My photo
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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pusateri's Fine Foods

As a family of foodies we often gift each other with gourmet foods.  These tend to be foods that the person would not buy for themselves but not always.  When we wed almost 35 years ago, my husband's parents still had kids at home.  They started a Christmas tradition of giving a chocolate initial to each family member along with an institutional sized container of their favourite food (eg. dill pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup).  We continued with the large sized containers of food but one of our kid's and spouse took over getting the chocolate initials.  The good news is no one picked up on giving a live piglet in a dog carrier so that was a one year only foodie gift.  Our BIL was ecstatic with the piglet for starting his dream of becoming a pig farmer.  Two more piglets joined the lone one because not knowing anything about pigs, they need other pigs for the heat to stay warm in the winter.  But I digress.  Onto my foodie gifts...

gifts from Pusaterie's Fine Foods
One of our kids gifted me with food from Pusateri's Fine Foods with three locations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  I'm not a shopper as in department and grocery stores unless I have to but I sure do love the kitchen and gourmet food shops!  I have not been to Pusateri's myself but after perusing their website, it is on my list of shops to visit the next time we are in the GTA.  Apparently they have in-store sushi and olive oil bars!  Pusateri's has a catalogue for convenient ordering or you can order online as well as visit one of their locations.

There were four items in the gift bag.  The tall box contained Olearia San Giorgio extra virgin, cold extracted olive oil made in Italy.   This light fruit flavoured olive oil won the Sial Calad Olive D'or 2011 gold medal as well as International Recognition Olio Award 2010 in Hamburg, Germany.  I can't wait to savour this olive oil!  The taller jar contained Corte Donda Giardiniera made in Italy.  Giardiniera is a mixture of preserved vegetables with this one being French beans, pepper, fennel, onions, cabbage, celery, carrots, sunflower oil and vinegar.  The larger squatty jar to the front contained Mint & Pistachio Pesto from Bella Cucina Artful Food of Atlanta, Georgia.  This pesto is a winner of the Outstanding Product Line in the International Fancy Food Show.  I grow a lot of mint so this will be a product I will try to duplicate.  The smallest jar was Essence of Niagara White Ice Jelly produced by the Niagara Vinegar Co.  The Niagara region of Ontario is one of our favourite areas.  It is home to many ward winning wineries.  Actually the entire region from the Niagara spanning west along the Talbot Trail (Highway 3) close to the banks of Lake Erie to almost Windsor is a mecca for small wineries, produce stands, mushroom farms and so much more.  It is a beautiful drive!  We always come home laden with a multitude of foodie finds.  Ice wine is made from grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine then picked at the coldest moment of a Canadian winter's night.  Each frozen grape only produces a drop of icewine which explains why icewine is so expensive.  Icewine is one of the very few wines my husband will drink.

We use a lot of olive oil in our heart healthy recipes.  I will be using the olive oil as a dip for homemade breads, in pesto and in homemade salad dressings.  The pesto will be used in a sauce as well as a spread, possibly for dipping breads as well.  The icewine jelly will be used as a glaze for brie of which I forgot to mention the package of Castello Rosenborg Brie (made in Denmark) for this purpose. The giardiniera will be used as a condiment similar to pickles.  Thanks so much to the gift givers.  You know who you are.  These wonderful foodie gifts are very much appreciated!  I can't wait to visit Pusateri's the next time we are in the GTA!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Grocery Store Reward Programs

Frugal Kitchens 101

Years ago when our kids were quite young Zellers (a Canadian box store) introduced Club Z.  The idea was quite similar to Canadian Tire's cash bonus money but rather than slips of money that could be used only in the store, Club Z looked like a credit card.  With each purchase the card was swiped to earn points.  Once you earned enough points you could redeem them.  We earned enough to redeem for a huge Coleman picnic cooler and later a Bissell carpet steamer.  The grocery stores caught onto this type of loyalty card, rewarding customers for shopping in their stores.

In Canada, there tends to be two types of rewards.  First, if you use their credit card, you earn loyalty points on your purchases that can later be used towards the purchase of other items in their store.  The Loblaws chain (eg. No Frill, Superstore, Zehrs, etc) does this through their PC credit card.  The second type is a straight loyalty card similar to the old Club Z card.  The Sobey's chain of grocery stores offer this type of reward system.  Sobey's has also partnered with AirMiles so you can earn points in that reward program as well.

While reward programs can be quite good and you can earn enough points to get nice rewards, they are not always the frugal choice.   We do use available reward programs at the grocery stores we shop at both at home and at our vacation home but we never shop for groceries simply because of the loyalty program.  It is an added bonus but one that can take several months to pay-out and can ultimately cost money.  Here are a few reasons why we do not make reward programs a priority when shopping:

  • price - The consumer ultimately pays for the reward program.  While Sobey's offers two ways to earn reward points, in comparison to the Loblaws chain that offers one way to earn points there is a considerable difference in prices.  Sobey's is consistently 20% more expensive to shop in meaning every shopper is essentially paying into that reward program through higher prices.  No Frills has the lowest prices and while only those with their credit card earns points the shopper without the credit card can enjoy the low prices on a regular basis without unconsciously paying into the costs of a reward program.  In addition to this, grocery stores tend to be more expensive when it comes to produce, something that can be bought locally for less money.
  • encourages consumerism - Reward programs are that nice little pat on the back to say thanks for being a good customer now give us more money.  They are very effective at it and if it looks like the store is losing a bit on the reward program they will quickly modify the program.  A case in point, Shopper's Drugs in Canada has a reward program and at one time you could earn points even on your prescriptions.  The program was costing too much so they nixed earning points on prescriptions effectively making their reward program useless for many.  You see, prescription are a need but pretty much everything else they sell can be found elsewhere at lower prices.  Now one of the problems is some will shop specifically at one grocery store simply because of the reward program even though the prices are more expensive than the competitors'.  In short, they have actually paid for their own reward via higher prices!
  • the rewards - In general the rewards range from tailored to the consumer coupons based on their purchases, cash back, and tangible items including air flights.  I can't find much fault in these other than coupons.  I prefer the reward programs that earn cash back on future purchases because they can be combined with sales.    Most tangible items can be found for less than the value of the points it takes to earn the reward.
  • timing - It can take a considerable amount of time (eg. several months to even a year or two) to earn enough points for the desired reward.  It is not a instant reward by any means although some programs like Canadian Tire allows you to use the reward on each purchase.  It's not a lot but it can be somewhat of a savings.  The thing is it really is hard to keep your eye on the reward when it take so long to earn it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lemon Dill Tartar Sauce

My husband and I enjoy fish on average two to three times a week.  A good portion of that fish is locally caught perch or pickerel.  I like to fish and we have very generous friends who share their catch with us as well.  We also enjoy a multitude of fish that is not locally caught.  Our preferred methods of cooking are pan fried, broiled, baked and occasionally deep fried or grilled.  Surprisingly neither of us a big on putting anything on the fish when eating other than a little fresh lemon juice however, I occasionally make a basic tartar sauce to serve with fish especially if the kids are home. 

lemon dill tartar sauce
The other day I checked out the FoodNetwork just in time to quickly scribble out the ingredients for a zipped up tartar sauce.  There were no amounts given so I decided to do a bit of experimenting.  My clone recipe is not identical to the one used in that particular restaurant but it is quite delicious with a flavour that really pairs nicely with any white fish.  I served is with lightly coated cod.

Lemon Dill Tartar Sauce
recipe by: Garden Gnome

1 c Miracle Whip salad dressing
1 sm dill pickle, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp Frank's Hot Sauce clone
½ tsp dried parsley
¼ tsp Spanish paparika
¼ tsp organic granulated sugar
¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce
pinch of salt and pepper

Chop the dill pickle in a food processor.  Measure the Miracle Whip salad dressing into a mixing bowl.  Stir in the remaining ingredients, mixing well.  Refrigerate 1 hour to let flavours blend.  Spoon into serving bowl.

Note:  This sauce will keep nicely for 7 to 10 days in the refrigerator.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Drunken Blade Roast

It's a good thing the weather is still wintry as we still have several roasts in the freezer that need to be used before our next beef on the hoof purchase next month.  Roasts can be cooked using various methods ranging from cooking on the barbecue, in the pressure cooker, in the countertop roaster, in the slow cooker and in the oven.  I have been experimenting with a few creative ways to cook roasts in the oven.  Encouraged by the success of the 15 Garlic Clove Prime Rib Roast, I decided to get a bit creative with a blade roast. 

vegetables layered in clay cooker
Blade roasts can be a bit tougher because they are cut from the shoulder of the beef.  There is less marbling (aka less fat) that tenderizes the meat and more connective tissue.  I like cooking blade roasts using a wet method using some type of acid (eg. tomato stock, BBQ sauce) as a tenderizer.

I soaked my clay baker, one of my favourite vessels for cooking roast in the oven.  Then I layered celery, onions and carrots on the bottom of the cooker.  This combination is termed a mirepoix or trilogy or simply aromatics.  The total depth of the vegetables was about an inch thick.  While the vegetables would add flavour and serve as a side dish, they actually served a much more important function.

roast sitting on layered vegetables
This was a blade roast from our last bulk meat purchase.  The beef is hormone free from a cow one of a couple of farmers raise for us so all of our beef looks this good.  The abattoir we have dealt with for years really does a lovely job of preparing our roasts!  I place the thawed, prepared roast on the bed of vegetables which allowed any liquid I added to create a bit more steam.  The vegetables themselves add steam as they are cooking.  The steam for added liquid mixed with the vegetables rises up through the meat permeating it with flavour while tenderizing the meet.  The placement also allowed the juices from the roast to drip through the vegetables as they cooked not only adding a wonderful flavour but also creating the basis of a very rich, delightfully flavoured gravy.

blade roast seasoned and surrounded by mushrooms ready for the oven
I poured the liquids (Worcestershire sauce, pale ale) over the roast then seasoned with garlic pepper and surrounded the roast with whole white mushrooms.    The mushrooms added steam, a woodsy flavour, and helped to direct the steam from the lower vegetable and liquid layer towards the roast.  I place the lid on the clay cooker then placed in the oven to cook at 300ºF for about an hour and a half. 

I have to tell you that roast sure did fill the house with a delicious aroma!  I finished writing up the recipe and method in my cooking journal then waited patiently for the results.  As with any dish I create, the true test is in the tasting!

drunken blade roast plated for serving
Once the roast was cooked, I removed it for resting before slicing.  Resting allows the juices to settle keeping all that delicious flavour inside the roast.  Once the gravy was made, I plated with slices of the roast beef and sides of roasted vegetables and bake potato.  A small side salad rounded out the meal.

The end result was a deliciously, melt in your mouth roast beef with a deep, full bodied, rich gravy.  Usually when I'm creating a recipe there is always tweaking to be done yet there really isn't much I would change about the recipe itself.  It was a simple, easy recipe that gave good results.  As far as presentation, next time I will add fresh parsley sprigs or even sprinkle with dried parsley flakes to add a bit more colour.

Drunken Blade Roast
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

3 lb blade roast
1 medium onion
2 stalks celery
1½ c baby carrots or carrot sticks
2 c fresh whole mushrooms
1 c premium light ale
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp garlic pepper
1  tbsp browning
2 tbsp cornstarch

Soak clay cooker 30 minutes.  Wash celery, carrots and mushrooms.  Cut celery into thick slices.  Slice the onion into thin wedges.  Place the onion, celery and carrots in the bottom of the clay cooker to form a layer.  Place the roast on top of the vegetables.  Pour the ale and Worcestershire sauce over the roast.  Sprinkle garlic pepper over the roast.  Surround the roast with the whole mushrooms.  Cover and roast at 300ºF for 1½ hours.  Remove roast and allow to rest before slicing.  Ladle vegetables into serving bowl.  Stir the remaining liquid then pour into saucepan.  Stir in the browning.  Make a cornstarch slurry using the cornstarch and just enough water to easily pour.  Cook on medium heat until thickened.  Remove from heat.  Slice the roast beef then serve topped with the gravy.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Dealing With Cluttered Kitchen Drawers

kitchen quick tips

Sometimes less is more in the kitchen.  Clear out the drawer clutter using the 123 system of three boxes labeled keep, donate, toss.  Ideally this should be done at minimum bi-monthly to keep any unnecessary kitchen clutter in check.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Preparing for the Week and Pasta with Veggies

Everyone has those weeks that are without doubt going to be a challenge.  The problem is quite often when one of those weeks hit, it is just too tempting to pick up fast food or take-out.  Now that we are settled in from the move, I am back into my cooking and preparing ahead routine.  It is being hindered slightly by my goal to paint every room in the house before May along with distractions like various workers coming in and out.  We are having a fair amount of custom woodworking done in the house and we've had the utilities, pest control, maintenance personnel, painting, volunteering and life in general our days have become very busy.  That means I need to do a bit more preparing ahead for the week.

filled vacuum seal canisters
I have a FoodSaver so use my vacuum seal canisters for short term storage.  They are great for any crispy snack like potato chips (back middle).  What they are really nice for is storing washed, ready to use produce like watermelon (back right), lettuce (back left), celery leaves (middle right), cucumber slices, carrots, broccoli pieces (middle left) and grated cheese.  Most of the vacuum sealed foods pictured will be used for snacking throughout the week although some will be used in salads.  The celery leaves will likely be used for soup as will the broccoli while the watermelon will be used for snacking and maybe breakfast smoothies.

My total prep time was 15 minutes on the weekend.  Vacuum sealing will keep the produce fresh, ready to use for over a week but all of this will be used up before the weekend.  If you notice three of the containers have different lids.  That's because the are actually Rival Seal-a-Meal canisters not FoodSaver.  I rigged up an adapter to use both.  I vacuum seal smaller amounts of prepared foods in mason jars as well.  This really is homemade convenience.

pasta with veggies
Canada's Food Guide recommends 4 to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables depending on their age, 7 to 8 servings for teens depending on gender, 7 to 10 servings for those 19 to 50 depending on gender and 7 for those over the age of 51.  The thing is a serving size is not as big as you think.  A serving of fresh vegetables is only 125 ml (½ cup)  so it doesn't take a lot of vegetables to meet which is something to keep in mind from a frugal perspective.

I made a pasta with veggies for dinner.  It was a healthy, meat free entrée that when served with a small garden salad would meet half or a little more of my daily fruits and vegetable requirements for the day.  We are big fruit and vegetable lovers here so fresh vegetables find their way into almost every meal.  Pasta with veggies is just so easy and quick to make.  While the pasta is cooking I warm the roasted tomato sauce and prepare any vegetables needed.  Then I drain the pasta, top with sauce, sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan cheese (protein) and chopped vegetables then add a sprig of basil from my indoor (winter) or outdoor (growing season) garden. 

custom made drink tables
I wanted to share our custom made drink tables for the games room since I mentioned them when talking about Superbowl entertaining.  One of our friends is a very talented woodworker.  He is doing a lot of custom woodworking in the house for us.

We needed something a bit more functional than the standard wood TV trays.  Drinks and snacks can easily get knocked over and more so when you have a crowd of 20 to 3o or more.  Our friend made us these custom made drink tables.  They are on wheels.  Each triangular shape can be used individually or I can put them together in an hexagon or put them in line fashion.  They were expensive at $125 each but they are solid wood and custom made to our specifications.  Since we do a lot of entertaining and I prefer not dealing with cleaning up spills, these tables were a frugal option for us.  They help a lot in me being able to focus on the food coming out from the kitchen without worry about my floors (laminate/ceramic tile) in the games room being damaged, slip and fall accidents from spilled drinks and everyone loves them.  I have to tell you, they are one of the ultimates for entertaining!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Coupons

Frugal Kitchens 101

We have always lived rather close to the US border so quite often we cross-border shop in the US.  We also own a vacation home in the US.  At one time my husband would have been considered the coupon king!  He used to clip coupons from a locally available US newspaper each Sunday then when he had enough we went on the dreaded shopping trip.  His best score was close to $400 worth of groceries/sundries for 49¢.  The Canadian customs agent was so impressed he did not even charge duty on the purchase!  Fast forward to 2012 and we very seldom use coupons.  The reason being most frugalistas do not view coupons as being frugal.

Coupons are usually not the bargain they appear to be.  In the US, some stores would double the face value of the coupon meaning they actually paid you to take the product out of the store.  Then they went to double the face value to a dollar so you only had to pay a few cents for the product.  Those days are behind us.  I haven't seen any stores recently doubling the value of the coupon.  In Canada, doubling the value of a coupon is unheard of and coupons tend to be few and far between.  In general, coupons are not frugal for the following reasons:

  • While there are Canadian coupons via various sources, they tend to be few and far between so availability becomes a real issue.  Even with using a coupon exchange, finding good Canadian coupons can still be a challenge. 
  • The effective use of coupons takes a lot of time, effort and organizational skills something that may be better spent in other ways to cut costs in the kitchen.  I know first hand how much work my husband put into coupons and while it worked for a young, larger family it really is not something many are interested in committing to.
  • Coupons tend to be for higher priced, brand name and heavily processed foods rather than those foods in the outer perimeter of the grocery store where the healthier foods are.  Even with a coupon for something like canned green beans, store brand or home canned is still less expensive.  It is not often that coupons are available for fresh fruits or vegetables.
  • Coupons are rarely available for locally produced foods, farmers' market or farm stand where the real food bargains are.  They are seldom available for the staples (eg. sugars, flours, salt, pastas) that every home cook must have on hand.  
  • Coupons are really not eco-friendly and while some would not concern themselves about this issue, any time I can reduce the use of paper I will.  Some grocery stores are now offering a discount at the check-out if you have their store loyalty card which is a nicer, eco-friendly solution however, you may be paying extra through higher prices so even that is not always a bargain. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eggies - An Easy No Peel Way to Cook Eggs

[Note:  This is not a paid review of this product.  I have not been compensated in any way.  The ideas expressed here are my own.]

I will admit to being rather selective when it comes to kitchen gadgets and gimmics.  A couple of years ago I saw a product called Eggies on the Home Shopping Network (HSN).  I was flipping channels trying to amuse myself while recuperating.  I don't shop on HSN but I have bought a couple of items in the "As Seen on TV" sections of some stores.  Before saying that items are not a good value on HSN, many kitchen appliances got their commercial start on HSN.  A few off the top of my head include: the George Foreman Grill, the Magic Bullet, Veg-o-matic, and FoodSaver.  It is a low cost way for inventors to market their creations.  Some go onto greatness while others quietly slip away.

Eggies is a system for cooking eggs that involves no peeling after the eggs are cooked.  They were invented by Betsy Kaufman, an Edison Nation Inventor.  Now when I first saw Eggies I chuckled then forgot about them.  A couple of weeks ago our local Home Hardward had Eggies as a special for $14.99 so I decided to try them out. 

There were six Eggies in the package.  Each Eggie consists of a lid, collar, bottom half and top half.   The package also included a free egg separator and instruction sheet.  Cook times on on the back of the instruction sheet along with how to cook perfect deviled eggs and egg whites.

Pro:  Eggies can be used with whole eggs, egg whites, egg mixtures and egg substitute.
Con: Eggies are plastic and there are only six of them limiting how many boiled eggs you can make at one time.

eggies prepared for filling
After washing the Eggies, I prepared them for filling.  Each Eggie bottom half needs to be coated with vegetable oil or non-stick cooking spray.  I used a little butter on a paper towel to wipe each bottom half.  I placed the top half into the collar then secured the collar around the bottom and top halves.  Then I cracked the eggs into the prepared Eggies.  Once the Eggies were filled, I put the lids on them then prepared the saucepan for cooking with the Eggies.

Pro: Filling the Eggies is rather easy.
Con: Assembly took longer than expected and I experienced two leakers. 

eggies in pot for cooking
I filled the saucepan with enough warm water to allow the Eggies to float.  I placed the Eggies into the saucepan.  They reminded me of fishing bobbers floating around the water.  I turned the heat to high and brought the water to a boil then reduced the heat to maintain a low boil and boiled for 15 minutes for hard boiled eggs.  When the cook time was finished, I turned off the heat and let sit in the saucepan for 2 minutes.   Then I removed the Eggies for cooling.

Con:  When I use my regular method for making perfect hard boiled eggs, the water is simply brought to a boil then the heat is turned off completely while the eggs sit in the boiling water.   Eggies use energy for the entire cooking period and while it may only be a few cents it is always something to consider in any frugal kitchen.

eggies cooling
I removed the Eggies and allowed them to cool on a wood cutting board for 7 minutes.  The steam within the Eggies likely continues to cook the eggs so I was concerned the eggs would be tough.  I was quite impressed at how quickly the cooked eggs released from the Eggies.  They were still hot enough to serve hot as well which was a pleasant surprise.   

As I emptied each Eggie, I tossed the pieces into a sink of hot, soapy water for washing.  Clean-up was rather easy.   I inverted the eggs, flat end down on a plate to further cool before turning them into egg salad.

Pro:  Removing the Eggies for cooling was very easy.  The cooked eggs released from the Eggies without any sticking. 

hard boiled eggs cooked in the eggies
Eggs cooked in an Eggie have a rather distinctive look with the top end flattened.  This can give a unique presentation advantage.  I was quite impressed with the fluffiness of the yolk as well.   The egg white was not tough or rubbery.    I cut one in half for the ultimate taste test.  There was no green discolouration around the yolk either.   The cooked egg passed the taste test.  It was delicious!  I turned this batch of Eggies into egg salad for sandwiches.

The next test was the clean-up.  Although they are dishwasher safe, I hand washed the Eggies.  They cleaned-up without any problems.  Once dried I put all the parts into a small plastic tote for storage.

My bottom line:  The Eggies are a great alternative way to cook boiled eggs without having to peel the shell.  The overall results are considerably better than I expected.  They definitely are a nice way to boil eggs for certain applications and I really do like the presentation potential.  The Eggie bottoms could also be used as forms for gelatin, ice cubes, ice cream molds and I will likely come up with a few more uses.  They will not replace my normal method for hard boiling eggs when making larger batches of egg salad but they did make a nice small size batch of egg salad with very little effort.  I can see the potential for using eggs cooked this way then sliced for salads.  I would not use them to make deviled eggs although there are instructions for doing so.  The reason being, deviled eggs are generally made using whole boiled eggs that are cut in half longitudinally.  The Eggies method for deviled eggs means using a whole egg rather than a half egg which would be fine for a dinner appetizer but impractical for making a larger number of deviled eggs. 

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would rate Eggies:
  • ease of use - 9
  • practicality - 7
  • cost - 6
  • versatility - 8

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shopping at Sam's Club

Many frugalistas take the approach that paying any type of membership to shop anywhere is not frugal.  Now I have had this argument with many who claim that paying to shop somewhere is not frugal.  I clearly take the stance that not only is it frugal in that the membership fee can easily be recouped in one shopping trip but also membership can save you on other fringe benefits like gasoline purchases, prescriptions, eye care, insurance and even travel.  We joined Pace ages ago when our kids were quite small.  With a growing family and business we needed every break we could get.  At that time you had to be a member of a union or a business owner to join.  A few years later Pace was taken over by Sam's Club.  We kept our membership and continue to maintain it at $35 per year so we can enjoy the lower prices.  We shop at the closest Sam's Club (US) near our home in Ontario, Canada and we shop at the Sam's Club near our vacation home in Florida.

Sam's Club is a warehouse style store that does have special perks for business members.  There is nothing fancy in the layout, no bags but lots of free boxes and no high pressured sales personnel but the prices are considerably lower than in general department and grocery stores.  Contrary to many beliefs, you do not have to buy in bulk for all food items.  Sam's Club has a wonderful selection of clothing, office and gift items as well.  Here are a few of my purchases on our last trip to Sam's Club.  We did re-coup the cost of our membership that trip.

Caribou Blend K-cups
I bought a Keurig single serve coffee maker almost a year ago.  We absolutely love this coffee maker that is in daily use.  The problem with K-cups is the expense ranging between 38¢ (online) to 79¢ on sale per cup of coffee.  So we have a My K-cup filtering system with two extra filters that allow us to use our regular ground coffee at 9¢ per cup.  However, K-cups are nice for entertaining giving guests more options especially with respect to flavoured coffees.

Sam's Club carries the 80 K-cup package for $39.98 which works out to 50¢ per cup of coffee.   The main downside is the selection is limited and it does vary based on availability.  This time they had Caribou Blend 100% Arabica coffee K-cups.  This is a medium roast coffee that is 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified.    This means the farm workers were fairly compensated, their communities were supported and the environment was treated properly.

bar mops
I do a lot of canning which ultimately means during any canning session I can easily go through six or more T-towels.  At the same time many of the foods (eg. raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes) permanently stain T-towels.  Several years ago, I turned to using 100% cotton bar mops in place of T-towels.  I get them in a 24-pack at Sam's Club for $12.88 which works out to about 54¢ each.  At that price they are less than the price but higher quality of T-towels in the dollar stores and more than pay for themselves in reducing the amount of paper towels used.  I buy a package about every 18 to 24 months.

These towels are used as regular T-towels, for canning and home food preservation, cleaning up spills and much more.  They have replaced about 40% of my paper towel usage with another 50% of paper towel usage replaced by plain white 100% cotton wash cloths.  I no longer worry about staining.  If a bar mop gets too stained it goes into the cleaning pile and then eventually will make it's way to the garage.  If one goes missing, it doesn't bother me and I have no problem donating a few here and there if need be. 

tortilla chips bulk package
Nachos are a huge hit with our monthly games night, special events and even our own snacking.  I buy restaurant quality tortilla chips at Sam's Club.  A box of 2-3lb bags of tortilla chips is $7.26 which is considerably higher priced than what they used to be but still a very good deal.  It works out to about the same amount as you would get in 6 large bags at the grocery store at about $3.50 per bag ($21).  I go through two to three boxes per year but our kids take some home too.

This can be a great savings for anyone.  I usually break down one bag into three extra large zipper style bags.  Each bag is enough for a games night.  The bags could be broke down into any desired size but cost per ounce will still be a lot lower than that in the grocery stores.

bbq sauce, cheerios and pickles
Since I do a lot of home preserving, we don't buy a lot of groceries the way a normal family would do.  We discovered Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce at a ribfest.  Ribfests are definitely the place to go to find delicious, unique and award winning sauces.  The ribbers managed to get their award winning sauce into the commercial market.  A 2 pk of 40 oz bottles of Sweet Baby Ray's costs $5.98 or 7¢ per ounce, about half the price of BBQ sauces in the grocery stores.

I home can 24 L (quarts) of dill pickles as well as make 6 - 500 ml (pint) jars of freezer pickles.  When I run out, I have no choice but to buy pickles.  Basically, I need to make more pickles!  A 1 gallon jug of pickles costs me $4.28 at Sam's Club.  If I had to buy cucumbers to make pickles, I could not make them for this price.  It is a rather good deal especially if you don't make your own pickles and don't want to pay the higher prices of the smaller jars of pickles.

Last May we had a scare with my husband who ended up being hospitalized.  While we still don't know the actual cause of that problem, additional testing revealed he is considered diabetic, manageable by diet for the time being.  I am considered pre-diabetic with high cholesterol levels so we start most days with Cheerios.  Seriously, we don't buy a lot in the way of dry cereals but Cheerios has been a long time family favourite!  This cold breakfast cereal is perfect for gluten free treats, cereal bars,  lowering cholesterol and it it heart friendly.  I bought Whole Grain Honey Nut Cheerios (3 lb) for $6.68 at Sam's Club.  This is about a third of the price in the regular grocery stores.

foil trays, Ziploc bags and foil wrap
Sam's Club is the perfect place for substantial savings on food preservation products like wraps and freezer bags.  I honestly do not use a lot of the zipper style freezer bags so this box will last me a good year.  Ziploc bags (gallon size) in the grocery store cost 54.7¢ per bag but buying the large package at Sam's Club reduces that price to 8¢, well under the 30¢ per freezer vacuum bags I buy.

The aluminum trays are another real bargain.  I use a lot of these throughout the year in my bulk cooking sessions.  The Sam's Club price comes in at 22¢ each for a package of 30.  The same sized tray is $1.25 at the dollar store and $1.49 at the grocery store.  So buying at Sam's Club is a substantial savings!

I use aluminum foil for bulk cooking sessions.  That means I need heavy duty and enough to get through one or more bulk cooking sessions at a reasonable price.  Aluminum foil at Sam's Club comes in at 3.2¢ per foot or about half the price of heavy duty foil in the grocery stores. 

Simple Green all purpose concentrated cleaner
One of my biggest savers at Sam's Club is Simple Green.  This is a concentrated non-toxic, biodegradable all purpose cleaner.  A 1 gallon jug costs $8.78 but when used on the general strength will make 40 bottles, considerably less that what would be spent on the equivalent on commercially prepared cleaners.  This time I got a free spray bottle which was an added bonus.

Simple Green is a must have in our home.  We use it for a lot of cleaning and I do make various dilutions all in convenient spray bottles.  I use it undiluted for tough cleaning jobs (eg. toilets) and degreasing, cleaning floors, all hard surfaces AND my husband uses it outdoors for washing the care and siding.  This gallon of Simple Green will last us about 18 months making it a very frugal purchase.  The annual saving from buying this gallon of Simple Green will more than pay for our membership!

Club stores that charge a membership can indeed be very frugal places to shop.  The membership ensures you are getting that item at the lowest price possible.   Just as in regular grocery shopping or bulk buying it is very important you know the unit price elsewhere to be sure you are getting the best value for your dollar.  Never buy any food product you will not use regardless of the price.  Other than that, I highly recommend shopping the warehouse style stores even though they do charge a membership.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ham Melts (Breakfast Sandwich)

I volunteer at a local school in the Catholic School Board each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning for the Breakfast Club (Lend a Hand).  I am also volunteering at a local school in the Public School Board on Tuesday and Thursday morning for the month of February to cover for a couple of volunteers who are vacationing in the sunny south.  Both school breakfast programs are part of the Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP).  While this program is funded through the Ontario government, it is managed by volunteers.  Donations are gladly accepted providing the food meets the nutritional standards of the program.

Both schools have very limited cooking equipment which restricts what you can cook.  The Catholic school has a microwave oven, two toasters, an electric tea kettle and a blender.  We are not allowed to cook anything in the school other than in the toaster or microwave because there was a complaint  regarding cooking odours EVEN though there is a day care attached where cooking is allowed with cooking odours wafting their way through the school halls.  There is a fridge and freezer but no dishwasher so all the plates, bowls and cups are disposable.  The public school has two electric griddles, two toasters, and microwave oven.  There dishwasher, fridge and stove so we use regular plates and bowls but disposable cups and cutlery there.

ham and cheese melts
The typical breakfast offerings at both schools depending on the day are: dry cereal, oatmeal (packet style), ham melts, English muffin with margarine (both schools) or cream cheese (public school), a variety of fruits and vegetables, yogurt tubes, fruit cups, orange juice, chocolate and white milk, pancakes, waffles and French toast.  Left over pancakes and French toast from the secondary school breakfast program are brought over for the Catholic school when they are available.  One of the local doughnut shops donates muffins occasionally as well.

Ham melts are a huge hit with kids at both schools!  They are quick and easy to make.  We use a toaster at both schools to toast the English muffin then slather with margarine, top with two slices of cooked ham and either a processed cheese slice (Catholic school) or freshly sliced cheese (public school).  We also add scrambled egg on the sandwich at the public school if a child asks for it.   Once assembled the ham melt is warmed through in the microwave.

I made two ham melts for my husband's breakfast a couple of days ago.  My version differs from what we make at the schools because we do not use margarine (ever!) and very rarely use any kind of processed cheese.  I didn't use butter on the English muffins after toasting, just simply topped with ham and a blend of mozzarella and Asiago cheese.  Then I warmed the sandwiches in the microwave.  He liked them.

Breakfast sandwiches are very quick and easy to make even at home.  You can make them healthier by using whole wheat or multigrain English muffins, sliced or grated cheese and eliminate butter or margarine.  Add scrambled eggs for an extra protein boost.  Homemade breakfast sandwiches are a fraction of the cost than those from the fast food restaurants and doughnut shops.  Make it easy by keeping all the ingredients in storage containers stacked in your fridge to just grab and assemble.  Surprisingly you can even keep scrambled eggs in a container as well.  They reheat nicely on breakfast sandwiches.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Seldom Used Kitchen Gadgets

kitchen quick tips

Every home cook has seldom used kitchen gadgets that are used for entertaining or special applications.  Store these gadgets in covered plastic bins bought at the dollar store near the kitchen for easy access.  This will free up your valuable kitchen storage space for those items you use frequently.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Sneak Peek at My New Kitchen Colours

If you recall we moved into this during the first two weeks of September of 2011, taking official legal position as homeowners on September 15.  We really liked the colours but upon closer inspection it was quite obvious every room in the house needed freshening with a new coat of paint.  Part of the reason for this was the previous owners did soddy workmanship with respect to painting and the other being the colours just didn't flow as they should.

kitchen just after moving in
When we first moved in the kitchen was a taupe that looked nice but didn't mesh with the taupe in the living/dining area.  There was a awkward space that should have been tiled above the sink but we added a custom made cookbook shelf.  One of our friends is a fine finish carpenter who does amazing work.  He made us custom drink tables for the games room (will post more on this) and is doing a lot of custom work in our home.

The walls were a taupe that while it looked nice just didn't make the kitchen pop the way it should.  There was an open bulkhead that I considered putting items on for storage but having gone that route in our fourth house wasn't to anxious to repeat the cluttered look.  What I really wanted was something to accent the beautiful marble tile floor in the kitchen.

kitchen nook area sporting a new splash of colour
I went onto the Behr website and chose all my colours based on co-ordinating colours to match the colour I had chose for the master bedroom.  Home Hardware can colour match most manufacturer's colours.   I had a cranberry red chose for the office but my husband said it would look really good in the kitchen.  So off to Home Hardware where they didn't have the code to mix that paint.  I came back home to get the code for the next red but when driving back it hit me the red was too purplish so I headed back home and grabbed a dinner plate.  The kitchen is now custom matched to our main dinnerware.

This was absolutely the most difficult paint I have ever worked with and that is just after painting the main bathroom using the same brand of paint.  The difference was the bathroom paint (Hazelnut Cream) was a white base while the custom red was a clear base.  At any rate after three coats of paint the kitchen eating nook looks rather spiffy.  I just can't help but smile every time I go into the kitchen!

kitchen stove area freshly painted
The covering for the exhaust fan literally disintegrated when I accidently bumped it while paint.  Our friend came to my rescue!  He suggested building in the bulkhead that will eliminate a major dust trap in the kitchen.  He is also making custom crown trim.  The look of the kitchen is going to change dramatically with this addition.  I will post pictures once it is finished.

We still have to change out the sink and exhaust fans as well as trim up the new dishwasher but other than that I am very pleased with how things are progressing.  While waiting for him to do the finish work, I moved onto the guest room that is now sporting a beautiful new look (Seal) .  That is three rooms painted in the last two and a half weeks along with custom carpentry finished in the main bathroom.  The crowning touch though is the beautiful, rich and vibrant red in my kitchen!  Oh, and I did find yarn that matches the kitchen almost identical for a new afghan in the livingroom to tie the colours in.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Superbowl Follies (3)

This is the final post on some of the foods I served for our Superbowl party.  Some of the foods served were not featured as I've posted about them previously.  These include the moose meat chili, beef chili, spiral ham, cheesy hash brown casserole and baked beans.  I like bringing out new dishes and combinations for our guests to try.  Some of these end up being duds but some go on to being staples in my repertoire of of entertaining dishes.

fruit tray with dulce de leche dip
So it was with the fruit tray I set out.  Honestly, it was empty within 10 minutes!  I cut the apples then soaked them in citric acid to prevent browning then added strawberries and mandarin oranges to the tray.  The dip was made using dulce de leche.  This is a thick, creamy and very, very thick caramel sauce.  It can be purchased in larger centres or made at home using sweetened condensed milk.  I personally find dulce de leche too rich and sweet but it is great used in baking or fruit dips. 

Dulce de Leche
source: Garden Gnome and Garden Gnome's Daughter

my method:
Remove the label from a can or two of sweetened condensed milk.  Place in a sauce pan on a trivet.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil on medium-high heat.  Reduce to a low boil and cook for 90 minutes.  Remove the can(s) and allow to cool. The dulce de leche is now ready to be used and unopened will keep for a year in the pantry.

my daughter's method:
Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a microwave safe bowl.  Cook on high for 1 minute then stir.  Repeat until the milk is thickened and caramelized, about 8 minutes.  The dulce de leche made this way will keep in the refrigerator for one week.

Dulce de Leche Fruit Dip
source:  Garden Gnome

1 c sour cream
4 tbsp dulce de leche
sprinkle of ground cinnamon

Place ingredients in mixing bowl or blender.  Mix well.  Pour into serving bowl.  Refrigerate 1 hour.  Serve as a dip for fruits. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Insect Control

Frugal Kitchens 101

Over the past month I have discussed dealing with mice and ants in the kitchen.  The problem is the kitchen can be a real magnet for both mice and ants.  From time to time though, other insects invade the kitchen.  For the most part, these insects tend to be more of an annoyance than anything else.  Where the house is located and where the kitchen is located in the house can have a huge influence on insects getting in.  Our third purchased house was located in a subdivision bordering on farmland with a pig farm just a stone's throw away.  Flies were a huge problem!  Our last house had the kitchen located mainly below grade with window about four inches from the ground and patio doors at the lower grade.  Well, insects were a problem there simply because of where the kitchen was.  Insects are also cyclic so while you may go several years not ever seeing an earwig in the kitchen, one year can be to bad you see earwigs on a daily basis.

More often than not, insects are introduced into your home.  They can come in on new plants (eg. white flies, aphids), on freshly picked garden produce (eg. spiders, beetles) or purchased produce (eg. tropic spiders).  Other insects will take advantage of unsealed cracks, loose fitting screens or a screen door that was accidently left open and others still can get in through screen windows attracted by light (eg. fungus gnats).  The frugal approach to these transient insect problems is to use non-toxic to humans or pets methods of control.  These insects tend to be seasonal, do little food damage, and basically are just a nuisance so use natural control.  Here's a few tips:

  • spiders - Spiders are predators and some spiders can be poisonous so know what spiders are in your area.  If you spot a spider web, mark the location then use your vacuum cleaner to get rid of the spider and nest.  Go back and check the area where the nest was.  Caulk any cracks you find as spiders construct their nests where there is a cool draft.  They are a great indicator species for drafts and the presence of other insects.
  • bees/hornets/yellow jackets - These insects usually enter a home via an open window or door but they will build hives in attics, under eves and in crawlspaces.  If you suspect a hive, call an exterminator as this is not something for the layperson to fool around with.  Quite often you will not know if you are allergic to their sting until stung and it can end up being a matter of life or death.  If one finds it's way into the house, either shoo it back outdoors or use a fly swatter.
  • fruit flies (Drosophilla melanogaster) - Despite their name these little flies (near and dear to my heart) do not eat fruit.  Rather the yeast on the ripening fruit attracts them.  Once the fruit is removed they move along as well.  I dealt with fruit flies throughout my academic career and deal with them every year when large amounts of produce (eg. tomatoes) are brought indoors for canning.  They don't bother me but if you want to catch them, put a piece of banana in a 2 L pop bottle.  The fruit flies will go into the bottle where you can cap the lid and allow to die before resetting your trap.
  • gnats - Gnats are similar in appearance to mosquitoes ranging in size so small you can barely see them to about the size of a mosquito.  They are simply an nuisance attracted by light.  Gnats do bite adding a bit to their annoyance.  The worst thing is though gnats can get through window screen.  Last year was horrid for gnats so every morning I was cleaning up their carcasses from the kitchen windowsill and bathroom counter.  I finally developed a lights off policy which was rather difficult given the kitchen was open to the family room and the gnats just switched to swarming around the television giving me one more area to clean up.  Gnats are attracted to cider vinegar so a pour a bit of cider vinegar in a shallow dish and set where gnats are a problem.  
  • sstrawberry beetles - These little black beetles with yellow dots are commonly found on strawberries.  They make their way into your home via freshly picked strawberries either from the garden or berry farm.  The beetles feed on over ripe berries so if you pick at prime ripeness you can avoid the beetles.  Manual removal is the only method I use for strawberry beetles.
  • aphid - Aphids are sap sucking insects that are introduced to your home via store bought plants including some herbs.  All new plants should be isolated from your main house plant collection for a period of two weeks.  Safer's Insecticidal Soap or a homemade version should be used on any indoor plant with aphids.
  • spider mites/whitefly/mealy bugs - Refer to aphids.  Although most herbs are problem free some are prone to minor insect infestations.  Treat with Safer's Insecticidal Soap as a precautionary before adding the plant to your collection.  Isolate for two weeks before adding to your plant collection.  All plants coming in from your garden for wintering over should be treated as well using the same procedure.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Superbowl Follies (2)

Yesterday I shared the first of three posts on our Superbowl entertaining.  I like to alternate between a hot and cold dish every two hours.  The reason being, many of our guests are consuming alcoholic beverages so it is our responsibility as hosts to ensure ample food is available to counteract the effects.  Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and other non-alcoholic beverages are always available as well. 

pretzel crisps and potato chips
Snack type foods are always on the tables in our games room.  These usually consist of pretzels, peanuts, and potato chips but sometimes I put out fresh popped corn or even a candy tray.  Pictured are two of the bowls of snacks.  Instead of pretzels, I used pretzel crisps.  These are thin, crunchy pretzel crackers.  The are all natural, oven baked crackers with 0g trans fat, 0g saturated fat and 0mg cholesterol, so are a healthier option than potato chips.  There are 110 calories in a serving of 11 pretzel crisps but 270 calories in a serving of 20 of the potato chips pictured.  Converting to equal amounts it works out to 200 calories per 20 pretzel crisps.  They can be enjoyed plain, dipped or paired with any topping of choice.

nacho station set-up
I use the industrial strength wheeled cart that served as extra storage in our last kitchen as a self-serve station for various dishes.  There is a plug on that wall as well as a television.  To the left is the entry to the utility room where there is a full size, side-by-side refrigerator with water and ice in the door.  Beside the refrigerator is a bank of cabinets with countertop that we installed shortly after moving in.  It serves as a dry bar for drinks.

Nachos are always a hit even at our monthly games night.  I set up the top shelf of the cart as a nacho station as pictured.  The nacho chips, cheese in the themed slow cooker and nacho trays were purchased at Sam's Club.  I used the squatty 250 ml designer mason jars as serving bowls for home canned salsa, home canned jalapeño peppers and sour cream.

meat and cheese tray
Later I set the cart up for cheese and crackers on the top shelf.  Quite often our guests will bring a dish or snack.   The wive of one of our guests generously made the cheese and meat tray.  He is doing a lot of custom woodworking for us, building my cookbook shelf, drink tables, medicine cabinet and custom trimming in the main bathroom.  Just wait until you see the custom work he is doing in the kitchen!   I added the mini Breton and Snackers crackers along with dill pickles and garlic dill pickles.  Surprisingly, dill pickles are a huge hit as well even at our monthly games night.

The second shelf was set up with small paper plates and bowls along with a banana cake another wife brought.  She also brought snickerdoodles!  It is common for one or more of the wives to come out to the monthly and special events especially for the dinner.

I use paper plates, bowls and serviettes for the large, special events although I have used regular dinnerware.  This is a practical measure when entertaining for larger groups.  I don't use disposable serving dishes for either special or monthly events nor do I use disposable plates or bowls at the monthly games night.  I very rarely use disposable cutlery either.  I do however use the disposable nacho tray.  For some reason, everyone loves these trays!  They are not expensive either.  The Bakers & Chefs 125 count package I buy is $4.98 at Sam's Club which is less expensive than paper plates. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Superbowl Follies (1)

Superbowl weekend is a huge event at our house.  This year Superbowl Sunday fell on the day following our regular monthly games night so let me tell you I was a very, very busy person with prep starting early in the week.  We had about 15 for the monthly games night on Saturday starting at 6:30 PM then running into the wee hours of the morning with me putting out food every two hours.  Our Superbowl party started at 12 PM the next day with me providing lunch, dinner and food every two hours for about 30 until they finally wandered home in the wee hours of the morning.  I was and still am exhausted but I have a lot of other irons in the fire.  I was going to make one huge Superbowl post but decided to break it into three posts after realizing how many pictures I had to share.  On the Superbowl menu and most of it homemade from scratch: vegetable tray, fruit tray, cheese and meat tray, banana cake, cheese sticks, BBQ meat balls, moose meat chili, spiral ham buns, cheesy hash brown casserole, baked beans, snickerdoodles, along with a wide variety of snack type foods.  Enjoy!

pigs in a blanket
Superbowl parties are all about junk food but I really do try to make most of the offerings as healthy as possible.  Pigs in a blanket is one dish there really isn't a lot of ways of making it healthier and yet it is a very much requested dish.  I honestly do not care for pigs in a blanket!  They are made by wrapping wieners in refrigerator dough then baking until golden brown.  I cut them on the diagonal into 1 - inch sections then pop a toothpick into each section for serving.   I make them healthier by using all beef wieners.  I could make fresh dough or use puff pastry but the guys would complain the taste is not the same.  While I don't care for them myself, they are easy and inexpensive to make, and always a sure party favourite.

meatballs in Sweet Baby Ray's sauce
If you recall, I made the meatballs for the Superbowl party much earlier in the week.  The beauty of the way I make meatballs is they freeze nicely for later use and any sauce can be used when rewarming.  I ended up with a total of 11 lb of meatballs made over two sessions.  I froze them until Superbowl Sunday.  Then I put them into my largest slow cooker and poured Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce over then.  I set the slow cooker on low and let them cook until warmed through when I announced to the guys they were ready.  The entire batch of meatballs were devoured that afternoon!

Meatballs are really an inexpensive, frugal Superbowl treat.  They go over well and when made in advance the way I do mine have minimal prep on the day of the event.  You really can use any sauce you want but on the day of a large event like this using a store bought sauce can save a lot of time.  Any Diana Sauce works nicely but you can use pretty much any sauce.  If you want to make one from scratch, the sauce I use on sweet and sour ribs works nicely as well and it is really quite inexpensive to make, something that anyone cooking for larger events will greatly appreciate.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Peeling Garlic

kitchen quick tips

The easiest way to peel garlic is to place each clove rounded side up on a cutting  rounded side up, lay the flat of a chef's knife on to of it then hit with your fist just enough to break the skin.  The skin will now easily come off the clove.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Geneva Professional Quality Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker

I have talked about my pressure cookers previously.  A few days ago I was in Liquidation World (now owned by Big Lots Canada) doing a bit of household shopping.  Liquidation stores are the perfect place to get great bargains on kitchen equipment if you know what you are looking for.  These types of stores buy out the remaining stock of stores going out of business for whatever reason but some of the stock carried is brand name items (eg. Serta mattress, Cuisinart, Chicago Cutlery) not because those companies are going out of t business but because the store that was selling them went out of business.  I have been wanting a larger, stainless steel pressure cooker for quite some time.  Liquidation World had Geneva professional quality stainless steep pressure cookers on sale for $35, a 50% savings from their regular price which is about 50% off of what the retail price would have been when the store that liquidated was selling it.  So I ended up with a larger, stainless steel pressure cooker at a retail value of about $140 for $35.

Geneva pressure cooker along with Jasi and Fagor pressure cookers
Pictured is the new Geneva pressure cooker (far left), Jasi (middle) and Fagor (far right).  The sizes are 7 L (7 quart), 6 L (6 quart) and 4 L (4 quart) respectively.  The Geneva (made in China) and Fagor (made in Spain) are both stainless steel, second generation (regulator in handle) while the Jasi (made in China) is an aluminum first generation (rocker regulator) pressure cooker.  The Geneva is professional quality; the Fagor is commercial quality and the Jasi is standard.  None of these pressure cookers are large enough to use for home canning and the pressure is not variable, but rather 15 PSI.  The Geneva pressure cooker has a triple core base, automatic pressure control, overpressure plug, emergency release valve, auto lock handle and self sealing gasket.

I did a bit of researching on Geneva when I got home.  The news was not good and I did consider returning the pressure cooker.  [edited March 10, 2012According to internet search results the company making Geneva pressure cooker folded in late 2010 so parts are going to be hard to find.  Please see the comment that the company is still in business and parts are available.  Normally I would not buy a pressure cooker without being able to get parts but in today's global economy companies going under is becoming the norm.  What happens is sometimes another company will come in and take over one or more of those products and sometimes another company is formed to provide generic parts for the products of defunct companies.  The worst case scenario, if I could not find a replacement gasket a few years down the road, the pressure cooker would have more than paid for itself in cooking cost savings and I would still have a nice pot for regular cooking.  However, I compared the gaskets between the three pressure cookers.  The Geneva and Fagor gaskets are identical except for colour so I could easily use a Fagor gasket in the Geneva.  There is an O ring on the safety open-preventing valve that if need be could be replaced with a generic O ring.  Other than that with proper maintenance the Geneva should give me several years of reliable pressure cooking.  I think it was a frugal purchase all the way around but then I know pressure cookers. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Ants in the Kitchen

Frugal Kitchens 101

A very common complaint is ants in the kitchen.  Now we have been extremely lucky in that over our married life of more than 30 years and spanning a total of 19 kitchens including our RV and vacation home, ants have not been a major problem.  I dealt with one small infestation of very tiny ants in a bag of barley I had just brought home from the grocery store.  In our last house I dealt with a very small infestation of carpenter ants last year and surprisingly it was over as quick as it started.  Our new house sat basically empty with a full cupboard of open foods (eg. crackers, cookies, etc.) that we tossed when we moved in but not in time to prevent the small sugar ants from invading.  In some areas though, ants can be a huge problem.  I remember visiting my husband's aunt and uncle in the Florida Keys where a very busy line of ants could be seen coming and going over the counter and up the walls.  The problem with ants in the kitchen it two-fold.  First that is the most likely room of the house to attract ants and second, insecticidal sprays should not be used anywhere that food can be contaminated.  There are several natural methods of dealing with ants in the kitchen but first here are a few basics.

Controlling ants in the kitchen needs to follow the same basics for any pest control - knock down, seal out, eliminate food source, prevention.  Ants have a tendency to come indoors just before a rain so they are good weather predictors.  If you have the black carpenter ants in your house it is a strong indication of wood rot and/or moisture damage so be sure to investigate further and correct the problem before you have a very costly repair.  Ants have no problem getting into open boxed foods, breads and sugar costing you considerable dollars in some cases.  Discard any contaminated food then put all dried foods in glass, metal or plastic containers with tight sealing lids.   Now ants are smart critters in that they leave a scent trail for all their brothers, sisters, cousins and friends to find their way to the newly found food source.  It is very important to observe where this trail is then wash the trail away.  Soap and water will work or if you want something a bit stronger use a cleaner like Pinesol.  Go through and thoroughly wash any cupboard ants have been in before putting your protected food back inside.  Get out your trusty vacuum cleaner to clean up any crumbs on the floor, behind appliances, under stove burners and anywhere else that crumbs may be lurking.  If you don't have a hand held vacuum cleaner buy an inexpensive one for under $20.  This will be a very handy addition in your kitchen for cleaning up crumbs and eliminating crawling beasties.  Once you have completed all these steps, you are ready to move onto the most important step - prevention using natural control:

  • white vinegar -White vinegar is a fungicide with antibacterial and insecticidal properties.  Spray white vinegar where you have seen ants.
  • cinnamon  - Cinnamon acts as a natural ant deterrent and they smell good.  Place cinnamon sticks in patio door or window tracks and behind appliances.  Powdered cinnamon will work too if placed in a container that won't get tipped over.
  • garlic cloves - Garlic cloves are not as pleasant of a scent as cinnamon but they are quite effective at deterring ants.  Peel and slice the cloves then place where ants have been seen.
  • mint - Mint affects the ants' sense of smell acting as an effective deterrent.  Plant mint around your house but be warned any member of the mint family can be quite invasive.  I recommend planting in pots then placing them strategically around your house, indoors and outdoors.  You can use dried mint or mint essential oil as well but my experience is while the dried mint is effective it is a dust collector.
  • black pepper - Black pepper is a very effective ant deterrent.  Watch for ants then sprinkle with black pepper.  The ants will scatter immediately to their point of entry.  Treat that area as well with black pepper.
  • boiling water - If you have an ant problem in your home pour boiling water over any ant hill near your house.  This can be a very effective knock-down method but be warned should not be used around vegetation as the boiling water will kill it also.  
  • cornmeal/cornstarch - Ants cannot digest cornmeal or cornstarch yet they will eat it as well as carry it back to the ant hill, effectively killing them off.  Place cornmeal where you have seen ants.
  • borax - Borax will kill off ants.  Place it where you see ants or sprinkle over any ant hills near your house.
  • bay leaves - Place a couple of bay leaves where you see ants and along their trail to deter them.  Bay leaves have a lovely deep, savory smell as well.
  • salt - Ants will not cross a salt barrier.  The salt crystals are sharp, cutting into the ants' exoskeleton much the same as diatomaceous earth, another natural remedy for ants outdoors.  Food grade diatomaceous earth is available for use indoors but it can be hard to find.
  • ginger - Ants do not like ginger so it acts as a natural deterrent and like cinnamon will make your kitchen smell nice.
  • lavender - Grow lavender around your house and/or indoors to deter ants.  Dried lavender works indoors as does lavender essential oil.  Just place where ants have been spotted.
  • coffee grounds - Used coffee grounds have a lot of uses in gardens and they are effective at deterring ants indoors.  Just place the wet grounds in a small bowl (eg. dipping bowl) and place where ants have been a problem.

Friday, February 03, 2012

15 Garlic Clove Prime Rib Roast

We have been working on the kitchen for almost two weeks meaning I haven't been doing a lot of cooking.  Last Tuesday I was to the point of doing the finer detail touch-up and while there is still more to do, I was able to get the kitchen back somewhat in order enough to back into cooking mode to prep for Superbowl weekend.  I still need to add the finishing touches then will share with you the new look next week.  I must we are both pleased the way the kitchen has been transformed!

15 garlic clove prime rib roast
We did a bit of cooking in a makeshift kitchen area using a slow cooker but I didn't want to actually cook in the kitchen to avoid steam and grease from affecting the paint.  Besides all of the stove and microwave were covered to protect them.  The first cooked meal out of the new kitchen came together on a bit of a whim.  We both love garlic and I had a small prime rib roast so decided to cook the roast in the clay baker with potatoes, onions and lots of garlic.  Roasted garlic is simply delightful!  I served the roast topped with a rich gravy from the drippings and steamed broccoli.  It was a wonderful meal to welcome in the new colour to our kitchen!

15 Garlic Clove Prime Rib Roast
source:  Garden Gnome

3 lb prime rib roast
10 - 12 mini red potatoes
15 whole cloves of garlic
1 c tomato stock
½  medium onion
sprinkle of sea salt/fresh ground pepper
1 tsp browning
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 - 3 tbsp water

Pre-soak the lid of the clay baker in water for 30 minutes.  Peel garlic cloves.  Place roast in clay baker.  Add potatoes, onions and garlic cloves.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with lid.  Bake at 300ºF for 1½ hours or until potatoes are tender and the meat is nicely browned.  Remove the roast and allow it to rest 10 minutes before serving.  Remove vegetables.  Make a cornstarch slurry using the cornstarch and water.  Pour the drippings into sauce pan.  Stir in the browning.  Bring to a low boil over medium heat.  Stir in the slurry then continue cooking until thickened.  Remove from heat.  Plate the roast and vegetables then top with the gravy.  Serve with a vegetable side (eg. steamed broccoli).

spirited peaches with French vanilla ice cream
Since we were celebrating being back to cooking in the kitchen I opened a jar of spirited peaches for dessert.  Spirited peaches are made using peach schnapps although other suitable liqueurs can be substituted.  I don't make a lot of home canned products using alcohol but those I do make tend to be reserved for special occasions.

I topped French vanilla ice cream with slices of the spirited peaches.  Then drizzled a little of the syrup from the peaches over the ice cream.  It was a lovely dessert with the peach slices accenting the vanilla flavour in the ice cream.  This would be a great combination for an adult frozen cocktail. 

It's been a long and tiring job painting the kitchen right back-to-back painting the main bathroom.  The paint has been very testy as reds usually are but it was testy right from the point of picking out the colour.  I finally opted to have the paint custom matched to my dinnerware.  Then the wood cover for the exhaust fan literally fell apart so that will be another job for our friend who is doing all the custom woodworking in our house.  We still haven't found a range hood, sink, faucet or disposal but simply have little time to go shopping.  I have a huge, and I do mean huge project (top secret) aside of my winter project to paint all the rooms in our new home so it is going to be a very busy time!  This is one time we really need the home cooking to comfort and nourish us, body and soul.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Kitchen Quick Tips - Cutting Boards

kitchen quick tips

Glass cutting boards and decorative glass cutting board inserts should not be used as the dull and damage the blade of a knife.  Instead, use wood, bamboo or polyethylene (PE) cutting boards.  Of these choices, wood or bamboo is preferred because of their natural anti-septic properties. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Mom's Basic Meatballs

Superbowl weekend is fast approaching.  This year we are entertaining Saturday evening for about twenty.  A couple of those guests will be staying over night to partake of our annual Superbowl party of about twenty.  As you know I have been busy painting the kitchen and now with three days until the festivities, am in high gear doing menu planning and preparing a few dishes ahead of time.  Meatballs are a hit at Superbowl parties.  One of the grocery stores has a 907 g (2 lb) box of meatballs on sale for $4.97, regular price $7.97.  This works out to $2.49 per pound at the sale price.  Homemade meat balls made by grinding your own meat using a shank roast or other cut of beef on sale can be considerably lower than that price per pound.  Unlike store bought meatballs, my homemade version contain no fillers.

meatball ingredients
I have ground beef from our last beef on the hoof purchase to use up so did not grind from a fresh cut of beef.  The price works out to $2.35 per pound across all cuts of for organic, hormone-free beef.  Hopefully this year's price will be the same!

When I make meatballs, I don't use any fillers.  Any seasonings I do use, I keep to a minimum so the meatballs can be used in a variety of dishes.  I used 4.5 lb of lean ground beef for this batch.  The binder I prefer is cold milk.  The milk tenderizes the meatballs without adding much in the way of flavour.  I used a little garlic pepper as a seasoning.  The screen on top of the mixing bowl is a splatter guard available at kitchen outlets and many department stores.  Meatballs can be fried, baked or boiled but my opinion is frying gives the best results.  I used the larger of my new Paderno EcoPan ceramic coated frypans.  My gosh, as a non-stick surface these fry pans are a dream to work with without the worry of PFOA and PTFF off-gassing of other non-stick cookware.

meatballs ready for shaping
Cold works as a great binder for ground meats because it congeals the fat in the meat.  I put the metal mixing bowl in the refrigerator to chill.  Once chilled I add the meat and any seasonings, mixing well.  Then I pour in the cold milk a little at a time until the meat sticks together.  At this point it is time to heat the fry pan and start forming the meatballs.

I use a meatball former for consistent sized meatballs.  Larger meatballs can be made by hand but you have to work quickly to prevent warming the meatballs before putting them into the fry pan.

frying the meatballs
I add just a little extra virgin olive oil to get the frying process started.  I also work in small batches in a rotation style.  Each meatball is formed then placed in the pan one at a time rather than making all the meatballs at once allowing them to warm.  Once the meatballs are browned on one side, I use a slotted wide spoon to carefully turn then then push that batch to the side of the fry pan furthest from me.  While they finish cooking, another batch is added to begin cooking.  I remove the cooked meatballs, turn the others then add a new batch.  I continue in this fashion until all the meatball mixture is used.  This may sound like a lot of work but it really is not.

meatballs ready for use
Once all of the meatballs are cooked, I allow them to cool.  I do not drain them because I am using lean ground beef and a slotted spoon so then is little to drain.  If using regular ground beef, I would recommend draining the meatballs.  At this point the meatballs are ready to be added to the desired dish, home canned or frozen for later use.

Without a lot of added seasoning the meatballs can be used in any dish ranging from soups and pastas to a wide variety of meatball appetizers.  Just pour the frozen meatballs into your slow cooker then add desired sauce and heat.  Serve right from the slow cooker for a Superbowl party.  Just add a slotted spoon and toothpicks so guests can help themselves.  I have a football theme slow cooker just perfect for this type of presentation.  I'm planning on using a honey-garlic sauce on the meatballs for the Superbowl party.