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Apple Tuna Melts with Broccoli Slaw

tuna meltsTHE VERDICT:

I  am a big tuna melt fan, so when I came across this recipe for tuna melts topped with slices of apple, I had to try it. I was especially curious to find out if the flavours of apple and tuna would mix well together. The answer? They do! These tuna melts are super tasty, and it’s that apple/tuna flavour combo that makes them so good.

These tuna melts are great for a light lunch, but also pair well with a bowl of soup for a hearty dinner. We’ve made them several times and typically serve them with salad. This weekend we served them with a packaged broccoli slaw, which is a crunchy and flavourful alternative to traditional cabbage slaw. It’s made of shredded broccoli stems, carrots and purple cabbage. We jazz it up with a little Miracle Whip and some raisins and/or sunflower seeds. It is available at most grocery stores that sell salad kits.

We didn’t serve these melts to Zayden as they’re a little beyond his self-feeding skills at the moment, but he did enjoy some apple slices and an English muffin with peanut butter for his lunch, so we didn’t have to completely reinvent the wheel in order to feed him at the same time.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Apple Tuna Melts (source: Today’s Parent magazine; original recipe)

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Greek Yogurt: Our New Secret Weapon

Z eats yogurtI remember reading in a women’s magazine several years ago that plain yogurt was a good alternative to sour cream, but when I tried it, I found the yogurt was too runny to be used the way that one would use sour cream. I just wrote it off as one of those substitutions that fails to live up to its promises–the sort of thing that makes people give up on diets.

But recently, when we got into clean eating and started reading Clean Eating Magazine, I realized my mistake. There is a yogurt out there that is as thick as sour cream with all the tangy flavour, but has a fraction of the fat: Greek yogurt. It’s not super easy to find, which might explain why I didn’t know it existed when I was younger. But as people are increasingly interested in eating healthier, more and more stores are carrying it.

Since we started using it as a substitute for sour cream we’ve also discovered a myriad of other uses for it, and all of them make for healthier dishes and healthier families. Obviously, it’s yogurt, so you can just eat it straight up with your breakfast. The vanilla or honey flavoured varieties make tasty desserts (especially if you add some fresh berries or melon) and make great substitutes for whipping cream on waffles, pancakes, pies, etc. But plain is the most versatile. We use it wherever we would normally use sour cream or mayo. Plain Greek yogurt goes great with Mexican-style dishes in lieu of sour cream and makes excellent chicken, tuna or egg salad sandwiches. Use it as the base for a dip at your next party and serve with chips or fresh veggies–we promise that no one will notice the difference. And because it’s thick and rich, Greek yogurt is a better choice than regular yogurt when you’re using it as a substitute to reduce fat in your baking. There is only one place where it doesn’t work as well as regular yogurt: salad dressing. If you want a creamy, yogurt-based dressing, it’s best to go with the runnier version.

Try it; you will be pleasantly surprised by how little you miss your old sour cream and mayo.

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The Joys of New Appliances

New stove

Putting the roast into oven #1.

When we first moved into our condo, I loved everything about it except the crappy dishwasher. It was a builder’s quality Frigidaire, so it wasn’t exactly a high-end model that was built to last, and it had been abused by the previous owners. They owned square bowls that didn’t fit between the tines of the racks, so instead of opting to handwash them, they had just crammed them in–bending all the tines and cracking the vinyl covering in the process. Thanks to the bent tines, our dishes had a tendency to fall over onto each other and not come entirely clean. Thanks to the cracks in the finish, we got rust stains on our dishes. On top of that, the dishwasher was stained on the interior and had a funky smell. So from day one, I dreamed of replacing it with something shiny and new.

Then I started to hate the stove. The previous owners obviously didn’t bake because a few months in we were halfway through cooking a nice dinner when we realized we only had one oven rack, and therefore, not enough space for the two dishes we planned to bake. Suddenly it donned on us that the grate they had used to protect their fish pond from the neighbourhood cats–the one rusted from the rain and no longer food safe–was actually the second oven rack. The electric coils on the stove top didn’t lay flat either, so we always had oil, sauce, etc. pooling on one side of our pans and trouble with hot spots whenever we cooked. When the track for the pot drawer broke, that was the nail in the coffin of our cheap builder’s appliances.

We figured if we were going to replace two of the three appliances we might as well replace the fridge too. It wasn’t exactly the most energy efficient thing going, and I coveted a bottom drawer freezer.

New oven

The yams can bake in oven #2.

So off we went to Colony, the best kept secret on the North Shore if you are looking for appliances. They are family-run and not on commission, so their staff is helpful, knowledgeable and low-pressure. Thanks to their help, we really felt like we knew the differences between each brand and model, which helped us confidently select the appliances that were right for us. A couple of good deals made the decision even easier: our GE Profile range was on sale, and we got a discount on our Kitchen Aid fridge and dishwasher because we bought more than one Kitchen Aid appliance. Add the BC Hydro rebates for buying energy-efficient models, and we really managed to save.

Now life in our kitchen is sweeter than before. Our dishes come clean in our dishwasher! The stainless steel interior means no more yucky stains or icky smells, and it is so quiet when it’s running that we hardly notice it at all.

The deep drawer of our new freezer is great. There is a lot more room than before–perfect for stocking up on extra portions of baby food. We did sacrifice a little fridge space for that freezer drawer, but we are learning to work with the new layout. For one thing, a fuller fridge is more energy efficient because all the food helps keep things cooler. And we’re better about using things before they go bad–there’s no more room for leftovers that sit in Tupperware for so long that you can’t remember what’s in them anymore.

But by far the best part of having new appliances is our new range. We have a ceramic cook top,so the entire cooking surface is flat. No more pooling oil and no more hot spots! It requires some special cleaning, but it’s worth it. There is a bridge element that allows us to turn two elements into one for use with a griddle or when making gravy in the roasting pan. We have a warming zone to keep melted butter or sauce at the right temperature. There is also a “Tri-Ring” element that allows us to adjust the size of the  element to the size of the pot for more efficient heating. But my absolute favourite part is the two ovens (one with a built in meat thermometer); we can bake or roast dishes at two different temperatures. Perfect for a big family dinner, but also handy on weeknights when we don’t have time to bake things separately. I’m not totally sold on convection baking, but we do have that option as well with the larger of the two ovens.

These new appliances have helped me to love our home again. Before we made the investment, I couldn’t wait for the time where we would sell our place and move on to greener pastures, but now I think it will be much harder to leave when that time comes. Updated, more efficient and functional appliances are definitely worth the investment.

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The Best of Chef At Home: Cookbook Review

CookbookWe get our recipes from a variety of sources: friends, family, our favourite websites, magazines and cookbooks. In fact, we have an entire shelf full of cookbooks, but for the most part we will keep a cookbook around because it has one or two good recipes in it. Half of the time we buy a cookbook to look at the pretty pictures, salivate and then never get around to trying half of the recipes. That’s not the case with Chef Michael Smith’s The Best of Chef at Home.

I love Michael Smith. He’s the host of two of my favourite Food Network shows. He’s got a great, laid back cooking philosophy and a TV pantry to die for. On top of all that he’s a super tall, curly-haired, charming, Canadian cutie…okay, I’d better stop before Justin gets jealous. But even if he was an ugly, wart-faced troll, he’d still be my favourite chef because his recipes are so consistently good.

We have made and reviewed multiple recipes from this book if you want to try out a few before adding it to your own library:

Blue Cheese-Crusted Filet Mignon

Apple Roast Chicken

Orange Mustard Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Rosemary Applesauce

Brown Rice and Lentils

Sweet Potato Chickpea Curry

And these are just the ones that we have photographed and put on our blog. We have made more recipes from The Best of Chef at Home than from most of our other cookbooks combined, and we haven’t made a single one that we wouldn’t make again. In fact, most of them are newfound favourites that we have made several times since receiving the book as a gift. The recipes are easy to follow, so this is a perfect choice for cooking novices, but the high calibre of the recipes also makes this book a great choice for more seasoned home chefs. For those looking to get a little more adventurous in the kitchen, but not quite ready to become an Iron Chef, there are handy “Freestyle variation” tips. But for those who are already freestyling with abandon, Michael Smith encourages you to see his recipes as a mere guide or a launching pad for your own creative additions, ideas and culinary adventures. With this book on your shelf, those adventures are sure to be delicious.

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Pasta With Fresh Greens

Pasta with Fresh GreensTHE VERDICT:

This recipe blew my mind. So simple and yet so good. The delicious success of this recipe made me realize how consistently good the recipes from Today’s Parent magazine are. I have enjoyed almost every recipe we have made from the magazine and I’d say that my top 3 favourite new recipes have all come from there this year:

1. Fresh Tomato Pasta

2. Parmesan Chicken Cutlets

3. Sneaky Snack Bars

Clearly it’s a great resource for parents looking for healthy recipe ideas to feed their families, but I think any home chef would benefit from checking out the recipes on their website.

To modify this recipe for baby: Tear your greens into bite-sized pieces that are small enough for baby to handle. Choose small noodles or cut noodles into smaller pieces. Zayden’s verdict was a definite thumbs up, but our baby is a big pasta fan, so this was going to be an easy sell no matter what.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Pasta With Fresh Greens (source: Today’s Parent magazine; original recipe)

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Eco Bags Produce Bags

Eco BagsI came across these bags in a magazine a few years back and immediately went to www.ecobags.com to check them out. They are made of a lightweight muslin and make an excellent alternative to the single-use plastic bags available at supermarkets. They also come in handy at the farmers’ market, and I use the smaller ones for carrying Zayden’s lunch things when we’re out on the go. We use them so much that we actually ended up ordering more.

While we love them, there are a couple of drawbacks. They are not the best for longterm storage of certain veggies, namely those that wilt easily, like lettuce. They are great for things like apples, carrots and other harder fruits and veggies. We also find they are useful for picking up some types of bulk food items at the supermarket, like rice.

The other major drawback is the shipping cost. They do not give very good rates to Canada, but it’s a flat rate up until your order reaches a certain size, so I would team up with a few friends and split the shipping costs. Or you could order some of the other products they carry to make the shipping more cost efficient; we really like their bamboo utensil sets for your lunch bag, picnic basket or camping backpack.

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Garlic Twist

Garlic Twist 1

You can fit a large number of cloves inside the Garlic Twist at once.

Normally, I would never recommend a single-use kitchen gadget, but I will make an exception in the case of the Garlic Twist. A Garlic Twist is designed to mince garlic, but in half the time it would take if you were using a knife. It’s advantages over a traditional garlic press are also quite clear: you can mince more than one clove of garlic at a time, you can vary the consistency of the garlic, there is no wasted garlic left inside the gadget when you are done and it is much easier to clean (just rinse it under the tap and let it air dry after use).

Garlic Twist 2

The Garlic Twist allows you to choose how finely minced you want your garlic.

If you love cooking with garlic like we do, then you can justify the purchase of this handy little kitchen tool. The first few twists can be a little challenging for those with weak wrists, especially if you stuff it with garlic cloves like we tend to do, but once you get it going, it’s easy to turn until you reach the desired consistency. I have also heard of people using it to mince other ingredients like ginger or chili peppers, but have never tried this myself.

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Cinnamon’s Chocolates

Cinnamon's ChocolatesOne of the challenges of clean eating, for me anyways, is contending with my sweet tooth. For the most part, I satiate my cravings with homemade desserts. But on occasion we like to indulge at one of our favourite local businesses: Cinnamon’s Chocolates. Purdy’s has nothing on these incredibly decadent artisan chocolates. My personal favourite is the Black and Tan, two flavours of caramel enrobed in your choice of dark or milk chocolate. Justin loves the coconut clusters. And we both love choosing various selections from their tempting truffle collection.

The staff is always incredibly friendly, and you know the chocolates are fresh because they produce them on site. You can see them concocting creations through the window while you shop. Great for a gift, but even better for yourself. We love to enjoy them with champagne during at-home “date” nights.

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Chicken Bratwurst, Pancakes and Rhubarb Compote

Farmers' Market BreakfastTHE VERDICT:

Okay, so we cheated a little on this one. Other than the compote, none of this breakfast was made from scratch. But it was made from some of the goodies we picked up at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning and the results made for a wonderful breakfast on Sunday morning. It was also a great opportunity to use our Griddler: we opened it up flat and made one half a griddle for cooking the pancakes and the other half a grill for cooking the brats.

We decided the chicken brats would be an excellent alternative to sausage or bacon, and we were certainly right on that score. They are made by BeerBrats, one of Justin’s favourite stops at the Trout Lake market and a company that specializes in making bratwurst with, you guessed it, beer. With regional microbrews, to be exact. Our Driftwood Farmhand Chicken Provencal bratwurst is just one of four flavours they sell for you to take home and cook yourself, but they also sell bratwurst dogs and breakfast wraps on site. In fact, our Saturday morning breakfast consisted of two incredibly mouthwatering wraps made with their Red Devil Chorizo sausage. All in all, it was a good weekend made all the better by tasty BeerBrats.

We got the mix for our pancakes from The Flour Peddler. This was their first weekend at the market, and we were excited to sample their wares because we had heard so much about them from other farmers’ market fiends. Their booth is hard to miss thanks to the guy grinding grain with the help of a stationary bicycle. We suggested they hook up a few kids’ bikes to some grain mills and offer a child minding service to their customers; we’ll see if they put our idea to good use next week. The Peddlers are extremely friendly, happy to joke around with customers as well as talk seriously about their product. We took our pancake mix home knowing exactly how to store it and what went into it. We chose the Red Fife Heritage Wheat Whole Grain Pancake and Waffle Mix and found it to be much heartier than traditional pancakes; we were still full hours later. 1 cup of the mix makes enough pancakes for 2 people, so we will probably get 3-4 breakfasts out of the bag we bought.

The pancakes went very well with the Rhubarb Compote that we decided to use instead of syrup. And the leftover compote also went very well with the Vanilla-Coconut Rice Pudding that we made for dessert that night.

THE RECIPE:

Rhubarb Compote (source: previously reviewed on Tonight’s Dinner; you can find a link to the recipe here)


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Cuisinart Griddler

The GriddlerWhen we put the Griddler on our wedding registry, we wondered if we had signed up for a gimicky small appliance that we would never use. Good thing we were wrong. This is probably our favourite and most-used small appliance. We are constantly finding new uses for it and are always impressed with the results.

The Griddler is basically a hybrid that combines the functions of an electric griddle, a George Foreman grill and a panini press/sandwich maker. We use ours to make everything from quesadillas to grilled chicken. The interchangeable cooking plates allow us to choose between a flat or grooved surface depending on our needs. The cooking plates can be removed and easily cleaned in the sink or dishwasher. Opened flat, it provides a large cooking surface that functions as an indoor grill during bad weather and is great for making weekend breakfasts. Used as a press, it speeds up the grilling of meat and is excellent for making paninis and quesadillas. For those looking to reduce the fat in their cooking, it has a drip tray for draining grease.

So far the only flaw we’ve found with it is that we can’t use it as a waffle iron.

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