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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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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

President's Choice Green Reusable Produce Bags Review

One thing I love about being a food blogger is the excuse to try out new foods or food related products.  Sometimes I am compensated for this of which is always noted in the post but the vast majority of the time, I am not compensated in any way.  I like buying foods I haven't tried before but when it comes to food related products I like trying those products that are getting a bit of hype.  They may be just new out or borderline gimmicky or simply a gimmick but part of the fun is testing them.  Such is the case with the new President's Choice (Loblaw's store brand) Green reusable produce bags that absorb and remove ethylene gas that promise to extend the life and freshness of your fruits and vegetables.  

Ethylene is a gas that is produced by ripening fruits and vegetable.  The presence of ethylene from ripe produce will cause nearby ethylene sensitive produce to ripen faster.  In fact, ethylene is sprayed onto tomato fields so the tomatoes ripen at once for harvesting.  It is the reason why one bad apple can cause the entire bag to spoil and why you put bananas or other fruit into a closed paper bag to ripen faster.  The premise behind this bags is, by absorbing any ethylene gas produced ripening will be slowed retarding spoilage.

Presidents Choice green Reusable produce bags
I purchased at package of 20 of the PC Green reusable produce bags at No Frills for $7.99 (1).  The package says that these reusable bags will extend the life and freshness of produce.  Each bag can be reused up to 12 times bringing the cost per use to 3¢.  Looking at the large bags (2) there is no markings to say that this is some kind of special bag.  To my frugal mind, that means there is a greater chance of the bag being discarded before being used 12 times.  There is a rather small white rectangle at the top corner where you could write the date if you print very small or you could use this tiny space to keep track of the number of uses, perhaps by using hash marks.

produce in the reusable produce bags
I packaged freshly purchased celery, radishes and tomatoes in the reusable bags.  Celery and radishes are usually stored as is from the grocery store in the crisper.  Some leave them in the plastic produce bags.  While the tops look nice on the radishes, they should be removed for refrigeration to prevent the radishes from spoiling.  Tomatoes are always stored at room temperature out of direct sunlight.  Note that I left the stem on the tomatoes as I always do for vine ripened tomatoes purchased at the grocery store.  This tends to keep them fresh longer.  I also leave home grown tomatoes on the vine when possible until I need them.  The celery and radishes went into the refrigerator while the tomatoes were left on the counter. 

stem molding on tomatoes stored in green reusable produce bags
Within a day and a half, I noticed condensation (3) in the the Green reusable bag with the tomatoes.  Upon closer inspection I noticed mold on the stems (4) of the tomatoes.  I cannot ever remember mold forming on the stems of tomatoes that I store on the counter!  Unless we are away for an extended period of time, I always have fresh tomatoes sitting on the counter ready to use.  In this case, the Green reusable bag was a fail and had I not noticed it as fast as I did, I would have lost the tomatoes as well.
tomatoes rescued from the green reusable produce bags
I quickly removed the tomatoes from the bag, removed the stems and washed the tomatoes in a solution of water and vinegar to kill off any mold.  I returned one cleaned tomato to the bag, then left the remainder sit open on the counter.  After 2 days there was no difference between the tomatoes on the counter and the one in the bag. 

The celery and radishes fared nicely in the bags but had no advantage over those stored open in the crisper.  Neither produce ethylene gas so the results were as expected.  I tried the bags on both apples and bananas.  The look of the bag definitely took away from the look of my perpetual fruit bowl!

Ethylene absorbing bags are an expensive and unnecessary gimmick.  They give the impression that all fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas or are adversely affected by ethylene gas when in fact that is not the case.  The PC Green reusable produce bags shows both basil and strawberries on the package, neither of which produce or are sensitive to ethylene nor should they ever be stored in plastic bags. 

Ripening does not necessarily cause food spoilage but excess moisture certainly will.  The ethylene absorbing bags are made of plastic.  Most produce should not be stored in plastic because the high humidity reduces the storage life while increasing spoilage.  Some have reported that storing bananas in the ethylene absorbing bags gives nice looking bananas that are actually rotted on the inside.  Finally, the ethylene absorbing bags are only good for certain produce.  Basically they may help protect ethylene sensitive foods from ethylene producing fruits and vegetables during storage.  However, a properly maintained crisper will do the exact same thing by allow air flow that disperses any ethylene produced by some fruits and vegetables.  In general, ethylene sensitive foods are refrigerated while ethylene producing fruits and vegetable really do not need refrigeration.  If in doubt as to how to store, just visit your local grocery store. Notice how ethylene producing fruits and vegetables are not in the cooler section nor in the higher humidity produce section?  That is the way they should be stored at home with the exception of parsley which should be place in cup of water, cut end down similar to flowers, on the counter.  Sun exposure will help the cut parsley retain its beautiful green colour until used.

Ethylene producing fruits and vegetables - apples, apricots, avocados, ripening bananas, cataloupe, figs, honeydew, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, persimmions, plantains, plums, prunes, quince, tomatoes

Ethylene sensitive foods - unripe bananas, green beans, Belgian endive, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, leafy greens, lettuce, okra, parsley, peas, peppers, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, watercress, watermelon

The bottom line on the PC Green reusable produce bags - They are expensive and ineffective.  While the bags are reusable after washing the reality is most buyers will not do so.  Unlike the zipper style bags, these bags are thin so prone to being damaged in the fridge as well.  I honestly don't see where the average consumer will get 12 uses out of each of these bags.  If you are really concerned about ethylene sensitive foods, some can be stored in covered containers with paper towel on the bottom to absorb extra moisture.  Quite frankly, I don't find storing any of the mentioned fruits and vegetables to be much of a problem either on the counter or in the refrigerator.  The bags are of little help other than expensive storage for fruits and vegetables not affected by ethylene and they will definitely cause berries to spoil faster.  Even if per change you were to get 12 uses per bag, the bags will more than likely end up in the landfill as they cannot be recycled in many communities.  These bags get two thumbs down from me!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Increasing Dietary Fibre

Frugal Kitchens 101
I read the other day where 95% of  illnesses were directly related to diet.  That is rather scary but the reality is, we are what we eat.  To borrow from computer terminology - garbage in, garbage out.  The nutritional value of food is an important consideration when it comes to frugal kitchens.  Foods can be cheap with no to little nutritional value (eg. soda, many mass produced snack foods, boxed convenience foods) filled with preservatives and food additives that can ultimately cause health problems.  On the other hand, foods can be inexpensive in terms of cost but high in nutritional value (eg. fresh fruit) with no or little preservatives and no or little food additives that ultimately heal.  But it is more complex than that.  A cheap food like potato chips may actually cost more per gram than fresh potatoes yet nutritionally they are a poor choice.  Frugal home cooks will choose those foods with the highest nutritional value for their food dollars so the focus will be on whole foods, fresh produce, hormone free meat, dairy, eggs, and basically those food items found in the outside perimeter of the grocery store with very little bough from the interior aisles.

One nutritional component that is needed for good health is fibre.  Dietary fibre is the indigestible portion of foods derived from plant material.  It can be soluble or insoluble (provides bulk), usually a combination of both.  Dietary fibre acts like a mini brush cleaning your intestines as it moves through.  It aids in eliminating toxins and a diet high in fibre can reduce the risk for some cancers.  Everyone at some point suffers irregularity that in most cases is dietary related.  Instead of reaching for a pharmaceutical remedy which can have negative health effects, the frugal home cook will strive to increase the dietary fibre.  This isn't as hard to do given that fibre is one of the food industry's current buzz words.  There's high fibre dry cereals and breads, fibre added bakery products, and fibre products that can be added to beverages, cooked or baked foods.  Increasing dietary fibre is very inexpensive and easy to do.   Here's a few ways to increase dietary fibre without breaking the bank:

  • produce - The skins of potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, pears, plums, and peaches are good sources of fibre so if at all possible do not remove them before eating.  This is a no cost way to increase fibre because you are already paying for the skins in the price per pound of the produce.  Include raw fruits and vegetables in your diet daily.  Leafy salads are a great way to increase fibre while saving money as eating salads with a meal tends to reduce the amount you eat of higher priced foods especial meat proteins.
  • whole grains  - Whole grains in general are rather inexpensive although if organic, tend to be a bit more expensive.  Whole grain flours (eg. wheat, rye, buckwheat, cracked wheat, spelt, tiff) can be substituted for refined flour (eg. white, unbleached) in part or all in many recipes. Whole grains like quinoa, rolled oats, millet, pearl barley, and bulgur wheat can be inexpensively and easily incorporated into your diet.  Popcorn is a whole grain that is one of the least expensive snacks you can make.  Not only is it high fibre, it's low cal and kid friendly.
  • legumes - Dried beans are very, very inexpensive.  They are the number one frugal diet stand-by.  One frugal forum I used to read, maintained that you were not eating frugally unless you ate rice and beans at least three times a week.  I won't go that far but if you really want to cut your food bill yet still pack in the nutrition and fibre, including beans in your diet on a regular basis is one of the best ways to do so.  Dried beans cooked from scratch are less expensive than mass produced canned beans and they are quite easy to cook especially if you use the quick soak method.  Once you learn how to cook them, you won't go back to store bought canned beans.  I cook beans from scratch as well as home can them for those times I don't have time to cook them from scratch. Mashed cooked legumes can be used in dips or for refried beans.
  • nuts and seeds - Nuts and seeds are an ideal way to increase the fibre in your diet and many are heart friendly while providing a good source of protein.  The best part about incorporating nuts and seeds into your diet is it is very easy to do.  They are perfect for snacking as is, tossed into salads or used in baking (quick breads, muffins, cookies), use in stir fry or sauces and so much more.
  • dried fruits -  Dried fruits especially plums, cranberries and raisins are high in fibre.  Like nuts and seeds, they can be used as is for snacking or added to salads and used in cooking or baking. 
  • fibre additives and supplements - Wheat germ, flax seeds and psyllium are the most commonly added fibres for baking or cooking, although wheat germ can be sprinkled on foods like mashed potatoes, cereals and yogurt if desired.  A large bag of wheat germ costs about $3 but goes a long way.  A 1 - 2 tbsp of wheat germ can be added to bread doughs, cookie doughs, muffins and cake mixes.  It isn't even noticeable in the final product but it does increase the fibre content.  Ground flax seeds can be used the same way.  They increase Vitamin E as well as fibre.  Psyllium can be added to beverages or in baked foods.  It can be bought it bulk from a bulk food store and like wheat germ is very inexpensive yet goes a long way.  Shopper's Drugs Life Brand has two fibre product that are not laxatives.  Both are about $11 fo a 340 g container.  One is for use in beverages and the other for baking or cooking.  I'm sure there are other brands of similar products.  My feeling is wheat germ, flax seed and psyllium are less expensive and just as effective as the drug store products without any unnecessary additives.   

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Asparagus Fusilli with Pork Balls in Mushroom Sauce

It really is amazing how versatile some foods are.  Take corn for example.  I read where 99% of everything produced (edible, non-edible) is in some way connected to corn.  A quick walk through the grocery store will show that corn is in many products as an ingredient, in packaging, and so much more.  Other vegetables appear in products that you would least expect.  Our kids gifted us with a very lovely basket filled with food products with asparagus as an ingredient over the Easter holiday.   Asparagus is one such vegetable that I would not have expected to find in a lot of food products yet surprisingly, Barrie's Asparagus in Cambridge, Ontario makes several products using asparagus. 

Last night, I decided to cook the asparagus fusilli that came in the gift basket.  This is an enriched pasta made from 100% durum semolina and fresh Ontario asparagus.  Fresh asparagus pasta would be quite easy to make if you have a pasta maker attachment for your Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  I wanted a rich, creamy sauce for the asparagus fusilli.  I started with fresh ground pork loin then built the dish from there.

browning the pork balls
When I make meatballs, the method used is determined by the meat.  If beef, I don't season the meat and the binder is milk.  That's it.  Ground pork is rather mild flavoured which is fine if cooking in a rich tomato based sauce long enough to absorb the flavour.  These meatballs were destined for a mushroom sauce, cooked over a shorter period of time so I lightly seasoned the ground pork with garlic pepper, mixed well with 2 eggs, then added dry bread crumbs.  I formed the meatballs with a meatball shaper then browned in heated olive oil in a ceramic coated skillet.  Once the meatballs were browned, I stirred in two cans of Campbell's condensed mushroom soup, a half can of milk and a half can of half & half.

pork balls in mushroom sauce
This is one of the very, very few mass produced condensed soups that I do buy.  The reason being, it is ideal as a quick sauce.  Homemade cream of mushroom soup is easy enough to make but cannot be home canned and it is next to impossible to keep enough on hand in the freezer. 

I brought the meatball and sauce mixture to a low boil then reduced the heat to a low simmer.  The low simmer allows the meatballs to finish cooking while absorbing flavour from the sauce.  It also reduces the sauce to a thicker, richer consistency.  The lactose in the milk and half & half caramelizes to give a richer flavour while the lactic acid in both keep the meatballs tender and juicy. 

asparagus fusilli with pork balls in mushroom sauce topped with sauteed mushrooms and asparagus and chopped fresh green onions and tomatoes
Local fresh asparagus will be in season here shortly.  I can't wait!  Asparagus is best lightly cooked (steamed, sautéed, grilled) until just tender (al dente) while retaining the beautiful bright green.  If overcooked asparagus takes on a drab olive colour with a mushy texture.  Dried asparagus is closer to a brown than a green so it did not surprise me that the asparagus fusilli while more of a drab olive colour dry, turned closer to tan when cooked.  Aside of the colour, there really isn't much asparagus flavour in the asparagus fusilli. 
Fusili is a nice thick pasta with lots of nooks to hold thick sauces, like the mushroom sauce used for this dish.  I topped the asparagus fusilli with the pork balls in mushroom sauce, sautéed fresh asparagus and sliced mushrooms, and chopped fresh green onions and tomatoes with just a light sprinkling of sesame seeds.  One of my favourite ways to serve any pasta is to include some type of chopped fresh vegetables on top.  Raw vegetables added this way add both an element of flavour and texture that pairs nicely with many pasta dishes.   It's a great way to add a bit of extra nutrition as well as eye appeal.  The asparagus fusilli with pork balls in mushroom sauce was a delightfully delicious and sinfully rich meal with the flavours blending nicely yet fairly low in fat. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Grilled Rib Steak & Refried Rice Using Grilled Rib Steak Left Overs

While much of the discussion on this blog throughout the past week focused on my adventures in making no knead breads, it has been a whirlwind of activity here.  We decided to makeover the master bedroom completely including new furniture and at the same time finish the guest room.  The furniture (Vaughan-Bassett) for the master bedroom had an estimated time of arrival of three weeks giving me plenty of time to shop for accessories and work on the crochet bedspreads for each room.  The bedspreads are a huge undertaking given one is king and the other queen size, so a lot of work.  Shopping for accessories meant several shopping trips with many foodie stops!  Much of the focus was stocking up on herbal teas, K-cups, various flours and cherry picking the sales.  I did manage to find a few interesting foods to try so will talk about them as they are used.  Oh, and I just couldn't resist the cute salt and pepper shakers in just the perfect deep red for the kitchen, a new tea ball and a couple of kitchen organizers.  At the same time, I was experimenting with the no knead breads and testing the 4ever Recap canning lids.  Even though it has been rather busy, regular cooking continued.

grilled rib steak with baked potato and steamed broccoli
It has been a cold, wet spring with wet snow a couple of days ago and frost on the roofs yesterday morning.  Still, we have been doing more grilling.  The deck off the kitchen is quite protected from the winds making it perfect for grilling in all but the most unpleasant weather.   Early this week the sun made a rare appearance so I thawed a couple of rib steaks for grilling.  The steaks were grilled to medium rare, served with baked potatoes and steamed broccoli.  It was a delicious meal! 

We seldom marinate or use barbeque sauce on our steaks.  Instead, we let the flavour of the gorgeous, hormone free beef shine!  I love baked potatoes baked in the oven but just can't wait to start baking them on the grill again.  The grill gives a bit of extra flavour yet keeps the skin crispy and flesh tender. 

All of the steaks from our beef on the hoof purchase are large, cut to our specifications of 1 - inch thick.  While the whole steak looks luscious for the photo shoot, it is too much steak for either of us although if my husband is in the right mood, occasionally he will polish off a steak this big.  At any rate, anytime we have steak for dinner we have left overs.  Although steak does reheat nicely to enjoy as is, I also use left-over steak in other dishes.

refried rice made using left over rib steak
The following day, I cooked rice for dinner which is so nice now that I've mastered cooking it on the stovetop.  The rice comes out perfect every time, something I attribute to the gas burners that are considerably easier to control than electric burners that retain residual heat after being turned off.  I used the rice to make refried rice.

Refried rice is an extremely easy and inexpensive way to use left over rice and beef, chicken or pork that can be made in 15 minutes or less.  It uses soy sauce which is incredibly high in sodium content.  Even the low sodium soy sauces have over 500 mg of sodium in 1 tbsp!  I use Rooster Brand Dark Soy Sauce which has 800 mg of sodium per 1 tbsp but because it has a deeper, richer flavour, less is needed.  It does give a darker colour to any dishes it is used in. Neither of us are on a sodium restricted diet however, we do tend to eat fairly low sodium so refried rice is a dish we enjoy only a very few times a year.

Method:  Cook rice or use left over rice.  I used 3 cups of cooked rice.  Cut left over steak (chicken or pork) into strips or pieces.  Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet.  Pour in the rice.  Stir in about 1½ tbsp dark soy sauce, mixing well.  Stir in prepared meat and about 1 c of frozen peas.  Mix.  Make a well in the centre of the rice.  Pour in three beaten eggs.  Stir and continue stirring while incorporating the rice mixture into the eggs as they cook.

Friday, April 26, 2013

40% Whole Wheat Cheese Bread (No Knead)

Part of the beauty of artisan breads is their rustic charm.  It is immediately apparent that artisan breads are not mass produced.  The loaves are never perfectly shaped adding to the eye appeal.  The tops usually have some type of coating whether is be simply plain flour or rolled oats.  Unfortunately if buying an artisan bread in a bakery, you may not get to see the crumb (interior pore formation) prior to bringing it home to cut, but that crumb certainly will not disappoint.  Unlike mass produced breads, the ingredients for artisan breads are simple and unpretentious.  All that is needed for a good loaf of artisan bread is flour, salt, yeast and water.  That's it!

40 percent whole wheat cheese bread
Continuing with my experiments with no knead fermented doughs, I made a loaf of 40% whole wheat cheese bread using the cold ferment 40% whole wheat dough.  I simply cut a strip about 3-inches wide and 10-inches long from the refrigerated dough that was about an inch and a half thick.  I worked in about 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese using the press and fold method then shaped the dough into a boule.  I placed the boule on a sheet of lightly floured parchment paper, covered with plastic wrap and let rest 3 hours.  During the last half hour of the dough resting, I preheated the Dutch oven at 425°F.  When the Dutch oven was ready, I transferred the parchment paper and dough to the Dutch oven, covered and baked for 40 minutes.  Then I removed the lid and baked for an additional 5 minutes.

The 40% whole wheat cheese bread had a tantalizing, mouthwatering aroma!  This was a lovely looking loaf of bread with a good rise and nice pore formation even though I forgot to slash the top.  The crust and interior texture were perfect.  Like the cheesy bread made with cold fermented dough using unbleached flour, the whole wheat version is a keeper! 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Fresh Mushrooms

kitchen quick tips
Trapped moisture will cause mushrooms to quickly spoil so do not store in plastic containers or cover with plastic wrap.  Store fresh mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

No Knead 40% Whole Wheat Bread

I love whole wheat and multi-grain bread!  It is a must have for my power sandwiches packed full of fresh vegetables, sprouts, thinly sliced meat and cheese with just a little homemade mayonnaise and a smidgen of mustard.   Whole wheat and multi-grain breads tend to be dense breads with a low rise and small pores.  There are a few ways to improve the rise and pore size in homemade whole wheat and multi-grain breads (eg. add gluten or lecithin, use part all purpose flour).  I decided to make a batch of 40% whole wheat dough for cold fermentation. 

part whole wheat cold fermented bread dough
40% Whole Wheat Artisan Dough
(cold fermentation)

2 c whole wheat flour
4½ c unbleached flour
1½ tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp instant yeast
3 c warm water

Mix the dry ingredients.  Pour in the water and mix well.  Let sit lightly covered until bubbly.  Place in refrigerator with lid on container but not snapped tight.  Cut the desired amount off to make a loaf of bread.  Shape into boule on floured board then transfer to lightly floured parchment paper.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let rest for at least 2 hours.   During the last half hour of the dough resting, heat oven to 425° - 450°F.  Pour about 2 c of water into enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven.  Preheat the Dutch oven in the oven for 30 minutes.  When the Dutch oven is preheated pour out any remaining water.  Slash the top of the dough.  Carefully pull the corners of the parchment together to form a sling.  Transfer paper and dough into the Dutch oven.  Cover and bake 40 to 50 minutes depending on size of loaf.  Remove the lid and continue baking until crust is golden brown.
part whole wheat bread dough shaped
The 40% whole wheat dough was sticky but not as sticky as that made using only unbleached flour.   I cut a generous portion of dough from the refrigerated cold fermented dough.  I formed it into a boule on a lightly floured board then gently rocked the top of the dough back and forth in a mixture of unbleached flour and oats for the topping.  I covered the prepared boule with plastic wrap then let rest for 3 hours.

During the last half hour of the dough resting, I preheated the Dutch oven at 425°F.  I find I am getting nicer results baking at 425°F rather than 450°F that some are using.  Quite often the temperature has to be adjusted slightly to get the desired results with your oven as ovens do vary slightly.  Ovens can also have hot spots that will require shifting baking vessels and pans to prevent burning.  This is less of a problem with newer ranges especially those with convection ovens.  It may take a bit of trial an error to get the temperature just right.  Start with the recommended 450°F and adjust as needed from there, starting by reducing the uncovered bake time from 15 minutes. 

baked part whole wheat bread
I was impressed with the results!  The loaf of no knead 40% whole wheat bread had a tantalizing aroma.  Even though it was a smaller loaf of bread, the crust was nicely baked to a golden brown with no scorch marks.  I was rather pleased with the way the slash came out.  It had a nice homemade rustic look with the rolled oats topping.  Doesn't it look delicious?

I could not wait to cut into this gorgeous loaf of bread but had to wait until dinner time.  Once the bread had cooled, I carefully wrapped it in a t-towel.  This kept the crust  crispy and interior tender until ready to cut.

part whole wheat bread pore formation
As expected the pores in the no knead 40% whole wheat bread were small, indicating a dense loaf.  However, the interior was soft and tender contrasting nicely with the crispy, chewy crust.  The bread was nicely flavoured as well.  The flavour differed from other homemade whole wheat breads that typically have honey or molasses as an ingredient which adds to the flavour.  This bread had more of the wheat flavour.  It was a very lovely loaf of bread that was declared a keeper in terms of flavour, texture and appearance.  The only thing I would tweak with this bread is perhaps adjusting slightly to get a bit larger pore formation. 

The more that I have worked with the cold fermented doughs, both unbleached all purpose and whole wheat based, the more I like them.  Most bread recipes make a specific sized loaf of bread, not that you can't divide it down to make two smaller loaves, but once the dough is made it needs to be all baked at the same time.  During the week it is usually just the two of us with a routine of eating dinner out Tuesdays and Fridays most weeks when home, and averaging 4 dinners out a week when at our vacation home.  The majority of our breakfasts and lunches are not eaten out at either home so we still go through a fair amount of bread.  Homemade bread is best used the same day or the next but it does not keep well.  It can be froze but I prefer not to use my valuable freezer real estate for freezing breads.  The beauty of the larger batch cold fermented doughs is you cut off the amount you need which works well for us.  I can make a smaller loaf of bread that will get used up within a day but if need be make a larger loaf using the same dough simply by cutting off a bigger piece of dough.  In that respect, the cold fermented doughs are very well suited to cooking for one or two people. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

No Knead Raisin Bread

Bread making is very much trial and error when moving outside of your comfort zone.  I have made kneaded bread ever since being a newlywed.  When the kids were home, I made a lot more bread but now average 2 loaves a week, more if entertaining.  Back in the early 1990's, I modified some of our favourite bread recipes to use in a bread machine while still making bread by hand.   In early 2007, I was once again modifying bread recipes to use with my new Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  Up to the past couple of weeks, most of the bread I made was with the aid of the stand mixer which does indeed simplify bread making.  While making a wide variety of very good homemade breads, baking a good crusty bread eluded me until now.

When I made the first batch of no knead crusty bread (room fermentation) the five minutes a day artisan bread dough (cold fermented) I fully intended to do a bit of experimenting.  The artisan boule made with the plain dough was an amazing loaf of bread!  Encouraged by that and knowing that the dough would make an outstanding loaf of bread, I started experimenting with additions.  Next, I made a cheesy garlic onion bread that had excellent flavour but clearly showed the addition of cheese would require a few modifications.   Then I made a cheesy bread that my husband declared the best ever. 

no knead raisin bread
Finally, I made a loaf of raisin bread and two crusty rolls to use up the remainder of the cold fermented dough.  The dough will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  I expected the sourdough tang would increase the longer the dough was in the refrigerator.  It did increase but the tang peaked then leveled off by the third loaf of bread.  That was a bit disappointing but my goal of experimenting with the cold fermented dough was to create a good crusty bread with crisp, chewy crust and soft interior.  At the same time, because the sourdough tang levels off, the dough is a bit more versatile with respect to adding extra flavours.

Raisin bread has been a traditional family favourite since those early newlywed days.  I have made it so many times, the recipe is firmly engrained in my head.  One of the sites I visited while looking for ideas using both fermented doughs mentioned using the dough for raisin bread.  I cut off a piece of the cold fermented dough then flattened it on a floured board with my fingers, sprinkled with sugar cinnamon and raisins then rolled the dough jelly roll style the way I would when making my normal kneaded raisin bread.  Then I tucked the ends and continued forming the boule.  In theory, this should have resulted in the sugar and cinnamon forming a swirl effect in the cut slices.  I didn't slash the bread but in hind sight should have as it may have prevented the formation of the large empty cavity at the top of the loaf.  I baked the loaf in a covered enamel Dutch oven for 40 minutes at 425°F then removed the lid and baked for 5 minutes.

The raisin bread had a nice flavour and the inside texture was soft.  The crust was more crisp than crisp and chewy.  I will try making another loaf using the cold fermented dough to see if I can improve the results.  I will modify the method of incorporating the sugar, cinnamon and raisins into the dough but first I would like to make one loaf using the same jelly roll method but slash the top to see if that helps.  I'll report back on the results.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Artisan Breads

Frugal Kitchens 101
Breads are a fundamental food in every culture and never has there been such a variety under one basic heading.  Breads fall into two main categories, leavened and unleavened.  Leavened beads can be further divided into quick breads and yeast breads.   Yeast breads can be further divided into mass produced, artisan, bread machine, fermented, kneaded and no knead.  There may be overlaps.  For example, a bread machine bread can be also a fermented bread if it uses sourdough starter however, a bread machine bread while home made is not considered an artisan bread because machinery is used to do the mixing and kneading.  Some using stand mixers consider their breads artisan and while they may be outstanding loaves of bread, they really are homemade breads rather than artisan breads.  

The artisan category is simple, hand crafted breads made without the aid of machinery. At their purest, artisan breads are hand mixed, hand kneaded and shaped.  Any yeast bread recipe can be used to make artisan breads.  Artisan breads can be kneaded breads or no knead breads.  No knead artisan breads use either a room temperature fermentation (12 to 18 hours) or a cold fermentation (24 hours to several days).  It is common for artisan bread recipes to use premium ingredients (eg. organic flours, whole grain flours, raw honey, steel cut oats, sea salt) and great attention is paid to the shaping of the loaf as well as slashing the top properly before baking.  Consumers consider artisan breads as gourmet breads and as such these breads bring premium prices.  I have seen artisan loaves of bread as high as $7 a loaf!

The average home cook can easily produce artisan breads at home for about 30¢ per loaf and well under $1 even if using premium ingredients or adding additional ingredients like herbs, cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and seeds.  No knead artisan breads are particularity easy for any home cook to make as all that is involved is the mixing, fermentation period, shaping and baking.  The ingredients can be as simple as flour, salt, yeast and water.  Equipment can be as simple as a bread pan or baking sheet.  If you want a crispy, chewy crust as in store bought crispy rolls, you will need a cast iron Dutch oven or a shallow, oven proof pan to put water in and put on the rack below the baking loaf.  Some have reported good crispy crust results using a regular covered roasting pan.   

I have been experimenting with no knead artisan breads both room temperature fermented and cold fermented over the past couple of weeks.  I want to perfect my method so we can not only to enjoy wonderful artisan breads at home but also at our vacation home where I do not want to buy specialized equipment to do the kneading for me.  I can no longer knead bread to the degree it takes to get a good loaf of bread so use a stand mixer at home.  Here's a few things I have learned making the no knead artisan breads:

  • fermentation - Fermentation is due to the yeast (living organism) consuming the sugar and starch in the flour producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct which is responsible for the pore formation in the baked loaf of bread.  It is a natural process that occurs over time.  In kneaded breads, this is often referred to as letting the dough proof (rise until double) or simply letting the dough rise.  The proof time is generally for a short period of time usually an hour for each rise and the proofing time really doesn't add much to the flavour of the baked bread.  Fermentation takes place over a longer period of time, generally 12 to 18 hours for room temperature fermentation and 24 hours to several days for cold fermentation.  Fermented dough shaped into a loaf still requires a rising (resting) period of 40 minutes to 3 hours before baking. 
  • slashing - Typically the dough is slashed before to aid in the rise of the baking bread.  The slash will determine the direction of the spread as the loaf bakes.  If done properly, the baked loaf of bread will have raised portions along the slash referred to as ears.  The dough should be slashed with a very sharp knife or razor blade at a 30° angle about ¼ - inch deep.  If making more than one slash, wet the knife bread after each slash to prevent sticking especially with sticky doughs.
  • the crust - The texture of the crust is determined by baking conditions.  A regular, soft crust is created when the bread is baked without steam.  If you want a softer crust, brush the bread with butter as soon as it is removed from the oven.  A crispy, chewy crust is created when the bread is baked with steam.  This can be achieved by baking the bread on a baking sheet with a shallow pan of water on the rack below the baking bread or by baking the bread in a covered cast iron Dutch oven, browning lightly after the steam baking process. 
  • the crumb - The crumb of the bread is basically the pore formation that is determined by the fermentation process and/or proofing.  Small, evenly distributed pores as seen in whole wheat breads are caused by a lower rise due to decreased gluten development resulting in a denser loaf of bread.  Doughs with a high gluten development will have a higher rise, larger pores and a lighter, fluffier, softer texture.  
  • experimentation - The baking and proofing times are not written in stone.  A dough with a recommended 40 minute proof time may actually take 2 hours to proof depending on the ambient room temperature.  Baking times may need to be adjusted to achieve the desired results because ovens can vary.  A wide variety of ingredients (eg. herbs, seasonings, dried fruits, cheese) can be added to no knead doughs.   Finding the best way to work them into fermented doughs is by trial and error.  Baking times may need to be adjusted depending on any extra ingredients added.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cheesy Bread

Continuing with my bread experimenting, I made the third loaf of bread using the cold fermented dough (five minutes a day artisan bread).  I am finding I really like this dough even though fermenting in the refrigerator does not save any time over using a regular knead dough and the container of dough takes up a fair amount of space in the refrigerator.  It is no easier than the rough temperature fermented dough (no knead crusty dough).  The only difference between using a fermented dough (eg. cold, room temperature, sourdough starter) is flavour. 

cheesy bread
I made a loaf of cheesy bread using the cold fermented dough but made a few adjustments after the results of the cheesy garlic onion bread.  That bread was quite tasty but I was not happy with the crust especially the bottom that was a bit over done.  Clearly the addition of cheese to the dough affected the crust.  So I decided to experiment with timing, temperature and positioning for the cheesy bread.  In most cases, I would just make one adjustment at a time to see the effect but decided to make all three at the same time because they made sense to me.

First, I moved the oven rack up one notch to the middle position in my stove.  This just gets the baking bread a bit further from the heat source, which in my case is at the bottom of the oven.  Second, I reduced the preheat and baking temperature from 450°F to 425°F.  All ovens are different so temperature adjustments are common.  Regardless what temperature the recipe says to bake at, the temperature should be adjust to that which gives you the desired results in your oven.  I have found that I have had to lower the baking temperature on many foods using the natural gas oven which seems to give the same results as my former electric oven but at a lower temperature.  Finally, I reduced the baking temperature to 45 minutes (covered) and 5 minutes (uncovered) for a total bake time of 50 minutes rather than 65 minutes.  This was a smaller loaf of bread that would bake quicker anyway requiring a reduction in baking time but the initial decision to reduce the temperature was based on improving the outcome of the crust. 

A lot of sites and videos showing the results of the Dutch oven baked crusty breads show a very dark crust.  I don't know if this is intentional, lighting or not realizing that the temperature can be adjusted.  The problems with too dark of a crust is it can give a burnt flavour to the bread.  We prefer a golden crust and in this case the goal is a golden crust that is crispy and chewy.  I used a cup of shredded cheddar cheese and pressed it into the crust the same way I did for the cheesy garlic onion bread but this time worked it into the dough using lesser amounts of cheese at a time.  I let the boule rest for 2½, slashed the top, then baked according to my adjustments.  The crust came out exactly as I wanted without the bottom crust being over cooked.  The crust crackled as it cooled, the tell tale sign of a good crispy crust.  The colour was a perfect golden brown.  My husband declared this loaf a keeper!  It definitely was an outstanding loaf of bread with excellent texture and flavour.  It was gone by lunchtime the following day with a request for another loaf. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cheesy Garlic Onion Bread

The dough for the five minutes a day artisan bread (cold fermentation) is enough to make five to six good sized loaves of bread.  Fermentation makes this bread delightfully yummy!  Steam is essential for the development of the crispy yet chewy crust and soft interior.   While this bread can be baked on a baking sheet with a pan of water on the rack below, it is considerably easier to bake this bread and the no knead crusty bread (room temperature fermentation) in a covered Dutch oven.  It creates a controlled environment for baking the bread, keeping the interior of the vessel at a consistent temperature and keeping that steam inside to produce that perfect crust.  An enamel coated, cast iron Dutch oven is rather inexpensive at under $70 for a 4.7 L (5 qt ) depending on the brand. 

ingredients for cheesy garlic onion bread
Continuing with my experiments using the five minutes a day artisan bread dough, I gathered the ingredients to make a loaf of cheesy garlic onion bread.  This was the second loaf of bread from the batch of dough which did level itself after removing dough for the artisan boule (plain) a couple of days before.  Boule is the French term for ball, a common shape for artisan breads.  The dough had a bit stronger sourdough aroma.

Ingredients for the cheesy garlic onion bread were the prepared cold fermented dough, cornmeal, garlic pepper (2 tsp), shredded cheddar cheese (1 c), and chopped onions (2 tbsp).  I used unbleached flour for the prep of the cheesy garlic onion bread.

embedding ingredients for cheesy garlic onion bread into the dough
The normal method of adding extra ingredients to a kneaded bead is directly during the mixing period with the exception of some ingredients like fruits or if making a swirled effect (eg. raisin bread).  According to the sources I found for the no knead crusty bread, additional ingredients can be added during the mixing as well.  Since the dough is already mixed for the long cold fermentation period with the five minutes a day artisan bread, so the ingredients had to be worked into the piece of dough before shaping it.  I cut a piece of dough from the batch and patted it out on a floured cutting board.  Then I sprinkled cheese, onion and garlic pepper over the dough and pressed it in well, turned the dough over and repeated.  I continued working in the additional ingredients by kneading.

prepared cheesy garlic onion bread dough resting
Finally, I shaped the dough into a boule then sprinkled lightly with garlic pepper, onions and cheese.  I placed the boule on a sheet of parchment paper sprinkled lightly with cornmeal on top of a cutting board.  The cutting board added stability so I could move the loaf to a bit warmer location if desired.  I often do this when proofing bread since the dining/livingroom gets quite warm when the sun hits the large southern exposure window, just perfect for proofing bread.  I covered the prepared boule with plastic wrap then let rest for 2½ hours.

I poured 2 cups of water into the Dutch oven and pre-heated it at 450°F during the last half hour that the dough was rising.  Adding water during the pre-heat stage prevents any damage to the Dutch oven.  Any water remaining at the end of the pre-heat period is simply poured out before placing the dough in the Dutch oven.  I cut a slash in the top of the dough before putting it into the Dutch oven.

cheesy garlic onion bread fresh from the oven
I baked the bread covered at 450°F for 50 minutes then removed the lid and intended to bake for another 15 minutes but cut that down to 7 minutes as the crust was getting too dark.  I removed the delicious smelling loaf from the oven to cool on a cooling rack. 

The loaf looked good, quite similar to the cheese and onion bread sold in the grocery store.  The onions were a bit darker than I would have liked and the cheese topping was not as pronounced but still for the first attempt making a cheesy garlic onion bread with the cold fermentation dough, it was a successful loaf.  There was a nice rise and ears on the slash both good signs.  The crust did crackle a bit as it cooled but not as much as the plain loaf did.  The bottom crust was definitely over cooked so I was not happy with that.  Clearly the addition of cheese affected the outcome of the crust causing it to brown in less time than the plain loaf. 

cheesy garlic onion bread crumb formation
While the cheesy garlic onion bread had a nice rise, clearly my method of adding the shredded cheese affected the pore formation.  There were larger pores filled with cheese which isn't necessarily a bad thing but I will be modifying my method to get a bit more even distribution.  I was disappointed that the bottom crust was so dark so the next loaf which will be a plain cheese bread, I have a couple of modifications to try.

In terms of texture and flavour the cheesy garlic onion bread certainly did not disappoint.  The crust was delightfully crispy and chewy.  The interior was soft.  This bread was nicely flavoured with the garlic pepper giving a nice spicy element that paired nicely with the cheddar and onion flavours.  The cheesy garlic onion bread would be a lovely bread to serve with beef stew or cottage pie.  It will definitely be a flavour combination in bread that I will be making again, just tweaking the baking time and method a bit to prevent the bottom of the bread from getting too dark..

Friday, April 19, 2013

First Loaf of Five Minutes a Day Artisan Bread - Artisan Boule

It is busy times in the kitchen between testing the 4ever Recap canning lids and experimenting with crusty artisan breads, currently no knead crusty bread (room temperature fermentation) and five minutes a day artisan bread (cold fermentation).  Fermentation is what gives sourdough bread its characteristic tang.  Both of these breads have a bit of a tang.  It is very mild in the no knead crusty bread and more pronounced in the five minutes a day artisan bread the longer the dough is allowed to ferment in the refrigerator.  That is the first loaf of bread made from the five minutes a day dough will not have as much of a tang as the last loaf that will be made several days later if the dough is used as intended.  Neither of these no knead breads actually save any time in comparison to kneaded breads but they do eliminate the process of kneading.  The second thing both these breads have in common is the crispy, chewy crust with soft interior.  This is due to the high moisture content in the dough and baking the bread in a cast iron Dutch oven so the steam cannot escape until the lid is removed for the final browning stage.

five minutes a day artisan bread dough just out of refrigerator with dough cut and boule shaped
I removed the five minutes a day artisan bread dough from the refrigerator.  It had fallen a bit from when the dough was first refrigerated but according to Jeff and Zoe (developers of the cold fermentation process for this recipe), this is common with the dough.  I found it easiest to cut the dough with a serrated knife.  The dough was sticky but easier to handle because it was cold.  I shaped the piece of dough into a boule (round bread loaf shape) on a piece of floured parchment paper then covered with plastic wrap.  The remainder of the dough was returned to the refrigerator.  The covered boule was left to rise for about 2½ hours.  The longer the shaped dough is allowed to sit, the larger the bread pores will be. 

I placed the enamel Dutch oven in the oven at 450°F and let heat during the last 30 minutes the dough was rising.  Some using this method put their Dutch oven in to heat dry but at least one manufacturer advises against this so I added 2 cups of water to the Dutch oven before heating.  Once the Dutch oven was heated, I removed it from the oven, emptied the remaining water then brought the four corners of the parchment paper together sling style to transfer paper and dough into the Dutch oven.  I put the lid on the Dutch oven then returned it to the oven to bake the bread for 50 minutes at 450°F.  Then I removed the lid and baked for uncovered for 12 minutes.  The recommended timing is 15 minutes but timing needs to be adjusted to your oven.

boule just out of oven
I did not slash the dough as Jeff and Zoe do but will likely experiment with doing so.  Slashing the dough gives a better rise during baking. It is done with a very sharp knife or blade just before putting the dough in the oven.  Slashing at a 45 degree angle gives the characteristic ears during baking giving the loaf of bread a professional look.  Instead, my loaf was a lovely boule without the slashes.

The bread smelled heavenly!  There was a good rise and that characteristic crackling sound as the loaf cooled.  I was quite pleased with the results even without the slashes.  I could not wait to taste test this bread!

artisan plain boule crumb appeal
I cut the bread with a serrated bread knife.  The pours were nicely defined.  The texture was perfect!  The bread did not have a real sharp tang, more of a mellow, subtle tang similar to sourdough bread made using fresh starter before it has a chance to develop a good tang.

All in all, I am having fairly good success baking bread in the Dutch oven.  The plain breads are working out considerably better than expected.  While the dough fermented at room temperature results in an excellent loaf of bread, the dough fermented at cold temperature gives outstanding results in terms of both texture and flavour.

I am experiencing a bit of a timing problem though.  I shaped the dough at 2:30 PM, set aside until 4:30 PM figuring it would be perfect timing for eating just before 6 PM.  However, the dough did not cooperate likely because the kitchen was a bit cooler.  I hadn't been cooking that day so there was no residual excess heat in the kitchen.  This meant it took longer for the dough to get to the point of being ready for baking.  Trying to get dinner ready while still fiddling with bread was not ideal but it is nothing new.  Typically, this happens within the few days after turning the furnace off for the season or the few days before turning the furnace on for the season when the entire house is cooler than normal.  I usually try to compensate by cooking or canning in the morning to heat the kitchen a bit.

The experimentation continues.  I made a garlic, onion and cheese boule and a cheese boule so I will be discussing the results of both those loaves.  That leaves me enough for one very large loaf or two smaller loaves of bread using the five minutes a day artisan dough.  The dough has developed a lovely sourdough smell!  I'm not sure what I will make with the remainder yet but am thinking a plain to gauge the degree of tang I can get using this dough and perhaps a loaf of raisin bread.  I will discuss those loaves as well so be sure to continue reading!  At this point, I will be naming the bread according to the additional ingredients used (eg. Artisan boule) as I did with this loaf with a link as to which base recipe I used, room temperature fermentation or cold fermentation.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Salad Greens

kitchen quick tips
Moisture will cause salad greens to wilt.  Place a paper towel in the bottom of a bowl then the salad greens and cover with plastic wrap to prevent excess drying to keep salad greens fresh longer in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Five Minutes a Day Artisan Bread

After one of my kids told me I could bake bread in my new enamel Dutch oven, I was on a quest.  A bit of research quick found Jim Lahey's No Knead Crusty Bread recipe that originally appeared in The New York Time's Minimalist column.  Others have used that recipe as a starting point, modifying the amounts of yeast, salt and water as well as adding a wide range of other ingredients but the basics of making this bread are the same.  Jim himself has modified the original method to shorten the fermentation time.  Jim's method relies on a lot of water to make a sticky dough, little yeast and a fermentation period of 12 to 18 hours then after forming the loaf, it is left to rise for 40 minutes and finally baked in a pre-heated Dutch oven.  My first loaf of no knead crusty bread was a huge success!  Searching for more ideas using Jim's method, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of how to make artisan bread in five minutes a day.  The no knead method was created by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoe François who have written three cookbooks using their method.  Their method involves making a larger batch of dough, let it ferment 2 to three hours until bubbly then refrigerate the dough, cutting of a piece when you want to make a loaf of bread.  Well, that certainly had my interest!

ingredients for 5 minutes a day artisan bread
One thing I have noticed is regardless of who created the original method, the amount of yeast invariably is modified by whoever is making the dough.  Basically, if they don't get a good rise the first time, they increase the yeast.  A low rise can be due to insufficient fermentation period.  Even though a recipe says to let the dough rise 40 minutes, there is no problem with letting it rise longer.  In fact, the recipe I used for the no knead crusty bread was 40 minutes but I found several who were letting it rise as long as 2 hours.  The gluten content in the flour can also affect the rise.  I use Canadian flour made from Western hard wheat which is superior to flour made from soft wheat for bread making.  Getting a good rise with any yeast dough has never been a problem for me.  If you have a problem getting a good rise from the dough, adding gluten flour or lethicin granules to the dry ingredients will remedy the problem or you can use bread flour. 

I modified a recipe that had been modified from the master dough recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoe François.  That recipe had been modified to use a bit more yeast and the method modified to use a Dutch oven.  Jeff and Zoe use a tray of water in the oven under the baking loaf of bread.  I modified that recipe to use unbleached flour, instant yeast and sea salt and like the video, I just cut off the amount of dough I wanted to use rather than weigh it out.

Basic Five Minute a Day Artisan Dough

6½ c unbleached flour
3 c warm water
2 tbsp instant yeast
1½ tbsp sea salt

[method as follows in the commentary]

mixed ingredients for 5 minutes a day artisan bread
I had to buy a larger covered container for this dough as it does double in size at the stage before being refrigerated.  I bought a 5.74 L (24.26 c) BPA free, food grade plastic container to use for this purpose.  I liked the lower design of this label but in hindsight one of the smaller plastic pails from the doughnut shop would have worked as well except I didn't have an empty one.

After dumping the dry ingredients in a , I mixed them together with a fork.  Once the dry ingredients were mixed, I poured in the warm water and started mixing with a fork.  It quickly became apparent that the best way to mix this dough was with my hands.  It was a bit slow going.

shaggy dough for 5 minutes a day artisan bread
Once the dough was fully mixed, it was definitely sticky with a shaggy appearance.  It was just slightly stiffer than the no knead crusty bread dough but not by much.  At this point, I covered the container with the lid but did not snap it down tightly.  This allowed the gases to escape during the fermentation period at room temperature.

The two characteristics of this bread dough that set it apart from kneaded bread doughs is the shaggy appearance and high moisture content.  The moisture content is what will create the crispy, chewy crusty and moist interior of the bread.  Like the no knead crusty bread, the best way to achieve these results is baking in a Dutch oven although Zoe uses the water in a tray under the baking loaf of bread method. 

dough for 5 minutes a day artisan bread ready for refrigerator
I let the dough sit for about 2½ hours at room temperature until it was nice and bubbly.  The key thing to look for is this bubbly appearance before refrigerating.  It may take more or less time depending on how warm your kitchen is.  Don't rush it!  Once the dough was nice and bubbly as pictured, I put the lid on the container but did not snap it down and put the container in the refrigerator.

In all honesty, the Five Minutes a Day is a bit misleading, actually quite misleading.  To use this dough, you cut off a piece the desired size then shape it into the desired shape.  So that part does take about five minutes.  However, the shaped dough must then sit for at least two hours to rise, then it bakes for a total of 65 - 75 minutes.  In terms of time, a kneaded bread (and I do make a lot of kneaded) can be made in that same time frame.  In short, there is no time savings at all.  The only thing eliminated is the kneading.  The second observation with this method is the container is large, and it has to be large to accommodate the bubbly dough.  A container this large takes up a lot of refrigerator space that can be a problem for some.  However, there are two benefits to using the Five Minute a Day Artisan Bread method. 

The long, cool fermentation results in an outstanding bread with a nice flavour and rise.  As the dough continues to ferment in the refrigerator it develops the tang of sourdough, becoming stronger the longer it fermentss.  So, this is a very easy way to make faux sourdough bread.  True sourdough bread uses a starter without any additional yeast added.  Ideally the Five Minute a Day Artisan Bread method is meant to make five loaves of bread over five days.  In reality, this is not feasible for some folks, including ourselves as we use three to four loaves of bread per week.  I actually made my first loaf of bread from the fermented dough two days after it first went into the refrigerator.  Now, the no knead crusty bread (12 - 18 hr room temperature fermentation) was excellent but the loaf made with the cold fermentation (Five Minute a Day method) was outstanding!

Both the no knead crusty bread and five minute a artisan day bread dough methods have their pros and cons.  Both give above average results.  I am now on to experimenting with both recipes, tweaking bake times and temperature just slightly to get the bottom crust just right.  I am also experimenting with additions.  I will share the results of the experiments as they become available.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt Giveaway

I have been an ambassador with the Life Made Delicious program for a little over three years now.  Not only do I get to enjoy the multitude of great recipes on the Life Made Delicious website, and share my experiences with family, friends and readers of this blog, I get the opportunity to test out new General Mills food products.  A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sign up to try the new Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt.  I received 4 coupons ($5 value each) to cover the costs of the yogurt and a $100 gift card for Lululemon.  Keep reading because you will have a chance to win the same simply by leaving a comment on this pos!

new Yoplait Source Greek Yogurt
We use a lot of yogurt and to be honest with you, a good portion of this homemade yogurt.  I cook and bake with yogurt fairly often.  A few years ago, I began substituting Greek style yogurt for sour cream.   I also use vanilla flavoured yogurt as a dessert topping occasionally in place homemade whipped cream.   Plain Greek style yogurt is about half the calories of sour cream, while being lower in fat and cholesterol, just slight higher in sodium (34 mg vs 30 mg in 2 tbsp), slightly higher in protein (1.2 g vs 1 g in 2 tbsp) and the same amount of carbohydrates.  Flavoured yogurts are often quite high in carbohydrates.

I used one of the coupons to buy a Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt 8-pack, 4 x 100 g each of vanilla and lemon flavoured yogurt.  I reasoned that both flavours could be used as a dessert topping and at only 50 calories each with 2X more protein, it would be perfect for snacking especially at our vacation home where I haven't made yogurt yet.  This yogurt is fat and cholesterol free making it a guilt free, healthy snack! There is no added gelatinOh and while this is not important to everyone, it is to us...the containers can go into the recycle box unlike some single serve yogurt containers.

The Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt is a thick, fully bodied, creamy yogurt.  I liked both flavours that were light and refreshing, not overpowering.   Both could be used in so many ways because they pair nicely with fruits.  I'm tweaking a light sauce/salad dressing using the lemon yogurt and blueberries that would like be equally tasty using raspberries or citrus zest in place of the blueberries.  I will be looking for the Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt at our vacation home in Florida. 

breakfast waffle with Yoplait Source Greek yogurt and fruit
My husband and I are taking a balanced approach to better health via healthy eating, daily exercising, stress reduction and adequate sleep.  We try to walk outdoors for 30 minutes daily but when the weather is bad, we use the elliptical trainer.  Some days we do both.  Swimming is part of our routine at our vacation home and my husband golfs there as well as during the golf season here.  When the warmer weather arrives here, swimming is added to our daily routine.  It is amazing how just a little daily exercise can improve your health, reduce aches and pains, lower blood pressure and lower stress.  And it is free!  We even removed the television from the master bedroom because the blue lighting in the screen interrupts melatonin production, reducing the quality of sleep.  Watching television while drifting off to sleep can actually trigger stress responses in the body as well so it is best to not watch television within an hour of bedtime.  Neither of us are breakfast people.

I can't tolerate eating anything within at least an hour of waking.  So, I start my mornings and right now that means 4 AM with a glass of water followed by herbal tea and finally a coffee before eating.  Eating a high protein, hot breakfast on the weekend isn't a real problem but neither of us want bacon and eggs on a daily basis.  My husband has no problem eating as soon as he gets up and he occasionally eats dry cereal, something I don't.  We both occasionally eat hot cereal like Red River.  I make waffles, pancakes and French toast from scratch in larger batches then freeze to use as needed.  All reheat nicely in the toaster.  This morning I heated a high fibre waffle then topped with a little 100% pure maple syrup, fresh berries and Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt vanilla flavoured yogurt.  Not pictured is the organic banana and cranberry juice that accompanied my breakfast.  It was not a heavy breakfast as I prefer lighter breakfasts usually fruit and yogurt or cottage cheese.  It was however a low fat breakfast rich in fibre, protein, and antioxidants. 

Yoplait Source Greek Yogurt Giveaway
Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt Giveaway

The Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt Giveaway is sponsored by Life Made Delicious.  Here is your chance to get 4 coupons valued at $5 each for Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt plus a $100 gift card to Lululemon (athletic wear).  All you need to do is leave a comment on this blog post before April 29, 2013.  Names will be entered into a drum and drawn by an independent (aka not associated with this blog) on April 30, 2013.  Winners will be notified by email so be sure to leave your email address with your comment.  The winner will receive their  Yoplait® Source® Greek Yogurt Givaway goodies directly from Life Made Delicious shortly after May 8, 2013.

Rules:  This giveaway is open only to Canadian residents.  There are other bloggers in the Life Made Delicious Ambassador Program who will be offering the same giveaway.  You are free to enter their giveaways as well but you may only win one prize. 

Disclosure – I am participating in the Life Made Delicious Ambassador Program by Mom Central Canada on behalf of General Mills. I received compensation as a thank you for participating and for sharing my honest opinion. The opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Cost of Organic Foods

Frugal Kitchens 101 A couple of days ago I had to make a trip to one of the nearby small cities and as always managed to make a few foodie stops.  One of those stops was at the Real Canadian Super Store (RCSS) which is owned by Loblaws as is No Frills, my regular grocery store.  RCSS is like a souped up No Frills with a lot of extras, more like a Walmart but less sundry and clothing.  There is a large selection of organic foods, a fresh deli and seafood counter and small coffee shop along with a wine store and bank.  I was interested in the organic section, specifically looking for Oak Manor organic flours, organic peanut butter and organic granulated sugar.  My gosh, talk about sticker shock!

No Frills is basic shopping with a few extras and limited organic foods.  Walmart's prices is about 5% higher than No Frills and they also carry a limited range of organic foods.  Sobey's that no longer is in town had a larger selection of food but their prices would drive the average grocery cart up by about 15%.  RCSS would be about 20% higher for the average cart but that price would significantly increase if buying organic.  For example, our Walmart has organic bananas at 10¢ per pound higher than non-organic bananas but RCSS regular priced non-organic bananas were the same price as Walmart's organic bananas and their organic bananas were 30¢ per pound more!  A 1 kg jar of Kraft peanut butter at No Frills goes on sale for $3.97.  A 500 g jar of PC organic peanut butter cost me $4.29 at RCSS.   On the flip side, local organic produce in season is the same price if not a bit less than non-organic in the grocery stores and usually lower priced at farm stands, farmers' markets and orchards.   Store pricing aside, the cost of organic food is higher than non-organic for many reasons. 

The home grower and hobby farmer can grow organically for less money than it would cost to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, they don't incur any labour costs and for the most part the yield will be as good as if not better than using non-organic growing methods.  Farmers growing produce organically for commercial purposes and wanting to label their produce as such must meet stringent criteria (eg. land must be free of pesticide use for 10 years) and they must pay for certification.  In most cases for a viable organic farm operation, labour costs will be incurred and the yield will be less because the fields cannot be watched 24/7.  Manual pest removal practices that work well for the home grower and hobby farmer are not as easy for larger scale operations.  Seriously, it takes me about 10 minutes in the early morning to check my beans for Japanese Beetles and manually remove them but imagine the manpower it would take to do this type of manual removal daily in a ten acre field.  Essentially, the higher cost of organic farming and certification for organic growers is passed on to consumers.  Food manufactures are consumers of the organic produce.  The price of the raw product is more so that cost is passed on to consumers who buy their foods.  However, there is a myth surrounding organic foods.

Many view organic foods as expensive food only yuppies or back-to-the-land folks who hang out in health food stores eat, and because of that view the food producers and manufacturers can price organic foods higher.  Think about it, free range chickens eat a normal diet of insects and vegetation rather than being grain fed.  In other words, it costs the farmer less money to raise free range chickens that produce the same number of eggs in the same amount of time (about 1 egg every 14 hours) than it does to gain feed the chickens and yet, both free range chickens and eggs are sold at a higher price than the mass produced factory grain fed chickens.  The food manufacturers can really take advantage of this.  Yes, the raw product may cost them more (eg. organic peanuts) but the end product (eg. organic peanut butter contains only peanuts) contains no preservatives or other additives so the cost of production is lower yet they sell in smaller quantities at a higher price.  Another thing to consider, it is now common for organic producers to also use Fair Trade, Ethical Trade as well as promote sustainable farming and support eco-friendly causes (eg. endangered species, wildlife habitats) by donating part of their proceeds from the product to the cause.  Food manufacturers using the Fair Trade, Ethical Trade and Dolphin Friendly pay to use that logo and must ensure they are buying from growers meeting those specifications.  Other organic food manufacturers are co-ops owned, operated and supporting local growers which helps to build a stronger local economy.  They are smaller operations that produce outstanding quality in the foods produced so that is reflected in their price.

Organic growers, food producers and manufacturers as a whole are not only concerned about healthier, safer foods.  They are concerned about social responsibility and being good stewards of the earth.  More so, the consumer holds these same concerns and in fact are demanding that the food industry make changes.  Currently, the divide continues to grow between the organic and non-organic with many now preferring to buy organic.  Organic foods need not break your wallet.  They can be every bit as frugal as non-organic foods.  In some cases organic is less expensive than non-organic especially whatever you grow yourself.  In general, organic whole foods (eg. produce, meats, flours, sugars) like their non-organic counterparts are less expensive than organic convenience foods.  I kid you not, RCSS even had organic boxed mac & cheese!  Sorry, but even paying a bit more for the organic whole foods, the price is still less expensive per gram than buying the organic mix.  However, that does show that the popularity of organic foods is growing.  I did find the price or the organic pastas a bit high which could be off set by making your own using organic flour and free range eggs or buying on sale.  I know the Bulk Barn sells organic dry pastas that are considerably less expensive than the packaged organic dry pastas at RCSS so it pays to shop around.  The one caveat when buying packaged organic foods (eg. coffees, chocolate, pastas, cereals, flours, sugars) is to look for the Canada Organic/Biologique Canada certification logo or the USDA Organic certification logo on the package.   Legally to be labelled as organic the grower must be certified and the manufacturer can only used foods produced by organic growers to label their product as organic.  Buzz words like farm fresh, home grown, organically grown are not proof of an organic product, only the certification logo is.  Be leery of buying any produce labeled as organic at farmers' markets and farm stands as unless you know the farmer, you have no idea whether they are practicing organic growing methods or not.  If in doubt, always assume they aren't.  Not that you can't buy the produce if it not organic, just be sure it is organic before paying a higher price.  When it comes to organic foods especially meats and produce, it is very much buyer beware!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Garlic Roast Beef with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Home Canned Green Beans

Garlic has been richly entrenched in folklore for warding off vampires.  This likely stemmed from the practice of wearing garlic around the neck in days long ago.  Garlic is a tasty culinary herb but it also has medicinal properties.  It has antibiotic properties (contains the sulfur compound allicin), lowers blood pressure, is good for the circulatory system, promotes heart health, promotes a healthy immune system, increases bile production, decreases liver fat and reduces cholesterol.  Furthermore, ingesting garlic offers protection against mosquitoes which in turn protects you from contracting diseases via mosquito bites (eg. West Nile Disease).  Chewing on a raw clove of garlic releases allicin which kills the strep throat bacteria.  Other medicinal uses include relieving the pain of insect bites; treating sprains, toothache, tonsillitis, bruising, ringworm and clearing sinuses.  While you can buy garlic capsules, incorporating an abundance of fresh garlic into your diet works better and is less expensive.

searing the cross cut rib roast in Dutch oven
We are nearing that time of year again when our beef on the hoof will be ready.  This year the estimated time we will be getting it is the first week of June which gives me a bit more time to pare down our freezer contents.  Still, we are in high gear eating from the pantry and freezers!

I thawed a cross cut rib roast to cook for garlic roast beef  in my new enamel coated Dutch oven.  I often cook roasts without thawing so this was a bit different.  I let the roast thaw for a little over 24 hours in the refrigerator.  The roast was tied, very close to rectangular shaped.  I heated extra virgin olive oil in the Dutch oven then quickly seared the roast on all four sides.   Normally I don't sear roasts unless cooking is a slow cooking but this time I wanted to cook at a low temperature so seared for flavour.

seared cross cut rib roast seasoned
I pre-heated the oven to 200°F.  I seasoned the cross cut rib roast with Worcestershire sauce and garlic pepper then topped with whole cloves of garlic and slices of onion.  This gave me two elements of garlic, fresh and powdered for flavour.  The fresh garlic would roast as it cooked but not to the degree of plain roasted garlic that has a deeper caramelized note mingling with a hint of sweetness.  I added about a three quarter cup of water to the bottom of the Dutch oven.  The lid of the Dutch oven is designed to be self basting so reasoned that there would be just enough gravy for that night's dinner.  Once the roast was prepared, I covered it and place the hot Dutch oven into the pre-heated oven.  I cooked the covered  roast at 200°F for 1½ hr  then raised the temperature to 275°F for ½ hr. 

garlic roast beef
While the roast was cooking, I prepared the roasted garlic mashed potatoes (recipe below).   These would be reheated during the last ½ hr of the roast cooking.  The garlic mashed potatoes can actually be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you want to warm them for a meal. 

I was rather pleased with the results!  The roast was nicely browned for nice eye appeal with a rich looking au jus that could have been strained then used without thickening.  The aroma was divine!  I removed the roast to rest.  I lightly strained the au jus, mashing in the roasted garlic then thickened with a lightly seasoned corn starch slurry.  Really, there is nothing wrong with leaving the onion slices and garlic pieces in the au jus for serving.  Mashing the garlic just adds more flavour to the au jus.

roasted garlic potatoes
Swedish potatoes have been a long time family favourite with their rich, creamy texture and just a bit of tang in the flavour.  I originally learned to make them from my Mother-in-Law and while I still make the original, I have developed several potato dishes based on the original.  The original Swedish potato dish is heavy on sour cream, cream cheese, butter and heavy cream all of which make this dish higher in fat content.  My roasted garlic mashed potatoes cut that fat significantly.  The potatoes are not as creamy as I purposely leave in smaller chunks of potatoes but the flavour is a sure winner!  These potatoes freeze and reheat well.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
recipe by: Garden Gnome

8 - 10 medium sized potatoes
½ c sour cream
½ c cream cheese
½ small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp roasted garlic
½ tsp fresh cracked pepper
1 tbsp butter
½ c 2% milk

dry bread crumbs
1 tsp butter
garlic chives (optional)

Wash and peel the potatoes.  Cut into chunks.  Peel garlic cloves.  Thinly slice the onion.  Place potatoes, onion slices and garlic cloves into steamer basket.  Steam until the potatoes are fork tender.  Pour the potatoes, garlic and onion mix into stand mixer bowl.  Add the remainder of the ingredients.  Mix until semi-smooth (mainly smooth with some small chunks).  Spoon the mixture into an oven proof casserole dish.  Divide the topping butting into small dabs and scatter over top of the potatoes.  Sprinkle a light coating of dry bread crumbs on top.  Sprinkle chopped garlic chives on top.  Heat in oven until top is lightly golden.

garlic roast beef with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and home canned green beans
I served the garlic roast beef with the roasted garlic mashed potatoes, home canned green beans, and a side salad with homemade creamy garlic dressing.  Home canned green beans are one of our favourite side dishes so I can a lot of them.  I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming growing season as there are only 4 - 500ml jars of green beans left!

This was a sure to please, easy to prepare dinner packed full of garlic goodness!  Each of the layers of garlic (fresh, roasted, dry) added their own distinctive notes yet were not over powering.  Garnishing the potatoes with garlic chives will add another subtle garlic note.  The end result was delightfully delicious!  And no we did not have garlic breath :)