Monday, January 24, 2011

Bread Making Workshop- Great Fun

Sunday's Bread Making Workshop was a great afternoon of stirring, kneading, measuring, patting, rolling, sprinkling and EATING.

Carbs. I love them. And at Bread Making 101, we made cinnamon twists, pizza, pitas, and a variety of loaves: white, seedy whole wheat, savory cheese and a myriad of other combinations inspired by the participants. 

FOR INSTRUCTIONS in PDF, check out the manual here

If you're sad you missed, there will be a couple more workshops before summer inspires less carbs and more orange juice on ice. March 27 and May 15 are coming up, so RSVP with cash to save your spot.

If you have a group of at least four and want to plan an additional date, let's talk. There is nothing I love more that watching pitas puff up in the oven, surrounded by others who share my amazement at the miracle!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Got to Eat the Mushrooms!

Last Friday, I wrote about my inaugural Eat Local First delivery which contained one pound of mixed mushrooms- Shiitake, Enoki, Woodear and Portobello.

Since mushrooms don't have a long shelf life, I've had mushrooms every night this week. As the sole mushroom eater in the house, I'm 1lb heavier, plus or minus a couple ounces for water loss and oil gain.

Portobellos sliced, brushed with Balsamic Vinaigrette, sprinkled with steak spice and baked at 350 for 10 minutes.

They really did taste firm and delicious... despite how terrible these look!

Mushroom and salami (from Sol Meato) pizza- large and mini size.

These are the woodears that I simply ripped up,

Madi's pizzas, made on her insistence that we use a cookie cutter- and sans mushroom.

The only thing missing here is a good white beer. And sunshine.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My First Eat Local First

I was blog surfing last Saturday when I landed at Gold Forest Grains. They sell Mornville grown grain and beef on their blog. They also sell it through the Eat Local First website. I’d heard of Eat Local First but didn’t know anything about it. So, as one is prone to do while surfing, I clicked the link.

Turns out, it’s a virtual farmer’s market. From locally grown grains to locally roasted coffee, meat, dairy, veggies and fruit, its all just a click and a week away from delivery on your front porch. 

It’s a wonder really. All you have to do to get some farm fresh eggs is click on: BUY then PRODUCT LIST then EGGS then CHICKEN then ADD TO CART. After that, you fill out the usual paperwork then you wait until the next week when a cooler arrives on the doorstep. Inside you find eggs and a half dozen other items you forgot you bought.

It’s a great deal- except for the whole money bit. Though prices aren’t out of line from Planet Organic, if budget’s your primary priority for your grocery list, it’s not a cheap alternative to braving Costco on a Saturday afternoon. That said, cheap ain’t always worth it. 

There’s taste to consider – like these carrots from Peas on Earth! Transports me back to sunny evenings lolling on the quack grass lawn chomping my garden carrots to the beat of bees and swaying trees.
There’s sustainability to consider- natural fertilizers and pest control leave our water tables clear and soils nutrient rich.

There’s the farmer to consider- while a local farmer may be no nicer than a farmer using illegal migrant workers in California, the local farmer’s investments- financial, relational- are in the community.   Plus, if s/he’s a jerk to his temporary foreign workers, we’re more likely to know about it, right?

There’s a whole lot of ethics, morality and philosophy built into what we eat and where we buy it. And I have no claim on the right balance between money, time, health and environment. But I think we’d all be better off if we made our food choices with the aim of finding the right balance personally and collectively.

Personally, we don’t have the budget for all organic, local, fair trade products. Few people do. So I pick my battles. I buy organic bananas because the traditional chemicals affect pickers’ health (and pickers’ unborn fetuses). I buy organic potatoes and onions because they are generally heavily sprayed. I buy fair trade coffee because why not profit-share with the little guy? And I grow my own apples. We make our own wine.  Those are my choices today; tomorrow these things will change as I change and as the world around me changes.

It was with anticipation that I waited for Friday’s delivery. When the cooler arrived it sat out in -25 C for a couple hours with zero damage to the goods inside.  The delivery slip read:

Salami- 100g from O Sol’ Meatos
Red Norland Potatoes- 10 lbs from Maple Grove Gardens
Fresh Mixed Mushrooms- 1lb from Mo Na Food
Carrots (jumbo size)-10 lbs from Peas on Earth Organic Garden

I unpacked the food and lit the stove. On that cold, snowy Friday night, we were happily distracted eating exceptionally firm potatoes fried in butter with local Enoki mushrooms, chased with the tang of cardamom spiced Alberta salami. Good food really is a gift. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

19 meals in 10 hours for 200 bucks

In our house, the witching hour begins at four pm. Perhaps you know the hour- when the pitch and volume of the kids' whining turns up a notch. When your spouse stomps about the house suddenly noticing the the mess. When you start slamming cupboard and fridge doors moaning, “How can the shelves be so full with nothing to eat?”

Welcome to “Low Blood Sugar Hour”. As a way to combat this time of day, and save some money, three of us gathered in my mom's kitchen to cook for a month. We surrounded ourselves with recipes, pots, and ingredients, and cooked from 10am to 10 pm with short breaks for lunch and supper.

Here's a review of the experiment that hopefully inspires you to try it too.

The Rating:
7/10: Success with room to improve

The Experiment:

On Thursday morning, my friend Katy Spane and I choose recipes and developed our shopping list. Instead of dictating a full month of recipes, like many cookbooks do, “Frozen Assets” provided cooking 'mini sessions' of 4 to 6 similar dishes. This allowed us more control over what we would be cooking and so more control over our budget. A quarter of the recipes we chose were chicken, another quarter were pasta recipes, and half were bean.

On Friday night, Katy and I shopped. We hit the Italian Centre, then Costco, then finally Superstore. Hands down, the Italian Centre offered the best deal on cans of tomatoes, cans of beans, pasta packages and vegetables. Not only were the prices the best, they packaged it all for us and packed the boxes into our car. At Costco we bought our chicken, Superstore we bought most of our cheese.  The total number of hours we spent shopping was just over 2- and the next hour was spent unloading it all!

Prep was quick with two food processors and six hands.
On Saturday at 10 am, Katy, my mom Terri, and I started chopping and slicing. Thanks to a friend's food processor, the 30 lbs (!!!) of onions cut with fewer tears and cabbage and cheese grated with ease. We hadn't realized how important our equipment would be. Since we were multiplying every recipe by 3- we used all of our largest pots to capacity. The food processor was a necessity and good knives were essential. Thankfully Terri had a number of extra large metal bowls which we filled with chopped ingredients, ready for measure into pots. Around noon we started to cook, each of us was responsible for one mini session of recipes which meant there were lots of hands and feet in the kitchen. We ate a Hollywood Pizza delivery supper and finished cooking around 9pm. It took an hour to clean up.
We cut and food process 30 lbs of onions.

The Stats:
-      12 hours = average time spent per person on planning, prep, cooking and shopping
-      19 = Recipes completed (multiplied each by 3)
-      120 = Servings made per family (each recipe served 6)
-      $200 = total cost per family
-      $1. 65 = cost per serving

-      Pulling out a tray of stuffed manicotti, stuffed florentine shells, chicken chili, spinach quiche and lime marinated chicken has cut some of the stress of the supper hour. We don't eat a frozen meal every night, but probably every third night. 
-      It is critical that the recipes have lots of variety, and our choices did.
-      I had frozen meals to share with friends who had babies.
Stuffing manicotti- was delish and served 8!
-      The cost per meal was exceptional for the variety. I cut our family's supper budget by at least a third- maybe even half.
-      There is lots of leftovers for lunch (and sometimes supper) the next day.

Room to Improve:
-      While many of the meals have been good, about a third haven't been to my taste. Next time we'll use a website that allows us to pick each recipe specifically then it collates the shopping list. This will cut down on our planning time and limit the food wastage.
-      We need better freezer methods. We used freezer bags for most things, but some casseroles were frozen in dishes that did not stand up to being stacked (and froze together in blocks!)
-      Some of the recipes didn't freeze as well. Macaroni from the freezer to the pot is rather nasty.

That is bean puree on the tortillas- I swear it. Mat was roped in at the end.

The benefits are many and the problems surmountable. We'll be doing this experiment again soon, perhaps buying less beans and more elk meat from Christine at the Alberta Avenue Farmers' Market.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Cushion Covers for the New Year

I've been off line for most of the holidays- Happy New Year all! At the start of every year, a curious sensation of nesting overwhelms me. Like a pregnant woman, I franticly clear closets, wash cupboards, and organize anything without a 'place' into large and small rubbermaid containers. I fill many garbage, blue and  Bissell (thrift store) bags. After the dust settles, err is swept up, I usually attack a project that has sat woefully neglected. This year, I finally recovered our living room foot stools with Ikea fabric purchased (and forgotten) last year.  
Both the chairs and stools I found for a great price at Decade to Decade, an exceptional Edmonton furniture consignment store. 

I then moved on to cutting and sewing cushions for our chairs and couch. Next step, scotch guard- if you have a more natural solution to stain prevention--- please let me know!! In all, I've spent less than five hours and $10 to bring fresh colour to our living area.

These chairs are part of a set from Quebec, they are solid maple but in need of a general sanding and re-staining (stay tuned for that project--- probably next year as I'm slowing down!). They were purchased at a pawn shop on 118 Ave now closed. Mat was persistent, watching the set go from $950 to $650 to $500, finally he negotiated it for $350 cash.  If you are looking for unique antiques for cheap(ish), try Stan's pawn shop on 118 Ave and west of 95 Street across from hookah bar and divine Ethiopian restaurant, Habesha.

Here's the couch I refinished a couple New Year's ago (check out the blog post here) purchased from the Bissell Centre Thrift Shop (89 Street and 118 Ave) for $50. In 2011, it finally has cushions to match.