My photo
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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Olympian Breakfast

The 2012 Summer Olympics opened on Friday, July 27 in London, England.  As I write this post I am very proud to announce that Canada has won a total of four medals.  Way to go!  The Olympics are special so I have been making a few dishes to celebrate them.  I checked out Life Made Delicious for Olympic recipes.  There are a couple of recipes there that I am planning on trying as soon as I get a chance.  Right now I am in full home canning mode which means little time for cooking but also means lots of great produce on hand.  I was slicing up red peppers the other day and came up with a breakfast idea supporting our Canadian athletes.

The Olympian Breakfast
Athletes really need a high protein diet to aid in good muscle development.  Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I came up with The Olympian Breakfast.  The red and white signify Canada and the rings a tribute to the Olympics.

This is a very easy breakfast to make.  I place two red pepper rings in a ceramic coated fry pan on medium heat.  Then I cracked an egg into each ring.  Once the egg white started to cook, I placed  a lid on the pan and let the eggs cook until just set.  I garnished with a little Spanish paprika for flavour.  This protein rich breakfast was served with side bacon, whole grain toast, homemade yogurt topped with crumbled General Mills Whole Grain Oatmeal Crisp Triple Berry Cereal and blueberries (not pictured), and extra pulp orange juice.

Aside of being a high protein breakfast, I tried to work in healthy fiber.  The cereal is one of three cereals in General Mills new Green Banner Campaign.  The other two cereals are our all time favourites, Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios.  These boxes now sport a green banner to let you know that oat fibre helps lower cholesterol.  It's all part of healthy eating.  Cheers to our Canadian athletes! 

"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, July 30, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Estimating How Much Food Home Can

Frugal Kitchens 101
Home canning is the most frugal activity possible.  Even if you only home can high acid foods (eg. jams, jellies, pickles, fruits) you can save a significant amount on your food costs.  Add canning low acid foods (eg. vegetables, meats, poultry, soups, dried beans) greatly increases your food cost savings.  Keeping a well stocked pantry that relies heavily on home canned foods requires a bit of planning.  The ideal goal is to put up enough produce to last until the next growing season with a bit extra as reserves and for gift giving.  There are three approaches to home canning.  The first approach is to simply can whatever possible.  This approach is the one used most often by new home canners.  The problem is it can lead to too much of one product and not enough of another but it is a good way to get started in home canning.  The second approach is to use a canner's planning guide based on the number of servings per week as recommended by Canada's Food Guide.  This approach can be quite overwhelming for new home canners as it would result in 824 - L jars, 72 - 500 ml (pint) jars and 160 - 250 ml (half-pint) jars for a total of 1,056 jars of food for a family of four.  The third approach and the most versatile is a combination of the first and second approach.  It also takes into account your family's actual food usage while giving you the flexibility of preserving your garden harvest as well as taking advantage of fresh local produce and meat or poultry sales.  I use the third approach which is, in my opinion, the frugal and cost effective approach.  Here are a few tips to help you estimate how much food to home can.

  • basic calculations - amount used per week X 52 = amount required per year OR # jars used per dish X number of times the dish is made per year
    • take stock - Go through all of your food cupboards, your pantry and your freezer.  Make a list of the foods you use on a regular basis.  If there is a food product like relish that has sat in the cupboard for over a year that is a strong indicator that you should not be home canning relish.  If there is a product you use a lot of like tomato sauce that is what you should be home canning.  Make note of the size jar or can you are currently buying as that will be very similar to the size you will want to use for home canning.
    • focus on what you use -It is nice to experiment and each year I always try a few small batches of a new product to home can but my main focus is canning what I know we will use.  We use a lot of tomato product, green beans, kidney beans and meat/poultry stocks so that is the focus of a good portion of my home canning.  I can other foods in lesser quantity.  For example, we have green beans at least twice a week.  That means I need to can at least 104 - 500 ml jar.  Another example, we use home canned carrots not as a side but rather an ingredient.  I use 1 - 500 ml jar about once a month in the cooler weather.  November through March is 5 months so I need a minimum of 5 - 500 ml jars carrots.  I usually round this up to 8 so I can run a full half canner load. 
    • don't go overboard - If you are the only one in the house that likes pickles, don't can 40 jars of pickles.  Do a small batch or two of whatever pickles you like.  This will give you 2 to 7 jars of pickles depending on the size of the jar used.  The average small batch recipe gives a yield of 4 - 500 ml jars.  Any new product that you have never canned before but like the sounds of it so would like to try should be canned in a small batch size.  This reduces waste in the event you do not like the food.
    • think convenience -  Some home canned foods are convenience foods (eg. kidney beans) while others are great quick meal starts (eg. meatballs in sauce).  I use 6 - 500 ml jars of kidney beans per batch of chili (huge batch).  I make about 6 batches this size per year and the resulting chili itself can also be canned for a ready meal.  At minimum I need to can 36 - 500 ml jars of kidney beans (#used X times made). 
    • break up canning sessions - I use a lot of meat stock, upwards of 4 - 500ml jars per week.  The basic calculation would mean I need to can 4 x 52 = 208 jars of stock BUT meat and poultry stock can be canned year round and is canned when the bones are available.  That means I can stock as I have the bones throughout the year.  Tomatoes are a horse of another colour.  Our garden starts producing tomatoes by mid-July but the bulk of the tomato harvest here is September through mid-October or first frost.  Over that time period I will do multiple canning sessions focusing only on tomato products and usually one or two tomato products per session.  Depending on the product each session will give a yield of 12 to 48 jars of food.  The pre-determined number of jars of each product determines how many canning sessions I need to do for that particular product.  For example, if I need 24 - 500 ml jars of roasted tomato basil sauce with each batch giving me a yield of 6 - 500 ml jars, I need 4 batches total.  Since this is a long cook sauce, I would make one batch per session in addition to whatever else I was canning during that session.  I would need 4 canning sessions to complete what I needed for the roasted tomato basil sauce but at the same time would be running another tomato product like whole tomatoes while the sauce cooked.
    • keep records -  I keep detailed records of what I canned, the cost of the raw ingredients, any problems encountered and the yield as well as the inventory for any product in the pantry when I am ready to a canning session for that product.  This information helps me form my canning plan for the following year.  For example, if I made 12 jars each of mild, medium and hot salsa (total jars 36) but have only 2 jars of mild salsa left, it would mean I have to increase the amount of all three salsas  Chances are good, I ran out of the medium and hot, then stretched the mild to get to the next canning season.  I would increase the total number of jars by 12 then track whether it was enough or not.  On the other hand, if I canned 12 jars of cherry jam and my inventory was 8 when cherries were ready that would mean there would be no need to can more or I could do a small batch of cherry jam to replace the 4 jars used, which is likely what I would do.  If I find like last year there is a higher demand for something I usually don't make (eg. dill pickles) I note that so that I can include that product in the following year's canning plan.
    • be flexible - Some years are good gardening years with plenty of local fresh produce at reasonable rates.  Other years it can be harder than heck to keep the garden going or find the fresh produce you want to can.  This is why I always add a 10 - 20% margin on what I am canning unless it is a new test product but if it is something I just have a feeling about I will make a two year supply.  For example, if I need 12 jars of peaches I would round it up to 14 jars which would be two canner loads of 500 ml jars BUT if peaches were expensive the year before yet abundant and inexpensive that year with predictions of adverse weather conditions that may drive the price of peaches up the following year, I would can 28 jars.  I always take into consideration the availability of what I'm growing plus what is available locally for purchase.  At the same time if there is a good sale on produce, meat or poultry I will take advantage of it.  It's usually for produce that isn't grown locally (eg. citrus, mangos) but again I follow availability and our usage.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Turtle's Nest Restaurant at the Costa Linda Beach Resort in Aruba

During our spring vacation split between Florida and Aruba, we enjoyed a wide variety of great foods.  Dining in Aruba was quite delightful affording us opportunities to try Caribbean cuisine.  Caribbean cuisine has a distinctive Netherlands Antillean flavour, a mingling of diverse cultures and dishes of the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Latin America, Indonesia, and West Africa.  Some dishes distinguished by their Papiamento names are exclusive to the islands.  Some of the ingredients like prickly pear, mawby bark, plantains, concomber (a light green spiny cucumber), piccalily, and aromatic herbs just tantalize the tastebuds!  Seafood in one for or another is available at every restaurant on the island.  Dining in Aruba is an experience it itself.   Tourism is the island's largest industry and they certainly do treat tourists like royalty!

all you can eat bar-b-que- at the Turtle's Nest Restaurant in Aruba
Executive Chef John van Hoven completed the menu for the Turtle's Nest Restaurant at the Costa Linda Beach Resort in Aurba that includes two seafood signature dishes daily, one highlighting shrimp, the other fresh fish.  The restaurant offers a very popular breakfast and lunch menu as well theme night dinners.  My husband and I enjoy grilled foods year round so it isn't surprising that we were excited to find The Turtle's Nest  offered a Tuesday Night Caribbean All You Can Eat Bar-b-Que.  It immediately went onto our agenda as a must eat at restaurant which wasn't difficult as we were staying at the Costa Linda Beach Resort.

The Tuesday night Caribbean all you can eat bar-b-que ($19.95) consists of southern style glazed bbq ribs or grilled bbq chicken legs or grouper fritters or a combination of all three served with French fries, cole slaw, baked beans and fresh baked corn bread.  We each ordered the combination to try both meats and fish.  All were delicious!  The grouper fritters had a light, tangy lemon sauce that was quite tasty.  Both the beans and cole slaw came in small serving bowls.  The ribs were fall off the bone tender with a nice flavour as was the chicken.  The seasons were definitely Antillian, richly aromatic with just a hint of heat, yet pleasant on the palate.  The cornbread was scrumptious!  I didn't care for the fries as they weren't fresh cut which is the only negative I can say about the meal.  True to their word they refilled our plates when requested making this an excellent deal.

This BBQ menu is very much like what we would offer for a larger get together during the summer months except grill baked or camp style scallop potatoes would be substituted for the fries.  I really would like to duplicate the grouper fritters.  Grouper is a wide-mouth fish similar to wide-mouth bass (here in Ontario, Canada).  It is rather popular in Florida so we can get it when at our vacation home but so far I have not been able to find grouper here.  Both small and large mouth bass are popular fresh-caught fish here but not available in the frozen food section.  Unlike grouper that is usually breaded in Florida, it is usually pan fried with no or little coating.  Large mouth bass would likely be a good substitute fish for the fritters.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Firm Pickles (2)

kitchen quick tips

Pickle Crisp (calcium chloride):  Add 1/8 tsp per 500 ml (pint) or 1/4 tsp per L (quart) to each jar of fresh pack vegetables to be pickled after adding the brine for firm, crispy pickles.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Canning Safety Tips

Frugal Kitchens 101

Home canning is a wonderful art as well as being a science.  It does however, require a heightened degree of safety awareness that isn't as important for normal day to day cooking because you are using equipment that has the potential to cause a higher degree of physical harm.

  • never can when you are tired - The busy canning season here runs from early June to early October.  Produce can come it at such a rate that it is overwhelming.  You can become both physically and mentally tired just trying to deal with it.  The problem is when you are tired you make mistakes that can be not only a safety hazard but end up in food wastage with all your canning efforts wasted.  Enlist some help, take a break and realize Rome wasn't built in a day so neither will your pantry.
  • never can under the influence - Many take being under the influence to mean having consumed alcohol but that is simply not the case.  Antihistamines, cold medications, OTC pain killers and a whole host of medications prescriptions or otherwise can actually cause you to not think clearly.  This is not the time to be home canning.  If you must be on a drug that can affect your judgement or co-ordination, postpone home canning until you do not need the drug.
  • don't can when you are rushed - I know I can run a batch of jam in 20 minutes but that can easily stretch out to 40 minutes.  The cardinal rule is you don't can if you can't comfortably finish that canning session without rushing.  Rushing causes you to make mistakes that result in safety issues as well as food spoilage.
  • don't can when you are sick - There is an old wives tale that you should never can during your mense as it causes food to spoil.  The real reason for not canning then is you simply don't feel well, you are tired and you will make mistakes that can result in food spoilage and/or personal harm.
  • don't can with pets or children underfoot - The general advice is to not can if children or pets are in the kitchen.  For many Moms this is not practical advice for children but easier for pet.  Instead, create a safe zone for the kids in the kitchen where they will not be underfoot.  Banish pets to another room until you are finished canning.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pickling Spice Blend

I normally don't do much in the way of canning pickles other than the specialty pickles like pickled beets, pickled cauliflower and pickled onions.  I don't know what the problem was with dill pickles as I tried the same recipe every year with the same results, limp pickles.  I make freezer pickles each year that are a very nice, easy to make bread and butter style pickle and I resorted to buying dill pickles but they contain sodium benzoate and yellow dye 5 two food additives we are trying to avoid.  We do a lot of entertaining and one of our guests who cannot have gluten mentioned he can have pickles.  During one of our regular monthly get togethers, I put out a dish of dill pickles.  They were gone in an instant!  I refilled the dish and those went as well.  So I am determined to conquer making cucumber pickles.

Over the past few days, I have made Zesty Bread 'N Butter pickles, kosher dill pickles, dill slices, bread & butter pickles, freezer pickled and set up a 5 gallon pail of fermented dills.  So today, I went to can the fresh packed dill pickles that has soaked overnight only to find myself running low on pickling spice.  We live in a small community of about 11,000 and have just lost Sobey's so only have No Frills and Walmart for groceries.  About a year ago a small bulk food shop set up and we have M & M Meats for specialty frozen foods as well as a butcher shop and tiny artisan bakery.  Home canning is rather popular here especially for jams and pickles.  I have always been able to buy pickling spice at No Frills.  They are no longer carrying it.  I went to the small bulk food shop where I did find pickling spice then hurried home to get my pickles processed.  Lesson leaned, I will be stocking up on the ingredients to make my own pickling spice.  Here is the recipe.

Pickling Spice Blend
source: Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard, Small- Batch Preserving, (2001), Pp. 141.

Combine 2 tbsp (25 ml) each:
  • allspice berries
  • cardamom seeds
  • coriander seeds
  • whole cloves
  • mustard seeds
  • peppercorns
Add 2 bay leaves, crumbled; 2 cinnamon sticks, broken' 2 small pieces dried gingerroot, chopped, and 2 dried red chilies, drushed or 1 - 2 tsp (5 - 10 ml) hot pepper flakes.

Store in a tightly sealed container until ready to use.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Firm Pickles (1)

kitchen quick tips

Cut a thin slice from the blossom end of cucumbers to be used for pickling.  This removes an enzyme that causes pickles to soften.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summertime Fun - Frozen Drinks

During our recent vacation in Aruba, we rediscovered frozen drinks.  They are usually referred to as slurpies or slushies if non-alcoholic and frozen drinks if alcoholic here but in Aruba they are simply frozen drinks.  They are a very popular way to cool down there.  Although there were fancy frozen drink makers in the bars, the timeshares were equipped with standard blenders.  We were gifted with a Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker so I was collecting ideas for summer drinks while sitting around the pool.  The beauty of the frozen drinks is just about any drink can be made into a frozen drink easily and inexpensively by adding ice and blending until smooth and slushy.  There's no need to leave the comforts of your home or change out of swimwear to head to the local variety store or ice cream shop to pay the high prices for a frozen drink when it only takes a couple of minutes to make one at home.  Oh, and you can use chilled coffee as well which is a good way to use up the left over coffee from the pot you made in the morning.

frozen pina colada
We used the blender in Aruba to make Pina Coladas to take down to the pool area and the beach.  This is a nice, cooling drink that just so nice with blue skies and sandy beaches!  Traditionally, it is an alcoholic drink but you could make it a virgin drink by omitting the rum and adding a light splash of rum extract.  The following recipe is written for the Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker but can be modified to use a standard blender.
Pina Colada
source: Margaritaville Cargo Recipes

1¾ oz White Rum
3½ oz Pineapple Juice
1¾ oz cream of coconut

Fill ice reservoir with ice cubes.  Pour ingredients in glass blending jar.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Pour into a goblet glass. Garnish with a slice of pineapple and serve with a strawberry (optional).

Kids love frozen drinks as well.  When the grandkids (ages 5, 4, 3) last visited for a pool party I wanted to make special frozen drinks for them.  I made raspberry lemonade then Papa turned it into frozen drinks for the little ones.

Raspberry Lemonade Frozen Drink
source:  Garden Gnome

1 can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 c fresh raspberries
3 - 4 mint leaves (optional)

Mix the frozen lemonade concentrate with the amount of water specified on the container.  Pour 4 c lemonade into blender.  Add ½ c of the raspberries and mint leaves.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into a large pitcher.  Repeat with the remainder of the lemonade and raspberries.  Pour that into the same pitcher and stir well.  This will give you about 64 oz of raspberry lemonade.

to make frozen drinks:  [concoction maker] Fill ice reservoir with ice cubes.  Pour raspberry lemonade in glass blending jar.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  [blender] Pour about 2 c of raspberry lemonade into blender.  Add several ice cubes.  Blend adjusting to get the right consistency with either more ice cubes or lemonade.  Pour into plastic drinking cups.  Add a straw and long handled spoon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sweet Cherry Jam Made With Certo

Things have been a little hectic here as we move into the busier canning season.  Fresh, local produce is trickling in.  After two years of reduced canning between our house being on the market and moving here last September combined with spending more time at our vacation home, I am in high gear home canning to replenish our pantry.  A couple of weeks ago, I made a batch of sweet cherry jam.   This is my husband's favourite jam and at his request I still make it with liquid Certo (pectin).  It's the only jam I make using Certo these days as I like the low sugar, gourmet results using Pomona's pectin. 

sweet cherry jam made with Certo
I used to can sweet cherry jam and most jams in 500 ml (pint) jars.  We went through it quick enough when the kids were at home and we weren't out of the country for extended periods of time like we are now.  Now I can jams and jellies mainly in the 250 ml (half-pint) jars.  Another thing I've changed and you will see more of it on this year's canning posts, is I am switching to using more of the reusable canning lids like the glass inserts (left) or Tattler lids (not pictured) and less of the metal single use lids (right).

The reusable canning lids are an eco-friendly alternative to the single use metal snap lids.  The glass inserts are vintage so are harder to come by.  I only have 5 dozen of them.  They are no longer in production so I won't be using them on any home canned foods that leave the house.  The Tattler lids are readily available and still in production.  I have 6 dozen of them with plans to buy more shortly, at least before tomatoes start.  They too are being used for the most part of home canned foods that won't be given away although a few will make it to our kids as I know they will return them.  As much as I would love to switch entirely to reusable lids it is not feasible for jars that are gifted.  Some are good at returning jars but most have not seen the reusable lids that must be treated a bit gentler than the metal lids.  It is really important to not damage the rubber gasket when remove reusable lids.  The metal single use snap lids are still in production so easy to find.  The cheapest price here is now 12.5¢ per lid plus HST, up a full 4¢ from 18 months ago! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Outdoor Grill

 Frugal Kitchens 101
We have always had some type of outdoor grill from the time we were newlyweds, always within a few steps of the kitchen.  We even had a tabletop model for our RV and one of the first purchases we made for our vacation home was an outdoor grill.  We grill year round regardless of the weather.  In all honesty, if we had our druthers we would grill every day of the year!  Outdoor grilling has many advantages.  It gives a flavour to the food that you really can't get using other cooking methods.  In fact, the only way I cook my homemade roasted tomato sauces is on the outdoor grill.  Outdoor grilling keeps all the cooking odours and heat out of the house.  There's less dishes to do using an outdoor grill as well.  However, an outdoor grill is an appliance that does require maintenance.  The type of maintenance will depend on the fuel or in our case the fuels being used.

In general, there are a few tips that apply to all outdoor grills:

  • don't cover - A outdoor grill should not be covered as that will eventually lead to rust and it encourages rodents.  If you want to protect your grill put it in a sheltered place like a garage or shed.
  • salt is the enemy - Many seasoning blends and commercially made barbeque sauces are high in sodium.  This promotes rusting of the burner and grates.  Avoid using salt directly when grilling.
  • avoid flare-ups - Part of what adds to the flavour of grilled foods is the flame but you don't want excessive flare-ups.  They not only burn the food, they create soot on the inside of the grill and they can be down right dangerous.  Any built up soot should be brushed from the inside of the grill to prevent contaminating foods.  Do not use water to control flare-ups as that can make them worse.   Instead turn the heat down and move the food to a cooler spot on the grill.
  • don't clean the grate -  The grate should be left as is after each use.  Heat the grate to burn off any left overs at the start of the next use of the grill.
  • cleaning the exterior - Use a hot soapy water with a little household ammonia to clean the exterior surfaces.  A non-scratching cream cleaner can be used on stainless steel portions of the grill to clean, rinse then buff to a shine with a clean, dry cloth.
  • repainting - Painted portions of the outdoor may need to be repainted to protect the metal from rusting.  Use a high heat, rust proof paint on the box and hoot.  A standard rust proof paint can be used on other parts like the legs.
Each of the fuel choices have maintenance tasks specific to that fuel.  Here is what we have learned over the years.
  • charcoal -  Charcoal creates ash.  Old fashioned lump charcoal creates less ash than charcoal briquettes.  The ash must be cleaned out on a regular basis but always leave a thin layer of ash in the tray.  Never use chemical charcoal starters as they leave residue on your food as well as inside the grill.  Instead, invest in an electric charcoal starter or use a newspaper chimney to start your charcoal.  Be sure the ashes are cool before cleaning out the ash tray. 
  • natural gas - The biggest problem we noticed with natural gas is it encourages earwigs and spiders.  Earwigs are simply annoying but spiders will spin webs that can obstruct the flow of the gas causing a rather dangerous situation.   The burner on a natural gas grill will likely need replacing every five years.  The ceramic briquettes if there should not need replacing, simply turning them over occasionally will clean them.  If you have a wave style bed over the burner, it will need to be replaced every three to five years. 
  • propane - The electronic igniter seems to break faster on propane grills.  Perhaps it is because they can be moved easier. The burner will likely need replacing every five years.
  • electric - Electric grills are not ideal but for those living in apartment buildings it may be the only option.  Inspect the cord to be sure it is not damaged before plugging it in.  Place a bit of water in the bottom of the grill to prevent flare-ups.  Electric grills should always be stored indoors when not in use.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Charcoal Grilled Ham Shoulder

Ham is a cured meat that usually is cooked in the oven.  However, we've been hit with back to back heat waves with temperatures in the high 30ºC combined with high humidity levels so using the oven is simply out of the question.  This is where we turn to using the outdoor grill.  An outdoor grill can be used much like an oven so basically anything that can be cooked in the oven can be cooked on an outdoor grill.  We have a Nexgrill dual fuel (charcoal, propane) outdoor grill.  I have been beyond being thrilled experimenting with the charcoal side of the grill.  The results are so much tastier than grilling on natural gas or propane.  Unlike using natural gas or propane though charcoal is a bit more difficult to control the temperature so that does take a bit of tinkering.  The results are well worth it!

charcoal grilled ham shoulder
Ham is a wonderful sandwich meat but rather than buy over priced pre-sliced lunchmeat we prefer to cook a ham then slice as desired for sandwiches.  Ham is available pre-cooked or ready to cook, smoked or unsmoked, sliced or unsliced, bone in or boneless.  Once cooked ham can be froze if desired.  I like to keep cooked ham cubes (salads) and ham slices (sandwiches) in the freezer as quick meal starts. 

I thawed a bone in ham shoulder from the freezer.  It was unsmoked so I decided to cook it slowly over charcoal.  The end result was absolutely delicious!   I grilled it low and slow adding just enough fresh charcoal to keep an even low heat.  A lot of the fat just under the skin dripped off and the meat took on a wonderful smokiness without added calories.  I removed the skin, fat and bone then sliced wedge style.  The skin, fat and bone will be used to make a ham stock for split pea or potato soup.  I may even use some of that stock to can a few jars of dried beans.  It will be a beautiful base for either!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ground Pork

We live in a small community with two grocery stores (No Frills, Sobeys) and a Walmart although that just changed with the closing of Sobeys.  Of those stores, Sobeys was the grocery store to find foods like fresh seafood, ground pork or turkey and other foods besides the basics.  Even then it was hit or miss as to whether ground pork or ground turkey would be available.    Much like our beloved peameal bacon that also has a hit or miss availability I have resorted to making ground pork and turkey myself.  Recently No Frills had pork loins on sale for $1 per pound.  I ended up with 23.302 kg at a total cost of $51.27.  I ground one of the pork loins.

pork loin strips for grinding
Pork loin is a fairly lean cut of meat so it is idea for pork loin chops and peameal bacon but it is also good for ground pork.  In order to grind the meat, I cut into about 1 - inch strips that would fit in the hopper of the KitchenAid® food grinder.  Just look how nice and meaty the strips are!  Note that the middle piece was a bit fattier but I used it anyway.  The reason being, a little fat is necessary for flavour and texture.  Once the meat was cut into strips, I chilled it in the freezer for a half hour.  Cold meat grinds better than meat that has not been chilled.  After chilling the meat strips were ready for grinding.

first pass of pork through grinder
The KitchenAid® food grinder has a coarse and fine grinding plate.  The meat strips are passed through the coarse grinding plate first.  The process is quite easy requiring only guiding the meat strips through the grinder on setting 2.  It is important to not force the meat, simply guide it and the grinder attachment will do the rest.

A whole pork loin will take about 10 minutes to go through the first pass of the coarse grinding plate.   The resulting ground meat can be passed through the coarse grinder again which aids in mixing any fat evenly in the ground meat. 

coarse ground pork
After the meat strips are passed through the coarse grinder the ground meat (pictured) can be left as is and packaged for the freezer.  However, a second pass of the coarse ground meat through the fine grind plate gives a nicer result.  Simply change out the grinding plates then guide the ground meat through the hopper again.  This process will take about 5 minutes but the results are well worth it.  This will give a finer texture with a more even distribution of any fat.  While a third pass through the grinder is desirable with some cuts of meat, it is not necessary with pork loin.

fine and coarse ground pork
 Note the difference between the fine ground pork (left) and the coarse ground (right).  The fine ground gives a nicer texture for burger patties, meatballs and meatloaf.  After the final fine grinder plate pass, I packaged the ground pork into vacuum seal freezer bags but did not seal them immediately.  If I had the meat would have been very much squished which is ok but not what I wanted.  I folded the tops over then set in the freezer to freeze.  Once frozen I then vacuum sealed for longer storage.  This method prevents the meat from becoming a huge meatball.  I ended up with four about 1 kg packages of lean ground pork from one pork loin.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Economics of Home Canning

Frugal Kitchens 101

Home canning is a cost effective way to put high quality foods on the table for a fraction of the price for store bought.  You can easily put up unique home canned products (eg. pineapple jelly, pulled pork, rhubarb pie filling) that you cannot buy in the stores while preserving your garden harvest and taking advantage of sales.  Contrary to some beliefs, home canning is not labour intensive or time consuming as some make it out to be.  A batch of jam takes about 10 minutes to prepare the fruit and cook the jam then another 10 minutes for processing.  You have 20 minutes invested into 5 or 6 jars of jam that will keep you in jam for 6 weeks or more assuming you use one jar of jam per week.  Unlike freezing foods, home canned foods do not cost you any electricity during storage.  It really is one of the most frugal kitchen activities you can do.   That being said, there are associated costs of canning that need to be considered.  These include equipment, supplies, cooking fuel, and cost of acquisition for food and/or equipment and/or supplies.

  • equipment - Equipment for home canning includes BWB canner, pressure canner, jar lifter, wide mouth funnel, lid lifter, jars, reusable lids, metal bands, a food strainer and up to date recipe book (eg. Bernardin Guide to Home Canning, Ball Blue Book).  Other standard kitchen equipment such as knives and food processor can be of use as can specialty equipment like a cherry pitter or apple peeler but they are not must haves.  The necessary equipment pays for itself usually within the first year of canning depending on how much canning you do.
    • BWB canner (for high acid foods) - A large enamel boiling water bath canner complete with rack will cost about $25.  You can retrofit a large stock pot to use as a BWB canner for about $2 or you can use your pressure canner as a BWB canner by leaving the gasket off or leaving the lid loose on a metal to metal seal pressure canner.
    • pressure canner (for low acid foods) - A pressure canner will range in price from about $65 to $400 depending on the size and brand.  Some pressure canners (eg. Presto, Mirro) require rubber gaskets that need replacing (about $12) but the All American has a metal to metal seal so no gasket is required.  Used pressure canners can be found that will cost less than new.
    • lifters, funnel - Both Bernardin and Ball sell a home canning kit for about $15 however, you can buy just the jar lifter (a must) and a large mouth funnel for about $7.  Use silicone tongs to lift the lids from the hot water.
    • reusable lids - There are two types of reusable lids, Tattlers (plastic) and glass inserts.  While they are expensive, they will pay for themselves in about 7 uses after which they cost nothing to use.  Both can be used indefinitely but be warned the glass inserts will break if dropped.  The rubber rings for Tattlers are still in production are $2.85 per dozen.  They need to be replaced after several uses.  The rubber rings for the glass inserts (2  - inch inner diameter) are very difficult to find as they are vintage, no longer in production.
    • jars - New 500 ml (pint) jars cost on average $6 per dozen.  Larger and smaller jars are priced higher.  The jars are reusable with a payback period of 4 uses.  However, you can find used jars at yard sales and resale shops for less than half the price of new.  Check Freecycle and Kijiji for free jars.
  • supplies (consumables) - Consumable supplies include the metal snap lids, pectin, ClearJel, citric acid, Pickle Crisp and any ingredient you normally would not use for day to day cooking.
    • metal snap lids - My cheapest price here is $1.50 per dozen or 12.5¢ each so when using the metal snap lids that 12.5¢ has to be factored into the overall cost of each jar.
    • pectin - Pectin ranges in price from 70¢ per batch (Pomona's) to $3.49 per batch (Certo liquid) with pectin crystals and Quickset falling between that range.  Regardless of the type of pectin used, factor in the cost per batch which can then be translated into cost per ml.
    • ClearJel, citric acid, Pickle Crisp - None of these products contribute a significant cost to the final product.  Keep the cost of citric acid low by buying in bulk from a wine making shop.  In general, factor in about 4¢ per batch if using these ingredients.
  • cooking fuel - The cost of cooking fuel should be factored into the overall cost of the final product.  Here, a 2,100 W electric burner running for one hour will cost about 25¢.  A large natural gas burner running for the same period of time costs 8.3¢ so clearly it is less expensive to can using natural gas if at all possible.  In general, never run a partial canner load especially when pressure canning if at all possible.  Some foods need to be processed as long as 90 minutes in the pressure canner.  It costs the same amount to run a full canner load as it does a part load but when calculated over the cost per jar the full canner load is less expensive with respect to cooking fuel use.
  • cost of acquisition - Cost of acquisition includes shipping & handling, travel costs, Cost of acquisition should be factored into home canning costs.  Clearly if I walk to my backyard, pick the produce and can it the cost is considerably less than if I drive 10 miles to pick up free produce.  If you have to drive, get the maximum amount of whatever you will be canning that you can comfortably can within a day or two.  For example, my comfort zone for canning tomatoes is 2 - 3 hampers in a day or day and half.  It is not cost effective to drive 10 miles for 2 quarts of strawberries with today's price of gas but driving that same distance to stock up at a farmer's market can be worth it.  Always reduce the cost of acquisition whenever possible.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Home Canned Pineapple Pieces and Pineapple Jelly

One of our local grocery stores (No Frills) held their dollar sale in early June.  At one time, the dollar sales were for food products that we normally would not buy like those pre-made kiddie lunch kits, boxed convenience foods and snacks.  Basically most of what was offered in these earlier sales was foods that were not healthy.  They were laden with sugar, salt, fat and preservatives.  However, the economy has changed and that is being reflected is what people are willing to buy.  The dollar sales have done an about face with foods like fresh pineapple and other produce, mushrooms, lunch meat, pork loin roasts, sliced cheeses being offered.  It is nice to see that real food is being offered.  Of course, I took advantage of the sale!

home canned pineapple pieces and pineapple jelly
Fresh pineapples were on for $1 each so I bought two to can.  Store bought pineapple ranges in price from $1.89 to $2.49 so I knew there would be a substantial savings just in canning the pineapple pieces.  I ended up with 5 - 250 ml (half-pint) jars of pineapple pieces for a net savings of at minimum of $8.  There was a lot of the pineapple flavoured syrup left over from the pineapple pieces as well as a few pineapple pieces so I combined them to make a pineapple jelly, something that you can't buy in the grocery stores.   Pineapple jelly can be used as a glaze for ham or pork as well as a spread or as a baking ingredient.  If you were able to buy pineapple jelly at a gourmet shop, it would likely have a price sticker of $6.99 or more.  I ended up with 3 - 250 ml (pint) jars of pineapple jelly for the pantry and almost a full jar for the refrigerator which really increased my net savings.  Note that I used Tattler reusable canning lids on all the jars for the pantry.   There were no seal failures.  I used a reusable Bernardin screw on cap for the refrigerator jar.

The pH of the pineapple jelly was pH 2.7 so adding lemon juice was not necessary.  However, the lemon juice adds a sparkle to the jelly with it's flavour note.  The flavour of the pineapple jelly was delightful so this is a lovely product for my pantry shelves.  I can't wait to use it!

Pineapple Jelly
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

4 c pineapple flavoured light syrup
1 c pineapple pieces
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ c organic sugar
4 tsp Pomona's pectin
4 tsp calcium water

Bring the syrup and pineapple pieces to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and strain.  Add the lemon juice and calcium water.  Mix the pectin with the sugar.  Return the strained liquid to the heat.  Bring to a boil.  Stir in the sugar/pectin mixture.  Continue cooking 1 - 2 minutes until the sugar mixture is dissolved.  Fill hot jars leaving ¼ - inch headspace.  Wipe rims.  Screw on lids.  Process in BWB canner 10 minutes at altitudes up to 1,000 feet above sea level.  Adjust timing for altitude above 1,000 feet above sea level using the altitude adjustment chart on the Canning FYI page.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Coconut Man

Aruba is a beautiful Caribbean island with a multitude of sightseeing opportunities.  The climate varies little from the annual average of a sunny 81ºF/27ºC tempered by the northeasterly trade winds.  It is out of range of the Caribbean hurricanes.  During our recent spring vacation, we took advantage of the sightseeing opportunities there with a side sightseeing trip made almost daily.  We visited the California Lighthouse, named after the steamship California (wrecked September 23, 1891) located just off of Arashi Beach on the northwest tip of the island.  The lighthouse sand coloured lighthouse on an octagonal base is quite impressive!  While it is no longer open to the public, the lighthouse is well worth visiting.  Adjacent to the lighthouse is La Trattoria el Faro Blanco, a small restaurant featuring Italian cuisine.  Closer to the lighthouse there is a little refreshment stand featuring frozen drinks and sodas.

the roadside coconut stand
The refreshment stand was really quite small, offering little shade to those working there or visiting.  Small tables were set up to hold additional beverage coolers. .  Bins of coconuts were set along one small table waiting to be opened for use in the frozen drinks.  Both the coconut meat and juice are used in these delicious, refreshing concoctions.

Coconut palms are abundant on the island which means coconut is an ingredient in many dishes and drinks.  Coconuts sell for $3 to $5 from street vendors but depending on where you stay in Aruba, you may be allowed to gather them for free.  Be sure to ask though before gathering coconuts.

the coconut man preparing coconuts
Coconuts have a hard outer shell (green) that protects the inner shell (brown) surrounding the meat and juice.  A fresh coconut should have juice in it.  When you buy coconuts in North America, the green shell is usually removed.  The brown shell is then wrapped in plastic to prevent the meat and juice from drying out.  Always shake a coconut to be sure there is juice inside before buying it.  Of note, the actual coconut juice can act as a strong laxative so do use caution in that respect.  It is quite easy to become dehydrated in Aruba as it is a desert island.  It is also important to not drink coconut juice from a coconut tree that has been infected with the red palm weevil as an injected toxin taints the juice.

I was amazed watching the vendor opening the coconuts with a machete!  He was a very friendly bloke but then most are in Aruba, known for it's catering to tourism and being One Happy Island!  Here's a short video I took of him preparing the coconut while a gecko tickled my toes.

The only tools the vendor used were a machete and piece of the broken shell to scoop out the coconut meat.  It was quite impressive to say the least!

Coconut milk is available in the grocery stores in North America.  Here, in beautiful southwestern Ontario I pay about $2.19 for a 398 ml/13.5 oz can of coconut milk.  It doesn't go on sale because coconut milk is a specialty item.  However, a large coconut can often be bought for $1.79 or less.  It gives a yield of 4 to 6 c (L to 1.5 L) of coconut milk.  Here is the recipe for making your own coconut milk that tastes so much nicer and less expensive than the store bought, canned version.

Coconut Milk
source: This is the Way We Cook!, compiled by Jewell Fenzi, ProGraphics Inc, Aruba. Pp. 42

1 c grated coconut*
3 c boiling water

Place the coconut meat in a saucepan.  Pour the boiling water over it and cover tightly.  Let stand for 30 minutes.  Pour the liquid through a fine sieve while pressing all the moisture from the coconut.  Discard the coconut and reserve the coconut milk for cooking.

*Fresh coconut gives a more delicate flavour but desiccated meat may also be used.

Friday, July 06, 2012

EetCafé The Paddock in Oranjestad, Aruba

Aruba, like many popular tourist destinations offers a wide variety of culinary experiences ranging from local pubs, small restaurants, fast food restaurants, food booths and fine dining.  If you really want to experience Aruba, the local pubs are a must stop.  This is where the local eat and this is where you will enjoy home style meals, pub style.  They are very friendly and laid back, offering a nice selection of lower priced meals yet good food served in settings with lots of atmosphere.

EetCafe The Paddock in Oranjestad, Aruba
EetCafé The Paddock in Oranjestad, Aruba is located on L.G. Smith Blvrd. #13.  Oranjestand is the island's capitol so there is a lot to see there.  It is a very peaceful and picturesque town with streets lined with Dutch colonial gabled houses and lots of modern small shops echoing the architectural style of yesteryear.  The eclectic outside decor of The Paddock with cheer, bright red roof beckons you to pop in a sit a spell.  The open air ambiance is sure to please.  The small pub is open to the street as well a a small dining dock overlooking the harbour.   The inside of the pub has hardwood flooring, a small  bar seating with the walls and ceilings decorated various paper money, business cards and anything else patrons have managed to tack up.  This really is just a fun little pub to enjoy a bit of good food and a glass of Aruba's beer, Balashi!

chicken shoarma lunch special at The Paddock in Oranjestad, Aruba
EetCafé The Paddock offers a nice selection of favourite Dutch platters as well as 'all you can eat ribs' on Wednesdays.  The lunch specials are written on a chalkboard adding to the cozy, friendly atmosphere.  I ordered the chicken shoarma platter with fries ($10).  Shoarma is a very popular seasoning blend in Holland.  It is used on or as a marinade with lamb, pork and chicken.  The marinated meat is fried then served with a creamy garlic sauce. 

Both the shoarma seasoning blend and creamy garlic sauce would be very easy to make at home.  I will share my clone recipes for both as soon as I make them.  This really is a nice dish that even kids would enjoy!

the special burger at The Paddock in Oranjestad, Aruba
My husband ordered the special burger ($8.42).  This burger consists of a good sized burger pattie on a whole wheat but topped with grilled onions, and a fried egg on a bed of lettuce and pickles.  The presentation was different with the raw onion ring.  He ordered it without the pickles. 

This is a lot of protein for a burger but not as much as some of the huge burger patties that are over a pound.  While I have not had a burger with a fried egg on it myself, my husband thoroughly enjoyed his meal.  Again, this would be a very easy meal to recreate at home.  I suspect it arose from a frugal housewife who realized eggs are less expensive than meat. 

When in Aruba, do check out The Paddock.  We really enjoyed our visit there and will surely visit them during our next trip to Aruba.  Relax, watch the harbour traffic and enjoy this quaint little pub.  It is a must visit pub!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Hidden Valley® Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix Clone

A couple of weeks ago, I was chosen to be a contestant in the Hidden Valley® Recipe Challenge.  I wanted the Hidden Valley® dry mix to use for one of my potential entries.  We live in a small urban area with two grocery stores (No Frills, Sobey's) and a Wal-mart.  I checked all three stores without any luck finding dried salad dressing mix.  I know at one time these were quite popular.  The salad decanters with markings as to how much oil and vinegar to add were sold right beside them.  None of the stores carry them any more.  In order to make this dish I really needed the dry mix so I sent out an SOS to my family and friends then set about finding a dry mix ranch mix online.  A friend came to the rescue with a packet of Hidden Valley® Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix but before using it I noticed a tear in the package so decided against it.  It definitely came from the US as there was no mandatory French labeling as required on Canadian products.  I compared the ingredients on that package to that of the recipe I had found then created my own recipe.  Clone recipes are born out of necessity either to save money or because the original is not available in your area.

ranch salad dressing mix clone recipe
The recipe I found online had paprika and  fresh ground pepper but closely inspecting the original packet showed no signs of either.  The recipe I found had no buttermilk in it even though the original packet listed buttermilk as a main ingredient.  Based on that, I set about getting creative.  MSG was listed on the original packet but I didn't use that in my clone recipe.  The dry clone version tastes (finger tip test) very much like the original packet mix.  The clone recipe makes a bit more than the original packet so adjust the dressing as required for consistency.

Hidden Valley® Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix Clone
source: Garden Gnome

2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp organic sugar
1½ tsp parsley flakes
2 tbsp buttermilk powder
½ tsp citric acid
¼ tsp xanthum gum

Dressing:  Combine 1 c milk and 1 cup mayonnaise in a blender.  With the blender running, slowly pour in ½ c of the clone mix.  This is necessary for the xanthum gum to thicken the dressing.  Blend on high until well mixed and thickened.  Keeps 3 to 4 weeks in refrigerator.

Dip:  Combine ½ c of the clone mix with 2 c of sour cream.  Mix well.  Refrigerate for one hour to allow flavours to blend.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - A Child of the 60's

Frugal Kitchens 101
I am very much a child of the 60's so I have no problem speaking my mind or making my views known.  I barely fall under the label of being a being a Baby Boomer and not quite a Hippie because my Mom would not allow that nonsense even though I was enthralled with the bright pink Volkswagon beetle with peace symbols and flowers on it that occasionally made its way into town.  I remember when the Union Jack was replaced by the new maple leaf Canadian flag.  I was quite young then but I remember my Mom shedding a few tears.  She was born on a ship making it's way to Canada from Great Britain and remained loyal to Britain until she passed.  It was changing times.  I can remember standing proudly in 1967 for Canada's centennial celebrations.  My Mom (not biological) was 56 years old when I was born and widowed the same year.   She had lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression.  Believe me she knew how to pinch a penny!  She taught me many valuable lessons that have served me well over the years.  Here are a few frugal kitchen tips I learned from her:

  • brand names - My Mom was very much brand loyal but in fairness back then there really wasn't much of a choice.  I don't recall store brands becoming a rage until the early 80's.  I tend to be brand loyal as well for certain items but not for others.
  • keep a well stocked pantry - My Mom kept a well stocked pantry out of necessity even though we lived less than a block from one of the only two very small grocery stores in town.  By small, both would have been well under the size of our current home!  It was quite common for milk or produce trucks getting delayed due to weather and I can recall during the big flood, both stores were basically out of food.
  • grow your own - My Mom didn't have a huge vegetable garden but she always had one.  She had chickens for awhile too until the town finally came up with some flimsy excuse to get rid of them but she fought back saying they were pets so we kept them until they didn't lay eggs anymore then they went onto the dinner table.  The town stood firm on the rooster so my Mom taught us how to kill and pluck a chicken.  It doesn't matter where we have lived, even in apartments I have grown whatever produce I could both indoors and outdoors.
  • putting food up - Very generous friends and family were always gifting my Mom with baskets of apples, cucumbers, peaches, tomatoes, smelt, corn, and anything extra they had.   Many a morning we woke to a basket of produce at the door.  That usually meant we would be canning or freezing that morning.  I don't recall her ever dehydrating but I can recall marveling at those glistening jars of produce ready for the shelves.  Baskets of potatoes, apples, squash, carrots, turnips and rutabagas sat on planks on the dirt floor of our basement.  A portion of any food that came in the door went into storage.  I am very much like that to this day. 
  • keep it simple - My Mom was a firm believer of putting simple but good, healthy food on the table.  As a widow, foster mom, and day care provider she really did not have the option of fancy cooking.  Getting good, healthy food into growing kids was a higher priority.  Looking back, it really was simple as in: homemade oatmeal or cream of wheat for breakfast in the winter; toast and jam for breakfast in the summer; soup or sandwiches for lunch; and meat, potatoes and vegetables for dinner.  We had milk, water or very rarely KoolAid as a drink.  Once I got older, the drink of choice was a proper pot tea.  Snacks were homemade cookies and oh my gosh did she ever make good cookies!  Occasionally she would make a pie or bring a few goodies home from a banquet she helped at with the Ladies Auxiliary.  Keeping it simple keeps meals easy so I have leaned heavily on that page since a newlywed and while raising kids.  For the most part, our meals are still rather simple, easy to prepare, mainly homemade and good.
  • no mealtime pressures - My Mom was very much a "put the food on the table" and "if you don't eat, no worries" as a "child will not intentionally starve themselves".  There was never "sit there until you finish it all", "fine, you will eat it for breakfast" or even a "try it, you might like it" from her.  But, if you chose not to eat, she would not make an alternative.  I never, ever have liked drinking milk and was never forced to which is really a good thing as several years ago I found out I was lactose intolerant.  Ninety-nine percent of adult dietary problems are a direct result of how food was treated in the home during the childhood years.  I am a firm believer in her philosophy.  We used it with our kids, they are using it with their kids, I use it with my husband and when entertaining.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Grilled Zucchini Boats

Happy Canada Day
145 Years Young
Strong, Proud and Free
Oh Canada! 

[This is my second of two entries being submitted to the Hidden Valley Ranch™ Recipe Challenge.  I hope you enjoy the flavours!

Well, yesterday I found myself in the undesirable position of recreating a recipe to submit to the Hidden Valley Ranch™ Recipe Challenge.  I had tweaked and had friends over for a tasting feast of a recipe for the contest when disaster struck.  I don't know what went wrong other than the coating wouldn't stick, my deep fryer is a mess and I had do a quick substitution.  A recipe is of little use other than a starting point if it cannot be duplicated especially for contest purposes.  So I went to plan B to recreate the third runner up in my set of tested Ranch® recipes.

grilled zucchini boats
Many kids don't like vegetables because their parents don't like vegetables.  The thing is aside of a few stronger vegetables like cabbage or brussels sprouts, most kids will eat any vegetable especially if it involves some type of dip.  Our grandkids are particularly fond of Ranch® dressing as a dip.  Now Hidden Valley® has come up with a few new flavours so I just had to combine their new Spicy flavour for this family favourite.  I have to tell you the new Spicy Ranch® is delectable, not too spicy for kids yet just that extra zest for mature palates.   These yummy grilled zucchini boats are a sure hit!

Grilled Zucchini Boats
recipe by: Garden Gnome 

1 small zucchini
⅓ c Hidden Valley® Ranch original dressing
2 tbsp ( 30 ml) chopped sweet peppers (red, yellow)
2 tbsp (30 ml) chopped mushrooms
1 tbsp chopped eggplant
2 tbsp chopped broccoli
1 tbsp (15 ml) chopped onions 
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp (5 ml) sliced green onions
1 tsp (5 ml) chive pieces
3 tbsp Hidden Valley® Ranch® spicy dressing
3 tbsp (45 ml) shredded cheddar cheese

Wash then cut the zucchini in half from stem end to blossom end.  Cut a channel removing the seeds.  Cover with the Ranch® original dressing.  Let marinate for 1 hour.  Heat the grill and place the zucchini channel side down.  Prepare the sweet peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, broccoli and onions.  Heat the butter in a fry pan then toss in the vegetables and let cook until just tender.  Remove from heat and drain.  Turn the zucchini over when there are nice hash marks.  Divide the vegetable mixture evenly.  Continue grilling until zucchini is tender.  Top with cheddar cheese.  Continue grilling until the cheese is melted.  Remove from grill and top with green onions and chives.  Drizzle with Hidden Valley® Ranch® spicy dressing or serve it in a dipping bowl to accompany the zucchini boats.

Serving size: 1 zucchini boat