Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The New Meat-Lover in My Life

I'm acquiring a new "son". He's spending the summer in Ottawa from Toledo, Spain to learn English. Sixteen-year-old Guillermo joins the family on Sunday.

On his personal profile, Guillermo writes that his hobbies are soccer and camping. He likes pets. His favourite food is meat. (A funny aside about our previous Spanish son from last summer who also loved his meat. He told me that his favourite food was "jam". So I offered him jars of mango and strawberry jam. He looked bewildered and shook his head. Then I realised that he was mispronouncing his h. He meant ham!)

I recall trekking through southern Spain where the main cuisine was fried pork products. Restaurant windows were filled with hanging pigs' heads and pigs' feet. What is it with the Spanish and their love of pork?
Iberian ham, courtesy Coulorful Footsteps.

Today, I stocked up on ham cold cuts for Guillermo's lunches. I hope that five pounds of cold cuts will last least a couple of lunches. Unfortunately, this stuff is far cry from Iberian ham. 
Panonia Ham from the Bagelshop on sale for $1.09 a pound.

A friend of mine gave me a bag of textured vegetable protein, TVP,  to play with. (Some gals play with gadgets or make-up. I play with GF flour and TVP.) I used it in a tomato sauce and the kids were convinced it was meat. I doubt Guillermo will be as easily fooled.
Textured vegetable protein
Like a good mom, I want to make sure that my newly acquired son is healthy and well-fed. But I'm not big on meat. We indulge in a grilled steak once a while, but that's more a rare treat than a regular occurrence, especially as I try create more frugal fare.

What do I feed my new carnivorous teenager who's accustomed to eating more meat than my family consumes in a month? I can't have him crying to his real mom that he's being underfed by his Canadian mom. At the same time, I don't want to remortgage the home to feed this growing boy.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cheesecake Zen

Friday night and my house is full of testosterone. My 11-year-old is having a sleepover with three of his buddies. The boys are trying to out-diss and out-shoot each other in Wii FIFA 2011Soccer. (I'm gonna stuff you like a teddy bear!" "Oh, yeah, you stink so bad yo mama had to leave the room.") The boys are getting boisterous, and our family room is starting to smell like teen spirit.

I'm seeking solace downstairs in my kitchen. Me with my two junior helpers -- my nine-year-old daughter and her friend Nadia. We're in a calm cooking zen where there's no trash talk and no funky odours.

We decide to try a new recipe. This one is a fantastic no-bake cheesecake pie. (Thank you Lucy Waverman. I've made many of your recipes in the past with great success.) This pie is my new go-to dessert when I don't want to crank up the oven. Also, it's easily adapted to be gluten free and low sugar. The original recipe calls for crushed cookies for the crust. I use a blend of slivered almonds, coconut flakes and coconut flour.

Nadia, Arielle and I get really girlie, chatting about hair and Archie comics. We giggle as we whip up these mini-cheesecakes. We're done assembling in about 20 minutes. As you can see, each one is artfully hand-decorated. No two are alike.

Strawberry Cheesecake Pie
2 cups gingersnap cookies, crushed (we used 1/2 c coconut flour + 1 1/2 c shredded coconut + 1 tsp vanila)
1/2 slivered almonds
1/3 cup melted butter
4 ounces (1/2 cup) dark chocolate, chopped and melted 

1 block (10ounces) of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup yogurt (we used strawberry flavoured)
3 TBSP sugar (we omitted the sugar)
2 tsp orange zest

2 cups strawberries
3 TBSP melted strawberry jam

STEP 1 - Make the crust
Combine the first three ingredients and press into the base of a 9-inch springform pan. To make individual pies, use muffin tins. We used non-stick silicon cups.
Brush the melted chocolate over the base. The girls haven't graduated to chocolate brushing. Instead, they dolloped the chocolate which made for a yummy but hard-to-cut crust.  

Almond-coconut-chocolate Crust
STEP 2 - Blend the filling
Combine the filling ingredients with a hand blender until smooth.
Yogurt & Cream Cheese Filling 
STEP 3 - Refrigerate and decorate
Place the berries over the pie and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Just before serving, brush the melted jam over the fruit. If you wait too long before serving, the jam will make the pie runny. We skipped the jam and used the leftover melted chocolate and raspberries.  
The Finished Product  
This recipe makes one 9-inch pie or 14 individual mini-pies. The girls and I enjoy our share and strategically hide the rest for the next day. As for the boys, we toss them some chewy chocolate walnut cookies from Art-Is-In Bakery ( to keep them quiet, for a brief moment.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Frugal Fare

This month, I'm trying to put my money where my mouth is. And I'm trying to minimise the dollar amount. Let me explain.

Last month, my family's food bill was a whopping $1,400. That includes groceries, two dinners out, and the occasional trip to our neighbourhood coffee shop. Still, $1,400 is a big mouthful to swallow. If we keep stuffing our faces at that rate, our food bill will amount to $16,800 a year.

So, my resolve to chop our food costs by one third. I'm sure I can feed my family of two adults and three children under the age of 11 for about $933, or $233 per week. I came up with those numbers  after taking an informal survey of friends and their grocery costs. On average, it seems most normal  families spend less than $1k per month. That includes the families with voracious teenagers.

Once I had a dollar limit in mind, I consulted my chef friend who reminded me of what restaurants do. They meal plan. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner, each day of the week is planned for. When the chef buys her ingredients, she buys only what she needs to make the week's menu, plus whatever kitchen staples need replenishing.

I like to experiment with food. If I see an interesting ingredient or food product, I'll likely take it home.  I have a block of tamarind paste that I bought last February. It's still unopened. I have a half litre bag of corn flour that I bought on sale. It too is untouched. There's the unopened bottle of fish sauce -- the third bottle in my pantry. I have enough packages of rice noodles to feed an orphanage. Maybe this is part of the reason why our food bill is so high.

For the past few weeks, I was ultra-disciplined. I stuck to my list. I stuck to my weekly meal plans.
(I only digressed when I bought several cartons of blueberries and strawberries along with fresh corn and the first watermelon of the season.)

So far, the numbers are looking good. With a week and a half left in the month, I've spent $804.44 on food - nowhere near the $1400 from last month. My kids aren't starving. (Although our friends who hosted us for dinner Saturday night might beg to differ.)  I also dug up some hearty, frugal recipes.

Here's one of those frugal recipes. It's a fusion of two of my favourite salads. It's crunchy, salty and sweet in one bowl. I served it for brunch on Sunday and then made another batch as a side dish for dinner that same day.  One warning though: if you intend to pack this for lunch, you may want to issue a smelly lunch alert due to the blue cheese.
Bean & Blue Cheese Salad with Lemon Yogurt Dressing

Bean & Blue Cheese Salad

2 heads Boston/ iceberg lettuce, rinsed and torn  into bite-size pieces
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes
1 can black beans rinsed and drained
2 ears of corn cut off the cob/ 1 can of corn niblets
1 cucumber sliced
1 red peppers diced
1 avocado, diced
4 ounces blue cheese

Combine the beans and vegetables in a large bowl. Crumble in the blue cheese. Serves 6 - 8. 

Lemon Yogurt Dressing:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
juice from 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt & pepper

You'll have enough dressing for two or three salads. Enjoy.
And if you have any frugal recipes to share, please feel free to be generous.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Food Porn: Don't fall for the photo

The glossy food porn made my mouth water. It was a close up shot of a juicy burger sitting on a bed of bright arugula and ripe tomato. I wanted it, and so did hubby.

Tonight was his turn to handle dinner. With the colourful photo and recipe from the July issue of Ch√Ętelaine magazine, we were both eager to savour the real thing. I realize now that with styling and lighting, even dirty gym socks can look sexy.

Andy was elbow deep in turkey, garlic, ginger, onions, flax meal and cooked sweet potato. He omitted the kale and walnuts. Didn't think they'd be a hit with the kids. With the giant mixing bowl in front of him, he looked like a surgeon rearranging a patient's intestines.

Once he formed the patties, they were ready for the BBQ. That's when everything fell apart, quite literally. His perfectly formed patties stuck to the grill, even though he had had given it a generous oiling. I haven't heard him swear so much since Portugal lost its shot at the World Cup in 2010.

He tried to salvage his work by scraping off the undercooked meat and flopping it into a frying pan. He finished cooking it over the stove. The result was something that resembled a dog's breakfast. See for yourself.

In spite of its appearance, the turkey burger blunder was quite tasty. I had two helpings. As for hubby, he's sworn off ground turkey forever.  I think I'll try the leftovers in an omelette tomorrow morning. Lesson learned -- and this applies to food, internet dating and homes: don't fall for the photo.