Monday, October 31, 2011

Catching Up and Caramels

I wasn't feeling all that well last week but I did manage to get one more weekend of foraging two weekends ago. All those apples and pears and elderberries need to be used up so I'll be posting recipes soon. We had a day of candy making and I'll have some fun ideas on that too. I love this time of year because baking ingredients go on sale and we take every opportunity to share food with friends and family.
I'm still struggling with the end of this bug but I wanted to share Mary Jane's Caramel recipe. I made this nucoa and half and half.
In the pan it was gritty and I wasn't sure how it would come out but it finished beautifully. The trick is to not skimp on the time you cook the caramels. Make sure you get them hot enough before taking them off the stove.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

This has just been one of those weeks so I'm going to keep this short. I discovered this brittle recipe years ago. The brittle was a garnish for a larger dessert but we loved it so much that it became a family favorite. It's quick and easy. The brittle part is more of a candy coating on the pumpkin seeds. I use shelled store bought seeds though you can use ones you roast yourself.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle
In heavy 6-8 inch frying pan over med-high heat, stir 1/3 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water until sugar is dissolved. Cook without stirring, shaking pan often, until mixture is a deep amber brown color (5-10 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup hulled and roasted pumpkin seeds. Pour onto 12x15 piece of buttered foil and spread thin. Let cool until had (6-10 min) break into ½ inch pieces.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Potato Soup

I have recipes for potato soup and yet I seem to make it without one every time. Last night's pot was one of the best versions I have made and thought it was worth trying to preserve a recipe.

Potato Soup
4 ears corn
8 smallish potatoes or 4 large, washed and cubed
1 onion, chopped
1/2 stick butter
2 quarts non-fat milk (ours is instant)
3/4 cup half and half
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper (I actually used cajun seas salt and pepper)

Place corn in a pot and cover with water. Bring to boil and turn off. Let corn cool to handle and cut kernels off (if using canned or frozen then it's about 3/4 cup corn per cob). Melt butter in stockpot. Add onions and stir over med-high heat until starting to turn clear but not brown. Add corn and roast a few moments. Add potatoes and cover with milk. Let cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender. Can season while cooking or wait until just about to serve. When potatoes are cooked, add half and half and sour cream. Stir to melt sour cream. Turn off heat and let set for 10 minutes and serve.

Great with rolls or seasoned breadsticks.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Halloween Party Planning Part 4 - Beverages

When it comes to drinks my family is fairly basic - they drink water or soda but mostly water. When we have family get-togethers water and soda are more often what we serve so I often forget to think about beverages. When winter comes we do pots of spiced cider or wine, occasionally a special coffee but rarely anything more. (unless you could our endless consumption of tea which is like water).
On Halloween, I would often serve Bug Juice which is the only punch I ever make.
However, you don't need a recipe to dress up your Halloween drinks.
You can choose to go more traditional with hot drinks such as cider or hot chocolate. The adults might like a bit of spiced wine.
The real trick is to alter the perception of the drink. Give your drinks Halloween names - Cauldron punch, larve shake - whatever. Then dress them up. Use gummy bugs, body parts, worms, mice - the varieties are endless. Drip blood from the glasses - mix corn syrup with red food coloring and dip the opening of your glass. The syrup will slowly run down the glass (this does stain so be warned).
Add dry ice to give it a steamy effect.
Create spooky ice cubes - freeze green olives for eyes and creepy toys if you are not serving to small children. Freeze different colored Kool-aids in ice trays. You can use black cherry and orange to make Halloween colored cubes.
The ideas are really endless if you open up to them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Halloween Party Planning Part 3 - Things to Dip in Blood Sauce

When planning a holiday party it's really fun to plan the desserts. Desserts just seem to be more party like but you can't have a meal of all desserts, especially on Halloween when the kids will already have an assortment of treats to choose from. For me, I try to plan healthy snacks and a solid meal for the day so that when my son does trick or treat, he's not gorging on sugary stuff. I'm grateful that he's not huge on the sweets (well wasn't as he gets older he eats more candy). I can fill him up with good food and since I always make too much, there's always some waiting for him at home if he gets hungry. He would prefer to snack on the "food" than the candy. He's also one who likes it when houses give out apples and he snacks on those.
One fun thing to add is finger food with sauces. You can make pretty normal sauces sound really gross with a few signs. Chicken strips can become werewolf or witch fingers (add an almond sliver to the pointed end for a fingernail if you so desire). Ketchup can become blood drizzled over the top. Or you can use sweet and sour sauce. Mustard, ranch or sour cream can become pus.
Slice up apples and serve them with raspberry, cherry or strawberry sauce/syrup for bloody fruit. A quick and easy fruit sauce - thin jam with a little water.
I, personally, avoid artificial colors. There are a variety of reasons why and everyone has their own - me, I figure there's enough junk in the candy that it's my job to balance it with good wholesome foods.
Creative labeling, and even some arranging, can make your every day dish something spooky.
Any red sauce can easily become blood. Don't forget spaghetti sauce. You can make breadsticks and twist them to give them a gnarled appearance and dip in spaghetti sauce. Decorate a pizza with large plastic flies and spiders and call it something yucky (a cheese pizza could become bloody bandage pizza - just don't make it so gross no one will eat it).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Halloween Party Planning Part 2 - Brains

No Halloween party is complete without a dish of brains. Over the years I have experimented with a varity of techniques that are rather tasty and just goulish enough to be fun.
For years I made a lumpy brain dish out of rolls that I stuffed with pepperoni and cheese. I used the rolls to make a monkey bread version of a brain and would paint them with red and blue food coloring. For added gore, I would drizzle pizza sauce over the top (serving with pizza was a must).
Last year, we bought a zombie brain mold for about $4. I used it to make panna cotta and served it with raspberry sauce. If you are not familiar with Panna Cotta, it's a white milky gelatin dish that molded beautifully. It was gruesome.
Here are two more ideas.
Brain cupcakes - this is more a technique than a recipe since you can use any cupcake to make these.
Melon Brain I'm tempted to try this but fruit carving is not my thing.
Purchasing an inexpensive brain mold can open possibilities but you don't have to let that limit you.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
3 teas gelatin
3 1/2 tbs. cold water
1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup + 2 tbs. sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups buttermilk
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in med bowl. Let stand untouched for 3 minutes. In small saucepan - combine cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and pour over gelatin. Stir well to dissolve gelatin. Let cool to room temp. Remove vanilla bean and add buttermilk, stirring to mix. Strain mixture through fine sieve and pour into grease mold. Cover and chill 6 hours.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spaghetti and Eyeballs

This recipe was a favorite for Halloween dinner for years. It's quick and easy for those Halloween dinners that fall right after work. The eyeballs can be made ahead of time and reheated. This was the only time I made meatballs to go with our spaghetti so it was a double treat. Put the leftover olives in an ice cube tray and fill with water to make eyeball ice.

Spaghetti and Eyeballs
2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
2 tbsp. ketchup
2 eggs
1 tbsp. fresh basil or 1 tsp. dried
1 7-oz. jar pimiento-stuffed olives
1 26-oz. jar prepared pasta sauce
1 lb. spaghetti
1 tbsp. olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the ground beef, bread crumbs, ketchup, eggs and basil in a large bowl. Using the meat mixture, form about 30 small meatballs.
To make the eyeballs, press an olive into each meatball, pimiento side out. Place the eyeballs in a baking dish, cover with the pasta sauce and bake for
45 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water. Drain and rinse the spaghetti, and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to prevent strands from sticking together. Put it on a platter or in a large serving bowl.
Spoon the eyeballs onto the spaghetti, irises up, and spoon the pasta sauce around them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Halloween Party Planning Part 1 - Meatloaf Spider

Since our theme this year is Mad Entomologist, we wanted all the food to be bugs or mad scientist oriented. My son announced that we needed to have meatloaf. He wanted a meatloaf mummy but I suggested making a meatloaf spider. We haven't worked out all the details yet but were able to get a decent price on hamburger last week.
Because Halloween is further away then the hamburger will stay fresh, we froze it. I want to make a note here - frozen hamburger will not mesh together after it is thawed. I don't know why but something about freezing the meat reduces it's ability to form a patty without help. Adding eggs and breadcrumbs (crackers or oatmeal work too) is the only way to get it to form a patty. This is fine for our meatloaf but won't work if we want hamburgers (just for those who plan on stocking up).
Now my husband makes meatloaf so I don't have a recipe. Any meatloaf recipe will do. To make it into a spider form a round ball of meatloaf and bake. You can create eyes using a little sour cream and a black olive that has been split in half the long way. Legs can be made from long thick pretzals or breadsticks (which we are going to try). The legs won't be the same color but we figure it all eats the same.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Souppa Avgolemono (Egg-Lemon Soup)

I'm craving soup so this weekend I am going to try this recipe. I've carried it around for years and I like the idea of lemon and eggs. I think it will be a good complement to whatever we opt to make with it.
I, also, plan on making garlic soup since I have several heads of garlic that need to be used. Both soups are filling and rather low cal so that'll be good.

Souppa Avgolemono (Egg-Lemon Soup)
6 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup rice or orzo pasta
3 eggs
1 lemon, juice of (or more)
Bring broth to boil in saucepan, and add rice or orzo. Cover and cook on medium low heat for 20-25 minutes (rice) or 10 minutes (orzo). While the rice cooks, lightly beat the eggs and the lemon juice together. Remove the broth from heat. Slowly mix about one cup of the hot broth into egg-lemon mixture. Add to the soup gradually while stirring. Place saucepan back on the heat, and stir until soup is heated through (DO NOT BOIL).

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Chapatis are an Indian version of a tortilla. They are made from flour and water, rolled into a circle and fried. Traditionally they are fried in a little butter but last night we used the griddle with no oil on it at all. We still got great results and the "tortillas" were low calorie. I used AP flour as a "control" but over time we'll experiment with using whole white wheat flour and maybe some whole wheat pastry flour.
The recipe is simple but give the dough some time to rest. I've made them without resting and that's okay but they are tougher. Cover with a moist cloth or plastic wrap to keep the dough from drying out.

2 1/2 cups flour plus more for dusting
1 cup water

Mix flour and water into a soft dough. Let rest 30 minutes. Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each out to a thin tortilla like disk. They do stretch easily so be careful. Set in hot skillet or griddle and fry until lightly brown, flip and fry until lightly brown.
Can brush on melted butter while frying.
Serve with some sort of saucy dish - we made fajitas out of ours.

My son took one and wrapped it around sliced onions and peppers before frying. It was so beautiful I wish I had taken a picture. He said it tasted good but he should have tucked in a piece of steak.

Skipping Meals

For some people the idea of skipping meals is the perfect plan for losing weight and maintaining a grocery budget. Not only is this an unhealthy plan but it's bound to backfire.
If you skip a meal, you are more apt to indulge in less nutritious foods like candy and junk food. The reason is your body craves fuel and junk food offers the quickest solution. They are often calorie dense with high sugar so the body can get back on track.
If you manage to sidestep the cravings, it is a good possibility that you will overeat when you finally have a meal.
If you manage to keep that under control, your body will take over and start changing how it stores energy.
That's a lot of ifs. The truth is our body is basically a machine - it requires fuel to function. Fat stores occur when the body gets too much fuel (calories) so it tucks it away for future use. This worked perfectly when we were a hunter/gatherer sort of people. When food was plentiful, we ate and created fat stores which would be used up when food became more scarce. However, food is now always plentiful because we have grocery stores. This means that fat stores are not as necessary as they once were.
To lose weight you need to reduce your calorie intake. However, the body prepares for this. If we don't take in enough calories, our body goes into defense mode. It prepares for starvation or a great lack of food. Our bodies want to survive but they don't really care what our motivation is - they have a job to do. When fuel becomes scarce the body becomes super efficient. This means that when we took in calories before our body utilized them in sort of a lazy way. The body knows more is coming (especially if you are good with eating on schedule) so if there's a little extra calories they'll store them away but it's not using calories to their fullest potential. Some just get dumped because they are not needed.
When the calories decrease drastically or stop, the body reacts by squeezing every little bit of energy it can from each calorie. Because the routine has been disrupted the body is less apt to use the stores and just work harder to utilize what comes in. This is where people get really frustrated with weight loss. They can't drop the weight because the body is holding on to it with all it's might.
On top of that, the body starts obsessing about getting more calories. The nose becomes hypersensitive to food smells. The mouth waters more easily. The brain dumps more chemicals to make us want food (that is if the system is working correctly and the lack of calories is not due to illness). The cravings become so intense that we dump all our diet plans and start bingeing. This pattern is what leads to Bulimia, even if you are fat and society says you need to lose weight. This is unhealthy, period. However, our society supports it which is very sad.
The healthiest way to lose weight is to restrict your calories to a reasonable amount. For me, it should be about 1500 calories (but I've stretched a little to just over 1600). I'm flexible. I eat anything I want, just in moderation.
Moderation is the key and so is eliminating wasteful calories such as soda (which helps the budget because have you seen the price of soda). I do want a SodaStream and that is a dream I will continue to have until I see an opportunity to get one without breaking the bank. But then I will have control over the drinks and I just happen to love seltzer so it's a winwin for me. I make my junk food from scratch. This allows me to have my cake and eat it to.
Hope some of that helps.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sweet and Sour Sauce (take 2)

I shared my recipe for sweet and sour sauce back in March. It's one that I have made my entire adult years and sure it's the same my mom made as I was growing up. It's a great recipe that has only two faults - it's a little complicated (mostly lots of chopping veggies) and it makes a ton. When I make this we eat it for days. So when my friend Carol put up a really simple Sweet and Sour sauce recipe on her blog I couldn't wait to try it. Of course, I can never follow a recipe so I did my best impersonation of hers. I substituted the water and the tomato paste for 1 quart of homemade canned diced tomatoes. I used about 1/2 of a 20 oz can of crushed pineapple since that was the only size at the store. The result was amazing. This version is slightly less tangy than my home version and it was so quick and easy. I highly recommend it (it tastes just like the sauce in a restaurant).

Portion Control

More often than not, you will discover that the problem with weight is in direct correlation to the portion size. We live in a nation of supersize and more for your money. We seek out deals that often offer us more food for less money. We have allowed economics drive our diet.
For me, my diet is rather well balanced (could use more fresh fruits and veggies) but my problem is I eat lots of it. I love food. I love good deals. And I am not one to leave food on my plate because that's a waste of perfectly good food. One thing I want to note is that my parents were not the sort that made us clean our plates, this is a habit I developed all on my own.
In my house, the rule is you don't have to eat all your food but if you want seconds then you must clean your plate. This ensures my son eats his veggies before going back for more rice or pasta.
We're also carb lovers. I can live off of bread, pasta and rice. I love vegetables so that's good but I'm not big on fruit necessarily. Meat I can take or leave most of the time. I love starch and this shows in my food diary. I often lack in my protein and go over on my carbs.
How does this all translate to weight loss and budgeting? Easy - portion control means eating a set amount of food. For me, this means measuring the food so I know how much I am eating and so I can accurately record it in my diary on Sparkpeople. Knowing exactly how much food I should eat encourages me to cook less. Cooking less save on my budget.
Now you may feel that bulk cooking works best for you. Great, so long as you are watching your quantities. More food encourages us to eat more. That stems from a time when food was more difficult to regulate. Bigger plates encourage us to dish up more because we want to feel like we are eating.
For my house, cooking in bulk means one of two things - my 14 year old son eats all the leftovers because they are there or we throw out the leftovers because we forgot about them. This is not always true but it happens more often than I like. Cooking enough to feed everyone reduces waste.
Am I hungry? The honest answer is yes. My body is getting adequate calories and nutrients but I'm hungry because my body is used to eating more. Our stomach is flexible, it stretches and shrinks to accomodate food cycles (back when we were hunters and gatherers). Just because I am hungry doesn't mean I'm starving.
Hunger is a tricky thing. If I allow myself to get too hungry then I will overeat when I have the chance. I might sneak in a snack which, more often than not, will be something with little nutrition.
The beginning of retraining my body to eat less is hard which is why most people fail at their diet. I don't deny myself a type of food but I limit how much I eat. I don't feel deprived but I feel hungry. I'm working on teaching my body to eat differently than I did before. It sucks, I'm not going to lie, but it's the same as if I was training to do anything. If I wanted to run a marathon - I would ache, I would be tired. I know I would wake up some mornings and question my whole reason for doing the marathon and wonder if it's really worth it. It's all worth it when you cross that finish line.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Steak, Cabbage and Onions

That's a terrible name for the recipe but I made this up last night so there's no great title. We sprouted some broccoli sprouts and thought they would be good with the cabbage we go for 39 cents last night. We love fried cabbage and this recipe is low cost and healthy. I don't recommend broccoli sprouts though. They are pricey and smell horrible. They tasted fine but for a week we were sure something was rotting in our kitchen as they sprouted. We threw them in this dish but you can use any sprout or none at all.

1 petite sirloin steak
1 large onion
1 head cabbage
1 cup sprouts

Oil pan and heat (we use cast iron so you can omit if you use non-stick). Slice steak into 1/4 inch strips. Fry in pan until well seared. Chop onion and add to meat. Chop cabbage and add to pan when onion and steak are caramelized. Fry for 2-3 minutes and then top with a lid and turn off heat. This will steam the cabbage but prevent the bottom from burning. When cabbage is soft, turn heat back on. Add sprouts and heat thoroughly.
We serve with soy sauce and rice.
Can subsitute chicken, tofu, etc for steak.

Weight Loss on a Budget Part 2

As I get to thinking about my plan the more I realize that the tricks I can use to reduce my caloric intake are ones that will help maximize my grocery budget. Once again, all this takes is a little creative thinking.
I mentioned before that omitting unnecessary ingredients helps stretch the budget but it also reduces wasteful calories. I used cheese as an example because it's one I see a lot. Cheese can be heavy on calories and should be treated like a condiment instead of a meal (except that's not always possible in cases of mac and cheese, pizza, quesadillas, etc but I'll talk about that in a moment). Where I see this most is with pasta and with sandwiches (hamburgers included). More often we add cheese because we believe we need to but it doesn't actually add to the dish. We love parmesan cheese on spaghetti but when our budget got tighter we moved from fresh shredded parmesan to the grated powdery stuff that comes in a can. Doesn't matter what brand you buy, they all barely have any flavor. Not using the cheese reduces calories and when you stop thinking about it, you won't notice any difference.
The same goes for most sandwiches. Cheap processed cheese has little flavor but is not calorie free. Eating your hamburger without the gooey glop makes a calorie difference that you won't even taste. It's tough to convince someone that investing in higher priced, higher quality cheese is actually saving your budget (and your waist line). A good quality cheese requires less because you can taste it. I like sharp cheeses - sharp cheddar, blue cheese, feta, because they all encourage using less.
The same goes for butter/margarine. Often times we use too much. A light smear of butter on a piece of bread still offers the flavor without all the extra calories. I had to teach my son that 1/2 cube of butter for a can of vegetables was just a waste. One can add a little or none at all and still have a good tasting side dish.
Vegetables are tough for some people. If you are one who can't eat them without a ton of butter or cheese sauce - there is a way to curb that habit. Each time you eat them, use less. I got my family away from using cheese sauce for vegetables by sprinkling on a good sharp cheddar or parmesan on the vegetable when I served them. Eventually, they didn't even need that. I just cut a bunch of calories and stretched our monthly allotment of cheese and butter.
We've moved from microwave popcorn to air-popped corn which is so much better (too much controversy over the safety of microwave popcorn for me). I found I don't mind it plain but sometimes a little flavor is nice. I'm returning to a trick my grandmother used to use - spray the popcorn with butter flavored cooking spray and sprinkle on some spices. She often used taco seasoning on the popcorn. It's a great low fat, low cost snack (popcorn kernals often cost less than a three pack of microwave popcorn and makes soooooo much more).
Back to the cheese for a moment, since I am easily distracted. When it comes to foods like mac and cheese, pizza and quesadillas - how do you reduce the amount of cheese and still feel like you have a good dish. It goes back to buy a good quality cheese. Mac and cheese can be made with less fat by using oil instead of butter to make the roux, using a lower fat milk (the jury is out on whether low fat milk is good for you) and a sharp flavorful cheese. It will take less cheese to flavor the sauce. Same goes for quesadillas - less can be more if you use a good flavor cheese.
As for Pizza - use lots of vegetable toppings and less cheese or omit the cheese all together for some varieties. We love pizza crust with potatoes and onions. Cheese is nice but not necessary.
Making food flavorful with herbs and spices will help reduce cost and calories because you are not adding things to flavor the food.
A tip I learned from my mom when I was younger (that I am sure she has since forgotten) - use salsa as a salad dressing. Salad dressings are often laden with fat and add little nutrition. Using salsa gives the salad flavor and extra veggies. I like to mix it up and use blue cheese or feta as a toppine (about 1 TB is all I need). Sometimes a little crumbled bacon (about 1 strip fried and crumbled). They are fatty foods but they offer more than just fat (well except maybe the bacon). I like adding avocados when I can get them. They have good fat and lots of nutrients so it adds an extra punch to my salad.
I'm sure there's more in the recesses of my brain but that will have to wait for another post since this one is long enough.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pina Colada Jar Cake

Sorry about the cake post right after the weight loss post but in reality cake is still part of a balanced diet. Everything in moderation. I mentioned I had lost this recipe. When I did a google search I found several sites with this recipe but, thankfully, they were all the same recipe so I believe it's the same. This recipe got me thinking, jar cakes might make great rum cakes, just bake them in the jar and let cool. Pour over alcohol of choice and let sit. I'll have to pull out a rum cake recipe to get instructions but I think it can be done and how cute to give out little rum cakes at the holidays.
I don't think I ever pureed the pineapple in this recipe because I'm a little lazy and I love the chunks of pineapple. I, also, use unsweetened coconut because I prefer it.

Pina Colada Jar Cake
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple in natural juices
11 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
4 eggs
1/2 cup dark rum
3 1/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup coconut, sweetened flaked
Preheat oven to 325°. Wash 8 wide mouth 1-pint canning jars with lids in hot, soapy water. Let dry on clean paper towels or dish towels. Generously grease inside of each jar. Drain crushed pineapple a colander, squeezing to get as much of the juice out as possible; reserve juice. Put the well-drained pineapple in a food processor; pulse until smooth. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the puree. If necessary, to make 1 1/2 cups, add a small amount of the reserved juice. Set puree aside. Discard remaining juice or freeze to use as liquid for a cake or other dish. With an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light. Beat in eggs, beating well after each addition. Beat in pineapple puree and rum; set aside.
Into another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Gradually add the dry ingredients, about 1/3 at a time, to the pineapple batter mixture, beating well after each addition to make a thick batter. Stir in coconut. Measure 1 level cupful of batter to spoon into a jar. Repeat with remaining batter and jars. Carefully wipe rims clean, then place jars in center of preheated oven. Bake 40 minutes. Cake should spring back when lightly touched with finger. About 10 minutes before cakes are done, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Put in jar lids, cover, and remove from heat. Keep lids in hot water until they're used. When cakes are done, remove jars from oven. If jar rims need cleaning, use a moistened paper towel. Carefully put lids and rings in place, then screw tops tightly shut. Place jars on a wire rack; they will seal as they cool.

Weight Loss on a Budget

I've been debating about writing a section on dieting on a budget. I have some strong feelings about dieting and the "obesity" epidemic. I, also, worried that it would add just another layer to an already overwhelming change. It's difficult to maintain a grocery budget and a balanced diet. Adding the addition of "dieting" can completely cause the entire system to crash.
The weight loss industry has convinced the American public that losing weight is hard and you can only do it if you spend a lot of money in the process. More often than not their systems are designed to fail for if you succeeded then you would no longer require their products. I'm not going to say that all programs are designed for failure but many are - especially those that come in pill form. Most people want everything right now. Rapid weight loss results in what is called Yo-Yoing. Yo-yoing is losing weight, gaining it back, losing weight, etc. This is the result of most weight loss programs.
Why do most programs fail? The answer is simple, they don't change the underlaying problem. For example, you have a house. The exterior siding is stained so you spray paint it a dark blue to cover it up. Over time the paint fades and you're back to yucky siding. So you paint it green when what you need to do is scrape away all the old paint, prime and then paint it a color that you like instead of something that covers up.
The same is with losing weight. We don't want to take the time to do it right, we want to fit into that outfit for our class reunion which is next week or get ready for summer vacations on the first warm day after winter. We want quick, easy and something that doesn't require a lot of thought. But that doesn't spell success.
When it comes to weight (losing or gaining) there's a simple equation - calories in vs calories out. To lose weight your calories in have to be smaller than your calories out. Easy as can be - in theory.
Now we're looking at food on a budget. This is where I have some real issues with the fighting obesity programs. I don't believe education is THE answer. I believe it's a part of the answer but no amount of education is going to change the price of food and people's access to it. If I had unlimited funds, you can bet I would buy fresh organic fruits and vegetables to serve at every meal. I might even make that the majority of my meal but I can't. I have to be creative when it comes to fruits and vegetables through foraging and gardening because to buy them in the store would financially ruin me. I'd love to buy organic farm raised meat and eggs - I can barely afford what I do buy. This is not a pity party just reality. To buy the foods that are best for maintaining weight just are not affordable. What is affordable is calorie dense foods. That is why the poor have always been portrayed as fat, cheap foods are calorie dense. That doesn't make them lack nutrition, in fact many provide great nutrition but also excessive calories.
How does one maintain a budget, provide good nutrition, and lose weight to keep it off permantently? The truth is - I'm going to find out. My doctor has demanded I lose weight for my health. My blood pressure has been creeping up along with my weight over the last year and it's time to focus on becoming healthy.
One tool I am using is Sparkpeople. Sparkpeople is a free website with lots of tools, trackers and support. I have used it in the past but not really as a committed weight loss tool. What I am going to use and used in the past is the Nutrition Tracker. This is the best tool out there. Enter what you eat and how much (a little tricky for those who make everything from scratch but not impossible), the system tells you how many calories, carbs, fat, protein you have eaten. If you set up a weight loss goal, the tracker will also give the parameters you need to meet to lose weight and still be healthy. My goal is to lose 100 pounds in one year. Sunday was my birthday so by my next birthday I want to be 100 pounds lighter. This might be a slightly too big of a goal but we'll see. It means slow weight loss - 2 pound a week approximately. Slow weight loss is tough because you can't see it right away but it's the perfect plan for keeping the weight off. I am giving myself a year because in that time I can learn to make better choices. I'm not planning on overhauling my diet, just learning to eat less of calorie dense foods and more of the lower calorie foods. Tracking my diet will mean greater success.
I have lots of ideas but I have already talked too much so more thoughts tomorrow.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chocolate Applesauce Jar Cake

I'm just posting a recipe today. I'm working half day today and then my afternoon is filled with various appointments so I'll be on the run. I know I had three recipes for Jar Cakes but for the life of me I can't find number three. I just remembered what it was so maybe I can find it for Monday. This is a tasty cake but I do want to mention that the jar cakes are a little on the dry side so a little extra applesauce will not hurt (and the reason for serving with a good sauce over the top).

Chocolate Applesauce Jar Cake
4 oz + 3 tbs. unsalted butter, soft
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tbs. vanilla extract
1 teas almond extract
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
3 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teas baking soda
1/2 teas baking powder
1/2 cup chopped pecans or other nuts
8 pint jars
Preheat oven to 325, generously grease jars. Beat butter and 1/2 sugar, beating in eggs and remaining sugar and extracts. Beat in applesauce. Add dry ingredients. Stir in nuts. Spoon 1 cup batter in each jar. Carefully wipe rims clean, place in center of oven, cook 40 minutes. 10 minutes before done prep lids and rims. When cakes are done, remove jars from oven. Carefully put lids and rims in place, screw tightly shut.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Jar Cakes

I started making jar cakes when my son was little. They were an interesting concept - baking cakes in canning jars. You can serve them right away or seal the jars. They make fun gifts and a great way to preserve a cake for those winter munchies. Now that I think about it, I'm adding some canning lids to my shopping list so I can make and preserve some cakes. I get the munchies and I hate baking like that and I've thrown out a couple of cakes so far because I'm the only one in the mood for cake. These jars are perfect because they come out to about 2 servings (probably more like 4 but who can only eat one slice). I like serving them with hard sauce and I think I could make a good Rum cake in a jar (ohh I feel a cooking experiment coming on). I have three varieties so I'll make sure to share them all with you.

Pumpkin Spice Jar cakes
4 oz + 3 tbs. soft unsalted butter
3 1/2 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree
3 1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 teas baking powder
1 teas baking soda
1 teas cinnamon
1/2 teas ginger
1/4 teas mace
1 cup chopped walnuts
8 sterilized wide mouthed pint jars with lids
Preheat oven to 325. Generously grease jars. Beat butter and 1/2 sugar. Add eggs, mix, add sugar, mix, add pumpkin, mix. Add dry ingredients and mix. Add Walnuts and mix. Spoon 1 cup batter into each jar. Carefully wipe rims clean then place in center of oven to bake 40 minutes. When cakes are done remove jars one at a time and lid. Let cool - jars will seal as they cool.

Grocery Shopping - October

I do my shopping on the 10th of each month. So now is the time to start planning my trip. October is the beginning of baking season so that's something I need to remember. It's possible this month we'll have a little extra money. If there is enough I want to stock up on baking supplies and do a SF Herb order. Taking this into account I need to budget accordingly. I understand that planning on having extra money feels like a good time to blow the budget. The problem with that thinking is that plans fall through. Sometimes money doesn't stretch as far as we hope so I need to plan my budget around the potential for not having the extra (however, I will know what extra amount we have before I do my shopping).
I have two plans going on - my grocery shopping under my normal budget and my wishlist with a budget of it's own. There are some things I want to stock up during the baking sales - those are the items I plan for the extra money. If we end up not having extra money then I don't get to stock up but it doesn't hurt my monthly planning.
So onto the plan. It's the 6th, giving me 4 days to plan my shopping trip. That might seem like too much time but actually I am starting late this month. I need to take in account that this month has Halloween. With our son in high school, we no longer have to worry about class parties but we do throw a Halloween dinner party for family and some friends as a before trick or treating meal. I need to take into account my menu for that. (same as next month in planning for Thanksgiving - might want to think about that now since I'll need to plan money and freezer space for a turkey).
The first thing I need to do is go over my kitchen inventory. I've been meaning to do this for two days but off the top of my head I know we are out of several items - canned corn (no freezer space so has to be canned), mustard, tortillas, cheese. I know we'll need eggs even though we still have some. I pull up my kitchen inventory. The one on my computer is not as up to date as the printed one I keep in my kitchen but I can remember what we have run out of - somewhat but it also gets me thinking.
Tonight, I'll sit down with my family and ask them what they want in terms of meals and groceries. I will, also, run through my kitchen inventory to make sure it's up to date. The most important counts will be the items we go through the fasted - canned foods, fridge and freezer. I will need an accurate count of meat in the freezer - this will tell me how much we ate over the past month and how much I'll need for the next. If I started the month with eight bags of chicken (3 chicken thighs a bag) and I still have 4 then I can skip buying chicken. If I have 1 then chicken was something we liked but then my son made a comment the other night when I made chicken that he didn't really like the chicken anymore so maybe we had too much this month.
I start thinking about the items that went fast - tortillas are a big thing in our house. I buy packages that have 30 tortillas but they never make it through the month. I bought more english muffins this month but everyone seems content with homemade bread for toast so maybe I'll skip them this month and focus on buying more tortillas. The cheese still didn't make it to the end of the month but we did have a few meals where cheese was our protein so I think I'll stick with buying two 2 pound bricks. If we do have extra money then I will invest in more cheese and maybe something other than cheddar.
When I have the list somewhat narrowed down, then I start looking at ads. Most often, I don't find the items on my list on sale but we're moving out of fresh foods season and into more staple type food season for sales so I might get lucky. Both of the grocery stores in Pullman have online ads (I usually shop at a store in Moscow which does not) so I can check the ads easily. Because I keep notes about the prices at the other store I can compare but I have to realize that some prices at my favorite store will have gone up. I know I stopped in with my mom on a trip and in a week the eggs had gone up 50 cents so I'm going to budget an extra dollar.
Nothing in the Safeway add made me go ohh and ahh but it did remind me that I should probably look into getting a pumpkin. Here's where some thought needs to come into effect. I can get just any ole pumpkin, we carve it and roast the seeds. Doing that I lose a pumpkin because after we carve it - it's no longer food. If I use my food budget to buy the pumpkin then I have taken food away. Most carving pumpkins are not great eating either. They are edible but not as tasty as smaller pumpkins. So I could look into buying better tasting pumpkins, painting them and then roasting them later. That would do double duty but it would all depend on price. When it comes to squashes - bigger is not better. The smaller squashes are sweeter and have better flavor so I have to keep that in mind. We've been trained to believe that pumpkins need to be huge so they can make great jack o'lanterns.
Another thing to think about is that this weekend is fall festival and pumpkins and apples will be available for picking. They may be less expensive than the stores. Dissmore's has honey crisps for 1.59 but WSU has apples for about .75 a pound.
That's a lot of food for thought. How's your grocery planning coming?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Splurge: San Francisco Herb

San Francisco Herb is a great resource for baking ingredients, herbs, teas, spices and other odds and ends. It's a splurge because they require a $30 minimum order and it throws off my budget for the month. However, I take caution to only buy that which we use on a regular basis and take comfort in the fact that I am getting a great deal.
I've been using SF Herb for nearly ten years and have loved everything I have gotten from them.
I started buying from them as a way to get spices at a low cost. There is a disadvantage to ordering your herbs and spices from them - nearly everything comes in a 1 pound bag. A pound of some herbs is a lifetime amount and tough to go through. Sharing helps (both for amount and for cost) but sometimes the deal is so good that it's worth the waste. I try hard not to waste.
Things I buy from them on a regular basis - cocoa powder (*7.40 a pound), Cinnamon (ground and stick - between $2-3 a pound), essential oils - Eucalyptus (2.70 for 1 oz), Peppermint (6.10 for 1 oz), Spearmint (5.60 for 1 oz) and Rosemary (3.10 for 1 oz).
In the past we purchased their pill making kits and made our own herbal supplements. The cost was low but the work was not cost-effective. We found ordering pre-made supplements from Swanson Herbs gave us better quality for a similar price.
I purchase herbs still from SF Herb to make salves, oils and teas. The quality is not the best for everything but I still find quite a few high quality herbs for low cost. Their essential oils are culinary grade so I can use them for salves and cooking which will be nice when I get to making my own sodas.
I'll be putting in an order over the next few months. One thing to remember is that the cost constantly changes as SF Herb gets in shipments. They strive to provide the best cost and if they can lower the price they will but since they depend on harvests the prices fluxuate. Currently Cardamon is high but as the next harvest comes in the price should drop again.
* prices on 10/05/2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fried Tofu

I love fried tofu and opted to make it for the first time at home. Frying tofu creates a chewy, crispy foundation for sauce. We made Almond Sauce and served it with rice.
As a note, this was the day I received my Lawry's Bzzkit from Bzzagent. We used the seasoning salt in the breading for the tofu and added it to the water for the rice just for fun. The flavor is nice.

Fried Tofu
1 block firm or extra firm tofu
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup flour (we used AP but you can use any)
1/2 teas seasoning salt
Black pepper, opt

Slice the tofu into 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices. Pat dry with towel. Mix together cornstarch, flour, and seasoning salt. Add black pepper if desired. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a deep skillet. Dip tofu in flour mix, shake off extra (this is very important because the mix will create a slurry at the bottom of your oil). Fry tofu until crisp and golden. Flip and fry other side. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel.
Serve with sauce and rice.

Foraging: Acorns

I had a foraging weekend planned - acorns and chestnuts, pears and elderberries.
We got a 5 gallon bucket of pears that have just begun to ripen and found several other places to get pears if they turn out to be a good variety. We got some elderberries but were trying new areas so not as much as before (so many berries in locations we just couldn't safely get to). We collected a handful of chestnuts to experiment with since they just weren't quite ripe only to discover that the variety in our area are poisonous so out they went.
We got a small bucket of acorns to experiment with as well. Acorns have the potential to be a really good food source. Historically, they made up a large chuck of the diet. A large acorn tree can produce thousands of pounds of acorns throughout the winter. The variety of acorns run from sweet to bitter but all are edible with work. The more bitter the variety the more work. The trees we found are Red Oak and not all that prolific at the moment but we got a good sampling for experimenting.
I will say they are work but we watched movies while we worked on shelling and prepping so it wasn't a bad job. Being new to the process, I'm sure we wasted a lot more time than someone who is experienced. Thanks to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, I had good instructions on preparing acorns. We've got them ready for cooking but I haven't decided on a recipe yet.
I do want to explain why I want to learn how to use acorns and why I would consider adding them to my foraging routine. The flavor is not one we are accustom to and we will have to learn how to enjoy them. The work is difficult so most people would figure it's a waste of time. I wanted to share with you my thoughts on this before I talk about how to process them. As I sat with my bucket of acorns, I got to thinking about my reasons for wanting to learn to use them. There's a historical aspect. I like re-enacting the lives of my ancestors in small ways. I feel like I honor all the work they put into living so that I could live today. I like the simplicity of their lives and the work that I no longer have to do (makes chores seem so much easier if I remember how it could be). I feel more connected to them and to the earth they revered. Then I got to thinking about why it's important to me now.
I know that talks about the world ending usually are in jest. No one really believes the world will end. Me, I don't know. I don't know if war will happen or a natural disaster and life as we know it will end. It's possible that nothing will happen but I believe in being prepared. If I can learn to use the foods we forage, I am creating a skill that will save our lives if a disaster changes our access to readily prepared foods. I am teaching that skill to my children with the hope that it will continue to be passed down. To me, foraging and learning to use the foods is just as important as learning to create a shelter or distill water in an emergency.
So, off my soapbox and on to the technique. Acorns have a fairly soft shell. I still found that a nutcracker helped split the shell (using a knife or hammer is what is recommended but that came across as too dangerous for me). Using a nut pick I tore the remaining shell until I could easily remove the nut. The nut is surrounded by a soft fabric like coating. That should be removed before dropping the nut into a pot. The instructions had you drop the acorns in a pot containing water. I didn't use water because I worried it would take too long to peel the nuts leaving the nuts in the water open to spoilage. I did end up with some nasty looking nuts at the end so water might be a good idea (they looked fine when I was done processing them). I cut away bad parts and excessively wormy parts. This took the most work and I might not be so picky next time.
When peeled, cover the nuts with twice as much water (if 1 inch of nuts in the pot, add 2 inches of water). Bring to a boil and strain the water off. Cover with water and repeat. Depending on the type of oak, the number of boils will vary. It took us about 10 times to remove the bitterness from the acorns. I tasted the acorns at the beginning and bitter was an understatement. I repeated the boiling process until they tasted pretty good.
Spread strained nuts on a cookie sheet and roast at 300 degrees for 30-60 minutes depending on size and variety. When ours cooled, I put them in a ziplock bag and stuck them in the freezer so I can come up with a recipe. I'll let you know what we make with them.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Taco Soup

Fall means soup. It's crisp cool days that leave you rushing indoors to enjoy something soothing and hot. Here in the Palouse region of Washington, we're still warm. Tomorrow is the first real cool day with a predicted high of 59 degrees. Today we're in the 70's. The amount of rain we have gotten over the past few months hasn't been a good full day's rain. Our trees are still so green and my garden is trying to eek out the last of the summer produce. Apple picking is just beginning. My internal clock can't believe it's October. I'm having conflicting feelings. I want soup but it seems too early in the year. I'm trying to get into the Halloween spirit but my brain still wants camping and can't understand why the public pool is closed.
I'm forcing soup on myself and my family starting with this quick, easy and wonderful Taco Soup. It's open to interpretation so feel free to pull out what you have in your cupboards and try your own variation. We ate this with Quesadillas (cheese melted between two tortillas in a skillet) but it would be great with tortilla chips.

Taco Soup
3 chicken thighs
1 can diced tomatoes (mexican flavor is best but plain is fine)
1 packet taco seasoning
1 can corn
1 can carrots

Peel skin off chicken but leave in bones. Boil in water until fully cooked, for best flavor let boil for awhile and then let sit but not necessary. Remove chicken from broth. Pull meat off bones and chop. Feel through the chicken for cartilege that may have come off bone. Return meat to pot and discard bones. Add taco seasoning, tomatoes, corn and carrots. Swish the tomato can with water and add to pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer until ready to serve. (The soup just needs to be warmed thoroughly before serving, simmering just increases the flavor).
Serve hot with cheese sprinkled on top.

The Cost of Food

I had plans to share foraging with you today but when I read Vinobaby's post for today I realized there was another topic better suited for today. She shared the USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food. The Thrifty Plan is what the USDA uses to determine food stamps for families. What I found interesting is the huge amounts they use. I have to be grateful that they use such a high number to determine food stamps but is it realistic?
For my family of a 14 year old male, an adult male and an adult female the total is:
Thrifty Plan - 504.80
Low Cost Plan - 661.80
Moderate Cost Plan - 821.00
Liberal Plan - 999.99

Those numbers are staggering to me. The USDA bases these plans on their food pyramid and what Americans should be spending to meet those food requirements. It makes me want to ask what they are shopping for and where they are getting the costs of food. I know they have an explantion for these numbers but do they really reflect the cost of feeding a family nutritiously. If so, perhaps this has the answer to the US's obesity problem. Is nutritious food too expensive for the average family? I worry that I won't have enough nutritious food for my family. As we go into winter the access of fresh produce in my area will decrease. To buy produce in the store will become expensive and what we get is wilted, bruised and unappealing foods.
For me, to have $500 a month for groceries would mean eating more than healthy, we'd be eating in luxury. It would mean organic meat for every meal, raw milk, beautiful cheeses. Purchasing fruit and vegetables by the bushel for canning, drying, freezing. It would mean a full-time job just to use the food, let alone afford to buy it.
To me, this just shows how out of control our nation is. If this is truly what we need to purchase good food then the cost is too high and we need to do something about it. If this amount is what we believe we need then we need to relearn how to eat and cook because it's unrealistic.
I'd love to hear your opinion.