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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, December 31, 2013

As 2013 Draws to an End...

It has been an exciting culinary year!  We have enjoyed a lot of delicious foods, visited several amazing restaurants and made a lot wonderful foodie finds.  And yes, unlike some, I will continue to use the word foodie because it's a fun word that describes us as a family, in a good way. 

The few months have been a bit challenging as far as writing blog posts.  Over the past year, I have made three major life changing decisions.  Although I don't regret doing so, I am still adapting to those changes.  We extended our time spent at our vacation home which had an impact on the posts as well, especially during the last five weeks before Christmas.  I will be making a few changes in the New Year so you can expect to see an increase in posts.  As always the focus will be on home cooking.

Thank-you for being a part of my blogging family over the last year.  May you and yours be blessed in 2014.  Wishing you a Happy New Year...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas 2013
Merry Christmas to each and everyone!  Thank-you so much for being a part of my blogging family.  I wish you all the peace, joy and magic of the season not only today but everyday.  Special blessings for those traveling today and those who are missing someone this Christmas.  May your table always be laden with delicious foods! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Easy Holiday Appetizer - Bacon Wrapped Scallops

The holiday season means entertaining for many which ultimately means serving some type of food.  Appetizers are my go to for entertaining!  They are perfect for those events where a full meal is not planned.  It takes very little time or effort to make appetizers that look fancy, taste delicious and are made with only a few ingredients. 

bacon wrapped scallops
Bacon wrapped scallops are the perfect, easy to make appetizer that is always well received.  I made a tray of them for my husband to take to a small holiday house party.   I used one and a half pounds of 20/30 count per pound scallops and two packages of bacon cut in half.  A serving size of bacon wrapped scallops is 3 at 169 calories, 25 mg protein, 1.5 g total fat, 255 mg sodium and 0 mg carb.  All around bacon wrapped scallops are a healthy appetizer choice.  Be sure to drain before serving and make them healthier by using a low sodium bacon. 

Method:  Cut the package of bacon across the short end in the middle.  Wrap each half slice of bacon around a scallop, secure with a toothpick and place on sided baking sheet.  Bake at 177°C/350°F until scallops are opaque, about 45 minutes.  Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven keeping it level to avoid spilling the liquid.  Remove the bacon wrapped scallops.  Drain.  Serve warm.

Bacon wrapped scallops should be served warm.  Surprising they do warm up rather well if there are any left overs or if you would like to take them cooked ahead!  If taking bacon wrapped scallops to a gathering, a short distance is best.  Place in a single layer in a shallow baking dish, cover with aluminum foil and wrap lightly with a T-towel.  You can also do all the prep work at home then take them ready to cook.  If you choose this method, be sure to ask the host ahead of time.  Taking the bacon wrapped scallops prepared but uncooked is not suitable for shorter duration gatherings due to timing. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Eggnog, A Holiday Tradition

The holidays are filled with a plethora of culinary delights.  Unfortunately, all of these tempting delights can be problematic for those on restricted diets, those with food allergies or intolerances or those simply trying to maintain their weight.  The average person gains one pound over the holiday season although some sources report the average gain is more like 5 to 8 pounds.  In order to lose one pound, a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories is needed.  The good news is, it doesn't matter what you eat be it all carbs or all fat the only requirement to lose weight is a calorie deficit.  If you require 1,550 cal for basic life functions and daily activities per day but you are eating 1,800 calories you will gain weight.  If you are eating 1,450 calories you will lose weight.  The calorie deficit does not need to come from reduced caloric intake though.  Add exercise or increased physical activity and you can eat the required 1.550 cal AND still lose weight because you are creating a calorie deficit through exercise.  One of the easiest ways to help prevent that holiday weight gain is portion control and the second is to be cognizant of the ingredients.  This is especially important if you are on a sodium reduced diet or have food allergies or intolerances.

three mug sizes
Pictured are three of our mugs.  Eggnog is usually served in mugs.  The largest mug is 14 oz (397 ml), the medium size is 8 oz (227 ml) and the smallest is 6 oz (170 ml).  The smaller two sizes are the most common sizes for holiday servings of eggnog or hot chocolate.  If the smallest size is not offered, ask for your mug filled 2/3 full or better yet half full.  You will be avoiding the calories in at least 2 oz of eggnog without really missing the larger size.

Eggnog is often spiked with rum.  One ounce of rum will add about 100 calories per drink.  In general, those restricting calories are advised to omit the alcohol however, as long as you are eating your daily requirement for weight maintenance or creating a calorie deficit for weight loss, it really doesn't matter if you add the rum providing you budget your calories to do so. 

a small mug of eggnog ready to be enjoyed
Eggnog is either homemade (traditional, dairy free)  or commercially made.  Our traditional eggnog is made just like my Mom made using whole milk and raw eggs.  Whole milk has 150 calories, 8 g total fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium, 400 mg potassium, 12 g carbohydrates (11 g sugar) in an 8 ounces.  It also provides Vitamin A (6%), calcium 30%, Vitamin C 4%, Vitamin D (25%) and phosphorous (25%).  The other major nutritional ingredient in homemade eggnog is egg yolk at 55 calories per yolk.  Each yolk also has 210 mg cholesterol for those wishing to avoid dietary cholesterol.   Sugar adds another 15 calories per teaspoon.  Stevia can be substituted for the sugar to reduce the sweetener calories if desired.  A 6 oz mug of homemade eggnog comes in at about 225 calories. 

A 6 oz mug of commercially made whole milk eggnog is about 270 calories.  It is higher in sodium, lower in potassium, has no Vitamin D and double in carbohydrates.  Commercially made eggnog also contains yellow dyes #5 and #6 as well as corn syrup and carrageenan (thickener).  There are concerns with the aforementioned, all of which cause health problems.  Chances are very good at holiday gatherings, the eggnog will be commercially made.   Since commercially made eggnog is higher in calories, lower in nutritional value and contains at least three ingredients that can cause health problems, it may be one of those holiday treats you decide to not indulge in.  Homemade eggnog is high in nutrition and taste, with none of the problems of commercially made eggnog.  However, homemade eggnog can be problematic for those who are lactose intolerant.

A few days ago I came across a dairy free coconut eggnog recipe that would suitable for those who are lactose intolerant or for those following the Paleo diet.  Coconut milk is substituted for whole milk.  While coconut milk is a great substitute for either purpose, it is not suitable for those restricting calories.  Coconut milk has 93 calories in 2 ounces or 279 calories in 6 ounces without the calories of the egg yolks and sweetener which would put a 6 oz mug of this eggnog in the 420 calorie range.  Coconut milk is however, very low in sodium content (9 mg/2 oz) and carbohydrates (2 g/2 oz).

Of the three options, avoid the commercially made eggnog if at all possible.  Be sure to add a sprinkling of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick.  Cinnamon adds flavour while increasing sugar metabolism which aids in weight loss because sugar is burned rather than converted to fat in the body.  Cinnamon is also beneficial for circulatory problems.  Nutmeg improves concentration, increases circulation and lowers cholesterol.   Eggnog is a delicious holiday tradition that you can still indulge in without the guilt even if you are restricting calories. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Crispies

The holiday season is one of the best times of the year to get a bit of culinary inspiration.  The stores are filled with foods that aren't available any other time of the year.  Folks get creative in the kitchen!  Magazines are filled with holiday recipes and even store flyers have tips and recipes.  Sometimes the inspiration comes from within.  That happened to me recently as soon as I saw a new (one I had not seen before)  product at the grocery store. 

Christmas Crispies ingredients
Peppermint is one of the prominent flavours of the holiday season.  Kraft has responded by making Jet-Puffed peppermint mallows and other holiday themed marshmallows.  These mini marshmallows are naturally flavoured with other natural flavours.  They are pink and white swirled.  The package suggests using these marshmallows in your favourite fudge recipe, sprinkling into hot cocoa and using them to frost cookies or cupcakes.  As soon as I saw them, visions of a Christmas version of the familiar rice krispie squares came to mind.  I use one 12 oz box of Kellogg's rice krispies cereal, on 10 oz bag of Kraft Jet-Puffed peppermint mallows, one 10 oz bag of Nestle Toll House premier which morsels, one SweetNature candy cane (100% natural flavours, no artificial colours) and a little butter to make my Christmas Crispies

Christmas Crispies base formed
I don't make rice krispie squares exactly according to the original recipe.  My husband likes them a bit gooey rather than dry so I've made them that way ever since our newlywed days.  I used a little butter to lightly grease a non-stick baking pan and parchment paper.  I poured the rice krispie cereal into a large bowl then melted the marshmallows in the microwave oven, stirring to a smooth consistency.  I poured the melted marshmallows over the cereal then mixed well.  I filled the baking pan with the mixture and patted down with lightly buttered fingers.  I formed the remainder of the mixture into a rectangle on the parchment paper.  I left the prepared base on the counter to cool and firm up before moving to the next steps.

Christmas Crispies topped with white chocolate and plain squares
I cut the rectangular portion of the base into plain squares.  I melted the white chocolate morsels in the microwave, stirring until smooth then spread over the base mixture in the baking pan.  While the white chocolate was still warm, I sprinkled crushed candy cane over it.  I only used about a tablespoon of the crushed candy cane.  Then I used a flipper to carefully remove the topped base from the baking pan.  At this point, the Christmas Crispies were quite malleable so the flipper provided the needed support to slide the base out of the pan.  I allowed the topped base to cool completely on the counter before cutting into squares.  

Christmas Crispies
I initially cut the Christmas Crispies into 16 squares.  My husband did the taste test.  He declared them delicious but very sweet so I cut the remaining squares in half. The peppermint flavour is not strong, nicely enhanced with the white chocolate and touch of candy cane.  The squares have a pretty pinkish colour.  

I was pleased with the Christmas Crispies that came about simply through a vision.  It really was one of those "I'll bet that would make a tasty square!" as soon as I saw the peppermint marshmallows.  The only change I would make is make the base a bit shallower.  I think it would be easier to omit the baking pan entirely in favour of forming the base free hand the way I usually make rice krispie squares.  I'm sure the Christmas Crispies will be a holiday keeper!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hot Chocolate Baubles

Several years ago, I discovered clear glass Christmas bulbs that can be used for personalized baubles.  The first year I used a favourite picture of each of the kids printed on acetate for a very special Christmas keepsake bauble.  Each year I have used the clear baubles to create decorated baubles for gift giving and adding to our collection.  The clear glass baubles can be decorated in so many ways!

hot chocolate bauble ingredients
This year I discovered clear plastic baubles (88¢) at Walmart.  Unlike the clear glass version, the plastic bauble filled with candies or other seasonal dry goodies without the fear of breakage.  I also discovered Kraft Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits (dehydrated mini marshmallows), a new product that is perfect for gifts in jars or this purpose.  They are in the same aisle as the hot chocolate mixes not the aisle where the marshmallows are if you are looking for them.  I used Nestle hot chocolate packets for convenience but any hot chocolate mix including homemade can be used.  Each bauble uses 2 packets of hot chocolate mix.  I crushed a 100% natural candy cane to add that holiday sparkle to the mix. 

filling the hot chocolate bauble
Filling the baubles is not difficult but can be a bit tricky given their design.  There is no flat bottom so they won't stand up by themselves for easy filling.  I used a bowl to help steady the bauble for filling.   A funnel really helps with the filling to keep the layers neat and tidy.  A make-shift funnel can be made using a sheet of wax paper.  I poured two packets of the hot chocolate mix into the bauble.  I removed any hot chocolate powder film from the inside with a Q-tip.  There wasn't a lot but I like neat layers for these types of projects.  I added the mallow bits being careful not to disturb the hot chocolate powder.  I used a knife to help distribute the mallow bits.  Then I added crushed candy cane, not a lot, just enough to give the hot chocolate a holiday sparkle.  It's important to keep the bauble level so the layers don't mix together.

hot chocolate bauble ready for decorating
Once the bauble was filled, I added the curling ribbon bow.  This ribbon easily forms spiral curls when lightly pulled over the back of a knife or scissors.  It isn't expensive and comes in a variety of colours including prints.  Most dollar stores carry a good selection of curling ribbon.  With the ribbon in place, I added the bauble top and a piece of curling ribbon for hanging.  I was quite pleased with the results.  I'm sure the grandkids will be pleased to get their hot chocolate baubles!

The clear plastic baubles could be filled with: loose leaf tea, fruit and tea blends, candies, trail mix, dried fruit mix and so much more.  I recommend filling only half full and use light weight ingredients for the filling.  The bulk food store (eg. Bulk Barn) is an excellent source for fillings suitable for the baubles.  Depending on the recipient, you could also add a small toy if desired.  The limitation will be the size of the opening of the bauble which is about an inch.  Other than that, just let your imagination create a special unique gift for those on your gift giving list.  I hope you enjoy making these Christmas baubles!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Candy Cane Christmas Magic

If you have ever did a bit of shopping in the quaint little shops in tourist villages, you likely have seen the creative efforts of enterprising folk.  These little packets of goodies have their origins in holiday bake sales and craft shows.  Some of these are so cute, they have gone into commercial production.  These include the little bags of snowman poop (mini marshmallows), bear droppings (chocolate covered raisins), doughnut seeds (Cheerios) and similar.  They generally have a cute little saying which just adds to their appeal.  A couple of days ago, a friend of mine posted a similar idea for growing candy canes on Facebook.  I don't know where she got the idea but I thought it was cute enough to pass along this little piece of Christmas magic!

ingredients for candy canes
This project is really cute, easy to make and kid friendly.  Although granulated sugar and Tic Tacs are used, they are not consumed.  Of note, I had to buy the Tic Tacs specifically for this project as they are not a product we use.  Tic Tacs come in a wide range of colours so you should be able to find a colour to match whatever kind of candy cane you use.  The only thing that is eventually consumed are the candy canes.

I used organic granulated cane sugar because that is what I use but regular granulated sugar could be substituted.   I used SweetNature candy canes made using 100% natural flavours from natural food sources and stripes created from natural colouring found in vegetable juice (likely beet).  While these candy canes are a little more expensive they have no artificial flavour or colours  and they are free of major allergens so I feel a bit better giving them to our grandkids.

planting the candy cane seeds
Any type of container can be used so one with a holiday theme would be really cute.  Initially, I was going to use the bowl in the first picture but substituted a juice glass for demonstration purposes.  I filled the glass with sugar as pictured then planted the candy cane seeds (red Tic Tacs).  Filling the container and planting the seeds is meant to be for your child to do but since I was home alone, well you know how that goes :)  Once your child completes this part, the container can be set in a safe spot until a given time.  For example, let your child plant the seeds a few days before Christmas Day then when he or she wakes that morning, there are the much awaited for candy canes.

grown candy canes
Once your child is safely tucked into bed, fast asleep the night before the candy cane seeds are to sprout, carefully remove the Tic Tacs.  Replace them with the same number of candy canes.  Place the container back into the same position for your child to discover when they wake.  Isn't is a cute idea?

I thought this was really a cute way to create a bit of Christmas magic for the little ones.  I'm sure our grandkids will be filled with anticipation waiting for their candy cane seeds to grow!  It might just be the perfect spot for that Elf on the Shelf to rest while the little ones open presents...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gift From the Kitchen - Cookies in a Jar (White Chocolate Chip Cookies Revisited)

 A few days ago, I mentioned I would be focusing on holiday related topics for the remainder of December.  Gift giving is a big component during the holiday season and what better way to bring a smile to a loved one's face than with a gift from the kitchen.  These gifts need not be complicated or expensive but rather they are a gift from the heart :)

white chocolate chip cookies in a jarSo it is with cookies in a jar!  In November of 2009, I shared a very easy white chocolate chip cookies in a jar recipe, perfect for holiday gift giving.  The complete instructions can be found in that post.  A jar of the white chocolate chip cookies in a jar was gifted to one of our kids who still has it on display in their china cabinet!  It brings a smile every time I see it.

Any cookie recipe can be used for a cookie in a jar gift.   Just follow the basic instructions for the white chocolate chip cookies in a jar.  In general, drop cookie recipes with nuts, baking chips, or other chunky ingredients work best for the layering effect. 

Cookies are not exactly health food but you can substitute healthier ingredients if desired.  Use organic granulated cane sugar rather than plain granulated white sugar.  You can substitute any sugar with a sugar replacement like Truvia (natural) or Splenda (artificial).  If you use Truvia, the conversion is ½ c Truvia equals 1 c sugar.  If you use Splenda, it is a 1 to 1 substitution.  Use organic, unbleached flour or substitute organic spelt flour.  The healthier ingredients will increase the cost of each jar slightly but not enough to make them cost prohibitive.   On average, a cookie in a jar gift will cost about $2 in ingredients.  Healthier ingredients will add about 50¢ or less per jar.  You can save on the cost of the ingredients by buying them at a bulk food store. 

The decorative mason jar lids are available year round at Canadian Tire and Home Hardware or online from Bernardin.  Bernardin also sells plastic storage lids for mason jars in standard and widemouth sizes, also available year round.  The one litre mason jars are available year round from the same sources as well as Walmart Canada, and many grocery store chains.  They can often be found on sites like Kijji, or at yard sales and thrift shops.  Older mason jars with glass lids are also suitable for this application giving a retro touch sure to please.  I do not recommend using older mason jars with glass inserts (eg. Gem jars) as these jars are more valuable for home canning use.  Vacuum sealing of the cookies in a jar is optional but a nice touch to keep the mix fresher longer for the recipient.

If you need a few last minute gifts, then cookies in a jar may be just for you! 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Meatballs for the Masses

The holiday season is a time for gatherings, large and small.  Quite often they involve bringing a dish.  Immediately logistics come into play such as ease of traveling as some dished travel better than others.  At the same time the setting must be considered as well which will dictate the type of dish you can bring.   My husband was going to a holiday football game with 30 other football fans.  He wanted to bring something for the tailgate party before the game.  Since most of the offerings for the tailgate party would be snack type, we made a large batch of meatballs.  Meatballs are one of my larger gathering stand-by dishes.  Depending on the setting, I make and serve them in the slow cooker or in a large foil baking pan in the oven.  A larger batch can be made using the foil baking pan.  This method is great for those gatherings where using a slow cooking is not possible or for larger gatherings where the meatballs can be kept hot in the oven until ready to serve.

meatballs in the preparation stages
I make meatballs that are just that, meatballs meaning no fillers.  Calculating how much of a dish to bring can be a challenge.  Numbers tend to not be written in stone so even though a gathering may be for 30, there may be more or less.   In this case, there were 30 maximum so at best one or two would not attend.   I planned on 1/4 lb of beef per person, or 4 - 1 oz meatballs each which worked out to 120 oz or 7½ lb ground beef.  I started with 10 lb/160 oz of lean ground beef which would make 160 - 1 oz meatballs, enough extra. 

I started with 10 lb of lean ground beef in two batches for easier mixing.  I sprinkled a little garlic pepper over the meat then mixed well.  Actually, my husband did the mixing so this was a team effort!  I poured a bit of cold milk over the meat to serve as the binder for the meatballs.   Milk allows the meatballs to keep their shape during cooking resulting in firm yet tender meatballs.   My husband formed the meatballs by hand then we fried them using four non-stick skillets.  The cream interior skillets are ceramic non-stick while the darker interior ones are T-fal.  The browned meatballs were transferred to the foil baking pan to finish cooking in the oven as each pan was ready.  I poured  Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce over each addition of meatballs.  I started the meatballs at 120°C/250°F to keep warm until all the meatballs were added to the pan then I made the final addition of barbeque sauce, about a cup of water and increased the temperature to 177°C/350°F.  Had I been cooking the meatballs in the slow cooker, I would have omitted adding the water.

cooked meatballs ready for the party
I cooked the meatballs uncovered at 177°C/350°F until the sauce was hot, bubbling and reduced.  In haste, I neglected to put a baking sheet under the foil baking pan so we carefully maneuvered one under before removing the meatballs from the oven.  Don't they look delicious?

I always make beef or venison meatballs using only meat, milk and either garlic pepper or Montreal steak seasoning.  I keep the seasoning light so the meatballs can be used with any desired sauce, homemade or otherwise.  These meatballs can be home canned in sauce if desired and they freeze nicely.  I like keeping a few pounds of cooked meatballs in the freezer for a quick entertainment dish or using a few for dinner.

meatballs packaged for traveling
I covered the piping hot meatballs with aluminum foil for traveling.  Then we carefully put a T-towel under the foil baking pan on top of the baking sheet (not pictured.  The meatballs would be warm in time to be enjoyed at the tail gate party.  This method works well for meatballs that will be enjoyed within a hour to forty-five minutes of removal from the oven.  If the meatballs will be served after that period they should be kept at 120°C/250°F in the oven.  As always when taking meatballs to an event, I included a package of round toothpicks. 

If you need a simple, easy dish that is sure to please make up a batch of meatballs.  Add a bottle of barbeque sauce of your choice and some toothpicks for a tasty appetizer perfect for holiday entertaining!  Don't forget to make extra for a quick meal start during the busy holiday season. 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Perfect Gift for the Holidays - Apple Butter

Our little grandkids love apple butter!  Apple butter is one of those culinary delights that can be difficult to find in the grocery stores and if you do, it is likely filled with sugar, artificial flavours and colours or preservatives.  However, all natural apple butter can be found at farmer's markets as well as specialty food shops.  Apple butter is extremely easy to make!

apple butter
Essentially apple butter is cooked down applesauce.  I don't add any sugar or seasonings but many do.  I wash the apples and quarter then place the unpeeled pieces in a stock pot with just enough water in the bottom to prevent sticking.  I allow the apples to cook until soft, stirring often.  Once the apples are cooked, I run them through the Kitchen Aid food strainer attachment to remove the peels, seeds and core.  At this point depending on the apple used, the purée is thick enough to be canned as applesauce.  Sugar and seasonings (eg. cinnamon) can be added at this point also.  If they are added, the sauce is reheated and boiled down to the desired thickness.  Applesauce is home canned in a boiling water bath canner for 10 min at altitudes 1,000 feet above sea level.  At higher altitudes, the processing time is 15 minutes. 

Once the applesauce is made rather than leave as is, it can easily be made into apple butter or apple leather.  Both are excellent for gift giving!  To make apple butter, pour the prepared applesauce into a large Dutch oven.  Cover partially then let bake at 120°C/250°F, stirring occasionally until reduced by about half.  The butter with be thick with a nice caramelization and mounds on the spoon.  Once it has reached the desired thickness, the apple butter can be ladled into hot jars and processed in a boiling water bath canner as per applesauce. 

Our grandkids will be elated to find a jar of apple butter for each of them under Grandma and Papa's Christmas tree!  Shhh...we won't tell them about the other jars of apple butter stored safely in Grandma's pantry :)

Friday, December 06, 2013

ROLO Pretzel Delight

As promised, today is the first post of a series of posts featuring foodie related topics for the holidays.  Every parent has been there where their adorable little munchkin tells them at the last minute they need a treat for their class party the next morning.  It's nice to have an easy, no muss recipe to fall back on for just such times.  When I think of an easy, no muss recipe it usually means something I can put together quite quickly with few ingredients yet tasty results.

I was browsing through the Walgreens flyer a couple of days ago where I discovered this easy, peasy sure to please recipe for ROLO Pretzel Delight just perfect for the holiday season.  The recipe actually comes from Hershey's on the rolo chey caramels in milk chocolate package.  These delicious treats are made with only three ingredients and take about five minutes total to assemble.  The combination of sweet and salty is sure to please! 

The recipe is quite flexible as far as quantity.  I made 24 (some not pictured) so needed 24 each tiny pretzels, ROLO candies, and pecan halves.  I only use about half a 240 g (8.5 oz) bag of rolo caramels!  These treats are so easy to make and so tasty.  That earns them a spot on my quick, tried and true recipes.   

Rolo Pretzel Delight
source:  The Hersheys Company, Celebrate with Hershey , 2013

small pretzels
pecan halves
ROLO chewy caramels in milk chocolate

Heat oven to 350°F.  Line cookie sheet with parchment paper or silpat.   Place one pretzel for each pretzel treat desired on the prepared sheet.  Top each pretzel with one unwrapped ROLO chewy caramel in milk chocolate.  Bake 3 to 5 minutes or until caramel piece begins to soften*, but not melt.  Remove from the oven.   Top each softened ROLO with pecan half.  Cool completely**.

*I kept a very close eye on the caramels that really don't change drastically as they soften.  I removed from the oven just at the 3 minute mark.

**The treats stay sticky on the bottom so need to cool completely for serving.  I let them cool on the parchment paper that was carefully transferred from the baking sheet to a cooling rack.  Once the treats were fully cooled, I placed them on a serving plate.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Storing Ice Cream

kitchen quick tips Wrap the ice cream container in foil wrap to prevent ice crystals from forming on the ice cream.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Holiday Season is Upon Us!

My gosh!  Where does the time go?  Here it is December 4 with time quickly ticking away to Christmas Day and New Year's.  Folks are busy shopping, entertaining and socializing.  I'm going to do a bit of a shift here for the rest of December to focus on some of the food related topics of interest for the holidays.  These topics include: gifts from the kitchen, holiday entertaining, holiday recipes and so much more.  I've compiled a list of our favourite Christmas cookies, sure to become your favourites as well.  They are perfect for gift giving, holiday entertaining or filling Santa's plate.  There are several recipes in the archives for appetizers suitable for holiday entertaining as well.  I plan to add a few healthy or healthier alternatives for those who are currently watching their weight or hoping to avoid that seasonal weight gain.  Just wait until you read about one simple, yet effect method I use!  A couple of the gifts from the kitchen involve a crafty touch.  Stay tuned for the holiday fun starting Friday...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Keep Critters Away

kitchen quick tips Place a bayleaf in flour, rice and pasta when storing to keep critters out! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dehydrated Apple Slices

As mentioned in yesterday's post, I have been doing a bit more dehydrating this year.  Dehydrating is an easy way to preserve fruits and vegetables for long periods of time.  Apples can be dehydrated anytime throughout the year.  I prefer to dry them when in season.  Apples were just starting shortly before we left on the first leg of our winter vacation in early October.  That gave me just enough time to run a batch of applesauce as well as dry apple slices. 

dehydrated apple slices vacuum sealed for storage
Apple slices are a versatile, easy to make product for the pantry.  They can be used for snacking, reconstituted for baking or added to beverages for a delightful, natural flavour.  One of our favourite fall beverages is mulled apple cider made in the crockpot.  I add dried apple slices to the mulled apple cider for extra flavour.   I also like adding a dried apple slice to a hot cup of tea for subtle flavour boost.

Apples need only be washed well, cored, sliced then dipped in an ascorbic acid solution to prevent browning before drying.  I  dried the apple slices at 135°F/57°C until they were leathery feeling.  Once dried, I vacuum sealed the apple slices in mason jars for storage.  Each mason jar held a dehydrator load of 6 trays.  I will have to dry more as two jars is not enough to last through the winter! 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dried Tomato Slices

This past busy processing season, I did a bit more dehydrating than I normally do using my Nesco dehydrator.  Dehydrating is a very easy and inexpensive way to stock your pantry with little effort.  Not only that, dried foods take up less space in the pantry than the same amount of food home canned or frozen.  Like home canned foods, there is no further cost for storage.  Unlike home canned and frozen foods, dried foods are light weight, easily transported if need be.  Dehydrating foods need not be restriction to in season crops either as it is an excellent way to take advantage of produce sales anytime of the year.

using a vacuum sealer canister to seal a mason jar
Fruits and vegetables should be dried at 130°F/55°C to 140°F/60°C which minimizes the loss of heat-sensitive Vitamins A and C.  I dried the tomato slices at 135°F/57°C, the fruit and vegetable setting on my dehydrator.  Drying tomatoes is as simple as washing and slicing about ¼-inch thick.  I find I get better results when the slices are cut to a consistent thickness.  The skins can be removed prior to slicing if desired.  I didn't remove the skins. 

Dried foods are best vacuum sealed to prevent loss due to insects or moisture.  I like vacuum sealing dried foods in mason jars because the glass also protects against loss due to rodents.  An alternative method I have used is to vacuum seal dry foods in the plastic bagging material then place the packets in rodent-proof containers. 

I use either a standard mouth vacuum sealer adapter (pictured) or a wide mouth adapter (not pictured) depending on the style of mason jar I'm using.  I also reuse the metal snap lids that were originally used for home canning.  These lids cannot be reused for home canning but they are still usable for vacuum sealing providing they are not damaged.  I label home canned foods directly on the lid using a Sharpie marker.  I do not remove any writing on used lids until after they have been vacuum sealed.  Normally, the lids seal without a problem although occasionally I need to use the two lid method to get a good seal.  For some reason, one of the lids did not want to seal.  I was using older Bernardin jars so the shoulder could have been the problem.  At any rate, I resorted to another trick for vacuum sealing lids by placing the filled jar with lid in a vacuum sealer canister.

vacuum sealing a mason jar
Then I placed the lid on the canister and attached the hose as I normally would.  Essentially with this method a larger volume of air is removed but in the end the jar seals.  This method works nicely for any mason jar with higher shoulders that prevents the adapter from seating properly.  It can also be used for any mason jar in lieu of the adapter.  An adapter costs about $10 for the standard mouth size while the wide mouth size is a bit more and can be difficult to find.  Canisters are a bit easier to find locally even appearing in thrift stores occasionally.  eBay is another inexpensive source for vacuum sealer canisters as well.  Once the vacuum sealer stops, I simply released the vacuum on the canister and removed the vacuum sealed jar.

mason jar successfully vacuum sealed
As pictured, the jar vacuum sealed nicely using the canister method.  There was a noticeable indent in the centre of the lid indicating a good vacuum seal.  At this point, the only thing left to do was clean the marker off the lid then relabel for storage.

As mentioned, I like using a Sharpie marker for labeling just about anything in the pantry or freezers.  It can be used on just about any surface although may not clean off porous surfaces well.  It can also leave ghost marks on some plastics.  The marker comes off easily from metal, glass and some plastics with rubbing alcohol. 

dried tomatoes and tomato powder vacuum sealed for storage
In total, I dried two quart jars and one pint jar of tomato slices as well as enough to make a half-pint of tomato powder.  Each quart jar holds the amount of tomato slices I dried per load in the dehydrator using 6 trays.  The tomato powder is the equivalent of 2 quart jars of tomato slices or a total of 12 trays of dried tomato slices.  You may be wondering why I left some of the tomato slices as is rather than powder all of them.  The main reason is flavour.  I only powder the amount I will use within a reasonable amount of time then powder more as needed.  The second reason is versatility since the dried tomato slices can be used as an ingredient in dips and soups.

Tomato powder is a must have in any pantry!  It can be used to make tomato paste or sauce, add extra flavour to soups, stews and meatloaf, or sprinkled on salad or other vegetables as a seasoning.  Commercially prepared tomato powder is available but it is expensive at as much as $1.10 per ounce or more.  It is not a product that I can find locally, so for me as well as many, tomato powder is a product that would have to be ordered online or by mail order.  Homemade tomato powder can be as inexpensive as only the power it takes to run the dehydrator (my case) or the price of about 30 large paste tomatoes.  Even buying the tomatoes and making your own tomato powder will still realize a savings.  I used paste tomatoes because that is what I had.  Any tomato can be used to make tomato powder although I highly recommend using organic tomatoes.  Cherry tomatoes make a wonderful tomato powder if you find a good deal on them.  Mixing tomato varieties works well too making this an ideal way to use up excess tomatoes from the garden.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Easy Lettuce Coring

kitchen quick tips To quickly core head lettuce, rap the core hard on the counter.  The core will then be easy to pop out leaving the lettuce ready for cleaning and prep.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Sticky Spoons

kitchen quick tips Spray a spoon with non-stick cooking spray before using it to scoop honey or peanut butter.  The spoon will clean-up easily with no sticking.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Home Canned Picante Sauce

I am constantly looking for as well as developing new, safe home canning recipes.  This fall I added home canned picante sauce to my ever growing list of must make recipes.  Picante means hot but the recipe I used was mildly pungent and stimulating.  The results were delicious!  I will do a bit of tweaking for the next batch but overall, I am quite pleased with the sauce.  This one is a keeper!

home canned picante sauce
I decided to try the picante recipe in Bernardin's Tomatoes Canning & Specialty Recipes.  This easy sauce has the texture of a chunky salsa but different flavour notes.  Parsley can be substituted for the coriander if desired.  It can be served with a rice or meat dish, or used as a dipping sauce for chips and seafood.  This sauce can be puréed for use as an enchilada sauce.  It can be home canned chunky or puréed so be sure to make a batch or two of each!

Picante Sauce
source: Bernardin Ltd., Tomatoes Canning & Speciality Recipes (2000), Pp. 64

7 c coarsely chopped tomatoes
1½ c coarsely chopped Spanish onion
½ c finely chopped jalapeño pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c malt vinegar
1 can (5½ oz) tomato paste
1 tbsp pickling salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 tsp cumin

Prepare vegetables.  Leave ingredients as is for picante sauce or purée mixture if making enchilada sauce.  Place all ingredients except coriander and cumin into large saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Boil gently for 45 minutes.  Stir in the coriander and cumin.  Continue boiling for 15 minutes for picante sauce or 30 minutes for enchilada sauce.  Ladle sauce into hot 250 ml (half pint) jars.  Wipe rims and cap with metal snap lids, Tattler reusable canning lids or glass inserts as per instructions for type of lid used.    Process in boiling water bath for 20 minutes.  Remove from canner.  Tighten bands fully if using Tattler lids or glass inserts.  Allow to cool undisturbed for 24 hours.  Remove bands and test for seal.  Wash jars and label for storage.

Yield: about 8 - 250 ml (half pint jars), 7 enchilada sauce

Sunday, November 10, 2013

4ever Recap Reusable Canning Lids Warning

I am a high volume home canner with over 30 years of experience.  In addition to the two piece metal snap lids, I also use reusable canning lids (eg. glass inserts, glass lids, Tattler, and 4ever Recap).  I ordered one dozen standard and one dozen wide-mouth size of the 4ever Recap lids.  The 4ever Recap lids came in at 10¢ less per lid than the Tattlers and promised the lids with gaskets (treated properly) would last forever.  As a high volume canner, I knew that savings would make a difference.   I contacted 4 Ward Industries immediately upon receiving my 4ever Recap lids who did not resolve my problem or address my concerns.

I started testing the 4ever Recap lids in April of 2013, wrote about sealing problems with the 4ever Recap lids the same month, and wrote a review of the 4ever Recap lids in May.  I left the remainder of the jars using 4ever Recap lids in the pantry which is both cool and dark.  During the midst of the busiest of my canning while putting newly canned foods in the pantry I noticed a jar of stock with a 4ever Recap lid that looked strange.  Upon closer inspection I discovered the lid had actually popped up and the contents obviously spoiled.  I immediately checked through all my jars of stored food, no easy task given the volume.  Every jar with a 4ever Recap lid had come unsealed.  I have to tell you, I was beyond furious!

4ever Recap reusable canning lid seal failures
I have used the reusable lids often enough that I can tell just by a quick glance whether the seal has failed.  It is very, very subtle but there is less compression between the lid and the jar (orange arrow).  What caught my attention though was the clouding of the turkey stock (yellow arrow left).  What I found with the remaining jars with 4 ever Recap lids were clear signs of spoilage (yellow arrow right).  I carefully brought the jars to the kitchen for further investigation, taking pictures.  Of note, jars of the same stock canned on the same day in the same batches using Tattler reusable canning lids and metal snap lids were fine with no sign of spoilage or seal failure.  All of the jars were stored in the same pantry in the same conditions.

4ever Recap reusable canning lid popped right off and the other had no resistance at all
I know the jars using the 4ever Recap lids were sealed when they went into storage.  They were removed from the pressure canner, bands firmly tightened immediately then sat undisturbed for 24 hours as per normal.  In fact, I noted seal failures at a rate of 25% during this initial period but after reprocessing all had sealed and were sealed when put into the pantry.  I removed the bands and tested those seals before the jars went into the pantry.  The beauty of the reusable lids aside of being eco-friendly is they are either sealed or they aren't.  If a lid is not sealed it easily slides or lifts off the jar with no resistance.  It is would be impossible to miss a lid that wasn't sealed.

4ever Recap reusable canning lid defective gasket seating
In my initial correspondence with Jackie Ward of 4 Ward Industries, I asked about the apparent gasket seat flaw that allows the gasket to move somewhat on the lid.  She did not address my concerns but rather brushed them off.  Pictured is a comparison of a Tattler reusable lid to the 4ever Recap lids.  The gasket sits firmly on the gasket seat of the Tattler lid.  It is tight against the flange (green arrow) with no possible room for movement.  The gasket sits loosely on the 4ever Recap lids with a fair amount of room for movement (red arrow).  It does not sit tightly against the flange but rather if the gasket is pushed tight against the flange it leave a wiggle room of 1/8 - inch. This movement makes placing the prepared lids on filled jars more difficult and definitely explains the higher percentage of initial seal failures fresh from the canner because the gasket actually has enough room to shift so as to not cover the rim of the jar properly.
Yesterday, a reader who wished to remain anonymous left the following comment on the 4ever Recap review post:
You may be interested in knowing that after finding out that their "superior silicone' rings will not stay sealed longer then 3 weeks, 4Ever Recap is now selling nitrile rings. Now if you have a superior product, why would you exact copy your competitors tried & true (which you claim to be inferior) product? Also interesting, if you type 4Ever Recap Trademark into your search engine you will find that the company is actually owned by Kang Investments LLC. You form your own opinions on that one!  
I decided to do some investigation:

According to their website, 4 Ward Industries LLC in Anna, Ohio "is the company that brings" you 4ever Recap owned by Jackie Ward (President).  Brandon Ward, her husband, is Director of Marketing and Sales.  The website is a GoDaddy domain with the registrant set as private and their IP points to in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  I could find no real information on 4 Ward Industries LLC other than what is on their website which is rather odd.  Of note, Anna is a village of under 1,600 people and the Village of Anna Businesses does not list 4 Ward Industries as a business in Anna, Ohio but City Squares listed 4ever Recap (not 4 Ward Industries) at 114 West North Street in Anna.  It's interesting that Google Street View shows nothing that appears to be a building for manufacturing the lids but perhaps it is a small enough operation to fit in a large shed.  The 4ever Recap trademark is definitely owned by Kang Investments LLC (also not listed in the Village of Anna Businesses) in Anna, Ohio, filed by Matthew H. Swyers who appears to be a trademark lawyer for The Trademark Company in Vienna, Virginia.  The address given for Kang Investments is 12800 Wengler Rd. which appears on Google Street View as two rather impressive homes on a dirt road across the road from an empty field. .  My conclusion is that 4 Ward Industries is not who they say they are and may possibly be portraying themselves in a deceptive manner.  I don't feel they are actually manufacturing the lids themselves as their website indicates 'the company that brings you' not manufacturers of 4ever Recap lids.  It is unclear where these lids are made and may or may not be BPA-free.  At any rate there is evidence that 4 Ward Industries is simply selling someone else's product that mimics Tattler. 

According to their website, 4ever Recap is offering silicone (red) and nitrile (black) gaskets.  If the silicone gaskets were superior in the first place, inquiring minds would like to know why they are suddenly offering nitrile gaskets?  Nitrile is an oil-resistant synthetic rubber that has recently been used in the manufacturing of medical gloves as a less expensive alternative to latex gloves.  It is also used in applications such as gaskets where oil resistance is necessary.   Clearly, there have been seal problems with the 4ever Recap both immediately and during storage which is why 4ever Recap is again copying Tattler by offering nitrile gaskets BUT they are still offering silicone gaskets despite the gasket seating defects which would lead to seal failures and the problem in general with the seal failures using silicone.  My conclusion is both Jackie and Bruce are aware of the high level of seal failures AND have relayed that to whom ever is manufacturing the lids.  Rather than correct the problem, an alternative gasket is being offered.  Clearly, an alternative nitrile gasket would not be offered if there weren't known seal problems with the silicone gasket!  Based on the numerous complaints over seal failures using the 4ever Recap lids and the multitude of canning sites and forums recommending against their use, I would not be surprised to see a class action lawsuit in the near future!

The bottom line:

Regardless of the confusion over who actually manufactures the 4ever Recap reusable lids, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that they are not manufactured at the location implied by the Wards.  There is a question on the feasibility of a business built on a non-sustainable business plan selling a product designed to last forever meaning they are only interested in first time buyers not maintaining existing customers.  There is reasonable evidence to speculate that these lids may not manufactured in the USA which brings their safety into question.  There clearly is a recognized problem with the silicone gaskets that leads to a higher rate of initial seal failures as well as increased seal failures during storage.  Of note, all negative comments regarding the 4ever Recap lids have been removed from their Facebook page, something they do blame Facebook for but I have my doubts.  It's their page so they have the power to remove any comments as they see fit.  I fully believe they have removed the negative comments to prevent perspective buyers from seeing them which could influence them not to buy the faulty lids.

On a personal level, I was not happy with the correspondence from Jackie who failed to resolve my problem or address my initial concerns over the gasket seating.  Despite several emails, she did not answer my concerns at all!  She blamed seal failures on being a new user of 4ever Recap lids even though they are used exactly the same way glass inserts and Tattler reusable lids are used, both of which I have been using on a regular basis for a few years.  Every single jar with a 4ever Recap lid in storage had lost the seal by September.  While this is longer than the 3 week in storage failure some are reporting, it is still unacceptable.  I currently have a little over 12 dozen jars in storage using Tattler and glass inserts.  Some of those jars have been in storage over a year.  To date the only seal failures I have experienced during storage has been using the 4ever Recap lids.   I definitely will not be using these shoddy reusable canning lids!  I am not willing to waste my time, effort, cooking fuel and food using what is clearly a substandard, defective product!  I do not recommend these lids!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Homemade Roast Beef Lunch Meat Packets

The Earl of Sandwich was clearly on to something with his culinary invention that remains a dietary staple today.  Basically a sandwich is a filling between two pieces of bread, quite often including some type of meat.  Commercially prepared, thin and evenly sliced lunch meats are only as far away as the nearest grocery store.   Packages often go on sale or are regularly priced at very low prices to encourage consumers to buy them.  This type of lunch meat is not without fault.  Sure, you are getting it for a very low price but like most commercially processed foods, lunch meat is laden with preservatives, food additives and sodium.  One slice of roast beef lunch meat contains as much as 300 mg of sodium in comparison to 6 oz of home cooked roast beef that contains 92 mg of sodium.  A sandwich made using two slices of roast beef lunch meat contains 600 mg of sodium in just the lunch meat without adding in the sodium content of the bread, condiments or extras.  In perspective, those two pieces of roast beef lunch meat contain almost 30% of the sodium RDA set by Health Canada.  Clearly, if you are on a sodium restricted diet lunch meat is not a food that you should consume on a regular basis.  However, the problem with commercially prepared lunch meats  is more than just sodium.  Sodium nitrate, a known carcinogen, is used as a preservative in commercially prepared lunch meats.  Expectant mothers are advised not to consume lunch or deli meats due to risk of Listeria to the feotus.  Commercially processed lunch meats may also contain a number of food additives including high fructose corn syrup.  All that aside, I have to admit not liking commercially prepared lunch meats and never have.  My work-around is simply making homemade versions of lunch meats using whole cuts of meat, home cured meats and cooked meat loafs, all thinly sliced.

slicing cooked roast beef for freezing
When I am making roast beef, I usually cook two.  It takes the same temperature and time to cook two as it does one.  Part of one roast is used for dinner with the remainder for planned left-overs.  The other roast is typically prepared for homemade lunch meat.  Commercially prepared lunch meat is typically thin sliced.  Using a chef's knife to slice cold roast beef will give nice, thin slices with a bit of practice.  A meat slicer has been on my list of kitchen wants but I haven't bought one yet, so a chef's knife it is.  I slice across the grain, trimming any fat if necessary. 

In general, I find leaner roasts work best for lunch meat slices.  I generally do not add a lot of seasoning other than garlic pepper, onion and Worchestershire sauce although sometimes I add tomato stock.  Once the roast is fully cooked, I let it cool then refrigerate until cold.  The cold meat is easier to slice thinly.

sliced roast beef vacuum sealed ready for freezer
I package the thinly sliced meat in the amount we will comfortable use within three or four days into vacuum bags then vacuum seal for freezing.  Vacuum sealing prevents freezer burn.  The packets thaw nicely in the refrigerator.  We use one sometimes two packets of homemade lunch meat a week.

This method of freezing and storing lends itself nicely to thinly sliced turkey breast, meat loaf, home cured summer sausage, home made pastrami, and wild game.  I have found the price per pound of the home made lunch meats to be generally less expensive than commercially prepared lunch meat.  The quality of the product is significantly higher though with lower sodium content, no preservatives or additives, and it tastes better.  Prep time for freezing the meat is minimal at only slicing and vacuuming time.  Overall, homemade lunch meats are a healthier, cost effective alternative to commercially prepared lunch meat!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Kitchen Quick Tips - Saving Left Over Wine

kitchen quick tips
Pour left-over wine into an ice cube tray then freeze for the perfect size to add a bit of extra flavour in sauces and gravies.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Freezing Butternut Squash

Winter squash is always a bargain in season!  It's high in nutritious and taste but low in calories and price.  Just before we left for Florida, one of the kids brought me two large, home grown butternut squash, a type of winter squash.   Winter squash keeps nicely in a cold, dark location but I decided to freeze the squash instead.  Part of the reasoning was for later convenience but the main reason was not leaving any food that may spoil while we were away. 

preparing the butternut squash for baking
Winter squash have hard outer rinds that many find difficult to remove.  This can be particularly problematic for those with motility issues.  As a result, winter squash is often passed over for another vegetable that is easier to prepare.  There are three work around for cooking winter squash that do not involve peeling.  They do however involve cutting the squash in half and cleaning out the seeds.  The squash can then be covered and baked or cooked in the microwave oven.  My personal preference is steaming on the stove top followed by baking larger quantities in the oven or on the grill.

I uses a chef's knife to cut the butternut squash in half starting at the top on one side then slowly working towards the base of the squash.  Once I reached the base, I continued cutting up the other side.  The seeds are found inside the round base of the squash.  I scooped out the seeds and set aside to be cleaned then air dried for next year's garden.  Of note, saving seeds from produce even store bought is one way to accumulate free seeds for the garden. 

cooked butternut squash
I wrapped the squash pieces in aluminum foil.  I placed the prepared squash on a baking sheet then baked at 350°F until the squash was soft to slight pressure.  When the squash was cooked (pictured), I removed it from the oven and removed the foil.  I then scooped the cooked squash from the skin, leaving the skin for the food disposal or compost. 

This method really is a no mess, no fuss method for cooking squash.  It lends itself nicely for cooking larger winter squash or larger quantities however, I often use this method to cook acorn squash.  When cooking acorn squash, I add a little butter and salt in the cavity.  I didn't add butter or salt for this batch of butternut squash so it would be more versatile for later use.

draining the butternut squash
Wrapping in foil then baking essentially steams the squash in it's own juices.  Even though no water was added, there was a fair amount of liquid draining from the squash (pictured).  There is no reason why the juice cannot be left in the cooked squash for freezing but it will give more watery results when thawed and reheated.  I drained the squash simply by pushing the squash to one corner of the casserole dish then raising that corner slightly allowing the liquid to drain by itself.  I reserved the liquid to freeze separately.  The liquid can be added to soups and stews for added flavour.  Once the squash was drained it was ready for freezing.
butternut squash ready for freezer
There are several ways to package squash for the freezer.  My preferred methods are individual serving sizes (4 oz muffin cups) and meal size containers.  I froze this batch of buttermilk squash in meal size containers.  The containers were 4 c (32 oz/946 ml) Ziploc containers with screw on lids.  I filled the containers leaving about an inch headspace.  This space allows for the expansion of the squash when frozen.  There were four servings per container.  That is a good yield for one butternut squash.  The squash in the glass bowl went into the refrigerator for use the following day.

Winter squash will be plentiful and low cost for another month so I plan to freeze a bit more.  It can also be dehydrated and canned.  When dehydrating the squash is shredded then steamed lightly before dehydrating.  It can then be hydrated much the same as you would instant potatoes or the dried flakes can be added as an ingredient in dishes for extra flavour.  Winter squash cannot be safely canned as a purée because it is too thick for proper heat penetration during process.  It can be safely canned in chunks processed in a pressure canner.  Be sure to put up plenty of this budget stretching, versatile and delicious vegetable!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Mom's Pizza Sauce Ready for the Pantry

Shortly before leaving on the first leg of our fall vacation, I was busy canning, freezing and dehydrating. Despite having a large, walk-in pantry (formerly a bedroom), I still need to use the space frugally.  All foods in the pantry are rotated including home canned foods.  This requires an organized approach to storage but it ends up saving both time and money in the long run. 

pizza sauce ready for pantry
I canned four dozen 250 ml jars of Mom's Pizza Sauce a few days before leaving.  Once the jars cooled for 24 hours I removed the bands, tested the seals then labeled and packed the jars into their original cases.  Berardin, formerly Canadian owned now owned by Jarden Home Brands has recently changed the way they package jars for sale.  Jarden Home Brands now manufactures Bernardin, Ball, Kerr and Golden Harvest canning jars. 

I really dislike the new packaging which consists of lids and rings on the jars that are in a half case then shrink wrapped.  I understand that this method of packaging reduces the amount of cardboard used and that the plastic wrap is less expensive for the manufacturer but it is less than ideal for the home canner.  As a high volume home canner, I use the cardboard cases for storage of both filled and empty jars.  The new packaging offers no protection to the tops of the jars even when stacked and the cardboard portion is not as sturdy as the old cases.  As far as the new packaging being eco-friendly, although less cardboard is used, the original plastic cannot be recycled so ends up in the landfill. 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Our Vacation Home Kitchen

We are incredibly blessed to own a vacation home in sunny Florida where we try to spend three months a year over three trips.  This past year we also bought a co-op in Aruba, so in essence we have three fully equipped kitchens.  We are very much firm believers of eating healthy, home cooked meals even when on vacation.  The only difference in our eating style on vacation is we tend to eat out more.  While discovering new restaurants and revisiting our favourites is a wonderful culinary experience that we truly enjoy, we also enjoy home cooked meals.

vacation home kitchen view from family room
Our vacation home is a two bedroom with den, two bathroom manufactured home (2007).  We bought it in 2010 after it had sat a year and a half empty.    The house is in a 55+ retirement community with a lot of nice amenities.  The club house is very nice, a place to meet up with other members of our community, enjoy a bit of entertainment or a meal.

Our vacation home kitchen is fairly similar in size to our home kitchen with a similar layout except the vacation home kitchen is open to the small family room.  It is an eat-in kitchen.  The patio doors lead to the lanai where we often enjoy morning coffee and meals.  The cabinets are standard white, nothing fancy.  The counter tops are basic formica but the backsplash is ceramic tile.  There is a bit less actual counter workspace  than our home kitchen, not significantly less but enough to be noticeable.  The appliances are Whirlpool with the stove being electric and the next step down from the natural gas Whirlpool Gold range at home.   The sink is a heavy plastic double sink with food disposal.  We replaced the original taps with the set pictured last spring.  The floor is a textured sheet flooring in a tile pattern.

vacation home kitchen second view
The refrigerator wall of the kitchen has a narrow but deep pantry.  A door leading to the small utility/laundry room separates the refrigerator wall from the sink wall.  The refrigerator has an ice maker but other than that is fairly basic especially compared to our home refrigerators.

Our vacation home kitchen is light, bright, quite functional and easy to maintain.  It has the distinct disadvantage of being what you see is what you get.  That is the entire storage available for food, kitchen appliances and kitchenware.  There is no extra storage space in the rest of the home to store extra kitchen equipment or food although larger pots and pans could be stored in the golf cart shed.  In all honesty, longer stays require being a bit more creative but we will never be living there full time and we will likely continue to rent our vacation home out from time to time so the kitchen more than meets both needs.

Our vacation home while considerably smaller than our home still requires interior maintenance, repairs and updating.  This is fairly consistent with any vacation home or cottage.  As mentioned we have already replaced the faucet set as the old one sprung a leak that continued to get worse despite repairs.  We are planning a few upgrades to increase the value of our vacation home while adding more durable, lower maintenance materials that will withstand the intended purpose of our vacation home.  We are planning on replacing existing carpeting with laminate flooring or ceramic tile next spring.   Ceramic tile is likely our best choice so we would end up tiling the entire house at that time.

Now when I note we are at our vacation home or show a meal prepared there, you will have an idea of what the kitchen there looks like.  Our vacation home kitchen is equipped with the basics - blender, slow cooker, toaster, coffee maker (mainly for tenants), Keurig (our use only), can opener and hot air popcorn maker.  I took the stainless steel Lagostina pot and pan set we recently replaced from home to the vacation home so we are set that way.  So, it is fairly well equipped suitable for any of the cooking and baking we will be doing there.  We also have an outdoor grill that just as at home gets a lot of use.  Tenants at most will be there a total of 3 months but that is very rare.  So far, we have had tenants stay a month or two, most commonly one month.  Next week I will share some of our foodie highlights during this portion of our fall vacation.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

A Taste of Home at Our Vacation Home

We arrived home last Wednesday night after spending three weeks at our vacation home in sunny Florida.  We spend three months each year at our vacation home spread over three separate trips, usually flying.  Flying is inexpensive and gets us there the same day unlike driving that ends up taking us two days with an overnight stop-over.  That means I am very restricted as to what food I can bring from home to our vacation home since liquids are restricted to 3 oz or less only in the quantity that will fit in a one quart zipper bag, one bag per traveler.  Thank goodness, I am not a make-up person!  We have also found that certain powders like Morton's Tender Quick will result in extra screening at the airport security checkpoints.  Now, as funny as that one was, and it was funny as the very friendly screening had never met someone who cured meats which led to an interesting conversation, I quickly decided in future to either mail these types of items to our vacation home or bring them with me when we drive.  We can bring dried foods as long as they fit in our backpack, more dried foods if driving but it isn't feasible to try bringing meats or fish by either mode of travel.

home canned goodies from home
I was elated to find out that my husband had planned on this being a driving trip with a bit of sight seeing and a planned meal at Lady and Son's in Savannah, Georgia.  The plans were to drive down, stay for awhile, fly home, fly back then finally drive home towards the end of the year.  In total, we planned on spending a little over two months of the fall, early winter in the sunny south.

I brought a few jars of home canned foods with us for a taste of home.  It is surprising how much I've had to modify my cooking style at our vacation home simply because I don't have a lot of the ingredients, especially the home canned foods I am so accustomed to using.  I brought salsa, Old Fashioned chili sauce, zesty bread & butter pickles, Mom's pizza sauce, picante sauce, roasted tomato garlic sauce, beef stock, pork & beans, whole kernel corn, black cherry jam, Italian garden sauce with mushrooms (not pictured) and low sugar chocolate raspberry sauce (not pictured).  In hindsight, I should have brought another case of home canned foods so I may even mail more down before our return to our vacation home this year.

Eating at our vacation home is quite different than at home but I am finding that the more we are there, the more cooking from scratch we do.  The biggest problem we face is not being able to store much in the way of food with the exception of the fall trips as food can be left in the cabinets and refrigerator.  However, we rent the house out mid-January through mid-April, so all food that can not be safely stored in our homeowner's closet has to be cleared out.  We also leave the house tenant ready after our spring stay just in case.  Basically, we are restricted to storing a large Rubbermaid tote of food, mainly dried and commercially canned foods that will not be affected with the closet at room temperature.  I don't store any home canned foods in the homeowner's closet. 

Driving to our vacation home and back has a lot of benefits even though it takes longer.  We are able to bring a taste of home with us and take back some of the new foods we discover while there as well as along the way.  We also get the opportunity to do a bit of sight seeing along the way.  Of course, there are a lot of foodie stops!  Stay tuned for the foodie highlights of this leg of our fall stay at our vacation home...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Home Canned Pears

I was elated to discover three peach trees and a pear tree on our property when we bought our new house in September 2011.  I did a bit of research on caring for the trees then anxiously awaited the following spring.  Unfortunately, March of 2012 saw an unseasonable two weeks of summer-like weather with temperatures in the 80's (F).  This unseasonably hot weather caused the premature blooming of fruit trees in our area that immediately succumbed to the sudden hard frost followed by a cold, rainy remaining spring.  We ended up losing two of the peach trees, one which we suspected was close to being dead when we moved in.  The remaining peach tree and pear tree gave a yield of a couple of shopping bags worth of fruit, if that. 
our pear tree laden with pearsThis spring was cold to the point we were still wearing winter jackets a couple of days before leaving for our vacation home in Florida in May.  I figured it would be another year of low yield, small fruit.  Wrong!  The peach and pear trees flourished.

The peach tree was so overladen with fruit the branches bent to the ground!  The fruit was numerous but small and quite tasty.  The pear tree was also laden but the fruit was quite large.  Clearly we need to do some heavy pruning next spring.  I am beyond excited!  We are in the process of completely renovating our backyard.  The end result will see the majority of the backyard under decking leaving me just enough room for two 10' long square foot gardens for a total of 80 square feet growing space.  The peach and pear trees will be incorporated into the deck plans.  So, the spring of 2014 will see the start of utilizing a lot of small space gardening skills I've developed and mastered over the years.

home canned pears
We ended up with almost three bushels (about 150 lb) of pears which is really a nice yield for our first real pear harvest.  I expect the yield to be lower in 2014 as a result of the pruning but it should still be good, weather permitting.  Our pears are organically grown without the use of any pesticides.  Aside of the frost, the only problem we have had is the ripe pears attracting yellow jackets.  Since the pear tree is close to the pool, we were extra careful to clean-up any wind blown fruit.  This is good gardening practice anyway to deter pests and disease.  Other than that, our pear tree needs little in the way of maintenance but as this year showed, it has a big reward.

We gave a box of pears to a friend and another to a neighbour.  I canned pear quarters, two batches of 8 for a total of 16 - 500 ml jars.  The first batch was hot packed in a light syrup (pictured), the second raw packed in a light syrup (not pictured).  Both batches were processed in a boiling water bath canner.  The pears look lovely jarred up ready to be enjoyed during the winter months! 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Solway's Farm Market Just North of Wiarton, Ontario

Over the past few posts, I've shared some of the foodie highlights we enjoyed during our road trip/camping adventure in August.  If you recall, we left beautiful southern Ontario traveling through Michigan before crossing back into Ontario where the Chi-Cheemaun ferry took us to the mainland where we camped in the Grey Bruce area before returning home.  We were away for six amazingly delightful days!

Indian Head Cove at Bruce Peninsula National Park
The Grey Bruce area is one of the most beautiful Ontario landscapes that you can visit.  It honestly is gorgeous eye candy!  This is Indian Head Cove at Bruce Peninsula National Park.  We hiked from our campsite to Head of Trails then took Georgian Bay trail to the Grotto.  The picture was taken from atop the grotto looking south.  This spot is a popular stop for day hikers.  It's a pleasant swimming spot even though the water is rather cold.  Many bring snacks or even a light lunch to enjoy while taking in the breathtaking view.  You can hike up the Bruce Trail along Indian Head Cove, definitely a very rugged hike.  From our location where the picture was taken, we hiked over Boulder Beach thentook the Marr Lake trail back towards the campground.

Camping especially rustic camping brings a few cooking challenges but trust me, if you 'really' want to you can still prepare a gourmet meal without the use of electricity or fancy kitchen gadgets.   I recommend using break proof dishes and sturdy pots and pans while keeping in mind that less is more so make what you bring do double duty.   Even the coffee pot can do double duty to heat up sauces.  Clean-up will involve hand washing dishes outdoors unless camping in an RV.  If cooking over an open fire, soot can build up on the outside of pots and pans but it usually comes off easily with normal washing.  In most cases, rustic camping means you will be dealing with wild life who would like nothing better to enjoy a free meal at your expense.  The best course of action to deter wild life from frequenting your campsite is to keep it squeaky clean, garbage free and free of food or left over food including little bits of left over food that gets into the dishwater.  All food should be kept in secured coolers and covered plastic totes that are stored in a vehicle overnight. 

Solway's Farm Market outside of Wiarton, Ontario
The stretch of Highway 6 between Tobermory and Highway 21 is dotted with small towns, road side stands and farm markets.  Solway's Farm Market is located just north of Wiarton on Highway 6, on the left hand side (west) heading north.  Although the building is large, it is set back from the road so quite easy to miss.  There are a couple of signs announcing the market ahead but they too are easy to miss.  This is typical of the foodie stops along this route so we flew right on by then had to do a U-turn and back track.

Solway's is well worth the stop!  Their local produce selection is good and they have a nice selection of other foods like cheeses, eggs and specialty foods (eg. jams, jellies, maple syrup) as well as handmade sausages.  They are well known in the area for their delicious baked goods.  Oh my, the homemade pies were divine!  The grandkids really enjoyed this stop, helping us pick out all the best goodies.  We made our purchases including zucchini for freezing, green beans for canning and four large coils of sausage.  Little Master A was in seventh heaven walking out with a banana in each hand stopping briefly for Grandma to take a picture of him in front of the John Deer tractors.  Meanwhile Little Miss C carefully carried the small box of cream topped tarts.  After enjoying the tarts in the parking lot we were on our way...