Posted in Farm, Fruits, Healthy, Home Economics, Local, Opinions & Commentaries, Product Testing

Product Review: Starfrit Cherry Pitter

Cherries are in full season, but my “season” started months ago.  I undertook a project  with 20 Valley Harvest Farms.  I have been responsible for many things including designing unique recipes that highlight not only cherries, but whole food, local and Canadian ingredients (Professional Home Economists can be a great source for recipe writing!).

So with so many recipes to design, test and re-test I also indirectly tested out several ways to pit cherries for the average consumer.

I first tried home hacks and methods that required only household items.  You can read that post here: Cherry Pitting: Home Hacks on Trial. Even though I am against having too many appliances and gadgets in the kitchen, I went looking for a possible way to get through pitting tons of cherries so I could focus on the recipes (especially when a test completely fails and I need to re-do it fast!).

So I research and find the single, stainless steel cherry pitter.  One was at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $18.99.  I also found the Starfrit Cherry Pitter.  With the option of “6 cherries at once”, I was very interested.  It was plastic so I was a bit hesitant, but with the price tag of $14.99 at my local Canadian Tire, I considered it for 3 weeks.  (Now when you search during the season, a ton more pop up when searching online.)

After buying out of season cherries from Washington (USA), spending tons of money and losing lots of time for the other tasks I needed to complete for 20 Valley Harvest farm promotions, I bit the bullet and pulled out my wallet.

Did you know that the average recipe development cost charged to companies is about $350 PER RECIPE?! It’s not just the time, but the cost of ingredients, appliances and even energy – electricity for stoves, appliances – add to the cost of a recipe to be developed and tested.

Being frugal, I thought I’d attempt the Starfrit one since it was cheaper and the idea of doing 6 cherries at once compared to the traditional, one at a time, made me travel to Canadian Tire.  When I asked, the employee didn’t even know where to find it and she said they must not carry it.  I thanked her and noted her lack of confidence of an obviously, not well requested item.  So I kept searching the aisle for my solution to my “bloody” cherry hell (I mean problem….).  Well, low and behold, after searching inch by inch, there it was… quietly sitting there with no indication of how purposeful it really was.

So home I went, with a lighter wallet and a hope that this weird contraption was going to make my life easier.

So instead of just showing you photos of how it went, I thought I’d use my daughter to film a quick impromptu video of how the Starfrit Cherry Pitter works from beginning to end. ​

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​PHEc Tips to get the most out of this gadget:

  • The fresher the cherries, the more likely the pit will not stay attached to the tiny flap of skin.
  • Not just for pies, it’s a great way to make maraschino cherries for cocktails, garnishes and additions to salads.
  • A great tool if you are also going to dehydrate/dry these into cherraisins (I made up the word and pronounce it “sher-raisins” or “chair-raisins” – which do you prefer?).
  • Store with your canning gear and put away for the season, or with your colander for reminders when washing other fruits, berries and veggies.

Here’s what I think after testing out the Starfrit Cherry Pitter:

Pros

  • Easy to use – It has the same action as a stapler and a child can do it without help.
  • Dishwasher safe – It comes apart to clean all three parts and no handwashing required.
  • Quick – Less work and mess than home hacks, plus this type does 6 cherries at a time!
  • Easier than other pitters – For people that don’t have good hand and finger coordination (Ex: Persons with MS, arthritis, fibromyalgia, advanced or very young ages) – no balancing or strong grip required.
  • Compact – It stores flat with a small locking tab that keeps it flat for storage.
  • Encourages healthy eating – Mr R Ginger ate an entire bowl in 5 minutes when I offered him “some” since they were already pitted.  I’m sure children and everyone in the family will do the same (we never got a chance 😉 ).

Cons

  • Cost is more than home hacks or commercially prepared ones
  • Space – You’ll need to store it somewhere when not in use.

Final Thought:  Yes, I do recommend this item.

IMG_6374If you are picking cherries or making jam or pies, this is a great and healthy alternative to home hacks or commercially prepared with added sugar (10% for those buckets of pitted cherries seasonally available usually).  This became my go to for my recipe testing.  It has held up great under many dishwasher runs, two kids using it and the countless cherries sacrificed for 3 unique recipes designed by Nutrition Bites for 20 Valley Harvest Farms.

I’m not all for new gadgets, or spending money (frugal PHEc here!), but this saved me time and made it easier to enjoy cherries more this season.  I’m happy to have it in my home, and I know next year I will be ready to pull it out.  This cherry pitter is totally worth not looking like a red-handed, mass-murderer during cherry season when you are up for serving delicious pies, tarts, jams, salads and cakes quickly!

 

Note: All opinions are my own.  This was not sponsored by Starfrit and I have not received any compensation or free items to recommend this product.

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Posted in Farm, Fruits, Gluten Free, Healthy, Home Economics, Local, Ontario, Opinions & Commentaries

Cherry Pitting: Home Hacks on Trial

Being a Niagara native and having met many people while working as a crop scout, I was fortunate enough to keep some as lifelong friends.  Paula Bryk is one of them.  She is reviving her family farm in Jordan, Ontario also known now as “20 Valley”.

Her farm, 20 Valley Harvest, is undergoing a rebuilding and rebranding of sorts (if speaking in business terms) after withstanding several generations in the same family as well as the loss of her father, who last ran the farm at capacity, a few years back. I have been helping with the farm’s promotions, resource development and social media campaign in the past few months.

Even though cherry season is just past the blossom stage and the immature fruit is starting to appear, I had to buy some ripe but un-local ones.  Gasp!  The reason: recipe development!  It’s one of my favourite things to do (Need help with your farm or food business?…. Nutrition Bites Consulting to the rescue!).

Some of the 20 Valley Harvest Facebook posts include educating the public on the  nutrition, preparation and uses of cherries.  One deterring issue with fresh cherries is having to pit them for most recipes.  Many people buy the tart (sour) and sometimes the sweet ones already pitted in pails.  (Nutrition note: they are usually sweetened with added sugar! Check the labels!).

Others that purchase cherries in large quantities might splurge the average $15 – 20 cost of a hand-held cherry pitter.

Being a frugal PHEc, I found some “hacks” on the good ol’ internet to pit cherries without buying a one-use item or processed and less healthy options.

So I put them to the test as I was developing a recipe (you’ll have to stay tuned to 20 Valley Harvest & Nutrition Bites websites for the recipe reveal in June).

I enlisted by youngest daughter to help.  Not a good idea.  Every hack failed. (So it’s not as easy as “Even a kid can do it!”…)

Hours after the initial attempt, I decided to try them for myself.  Here’s how the home hacks brought havoc to the cherries:

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  1. Chopstick & Beer Bottle
  2. Straw & Beer Bottle
  3. Paperclips – regular and plastic coated

The Chopstick & Beer Bottle method was the winner!  It still didn’t work perfectly though.  With softer cherries, the pit sometimes stays attached to the flesh.  A second attempt aiming at the pit and flesh usually gets it off into the bottle.  It’s not as clean as the video makes it out to be, but it definitely saves your hands from looking like you are a mass murderer.


The Straw & Beer Bottle method works well with harder straws or thicker ones (the wide smoothie or frapuccino ones).  I used cute party ones made out of paper and food-safe ink from Presidents Choice.


These worked well for about 6-8 cherries but then started to collapse and fold with the repeated pressure and moisture.  Tip: It’s still a great way to do it but you will need several straws as they begin to bend and break under the “pitting pressure”.

The Paperclip method did not work at all.  I’m assuming we needed hard/firmer cherries as well as perhaps the video showed a different cherry variety than I had purchased. We used two different kinds of paper clips (regular and plastic coated) to make sure, but it was a complete fail and made a huge mess.

So if you are attempting to pit a whole bunch of cherries this season (be sure to make a trip to 20 Valley Harvest Pick Your Own or Market Stand!), I suggest the Chopstick & Beer Bottle method – easiest and cleanest hands down!

Cherries spray their colourful sweetness with almost any pitter you use – home hack or store bought!  So don’t forget to NOT wear your favourite clothes when cherry pitting.  Actually, if you can do it – set up a mini kitchen outside during the summer season.  I do a lot of prep work outside on a table beside my BBQ in the summer.  Also, if you are of age, cherry pitting is also a good excuse to have a beer on the patio before you get to work.  It’s in the name of saving money and reducing your added sugar intake (pitted cherries in pails), right?  Well, you can try convincing people you (or someone else) a beer is a necessary tool in order to bake and cook with cherries.

Don’t drink or know someone who does?  You could always snatch a soda pop bottle instead (but I’m definitely not going to be encouraging more added sugar…).

Happy summer season in Ontario!  Enjoy the harvests, support local farmers, grow your own when you can and get cooking with cherries!  Use my advice on cherry hacks and it won’t be “the pits” anymore!

Posted in Healthy, Home Economics, Kid Friendly, Local, Opinions & Commentaries

My debut “bites” on the radio 

I was asked by a local radio station reporter, KD Grainger, to talk about Nutrition Bites. She caught wind of my Kids Cooking Classes and thought it would be a great thing to chat about. 

I’m not super video savvy yet but I thought I’d try my best at sharing her coverage on my passionate take on cooking. 

First here’s s link to her SoundCloud radio link. Click here to hear Nutrition Bites talking about kids cooking

Then to read the rest of the article follow this link to read X FM & KD Grainger’s report on Nutrition Bites, but cooking doesn’t have to

The video link is good but honestly I not a fan of watching myself. My animated self just needs to relax more I think. So I just need more practice.  Anyone else want to help me with my interviewing skills?

But all jokes aside, I’m happy to see that the first thing she covered: no mandatory home economics in schools anymore. 

And with that being said, why when the government is looking at health strategies they focus on physical activity improvements but don’t want to put student/child nutrition as their responsibility?

I hope Trudeau, who is as young as me and with a family of his own too, will read this blog post. Then hopefully he can make history by bringing back the basics in our education system. And yes, cooking healthy from scratch is a skill that is just as important as math and sex ed. 

I wish the public got more upset to ask their elected officials to do more to teach their kids things that were taken for granted they would learn from their busy parents, and was removed from grade 7 & 8 curriculum by their parents’ generation. 

So perhaps out there, you know someone who could share this and use social media for good. 

Get behind the idea that we are missing the basics yet essential things we are teaching our kids. 

Find out more on the Ontario Home Economics Association Website about how we are keeping it alive for a future generation. 

Posted in Home Economics, Local, On Location, Ontario, Opinions & Commentaries, Recipes, Special Events

I went to a Food Fight and won!

I was invited to participate in the Arts & Cookery Bank’s Food Fight this summer when I poked my head into their amazing heritage and social enterprise site in West Lorne, ON. (See my previous post on the tour I received.)

IMG_0504It was really a push outside my box.  Not the black box that contained the secret ingredients.  The comfort zone I had remained in.  I was asked by Coupons for Hunger to compete in a salsa competition at the Covent Garden Market the previous year.  Being a single mom, I turned down the opportunity. I usually never back down from a challenge, but after a few years of not fitting myself into any specific niche or exact career in food and nutrition, I had less than optimal confidence at the time.   It was a regret I had – I could have taken the girls along (they love these sorts of things!

So, I said yes this time.  I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and when given second chances – TAKE THEM!  Out of my shy box and into the black box I dove!

The experience was a whirlwind.  Days leading up to the anxiety increased: Would my product flop? Would my friend bail on me at the last minute?  Would I embarrass myself in front of the judges including Emily Richards, fellow P.H.Ec.?

But honestly the day came, and I was happy to just do it.  I was conquering my fears of failure and doing what I normally do: give it my best effort and have fun.  It’s not like I was doing brain surgery and someone’s life was at stake!  It was just food. And I love food, cooking and adventures! So what’s the worst that could happen? I was going to get messy and lose.  Ah well, I’ve had worse happen to me. And wasn’t West Lorne far away from London and Niagara – who would know? Except maybe my twitter followers because I tweeted it.  But who really follows me anyways? But if you are looking, you can follow me here 😉IMG_0693

So we got to the place around 6:40pm.  The first of that round of teams to arrive.  We grabbed a few pics to remember our experience.  We waited, and tried to figure out any hints.  We discussed options based on what we knew:

  • It was to focus on local ingredients but give it a new twist
  • It was to be part of the product development for a signature line of preserves for sustainability at the Arts & Cookery Bank (great idea, like YOU in London, ON)
  • It would possibly use what was in season (being near Lake Erie – I thought tomatoes, blueberries, honey)

7 pm came and we were allowed to enter the kitchen.

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But then we walked in, donned our aprons and each team was given a different black box – so no cheating off others’ ideas! We were allowed to use other ingredients around the Cookery Kitchen – onions, garlic, peppers, gooseberries, strawberries, fresh herbs, carrots, tomatoes.

I opened up the box and we had:

  1. Ground Tumeric
  2. Fresh Ginger
  3. Local Honey

I got so excited and my friend was less than impressed.  I used those ingredients all the time, her hardly ever!

We were also told we had to make an edible paste and 4 litres of the product!  What???!!! They told us they didn’t want a jam.  It had to spread using a knife, not a spoon.  Oh my!!!  This threw I think all three teams for a loop.  Oh and did I mention we had 3 hours to complete the entire task – ideas to product completed and in jars!? Glad I’m an energetic person that is a “planner” and very organized.

So we came up with a plan to do roasted peppers and make a chutney-like spread.  We asked the other teams if we could take all the 10-12 peppers in the basket. They were good with that and so away we went.

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Working as a team with a friend was different.  We both cook daily AND teach nutrition and cooking, but have never done it together!  And did I tell you that we are both Italian decent?  (Of course we were louder than the other groups and using our hands a lot more to talk 😉 Don’t pretend you weren’t thinking it! It’s true and we are culturally proud!)  She roasted the peppers on the gas grill and I began the recipe development.  I tried three tiny batches because we had super limited ingredients to make 4 litres – every piece of pepper was worth their weight in gold!  In turn we worked pretty good together, considering we have our own style and personality.

I’m a ginger lover (yes Mr. R. Ginger can attest to that in both ways 😉 ) and my friend is not.  So that meant that I had to reduce the ginger until she was not completely disagreeing with the amounts I added.  Other than that, I reduced the sweetness of honey as well – that natural sweetener really packs a punch!  Tumeric is a very easy spice to use and it’s difficult to really add way too much.  But it does stain everything yellow – so watch your apron, tea towels, finger nails and skin!

We struggled with making 4 litres and added more onions, carrots and gooseberries to the mix at times.  We used an immersion blender to blend some of the chopped roasted peppers to make a spread consistency and left some for a chunky “edible paste” – definitely not the norm.  The other two groups used the standard corn starch thickening method to try get their product to a consistency.  Hats off to the Sweets Bakery ladies who got gooseberries as a main ingredient.  They did make it LOOK good – like a bakery product with a kind of “whipped cream” topping!

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Looking a little exhausted but task completed!


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We didn’t want to change the taste so we committed to having less than 4 litres and keeping the taste better.  My idea for the product jars was to add carrot ribbons to be a part of a garnish of sorts (DYK: a “garnish” technically HAS to be edible) and make it even more visually appealing.  Topped that with parsley leaves and voila, our finished product:

Honey Ginger Roasted Pepper Spread

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We packaged them up and then found three other jars we were supposed to fill!  So we got a spoon out and started robbing Peter to pay Paul.  We made the timeline with a completed EDIBLE product!  Success!

Funny or interesting things that were part of our experience:

  • Blood, sweat and tears were put into this product development: She cut her finger (yes, even veterans do it!), we were sweating buckets and running around a lot, and I had to chop onions and cried a few tears
  • My carrot ribbons were taken as “scrap” and whisked away to be thrown out
  • We had a clean up crew that was fantastic – and now I realize why “chefs” are so lucky – they never clean up after themselves – Professional Home Economists, we do because who else it going to at home?  I was spoiled to get to use endless dishes! A big THANK YOU to those wonderful volunteers!

We had a great time doing it and all our hard work paid off:  we won the business category under my Nutrition Bites Consulting business!  We were not in attendance, but Grace made sure to hold on to our gift bags/prizes.  We received two cookbooks from the judges Jill Wilcox from Jill’s Table in London, ON and Emily Richards new cookbook coming out in the fall.  We also enjoyed Forrat’s chocolates and other kitchen stuff including an awesome heavy duty Foodland Ontario apron as well.  I’m sorry we missed out on the final event that Saturday, including Fresh Air Media’s Andrew Campbell, who is an educated young farmer in the area who is a great public speaker and media host.

The best part of the entire experience: I survived a personal and public challenge and am better for it.  And it had to do with food.  When can things ever go wrong from pushing your limits?  It definitely made me more confident in my abilities, even though deep down I know that I shouldn’t really be that hard on myself.  I learned to have faith in what I know is there, but the world might not know yet.

Hello World, I’m out of the box now and happy to face my next challenge!

The swag, the kitchen, the product and the home ec brains behind the winning product.
The swag, the kitchen, the product and the home ec brains behind the winning product.
Posted in Farm, Fruits, Healthy, Home Economics, Local, On Location, Ontario

Quality Frugal Food Tip: Want “Seconds” or “Thirds” in Fresh Fruit?

On my gourmet Southwestern Ontario trip this past weekend (one day to be a blog post, hopefully soon), we stopped at Delhaven Orchards in Blenheim, Ontario near Lake Erie. We were blessed with a $25 gift certificate, and honestly it was crazy how much fruit we had to buy to spend it!  (Farmers stands and markets are where it’s at for buying fresh produce for cheap!). 

So what did we buy?


An 11-litre peach basket filled with “seconds” apricots (for $12 – no taxes ever on fresh fruit and veggies by the way in Canada) plus a whole bunch of apples, some peaches and plums (they are fully in season in Ontario right now so fill up your baskets and cars!). In comparison, “firsts” apricots were $4 or so for a quart (the average one pound countainer for strawberries).

And what are seconds?
They are the fruit and veggies that don’t look “perfect” in our eyes – smaller, some marks, or even sometimes under-ripe or over-ripe.


There are high standards for canning companies – so usually the biggest ones go to the processing facilities because they can get bigger slices (but then pack it in cans and lots of added sugar and “syrup” – always buy fresh if you can, or packed in water only).  There is usually NOT bugs inside, and they can be SO much cheaper than “firsts”.   Thirds exist too, but many are discarded or in a case like apples – might be made into a cidre or something that uses the fruit or vegetable but it is processed to a point so it doesn’t look physically like the same thing.  It could still be a natural product, just perhaps not the full, whole food/fruit/veggie.

Watch this little video I made:


(Also found on my YouTube Channel)

So don’t forget to look for deals everywhere but don’t judge a fruit just by the outside. Even peaches don’t have to be red to be the sweetest and juiciest. That depends on each variety, just like apples!

So enjoy seconds and thirds just like you would silver or bronze. Working hard for your money doesn’t mean you have to have the gold standard – you might just be paying for looks, not taste or nutrition.

PS – Those eating solely organic know that imperfect and sometimes downright ugly still tastes good. Nature is not always perfect to us, but that’s because how we view things. Literally sometimes.

Posted in Home Economics, Local, On Location, Ontario, Recipes, Special Events

It’s official – I’m a Black Box Food Challenge Winner!

So, a previous post on The Arts & Cookery Bank in West Lorne, ON did tell of the Food Fight Challenge that I was asked to enter.  I’m proud to say that my home ec teacher friend, Tiz, and I won the business category (yes for my Nutrition Bites Consulting business).  I’ll bring you through the whole process and my experience (good and bad – always honest here!) in another post.  But I thought I’d share a picture until I have time to finish my Black Box Experience post.

Our finished product was a Honey Ginger Roasted Pepper Spread.

The swag, the kitchen, the product and the home ec brains behind the winning product.
The swag, the kitchen, the product and the home ec brains behind the winning product.

I believe they are planning this event to be an annual thing – so sign us up for Food Fight 2016!  We have a title to defend!