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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.
  • [March 19, 2020] - Effective Mar 17, this blog will no longer accept advertising. The reason is very simple. If I like a product, I will promote it without compensation. If I don't like a product, I will have no problem saying so.
  • [March 17, 2020] - A return to blogging! Stay tuned for new tips, resources and all things food related.
  • [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! [Update: 4ever Recap appears to be out of business.]

Popular Posts

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Too Spicy?

kitchen quick tips

Add 1 tbsp of sugar at a time, tasting after each addition to cut the fire in spicy foods.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

The holiday season brings a wealth and abundance of food! We are very, very blessed that in our family there is considerable diversity which is reflected in the culinary offerings. Christmas Eve is enjoyed at the home of one of my husband's siblings. Everyone gathers mid-afternoon to visit then we have a large meal followed by the little ones opening up a few presents. The get together breaks up around 10ish just in time to get to Midnight Mass.


My MIL was the official kibbeh maker in her family. She passed on the tradition to me so I am now the official kibbeh maker in our family. Kibbeh is a traditional Lebanese dish originally made with ground lamb but we use beef. Now this isn't any ground beef! I deal with a local butcher who still prepares the meat for me the the way my MIL had it prepared. The raw meat is then mixed with seasonings and crushed wheat. The meat is formed into a round loaf shape and refrigerated a couple of hours before serving. Kibbeh is eaten raw on pita bread with a splash of good quality extra virgin olive oil. Any left over kibbeh is baked the following morning to be enjoyed for lunch. Pictured is the kibbeh I made for Christmas Eve and yes that is a dinner plate with a little over 3 lb of kibbeh to be enjoyed.

turkey dinnerTurkey Dinner

It's funny how traditions start then get modified over generations. When I was growing up we enjoed Pork Tourtière (French Canadian Pork Pie) and butter tarts on Christmas Eve. The gathering was always small and quiet. We were tucked into bed early drifting off to visions of Chrismas Day which was also very small, cozy gathering. One thing for sure there would always be an orange waiting for us Christmas Day. I kept that tradition :)

My new in-laws on the other hand had a very large gathering on Christmas Eve complete with a huge meal followed by Midnight Mass then we gathered after mass to open presents. That tradition has been modified to a large meal followed by presents then those who want to go to Midnight Mass do so. Our holiday traditions encompassed those from my in laws and my family as well as those we have created ourselves over the years.

lemon and pumpkin piesLemon Meringue & Pumpkin Pies

Christmas Eve was spent with my husband's side of the family. Dinner was turkey with stuffing (cooked in the bird), mashed potatoes, seasoned corn niblets and sweet potatoes. Dessert was delicious homemade apple, lemon meringue and pumpkin pies along with a large variety of homemade cookies and other goodies.

What is rather interesting is my extended family no longer gives me strange looks when I do a photo shoot of my plate or of any of the wonderful food we share. In fact others have started doing this as well especially to use for scrapbooking. So I've started a bit of a tradition of my own :)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Vegetable Beef and Barley Soup

During the winter months homemade soup is my version of fast food. I can make a lovely, nutritious soup from start to finish completely from the soup bones up in about 50 minutes using one of my pressure cookers and in under 20 minutes if I start with homemade and home canned stock or soup base. Served with homemade bread or biscuits any homemade soup turns into a warm comfort meal on a cold winter's night!

vegetable beef and barley soupVegetable Beef & Barley Soup

As I've previously mentioned many of the meals I make are inspired by an ingredient that caught my eye on one of the many trips I make into the pantry each day. A couple of days I beef soup bones just beckoned to be made into a hearty soup. When I make soup I tend to go with ingredients that inspire me at that time and barley was it for this soup. The vast majority of the non-cream based soups I make are both low fat and low sodium.

I will warn you now that I didn't measure anything for this soup. I started with 2 lg beef soup bones, a stalk of celery, a carrot, small onion and enough water to fill the 4 qt pressure canner ⅔ full. I brought the pressure canner to pressure then reduced the temp just low enough to maintain pressure and let cook 20 minutes. While the stock was cooking, I brought barley and a jar of stewed tomatoes from the pantry then prepared the fresh vegetables (red onion, carrots, mushrooms, tomato) about a handful each. When the stock was finished, I lowered the pressure then removed the bones and cooked vegetables. Beef soup bones have very little fat, usually a nice amount of meat and connective tissue. After pressure cooking the meat will basically fall the bone so I just cut it into bite sized pieces and added it back into the stock. I then added the fresh vegetables, about a cup of barley, a bit of tomato liquid from the stewed tomatoes, a couple of generous spoons of stewed tomatoes, dash of Montréal Steak Seasoning and a couple of splashes of Worcestershire sauce. Then I put the lid back on the pot, brought the pressure cooker to pressure and let cook for 15 minutes. Once the time was up I depressurized the pressure cooker then ladled the soup into bowls and garnished with green onion.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Soups, Stews, Chowders and Gumbos

Frugal Kitchens 101
A good portion of my cooking inspiration comes directly from some food catching my eye as I go into the pantry, refrigerator or freezers. Within minutes a plan is already in process with a somewhat rustic recipe forming in my head. I start jotting in my kitchen journal and it isn't long before I can visualize the final dish. While this method greatly influences my cooking style it is most apparent in my soups, stews, chowders and gumbos. Here's how I define these terms:

  • soup - based on stock or broth, usually has one or more vegetables, may or may not have meat, may or may not be chunky, may or may not be creamy/smooth, may or may not have rice and/or noodles, liquid portion is not thickened
  • stew - based on meat and thickened meat juices to form gravy, has one or more vegetables, always chunky with bite sized pieces, very thick, long/slow cook
  • chowders - based on potatoes, has stock to cook vegetables in, may or may not have meat, always chunky, has milk and/or heavy cream, liquid portion is thickened to a constistency thicker than a soup but just a little thinner than stew
  • gumbos - based on tomatoes and seafoods, may be accented with sausage, may have vegetables, has rice, usually spicy
Getting the texture perfect for these frugal dishes is quite easy with a few simple kitchen appliances and tools. Chances are good you already have these on hand. To make soups, stews, chowders or gumbos the following equipment is quite helpful:
  • dutch oven
  • slow cooker (crock pot)
  • pressure cooker
  • heavy stainless steel fry pan
  • stick blender
  • heavy stirring spoon
  • ladle
One of my primary concerns when creating soups, stews, chowders, and gumbos is to pack the dish with the highest nutrition possible using in season or home preserved ingredients. What I'm really thinking when creating these dishes is how I'm going to build up to the final dish using a series of flavour layers. My next concern is flavour followed by colour! In terms of flavour, certain ingredients just go together nicely. In terms of colour, packing in a variety of colours using different vegetables or playing a garnish against the colour of the finished dish.
  • first flavour layer - The first flavour layer usually consists of searing meats if they are being used. If using vegetables the first layer is usually the mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots or peppers) and is cooked in butter, bacon fat or other oil until the onions just start turning translucent. The oil or fat you choose does add a flavour to the final dish so choose something complimentary.
  • base - All soups, stews, chowders and gumbos start off with a base. In most cases this starts with a meat or vegetable stock. The base is added to the mirepoix.
  • vegetables/meat/seasonings - Let your main ingredient(s) be your guide always with the end result in mind. Pork and poultry pair nicely with dairy while beef and venison don't. Vegetables and meat are added next starting with root vegetables first. The root vegetables are allowed to cook until just tender. Seasonings such as bay leaf, garlic powder, salt and pepper are also added at this time. The rule of thumb is the stronger the flavour of the meat the stronger the seasoning that can be used. Don't use a delicate herb with a strong flavoured meat like beef as the flavour will be lost and at the same time don't use a strong herb with a delicate meat. The goal to strive for is a balance of flavour. This is the time to add any uncooked rice, pasta or lentils.
  • additional seasonings - This is where you take advantage of the natural pairing to boost the flavour. For example citrus goes with fish, apples/maple syrup go with pork, cumin/Worcestershire sauce goes with beef so take advantage of that. Stir in a tablespoon of applesauce in a pork based stew and you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.
  • the extras - Just before the soup, stew or chowder is finished cooking is the time to stir in niblet corn, sweat peas, sliced mushrooms or things like cooked rices or pastas, cooked beans or lentils, sour cream, milks and creams.
  • thickening - Soups are generally thickened using a stick blender before serving. Stews are thickened with a slurry of cornstarch or flour added about a half hour before serving. Chowders are thickened with a slurry of cornstarch or flour in the final 10 minutes of cooking. Instant mashed potatoes can be used as a thickener for chowders as well. Gumbos naturally thicken by themselves as the liquid is absorbed during the cooking process.
  • the garnish - There are very few times that I don't add a garnish to homemade soups, stews, chowders or gumbos. A garnish should always reflect the dish and usually highlights an ingredient in the dish. For example a soup contains sour cream so a suitable garnish is a sour cream tear drop with a sprinkling of dried parsley or a chowder has onions as an ingredient so a suitable garnish is chopped green onions. The garnish doesn't have to be the exact ingredient but it should give a visual clue to the ingredients.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cranberry Roast Pork Loin

I very rarely buy foodie magazines although sometimes I am tempted by the food pictures on the front cover. The reason I avoid buying most foodie magazines is there ends up being one or two recipes worth trying but usually difficult to find in the midst of the copious advertisements. Instead, I get 2 free food related magazines that are put out quarterly - What's Cooking (Kraft Canada) and Food & Drink (LCBO, Ontario, Canada). Food & Drink leans towards a bit on the gourmet side but is a very valuable resource for enterainment cooking and cooking with beer, wine or spirits. I recently splurged one year subscriptions to Cook's Country and Cook's Illustrated. What I like about both of these magazines is the absence of advertisements. In addition to several recipes per issue there are great cooking tips and how-tos along with product reviews. These magazines will be a valuable resource in my kitchen!

roasted pork loin with cranberry sauceCranberry Roast Pork Loin

It is easy to get into a cooking rut when you preserve as much food as I do but the same can be said for anyone who keeps a very well stocked pantry. For example, fresh cranberries and commercially canned cranberries go on sale just before Thanksgiving so that is when I stock up. I freeze cranberries to cook fresh later or can as cranberry sauce. The majority of the time cranberries are paired with turkey but there is no reason they couldn't be used in another way, it's just I don't think to do so. So when it comes to cranberries I'm in a bit of a rut.

This month's issue of Cook's Country had a recipe for a roasted pork loin glazed with a cranberry sauce. Pairing cranberry with pork is not something I would have thought of immediately. I modified the recipe to half for a smaller cut of pork loin and I used home canned whole cranberry sauce. I also modified the roasting method. Of interest is the flavour of the cranberries was layered by using 3 forms as spoken about on Food Network Canada. Pictured is the roasted pork loin with the cranberry glaze just out of the oven.

Cranberry Pork Loin
source: modified from Cook's Country, December/January 2010, Pp. 10.

1½ lb pork loin roast
salt and pepper

1½ tsp butter
1 garlic clove, minced
⅓ tsp dried thyme
1 c whole cranberry sauce
¾ c cranberry juice
½ c dried cranberries
1½ tbsp ketchup
1½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp white vinegar

1 tbsp cornstarch

Pre-heat oven to 220ºC/425ºF. Pat roast dry then season with salt and pepper. Score fat on top of roast in ½- inch intervals. Place pork, fat side up in baking pan. Roast 20 minutes. Combine the remaining ingredients except for cornstarch and about 2 tbsp of the cranberry juice. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 5 minutes. Mix the remaining cranberry juice with the cornstarch to form a slurry. Slowly pour into the sauce while stirring. Continue to cook and stir until thickened. Spoon the mixture over the pork and continue to roast 20 to 25 minutes or the roast reaches an internal temperature of 63ºC/145ºF. Remove from oven. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Spoon sauce over slices for serving. Spoon the rest of the sauce into a serving bowl for passing at the table.

cranberry roast pork servedCranberry Roast Pork Dinner

Pork is considerably leaner than it was years ago due to the way pigs are raised in response to the demand for low fat meat alternatives. As a result the problem becomes keeping pork moist and tender after cooking. An easy way to do this is to use some type of sauce when cooking pork. I tend to use milk based sauces to help tenderize pork or fruit based sweet or savory glazes that add flavour when cooking pork.

The roasted pork smelled wonderful! I served the pork roast with baked Yukon gold and sweet potatoes and home canned green beans from the foodie road trip I made last summer. The meal itself ended up being low fat although that wasn't the original intention when I started putting things together. The cranberry sauce looked gorgeous and had good flavour but unfortunately lacked sparkle. I think it needed a touch of citrus specifically orange to brighten the flavour. The next time I make this I will substitute orange juice for the cranberry juice then garnish with orange zest. The white vinegar really didn't add any flavour so I would be tempted to use Basmatic or red wine vinegar instead. With a bit of tweaking to get that sparkle this will be a lovely cranberry sauce one that I may even can as a ready to use convenience product for the pantry.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Breakfast on the Road

Sometimes it is worth revisiting a restaurant especially if you liked their dinner menu to see how the restaurant performs for breakfast and lunch. We first stopped at the Old Country Restaurant in New Hamburg during one of our road trips. We decided to revisit them to see how their breakfast menu and service compared.

Old Country Restaurant, Old Country Restaurant

The Old Country Restaurant is located at 105 Peel Street in New Hamburg, Ontario. The location is clean and unpretentious. Unlike a lot of the buildings in downtown section of New Hamburg, this building really has been stripped of any architectural appeal which really is a shame. During the summer months roll-out awnings add a bit of character but nothing that really says this building is old. Despite the non-descript exterior the interior conveys a warmth mixed with a homey feeling, comforting decor. The service is fast and friendly and the prices are quite reasonable!

hearty breakfastHot Breakfast

When we are on the road a hot breakfast is always in order. I'm not sure why as we very seldom eat a hot breakfast at home. A hot breakfast is usually reserved for holidays and weekends even though there is no reason why we couldn't have a hot breakfast during the week. The last time we were in the New Hamburg area we stopped in at the Old Country Restaurant for breakfast where we settled in at a cosy table by the window where we could watch the comings and goings of main street while sipping on hot coffee.

My husband ordered the Old Restaurant breakfast specially consisting of 3 eggs, homefries, bacon, ham, sausage and toast. He ordered his easy over as they don't poach eggs. I ordered the 2 egg (sunny side up) Canadian breakfast with back bacon (peameal bacon), home fries and whole wheat toast. Both meals were very much home style cooking coming in at $16.67 total. This was slightly higher than the price elsewhere for 2 hot breakfasts but given the area with proximity to both the Stratford Chefs School and the GTA it wasn't over priced.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Merry Christmas 2009 snow globe ornament Mom's Cafe Home CookingFrom our kitchen at Mom's Cafe Home Cooking to yours...
Merry Christmas
May God bless you richly
throughout this holiday season.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Nut Substitution

kitchen quick tips

If a cookie or cake recipe calls for nuts you can substitute oatmeal browned in a bit of butter for a nice flavour and crunch.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gingery Maple Thins

Traditionally I did the bulk of my cookie baking the last day the kids were in school before Christmas. I found this greatly increased my yield as more dough was made into cookies rather than getting popped into the mouths of helping elves. My husband was usually out shopping that day so it meant less taste testing if you know what I mean. Times have changed but I still like the house to myself when baking cookies. The Tuesday of this Christmas week I went a bit wild with cookies making 12½ dozen peanut butter cookies, 7 dozen shortbread cookies and a new cookie called gingery maple thins. The new recipe only made 22 cookies but with a bit of tweaking this will become a holiday favourite.

crystalized gingerCrystalized Ginger

There's just something warm and comforting about the aromatic smell of ginger! It beckons Ginger just goes hand in hand with the holiday season. But ginger is not just a pretty face. Ginger is a wonderful natural remedy for nausea. This recipe called for crystalized ginger.

Crystalized ginger is peeled ginger root that has been briefly cooked in a light syrup then dried. The dried ginger is then lightly coated in sugar and stored until use. It can be used as is for medicinal or culinary purposed. Pictured to the left is whole crystalized ginger pieces. The recipe called for minced crystalized ginger so I simply chopped the pieces very fine (arrow).

gingery maple thinsGingery Maple Thins

Glancing through the newest edition of Cook's Country I noticed the Holiday Cookie Contest with a runner-up entry by Diane Nemitz of Ludington, Michigan. Her cookie recipe definitely said holiday cookies to me so I decided to try it. What is nice about this recipe is there is no salt added. I have to tell you this dough is quite sticky to work with so I modified the method to chill the dough slightly similar to when I make peanut butter cookies. Chilling serves two purposes. First it makes it easier to work with the dough and second it helps control the spread of the cookie.

The recipe said to make the dough balls 1½-inch which I did but that really is too big. The next time I will reduce the dough size to 1-inch. Aside of that the cookies looked quite lovely with a nice golden colour, a soft, chewy texture and pleasant gingery flavour. I think they are going to be a huge hit!

Gingery Maple Thins
source: Cook's Country, December/January 2010. Pp. 5

1½ c unbleached flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ c softened butter
½ c packed brown sugar
1 large egg
¼c plus 1 tsp 100% pure maple syrup
3 tbsp minced crystalized ginger

¼ c granulated sugar

Cream the sugar and butter. Mix in the egg and maple syrup Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Stir the crystalized ginger into the sugar mixture then mix in the dry ingredients blending well. Chill dough 1 hour. Roll into balls then roll the balls into granulated sugar. Place balls on Silpat® lined cookie sheet. Flatten with bottom of glass. Bake at 160ºC/325ºF convection until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to complete cooling.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Souped Up Tomato Soup

A well stocked pantry is always an inspiration for my cooking. I have a large walk-in pantry that I'm in and out of several times most days. Quite often I get a glimpse of something in the pantry that forms the basis for a meal. This is one reason why menu planning with the exception of special events simply does not work for me. At heart I love the creativity of pantry cooking!

souped up tomato soupSouped Up Tomato Soup

I have posted many times about the various foods I can but sometimes how I use them is not always apparent. Since home canned foods play such a huge role in my pantry it only stands to reason that many meals are inspired from home canned foods. A couple of days ago I wanted a quick to prepare meal. Home canned tomato soup caught my eye for dinner but as Canadian Chef Michael Smith would say not any tomato soup, a special tomato soup. Michael Smith shows how to cook without a recipe on on Food Network Canada's Chef at Home. He gets his inspiration from one ingredient then builds from there. This is such a wonderful way to cook!

I started with home canned tomato soup made from scratch using garden fresh ingredients. The taste of this condensed soup beats store bought condensed tomato soup hands down! I decided to build on this soup base to create a souped up tomato soup. I added in home canned mushrooms, corn niblets, broccoli and red onion along with a bit of milk and Rooster Brand Instant Noodles to create a tasty, meatless soup that took less that 15 minutes to prepare. If you recall these are a healthier version of instant noodles than Ramen noodles Rooster Instant Noodles contain 0% fat making this a healthy soup as well.

Method: I heated 2 - 500 ml jars tomato soup then stirred in home canned mushrooms, frozen corn niblets, broccoli pieces and chopped red onion. Once the broccoli was lightly cooked I stirred in 500 ml of whole milk and brought to just a simmer then stirred in ¼ package of Rooster Instant Noodles. Cook 1 minute then ladle into bowls for serving.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Thinking Ahead

Frugal Kitchens 101

If you have been following this blog you will already know that I make a lot of basic ingredients that are then used as is or as ingredients for other dishes. This includes a variety of spice and seasoning blends, flavoured oils and vinegars, sweet butter, yogurt, buttermilk, ricotta cheese, yogurt cheese, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, sourdough starter, home cured meats as well as sweet and savory fresh sauces. Clearly if I want yogurt and it takes 24 hours to make or cured meat that takes 5 days to cure I have to do a bit of planning ahead. This is very important because I am relying on my homemade versions rather than stopping at a grocery store. This weeks Frugal Kitchens 101 focuses on how I think ahead to keep a steady supply of these foods ready to use as desired.

The first consideration is having the raw ingredients on hand to make the ingredients mentioned above on hand. That means I need a variety of milks, heavy cream, oils, vinegars, herbs, spices, dried beans and alfalfa seeds on hand at all times. With the exception of milks and creams I keep everything else on hand in the pantry as part of normal pantry stocking. If I notice an ingredient getting low it goes on the grocery list for our next grocery trip. Milks and creams are generally bought once every 10 days depending on our need and how many additional products I need to make.

I am on somewhat of a schedule when it comes to making these ingredients. I normally make milk based products and sweet butter on Mondays. I tend to make more of these foods during the winter months but they are always on the go. Bean and alfalfa sprouts are started mainly on the basis of need. I'll get an idea of something I would like to make then start the sprouts. Alfalfa sprouts are started weekly during the summer months because I love them in salads and sandwiches. Flavoured oils and vinegars are usually started throughout the growing season when fresh herbs are available. Seasoning and herb blends are made prior to being needed. For example during the holiday season I use a lot more poultry seasoning so will make up a fresh batch just to have the extra. The holiday season also sees me making seasoning blends for gift baskets so any extra goes into the pantry for my use. It also means I use more things like buttermilk for cooking. Now sourdough starter presents a bit of a challenge because it cannot be sitting on the counter waiting to be used if yogurt is being made. The active bacteria in the yogurt is an antagonist to the yeast in the sourdough starter so it ends up being a one or the other type thing otherwise both may fail. This becomes even more critical when I'm drying down sourdough starter to use as a culture at some point in the future.

In short, formulating a schedule to keep these homemade products consistently in my pantry and refrigerator is not as much work as it seems. Most of it stems from me knowing how much of each product I will go through in a week then adjusting based on the season. With a bit of tracking it was fairly easy to come up with a schedule that worked for me to ensure these are products we always have on hand ready to use as needed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cheese and Bacon Muffins

Several years ago many of the doughnut shops started offering muffins and they continue to do so. The muffins are huge to say the least. The problem with these muffins aside of price is the number of calories. Some of the muffin bad boys can pack as much as 2,000 calories! Muffins fall under the category of quick breads. They are about the easiest thing to learn to bake. The only real trick is to not mix the batter too much. The batter for any muffin should be lumpy with the dry ingredients just folded into the wet ingredients.

cheese and bacon muffinsCheese & Bacon Muffins

Muffins can be sweet or savory. The best sweet muffins are sweetened with honey, maple syrup or molasses with perhaps a bit of brown sugar added. Quite often dried fruits or citrus peel is stirred in but other things like caramel chunks or chocolate chips can also be stirred in to the batter. Savory muffins have things like meats, cheeses and herbs added to them.

I made a savory muffin a couple of days ago for breakfast. These are really nice muffins that can be used for breakfast on the run. The great thing about these muffins is the bacon can be substituted with sausage or any other left-over meat pieces, you can basically use whatever cheese you want, you can add in dry herbs, you can substitute cream of mushroom or any other creamed soup for the mil, and you can even add in cooked broccoli or mushrooms. So this is an extremely versatile recipe.

Cheese and Bacon Muffins
modified from: Jean Paré, Company's Coming Muffins & More, 1983. Pp. 20.

2 c unbleached flour
2 tbsp organic sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
¾ c cheese of your choice
½ c cooked bacon pieces
1 egg slightly beaten
1 c milk (or buttermilk or other substitute)
¼ c cooking oil

Preheat oven to 204ºC/400ºF. Place the dry ingredients except for cheese and bacon in stand mixer bowl. Mix briefly. In separate bowl combine egg, milk and oil. Stir then with mixer on low slowly mix in to dry ingredients briefly. Remove from mixer. Fold in bacon and cheese. Spoon into prepared muffin tins. Bake 20-25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes then remove from pan.
Yield: 12 muffins

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cobb Salad Wrap

We eat a lot of salads so I always appreciate finding a new spin on salads. I really enjoyed the cobb salad from Magnolia's at the Four Queen's in Las Vegas so when I saw a recipe for Classic Cobb Wraps in the Fall '09 issue of Kraft Foods What's Cooking magazine I just had to try it. Now for those who don't know this magazine is free. It does of course strongly feature Kraft® products but what is nice is a week's worth of recipes is presented and the recipes can easily be modified to use other brands or homemade versions. The recipes are always presented with gorgeous colour pictures and are quite easily duplicated. Oh and did I mention this great magazine is free? Just head over to and sign up for your free copy sent out quarterly.

cobb salad wrapCobb Salad Wrap

The cobb salad I enjoyed in Las Vegas was presented nicely on an oval plate. It consisted of iceburg lettuce, bacon pieces, blue cheese, tomatoes, chopped hard boiled eggs, chicken pieces, cucumber and red onion all laid neatly in rows. The salad dressing was the customer's choice. The classic cobb wrap in What's Cooking had romaine lettuce, deli turkey, bacon, tomato, avocado, shredded cheddar cheese and ranch dressing wrapped in a four tortilla. I decided to take a few liberaties with this wrap because after all I was the one who was going to eat it.

I added a thin layer of Miracle Whip® to the flour tortilla then topped with romaine lettuce, deli turkey, bacon, tomato, avocado, red onions, shredded cheddar cheese and low calorie Thousand Island dressing. The end result was a lovely tasting and very filling wrap not identical to the cobb salad I enjoyed but with hints of that flavour. The next time I make this wrap I will add chopped eggs and cucumber.

I should bring up one important consideration. This is called a cobb salad wrap if you go by my name or classic cobb wrap if you duplicate the recipe in What's Cooking. At best you are getting a similar flavour to a cobb salad but you aren't getting a cobb salad you are getting a wrap with a similar flavour. What happens is someone will invariably say this is supposed to taste like this particular food but it isn't identical or it has different flavours. This is most notable in things like the cheeseburger pasta, cheeseburger chowder, all dressed potato soup, mock smores and so many other recipes that are meant to mimic but not replace the food they are named after. So simply enjoy them as they are :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chicken Vegetable Stir Fry

The holiday season begins shortly after the cold weather hits. When the cold weather fits hits our bodies are not acclimatized to the temperature change so we seek warm, comfort foods like thick, rich soups and chowders as well as heavier dishes such as lasagne and roasts with all the fixings. Homemade breads become a norm for most meals and salads get a wee bit plainer. We rely on more of our home canned stores and less on fresh fruits and vegetables. I'm not saying we don't eat fresh fruits and vegetables just we eat less both in quantity and variety. Now overall this wouldn't be a problem for us except this is also the time of year we tend to do a bit more cocooning indoors so our activity levels are down. Knowing that most of the holiday eating we do away from home is going to be packed with extra calories, I try cooking a bit lighter at home for the month of December. A stir fry is an ideal way to cook a bit lighter without it feeling like you are cooking lighter.

Rooster Brand instant noodlesInstant Noodles

When it comes to quick cooking noodles many think of the Ramen noodles that come in the little pouches with a high sodium content seasoning packet. Unfortunately Ramen noodles are also high in fat because they are fried as part of the pre-cooking then packaged to complete the cooking process at home. Now Ramen noodles do have their use but if you can eliminate the nutritional problems of this quick cooking noodle (3 minutes), why not?

I found Rooster Brand Instant Noodles that have all the convenience of Ramen noodles without being high in sodium or fat and they only take 1 minute to cook! Unlike Ramen noodles that has a list of ingredients a mile long the Rooster Instant Noodles ingredients are wheat flour, water, duck eggs, colour. So let's compare the nutritional value of each. Ramen noodles contain: 380 cal per 85 g pk, 22% fat (36% saturated fat), 5 mg cholesterol, 77% sodium, 18% carbs (16% fiber), 4% calcium and 23% iron. Rooster Brand Instant Noodles contain: 300 cal per 1¼c (85 g), 0% fat (0% saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 14% sodium, 21% carbohydrates (8% fiber), 2% calcium and 10% iron. In terms of both fat and sodium the Rooster Brand Instant Noodles is a better choice nutritionally even though they are slightly higer in carbohydrates as well as lower in fiber, calcium and iron. As far as cost goes Ramen noodles (85 g) packages are often on sale 4/$1 or 25¢ per 85 g. The Rooster Brand Instant Noodles contains the equivalent of 4 packages of Ramen noodles at a cost of $1.19 or 30¢ per 85 g which really is not uch of a price difference to get a healthier product.

chicken vegetable stir fryChicken Vegetable Stir Fry

Instant noodles are ideal for adding to soups and into stir frys. The noodles can be cooked directly is soups just before serving. Once cooked which only takes 1 minute, the instant noodles can also be stirred directly into the stir fry coating them with the sauce. As instants go the Rooster Brand Instant Noodles are worth of a spot in your pantry.

Stir frys are always quick, easy and frugal meals. They really allow you to reduce the amount of meat per serving without noticing that there is less meat. They are ideal for those meals when time is at a premium or during the hot summer months because cooking takes only a few minutes. By far the most time spent is the food prep that consists mainly of cutting up a variety of vegetables. It is important to have all your vegetables ready before beginning to cook. If you are using meat or poultry it goes into the pan first as it takes the longest to cook then vegetables are added in the order of longest cook time to shortest. The resulting liquid can be thickened with a cornstarch slurry then if desired stir in cooked instant noodles. Give a toss and voila you have a lovely dinner with little effort.

Pictured is the stir fry I made a couple of nights ago. I served it on a bed of instant noodles that were cooked in turkey stock. The lightly seasoned chicken (lemon pepper) was cooked first then deboned, cut into strips and reserving the liquid. The chicken vegetable mixture consisted red onions, carrots, broccoli, celery, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and red pepper. The mixture seasoned with a little soy sauce and Hoison sauce. The rich reserve liquid was poured back into the mixture then thickened with a corn starch slurry. The meal was quick, easy, very filling and quite tasty! The best part is the meal was low sodium, low fat, low carb yet quite nutritious :)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Measuring Honey and Molasses

kitchen quick tips

Lightly oil the measuring spoon or cup before pouring in honey or molasses. It will pour out easily.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies graphicOver the past couple of weeks I have focused on getting some of my holiday baking done. While the cookies are all filed under the label of cookies, I thought you might find it useful to have a bit of a recap with quick links to the holiday cookies. There are other cookie recipes in under that label as well but these are the ones I've made this year for the holidays. I have a couple more cookie recipes I want to make this year as well so watch for them in next couple of weeks.

Any undecorated cookies can be frozen for up to 6 months. Both decorated and undecorated cookies can be shipped if properly packaged to prevent the cookies from moving around and breaking. Pack tightly in tissue paper if shipping. Any gift in a jar cookie can be shipped with proper packing to prevent the jar from breaking. If you are concerned over breakage you could use a recycled plastic peanut butter jar or plastic containers (eg. Ziploc®, Gladware®) or metal cookie tins.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

French Toast

Hot breakfasts are a treat for use usually reserved for weekends, when we are vacationing or holidays. During the Christmas holidays hot breakfasts are pretty much a must and why not? Lounging around in pajamas sipping on a hot espresso or latté while the smell of a hot breakfast cooking is just delectable! It really becomes a true family bonding times.

french toast with maple syrup and breakfast sausageFrench Toast

A hot breakfast doesn't have to be complicated or fancy. In fact a hot breakfast can easily use up left-overs like bread. One of our family favourites is French toast. It is easy to make yet always is a hit. Served simply with pan fried breakfast sausage links topped with real maple syrup and a little butter garnished with icing sugar, well life doesn't get much better!

French Toast
source: Garden Gnome's Hubby

Method: Crack 4 - 6 eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk. Stir in just a little milk. Dip bread into the egg mixture then fry in a medium-hot pan until golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan and plate. Top with 100% pure maple syrup and a pat of butter. Sprinkle a little icing sugar on top. Serve with breakfast sausage links.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Paper Products

Frugal Kitchens 101Part of running a frugal kitchen is realizing every single thing you throw out actually costs you money. One of the biggest money wasters in the kitchen is paper products. This includes items like paper towels, paper serviettes, paper plates/bowls, paper lunch bags, paper serving trays, paper cups, coffee filters, baking cups, wax paper and parchment paper. From an eco-friendly viewpoint all paper products should be eliminated in the kitchen. From a convenience and practical view this is not quite as easy as it would appear. Unfortunately the holiday season is the time of the year when you will use more paper products but you can really minimize your use. Here are some of the ways I've reduced using paper products in my kitchen.

  • paper towels - Ideally paper towels should be entirely eliminated in the kitchen but they are ideal for wiping up any greasy spills. Paper towels bought on sale here usually cost about $5 for 8 (SpongeTowels) or 62.5¢ per roll. On the surface that doesn't sound too expensive but if you average 2 rolls of paper towels per week that works out to $65 per year. I invested $15 total in 25 bar towels from Sam's Club to use as t-towels and 25 pk of white wash cloths at K-mart. Both are 100% cotton. These have reduced my paper towel use down to a little less than a roll of paper towels per month or about $7.50 per year.
  • paper serviettes - In general I do not use paper serviettes on a regular basis although I do use them for larger (15 or more) gathering entertaining where cloth serviettes would not be appropriate but use cloth serviettes otherwise.
  • paper plates/bowls/cups - Unfortunately I have not been able to eliminate these entirely for larger gathering entertaining purposes. For get togethers under 28 people I have enough non-disposable dishware. For some entertaining events disposable dishware is almost a must especially when several dishes are served throughout the event not giving you time to re-wash dishes. I minimize the cost by buying paper plates and bowls in bulk at Sam's Club or in large packages at the grocery store on sale. Dixie Ultra 24 pk goes on sale for $2 or 8.3¢ each so a small price to pay for simplifying entertaining. I have eliminated paper cups entirely.
  • paper lunch bags - At one time paper lunch bags were and to some degree remain popular for taking lunches to school or work. They also served to pop microwave popcorn and keep mushrooms fresh in the refrigerator. I eliminated using paper lunch bags by buying a reusable, insulated lunch bag, popping bulk corn kernels on the stove and storing fresh mushrooms for shorter periods of time at the proper crisper humidity setting.
  • paper serving trays - These were never a popular item with me. If you use them they can be elimated by investing $10 at a dollar store to get 10 various sized serving trays that should meet most of your entertaining needs.
  • tea bags - Tea bags present three issues with the first being the use of paper itself, the second being the paper is bleached and the third being the paper imparts an off flavour to the tea. A better solution is use a tea ball and loose leaf tea.
  • coffee filters - Everything that applies to the problem of paper tea bags applies to paper coffee filters. A better solution is to use a re-usable coffee filter basket that will not impart any off flavours to the coffee.
  • baking cups - Paper baking cups are quite inexpensive but are not eco-friendly. A better solution is to use a silicone muffin tin or individual silicone baking cups. Individual silicone baking cups can be found 12/$1 at dollar stores. Silicone muffin tins can be found for quite a reasonable price at most department stores.
  • wax paper - Wax paper is often used for wrapping foods for short term storage. A better solution is to store foods in glass storage containers with re-usable lids. Wax paper is also used to wrap sandwiches for lunch. A better solution is to use re-usable sandwich containers. Wax paper is also used for rolling out pastry doughs and letting no bake cookies set up. A better solution is to use pastry sheets and Silpat® silicone sheets.
  • parchment paper - Parchment paper is used to line cookie sheets, baking sheets, baking pans and to make paper baking pockets. Silpat® silicone sheets and properly greasining/oiling baking dishes will replace parchment all uses for parchment paper with the exception of baking pockets. If you make baking pocket you will want to keep a small roll of parchment paper on hand but if you don't make them then eliminate parchment paper entirely.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gingerbread Men

Oh my gosh! I get the most interesting ideas during the holiday season so every once in awhile I do follow through on them. I have 2 gingerbread men cookie cutters. One is 4 - inches tall and the other about 1½- tall. You will note I said I have these cookie cutters not that I use them. Well I do use cookie cutters but I find rolled cookies tedious so they don't get a lot of use. I decided the grandbabies needed gingerbread men for the holidays.

gingerbread men recipeGingerbread Men

I have made a lot of cookies over my lifetime. The dough for these gingerbead cookies has seriously been the most tedious dough I have ever worked with! Not only was it tedious to work with it was tedious even as the cookies cooled. Although the instructions said to remove the cookies from the cookie sheet immediately I found doing it this way resulting in cookies breaking. Once the cookies are cooled they are not quite so delicate.

Pictured are the larger gingerbread men. I made the smaller ones as well. Don't laugh at my decorating skills. Apparently I need to work on that! They are quite tasty and went over well at last night's event. Despite the dough being so difficult to work with this is the dough I will be using for making a traditional gingerbread house. I'm working on its design now so watch for that coming soon. Every grandchild needs to experience the joy of tearing apart Grandma's gingerbread house!

Gingerbread Men
Betty Crocker's Cookbook (circa 1970's), Pp. 155.

½ c shortening
½ c granulated sugar
½ c dark molasses
¼ c water
2½ c unbleached flour
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp powdered ginger
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp alspice
decorating icing

Cream together shortening and sugar in bowl of stand mixer. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Cover and chill 2 to 3 hours. Heat oven to 180C conv/190ºC (350ºF conv/375ºF reg). Roll dough ¼- inch thick. Cut with gingerbread men cookie cutters. Place on Silpat® or ungreased baking sheat. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before removing from baking sheet. Cool then trim with decorating icing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Coconut Macaroons

Holiday cookies do not have to be complex they only have to taste good. The best holiday cookies tend to be easy to make with few ingredients and most of them are not labour intensive. Coconut macaroons have long been a holiday favourite. They are easy to make yet taste delectible so there is no question as to why they are so popular during the holiday season.

coconut macaroonsCoconut Macaroons

Coconut macaroons were one of the first cookies I learned to make well before I got married. That is because I learned to make meringue at a very young age and coconut macaroons are basically based on a meringue. These delicate, chewy yet melt-in-your-mouth cookies are a true delight!

Coconut Macaroons
source: Better Home and Gardens, Cookies and Candies, 1966. New York. Pp. 39

2 egg whites
dash salt
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
⅔ c granulated sugar
1⅓ c flaked coconut

Place the egg whites, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip until soft peaks form. Slowly mix in the sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Remove from stand mixer and fold in the coconut. Drop by rounded teaspoon onto a Silpat® lined cookie sheet. Bake at 163ºC/325ºF about 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes in the oven before removing. Let cool. Makes about 1½ dozen cookies.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Scotch Teas

The Christmas holiday season is definitely one of my busiest baking times of the year. I love taking home baked goods as a hostess gift. I always have an abundance of cookies for our own entertaining and for sharing with the kids. Now this could mean baking every day for the first couple of weeks of December or it can mean taking one or two short cuts. By short cuts I mean using a few recipes that only 5 ingredients or less and they are fairly common ingredients. I also use a couple of no bake cookie recipes. The beauty of these types of recipes aside of the fact the cookies/bars taste great is they take almost no time to make, something that is very much appreciated during the busy holiday season.

Scotch Tea cookiesScotch Teas

I discovered these lovely, easy to make bars when our kids were quite young. They have been a family favourite ever since. They have a wonderful rich, nutty and buttery flavour that is always a hit on any cookie tray. I find it best cutting the squares just out of the oven. If you allow to cool to much they get a bit too hard to cut. The original recipe says it makes 2 dozen but the best yield I've achieved from this recipe is 18. Don't cut them too big as these really are rich so a small piece goes a long way.

Scotch Teas
source: Better Homes and Gardens, Cookies and Candies, 1966. New York: Pp. 31

½ c butter
1 c brown sugar
2 c quick-cooking rolled oats
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking powder

Place the butter and brown sugar in a large sauce pan. Heat until butter melts. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into 8x8x2 - inch baking pan. Bake at 180ºC.350ºF for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly and cut into bars.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Make Do Cookie Cutters

kitchen quick tips

You don't need special biscuit or cookie cutters. Substitute a standard size (70 mm) canning ring, a wide mouth (86 mm) canning ring, an inverted water glass, or the open end of a clean empty soup can as a biscuit or cookie cutter.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Peameal Bacon Chowder

When the weather turns cold the soup pot is in action weekly if not more often. That is due to soups, stews, chowders and gumbos being extremely easy to make yet perfect comfort meals for cold winter nights. Left-overs warm nicely for the following day's lunch. The best part is soups, stews, chowders and gumbos do not really require any kind of recipe if you understand the basics. Soups are thinner broth based or can be cream based but the consistency is thinner. Stews are gravy based as in once the stew has been cooked to a certain point the resulting liquid is thickened to form a rich, thick gravy. Stew should always be cooked slowly to allow the gravy base to develop flavour before thickening. Chowders are always potato based usually creamy with a consistency between a soup and a stew. Another possibility is a gumbo which is usually spicier and thicker than a stew, usually seafood and/or sausage based often with rice. At any rate these are all good old-fashioned, down home comfort foods.

There are very few times that I set out to make a soup other than chicken noodle soup even though I make a lot of homemade soups. The reason for this is most of the soups and chowders I make are inspired by an ingredient or two that I want to use up. It could be left-over steak or it could be I spot a jar of vegetables in the pantry that just strikes my fancy at the time. This is where cooking really becomes fun because as Michael Smith says some of the best recipes is cooking without a recipe. Now this involves a bit of kitchen know how but this comes with practice. Certain seasonings naturally compliment certain meats. The lighter the meat the lighter the seasoning because the seasoning should never overpower and yet stronger meats require stronger seasoning because a lighter seasoning will be lost. If you are making a chowder you need potatoes, milk and/or cream and you need milk and/or cream for creamed soups. Other than that start with homemade stock then build from there and have fun making your own soups, stews and chowder creations!

peameal bacon chowderPeameal Bacon Chowder

Pork has been on sale at rock bottom prices so I've been able to cure several pork loins. Sunday night's dinner was baked home cured peameal bacon roast. Left over peameal bacon makes a lovely sandwich but this time I decided to make a chowder. This recipe just evolved as I started putting things together building one layer at a time. The recipe I created mentions peameal bacon drippings. When a peameal bacon roast is baked in a covered casserole dish there will be about a half cup of liquid when the roast is finished. This will congeal. I removed the thin flat layer then used the rest in the chowder. The end result was a rich, flavourful, creamy chowder. True comfort food!

Peameal Bacon Chowder
recipe by Garden Gnome

2 tbsp sweet butter
4 c turkey stock
½ lg Spanish onion
1 lg bay leaf
4 c potato cubes
2 lg carrots diced
1 rib celery, sliced thin
2 tsp garlic salt with parsley
3 c baked peameal bacon, cubed
½ c drippings from baked peameal bacon
1 c niblet corn
1½ c whole milk
2 tbsp unbleached flour

Prepare onion, carrots and celery. Melt butter in stock pot then add vegetables. Sweat until onions are just translucent. Stir in prepared potatoes, turkey stock, bay leaf, seasoning and peameal bacon drippings. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. Stir in the corn and bacon. Stir in most of the milk reserving just enough to make a slurry with the flour. Bring the chowder to a low simmer then stir in the slurry to thicken. Ladle in bowls and serve.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cheeseburger Chowder

One of the food shows I enjoy on Food Network Canada is Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. On one of his shows he had a segment with a cheeseburger chowder courtesy of Jackie Smith. Now a chowder is essentially a potato based stew. I wrote the idea down to try as I'm always looking for comfort style foods and if anything falls into comfort food it is chowders with their rich, creamy flavours. Yesterday I my memory was jogged when another blogger talked about the cheeseburger soup she had made based on the cheeseburger chowder recipe but left out the potatoes and carrots because those were not things she would put on a cheeseburger. To my way of thinking the potatoes would add not only texture and thickness but almost the flavour of a hamburg bun. The carrots would add the sweetness normally present in the lettuce and tomato of a cheeseburger as well as a bit of texture.

cheeseburger chowderCheeseburger Chowder

I printed off the recipe then started tweaking. By the time I was finished the original recipe was just a hint of what the new recipe became. I added in the nuances of bacon flavour to give a bit more depth. The end result was a rich, creamy chowder destined to become a family favourite. It really was quite good, if I don't say so myself. My husband gave the chowder two thumbs up so I'm quite pleased with the results!

Cheeseburger Chowder
recipe by Garden Gnome

1 lb extra lean ground beef
2 tbsp bacon grease
½ Spanish onion, chopped
2 lg carrots, diced
4 c peeled potatoes, bite size
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
½ tsp garlic pepper
2 tsp Lawry's garlic salt with parsley
3 c turkey stock
2 c Velveeta® cheese
1½ c whole milk
¼ c unbleached flour
¼ c sour cream
green onion, cut into thin slices

Brown the ground beef and drain. Chop the onion. Dice carrots. Wash, peel and cut potatoes into bite sized pieces. Melt bacon grease in Dutch oven. Stir in onions and carrots. Cook until onions start turning translucent. Stir in potatoes, ground beef, stock and seasonings. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and let cook until potatoes are tender. Stir in cheese and most of the milk. Stir the rest of the milk into the flour to form a slurry. Once the cheese is melted stir in the slurry to thicken the soup. Remove from heat. Stir in sour cream. Ladle into bowls and garnish with green onions.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101- Buttermilk

Frugal Kitchens 101
I have to share with you that my newest favourite ingredient to cook with is cultured buttermilk. Buttermilk adds an incredible flavour to most dishes and it is one of the best meat tenderizers you will find. I was first introduced to buttermilk when I started making fresh butter as a newlywed and while that buttermilk is excellent the buttermilk called for in most recipes is cultured buttermilk. Several year ago I attended a house party of one of my mentors. He had used herbed cultured buttermilk as a marinade for chicken breasts. Well I think I was pretty much hooked right there and then. The results were wonderful. So over the years I have worked cultured buttermilk into both baking, cooking and deep frying to the point I keep a couples of L of it going because it is so easy to make. As I open a L I remove 250 ml to use as as a starter then start a new L of buttermilk that day so I always have plenty of buttermilk ready for cooking and baking. I usually start a batch of sour cream using buttermilk starter the same day as well. Homemade buttermilk and sour cream is cheaper per unit price than store bought and you elimimate those pesky containers too. This is extremely important!

In many cases being frugal in the kitchen means not only saving money but getting a better quality product for less money. More so today being frugal means being eco-friendly as well. I can buy a 500 ml container of store brand sour cream for about $2.50 which means I have to go to the store and I have that plastic container to deal with. Or I can make the same 500 ml amount for a cost of about $1 at home using whole milk and a mason jar. So not only is this saving me money it is very eco-friendly because I'm reusing a jar I already have. Anytime you can eliminate that packaging you are going to save money but eliminating the packaging means a lot more than that. It means you have taken one step closer to being eco-friendly :)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Tuna Croquettes

Food Network Canada is on most days here. I use the shows to get various ideas and learn more about different foods. Alton Brown of Good Eats is one of my favourites because his shows are all about learning all those interesting facts that make being a foodie fun. A few days ago I watched one of his shows that had a segment on tuna. It was very interesting!

Did you know if tuna is labeled as light or chunky is is skip tuna? If it is labeled as white or solid it is Albacore tuna which is a much larger fish than skip tuna. Solid tuna is exactly that, a solid piece of tuna cut from the fish. It is also interesting that james Beard said tuna 'is the one food that tastes better canned". The reason for this is apparent to anyone who home cans and that is because of the high processing time for fish so canned tuna is already well cooked when you open the can.

tuna croquetteTuna Croquettes

During this segment Alton made tuna croquette. I immediately thought that this could be made into a very easy low fat, low sodium and budget stretching meal. I modified his recipe and method a little then served the tuna croquettes with steamed spinach and carrots topped with a little butter and garnished with sesame seeds and a lemon twist.

The meal was good. We were both surprised at the change of flavour in tuna when it is hot. Thinking back this is the first time we have had hot tuna. So if you haven't had hot tuna before be warned it does have a different flavour, not unpleasant just different. There is a fair amount of room for tweaking this recipe.

Tuna Croquettes
modified from recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2008

12 oz light tuna, drained well
1 green onions, chopped fine
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ tsp sea salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup panko bread crumbs, divided
olive oil

Place ingredients except for last 2 in mixing bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumb. Stir to combine. Divide the mixture into 8 rounds. Set aside on a parchment lined pan. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. Spoon half of the remaining panko over the rounds and pat in. Flip the rounds and repeat to coat all sides. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the croquettes. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Plate.

Note: Serve with tartar sauce and lemon wedge for an appetizer or vegetable sides as an entré.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

T-Bone Steak on the Griddle

We do not grocery shop on any type of regular schedule. Rather we cherry pick the sales to replenish fresh fruits/vegetables, certain dairy and dried food products and any in store specials. On average we spend $25 per week although there are some months we may only spend that amount. Both of us always check the meat sales but only buy if it is a good sale.

Yesterday my husband stopped at the grocery store to pick up green onions, spinach and celery. He is really good at getting only the items on his list but like me cannot pass up a good meat sale. T-bone steaks were on sale so he picked up 2 for dinner bringing his grand grocery total to $12.37 bringing our total grocery purchase for the week to $28.25. Toilet paper was on sale 30 rolls for $3.97 so he picked up 4 packages earlier in the week. Not bad eh?

T-bone steaks cooked on griddleT-bone Steaks

We buy beef on the hoof that includes steaks custom cut to 1 - inch thick. This is a great thickness for grilling but in my opinion a bit too thick for pan frying or cooking on the griddle. Store bought steaks are usually cut to ½ - inch or a bit thinner making them ideal for pan frying but making it easy to over cook them on the grill. Cooking a thinner steak so that it maintains that melt-in-your mouth tenderness can be a challenge so we borrowed an idea we have long used when cooking liver and that is to cook the steak with the onions. This method always works! The end result is a nice flavourable, very tender piece of meat.

Method: Peel and chop Spanish onion. Heat griddle to 185ºC/365ºF. Place two generous pats of butter on the griddle then pour the onion pieces onto the griddle. Allow to cook until just lightly caramelized. Push the onions to the sides. Place the steaks on the griddle then surround with onions. Cook the steaks 5 minutes each side. Remove from griddle. Serve with choice of sides and caramelized onions.

FYI - Check for a Foodie Post Later Today

Just a quick note to let you know to check for a foodie post later today. I'm in the kitchen today testing a few things and I have something different planned for dinner.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Kitchen Quick Tips - Milk Substitution

kitchen quick tips

This tip comes from The Main on the food channel. If a recipe calls for milk substitute buttermilk instead. Buttermilk adds more flavour and richness than milk with an almost lemony flavour to give that little bit extra.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pork Pot Pie

A few days ago just a day and a half after the American Thanksgiving I read a comment on Twitter where the person was so sick of eating turkey. At the time this really rubbed me the wrong way especially so close after a day of giving thanks for the many blessings in life. Everyone who cooks has to deal with left-overs. It's just a given. Left-overs are a blessing because it means you have enough food that you won't go hungry like so many do world wide. A frugal home cook embraces left-overs knowing they become budget stretching meals. It's true that left-overs are not always glamorous eating when they are presented the same way three or four nights in a row. The trick therefore becomes not serving them the same way until they are used up.

My husband was fortunate to win a large package of 8 pork chops in a raffle at a recent community social. Saturday night I made oven baked pork chops in mushroom sauce that gave a new twist on an old family favourite. Sunday night we warmed up 2 of the pork chops with sauce served with hot buttered broad egg noodles and salad. Monday afternoon I cut the meat from the bone of the remaining 4 pork chops thinking I would turn it into a chowder. Then another idea came to mind which was to make a pork pot pie that would allow me to continue working on another project while the meal cooked.

pork pot piePork Pot Pie

Pot pie is an easy way to use up any stew-like dish. The crust can be a pastry type crust (eg. pie pastry, puff pastry) or simply a topping of bisquits. The bisquit topping can be made using a bisquit batter mix (preferable) or refigerator bisquit dough. Bisquit dough can easily be made with a homemade or commercially made baking mix.

While I wanted to use up the left-over pork chops and some of the left-over niblet corn I din't want the resulting meal to be a total repeat of the original. Pictured is the pork pot pie in the deep dish 2.6 L casserole dish. I used a bisquit batter seasoned with garlic salt and cheddar cheese for the topping.

Method: Spoon half the meat mixture into the casserole dish. Place a layer of corn on top then the rest of the meat mixture. Pour 3 cups of homemade or commercially made baking mix into a mixing bowl. Stir in 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and about 1 tsp of garlic salt. Pour in enough milk to make a thick, spoonable batter. Spoon the batter over the meat mixture spreading to cover. Bake at 180ºC/350ºF until meat mixture is bubbly and bisquit topping comes clean in the center when poked with a toothpick and is golden brown.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Oven Baked Pork Chops in Mushroom Sauce

The unfortunate side effect to the H1N1 flu outbreak initially being called swine flu is the misconception that the virus is transmitted through pork meat. This has caused the price of pork to plummet dramatically in many areas and forced some pork farmers out of business. As a result it is now quite easy for the frugal shopper to find pork cuts as low as $1 per pound making this an ideal time to stock-up on pork products.

free pork chopsPork chops

Throughout the holiday season we attend several fund raising socials that usually include a meal. These types of events are always a lot of fun while providing support the various communities involved. Quite often there is a door prize and raffle tickets are sold for an opportunity to win various donated prizes. Kudos to the various volunteers and those donating prizes for making these types of events possible.

Last Friday we enjoyed a fish fry social. As always their perch and pickerel were fried to perfection! Various packages of meat were raffled off after the meal. My husband won a large package of pork chops! So that was a nice surprise :)

oven baked pork chops in mushroom sauceOven Baked Pork Chops

There is just something about pairing pork with creamy mushroom sauce such a comfort food. This time I put a new spin on an old family favourite. At the same time I tried using a tip from one of the Chef Michael Smith on Food Network Canada. The tip was to layer flavours of the same meat but in different forms to develop depth in flavour. Ideally you should aim for 3 layers. I used bacon grease to sauté the mushroom quarters and to sear the the pork chops to add another layer of pork to the meal. I also used pork stock to deglaze the fry pan after searing the pork chops.

The meal consisted of pork chopes baked in mushroom sauce but instead of using just milk to create the sauce I used half buttermilk. Buttermilk is acidic so works as a tenderizer resulting in melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. The pork chops were served with sautéed mushroom quarters, left-over rustic potatoes and home frozen corn niblets. That is home made sweet butter on the corn. It was a nice comfort meal on a cool, grey and rainy autumn day.

Baking Method for Pork Chops in Mushroom Sauce: Heat a stainless steel fry pan with about 2 tbsp of bacon grease on high. Sear pork chops on both sides and place them in a glass casserole dish. Deglaze the pan with a little pork stock. Pour the resulting liquid over the pork chops and set pan aside. Pour 2 cans of condensed mushroom soup into a mixing bowl. Whisk in 1 can whole milk and ¾ can buttermilk. Pour the soup mixture over the meat. Cover with lid or tin foil. Bake at 180ºC/350ºF until soup bubbles. Adjust the lid to cover ¾ of the casserole dish and continue baking until sauce is reduced to desired consistency. Remove lid and continue baking until the edges are golden. Remove from oven.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Water

Frugal Kitchens 101
This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 topic is water. Water is the universal solvent so it is no surprise that water plays a huge role in cooking. Fresh water is taken for granted with the only time missing it is if the main water supply is shut off for even a short period of time. Water is something we simply just assume is always going to be available. As useful as water is for cooking it presents a few problems but first let's consider the benefits.

Benefits: The biggest benefit to using water is it is in most cases a very inexpensive ingredient. It's abundant and easily used to cook foods in or stretch sauces.


  • Fresh water is not as abundant as it seems and in fact there have been reports of Canada running out of fresh water. An incredible amount of fresh water is used for other activities besides cooking so it is imperative that everyone practices water conservation in any way they can and that includes cooking.
  • Some municipal and well water can have an off taste to the point it may render it quite undesirable for cooking.
  • Most municipally treated water has both chlorine and fluoride in it. These are two chemicals many are trying to avoid due to health concerns. It has been shown that chlorinated water in the presence of dishwasher detergent and even coming straight from the shower faucet releases chlorine gas into your home.
  • Water takes a fair amount of energy to heat. In fact the term calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1ºC from a standard temperature at 1 atmospheric pressure.
  • Water adds no flavour when cooking!
  • Water conservation is a must which means when you are cooking with water use the least amount of water possible. Rather than boil vegetables steam them. Not only does this use less water and less energy to heat the water and it gives better results.
  • If you have a problem with an off taste or smell from your water, use a filtering system for drinking and cooking water. In some cases you may need a whole house filter as well. A good filtering system will also remove residual chlorine and fluoride.
  • Anytime you are cooking always substitute water with another liquid that adds flavour if at all possible. Think fruit or vegetable juices, stocks, broths, coffee or tea. All of these can be used to cook pastas, rices and vegetables in and they make wonderful substitutions in baking.
  • Think outside the box. Is there another way you can cook that particular food without using water? For example I very seldom boil potatoes or carrots. They are either baked or steamed.
  • Every household should store several gallons of water per person in water safe containers. This water is meant for drinking and cooking in the event of an emergency. If you home can save any test batches consisting of water only as this will give you a bacterial free source of water. However, canning water is not quite practical for larger storage so pick up at least 1 - 20 L (5 gal) portable water container per person in your household. These can be found rather inexpensively in the camping supplies section of most department stores. Fill each container with clean water and make a point of rotating your water stock.
  • Water can in emergency situations be collected through rainfall, snow and natural waterways. However. you need to purify this water to prevent any water born illnesses. For this reason every household should keep a good supply of water purification tablets in their emergency stores. The tablets will allow you to safely purify any collected water for drinking or cooking.