a BBQ menu is to add a different salad, like the quinoa salad.

[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, May 18, 2012

Canning Jar Score

I'm not a shopper by any stretch of the imagination except when it comes to food and kitchen goodies.  Once excellent source for unique yet inexpensive kitchen ware is thrift or resale stores.  I tend to stop at one every chance I get.  These are the best places to find the older baking dishes made with borosilicate tempered glass that is less prone to thermal shock.  Newer glass bakeware is made using soda lime that has problems with exploding because it has greater thermal expansion when heated.  For that reason, I prefer using older glass bakeware that I can easily find at the thrift stores for usually under $1 a piece.

old canning jar score
I stopped at a new thrift store the other day, not looking for anything imparticular but as always hoping to find a treasure.  I found three 1 L (quart) Consumer's Glass of Toronto, Ontario but like so many Canadian glass factories, it is no more.  Consumer's Glass closed in 1997.  They were one of the biggest suppliers of canning jars for Consumer's Distributing (a defunct catalogue store) and Home Hardware (St. Jacob's, Ontario, still in business).  By right I really should not use the Consumer's Glass jars not because they can't be used but because they can't be replaced.  They are gorgeous!  They were made in 1980 so in comparison to a lot of the mason jars I have, they really aren't all that old.  At any rate they use the wide mouth lids currently available - metal two piece snap lids and Tattler re-usable lids.

I also found a 2 L Ball (made in the USA) brand standard mouth jar.  I honestly have well over 1,500 mason jars and yet have only about a dozen Ball jars.  Not that Ball jars are any better than Bernardin, Consumer's, Canadian Mason, Kerr, Golden Harvest, Home Discovery or a few other brands, it's the novelty of Ball for me.  Good gosh, we are in the US often enough that I could easily buy a few cases of Ball canning jars but so far I've restrained from doing so.

If you want to build your canning jar supply without breaking the bank, check out the thrift stores.  I paid 25¢ each for the jars which really is a bit on the high side.  New jars on sale cost about 60¢ each so the price I paid was still a nice little savings.  Normally the jars go for about 10¢ at thrift stores. It is very important to know the going prices for jars so you don't pay more than what you would new jars.  Of course the best price for jars is free and believe me, I am not above getting jars free.  All of my family and friends know I want all the jars I can get so they tend to trickle in through them.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Preserving Basil

kitchen quick tips
While basil can be air dried it is too delicate to heat dry.  A better method of preserving basil is to make pesto then spoon into ice cube trays and freeze.  Once frozen, pop out the cubes and transfer to a freezer bag for use as needed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Orange Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

As a self admitted internet junky, I do a lot of surfing.  Well, about a year ago when I was laid up with a leg injury, I rediscovered Facebook.  I had a Facebook account for years but never used it and quite frankly I didn't like their privacy policy.  Boredom does strange things so I started exploring Facebook back then and now it is my number one way to keep in touch with our kids when away as I can always find a Wi-Fi hotspot so communication is free.  I'm on Facebook daily now.  On the sidebar of the Facebook dashboard there are advertising links.  Well this link for an orange cream cheese bread finally caught my interest. Reading through the recipe I thought it would be a keeper but knew right off the bat that it would not be a bread texture, rather more of a coffee cake texture.  I made a few adjustments so the recipe is different but quite delicious!

orange cream cheese coffee cake
Looking at a recipe and knowing instinctively what to change is a good thing.  Always remember that a recipe is just a starting point.  There is nothing written in stone that a recipe cannot be modified.  That's what makes cooking so much fun!

This coffee cake was simply delicious!  It was lightly flavoured, moist and tender.  We sliced the loaf then cut into 1 - inch fingers, topping them simply with a mixture of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.  It was a nice end to a beautifully grilled dinner!

Orange Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
source:  Garden Gnome

1 c spreadable cream cheese
½ c shortening
1⅔ c organic granulated sugar
2 eggs
2¼ c unbleached flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 c milk
2 tbsp grated orange peel
¼ c fresh squeezed orange juice
icing sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350°F/175°C.  Cream cream cheese, shortening and sugar in bowl of stand mixer.  Add eggs blending well after each.  Blend in milk.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking powder and orange peel.  Slowly beat the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  Pour the mixture into a lightly greased loaf pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes.  Remove from loaf pan and allow to cool.  Place loaf on the cooling rack on a large plate.   Poke several holes in the top of the loaf with a tooth pick.  Pour the orange juice slowly over the top of the loaf.  Let sit to absorb the juice.  Transfer the loaf to serving platter.  Sprinkle with icing sugars.  Serve topped with fresh berries if desired.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Homemade Shake & Bake Chicken Halves

Chicken has recently been on sale so I took advantage of the low prices to stock up.  I typically do this with any meat or fish not purchased in bulk when they are on sale.  My experience has been that you really do need to know the current prices.  Sometimes it is less expensive to buy from the meat counter at the abattoir even considering the price of gas than it is at the grocery store.  This is often the case when it comes to pork loin cuts.  Our local Wal-mart offers price matching so even though their price of meat may be higher they will match the competitor's price.  Market sale prices for meats and fish are cyclic as are most sales so that is something to consider as well.

half chicken using homemade shake and bake coating mix
I bought a few of the whole chickens on sale.  It is less expensive to cut up the chicken yourself than to buy already cut chicken pieces.  I cut a couple of the whole chickens in half.  They are excellent for grilling when cut this way.  A few days ago, I thawed two halves with the intention of grilling.  By dinner time, it was literally raining cats and dogs.  I'm not kidding!  I made a quick change of plans to coat the chicken halves with homemade shake & bake mix.  Many consider this type of coating strictly for chicken pieces but it can be used on even whole chickens and as the coating for country fried steak.

I baked the chicken at 350°F/175°C until the chicken was golden brown, just starting to caramelize and the juices were clear (about 50 minutes).  Baked potatoes are perfect when baking chicken because they cook in about the same time.  Cooking more than one dish at a time in the oven is always the frugal use of whatever cooking fuel you are using.

The chicken, as always, was moist and tender, simply delicious.  Sometimes simple meals are the best, often falling under the category of comfort meals.  Now, a half chicken is a lot of meat, certainly more than I can eat at one sitting.  Generally, a half chicken is enough for both of us.  I cooked both halves as planned leftovers since shake & bake chicken reheats nicely.  This really was an easy, frugal meal coming in at a total cost of just under $6 for 4 servings including sides or $1.50 per meal.  Doesn't it look scrumptious?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Condiments

Frugal Kitchens 101
Typically, condiments are used to enhance the dining experience by adding a punch of flavour or even a contrast in flavour.  Condiments include soy sauce, ketchup, relish, pickles, mayonnaise or Miracle Whip, horseradish, mustard and some sauces (eg. old fashioned chili sauce, guacamole, salsas).  However, caramelized onions, chopped onions, bacon bits, fresh grated parmesan cheese and seared mushrooms could be considered condiments depending on their use.  Store bought condiments can be either a bargain or rather expensive.  For the most part, making your own condiments is less expensive than store bought.  The nice thing about homemade condiments is you can tailor them to your needs getting a product you can't buy in the grocery stores.  Here are a few tips for saving on condiments.

  • soy sauce -  Soy sauce is high in sodium and it is one food where brand name does seem to matter as far as taste.  I have never found a store brand that taste as good as the brand name.  
  • ketchup - By far the cheapest, tastiest ketchup is homemade especially if you grow your own tomatoes and homemade doesn't contain HFCS.  If buying ketchup in the grocery store, buy the largest size possible based on unit price.  Some brand names are available in institutional sizes that usually are less expensive than smaller containers.  When you get home, divide the ketchup down into smaller sized containers then freeze all but one.  Some have asked if they can home can store bought ketchup in smaller sized mason jars.  The answer is yes BUT I don't recommend it.  The end result is fine but you still have all the preservatives, artificial colours and HFCS in the product, something I feel is contrary to the ideals of home canning.
  • relish -  Relish is incredible cheap and easy to make.  They are processed in a BWB canner meaning you don't need an expensive pressure canner to process relish.  Cucumbers are easy to grow but if you don't grow them, the grocery stores often put field cucumbers on sale.  Four or five cucumbers make a lot of relish so even if cucumbers are bought in the grocery store, it is still cheaper to make your own.
  • pickles - Homemade pickles are simply delightful.  I make freezer pickles (a bread and butter, no muss pickle), pickled beets, pickled onions, pickled beans and dill pickles.  I also buy dill pickles when I run out and by far the large 1 gallon jars are the cheapest at about $3 per jar.  Really they are even cheaper than homemade but they do contain artificial colour and preservatives.  Both dill and bread & butter pickles are available in the gallon jars.
  • mayonnaise or Miracle Whip -  If you have 2 minutes of time you can easily make your own mayonnaise or Miracle Whip at a fraction of the cost of store bought.  The taste is incredible!
  • mustard - By far the most common mustard is the generic yellow.  Buy this in the institutional size and refrigerate.  It will keep for ages.  You can make a cheaper and tastier mustard using mustard powder and most gourmet mustards are less expensive if you make your own.  
  • horseradish - Unless you grow your own horseradish it is easier to buy prepared horseradish in the grocery store.  As soon as horseradish is made it begins to lose potency so by it as fresh as you can and in a small enough size to use up fairly quickly.  Use horseradish to make homemade horsey sauce and seafood sauce or use it in dips.
  • sauces - Quite often sauces are used as a condiment.  Make these yourself for unique and inexpensive condiments.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cheese Pinwheels

Happy Mother's Day!

Puff pastry is one of my favourite ingredients to work with because it is so versatile.  It can be used for sweet or savory dishes ranging from appetizers, to desserts and snacks to main course dishes.  While puff pastry can be made from scratch using the long prep method it is far easier to use the homemade short prep puff pastry method or buy puff pastry in the grocery store.

cheese topped puff pastry ready for rolling
Purchased puff pastry can be found in the freezer section of the grocery store.  It comes in a package of two rolls wrapped in wax paper.  Thaw in the refrigerator but keep cold until ready to use then unroll and cut as desired.  Homemade puff pastry dough should be chilled then rolled as desired and chilled until ready to use.

I used a roll of purchased puff pastry to make cheese pin wheels.  These are very easy to make!  I sprinkled grated cheddar cheese over the pastry sheet, pressing lightly to hold the cheese in place.  Then I turned the sheet so the long side faced me and rolled, jelly roll style.  I pressed the ending edge to secure the cut into half inch thick slices using a sharp knife.

cheese pinwheels
I pre-heated the oven to 400°F/200°C then baked the cheese pin wheels until the puff pastry turned a light golden brown and the melted cheese started browning slightly.  I cooled the cheese on a cooling rack.

Cheese pin wheels are simply delightful.  The puff pastry is rich and flaky pairing nicely with cheddar cheese.  Any cheese could be used though.  They are lovely as an appetizer and perfect for entertaining as they are just so easy to make.  You could add a light topping of tomatoes and green onions or a bit of salsa if desired.  This kid friendly, mother approved, easy appetizer is sure to become a family favourite!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Canning Ground Beef and Beef Chunks

We picked up our beef on the hoof purchase the last week of April.  The total weight was 339 lb meaning I have plenty to can up a few jars.  The first question that some may ask is 'Why would you want to can beef that is already frozen?'  followed by 'Why would you want to can beef at all?'.  The answer is two fold.  Home canned beef is a delicious, ready to heat and serve convenience product for your pantry shelves.  Take a walk down the canned food aisle of the grocery store where you will find several products containing beef (eg. soups, stews, corned beef).  You can home can these yourself for a fraction of the cost but you can add homemade convenience like seasoned ground beef, taco beef, shredded bbq beef, meatballs, meatloaf, beef chunks and so much more by home canning.  The second reason for home canning beef and beef products is unlike freezing, storage is not dependent on electricity.  If your hydro is out for an extended period of time, you could lose the entire contents in your freezer but that is not the case with home canned foods.  So even if you rely heavily on your freezer for food storage, a portion of your food should also be home canned or dehydrated.  Two lesser reasons but equally valid for home canning beef is to take advantage of a great sale or to save a bit on freezer space.

Some of my canning friends can large amounts of beef, as much as 50 to 100 lbs at a time in one product, often much more than that and multiple meat products amounting to 300 lbs or more of home canned beef products in addition to other meat products they can.  While I do can beef and other meats, I don't can in that quantity.  I usually can the following beef products in 500 ml (pint) jars, 6 jars per product: beef stew, meatloaf, seasoned ground beef, taco beef, meatballs in sauce, spaghetti sauce with meat, chili, and beef chunks.  That works out to 48 - 500 ml jars or about 55 lb of beef products total.  In general, you need 1 lb of ground beef or 1¼ lb whole cut (eg, steak, roast) per 500 ml jar.  More whole cut meat is needed because some trimming will be necessary.

Here is a video of the process for home canning ground and chunk beef.  My comments follow the video.

The ground beef and steaks canned in this video were to take advantage of a good sale on beef.  She used ground round which is 90% beef, 10% fat which is comparable to Canadian extra lean ground beef.  At $2.25/lb it is a little cheaper than our beef on the hoof but if I were shopping sales specifically for canning purposes I would hold out for a lower price per pound as she mentions.

Her work space is very restricted.  I would highly recommend the toaster oven be removed from the counter when canning to give a larger work area.  She is using the assembly line method for prepared the jars of ground beef and beef chunks.  This method can be problematic.  I preparing one jar completely (eg. filling, lids, into canner) at a time to reduce the chance of errors.  This is especially important when putting the lids and rings on the jars.

Ground beef is browned then packed into the jars.   This is called hot pack.  She uses beef bouillon but I don't recommend using the dried cubed bouillon that is very high in salt.  Use Better Than Bouillon or if avoiding corn syrup which is an ingredient in Better Than Bouillon use homemade, defatted beef stock.  Beef chucks are not cooked but rather raw packed.  Although she did not use any liquid in the jars, Bernardin and the Ball Blue Book recommend using hot broth.  Salt is not necessary if you want a low sodium product.  The hot pepper flakes are optional and you can basically season as desired as long as you don't add oil.  Pay attention to the correct headspace as 1 - inch is recommended.  More or less headspace can cause seal failures.

I am not familiar with her brand of pressure canner although I think it may be a Presto.  I use 3 quarts of water in my pressure canners.  The vinegar will prevent water deposits on the outside of the jars.  The 10 minute vent is recommended for all pressure canners to remove any extra air from the canner that may hinder the canning process.  Once the 10 minute vent is finished put the regulator (jiggler or rocker) on and begin the processing time once the rocker jiggles at a steady pace about 2 to 3 times a minute.  Process 500 ml (pint) jars for 75 minutes, 1 L (quart) for 90 minutes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Preserving Parsley

kitchen quick tips

Parsley can be dried by bunching then hanging upside down until brittle.  For a fresher flavour, pack clean, chopped fresh parsley into freezer bags.  Freeze then use as needed.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Rustic Cottage Pie Revisited

I wrote about my recent mini bulk cooking session a couple of days ago.  Essentially what I did was make three casseroles in advance to help get us through a very busy weekend ahead.  One of the casseroles was cottage pie sometimes erroneously referred to as shepherd's pie. Technically, shepherd's pie is made using ground lamb while cottage pie is made using any type of ground meat except game meat (eg. moose, venison) then it is called hunter's pie.  If using fish it is called Maritimer's pie.  There you be, a short lesson on naming essentially the same dish based on the type of meat used.

cottage pie
Cottage pie is a very frugal, easy to make, nutritious casserole.  I often cook two roasts at a time which gives me double the gravy.  I freeze the extra gravy for later use.  In general, meat or poultry gravies freeze nicely but those thickened with corn starch thin slightly.  I browned the ground beef, drained the seasoned lightly and stirred in about a cup of the beef gravy.  That formed my meat layer.  I topped the meat layer with seared mushrooms, sweet peas and niblet corn.  The potato mixture was mashed steamed potatoes, steamed carrots, herb & garlic cream cheese, sour cream and a little beef stock.  I used the rest of the gravy to top the cottage pie servings.

Note the layering of the beef flavours by the use of three beef ingredients - ground beef, beef stock and beef gravy.  Each form of the beef adds a slightly different element while enhancing the flavour of the other beef variants.  This was a very simple, frugal dish using about a pound of lean ground beef yet giving a yield of 6 good sized delicious servings.  Cottage pie does freeze nicely.  Simply freeze after assembly without cooking then reheat right from frozen without thawing.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

National Hunger Awareness Week

Yesterday was the kick-off for National Hunger Awareness Week in Canada.  Canada is a very affluent country, rich in foods it produces.  Yet food insecurity is a growing concern in Canada.  The sad thing is hunger affects children the most and quite often it is hidden.   A number of charitable organizations and service clubs as well as churches are collecting donations for the food banks.  We donate on a regular basis to the food banks and I volunteer for the school's breakfast club three times a week.  This is a nutritional program that gives a child a meal, no questions asked.  The pay is amazing - a smile from a child who had at least one meal that day.  The sad reality is that meal may have to last them until the next morning because there simply is no food at home.

I cannot begin to count the number of hungry kids I have fed over my lifetime.  Anyone who knew our kids knew they could always come to our house for a meal. We've had friends that would always pop in at dinner time simply because they could not afford to feed themselves.  We always make do and know how to stretch a meal so it doesn't look like that's what we've done.   In all honesty, I would be very insulted if anyone ever left our home hungry.  I firmly believe that you can eat well and eat healthy without spending a lot of money.  Sure it might take a little work but it is worth it.  And to those who say they can't grow edible plants for whatever reason they give and believe me I have heard them all I have one word - HOGWASH!

While on the topic of hunger, food banks exist because there is a need.  There are three problems with food banks.  First there is a stigma associated using a food bank.  Some feel ashamed admitting they need a helping hand.  Second, a food bank is a helping hand not a hand up and not a way of life.  We seriously have some using the food bank for food so they can afford cigarettes and alcohol.  That's not what it is for.  As adults you make the choice where to spend your money.  I'm not really hard nosed about this though especially when kids are involved.  They can't help what their parent(s) do and can't control the money but they still need to be fed.  The third problem and biggest one with food banks is those using the services do not know what to do with the food they get.  A lot of the food is what I would consider junk food and they don't get the staples like milk, cheese, or eggs to be able to use the foods they do get.  For example a box of KD is rather useless without milk.  Compounding this problem is they don't know how to cook what they do get or they don't have the equipment to cook what they get.  While cooking dried beans from scratch is a lot cheaper it is of little use if you don't have a pot to cook them in.  I'm just saying...

Monday, May 07, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - A Look at Canada's Food Guide

Frugal Kitchens 101
North America for the most part is a land of plenty.  That is reflected in the North American diet that consists of a larger portion of over processed foods, fast foods and large serving sizes.  The reality is the average North American eats too much and they eat too much of the wrong foods.  As a result diet related illnesses like Type II diabetes and obesity are increasing at a rapid rate.  The USDA has established the Choose My Plate guideline for healthy eating, while the Canadian counterpart established by Health Canada is the Canada Food Guide.  Few of us go to a dietician or nutritionist unless there is a problem but we can easily access these free dietary guidelines.  Both of these resources provide excellent information for how to eat healthy and live well.

My husband and I have a fairly healthy diet full of the right foods but are the first to admit our portion sizes are larger than they should be.  Last year about this time my husband was hospitalized with an unknown gastrointestinal infection.  Once that cleared, he was diagnosed as pre-diabetic so we went to a dietitian  for counseling as to how to control the progression to Type II diabetes by modifying his diet.  In our case, we eat the recommended number of servings of each food group in the Canada Food Guide but what was off was portion size and not enough exercise.  What the food guide does do if you read closely is allow you to make healthy choices should you choose to eat vegetarian by giving both meat and milk alternatives.

The other day I did a brief analysis of the Canada Food Guide.  Now, if one were to follow the guide along with the proper portion size, there would be a reduction in the over all cost of groceries yet ending up with a healthier diet.  I did the calculations based on myself.  I am an over 50 female, petite with small bones, lactose intolerant, have asthma and arthritis and on a scale of one to ten on the activity scale with one being least and ten being most active, I probably average a 4.  Like many with chronic disorders, activity can be affected but I try to walk daily, cut the grass, garden and play volleyball once a week.  Well, playing volleyball is debatable as I really am a place holder <VBG>.  The Canada Food Guide recommends I have 7 servings of fruits and vegetables, 6 servings of grains, 2 - 3 servings of dairy and 2 servings of meat or meat alternatives daily.  I will note that the Canada Food Guide does not adjust for a more active lifestyle.  It really is the minimum requirements, pretty much what you would be served if hospitalized.  So here is the breakdown with serving size and estimated costs:

  • fruits and vegetables - The serving size for most fruits and vegetables including juice is 1/2 c except for leafy vegetables with a serving size of 1 c.  Of note is potatoes.  The serving size is still 1/2 c or 1/2 a medium potato, not the whole potato.  The serving size for cherries and grapes is 20 pieces of fruit.  The average cost of a serving of fresh fruit is 30¢; a serving of fresh vegetables is 10¢ to 25¢.  Many choose fruits over vegetables but fruits cost more per serving and have a higher level of sugar so the emphasis should be on vegetables.  Seven fruits and vegetables will cost me under $2.10 per day assuming paying full price and not growing any.
  • grains - I need 6 servings of grains per day which would amount to 1/2 bagel, 2 slices bread, 1/2 c cooked pasta or rice,  and 1 tortilla shell (counts as 2 servings).  Each serving costs about 30¢ each for a total cost of $1.80.  Note the serving size for cooked pasta.  That heaping plate of pasta topped with fresh vegetables and sauce we are so fond of while healthy really is 4 portions!  Restaurant pasta portions are so large they really are 5 to 6x the recommended 1/2 c portion.
  • milk and milk alternatives - I do not drink milk and my doctor said to avoid soy products so my 2 to 3 servings of milk would consist of 1 1/2 oz block cheese, 1 c cottage cheese and 3/4 c plain homemade yogurt.  Milk (2%) costs $3.83 per 2 L or 47.5¢ per c.  I use this for the homemade yogurt so my milk servings cost about 80¢ per day.
  • meat and meat alternatives - The recommended serving size for meat and fish is 4 oz or the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards.  That means that gorgeous 16 oz steak bought for dinner serves 4 people not 1.  Two eggs count as one meat serving; 1/4 c nuts is one meat serving, and 3/4 c cooked beans is one meat serving.  Clearly, reducing the meat and meat alternatives to the recommended amount is going to save a fair amount of money on the grocery bill.  Two meat servings cost $1 to $4 depending on the meat or fish or alternative.
  • beverages - The number one recommended beverage by Health Canada is water.  Water is healthier for you while eliminating the high costs of carbonated beverages.  While coffee and tea is mentioned, caffeine should be restricted.
In general, following the Canada Food Guide would 'technically' cost me $8 per day or less to eat for the entire day based on buying foods from the grocery store.  On the surface that would work out to $240 per month but in reality it doesn't because there are so many ways to save on the cost of food.  Part of that is due to frugal shopping (buy on sale, buy in bulk), cooking from scratch, home canning, and growing what ever possible.   In perspective, that $8 per day is considerably less than grabbing an XL double double and a burger combo each day.  The cost of a chocolate bar from a vending machine each day would easily pay for 4 pieces of fruit each day.  Some folk honestly have no problem spending $3 per day for a gourmet coffee shop coffee yet will complain at spending $3 on fruits or vegetables, a healthier alternative.  In fact, some have no problem eating two meals a day at a fast food restaurant that would easily surpass that $8 per day price tag but the food is not near as healthy.  The thing is folks don't consider that $10 per day in coffee, vending machine and fast food snacks as part of their food budget so while they think they are spending $150 per week on groceries, the extra food purchases brings the total cost up to $220 per week.

Aside of smaller food portion sizes and a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables, what is glaringly absent from the Canada Food Guide is oils, condiments and snacks type foods.  Snacks are costly and can really drive up your food expenditures.  Homemade cookies and cakes are less expensive than store bought.  They would fall under grains in the guide.  Potato chips are quite highly priced and are high in sodium, fats, preservatives and additives like maltodextose that has addictive properties triggering cravings.  Instead make homemade baked potato chips (considerably less expensive than store bought) or make homemade popcorn,  Don't use the pricey and unhealthy microwave popcorn as the chemical that makes it smell good is carcinogenic.  The cost of condiments can really add up so reduce the amount used and make your own from scratch.  Salad dressings are considerably less expensive if made from scratch rather than store bought.  For a refreshing change from salad dressing with no calories, sprinkle your salad with fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A Mini Bulk Cooking Session

Years ago I came across an idea called once a month cooking (OAMC).  The premise was that you took a weekend to prepare enough meals for the freezer to last the entire month.  Well, the concept was not new to me as I had been doing mini bulk cooking sessions for years.  An actual OAMC session can be quite over whelming. It is hectic with the extensive shopping, prep work, cooking and packaging for freezing.  My modified method fills the freezer without using an extensive cooking session.  The day following picking up our bulk meat purchase I did a mini bulk cooking session.

taco salad
We had been out of ground beef for about five weeks before I picked up our bulk beef purchase.  Oh sure, I could have ground up one of the roasts but I didn't.  The thing is we really really were missing our ground beef.

I took 4 lbs of ground beef from the freezer to do a bit of bulk cooking.  One pound went to make to plain browned ground beef.  My husband loves it just like that on bread.  The second pound went towards taco salad, one of our absolutely favourite summer meals.  The next two pounds were used to make a couple of ground beef casseroles for the weekend.

browning ground beef
The beauty of ground beef is you really can brown up several pounds then divide it down into what you want to use.  Once browned you can add whatever seasonings or sauce you want.  I browned up two pounds of the ground beef.  When the ground beef was browned, I divided it into two portion - on for the base of the hamburg casserole and the other for the base of a cottage pie.  It ended up being a pound of browned ground beef being used for each casserole.  I used about 2 cups of homemade gravy with the browned ground beef to from the base for the cottage pie.  Really, using homemade gravy is best if at all possible.

some of the ingredients for mini bulk cooking session
The other ingredients were fairly simple and while there was a bit of overlap in the ingredients something that is desirable when bulk cooking, there was enough of a difference to delineate the two casseroles.  I like using a lot of fresh ingredients as you can see and while some of the ingredients do overlap for both of the casseroles the end result is two very different casseroles.  The ingredients were those that are on hand in the pantry and freezers.

casseroles ready for the oven
I made a hamburg casserole (left) and a cottage pie (right).  I will say that I very seldom use just a plain potato topping for cottage pie.  I like using unpeeled steamed potatoes with one or more vegetables, cream cheese, sour cream or plain yogurt as the topping for cottage pie.  It adds a bit of rustic texture while adding a lot of flavour.  I always use homemade gravy to form the base of the cottage pie as well.

There was leftover elbow macaroni from the hamburger casserole so I decided to make a small mac and cheese.  I used one of the new KitchenAid ceramic baking dishes.  I seriously love these new baking dishes!  In the end I had one hamburg casserole, one rustic cottage pie, one mac and cheese with leftover cheddar cheese sauce.

homemade mac and cheese
My husband took one look at the casseroles then declared the mac and cheese for dinner.  Doesn't it look scrumptious?  The beauty of doing a mini bulk cooking session, is not only do you have the food in the freezer you have several meals for the rest of the month.

The casseroles I made all would freeze nicely and they were more than enough for easy eating for the weekend without being froze.  The nice thing is I really didn't spend a lot of time putting the casseroles together.  What is important when doing these types of canning sessions is flexibility.  In this case I had extra elbow macaroni so immediately made a tray of mac and cheese but had there been extra of another ingredient I would have used it in some way.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Bulk Beef Purchase 2012

We buy beef on the hoof each year.  What this means is the cow is bought as a calf, raised by one of our farming friend then when fully grown we arrange to have the cow taken to the abattoir where it is processed.  The cow  is raised grass fed and hormone free.  We normally keep half of the processed cow ourselves then either the other half or the two quarters to to whoever went in with us on the cow.  If the others don't want the soup bones, heart, tongue or liver we get them.  If left with the abattoir they would simply sell them.

bulk beef purchase 2012
This year's purchase was a half of the cow which worked out to 339 lb.  We paid $630 to our farming friend for our half of the cow, then we paid $225.44 to the abattoir for butchering & disposal, cut & wrap plus HST.  This is the first year we have had to pay HST on the abattoir charges as it went into effect July 1, 2011 but abattoir charges are considered a service so are now taxable.  The total cost for meat and processing was $855.44 which works out to $2.52/lb.

Some question whether we actually save money buying beef in bulk.  The answer is yes AND we are getting a higher quality of beef than we can buy in the grocery stores.  Currently extra lean ground beef is on sale for $2.97/lb (regular $4.59/lb), top sirloin is on sale for $6.99/lb (regular $9.99/lb) and prime rib $8.99/lb.  Regardless of the cut of beef, our cost per pound works out to $2.52/lb, 45¢/lb less expensive than the sale price for extra lean ground beef.  The price per pound is up almost 20¢ per lb from last year but part of that increase is the HST.  This year, we did end up with the extra soup bones, liver, heart and tongue because no one else wanted them.  That isn't factored into the total weight of the half of beef. 

We could not make this type of bulk meat purchase without freezers.  We have two chest freezers and two freezer compartments, both side-by-side.  There are three problems with freezers.  First they are susceptible to food loss due to power outages.  This is less of a problem now that we are urban but still possible because sometimes freezers just stop working.  We actually had a brand new as in not even a month old freezer fail on us while we were on vacation.  Talk about a mess!  In general, a freezer will keep foods froze for up to 4 days if not opened.  It is very important to include a rider for your freezer on your household insurance policy to cover any food loss.  Second, foods not properly packaged for the freezer are subject to freezer burn.  This affects the flavour and texture of the food.  I know of no way to reverse freezer burn.  The food basically has to be tossed.  This abattoir uses freezer paper secured with a special freezer tape unlike the other abattoir we have dealt with that used elastics to secure the packages.  The elastics allow air in.  If packaging foods for home freezing, use a vacuum sealer if at all possible.  Third, from the moment food goes into the freezer it does cost you to store it via electricity usage.  Some home canners simply can a bulk meat purchase like this eliminating freezer costs and while I will can a very small portion (about 40 lb plus stock from some of the soup bones) of this purchase, we like our steaks and roasts.  Lessen electricity costs by using an EnergyStar® certified freezer and keep it full.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Preserving Chives

kitchen quick tips
Chives can be cut into pieces for drying with scissors but you get a nicer flavour if you cut chives the same way then freeze them.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Home Canning Defatted Meat Stocks

As the time approached for the arrival of our beef on the hoof purchase, I transferred what I could from the large chest freezer to the smaller chest freezer and the freezer compartments of both refrigerators.  A common trick many home canners use when needing freezer space is can anything possible.  Rather than continuing to store the remaining two packages of beef soup bones, a package of chicken bones, and a litre container of uncooked crushed tomatoes, I decided to can them up. 

using a gravy separator to defat chicken stock
I spent two canning sessions canning meat stocks which actually ended up in three canning sessions due to seal failures on three jars.  I always defat my meat stocks because it results in a low fat stock that looks nice in the jars.  The fat and skin is left in the stock when making it because it adds flavour.  Stock making is usually a two day process when defatting as allowing the stock to cool completely makes it rather easy to simply lift the fat off the surface of the stock.

Chicken fat does not harden like beef fat does.  So I came up with an easier method for defatting the chicken stock.  I strained the hot stock then poured it into the gravy separator and let is settle.  Then I slowly poured the stock into the jars and repeated the process until all the jars were filled.  This worked so nicely that I might eliminate the cooling period for other meat stocks.

home canned defatted beef, tomato beef and chicken stocks
Pictured is the stock I made during the first canning session. I make tomato beef stock (far right), beef stock (middle) and chicken stock (far left).   The following session I made tomato beef stock and beef stock.  The total number of jars for the two canning sessions was 27: tomato beef stock (9), chicken (6), beef 12).  Of the total jars, one chicken and two beef did not seal.  Notice I used mainly Tattler reusable lids on the jars in this batch and all Tattlers for the second batch.  The following day, I reheated the stock in the jars that did not seal and reprocessed.  Of those three jars, two did not seal meaning my technique with Tattlers is off just slightly.   The method has been updated to tighten finger tight rather than tight with a quarter inch turn back.  I was still using a box of Tattlers from my first purchase not realizing that the method had been revised until my new shipment came in.

I put those two cooled jars into the freezer rather than process for a third time.  I could have reprocessed them but I seldom reprocess jars with seal failures as I don't like to run the pressure canner unless at least half full.  Besides, I was pressed for with the blind installers coming out and the kids arriving the same day.  I could have put them in the refrigerator to use within the next few days but we already had plans so freezing was the best option.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Home Canned Stewed Rhubarb

Home canners often freeze berries and other fruits to be canned outside of the busy canning season.    This frozen fruit is later made into jams, jellies and syrups.  I really don't freeze fruits for this purpose.  However, when I was preparing the larger chest freezer for our beef on the hoof purchase, I discovered one of the lids on a container of frozen rhubarb pieces had split.  This happens from time to time when using harder plastic containers like the Ziploc or Gladware containers.  The reason being, rigid plastic tends to get brittle when when frozen.  If dropped or something is dropped on it, the lid or sides of the container can break or crack.

home canned stewed rhubarb
I thawed the stewed rhubarb then a bit of sugar and brought the mixture to a boil.  I let simmer a few minutes then put the mixture into hot jars and processed in a BWB canner for 10 minutes.  The end result was two lovely jars of stewed rhubarb ready to be used as an ice cream topping, stirred into plain yogurt or oatmeal as a fruit sweetener or used for making rhubarb crumble .  It can be thickened slightly to use in fruit tarts.

It is always a good idea to watch for any tears in freezer wrap or plastic bags including vacuum seal bags or cracks and/or holes in hard plastic containers in the freezer.  Food packages get moved around a lot in the freezer so  can get damaged.  If you find a package that has been damaged exposing some of the food, the food can be repackaged or cooked if it is not freezer burned.  If the food is freezer burned, it is best to toss the food as the quality of the food has suffered.