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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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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Chocolate

Happy Easter!

Millions world wide are celebrating the Easter weekend.  Along with religious celebrations, certain practices have become widely accepted as Easter traditions.  These include Easter parades, Easter bonnets, Easter lilies, Easter eggs and of course, the Easter bunny.  The Easter weekend signifies the beginning of spring with new life in many areas.  The weather is usually warmer and spring-like.  Spring flower bulbs are poking their way through the ground which explains why some of the traditions like eggs (new life) were adopted.  Why chocolate came to be associated with Easter eggs is only speculation.  At any rate, chocolate eggs are a long standing Easter tradition.

Kinder Surprise chocolate egg
Children across Canada anxiously await Easter in the hopes of getting a Kinder Surprise milk chocolate egg in their Easter basket.  Kinder eggs began production by the Italian company, Ferrero in 1973.  The milk chocolate egg contains a plastic capsule which houses a small toy.  The plastic capsule is usually yellow to represent the yolk but is also manufactured in other colours.  Kinder Surprise are sold world wide with the exception of the United States.  The FDA will not allow the sale because the egg contains a non-nutritive component (the toy) but many say it is because the toy itself is viewed as a choking hazard.  At any rate, Kinder Surprise eggs are considered illegal countraband in the US subject to seizure and/or a fine of $300.  This is only one example of a particular food item not allowed to be brought into the US.  This is why it is important for anyone entering the US to know what foods they can and cannot bring into that country.

socially responsible organic chocolate
Food purchases more so today than years gone by have social and ethical responsibility components.  Consumers have the option to make a difference simply through their purchase choices.  This year I bought the little ones organic, fair trade milk chocolate Easter bunnies produced by Taste of Camino.  Proceeds from this milk chocolate contributes to the building of vibrant sustainable communities throughout the Caribbean, Central America and South America.  I bought our adult kids organic 70% cocoa dark chocolate bars.  Ten percent of the profit of those chocolate bars is donated to help support endangered species, habitat and humanity.  Dark chocolate is good for your heart too!

I have not seen organic chocolate in the grocery store or Walmart here but I shop regularly at the local health food store.  The price of the chocolate for 3 bunnies and 6 chocolate bars was $32 which sounds expensive on the surface.  However, I felt it was worth the price since both were organic with proceeds supporting good causes.  I discovered the chocolate bars a couple of months ago.  They are delicious!  Dark chocolate is something to savor, like a fine wine.  Let the chocolate slowly melt on your tongue while enjoying the heavenly taste and aroma.  One bar will last 8 days because you only enjoy a square a day.  I also keep a bar on hand to shave as a dessert topping or for adding a special touch to coffee. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Thoughts on New Lagostina Cookware and Whole Wheat Linguine with Roasted Italian Sauce with Mushrooms

Wednesday morning we picked up our new Lagostina Collezion Pro 12 Elite Series cookware that had finally arrived via rain cheque.  We bought the set at a fantastic 60% off.  The cookware was bought to upgrade our cookware at home while allowing us to take our existing pot set down to our vacation home.  It was also bought with the goal of reducing the number of pots and pans needed to prepare certain dishes.  Instead of searing in a fry pan then transferring to a casserole dish, these pieces will allow us to do everything in one pan, stovetop to oven.  I have to be honest with you, aside of oogling the new cookware and reorganizing the cabinet to accomodate it, I did not use any of the cookware until this morning when I started a pot of navy beans for baked beans as part of our Easter dinner tomorrow.

Lagostina Renaissance
We bought a set of Italian made Lagostina Renaissance pots about 10 years ago.  They still look great and perform quite nicely.  As far as pots go, these are a delight to use with their heavy tri-clad bases that eliminate hot spots.  The handles have faded a bit from going through the dishwasher but they still have the high polish protective coating that keeps them shiny.  The only downside to this particular set, is they cannot be used in the oven due to the handles.  Other than that, they are great performers.  I really would not have thought of replacing them had it not been for our cooking style changing a bit and wanting a better set of pots for our vacation home.

Lagostina Collezione Pro in the box
We got a rain cheque for the Lagostina Collezione Pro cookware the day after the sale flyer came out.  It took almost two weeks for them to arrive.  We chose this set because it is a multi-material set.   Cookware is currently available in aluminum, stainless steel, copper, and cast iron.  A non-stick coating is a popular edition.  If buying non-stick, I highly recommend ceramic over tefalon for safety and durability.  At one time, Pyrex had a line of glass cookware available but there were shattering issues so it was removed from the market.  You can still find it at resale shops and yard sales from time to time.  Each of the cookware materials have pros and cons.  The best cookware is actually a combination of more than one material to give even heat conduction and distribution.  As you cook more, you come to realize to realize certain cookware material gives better results than others.  For example, a good sear is best done in a hot stainless steel pan because a non-stick pan cannot be brought to a high enough temperature for a good sear.  If you are getting creative with cooking, then a matching set like the Lagostina Renaissance is not a good choice unless you don't mind buying specialty pieces.

Lagostina Collezione Pro cookware set
The Collezione Pro cookware consists of two tri-ly clad sauce pans for true even heat distribution (eg. sauces, vegetables, soups), one bi-clad sauté pan with anodized exterior for even heat (eg. braising, searing, flambéeing), one tri-ply copper exterior saucepan (delicate sauces, reducing liquids), one tri-ply copper exterior casserole for precise cooking control and an enamel coated cast iron dutch oven for superior heat retention (eg. soups, stews, casseroles).  All of the cookware have matching lids. All of the cookware can be used on the stovetop and in the oven.  The set comes with a lifetime replacement warranty and if a piece is replaced under that warranty, the replacement piece is also covered by the original warranty.  Of not, the guarantee does not apply to any damage resulting from abuse, misuse, negligence, accidents, improper repair, commercial use or dishwasher.  Needless to say, this cookware will not be going into the dishwasher!

My concern was missing the Dutch oven from my old set.  It will take a bit of getting used to the new cast iron dutch oven.  It is more of a conceptual thing with me because the new Dutch oven doesn't look like it can be used on the stovetop.  I've seen the celebrity chefs using this style on the stovetop and so far this morning, the beans are cooking nicely.  I'll report back on those results shortly.
steamer baskets
Pots and pans do not always come with everything you want or need.  We do a lot of steaming, often have more than one steamed dish cooking at the same time so really needed steamer baskets.  Our pastaiola came with two steamer baskets, a rather deep one perfect for larger quantities of vegetables or cooking pasta then lifting out for quick draining, and a shallower one (with handle) that fit the Dutch oven of the Renaissance set perfectly.  I kept the steamer basket out of our first rice maker when it quit.  This basket fit the largest saucepan of the Renaissance set perfectly.  Neither of these steamer baskets fit the new Collezion set perfect but they are useable.  The larger one fits down into the new Dutch oven still leaving space between the water level and basket.  The smaller one fits the larger tri-ply clad stainless steel saucepan, sticking up by about a half inch but it will still work.  In the meantime, I will keep checking the resale shops for steamer baskets that might fit a bit better.

whole wheat linguine with roasted Italian sauce and mushrooms
My husband and I really enjoy our pastas!  There are so many varieties of pastas that we just never really tire of it.  We enjoy both dry pasta and fresh made pastas using the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment.  I have been working towards making some of our favourite pasta meals a bit healthier.  All of my tomato based pasta sauces are home canned or homemade from scratch.  While they are rich, full bodied and flavourful, I seldom add salt so they are low sodium.  All have a little olive oil in them which makes the anti-oxidant lycopene more accessible to the body, making them a healthy sauce.  I often top pasta dishes with chopped fresh herbs and vegetables along with a little shredded cheese.  There are now a lot of healthy choices for dried pastas.  Some are made with whole grains while others have vegetables added and some are a combination of both.

Catelli has a line of dry pastas called Healthy Harvest.  I bought a 375g box of their whole wheat linguine that gives 75% of the daily recommended whole grain servings and is a high source of fibre.  It only takes 9 minutes to cook to perfection.  I topped the pasta with home canned roasted Italian sauce with mushrooms, shredded Asiago cheese, chopped green onions and chopped tomato for a lovely, healthy and meatless dinner that was low sodium and low fat.  The entire meal took under 15 minutes to prepare! 

If you have not tried whole wheat pastas, they are well worth the slightly higher price.  I like the whole grain pastas.  They have just a bit  firmer texture than white wheat pastas.  There is a bit more texture, just a slightly noticeable grainy texture.  Whole grain pastas cook up more of a light tan than a pale creamy yellow.  Other than that, whole wheat pastas can substitute in any pasta dish.  This pasta is available in various shapes.  A multi-grain line of pastas is also available from Catelli so you are sure to find one to please.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Fresh Berries

kitchen quick tips
Swirl fresh berries in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water before refrigerating to prevent the berries from getting moldy or soft.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Cookware - Lagostina Collezione Pro 12 Piece Elite Series

Hindsight is 20/20 and that could not be more true when it comes to certain kitchen equipment.  Two that comes to mind is pots and pans, and knives.  Those with minimal cooking skills or those setting up a kitchen on a budget, tend to buy sets not  necessarily the best quality without realizing that in any set, there will be pieces that end up not being used.  As newlyweds, we were gifted with a set of enamel coated pots and pans in the then popular mushroom  motif.  When the enamel started chipping, we replaced that set with a non-stick set with a brown exterior which was replaced a couple of years later with the same set only a grey exterior.  Now, all three sets likely had a retail price in the range of $50.  About 10 years ago, I replaced the grey set with a Lagostina Renaissance stainless steel set (4 saucepans, 1 stockpot, plus lids).  That set still looks new even though it is used daily.

When we set up our vacation home we bought an inexpensive non-stick pot and pan set even though we knew better because we planned on renting out the house when we weren't there.  In less than 2 years spanning 4 renters (5 months total rented) that set of pots and pans is trashed!  So, I decided to buy a new set for home and take my old set down to the vacation home.  The renters are just going to have to deal with stainless steel!  My old set should be able to withstand any cooking abuse they can muster.

I kept my eyes peeled on the Canadian Tire flyers hoping for a good deal.  Finally, the mid-March flyer had a set, and I do use that term loosely in this case,  Lagostina Collezione Pro 12 Elite Series on sale 60% off (regular $999.99, sale $399.99).  We headed to Canadian Tire that day but they didn't have them in stock so we got a rain cheque.  They called last night to say our much awaited purchase had arrived.

Why Lagostina?  Lagostina was founded in Omegna, Italy in 1901.  The company represents the philosophy of Italian culture and fine cuisine producing elegant, high quality products for state of the art cooking.  The Italian made Collezione Pro 12 Elite Series is a 12-piece set but it is not a matching set, rather a innovative 12-piece multi-material cookware set.  All of the pots and pans can be used on the stovetop or in the oven for functional versatility.  This actually means I can eliminate some of my other bakeware.  It also means more one pan cooking.  Here is a video on the set for a better idea of what this cookware set actually is.  I will post a few pictures with my first impressions of using my new cookware on Friday.  I must say they are very impressive looking!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Steamed Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts is a cultivar in the Gemmifera group of cabbages (Brassica oleracea) that is grown for its edible buds.   The small, leafy green vegetables are 2.5–4 cm (0.98–1.6 in) in diameter and resemble miniature cabbages.  Brussels sprouts are rich in Vitamins A, C, and K, folic acid and manganese, and high in fiber.  They also contain sulforaphane, a chemical believed to have potent anticancer properties.  Finally, Brussels sprouts are low in calories, only 44 cal in 4 ounces.  Surprisingly, with all the benefits Brussels sprouts have to offer, they are not a popular side dish in restaurants.

We both love our vegetables including Brussels sprouts.  I have tried growing them and while I haven't been overly successful, the yield is usually enough for a couple of meals.  Perhaps this year will be better.  Thankfully, the grocery store stocks fresh Brussels sprouts based on availability so we are able to enjoy them on a regular basis. 

We've been foodies since birth!  When our first child was born, I was determined to breastfeed and avoid commercially prepared baby foods.  Honestly, babies have been fed for centuries without the aid of commercially prepared baby foods.  Besides, if you ever tasted this type of baby food, it is no wonder kids learn at a very early age to hate vegetables!  So with the help of my blender, our oldest was introduced to solid foods.  Let's just say babies and Brussels sprouts don't mix well unless you fancy an erupting green volcano!

Brussels sprouts
I am not a fan of any boiled vegetable other than perhaps corn on the cob but even then grilled is better.  Boiling removes nutrients and leaves the vegetable with a watery mushiness I just don't like.  In particular, boiling Brussels sprouts significantly reduces the level of sulforaphane, but steaming or stir frying do not.

Steaming vegetables leaves them firmer (al dente)  with more flavour and colour.  While Brussels sprouts roasted are yummy,  fried in bacon grease are delightful but steamed Brussels sprouts reign supreme in our home.  Topped with just a little butter and pinch of sea salt enhance their natural sweetness and they are divine!

Method:  Wash the Brussels sprouts.  Trim the stem end removing any loose leaves.  Place about a half inch of water in a sauce pan.  Place the Brussels sprouts in the steamer basket then but the basket into the sauce pan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer until Brussels sprouts are fork tender.  Remove from steamer basket just before serving.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Thrift Stores

Frugal Kitchens 101
I have been a thrift store shopper ever since my childhood days.  It's like a treasure hunt, never knowing when you are going to find that perfect whatever you need at a fraction of the cost of new.  Thrift stores aka  resale shops aka Sally Ann aka Goodwill or simply the name of the shop itself are a mecca for those wanting to equip their kitchens (and rest of the home) frugally.  There are three types of thrift stores.  The first is privately owned with the proceeds going to the owner.  The second type is owned and operated by a charitable organization with the proceeds going to charity and helping those in need in the community.  We did have a third type in town  that was privately owned but all the proceeds went to charity.  It has since changed hands and I haven't stopped in to see if that is still the case.  Of the three types of thrift stores, I tend to support those with proceeds going to charity.

Thrift stores are the ultimate in recycling.  Items no longer wanted or needed are donated to the thrift store where they are cleaned up and sold well under their original value even if the item is brand new.  You end up with something you need for next to nothing.  At the same time proceeds from your purchase goes back into the community.  It's a win:win all the way a round.  This is the time of year to be checking out the thrift shops.  Folks are starting to do their spring cleaning so there is an influx of lots of different items.  Those unwanted small kitchen appliances gifted at Christmas are also making their way to the thrift stores this time of year.  Of note, even if the thrift store is for profit and not charity the prices tend to be about the same.  Here's a few items to look out for:

  • platters - If you do a lot of entertaining, platters usually go for 50¢ to $1.  With a bit of looking you can find some fairly nice vintage platters as well for the same price.
  • serving bowls - Serving bowls usually go for 25¢ to $1 depending on the size.  I tend to look for vintage rather than plastic but some nice plastic ones show up in the thrift stores as well.
  • wicker baskets - Wicker baskets can be had for as low as 10¢.  Wicker can be washed and dried thoroughly then dyed with fabric dye or painted.  These are ideal for home made gift baskets!
  • metal tins -  Decorative metal tins with lids in all shapes and sizes can usually be found for under $1.  They can be used to store just about anything and are perfect for gifting cookies and sweets. [watch for an up coming post on metal tins]
  • glassware - Glassware is usually priced at 25¢ each but may be sold in sets.  Commemorative glassware may go as high as $2
  • mugs - Mugs are generally priced about the same as glassware.
  • specialty beverage - Cappuccino, espresso and wine glasses are often sold in sets for $2 to $4.  Punch bowl sets are usually $5 to $7.
  • vintage glass bakeware -  Older glass bakeware is wonderful.  It doesn't have the problem of shattering when heated as some newer glass bakeware has done.  If you are lucky, the glass lid is still with the piece so there is no concern over leaching from plastic lids.  I use my vintage pieces for storing foods in the refrigerator as well as baking in the oven or warming in the microwave oven.  Vintage pieces with no chips, top and bottom are usually priced at $5 to $7 but are worth every penny.
  • mason jars -  Mason jars are often over priced at 50¢ to $1 and they have no lid or ring.  New 500 ml (pint) jars cost 55¢ and 1 L (quart) jars cost 66¢ new, on sale and they come with the lid and ring.  Unless you can get a box of mason jars for $2 to $3 or jars at less than the new price, they are not a bargain.
  • miscellaneous items -  Items like table cloths, placemats, cloth napkins, aprons, gadgets and decorative kitchen items can all be found at thrift stores for a fraction of the price of new.  It's even possible to find homemade and custom made items. 
  • small kitchen appliances - Pricing of small kitchen appliances depends on what it is.  I've seen new bread machines as low as $5.  The gimmicky type small appliances tend to be rather inexpensive too yet basics like an electric can opener are over priced.  Unless you know how to repair broken small kitchen appliances, never buy a damaged one or one with any problems with the cord.  
  • cookbooks -  My gosh, you can create quite the cooking library for a pittance just by buying cookbooks at the thrift stores.  It doesn't matter if the cookbook is by a celebrity chef or not, all are priced at under a dollar.  Sometimes they put all books including cookbooks on 5/$1.  Thrift stores are a great place to find older and vintage cookbooks.  One of my favourite cookbooks is Kate Aitken's Canadian Cook Book (1965) bought for 10¢ several years ago.  Older and vintage cookbooks are one of the most valuable resources in a frugal kitchen.
  • large kitchen appliances - Some thrift stores do not carry refrigerators, ranges or microwave ovens but others do.  It is possible to get a refrigerator or range in good condition for under $100 which can be a real help if your's can't be repaired and you don't have the funds for a replacement.  It's great for those setting up their first apartment on limited funds and if you like vintage, with any luck you may be able to find vintage large appliances.  New microwave ovens can be found for as low as $50 but thrift stores seldom get microwave ovens and when they do, the price is close to new.  
  • furniture - Thrift stores that have furniture are often great places to find kitchen tables and chairs that are rather inexpensive.  Folding tv tables, shelf units and bakers stands are sometimes available. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Marsh Beaver (Muskrat) Dinner

It is hard to believe in our modern, hustle and bustle world the very area of Ontario, Canada that we call home was also once home to bear.  The fur trade played a huge role in the founding of Canada which is one of the reasons some of my ancestors settled in this area.  The waterways connecting Lake Huron to Lake Erie and tributaries were rich in beaver.  At the same time another smaller critter, the muskrat caught the eye of the French Canadian settlers.  They were and still are plentiful, fairly easy to trap or shoot, and especially in the early days a way to put fresh meat on the table during the long Canadian winters.  To this day, muskrat aka Marsh Beaver aka river rat is still a popular dish in French Canadian communities as well as for those who hunt or trap small game.

We often see muskrat along the ditches, at our marina and when boating.  We even had a muskrat hanging around the dock at our second last house.  Muskrat gets it's name from the musk glands, that if properly removed leaves the meat quite edible.  The meat is surprisingly tender and fine grained but it is rather smelly when cooking.  The muskrat is skinned, head and glands removed then the meat is soaked in a salt water solution overnight to remove the gamey taste.  The prepared muskrat is cut in half through the ribs butterfly fashion.  The back side (saddle) portion of the muskrat is meatier. 

marsh beaver aka muskrat dinner
I had the great pleasure of attending my first Marsh Beaver dinner this past Friday evening.  Muskrat is not a government inspected meat but then neither is venison, moose, wild goose or locally caught fish all of which we eat.  Of note, even single packages of meat in the grocery stores are not government inspected individually although they are processed in government inspected facilities.

The Marsh Beaver dinner was buffet style consisting of generous portions of muskrat, baked beans, scalloped potatoes, green onions, raw cauliflower, cucumber, bread and butter pickles, and stuffed olives.  The muskrat was baked then pan fried in butter.  I had three pieces.  Each piece was one muskrat with the top piece showing the saddle portion.  The round bone towards the left of the top piece is the tail bone.  The other end near the green onion is where the head was.  There is a fair amount of meat considering the size but you do have to work at it a bit to get the meat off the smaller bones.  Muskrat is definitely a finger food!

I brought two pieces of the muskrat home so my husband could try some but he wasn't very interested.  We hosted our regular gatheringt last night and our friend who is a avid hunter came.  A couple of the other guys hunt as well so I warmed up the muskrat for them.  It was gone in a flash!  They were still smacking their lips at how tasty the muskrat was.  If you ever get a chance to attend a Marsh Beaver dinner, it is well worth to do so.  The meat really is quite good!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Winter Grilling - Rib Steaks

My husband and I love grilled foods year round even though we live in beautiful Ontario, Canada where the temperatures dip below zero.  We have no problem grilling in rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow or sub-zero temperatures.  This love of grilling has taught us a lot and is reflected in where our outdoor grill is located, as close to the kitchen as possible. Grilling outdoors during in-climate weather especially the colder temperatures takes a bit more time for the grill to heat properly but the prep work is the same.  I thought I would share a few winter grilling tips with you today.

grilled rib steaks
A few days ago, I thawed two rib steaks intent on grilling them.  It didn't matter that we had had freezing rain that afternoon and by the time the grill was fired up it was snowing.  When my husband arrived home the grill was heated ready for the steaks.  The baked potatoes were almost ready, the mushrooms were browning and home canned green beans were in the pot ready to be heated.  My mouth was watering just at the thoughts of a nice, juicy grilled steak!  Pictured is the grilled rib steak dinner.  Doesn't is look delicious?

Winter Grilling Tips:
  • place the outdoor grill in a protected location away - Our grill is located in the corner formed between the side of the house and attached garage, on the deck about two feet from the kitchen patio doors.  It is shielded from the northeast winds (house side), south winds (garage side), and west winds (neighbour's house).  It does get some wind but it is considerably reduced than if the grill were out in the open.  Some grill in their garage in the winter but that is not advisable with an attached garage or if you don't want everything in the garage to smell like smoke.
  • keep the outdoor grill covered - There are two schools of thought on covering outdoor grills.  The first is a cover protects them and it does as long as moisture does not get under the cover, hence the second school of thought that covering promotes rusting.  It also provides cover for rodents although that is not usually a huge concern in most areas.  We keep our outdoor grill covered as it is stainless steel so there aren't the rusting concerns and we don't have to clean off the grill before using it in the winter months.
  • use an easy fuel - Although you can use charcoal, natural gas or propane is considerably easier at getting the grill to temperature quickly.  There's less going in and out to check the temperature of the grill meaning less of the indoor heated air is being lost. 
  • mainly meats and vegetables - We use our outdoor grill as an oven for many foods but during the winter months, the focus is mainly on meats, tender vegetables (eg. zucchini, red pepper, onions) and portabello mushrooms.  In other words, those foods that are finished grilling within 20 minutes or less.  In a pinch, if the power is out you could still use the outdoor grill as an oven in the winter but you will go through more fuel.  Or, if you don't mind going through more propane just to get that flavour for longer foods using the grill as an oven, by all means do so.  
  • mise en place - It is very important when grilling outdoors during the winter months to have everything in place before you start heating the grill.  The less times you have to open the door between the house and grill the less heated air will escape from the house.  We set up the various dishes assembly line style based on cooking time.  
  • timing - Timing of the side dishes should be such that they are ready when the meat is finished grilling.  In this respect, grilling during the winter is no different than grilling during the nicer weather.  The only difference is meat will quickly cool once removed from the grill in the chilly air.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Easy & Free Kitchen Make-over

kitchen quick tips Give your kitchen a brand new look by de-cluttering the counters.  Remove everything, then put back only a very few basics like coffee maker.  You will be surprised at what a difference it makes in the looks and function of your kitchen to have your counters free of clutter!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spinach Rice Vermecilli

Pasta dishes have long been family favourites, anything from cold pasta salads to pasta casseroles to pasta in soups to simply pasta topped with a sauce or sometimes just a bit of butter and garlic or salt.  Pasta dishes tend to be inexpensive, easy and quick to make, and they are kid friendly making them the perfect frugal meal choice.  Pastas certainly aren't boring either as you can find them in a wide range of shapes, different colours (red, orange, purple, green), and even whole grain.  For those needing to avoid gluten, rice based pastas are available and just as inexpensive as wheat based pastas.  However, pasta has a bad reputation for those trying to lose weight, lower their sodium intake or following a low carb diet.  The problem is not just the pasta itself, it's the sauces some which can be high in both calories and sodium combined with portion size. 

We eat a fairly low sodium diet already and we avoid commercially canned foods by home canning which eliminates preservatives and other food additives (MSG, HFCS) that can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, ADD/ADHD, headaches, asthma and allergies. My husband was thought to be pre-diabetic had a gastrointestinal infection that hospitalized him for five days last fall.  His new doctor ruled out diabetes but recently him with high blood pressure to be controlled by medication and weight loss that will hopefully eliminate the medication.  My blood pressure has been high the last couple of doctor visits and regular testing at home still in the high range so I'm following a few tips to lower my blood pressure without having to take medication. 

In light of these problems, I decided to take a closer look at our diet.  I had already been modifying our favourite pasta dishes to make them healthier as well as getting ideas from healthy pasta recipes from various sources.  Many of the celebrity chefs have great ideas for reducing the calories and sodium in their pasta dishes.

Green pasta gets it's colour from spinach.  Up until now I had only seen wheat based pastas with spinach added.  I also have a recipe for spinach pasta for my pasta attachments.  The other day I saw spinach rice vermecilli in the grocery store so just had to buy it.  This vermecilli was such a pretty pale green that I knew would look lovely cooked. One of our friends eats gluten free so I'm trying find a few good dishes he can eat.  The neat thing about rice vermecilli is to just bring the water to a boil, turn it off and soak the vermecilli in it for 2 minutes then drain. 

I made an alfredo sauce topped with lobster pieces, shredded garlic and dill cheese, and garnished with parsley from my indoor garden.  Alfredo sauce is easy to make but if using a standard recipe thickened with flour contains gluten, and has 996 calories and 1264 mg sodium (53% of recommended daily intake).  I use grated Parmesan cheese melted in a little butter then stir in 2% milk instead of half and half or heavy cream.  I don't add any salt as the cheese has enough salt in it.  Four ounces of steamed lobster has 111 calories, 431 mg of sodium any only 1.5 g of carbs.  I love lobster!  I buy a case of 8 - 7 oz Cuban rock lobster tails along with cod filets and King Crab legs from Elite Gourmet Food Service who delivers right to you door anywhere is southern Ontario.  The problem is, I can easily eat a 7 oz lobster tail (754 mg sodium) or even a whole lobster especially with drawn butter!  I wanted the taste of lobster that night without the calories and sodium so I steamed a lobster tail, cut it into pieces and divided it into 4 portions (189 mg sodium each).  I topped the pasta with a half cup of sauce, added one portion of lobster tail then 1 tsp of shredded garlic and dill cheese for extra flavour.  The end result was a gluten free pasta dish lower in calories, sodium and carbs but still flavourful.  I'm sure our friend will enjoy it the next time he visits!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Going Digital in the Kitchen

Frugal Kitchens 101 When personal computers first came out they promised to reduce the paper clutter but we all know that didn't happen especially for those of us eager to print out new recipes.  Fast forward to 2013, and going digital without all the paper clutter has never been so easy.  There really is no longer a need to buy food magazines, clip recipes from magazines or newspapers, photocopy recipes from borrowed books or write out shopping lists.  All you need is a digital camera, a computer and/or laptop and/or tablet.  But don't let this scare you as all are very inexpensive these days.  You can easily set yourself up with all three for under $500 which sounds like a lot of money but given the relatively low payback period combined with the continued savings over the lifetime of that equipment, going digital is the way to go.

I, like many, have gone almost entirely digital for recipes and food related information.  Not only am I reducing the paper clutter, I'm saving money while doing so.  Before I go into details, as with all digital, make sure you back-up your data.  You can use a USB flash drives, an external hard drive or iCloud (allows all your registered equipment to access the data online).  Following are some of the ways to save money in the kitchen by going digital that I use:

  • food magazine subscriptions - I gave up buying magazines in favour of the digital versions.  Like the hard copies, you can buy one copy or a subscription and back copies are usually available.  They are set up identical to viewing the paper copy.  I subscribe to Cook's Illustrated (33% off single issue price) and just bought a subscription to Taste of Home (62% off single issue price) as well as a single special issue of Chatelaine ($4.99) and single issue of Food Network Magazine ($3.99).  In addition to the reduced subscription costs, many of the magazines offer extras like videos.  The beauty of electronic subscriptions is less to carry when traveling.  The magazines are safely tucked away on my iPad ready to enjoy anywhere.  I can buy single issues of magazines including back issues anywhere I have online access.  The magazines can be archived for later access as well.  
  • recipes - I use a variety of apps on the iPad to store my own recipes (My Recipe Book), quickly search/view online recipes and store my favourites (Epicurious, FoodNetwork) as well as recipe collections and cookbooks (iBooks).  Some of these also create shopping lists from the recipes.  I don't use recipe software on the desktop or laptop although I did at one time.  I do have a collection of recipes on both though.  I use the laptop and iPad in much the same way others would use a recipe book, right in the kitchen when cooking.  There is a holder for the iPad so you can put it at eye level on your refrigerator, out of harms way but still convenient for recipes and grocery lists.  I use my digital camera to take pictures of recipes I want to try from borrowed recipe books and magazines.  The results are rather impressive and they are free!
  • grocery lists - As mentioned some of the recipe organizing apps have a grocery list feature and there are several apps for generating shopping lists.  I like the Buy Me a Pie! app for making my shopping lists. There is a free version and a paid version ($2.99); I liked it enough to buy the app. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish Tater Tots

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Have you ever had two similar dishes then meshed them together?  Well, that is what happened today.  We like the Irish fries at Murphy's and the loaded tater tots at Hooter's.  Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, the two dishes melded together so I came up with some just a bit different for our St. Patrick's Day meal.

Irish tater tots
We went out for our Irish dinner Saturday night but seriously there was nothing Irish on the menu.  I decided to bring in a little Irish to our dinner today with Irish Tater Tots, a mix between Irish fries and loaded tater tots. 

I couldn't find tater tots so used McCain's Tasti Taters.  I cooked them as per instructions then topped with fresh gTrated mozzarella cheese, bacon bits and sliced green onions with sour cream on the side.  The end result was a rather tasty side dis for our evening meal.   There was a lovely splash of green to mark the day but I really didn't go all out for St. Paddy's Day. 

Truth be told March 17 hits right in the midst of my husband's busy season where we are up at 3 AM and in bed by 8 PM most nights.  I might fiddle on the laptop for a half hour after going to bed but really that about sums up our schedule.  I'm refinishing our diningroom table so things are a bit hectic and yet this was still a nice celebration meal!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Steamed Spaghetti Squash

Beta-carotenes are the strongly coloured red-orange pigments found in fruits and vegetables, the dietary source of provitamin A that convert to Vitamin A in the body. Think carrots, squashes, sweet potatoes,  Vitamin A tis a fat soluble vitamin needed for healthy skin, teeth, mucosal membranes, skeletal cells, an immune booster and eye health.  I've been pushing the beta-carotenes because I am facing eye health problems with possible retinal detachment in my left eye that is being checked every 3 months.  While this may be due to previous injury, a bit of extra Vitamin A is not going to hurt.  Besides aging eyes can always do with an extra dose of beta-carotene!

spaghetti squash in steamer bakset
I love squash, mainly acorn and zucchini but pretty much any squash fits the bill.  What I find a bit interesting is you seldom see squash other than zucchini on a restaurant menu.  Occasionally, they will offer a squash soup but that is about it.  Squash is always inexpensive, it's easy to bake or steam without peeling, it stores well, it's versatile in that squash can be used as a side or in breads and deserts, and it is colourful.  I would have thought restaurants would take advantage of all of the benefits squash has to offer.

I discovered spaghetti squash several years ago but it never really caught on until the last couple of years.  Next to acorn squash, spaghetti squash has quickly become a favourite.  Spaghetti squash can be baked or steamed. I have found steaming the squash gets nicer results.   Steamed spaghetti squash is very easy to prepare.  I just wash and cut the squash in half length wise, scoop out the innards then place it upside down in a steamer basket.   I put about an inch of water in the pot then cover and steam for about 10 minutes or until the squash is tender.
spaghetti squash just out of the steamerA half spaghetti squash gives a yield of 2 to 4 servings depending on the serving size.  An serving size is 100 grams (half cup).  After steaming turn it cut side up on a plate or cutting board.  At this point it looks like regular cooked squash.  It is a bit on the lighter colour side than other squashes so a  more yellow than deep orange.  It is a bit firmer to the touch when cooked.  The flavour of spaghetti squash is milder than other squashes as well.  The real beauty of spaghetti squash is the flesh pulls into strands resembling spaghetti, hence its name.  It is a lovely substitute for wheat based spaghetti or for those who need or want to eat gluten free.

using a fork to separate the spaghetti squash strands
For this step, you may want to wear an oven mitt on one hand to steady the squash as it will be rather hot.  The easiest way to separate the flesh in spaghetti squash to form strands is using a fork.  Poke the fork down near the stem end of the squash then gently pull down towards the tip of the squash.  The strands will immediately form.  Continue in this fashion until you reach the skin but try not to break through the skin as it will add a hard texture.  You will need a bit gentler touch near the skin as unlike most winter squashes, the skin on spaghetti squash is rather thin.

spaghetti squash strands ready for serving
It only takes a couple of minutes to get an empty squash shell full of delicious spaghetti squash strands.  At this point, I like to add a little butter and salt then mix.  Garlic pepper is a good substitute for salt if you want a lightly kicked up flavour or are on a sodium restricted diet.  Spaghetti squash is lower in calories than some winter squashes but higher in sodium, something to consider if on a sodium restricted diet.

I really love these lovely golden strands of yumminest!  They have the texture close to wheat based spaghetti and yet they are different.  They do have a different flavour but the strands will twirl around your fork so even kids will like them AND the flavour is really not a strong squash flavour so should be well received by picky palates.    You can use your favourite spaghetti topping as well.

spaghetti squash served
I served the spaghetti squash simply with a bit of butter and seasalt with meatloaf topped with home canned cream style corn, and one version of golden potato bake.  Despite its name cream style corn has no cream in it.  The thickened golden morsels are a result of how the cornis prepared right from the corn cobs.  It is so good with meatloaf!  The potato side dish is a mixture of steamed potatoes and carrots (good source of beta-carotenes), seasonings, plain yogurt and cream cheese. There was a lot of yellows in this meal, on purpose. It really was a simple, easy to prepare, frugal yet delicious meal that was rich in beta-carotene.  Spaghetti squash just brightens up the plate any time you serve it  It's one of those good foods for you that is wonderful to enjoy!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Getting Closer to Finishing Our Kitchen

When we first looked at this house in 2011, I did not notice the taupe ceramic tile in the kitchen so I had visions of a black, white and grey kitchen with accents of red.  I have a few of the chefs kitchen collectables so I thought is would make for a festive kitchen.  How could I not notice the colour of the kitchen?  This is our sixth purchased permanent residence, seventh if you count our vacation home.  The rule of thumb has always been anything decorative can be changed.  The more important features of the house like location,  structure, layout, size, and design become the focus over paint, wall paper and tile. 

old white range hood
This kitchen has really changed since we bought the house.  We painted the walls a deep burgundy (colour matched to our dinnerware), closed in the bulkhead, added a custom made bookshelf with accessory lighting,  added custom made trim around the ceiling,  replaced the dishwasher,installed a natural gas range and hung panel drapes.   There's still a few more things to do!

The kitchen was originally painted a cool taupe with deep taupe/almost black tones marble floor, warm oak cabinets and a warm taupe ceramic tile back splash and counter top.  There was the absolutely most disgusting white range hood.  By disgusting I mean so coated with grease there was no way it could be cleaned and copious amounts of cold air came in whenever the wind picked up.  I actually placed a piece of tin foil on the filter to block the cold air from coming in!  Not only that, it didn't match the kitchen and I like things to match not just in one room but throughout the entire house so there are no jarring eye moments.  The colours I picked for this house are white, black, deep burgundy, taupe, olive green, navy blue and lots of wood.  Each room flows into the next with elements of each colour in every room or there will be when I'm finished decorating.  Back to the range hood.

We tend to be very frugal even when it comes to interior decorating so are avid DIYers who are quite willing to wait for a sale.  There are times though that I will change something just because it gets to the point of being an eyesore.  The range hood was that and beyond that.   It wasn't that the range hood didn't match it was the thing was so disgusting not to mention cold air poured down through it so costing us heating dollars, I finally had enough.  So, I took the measurements and as you can see we were restricted in width and depth thanks to the way they installed the tile.  Honestly, we found out really early after moving here the previous owners never thought about anything in the kitchen ever having to replace anything!  I went online to find a range hood, settling on a Broan-NuTone HDN64 series.  It isn't a fancy range hood but it vents outside and matches the kitchen decor and we were restricted as to the size of range hood we could use.  It has a high and low setting for both the fan and light.  I would have liked a slim line range hood but we would have been left with a awkward gap between the tile and range hood. 

new black range hood
It took my husband about 10 minutes to replace the range hood at a total cost of $79.99 CDN.  The installation went smoothly.  The total install will be on my homemaking blog shortly.  We discovered that the baffle was missing on the old range hood.  That's something that should not break so we figure they took the range hood off when installing the ceramic tile and accidentally broke the baffle.  That's why the cold air poured in not to mention allowing heated indoor air to escape. 

Next up on our kitchen upgrades:  We need to fill in the gap left on the floor with replacing the dishwasher.  We found tile in the garage to match so our friend who is doing the custom woodworking in the house is going to cut it for us when he is out finishing the cabinets.  We are going to tone done the yellow in the cabinets to match the new bulkhead.  The stainless steel sink and rip off faucet (rip off because the previous owner took the one we actually saw with the house with them) are being replaced.  The sink will be black but I'm not sure what yet.  The microwave oven is a quandary.  It has all the bells and whistles on it for 1100 W power (bought for $69 at a liquidation centre) and is used at most a couple of times a month.  I'd love to go to an over the range model like we have in our vacation home but my large canner won't fit under it.  My husband wants to replace the ceramic counter top with granite.  At some point in the very near future our kitchen may be finally finished!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - St. Patrick's Day

Frugal Kitchens 101 In Canada we have statutory holidays (eg. Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Labour Day, Family Day, Heritage Day, Good Friday, Thanksgiving, Victoria and Canada Day).  These are the days government buildings will be closed, businesses may be closed or have reduced hours and employers pay their employees for the day even though they have the day off.    We also have special days (eg. Valantine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Remembrance Day, Decoration Day, Secretary's Day, Oktoberfest and St. Patrick's Day) where there are various events and gatherings but folks don't get an actual day off of work.  St. Patrick's Day (March 17) is quickly approaching.  This is just a fun day where folks can kick back a little, have a couple of green beers while enjoy Irish stew or a corned beef with cabbage dinner accompanied with Irish soda bread and a healthy dose of music by the Irish Rovers. 

St. Patrick's Day is one of the more frugal special days to celebrate.  The emphasis is on good, old fashioned home style cooking using low cost ingredients, socializing and simply enjoying.  A corned beef with cabbage dinner will cost about $10 to $12 for a family of four including the Irish soda bread which works out to $2.50 to $3 per serving with left-overs.  Irish stew is a real money saver coming in at about $6 for a family of four or $1.50 per serving.  The trick is of course getting ingredients on sale.  It is less expensive to cure your own corned beef but this is the time of year where commercially cured corned beef goes on sale.  Cabbage is always cheap!  Here, No Frills has a 20 lb bag of potatoes on sale for $2 this week, perfect timing for the St. Paddy's celebrations. 

Green is the colour of the day which really brightens up an otherwise grey day in an month of constantly changing and fickle weather.  It signifies wealth and the promise of spring.  Five dollars spent at the dollar store will get you enough St. Paddy's themed decorations that can be saved for using the following year.  Green food colouring is almost a must if you want to make themed cookies or green up the beer or milkshake.  However, you can get a lot of green without the food colouring.  Green juice or smoothies are a healthy, inexpensive and kid friendly alternative to green beer or milkshakes AND they are naturally green!  Both pasta and tortilla shells are available in spinach (green) to bring a little luck of the Irish as a school lunch.  Pack green tortillas with more greens, chopped tomatoes, onions, cheese and meat for a festive green  lunch. 

While green is on your mind for St. Patrick's Day, make school or office lunches green garbage-free.  You will be saving a bit of green on St. Paddy's Day while helping the environment!  Just have fun with this fabulously fun and frugal special day!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Not Quite a Birthday Cake!

My husband and I married at the age of 18 by choice.  Some called it puppy love but almost thirty-six years later we are still madly in love.  Seriously, I think he walks on water!  I do think we lucked out when it comes to food because we are both very much foodies.  He loves to eat and I love to cook but he is a rather descent cook in his own right and there are some dishes he has mastered to perfection that I have not.  We love to cook together sharing our love of food and cooking with our kids.  Our kids are now grown with their own kids (aka the most adorable grandkids you have ever seen) who are passing on our love of food and cooking with them.   Food draws us together as a family.  There is nothing more precious than spending a bit of quality time cooking with loved ones!

cookie pizza
My husband was going to a friends house to play cards and celebrate his birthday.  I was going to make a cake but decided on something a bit different.  Implementing that plan was a bit more difficult than I thought.  We live in a small community of 11,000 with a No Frills and a Walmart.  Finding specialty ingredients is pretty much a bust.  Neither had the plain strawberry fruit roll-ups for the pepperoni and I cold find nothing that looked like bacon.  Oh, and neither had the Pillsbury sugar cookie tube I really wanted so we were off on an adventure that turned out rather sweet and whimsical! 

As a frugal shopper, I tend to very much brand loyal when it comes to certain commercial products but only if they have proved their worth to me.  In this case, I went with Pillsbury refrigerator chocolate chip cookie dough, Betty Crocker fruit roll-ups, McCormicks spearmint leaves, Cake Mate cookie icing, Mars bar and a Snickers.  I knew this was going to be a sugar overload but it turned out rather cute.  I used a clean pizza box for the presentation. 

Method:  Line a pizza pan with aluminum foil.  Squeeze the full tube of cookie dough onto the pan.  Spread evenly with you hands.  The warmth of you hands will help it spread easier.  Bake according to instructions.  Let the cookie base cool.  Spread the Cake Mate cookie icing over the cookie base for the sauce.  Fill a 4 oz bowl with white chocolate chips then melt in the microwave oven.  Use a spoon to drizzle the melted chocolate over the sauce.  Cut the fruit roll-up into circles and thinly slice any remaining topping you want to add.  Top the cookie pizza then place into a clean pizza box for serving. 

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.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Scotch Eggs

A couple of friends of ours immigrated to Canada from Lancashire, England several years ago.  She is an amazing cook who has been involved in the restaurant and food service industry since making Canada her home.  She has owned and operated everything from a canteen to English style pub to café to upper scale  restaurants.  The focus has always been on home style cooking that brings in her English roots.  Both of them are really fun to be around with remarkable senses of humour.  At the one English style pub aptly named Rovers after Rovers Return Inn on the long running British soap opera, Coronation Street (aka Corrie).  My husband and I watch Corrie every day! 

Her English style fish & chips are the best you will ever taste!  Then again her steak and kidney pie is right up there on the delicious factor.  Her husband has a couple of bands, one with his friends and one with his adult kids.  Both are very good.  A couple of weeks ago, he and his friends were playing at a local venue so we stopped in for a night of entertainment.  We didn't realize it was her birthday.  There was a large spread of food set out, most of which she had made herself. 

scotch eggs
I spotted a dish on the table I had never seen before so quickly inquired.  She told me the dish was Scotch Eggs and promised to show me how to make them.  Scotch eggs were made by Scottish farmers and shepherds in the Middle Ages as a way to take their meal to the fields, much the same way, much the same way Cornish pasties came to be.  They are hard boiled eggs wrapped in a seasoned sausage then coated with bread crumbs and deep fried.  Bon Appétit calls them a gastropub staple something I am sure we will discover during our visit to England.  According to Jamie Oliver, the Scotch eggs should be eaten warm with the centres hot and oozing a bit and if you really want to make it proper serve with Scottish cheese. 

Now I know what Scotch eggs are, I am planning on making them for our next games night gathering.  I think they will go over rather well.  As pub grub goes, this is a rather simple dish with few ingredients, low prep time and short cook time.  All this makes for an easy dish for games night.  I'll report back on how well the dish was received.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Faux Lasagna

It has been eons since I bought a boxed ground beef helper.  Why?  These types of convenience foods are expensive for what you get and the are laden with food additives.  I checked a box for the ingredients at the grocery store the other day.  Most contain maltodextrin (a corn sugar that is highly addictive creating cravings for it), monosodium glutamate (triggers headaches and allergic reactions), modified milk ingredients, natural flavour (could be anything!) and if the product has cheese, the cheese is dried.  A pasta based helper perhaps has a cup of dried pasta, the seasoning packet and you provide the meat and liquid at a cost of more than four times the cost of dried pasta bought on sale and adding your own fresh ingredients and cheese.  I have several versions of homemade ground meat helper, all fresh and easily prepared in about the same time it takes to prepare a boxed version AND they eliminate the cost of the boxed mix along with all the additives.

faux lasagna casserole
Even if you use a boxed ground beef helper you have to brown the ground beef.  I have found I can make the actual convenient dry mix for about a quarter of the price of store bought but I can also make the entire casserole from scratch in pretty much the same time at a quarter of the price as well.

The other day, I made a faux lasagna casserole using 2 lb of lean ground beef.  It had a lovely flavour, very much like lasagna without the work.  Quite frankly, I don't find lasagna a lot of work even making the sauce from scratch but I wanted a quick meal that night.

Faux Lasagna
source: Garden Gnome

2 lb lean ground beef
2 c broad egg noodles
2 c shredded mozarella cheese
½ c shredded cheddar cheese
¼ c cottage cheese
1 c shredded Parmesan cheese (divided)
1 L (4 c) roasted Italian garden sauce with mushrooms

Brown the ground beef and drain.  Cook and drain the pasta.  Pour ground beef into a large mixing bowl.  Pour the sauce over the meat. Mix well.  Stir in the pasta then all the cheese reserving ½ c of the Parmesan cheese.  Mix well.  Pour into oven proof baking dish.  Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top.  Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes or until warmed through and bubbly.

faux lasagna
This homemade faux lasagna casserole took 5 minutes longer prep time and 3 minutes longer cooking time than the boxed version.   I didn't factor in the time it takes to bring the boxed version to a boil though so in terms of timing the homemade version was really quite close to the boxed version.  However, I ended up with a less expensive and tastier dish than the boxed version.  The homemade version not only eliminated all the food additives, it was lower in sodium as well.  Unlike the boxed version, I didn't have to take time to stir occasionally either freeing up that time to do other things.

The proof is in the taste and hands down this faux lasagna is a winner.   It is rich, creamy and cheesy sure to satisfy any lasagna craving in short order.  I usually use 7 to 9 cheeses in my homemade lasagna but this recipe only had 4 cheeses.  The mozzarella cheese could easily be reduced to 1 c then add in another cup of any desired cheese.  Over all though, this was a very nice casserole!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms

We indulge in appetizers sporadically at home.  Appetizers are usually reserved for entertaining or special occasions.  Every once in awhile I either am testing a new appetizer recipe or idea.  Such is the life of a food blogger but really I would be doing it whether I was blogging or not. 

stuffed portabello mushrooms with pan fried cod
A couple of nights ago we had pan fried cod, steamed potatoes, spaghetti squash and stuffed portabello mushrooms.  Portabello mushrooms are a wonderful meat replacement but because of their size they are ideal for stuffing, grilling and even browning.  I bought a package of portabello mushrooms because they were on sale.

Stuffing for portabello mushrooms can be just about anything from vegetable based to meat or seafood based.  We really like them stuffed with crab meat or pizza stuffing.  The deep, woodsy flavour of the portabello mushrooms really compliments savory flavours like sage and rosemary.

I decided to use a simple bread stuffing for the portabello mushrooms.  The stuffing was beyond simple yet it made for a very nice appetizer.  I just mixed soft broken bread with a bit of butter, poultry season, salt and pepper then rolled it into a ball to stuff the mushroom cap and topped with Parmesan cheese.  I served the stuffed portabello mushroom caps with pan fried cod, steamed potatoes and spaghetti squash.

Now, if you look at the plate you will notice everything is close to the same colour which is something I try to avoid for both nutrition and presentation.  I am craving spaghetti squash likely because we have not been getting enough beta carotene in our diet lately.  Cravings are always an indication of some type of nutrient missing in the diet.  At any rate, the meal was served with a tossed garden salad so at least we got a few greens into the meal!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Green Appliances

Frugal Kitchens 101Kitchen appliances have come a long way from those of our parents.  While I am sure they were concerned about energy usage especially if heating or cooking with wood because let me tell you, that is a lot of work, in today's world we are dealing with energy conservation concerns.  The modern kitchen is a mecca of both large and small kitchen appliances, all demanding their use of electricity or hydro.  That means the frugal homemaker has to decide between the best and lowest energy usage for any appliance he or she is purchasing.  Surprisingly, there is a trend among frugalistas to buy non-electric appliances, and that is certainly an option for small kitchen appliances.  However, with large kitchen appliances you are still left with wood, natural gas, hydro and propane.  We specifically chose to go with a natural gas range when we bought this house because here in our little corner of the world, natural gas is about a third of the price of hydro.  For the amount of cooking we do, buying a natural gas range has pretty much paid for itself and we haven't been here 2 years yet.

Manufactures like Kleenmaid based in Australia are rising to need of eco-friendly, green appliances.  Oh my gosh, I so want their pop-up oven!  That is about the slickest kitchen appliance I have ever seen.   They also have an induction cooktop that I would love to have.  The beauty is both of these appliances are eco-friendly aka green appliances in that they use less energy than similar appliances in their category. Other manufactures are also doing the same thing buy manufacturing eco-friendly appliances.

Energy Star is a rating system that tells you how that appliance performs in relation to other appliances on the market.  A high Energy Star rating really means that is the unit you should buy because it uses less energy than one similar to it.  Essentially, if you are comparing 2 refrigerators - one has no Energy Star rating and the other has an Energy Star rating then the wiser choice is the Energy Star rated appliance and if you have a choice between ratings, choose the higher ranked appliance.

When it comes to large appliances, choose the appliance based on the fuel choice for your area.  If natural gas is less expensive, it may be wise to choose a large kitchen appliance that operates on natural gas.  You have more leeway with smaller kitchen appliances.  They are seldom on long enough to make much of a difference in cost of operation still, manual is more cost effective over electric.  Avoid single use small kitchen appliances.  This will help you in the goal of running an eco-friendly, green kitchen while saving money!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Revisiting Benders Sports Pub in West Bend, Wisconsin

By definition, pub grub foods are not gourmet.  Most can be recreated at home which is one reason to stop in for a few new ideas.  They tend to be on the inexpensive side.  In general, pub grub foods involve greasier types of food as well as snacks but that all depends on the pub.   Some pubs give you complimentary popcorn or peanuts and while this makes you feel good, the pubs know these salty freebies will get you drinking more (usually beer) where they actually make their money.  Most pubs offer daily specials, weekly entertainment and other incentives to get you in the door.  They even encourage this with low priced or two for one drinks during happy hour.  For the most part, pubs are just pleasant places to spend a bit of time.  With that in mind, pubs are still one of the best values for your eating out dollars. Oh and many pubs are kid friendly as well.

I shared our experience vising Benders Sports Pub in West Bend, Wisconsin in 2011.  On that visit the focus was on their famous jumbo garlic wings as it was lunchtime but I had a feeling this pub had a bit more to offer.  We had the opportunity to stop there again with the kids a couple of weeks ago.  So, we stopped in for dinner on the Sunday of our visit for dinner.

Benders appetizers
We ordered the deep fried cheese curds ($7.99) with ranch dressing and 20 boneless wings ($14.99) with three different sauces, ranch dressing and celery.  The deep fried cheese curds were amazing!  Their wings are rather good too.   Chicken wings tend vary in size considerably.  One place we frequent has good wings one week but the next week they are over cooked and quite small.   We certainly were not disappointed in flavour or quality at Benders.

Quesadillas have become typical pub grub fare that are easily duplicated at home.  The nice thing about quesadillas aside of being easy and inexpensive to make, is they are very versatile.  You can use any meat, go meatless, with or without cheese, and the dipping sauce possibilities are endless. 

My husband ordered the quesadillas with steak ($9.99).  It was made with a blend of cheeses and steak sandwiched between two large flour tortillas.  It came served with fresh lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream and salsa.   It was declared good and really when you are eating out that's all that matters. 

chicken tacos
Sunday is taco night at Bender's!  One of our kids ordered the chicken tacos at $2 each.  The soft tacos consisted of chicken, lettuce, chopped tomato, topped with cheddar jack served on a soft taco.  Sour cream and salsa were included.  The filling was quite generous making this a very inexpensive yet tasty meal. 

This is another easy and inexpensive dish to recreate at home that can even use left over shredded or sliced meats.  Tacos make for a quick meal as well so if you are rushed, they are something to consider.  I like keeping cooked meat, shredded cheese and other toppings on hand just for this very purpose.

mushroom and swiss burger
One of our kids ordered the Swiss mushroom burger ($8.99).  Strips of marinated portabello mushrooms topped the burger pattie that was smothered with Swiss cheese sandwiched between a toasted bun. It was served with lettuce, tomato and Benders homemade chips.  The burger quite looked delicious!  You really can't go wrong with that combination.

Homemade chips are very easy to make with thinly sliced fresh potatoes and a deep fryer.  If you want a healthier version, you can bake them in the oven.  This lowers the fat content but still gives crispy results.  You can easily control the sodium content by making homemade chips either way.

spaghetti with marinara sauce
Spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce served with a side garden salad and soft garlic bread stick is a odd offering for pub grub food so I ordered that.  I was in the mood for pasta and besides how bad could it be?  The salad was the average iceberg lettuce with a couple of cucumber slices, tomato wedges and onion slice served with choice of dressing.  The pasta itself was just a bit over cooked for my liking but the sauce had a nice flavour.  Overall it was a rather decent meal for $8.99.

We really enjoyed our second visit to Benders Sports Pub.  Most of their dishes do make use of that gorgeous Wisconsin cheese.  The atmosphere was nice, the food good and the company stellar.  I know I'm a bit biased but any time I get to spend with my kids is always going to be a good time!  We don't get to see the kids in Wisconsin as much as we would like.  Facebook, texting, Facetiming and calling are all great but in person is better.

Our one kid immigrated to Wisconsin when married so there are some things missed about Canada, especially certain Canadian foods.  I taught them how to cure a pork loin for pea meal bacon and even brought the Morton's Tender Quick which was rather amusing at airport security - white substances even in their original packaging do draw attention.   We brought three large canisters of Tim Horton's coffee with us something that customs usually checks.  I also brought home canned salsa for a taste of home.  We brought back some lovely Wisconsin cheese.  It was a wonderful visit filled with lots of great food.  I can't wait until our next visit!