Friday, September 30, 2011

Aromatic Rice

Please bear with me as I petition for a slot in the Sodastream promotion. I work with a variety of companies to test products and for me that's a fun and inexpensive way to try new foods. This campaign is the first one I have been really interested in that involves an appliance. These are highly competative campaigns and I usually sit back and let everyone else fight over them while I enjoy my sample of breakfast cereal or cleaning product. However, I have big plans for the Sodastream and I wasn't kidding when I say I have wanted one for ages.
Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled program. Tonight, we are making fried tofu with almond sauce. This is the first time we have attempted fried tofu and we have high hopes for it. Lately my husband has been complaining about having rice with dinner. When we were gluten free, rice was served several times a week. Right now we're having pasta several times a week and I want rice. To comprimise, I'm returning to a rice dish that I used to make often. It's an Indian version of rice that gives the dish a slightly sweet, spicy flavor. The rice is cooked with spices so it's still just rice but with flavor. The spices do not add any difficulty to the dish and you can make it just like any rice. The instructions have you soak the rice before hand. This is traditional to the dish but not something I often do since I rarely think about making rice until it's time to cook. Soaking does make a less starchy rice that keeps the grains from sticking.

Aromatic Rice
1 ½ cups dry rice (basmati is the best choice)
2” cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
Wash rice with cold water until it runs clear, cover with water and soak for 30 min. Drain with sieve. Put into thick-sided pot with 2 cups water. Add spices, stir and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce to very low heat, cover and cook 25 min. Remove from heat, let sit 5 min, fluff with fork and remove spice. Serve as normally would.

Make your own soda

I have been drooling over the Sodastream Fountain Jet Soda Maker since I saw it last year at a local outdoor/hardware store (great place to find the coolest items). The cost of the system has left me wanting. It's about $100 and I am just not ready to invest that sort of money. However, recently I reviewed Homemade Soda by Andy Schloss. He shared recipes for making your own sodas, many which could easily be made from carbonated water. This is the same concept for the Sodastream. The device makes carbonated water in a reuseable bottle and then you add syrup. The syrups come in a variety of flavors. Between the two, we could completely give up purchasing soda all together.
I really want one and I have an opportunity to test the Sodastream Fountain Jet Soda Maker. I know this isn't my normal sort of post but I believe that the Sodastream is the new wave in sodas. It's economical, environmentally sound and it's fun.
My best memory of soda comes from a time when Schwann's sold their soda maker (back in the 80's). I loved it and it was fun to make your own soda. That was similar to the Sodastream of today. I don't know why Schwann's stopped with their make your own soda line. I can give my son the same memories.
Please help me convince Bzzagent that I am perfect to test this product. Not only will I review the product itself but I can do a whole series of posts for making your own. I believe that the investment will pay off.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Yeast-free Cinnamon Rolls

This recipe was given to me by a friend. During that time, we were on a yeast free diet but this recipe has remained a favorite due to it's simplicity and the speed in which we get a hot cinnamony treat. The recipe calls for a baking mix. It works fine with any baking mix from gluten free to homemade to Bisquick. We've made it dairy free and with butter instead of the shortening. It's a great recipe that holds up to changes easily.
Omit the frosting and it's a not so sweet afterschool snack. You'll notice I didn't include a frosting recipe but mention it. That's because we rarely eat these with anything else. They are great with extra butter or dunked in cocoa.

Cinnamon Rolls
2 cups baking mix
1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup milk
½ cup melted butter
1 cup sugar and ½ cup cinnamon combined
oven to 450. Grease 9x12 baking pan.
Cut shortening into mix. Add milk to make dough. Roll into ½ inch thick rectangle on a dusted surface. Baste with melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Roll tightly lengthwise into a long roll. Slice 1" thick and place in pan. Bake 12-15 minutes or until done.
If adding icing - do so while still warm so it melts.


Grr - the internet gremlins strike again and ate my original sprouting post.

Getting adequate nutrition is difficult right now. Access to fresh produce is limited, expensive and with all the recalls getting harder and harder each day. Crops haven't been as good and I know my garden has been struggling for the past two years due to the bizarre weather patterns.
I started thinking about using sprouts as a way to add inexpensive greens to our diet. I bought seeds years ago but I couldn't get myself to follow through. For whatever reason, the process intimidated me. I read extensively on the subject to find myself less sure. Finally, one day not that long ago I decided it was time. Learn now or give up the idea.
I was shocked and amazed how easy and inexpensive it all was. Now I bought the seeds from the bulk section of our local Co-op so I have no idea what I spent but I know it was less than $1 for each little package because I wasn't willing to invest much in an experiment.
Items needed - quart sized canning jar, canning ring, 1 new knee-high stocking (less than 50 cents at Walmart for 2), and 1/4 cup of sprouting seeds. I selected alfalfa (with legumes you may need a bigger container). Add the seeds to the jar, cover with water, attach knee high stocking to jar over opening and secure with canning ring. Soak overnight. Drain and then "rinse" seed 2-3 times a day until sprouted to your satisfaction. To rinse, simply fill the jar, swirl around the loose seeds and drain. I kept my jar on the counter near the stove so it wouldn't get forgotten. The jar got minimal sun.
When sprouted, set in fridge and eat. Our 1/4 cup of seeds filled the jar with sprouts. The sprouts can last up to 10 days depending on the variety. If they start to yellow, set in the sun for a little while until green again. Don't let them get too hot or they will spoil.
We've been enjoying the sprouts all week. I keep thinking I need to come up with some recipes but for now we're enjoying them with our meals as they are.
There are many types of seeds out there for sprouting. According to the chart on Sproutpeople, the most nutritious are - Alfalfa, Clover, Lentil, Mung Bean, Pea, Pinto Bean, Radish, Rye, Sunflower, Wheat, and Soy.
They do sell sprout seeds at Sproutpeople but I found better prices at Amazon. Amazon, also, has large bulk seeds for reasonable prices. The highest price I saw per pound was around $30 for broccoli but most seem to be under $10 per pound. This may seem cost-prohibitive but remember 1 pound of seeds will make a really large amount of sprouts since 1/4 cup seems to make about 4 cups of sprouts (perhaps even significantly more since they are tightly compacted).
I do recommend purchasing a small amount of seeds to determine what sprouts you and your family will like best.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Potatoes, Onions and Fennel

I found this recipe in a pizza cookbook from my library. It was a filling for a calzone. I loved the combination. We often omit the fennel and add bacon for added depth. In fact we had this last night for dinner. I love the potatoes with carmalized fried onions. And it's a really inexpensive dish that's rather filling.
Top a pizza crust or stuff a calzone, use for a pie. The options are endless. We ate this as our main dish with slices of cheese and sprouts.
We microwaved the potatoes until they were mostly soft before slicing for frying.

Potatoes, fennel and onions
3 small boiling potatoes, very thinly sliced
2 med onions, halved and very thinly sliced
2 tbs. olive oil
1 teas fennel seeds
1 teas coarse salt
1/4 teas freshly ground pepper
Heat oil in skillet. Fry onions in olive oil. Add potatoes (can pre-cook to make frying easier). Add seasonings. Fry until potatoes are soft.
If using in a baked dish, mix all the ingredients together add to whatever medium and bake.

Websites for vegetarian foods and other topics

I like to collect resources and I love sharing them. There's a lot to be said for a good food resource. I have six I would like to share with you today. Three are vegetarian/vegan sites. I am not a vegetarian. I like meat. I practically live on eggs and cheese. But I can appreciate a good vegetarian dish. I like the complexity of flavors when you take away the meat and cheese. Learning new ways to cook greatly helps the budget. If you stick with the same ole, same ole, you risk not having a balanced diet. More importantly, you risk boredom. With boredom comes poor choices.
I will warn you that many vegetarian sites are politacally motivated. They seek to change food practices. This is not a bad thing but I don't expect everyone to agree with everything posted. Don't get offended but look further into the topic or ignore it all together. Me, I do a combination of the two. I like knowing what's happening in the food world. It affects how I shop but, also, it helps me to plan better. For example, the current Listeria bacteria affecting canteloupe tells me that canteloupe shouldn't be on my shopping list. The canteloupe in the market may be perfectly safe but a massive recall will drive the price up.
So onto the resources
Vegsource is a great resource for all things vegetarian. This will be a great help for those who have friends or family who are vegetarian. It talks all thing political and environmental as well as offers recipes. I will say the recipes require a bit of a search to find (I linked up the site to the best start) but they are there. Check out the recipe for chocolate hummus - man I am so there.
Vegetarian Nutrition is a fairly new website and the content is slow coming but their focus is on nutrition instead of the politics for vegetarians. It's a nice easy website that offers information about food and how to incorporate good nutrition into a vegetarian lifestyle. There are a few recipes but as I said the content is slow coming.
Gone Raw is all recipes and no articles. All the foods are vegan and uncooked (a few dehydrated recipes are included). Raw foods are making a big splash in food trends. The concept is that by not cooking the food you are retaining more nutrients. What I like best is the creativity of the recipes. There are some great snack ideas and awesome desserts. We've played with some recipes. The nice thing is they are naturally gluten-free as well making them a great resource for those with gluten issues. (they are also dairy free)
Stepping away from vegetarian eating, there are three resources that I have found that sound like they could be excellent sources of information.
Fooducate is actually an app for those who have cell phones that can use apps. Scan the barcode of the product you wish to purchase in the store and Fooducate will give you information on that food. They grade foods based on nutrition and additives. Those with low grades come with healthier alternatives. (I don't have a cell phone so this won't work for me).
However, their blog is available to anyone with an internet connection and they have fun recipes.
Shopwell is similar to Fooducate but it's a website program not one for your phone. You register for Shopwell (it's free) and then input information about yourself. You can select from a variety of dietary needs from diabetes to athletic training. Then you choose things you want in your diet such as high calcium, whole grains and things you don't want like preservatives, trans fats, sugar. Then you start "shopping". I put in instant oatmeal for my first attempt. What I got was two pages of varieties of instant oatmeal that came with a color/number code. Products with a red dot and low number did not meet the criteria I set, yellow was okay but not the best, and green meant it fit perfectly. It didn't take long for me to see what the best choices were. This is great when you don't have time at the store to read all the labels. You can "shop" at home and have a perfect list. This doesn't include prices which would make it perfect but it does allow for a better understanding of the foods you want or do not want to include in your diet. One thing you can do is rate what you already buy and see how it fits in the diet you want to have.
Last resource for today is Shelf Life Advice. This site will answer all those questions you have about how long is too long for a food. Most of the time, I don't have a lot of worries because most things are obvious when they go bad but the one thing that freaks me out is mayo. I never feel confident about mayonaise. I will eat frostburnt meat that has been in my freezer longer than my son has been alive but mayo scares me. A quick search and I learned that commercial mayo can still be safe after 4 months open in the fridge or 30 days after the expiration date but that is for better quality. There was no mention that one can die from a long opened jar of store bought mayo which strangely is a relief.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Easy Onion Soup

We're getting to the end of onion season but since they store well the prices will stay moderate through much of the fall. This soup is so simple and tasty. Serve with cheesy toast or a good bread topped with butter.
Use sweet onions to make the soup more appealing to children or hot onions for a spicy winter treat.
I prefer this soup with beef broth. And I saute the sweet onions fairly well to bring out the sweetest flavor possible. Just be careful not to burn the onions.

Easy Onion Soup
2 medium onions per person, chopped
2 Tbs. butter or 1 tbs. olive oil per person
1 1/4 cups liquid per person - wine, beer, stock or varieties
In heavy saucepan, heat the fat and sauté the onions. The colors of the finished soup depends on the carmelization of the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Add the liquid and bring to a boil. Adjust the seasoning and add the thyme. Cover and simmer fiercely for 30-40 minutes. If adding wine or beer to stock, do so 10 minutes before the end.

Vegetarian Meals Once a Week

There's a push to encourage families to eat vegetarian at least once a week. Each group has their own reason why from cost to environment. Eating vegetarian once a week can stretch your budget a little more if done right. The problem is that vegetarian cooking can actually cost more than your average American meat based meal if you start to substitute like for like.
It's very difficult to give up a food you like. Whether your reason is economical, health or any other. When you have to give up a food, you begin to crave it. You want it or something like it. I felt this way when our family went gluten free. We worked hard to include gluten free breads, pastas and other grain based foods into our diet but we were not satisfied. We spend a great deal of money trying to preserve a diet we could no longer eat.
When I started to learn how to change our minds, things improved. There were still meals I wanted and would try to re-create but I found more success in creating new dishes.
The same goes for eating your vegetarian meal of the week. The idea is to find an inexpensive alternate dish not a vegetarian substitute for a favorite meal. For the purpose of stretching the almighty food budget, a good vegetarian meal can help. Meals that use beans or legumes as the focus instead of more expensive meat. I have shared a few since the beginning of this blog and more will likely follow.
Don't get stuck in a rut, try new things and remember that new doesn't have to mean expensive and inexpensive doesn't mean suffering. My family has recently discovered the joy of cooking lentils. So far, they've been without meat.
Brainstorm and see what you can find. Tomorrow I'll share a few vegetarian resources. It's never a bad thing to learn how to cook differently.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Make It From Scratch: Instant Oatmeal

One of the best ways to save money is make from scratch items you would purchase for convienence. It may seem like something that is difficult and perhaps more expensive at times but I assure you it is not.
I have put off making instant oatmeal for many reasons but the truth is making things from scratch can be intimidating. It's really easy just to pick it up from the store and I don't mind the generic versions of instant oatmeal. However, I'm kind of picky about the flavor and I would really like to be able to buy the higher quality versions but if I made my own then I could determine the flavor and what is in it. Homemade is so much better because there are less additives, maybe none. Organic/all natural instant oatmeal is expensive and doesn't always taste that good.
So, was instant oatmeal hard to make? NO! The hardest part was grinding up some oatmeal in my bullet-type blender. The rest of the work was dumping ingredients into a zip-lock bag. How did it taste? The flavor was actually pretty good. I think I'll still play with it but I planned on this when I made it. I made a fairly plan oatmeal with the idea that I could add apple butter or dried bananas at my leisure.
The only "problem" was figuring out how much water to oatmeal and whether or not I should have used less whole oats. My oatmeal this morning was a little on the tough side but I actually liked that. It wasn't the pasty texture of store-bought instant oatmeal. If you like that, then grind up more of the oatmeal.

Instant Oatmeal
4 cups rolled oats, blend 1 cup in blender until a fairly fine powder
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup powdered milk
1/3 cup flax meal (opt)
Mix in large zip-lock bag. 1/3 cup of dry mix makes 1 serving of oatmeal. Add up hot water and serve.
I didn't put the amount of water due to personal preference. The recommended amount is 3/4 cup hot water and I thought that sounded like too much.
This recipe is based on the following single serve recipe I found online but forgot to note where.

1/4 cup rolled oats
2 TB powdered oats
1 teas powdered milk
1 teas sugar
1/8 teas salt
Mix and add 3/4 cup hot water. Serve.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chai Tea and Syrup

Fall in the Palouse means hot days and cold nights. We sit each day watching the forecast searching for signs of the first frost. We got close last week but this week our nights are back in the 50's. It's not winter cold yet but still creates a desire for hot drinks and hearty desserts. One I love to indulge in during the cold months is Chai. It's not unusual for me to put a pot on in the morning and leave it throughout the day, adding water and milk as necessary (perhaps a little more sugar).
Chai is a spicy Indian drink that has become quite popular in the United States. Nearly every coffee shop sells some variety of chai but more often than not, it's a boxed concentrate added to hot milk. It's still tasty but no match for the fresh brewed variety. If you really like the boxed variety - don't fear. I'm going to give you my Chai Syrup recipe. This syrup stores beautifully in a canning jar (waterbath 10-15 minutes). Then in the fridge for quite awhile, depending on how fast you drink it. It can easily be added to milk, hot or cold, for a quick chai drink.
The ingredients may seem pricey. I purchase my dried herbs and spices through San Francisco Herb. What I get in return is a large quantity for a lot less money than the stores. I get my ginger in the glass jars in the produce section of the grocery (double check to make sure it's nothing but ginger) or Ginger People's ginger juice (it comes in a tabasco-type bottle and it for cooking not drinking). Either product last a long time.

Chai Tea
½ cup milk plus more to taste
3-inch stick cinnamon
½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced or 1 teas grated ginger (found in produce section of store)
2 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
¼ teas black peppercorns
4 teas sugar and more to taste
4 tea bags
*Note - do not use powdered ginger, amount of spices are approximate can add more or less depending on taste
In large saucepan combine 5 cups of water, milk, spices and sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let set for 5-10 minutes. Add tea bags and bring to boil for a second time. Reduce heat to low and let simmer 5 minutes. Check for flavor and add more sugar and milk if needed. Can strain and serve at that time or leave on slow simmer and drink on all day, straining tea into cups - be sure not to let all the water evaporate.

Chai Syrup
8 cups water
1 cup honey or 2 cups sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
12 cardamon pods
12 whole cloves
12 peppercorns
6 tsp black leaf tea
put ingredients in pot and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add to water or milk.

Dehydrating the harvest

Most produce can easily be dehydrated with little preparation. I do even less preparation than is often recommended because I'm kind of lazy (okay maybe it's more about being busy but still). Some foods brown when they come in contact with the air and it is recommended that you soak them in lemon juice to prevent the color change. This creates a prettier end product with a slight lemon tinge. I don't like the lemon tinge. If I eat a dried banana, I want to just taste banana. So my fruit doesn't always look pretty. It's not pretty when I mash it up between my teeth either so what do I care.
You don't have to buy a dehydrator to dehydrate foods. I like the convienence of a dehydrator but I've also had mine for nearly 15 years. They do get pricey but mine was a bottom of the line, not fancy sort of machine that has given me nothing but pleasure. The only disadvantage to my dehydrator is that it is round with a hole in the center for air circulation. For most things, the shape doesn't cause a problem but won't work for long strips of vegetable or meat.
My mother found her monster of a dehydrator at a garage sale. It has long metal screens that remind me of window screens for drying the food (compared to my plastic grids). The advatages she has is there is no problem getting her harvest on the screens, the openings are really small so no falling berries (my elderberries did a lot of escaping) but the sheer size of the dehydrator is a pain.
I share these things because it will make a difference when you go to purchase your own. It's not enough to look at the features of a product but how and where you will store and use it makes a difference we don't often think of.
As I said, you don't have to have a dehydrator. You can dry in the oven or in the sun. Alton Brown has an awesome way to make jerky using a box fan and several paper filters (the sort you use in a furnace). It's my plan to try his method someday. I believe paper filters are rather inexpensive at Walmart.
I have seen many books on drying foods. These are great for learning, especially if you are not using a dehydrator. My dehydrator has settings for each type of food and I run it until the food is really dry. If there is any concern, I throw the food in a freezer bag and freeze it. It may seem counter-productive but freezing dried fruit takes up a lot less space than the whole fruit.
WSU has a good beginner site and your local library should have plenty of books. For creative dehydrating recipes, check out raw food books and sites. One site that was recommended to me was Gone Raw.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cinnamon Apple Cake

When Food Now! send out their cake recipe newsletter last week, I knew this recipe was the one for me. I still have a gallon bag of wild applesauce in my refrigerator that desperately needs to be used before it goes bad. This recipe called for sliced apples but I replaced it with applesauce (2 cup vs the 3 1/2 cups of apples). I, also, substituted oil for the butter in the cake and dried elderberries for the cranberries. My only complaint is that I should have cut back the amount of elderberries since they are significantly smaller than the cranberries. But what we got was a wonderful cake that we got to snack on warm just before bed (how awesome is that). My husband liked it so much, he ate another piece before washing the plate.

Cinnamon-Apple CakeBy: Lisa Saltzman
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 Fuji or Braeburn apples (1 lb.), peeled, chopped (3 1/2 cups)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or orange juice
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Heat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour 10-cup Bundt or tube pan.

2. Whisk melted butter, sugar and brown sugar in large bowl; whisk in eggs. Whisk flour, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt in medium bowl; gently stir into butter mixture. Fold in apples, walnuts and cranberries. (Batter will be stiff.) Spoon into pan.

3. Bake 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack 15 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.*

4. Meanwhile, beat 1/2 cup butter and powdered sugar in medium bowl at medium-high speed 2 to 3 minutes or until well-blended. Add all remaining sauce ingredients; beat 1 minute or until smooth. Serve at room temperature. (Sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

TIP *To warm cake, cover loosely with foil. Bake at 300°F. for 15 to 20 minutes.

Freezer Expirations

This information comes from the October 2011 issue of Taste of Home Magazine.

As I said yesterday, I never thought of things in the freezer as having an expiration date. The freezer was always a place I tucked things away for a better day or to extend the life of whatever I was freezing. For years, I tucked away things that I never got back to. My husband became the mean man who actually threw away my frozen shriveled treasures that I was sure I would come back to some day.
This list of expiration dates is going to become my new guideline for things in my freezer. The plan is to use up the old zucchini, rhubarb and other produce that I have stashed away over the next couple of months. After that, I will only freeze what I can use in a reasonable amount of time. The meat I freeze will be for each month but with the notion that they will not sit there for more than 60 days (except bacon and you'll see why in just a moment). Using up what I have doesn't always feel like a good strategy. I grew up learning that storage was the way to go. You bought in bulk and then over stacked your pantry, freezer and what ever nooks and crannies you could find. My grandmother was the expert in this. When she moved from Washington to Arizona, she left behind a house full of food. There was enough to feed our entire community of 350 people for several meals (no exaggeration). Most of the food was bad, we gave away five gallon drums of various grains and dried foods to a pig farmer because it was all stale (and unappetising).
That food was a wasted expense and that's not what we want. It may seem counter-productive to not have a huge food store but it guarantees the food isn't wasted. That doesn't mean not having a food storage for emergencies, it just means re-thinking. I promise to go more into emergency food stores at a later date (trust me, I dream of having the money to invest in a huge food store).
Back to the topic at hand: freezer expiration dates

Here is the list - the numbers represent the number of maximum months the food can be stored in the freezer. You'll see this is not an exhaustive list, for more information there are a number of freezer websites out there (and don't hesitate to check with your local extension office).

Cooked Casseroles with Meat 2-3
Cooked Soups and Stews 2-3
Raw Bacon 1
Raw Steak 6-12
Raw Pork Chops 4-6
Raw Hamburger 4
Cooked, plain chicken breast 4
Raw Chicken Pieces 9
Whole Chicken or Turkey 12
Cooked Fish 4-6
Cooked Shrimp 3
Ice Cream 2
Cheese, hard or soft 6
Butter 6-9
Frozen Veggies 8
Baked Pie 1-2
Cheesecake 2-3
Baked Quick Bread 2-3
Yeast Bread or Rolls 3-6
Baked Cookies 8-12

Hope that helps make your freezer storage more efficient. Coming next - how to use up some of those frozen items in my freezer. If you have excess frozen goods - let me know so I can come up with some ideas for you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


With the weather changing, I'm starting to crave hearty soups to fight back the growing chill. Gumbo is a great soup and it makes a lot so you can feed everyone. Now the ingredients are extensive and can seem pricey. What I love about Gumbo is that it's really a stone soup sort of dish in that you can throw in just about anything. I always use this recipe as more of a guide than a recipe so I know kind of what could go in the pot. Often I make it with shrimp and sausages. Gumbo File is a "spice" of sorts that helps thicken the soup and give it a distinct flavor. I, almost, prefer my gumbo without it. With Okra - feel free to use frozen which I almost always do.

6 oz unsalted butter
4 TB cornstarch
4 oz onions, diced
3 cloves garlic
4 oz green pepper, diced
½ LB celery, chopped
1 LB okra
1 lb. tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 teas oregano or marjoram
1-2 bay leaves
2 stock cubes in water
1 teas nutmeg
1-2 tbs. gumbo file
1 lb. uncooked prawns
4 sm. crayfish or crab claws
4 cooked/smoked chicken wings
½ lb. ham or sausage
2 lb. rice, cooked
In large saucepan melt butter, mix with cornstarch, stir well, and heat 5-10 min until light brown. Add onions, garlic, pepper, celery, and okra fry ten min. Add tomatoes and prawns, cook for 5-10 min on low heat. Take care not to burn. Add fish, chicken, oregano, bay leaves and stock. Cook for about 20 min. Add ham and nutmeg. Stir well, cover and simmer for another 20 min. Mix the file with an equal amount of warm water and a small amount of sauce. Add to sauce, stir well. To serve, scoop rice into bowl, arrange meat around rice, top with sauce.

Freezing as preservation

There are a variety of products out on the market to improve freezing conditions. Years ago, I succombed and acquired several products (well actually purchased one and got the other two free as part of a special promotion). I bought a Foodsaver Vacuum sealer. I have nothing against the product itself but it wasn't worth the expense. There are some problems with the way I wanted to use the product. I tried to seal zucchini but what it vacuumed out was a lot of moisture making a huge mess and leaving the bags not as I wanted them. I was able to finish storing the zucchini but it wasn't great. I did love the ability to vacuum seal rice krispie treats and granola bars but they aren't something I store a really long time. The Foodsaver system is really pricey and not worth the expense.
The other two systems were from Ziplock - one a battery operated vacuum sealer and the other a hand system that resembled a tire pump. Both required expensive bags that are difficult to find in stores.
In the end, I discovered that investing in freezer bags of a variety of sizes did everything I wanted and was a more reasonable expense. I buy freezer bags in quart and gallon sizes. I fill them carefully and work to remove all the air on my own. I, also, strive to use the products in a reasonable amount of time. Freezing feels like a long term solution but foods do go bad in the freezer. We rarely throw out anything from the freezer but we've eaten things that were not as good as they should have been.
Taste of Home Magazine sent me a free magazine "sample" this month and it was filled with tips for freezing foods. Most of the tips were not unknown but they did include a time line for using up foods in the freezer. I planned on sharing but I left the magazine at home so I'll share that tomorrow. What surprised me was how short those time spans were. Only 1, if I remember correctly, was a year. Most were less than six months. I can tell you that I have things in my freezer that have moved with me and we've lived in our apartment for over two years. Time to really use up those products (might explain why my zucchini muffins were so dry).
I follow a blog that encourages freezing foods so that you can enjoy a dish more than once while cooking once. As much as that sounds like a great plan, it doesn't work for everyone and it doesn't work for me. I barely acknowledge my freezer in my cooking plans. I forget what's in there (hense the kitchen inventory) but more because frozen foods do not appeal to me except frozen vegetables and bananas. I don't mind freezing my meat but I have to know how quickly I can thaw it without using the microwave since I'm terrible at pre-planning (which I am getting better at). This explains my obsession with pasta because I barely have to think about it.
If freezing meals works for you, it can be a great way to save money and time. It often doesn't cost much more to double a recipe, depending on the ingredients and pre-baking goods and freezing them can save waste as well as offer your family a quick and easy breakfast or snack. Check out Once a Month Mom for more tips and recipes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Navajo Fry Bread

I can't explain why but the last couple of months all I have craved is fry bread. I keep looking for someone to make me some. I, finally, talked my husband into making me some only to find the recipe is so easy, I can have it every day (and I should!)
I'm sharing two variations that I have in my recipe files. We've tried the first one which is so easy that I don't know why I kept the second. Make sure your dough is not overly sticky otherwise you'll never get it rolled out. We cut our dough into squares but you can pat it into tortillas and fry. We used about 1/2 inch of oil in our frying pan for our small pieces which worked perfectly. Watch them because they do burn.

Navajo Fry Bread
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup lukewarm water
Stir with fingers until dough consistency. Roll out 1/4 inch thick and cut into squares. Fry until puffy and golden on both sides. Drain on paper towel. Serve hot with honey, jam, yogurt, gravy etc.

Navajo Fry Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup hot water
Oil for deep-fat frying
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir in hot water to form a soft dough. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a 6-in. circle. In a skillet, heat 1 in. of oil to 375°. Fry bread in hot oil for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown; drain on paper towels. Yield: 2 servings

Preserving the harvest

It's not enough to get a lot of food for a low cost, there needs to be a way of extending it's use. Now I have posted about canning. I will saying canning is one of my favorite ways to preserve food but I'm not a real creative canner nor a real adventurous one. I'm working on it but I stick to just a few types of canned products - pickles and jams being the big ones. I make a lot of pickled foods. They last forever and were amongst the first ways people preserved their harvest. However, I'm not really good at using up those pickled products. My son hates pickles - I have never known a child who hated pickles before. He doesn't mind pickled beets but most everything else is not going to be eaten by him. So I have a pantry with a variety of pickled foods that will be buried with me.
The same goes for jams and jellies. I make a ton because it's easy and rather fun. I give it away by the gallons. Works wonderfully for gifts but it's not doing a lot for my family. I used to cook with jams and jellies but I get out of the habit. I eat my share of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches .
I share this with you because you may come across the same problem. I have a case of applesauce I canned last year. That's food we acquired but didn't eat - it's no better than food I bought and threw away.
I'm not against canning, not by any stretch but I want to caution against the endless pantry. Part of my goals for this winter is to come up with creative ways to actually use the items in our pantry and that we gather so it's actually providing for us.
Another way I preserve my harvest is by freezing. I have a horrible freezer habit - more of an out of sight, out of mind. I had a deep chest freezer that wasn't all that large but I lost so much in the bottom of it. I have finally gotten rid of that extra freezer space but now the freezer above my fridge is packed full (no more ice cream for us). I had to actually stop myself from freezing stuff. I was one of those great freezer bag users - I froze extra bits of bread and fat for future use that never came. It's a bad habit I have - it's like I'm almost squirrling food away but I don't use it.
My favorite way to store food is dehydrating. It's so easy and can make such tasty snacks. I hate to admit, we're not so good as using up the dehydrated stuff either.
The more I write this the worse it sounds. Can you relate? Are you one who stores for a future that never comes. I will continue to use these methods but I have to do so with a plan in mind. Currently, we freeze meat in meal oriented freezer bags. I keep them in the front of the freezer so they are used up each month. It may seem counter-intuative to use what you have and not have much carry-over month to month but the truth is if you don't use it, you won't. There are some things I keep for sporadic use such as special flavorings or flours. However, nothing lasts forever and if my food goes bad then it was a waste to buy it in the first place.
My original plan with this post was to talk about the techniques for preserving and I will some day in the future come back to this but I think it's more important to think about what is already stored before adding to it. Only replace that which is almost gone (or already gone) this year and work to use up everything else.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Crabapple Butter

I often turn my apples into applesauce but then I don't do much with it after that. I can't explain why but it happens (changing soon, I hope) so I decided I needed something else. I decided it would be a good time to learn to make apple butter. The result was a thick, creamy substance that has replaced butter on our morning English Muffins and makes us anxious to learn to make our own instant oatmeal to throw a dollup into. Using apple butter in place of butter on our morning toasted bread helps stretch our butter through the month and is lower in calories (and so much better for us). The sweetness of your apples will determine the amount of sugar. Our apples were a little on the bitter side so I used the whole six cups. Because my applesauce was so thick, all I had to do was heat the entire pot up to a boil and it was done (it did mean it wasn't as hot for the canning so I had to boil my jars starting in cooler water).

Wash apples to remove any dirt or grime. Cut away any questionable spots (don't worry about stems, seeds or worms). Dump into a large pot with about 1-2 inches of water on the bottom to prevent scorching. Put on a lid. If you have a whole day, then heat slowly on medium heat until the apples are really soft. If you have less time, bring water to a boil on a higher heat then reduce to medium and let simmer until the apples are soft. Press the apples through a food mill or small hole colander. (I have a funnel shaped food mill with a pestle that was inexpensive and so useful). You now have applesauce.

Apple Butter
12 cups apple sauce
3-6 cups sugar
1 1/2 teas cinnamon
1/2 teas gd cloves
Dump all the ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Once boiling, stir constantly until the butter is thick enough to stick to the spoon. Ladle into hot canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace (I think 1/2 inch would be better because every one of my jars bubbled over during the waterbath). Boil for 10 minutes in a waterbath.


Foraging is a great and inexpensive way to add to your food budget. Note that I did not say it was free. While the actual food is free, there is some cost involved in driving to where the food is and having equipment to forage. For me, my equipment is a plastic bucket leftover from a gallon of ice cream. I share rides and other equipment such as clippers and gloves. What you need will relate to what you can forage.
Time is another expense that you add to foraging but I justify much of my foraging as entertainment. We drive out to beautiful places as a family and with friends, what more fun can you ask for. Sometimes foraging is not as successful as other times.
What exactly is foraging? It's collecting edible vegetation, basically. This past week or so, we have foraged for crabapples, elderberries and mushrooms. Our mushrooms were the least successful but still got us 8 that I will dry for future use.
Foraging often coincides with preservation. I can, dry or freeze the foods we forage.
It's not hard to learn to forage but some individual foods can be difficult. When it comes to berries and mushrooms - you must only pick what you absolutely know. There are a large variety out there and many are poisonous.
If you are uncertain what you can forage in your area, do a quick internet search. There are many foraging websites out there and many are area specific. They may not tell you where you can find the plants but they will tell you what's available. Plants on public lands are open for foraging, private lands you will want to get permission.
Don't hesitate to join a group or take a class if you really want to learn about foraging. It is an expense but as I said I justify our foraging expenses as entertainment. We do fishing and foraging vacations. I go to mushroom forays (groups that go searching for mushrooms together) - so far they have not cost me anything and I have learned about 2 mushrooms we can pick (there are more but so far I know 2).
Ask questions. If you find a group but can't afford to join or take a class, ask them if they know of someone who would be willing to help you. Look for online groups. Mary Janes Farm has foraging discussions and tons of friendly ladies who are always helpful.
I know this is not a long detailed post on foraging and that's because a new project is in the works to teach people to forage and fish (and whatnot) and as soon as that is up and running I will share.
Please ask me questions if you have some. Here in the Palouse during this month of September there are blackberries, crabapples (so many crabapples), elderberries, chestnuts, and pears. Mushrooms are just starting but it's been on the dry side so watch for more rain to bring out more mushrooms. I hear there might still be peaches as well due to the late summer. We found a few thimbleberries as well but not enough to call it foraging (more like taste testing).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Zucchini Muffins

This final zucchini muffin recipe is the actual recipe from The Zucchini Cookbook by Paula Simmons. This, too, was a bit on the dry side. However, the book is from 1975 so I'm sure we've changed how we like our muffins over the last thirty something years. This is a sort of struesel muffin (that's what it became called as everyone was determining which muffin was which) with a cinnamon sugar top. I will warn you that the muffins will go bad after a few days if left on the counter.

Zucchini Muffins
2 cups flour
2 teas baking powder
3 TB sugar
1/8 teas ground mace, opt
2 TB butter or margarine
1 cup zucchini, finely grated
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teas cinnamon
1 TB sugar
Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and mace. Cut in butter with a fork. Add zucchini, mix. Add egg beaten lightly with milk. Spoon into greased muffin tins. Mix cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle on top of muffins. Bake at 400 for approximately 20 minutes.

Creating a food support system

If I had to share one thing to lower your food costs, I would say a really good support system. This can be friends, family, facebook contacts, whatever but they should be local to your area.
My support system helps me in two ways - we share meals and we share information.

Sharing meals: Our meal sharing began several years ago when my mother decided we needed to have family meals. These meals were open to any family member or close friend. Each Sunday, one person would be responsible for preparing a main dish and everyone else would supply side dishes. It created a bonding moment for family member but also relieve the stress of having to prepare an entire meal on your own. When we moved away from my mom, we continued that tradition with family members who were close to where we currently live. We have extended it to Friday night movie night when we make a less formal meal.
The benefit of sharing meals is that you can stretch the cost of meal amongst other people and still have a great meal. We discuss what the main dish will be so that other's can plan their sides. Some weeks we have themes just to liven it up.
I have heard cases where several families get together and share meals on a daily basis. As nice as that sounds, I can't imagine having most of my dinners away from home. I like having my time at home so I can eat dinner in my pj's if I so desire. But if that works for you - build up to it. Start with once a week and see where that goes.

Sharing information: The one thing we, as humans, can't seem to grasp is that we can't be everywhere or know everything. We try but not successfully. However, one way to feel like that is to have a network of people who will be your eyes and ears. It's not uncommon for me to call friends/family and tell them about this great deal I saw at the store. They do the same for me. This network let me know that corn was on sale for .05 an ear earlier this week at a store I don't normally shop at. It was this network that introduced me to Bountiful Baskets. These are resources I wouldn't have discovered on my own but now I can pass them on. We, also, use facebook to share information.
I use this network for foraging. We teach each other where there are places to pick fruit or fish to extend our food budget (more on that coming soon).

The other thing I use my network for is sharing of overstock foods. Sometimes when we can a food we end up with so much that we couldn't possibly store it all, let alone eat it. That's when we share. Sometimes we get great harvests from our garden or foraging that it would be a waste not to share. We, also, swap recipes to use our harvests. Having a strong network of like minded foodies is one of the best resources you can have. Don't have a network - start building one. Start with close friends and family. Let them know when you find a deal, they'll think of you next time they find a deal. Food is a popular topic - let it come up and then make comments like "I wish I knew where I could find the best deal on..." or "I would really love to eat more ... but it's out of my budget." If anyone knows of a great deal, they'll share (or however they get the food).
For me, I'm always looking for creative ways to stretch the budget and I share. I'm not too proud to share my blackberry picking spot or to ask someone where they find huckleberries or mushrooms. I won't learn if I don't ask. I hear that many foragers are hesitant to share where they forage - more often than not those are individuals who forage for profit. Those who forage for themselves are more than willing to share, more often than not. (oops - I will probably repeat all that when I talk about foraging next week).

Last bit of advice for today - don't hesitate to ask for help! Everyone eats and most people cook. We all come across problems or issues when it comes to preparing inexpensive food for our families. Whether it's the kids not liking what's for dinner or not being able to provide enough fresh vegetables, someone you know has a solution or an idea to help.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Coconut Zucchini Muffins

I love coconut flour. It's a bit pricey but always takes me a long time to go through a bag since I use it sparingly. I don't substitute all the flour in a recipe for coconut flour even though I hear you can. It's a high fiber flour and can cause some upset stomachs if not used to it. I like the subtle coconut flavor, however you can add more flavor by adding shredded coconut to the muffin. Remember to add extra moisture. These still were a bit dry so I'll be trying them with a little applesauce next time.

Coconut Zucchini Muffins
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 TB baking powder
3 TB sugar
2 TB oil
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1 teas vanilla
Mix together dry ingredients. Blend in oil and egg. Drizzle in milk and vanilla, stir until completely wet. Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Grocery Shopping 3: Heading to the store

It's not uncommon for people to suggest shopping at multiple stores to get the best deals. For me, it's like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Yes, I can go to the four grocery stores in my area, get the best deals for each item and spend $10 on gas doing it. For some of my friends they spend more than that in gas attempting to get better prices. With gas at just under $4 a gallon, does that really make sense? One friend justified it by saying they got food stamps so it wasn't the same budget. I wanted to ask where they could have used the extra money if they hadn't spent so much on gas but I didn't.
Yes, I get food stamps and that makes up the bulk of my budget but after bills and gas, I get to use the leftover money for more groceries. Sometimes there isn't any but I would rather fuel my family than my car.
I pick the best store for my needs for the month. Lately, that has meant a discount grocery store that is the furthest away from my home. Because I only go once a month and I save a great deal, I do my shopping there. However, I don't buy much in the way of produce or meat there (discount groceries often have poor quality produce and horrible meat prices to make up for the discounts in the rest of the store).
I go into the store with my list, my kitchen inventory and a calculator. My kitchen inventory is on a clipboard with a pen so I have a good writing surface. As I pick up items, I write the price on my list next to the name of the item. I do this for two reasons - 1. I like to keep track of the prices on my KI so having the prices on my list makes going through the list easier. and 2. if I find the same item for less somewhere else in the store I have the amount so I can change it in my calculator.
As I shop, I add the prices in my calculator. This keeps me from estimating how much I am spending (which only works part of the time). I can keep a accurate record of the expenses so that I don't get to the checkout and find I have overspent.
I walk into the store with a budget in mind. My goal is often less than what I have available to spend so I can keep some extra for later in the month. It doesn't always happen because I can't always guess how the prices will change from month to month. However, by aiming for lower than my budget I can almost guarantee I won't go over my budget.
For me, it's not enough to just have an overall budget. I, also, give myself budgets for certain items. The store closest to my home has a deal of 5 packages of meat for $20. Because I know that I can get meat for that price, that becomes my meat budget. I can not spend more than $20 on meat. But that's still not enough of a budget for me. If I spent $20 on meat without considering how that would impact meals then I could end up with only a meal or two so I challenge myself more - No more than $2 a meal for meat. That allows me to get higher quality meats if I desire without overly impacting my budget. Now $2 a meal budget doesn't mean I buy hot dogs and canned tuna to keep my budget down (even though we occasionally buy those as well). What it means is that I have to come up with a way of stretching the meat so that I am only spending $2 or less per meal (I like to challenge myself even lower but that doesn't happen easily).
We like bacon, it's something we add to a meal as the meat - it's not the meal its self. Bacon runs about $2.50 for a package. I can take a package and make two meals out of it. Lately, the meat department has offered bacon that runs $2.29 a pound for thick slices that look really nice. In this case, I break up the package into freezer bags with six slices each. This past month, I spent just over $7 for the package and broke it up into 7 bags giving us 7 meals at just over $1 a meal.
I found chicken thighs for .98 a pound. The one thing I don't like about bone in chicken is that it becomes very difficult to stretch it. When I can buy them, I prefer the boneless skinless chicken parts because I can easily cut them up and toss them into whatever dish. Bone-in parts almost always become part of the meal, vegetable, starch menu. However, for the price it wasn't two bad. I spent between $4-5 for each package (bought 2) and broke them into about 8 meals with a two having extra parts for a lunch. With bone-in thighs I give everyone 1 piece. Cooking more than that will guarantee that they eat more than that so I don't cook anything more than 1 extra piece for lunch (I'm the only one who takes a lunch since my son eats at school and hubby eats at home).
I keep things flexible when I shop. I keep my mind open to deals I can't pass up. In August, hotdogs were .68 a package. We don't eat hotdogs often and I feel like they are a good quick fix and they freeze really well. I picked up two even though they weren't on the list. It did mean making sure that I had enough for everything on the list. I, also, don't always walk out with everything on my list. I like crushed ginger in the glass jars but if I'm going to pay $3 I want it to be all ginger not ginger with oil and high fructose corn syrup (I didn't even realize you could buy it that way). Not getting the ginger meant money for the hotdogs.
Be aware that prices change. Something that was a great deal last month may not be as great of a deal this month which is where having the prices on your KI comes in handy. Shopping can easily be stressful and crowded stores open us up to mistakes. Take your time, go when it's not so crowded and don't have it part of a busy day. I, always, make a shopping day when nothing else is planned (atleast for me). I want to be able to take my time through the store and have time at home to put the groceries away and update my KI. I can't do that if I only have a limited amount of time. I've gone grocery shopping in the middle of the night just so I can have enough time (thankfully all our stores are now 24 hours).
Hope that helps. Tomorrow I will talk about developing a food support system and how that can benefit you more than any other technique.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins

I wanted a muffin with zucchini that reminded me of the chocolate chocolate chip muffins from Costco. These weren't them but they were still rather tasty. I will admit they were a little dry so perhaps some applesauce in the mix will help later. I adapted the recipe from The Zucchini Cookbook by Paula Simmons for Zucchini Muffins.
I used frozen grated zucchini - if you use frozen as well, let thaw just enough to make it measureable but not enough so that it's soupy.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins
2 cups flour (I used 1 1/2 cups AP flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour with 2 TB flax meal)
1 TB baking powder
4 TB cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
2 TB butter or margarine, soft
1 cup finely chopped zucchini
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix in butter until resembles really dry crumbs (it won't all combine which is okay). Add zucchini and mix some to break up zucchini into the flour. Add egg and mix well. Drizzle in milk and mix. Stir in chocolate chips.
Spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Grocery Shopping 2: Let the Negotiations Begin

The next step in the preparation for grocery shopping is to negotiate the list. For me, that means asking my family what they want. This is like any business negotiation. I have them bring to the "table" five meals and five items that they want. This gives them a voice in the shopping and a chance to help plan some of the meals. If they give me five meals each - that's ten meals that have been planned with little hassle. I don't mean that they have to plan the entire meal - more just give me entrees. Have they been craving mac and cheese? Do they really miss having stroganoff? Would they kill for the summer's last watermelon?
More importantly, it gives them some feeling of control. When the budget is tight, meals can get boring fast - pots of soups, beans or days of the same meals over and over again because you can make a huge batch for so little cost. That may feel like a solution but it's not a good long term solution. What we are looking for is a long term solution. You don't have to skimp always and I will talk about splurging and when and why I do it at a later date. If you have a good basis then when the money is less tight you can stick to your plan but add to it.
Yesterday I talked about meal planning some. When planning for a month of meals, plan for back-ups. You may envision making amazing time consuming dishes because they are the least expensive and you have the time. Except life happens, these are the times when it's far too easy to order a pizza or slip off to McDonalds because you can't think about what to make for dinner. You have to plan for back-ups. For us, pasta is a back-up plan. When we can't think what to make for dinner we have spaghetti - sometimes marinara and sometimes carbonara. Sometimes I make fried rice or bean burritos. This is easy because we always have the ingredients in our pantry (and I know they are there because they are listed on my Kitchen Inventory).
What happens when what your family wants doesn't meet your budget? I never say "no", I say "what can I make to substitute?". My husband loves soda. It's not in the budget and it's not really healthy so I can't justify buying him soda. Last month was his birthday so he used the Walmart gift card from his family to buy his soda but there's no windfall this month. We talked and decided that Kool-aid would be a good substitute. I made sure to add Kool-aid (.10 each) and extra sugar ($5 and change for 10 pds) to the list. Now the price of the sugar is a little steep but it allows me to make more than just Kool-aid. As we go into winter, we're going to want more baked goods. It cuts a little from my shopping this month but I can make up for it next month.
My son loves milk. Right now we're doing powdered milk but I always by a fresh gallon during my shopping trip. I got to thinking about the previous month and shortfalls. A two pound brick of cheese didn't last the whole month. We were given a brick of cheese from my dad but it's Velvetta-like cheese and my son hates it. I use the cheese in sauces and he doesn't mind but he's commented on more than one occasion that he really wanted real cheese. So I went to him - what would you prefer a gallon of milk or an extra brick of cheese? Now - it's more for the cheese than the milk but the cheese would last longer so I felt it was a good trade off. He thought for a minute and said he would prefer extra cheese to the fresh milk.
After talking with my family, I make my list. It's never a very long list because the goal is to cut down the shopping cost. I look for things that can be stretched over several meals, like the cheese.
Now as I head to the store, I don't keep my list rigid. I allow for other negotiations to occur. I may have hamburger on my list but, at the store, find that it's far more expensive than my budget allows for. At that time, I have to have a back-up plan. Can I alter the menu ideas using less expensive ingredients or is there something else I can drop to make up for the extra expense?
Tomorrow, I'll talk about what to do when you actually make it to the store that will help maintain your budget and your plan.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Easy Breadmachine Bread Recipe

I couldn't believe how easy this was and how nicely we ended up with a loaf of bread. The only problem I ran into was that I wasn't patient when it came to cutting the loaf. I should have waited for it to cool before cutting. Hot bread is great for eating with butter - not so great for slicing for sandwiches (we ended up eating open face sandwiches because the bread was so thick).
We have a borrowed breadmaker from my cousin so I wasn't quite sure how it was going to work. The recipe was a little small for the maker and ended up cooking the crust darker than I would have liked. However, that is adjustable so I will make sure to cook the bread on a lighter setting. I thought about altering the recipe to make a bigger loaf but I think the size was perfect for my family - remember homemade bread does not have the same preservatives as store bought bread and will go bad faster (that is if you don't devour it while it's still hot). Feel free to substitute the honey for sugar but do not leave it out (the yeast needs sugar to make the bread rise). You can split the AP flour with some wheat but it won't be the same bread and you may need to alter the liquid. I'm gonna try it with Whole White Wheat and see if it comes out without too much trouble.

Sandwich Bread
1 cup warm water (should feel comfortable to the touch, not too hot)
2 TB oil or melted butter
2 TB honey
3 cups AP or Bread Flour
2 1/4 teas yeast (or one packet)

Staring with the water, layer the ingredients into the canister of a breadmaker. Set on white bread and let run. In about 3 1/2 - 4 hours (depending on maker) you'll have a loaf of bread. Remove from maker and tip canister upside down on clean counter or plate to remove bread. Let cool before slicing.

Grocery Shopping 1: The Plan

Having a grocery shopping plan is not the same as having a list. A list helps but there needs to be more if you are going to keep your shopping with-in your budget.
One tool I have been using is my Kitchen Inventory. Quick recap from the post about that - KI is an excel spreadsheet broken into areas in my kitchen and food groups that gives me a fairly accurate account of what I have or do not have stored, along with the last price I spent. I made a mistake this past month in not printing the KI after I had inputted prices. I had taken the document with me as I shopped but I didn't have the prices to compare (and was shocked at how drastically some changed). That won't happen again since I am finally understanding how best to use this.
What the KI does, aside from price comparison, is tells me what we use and gives me ideas how to combine new items with the old to make a meal. For example, staples - tortillas, cheese; ingredients at home - diced chiles, green salsa. If I buy a can of refried beans, we could have bean burritoes or I can buy some meat and make tacos or different burritoes. There's no second guessing about what we have and what we don't have.
I mentioned that tortillas and cheese are staples. Using the KI, I can determine what foods are necessary in my family and what we don't use as fast as I thought and what we don't really use at all. I make notes on my KI so I know when we didn't like something or a brand. That will save me money because I am not buying something we won't use.
For us - staples are pasta, tortillas, cheese, flour, sugar, eggs, peanut butter, Nucoa, rice, yeast and garlic. With those items in our house, we will always have something to eat. They are also what I replace before I replace anything else.

Then I plan meals - I don't do a hard plan like: 1st Roast chicken with mashed potatoes, green beans; 2nd meatloaf, green salad; etc. I take what I know we like and think of additional meals we might like to have. We love pasta so I plan for spaghetti with marinara, pasta carbonara, mac and cheese. Note: I don't buy processed foods. They may feel like a bargain but in the end they are not. I may be able to purchase a box of mac and cheese for 50 cents but it could take as many as 3 boxes to feed my family without taking in account the milk or the butter. For $1 I can buy a pound of elbow macaroni, use powdered milk (free), 1/2 stick Nucoa (.20), flour and 1/3 pd of cheese (.86) making the whole amount 2.06 vs the cost of the box mac and cheese. That might not feel like a bargain compared to the 1.50 but think of this - the homemade mac and cheese will be more filling and more nutritious. There's less sodium. I can easily alter either mac and cheese to include veggies and meat but with the homemade - I can make extra sauce to use for lunches or dinner the next night. That extra .50 can make a big difference. More importantly, all the ingredients for the mac and cheese are included in my staples so I don't have to really think about what to make.
The last Plan tip I'm gonna share today: traditional American meals of meat, vegetable, starch are expensive and lack nutritional variety. Think past the traditional dinner and start thinking one dish meals. Not everything we eat is one dish but when you start thinking in this manner all sorts of things open up. Meat and fresh produce are some of the most expensive items in the grocery store. Shopping in season and sales will help but I find that creative one dish cooking helps more.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lentil Sloppy Joes

I recently got a recipe in my email for Lentil Sloppy Joes. The concept was so simple I couldn't resist - cook lentils and carrots until tender and add Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce. We didn't have canned sauce so we opted for a package of sloppy joe seasoning (.44 at the local store) and 1/2 quart of home-canned tomatoes. The result was so good that my husband exclaimed after every bite (and a lot of comments about how it tasted just like hamburger sloppy joes). It's easy and a really inexpensive meal.
For those of us in the Palouse, lentils are often given away. We are the home of the Pea and Lentil Commission and when they attend fairs and festivals it's always with the little bags of free legumes (usually three types of lentils - brown, mini brown and red). They also sell big bags of lentils for a good deal (something like 10 pounds for $12 or 12 pounds for $10 - sorry I can't remember but it's still a good deal).
Lentils are still inexpensive in the grand scheme of things - I "budget" $2 per meal for protein. I don't spend that much on every meal but that's my ceiling. Unless I am making something really special, my protein choice can not cost more than that. A single pound bag of lentils falls into this category at the grocery store and 1 pound will make two pots of lentil sloppy joes.
According to the recipe this will make 8 sloppy joes, I found that to be fairly accurate. We feed 4 people at dinner and had enough left over for my brother when he got home from work. It doesn't look like a lot of food but it was plenty. Serve on buttered toasted hamburger buns for an authentic sloppy joes.
Next time I plan on trying a variation without packaged seasoning.

Lentil Sloppy Joes
1 cup dry brown lentils, sorted and rinsed (sorted means looking for rocks, twigs, etc)
4 cups water
1 cup chopped carrots (about the size of the lentils)
1 can sloppy joe sauce (or tomatoes, tomato sauce and sloppy joe seasoning)
1 TB packed brown sugar
8 hamburger buns
Combine lentils and water in saucepan. Cover, bring to boil over med-high heat. Add carrots. Reduce to med-low and cook 20 minutes or until tender. Drain excess water. Stir in sloppy joe sauce and brown sugar, simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Use about 1/2 cup lentils on each bun.

Changing Focus (just a little bit)

This blog is a passion of mine and over the last week I took time to really decide what was best for me and the goals I have. With that, I have decided to change the focus of this blog, slightly. I have always favored low cost meals with keeping nutrition and special diets in mind. Over the last six months, my family has learned how to survive on a plan that gives us about $100 a month for groceries. We get $88 in food stamps and then pick up items now and again as we have needs or extra funds (never resulting in that much more being spent). We are a family of three - one being a 14 year old boy.
It's work to keep us well fed but I have learned a lot of tricks over the years and thought it might be a good time to really share how I make it work. So in addition to recipes and the few things I spatter here and there, I will share the techniques I use to keep our budget low.
A few disclaimers:
I have the world's largest stockpile of powdered milk. Because I make bath products and powdered milk is often given in commodities, friends have given me thier supply of powdered milk because they couldn't use it. This has come in handy lately because we no longer are buying milk.
The other thing I use is my family. I often tell my mom I shop at her house. When she moved recently she uncovered a pantry so full (okay multiple pantries) so we inherited a good deal of canned goods and we keep offering to take more off her hands. This has helped get us through some tight spots. In return, I send things to my mom and dad like baked goods, canned goods or bath products so maybe it's more of a barter system than an all out gift.
Some of the things I will be sharing in the following days/weeks: how I meal plan, how I shop, protein choices, foraging, canning, and, of course, recipes. With this, I will potentially have two posts in a day on occasion as I share a tip and a recipe.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hot Chocolate

It might be early in the season for hot chocolate but here in Washington the night's dip to really cold temperatures and hot chocolate becomes the perfect evening treat (especially with some homemade bread). We were big on the instant hot chocolate because it was easy, then my father suggested I make some from scratch (he stopped buying instant because it was going too fast).
This recipe is adapted from the Hershey cocoa powder box and is just as easy as making instant except I haven't come up with a microwave version. It cooks on the stove but only takes as much time as it takes to heat the milk.

Hot Chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups milk
3/4 teas vanilla

Pour milk into saucepan. Add cocoa and sugar. Stir with a whisk. The cocoa will float on the top of the milk until it heats up a little but this is not a problem, just keep whisking now and again until it all combines. Stir occasionally but do not leave unattended. Do not let the milk come to a boil. When hot, remove from heat and add vanilla. Whisk quickly and serve.
Great with whipped cream or marshmallows. (if serving with marshmallows and you like them melty, heat the milk up hotter than drinkable and let cool with marshmallows on top).
For a kick, add a little cayenne pepper.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bourbon Dinner Rolls

This recipe is from Bread For All Seasons by Beth Hensperger. I love this book - the recipes are so fun and range from really easy to only slightly difficult. I have been amazed at the simplicity of some of these recipes especially when they don't look simple. The end results are beautiful masterpieces.
I used a combination of Seagram's Whiskey and Amaretto because I didn't realize how much alcohol this recipe took and had little baby bottles. The dough takes a 1/2 cup which is 2 baby bottles and the filling takes another baby bottle (not bottles for babies but the itty bitty bottles you get in hotels and airplanes).
The rolls ended up tasting like rolls with a hint of sweetness. No flavor of alcohol really came through which I thought was a little strange but it didn't prevent the rolls from being inhaled (18 rolls, 5 people and no leftovers).
Also, we used soy milk and Nucoa making these rolls dairy-free

Bourbon Dinner Rolls
1 TB yeast
pinch of light brown sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup bourbon whiskey
2 TB light brown sugar
2 TB unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teas grated orange zest (didn't use)
2 teas salt (didn't use)
4-4 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
3 TB melted butter mixed with 3 TB bourbon
Prep the yeast by mixing with warm water and a pinch of brown sugar. Stir to dissolve and let sit 10 minutes until foamy.
Scald milk in small saucepan with bourbon (I did this in microwave). Add 2 TB brown sugar and butter. Stir until butter is melted and remove from heat and cool until just warm. In a large bowl combine milk, orange zest, salt and 2 cups flour. Add yeast and beat until smooth and creamy. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough is formed. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface, adding flour 1 TB at a time to prevent sticking. Knead until satiny and elastic, about 2 minutes. Should be a very smooth dough.
Place in a deep container that has been oiled, turn to coat the dough and let rise until doubled, 1 - 11/2 hours.
Turn raised dough onto work surface and divide into 3 equal parts. Roll out each portion to an 8 inch circle. Brush with melted butter/bourbon mix. Cut into 6 equal sections (I ended up cutting into 8 sections so I guess I had 24 rolls instead of 18). Beginning at wide end, roll each section toward the point. Brush tops with more butter and place on a baking sheet (I covered mine with a silicon mat).
Let rise until doubled (about 20 minutes). Preheat oven to 375.
Bake in the center of preheated oven for 18-20 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet to cool.
Serve warm with more butter or a good rich gravy (like we had, yummy yummy).