One of Twelve, Part Two

Once again, I'm doing monthly family dinners as my Christmas present to my adult family members.

And, once again I have no photos :(

Mainly because it was a quick meal to put together - chicken alfredo with garlic bread and caesar salad. 

My niece is leaving soon, moving west, so I let her pick the meal. This was her second choice - I merely laughed when she suggested steak and crab!

It was soooo good.

Low fat, not so much...

And, of course, I don't really have a recipe.

I cut up the chicken (four breasts) and tossed the pieces with a mixture of salt, pepper and dried basil, then pan fried (in small batches - don't crowd the pan!) until browned and cooked through. Meanwhile, I melted an insane amount of butter in a heavy bottomed pot over low heat, added some minced garlic (from the garden - yeah!!), and cooked until the garlic was soft. I added about twice as much cream as butter, then tossed in a couple of handfuls of freshly-grated parmesan cheese.

Please, do not use cheese from a can.


A block of parmesan lasts me about a year, costs around $20-25, and is so. much. better.


After heating the sauce through, I added the chicken, then the cooked fettucini.

The sauce didn't thicken at all, but still coated the pasta nicely, and tasted fantastic.

I also made garlic bread by mixing more butter with more garlic, spreading on sliced Italian bread, topping with sliced provalone cheese, then broiling until the cheese was all warm and bubbly and good.

And Mom brought the salad - thanks Mom!

This isn't a recipe I make very often (butter and cream and cheese, oh my!), so it's not one I've perfected. I'd like the sauce to be a bit thicker, but I don't really want to use cream cheese or whipping cream. It's so easy to make though - I might have to make it more often, and work on my recipe!


It's that time of the year again - sausage making time! This is my second year for making my own sausage, and this year, I have a stuffer! I found the attachment for the KitchenAid at a reasonable price in the US - $10 vs. an insane $24 here in Canada. $24 for three small pieces of plastic - I don't think so! Eventually I'd like a metal meat grinder and sausage stuffer, but for now, the KitchenAid attachments work fine.

Pork was on sale, so I bought two shoulders, for a total of around 18 pounds. After skinning and deboning, I ended up with around 14 pounds of meat.
Pork shoulder

with skin removed...

cut off the bone...

and cut up for the grinder.
Of course, I tossed the bones into a stock pot for soup!  :)
Making stock from the bones - nothing goes to waste!
I decided on four different recipes this year - sage, Italian, chorizo and garlic-pepper. To make things easier, I made sure to prepare all of the seasoning ahead of time. As with anything to do with meat, it's important to work quickly and keep the meat from warming up, so making sure everything is ready to go means you don't have to stop in the middle of making your sausage to chop an onion or measure out a spice!
Pre-measured seasonings.
After grinding, I weighed out the portions I wanted (5 pounds each for the Italian and sage, 2 pounds each for the others), and mixed each well with the seasoning. After mixing, each bowl went into the fridge until I was ready to use it.
Final product, ground and mixed with the seasonings.

And of course, you have to do a taste test!

Taste test!
Last year, I saw casings for sale at a local grocery store, along with the large cuts of pork. This year, however, I couldn't find them. I know that store makes it's own sausage, so I decided to ask at the butcher counter.

I was told they didn't sell the casings anymore, due to health and safety concerns.

I was told this, standing directly in front of the case of store-made sausages for sale.

Made with the same casings they refused to sell me, due to health and safety concerns.

The clerk couldn't understand why I then asked if the sausages they were selling were safe to eat.

The logic, it hurts.

So, I drove around the corner to an actual butcher shop, that had no problem selling me a bundle of casings, for the low, low price of $4!
Intestines Casings

Soaking in water
The casing have to be soaked and rinsed well, as they are preserved with salt. I cut the casing into four lengths, to make it easier to work with. I greased the stuffer attachment with lard, then slipped the casing onto it, tied a knot, and started stuffing!

Length of casing on the stuffer.
Knot at the beginning

One length done!
Coil of Italian sausage

Italian sausage, all linked up!

Chorizo sausage

Finished coil of Sage sausage

Sage sausage in links
Garlic pepper sausage
I ran out of casing right at the very end, with about a half a pound of meat left. No problem - I simply left it as loose sausage. I probably could have stuffed the casings a bit more, but it's not bad for a first attempt. I did have one break, when I was making links. I need to work on my link-making skills, that's for sure! And this is definitely a job where two people would make it a LOT easier.

But, it's not a hard, long or expensive job, at all. From start to finish, it took me around 5 hours, which includes all the chopping, measuring and clean-ups along the way. I disassembled and washed the grinder/stuffer a few times during the process, both just to clear it (the grinder especially needs to be cleared after a bit) and to make sure everything was clean enough.

So, now that I've made "real" sausage, would I do it again? In a heartbeat. With the proper equipment, it's an easy, inexpensive way to get great sausages. And I need to practise my technique. And perfect my recipes. And really, one can't ever have too much sausage...

Days of Fire and Ice... and Marshmallows

You know that when winter starts setting in, after the excitement of the Christmas season, it can only mean one thing: time for the Niagara Icewine Festival! For those who don't know, icewine is made from grapes which are left on the vines to freeze. There are rigorous criteria for making icewine, and it's generally this time of year that the finally temperatures drop enough. In fact, the harvest just started this week. While I'm so not interested in actually harvesting the grapes, I do love the end results. So I was quite happy to join my brother this past Sunday at the festival, which takes place in Niagara-on-the Lake.

The main street is shut down, and local wineries and other businesses set up booths with food and drink samples, along with ice sculptures. Unfortunately, high winds resulted in the cancellation of the outdoor festivities on Sunday. After seeing large chunks of ice that had toppled down, I couldn't blame them. It was disappointing, but the stores were still open, and there were a lot of special events at the wineries. 
Remnants of the Ice Lounge
First, we stopped in at Cheese Secrets, a store I had heard about a while ago but hadn't had the chance to visit yet. They sell a fantastic range of cheeses, including local and regional options, and associated items like cheese boards. They also have bulk olive oil and balsamic vinegar! We didn't get to taste any of the cheeses, but only because they fed us some of the chili they make every year for the festival! I'm going to have to visit again, and hopefully try the different olive oils they have. And the vinegar. And the cheese...

Our next stop was Wine Country Vintners, a tasting spot that features a few local wineries, to taste some great icewines. If you've never had it, icewine is very sweet - and I'm not one for sweet wines. But the great icewines are nicely balanced - the sweetness is definitely there, but it's not cloying. Icewine, however, is one of those thing where you get what you pay for. That's why tasting are so much fun - you can try a $95 icewine without actually paying $95 - and keep in mind, that price is for a half bottle!

White icewine flight
First up was a flight of three white icewines - and I really should have written down what they were, because I cannot remember. I think they were all Vidals, and I do know that one was oak-aged. I normally like Riesling better than Vidal, but the oak-aged Vidal was quite nice :)

Next - the very best thing on the face of the earth.

Cabernet Franc icewine
Cabernet Franc icewine is seriously the best tasting thing I have ever had. I LOVE this wine. LOVE it. If it was a person, I would marry it, or at least stalk it. If I won the lottery, I would buy enough to have a glass every night. If I knew I was going to die... okay, enough already. But seriously, this stuff is GOOD. Again, I should have recorded what each was, but I do know one was from Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery.

And this is where I eat some crow to go along with my wine. I have never had wines from Wayne Gretzky Estates, because I figured the name was the selling point, not the quality of the wine. But their cab franc icewine was the best of the bunch - I'm going to have to try some of their other wines now!

After that, we wandered around, stopping in at Greaves, of course (I had to buy my favourite, black currant jelly. Not jam, jelly. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find black currant jelly? Greaves is the only company I know that makes it - and they are local. Win-win!).

George Bernard Shaw - dressed up for the Christmas season!
Not your standard Starbucks!
 After braving the cold, we had to stop in at Balzac's for a coffee - again, it's one of those places I've been wanting to visit for a while!

Look at all the coffee goodness...
Do you think Rob Ford has his own coffee blend? Yeah, me neither.
I had enough coffee at home, so I didn't buy anything (other than a latte to warm up with!). But I will be back...

We then decided to go to some of the wineries. There are so many of them, I couldn't even begin to name them, and more are starting up all the time. But we settled on three - Peller, Pondview and Colaneri.

Peller was fun - they had a special food menu for the weekend, and in keeping with the spirit of the festival, everything was outside.

Did I mention it was really cold? And really, really, really windy?? Fortunately, they had a bunch of these scattered about:
And some of these:
So you could do this:

To get this:

So you could then try to eat it. In the wind. Without getting any in your hair :)

Oh well - marshmallow washes out easily, and it was the first time I ever roasted marshmallows in the winter! I think that needs to become a new Christmas tradition...

After tasting some great Peller wines, we went to Pondview, where I saw the whole reason for the entire event:

It's hard to see (I didn't want to walk across the vineyard to get a better picture), but yes, those are grapes still on the vine. We tasted a few nice wines, including an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, and then were treated to their special pairings for the festival: a slice of cucumber topped with cheese and hot pepper icewine jelly, and bread topped with blue cheese, both paired with their Vidal icewine, followed by a chocolate cup filled with their Cabernet France icewine. Which tasted exactly like a chocolate covered cherry. A very good, very expensive chocolate covered cherry :)

Our last stop was at Colaneri, a winery I had never visited before. My brother wanted me to taste their equivalent to icewine: Recioto. Recioto wine is made from dried grapes, and results in an intensely flavoured, sweet dessert wine. We tasted all four of their Profondo line: Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. My favourite of the four was the Gewurztraminer, and again, I'm going to have to stop back in one day, both to buy some recioto and to taste some other wines!

Gewurztraminer recioto
After all that, we decided to call it a day. Looking back at this post, it seems like we drank a lot of wine, but keep in mind: each tasting is a small amount of wine, and my brother, the designated driver, was spitting, like a good taster does!

This is definitely an event that any local wine lover should go to, and I'm looking forward to next year - hopefully, the weather will be more cooperative, and I'll get to experience the entire event!

Full disclosure: My brother worked for a local winery in the past, and still works in the industry. All tastings were complimentary, but this did not influence any of my reviews.

Grocery Spending Update #2

I suck at this.


I cannot stick to a budget.


The stash isn't too bad - I knew I'd be buying pork this month to make sausage and put some away for pulled pork, so just over $40 for 30+ pounds of pork and associated fixings isn't bad at all.

But my non-stash spending...


Bread and potatoes - no problem. Salt and spice from the bulk food store - no problem. My "treat" of ravioli and tortellini (it was on sale!!), and two cans of hot chocolate - bad, bad, bad. And completely unnecessary. And yes, I'm back to buying hot chocolate mix - Dad likes a cup when he's over here working, and he doesn't like my homemade stuff :(

Spending Jan. 14-20:

Pasta: $7.52
Bread: $1.97
Potatoes: $0.95
Hot Chocolate: $5.98
Salt: $1.83
Allspice: $0.40

Pork: $38.19
Sausage Casings: $4.00

Balance to date: -$22.78 for non-stash, -$32.04 for stash.
I really suck at this. And the stash spending is going to take a HUGE hit this week...

Grocery Spending Update

Once the kitchen cabinets were installed, and I stared putting things away, I realized just how much food I had in the house. So I decided to do a small challenge: eat the food instead of buying more ;)

I decided to try to limit my spending to $5 a week, which would be enough for perishables like milk and bread. And so far, so...

Not so good. As of today, I'm $9 in the hole, not counting the 10 pounds of ground beef I bought.

Yes, I know, I know. I'm not supposed to be adding to my stash. But I did need ground beef - honest!

Thus, a small rule change. $5 a week for non-stash items, and $10 a week goes to the stash. This limit doesn't include my egg CSA, which was pre-paid, and also doesn't include non-food items (like bleach or vinegar used for cleaning).

I'm tempted to include my garden seed purchases this year under the stash column - after all, it is food spending!

One thing I have done is to look hard at what I am spending money on. The biggest single item was 4L vegetable oil ($5), but that should last for a while. The next biggest?

Pizza dough. Yeah, I know. Completely non-necessary! But I'm trying to limit my takeout meals and my biggest weakness is pizza. So I figured that if I made it a habit to make my own pizza once a week, I'd be saving all that money wasted on takeout 'za. Dough is only $1.49, after all... which doesn't sound bad at all, until you realize it's 30% of my weekly budget!

Which leads me to my next largest purchase: yeast. :)

Spending to date:

Oil $4.97

Pizza dough $4.47 (1.49 x 3)
Pizza Sauce $1.18
Yeast $3.99
Mushrooms $1.76
Onions $1.88
Grape tomatoes (couldn't resist) $0.88

Ground Beef $19.85

So, balance to date: $-9.13 for non-stash, $0.15 for stash.

Must. Do. Better!

The Gift that Keeps on Giving....

My sister got me this fantastic kitchen rug as a Christmas gift - well, at least it was supposed to be a gift for me...

We can haz food?
Is that food over there?
Maybe over there?
We give up.
How about now?
We are cute - now feed us, or the rug gets it!

January Harvest

As a follow up to the last post, this is what I harvested today. Not bad, considering they had no protection at all!
Not bad for a mid-winter harvest!

The leeks will get sauteed, and some will go with tonight's supper (steak and potatoes, in case you were curious). The rest, along with the cabbage, will join some mashed potatoes for something special... any guesses??

The Garden in January

After a few weeks of cold and snow, we've hit our annual January Thaw. It's been above freezing, even at night, for the past couple of days, and, according to the weather peeps, this will continue into next week. Woot!

I didn't get a winter garden going this year (renos won out), but I did leave a few things in the garden, mainly to see how they would do.

Did you know rabbits like leeks??
Shorn leeks
The leeks, although shorn, are still edible, and I'm going to have to pick a few this week, just in case it freezes again. Potatoes are on sale this week, so a pot of leek & potato soup is on the menu! (Did I ever mention that my second crop of potatoes, those earmarked for storage, got decimated by a one-two punch of voles and wireworms? Grumble, grumble, grumble...)
Rabbits also like celery.
Leaf celery
I was impressed at the hardiness of celery -  I used garden celery in my Thanksgiving supper, and it was still going strong into December. I'm even more impressed with leaf celery - since I use celery mostly in cooking, leaf celery works perfectly fine, and seems to be more resistant to whatever it was that was gnawing on the outer celery stalks. 

Rabbits also like my currant bushes :(
Drowning currant

I don't know what I was thinking, but I neglected to protect my fruit bushes from the rascally varmints.  The got the grape vines too :((
Nibbled grape vine

And the carrots. Sigh. If I want to store more things right in the garden, I'll need to come up with something to keep the critters out.
Ignore the weeds, focus on the carrot - just like the rabbits did

But, the rabbits don't like kale and collards!
Kale - anyone know the variety? The one problem with variety packs, I don't remember what is what!
They look good enough to eat, especially the collards, and I think I will!

The beets are doing well too. And they are HUGE. The rabbits are nibbling on the leaves, but not the roots. I purposely left some of the 3-Root Grex beets in the ground, to see if I could over-winter them and get seed this coming summer. If not, no big loss, but I am interested in figuring out seed saving for biennial species.
 The other thing that is going strong in my winter garden? A herb. Recognize it?
  Believe it or not, oregano! I might just have to pick some for tonight's pizza!
A flock of honking geese flew over while I was out in the garden. Too bad they don't eat rabbit...


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