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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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fire Roasted Tomato Basil Sauce

Ontario tomatoes are now in season which means the start of the busiest of the canning season for me.  Most years I will put up 10 hampers (6¼ bushels) sometimes a bit more.  I usually start canning the easier sauces first when the tomatoes are smaller followed by whole and stewed tomatoes then finishing up with salsas, chili sauces and those products where tomatoes need to be peeled.  A couple of days ago I was working on my second hamper of tomatoes.  I decided to do half of them as roasted tomato basil sauce.

problem jars
I am, by any stretch of the imagination a very experienced, knowledgeable and accomplished home canner.   I know what I'm doing and I can recognize a problem that just can't be overlooked.  There are very, very few times that I have any problems with my canning equipment or technique.  In fact the canning process is so old hat, once the jars are in the canner I don't worry about them any more.

This particular night I had run the canner with a load of Italian tomato sauce and tomato stock.  The canner performed beautifully.  I brought the roasted tomato sauce in from the grill, ran it through the strainer, seasoned then reheated and jarred the bottles.  The canner again ran without a problem.  The only sign of a problem was when the canner depressurized and I opened the canner to find sauce all over the canner.  Every single jar had leaked which is an indication of a pressure problem.  Each jar had leaked a good inch of sauce (green arrow).  It was after midnight and my only choice was to reprocess to salvage what sauce was left. I used the Tattler lids without a problem. 

reprocessed roasted tomato basil sauce
Of all the sauces for this to happen with roasted any type of sauce is a lot of work.  Each batch takes about a 6 hour cook time before any tweaking and without considering processing time.  I reprocessed the sauce ending up with about 500 ml less than I started with but at least I saved the sauce.

This year I'm experimenting with new spins on my family favourite roasted tomato sauce.  I've changed my technique a little too in that I slow roast all the vegetables then run them through the food strainer to remove seeds and skins rather than using just the stick blender resulting in a velvety smooth base sauce that can then be further seasoned to give different results.  I added four varieties of garden fresh basils to this sauce so this ended up being a gorgeous sauce despite the problems.

I think sometimes readers get the impression on this blog that things don't go wrong but they do.  While it is uncommon for me to have cannning problems they can and do happen.  It is the experience and knowledge to know what to do when this type of problem happens.  In this case even though the jars would have sealed and they did by the time I opened them I was not comfortable leaving them with that much space in the jar even though some would have left them.  In my mind the only option was to clean out the canner, bring the sauce to a boil again, rejar and reprocess.  The second run was quite successful as pictured.

I'm still not sure what happened to cause this.  In over 30 years of canning this is the first time I've experienced it.  I can't blame it on the lids because 3 styles were used so the only thing I can blame it on is a pressure problem but even then I don't think so.  I know it isn't a gasket problem because I'm pressure canning in an All American canner.  The problem is still a mystery as as long as it doesn't repeat itself I will be a happy canner :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Do It Yourself

Frugal Kitchens 101

One of the first rules for running a frugal kitchen is to do it yourself.  Anytime anything with respect to food prep is done for you ahead of time you will pay extra for it.  Let's consider this weeks chicken deals at the grocery store we regularly shop at.  Fresh skinless, bone-in chicken breast is on for $1.97/lb (less than half price).  Extra lean ground chicken is on for $2.99/lb (savings of $1.50/lb).  Neither are really great prices but chicken has gone up in price so in perspective the prices are rather good.  I want to make a dish that uses ground chicken and one that uses chicken breasts.  If I were a normal shopper I would grab a package of each.  However, I'm not a normal shopper so this week's focuses on Frugal Kitchen's 101doing it yourself.

Doing it yourself when it comes to food prep:

  • saves money
  • gives you a better quality product with less chance of contamination
  • gives you a stronger connection with your food
  • healthier
The grocery store is filled with all kinds of convenience items.  Take the example of this week's chicken sales.  The skinless, bone-in chicken breast although I would prefer skin on is a better deal hands down.  I can remove the bones myself then use them for making chicken stock increasing my savings substantially.  I can grind the amount of chicken myself and may even smirk knowing I've saved over $1/lb. More importantly I know fresh ground at home meat is safer because there has been little time for any surface bacteria to multiply.  Pre-ground meat has a higher surface area so bacteria can multiply very rapidly.  This way I'm not taking any chances. 

There are so many similar savings to be had on your food dollars.  Many foods can be turned into two or three products by doing it yourself and taking advantage of the waste that would normally be tossed away.  It just means getting a bit creative and looking a food from a whole new perspective.  Before any peel or bone goes in the garbage or even the compost ask your self what you could do with it instead.  The number one question to ask yourself when grocery shopping especially for produce and meat is 'Can I do this myself cheaper?".  If the answer is yes, great!  If the answer is yes and I will get a second product of the waste, super!  Those are the foods you want going into your cart to help you stretch your food dollars.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home Canned Convenience

When I tell people that I do a lot of canning many of them think of jams, peaches, and pickles.  Then if I mention we buy very little in the way of commercially canned or jarred foods there is the assumption that we don't use convenience foods.  That is the furthest from the reality of canning here.  I can everything from meats, soups, stews, fruits, vegetables, beans (eg. navy, kidney, etc) and so much more.  Canning is a year round activity with the canners running three or more times a day during the peak canning period and about once a week during the off-peak canning season.  There are many home canned products I make that I would consider convenience products.  One of those is home canned spaghetti meat sauce.

spaghetti with meat sauce
I make a lot of home made pasta sauces both for fresh using and for home canning.  Most of the tomato based sauces I make have longer cooking times that develops the flavour.  Home canned pasta sauces are convenience products in the pantry because they are ready to open and reheat without the long cooking times.  A few year ago I started canning some of my home made spaghetti meat sauce.  I usually can a half canner load (7 - 500 ml jars) with the remaining sauce used for fresh eating.

I can remember when I first considered canning this gorgeous meat sauce.  I was concerned that it would change the texture of the meat.  However the end results were quite good so now I keep a few jars in the pantry as a convenience product.  Pictured is the quick spaghetti with meat sauce meal I made recently.  I had been canning peaches that day but still wanted a home cooked meal without the work.  Spaghetti with meat sauce garnished with fresh grated parmesan cheese and Thai basil fit just that criteria.  The sauce tasted just like fresh made!

In terms of price the home canned comes in at about $1.90 per 500 ml jar including the electricity to cook and can the sauce.  While this sounds on the high side in comparison to store bought plain pasta sauce it is less expensive than store bought gourmet versions of pasta sauces.  This pasta sauce is definitely on the gourmet side of the scale when it comes to pasta sauces.  It's a nice, chunky and meaty sauce with full flavour that cans well.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

She Said - Stuffed Chicken Breast

Yesterday I posted about the baked potatoes my husband made for his third selection for the Second Annual He Said/She Said Contest.  My gosh they were delicious!  While he was making the potatoes I made the stuffed chicken breast (Pp. 86) from Jean Paré's Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking for my third entry.  Lately I have been doing a fair amount of experimenting with various stuffings.  I thought the stuffing in this recipe sounded interesting.

My apologies, in hindsight I should have taken pictures of each dish separately rather than the complete entrée.  Unfortunately I didn't so had to use the same picture as yesterday's post.

I used the stuffing to make 2 stuffed chicken breasts, substituted unbleached flour for the all-purpose flour and used olive oil in a health mister in place of cooking spray.   The chicken breasts did not brown up as nicely as I would have liked but they were cooked through.  This will be something I work on the next time I make them.  

The stuffed chicken breasts were quite tasty and they did pair nicely with the baked potato dinner (stuffed potatoes).  It is definitely another keeper recipe!  The stuffing makes about 1¼ c but I used it all between the 2 large chicken breasts.  I would do it the same way the next time I make them as the stuffing had a lovely flavour.  I think the stuffing would also be suitable for making a stuffed chicken loaf.  All the way around it was a great tasting meal that we will make again.

Stuffed Chicken Breast
source: Jean Paré Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking, 2003, Pp. 11

1 medium leek, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ c finely chopped red pepper
1 tsp olive oil
6 oz jar marinated artichokes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar, packed
1 - 3 tbsp fresh sweet basil, chopped
8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
½ all-purpose flour
1½ c fine dry whole wheat bread crumbs
2 large eggs
2 tbsp mil

Thinly slice the white and tender parts of the leak.  Drain and chop the artichokes.  Sauté lee, garlic and red pepper in olive oil on medium-high until leek is soft.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add artichoke, vinegar, and brown sugar.  Heat and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and stir in basil.  Cut a deep horizontal slit into 1 side of each chicken breast to form a pocket.  Fill each pocket with stuffing.  Secure the openings with wooden picks.  Put the flour and bread crumbs into separate bowls.  Beat eggs an milk with fork in a third bowl.  Dredge the chicken in flour to coat, dip into the egg mixture then into the bread crumbs.  Spray the chicken with cooking spray.  Bake at 350ºF (175ºC) until chicken is golden and no longer pink inside, about 25 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Allow to cool slightly.  Remove wooden pick.  Cut chicken in half diagonally to serve.

Serves 8

Friday, August 27, 2010

He Said - Baked Potato Dinner

Potatoes are our favorite side usually steamed or baked.  My husband's third selection for the Second Annual He Said/She Said Contest from Jean Paré's Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking is baked potato dinner (Pp. 111).  You just can't go wrong with stuffed baked potatoes sometimes referred to as twice-baked potatoes!  Stuffed baked potatoes freeze nicely too.  Simply cool the stuffed baked potatoes then place on a baking sheet to freeze.  When frozen place the potatoes into a zipper style freezer bag.  Reheat in oven or microwave oven. 

The baked potato dinner is the name of the recipe for the potatoes in Jean's cookbook.  While my husband was making the potatoes I made the stuffed chicken breast (Pp. 86) to complete the meal.  I will post the recipe for that tomorrow.  Jean recommends adding a salad or steamed vegetables with the potatoes to make a complete meal which would also make the meal vegetarian.

The baked potatoes were delicious!  This recipe is another keeper.  It was easy to make with minimal prep as well.   My husband substituted 4 medium sized potatoes for the extra large which make 8 stuffed potatoes.  He substituted MiracleWhip® for the Caesar salad dressing and omitted the dill. 

Baked Potato Dinner
source: Jean Paré Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking, 2003, Pp. 111.

2 extra large baking potatoes, with peel
1 - 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 c sliced mushrooms
2 tsp canola oil
1 green onion, sliced
½ c mashed soft tofu
2 tbsp light Caesar salad dressing
2 tsp chopped fresh dill
dash coarsely ground pepper
½ c grated light sharp cheddar cheese
sprinkle paprika

Bake the potatoes at 400ºƒ (205ºC) until tender.  Remove from oven.  Cut in half lengthwise.  Let stand until cool enough to handle then scoop out the pulp into a mixing bowl leaving the shells about ¼ - inch thick.  Set the shells aside.  Mash the potatoes with a fork.  Cook the garlic and mushrooms in canola oil in a non-stick skillet on medium heat until mushrooms are golden.  Stir mushroom mixture into the potatoes.  Add onion, tofu, salad dressing, dill and pepper.  Mash.  Stir in cheese.  Spoon the filling evenly into the shells.  Sprinkle with paprika.  Place in ungreased casserole dish.  Bake uncovered at 400ºF (205ºC) about 30 minutes until heated through.

Makes 4 stuffed potatoes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kitchen Quick Tips - When to Add Garlic

kitchen quick tips

Add garlic immediately to a recipe if you want a light garlic taste and at the end of the recipe if your want a stronger garlic taste.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

He Said - Crunchy Vegetable Macaroni

One of the nice things about doing these contests is my husband and I get to experience dishes we may not otherwise try.  I think pasta is a staple in many homes.  One of our favourites is home made macaroni and cheese.  While mac and cheese is great comfort food there are a lot of ways of dressing it up.  My husband's second entry for the Second Annual He Said/She Said Contest from Jean Paré's Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking is crunchy vegetable macaroni (Pp. 113).  This dish gives a nice spin on homemade mac and cheese making it a keeper recipe.

crunchy vegetable macaroni
Adding crunchy vegetaables to mac and cheese is a nice way to kick it up a notch!  This recipe added crunchy carrots, asparagus, peas and red peppers.  Now a recipe is always a starting point so no ingredient is written in stone.  In fact one of the signs of a good cook is the abilitiy to look at a recipe and easily substitute.  In this case my husband substituted shelled Laxton's Progress sweet peas for the sugar snap peas because the peas in our garden did not do well this year and that is what we could get from the organic farm.  The parsley in the dish was from our garden.  He omitted the red pepper because it is one of the very few vegetables he doesn't like unless puréed into a sauce.    He served the crunchy vegetable macaroni with herbed buttermilk marinated chicken topped with home canned plum sauce.  It was a delightful meal!

Crunchy Vegetable Macaroni
source: Jean Paré, Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking, 2003, Pp. 113.

2½ c water
⅓ c thinly sliced carrot
1½ c fresh asparagus
1 c sugar snap peas
1 diced red pepper
¼ice water
13½ oz can skim evaporated milk
1 tsp garlic and herb no-salt seasoning
½ tsp lemon pepper
2 c uncooked whole wheat elbow macaroni
2 finely sliced green onions
1 c grated light sharp cheddar cheese
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Bring water to boil in medium saucepan.  Add carrot.  Cover and cook on medium for 4 minutes.  Add remaining vegetables.  Cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove vegetables with slotted spoon to ice water to cool quickly,  reserving 2 c of the cooking water.  Drain cooled vegetables and set aside.  Add evaporated milk and seasoning to reserved cooking water in same saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Add macaroni.  Cook uncovered on medium until macaroni is tender and most liquid is absorbed.  Do not drain.  Pour into a large bowl.   Stir in vegetables and cheese.  Turn into a greased 3 qt casserole dish.  Cover.  Bake at 175ºC (350ºF) for 30 minutes or until warmed through.  Garnish with parsley.

Makes 8 cups, serves 4.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

He Said - Poached Sole Rolls

My husband's entry for the Second Annual He Said/She Said Contest from Jean Paré's Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking is poached sole rolls (Pp. 94).  Sole is an ocean flatfish that has a mild, delicate flavour yet flaky flaky texture.  Sole fillets are very thin.  They can be  quickly pan-fried or pan sauteed, baked or poached.  The fillets are done when  you can flake the thick end with a fork.

seared shrimp
Pan seared shrimp were the perfect appetizer for the meal adding a second layer of flavour.  We used frozen raw shell on 16/20 count per lb shrimp for both dishes. 

Pan Seared Shrimp

Thaw shrimp in cold water.  Peel and de-vein shrimp.  Melt about ¼ c of butter in skillet on medium high.  Add shrimp.  Sear shrimp to just browning.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the shrimp from the skillet.

poached sole rolls
Despite the notation in the recipe that this would be a wonderful dish for a special occasion, and it would be, the dish is easy enough to make that it can be enjoyed anytime.  My husband paired the poached sole rolls with steamed new potatoes, steamed asparagus spears and garnished with a few of the pan seared shrimp.  The poached sole was delicious!  He did not chop the shrimp for the filling, omitted the dill and substituted apple juice for the wine.  I was surprised cream cheese was an ingredient because cheese isn't paired with fish very often.  This dish is a definite keeper!

Poached Sole Rolls
source:  Jean Paré.  Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking, 2003, Pp. 94.

8 sole fillets
¼ c light spreadable cream cheese
1-3 tbsp chopped fresh dill (omitted)
3 tbsp chopped green onion
12 oz raw medium shrimp, chopped
¾ c dry white wine
½ c water

Lemon Sauce

1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp lemon juice

Lay fillets on cutting board.  Blot dry.  Mash cream cheese, dill and green onion in medium bowl until well mixed and smooth.  Add shrimp mixing well.  Spread about 2 tbsp of the mixture over each fillet.  Roll up securing with wooden pick.  Combine water and wine in ungreased shallow casserole dish.  Arrange rolls in a single layer in the wine mixture.  Cover.  Bake at 175ºC (350ºF) for 20 to 25 minutes until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.  Gently remove fish from liquid using a slotted spoon.  Keep warm.  Strain the liquid reserving 1½ c.

Melt butter in medium saucepan on medium heat.  Stir in flour until smooth.  Heat and stir for 1 minute.  Whisk in reserved liquid and lemon juice.  Heat and stir until boiling and thickened.  Makes about 1 c.  Serve over fish rolls.

Serves 8

Monday, August 23, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Food Safety

Frugal Kitchens 101
 Food safety is a year round concern in any kitchen.  A surprising number of food borne illnesses are a direct result of not practicing good food safety.  What some people blame on a 24 Hour Flu is actually a mild case of food poisoning.  Foods should not be within the danger zone of 4.4ºC (40ºF) and 60ºC (140ºF) for more than 4 hours.   In other words hot foods should be kept hot and cold foods kept cold.  Hot foods that will be later stored in the refrigerator should be chilled as quick as possible.  A lot of foods served at picnics, smorgasbords and outdoor events can easily have been within the danger zone.  It is very difficult especially at household events to know whether an at risk food was in the danger zone for any period of time especially when well meaning guests who offer to help may easily scoop that food into a container for the refrigerator not realizing it could cause illness.  Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 is a short video clip of a few things to keep in mind when considering food safety. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

She Said - Black Beans

My second entry for the Second Annual He Said/She Said Contest from Jean Paré's Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking is black beans (Pp. 14).  Surprisingly I very seldom cook beans from scratch on the stovetop.  The reason I don't cook them on the stovetop is I can beans (eg. kidney, navy, black, etc) instead.  Canning eliminates the long stovetop cooking for beans while giving me a convenient ready to use product for the pantry.  I choose this recipe for the experience of cooking beans on the stovetop and the extra flavours it offered.  The black beans will (?) also be used in another of my contest recipes. 

Black beans are one of my favourite beans.  They can be mashed to use in place of meat for tacos, taco salad or as a meat extender in meatloaves.  We enjoy them as a side with a little butter as well. 

Cooking the black beans on the stovetop was quite easy.  They did take the full 55 minute cooking time.  Despite the added ingredients the beans only had a bare hint of the extra flavours.  I noticed more splitting than with the home canned version.  I put two 1 cup packages of the beans into the freezer as I have froze black beans before so I want to see how they are when thawed. 

Black Beans
source: Jean Paré,  Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking, 2003, Pp. 14

1 lb dried black beans
water to cover

14 c water
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic
1 strip lemon peel*

Pour beans into a bowl and cover with water.  Let sit overnight.  Drain.  Pour beans into large pot.  Add 14 c of water and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil on medium-high.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer 55 minutes or until beans are tender but not mushy.  Drain.  The beans can be portioned out in 1 c size and froze if desired.

*I used most of the peel of one lemon.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

She Said - Peach Spice Muffins

Earlier this month I announced the Second Annual He Said/She Said Contest.  The focus of this year's contest will be Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking by Jean Paré, one of my favourite cookbook authors.  From now until the end of the month 8 recipes will be posted from this cookbook, four of my husband's choosing and four of mine.  Ontario peaches are in season so I've been busy canning them.  I chose the Peach Spice Muffin recipe as my first She Said contest recipe.

I'm always looking for muffin recipes.  Muffins are so easy to make.  They are great for breakfast or snacks and they travel well so I make  them quite often.  Peaches added to muffins sounded like a wonderful match.  The Peach Spice Muffins have a delightful taste.  They are low fat (1.6 g) and low in sodium (153 g) with 173 calories per muffing.

I made three substitutions in this recipe.  I used unbleached flour instead of all-purpose, home canned peaches instead of store bought and vegetable oil in place of canola oil.

Peach Spice Muffins
source: Jean Paré, Company's Coming Heart-Friendly Cooking, 2003, Pp. 38

1 c all-purpose flour
¾ c whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground allspice
¾ c dark brown sugar, packed

14 oz can peach halves
1 large egg
¾ c buttermilk
⅓ c apple juice
2 tbsp canola oil

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the centre.  Combine the last 5 ingredients in a separate mixing bowl.  Pour into the well.  Stir until just moistened without overmixing.  Fill greased muffin cup ¾ full.  Bake at 190ºC (375ºF) for 20 to 25 minutes until wooden pick inserted in centre of muffin comes out clean.  Remove from oven.  Let stand in pan 5 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 12 muffins

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blackberry Peach Jam

This is such a wonderful time of year in Ontario!  The home gardens are producing nicely while local produce is readily available.   It signifies the gearing up to the heaviest canning season for me.  I like to get the in season fruits canned before starting into tomatoes and apples.  So it really is a great time of year.

blackberries and red haven peaches
One of our friends generously gifted us with about a quart of blackberries (left).  At the same time Ontario peaches were coming into season.  My husband brought home almost 19 lb of red haven peaches (right).  Red havens are cling free (free stone) peaches that have a red blush.  The pit is even reddish.    The first few peaches were combined with the blackberries to make a luscious gourmet jam.

blackberry peach jam
One of the best ways of stretching out a fruit for preserving when there isn't a lot of it is to combine it with another fruit.  It's also a way to get the taste of more expensive fruits by extending those fruits with less expensive fruits.  Fruit combination jams are wonderful because you do get that blend of flavours.  I paired the blackberries with red haven peaches for a lovely jam.  The flavour really is superb!

Blackberry Peach Jam
source: Garden Gnome

2 c crushed blackberries
2 c chopped peaces
¼ c preservative free lemon juice
2 c organic sugar
2 tsp Pomona's pectin*
2 tsp calcium water

Prepare blackberries and peaches.  Place in large saucepan.  Stir in lemon juice and calcium water.  Mix sugar and pectin together in a separate bowl.  Bring fruit mixture to a boil then stir in sugar/pectin mixture.  Bring to a boil and boil 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Ladle into hot, prepared jars.  Adjust lids as per instructions depending on what lids you are using.  Process jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes at altitudes to 1,000 feet or at higher altitudes refer to altitude adjustment chart on canning information page.  Remove from canner.  Let cool 24 hours and test seal.

Yield: 4 - 250 ml (half pint) jars

*Do not substitute regular pectin in this recipe.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kitchen Quick Tips - Bumps on Bottom of Peppers

kitchen quick tips

Peppers with 3 bumps on the bottom are sweeter and better for eating. Peppers with 4 bumps on the bottom are firmer and better for cooking.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spirited Peaches

Ontario peaches are now in season as mentioned in yesterday's post.  I started off with 2 - 2 L baskets to try out a couple of new recipes.  This week I will be into my regular canning for peaches perhaps adding a new recipe or two but for the most part the peaches will be canned as quarter or slices.  Unlike the first peaches I started with and pictured below the peaches for the main canning sessions will come directly from the orchard.  We a doing a foodie road trip this week to pick up in season fruits and vegetables that will include peaches.  I would like to get these canned up before starting tomatoes which also starts this week so there will be a few busy days ahead.

cutting peaches
Peaches come in two varieties with respect to the pit.  By far the easiest peach to prepare for canning has a cling-free pit.  What this means is the pit will pull freely from the fruit.  Some peach cultivars are not cling-free so the meat of the fruit sticks firmly to the pit.  These cultivars are a lot more difficult to prepare for canning.

The general recommendation for peeling peaches is to dip them in boiling water for 30 seconds then slip the skin similar to the way you would slip the skins from tomatoes.  A method I like using for firm, ripe  peaches is scoring to the pit to form quarters.  A little twist of the knife will release the first quarter and the others can easily be removed from the pit.  A couple of passes of the knife quickly removes the skin.  Then I turn the quarter on one edge and slice through to form two slices.  When it comes to any food prep for canning use the method that works for you. 

spirited and plain peaches
I was testing two variables in this small canning batch.  First, as you know if you have been following this blog I have been testing out the Tattler reusable canning lids.  The second variable was adding spirits (eg. alcohol) to the product which is something I don't do a lot of.  Adding alcohol gives a wonderful gourmet product but it makes the product less versatile in that it cannot be served to everyone.   Spirited peaches are delightful especially served with vanilla ice cream.

Spirited Peaches
source:  Garden Gnome

6 c prepared sliced peaches
¼ c preservative free lemon juice
4 c water

1 lemon
2½ c water
2 c organic sugar

8 tbsp peach schnapps

Mix lemon juice with 4 c water in large bowl.  Wash, peel, pit an slice the peaches place the prepared peach slices in the lemon water as you work.  Grate the rind of the lemon and place in medium sized sauce pan.  Squeeze juice from lemon and add to rind.  Stir in water and sugar.  Bring to a boil on high heat then boil gently for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Pour 2 tbsp peach snapps int prepared jars.  Pack jars with drained peach slices leaving ½ - inch headspace.  Ladle hot syrup over peaches leaving ½ - inch headspace.  Wipe the rim.  Adjust two piece snap lids (metal) or reusable Tattler lids on the jars.  Process for 20 minutes in BWB canner at altitudes to 1,000 feet above sea level or at high altitudes refer to altitude adjustment chart on canning information page.  Remove from canner.  Tighten ring if using Tattler lids.  Allow to cool 24 hours.  Remove rings and check for seal.  Wash jars and rings.  Rings can be placed loosely on the jars for storage.

Yield: 4 - 500 ml (pint) jars

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Peach Lavender Jam

Ontario peaches are now in season here.  We have not made a trip to the orchard for them yet but my husband brought home 2 - 2 L baskets for me to experiment with.  I would like to get any peach products canned before starting into tomato and corn products.  This is likely wishful thinking as various fruits and vegetables tend to overlap this time of year.  At any rate I had a chance to can a couple of peach products so it was a peachy day!

dried lavender flowers
Lavender has wonderful medicinal properties but it is also an amazing culinary herb that adds a subtle flowery note to dishes.  Lavender is one of the key herbs in herbes de province, one of my favourite herb blends.  Lavender accents the flavour of fresh fruits as well so it is perfect for adding that extra special flavour element especially when making jams and jellies.  It also happens to be one of my favourite herbs to grow second only to basils.  I love getting a waft of lavender as I brush against it while in the garden.  I have a couple of problem areas that I am going to try dividing my lavender and planting those spots in the hopes it will do well.  

If you don't grow lavender yourself but would like to experiment cooking with it look for organically grown lavender.  Many organic farm stands are now selling a wide range of fresh organic herbs.  Another good source is health food stores.  I also recall seeing dried lavender flowers at World Market so check specialty kitchen stores.  You should be able to order online as well.

peach lavender jam
A simple addition of lavender water can be just the ingredient that puts your homemade jam into the higher end of the gourmet category.  It's a combination you likely will not find in regular grocery stores although some gourmet specialty shops may possible have something similar.  When buying gourmet style jams expect to pay somewhere around the $8 mark for an 125 ml (pint) jar if not more so about $1 per 15 ml (about 1 ounce).  The homemade version will cost a third or less of that even with buying the produce.

The peach lavender jam is simply delightful.  I made several changes including halving the recipe something I normally do when testing any new canning recipe and I converted the recipe to use Pomona's pectin* rather than regular pectin (eg. Certo).   The flavour of the jam is wonderful. 

Peach Lavender Jam
modified from:  Topp, E. and Howard M., Peach-Lavender Jam, Small-Batch Preserving.2005. Pp. 41.

1 tbsp dried lavender flowers
¼ c boiling water
2 c finely chopped peaches
1 tbsp preservative free lemon juice
3 c organic granulated sugar
1½ tsp Pomona's pectin*
2 tsp calcium water

Place the lavender flowers in a small bowl.  Pour the boiling water over them.  Allow to steep for 20 minutes then strain reserving the liquid.  Combine peaches, lavender liquid, calcium water, and lemon juice in a medium sized saucepan.  In a separate bowl mix the pectin and sugar together.  Bring the peach mixture to a boil.  Stir in the sugar, pectin mixture.  Continue stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Return to a boil and boil for 1 minute while stirring.  Remove from heat.  Ladle into hot prepared 250 ml (half-pint) jars leaving ¼ - inch headspace.  Wipe rim.  Adjust 2 piece lids.  Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath canner.  Remove from canner and tighten ring further is using Tattler reusable lids or leave ring as is for single-use  metal lids.  Allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours.  Remove ring and test seal.  Wash jars and rings.  The rings can be stored loosely on the jars for storage.

*Pomona's pectin is a low methoxy pectin.  Do not substitute regular pectin in this modified recipe.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Kitchen Extras That Save Money

Frugal Kitchens 101

As a foodie I do love kitchen gadgets but with a smaller kitchen I have to be conscious of not filling my kitchen with gadgets that may only be used a few times.  When it comes to kitchen extras there are some that have a very low payback period with considerable savings after the payback period.  Over time these are the true must haves in a frugal kitchen.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses some of the must have kitchen extras that save money in a very short period of time.  The following are some of the kitchen extras that I consider frugal choices:

  • popcorn maker - Making popcorn at home for a snack is not only healthy but quite inexpensive.  A popcorn maker will save you both time, energy and money because it allows you to use bulk popcorn or even gourmet popcorn without all the health risks involved with microwave popcorn.  A popcorn maker will cost somewhere in the $30 range but if it easy to use especially for school aged children will have a very low payback period.  A bag of popcorn is considerably cheaper that snacks like potato chips or commercially prepared bags of cheese popcorn.  Home popped will cost you somewhere in the range of about 25¢ compared to a bag of commercially prepared snacks at about $2.
  • pressure cooker - A pressure cooker cooks foods at 15 lb pressure meaning foods cook quicker and are more tender.  A roast can be easily cooked in a pressure cooker in about 40 minutes yet it is melt in your mouth tender.  Unlike a microwave oven meats cooked in a pressure cooker can be browned.  A pressure cooker also makes very quick work of making homemade stocks reducing the cooking time from 3 or more hours down to about 30 minutes.  A pressure cooker will cost somewhere in the $40 range.
  • pressure canner -  My pressure canners are my most valuable kitchen extras.  A pressure canner operates at 5, 10 or 15 lb pressure and is considerably larger than a pressure cooker.  It is necessary for canning low acid foods.  Home canning your own food is one of the most frugal things you can do.  For example home canned baked beans costs about 10¢ for a 500 ml jar in comparision to 59¢ bought on sale and they have considerable less BPA (suspected carcinogen) because they are canned in jars rather than plastic lined cans (all cans in North America are lined with plastic containing BPA.  A pressure canner will cost between $60 and $400 depending on what you buy but used ones show up at resale stores, yard sales and on Freecycle so you might be able to get one free!  Even on the high end a pressure canner has a payback of less than a year. 
  • countertop roaster - A counter top roaster allows you to cook pretty much anything you would cook in an oven with the same great results while using less electricity and not heating up the kitchen.  Unlike a microwave oven or slow cooker, a countertop roaste does brown foods nicely so you can get excellent results.  Depending on the size a countertop roaster will cost in the range of $30 to $60. 
  • yogurt maker -  Homemade yogurt is inexpensive and easy to make.  Yogurt can be made without a yogurt maker but a yogurt maker will give consistent results.  The nice thing is most yogurt makers will cost about $20 new but can easily be found at yard sales for about $2. 
  • slow cooker - I'm not a huge fan of slow cookers but they do save money.  Having a ready meal when you get home eliminates the urge to stop for take-out or fast food. 
  • KitchenAid stand mixer - A KA stand mixer is seriously worth it's weight in gold!  This is one of the very few small kitchen appliances that I regret not buying sooner.  Not only can it be used for a variety of mixing needs it is wonderful for making homemade breads eliminating the need for a breadmachine.  There are a wide range of attachments available as well so this is one appliance that really earns its place on my counter.  I use mine almost daily quite often multiple times in a day.  It takes the place of a breadmaker, food processor and food strainer.  Soon it will become a pasta maker as well.  A KA stand mixer will cost in the range of $250 or more if bought new but the payback period is very low.  This machine will pay for itself in bread alone within a few months!
  • FoodSaver vacuum sealer - Air is the natural enemy of food especially during storage.  A vacuum sealer removes the air then seals it out which is especially useful for dry and freezer storage.  Vaccum sealing dry foods eliminates humidity problems while vacuum sealing frozen foods eliminates freezer burn both of with cause food spoilage.  A FoodSaver vacuum sealer will cost about $100 but if bought in a kit will come with a mason jar sealer, hose, canisters and a few bags to get you started.  It has a very low payback period as well.  In many cases a FoodSaver vacuum sealer will pay for itself within a couple of months if not sooner.
  • blender - A blender is a must have inexpensive small appliance that costs under $30 with a very short payback period.  Blenders can are multi-task appliances ranging from grinding coffee beans to making baby food, smoothies, soups and dips.  I use the mason jar tip with my blender to make dips, sauces and viniagrettes right in the jar!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Maple Blueberry Conserves

When it comes to canning there are a variety of terms to describe certain products.  I have talked about many of them of this blog but one I haven't talked a lot about.  A conserve is a jam garnished with nuts and sometimes dried fruits.  Their flavour tends to involve warm spices.  A conserve can be used as a spread, topping, sauce or even a garnish.

maple blueberry conserves
Blueberries were on sale this week at $3.44 for 2 lb saving me a trip to the U-pick.  I used half of the package to make maple blueberry conserves.  Now you just can't go wrong pairing maple syrup with blueberries.  I made 5 - 125 ml (4 oz) jars of the conserves.  Two of the jars had the new Tattler reusable lids while three of the jars had the new Bernardin silver metal lids.  The silver metal lids have been getting bad reviews as far as seal failures but that has not been my experience.

Maple Blueberry Conserves
modified from: Topp, E., and Howard, M., Small-Batch Preserving, 2001, Richmond Hill, Ontario. Pp.99.

2 c crushed fresh blueberries
½ c water
¼ c 100% pure maple syrup
1 tbsp organic, preservative free lemon juice*
1 c organic sugar
½ c raisins
¼ c chopped walnuts
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground ginger

Rinse the blueberries then place in a medium stainless steel saucepan.  Add water, maple syrup and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat and boil gently for 5 minutes or until fruit is tender.  Stir in sugar and raisins.  Return to a low boil and boil gently, uncovered until mixture forms a light get (about 15 minutes).  Remove from heat.  Stir in the walnuts, allspice and ginger.  Pour into jars leaving ¼- inch headspace.  Wipe the rim.  Apply lid of choice (metal Snap, Tattler reusable).  Secure lids with ring.   Process in BWB for 10 minutes.  Remove from canner.  Allow to cool 24 hours then test seal and store.

Yield: 5 - 125 ml jars

*Some commercial lemon juices have sodium benzoate that breaks down under heat and acidic conditions to benzene, a known carcinogen.  Avoid using any lemon juice with this preservative for canning.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Drying Green Beans

Earlier this week I posted about buying 20 lb of organic green beans from the organic farm.  I ended up with 7 L jars and 24 - 500 ml jars of home canned green beans.  I am testing the Tattler reusable canning lids so 11 of the jars canned were Tattler lids while the rest were the regular, single-use, metal Bernardin canning lids.  Of those jars one of the Tattler lids failed but I think I figured out the cause.

green beans on the tray
About 19 lbs of the green beans were canned.  I reserved about 1½ lb of the green beans for drying.  Green beans are best dried when young and tender.  As with all produce choose organically grown if at all possible.

Method:  Wash and clean the ends from the beans.  Cut into 1" pieces.  Steam blaanch for 4 to 6 minutes.  Arrange on a drying tray in a single layer.  Place the drying tray over a sided baking sheet to catch any pieces that fall through the drying rack as they dry.  Dry at 125ºF until beans are brittle.  The dried beans can be used ins soups, stews and casseroles.

vacuum sealed dried green beans
The green beans took overnight to dry.  Once dried I packaged into a 500 ml mason jar then vacuum sealed.  Vacuum sealing is one of the best ways to ensure dried foods are protected from humidity, rodents and insects.  This provided another good opportunity to test one of the Tattler reusable lids.  According to the package these lids can be used for vacuum sealing as well.  The Tattler lid performed without a hitch when vacuum sealed.  I removed it then replaced with a used metal lid because I have a lot of used lids but only a few Tattler lids to work with.

It will be quite some time before I will need to use Tattler lids for vacuum sealing but it is nice to know that they do seal as promised.  I use canning lids that were previously used for canning for vacuum sealing.  Once they get to a point I can no longer get a seal the lids go into the recycle bin.  It will be quite some time before I run out of used metal canning lids to use for vacuum sealing even with gradually switching to the Tattler reusable canning lids providing I am happy with the results over the testing period.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Organic Food Doesn't Have to Break the Bank

One of the biggest complaints I hear about organic food is that it is expensive.  From a home gardener perspective I understand why it it more expensive and why it is healthier for you.  Organic foods don't have the synthetic chemical residues from using synthetic pesticides.  That means those residues don't have a chance to become carcinogenic within your body.  Organic foods are by far a healthier food choice that may prevent health issues as well making them a frugal choice.

marketmore cucumber and brandywine tomato
I organically grow as much produce and herbs possible.  My gardens are even expanding as I struggle to fit yet one more fruit or vegetable into them.  The strongest chemicals I use in my garden is white vinegar (weed control) and a homemade soap solution for controlling insects but only if absolutely necessary.  That's it. In addition to using organic practices I also rely fairly heavily on growing heirloom varieties.  That way I know the seed has not been genetically modified (GM0) and will breed true.

Pictured are the marketmore cucumber and my very first brandywine tomato of 2010.  Don't the look yummy?  Both are heirloom varieties.  They are good, well behaved garden performers that demand minimal attention yet reward you with wonderful tasting produce.  Seeds for either variety should be collected and stored for use in the following year's garden.

organic dinner
Accompanying the beautiful organic cucumber and tomato was organic, hormone free Canadian beef (roasted sirloin tip) and organic vegetables.  The potatoes were cooked in with roast while the green beans were from the jar of home canned recently done that had a lid failure so were reheated.  Everything you see on the plate is organic, pesticide and hormone free!  There are no preservatives or artificial anything.  It is just plain old fashioned, home cooked food!  Rather than thickening the gravy that was made using homecanned tomato stock I left is as an au jour.  Tomato stock is something I experimented canning last year that has been a huge success so I will be canning up a couple of cases of it this year!

So you are likely wondering how much this meal actually cost me?  The total cost for everything including the electricity to cook the meal came in at just under $11.  There was enough for 2 servings over 2 meals which works out to $2.75 per serving or in perspective almost half the price of a McDonald's Happy Meal per person and a heck of a lot healthier!  I would hazard a guess there was a lot more food than in the comparison meal as well.  If you start breaking down the cost benefits of using organic produce, meats and fish it quickly becomes apparent that yes some (not all) is a bit more costly but quite a frugal food choice.  Using organic doesn't have to break the bank.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kitchen Quick Tips - Bananas

kitchen quick tips

Take your bananas apart when you get them home.  If left connected at the stem they will ripen faster.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pan Fried Atlantic Cod Loins

I grew up in a very small, rural town that had 2 small grocery stores.  The grocery stores were quaint especially by today's standards.  The selection was rather limited but both had a meat counter that would cut cheeses and meat for you, somewhat like a butcher shop.  Most of the produce was either seasonal or canned.  My Mom didn't drive so we had no need for a car which restricted most of our activities to town.  Twice a year we would board the bus to go into the city.  My gosh that was aways exciting but other than indulging in a sandwich and drink at the lunch counter in the Metropolitan store, food was not on our shopping agenda.

My Mom bought meat in bulk and our farm fresh eggs were delivered to our door every week like clockwork.  The ladies in the neighbourhood held canning sessions using produce that was either home grown or bartered for.  Most of the fish I ate growing up came in a box already breaded or was from generous gifts from family and friends.  My Mom regularly bought from Watkins and shopped through catalogues.  Local farmers used to go door to door selling their extra produce.  They knew my Mom would always buy so our house was a sure stop!  It's funny thinking about the way we did things that my Mom used to say if someone came to your door selling you could always get it cheaper elsewhere and yet a vast amount of food was delivered directly to our door!

In some ways I have kept some of the tradition of having certain foods delivered right to my door.  Online shopping has allowed me to be able to get certain foods not locally available shipped right to me.  I can even get Ontario cheeses and Digby scallops delivered from the source directly to my door via overnight delivery!  Local schools and organizations have taken to selling certain types of foods (eg. gourmet popcorn) for fund raisers. 

Elite Gourmet Food Service delivers gourmet foods to your door throughout all of southern Ontario.  Their prices are a bit higher than the butcher shop or M&M Meat Shops but in terms of quality the food is top notch.  I can't recall how we first learned about this company.  I know their representatives will contact you but it is based on recommendation by a friend or relative not door to door sales or telemarketing.  The representative leaves a small flyer with your purchase along with their phone number for placing another order if you choose.  It is very low keyed selling which rather nice.  Unless they are out the food is available right from their vehicle so there's no shipping costs or waiting for the food to arrive.

Our area representative was at our neighbour's so dropped by to see if there was anything I needed.  I bought a 5 lb box of Atlantic cod loins.  The cod came in at $12 per lb for a 5 lb box.  There were 17 pieces of cod in the box, vacuum seal 2 or 3 to a pack.  Cod tails go for $9.99 lb on sale at the butcher's shop and $14.99 for 2 lb at M & M Meat Shops.  However, the cod from Elite Gourmet Food Service is cod loin which is a thicker cut of cod, over an inch thick.  It definitely is worth the extra cost! 

We used a light fish coating on the cod for pan frying.  I served the tender, flakey cod with homemade French fries and marketmore cucumber freshly picked from my garden. The French fries were topped with French fry dip.

The cod did not disappoint!  It was tender and flakey with a wonderful fresh flavour and texture.  Each piece was thick enough that two each were enough for a meal.  In terms of price this is still expensive for meat coming in at about $7 per 2 piece cod serving however it is cheaper than eating out at our favourite English style pub where we pay $12.95 for a 2 piece cod dinner plus drinks, tip and transportation cost to get there and back.  Our tab there for 2 usually comes out to about $45 plus gas but the homemade version for 2 was only about $17 total including fish, coating, potatoes, cucumber and electricity for cooking.  In that perspective getting this gorgeous fish delivered directly to our door becomes a rather frugal choice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Twenty Pounds of Organic Green Beans

Canning is a year round activity here with the canner running at least once a week.  I am in the midst of the busy canning season right now because this is the time of year local produce is being harvested.  I am very blessed this year to have found a wonderful organic farm to supplement what I don't grow.  The last visit there I asked them to call me when they had 20 lb of green beans.  They called las Thursday so one of our kids picked them up for me.

home canned green beans
We go through a lot of canned green beans in a year.  This year I am testing the Tattler reusable canning lids.  Now this in itself introduces a lot of stress because if there is anything I can't tolerate is food wastage.  When it comes to canning there is a fair amount of work as well.

Pictured are the 7 L and 24 - 500 ml jars of green bean I canned.  I did not crawl into bed until after 3 AM so it was a long night!  The white lids are the new Tattler reusable canning lids.  Of the Tattler lids I did have one seal failure but what I think I did was forget to tighten the ring after removing from the canner which is one reason why canning a 3 in the morning is not always the best idea.  I have to save I am quite impressed with the Tattler lids so far.  They take a bit of getting used to because the rubber ring is separate from the lid but the lids performed beyond expectation.  It will take a bit of an adjustment to get used to the different look but that ok providing the lids work as promised.  In this application sealing was not a problem and from experience green beans tend to be a bit problematic for canning.  My first ages ago attempt resulted in buckled lids so this run (3 canner loads) was really problem free with no buckling of the metal lids and all but one lids sealing.    It was a good and very encouraging but long canning session.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Frugal Packaging

Frugal Kitchens 101

Packaging is a necessary evil of getting foods home from the grocery store.  Have you ever noticed that certain foods are available in a variety of packaging?  Some forms of packaging are more eco-friendly than others and the great news is the eco-friendly packaging tends to be cheaper!  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses frugal packaging in the grocery store.

  • juices - Quite often juices can be found in cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles, tetra packs and cardboard containers in the freezer section.  By far the cheapest and most eco-friendly choice is frozen juice.  You aren't paying for extra water and you don't have  jars or cans to recycle.  In this case you are reducing packaging coming into your home.  At the same time frozen juices tend to be considerably cheaper than any other form of commercial juice.  One of the most eco-unfriendly juice packaging is the tetra pack so avoid that at all costs.
  • produce - Produce can be found in bulk, in plastic or mesh bags, plastic/pressed paper containers, boxes or in plastic clam shell containers.  By far produce in the bulk section is cheaper but some fragile fruits mainly berries only come in plastic/pressed paper containers or clam shell container.  I really dislike clam shell containers because they can't go in the recycle bin and they don't stand up to reusing.  These are the containers I avoid like the plague if at all possible.
  • milk - In Canada we can get milk in plastic bags, cartons and in some areas plastic jugs.  All of this packaging is reusable and there are a wide range of wonderful ways of recycling these materials.  Milk in plastic bags tends to be slightly cheaper because shipping costs are lower due the weight.
  • eggs - Eggs in the grocery store come in clam shell style packaging ranging from pressed paper, to clear plastic lids to styrofoam.  Eggs packaged in the old fashioned pressed paper cartons tend to be the cheapest.  The pressed paper can be recycled into containers for seed starting.  The eggs packaged in clear plastic are usually most expensive and those in styrofoam somewhere in between.  
  • fish - Fish tends to come in cans, vacuum packed plastic bags, foil pouches, fresh or in frozen boxes.  Fish is vacuum packed plastic bags is usually cheaper.  Fish in cans introduces the Bisphenol-A (BPA) an suspected carcinogen issue so is best avoided.  Foil pouches are not recycleable in all areas.  Boxed frozen fish can suffer from freezer burn so the frugal choice is vacuum seal fish.
  • dried foods including cookies - A lot of dried foods come packaged in bags inside boxes that may include plastic trays.  More and more grocery stores are offering these very same items in bulk where you purchase the quantity you want not what pre-packaged says to buy.  Buying in bulk saves money because packaging is not included so the price per unit is cheaper and you buy what you want.  So if you want a certain product that only comes in a 1 pound package but you only want 8 oz then you only buy and pay for the 8 oz.  
  • institutional sized - Some foods like pickles, ketchup, mustard, beans and so much more comes in institutionalized sized containers ranging from cartons to glass, plastic and metal yet smaller sizes may only be available packaged in one type of container.  In general institutional sized containers are less expensive per unit than smaller sized containers.  The institutional sized containers with the exception of cartons are great recycled for dry storage in your pantry.  In general institutional sizes plastic are less expensive than those in glass
  • lunch meats - Lunch meats are usually packaged in plastic pouches or wrapped in butcher's wrap if purchased in the deli section of the grocery store.  Recently lunch meats a coming packaged in reusable plastic containers.  In this case the plastic container lunch meat is a bit more frugal choice because you have the container to reuse however this really is a case where you need to do unit pricing.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Canning Experiment - Reusable Canning Lids

Over the past couple of years I have been focusing on getting plastic out of my kitchen so this canning experiment is not exactly what I would have expected.  The reason is this actually introduces plastic into my kitchen but in this case the benefits outweighs the negatives.  Let me explain a bit further.

Tattler reusable canning lids
The regular canning lids (pictured to the right) I use are metal ones with a plastisol attached that forms a seal during the canning process.  At best price I can get them for 10¢ per lid in a box of 12 at the dollar store.  I go through over 1,000 of these lids in one year.  Three problems arise with the lids.  First all canning lids as well as cans holding foods or beverages in North America have a plastic coating.  This coating contains Bisphenol-A (BPA) a suspected carcinogen.  When the coating is exposed to acidic or high temperature environments as happens with home canning the BPA leaches from the plastic into the food.  This is one of my major reasons for experimenting to find a better solution for canning.  The second problem is the metal lids are not designed to be used more than once.  This not only adds to the cost of canning each year but is also not eco-friendly.  While our recycling company is finally allowing us to put the lids in the recycle bin there is a fair amount of packaging wasted each year just in lids alone.  If I can reduce this my using reusable lids I can not only cut my costs but also reduce my carbon footprint by not using disposable lids.  The third problem is and many home canners have been voicing this concern is at some point canning lids may not be available.  I honestly don't see this happening due to the resurgence in home canning but the possibility is there.  We depend on home canning as part of our food supply so like many I stockpile the lids.  I have older jars that use rubber rings and glass lids but nowhere near the amount needed for our annual canning needs.

I discovered Tattler reusable canning lids doing an online search.  While these lids use FDA and USDA approved materials they aren't actually approved for canning or at least I could not find anything that said they were.  The company has been in business since 1976.  The lids are made of BPA-free plastic and according to the manufacturers are indefinitely reusable.  Separate rubber rings are necessary to create the seal.  Essentially the lids work exactly like the disposable lids but both lids and rings are reusable and when properly cared for will last several years.  There are reports of 20 year old lids and rings used multiple times still in use.  I bought 3 dozen of the lids at a cost of $30.28 or 84¢ per lid which is 8 times the cost of regular lids.  That means I have to use each lid at least 8 times to realize a payback.  After that using the lids will cost me nothing.  I'm not going to gloss it over as switching to the Tattler lids is pricy but they will eliminate the BPA concern, eliminate the disposability issue and guarantee a reusable source for canning lids.

I am currently in the process of testing the Tattler lids.  If they test to the performance I want with very low seal failures I plan to make a bulk order for the lids.  Five hundred lids with rings will cost me about $300 so this is an investment.  Canning is an ongoing process here so there is a high turnover of jars that would also apply to the reusable lids.  I will be seriously putting these lids through the wringer washer so to speak.  I will be looking for ease of use, stainability, cleanability, initial performance, performance after multiple uses, storage, processing methods, and aesthetics.  My first test run using the Tattler lids was quite promising.  I will do a full review of these lids along with my unbiased opinion once I have finished the testing process so please watch for that sometime in September.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Organic Vegetables

This is the time of year where garden fresh vegetables are featured with most meals.  A lot of those meals involve grilling not only because it keeps the heat out of the kitchen but also for the wonderful flavour.  Grilling gives a flavour to food that you can't get by any other cooking method!

grilled chicken thighs with organic vegetables
Grilled chicken is always a summer delight.  We grilled the chicken thighs mopping with Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce.  The potatoes were cooked on indirect medium heat on the grill in a foil packet then garnished with garden fresh chives.  The organic zucchini was sautéd in olive oil with a little butter added for flavour. 

The lighter green round slices is an organic Armenian cucumber.  This is a long, slender fruit that tastes like a cucumber but is actually a variety of melon.  It is eaten raw or pickled.  It was an interesting side for the meal.  The next visit to the organic farm I will pick up a couple more for making pickles.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Grilled Rib Steak With Accordion Potatoes

Potatoes tend to be the main starch of choice in our house.  Our two favourite year round ways to cook potatoes is steamed or baked.  In the summer potatoes are wrapped in foil or cubed into foil pouches for cooking on the grill.  A few days ago I was doing a bit of blog hopping and came across a different way to prepare potatoes.  The potatoes were cut accordion style then baked for a lovely presentation.

before and after cooking
The potatoes are more of a method rather than a recipe.  I modified the method to use the grill using 2 large baking potatoes.  I poured a little olive oil in the bottom of a foil pan.  Then I cut the potatoes into partial slices not cutting fully through the bottom and place them in the pan.  I topped with a healthy dab of butter and sprinkled with garlic pepper.    I covered with tinfoil then put on the grill on indirect medium-high heat for about 40 minutes.

rib steak with accordion potatoes
The accordion potatoes were served with grilled rib steak and roasted beets.  Despite being baked potatoes the accordion potatoes almost have a deep fried potato texture somewhat like thick French fries.  The presentation is quite lovely as well.  A flipper is needed to plate the potatoes but they aren't quite as fragile as they look. 

Fresh beets are a real delight!  I bought fresh beets at the organic farm.  I peeled the  beets then placed in a foil packet with a little olive oil for cooking on the grill.  They took about the same cooking time as the potatoes.  It was a wonderful summer grilled meal!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Kitchen Quick Tips - MYO Self-Rising Flour

kitchen quick tips

Don't pay extra for self-rising flour.  Make your own instead.  For each cup of flour mix in 1½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Pasta Surpreme

Garden fresh produce is now in full swing here.  My garden is producing nicely with cucumbers, zucchini and the starts of tomatoes.  The weather has been hot, humid with a fair amount of rain but a bit too hot slowing the ripening of tomatoes.   I discovered an amazing organic farm a short distance from us to supplement the foods I grow, produce I don't grow and secure a second source for organic, free range eggs.  The first trip to the organic farm I bought zuccini, Armenia cucumber, sweet peas, beets, sweet green pepper, sweet purple pepper, dill, and rainbow chard.

pasta supreme with steak vegetables
Once my garden starts producing combined with local in season produce it becomes more important to use up as much as possible home canned foods from the pantry canned the previous year.  Pasta dishes are a great way to use both garden fresh and home canned products as well as a leftovers.  There was a half of sirloin steak leftover so I decided to make a pasta dish using   home canned marinara sauce and home canned mushrooms as the base.  I chose organic raw sweet peas and a home grown zucchini (sautéed) for the additional toppings.  I garnished the pasta dish with fresh grated baby parmesan cheese.  The end result was Pasta Supreme!

The beauty of this type of dish is there is no real measuring.  It is very flexible too so is a great dish to use what you have on hand including the type of pasta.  Omitting the meat is quite easy for a vegetarian version.  Adding something raw like the sweet peas really makes the dish sparkle and the fresh grated cheese adds depth. 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Country Breakfast Casserole

My husband and I were shopping recently which is a rather rare event because I am not a shopper at least in the convention way.  While going through the check-out I notice a Taste of Home booklet of Bacon Recipe cards.  Now here's the thing...bacon is a food group all by itself!  I briefly debated then decided to buy the booklet.  It was $4.99 but each recipe is on a card so if I used recipe cards that would be useful.   What I was really interested in were new ideas to use one of my favourite foods.

country breakfast casserole
The kids, parents to oldest and youngest grandbabies were home on the weekend so I decided to try the country brunch skillet recipe in the booklet but quickly realized I'd have to do a bit of modifying since I needed to feed 8 rather than 6.  My 20 - inch skillet wasn't quite big enough so I decided to change the cooking method to the oven.  The resulting casserole started with the original recipe but ended up quite different.  It did go over well so this breakfast casserole goes into my file of family favourites.

Country Breakfast Casserole

6 bacon strips
1 750 g (1.6 lb) bag cubed frozen hash brown potatoes
1 c broccoli, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
8 eggs
¾ c  shredded colby cheese
2 tbsp butter

Cut bacon across strips, fry, drain and reserve.  Melt the butter then pour into casserole pan. Mix vegetables together and pour into the casserole pan.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Cover with tin foil and bake at 175ºC (350ºC) for 15 minutes.  Remove casserole dish from oven.  Make 8 wells in the vegetable mixture.  Crack an egg into each well.  Cover and return to oven for 8 - 10 minutes or until eggs are completely set.  Sprinkle with bacon pieces and cheese.  Bake for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. 

Serves 8

Monday, August 02, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Pressure Cooker

Frugal Kitchens 101

Prior to the microwave oven frugal cooks wanting to save time and money used a pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker does exactly what it sounds, it cooks food under pressure.  Normal cooking to a boil will cook at 212ºF but under pressure the temperature is 240ºF.  In addition to the higher temperature the pressure tenderizes tougher cuts of meat.  The pressure allows flavours to permeate quickly through the food as well.  Unlike a microwave oven, browning is quite possible using a pressure cooker.  Browning the meat prior to pressure cooking adds to the richness in flavour.  Cooking under pressure greatly reduces the cooking time and it does not heat up the kitchen the way an oven would.  Long cooking foods like stock that if done in a stock pot normally take a few hours but using a pressure cooker a rich, full flavoured stock can be made in about 40 minutes!  In my opinion a pressure cooker is a must have in any frugal kitchen.

Of special note, a pressure cooker cannot be used as a pressure canner but a pressure canner can be used as both a cooker and a canner.  The two main reasons why a pressure cooker cannot be used as a canner is size and pressure.  A pressure canner must be able to hold 4 - 1 quart jars something most pressure cookers are not big enough to do.  Pressure cookers are designed to operate at 15 lb pressure only but pressure canners are designed to operate at 5, 10, and 15 lb pressure.  Pressure cookers also take less time to come to pressure then pressure canners and the cool quicker than the larger pressure canners.  Processing times have been developed according to how the larger pressure canners perform not the pressure cookers so don't be tempted to use a pressure cooker for canning.

Pressure cookers are available in a variety of sizes.  In general it is better to buy one larger than you think you will use because it can only be filled ⅔ full.  I have 3 pressure canners (Mirro, All American) and 2 pressure cookers (Jasi, Fagor).  The Jasi is a 6 qt aluminum pressure cooker.  I paid somewhere in the $40 price range.  It is a first generation pressure cooker with a rocker regulator that gives an audible signal as to the pressure.  Getting used to a rocker regulator takes a few attempts.  Ideally the goal is a gentle rock not too slow and not a steady rock but somewhere in between.  The downside to the Jasi is it is aluminum so I don't use it for any acidic foods that could cause aluminum to leach into the food.  The Fagor is a 4 qt stainless steel second generation pressure cooker.  The regulator is in the handle so this pressure cooker is a lot quieter than rocker style models.  I use the Fagor a lot with my only complaint being I wish it were bigger.  I am planning on replacing the Jasi with a larger stainless steel Fagor.

When shopping for a pressure cooker:

  • Watch the sales.  Pressure cookers tend to go on sale just before Christmas and again in the spring.
  • Buy used.  If you want a great bargin pressure cookers can often be found at estate and yard sales.  Be aware though that some may need a new gasket.  
  • Stainless steel will cost more but after using both stainless steel and aluminum my recommendation is to go with stainless steel.
  • First generation (rocker style) or second generation (handle regulator) pressure cookers are equal in performance with both being calibrated to operate at 15 lb pressure.  As far as use goes it depends on what you get used to.  I've used rocker, petcock, dial and handle between my pressure canners and cookers.  When it comes to pressure canners I like the dial but with pressure cooker I really like the handle regulator.  This really is a matter of choice though.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Second Annual He Said/She Said Contest

Company's Coming Heart-Friendly by Jean Paré

Last year my husband and I ran a 6 week He Said/She Said Contest with recipes from  Better Homes and Garden New Grilling Book, 2005 by Meredith Corporation.  The rules of the contest is that each of us chose 6 recipes from the book, cooked them and then blogged about each recipe.  In the end there was supposed to be a winner but by the end of the contest we were both winners because we had explored new recipes.  This year's he said/she said contest will focus on exploring Company's Coming® Heart-Friendly™ by Jean Paré.

Jean Paré has been a favourite Canadian cookbook author of ours for years.  We have several of her cookbooks.  Company's Coming® cookbooks are published in Edmonton, Alberta.  Her recipes are always top notch!  This cookbook was a very generous gift to my husband from our kids.  This is the perfect opportunity to explore another great Company's Coming® cookbook.

This year the contest will run from August 1 to August 31.  It is a shorter time frame than last year's contest.  In light of that each of us will choose 4 recipes from this cookbook, cook them and then blog about them.  Each will be identified by a he said or she said notation in the title.  At the end of the contest there will be 8 recipes total from the cookbook.  I will run a poll for each of us followed by a final combined poll for voting.  If last year is any indication this will be another great contest pitting husband and wife together.  I hope you enjoy our little challenge and the recipes we come up with.