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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Holiday Food Stretching

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming and that usually means heading to someone's home (maybe yours) and stuffing your face with loved ones. For the food insecure this often is an upsetting contrast and also a welcome reprieve from their everyday struggles. Putting food on the table every day can be a stretch, particularly this time of year when the garden can't help (if you are lucky enough to have room and time for one); getting to the cheapest store is sometimes too cold of a walk so you settle for the higher priced, but closer one; you are expected to provide some type of Christmas gifts, often extravagant ones if your Jones' are significantly better off than you are; plus you need to do it all full of spirit and cheer. I know that sometimes it is hard to ask for help, but please know that there are many people who want to help, without judgement or pity, you just have to ask.

I have put together some ideas specific to holiday meals to hopefully make this time of year a bit less stressful.

The absolute first thing is ASK FOR LEFTOVERS! I know yelling isn't nice, but seriously! You would not believe how much food gets thrown away because either the host isn't one to use leftovers, they won't fit in the refrigerator, or they don't get used up before they go bad.

Now, what to do with those leftovers? Here are my favorite ideas, in no particular order:

Turkey

  • dice and freeze in sandwich size ziptop bags (about 1 pound per bag makes a nice family size meal with rice or pasta)
  • use it in place of any recipe that calls for chicken
  • the carcass makes fantastic stock (this post has pictures of last year's bounty: December Meal Plan and this one gives a recipe: Chicken Stock)
  • shred the meat and use it to make salad with mayo, celery, carrots, hard boiled eggs, walnuts, craisins, dill pickle, and whatever else suits your fancy
  • add barbecue, soy, sweet and sour, curry, or whatever other sauce or seasoning you have, turkey accepts lots of flavors really well

Ham

  • dice and put in snack size ziptop bags, it only takes a little bit of ham to add a lot of flavor
  • add to scrambled eggs, omelets, or frittata
  • ham and beans, of course! 
  • dice very small, fry until crispy and add to mashed potatoes or use to top salads

Stuffing

  • I haven't tried these, but they look amazing: Bacon Stuffing Bites 
  • make savory pancakes by adding a little flour, an egg, and some milk to make a chunky pancake-consistency batter, fry in oiled skillet, top with gravy or sour cream
  • cut chicken breasts in half, pound them out flat (I like to put them in a gallon freezer bag so I don't pound gross chicken splatters around the kitchen), put about a half cup of stuffing on the breast and roll it up, secure with a toothpick, bake covered at 350* about 30-45 minutes (until the chicken isn't pink and/or is 165* throughout)
  • use to make breakfast muffins - here is my basic recipe (Muffins), just omit the sugar, substitute the stuffing for half the flour, add some savory filler like ham, bacon, scrambled eggs, onions, etc. and use seasoned salt or poultry seasoning for the seasoning

Mashed potatoes

  • latkes! (true latke aficionados will not like this at all, but that's what we call them), add about a cup of flour and 2 eggs to every 3 cups of mashed potatoes, mix, smash into patties and fry in about 1/2 inch of oil, you can add some diced onions, ham, or bacon to the patties to make them really special, serve topped with sour cream, applesauce, or a fried egg (over medium for me, please)
  • breaded potato balls - (Super Food has some pictures) basically, you need very thick potatoes, if yours aren't, you can add some stuffing, flour, or shredded potatoes to thicken them, then you just form them into balls, roll in beaten egg and then bread crumbs and bake until lightly browned
  • use to thicken and add creaminess to any soup

Vegetables

  • we are big pot pie fans here and adding leftover vegetables (green beans, corn, carrots as long as they aren't sweet) will work great, as a matter of fact, adding green bean casserole to your pot pie recipe would be magnificent!
  • vegetable soup - saute some diced onions in some olive oil, add some tomato paste, garlic, chicken, beef or vegetable bouillon and Italian seasonings and saute another 3-4 minutes, add all the leftover vegetables (even the whole casserole if that's what you have) and cover with at least a couple inches of water, bring to a simmer and adjust to taste

Yams

  • sweet potato muffins are great, use the muffin recipe above
  • yams will freeze, when they thaw they might release some liquid, but will still be good
  • use to make sweet potato pie

Breads

  • cut into about 1 inch cubes, very quickly deep fry for the best croutons you will ever have, as soon as they come out, sprinkle with either seasoned salt or cinnamon sugar
  • cut into cubes, let sit uncovered overnight, then crumble by hand or in the food processor to make bread crumbs, put them in a bag in the freezer and they will keep indefinitely (can be used for making meatballs or meatloaf or lentil loaf, breading fried or baked goods, etc.)
  • tear into chunks for bread pudding
  • french toast

Desserts

  • most desserts freeze beautifully, just make sure you wrap them well 
  • pumpkin pie and be cut into cubes, rolled in sweetened breadcrumbs or coconut flakes and baked or fried, then dusted with pumpkin pie spiced sugar for little bite-sized pieces of heaven
  • almost boil milk, almond milk, or soymilk in the microwave or stove, add a square of fudge or a truffle and stir well or blend in blender for super hot chocolate

I would love to hear your clever ideas for leftovers!

*Cross posted to The Pantry blog

Basic Muffin Recipe

I am pretty sure I stole this (possible from The Tightwad Gazette), but I have used it for so long, I'm not 100% sure any more. It is my go to snack and breakfast muffin.


Muffins

1 ½ C flour
½ C sugar
2 t baking powder
½ t salt
1 C milk or other liquid (a little less if your filler is really liquid-y)
¼ C oil
1 egg
1 ½ C filler
spices (usually about 1 t, but adjust as you need to)

I love this recipe because it is a starting point for whatever we have. Just add 1 ½ cups total of any mixture of things, like shredded carrots or zucchini, or crushed pineapple, or chopped nuts, or chopped apples, or canned pumpkin, or chocolate chips or coconut, or... whatever! Just match the spices to what you add (or just go with cinnamon, it almost always works).

If you want to go savory: crumbled bacon (pre cooked) and scrambled eggs (pre cooked) with sage, salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients, place in greased muffin cups or whatever other pan you have (I like to make two shallow 8 inch squares). Bake about 20 minutes, depending on your pan size. They are done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Preheat oven to 400ยบ Bake 18-22 minutes for regular muffins or 25-30 for large muffins.                  

Chicken Stock

I have a confession: I'm a bit obsessed with stock, like I take pictures of it and stuff... By sharing this, I hope to get you on board with the obsession!

Cook a chicken and use the meat for whatever you had planned (or use a turkey or rotisserie chicken carcass):

When you have pulled most of the meat off the bones, put the carcass in a pot with any juices left over from cooking and the giblets and neck if you have them and add water until it is completely covered. Add some celery stalks, onion and carrots if you have some handy (they don't even need to be chopped). Add a splash of vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar) to help pull calcium from the bones and into the stock. Cover and simmer for an hour or more, stirring occasionally. Even easier, put all of this in the crock pot on low overnight.

Strain out the carcass and stuff and discard (after checking for any small pieces of meat, there is usually quite a bit). After it completely cools, it will look like chicken flavored Jell-o, lovely visual, huh? If you are concerned about fat, then you can put the stock in the refrigerator or freezer and the fat will harden on top and you can just lift it off. I will say though, that I leave it with all the fat and here is why: fat is delicious. That should be enough, but if you need more, I have more: we choose to eat very small portions of meat because it is a healthier way to eat, even making many meals with beans or tofu as the protein; because of that, we have more room in our diet for things like fats and oils. Fat is also filling and making otherwise meatless dishes with stock makes them feel “meatier” which satisfies the staunch meat eaters in the family.


        Golden delicious stock!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

$100 Proof of Concept Month

I set out to prove our Thrifty Month in a real-life experiment. "Haven't you done this before?" you might rightfully ask. Well, that's a darn fine question and the truth is that I'm not terribly great at sticking with anything or following rules so we had pretty much followed it and I based the meal plan off what we actually ate one month, but I wasn't able to say with certainty that we hadn't cheated.

First, my definition of what I mean by a $100 month is that two adults and two roughly 13 year old children can eat three meals and about two snacks per day without being hungry. This is not enough to make you stuffed every day, but also isn't so little that you have to go to bed hungry. This means 120 breakfasts, 120 lunches, 120 dinners, and about 200 snacks, loosely using the following breakdown of food cost per meal:

breakfast - $5
lunch - $33
dinner - $47
snacks - $15

What I found was that I had cheated more than I thought I did and current prices had changed a bit, but, overall I claim 90% success. If you knew there was really no more food coming, you would need to eat some smaller portions some days than we did and perhaps add a few more dollars (to make up for the meals we ate out) but it would absolutely work in an emergency month.

In our case, this was not an emergency situation and we did eat out several times so a true meal count didn't happen. We had a very busy month where we were out of the house a lot for a variety of reasons and while that isn't a great excuse, it is what it is. Here is that breakdown:


  • 2 Colton's (leftovers added to bean dip and muffins) - We had a fundraiser for Project Graduation one night and just went to see daddy one day. *4 dinners, 4 lunches*
  • 2 hot dogs and 2 pretzels at concession stands for Kolbi and Lucille - It is really hard to sell things and not eat them... *1.5 dinners*
  • 1 small pizza for Doug and Kolbi - late night munchies :-) *2 snacks*
  • Volleyball banquet - We took a salsa potato side dish, but ate a whole meal *3 dinners*
  • Pantry meeting at Panera for Kolbi and Lucille *1.5 lunches*
  • Big kids ate at Culver's for Student Council fundraiser *2 dinners*
  • Chick-fil-A for everyone while we were cleaning our rental house for the new tenants.  *4 dinners*
  • Pizza for everyone - A new place opened around the corner, how could I say no, seriously? *4 dinners*

Totals: 18.5 dinners (15% or $7.05), 2 snacks (1% or 15¢), 5.5 lunches (5% or $1.65) or generously $10 would need to be added to make up for all the meals eaten out.


In order to make sure I didn't cheat by using things not on the list, I removed all the food other than the spices and condiments from the kitchen.

I did all the shopping for the month in one trip to avoid any temptation to buy extra, with the exception of half the bananas and a loaf of bread because they wouldn't still be good by the end of the month.

I will admit to cheating by adding 1/4 pound of bacon ($2.29 for the whole pound) to some black bean and potato soup. It turned out so well I added it to the latest version of the print book. It would have still been good without it, I'm sure, but I had a craving so I caved and splurged on 57¢ worth of bacon .

More cheating:  I let Paige keep some frozen fruit and flax seed that she uses for smoothies (about 3 cups of mixed fruit, plus she used 3 bananas that were on the list.) I also increased the amount of flour and added vegetable oil and apples to the original list printed in previous versions of the book, but added them to the updated grocery list (below) and it still was close enough to $100 (before tax) that I think it counts.

Paige and Doug were each sick for two days so they didn't eat much those days.

I didn't follow the meal plan exactly because some days we simply felt like something else, but I didn't buy any more food, just used it differently. I consider this an acceptable deviation.


Updated grocery list:

4.00
flour (10 lb)
1.00
baking powder
0.10
salt
2.90
shortening
3.00
milk (1 gal)
4.50
eggs (3 dz)
4.60
old fash oats (2)
1.20
brown sugar
2.60
olive oil
2.00
vegetable oil
1.70
bouillon cubes
1.60
sugar (4 lb)

1.00
tomato sauce (32 oz)
0.40
tomato paste
2.40
can diced tomatoes (4/14 oz)
2.00
can crushed tomatoes (2/28 oz)
1.20
carrots (2 lb)
1.40
celery (1 stalk)
2.00
onions (3 lb)
2.30
potatoes (5 lb)
2.50
bananas (20)
3.00
apples (12)
.90
green bell pepper (4)
1.00
garlic
2.00
sandwich bread (2)


1.80
can chili beans (3)
0.90
can pumpkin
1.40
can tuna (2)
0.80
refried beans


2.00
frozen mix veg (32 oz)
5.00
CA blend veg (60 oz)
1.00
frozen corn (16 oz)
1.00
frozen peas (16 oz)
12.00
whole chicken (3/4-5 lb)
1.50
rice (3 lb)
1.00
lentils (1 lb)
1.80
penne pasta (2 lb)
1.50
elbow pasta (2 lb)
1.00
spaghetti (1 lb)
7.50
dried beans (6 lb)
2.00
peanuts
1.70
peanut butter
1.20
tortilla chips
1.25
raisins
1.70
jar alfredo sauce
2.70
crackers (3 boxes)
102.05
TOTAL

So what does that amount of food look like? More than I expected, honestly;



The middle shelves (with the toaster and wine glasses) hold my spices. I admit that not everyone would have quite as many as I do, but I don't feel like I need to add any to the grocery list as most people would have enough to make do and I did include chicken bouillon and salt.


The beer and wine shown are obviously not in the grocery list. The things shown that I did not list that we used are pickle relish, margarine (one tub of regular and one tub with garlic added), and two eggs that were left in the carton. It should be noted that only one half gallon of soy milk is shown, but the grocery list is made with one gallon of cow's milk. In actuality, we used about three quarter's gallon of soymilk (there is some in the door.) These items are also found in the door of the fridge: mayo, ketchup, two kinds of mustard, syrup, sriracha, barbecue sauce, worcestershire sauce and soy sauce.  

And the receipt to prove it:


One question that may come up is, "what did we do with all that flour?" We are certainly not gluten free, everyone in the house absolutely loves bread. Ten pounds is equal to about 38 cups, and this is how we used it:

  • 4 batches of muffins: 2 pumpkin, 1 banana, 1 sweet potato (1 1/2 c each)
  • 1 batch banana pancakes (2 c)
  • 2 batches scrambled pancakes with sugar glaze (yeah, it's not a health food, sorry) (1 1/2 c each)
  • 3 batches of biscuits (2 c each)
  • 2 pot pies with biscuit topping (2 c each)
  • 2 batches of tortillas (2 c each)
  • 1 loaf bread (4 c)
  • mini pizzas (3 c)
  • 16 cinnamon rolls and 16 dinner rolls (5 c)


We did end up with some extra food that came to us for free:

  • 1 biscuit mix from The Pantry (2 partial spilled bags that couldn't be used there)
  • 1 small head broccoli from a community garden
  • 5-10 cherry tomatoes from our garden (we actually harvested a lot more than that, but diced and froze them for after this month, these were the ones we snacked on while dicing)
  • several bunches of fresh basil from garden used for a pesto-like dip and pasta
  • about 2 cups pasta salad from church
  • sandwich size ziploc of raw carrots, celery, and broccoli from church
  • One pint salsa verde from our garden
  • Halloween candy

What is left over after our month? Not a lot as you may suspect:
  • over half a can of baking powder
  • about 1 pound of shortening
  • 4 bouillon cubes
  • about 2 pounds of sugar
  • 1 cup of oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • about 2 cups vegetable oil

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cheap and Easy Decorating - Towels

Sometimes I make updates that make a huge difference and I wonder what the heck took me so long to do it. I am challenging myself to try to make the house look less like a single 24 year old man lives here and more like adults with jobs and such. I've even employed (in the free type of employment) my lovely cousin, Jaimi, who has a terrific sense of style but is also frugal to help me out. She was here for 15 minutes before fixing the entry area that Doug and I have been trying to figure out for a year (pictures of that soon.)

Today's post, though, is about towels. I have always been of the opinion that if a towel absorbs water after you bathe, then it is a keeper, regardless of its appearance. I finally decided to upgrade the towels and even coordinate with our new bathroom. We had four nice brown towels that were a gift and four pretty decent white towels that I actually bought here and there, but the brown didn't really match the gray and black bathroom. It did match the kids' upstairs blue, green, and brown shower curtain, so they got the brown and two of the white. I kept two of the white and bought some new green bath towels and even a matching rug and hand towels, like a grown up! I was amazed at what a difference it made. The kicker is that I actually got rid of the crappy towels (turned them into rat bedding) so I am not tempted to use them. Wanna see a picture?


So much better, right? And that, to be perfectly honest, isn't what the towels normally looked like before, they were much more, umm freeform in their placement. What did this big decorating event cost? Millions of dollars, probably since I spend so long putting it off... Or, by shopping at Kohl's 60% off rack, $7.50 each for the big, luxurious bath towels, $6 for all four hand towels, and $10 for the softest rug I've ever felt. $46 total, plus I have a card that gets me 15% off plus they were having a special that gave me $10 in Kohl's cash to use later. So, a grand total of $33 to look like I'm some sort of put together. Crazy.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Basil Avocado Spread/Dip

I have a lot of basil growing right now. A LOT of basil. I love basil, thankfully, but you can only have tomato basil pasta and pesto so many times before you start looking for other avenues. This is a "throw everything that I need to use up today into the bowl" recipe and it turned out wonderfully.


Basil Avocado Spread/Dip

1 cup basil leaves
1 ripe avocado
1 small tomato
1/4 cup onion
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
s/p to taste

Throw it all into the food processor or blender and process until it is a smooth as you like. Tip - change the basil to cilantro, the lemon to a lime, add a jalapeno and you get a great guacamole.

I toasted some crusty bread slices in olive oil and served it as a spread for dinner last night and today ate it with tortilla chips, both ways were delightful!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Flushable Cleaning Wipe?


I am a lousy housekeeper. I keep thinking that at some point I will get it all together, but... So, anyway, I see people using the Clorox Wipe-type products and I see the appeal, but just can't get behind disposable chemical crap. There are some wipes that use essential oils and non-toxic liquid, but that still leaves the wipe itself. I checked every package our Target had and they ALL say, "Do Not Flush." So I came home and did a little research and found that these wipes, paper towels, ultra-plush toilet paper, and even the new "flushable wipes" are causing problems for sewage treatment plants to the tune of millions of dollars in new shredding machines and repairs to fix clogged and damaged pipes.

A study by the Portland Water District in Maine in 2011 analyzed what was causing clogs in their sewer pipes and came up with this analysis:
— 42 percent paper products, including paper towels
— 24 percent baby wipes
— 17 percent hygiene products, including feminine pads and tampons
— 8 percent "flushable" wipes
— Remainder, other items, including household wipes, cosmetic pads and medical materials.
source

My mission was to create a flushable wipe that didn't have any nasty chemicals on it that would break down in a reasonable amount of time to satisfy hippy-me and conventional-me. Basically, I failed. Any wipe that is sturdy enough to hang out in cleaning solution waiting for you to use it, is too sturdy to go into the septic or sewer system. Makes sense, right?

Here is my 18 hour dissolve test paper towel vs toilet paper:
Definitely not sewer safe.


But, this wasn't a total failure, I did make a wipe that cleans and disinfects naturally, is easy to use, and inexpensive. It would also "probably" be compostable, but only in a healthy, thriving compost system because the tea tree oil could potentially kill the healthy microbes in the pile.

Now, after the longest intro ever:


Wipes (2 packages):


1 roll single-ply paper towels (I used Bounty Basic Select-a-Size)
2 gallon zip top bags
1 t dish soap
2-3 T Borax (there is some confusion about the safety of Borax, rest assured, it is fine, ask Crunchy Betty)
10-20ish drops essential oil/s (see note*)

Use a serrated knife to cut the roll of paper towels in half. Remove the center tube (some will just slide out, some need to be convinced). In each zip top bag, put a few drops of dish soap, 1-2 T Borax, 5-10 drops oils, and about a cup of water  and shake it all up:

Pull up the very center towel a little and then place the whole roll in the bag. Add a little more water if they aren't saturated and dump out if there is a lot of excess (the amount varies based on the type of towels):


To dispense, just pull one at a time out from the center of the roll.

 *Note - I use tea tree in the bathroom and a combination of tea tree and peppermint in the kitchen because we have an ant issue right now and ants hate peppermint. I recommend always using tea tree because it is antimicrobial and will keep your wipes from mildewing and disinfect whatever surface you use them on. Lavender also does this to a slightly lesser degree, so is another option. Some citrus would be nice as well, just customize to your heart's content.

I bought a package of 8 rolls (on sale for $7 for 103 sheet rolls) because we have a business where the health department requires us to use paper towels, so I could but the extras there; otherwise it would have made more sense to buy a single pack even if it costs a bit more per roll just to avoid storing all those paper towels. This recipe costs around $0.50 per package, but no matter what towels you choose, this is waaaaay cheaper than buying wipes.