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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Graham crackers

I'd decided I wanted to make a banana cream pie.  There's a place not too far from us that carries some great pies, but I don't want to spend that much of our budget on it.  I figured we'd be able to make one that's got to be just as good or even better.  I didn't want a regular pie crust because I think banana cream pie is best served with a graham cracker crust.  It turns out that that I cannot find a box of graham crackers that doesn't have high fructose corn syrup in it.  I'm certain that I could find a box somewhere but I'm not going to run around town looking for one when I can probably find something on-line.  After a short period of searching, I found this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  That woman is an awesome blogger and an even better cook and baker.  It is no surprise that I found the best graham cracker recipe where I have previously found my most favorite recipe of whole wheat ricotta berry scones.

I'm not generally big on graham crackers.  I've never gone out of my way to think that I needed a box of them to snack on.  They are usually summer fare, paired with a marshmallow roasted over a fire and some chocolate.  I remember my brother used to put a bunch in a bowl, crush them up, and pour milk over them, eating it like cereal.  I tried it once or twice, but never really LOVED graham crackers.  But, I do love graham cracker crust for pies.  

So Jaimie and I were making this dough last night, in the midst of trying to get a toddler and an infant with a cold to go back to sleep, because they kept waking.  After starting to put together the recipe, we decided to double it.  Going by the reasoning in the movie Contact - Why stop at one when you can have two at twice the price?  So the flour and sugar are in the blender (we don't have a food processor), we put in the frozen cubed butter for one recipe's worth.  At this point we decided to double the recipe.  I added the other amount of flour and sugar, but we didn't have more frozen cubed butter, so I cubed some and put it in the freezer.  We got distracted with the kiddos and eventually got back to making the crackers.  We put the recipe together and Jaimie rolled it out to the 1 inch as directed.  Once it was cooled in the fridge, I discovered the butter for doubling the recipe in the freezer.  Too late now.

I took the dough out of the fridge and then started to cut it.  I asked Jaimie why he had the dough so thick when the recipe called for 1/8 inch.  He informed me that I was to have rolled it out to 1/8 an inch AFTER it was refrigerated.  Oops.  I didn't want to ball it back up, especially because I was going to crush up the crackers anyway to make a crust, so I just pressed them with a roller and they looked not-so-pretty.  We put the other half in the fridge for making the next day. 

We did follow the recipe for actually baking the graham crackers.  They smelled really, really, really good.  When we got them out of the oven, they tasted really, really, really good - even with half the butter, even with uneven thickness, and looking as blah as a cracker could look.  They were quite crispy though, and Jaimie noted that they were very difficult to roll out before going in the fridge.

Jaimie said we had to make the other half of the dough today, because he would not be able to leave enough for the pie crust otherwise (we've got to also leave enough bananas for the pie, but we'll eventually get this pie assembled).  Tonight, we made the other half, with even thickness (though still short on the butter).  The recipe calls for cutting them into even squares, maybe even putting a line of holes down the center like store-bought crackers, but we're more au naturel here.  I just cut them into pieces with the rough edges from rolling and put 'em in the oven (our awesome, wonderful oven).  The house again smells delicious and we've got an evening of snacking ahead.  If we don't eat them all (and all the bananas again), maybe I'll get to post about making our banana cream pie.

Week 4: $25 in groceries

With a plethora of decent coupons and sales, we got more than I expected we'd be able to with this week's $25.

We paid $15.29 on 2 bags of tortilla chips, grapes, clementines, heavy cream and cheddar cheese.
We spent another $4.16 on 2 avocados, one (more) bag of tortilla chips (we tend to go through a lot), and carrots.
Later, we spent $.79 on bananas.  I bought some last week thinking we'd make banana cream pie, but the bananas disappeared into little girls' bellies.
I still have just enough to buy 2 gallons of milk with a 2/$4.88 coupon!  I think we'll make more cheese out of it.  Ok, we're really .12 over, but I think it's pretty darn close.

[We didn't end up getting the milk, because we still had some, so we still made it under $25 with more bananas, - still need to make the pie -  garlic, and lasagna noodles.  Our toddler didn't feel well though, so we did buy some grapes which made us exactly $2 over.  I know we're slightly over, but the grapes were worth it for a sick babe].

menu plan (1/30/12)

Saturday we made a delicious chicken. (I know, we don't follow our meal plans very closely).  I can't believe how much chicken we have left over when making this huge 7 lb chicken!  This week's plan has to incorporate that.

Sunday:  Chili - we used some left over chicken in this.  It was a bit hot for Lily (I put tongue tingler salsa in there) so Lily decided against it, but the adults enjoyed it.

Monday:  macaroni chicken salad (still using up that chicken).  Jaimie made two types, one with a creamy dressing and one with a vinegar dressing.  Both were gone very quickly and both girls loved it.

Tuesday:  Beef roast in the slow cooker with potatoes, onions and carrots.  I don't think we would have planned for so much meat so many days in a row but we started thawing it and you just can't re-freeze it after that.

Wednesday:  Leftovers

Thursday:  Quinoa with veggies.  Somehow we never seem to get around to this one on the menu, but here it is again.  It is Imbolc, so maybe we'll make something with eggs or milk (ooh, creme brulee for dessert!)

Friday:  Pesto.  Last time we had cilantro pesto and it was delicious.  I think we're out of the nasturtium leaf pesto, but I'm certain we have oregano and basil in the freezer and in the cupboard.  Maybe we'll use spaghetti squash rather than pasta.

Saturday:  Maybe grilled cheese.  Maybe leftovers.  Maybe something else.  Whatever it is, I'd like to take this Saturday to just wing it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Watch this movie! (thru 2/1)

Join the good food movement and see this movie free until February 1st.

Scholarship opportunity - Got Milk?

Hey high school students:

The Got Milk? campaign is offering a lucky high school senior a $7,500 scholarship. 

Check out their Facebook page for details.  Applications are due March 9, 2012.

Progress in our food challenge

It was about two or three years ago that I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It inspired me to grow my own food, more than just for eating fresh.  I was planning on gardening when we bought our home just over 2 years ago, but I didn't really have a plan for growing the bulk of our food and preserving it for future use. 

About a year ago now, Jaimie and I started to make plans for changing our eating habits.  We did the same things as most people do, like grab a quick bite at the local fast food joint and regret the feeling in your stomach later, or buying crap food because it was quick to make and relatively cheap.

We wanted to incorporate our changes slowly so that they would "take."  We started our wellness plan by drinking more water. As part of our water challenge, we would each drink 64 ounces (8 glasses of 8 ounces).  If we had caffeine or alcohol, we had to match that amount in increased water intake.  Jaimie admits he did not do terribly well, but the point wasn't to meet the goal so much as it was to bring awareness to what we're drinking and to increase our hydration - simple things to make us become healthier.

We added other little steps in the plan, like increasing vegetable varieties, not allowing any boxed mixes in the home (like boxed cakes or brownies), working toward more whole wheat rather than just white flour, those kind of things.  We were also going to have more fresh food by growing our own.  

I was very excited to plant when we bought our home.  We moved in in late September so we had to wait until the following spring.  Jaimie built two raised beds and we filled them with compost.  We realized exactly how much can come out of raised beds (much more than just in the ground), and we built 4 more.  We knew we could fill our freezer and canning room with home grown foods and last the winter.  We found local sources for humanely raised meats, and a local place for beautiful eggs.

Though we were limiting what we were eating (no high fructose corn syrup, no extra additives that aren't pronounceable), we ended up having MORE variety.  I think people who eat crap food get stuck in a rut and end up with the same menu of burgers, pizza, "chicken" in nugget form, boxed macaroni and powdered "cheese" etc.  We kind of did the same thing.  Now, I see the grocery ad for shelf stable cheese and I know that there is no way that can be healthy.  How many additives are in it to make a product that naturally goes bad and needs refrigeration into something that can be on the shelf?

My sister posted an article that addressed the habits of poor people.  The first habit listed is that poor people develop a habit for eating crappy food.  Both Jaimie and I were relatively poor growing up, and though my family wasn't ever on food stamps, I can see how the article defined our family's eating habits perfectly.  But, eating healthy doesn't have to be expensive.

I agree, the $1.37 I spent on one orange was a bit startling when I bought it, but there are options for eating healthy.  Canned beans are cheap (only 55 cents at Aldi, but sometimes more than $1 elsewhere), but buying a bag of dried black beans for $2 has the same amount of beans as 6 or 8 cans.  It does take some forethought to plan ahead for dinners, but the cost difference is evident.  I am noticing now that we can buy healthy food for less than what we were spending on terrible food before.  The two pizzas we made last week - $5 for both!  That fed our family for two meals.  Even though there are many cheap healthy options (quinoa, oatmeal, yogurt), we will pay a premium for things that are worth the extra cost, like sustainably raised meats or vegetables, or for picking our own berries at a place that doesn't spray.  

I don't want to get off on a tangent ranting about how others can change eating habits, but wanted to note how we changed ours and what our changes have been.

Besides knowing that we are eating food that is better for us, we have noticed other changes as well.  Jaimie went to the doctor for some back issues and went again a month later, each time being weighed.  He noticed that he was losing about a pound a week, without exercising or moving any more than he normally does.  (Actually, I moved much less during that month because of the back injury. -J)  I have noticed my own weight loss but was uncertain whether it was just from breastfeeding my daughter and losing the after-pregnancy weight.  We're eating just as much as we want and continue to snack, but we always know what is in our food.

We have also noticed that other foods don't taste as good.  The meals at most restaurants don't compare to the full flavor of foods we get at home.  It tastes like we're eating gourmet every night.

Another change I've noticed is that my allergies have decreased.  I still have them, but not as severe.  I used to be very allergic to cats, needing to have an Epi-pen.  Now, we've got two cats and I can tolerate them.  Even though I can sometimes itch, my throat doesn't swell up.  That is a drastic difference.

We notice how our bodies feel so much more than we ever had.  We're changing and loving it.

Week 3: $25 in groceries; free food!

I will admit right off the bat that we did dine "in" one night with ordered pizza.  I was considering including that cost against the $25 for the week, but I know that there will be other times in the next several months that we will go out to eat and it will not be counted.  Plus, we used a gift card that we had before we started our $25 a week budget.  It was an evening where I worked and Jaimie's appointment went a couple hours longer than expected, so the girls were picked up two hours late from day care.  Jaimie mentioned that it would take an hour to boil the beans and I suggested that we just bake a pizza.  I've got to say, it really was delicious.  I love the Gourmet Veggie pizza at Papa Murphy's.  It's one of the very few places where we can get Real food. 

This is how our week went:

2 gallons of milk (no rBGH), with coupon: $4.58
Bananas: .69 & .56
Coconut milk: $2.98 (for making sticky rice, or maybe coconut ice cream)
puff snacks for June (not natural, and not real, but I got them because they are convenient for the car and she likes them): $3.34
eggs: $3.50
flour: $3.00
Tortillas and cheese: $6.11 (I didn't split this up because I don't recall what the exact separate amounts were).

That comes to $24.76, 24 cents under budget. 

We also went to a swap this week.  There was a food swap in the cities that I have wanted to go to but it was shut down because trading homemade foods is "selling."  It's unfortunate that I didn't get to attend because I really wanted to try out other people's things and have people try some things from us (especially the coveted violet jelly).  Anyway, we went to a swap at the SPC.  Basically, you could bring your things that you wanted to get rid of and swap them with other things people brought.  After everyone has gone through and taken what they want or need, the rest is bagged up and donated to Goodwill.  Well, one person brought a large amount of nuts (I don't know that Goodwill would have taken them, but it made sense to bring them to the swap if anyone wanted them).  I got over a gallon of nuts (still in the shell).  I'm certain we will be making some more crack granola soon, at least by next weekend when it was requested of me to specifically bring it.

Would you like some free food too?  Try entering the Whole Foods Pantry Stock-up Contest.  You must enter by January 31st and write them an e-mail telling them what items are must-haves in your pantry.  They will select e-mails at random.  There is a grand prize of a Whole Foods Gift card for $599!

Second attempt at cheese

We still had another gallon of whole milk and wanted more mozzarella after using it all on our pizza last week.  After making another delicious batch, most of which went into our mouths without using it for any specific recipe, he used the whey for ricotta again.  (Don't tell Shelly, but we only ate a little bit.  There's still 6 oz in the fridge. -J)  He'd read somewhere that if you add a cup of whole milk to the whey you can increase your yield.  Since we used the entire gallon on the mozzarella, he used about 1/3 cup of the cream we had in the fridge.  That increased our yield almost three-fold from the last time to a full pound!  So, if you're thinking of making ricotta from the whey, I suggest adding either whole milk, half and half, or cream to make more.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

lunch ideas

Jaimie is going back to school tomorrow for another semester.  There's no fridge or microwave available.  We want to keep eating real food, so there's not really an option for eating out (and that's a bit too expensive to do every day anyway).  Hopefully, we can keep things interesting while incorporating carbs and protein to keep the energy going for the entire day.

Lunch meat is not really under our definition of real food, so we've go to figure out what these lunches will contain.  So far, my cold lunch ideas (with using a cold pack) include pasta salad, muffins or scones (Jaimie notes that they unfreeze perfectly after a few hours), home made yogurt with home made granola, fried rice, wraps, sandwiches, pitas, peanut butter with fruit or crackers, etc. 

We'll see how well this works out!  When we come up with something really creative, we'll let you know.

National Pie Day

Monday, January 23rd is National Pie Day.  A bunch of friends are going to celebrate by making their mouths happy.  We celebrated a day early with a cherry raspberry pie.  We had some pie filling from a local source, with only real ingredients, so I cheated a bit.  It's been a long-ish day so I won't feel guilty about it.  I added a crumble topping with just flour, brown sugar and butter.  Everyone enjoyed it and we have enough left over for celebrating the actual day tomorrow.

Menu plan (1/22/12)

Well, we had crab this week.  Not only was it the only crab we had in the freezer so we won't be buying more because it's not local, but Jaimie started to get dizzy, which is how his allergy to lobster started.  Darn, I really love crab.  It was tasty, but so will the other foods we have planned.  This is what we've got planned for this week.

Sunday:  pasta with mom's ground beef and the ricotta that we made this past week.  I was thinking lasagna, but don't feel like going out in the cold to go use up some of $25 for the week, so we'll use some other noodles we have.  (I don't know what to call this, but it was SO good).

Monday:  Leftovers - there was a lot.

Tuesday: Black bean quesadillas.  These are so easy to make and taste so good.  It's just black beans, cheese, and tortillas cooked in the quesadilla maker.  Then we can dip them in our homemade salsa.

Wednesday:  Chili.  This will include leftover chili with some lamb in it, and will include whatever black beans and salsa is leftover from quesadilla night.

Thursday:  Baked chicken, random veggie from the freezer or cupboard, and rice.

Friday:  Stir fry with bean threads

Saturday:  Pesto spaghetti (we made a lot of pesto and we'll just choose one at random).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Margherita pizza

Since we were making mozzarella, we decided to use some of the whey to make pizza dough.  Since we were making pizza dough and had mozzarella, we figured we'd make pizza.

I made the dough (basically 3 cups flour, a little salt, a spoon full of sugar, a cup of whey (or water), and some activated dry yeast).

Jaimie made the sauce from some of our frozen tomatoes, an onion, olive oil, and garlic.  There were no exact measurements, just whatever was available.  We topped it with our mozzarella and some basil that we'd frozen from this past summer's garden, and voila - margherita pizza.

Baked it in a 550 degree oven for about 8 minutes.

And this is the result:

(Jaimie is dying for a pizza peel - he keeps mentioning how he wants one, especially that we're making pizza now and he wants to make a pizza/bread oven in the yard this summer).

Jaimie here.  Let me just say that this was the most labor intensive meal I've ever made.  Both of us have been working on it since around 11:00 this morning (not that our intended goal was pizza for dinner).  It was also very cheap entertainment, since we both love making things from scratch in the kitchen.  Eight hours of entertainment and a meal for what the ingredients cost is pretty good value for money, if you ask me.  Lily has been "helping" us all day, too.

making cheese - ricotta and gjetost

With the whey you have from making mozzarella, you can make ricotta cheese.  The kit that we'd used for instructions didn't have the recipe for ricotta from whey so I used the recipe found at and combined it with another recipe.  Basically, you heat up the whey to about 200 degrees.  Then you let it cool down to about 140.

Put a piece of cheesecloth or a reusable coffee strainer into your colander and pour it in.

Let it drain for 15 minutes or so, then, if you're using cheesecloth, gather up the ends and twist everything down to one end.

Don't twist too hard too quickly, or you'll squeeze your cheese out.  Let it drain for another 30-60 minutes, tightening the twist slightly every ten minutes or so.  (If you're using a coffee filter, just leave it sit for 30-60 minutes)  Voila!  You've got ricotta cheese.

It's smooth, creamy and delicate.  Store it in an airtight container in your fridge.

You still will have leftover whey, but there's still more use for the whey.
You can use the whey as you would water in your baking recipes (I use the whey from our yogurt to make our bread).  You can use it to mix into smoothies.  You can use it to water your plants and give them a nutritional boost.  You can boil it down to make MORE cheese.

I had too much whey to use just for baking and I refused to toss it.  I found this recipe to make gjetost (sounds like "yea - toast"). You reduce down your whey to about 1/4 of what it was before you started boiling.  Start by boiling and then just put it on a simmer till it reduces the volume.  When it starts to become viscous, stir regularly.  When it starts to resemble a fudge texture, stir vigorously, then put it in a buttered pan that had been frozen in the freezer.  That will cool it down quickly so that it doesn't get grainy.   Slice it up and eat it on crackers.  I haven't tasted it yet, though I'm hoping it's good.

(Note:  Our gjetost didn't get viscous, no matter how much we reduced it, so we put it in a jar to use in bread [still not gonna waste it!].  We figure there just wasn't enough protein left to solidify.  Oh, well.  Maybe next time.)

making cheese - mozzarella

We were armed with our whole milk, rennet, citric acid, and curiosity.  We wanted to try an easier cheese and one that we could sample right away.  I have recipes for cheddar and some others but I'd much rather start our first batch as something I know tastes good before moving on to something that will take months and months to be ready.

With a stainless steel pot, a colander, a large slotted spoon and a thermometer we were ready to go.

My MIL bought us a cheese making kit (Ricki's Mozzarella and Ricotta kit) for the holidays so we used a lot of the supplies from that, though you can easily get them individually.  We used the directions on the kit.

First, you put 1/4 tablet of rennet into 1/4 cup of cool water.  (You can store your rennet in the freezer for years - just re-wrap the used part and put with the rest of the pack).  Let that rennet & water mix sit.  Mix 1 1/2 tsp citric acid into 1 cup cool water. You can find the citric acid at cheese shops, but I've also seen it at places like Fleet Farm where they have the canning stuff.  It's labeled for processing meat.

Put 1 gallon of whole milk (can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized) into your pot.  While mixing, add the citric acid and water mix.

Keep mixing "vigorously" (doesn't that word make you think of the Zorro movie?).  Keep stirring while heating the milk to 90 degrees.  Now, take it from me, it's useful to have the Ove Glove for this project because your hands get awfully hot.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the rennet with up and down mixing for about 30 seconds.

Cover your pot and leave it alone for 5 minutes.  You'll be able to see the separation between the curd and whey.  Cut the curd with a knife.

Heat it back up to 110.  Take it off the burner and stir it slowly for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, heat another pot of water to 185.

Ladle your curds into a colander, folding them gently to drain the whey.

We put our colander into another container so that we could save the whey.

With the curds in the colander, put the colander into the hot water very slowly.  Pick it up and put it back in several times.  Then take spoon to see if the curds have become elastic.  If not, then continue doing this until they do.  If so, then remove them and pull it like taffy.  If it's not stretching, then you should return it to the hot water and try again.

You can add about a tsp or so of salt, or even herbs, and work it into the cheese.  Form the cheese as you'd like (string cheese, a ball, little balls, a log, a braid, etc).  Put the cheese into 50 degree water for 5 minutes and then ice water for 15 minutes.

That allows the cheese to cool and to hold its shape.

Eat and enjoy.  Don't toss that whey - you'll want it for making ricotta.


My sister gave Jaimie and me a mason jar of home made granola for the holidays.  After we each ate our individual baggies of it, I mentioned to Jaimie when I got home from work that I couldn't stop eating it and couldn't stop thinking about having more.  We then ate the entire mason jar of granola and labeled it "crack granola."  Yes, it's that good.

I e-mailed my sister and asked her for the recipe.  The recipe goes something like this.

Take a 9x13 pan and cover the bottom with a decent layer of oats (maybe 4 cups or so).  Then add your other proteins.  We added pistachios, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and a mix of nuts that was almost gone so I used it up.  You can add what seeds or nuts you want.

Then bake that at 350 for 10-20 minutes.  We baked for 15. 

A couple minutes before it's done baking, put your stuff that will become liquid in a pan.  We used peanut butter, honey and molasses.

You can also use other nut butters or maple syrup (I'm hoarding what little maple syrup we have left so none went into our mix).  You will heat it only until it becomes soft and will easily spread over the oat mixture.  If you want chewier granola, add more liquids.  For dry granola, add less. We like it chewy and had about 2 1/2 cups altogether.

Take your oats out of the oven and put your liquid mix in.  Mix it up so it's all coated.

Let it dry for a couple hours.  This is the difficult part because it is nearly impossible not to nibble on some as you are passing near it.

When it's cool, crack it up and then add your fruits.  In ours, we have coconut shavings, dates, figs, craisins, dried strawberries and dried peaches.  Add whatever you'd like, but I think that one of the reasons that the granola we received as a gift was so delicious was because of the figs.

If you are able to resist eating it all as is, you can add it to yogurt.

Cream cheese wontons

Jaimie loves to make (and eat) cream cheese wontons.  He likes his sweet rather than savory, but one day we'll try it savory.  It's just that every time he's in the mood to make them, we'd rather have them sweet.
First, prep your cream cheese mixture.  He put in cream cheese (well, neufchatel), lime juice and sugar.  Put in as much as you'd like, tasting the mixture till you've got what you want.  Put that in either a pastry bag or in a zip-top freezer bag (DON'T use a sandwich bag - it won't hold up to the squeezing) with a hole cut in the corner.

Lay out your wonton wrappers (easily found at the grocery store) and put about a teaspoon of cream cheese mix in the center.

Check out this recipe on the Grocery Cart Challenge's on-line recipe exchange.

Have a bowl of water nearby and just stick a finger or two in the water, put it on two edges of the wonton, then fold over the wonton into a triangle, pushing out all the air.

Wet the fingers again and fold over the two sides to make a little purse shape.

Get your oil going on the stove top and fry away (four or five at a time).  Let them rest of a paper towel lined tray for some of the oil to come off.  Enjoy.

Week 2: $25 in groceries

This week we bought:

2 gallons of whole milk (for the cheese making we're doing today): $4.88 with coupon
onions: $1.79
2 dozen local free-range (but for winter's protection) eggs: $3.50
garlic clove: $.90
4 avocados: $3.96 (on sale)
3 packs local cheddar cheese: $5.00/3 on sale

That totals $20.03, so we have $4.97 left for anything else we might want later in the week.

And quick-rise yeast: $2.29 (we only had the regular yeast).  We have $2.68 left, enough to get some more flour.

By Thursday, $2 in tortilla chips (no, I didn't want to make them), and we're under $25, with a total of $24.32!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Awesome breakfast - strawberry pancakes with cream cheese

Jaimie made won tons the other day and we had leftover cream cheese filling.  In the filling he put key lime juice and some sugar.  The won tons tasted great, but that cream cheese filling was great with strawberry pancakes too.  Generally Jaimie will make pancakes one day a week (usually Saturday) and put in some blueberries from the freezer.  Once he made peach pancakes and they weren't as good as we'd anticipated, so I was thinking that the strawberry pancakes might turn out like that too.  Instead, they were amazing.  Topped with the cream cheese filling - my mouth is watering as I write this.  Loved it.  We've got to have these again. (Ok, so I'm no artist, but it still tasted delicious).

menu plan (1/15/12)

Sunday:  We made a chicken with the polenta from yesterday, so today will be reinventing the leftovers.  I put all the chicken in the crock pot and Jaimie will add some homemade BBQ.  We've got buns and pitas in the freezer, so we'll use those up for BBQ chicken sandwiches and homemade sweet pickles & pickled beets for dinner.
Monday:  Homemade margarita pizza with homemade sauce, homemade mozzarella & basil leaves frozen from our garden.  
Tuesday: We didn't get around to the butternut squash casserole recipe in last week's menu. We did make this wonderful squash risotto, pictured below.  It was delicious - just chicken broth, squash, & rice in a crock pot.  

Wednesday:  Egg foo young.  We didn't get to that from last week either and I really want some.
Thursday:  Black bean quesadillas
Friday: crab (not local, but we had it in the freezer for awhile and we're not wasting it), baked potatoes, & whatever veggie we choose from the fridge.
Saturday: Quinoa made with homemade stock, topped with veggies.  Quinoa is full of protein.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How we spent our first $25

We got a lot more than I figured we would be able to.

Almonds:  4.95 (on sale, after rebate - for snacking and making granola)
Cheddar cheese: 3.98 (we use a lot)
Heavy cream:  3.67 (for making ice cream and whole wheat ricotta triple berry scones)
Vanilla extract: 1.99 (just because we go through a lot, even though I didn't realize we had 2 already)
Milk: 4.58 (2 gallons, with coupon, for making cheese, baked goods & for drinking)
sugar:  2.98
neufchatel: 2.38 (for cream cheese wontons)

That brings our total to $24.53.  Pretty good!  I don't think we'll need so much dairy every week, but I do like making ice cream.  Notice how we learned pretty quickly that we won't be able to spend as we planned when we plan on buying non-essentials, like the Sprecher root beer that I wanted.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Making tortillas

Homemade tortillas are delicious.  You know how you think that it will just save you the massive amount of time it would take to make something so you just buy it instead?  I used to think that about tortillas.  They may just be made out of a few ingredients, but it still seemed like a ton of work.  When Jaimie got me a tortillas press, I was excited but didn't think I would use it for all of our tortillas we go through (Lily loves to eat peanut butter on tortillas for snacks).  It's important to us to limit the ingredients in our foods to what we consume at our home, so it makes sense to make our own when we go through a lot of them.

Lily liked the idea of helping and liked to push down the handle on the press.  Jaimie then fried them up.  It was a good family activity too.

Making stock

We like to make our own stock.  We'll use the carcass of chicken or turkey, bones from beef or lamb, or just the ends and shavings from veggies.  Just put in the stock-making food from above, add water to cover, season as you'd like, and simmer down.

It's great for using in soups, stews, making rice or risotto, and all sorts of other good stuff.

(Jaimie here.) Carcasses are great! I even put a "boneyard" bowl on the table so we get all the bones and gristle to trow into the pot.  I usually freeze the first carcass and make stock when we have a second.  That makes for a more intense stock, not to mention more volume.  The picture above is a couple of chickens.  

You can see that some of the meat is a little pink.  This was one of the last commercial chickens we did in the New Wave oven.  I cooked it from frozen and took the label's weight as accurate.  Obviously it was about half a pound shy of the bird's actual weight.  Now I weigh each bird before cooking.

Anyway, back to the stock.  Just throw whatever you have leftover from a couple of chicken dinners, a lamb or turkey dinner, or veggie "waste" that you would normally compost into a pot of water and do like Shelly said above.  When the liquid tastes right, but weak, you want to strain out the solids.  I pour it through a sieve (fine metal screen strainer) into a bowl or another pot.  Throw away the solids (bonus:  you can still compost the solids from veggie stock), then rinse your stock pot before putting the liquid back in.  Now just bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer it until it reduces by a third to half.  Do this to taste.  Just keep tasting until the stock is as strongly flavored as you want it.   Now is also the time to add any extra seasonings or spices you'd like in this particular stock.  I wouldn't season it too heavily, though, because that will limit your options for later use of the stock.

Okay, I'll sign off now.  Time to take care of a few chores.   

For $25 a week

Jaimie and I have recently decided that we need to use what we've got and stop buying groceries in the manner most people do.  We are pretty stocked - between the freezers, the cold room (with our home canned goodies), and full cupboards.  I don't really like to have the fridge full because I like to see what's in there and it drives me batty to waste food.

On another blog, A Year Without Groceries, their family of 3 only buys from a buying club, farmer's markets and directly from the farmer.  We don't have a buyer's club around here that I am aware of, and there are no farmer's markets this time of year.  We do buy some food directly from the farmer - specifically beef from my mother and chickens from someone I work with (however, my friend has inquired whether I would be interested in raising chickens with her on her land - that may be in the works for this spring).  At the end of the farmer's market season this past year, we decided to do most of our shopping there for the months that it's open, but we do crave fresh produce on occasion.

On yet another blog that I frequent, a woman and her family of four are doing 100 days of Real food for $125 a week (she used this figure to show that a family can eat Real food with less than the $167 that a family of 4 would generally get on food stamps, to show that you don't have to spend a lot to eat well). 

We decided to eat mostly Real, because we do have some foods that we just like and know that we'll want them even if they aren't Real.  We'll also be eating whatever is already in the fridge or freezer, regardless of whether it's Real, because I dislike wasting (though we did end up donating almost all of the non-Real pantry foods in preparation for this challenge). 
So, long explanation, we've decided that we will do our best to spend only $25 a week on groceries.  Here are the rules:

*Food directly from the farmer is not included in the $25 figure.  Though we buy eggs from a person who sells them for her uncle, I am uncertain whether she takes a cut, and we buy them at her restaurant, so that is NOT direct from the farmer.  The meat, as described above, is direct from the farmer, so that is "free" as far as the $25 a week budget goes.  If there were a farmer's market open, that amount wouldn't count toward this budget either. 

*Home cleaning supplies, toiletries, alcohol and home maintenance are not included in the grocery budget.  The budget is strictly for things that we eat.  Plus, we have a lot of home maintenance.

*We will attempt to make as much Real food as possible, and local when we can (though it is winter right now). 

*If we buy food that is not Real, it is included in the budget. 

*Seeds, plants and orders for the garden are not included in the budget, mostly because we can't eat them directly and I don't want to buy garden stuff in spurts.  

Why wait when deciding to do something?  Now is as good as any other time to start.

This week our $25 goes to: So far, we spent $4.58 on milk (coupon for 2 gallons at 2.29 a piece).  I'm planning on buying Sprecher root beer for $9.99 (nope, not a health food, but delicious, local and made with honey), almonds for $1.98 & eggs for $1.75.  That leaves us $6.70 in case we want something else.   I'm thinking in future weeks, we'll probably re-stock on staples.  Milk and eggs are likely to be weekly expenditures, so at least we know those costs.  (I think we'll be doing a lot of cheese making, so we'll need a lot of milk).

No, we're not doing this for a year, but we are planning on trying it out for 3 months and then we'll see if we want to continue from there.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

menu plan (1/8/12)

Sunday: Lamb stew.  We've got leftover lamb to use up.  We've also got onions, carrots & potatoes to add.  It'll be delicious.

Monday: Chili - leftovers from the freezer. 

Tuesday:  Black bean quesadillas.  I like to put this in the menu but now that we've switched to dried beans rather than canned, we need to be mindful of what's on the menu before we are hungry for dinner because even the quick method requires 2.5 hours.  If we think about the next evening's dinner, we could soak the beans overnight the night before.  Also, while we have some store bought tortillas, I want to start making my own more often.  We tried a couple of times but I would rather have a full batch and freeze them because it seemed like a lot of work for one meal.

Wednesday: I think we might try out this squash casserole

Thursday:  egg foo young.  I love having eggs that are local from the Mexican restaurant down the street.  I even blow out the pretty eggs to keep for a project I'm thinking of for spring.

Friday:  Tilapia fingers.  We had some walleye fingers at a restaurant (yes, mutant walleye) and they were delicious.  We'll try it with a beer batter and then cut up some sweet potato fries.  Yum. (Oh my, was this meal ever delicious).

Saturday:  Something with polenta.  We'll make it up.  Likely with either zucchini and tomato (Italian style) or some random veggies from the freezer. (Actually, we made it as a side dish to a baked chicken, along with some peas).

Jaimie making polenta

menu plan (1/2/12)

We didn't bother with a menu plan for the last week of the year, mostly because we were going out to see family, eating leftovers, or eating mustgoes (as in "must go").  We did, however, use up a lot of delicious food.  We went to Jaimie's brother's for X-mas day and we were able to take home the turkey carcass.  It not only had enough turkey left on it for tacos and then chili, but we made 5 or 6 quarts of stock out of it. 

Mustgoes are different from leftovers in that leftovers are generally a full meal (at least using the terminology in this house), either for the family or just one person.  Mustgoes includes whatever is in the fridge and it doesn't have to go together to use it up.  One night we had hard boiled eggs, pickled beets, pickled eggs, pickles (yep, cukes), cheese and crackers.  We were pretty satisfied with that meal too. 

This is what we've got planned for this week.

Monday:  out to eat while running errands

Tuesday:  chicken breast, buttered noodles & corn

Wednesday:  squash ravioli

Thursday:  whole roasted chicken, baked potatoes and peas.  We have a cow hide in our meat freezer so most of the meat is in the other freezer.  I have an order for 6 more chickens coming and we need the space.  Therefore, we are having more chicken this week to make the space.  We're also having company, and roasted chicken is always good for company because Jaimie makes an awesome rub.

Friday:  chicken tacos (using up the chicken - it was over 7 lbs). We'll add cheese, avocados and salsa.  We won't be buying out of season tomatoes.  We bought some last week and, while pretty good for the turkey burgers and turkey tacos, they tasted like out-of-season tomatoes. We can wait for the good ones.

Saturday:  Squash and chicken risotto.  I saw a recipe in, I think, Better Homes & Gardens for squash risotto.  I think I'll just do the slow cooker method with lots of squash, broth, herbs, leftover chicken, and rice to make it.  We got a BUNCH of squash from my mother as a holiday gift.  We got butternut squash, a pumpkin, spaghetti squash and a squash that hybridized by itself that's a cross between squash and pumpkin.  We'll be using them up this winter and I am SO happy to have fresh, local, homegrown, pesticide-free food at this time of the year.

I'd like to add some stews, polenta, and soups into our menus so those will likely be forthcoming.  Plus, we need to use up some things from the freezer - those chickens will be coming soon.

Nutella yumminess

Jaimie and I found a great deal on some delicious chocolate hazelnut spread so I went a-searching for some recipes to use it in.  Holy cats there are a lot of wonderful recipes out there.  We've previously used it in a bread roll from a Food & Wine magazine recipe, but there are a lot of creative ideas out there.  We even found out that there's a Nutella Day (February 5th), but why wait till then to write about all of our Nutella experiments.  See

Since it was the holiday season, we decided to make some things we could hand out as gifts.  Part of our Nutella mini spree was chocolate hazelnut biscotti.  

It was pretty easy - just toast the hazelnuts, toss the ingredients together and bake twice.  You need to bake it once in two long strips, then let it cool, cut it and bake it again.  You could probably even do the first baking part in the morning or day before and then finish it off later.

We also made chocolate hazelnut fudge with a sprinkle of sea salt on top.  It was so good I had to make a second batch when my sister came over.  One blogger said that she was too afraid to try the sea salt and instead added sugar sprinkles.  I think the sea salt adds a lovely intensity when you get a bit of salt in that bite.  It's just really delicious.

Fudge in the makeshift double broiler

We added homemade caramels, home canned foods & a bottle of mead and that was what almost everyone got for their holiday gift this year.

With so much Nutella left, we made ice cream, loosely using a recipe we used before making peanut butter ice cream.  I just added a cup of Nutella to 1/2 cup sugar and blended, then added 2 cups milk, one cup cream, a pinch of salt, and put it in the ice cream maker.   Jaimie said that it was the best one we've made so far.