From January 2012

It’s a Snow Day in Peterborough

It’s freezing rain out.  Dogs are sliding sideways, cars are in ditches, I can’t scrape my car without careening down the driveway.  Screw it, i’m having french toast.

Fresh baked multi-grain bread, local eggs and milk, homemade raspberry jam, and syrup boiled down by krista’s uncle in his sugarbush. Served up with some bacon, apple, and beverages.

Sneak Preview: Magazine Article on Shopping on a Budget

My newest article for Kidz Ink (Peterborough Kids, Lakeridge Kids, Northumberland Kids) focuses on creative solutions to rising food prices.

I’ll be sure to post a link once it hits the news stands and websites, but in the meantime, a teaser to whet your appetite:

Waste not, want not

Melanie Cushti is a single mom with two very active teenagers to feed on a limited budget. Both her 14-year old daughter, Aurynn, and her 16-year old son, Phoenix, are athletic and take part in multiple sports. They burn a lot of calories and seem to be eating constantly. Keeping them fed can be challenge.

“I would say the biggest thing for us is making sure they are getting food that is both healthy and fun,” says Cushti. “The most expensive food is the food that you throw out. Your food dollar goes nowhere if it ends up in the garbage.”

Cushti lets her kids take a very active role in both menu planning and shopping. She makes sure that they are choosing healthy foods that they are certain to eat.

“I give them a budget to buy the fruits and vegetables that they want to have,” she explains. “There is no sense in buying produce that they don’t want. I also have them take part in both shopping and cooking so that the meals are ones that they will eat. They’ve learned about the realities of food prices and they’ve learned that if they want the food that they like, they have to be a part of making sure it gets to the table.”

The result? “We rarely throw anything out,” reports Cushti. “And, trust me, that goes a long way to reducing our costs.”
Planning makes sense

Annie Scherz and Rodney Fuentes are at the other end of the spectrum. Their daughter, Lucia, is only four, and their son, Mateo, is just under a year old. But just because the kids are smaller doesn’t mean that their parents have to be any less budget-conscious.

“For us, it is all about planning,” says Scherz. “We make full menus at the beginning of the week and stick firmly to the meals on it. We don’t buy extra food throughout the week. We try to keep our grocery budget limited to our once-a-week shop. You’d be surprised how much it adds up when you start buying extras throughout the week.”

Annie and Rodney also carefully plan where they are going to purchase food before they go out. “Store flyers will help you make sure you are getting the best bargains and help you find on-sale items,” she says. “Even if you don’t get a newspaper, most supermarkets have their flyers online.”

Another trick is to price your items by weight and volume. Take notes as you browse flyers and shop in person and you’ll eventually get a good idea of where different grocery products are going to be least expensive. You may have to make a couple of stops while shopping, but the savings will start to show.

A Traditional Winter Sunday Dinner: Roast Chicken with all the Fixings

The chicken, on its "trivet" of vegetables, right before being placed on the cutting board. Notice the amount of juices. Photo by: Krista Campbell Fraser

Because I didn’t include a recipe with the previous post — and be sure to keep an eye open for the continuation of the Family Food Shopping on a Budget series — I’ve decided to offer up a bonus post…  with TWO recipes!

Tonight’s dinner at the Farm to Table household was a true treat.  Roasted Chicken and Gravy with Baked Potato, Carrots, Parsnips, and Corn.  We started off with a wonderful Acorn Squash and Apple Soup and Fresh-Baked Bread and finished off with a cup of tea.  Quite frankly, there was no room for dessert.

I’m not going to offer up recipes for the entire dinner — you can look up how to cook vegetables on your own time.  I will, however, give you some tips on the chicken and gravy.

Before I do, however, I’d like to point out that this entire dinner was made with local and seasonal food — well, other than the salt and pepper.  In fact, I believe that everything on the table came from within a 50km radius.

Yes, even the corn.

We blanch and freeze kernels from McLean’s Berry Farm corn each year in order to enjoy year-round.  By slicing the corn from the cob, quickly prepping it in boiling water, and then freezing, we have the best tasting winter corn that you can possibly find.

But, back to the bird.

I’ve recently started a new technique for making Roast Chicken and Gravy.  After reading a wonderful Jamie Oliver recipe, I decided that cooking the chicken his way might offer up both tasty poultry and fantastic gravy.  His gravy, though, took quite a few more steps than most other gravies — which made me worry about getting it done in the short window of time that a chicken needs to rest before carving.  It also included mashed veggies — which I thought would detract from the taste.

What I did take from Chef Oliver was the idea of cooking the chicken over what he calls a “trivet” of vegetables.  In short, you chop up onion, carrot and celery, pile them in the roasting pan, and roast the chicken on top of them.

Brilliant idea!

Plenty of juices for making gravy.  And a great well-rounded taste in the juices.

As for the chicken, there are countless ways to use the leftovers, from hot chicken sandwiches to chicken wraps to fajitas to chicken chili to… well, you’re only limited by imagination.

And save the bones for soup!

Now, recipe/tips time:

Roasted Chicken with Gravy

Ingredients:

1 chicken — doesn’t really matter what size.  I’d generally go 3-4 lbs, though tonight’s was a 7 lb monster.  A 3-4 pound chicken will feed 3-4 people.  You can get great whole organic chickens from Rhea-lly Emu-zing Ranch in Havelock (Saturday Farmers’ Market).  For a slightly cheaper (though not organic) chicken, you can try Millar Farms in Keene (also at the Market).

2 small onions (out of habit, we use Beyers Farm, Lakefield)
2 carrots (again, Beyers)
I’ll sometimes cheat and also use 2 stalks of celery.  But if I’m being truly local during the winter, I’ll leave them out.
4 buds garlic (Gaelic Garlic, Peterborough)
Optional (though not in season): a few springs of thyme and rosemary.
1/2 stick of butter (softened).  We tend to use either Kawartha Dairy of Sterling Dairy (Campbelford).
Salt and Pepper

2 tbsp flour (Merrylynd Farm, Lakefield. Find it at Joanne’s Health Food).
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock or water (we make our own stock).

Procedure:

1. Remove neck and organs from the cavity of the chicken.  Rinse the bird thoroughly — including in the cavity.  Pat dry.  Season both the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.

2.  Peel garlic.  Place 2 buds in the cavity of the chicken.  Very finely chop the remainder.

3.  Use 1/4 of the butter to grease your roasting pan.  Add the garlic to the remainder and mix well.  It is here that you could add the finely chopped leaves (not stalks) of your thyme and rosemary.

4. Loosen the skin over the breast of the chicken and rub some of your butter between the skin and the flesh.  You may have to work a bit to reach all of the breast under the skin.  Massage the rest of the butter mixture over the outside of the chicken — including the thigh/leg area.

5. Truss your chicken (Google how to truss a chicken.  It is dead simple.).

6. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  This high heat will help ensure a crispy skin.

7. Peel and coarsely chop your onion and carrot (and celery, if you choose) and pile in the centre of your roasting pan.

8.  Place chicken on your “trivet” of veggies.  The breast should be pointing up.

9. Roast chicken for 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 350.

10.  Cook until the chicken reaches 160 degrees, remove from pan, and tent with foil.  It will continue to cook while it rests.  The best way to check for doneness is to insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (almost where the thigh meets the breast).  As a general rule of thumb chickens usually take roughly 20 minutes per pound, after the initial 450 degree crispening.

11.  While the chicken is resting, remove the vegetables from the roasting pan and pour all of the fat/drippings into a small bowl.  Skim 2-3 tbsp of fat from the top (after pouring, the fat will float to the top, while the juices will settle to the bottom) and add back to your pan.  Skim off the rest of the fat and discard along with the vegetables.  Add your stock to the juices and stir.

12. Heat the pan over medium-high heat on your stovetop and scrape the browned bits from the pan.  Add your 2 tbsp of flour and brown for roughly two minutes.  Slowly whisk in your juices/stock mixture until smooth.

13. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes, until it thickens to the consistency that you like.  Pour into a gravy boat.

14. Carve your chicken — and, please, look up how to do it properly so that you maximize the meat without making a mess of your cuts.

15.  Serve with your potatoes and vegetables.  Preferably with a half-decent Prince Edward County wine.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Well, it is.

It might seem a tad stressful the first time, but, you know what?  You’re only cooking a chicken.  There really isn’t that much you can screw up.  Trust me.  So relax.  Enjoy it.  Sip some wine during the process.  And then brag to your friends.

As a bonus, the recipe for our great Acorn Squash and Apple Soup.  This one is Krista’s creation.  And she did a bang-up job with the recipe.  This soup is sweet (but not too sweet) and quite fresh tasting (a rarity during the winter months).  Serve with some hearty homemade bread.

1 acorn squash (about 2-2.5 cups flesh once roasted)
1 medium apple
1 medium cooking onion
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp corriander seed – toasted & crushed
1.5 tsp fresh ground ginger
coarse ground pepper to taste

1. Roast squash (cut it in half, seed it, and place face down in a glass baking tray with about 1cm of water in bottom; bake for 30-45 min at 400 or until flesh is soft when pricked with a fork).

2. Saute onion and apple in butter (just until it sweats, you don’t want to brown it).

3. Add stock, spices and squash.

4. Cook for about 20 minutes.

5. Remove from heat and cool slightly — say, for 5 minutes.

6. Puree (in small batches if using a blender, though an immersion blender would be the best tool for the job).

7. Heat through and serve (add extra stock to thin or cream to thicken, if desired)

Makes about 4-6 appetizer-sized servings

School Program Proves to be Nutritious and Delicious

 

Maeda Welch and Solomon Johnson prepare some spaghetti and meatballs.

With kids, you can gauge the popularity of a meal by the amount of it smeared on their faces.  And this past week at Highland Heights Public School I had the opportunity to witness quite a few spaghetti-stained smiles.

I also saw evidence of Caesar Salad on a kindergarten forehead and chocolate brownie stains on a fifth grade nose.

By the looks of things, lunch went swimmingly.  You can chalk that up to the early success of the innovative Living Lunchbox program.  Also to the infectious enthusiasm of Maeda Welch, it’s founder.

The Lunchbox offers a nutritious upgrade on the old “Hot Dog Days” that used to mark school calendars.  With a newfound emphasis on health and nutrition, the Provincial Government has put strict guidelines on what can and cannot be served to kids during catered lunch programs.  Hot dogs are out, well-rounded meals featuring fresh fruits and vegetables are in. 

Aware of changes to school policy, Welch decided that the time was right to bring her enthusiasm for local and seasonal food to Peterborough school communities.  After all, there was still demand for special lunches and the fundraising opportunities they represented.

She spent a year brainstorming, making contacts, and then writing up proposals.  She approached several schools and found a good fit with Highland Heights.  This year, she launched “the Lunchbox,” serving up hot meals to students every two weeks.  Although the program is being piloted at Highland Heights, there are plans for more schools in the future.

It’s been garnering rave reviews.

The secret?  Finding nutritious ways to serve up the foods that kids love.  This includes using zucchini as a moistening and binding agent in brownies, and serving pizzas that are chock full of vegetables.  She’s served lentil veggie burger “sliders” with sweet potato fries, veggie quesadilla, chili with corn muffins.  Almost everything has been a hit.

Almost.

“The Jack o’ Lantern soup didn’t exactly fly,” admitted Welch.  “So we’ll be taking squash soup off the menu.”

Not only do the foods need to be kid-friendly, they also need to be approved by a dietician in order to make sure they are reaching Ministry guidelines. 

And then there are the strict guidelines that Welch has set for herself.  As much as possible, the ingredients should be sourced locally and organically.  There should be a minimum of packaging on both the ingredients and the lunches that she serves.  And it should be food that she can take pride in serving.

“I shop for most of my ingredients at the Farmers’ Market,” she explains.  “And then from local stores when I need something that I can’t find at market.  To cut down on packaging I buy things in bulk.  And the odd time that I do need to buy something from a grocery store, I’m careful about where it comes from and how it is packaged.”

The Lunchbox aims to nourish the mind as well as the body.  There is an educational component that will be coming up later in the year, where students will get the opportunity to learn more about local and seasonal food in a classroom setting.

 

Highland Heights student, Kaylea, enjoys her Caesar Salad.

Right now, they are still learning plenty.  All menus that are sent out to student households contain information on the growers and producers of local ingredients. 

“The kids are starting to figure out that the food that they’ve been enjoying so much is good for them, good for the environment, and beneficial to their community.”

They’re also a lot of fun.

Just ask the kid with the spaghetti in her hair.

 

Maeda’s Chocolate Beet Cake

Have your cake and enjoy it too, knowing that it is delicious and nutritious! Served as a square or as cake, this recipe is a great way to get kids eating more veggies! Many of the ingredients can be found locally throughout the winter season.

Servings
12 to 16

Ingredients

2 cups fresh beets (from the Peterborough Farmers Market)
½ cup applesauce (from local apples)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup oil
½ cup plain yogurt
3 local eggs
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups local all purpose flour
1 cup local whole wheat flour
½ cup baking cocoa
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preparation Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cake pan.
  • Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the beets and boil 20 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the beet skin, then chop. Pour into a large bowl.
  • Add the applesauce to the beets and use an immersion blender to puree.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, oil, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. Cream until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the chocolate chips, stirring to blend well.
  • Pour the flour mixture into the beet mixture, beating until just blended.
  • Pour half the batter into the prepared cake pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the batter in the pan, then pour the remaining batter over the top of the chips.
  • Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.