Cooking with Alison

Posts Tagged ‘How-To’

Grocery Budget Challenge – Introduction

In Grocery Budget Challenge, Mind Your Cents on May 31, 2016 at am

The rate of food inflation in Canada is exceeding the general inflation rate and is estimated to increase by up to 4.5% in 2016, according to the 2016 Food Price Report released by The Food Institute of the University of Guelph. Meats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are likely to be affected the most. Some of the main factors that affect the price of food include: climate, geopolitical risks, currencies and trade, etc. Considering some of these are likely to worsen over the long run, it’s as good a time as any to start maximizing your savings on groceries. With simple changes to the way you shop and cook, you’ll be able to reduce your grocery budget and increase your savings towards the things that matter the most to you.

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How to Get the Best Deals on Kitchen Stuff (and Everything Else) – Part 3 of 3

In Mind Your Cents on April 18, 2016 at pm

How to Get the Best Deals on Kitchen Stuff

As long as you’re patient (and I mean really patient) and vigilant, you’ll be able to save a lot of money on small appliances, dishes, and kitchen gadgets (and everything else, really). I’ve broken down this article into what has worked for me based on three main strategies: 1. When to shop, 2. Where to shop, and 3. How to shop. See here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

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How to Get the Best Deals on Kitchen Stuff (and Everything Else) – Part 2 of 3

In Mind Your Cents on April 18, 2016 at pm

How to Get the Best Deals on Kitchen Stuff

As long as you’re patient (and I mean really patient) and vigilant, you’ll be able to save a lot of money on small appliances, dishes, and kitchen gadgets (and everything else, really). I’ve broken down this article into what has worked for me based on three main strategies: 1. When to shop, 2. Where to shop, and 3. How to shop. See here for Part 1 and here for Part 3.

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How to Get the Best Deals on Kitchen Stuff (and Everything Else) – Part 1 of 3

In Mind Your Cents on April 14, 2016 at am

This is the first article in the new, Mind Your Cents series – a column dedicated to helping you save money!

I do a lot of cooking and entertaining, so it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that I am regularly shopping for small appliances, serving and entertaining ware, and cooking tools. But you know what I love way more than kitchen stuff? Great deals! So here’s how I found the best deals on my favourite household and kitchen items. Note that the strategies apply to all sorts of other products, too. I’d love to hear about how you search for great deals!

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The Benefits of Gardening (and How to Get Started Even if You Live in a Condo)

In Grocery Budget Challenge, Mind Your Cents, Random, Uncategorized on January 29, 2016 at pm

Despite living in a condo, I started gardening two years ago. I started gardening because a concussion left me with lingering debilitation, anxiety, and depression; I wasn’t able to do anything else and, serendipitously, a community garden opened up on my street. At the time, I had no idea that gardening would soon be responsible for a very positive turning point in my recovery process. I later learned that garden therapy, also known as horticultural therapy, is an effective supplemental therapy for all sorts of health problems. In the hopes of helping others, I’ve shared my personal experience, some research to explain the benefits of gardening, and a few tips for how you can get started. Don’t worry, you don’t need a backyard or a community garden to do it! As long as you have a sunny window, you can grow food! Note that although this article focuses on fruit and vegetable gardening, flower gardening can be just as beneficial.

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How to Make a Wooden Ring Box (and how to do it without owning the tools)

In How-To, Random on October 8, 2014 at am

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When John proposed to me this summer, he presented the engagement ring in this wooden ring box.  I instantly loved the ring box and was even more blown away when I learned that he made it himself.  So I asked him to share the DIY instructions on Cooking with Alison’s first guest post.  Don’t worry if you don’t own any tools, because John doesn’t either.  He shares below how he was able to get access to tools and woodworking help for very little money.

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Romanian Cabbage Rolls – The Only Cabbage Rolls I Eat

In Appetizers, Hors D'oeuvres, Snacks, How-To, Other Dishes, Red Meat and Eggs, Sides and Sauces on September 26, 2014 at am

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I never understood why people like cabbage rolls until my friend Joana made Romanian cabbage rolls.  This is the same friend that changed my mind about polenta, by the way (see my soft polenta recipes here).  I am so so grateful that Joana introduced me to Romanian cabbage rolls, because I am in love with them!  They are truly the best cabbage rolls that I have ever tasted.  The main difference between Romanian cabbage rolls and other cabbage rolls is that the Romanian ones are made with pickled cabbage.  You can find vacuum sealed whole heads of pickled cabbage in European grocery stores.  Joana’s recipe is also great because she uses a blend of different types of meat.  Although they are easy to make, I don’t make them often, because rolling all of those cabbage rolls can be time-consuming.  I hope you won’t be discouraged, because this recipe makes a very large batch that happens to be freezer-friendly.  With the colder weather moving in, I knew that I couldn’t put off making these any longer.  These are great to make for pot lucks or when feeding a crowd, because they can be served warm or cold.

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Creative Uses for Avocado and Tips for Making Them Even More Delicious

In Appetizers, Hors D'oeuvres, Snacks, Sides and Sauces on July 6, 2014 at am

I love avocados and often eat them straight out of the peel with a spoon.  Here are a few creative ways to use avocados and some tips for making them taste even better (other than just adding them to everything and anything you can think of):

  1. Be sure to try warming up your avocado (peel and pit removed) in the microwave.  I love warm avocados, especially in a sandwich, pita, or wrap.  I’ve also seen recipes where people bake avocado halves in the shell.
  2. Have you ever tasted avocado tempura (Japanese deep fried avocado)?  It’s delicious – probably in part because of the warming effect.  You could easily deep fry slices of avocado at home, by either using a tempura batter or an egg wash followed by a coating of panko crumbs.
  3. I used to eat avocados plain until my friend Aurelie told me that in France, a lot of people eat their avocados with a dollop of Dijon mustard.  I’m so glad that she told me that, because I’ve been doing it ever since.  My preferred brand of Dijon mustard is Maille.
  4. I’ve also discovered that I like eating avocados with a light drizzle of honey.  But, oddly, I don’t like the taste of honey mustard on avocados.
  5. Try using half of an avocado, still in the shell, as a carbohydrate substitute and bowl for your favourite tuna, crab, chicken, or ham salad.  See a tuna salad recipe here.  You could even place a fried egg in the avocado half.  I’ve also seen recipes where people bake avocado halves in the shell (pit removed) with eggs or cheese, etc.
  6. Use avocado to make a delicious and healthy mayonnaise substitute.
  7. Make smoothies or other types of drinks using avocados.  Don’t forget alcoholic drinks like avocado margaritas.
  8. I’ve even seen recipes for avocado soup.  Let me know if you’ve tried this and what you thought of it.
  9. Make an avocado frosting for your baked goods.  These are often vegan friendly.  The natural green colour is great for St Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas themed parties.
  10. Avocado can be used as a fat substitute in vegan baking.  John and I plan to try making black bean and avocado brownies.  If they’re really good, I’ll share the recipe.
  11. Lastly, I’ve put avocado popsicles on my list of things to try.

Just to be thorough, here are some of the ways that I use avocados in every day cooking:  in all sorts of salads, in sandwiches, as burger toppings, in wraps, in pitas, in tacos, in quesadillas, in sushi (maki rolls or hand rolls), in guacamole (see recipe here), in salsa with exotic fruits atop fish, in breakfast or egg dishes, as toppings or garnish for some soups, in fish tartare or ceviche (see recipes here), in appetizers served in wonton cups (see recipe here), etc., etc.  Let me know how you like to use avocados!

Ingredients That Freeze Beautifully

In Appetizers, Hors D'oeuvres, Snacks, Asian, Breads, Breakfast, Desserts, How-To, Indian, Main Course on June 1, 2014 at am

Whenever I cook with ingredients that I don’t use regularly, I almost always end up with extra ingredients that I can’t find the time or purpose for.  I hate to waste food.  So, very early on, I learned how to make the freezer my best friend.  Below I’ve shared a list of fresh and canned ingredients that freeze beautifully for months to a year, without a change in texture or taste.  Let me know if you can think of anything else!  I will add to this list as I discover new freezer friendly ingredients.  Also, I’ve posted many many freezer friendly recipes throughout the years.  Just look to the end of each recipe for freezing instructions, as applicable.

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My Absolute Favourite Fruit: Mangosteen

In Appetizers, Hors D'oeuvres, Snacks, Asian, Breakfast, Desserts, How-To on May 22, 2014 at am

I love almost all fruit, and mangosteen is, by far, my favourite.  If you haven’t tried purple mangosteen yet, I highly recommend that you do as soon as the opportunity presents itself.  When I was in Malaysia, I ate an entire bag and every day that I’ve been back, I regret not eating more.  That was a year ago!!!  Mangosteen are grown mainly in Southeast Asia and the best ones that I’ve ever had were from Malaysia. Disappointingly, in North America, mangosteen can be quite expensive and often not very fresh.  So be sure to choose ones with a fresh and green coloured stem, because there are such things as bad and so-so mangosteen.

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The purple fruit shown in the middle are the mangosteen

The purple outer shell is inedible.  To open a mangosteen, crush the purple shell between the palms of your hands and then pull it apart to open it.  But be very careful not to stain your clothes, because the purple dye is almost impossible to wash out.  In fact, many hotels in Southeast Asia ban their guests from bringing mangosteen into their rooms.  The white flesh on the inside of the fruit is soft, moist, juicy and refreshing and light tasting.  Also, there are large seeds within each lobe of the white flesh.

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If you get the chance to try a mangosteen, let me know what you think!

How to Make a Diaper Cake (and my Favourite Baby Shower Games)

In Cake Decorating, DIY and Crafts on March 22, 2014 at am

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This DIY diaper cake tutorial should have been written five years ago – when I actually made the diaper cake and when this trend was the most popular.  But regardless of whether or not this is a new idea, I still love it and I can’t think of a better gift or centerpiece for a baby shower.  I’ve now been involved in throwing a few baby showers, and planning the games is always my favourite part.  So I’ve shared a list of my favourite baby shower games as well.  I’m sure it will come to no surprise that 2 of the 3 are food related.  😉

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How to Determine the Doneness of Meat Using Touch Test

In How-To, Red Meat and Eggs on October 1, 2013 at am

Regardless of what type of meat you’re cooking or how you’re cooking the meat, the biggest mistake you can make is overcooking it.  Unfortunately, the required cooking time for each cut or piece of meat can vary greatly depending on the equipment used to cook it, the size of the meat, the starting temperature of the meat, and the ratio of meat to bone, etc.  Therefore, it is very important to rely more heavily on the touch test or meat thermometers than general cooking time guidelines.  Determining the doneness of meat is the most difficult part of any recipe, but luckily, it gets easier with practice.  

Over time, you will be able to tell whether or not the meat is cooked through simply by smelling and looking at the meat.  (Hint:  The meat will be opaque in colour and it will have shriveled away from the bones.)  Until then, you have the touch test and meat thermometers.

Although using a meat thermometer will give you precision (as long as it has been calibrated properly), you end up losing some of the meat juices when you poke it into the meat.  You also end up with unsightly holes or tears in your meat.  So I prefer to use the touch test.  Below, I’ve shared three different variations of the touch test for checking the doneness of meat.  Note that I have also heard this being called the “finger test”.  Let me know if you know of any other touch methods.

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