Saturday, October 24, 2009

Homespun Snacks

If you have kids, you know expensive it can get to keep them in food. I have two boys, ages 10 and sixteen, which means I constantly feel as if I’m feeding a small army. Make enough food for them and a hungry husband for three meals a day, then factor in snacks, desserts, and their hobbit-like eating habits (second breakfast anyone?), and you create a quite hefty grocery bill.
Thus, homemade snacks. I try to set aside a day each month for putting these things together, then pop them in the freezer. This way, the kids can throw them in the microwave and have a snack without eating everything in the fridge. Cool, huh? Try it out.

Homemade Hot Pockets
The great thing about these is that the option are endless. Make teriyaki chicken if you want, or apple cinnamon. The only limit is your imagination!

First make:
Really Easy Pizza Crust
1 packet yeast
1¼ C warm water
2 tbsp. oil
1 tsp. salt
4 cups flour

Mix ingredients. Rise for 15 to 30 minutes. Spread on greased pizza pan or baking sheet (Sprinkle the pan liberally with corn meal after greasing it - really improves the texture and non-stick quality of the crust). Top with sauce, cheese, and desired toppings. Bake at 425 12-20 minutes.

Then (using Pizza crust dough):
After rising, roll dough out as thin as possible. Use a glass or biscuit cutter to cut out rounds in even numbers. Chop up meat & cheese (see below) for filling, add sauce to moisten if desired. Place a spoonful of filling on half of each circle. Fold the other half of circle over, & then seal. Poke vent holes in the top for steam to escape. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes. Cool, then freeze in Ziploc freezer bags. To serve: Heat in microwave for 1 - 2 minutes.

Some Popular Variations:
Broccoli, ham, & cheddar - Steam broccoli until just done. Drain. Slice up prepared ham or ham lunchmeat. Grate some cheddar cheese, then mix it all together. Continue with Hot Pocket recipe as directed.

Sausage, egg, & cheese - brown loose sausage in pan. Drain. Scramble a few eggs, breaking up as little as possible. Grate some cheddar or cut American into pieces. Mix.

Pepperoni pizza - Cut up some pepperoni slices and mozzerella cheese. Add just enough pizza sauce to moisten.

Ham & Cheese Muffins
These are great for a quick breakfast.
2 C self-rising flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 C milk
½ C mayonnaise
½ C finely chopped fully cooked ham
½ C shredded Cheddar cheese
In a large bowl, combine flour and baking soda. Combine remaining ingredients; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 425 degrees F for 16-18 minutes or until muffins test done. Cool, then freeze in Ziplocs. Reheat for 30 seconds in microwave to serve.
As a substitute for each cup of self-rising flour, place 1½ teaspoons baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt in a measuring cup. Add all-purpose flour to measure 1 C.

Master Muffins
A more traditional muffin, these can be customized endlessly. Try blueberries for a purist approach, or experiment with combinations like peaches and crystallized ginger, apples and cinnamon, cranberries and walnuts, etc. Good stuff!
1½ C all purpose flour
¾ C white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg, beaten
¼ C canola oil
½ C milk
1 C. any fresh fruit or combination of fruits

Preheat oven to 400ยบ F. In a mixing bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Combine beaten egg, oil and milk, and then add to dry ingredients until just moistened. Gently stir in fruit. Put foil liners in muffin tin and divide batter evenly, filling each liner approximately ¾ full. Bake approximately 20-25 minutes. Cool, then freeze in Ziplocs.

Hot Chocolate/Chocolate Milk Mix
4 C powdered milk
1½ C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 C sugar
½ tsp salt

Combine ingredients and mix well. Store in airtight container. Use 1/4 cup per cup of milk or boiling water.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cheap Foods That Taste Good Part 2

Chicken Fried Steak with Cajun Cream Gravy
When I am craving steak, but my budget won‘t allow it, I make this. It satisfies the meat and potatoes urge, and it’s just so good! Serve with mashed potatoes and steamed corn or peas. Yum!

6 good quality cube steaks.
2 eggs
1 tbsp water
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
½ C. flour
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
2 C. milk
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Whisk together the eggs and water in a shallow bowl. Put flour in a second shallow bowl, and panko in a third. Dip each cube steak in turn into first the flour, then the egg, then the panko. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Carefully slide two breaded cube steaks into the hot skillet, taking care to avoid splashing the hot oil. Fry for about 3 minutes on each side, then remove to a cookie sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat until all the cube steaks are fried. When they are all warming in the oven, turn the skillet down to medium. Add about two tbsp. of flour to the skillet and whisk until smooth. Slowly add the milk, whisking after each addition. Stir in the cracked black pepper. Serve the steaks with gravy and mashed potatoes.

Mediterranean Sausage Pasta
Who needs those fancy Italian restaurants? Well, I do, but when I can’t have them, this serves the purpose rather nicely. And it’s so easy! Serve with good bread and a green salad.

1 lb. angel hair pasta
1 lb. Italian sausage, hot or sweet
2 cups fresh mushrooms ( I like to use a mix of white and shitake, but any will do!)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 leaves fresh basil, torn
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil

In a large pot, put water on to boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook until they have released most of their moisture. Add sausage. Cook until well browned. Add garlic and bell pepper and continue frying until everything is just cooked through. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Stir the sausage mixture into the pasta, adding crushed red pepper and salt as you do. Add a dash of olive oil and serve.

24 Hour Pork Shoulder
This dish requires a little planning, but it’s one of the most rewarding foods I know. Almost as good as real BBQ, it’s great for a crowd (or just to have leftovers), and is so little work that it feels like cheating! Serve with coleslaw, BBQ sauce, Rolls, and some potato salad. Summer in the winter!

1 pork shoulder roast, 8 - 10 lbs
1 pkg. pork rub
1 C. water, divided.

24 hours before you want to eat this, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the pork shoulder on a rack in a roasting pan and rub all over with the pork rub (yeah, you have to get your hands dirty. So?). Pour ½ cup of water in the bottom of the pan, turn the pork fat side up and put the whole thing in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 225 and then walk away. The next day, your house smelling ridiculously good, turn the heat back up to 450 for another 20 minutes. Now take it out and after pulling the bone out (it‘s so tender this is easy), use two forks to pull it apart until you have a good consistency, with everything mixed together (fat, meat, and all). Now eat!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Homemade Mixes

So we all know why we buy mixes, right? Because they’re easy. Problem: Everyone I know has no time, no energy, and can barely even think about cooking, let alone make everything from scratch. I’m a stay at home mom, but between Homeschooling, cleaning, running around to activities, and writing, sometimes I don’t feel like cooking. And I like to cook!
Solution: Homemade mixes. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. If you can find ten minutes, you can throw together one of these mixes, and it will save you tons of money, tons of time, and plenty of peace of mind. Have you ever read the ingredients on the store bought mixes? Why exactly do brownies need Dicalcium Phosphate & Dextrose? Do they make it better?
So here I present to you some homespun mixes. Mix them up, store them in a Tupperware or an old canning jar and enjoy!

Double-Fudge Brownie Mix
6 C. Flour
4 tsp. Baking Powder
4 tsp. Salt
8 C. Sugar
1 (8oz.) can Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Makes about 15 cups of mix.

To use the mix:
¼ C. butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
2 ¼ C. Brownie Mix
½ C. Chopped nuts, chocolate chips, chopped Andes candies, etc.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease & flour an 8 inch square baking pan. Combine all ingredients and stir just until mixed. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 - 35 minutes.

Homemade Biscuit & Pancake mix
Note: I’m not allowed to call this what it is. But I think you know.
6 C all purpose flour
3 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp salt
1¼ C solid shortening -- butter flavor, Crisco preferred

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in shortening with 2 knives or pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Store in a container with tight-fitting lid. Use as you would Bisquick.

Variations: For a healthier mix with improved flavor and more interesting texture, make All-Purpose Biscuit Mix with 3 cups white flour and 3 cups whole wheat flour. For Buttermilk All-Purpose Biscuit Mix, add 9 tablespoons dry buttermilk powder to the basic mix.

Wonderful Homemade Chocolate Pudding Mix Recipe
4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
2 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups cornstarch
1-1 1/3 cup baking cocoa (1 cup for light, 1-1/3 cups for a dark rich flavor)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sift together all ingredients. Store in airtight container or plastic bag. Makes about 10 cups of mix.

To use the mix:
1 C. pudding mix
2 cups milk or half-and-half
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine 1 cup of dry mix with 2 cups milk in a very heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a med boil; stirring constantly (watch closely not to burn!).
Stir in butter and vanilla. Divide into bowls. Also great for making fudge pops!

That should get you started. Good luck!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Homespun Cleaning

Some of you know I make my own soap. I love doing it, it’s incredibly cheap, and it means it’s all natural. Explaining that would take a fairly long blog, and it’s going to have to wait until I get a new camera anyway, because pictures are incredibly helpful to the process.
After I had been doing that a while, I started wondering what else I could make homemade. Since I am a research fanatic that’s what I did, and I started realizing that if you have the time to invest you can make darn near anything yourself. Time, however, is a precious commodity, so here are a few things you can make with a minimum of time, effort, and out of ingredients that are easy to find.
These are the time tested recipes that I have found to be truly cost effective, so easy it’s almost laughable, and coolest of all, it means no nasty chemicals. You know how everybody wants to go green, but then you walk down the cleaning aisle and see how expensive those eco-friendly products are? Heck, even the bad old chemical cleaners are pretty steep. Well guess what… these are the same, only affordable.
I really hope you give them a chance. They really work, and there’s not a lot of things more satisfying then saying “I made my own laundry soap today.”
Have fun!

Homemade Laundry Soap
This isn’t grocery store laundry soap, it’s much better. And at about $0.05 per load, it’s worth it. It gels as it cools, and becomes slightly lumpy, but dissolves nicely in the washing machine. Just use a plastic measuring cup to scoop it and go. You can also add a few drops of essential oil to make it smell nice, but I personally like the pure soap smell just fine.

4 bars Ivory (or any unscented pure soap), grated.
4 C Borax
4 C Washing Soda (yes washing soda, not baking soda. It works better, trust me. You can find it in the laundry aisle of most grocery stores)
3½ gallons water

Using large enamel or stainless steel canning kettle, heat the water to almost boiling. Add grated soap and stir until melted. Add washing soda & borax, stirring until well mixed. Remove from heat & cool. Pour into a container(a paint bucket with a lid works great). Makes 4 gallons. Use ¼ C per load.
To make a stain spray, fill a spray bottle about ½ full of the laundry soap, then add another ¼ worth of white vinegar. Wait for it to stop foaming, then shake until well mixed.

Note: I make this much at a time, but it’s easy to cut this recipe in half, or even quarter it. Not everybody has giant canning kettles!

Lemon Furniture Polish
This furniture polish makes wood shine and protects it. Pretty cool.

1 C. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Lemon essential oil

Mix together and use the same way you use liquid gold, e.g. wipe it on with a soft rag, wipe dry with another one. That’s it. Simple, isn’t it?

“Not-Allowed-To-Use-That-Other-Name” Window Wash
Seriously, this works just as good. Try it. I add a little blue food coloring in order to distinguish it from other stuff. Why not?

¼ C. White Vinegar
1 tbsp. Cornstarch
2 C. Warm water

Mix together in a spray bottle, shaking really well to dissolve cornstarch. Now use just like the commercial stuff.

I have tons of these, but so far have not been able to find an acceptable (in other words, working) dishwasher soap recipe. If anyone knows one, I’d love to have it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cheap Foods that Taste Good (really)
How to Eat Like the Economy Didn’t Tank

I don’t know about you, but when I’m broke my cooking imagination seems to fly out the window. Almost anyone can concoct a gourmet meal when the ingredients on hand are top quality, exotic, and perfect, but it takes a lot of imagination to make something delicious out of an onion, ground beef, some ketchup, and frozen burger rolls. Sloppy Joes anyone? Not that there’s anything wrong with Sloppy Joes, but after a few weeks of going through the cheap foods roster, I get pretty sick of the Ground Beef Hall of Fame.

Ok, so you’re really missing all those steak dinners and shrimp pastas you were eating eighteen months ago, right? At this point most of us are feeling the pinch, and it can take an enormous toll on the dinner table. When times are this tough, food at the may be one of the only enjoyable things you and your family can still afford.

I have seen more “Eat more for less!” articles than I care to remember, and they all seem to feature some variation of condensed soup, uninspired sandwiches, or cans of vegetables. In other words, completely uninteresting.

These are the recipes I reach for whenever I get the “not spaghetti again” feeling. For my first installment I’ve gone Asian, but they really are easy. They really are cheap. To top it all off, they are definitely not boring. Enjoy!

Thai Green Curry with Chicken & Eggplant
As exotic as this dish sounds, it’s really comfort food. It’s amazing how silky the eggplant gets, and the chicken seems to come out
perfect every time. My family loves it so much that it’s become almost a weekly dinner. You can make it as spicy or mild as you want, just alter the amount of green curry paste. Serve with plain white rice and set out Asian chili paste & fish sauce for people to adjust to their taste.

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 jar ready-made green curry paste
1 1lb. Package boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin across the grain.
1 large eggplant, cut into ½ inch cubes
4 cans (16 oz.) coconut milk
1 tbsp sugar
6 large leaves fresh basil, torn

Heat vegetable oil n a 6 qt. stockpot over medium heat. Add the curry paste, and stir until it starts to smell good. Add sliced chicken breasts, stirring to coat. Add diced eggplant. Keep stirring until the chicken begins to turn opaque and the eggplant absorbs some of the oil. Add the coconut milk and sugar (you can add more sugar if you want); bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and cook for about 20 minutes. Add the basil and remove from heat. Serve in bowls with a scoop of rice.

Asian Beef & Scallions
One night when I was really craving Chinese take out and just could not afford it, I decided to try to make Mongolian Beef. Authentic it’s not, but this is the delicious result. You can replace the skirt steak with flatiron steak, top round, or sirloin, just slice it thin! Serve with plain white rice and Confetti salad.

¼ C. soy sauce
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. orange juice or lemon juice
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 - 2 lbs. skirt steak, flat iron steak, or top round (whatever’s on sale) sliced thin across the grain
1 tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces

Mix together first six ingredients. Add the steak and stir to coat, then set aside to marinate for about 20 minutes. Drain steak, reserving marinade. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the drained meat, stir frying until meat is browned. Reduce heat to low and add reserved marinade. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for five minutes. Serve over rice.

Confetti Salad
Easy and interesting, this salad can turn anything into a feast. It tastes even better the next day. Just think of it as Asian coleslaw!

¼ C. Mayonnaise
1 C. bottled ginger dressing
1 bag pre-shredded cabbage
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
¼ C. peanuts, chopped coarsely

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and ginger dressing. In a larger bowl, mix the cabbage and peppers. Add the dressing and stir to coat. Sprinkle peanuts over the top.

*Note: Until my camera is fixed or I get a new ones, I will only be using stock type photos. I will do my best however to find ones that look like mine!

What's the point?

Allow me to introduce myself. I am currently a stay at home mom, which I love. However, this does leave us short one income, which conventional wisdom states in this day and age is impossible. My husband is a union carpenter (which pays fairly well for blue collar work), but due to the current economic climate he has worked very little this year. This puts us in a bit of a bind financially. I’m not complaining, just trying to illustrate the situation.
Now while I may like cooking more than your average person, I am in no hurry to start doing laundry by hand again down at the creek (my friend Kerri‘s assertions that I am a “pilgrim“ aside). I do however maintain that there are ways of making our lives cheaper, easier, and less reliant on Wal-Mart and Costco for just getting by.
So here I present to you some ideas, tested and tried, in the hopes that it will help you and your family through these rough financial times. Furthermore, I hope that others will chime in and add their wisdom. It used to be that these sort of things were imparted to you by mothers, fathers, and others in the community. In today’s tech age when the world has gotten so small, our community should be stronger and filled with more voices, rather than separatist and uncommunicative. Whether you work or stay home, have children or not, are a woman or a man; whatever race, religion, creed, or color you are, please if you have something to add, feel free.
Glad to meet you.