About Karen

Karen loves to bake and cook and really "got into" food when she started in marketing for Shari's Berries back in 1999. She adores desserts and really good chocolate and has a soft spot for traditional homemade dishes.

And Now for Something Corny…

Summer is FINALLY here and that means it’s time to enjoy all that luscious produce that ripens this time of year! While you bask in feeling of that fresh plum dribbling down your chin, now is also the perfect time to think about the cold winter on the horizon.

What, you say? WINTER??

That’s right! The beginning of summer is a fantastic time to put things up for the fall and winter when fresh produce is either hard to find or absolutely non-existent. (Or gross…you find a peach in the produce section in your grocer in the middle of January and you know it’s going to be awful!) In early summer, produce is plentiful, fresh, and inexpensive. EVERYONE from the grocery store, to the farmer’s market, to the roadside stand is simply drowning in ripe things and you can find a lot for very little cost. The other great thing about preserving food early in the summer is that it’s not too hot yet. If you’ve ever tried canning in mid-August, you know just how brutally hot it can be, so it’s much better to do it now when it’s cooler.

But I’ll save the canning for another day. For those of you that really don’t want to deal with the whole canning process, this post is for you…

Corn on the CobYesterday, I stopped by one of my favorite local farm stands, Sodaro Orchards, with my eye on their scrumptious peaches. I picked up a couple of boxes (which I’ll be canning in another post this weekend), but I also scored some super fresh white corn.

Corn is a great starter vegetable if you’re kinda interested in preserving, but haven’t yet committed to the whole canning kettle thing…yet. The process of preserving corn is super easy, fast, and you probably have just about everything you need to do it already. Best of all, you don’t even need a recipe for freezer corn!

You’ll need a pot, water, a bowl, a knife, cookie sheet, freezer bags (I prefer the 1 quart size), a measuring cup, ice, and of course corn. There are three major steps to freezing corn kernels: blanching, cooling, and cutting. Blanching destroys the enzymes in the corn that make it taste weird or mealy down the road and preserves the sweetness. Cooling the blanched ears keeps them from overcooking and getting mushy. Cutting the kernels from the cob saves a TON of space and allows you to easily use the corn in recipes throughout the winter.

Removing kernels from corn cobsStart by filling a pot about 2/3rds with water and setting it on to boil. Then, take your fresh ears of corn and husk them. Remove as much of the stringy silk as you can and check them for any weird or damaged spots. If you see any, it’s easy to slice those kernels off with a paring knife or a grapefruit spoon. Fill the bowl with cold water and add ice. Once your corn is clean and your water is at a rolling boil, put several ears into the pot. The water should return to a boil in a minute or so (if it doesn’t, add fewer ears next time). Once the water is boiling again, set a timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the corn from the boiling water and put it into the ice water for 5 minutes. You can use the boiling water several times without any problems, but you’ll likely need to add additional ice to your cooling bowl for subsequent batches.

After you’ve finished blanching and cooling your corn, it’s time to cut it off the cob! They do sell special tools for this, but really all you need is a knife. I do this step on a cookie sheet as it keeps all the kernels contained easily. Stand your cooled ear of corn on the stalk end, set your knife against the kernels at the top and slice down towards the counter. Turn the ear and repeat until you’ve stripped the kernels. It’s just that easy.

freezing cornOnce you’ve stripped the kernels from the ears, use the measuring cup to put them into the freezer bags. I like to put 2 Cups into each bag as I’ve found that’s what we use most in recipes or side dishes. Portion your corn however works best for you, but I would advise against putting it all in one big bag as that will turn into one big frozen block of corn in your freezer. Finally, squeeze as much air as possible out of your bags, seal them and label them with the date and contents. Place the bags in your freezer and you’re all done! I usually freeze my bags flat on a cookie sheet so they fit nicely in my freezer.

This whole process is actually crazy fast and you have lots of puttering time while the corn blanches. In less than an hour this morning, I processed 18 ears of corn resulting in 14 Cups of kernels, and in between moving batches I folded two loads of laundry, swept the kitchen and had a cup of coffee so don’t be intimidated because you’ve never done it before or feel like you just don’t have the time.

I promise, it’s a easy way to save the fruits of summer to enjoy later this year.

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Fiery Baby Bok Choy Recipe

Last night, we were looking for something different for our vegetable side dish and we came across this amazingly simple dish from Williams-Sonoma.

Baby boy choy is packed with vitamins and nutrients and is ridiculously low in calories…in fact 1 cup of bok choy has only 9 calories. Winter is the best time of year for this cruciferous vegetable, so right now it’s also very inexpensive. (I bought a pound and it cost only $0.98!)

We were a bit concerned that the recipe was going to be a bit too spicy for the kids (who can be really picky about that) so we toned it down slightly by omitting the chili oil in order to head off any dinnertime arguments. The dish still packed some heat, but the only complaint we had was that there wasn’t more of it!

The ingredients are few, the flavor large, and it’s mindblowingly fast.

Check out the recipe over on Williams-Sonoma and let us know what you think!

Stretching Your Budget Part 2: What to Buy

This is part 2 in a series. Start here: Stretching your Budget Part 1: How to Shop

Now that you’re thinking about the way to shop, let’s talk about what goes in your cart.

When you’re reining in your budget, the things you purchase are dictated by what you are actually planning on eating. We’ve all stood in front of a refrigerator and pantry stuffed full of food and bemoaned that there is “nothing to eat”. And sometimes, if what you have is a haphazard melange of unplanned ingredients, you’re kind of right!

Colourful shopping carts

I know that the words “Meal Plan” might make you cringe in horror, but it’s been transformative to our budget, our dining, and our time. Start by making a list of meals for a week…if trying to plan all 21 meals at once feels too overwhelming, begin with just dinners. Seven entrees, sides, and starches (and a few desserts!) are much more manageable, especially if you’re new to planning your meals out ahead of time.

We have three small children who can sometimes be rather picky about what they eat, so here’s a sample of what we might have in our meal plan on any given week: teriyaki chicken & rice with zucchini, spaghetti & meat sauce with peas and homemade rolls, homemade minestrone soup & grilled cheese, leftover day!, grilled chicken & pasta with steamed carrots, chicken burritos (using leftover chicken from the day before) & refried beans and salad, breaded white fish & rice with asparagus. We make sure to pair every meal with some sort of seasonal veggie and if you have everything on hand, you can mix it up throughout the week. Decide you’d rather have chicken tonight and you’re scheduled for soup? No problem! Just swap them in your schedule, but be sure that you stick with your overall plan. The worst thing you can do to your budget is throw away good food that has spoiled because you didn’t get around to eating it.

If time constraints are a problem for you, slow cookers are a godsend. We will often cook a roast in our Crock-Pot and use it for several meals. We’ll have it the first night with homemade gravy and stewed vegetables, then slice some of it for sandwiches the following day for lunch, then finally we cube the leftovers into small pieces and, with the addition of stock and vegetables, we make soup. We’ve also learned to make simple, filling soups like butternut squash or pumpkin soup using sauteed onions, chicken stock, cream and spices. Another time saver is to think about cooking not just one meal at a time but plan for later meals as you prep ingredients. For example, if you have to chop half an onion for tonight’s dinner, chop the whole thing, use what you need and either refrigerate the rest for use later in the week or freeze the rest to use in a soup.

Now that you have a meal plan, it’s time to make a shopping list. I always start by reviewing what I already have in the pantry and fridge so I know if I’m missing ingredients before heading to the store. Since we’ve been using Cozi, we seldom discover that we’re out of main ingredients, but there have been a few times that the kids have polished off something (like all the milk!) without letting us know so it’s just better to check quickly.

Here’s an example of what is usually on My Weekly List:

  • Milk – our store has a lower price if you buy two, so we always buy in quantities of two
  • Eggs – check the price between 12 and 18…18 is usually cheaper and you can boil them to add as a protein to salads and more. We use a lot of eggs in our house, so we buy the larger box of 5 dozen eggs as the price savings is huge…it works out to around $1.60 a dozen.
  • Bread – during the winter, I’ll make it, but definitely not during the summer and it can take quite a lot of time the first few times. Sometimes it’s just worth it to buy it. Be sure to price shop as I’ve found the same gourmet brands of bread at multiple stores in our little town for $1.50 and nearly $6 with the same sell by dates.
  • Meat/Fish/Poultry – in season fish is always less expensive and if you have a freezer, take advantage of sales and bulk pricing to freeze extra chicken, ground beef, pork chops, roasts, etc. It will get you through times when cash is tight. Don’t be afraid of a red meat with a little fat. It will be more flavorful, most of the fat will cook out and you’ll actually end up eating less other junk. If you buy things in bulk to freeze, it’s easiest to put portions on a cookie sheet on waxed paper, freeze for a few hours and then put it all in a good ziploc. This keeps it from making one big mass of meat that you have to thaw and use all at once.
  • Vegetables – stay in season if possible as in season veggies are cheaper and usually have more flavor. In our house we eat a lot of broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, lettuce, spinach and squash.
  • Fruit – Again, stay in season if possible. Local is even better. We eat a lot of apples, oranges, grapes, melons, bananas, and strawberries. We get a lot of peaches, plums and cherries in the summer from local farm stands.
  • Staples – Whatever staples we are low on or have run out of

In Part 3, I’ll give you a rundown on staples you can always find in my pantry as well as an itemized list of what I bought on a recent grocery trip!

Free Knife Skills Class from Craftsy

We love it when we find awesome foodie things and it’s even better when they are absolutely free!

New York born Chef Brendan McDermott sharpened his own skills cooking at several acclaimed restaurants including Todd English’s Olives, Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, Rick Moonen’s RM among others. In 2010, New York Magazine named his Knife Skills Class at Brooklyn Kitchen “Best Cooking Class” and his knife skills and techniques have been featured on episodes of “Working Class Foodies“.

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