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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

For Your Information

Please watch this area for important information like updates, food recalls, polls, contests, coupons, and freebies.
  • [January 15, 2016] - It's National Soup Month so this month's posts will focus on soups. Yum!
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
  • Sticky Post - Warning: 4ever Recap reusable canning lids. The reports are growing daily of these lids losing their seal during storage. Some have lost their entire season's worth of canning to these seal failures!

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Open Faced Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

My Mom was a ripe old age of 56 when I came to be and let me tell you she could cook!  She had been through the Great Depression and two World Wars.  More importantly she was a child of 11 from poor immigrant farmers.  She was actually born on the ship between England and Canada, but that is a whole other story!  My gosh she could cook, good old fashioned home style cooking.  All those recipes were tucked safely in her head, sure to please and yet long forgotten as the dementia became worse.  My Mom originally cooked on coal and wood but when I was a kid, she cooked on natural gas.  Both the burners and oven needed to be lit using a match.  Her household chore as a child had been to stoke the fire so to her the natural gas was a treat.  She was also quite frugal so her cook stove was narrower than the normal 30 - inches.  Part of this was due to her refusing to buy more than what she needed but part was not wanting to look pretentious to her family and friends.

open face grilled cheese
Melted cheese on bread is a classic.  Even Johanna Spyri (1881) wrote about how much Heidi enjoyed the melted cheese with bread her Grandfather often made her.  When I was growing up, I never knew what a grilled cheese sandwich was, or at least they way grilled cheese sandwiches are usually made.  My Mom made these amazing open faced grilled cheese sandwiches done under the broiler of her gas stove.  There is just something comforting about these sandwiches.  The cheese is warm and gooey while the bread is crunchy around the edges and soft in the middle.

All you need to make these delicious open faced grilled cheese sandwiches is bread and cheddar cheese.  Don't use American cheese slices as real cheddar really makes these sandwiches delightful.  I either slice or grate the cheddar cheese.  Then I place sliced bread on a Silpat lined baking sheet and place the cheese on top.  I bake at 350°F until the cheese melts then turn on the broiler and broil until the cheese starts to bubble and the bread is golden brown around the edges.  I place the cooked sandwiches on wire cooling rack for serving.  This prevents the bottom from becoming soggy.

While I have been able to get good results using an electric oven, the results are considerably better using a gas oven.  Electric heat is a dry heat which is fine for certain foods and for most of our married life, we have had an electric cook stove and oven.  However, electric heat can dry certain foods especially baked fish and foods like the open faced grilled cheese sandwiches.  When natural gas is burning, it releases water into the air which is quite noticeable on cold days by the condensation on the windows.  When the oven is first lit, there is condensation on the oven door as well.  I think this bit of moisture is what makes the difference, giving better results. for a lot of baked foods.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Liquid Temperature for Making Bread

kitchen quick tipsThe ideal temperature for any liquid used in bread making is 105°F/40°C.  This activates the yeast without killing it off.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Whole Cooked Salmon

I have seriously been wanting to home can salmon for quite some time.  I have been told that home canned salmon is far superiour to commercially canned salmon.  The problem here is finding fresh salmon and when I do, it is such a treat we cook it from fresh without worrying about canning it.  That's ok and I don't mind, still one of these days I will get a nice piece of salmon to can.

whole salmon
I bought a frozen whole salmon that initially I planned on thawing then canning but I'm not really a huge fan of canning a product that was initially froze.  So, the salmon sat in the freezer biding its time until I decided to soak a cedar plank and grill it or cut the beauty into salmon steaks and bake them.  This was a small salmon coming in at about $10.50.  Sorry I didn't note the weight but I would guess at a little over 3 lb.

Our local grocery store sells salmon this way as a loss leader.  If I am lucky, I can find whole salmon once or twice a year there and while I know I should stock up, I don't mainly because it is frozen and I really would prefer fresh.  The salmon sold this way comes beheaded and gutted but tail and fins are still on as is the belly fat.

whole salmon cut into steaks
Salmon is absolutely wonderful cut into steaks then grilled or baked.  I ended up with about 12 salmon steaks.  Had I bought these steaks at M&M Meats, they would have cost me at least $2 per steak on sale so right off the bat I saved money by cutting my own salmon steaks.  Cutting my own salmon steaks saved me about $12 which isn't bad at all.

I found it easier to cut the salmon steaks while the salmon was partially frozen.  The only real waste was the fins and tail.  Salmon is rather interesting in that the steaks are always cooked bone in but if you home can the salmon steaks the bones break down nicely giving an excellent source of calcium.

I baked all of the salmon steaks with two going for our dinner that night and the rest reserved.  Dinner consisted of salmon steak with a little butter and lemon pepper, baked potatoes with Greek yogurt and my number one favourite, baked acorn squash.

Baking salmon steak is really quite easy.  the main concern is drying out the fish by over cooking.  I simply put the salmon steaks onto a Silpat lined baking sheet, add a small pat of butter and sprinkle with lemon pepper.  Salmon can be cooked rare but for this purpose I wanted it cooked through meaning opague yet still tender and juicy.

salmon dip
I let the remainder of the salmon cool then refrigerated overnight.  The following day was the Grey Cup so I pulled one of the salmon steaks from the refrigerator to make a dip for a bit of finger food snacking.  This was a very easy, impromptu dip to make.  I simply deboned a salmon steak then mashed a bit with a fork.  Then I stirred in about a quarter cup of Miracle Whip, a dash of yellow mustard, a bit of sweet pickle relish, and just a tad of prepared horseradish.  I served the dip with cholesterol free golden rusk, cooked shrimp and home canned seafood cocktail sauce (not shown).  It was simple, easy yet rather tasty as a snack to munch on while watching the game.I

cooked salmon being prepared for freezing
Salmon is a rather firm fish especially when cooked.  The following day, I set about deboning the rest of the salmon.  As I said, I really would have liked to can the salmon but since that wasn't an option, I was onto Plan B.  That dip went over very well so I reasoned vacuum sealing some of that salmon for dip made a lot of sense.  I routinely freeze what I affectionately call meal quick starts.  This includes a wide variety of pre-cooked meats that can be used for easy meals like chicken strips, thin sliced meats for sandwiches and pre-seasoned cooked meats for a quick chili, pasta dish or salad.  They really are ideal quick starts during the summer months.  I can't tell you how many times I have been able to pull together a nice meal using these packets I keep safely tucked in the freezer!  At any given time I have the starts for a meal in my freezer already cooked and ready to use so why not do the same thing with the cooked salmon.

cooked salmon packaged for freezing
Despite the fact I really wanted to can this salmon I moved onto Plan B which was to debone then vacuum seal and freeze.  So, it was a bit of a new one on me.  I have routinely cooked and froze all types of meat but not so much seafood.  BUT you can buy pre-cooked seafood both commercially canned and frozen so why not do it at home?  So a couple of months ago, I started experimenting with freezing quick start packets of various fish.

Some cooked seafood freezes better than others.  I have had good luck with salmon that tends to freeze nicely and when thawed tastes so much better than commercially canned salmon.  It is a thicker, oilier fish which I think helps.  I now have several packet of vacuum sealed salmon in my freezer to use as meal quick starts although most of them will likely end up being used in dips for entertaining.  You just can't go wrong having a variety of quick meal starts in the freezer!

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Classic Yet Verstile Caesar Salad

My husband and I eat some type of salad pretty much daily at home as well as when travelling or at our vacation home.  It is the must have with any dinner but quite often during the warm months at home and at our vacation home, we turn to salads for lunch and/or dinner.  Salads pack a lot of nutrition while replenishing much needed water even though they tend to be low in calories making them an ideal choice.  In fact, the majority of calories in salads come from the dressing and toppings like cheese or croutons.

caesar salad
One of my favourite salads is Caesar salad.  It can be served with or without chicken strips but I really like mine without the chicken.  A little shredded Parmesan cheese adds protein and even though croutons are the norm, I seldom eat them.  It is likely one of the most versatile yet most inexpensive salads to make.

Caesar salad really starts with romaine lettuce, lemon juice, dressing, bacon bits and/or croutons all of which can be easily made at home.  Romaine lettuce grows nicely in pots on a sunny windowsill or in the garden.  I usually use Renee's Caesar Salad dressing to make Caesar salads at home.  This is a creamy gourmet dressing very, very close to homemade.  The thing is, a Caesar salad is just the beginnings of a Caesar salad wrap or a dinner Caesar salad.  Simply add pre-cooked chicken strips to either for a delectable meal.  I keep pre-cooked chicken strips in the freezer as a quick meal start simply for this purpose.   The chicken strips can be cold or warm.  I personally prefer cold but have had chicken Caesar salads with warm chicken strips as well.  The strips can be grilled or pan-fried then frozen in packets for later use.  I keep packets of frozen pre-cooked chicken strips on hand in the freezer for easy summer meals.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - What's in Your Chicken Noodle Soup

Frugal Kitchens 101I was recently rather ill at our permanent home looking forward to going to our vacation home.  Now, seriously avoiding contact with folk even if doing a bit of shopping is a prudent thing to do at least a week before traveling.  I have both allergies and asthma which really means I can catch a cold if you are a mile away and it can develop complications quicker than a blink of an eye!  My serious go to dish for colds and flu is homemade chicken noodle soup.  It is a family tradition but why?

My homemade chicken noodle soup is always made from scratch right from the chicken and raw ingredients.  Everyone has heard of chicken soup being called Jewish penicillin.  The thing is, this soup cures right from the start of cooking.  It is chuck full of nutrition, antioxidants, and everything to help your body heal AND it is just good comfort food!  Even the cooking processes adds moisture and antibacterial properties into the air that get into your respiratory tract to start the healing process before you even eat the soup.  The hot, moist air opens your sinuses helping them to drain.  All the way around, homemade chicken soup lives up to it's reputation as a healing, comfort food when feeling under the weather.  So, have you ever wondered what is in homemade chicken soup that earns it such a wonder reputation?   Here is a breakdown of the ingredients and how they help you get back on your feet quickly:

  • fluids - Water is necessary for proper hydration.  When you are sick it is very easy to become dehydrated which can lead to complications.  The problem is excessive sweating when you have a fever or fluid loss through a gastrointestinal infection can cause dehydration and electrolyte loss quite quickly.  Drinking plain water is always a must when sick as it helps flush the body of toxins but plain water does not replace the electrolytes lost like the liquid in chicken soup.  The broth in chicken soup is rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants that support the immune system, the liver, the kidneys and respiratory tract.  The warmth of the broth is soothing as well helping to keep you well hydrated and nourished so your body can heal.
  • onions - Any soup destined for the sick bed should be rich in onions.  Onions are ideal for getting your mucous running.  Onions are rich in Vitamin C, have anti-bacterial properties and strengthen your immune system.  Onions are also rich in sulfur which is good for the liver which is in overdrive when you are sick ridding  your body of toxins.  When I make homemade chicken noodle soup there is onions in the initial stock followed by onions in the actual soup.
  • carrots - Carrots contain Vitamin A plus they give a rich flavour to stocks.  This is a must ingredient when making the initial stock for making the soup.  Carrots have antiseptic properties that prevent infection and support the liver in ridding the body of toxins while reducing bile and fat in the liver.
  • celery -  Celery when eaten raw is a diuretic but when added to soups gives a wonderful flavour while adding a lot of nutrients.  It is high in Vitamin C, calcium, sodium and Vitamins B2, B6 and B1.  In soups, celery adds a subtle flavour element that is only noticeable if it is missing.  Celery also has anti-fungal properties and anti-oxidants to help ward off complications from the cold and flu.
  • chicken - Chicken is what the soup is all about but aside of that it adds protein in an easily digestible form.  The proteins in chicken help prevent bone loss.  Chicken is rich in the trace element selenium that supports the thyroid and immune system. In the soup you get the actual chicken pieces that by the time it is soup literally fall apart in your mouth without any effort AND you get the essence of the chicken in the stock so if you aren't up to solids, you can strain them out for just the soup stock.  It adds fat that increases the absorption of carotenoids in carrots by 1,000 percent.  Chicken is rich in Vitamin B6 and niacin that support metabolic actions in the body along with phosphorous that supports the healthy functioning of the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.  
  • chicken fat - Chicken fat adds flavour to the soup.  It is contains monosaturated fat that is high in the antioxident Vitamin E which helps to reduce cholesterol levels and fight cellular damage.  It contains polysaturated fat rich in essential fatty acids, Omega-3 and Omega-5 that helps with brain function and tissue growth.
  • bay leaf - I add bay leaf when making certain stocks and soups including chicken noodle soup for flavour but it does have health benefits as well.  Bay leaves have antimicrobial properties against many common pathogens like Streptococcus  pyogenes, Staphlococcus aureus, Aspergillus fumigatus and Canadida albicans that could arise due to complications with a cold or the influenza.
  • black pepper - I add black peppercorns to most stocks and soups including chicken noodle soup.  They are further seasoned with fresh ground black pepper to taste on serving.  Black pepper adds flavour as well as health benefits.  It aids in digestion and has antibacterial properties.  More importantly, black pepper helps your body absorb vitamins and minerals
  • salt -  I don't add much in the way of salt when cooking anything.  Rather salt is added to taste when serving.  Salt (sodium chloride) is very important in the human body because sodium is needed for the proper functioning of the sodium-potassium channel which pumps out 2 potassium ions for every 3 sodium ions pumped into the nerve cells (neurons).  Simplified, sodium triggers action potentials in neurons which is how your body feels pain.  If you step on a pin, an action potential travels along your nerve cells to send the message of pain to your brain.  When your run a fever or sweat a lot as would happen with influenza, you lose valuable salt in your system which needs to be replaced.   
  • noodles - I use broad egg noodles in my homemade chicken noodle soup.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Simple Sandwich

The guys spent a week with us during our fall vacation in October.  This has become an annual golfing event for the guys, my husband included who would live on the golf course given his druthers.  The guys played a round of golf (18 holes) each day they were there.  There are two award winning golf courses in our resort but unlike some golf courses there is no cart service for food or drinks.  There is however, beautiful eye candy is a gorgeous setting peppered with gators and other wildlife.  Guaranteed, when golfing there you are going to see at least one gator and in fact we see on average three or more gators daily.  

the simple sandwich
The guys take their own drinks and sandwiches.  I have yet to make bread at our vacation home as I don't have a KitchenAid stand mixer and can no longer knead dough by hand.  Publix has a lovely in-store bakery so we end up buying fresh baked bread there.  We tend to buy the sourdough bread but the guys like the butter bread.  We picked up a couple of loaves of butter bread, lunch meat, sliced cheese, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onions and alfalfa sprouts along with condiments.

Each day they made their sandwiches and drinks just after a home cooked breakfast.  It was rather impressive to see the four guys getting things ready for their round of golf.  It was an assembly line for the sandwiches!  They were simple sandwiches yet healthy and nutritious, perfect for on the golf course.  The sandwiches and drinks were carefully packed in a cooler on our golf cart with the other golf cart carrying any extras.

I'm seriously considering bringing our own sandwiches the next time we visit Disney World.  I already bring a water bottle (Britta with filter) with me when we go there and since we have an annual pass, like most we tend to arrive early and leave late.  I don't mind spending at Disney World but seriously, bottles of water do tend to add up and they are always cold, something I really don't like.  I also don't like that the empty bottles add to waste so bringing my own re-usable water bottle is an eco-friendly solution.  Since we are there all day, a sandwich for lunch is nice because we know we already have reservations for dinner so I really don't mind saving a bit on lunch without having to wait in line or finding somewhere to grab a bit of lunch.

It's hot in Florida or at least it is when we tend to be there so sandwiches are always the perfect lunch meal.  We seldom buy breakfast or lunch when we are at our vacation home because both are always less expensive made at home.  That is always something to keep in mind when on vacation.  If you reduce the cost of breakfast and lunch by making your own, you can splurge on dinner and that's where you really want to do a bit of splurging when on vacation!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

[Note: This is not a paid post.  The opinions expressed in this review are based on our personal experience dining there.]

Prior to traveling to and staying at our vacation home in Florida as well as the many road trips we make while there, we do a bit of research looking for new restaurants to try.  We follow Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (host: Guy Fieri) and You Gotta Eat Here! (host: John Catucci) on Food Network Canada.  We also look for reviews and forum comments of restaurants in the various areas we will be traveling through or stay in.  Somewhere along the line, my husband heard about a restaurant chain called Five Guys that has quite a following of devoted fans.  It went on our list of restaurants to try.  We had the opportunity to finally try Five Guys during our fall vacation in October.

five guys exterior
Five Guys is a privately owned restaurant chain specializing in hand-formed burgers cooked on a grill and fresh -cut fries cooked in pure peanut oil.  The combination is a sure fire winner!  The first Five Guys location opened in Arlingon, Virginia by Jerry and Janie Murrell  and their four sons, Matt, Jim, Chad and Ben as the original "Five Guys".  Jerry and Janie had a fifth son, Tyler, two years later.  Today, the five brothers are the current "Five Guys".  There are more than 1,000 locations across 40 US states and 6 Canadian provinces.   We visited one of the locations in Lakeland, Florida.

five guys peanuts
The colour scheme for Five Guys restaurants is black and crisp white with lots of cheery red accents for both the interior and exterior. A red checkerboard patter appears not only as part of the interior decor but also on their signage and packaging.   Five Guys restaurants do not have drive-through service but you can order online then wait for delivery or pick the order up yourself.  This is easy on your mobile device using their app (iPhone, Android) or through their website.  Signing up is required.  After signing up you can place your order and pre-pay via credit card online at any of their participating locations.

We stopped at Five Guys for a late lunch so it wasn't busy. Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted with a bright, cheery atmosphere.  Boxes of help-yourself complimentary peanuts and 50 lb bags of  fresh potatoes were neatly lined up across from the open style kitchen and order counter forming a friendly, unique barrier between the counter and sit down dining area.  There is no limit on the complimentary peanuts but you can't take them out of the restaurant.

five guys interior
The interior of the Five Guys restaurant was quite spacious, bright and airy.  Clean line tables and chairs in a blond wood expanded bright and airy and yet the restaurant had some of the charm of a 50's diner.  There was ample indoor lighting combined with large expanses of windows.  The were wall-mounted cork boards on either side of the entrance with a stack of note cards and crayons for customers.  There is a self-serve drink bar and condiment counter.

The menu was neatly done on a board above the counter.  Five Guys is well known for their  simple menu consisting of burgers (hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger and bacon cheeseburger) in regular (2 patties) or little size (1 pattie) , hot dogs (Kosher style, cheese, bacon and bacon cheese), sandwiches (veggie, cheese veggie and grilled cheese), cold drinks (soda, bottle water) large or regular size, and fresh-cut fries (Five Guys style or Cajun style).  There is no tea, coffee, milkshakes or juice.  All toppings are free.  Those written in black on the menu board are included if order your burger with everything or all the way.  Those topping written in red are still free but you have to ask for them to be included.  Drink refills are free.  The drink cups are a hard plastic so they can be reused at home.  You can watch them make your burgers while you wait on the pick-up side of the counter.

five guys fries
The fresh-cut fries is just one thing that sets Five Guys apart from other fast food style restaurants and burger joints.  Fresh-cut fries taste so much better than the anemic ones some fast food restaurants have.  They are the selling feature for the restaurant chain and the only side offered so they have to impress customers and they certain do.

We ordered the large size salted Five Guys style fresh-cut fries to share ($4.99).  We measured out ketchup in the provided dipping bowls at the condiment station.  I would have liked malt or apple cider vinegar for my fries but there wasn't any.  From our personal experience, serving vinegar with fries is not all that popular in the US unless the restaurant serves English style fish and chips.  Vinegar with fries is more of a British and Canadian thing.

We also shared a large unsweetened ice tea ($2.29) and a tray of peanuts.  Now, we fell in love with unsweetened ice tea several years ago so I make it at home as well.  Unsweetened ice tea is very much a southern US states delight but we've been able to find it states further north as well.  This beverage is refreshing without adding any calories, just perfect for hot weather and ideal when enjoying heavier meals.

The portion size for the fries was very generous!  They were hot, steamy and crispy just perfect.  These fries are a must even if you don't eat the entire portion and they are perfect sharing size.  You just have to taste them to know they are about as close to homemade as you can get, with all the deliciousness of homemade, fresh-cut fries.

The peanuts are part of the Five Guys identity.  Those with peanut allergies or sensitivities should not go there.  There is signage on the doors to indicate that peanuts are served in bulk on the premises.  The peanuts were delightfully roasted, not too salty

Be warned, while most fast food is not the best food for you, Men's Health Magazine (2008) listed Five Guys fries in their 20 New Worst Foods in America Eat This, Not That!  A large Five Guys fries contains 1,474 calories, 71 g fat (14g saturated) and 213 mg sodium.  Overall, Men's Health gave Five Guys a grade of C in terms of healthy choice offerings.  However, you can reduce the calories by sharing as we did and simply asking for no salt on your fries would greatly reduce the sodium.

five guys burger
We each ordered a regular cheeseburger ($5.79).  I ordered my with the everything and added jalapeño peppers.  My husband ordered his with lettuce, tomato and grilled onions.  All of the regular size burgers come with two patties while the little size comes with one.  The patties are made with 100% fresh beef with no fillers or preservatives.  The beef is neither organic or free range but it is purchased from producers that treat the cattle humanely following all the procedures set by the USDA.

These were really tasty,  juicy, homemade style burgers.  We certainly enjoyed them!  Fully loaded, they were a bit drippy to eat but that really is part of the enjoyment.  These burgers seriously are some of the best.  To borrow a term from several reviewers, Five Guys' burgers are Burgericious, well worth the culinary experience.

Men's Health Magazine in the same rated the regular burger sans cheese or toppings as an unhealthy choice at 700 calories and 20 grams of fat.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest listed Five Guys' bacon cheeseburger (920 calories) in their 2010 list of the most unhealthy meals available at US chain restaurants.  The burgers are quite large especially with the two patties so you could cut calories by sharing a burger and simply omitting toppings like cheese, grilled onions and bacon you can certainly reduce the fat content but that's not the point.  I mentioned the unhealthy ratings for the Five Guys' food for a reason.

Five Guys is basically a meat and potatoes restaurant that has never claimed to be health food.  Of course it is not the healthiest food you can enjoy but it is down right good food!  If we are going to a burger joint it is to indulge a bit, and because we eat healthy the majority of the time, a bit of occasional indulgence is fine.  They use fresh, never frozen 100% ground beef and potatoes unlike many fast food restaurants that use frozen burger patties that may have preservatives and fillers and frozen French fries.  All of their products are trans-fat free.  Most fast food restaurants horribly over salt the food but we asked for just a little salt on our fries so ours weren't too salty at all.  I'm sure if we had said no salt that would have been fine as well.  However, I would not consider Five Guys a fast food restaurant.  It is a burger joint, and a mighty good one at that.  Unlike burger joints that have turned into fast food restaurants with drive-through windows and pre-made patties, fries and other menu items, as well as gimmicky characters combined with toys for the kids, Five Guys has stuck to its roots in offering fresh, handmade, homemade style menu items without complicating the menu by adding a lot of extras.  Instead they have focused on perfecting what they do best.  They also don't offer coupons or discounts but rather offer high quality products at reasonable prices.  All around, Five Guys gets a two thumbs up from us!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Tips for Saving Money on Kitchen Equipment

Frugal Kitchens 101

We are now into November which means starting to prepare for gift giving and the holiday season. I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.  I love that you can get some rather good deals for anything kitchen related but I hate being inundated with stacks and stacks of store flyers that to me are a waste of resources especially when we are on a mission to reduce paper waste in our home.  We just received the stuffed with flyers local can't opt out of newspaper.  I have to admit there are a few good sales on small kitchen appliances (eg. West Bend slow cooker reg. $31.99 on for $18.97) , kitchenware and all things kitchen related.  While small kitchen appliances go on sale throughout the year, the best time to find the bargains is during the period leading up to Christmas Day.  Kitchen items will be reduced as much as 75%  which makes waiting to buy well worth it.  The next best times for these bargains are Boxing Day followed by about the end of January when some of these small appliance gifts and kitchen ware will make their way to the resale shops (sad but true).  The reason being, even though the giver thought the receiver would love a breadmaker, the receiver didn't.   So it makes it's way to the resale store without the giver ever knowing.  I have picked up some lovely Pamper Chef pieces this way.  The second reason, is some of the kitchen items on sale for the purpose of gift giving are really unnecessary gadgets or gimmicky that result in cluttered kitchens.  Finally, another good time to find kitchenware bargains is the couple of weeks before Mother's Day.  With this in mind as to when the best times to shop for kitchen equipment here are a few tips:

  • flyers - Go through the flyers and compare the prices in the comforts of your own home.  If the price is excellent and it is a small kitchen appliance or other kitchen item you need, then take the flyer with you to the store.  Some stores will price match their competitors price which can save you an extra stop.  
  • know your prices - I am more than willing to wait for the excellent sales for our own kitchen needs as well as kitchen items for gift giving.  Some sales are good but others are excellent.  It pays to keep a price book of items you need.  For example, Canadian Tire routinely puts the Anchor 6 pc glass storage sets on sale from 30% to 50% off.  This week they are 65% off so I'll pick up a couple of sets for gift giving because I know this is going to be about the best price I will find for new sets.  
  • be prepared - I keep a price book, well actually it's now on my iPad in our ongoing efforts to reduce paper waste, of household items we want or need.  My rule of thumb is to never by anything kitchen related that is not on sale.  Even stocking our vacation home, everything was bought on sale.  At the same time, I am prepared to buy if there is an excellent sale on a kitchen item.  I keep a small stash of funds on hand that basically comes partly from saving on grocery shopping and partly from very generous gifts (eg. monetary or gift cards).
  • gift cards - Some folks like to give gift cards as gifts and I do receive gift cards as part of the compensation for various promotions on my blogs.  The instinct when getting a gift card is to rush out and buy something you want.  I'm the direct opposite.  A gift card here (Ontario, Canada) has no expiry date so it is as good as money in the bank.  I save gift cards to use when I find an excellent sale on an item I need or want for gift giving.
  • wants vs needs - One of the primary concepts of frugality is distinguishing between wants and needs.  For example, I want a meat slicer but I don't really need one because I have several good knives that will do the job manually.  Our kitchen is very well equipped so at the moment I would say we have no needs but an example need would be someone who has arthritis and can't use a manual can opener would need an electric version. If you are buying a kitchen gift for someone, do a bit of research the buy what they need.  If they don't need anything, then splurge and buy something they want.  Oh, and the research is as easy as asking a few of the right questions at the appropriate moment or simply being observant  Just keep your ears and eyes open and it will be easy to see what they need.
  • rain cheques - Sometimes a store is out of a sale item.  Unless it specifies in the flyer 'no rain cheques', ask for a rain cheque.  Generally the item will arrive on the next shipment allowing you to still purchase the item at the sale price even if the sale is over.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Balsamic Mushroom Slices

We often have friends and relatives stay with us at our vacation home.  During our fall vacation in October, four of the guys arrived the same day my husband's sister and our nephew left.  They were down for a week of serious golfing while enjoying the sun.  While do a fair share of eating out when they are down, we also cook meals.  Most of the breakfasts and lunches are made at home as well as about half of the dinners.  Don't get me wrong as we love eating out but getting into relaxed mode makes it easier to eat at home some days.

frying the mushrooms
The nice thing is, most of our family and friends are foodies as well so they love to help with the cooking and KP duty.  This is a wonderful way to share recipes and lots of good conversation peppered heavily with laughter.

My husband picked up rib eye steaks to grill for dinner.  Sautéed mushrooms are almost a must have with steak followed closely by caramelized onions.  One of the guys was making his specialty caramelized onions in a bourbon reduction.  I decided to get creative with the sautéed mushrooms.  I started them as I normally do in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and butter.  When the mushrooms were at the sweat point, I made a change.

balsamic vinegar added to the mushrooms
Balsamic vinegar reduction is absolutely delightful and ever so easy to make.  Simply pour balsamic vinegar into a fry pan then bring to a simmer.  Continue cooking until it is reduced to the consistency of a medium thick syrup.  It is a lovely, rich, full bodied  sauce ideal for serving over meats but also works nicely over some sweets like vanilla icecream.   I reasoned a balsamic vinegar reduction would go nicely with the mushrooms while complimenting the flavour of the grilled steaks.  Instead of making the balsamic vinegar reduction separately, I added about a half cup of balsamic vinegar to the cooking mushrooms.  I thought it would infuse the mushrooms with the rich flavour of the reduction.  

balsamic mushrooms ready for serving
I continued cooking the mushrooms until the balsamic vinegar was nicely reduced.  The mushrooms were nicely sautéed with a lovely hint of caramelization but with a deeper, richer colouring.  The aroma was tantalizing!

The whole kitchen smelled heavenly between my mushrooms and our friend's onions!  Both took about the same time to cook.  Both were simple variations of traditional toppings served with steak.  My husband had raved about our friends bourbon onions so I kept my fingers crossed the balsamic sautéed mushrooms would  be equally well received.

balsamic mushrooms served
The meal was rather simple yet quite delicious consisting of grilled rib eye steaks, grilled potatoes,  balsamic sautéed mushrooms and bourbon caramelized onions, and a garden salad.  I could not believe how such simple variations by adding balsamic vinegar to the mushrooms and bourbon to the onions, made such a difference.  That is not sour cream on the potatoes.  It is Greek style yogurt that is lower in fat with a bit richer flavour than sour cream.

This really is what makes cooking so much fun.  It really doesn't take much to change a recipe for a totally different result.  Simply substituting one type of vinegar for another can change the flavour of a dish.  I found that out years ago with canning recipes.   Adding in flavour enhancers like bourbon, sherry or wine can make a huge difference in the flavour as well.  So don't be afraid to do a bit of experimenting substituting one or more ingredient with a variant of that ingredient.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gater Bites

There are a lot of alligators around the area of our vacation home.  I love taking the golf cart out after dinner to get a few pictures.  I don't even have to go a block before I spot them.  Gators are to be respected because they can easily maim or kill a human. They can out run a human who is running in a straight line so the best defense if one comes after you is to run in a zig zag.  Now, with me it would be rolling into the fetal position knowing the gater is going to win.  The thing is gators really are rather docile so won't attack unless provoked.  Being of sound mind, I stay in the golf cart taking only pictures and never provoking them.  We have a 10 footer in the resort where our vacation home is.  Talk about an impressive animal!

gator bites
Gater is offered at many Floridian restaurants usually as a breaded appetizer.  I have seen frozen gator pieces at one grocery store but they really aren't the norm.  I've never seen them at Publix, Sweetbay, Walmart or Sam's Club.  They tend to be a bit more popular in tourist type areas like Key West and pub grub style restaurants.

Everyone says alligator tastes like chicken but seriously it doesn't.  The closest it comes to is frog legs.  It is mildly flavoured but has a considerably different texture from chicken.  Gator is usually served as an appetizer with some type of spicy dipping sauce, almost like a tartar sauce kicked up a bit with hot pepper sauce.  It is usually breaded similar to chicken nuggets.  If you can find gator meat, they would be very easy to make at home.  Our nephew was delighted to enjoy a basket of gator bites.  It really made his day before heading back to the cold of home.  Talk about good times spent in the company of family :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Freezing Cooked Dry Beans

kitchen quick tipsCooked dry beans (eg. kidney, navy) freeze nicely.  Package in an airtight freezer container or freezer bag.  They will keep for up to six months in the freezer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Our Thanksgiving Stuffed Chicken (Vacation Home)

The approach for cooking at our vacation home is a bit different than cooking at our permanent residence.  We don't have a well stocked pantry nor do we have storage space for a lot of food.  We don't have a large variety of seasonings and spices to use like we do at home.  We tend to shop for only a couple days of groceries at a time which ends up saving us a bit in food waste.  Quite often eating out is a spur of the moment decision especially when we have company visiting.  We don't have a lot of the small kitchen appliances I am used to using on an almost daily basis (eg. Kitchen Aid stand mixer) and those small kitchen appliances we do have are very much stripped down versions specifically bought with renters in mind meaning they don't have the features I'm used to having.  It is hot there as well so cooking indoors is not as desirable especially baking.  I have become very accustomed to cooking with natural gas and on charcoal for the outdoor grill, neither of which we have at our vacation home.  Instead I'm back to cooking with electricity and propane.  Don't get me wrong as I am definitely not complaining, just saying the the cooking style at our vacation home is rather different and by default adaptive than at home.

stuffed chicken
My husband's sister and our nephew spent the Canadian Thanksgiving with us at our vacation home.  I decided on making a meal that gave us the traditional flavours of home.  I bought a whole chicken then stuffed it as I normally would with turkey or whole chicken.  Unfortunately, I did not have any homemade poultry seasoning so had to buy a packet but it worked for our needs.  I do think I will buy a countertop roaster next trip as it won't heat the house like the oven does.

My stuffing is beyond easy to make.  I just break up bread slices into a bowl.  It is very much a guestimation as to how much it will take to stuff the bird.  Then I add chopped onions, dabs of butter, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper then mix well.  I form the stuffing into fist sized balls and stuff it into the bird in both the main and neck cavity.  Then I tie the legs together, dab the bird with butter and a little salt and pepper then roast as is.  The results are perfect every time with enough drippings to make a nice, rich gravy.  At home, I would normally serve the chicken or turkey with mashed potatoes and whole kernel corn but at our vacation home I substituted baked potatoes.  They cooked along with the chicken making it a frugal use of energy.  I also kept the carcass of the chicken to make chicken stock then froze it to be used during our next trip.  Normally, I would home can it but until I buy a pressure canner for the vacation home, it isn't an option.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I wrote about flea market food a couple of days ago.  The flea markets we have visited both here, while traveling and at our vacation home have been meccas for delicious foods.  Most of them have large sections where you can buy local produce and fresh baked bread at very reasonable prices.  Some of them have indoor sections where you can buy fresh meats, cheeses and eggs.  I have discovered some really need foodie finds at the flea markets like chicharron de harina, prickly pear, boiled peanuts and sugar cane.

fresh pecans
My husband's sister and our nephew visited us over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend while we were at our vacation home.  We took them to one of our favourite flea markets.  This is a larger flea market with a wonderful selection of foodie finds!

There is a large Latino population in the general vicinity of our vacation home which means we can find a lot of Latino ingredients at the flea markets.  They generally are very inexpensive and while I can't take a lot back to our home in Ontario, I do manage to bring back a few things.  Florida, of course is known for it's citrus fruit so there are some rather good bargains on citrus fruits at the flea markets.  Florida borders on Georgia, home to peanut and pecan growers.  We stopped in Georgia on one of the trips   we drove down to Florida.  I bought pecans for a couple of our kids but never bought any for ourselves as I thought they were a bit costly.  A booth at the flea market was selling fresh, cracked pecans for $3.  I'd say there was about 2 lb worth of pecans.  The shells had be cracked just enough to open them for easy eating.

When we got back to our vacation home, I poured the pecans into a serving bowl then set on the table for impromptu snacking.  Was that ever a popular bowl!  They were delicious.  I should have brought some home with me.  I definitely will be buying some to bring home during our winter vacation.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Ways to Stock the Pantry Without Breaking the Bank

Frugal Kitchens 101 I have spent the better part of the busiest of the food preservation season (mid-May to mid-October) restocking our depleted pantry stores.  Between our last house being on the market for a little over 18 months, buying our new house (move in date of Sep. 1, 2011) and spending time at our vacation home in the sunny south, my home food preservation took a huge hit.  At the same time, I refused to buy any food product that we didn't absolutely need even if it was an excellent sale.  That meant by the time we moved and started the settling in process after our fall vacation in 2011, we were completely out of or getting low on some of the commercial products we use, root vegetables and squashes I usually for part of the winter and that type of thing.  We had also let the freezers get low, not empty but not adding to them.  Mind you, it served as a means to use up some of our pantry stock and making it easier to move.  With empty jars and containers, you don't have to worry about food spoilage during the move and settling in period.  We started the move process on September 1, signed the papers on September 15 and left for our vacation on September 18.  We usually stay at our vacation home for a period of 3 to 5 weeks so I clean out the fridge as well.  During our fall vacation in October and winter vacation in December there is little point restocking much in the fridge.  So, in January of 2012 we were faced with a depleted pantry, almost bare refrigerator, and dwindling freezer contents.

I've been restocking ever since.  The big question is how could I afford to do this without breaking the bank?  First, I did have a tidy little stash of money because every time I didn't buy food, I put that money away for restocking after the move.  Here it is almost mid-November and I still have a bit ($145) of that stash left.  Here's how I've manage to restock the pantry, freezers and refrigerators without breaking the bank:

  1. shop the sales - It goes without saying that shopping the sales can save considerable money on restocking BUT only if you cherry pick.  What this means is focusing only on the sale items that are on for an above average price then stock up on only those with the realization that sales tend to be cyclic.  If the sale is cyclic, you only need to stock enough to get to the next sale although you may want to stock more if like myself you are aiming for a one to two year supply.  I used this method for rices, pasta, and flours as well as fresh produce like mangoes and mandarin oranges to home can.  The local grocery store here usually puts 10 lb bags of potatoes, onions, carrots and beets on for under $2 in season.  All of these can be preserved plain or used as ingredients in other dishes like casseroles for the freezer.
  2. shop the farm stands - Shopping the farm stands can save a lot of money if you are willing to buy a quantity of the produce.  For example, there may not be much of a savings on a 10 lb bag of potatoes but there is if buying a 50 lb bag. In season, a 10 lb bag of potatoes will go for about $2 but a 50 lb bag will go for $4 to $7.  Potatoes as with most produce can be home canned, dried, or froze so buying the larger bag allows you to get more into your pantry and freezer than the smaller bags. 
  3. the 10% rule - We certainly do not shop at grocery stores the way most folk do.  It is usually cherry picking the sales or picking up something we really need so we are not doing a weekly shopping.  We have a 10% rule.  If the bill will total $50 and I do keep track when shopping, then $5 of that $50 must go towards stocking the pantry.  It is surprising how much you can buy for $5 if you really want to.  For example, I can get $45 worth of groceries and just under $5 worth of dried pasta (5 x 750 g bags) or 5 tins of tuna (on sale) or two bags of dried beans to stock the pantry.  This really is an almost pain free way to restock the pantry.
  4. know our usage - We are fairly good at calculating out usage.  For example, if we have plain pasta sauce once a week, we need 52 jars of home canned pasta sauce for the year but this would be the same amount as if you were buying it.  I add in a bit extra for the just in case times and entertaining which works out to 70 jars for us.  That becomes my target goal of the number of jars I need in the pantry.  There is no point stocking more than that unless there is some indication there may be a problem with supply the following year.  The same is true of anything we stock in the pantry or freezers.
  5. home food preservation - If you grow your own produce or have access to inexpensive to moderately priced produce then home food preservation (eg. drying, freezing, canning) is a must for saving when stocking pantries and freezers.  Home dried herbs and herb blends are next to nothing.  Home dried produce especially if you grow it yourself is next to nothing as is home canned or home frozen produce.  Even if you have to buy your produce, home food preservation can still save you a bundle of money while filling those pantry shelves.  
  6. homemade mixes - If you like convenience mixes then homemade is for you when stocking your pantry!  There are whole websites dedicated to making your own mixes that are healthier and cheaper than store bought.  For example, a store bought cake mix costs at $1 contains at most 30¢ of ingredients with the rest being packaging plus you still have to add the liquid and/or egg.  I spent less than 15 minutes packaging 10 jars of my favourite white cake mix into mason jars then vacuum sealing at a cost of under $3.  They are ready to use when I want them and they aren't filled with harmful additives.  The same can be said for rice/pasta mixes (eg. rice-a-roni), helper mixes (eg. Hamburg Helper), seasoning mixes (eg. taco, poultry) and dip or salad dressing mixes.  
  7. think whole - Whole foods save considerably on the food bill in general.  These are the foods that tend to be on the outer walls of a grocery store (eg. produce, meats, dairy).  All can be preserved in some fashion at home.  Other whole foods are your flours, sugars, whole grains, legumes, dried beans, rices and for convenience dried pastas although homemade pasta is tastier yet less expensive.  Whole foods can be used to make a wide range of dishes without all the nasty packaging or food additives while saving a lot of money.  When restocking a pantry or even just stocking, those listed are ideal with the exception of dairy that does not home can well but some dairy products can be froze.  With the exception of legumes, whole grains and dried beans I can usually find the rest on sale.
  8. bulk food store - Our bulk food stores are designed so that you can buy as little or as much as you want of any given food product they carry.  That means I can buy a tsp of a needed ingredient verses a 3 oz bottle or I can buy a lot of an ingredient depending on my need not the size the manufacturers package it in.  This is a great cost saver when buying seasonings like turmeric where you won't use much of in a year or seasonal seasonings like pickling spice.  Again, when shopping for these spices and seasonings think whole.  If you buy 5 kinds of herbs/seasonings you can make upwards of 10 seasoning blends by mixing and matching for a fraction of store bought seasoning blends.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Those Wonderful Street Food Carts

We frequent a lot of events (eg. flea markets, community fairs, food fests, tourist areas) where cart type food is served.  It falls into the same category as street food commonly found in cities.  The smaller carts are just that, about the size of a large outdoor grill on wheels.  The larger carts are a bit more elaborate  motor home style of a kitchen on wheels.  Both are mobile and tend to move around although some are regulars in certain areas.  The carts sell hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage on a bun, hand cut French fries and at the fairs they sell cotton candy, candy apples and candy popcorn along with a wide variety of drinks.  One cart I absolutely love is the Mr. Pickle booth that features some of the best dill pickles you have ever tasted.  In our little corner of beautiful Ontario, Canada they tend to be very much seasonal, opening in late May and closing up in late September. At our vacation home in sunny Florida, the food carts are pretty much year round.

Earls sausage
I am a sucker for food cart fare.  It does not matter that I may not be hungry, I will constantly be munching on something from a food cart vendor while at these types of events. It is a sure fire way of finding a few new, simple yet tasty dishes to add to your culinary repertoire.

We go to the flea market in Weber at least once during each stay at our vacation home.  It is an inexpensive outing and laid back way to spend a morning.  I don't buy a lot because we don't really need anything at our vacation home and I can't bring much back home with me so food it is!  I spotted a food cart called Earl's.  Well, who can resist a food cart called Earl's?  I ordered the fully loaded sausage on a bun for $4.50.  This delicious delight consisted of a smoked Italian sausage, peppers and onions in a bun all wrapped up in food wrap to go.  Part of the food cart experience is the food wrap!  Yes, it is not eco-friendly but I don't see another way of them doing it. This was one very tasty sausage on a bun that would be very easy to duplicate at home!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Beans

kitchen quick tipsBeans should be stored in a dry, airtight container at room temperature.  While they will keep indefinitely, they are best used within a year as they tend to lose moisture over time taking longer to soak and cook.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

WildSide Bar & Grille in Kissimmee, Florida

My husband and I spent our fall vacation (October 2 - 23, 2012) at our vacation home in sunny Florida.  This vacation is very much a family, friends and golf vacation which means we end up making a few trips to two different airports depending on where family and friends are flying into and out of.  We arrived in Tampa late on October 2 then made the drive to our vacation home.  My husband's sister and her pre-teen arrived on October 5 on a bit earlier flight in Orlando to spend the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend with us.  We decided to go for dinner before picking them up.  So we pointed Lucy (our GPS) in the direction of a restaurant we wanted to try close to the airport.  That ended up in a field of nothing!  We told Lucy to take us to our next choice and again were greeted with an empty field.  So, we drove around heading towards downtown Orlando where we found a nice little gem of a restaurant.

WilSide Bar and Grille in Orlando Florida
We are huge barbecue and grilling fans.  Although the terms are used interchangeably  there is a difference.  Barbeque is low, slow cooking (hours) which gives tender, juicy, fall off the bone results.  Grilling is high heat that seals in the juices giving nice hash marks.  The best of both worlds combined with smoking is to do the BBQ then finish off with grilling.  Well, we spotted a huge smoker outside of a restaurant and knew that was it so we stopped in for dinner.

WildSide Bar & Grill has three locations, two in Orlando and one in Kissimmee.  We stopped at the Kissimmee location at 7725 W. Highway 192 just a short distance from the Walt Disney World Resort.  There is a really lovely piece of wall art on the side of the building where we parked (to left of photo out of camera range).  I was going to include it as well but five pictures is about the maximum for a blog post.  There is covered outdoor seating on the front porch and in the gazebo, both facing Highway 192 (W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy).  After taking several pictures, we decided to eat indoors out of the misty rain, high humidity and threatening a heavier shower.

WildSide impressive outdoor smoker
Just take a look at this gorgeous smoker set-up. Isn't it impressive?  I would have loved to see it in action so that is on our to-do list for our winter vacation.  The black smoker unit on the far right is a separate smoker from the larger unit.  The larger grey unit is part of their full service catering for any special occasion but I imagine they fire it up on premises as well.

We dodged the rain, noting patrons enjoying a drink and bit of quiet time on the covered patio shielded from the rain.  It looked cozy and inviting but in Florida with rain comes humidity so we made our way into the restaurant to the comforts of air conditioning.

WildSide cozy interior with open pit grill
Oh my, this place immediately hit you with a warm and welcoming feeling.  It has almost a British pub feeling yet more.  The restaurant is two levels high, with a lot of wood.  To the right on the lower level is an open fire grill.  The picture was taken from our table just to the bottom of the picture right beside the last opening in the wood railing.  There were an abundance of HD televisions to indulge in as many sports as desired.  Now this place definitely had atmosphere!

We were promptly greeted and the wait staff made us feel like they had nothing else to do but wait on us.  They were extremely friendly, very attentive to our needs, and just downright pleasant.    The wait staff themselves make this a must stop at restaurant.  They are absolutely delightful!  This is a very good indication that management here treats their staff well which is reflected in the service they give to their patrons.

WildSide Baby Back Ribs
The restaurant offers a variety of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes, chicken, ribs and seafood.  My husband told me to order the lobster tails which normally I would be very tempted but I was in the mood for good BBQ.

After our drink orders, a photographer came around to take our picture.  We declined.   We often get one of the waitresses to take a picture of us anyway but we prefer having the photo on our camera where we have control of where it goes.   We aren't comfortable having our pictures online but that doesn't appear to be the case with WildSide.  It's more of a souvenir photo to remember your visit to the WildSide.

We knew we had to meet a flight so didn't have a lot of spare time after encountering a large detour to get around a massive accident.  Surprisingly, we did not have to wait long for our meals at all even though we never told our waiter that.  Our meals came with a small loaf of warm bread that was brought out within a few minutes of ordering followed by my salad.  My husband ordered the half rack of baby back ribs ($15.99) that came with a choice of two sides.  Extra sides are available at a small charge if desired.  The ribs were dry rubbed then grilled to perfection.  He had macaroni $ cheese and BBQ baked beans as the sides.  As promised, the baby back ribs were grilled to perfection -  mouth-watering, tender and flavourful.  He was quite pleased with his meal!

WildSide half smoked chicken
I ordered the half smoked chicken ($12.99) that came with a choice of two sides.  My side choices were roasted red potatoes and a garden salad with Thousand Island dressing (not pictured).  My gosh, the potatoes were delicious perfectly complementing the chicken.  The chicken was nicely seasoned, delightfully tender and aromatic.  They really could have done without the nachos to help fill up the plate as they didn't go with anything.  Besides, with warm loaves of bread who needs nachos?  This proved to be too large of a serving for me but then I wasn't feeling well to begin with.  I would have loved to take the left-overs back to the vacation home but we didn't have a cooler with us.  We still had to pick up my husband's sister and young one at the airport then make our way back to our vacation home.

The only negative thing I can say about this restaurant is I wish we had a bit more time to relax and enjoy it. With Lucy taking us on wild goose chases we lost a bit of time and even though their plane took off 15 minutes late, they arrived early so we got the phone call midst meal they had just landed.  It was skedaddle time but rest assured this is going to be one restaurant we will be revisiting during our winter vacation!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Point of Origin

Frugal Kitchens 101
We are very much local food consumers (locavores) choosing to buy local foods grown and produced within a 100 mile radius of our home or when at our vacation home within the same distance.  Surprisingly, this actually saves us a considerable amount of money while making our local economy stronger.  We also buy very little in the way of commercially prepared foods (eg. canned or boxed or frozen foods).  When we buy any commercially prepared food, we look for the origin of that food.  By law in Canada the origin of food must be included on the label for all foods sold in the grocery stores.  When we are shopping at the grocery store we choose Ontario grown and produced foods first, followed by Canadian grown and produced with imported foods the last choice.  Don't get me wrong.  It's not like we don't use imported foods but rather the imported foods we use tend to be specialty foods like sea salts, olive oils, seasonings, anchovies, Pomona's pectin and those types of ingredients as well as fruits and vegetables not grown in Canada.

In Canada, two types of wording can be found on food packaging.  The first and best is 'made in Canada' or 'grown in Canada' or 'product of Canada'.  The label may also indicate 'grown in Canada' by using the Province of origin (eg. grown in Ontario).  This is quite helpful when deciding which produce to buy.  For example, if I have a choice between potatoes grown in Ontario and those grown in Nova Scotia, I will choose the Ontario grown because they have had to travel a much shorter distance to reach the grocery stores in our little corner of Ontario.  That means they are fresher, higher in nutrition and have a lower carbon footprint.  The second is 'packaged in Canada', 'packaged for' or 'imported food' meaning the food originated from outside of Canada but was packaged in Canada.  The 'packaged in Canada' is often found on frozen fish products, rices and dried beans even though there are some of Canadian origin.  The third type of label found on foods sold in Canada is 'made using origin ingredient' (eg. made using Belgian chocolate).  All the other ingredients in the product are usually of Canadian origin except that one ingredient.  It then becomes a matter of choice for the consumer as to whether they want these types of foods grown or produced in Canada or grown elsewhere and simply packaged in Canada.

All food sold in Canada must meet the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requirements still I am leery of buying foods like canned mushrooms which in most of North America are imported from China.  I can buy locally grown mushrooms and can them myself rather than buy an import and besides, cooking locally grown mushrooms from scratch give a superior product to even home canned mushrooms.  We aren't food snobs but I will admit to not buying any food grown or produced in China as much of it is contaminated with radiation or chemicals like melamine and arsenic.  We don't buy fish or seafood imported from Vietnam because it has been packed with ice made from unsafe water laden with bacteria making it unsafe to consume.  At certain times it has been necessary to avoid buying spinach and lettuce of US or Canadian origin due to E. coli, Salmonella, or Listeria contamination.

If you travel between Canada and the US as we, when entering either country any food must be clearly labeled as to point of origin.  We buy certain groceries in the US on a fairly regular basis and our vacation home is in the US.  Some foods are not allowed into either country based on their point of origin.  It may be due a particular problem with that food (eg. an E. coli outbreak in beef) where the food is restricted from entering for a temporary period of time or it could be due to a long term ban of that particular food any number of reasons.  In particular, fruits and vegetables must be in their original packaging that shows point of origin.  You are not allowed to bring loose fruits or vegetables (eg. washed grapes, prepared vegetable salads) into either country.  Restrictions can change daily so it best to check ahead before bringing any food especially dairy, produce, meat, poultry or fish into either country.  In general, there are no restrictions on commercially canned or boxed food other than the amount and some may be restricted based on point of origin.  We have not had any problem bringing in home canned foods to either country.  Of note, while Kinder Surprise (a chocolate egg with small toy inside) is sold in Canada, it is not allowed to enter the US because the FDA views it as a choking hazard.  Typically, it is this type of treat Grandparents may be bring home from their visit so while point of origin may or may not be of concern, other factors may restrict it from entering either country.  Be warned that if you are entering either country then flying inter-province or interstate there will be airline restrictions as to the size of container you can bring in your carry-on and certain items like white powders (eg. Morton's Tender Quick) and dried herbs will likely undergo drug testing.  From experience, Morton's Tender Quick did get a drug testing on our October 2012 vacation.  There are specialty food shops at some airports but before buying anything to bring back into Canada or the US, be sure to check if there are restrictions based on point of origin or type of food.  If you try to bring a restricted food item into either country, the food will be confiscated (and destroyed), you may be assessed penalties such as fines, seizure of your vehicle and/or being barred from entering the country again.  None of these are frugal so don't take the chance.

Quite often larger recalls of contaminated food products are announced in the media but in our global marketplace, it has now become very important to subscribe to advisories, warnings and food recall notices released by CFIA (Canada) and the FDA (USA).  I recommend following both if you spend anytime in either country.  Country of origin, manufacturer or supplier along with the reason for the recall will be noted in the warning.  Both of these government agencies can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.  Both have mobile apps:  CFIA (Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Blackberry); FDA (Android, iPhone, Blackberry).

The bottom line is paying attention to the point of origin for the foods you purchase can save you money and prevent you from being affected by food borne illnesses.  It is a way of you, the frugal consumer, of being able to identify those food products that have the potential to cause illness via contamination.  It is also a way to identify those foods that you may for whatever reason (eg. ethics, food safety) choose not to purchase based on the point of origin.  Finally, it is a way of being able to support those points of origin (eg. local, provincial, state, country) that you choose to support.  Always, look for the point of origin for the food you are purchasing if you want to be an informed, frugal consumer.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

New York Strip Steaks

My husband and I love our beef.  We are used to eating very good quality, hormone free, grass-fed beef that we buy as a calf that is then raised to slaughter age by one of our friends.  It is not surprising that we do enjoy our steaks.  The first dinner at our vacation home with the exception of our very first trip when we were just setting up the house, has been grilled steak.  The morning following our arrival we head into town to get groceries for a few days.  Good steaks, ingredients for a salad and potatoes are always part of the groceries the first trip.

custom cut New York strip steaks
At home we are well acquainted with local growers and know where to find the best quality meat possible.  Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the area around our vacation home although we are learning quickly.  At home, I'm used to buying from a small mom & pop butcher shop or the abattoir aside of our annual bulk meat purchase.
We like shopping at Publix when at our vacation home although we have bought groceries at Sweetbay, Sam's Club and Wal-mart.  The Publix closest to us has just had a gorgeous make-over but it was nice before.  Their meat counter is very nice and we can get custom cut like we are used to.  Our bulk beef purchase for 2012 cost us $2.52 per lb so seeing a $7.99 price per pound was a bit discerning on the surface.  In perspective, a steak entrée will cost $25 or more in restaurants so the price per pound really is not that bad.

Aside of having nice quality meat at reasonable prices, Publix prints out the cooking instructions on the labels for their custom cut and meat counter meats.  This is an extra feature I haven't seen elsewhere.  I've seen cooking instructions on pre-packaged meats like those wrapped in plastic wrap on a styrofoam tray but not this custom print-out.  Another nice thing Publix does is if you buy a cut of meat that should be baked, they package it in an ovenproof container, something that was very much appreciated during our first trip to our vacation home when we literally had zilch as far as far as kitchen supplies and equipment.

New York strip steaks
As steak lovers we both agree that a good steak should be close to an inch thick.  Thinner cuts can quickly turn into shoe leather when grilling.  The only time we use a thin cut of steak is when delicating it or making a rolarde.  Leftover steak can be used to make wraps, stir frys or soups.

We bought two inch thick, custom cut New York strip steaks for $12.30.  New York strip steaks are cut from the short loin.  This is a muscle that isn't used much so the meat is quite tender.   Don't they look delightful?  They grilled up perfectly, just what we needed to start our fall vacation off on a good note.

Honestly, the meat counter at the Publix we go to is just as friendly as our local butcher shop and they do cut the meat to our specification.  They are quite attentive to our needs and aim to please.  It's nice that we have found a solution to our meat purchases at our vacation home.  I'd still like to find a mom & pop butcher shop there but so far have had no luck.  I think a lot has to do with the location.  The town is actually considerably larger than the closest city to us at home but it is very much geared towards snowbirds visiting for the winter months.  At any rate we shall keep looking...

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Hockeytown Cafe (Detroit Metro Airport) - The Start of Our Fall 2012 Vacation

My husband and I own a vacation home in Florida where we spend anywhere from three to five weeks per vacation in the spring, fall and winter.  In all, it amounts to about 3 months per year.  Logistically this creates a bit of a culinary dilemna at both residences during the time we prepare to travel to one or the other.  When we are preparing to leave for our vacation home, we don't buy any perishable food for a week or so before.  This means if we are out of eggs a week before we leave, we simply don't cook anything requiring eggs.  I clean out the refrigerator, with anything we didn't use (eg. produce, eggs) going to one of our kids then wash the refrigerator from top to bottom.  We we arrive back home the refrigerator is pretty much empty except for condiments and a can of coffee.  On the vacation home side, depending on the time period we arrive to a completely bare refrigerator.  We rent our vacation home out when we aren't there so cannot leave anything in the refrigerator or freezer.  We do store a small amount of non-perishable food in a locked closet.  We are able to leave food in the refrigerator between the fall and winter vacation which helps somewhat.

Hockytown Cafe double play burger
We left for our fall vacation on October 2, 2012 return home on October 23.  We travel light with only backpacks, computer case and purse.  That means we don't take much in the way of food with us either way.  The night before we usually eat out so as to not create any garbage in the house.  Travel day is a light breakfast with coffee or tea, home canned soup or other home canned quick meal and dinner at the airport.

We usually fly out of Detroit Metro Airport when going to our vacation home so enjoy eating at the Hockeytown Cafe.  Airport food in general tends to be a bit more expensive. The food is good and prices reasonable.  My husband ordered the Double Play Burger which consists of two half pound patties of seasoned fresh ground beef served with lettuce, tomato, red onion and choice of cheese.  It came with a side of nacho chips and salsa.  At $11.95 this was a rather good deal.  He declared the burger delicious and filling!

Hockeytown Cafe chicken caesar salad wrap
I ordered the Chicken Caesar Wrap ($8.95).  It consisted of a grilled sliced chicken breast wrapped in a flour lavash with romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, croutons and Parmesan cheese served with a dill pickle, nachos and salsa.  A lavash is an Armenian flatbread similar to a Mexican flour tortilla but rolled into a larger rectangular shape rather than a round.  Traditionally, a lavish is shaped then slapped against the sides of a clay oven to cook.  It is made from flour, salt and water.  This was a large wrap!  It was very tasty.  I ate one half of the wrap then popped the other half into a zipper sandwich bag to enjoy during the flight.

Chicken Caesar wraps are one of my favourite summertime meals.  I keep packets of grilled and pan fried chicken breast strips in the freezer specifically for this purpose.  I usually do up a batch of 15 to 20 chicken breasts at a time.  I like to grill (preferred method) or pan fry the chicken breasts with a light seasoning of lemon pepper that really accents the flavour of the Caesar dressing nicely.  Once the chicken is cooked, I let cool enough to set the juices then slice into strips and place in the refrigerator to finish cooling.  When the chicken is fully cooled, I package into quart vacuum sealer bags, vacuum seal and freeze.  With these on hand it is always easy to whip up a quick yet delicious wrap with little effort!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Home Canned Chili Con Carne

We do a lot of entertaining both at home and our vacation home.  One huge hit has always been chili dogs which basically are all beef wieners topped with chili, onions and grated cheese.  For years, I made chili with beans (chili con carne) from scratch then froze part for chili dogs.  Then a few years ago I decided to home can chili with beans as a homemade convenience product for the pantry.

Commercially canned chili con carne is available in the grocery store but hands down the winner in terms of flavour and price is home canned.  Home canned chili is processed in a pressure canner for 75 minutes at 10 lb pressure at altitudes under 1,000 feet above sea level.  This raises the internal contents of the jar to 116°C/240°F so the contents will still be boiling when the jars are removed from the canner.  While this temperature will destroy any botulinum spores that could produce toxin resulting in Botulism, it does produce a slight to pronounced textural change in some  foods.  Pressure canned meats can take on a slight rubbery texture some do not care for.  However, a nice selection of home canned meat products is ideal as homemade convenience products in the pantry as well as emergency supplies in the event of a power failure.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Cooking Beans

kitchen quick tipsAdd an eighth tsp of baking soda to the soaking water when soaking dry beans.  This reduces the indigestible sugars that can cause flatulence.  Rinse beans after cooking if possible to reduce intestinal gas further.