Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this day of thanks, I thought I would list a few of the many, many things I am thankful for.

My home - it isn't always the neatest, cleanest place on earth, but it is warm and full of love.

My family - I am really, really, really thankful for my family. They are so amazing and I love them so much.

Food to eat - as we get ready to stuff ourselves, I'm thankful that we have food all year long.

My job - I get to get up every day and go to a place I love to work with people I enjoy and help kids I adore. How much better can it get?

My country - we live in America, it isn't perfect, but I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

My safety - with the news of what is happening in India right now, I'm even more thankful for my safety. My heart and prayers go out to all the people in India.

My pets - my cat is sitting on the desk next to me right now and my chickens have already laid me two eggs today, and my bunnies spend a few hours inside snuggling with us last night. I love my pets.

There are so many more things, but just let me say I'm so blessed and thankful on this day of thanksgiving. I hope I remember to "give thanks" more than just once a year.

What are you thankful for?


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review - Cheap Eating

Many years ago I took a trip to the beach with friends. It was all girls (we called ourselves the "Beach Babes") and we had a fabulous time going out to lunch, poking around in the shops, walking on the beach, curling up with good books and, of course, talking - a lot! On one of our trips into town, we peeked into a small bookstore. I, of course, went straight for the cooking section. This little book caught my eye - Cheap Eating - How to Feed Your Family Well and Spend Less, by Pat Edwards. At the time, my husband was just starting out in his career and we had two small children. I was working at the time but wanted desperately to quit my job and stay home with my girls. I was looking for anyway possible to cut expenses to allow that to happen. A book that could teach me to cook and eat cheap? For only $9.95? I'll take it!

Not long after that trip I was finally able to quit my job and stay home. I wish I could say this book was responsible, but it was not. However, it did give me some great ideas.

The first 130 pages of this book aren't recipes, but rather strategies and ideas to help you shop smarter and cook cheaper. If you are a hard-core frugal shopper, most of this information is nothing new. There are some tips and tricks you might not have thought of, but nothing earth-shattering. If you are the "don't make a list, throw whatever in the cart, convenience is the name of the game" type of shopper, you will learn a lot from this book. In fact, if you are that kind of shopper, some of these ideas may seem extreme and unrealistic. Let me assure you, lots of people shop and cook in exactly this way and it doesn't feel extreme to us!

The last 150 pages or so are recipes. Let me just say this, these are bare-bones, no frills recipes. An example is the recipe for lentil rice casserole on page 140. The ingredients are: lentils, rice, water, onions, salt and pepper. That is it, you don't saute the onion in oil or butter, there is not flavoring in the water, you put it all in a casserole pan and bake for 1 hour at 350. She lists "optional" ingredients as curry and grated cheese. I'm not sure if she's talking about curry powder or not, and she doesn't say how to add it. She recommends serving the cheese at the table to sprinkle on top. I'm not sure my family would go for this one. Her version is listed as only costing 73 cents for the whole casserole (not including the "optional" cheese).

However, these recipes can be the basis for some really cheap meals if you make modifications that don't send the cost skyrocketing. For instance, we do a variation on the lentil-rice casserole with chicken boullion added to the water, sauted carrots and onions and cheese melted on top. Mine is still really cheap but has enough flavor that my family gobbles it up.

One such "changeable" recipe is "Breakfast Muffin Cake" Here is the original recipe:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix in a bowl:

2 eggs
4 Tbls oil
1/2 c. molasses
2 cups water

Mix in a separate bowl:

1 c. dry milk
2 c. dry oatmeal
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
(optional ingredients are raisins or a couple Tbs of marmalade; 1/2 c. applesauce, cooked squash, or carrots)

Blend dry ingredients with wet, stir just until moistened. Bake in 9 x 12 pan for 15 minutes. Should last for two breakfasts. Cost: $1.65. (The book was printed in 1993, I'm sure prices have changed).

I made some modifications: I added 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 c. sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon, and 1/2 c. dried cranberries. I used part whole wheat for some of the flour. I drizzled a powdered sugar glaze on the cake when it came out of the oven. It took almost 25 minutes to bake and I used a 9 x 13 pan (who has a 9 x 12???). My family liked it and I would definately make it again. Next time I would add the 1/2 c. applesauce (my family's one complaint was that it was a little dry), I would do raisins instead of cranberries, and I would blend the oatmeal (I used whole oats and they were a little crunchy).

So, it was a really cheap recipe, I made modifications that didn't break the bank, and I came up with a healthy, cheap recipe that my family likes. That's a winning combo!

If you don't like playing with your recipes, but want flavorful food, this is probably not the cookbook for you. If you have fun being frugal and don't mind tweaking a recipe to make it fit your family, you would probably enjoy it. In addition, I did a search on and on and found copies of this book for as low as 75 cents! Hey, for 75 cents you can't go wrong, right?


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Thanksgiving Edition

For more menu ideas, check out Organizing Junkie!

I am hosting Thanksgiving on Thursday here at my house. I love Thanksgiving! I think it is my favorite holiday. I love the food, I love the feeling, I love having family over, I love the idea of a day to sit around and give thanks. I also love that it signals the start of the whole "Holiday Season."

Because I'll be doing LOTS of cooking on Thursday, the rest of the week is pretty easy meals. And of course, Friday and Saturday (and Sunday?) will be something with turkey in it!

  • Muffin cake (a recipe I found in my "Cheap Eating" cookbook)
  • oatmeal with berries
  • toast with jam or peanut butter and honey
  • left over pan rolls with butter and honey
  • hummus with pita chips and carrots
  • lunchmeat sandwiches
  • lunchmeat and cheese sticks
  • leftovers!
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Stir fry with pot stickers and veggies, rice, fruit
  • pesto pasta, foccacia bread
  • brown rice and bean crockpot meal (I've had this on the menu for three weeks and I'm actually going to make it this week!!)
  • TURKEY, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, corn, relish tray, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, berry pie, etc etc etc. YUM!
  • leftovers!
I'm excited for this week. However, other than just reheating the turkey, gravy, potatoes etc. and of course, turkey sandwiches, I'm not sure what to use my leftover turkey in.

What are your favorite things to use leftover turkey in?


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Whole Wheat Pan Rolls

We have a few recipes in our house that are family favorites. Recipes that we turn to again and again. Recipes that people request on special occasions and when we just need comfort or familiarity. One-eyed Egyptians and ham fried rice are two of those such recipes. Whole wheat pan rolls is another.

These rolls are really easy and make a whole bunch so there are always leftovers. Fortunately, they are fabulous toasted the next day with butter and honey on them. These rolls are the perfect partner with a big bowl of soup. Here we go.

First, a caveat. These pictures are not very good. In fact, they are really bad. I need serious help in the photo department. I also need more natural light in my kitchen. In the interest of better blog pictures I really think I need new skylights in my kitchen. I could write the expense off as a business expense, right?

Whole Wheat Pan Rolls
makes 2 dozen

Dissolve together in a big bowl:

1 1/2 c. warm water
2 Tbs. yeast
1/4 c. honey

Let the yeast dissolve and get foamy then add:

1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. melted butter
3 eggs
2-3 c. whole wheat flour
2-3 c. all-purpose flour

Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Or, do what I do, put it in your stand mixer and let the mixer do the work! The amount of flour is something I struggle with. The original recipe says 4-5 c. whole wheat flour. We prefer it half and half and it definitely needs more than 5 cups. I just keep adding a 1/3 of a cup at a time until the dough comes together and isn't sticky.

Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch it down and turn it on to a floured surface.

Divide the dough in half. Then divide each half in half. Now you have four equal pieces. Take each piece and divide in in half again (I promise, we are done with the "divide it in half" stuff!). Each of these new little pieces will be divided into three equal parts. What we are trying to do here is make two dozen rolls that are all the same size! If you can come up with a better way, be my guest, but this works for me.

Take each of those little pieces and mush it in your hands (kind of a mini kneading session) then form it into a ball. Place the balls in a big pan. I use a half sheet cake size pan. You could also use two 9 x 13 pans. Here is what they will look like when you get to this point:
(At this point I want to remind you of my earlier confession. These pictures are really bad. But the food depicted in them is really good. Trust me.)

Cover the pan and set it someplace not too cold. Let it rise until the rolls are twice as big. They should be touching each other and starting to push against each other. Like this:
Put it in a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They should be nicely browned and have an internal temperature of over 180 degrees. They will look like this:

When you pull them apart they look like this:

This picture is better. Maybe I'm learning?

You split these babies open and spread butter on them and Wow! You can really go crazy and drizzle honey on it. Help me, I'm addicted. I have some of these on the counter from dinner tonight. I think I need a midnight snack.



Sunday, November 9, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Nov 10 - 15

I'm excited to be cooking without the restraints of the month of nothing but some things remain. We are keeping the soup and bread night each week and I'm going to continue to cook with beans at least once or twice a week. Beans are so good for us (as well as economical), so it just makes sense to eat them more. And my family likes them, too. I have lots of Italian sausage in the freezer so I'm going to use some of that this week, too. So here we go.

On Monday I'm off work so I'm doing a baking day to fill the freezer with snacks and breakfasts.

Monday Baking:
  • Our favorite potato dish (sometimes called funeral potatoes because it is the dish often taken by church women to the funeral)
  • Brown rice, beans and cheese crockpot thing (leftover from last week)
  • Chicken, homemade rice-a-roni and veggies
  • Polenta with Italian sausage and mushrooms (I'm making this one up as I go along, I'll let you know how it turns out)
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Bean and sausage soup, pan rolls
Breakfasts and lunches will be free-for-alls with whatever is here and available.

It is supposed to rain here all week. Wish me luck on my walking to work every day!

To see lots more menu ideas, jump over to Organizing Junkie!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What I Learned from My Month of Nothing

Before I began my Month of Nothing I hoped that I would change my perception of money and my definition of "need." I didn't expect to actually learn anything that I didn't already know. And while most of the things I "learned" this month are actually just reminders of things I knew once upon a time but had forgotten, I actually learned a few new things. So here, in no particular order, are the things I learned from my Month of Nothing.

1. We don't actually need all that much.
I expected to have to really think about what was a "need" versus a "want." It actually very easy. Tali's coat? A need. Those shoes on sale? A want. Ten pound bag of potatoes? A need. That bag of potato chips? A want. I was surprised at how little I really needed. Food for my family and a few other things (laundry detergent, cat food, straw and feed for the chickens, a new coat for my kids, and some school expenditures that couldn't be avoided) were the only things we really needed. I hope that I'm able to take this new vision of what is a need vs. want into the future - especially with Christmas coming. What gifts will they still be enjoying a year from now and which will have lost their appeal and be in the "give away" bag?

2. I can feed my family very well for much less than I routinely spend.

This was one of the most eye-opening things I learned this month. I expected to really have to be creative (and I did, sometimes), and bake from scratch all day long. I expected to have to ask my family to sacrifice in the food area (and they did, sometimes). But overall? We ate really, really well this month. I fully expected to clean out my freezers and use all the meat I had stashed away, I didn't. I hardly touched my freezer stash.

As I mentioned in my Menu Plan Monday post this week, we ate a lot healthier during the month. We ate veggies and fruits instead of crackers and chips and cookies for snacks. We very easily got our servings of whole grains. We ate lots of oatmeal (a new favorite), brown rice, homemade whole wheat bread, and homemade muffins with lots of whole-wheat flour thrown in. We ate a lot of beans this month, and liked it. We ate a lot of soup and bread (at least once a week, most weeks twice). Soup can be very cheap and nutritious and bread is too. We will be keeping the once-a-week soup and bread practice.

Up until the last week I didn't really feel deprived at all. The last week was harder, mostly because I was tired of baking and my life was crazy with outside activities. If I would have baked more earlier and thrown it in the freezer for those busy times, I would have been fine. Lesson learned. Which leads me to my next point:

3. Cooking from scratch really does save me money.

Making biscuits from scratch instead of Bisquick, making muffins for snacks instead of chips, cookies, and crackers, making bread to go with our meals instead of buying bread or buying something else to go along side our meals, all this really did save me a bundle. Making soup from scratch instead of buying canned helped, too. Cooking my beans from scratch instead of buying canned wasn't that much harder and saved money. Eating at home instead of eating out obviously saved us tons. And it wasn't really that hard. Sometimes life got busy, but if I would put a little extra work into making extra when life isn't busy, I'd have some already made when life did. Good lesson learned.

4. My children are willing to forgo material possessions - for awhile.

My kids were very willing participants in this experiment - for the first two weeks or so. Then they started to whine a little. It was a novelty at first but the excitement wore off fairly quickly. They wanted treats for their lunchboxes, they wanted to go to Taco Bell, they wanted to buy popcorn at the Saturday kids matinee movies (that we bought tickets for in September). They didn't want to go without. But they really didn't whine all that much. They were fairly good troopers.

This taught me two things. First, that I have done a fairly good job of raising them without a sense of entitlement. They didn't really express the thought that they "deserved" these things, just that they wanted them. The second thing I learned was that small treats go a long way to making people not feel "deprived." If I hadn't have been doing the month of nothing, I would have bought them one thing special for their lunches or made one trip to Taco Bell. These single things would have left them feeling satisfied. If they get those things all the time, the trip to Taco Bell is expected. If they get them occasionally, then the trip is special.

5. Having chickens is very helpful.

Got to love having that constant, free source of eggs. You can always make scrambled eggs or one-eye egyptians, or pancakes, or waffles or crepes. With a well stocked pantry (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, etc ) I can always make muffins or quick bread with my eggs, too. It was really nice to walk up and get my free food for the day.

6. Going vegetarian can save you tons at the grocery store.

We didn't eat all vegetarian this month, but we did eat a lot of meatless meals. Partly because of the vegetarians in my family, and partly because it is cheaper. Beans cost way less then beef! Brown rice costs very little compared to chicken or pork. I'm not ready to go completely vegetarian but I am more than willing to do meatless a few times a week. And vegetarian doesn't have to be some weird frou-frou sounding food either. Homemade mac and cheese, bean and cheese burritos, toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, Good ol' rice and beans, a bean and vegetable soup with bread, spaghetti with marinara sauce, cheese fondue, pancakes, waffles, crepes with berries - all of these are vegetarian and are SO yummy. Better for our health anyway - well, as long as we don't go overboard on the cheese.

7. There is a certain freedom in "not being able" to spend money.

I mentioned this before but there was a real freedom in being able to say "no" to things. Sometimes we feel obligated to buy things when we really don't want to. Like when your friend's kids are selling overpriced candy bars and beef jerky for their softball team fundraiser. During the month of nothing I had an excuse for saying "no." I need to come up with something new that sounds legitimate. I hate to just say "no" because I feel so guilty, but the reality is that spending money on every opportunity that comes in front of me is a really quick way to go broke!

8. I use far too much gas in a regular month.

Do I really need to elaborate on this one? I got through the whole month with one tank and $10.00 worth of gas. Why can't I do similar to this most of the time? I feel very fortunate that we live where we do. I can walk to work, we can walk to church, we are within walking distance from the elementary, middle and high schools, we can walk to Safeway, Dollar Tree, Walgreens and Taco Bell. What more could we want? (Ok, I never shop at Safeway except for the emergency stuff that we forgot - it is just way too expensive.) The only place I really "need" to drive to is Winco for food, because it is the cheapest place around. I just need to stay home more, plan my trips better and walk!

9. We are
so incredibly blessed.

This is the thing that I learned the most profoundly this month. We are not at the top of the economic ladder, by any means. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself that I don't have a house as nice as so-and-so, of cars like those guys, or go on vacations like those other people. What I learned this month is that we are really lucky. We have enough to buy food. We are in no danger of losing our house. Our cars are paid for. We have a well stocked pantry should anything weird happen. We are healthy. Hubby and I both have good jobs that we like going to everyday. We live in a free country. We have clean air to breath and clean water to drink. I have nice clothes and plenty of them. My kids are getting a good education. I have friends and family near by to support me.

Sadly, sometimes it takes us having "nothing" for awhile to realize how much we really do have. If for no other reason, I'm really glad we did the month of nothing. I'd encourage you to try it, in whatever form works for you family.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Quickie Biscuits

(It turns out that writing about what I learned from my Month of Nothing is harder than I thought it would be. Just so much, and hard to articulate it all. In addition, it is election night and I'm addicted to politics and can't pull myself away from the TV. I'll try to get it up tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this recipe which saved me many times during the Month of Nothing.)

I love biscuits. They are my go to when I need something quick to add to meal that really seems to be missing some kind of bread. I pretty much always keep a box of Bisquick in my pantry (actually I pour a box of Bisquick into a Tupperware container in my pantry, but whatever).

When I started my Month of Nothing I figured that I would be making a lot of bread and biscuits to round out my meal. Then I ran out of Bisquick on day number one. How great of planning was that on my part? So I had to come up with an alternative. I turned to my trusty Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. I love this book and it has some of my favorite bread recipes. I found a recipe for "Mother's Biscuits" and thought I would try it. Man, I'm glad I did. This recipe is really quick, easy and cheap. I added a few ingredients to make it like the Red Lobster biscuits - cheese and garlic butter.

Here we go:

First, grind your own wheat.

Ok, you don't have to grind your own flour. I do, but only because I'm really trying to add more whole grains to our diet and because I have wheat in my food storage. But not everyone does that and that is fine. This recipe is written for all white flour so I'm sure it's great. Just know that it works with some whole wheat in it also. So let's start over:
First, combine:

2 c. all purpose flour (you can use part whole wheat)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Mix them all together and then cut in:

2 Tbs. butter (yes, only 2 Tbs., although I usually use a "generous" 2 Tbs.)

You want to cut it in with a pastry cutter (pictured in the photo above) or two knives, or the mixer attachment on your stand mixer. It should look like course cornmeal when you are done. I took a picture of this but you really can't tell what it looks like so I'm not posting it. Email me if you really need to see it!

At this point the original recipe has you add some milk, I'll get to that in a minute, I add 1/2 c to 3/4c. of shredded cheeseDoesn't that look good? Ok, then you mix that all in, so the cheese is coated in the flour mixture.

Then you add: 1 scant cup of milk. That is what the recipe says. I usually use about a cup minus 2 tbs. or so. You just have to kind of see how much you need. It needs to be a soft dough and not terribly stiff. But it needs to not be batter. It should look something like this:Then you drop it on to the cookie sheets. I use a Silpat (silicon baking sheet). This recipe makes about 17 biscuits. We have 6 people in our family and I try really, really hard to get 18 biscuits so that we can all have equal amounts. You can do it, but they all end up really small, so I just do 17 and one of us gets less. I know it sounds ridiculous, but just try it for yourself.

I use this recipe and make drop biscuits, but the recipe calls for rolling it out and cutting it into biscuits. I don't like to fuss with it and besides, when I roll biscuits I always end up with tough biscuits. Unless I want to serve them with jam, which requires them to be rolled so that you can cut them open, I always do drop biscuits.

Put them in the oven and bake them at 425 for 12 to 14 minutes. When they come out, brush them with melted butter that you have mixed with some garlic powder:

Doesn't that look good? Believe me when I tell you, it tastes even better than it looks!

Put them on a plate and step out of the way. I even made these for snacks the other night, and they were gone in seconds.

Try them. Really. They are good. Trust me.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Nov 2-Nov 8

Check out Organizing Junkie for more menu ideas!

Menu planning this week was going to be fun because we can have whatever we want!! If I don't have something, I can go to the store!

But then I sat down to plan and I ended up with a bunch of meals that are pretty cheap anyway. The one exception is we are having cheese-beer soup which takes a lot of cheese! And by the way, we are using non-alcoholic beer. The soup ends up tasting somewhat like fondue, and it is really good. Since it started raining here, I'm now in the mood for soup and bread. Big, hearty bowls of soup with warm loaves of homemade bread. Yum!

One of the things that I realized as I was shopping yesterday was that during our month of nothing we ate a lot healthier than normal. We ate oatmeal for breakfast, lots of brown rice and beans. We snacked on fruit and oatmeal and homemade snacks (made with whole wheat flour). And I just ate less than usual because there wasn't crackers, cookies and chips laying around. Maybe I should go back to spending less?

Menus for this week:

  • oatmeal (we've become addicted to this homemade "instant" oatmeal, so good and healthy)
  • bagels
  • toast with jam
  • egg salad sandwiches
  • lunch meat sandwiches
  • lunch meat and cheese sticks (me)
  • fruit, crackers
  • hummus with pita chips
  • brown rice, beans, chili's and cheese crockpot (a new recipe, I let you know how it works out)
  • cheese-beer soup and bread (or biscuits)
  • chicken enchiladas, rice, veggies
  • polenta with red sauce, french bread, steamed broccoli
  • spanish tortilla
I can't wait to get cooking. And stay tuned, tomorrow I will post my "What I learned during my month of nothing" post.