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

For Your Information

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

Popular Posts

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Oily Herbs

kitchen quick tips Tie oily herbs (eg. thyme) into bunches around the base then hang upside down in the kitchen out of direct sunlight.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pasta Bar

The clubhouse at our vacation home resort holds a weekly pasta night.  The meal is set up in an L-shape pasta bar with a serve yourself simple garden salad and garlic bread followed by the pasta station where the chef prepares your choice for you.  The pasta station consists of pre-cooked penne and liguini, red sauce, white (béchemel) sauce, sausage, shrimp, mussels, chicken, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, an onions.  The pasta dish is cooked on a portable propane burner.  The chef drizzles olive oil in a small skillet then adds your vegetables and meat of choice.  When that is warmed through, he drizzles a little white wine over the mixture, adds your sauce of choice and flips the pan to mix.  Finally he adds the pasta of choice again flipping the pan to mix. 

linguine with white sauce and shrimp
My husband had linguine with béchemel sauce and shrimp.  The shrimp were nice sized.  The sauce  was rich and creamy.  This was a delightfully tasty dish that can easily be duplicated at home.  

When cooking pasta, I like to cook extra for planned leftovers.  I simply cool the cooked pasta then refrigerate it until needed.  It is very easy to whip up a quick meal using pre-cooked pasta.  Pre-cooked pasta warms nicely in a variety of sauces.  It can quickly be turned into tasty homemade pasta cheese dish or other casserole, or used in pasta salads. 

linguine with blush sauce
I had linguine with a blush sauce, a mix of red and béchemel sauces.  I also added shrimp, mussels, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and mushrooms.  I really enjoyed this rich, delicious meal!  With the exception of fresh mussels which are difficult to find at home, this is also a very easy dish to recreate at home. 

A blush sauce is very easy to make but it involves making at least the béchemel sauce to mix with a fresh or prepared ahead tomato sauce.  A rosa sauce is similar to a blush sauce without having to make a béchemel sauce.  A rosa sauce is made by stirring heavy cream into a tomato sauce as it is warming.  Shredded parmesan cheese can be stirred into the rosa sauce if desired. 

A pasta bar is a rather simple idea that can easily be duplicated at home with a few modifications.  Kids love meals that allow them to make the choice of what they want to add.  That is one reason why homemade pizza, tacos and taco salad where always big hits with our kids.  As with other top your own dishes, keep it simple yet interesting.  You don't need a lot of each topping either so a pasta bar is a great way to use up a few leftovers as well.  Presentation can be as easy as setting up various bowls of the prepared ingredients on the table then let each family member top their pasta as desired.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Combating the Rising Cost of Food in Canada

Frugal Kitchens 101
The rising cost of food has become a major concern for many Canadians.  A recent survey by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC Canadian Consumer Outlook Index) found that 91% of those surveyed said belt-tightening and smarter decisions were the order of the day when buying food.   Of those surveyed, 84% said they believed the food they purchase has increased in price over the past year.  According to the survey, the average Canadian shopper spends $411 per month on groceries.  As a result, there is a growing concern on the impact of food prices on budgets and less deviance from those budgets.  Canadians are looking for cost-saving strategies that they can use to save on their next trip to the grocery store. 

In light of the rising food costs in Canada, it is important to realize that food is abundant and the Canadian population is affluent even though food insecurity is a growing concern.  The shameful side of this abundance is the amount of food that is wasted.  The Value Chain Management Centre (VCMC) estimates $27-billion worth of food produced for Canadian consumption never makes it to our bellies.  Statistics Canada actually calculated food waste per individual for 2009 to a total of 172 kg (379 lb)!  According to the VCMC, this food waste impacts the economy as well as the environment.  More importantly, the VCMC noted that in Canada, half of the food waste occurs in the home.

Combating the rising cost of food in Canada becomes a balance between frugal shopping and reducing food waste in the home.  It makes little sense to reduce what you are spending on food without reducing what food you are wasting. 

Ten ways to reduce the cost of food:

  1. shop the outer aisle
  2. read the labels
  3. shop by unit price
  4. comparison shop
  5. shop the sales
  6. eat more produce
  7. focus on real/whole foods
  8. cook from scratch
  9. grow you own 
  10. keep a well stocked pantry
Five ways to reduce food waste in your home:
  1. reduce what you buy
  2. store foods properly
  3. make a conscious effort to use leftovers
  4. don't peel fruits or vegetables unless necessary
  5. reduce serving sizes 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grilled Porterhouse Steak

This is the time of year that many Canadians turn their thoughts to cottage life, camping and spending times around backyard pools or day-tripping to area beaches.  We camped for years when our kids were growing up.  When we moved to waterfront property about ten years ago, it was like we were cottage living on a daily basis.  That house and the next one we bought also on waterfront property originally were cottages that had been converted for year round living so essentially we were cottage living.  Still we tossed around the idea of buying a cottage in Ontario then in the spring of 2010, we bought our vacation home located in Florida and eighteen months later sold our waterfront property to buy our new urban setting house.  Living in an urban setting we have a greater appreciation for our vacation home.  We spend about three months of the year at our vacation home, divided into three trips.  Vacation homes and cottages present a few cooking challenges because many including ourselves want a break from the normal routine.  At the same time, vacation homes and cottages tend to be not as well equipped as your home kitchen so the emphasis is on delicious meals and snacks that are easy to prepare.

porterhouse steak
The grill is our favourite piece of cooking equipment at our vacation home, much like it is at home and was when we camped.  Aside of using a grill for quick and easy meals, we use our grill much the same way as an oven so we enjoy fresh baked food and bread during the hot summer months without heating up the kitchen.  Grilled steak is our number one go to meal while at our vacation home!  We quickly established a tradition of the first home cooked dinner is always grilled steak enjoyed on the lanai.  The nearby Publix grocery store has a lovely meat and seafood counter.  The meat is fresh and high quality so that is where we buy our fresh meat when at our vacation home.

Pictured is the 2.17 lb (984.29 g) porterhouse steak we bought for the first dinner of this year's spring trip.  Isn't it a beauty?  A porterhouse steak is similar to a T-bone steak except it has a tenderloin whereas a T-bone steak does not have a tenderloin.  This nicely marbled cut of beef promised to be tender and juicy when grilled.  The porterhouse steak cost $19.41 on sale, saving $6.51.  Now, that might sound expensive but in comparison to the cost of two steak dinners eaten out, it isn't.  This size steak is enough for a dinner for us plus left-overs for a stir fry and wraps.

porterhouse steak thickness
We like keeping the side dishes for grilled steaks simple, easy, and delicious like the grilled asparagus and new potatoes recipe from Life Made Delicious.  We decided to have both asparagus and potatoes with the steak but cooked them a bit differently.  Foil wrapped potatoes is a grilled side dish that we often serve.  It is an easy way to prepare whole potatoes for the grill lending the perfect easy side for grilled steaks, chops or chicken. 

Method:  Cut enough squares of aluminum foil for the number of potatoes you want to grill.  Place each potato on a square of aluminum foil.  Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the potato.  Sprinkle with Montreal steak seasoning or garlic pepper.  Wrap the foil tightly around the potato.  Place on the hot grill on indirect medium high heat.  The potatoes will take about an hour depending on size.  They are ready when finger soft to a pinch.

My husband put the steak on about 15 minutes before the potatoes were ready.  He grilled the steak on one side turning a quarter to form hash marks then  flipped the steak to finish grilling repeating the hash marks.  He moved the potatoes to the side, off  the top rack to the lower grate where they would stay hot.  Foil wrapped potatoes will keep quite warm even when removed from the grill for a half hour or more but it is safer to keep them at temperature on the grill until ready to be served.  He put the asparagus spears on the grill just after turning the steak.  While extra virgin olive oil can be used on asparagus spears being grilled in this fashion, we didn't use any.  As long as the asparagus is grilled lightly just to cook through, it will remain tender without drying out if the oil is omitted.  The asparagus was turned once while grilling.  Asparagus grilled to al dente this way with  nice grill marks and just a hint of smokiness then drizzled with a little butter  is delightfully delicious.  

porterhouse steak resting before serving
My husband grilled the porterhouse steak to medium rare with a warm red centre, pink throughout and nice hash marks.  He didn't use any seasoning salt, marinade or barbeque sauce.  This is how we typically grill steaks, letting the flavour of the beef shine rather than being masked by other flavours.  He removed the porterhouse steak from the grill and let rest 8 minutes just shy of the 1 min per 100 g some chefs recommend.   Whole pieces of meat like steaks, chops and roasts should be rested after cooking.  During the grilling (cooking) process, juices are driven towards the centre of the meat.  Resting the meat before serving allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat ensuring it will be moist, tender and juicy when cut. 

porterhouse steak dinner
The first dinner at our vacation home always reminds me of those camping days of our past.  By the time we get out of the airport, drive to our vacation home stopping for groceries along the way, it is usually after 3 PM.  We are tired from the trip, need to do a bit of unpacking and ready to relax while anticipating a few weeks spent filled with great food, pleasant weather, reuniting with friends and  rejuvenation. 

My husband and I shared the delicious steak dinner sitting on the lanai, listening to the sounds of wildlife change from day to evening. The steak was melt in your mouth, butter knife tender with an amazing flavour!  The potatoes were tender, nicely flavoured from the seasoning.  The asparagus spears were done to perfection!   The evening was warm and slightly balmy, a nice change from the cooler northern weather we had come from earlier in the day.  As we enjoyed the first dinner of our spring vacation, we chatted about how we would spend our time.  After dinner, we went for a ride around the park in our golf cart letting the warm air brush over our bare arms.  And so the first trip to our vacation home of 2013 began...

[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.]

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Tomatoes

kitchen quick tips Always store fresh tomatoes at room temperature away from direct sunlight to maintain peak flavour and texture.  Storing in the refrigerator will reduce the flavour while causing the flesh to turn mealy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Leonardo's Italian Grille in Romulus, Michigan

One of our great pleasures when traveling is discovering new restaurants that offer homestyle cooking in a cozy atmosphere.  While we find some of these gems through word of mouth, quite often we discover a good eatery by shear luck.  Sometimes it is the name of the restaurant, other times the  look of the exterior and others still a combination of both.  So it was during a recent road trip when we discovered a small, cozy Italian restaurant.

Leondardo's Italian Grille
Leonardo's Italian Grille is located at 7575 Merriman Rd in Romulus, Michigan about a mile away from Detroit MetroAirport.  The restaurant is owned by brothers Vito and Joe Liparoto who emigrated from Sicily to America in 1969 with their family.  Years later the brothers opened their first pizzeria, now operating as Leonardo's Italian Grille.  They have captured the essence of authentic Sicilian cuisine with the inspiration of Chef David Neal. They offer a variety of Italian specialties as well as dishes from the grill.

The exterior of Leonardo's is modern architecture  with Italian overtones of red and green.  There is a large outdoor dining patio to the left of the entrance.  The interior is cozy and welcoming with shades of taupes and greens, lots of wood, and an Italian themed mural.  There is an impressive bar with comfortable sitting in the lounge area as well as tables and booths.  The atmosphere is cozy, casual with friendly waitstaff.

fresh soft bread sticks
The waitress brought us a basket of fresh bake twisted Italian bread stick with butter to accompany our meal.  These soft chewy bread sticks were delightfully delicious!   The texture was quite similar to a crusty roll yet a slightly different.  A little twist opened the warm bread stick forming a small pocket perfect for the butter.  This is one recipe I will be looking for to make at home!

Entrées were served with soup or salad.  We both ordered salads with our entreé.  The side salad was a simple salad greens with shredded red cabbage, shredded carrots, red onion slices, cherry tomatoes, croutons and Italian dressing. 

veal marsala
Leonardo's serves Provimi veal, a superior milk-fed pale coloured, fork-tender veal, the finest available.  My husband ordered the veal parmesan ($19.95).  The generous portion of tender veal was coated with Italian breadcrumbs, sautéed in olive oil then topped with marinara sauce and baked with mozzarella cheese.  It was served with spaghetti in marinara sauce.  The dish was garnished with finely chopped red onion and carrot, something a bit different from the over . used sprinkling of dried parsley. 

My husband really enjoyed the veal parmesan.  It was tender with a nice richly flavoured mainara sauce and gooey melted mozzarella cheese.  This entreé was a sure winner!

Sicilian pasta
I ordered the Sicilian pasta ($15.45) with a side salad.  This entrée consisted of sautéed tender peas tossed with homemade meat sauce and fresh ricotta served over bowtie pasta.  The fine textured meat sauce had a bit of a zip bordering on heat to it so I think the meat was hot Italian sausage rather than ground beef.  The Sicilian pasta was a delicious entreé!

Leonardo's is ranked #2 of 33 restaurants in Romulus on Trip Advisor and for good reason.   The waitstaff are friendly and provide fast service.  The unpretentious food is simply good, homestyle basic Italian nicely presented in a cozy, inviting family-style atmosphere.  The portion size for the entreés is substantial. It is child-friendly for those traveling with little ones but can also accommodate larger groups.  If you are in the vicinity of the Detroit Metro Airport, this is a great restaurant for lunch or dinner.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Eating Healthy By Not Dieting

Frugal Kitchens 101
It seems like everyone is on some type of diet these days.  Many of these diets are fad diets meaning they are in vogue for only a short time.  Most fad diets greatly restrict or eliminate a particular food group entirely (eg. Palo diet, low carb diet).  There are several problems with these types of diets.  Any diet of this type is destined for failure especially those that don't allow certain foods because folks tend to go back to eating what they are used to.  One of the biggest problems is, if followed for any length of time there is a risk of becoming deficient in one or more essential nutrients that in turn can cause health problems.  In some cases, the damage done may not be reversible.  The biggest problem with a lot of these diets is the focus is on the food rather than a lifestyle change.  As a result the diet really is only effective for a very short time before the person dieting gets bored or doesn't get the results they want so they move onto another fad diet or give up on dieting.  Finally, a lot of fat diets are expensive.  Many encourage you to buy special foods as a substitute for your regular snacks (eg. Atkins products) or meals (eg. Weight Watchers entrées).  Essentially what they are doing is diverting you away from regular processed foods to their higher priced processed foods.  The bottom line is a diet based on processed foods is not only expensive, it is not good for you.

A few days ago, one of my friends on Facebook shared a graphic that said "No I'm not dieting, I'm eating healthy.".  Obviously this was a result of someone commenting on her food choice and having been on that side of the coin on many occasions, I can so relate.  Why anyone feels the need to comment on my food choice is beyond me.  Seriously, I get so many comments when eating out over always ordering a salad of some kind yet the folks making the comments don't realize that my choice for including a salad with my meal has nothing to do with dieting.  I'm not and never have been a dieter nor am I a calorie counter but I am aware of the nutritional value of the foods I enjoy.  I eat what I want and that tends to be healthier foods.  Eating healthy does not have to break the budget and in most cases it is less expensive than not eating healthy or following a fad diet.  Here are some of our healthy food choices that are inexpensive while helping maintain a healthy weight:

  • beverages - By far many beverages (eg. sodas) are filled with empty calories, HFCS, and additives (eg. artificial colours, flavours, preservatives) and they are expensive.  What many don't realize is that any beverage sold in a can has a low level of mold that can cause allergic reactions and asthma flares.  An average 355 ml (12 oz) can of soda has 120 calories and costs 75¢ or more.  My drink of choice is filtered water (0 calories, 0 cost) in reusable water bottles, not purchased bottled water.  I often add fresh squeezed lemon juice which adds flavor while adding Vitamin C and helping the body detoxify.  The juice of half a lemon costs about 10¢.  If I want a fizzy drink it is either club soda or Perrier neither of which have the problems of soda although the cost is about the same. Infused water using fresh herbs and fruits is another way to get flavour and vitamins at a lower cost than soda.  Tea, coffee and herbal teas are all 0 calorie unless a sweetener or cream is added.  I substitute milkshakes that are high in calories, sugars, fat and in my case lactose that my body doesn't like with homemade fruit smoothies.  There are a number of energy drinks on the market.  I use the juicer to make homemade energy drinks using fresh fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the cost of store bought.  We seldom drink milk as it is not a healthy choice for either of us, which is a considerable savings.
  • snacks - Mass produced snacks can really add up in terms of calories, sugar, salt and fat even those snacks marketed as diet snacks.  The biggest problem with snacks is they are often consumed even though you aren't really hungry.  I'm not much of a snack person.  My healthy snack choices include: nuts, carrots, cucumber, broccoli, cheese, fruit and organic dark chocolate.  My husband likes saltier snacks so instead of store bought potato chips, I make kale chips, popcorn, and baked potato chips.  He also enjoys sunflower seeds and nuts. 
  • produce - We choose locally grown, in season, usually organic produce wherever possible and directly from the grower.  We also grow whatever we can seasonally and year round.  This is less expensive than store bought, fresher and healthier because they are pesticide-free.  Herbs take no more time or effort to grow on a windowsill than a non-edible houseplant.  Sprouts, if you can find them in the store will cost about $2 for a small container.  I sprout beans and seeds at home.  The amount that will fill a 500 ml container when ready to use cost about 2¢ a considerable savings over store bought. 
  • miscellaneous - We choose to cook mainly from scratch and do extensive home food preservation to avoid food additives, excess salts, excess sugar, HFCS and preservatives, all of which can cause health problems.  This lifestyle choice saves us a considerable amount of money.  We use unbleached flour, whole grain flours, ancient grain flours (eg. spelt, kamut), sea salt (additive free), organic sugar, local honey, and etc., all of which are the same price or slightly higher as well as being healthier than their regular counterparts.  Homemade versions of mass produced snacks, convenience foods, boxed foods, and baked goods are healthier and less expensive.  Our meats for the most part are organic, free range, grass fed and hormone free yet are less expensive per kilogram than farm factory raised meats.   We use portion control for meats, especially red meat which reduces the cost plus less is healthier.  We eat at least one meat free dinner a week which is also healthier and saves money. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Cutting Delicate Herbs

kitchen quick tipsQuickly prepare delicate fresh herbs (eg. parsley, chives) by snipping across the herb with scissors rather than a knife. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

4ever Recap Reusable Canning Lids Review

[This is not a paid review and I have no affiliation with 4Ward Industries.  The opinions expressed here about these canning lids are my honest opinions based on my experience with these lids and gaskets. ]

I announced that I was experimenting with 4ever Recap reusable canning lids (manufactured by 4Ward Industries) the second week of April (2013).  These lids are very similar in design to the Tattler reusable lids that I reviewed in September of 2010.  The key advantage to these lids is the ring/gasket is silicone rather than rubber meaning with proper care, the rings should not stretch or wear out.  This is an advantage over having to eventually buy replace rings as would be necessary for other reusable lids (eg. Tattler, glass inserts).  I have now had over a month to test out these lids on various home canned products.  I tested 2 dozen of these lids (standard mouth, wide mouth) under various conditions looking at several variables that were important to me.  Here is my full review of these lids.


  • product - 4ever Recap lids are a BPA-free heavy plastic reusable canning lid made in the USA.  The lid requires a separate silicone ring that is included with the lids. Replacement silicone rings are not available at this time.
  • why? - Currently the only approved lids for canning are the two piece metal, single-use snap lids.  The three problems with these metal lids are:  1) single-use which adds to landfills; 2) availability which isn't guaranteed; and 3) BPA content in the plastic coating on the metal lids.  Until now, two types of reusable canning lids existed:  glass inserts (vintage, no longer in production) and Tattler (plastic disc, rubber ring).  The 4ever Recap lids The cost of lids was an influencing factor as was the fact the ring is silicone rather than rubber.
  • test conditions - I tested the 4ever Recap reusable lids under normal home canning conditions using different sizes of jars, boiling water bath (BWB) and pressure canner (PC) processing.  I also tested the lids for ease of use, seal failures, staining, reusing, vacuum sealing, cost, storage and miscellaneous problems.
  • cost - The metal, single-use snap lids cost me 13¢ per lid at their current lowest price.  The Tattler's currently cost me an 85¢ per lid investment meaning I need to reuse each lid 7 times before realizing a payback but after that they will cost nothing.  The 4ever Recap lids cot me 72¢ per lid investing with a payback of 6 reuses.
  • ease of use -  The 4ever Recap reusable canning lids have a slightly different preparation method.  Once the lid is placed on the jar it and the ring tightened it is extremely important to turn back the ring by ¼- inch for proper venting during the canning process.  I really did not have a problem adjusting to  the method for using the 4ever Recap lids as it is the same method used for the Tattler lids and glass inserts.
  • processing method - The 4ever Recap lids performed equally well in BWB and PC conditions.
  • jar sizes - The 4ever Recap lids performed well on all jar sizes I tested on:  250 ml, 500 ml and 1 L standard mouth, and 250 ml and 500 ml wide mouth jars
  • seal failures - I experienced 3 seal failures during the testing period using the 4ever Recap lids on beef stock.  Troubleshooting revealed one defective threading on
  • reusing -  I tested reusing the lids canning water both in BWB and PC.  I then reused the lids to can other foods and I reused any lids that failed to seal.  Lids that were reused performed as well as new lids.
  • staining - I did not test specifically for staining because I was not canning any foods (eg. tomato based products) that stain plastic. I suspect there will be slight discolouration from tomato based products similar to the Tattler lids.  This staining also occurs on the plastic coating on metal snap lids used on tomato based products.  The staining does not affect the seal or food quality.
  • storage - Anyone doing larger scale home canning can relate to the storage issues for both filled jars as well as new lids and rings.  I remove the rings, wash and dry rings and jars then store any jars with reusable lids without the ring.  Storing large numbers of reusable lids could be a problem especially with larger scale canning however, I have not had a problem.  I use a plastic tote for the plastic Tattler discs and rings as well as my glass inserts and rings so set up the same system for the 4ever Recap lids.  When used properly, there shouldn't be a huge number of the reusable lids not in use but rather they are constantly being reused as soon as there are enough to run a canner load.  At most I have about 2 dozen each of Tattler and glass inserts not in use at any given time.  As I only have 2 doz of the 4ever Recap lids, I only have 6 of them currently not in use.
  • vacuum sealing - The 4ever Recap lids outperform the metal snap lids for vacuum sealing! 
Miscellaneous Problems:
  • breakage - One of the wide mouth lids was broken when my package arrived.  The break was about 1 inch wide, semi-circular, widest at the outer rim and moving into the lid.  It was not broke completely through, more of a deep crack where the broken piece being able to flex down.  I did notify the manufacture of this problem.  They did request the return of the lid so they could see what the problem.  According to their instructions defective parts are replaced with no questions asked BUT the consumer pays shipping and handling.  This becomes a buyer beware as it would end up costing me more than double the price of that lid to get it replaced.  That part does bother me a bit!
  • packaging - The multi-pack of standard and wide mouth lids I ordered came simply in a box with the standard lids stacked on top of the wide mouth lids but with nothing to prevent any movement during shipping that could cause the lids to break especially if jarred during cold winter months. Seriously, how difficult could it be to stuff a bit of paper into the box to prevent the lids from moving during shipping?
  • seal problems - I experienced a total of five seal failures using the standard size lids.  Three seal failures occurred on the first on beef stock processed in the pressure canner.  Those lids were reused to reprocess those three jars of beef stock.  Two of those lids failed again.  They did however, seal on the third time being processed.  I determined the cause of one seal failure to be faulty threads on the jar so the ring did not hold the lid as tight as it should have during the cooling period.  The actual cause for the other four seal failures remains undetermined.

My inital investment on the 4ever Recap lids was $17.50 for 2 dozen lids.  I tested them processing in a boiling water bath canner (water, jelly) and in a pressure canner (water, stock, dried beans).  Testing was reduced in comparison to the Tattler reusable lids for two reasons.  First, it is not the busy canning season so I'm canning less to begin with.  Second, the method of sealing with the 4ever Recaps is the same as the Tattlers and glass inserts so I am not learning a new method.  Canning water is the standard method I use for testing using either BWB or PC processing so as to not waste food prior to being sure the lids work as they are supposed to.  Both stock and dried beans can be problematic due to natural fats in the oil and expansion in the beans.  From experience, these are the two products where seal failures occur most often.

At the cost, the 4ever Recap lids need to be used 6 times before they pay for themselves in comparison to the cost of metal snap lids at current price of  13¢ per lid.  It is quite reasonable to expect considerably more than six uses of these lids as the lids themselves should not wear out and with proper care, neither should the silicone ring.I am impressed with the performance of the 4ever Recap lids!  Like my other reusable lids, the 4ever Recap lids perform as well as the metal lids.  In my opinion once you get over the learning curve for using these lids they are far superior to the metal lids.  I also like the appearance of the 4ever Recap lids. 

As someone who cans well over 1,000 jars (closer to 1,400 jars the past few years) of food annually, I am elated to find another reliable source of reusable canning lids that reduce what is going to the recyclers or landfill while saving me money.  In my opinion, the 4ever Recap lids are equally as eco-friendly as Tattler reusable lids and glass inserts.   In general I found these lids seal better than the metal lids as they eliminate false seals.  The lids are either sealed or they are not.

Ok, now for the bad and for me that is very much customer service.  I contacted the manufacturer over the broken lid.  [Edited: It was brought to my attention after I wrote this post that the manufacturer did email an apology in response to my first email.  They offered a replacement at my expense.]  In addition, I specifically asked two questions regarding the lids that were not answered.  Rather the manufacturer ignored the questions focusing only on glossing over the lids.  To me, that is a problem and it definitely is a reflection that this manufacturer's business model is not based on repeat buyers since both lids and rings are designed to last indefinitely.  I am a high volume home canner who does not have the time to deal with the expense, delay and aggravation of defective canning lids.  As a result of the breakage and poor customer service, this product does get a lower rating from me.  Again, with this product it is very much buyer beware!

Overall Rating of 4ever Recap Reusable Canning Lids (x/10):
  • performance - 8/10
  • ease of use - 8/10
  • durability - 7/10
  • shipping price - 10/10
  • price - 10/10
  • customer service - 3/10

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sealing Problems Canning Beef Stock

It's that time of year to get a bit of canning done before the busy canning months start.  This is a great time of the year to clean out the bones from the freezer that have been saved to make stock to free up a bit of freezer space in preparation for the arrival of our beef on the hoof purchase.  I like running a full load (16 - 500 ml jars) in the pressure canner.  A couple of weekends ago I decided to take a bit of time to can beef and turkey stocks.  I ended up using two large beef soup bones for the beef stock and 2 turkey carcasses for the turkey stock.

beef stock using tattler metal and 4ever recap lids showing 4 seal failures
I have been testing the 4ever Recap reusable canning lids.  The lids performed nicely as expected until I ran the first load of beef stock.  Pictured is the first load of beef stock.  The five jars on the left had Tattler reusable lids with one seal failure.  The six jars in the middle had metal snap lids with no seal failures.  The five jars on the right had the 4ever Recap reusable lids with three seal failures.  In terms of seal failures, a total of 4 of 16 or 25% seal failure is certainly not acceptable!

At this point, many home canners would blame the reusable lids and go back to using the metal snap lids.  That certainly happened when the manufacturers changed the metal lid colour from gold to silver, resulting in many complaints that the silver lids had a higher seal failure.  In reality they did not as the only difference was the colour.  Seal failures again increased when the manufacturers changed the plastisol sealant on the metal jars.  The old sealant required the lids to be scalded but the new sealant only needs to be warmed.  Over heating the new sealant results in seal failure so the real reason for these seal failures was user error.

I can't say I was happy about the seal failures but had to deal with them which meant doing a bit of trouble shooting.  I put the stock into the refrigerator then washed the lids and rings well and set about making the turkey stock.  The plan was to re-process the beef stock along with processing the turkey stock.  Re-processing is as much work as the original processing.  While stock can handle re-processing, some home canned foods cannot.  If this type of food does not seal, the only choice is to refrigerate and use within a couple of days. 

beef and turkey stock showing two more 4ever recap seal failures
All went well with filling and processing the jars.  I ran the seal failures first even though I don't like running only a few jars in the canner.  That 1 - 500 ml jar beef stock with Tattler lid and 3 - 500 ml jars.  I ran the turkey stock in a separate load.

The following morning I removed the bands.  Pictured are all of the jars beef and turkey stock (sealed and unsealed).  The jar with the Tattler lid and one with a 4ever Recap lid that did not seal from the first processing sealed with the second processing.  The two unsealed jars of beef stock from the first load to the right had 4ever Recap lids.  They failed to seal with the second processing.  All of the turkey stock sealed.  By now I was getting a bit frustrated, having run the canner three times and still getting seal failures!  In my mind though, there had to be another problem besides just the 4ever lids because of the three that had not sealed in the first load, one had sealed in the second load.  The third load had no re-usable lids and no seal failures.

using alcohol to clean rims of mason jars
I was determined to find out what was causing the seal failures.  Meat products can be difficult to home can because there is a bit of natural oil in the product.  If that oil gets onto the rim of the jar where the ring/gasket or plastisol sealant sits, it can cause a seal failure.  If you watched the video of jars of beef stock fresh from the pressure canner, it is easy to see how boiling stock could actually be forced between the lid and rim of the jar.  In this case, proper headspace had been left so I did not feel that leaking stock was the problem.  There was no indication of any leakage in the pressure canner, reinforcing this conclusion.

Even though I used a funnel to fill the jars, I decided to use isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) to wipe the rims of the jar to ensure there was no oil on them. I normally do not do this as my jars go through the dishwasher just before using them so there should be no oil unless spilled on during filling which is unlikely but still possible when using a funnel.  Many home canners routinely wipe the rims of their jars with vodka or white vinegar but I use a paper towel dampened with water.

thread problem on golden harvest mason jar
As I was filling the three jars (2 beef stock re-cans, 1 turkey left-over from run 3), I noticed a problem with the metal band seating on the threading of one of the jars.  At one time, occasionally there would be a problem with a band seating.  This seemed to be isolated to using newer bands on older Imperial mason jars but I haven't ran into that problem in years.  The jar in question was a Golden Harvest, manufactured by Jarden Home Brands in the US.  This is now the same manufacturer of Ball, Kerr and Bernardin mason jars.  This particular 500 ml jar came from a box of jars filled with food that I had to clean out.  The box was purchased in 2010 from Home Hardware so the jars are not old although that doesn't mean the jar itself could be older.  At any rate, it is not an old jar.

Both Tattler and 4ever Recap reusable lids require tightening the band then turning back a quarter an inch for processing.  As I tightened the band, it popped off.  I tried again with the same results.  I quickly poured the hot stock into another prepared jar, positioned the lid and tightened the band then turned it back.  Once the jars were safely in the processing, I turned my attention to the jar.  After trying four different bands, I realized the problem was not with the bands at all but rather the threads on this jar were defective.  They were just off slightly yet the first time through the canner, a band had held just enough but did not tighten enough for the 4ever Recap lid to form a seal.

There is a misconception that new mason jars are flawless.  This simply is not the case.  I have seen brand new canning jars with air bubbles in the glass, small chips in the rim, a droop in the rim and slightly misshaped openings.  It happens.  A defective thread is a difficult one to catch and in fact if a band catches just enough, you might not catch it especially if using a boiling water bath canner.

finally all jars sealed
The two jars of beef stock, one with fresh jar and 4ever Recap, the other with same jar and 4ever Recap sealed.  The turkey stock jar with a 4ever Recap lid sealed as well.  I marked the jar with the defective rim.  Unfortunately this jar will not be suitable for canning or dry storage requiring a screw band closure.  It can however, be used for vacuum sealing.

Finally, after running the canner four times all my jars of stock were sealed.  Two of those loads experienced seal failures.  In total, there were 4 seal failures, 1 was Tattler, the other 3 were 4ever Recap lids. At the end of the fourth run, all lids had sealed.  The only problem I found that accounted for one seal failure was the defective threads on one jar.  I still have no idea why the other 3 lids failed to seal originally.  There was nothing apparent that would contribute to the seal failure.  I do not feel that any of the seal failures were due to the lids considering two brands of reusable lides were affected.  It is possible that I did not turn the band back enough when putting the reusable lids on or I may not have tightened the band enough when just out of the canner even though I took great care during both steps. 

In comparison to the Tattler reusable lids, the 4ever Recap reusable lids perform just as well.  I do like the look of the 4ever Recap reusable lids that have a bit of a raised ridge on top giving them a rather unique look.  One thing I did notice because I reused both lids and rings in this canning session was the absence of sealing marks on the silicone rings.  I'm looking forward to doing a lot of canning reusing the 4ever Recap lids and rings.  It is encouraging that the silicone rings should not wear out under normal use! [retracted November 10, 2013 as all jars using the 4ever Recap reusable lids lost their seals during storage1

Monday, May 13, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Being a Locavore

Frugal Kitchens 101
In the world of food, it has become fashionable to eat locally.  Part of this is due to an interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness.  What this really means is supporting the smaller, local growers and food producers helps to develop sustainability in the local economy while reducing your carbon footprint by eating foods that did not have to travel hundred of miles to get to your table.  The term locavore describes those who prefer to eat locally grown and produced foods.  The word was coined in 2005 by Jessica Prentice for the World Environment Day and became the word of the year for 2007 in the Oxford American Dictionary.

My husband and I have been locavores since our newlywed days, well before the word even came to be.  We live in beautiful southern Ontario, Canada  the breadbasket of Canada.  This makes it very easy for us to be locavores.  We are surrounded by rich, fertile farmland that provides an abundance of local foods year round.  We can easily buy an amazing variety of produce, honey, herbs, cheeses, milk, butter, salt, sugar, whiskey, beer, wines, grains, flours, beef, pork, poultry and so much more all grown and produced within a 100 mile radius of our home.  In fact, a good portion of the foods we consume that aren't home grown and produced within a 10 mile radius of our home as is our beef, pork, and poultry.  For the past 8 years before moving to this house, fresh fish was as close as our back yard.  Now we are about 3 miles away from catching some of the best local fish there is - perch, pickerel, bass - and always as close as our boat.  This abundance of locally grown and produced foods actually helps to keep the prices down in the grocery stores.  We do enjoy coffee, teas, spices and tropical fruits so we are not entirely locavores but about as close as you can get.  Even when traveling and at our vacation home, we tend to eat locally grown and produced foods.  Not only does this practice support and strengthen the local economy, it saves us money while allowing us to eat better quality, fresher foods.

In some areas of North America, it is not as easy to even come near as close to being a locavore as we are.  Certain foods simply are not grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of your home.  Something that often is not taken into account is the actual acquisition of foods grown within a 100 mile radius of your home.  This usually involves using some type of transportation.  There are a few work-around solutions for those foods grown and produced within that range but for those foods that aren't, you either have to substitute with locally grown or rely on imported.  There are also work-around solutions for those who rely on public transit or who do not have their own source of transit.  Here's a few work-arounds:

  • find local growers - The first step for eating locally is to find local growers and producers.  These include: flour mills, cheese factories, orchards, farm markets, seasonal farmers' markets, roadside stands, abattoirs, butcher shops, fish mongers, beekeepers and etceteria.  An online search will find some but not all of the growers and producers within a 100 miles of your home.  Other resources for finding local growers include: family and friends, local library, local radio stations, local newspapers, and the yellow pages.
  • join a co-op - Food co-operatives usually involve growers within a certain region.  Members can get a better price on locally produced foods through the co-ops because of the greater buying power.  So while you may pay a fee to be a member of the co-op you still realize a savings while having greater access to fresh, locally grown foods.  Part of the fees goes towards the cost of getting the food to the distribution centre, usually a small building on one of the member's land or in some cases a small commercial building.   Each co-op has their own set-up of operation.  Some you pay a certain amount to receive a food basket per month while others are almost grocery store style and everything in between.  This makes it easy because you only have one location to stop at rather than several farms or other food producers.
  • transit - I grew up in a very small town (pop. 2,000).  My Mom did not drive so our transportation was walking or a bicycle, twice a year going to the city by bus, and occasionally getting a ride with a family member or neighbour.  Yet, our house was filled with an abundance of food grown and produced well within that 100 mile radius of home.  In many rural areas of North America, it is very common to make a monthly or bi-monthly stock-up trip.  During the time local produce is in season, I often take a day for food shopping.  Armed with a list of various local growers to stop at I end up making a huge circle picking up various locally grown foods for ourselves and often for others.  If you don't have transportation then put the word out to family and friends who will be willing to pick up a something like a hamper of tomatoes when they go to pick up theirs.  If you are within walking distance to any food source, a mile or two radius is fairly comfortable.  Increase what you can carry by using a foldable shopping cart or kiddie wagon.  In some areas, it may be possible to take a taxis so to save costs, walk there then take a taxis home with your purchases.  Those relying on public transit are limited by the transit schedule, the range of the public transit, and the amount they can feasibly carry.  In general, unless one has mobility problems, walking within a one mile radius of a public transit stop.  Increase what you can carry by using a foldable shopping cart (hold about 50 lb) and backpack.  A bicycle will increase the range of where you can easily go to get locally grown foods.  It can be equipped with baskets or a small cart to carry home purchases. 
  • delivery services - My Mom relied heavily on home delivery, not that much was available but it was sufficient for our needs.  We had an egg lady that dropped off eggs and chickens, a milkman and various farmers who would drop off a hamper or two of produce when they went through town.  Up until a couple of years ago, I still had farm fresh organic eggs delivered to my door as well as locally produced gourmet foods.  Milk delivery is still available in some areas.  Some farmer's markets offer deliver service as well.  In some areas, an independent local delivery service may be available to pick up parcels for you.
  • home delivery - Home delivery of foods is via ground courier (eg. UPS, FedEx) or postal service.  Years ago, my Mom ordered certain foods through catalogue mail order.  Now, many food producers sell online including some within a 100 mile radius of our home.  I can order cheeses, salts, sugar, flours and many more food items produced within that range and have them shipped.  Most of these food producers offer free shipping if buy over a certain amount as well so it costs me nothing extra, not even the gas if I were to drive there.  This is an excellent way to buy local.
  • grow your own - It goes without saying that any food you can grow yourself will save you money and it is about as local as you can get.  No transportation is needed.  In some municipalities you can have backyard chickens in combination with a home garden.  There usually is no restriction on raising rabbits for food either.  Growing your own sprouts is another excellent option that takes very little space, practically no time or effort, costs almost nothing and yet is a good source of fresh organic food.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Beer Grilled Chicken Legs

Yesterday, I wrote about cooking with non-alcoholic beer.  Basically, you can have all the flavour and the health benefits of beer without the alcohol content or the higher price of beer.  Be warned that non-alcoholic beer still has caloric content ranging from 35 to 100 calories per 355 ml serving and some brands have added sodium so be sure to read the nutritional label.  If you are replacing regular beer with non-alcoholic beer then you will reduce the calories in the dish as non-alcoholic beers are lower in caloric content than regular beers.  If however, you are replacing water with non-alcoholic beer you will be increasing the calories in the dish.  Calories aside, those non-alcoholic beers containing sodium could be problematic for those on a low-sodium diet so choose a non-alcoholic beer without sodium added.

When it comes to grilling, one way to add flavour without adding calories involves smoke.  The smoke is generally created using wood chips but liquids can be used to extinguish any flames which can impart a flavour to the resulting smoke.  The smell of beer on the grill is amazing imparting a wonderful flavour to the grilled meat.  It has a deep nutty, almost sweet aroma.  That flavour permeates into whatever is being cooked on the grill.  What I was looking for when testing out the non-alcoholic beers was flavour combined with results consistent with using regular beer without the alcohol, getting that same aroma and flavour when grilling with a non-alcoholic beer.

grilled chicken seasoned with non alcoholic beer
Chicken has been a long time favourite for grilling.  Years ago as young newlyweds fiddling with our first charcoal grill, we learned how to control flare-ups when grilling chicken by spritzing beer over the chicken and flames.  Chicken grilled this way remains tender and juicy.   Used in this manner, I highly doubt there would have been any residual alcohol in the food.  The beer adds a wonderful flavour without adding extra calories. 

I grilled four chicken legs on the propane side of our outdoor grill on medium high heat.  Once small flames appeared, I spooned non-alcoholic beer over the legs and continued grilling until flames appeared again and repeated the beer application.  A baster can be used to apply the beer if desired.  I continued in this fashion, turning the legs and applying beer until they were golden brown with nice grill marks and the juices were clear.  Despite being very simple the additional subtle flavour was impressive.  I used about a half can of President's Choice Blonde non-alcoholic beer (355 ml can: <0.5% ABV, 80 cal, 17 g carbohydrates, 55 mg potassium, 3 g protein) to baste the chicken legs as they grilled.  This is a nice, smooth flavoured non-alcoholic beer perfect for pairing with poultry.  PC Blond is brewed for Loblaws by Brick Brewing Co. in Waterloo, Ontario and distributed throughout the Loblaws Companies chain stores (eg. RCSS, No Frills, Zehrs, etc.).  If you cannot find PC Blonde, Our Compliments (Sobey's brand) or O'doul's would be fairly similar in flavour.  Even a stronger flavoured non-alcoholic beer would work for this method.

The chicken was delicious!  It was golden brown with slightly crispy skin, moist and tender flesh nicely flavoured from the beer.  Basting chicken with beer is an excellent way to get extra flavour without the calories.  It is an easy method to see if you like the flavour the beer imparts because it is a bit more subtle than infused beer (eg. beer can chicken) or beer used in part or whole as a marinade for grilling. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Cooking With Non-Alcoholic Beer

Throughout history, alcoholic beverages have played a large role in sustenance.  While widely consumed in beverage form, ethyl alcohol (grain alcohol) has several other uses.  Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) can be used to kill biological organisms (eg. bacteria, virii), something I learned during my lab days and continue to use in our home still.  It is used in the perfume and pharmacological industries.  I use a clear grain alcohol called Everclear (no flavour) to make homemade coffee liqueur and transparent soaps.  Many cough remedies, mouthwash and vanilla extract contain ethanol.  Any fermented foods (eg. yeast breads, sauerkraut, fermented pickles, wines) contain alcohol, a product of the fermentation process.  In fact, jams and jellies, orange juice and some sodas (eg. Mountain Dew) all contain very low levels of alcohol as a result of sugar conversion during storage.  Many processed foods contain added sugar alcohols (eg. sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol) as sweeteners but these are not true alcohols as found in the foods mentioned, although they are still cause for concern especially for those with diabetes.

Alcohol is commonly used in cooking to add flavour but can also be used as a food preservative.   Alcohol does add to the cost of the dish but normally there isn't enough added to greatly inflate the price of the dish.  the biggest concern is residual alcohol in the dish that remains after cooking and in the case of wine jellies the alcohol does not burn off at all.  For this reason, foods cooked with alcohol or using alcohol as an ingredient are not suitable for children, pregnant women or those choosing to abstain from alcohol.  While we do cook with alcohol, we do so on a fairly limited basis.  I have a couple of wine jellies that I make and I occasionally add some type of liquor to fruit preserves.  I use vodka or light rum to make vanilla extract.  A few years ago a friend introduced us to using a wine reduction sauce for grilled steaks.  On the very rare occasion I will add a dash of sherry to a dish.  Other than that, beer is the most common alcohol we use in cooking.  It is the secret to a great pizza dough and cheese sticks.  We use beer to make batter for English style fish & chips or coating vegetables.  I also like using beer when grilling brats and chicken.

Non-alcoholic beers are real beers (look, taste, fizz), brewed the same way as alcoholic beers but they undergo a final step to remove most of the alcohol leaving less than 0.5% ABV.  That means they retain all the flavour of the barley malt and hops that went into making the beer.  Most non-alcoholic beers are lagers but some are ales.  Using a non-alcoholic beer eliminates the worry of any residual alcohol in the food not burned out during the cooking process.  My concern after doing a bit of research was whether the non-alcoholic beers would give the same flavour because of some of the negative reviews regarding flavour.  as some beer drinkers in the forums indicated that the non-alcoholic beers were lacking in flavour, tasting watered down.  I reasoned that the lighter non-alcoholic beers would suitable for using in bread doughs, biscuits, fish or vegetable batters or for grilling while the darker, amber non-alcoholic beers with a deeper flavour would be a good choice for beef dishes and some beer breads.

I also found that non-alcoholic beers are not highly regarded with many commenting to the effect of 'why drink non-alcoholic beer because there is no point without the alcohol'.  Well, there are many reasons for choosing a non-alcoholic beer including religious and personal choice.  It has been shown that beer has several health benefits.  Those health benefits are still there in the non-alcoholic versions!  In all honesty the choice to use  non-alcoholic (de-alcoholized) beer is no different than choosing to use: decaffeinated coffee, sugar-free candy, no fat sour cream, soy based meat products, and margarine.

Non-alcoholic beers in Canada do have the nutritional value label on them just like any other food drink or beverage sold in the grocery stores.  Unlike beer that is sold in the government owned LCBO stores and The Beer Store, non-alcoholic beers and wines are available at the grocery store.  In fact, The Beer Store does not carry non-alcoholic beers.  I didn't check the LCBO but I doubt they carry them either.  To be labeled as non-alcoholic, the alcohol content must be 0.05% ABV or less.  So, a non-alcoholic beer can have up to 0.05% ABV which is the same amount of alcohol in a glass of fresh orange juice.

a few non alcoholic beers
There is a rather wide variety of non-alcoholic (de-alcoholized) beers but availability is very much dependent on location.  Pictured are five brands of non-alcoholic beer I found in our area.  There are at least two other brands that I am aware of.  Restaurants tend to stock only one brand of non-alcoholic beer if they stock any.  In our area of beautiful Ontario, some restaurants and pubs serve  O'Doul or Molson Excel.  Be sure to read the labels as non-alcoholic beers vary greatly. Some have sodium, some have protein, and some have iron.  They do vary in calorie content as well so if you are looking for a low calorie non-alcoholic beer, the best Our Compliments (35 calories per 355 ml) but it also has 10 mg of sodium so if on a sodium restricted diet, opt for one that has more calories but no sodium like President's Choice Blonde.  Some breweries add sugar to the de-alcoholized beer that gives it a sweeter flavour. 

Beck's (German brewed) non-alcoholic beer is 0.0% ABV and 60 calories per 355 ml bottle.  Our Compliments is brewed by Lakeport Brewing Company of London, Ontario is <0.05% ABV, 35 calories and 10 mg sodium per 255 ml can.  President's Choice Blonde (80 calories) and Rousse (100 calories) are <0.05% ABV, 0 mg sodium and brewed by Brick Brewing Co. in Waterloo, Ontario for the Loblaw's Company.  Molson Excel brewed by Molson-Coors Canada Ltd. is <0.05% ABV, 80 calories and 65 mg sodium. Of these non-alcoholic beers, the sodium content in Molson Excel could be a concern for some.  In terms of flavour, PC blonde and Our Compliments are quite smooth, nicely flavoured beers.  PC rousse is a darker amber colour, stronger flavoured beer.  Molson Excel has a nice enough flavour but is not as smooth and there is a distinct after taste.  Beck's has a mild flavour with a slight tang.  O'doul's does taste watered down in comparison to the other non-alcoholic beers I tested. 

Non-alcoholic beers are also available at our vacation home in sunny Florida as well as en route at the air port and some restaurants.  The grocery stores and Walmart in our area of Florida carry a variety of non-alcoholic beers such as Coors, Geneese, St. Pauli Girl, Busch, Beck's and O'doul's.  Unlike the Canadian non-alcoholic beers there is no nutritional value labels on the American versions however, limited information especially calories is available on their websites.  Of the ones I tested, Coors had the strongest flavour.

The same rule as cooking with alcohol applies for cooking with non-alcoholic (de-alcoholized) beer.  Do not cook with one you would not drink!  That means before cooking with a non-alcoholic beer, chill one to enjoy.  I have tasted all of these beers and was surprised that they are quite palatable, definitely worth keeping on hand for entertaining or enjoying those times where you don't want alcohol.   You might have to try a couple of brands before you find one you like but the good news is, the non-alcoholic beers are not expensive.  Some non-alcoholic beers like Our Compliments, President's Choice and Bush cost only 50¢ per 355 ml can.  Coors and St. Pauli Girl is about 90¢ per 355 ml bottle.  Beck's is the most expensive at $1.50 per 355 ml bottle.  So, for the most part, non-alcoholic beer costs less than soda.  The best thing is so far, I have found that the non-alcoholic beers perform exactly the same as beers that have the alcohol content.  I will be sharing the tasty results of cooking with non-alcoholic beers as I continue experimenting with them.

Friday, May 10, 2013

May Giveaway Contest - One Lucky Reader Will Win Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving

The busy home canning season is just around the corner so I decided to offer a little incentive to get you thinking about home canning.  This month's giveaway contest is for a copy of the current Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving.  This beautiful 148 page softcover book is filled with more than 300 recipes for home canning, freezing, drying and mason jar crafts.  It is a valuable resource for home canning!  For those who do not know, Bernardin is the leading Canadian authority on home canning, the equivalent to Ball in the US.  The home canning recipes all meet current USDA guidelines to ensure you are putting delicious yet safe food on your table. 

Bernardin Guide to Home Canning
The May Giveaway Contest for the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving is open to all residents of Canada and the United States (mainland only).   To qualify for a chance to win, you must comment on this post giving one reason why you would like to win this wonderful addition to your home cooking library.  Please include your email address so I can contact you if you win.  The deadline for entry is May 31, 2013.  The lucky winner will be notified by email on June 1 and will have 48 hours to respond with shipping address.  If there is no response after 48 hours, another winner will be chosen who will be given the same opportunity as the first.  Good luck to all who enter!

On the home preserving note, I have been quite busy doing a bit of last minute canning of dried beans and stocks before the busiest time of home canning begins for me.  As many of you know, I home can year round with the canners only taking a break when we are at our vacation home.  I did manage to do a bit of boiling water bath processing at our vacation home but will never get up to the level I do at home because of lack of storage.  We rent our vacation home out January through April and while we do have an owner's closet for storage, it is not practical to store much in the way of food.  I have to say too that when we fly to our vacation home in Florida, we can't bring home canned foods because they are over the 3 oz flight restriction.  My gosh, do we ever miss our home canned foods, not to mention the sticker shock of having to buy what I normally can!   We spend about two and a half months there divided into three trips so it is a big adjustment not having the home canned foods we are used to relying on.  This year we are driving down for the second trip, flying home between the second and third trip, then driving home from the third trip which means I will be able to take a good supply of home canned foods down to enjoy while there.  There's nothing like a taste of home while on vacation :)

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Cut Chives or Green Onions

kitchen quick tipsCut chives with scissors into small pieces or slice green onions into thin slices.  Place into a shaker bottle with lid.  Put in the freezer.  When you want to use them, simply sprinkle onto the dish and put the remainder back in the freezer until needed again.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Extreme Green Juice

The FoodMatters Green Juice Challenge runs from May 1 to 7, 2013.  I follow FoodMatters on Facebook so have been drooling over a few of their juice recipes.  I'm always on the look-out for new juice combinations to use my Bella High Power Juice Extractor.  I didn't take the challenge although I should have to detox my body.  A juice diet for a week is always a good thing.

One thing I have noticed is many turn their nose up at the idea of green juice.  It does have negative connotations.  One of the first comments I had after mentioning my new juicer was turning into one of 'them' and by 'them' the implication was a 'health nut'.  Juicing is a simple and healthy way that supports a healthy lifestyle but quite frankly you don't have to be a health nut to enjoy fresh homemade juices.  The benefit to having a juice extractor is you can easily make healthy fusion drinks.  I will say that I am so impressed with my juicer that I will be buying one for our vacation home.  It has quickly become a must have small kitchen appliance!

extreme green juice
While fresh homemade juices are healthier for you, some fruit and vegetable combinations act as detoxifiers or provide other health benefits besides tasting good.  One reason green juices get a bit of a bad rap is because they are made primarily of vegetables and herbs ergo they must taste like vegetables.  Now, certain vegetables (eg. cucumber, celery) make excellent juices by themselves.  Celery juice is a very good diuretic that will relieve temporary bloating without the side effects of a pharmaceutical diuretic.  Cucumber juice is a delightfully refreshing summer drink served over ice.  The surprising thing is, green juices do not have to taste like vegetables.  Extreme green juice is a delicious fusion juice consisting of fruit, vegetables and one herb.  We just won't tell anyone it's good for them!

Extreme green juice contains only four ingredients: celery, apple, broccoli and parsley.  It is a detoxifying juice that supports the liver, kidneys, immune system, nervous system and heart.  The diuretic effect of the celery helps flush toxins from your body, reduces urinary tract infections, and has anti-fungal properties to prevent fungal infections.  Celery also helps lower blood pressure and there is some indication that celery provides relief from migraines.  Parsley is an anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory agent that supports a healthy immune system and the heart while providing Vitamin K.   Broccoli helps maintain a healthy nervous system, regulates blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, boosts liver function and is rich in Vitamin C.  It supports healthy bones and helps repair sun damage while reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke.  Apples fight the effects of aging on the brain and are rich in anti-oxidants and Vitamin C.  Fiber in apples provide a wide range of health benefits and while juice removes fibre, the juice strengthens the immune system while detoxifying the liver.  All in all, this is a very healthy drink that tastes delicious!

Extreme Green Juice

4 stalks celery
2 apples
1 small head (about 10 florettes) broccoli
handful fresh parsley

Wash and cut celery, broccoli and apples to fit in juicer hopper.  Juice adding ingredients until

Monday, May 06, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Preparing for the Busy Home Canning Season

Frugal Kitchens 101
Frugal homemakers have relied on home canning for decades to preserve the bounty from their gardens as well as take advantage of local in season produce.  For many, it is a viable way to preserve their catch from hunting and fishing.  Home canning saw a decline in the 1950's and 1960's with the availability of commercially canned foods, the introduction of home freezers and women going into the work-force.  Canning has always been a way of life for certain religious groups and has tended to be a more popular activity in rural areas.  As a newlywed, I canned as a way to stretch our food budget.  Those skills served us well while raising by today's standards a larger family.  Back then I would read through Mother Earth News and borrow cookbooks from the library but other than that, there really wasn't a lot of home canning literature available.  In 1994, the USDA revised their home canning guidelines effectively telling folks the only lids they recommended were the new two piece metal snap lids even though thousands of housewives had used the glass lids and glass inserts for ages.  Two reasons caused this to happen with the first being the companies producing the metal lids paying to have them tested and because there is a visible indentation when the lid seals, they were viewed safer regardless of the fact metal lids can give false seals.  Home canning grew in popularity amongst the back-to-the-land group then saw a sudden increase during the y2K scare.  Now, home canning continues to increase in popularity because there is a growing disillusionment with the food industry.  Folks are taking matters into their own hands by snubbing their nose at the food industry, choosing instead to put up their own healthy, preservative and additive free foods.  Into that mix comes another segment of the population interested in home canning, the ones who want or have to save money on food costs.

Home canning is one of the most frugal activities you can do.  You can save a substantial amount of money.  Like many home canners, I can year round but the busy canning time when local produce is in season here is from mid-May through mid-October.  During that time as each kind of produce comes into season, I try to can the amount we will need to get to the next season for that produce.  For example, when local asparagus is in season, I will put up enough to last until it is in season again the following year.  This takes a bit of planning.  My first goal is to can enough so we don't run out of that food item and second is to not can so much of one food item that the stock cannot be used within an eighteen month to two year time frame.

What this really means is I have to have a plan.  With a plan in place there is less chance of problems during the busy canning season when there is a tendency to be running the canner multiple times in one day.  It is easier to keep the focus on processing local, in season produce leaving those foods like meats, poultry and dried beans that can be canned year round to the quieter canning months.  That doesn't mean those foods that can be canned outside the busy canning season won't be canned then if the opportunity presents itself, just that I know they can wait while I get those foods canned that won't wait.  Here's how I create a plan for the busy canning season:

  • the home garden - The home garden is where I like to grow certain fruit and vegetable varieties as well as fresh herbs that I cannot get in the grocery stores.  For example, if I have plans to make a particular tomato based sauce, I may plant a couple of different varieties of basil. 
  • know the local growing seasons - If you want to save money on home canning you need to know when each fruit or vegetable comes into season in your area as well as how long it is in season.  For example, asparagus is the first vegetable to come into season here.  It lasts about three weeks.  The best time to can asparagus starts about four days into the season but avoid the last few days of the season as well as the asparagus can be tough.  There are several resources to help you determine when each crop comes into season.  Simply watching the grocery stores can give you a clue.  Foodland Ontario is an excellent resource for those home canning in Ontario.  Keep in mind that some local crops are available year round as they are grown in greenhouses.  For canning purposes, I choose the field variety of these crops leaving the greenhouse varieties for fresh eating during the rest of the year.
  • size of jars -  I tailor the size of jar to the product being made always with the goal of preventing waste once the jar has been opened.  For example, we will use a 500 ml jar of green beans for one meal.  If I can them in 1 L jar, half the jar would go into the refrigerator where it could get pushed to the back and forgotten meaning half the jar of green beans is wasted.  Another thing I do consider when choosing jar size is processing.  I can process 7 - 1 L jars or 16 - 500 ml jars at one time in the pressure canner meaning if I use 500 ml jars I am actually processing one litre more than if I used L jars.  My favourite size is 500 ml (pint) used for some jams, most vegetables, condensed soups, mushrooms, meats, pasta meat sauces, dried beans, stocks, stews, fruits, sliced pickles, chili sauce and salsas.  Next is the 250 ml jars used for jams, jellies, condiments, some fruits, fish, poultry and ham.  I use the 1 L and 750 ml jars for pickles, tomato based sauces and some soups.  I use the 125 ml jars for specialty items (eg. fancy jellies, hot sauces).
  • amount of jars - The easiest way to calculate the minimum number of jars needed of a particular food is number of servings per week X number of weeks.  For example, a 500 ml jar of green beans is two servings for us so I need 1 jar per meal.  If I serve green beans twice a week I need 2 x 52 = 104 jars, 500 ml size.  If I can them in 1 L jars so have the jar is used for one meal and the other half used for a meal a couple of days later then I need 52 - 1L jars.  Now, we spend a little over 2 months of the year at our vacation home so most in my position would reduce the number of jars of a particular food to factor that and I do for some but for others that is part of my 10% extra for entertaining and gift giving.  Another useful way to calculate the minimum number of jars needed for some specialty foods (eg. taco sauce, seafood sauce) is by recipe batch.  A recipe may make 7 - 250 ml jars of a particular food of which you may decide to only make one batch so you only need 7 jars of that size.  I continue in this fashion until I have calculated the grand total of number of jars needed.
  • take food inventory - Once I have an itemized list of the number of each jars of each type of food I want to can, it is time to take inventory of what I have in the pantry.  My calculations may say I need 104 - 500 ml jars of green beans but my records show we ran out a month before the new green bean season started or I may find that last year I made 8 - 500 ml jars of bread and butter slices but have 6 left.  In both cases I will adjust the total amount of that food needed to be canned this year.  At the end of the inventory, I have a rather good idea of what I need to can and how many jars of each food that I am canning along with what sized jars needed. 
  • take canning needs inventory - Next, I take inventory of all supporting ingredients (eg. Pomona's pectin, Clear Gel, sugar, citric acid, pickling spice, canning salt, etc) and canning supplies (eg. lids, jars).  With my food list in hand, I calculate how much supporting ingredients and canning supplies I need.  If anything needs to be ordered like Pomona's pectin or Clear Gel, I order it the first week of May in the amount that will last a good year.
  • canning equipment check - The last thing any home canner wants is their equipment to malfunction during a heavy canning session.  My pressure canner is an All American so it doesn't  have a gasket but when I was using the Mirro pressure canner, I checked the gasket before the busy canning season.  I still check the gaskets on my pressure cookers that are often used in the prep of various foods to be canned.  I also check the Kitchen Aid strainer and grinder attachments to be sure they are in good working order. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Jars of Beef Stock Fresh From the Canner

While many home canners like myself can year round, the busy home canning season (mid-May to mid-October) is just around the corner.   Home canning is a very satisfying and rewarding frugal activity.  It saves a tremendous amount of money!  I've been home canning well over thirty years so know what to expect and what to troubleshoot if something goes wrong.  Those new to home canning often panic thinking there is a problem when what they observe is a natural part of the process.  They are also prone to those accidents that can cause food spoilage and/or physical harm.

At each step of the way, the home canner is dealing with glass that can break due to thermal shock and hot foods that can cause rather nasty burns.  A safety rule is children and pets should not be in the canning area.  If you must have either in the kitchen when canning, set up a safe zone so they do not accidentally get in the canning area.  Aside of avoiding canning when tired or distracted (easier said than done), I minimize the risk for both by:

  • prepare ahead -  Everything I need for that canning session is ready to use in the order it will be needed.
  • avoiding thermal shock - Glass can break if it is cold and a hot liquid is poured into it or if a canning jar is placed into the canner with too much of a temperature difference.  I keep everything hot!  The jars are hot, the food is hot and the canner is hot ready for the hot prepared jars.  Even though my counter top is ceramic tile it could cause thermal shock during the filling stage and when the jars are removed from the canner.  I always work on a cork trivet when filling the jars which eliminates any thermal difference.  I place hot jars from the canner onto a folded t-towel to cool.  Jars being removed from the canner are particularly susceptible to thermal shock if they are hit with a cold draft.  During the canning process and jar removal,  I close the patio door (we don't have a kitchen window), turn off the exhaust fan if it is on and turn off the ceiling fan.  Cooling jars are always placed so they will not get a draft until they reach room temperature.
  • personal safety - I have my hair tied back and wear slip proof socks, capris and a t-shirt when canning.  I don't wear anything loose or baggy that could catch on canning equipment.   I keep a damp t-towel to clean up any spills on the floor as they happen.  I keep another damp t-townel handy to wipe any spills on the counter.  I make sure the dishwasher is empty before starting to can so any utensils or dirty dishes go immediately into the dishwasher as to not clutter up the counter. 

I processed 16 - 500 ml jars of beef stock in the pressure canner yesterday.  Meat stocks are low acid so must be processed in a pressure canner.  They cannot be safely canned in a boiling ,bath canner!  Jars are most susceptible to breakage during the filling stage, loading into the canner and removing from the canner.  Here is a video I took that will give you a bit of a perspective on jars just out of the pressure canner.

The video is of beef stock just out of the canner.  The lids to the left are Tattler reusable lids, the middle are metal snap lids and to the right are the 4ever Recap reusable lids I'm testing.  A pressure canner processes at 240°F rather than the 212°F of a boiling water bath canner.  Foods taken out of a boiling water bath canner are hot.  Foods taken out of a pressure canner are hotter!  If you look close you will see the contents still boiling in the jars.  The contents will continue to boil for ten minutes or more.  That means if a jar were to break, you have a very good chance of being hit with shattering glass as well as boiling food.  The second thing you will notice is the ping.  Home canners love to talk about the ping!  It is important to realize that the ping only occurs with the metal snap lids.  There is no ping with reusable lids (eg. Tattler, 4ever Recap, glass inserts).  There are two types of pings.  The first type of ping is what you are seeing right from the pressure canner in response to the boiling contents of the jars.  This pinging will continue until the contents cool enough to form a vacuum at which time there will be a final ping.  The first type of ping does not occur with foods processed in a boiling water bath canner.

The first type of ping on pressure canned foods explains why leaving the proper amount of headspace when filling jars is critical.  The boiling contents can force their way between the lid and rim of the jar which in turn can cause seal failures.  Not enough headspace can also cause pressure on the lid which can make the lid buckle, also affecting the seal.  Some foods are quite prone to leakage when being pressure canned especially dried beans.  Even if your jars lose liquid or there is signs the jars leaked into the canner, do not panic.  Remove the jars for cooling.  Once cool, check the seal.  If they have sealed, they are fine so simply wash, label and store.  If one or more did not seal, either reprocess or refrigerate and use within a couple of days.  Reprocessing is every bit as much as the initial processing right from heating the jars and food, filling and timing.  In general, I tend to avoid reprocessing if at all possible.  It is not cost effective to run the pressure canner to reprocess only a couple of jars.  If I'm canning something similar later in the day or the next day I will run those jars with it, otherwise I freeze or refrigerate. 

Saturday, May 04, 2013

A Bit of a Pantry Update

It is hard to believe we have only been in this house nineteen months!  It is amazing how much the house has changed in such a short time especially when a total of 4 of those months were spent at our vacation home.  For the past month, I was busy preparing for the arrival of our new bedroom furniture.  What this really meant was furniture and things being moved about affecting the master bedroom, guest room, and office.  However, since I had to do a bit of shopping for accessories that spilled into the kitchen, upper bathroom, laundry room and pantry.  It never fails, as soon as you change one thing in the house it snowballs!

storage totes
My pantry is always evolving to meet the current needs.  When I first starting setting up the pantry, we knew mice were getting in.  I bought four large wheeled totes to store boxed and packaged foods to protect them from any rodents until we had the problem under control.  Thank goodness it took very little time for the exterminator to solve the rodent issue, still I want all food protected just in case.  It did not take long to realize the storage totes while protecting the food, created a couple more problems.

Two of the storage totes (pictured) were stacked beside the industrial shelf unit on the west wall.  One was on a shelf on the industrial shelf unit on the east wall and one was under a serving table in the games room.  I started dismantling the tote setup before remembering to take a picture.  The wire racks on top of the totes hung from hooks on the rack.  Five larger plastic shoe box containers sat along the back of the top tote with a few odds and ends in front and four medium sized plastic containers on top of the shoe boxes.  The immediate problem was having to move everything to get into the lower tote.  The second problem was food easily became hidden ergo the potential for spoilage.  I decided that a one storage locker of some sort would be an excellent solution.

new pantry filled
Last Wednesday I went to Jysk which is a bed, bath, and home store similar to IKEA but on a very smaller scale.  They had a one door pantry on sale for $59.99.  I had a couple of specifications I was looking for aside of size.  There had to be a back on pantry and I wanted the door to close in such a manner that there were no gaps a mouse could get through.  I found that the pantry at Jysk would work nicely.

I brought the pantry home and my husband put it together that evening.  The pantry measures 15¾" W x 16" D x 70½ H.  It  has three adjustable shelves plus the bottom shelf.  The door fits inside the frame ensuring no gaps wherIe a mouse could get in.  I may put a snap strap on the door just to be sure there is no give.  The back is smooth so there shouldn't be any leverage for a mouse to chew through either. 

I immediately started organizing the new pantry cabinet that night, surprised at how much the unit held.  All three plastic storage totes were removed from the pantry freeing up a surprising amount of space both physically and visually.  What I really like is I can immediately see what is in the cabinet. 

The new pantry cabinet gives a nice sleek look to that small bit of wall space.  It takes up less floor space than the two totes did plus I gained that storge space on the east wall unit for more filled boxes of home canned foods.  There is now another pail on top of the two pails to the left of the cabinet. 

I spent a bit of time the next couple of days tidying and organizing but there is still more I would like to do.  The window well is about a foot deep so I could gain more storage space by hanging mini blinds in place of the curtains.  It would be a good spot for some items that aren't used a lot.  There is room over the small freezer (south wall from where picture was taken) where a small cabinet or open shelving could hang.  I also need to find a new storage location for the drying and cooling racks but that is minor.  

At this point, all food in the pantry is protected by glass, metal, plastic and now the cabinet.  The exception is one squash and a half bag of potatoes so I need to make a rodent proof storage locker for holding these types of foods.  If a rodent were to get in which is unlikely given the measures we have taken but with our location (farm field behind) still a possibility, I can rest assured it won't get fed!   The pantry is on the lower lever so partially below grade.  Our house is in a location where flooding is possible.  While we have a sump pump and back-up sump pump system (runs on municipal water), I took the extra precaution of storing in glass and plastic as much as possible.  Insects have not been a huge problem other than carpenter ants graciously left behind by the former owner's woodpile but the exterminator took care of that problem as well.  I am rather pleased with this as it is surprisingly more difficult to keep all the foods stored in a pantry protected.   Any food stored in mason jars that could be affected by moisture (humidity) is vacuum sealed.  I am rather pleased I have been able to get the pantry to this stage of preparedness. 

I'm gearing up for the heavy canning season just around the corner.  I've been testing out the 4ever Recap canning lids while getting enough things like stocks and dried beans canned to last until the end of the heavy canning.  I'm also working on emptying one of the freezers for our 2013 beef on the hoof purchase and prepping for our vacation home plans this year which is looking to be over two months total there.  I'm also trying to finish up a bit of the inside decor before turning my attention to outdoor landscaping and gardening.  It's busy times here but all in all very enjoyable!