One Lovely Blog Award

While I’m always excited to see the little bubble pop up on my blog indicating I have a new comment, today was exceptional! I was nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award by Green Lizard’s Blog! Thank you very much, you’ve made my day! And I enjoyed hearing your fun and quirky facts about yourself as much as I enjoy your blog!

lovely

 

Can I tell you how nice it is to hear that what I do is noticed by another? And how wonderful it is to send that message forward to those who’ve I’ve found have touched me in some way with what they share.

To accept the award you must do a few things:

1. Thank and follow the person who has nominated you. Provide a link to his/her blog.

2. List the rules and display the award pic.

3. Include 7 facts about yourself.

4. Nominate some other bloggers and let them know that they have been nominated.

Ok! Here goes with 7 facts about myself:

1. If I had more money, it’s possible that I could be considered to be “eccentric.” As it stands, you’ll have to make your own judgement.

2. I sometimes don’t wear “deoderant” as discussed here!

3. I don’t know how to spell “deoderant” (well, now I do: deodorant!)

4. Although I worked for one company for most of my life, I’ve held many positions from sales, to management to corporate, including for awhile, a job as an outside technician. Part of that job was aerial cable rehab. Incidentally, I’m afraid of heights and had to see a hypnotherapist. Didn’t work. “Auuuggghhh.”

5. I was a vegetarian for years until my Mom, who never “got it” tempted me back with a filet mignon from our local hometown butcher (who raises their own beef) on a visit in 1984.

6. I’m obsessed with birds and have many feeders. I’m obsessed with the neighbor’s cat, who I have seen making off with a bird. Now I only feed in the winter when the cat is kept indoors.

7. My dog has his own Youtube channel (I don’t, but maybe in the future!) and his own facebook that documents some of his training and activities. He is now trained Service Dog and accompanies me everywhere. My cat is jealous.

Now on to the blogs I would like to send an award to:

Attempting Zero Waste Lifestyle in a Military Household

The blog’s author, Jen is a lovely young woman with high ideals, and she inspires me by reminding me of what some of my ideals were when I was young. Before I was old. And cynical. And sarcastic…when I’m tempted to use some caustic cleaner, I think, “What would Jen do?”

Suburban Homestead

This prolific blogger has a ton of practical advice and recipes and puts it all out in a straight forward manner. You never know what he’ll come up with next. I’ve been following him for years, but hadn’t realized his posts weren’t coming up, so thinking about his blog made me go back and push the button!

Nothing Found

Maisa is a Brazilian transplanted to Canada, and I felt like I made a discovery when I happened across her blog recently. The girl cooks, and her stories will make you smile, laugh and feel sentimental. Make sure to read her take on Williams-Sonoma’s most ridiculous kitchen gadgets.

The Hungry Mum

An Aussie Mom who is a dedicated baker and blogger. I read every new post (and all of her old ones!) I think she may be my Aussie twin, except I suspect more than a few decades between our ages! And yes, it’s worth figuring out the metric.  I impressed friends with her Raspberry “slices!”

El Chino Latino Cocina

I have a long-standing love affair with Mexican cuisine, and though I just recently came across this blog, I know I’ll be back many times. Too many of us are only familiar with Mexican street food and chains, fried, cheesy deliciousness to be sure, but there is whole nuther another level.  They “had me” at Diane Kennedy. A big plus in my book? On the about page, I see they have two dogs, one a rescued “laprador!”

I wish I could go on and on, heck, I wish I could just post my “following” list!

Hope you enjoy visiting them!

 

Sides – Vegetables, Fruit, Salads & Dressings

Here’s the menu to lead you to our favorite sides. Sides and salads sometimes seem to be an after thought in frugal households, and really, what’s life without them! And of course, nutritionally, fruits and vegetables are essential. Why not make them delicious?

010Hearty Sides: A collection of our favorite pasta, grain, rice and potato dishes that will round out any meal. Some old favorites and others newer and fresher, these are our absolute best recipes.

010Salads and Dressings:  Favorite side salads, main dish salads, special dressings and a few extra sumpin sumpins to keep the family eating all of the above! Plus a few great ideas to make them healthier.

005Vegetable & Fruit Sides: Simply cooked or an extravaganza, here is my growing collection of favorite sides. At our house, the vegetables are often the star of the show…all those years wasted on frozen. Sighs.

Picadillo Tacos . $6.02

Seriously, sometimes it seems there’s nothing more American than a taco! At least the versions with pressed shells and a packet – and truth be told, my kids inhaled those. But here’s a version that’s a little different based on the lovely Picadillo, a dish traditional to Spain and many Latin American countries and cultures.

Picadillo Tacos - shown here with home-made taco shells
Picadillo Tacos – shown here with home-made taco shells

Picadillo is a dish with many variations, so feel free to play with this recipe to suit your taste and your family’s. This recipe isn’t hot as written, but I often jazz it up a bit, especially as my family is pretty much (Oh, I hope so! Crosses fingers…) finally grown. I seem to remember more a couple of years when my son looked at every food with suspicion and I had to leave out the green olives or risk rebellion – a few dashes of the brine flew under his vegetable hating radar!

These Picadillo Tacos are shown with a hard shell, freshly made, a bit crunchy, a bit chewy, there really is nothing like it! If you’ve only had the boxed variety of a hard shell, one made at home with a corn tortilla will blow you away. Just a bit fussy, they are worth every single minute it takes to lovingly fry them. Best, of course, like anything fried, made at the last possible minute. Simple fried tostadas can be turned out very quickly if you’d rather shortcut, and these are wonderful in a simple soft tortilla, too. Directions are below for the hard shells as well as for a more authentic fried taco.

Believe me, any way you make these, this Picadillo will be a huge hit! And isn’t it fun to have options to play with your food? With tacos, nothing is set in stone: you get to choose your shells, customize your filling and best of all, add in all your favorite toppings! If I have one on hand, I often add a bit of jalapeno or some red chili flakes to the Picadillo, or use a ground Chipotle powder instead of chili powder. Our favorite salsa? The Pico de Gallo on my Chipotle Chicken Copycat recipe.

Picadillo Filling, serves 4 to 6

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 to 1 onion, minced
  • 2 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 medium baking potato, peeled and finely diced or grated on the large holes of a box grater. Raw or a left over baked potato will work here
  • 1/2 large tomato or whole medium, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of chopped green olives
  • 1 cup water or stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, may omit if using canned stock
  • 16 corn tortillas
  • Toppings of choice: lettuce, avocado, tomato, salsa, onion, cheese, etc.

Add ground beef to skillet, breaking it up as it cooks. As soon as a bit of the fat melts and coats the skillet, add the onions and continue to cook until the meat is cooked through and the onions softened. Drain the mixture, discarding fat.

Clear a bit of space in the center of the skillet and add garlic and spices and allow to toast until fragrant, stir together. Sprinkle in flour and toast, stirring for a minute or two, then add potato, tomato, olives and water or stock.

Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until mixture is thickened.

 Hard Taco Shells:

Fill a small frying pan with oil to the depth of about 1/2 inch. Heat to about 350 degrees. Gently place tortilla in oil and using a spatula and tongs, immediately lift one side up and hold at an angle with the tongs while gently holding the side of the tortilla that is still in the oil down with the spatula.

Cook until the tortilla begins to crisp and lightly brown, 30 second to 1 minute. Carefully turn and repeat. Drain as much oil off as possible and move the shell to a paper bag. Best results are had if the shell is held in the “open” position to slightly cool before setting down.

Old-Fashioned Tacos:

One of my favorite ways (and probably the most authentic, although I seldom make these like this anymore due to diet requirements, like I should really be worrying when eating tacos, about a smidge more fat!) to make these is to soften the required number of tortillas for a moment in the hot oil until they are limp but not crisped. When finished, raise the oil to 375 degrees. Fill a soft corn tortilla with a bit of the Picadillo mixture and holding with tongs, submerge the whole works into the oil until lightly browned and crispy, but still a bit pliable. You’ll want to be able to get them open for all the toppings. Drain well by tilting them over the oil!

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

The toppings are often what makes or breaks the dish in terms of pricing. I often use just the bottom portion of Romaine lettuce since it is crunchy and cool and use the rest for salad later in the week, and use half an onion in the recipe, the rest for topping and the same with the tomato. 1/2 a large tomato is usually sufficient for my family. I start with about 4 ounces of cheese – of course, the fam will eat any amount of cheese that’s out, so I start with a smaller amount on a dish, and they moderate a bit better! Lime is wonderful with this dish, too, as is avocado, both a bit pricier than some of the toppings, and not included in the amounts!

Premade hard shells may often be bought at just a fraction of the cost of tortillas, by the way, with coupons and sales. These home-made shells are just so good, though!

The Picadillo can be doubled (or increased by any proportion you’d like) and be frozen in meal sized portions in a ziploc bag. It’s moist enough to withstand some time in the freezer, very well wrapped. If using a container, make sure to press plastic wrap on top of the mixture before add in the lid.

  • Ground Beef: I always buy on sale and freeze – I don’t think there is ever a reason to pay full price. If I have a bit left over because the sale price doesn’t allow me to always choose the quantity, I put the remainder in a Ziploc and freeze, noting the weight on the package. I’ll add to it until I get enough to make something. Cost $1.99 a pound, two pounds $3.96.
  • Tortillas:  Always look for great deals around Cinco de Mayo, or bargain sales priced packages. I picked up a package of 36 for $1.19, divided in to portions and froze the remainder, well wrapped in plastic and foil. They’ll keep for a month or two with no discernible difference, but after that, they’ll lose quality. I always look for the local brands. If I can’t find a rock bottom deal like above, look for packages of 12 – 18 for a buck. Cost for this recipe 52 cents.
  • Onions: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi’s is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad. 1 at 33 cents a pound, about 10 cents.
  • Tomatoes, fresh: These vary in price (and quality) according to season, and a good price here in Minnesota is between 69 and 99 cents a pound. In the winter, I often look for plum tomatoes because they seem to taste better. Don’t be swayed by the outside of the tomato – some of the best have imperfections, especially if they’re vine ripened. Never refrigerate your tomatoes if you can help it. An old farm wife’s trick? Add a sprinkle of salt and sugar if your tomatoes are tasteless. 1 large tomato, about 40 cents.
  • Russet Potatoes: Potatoes are dirt cheap – look for a great sales price of $1.99 for 10 pounds in the fall and winter; regular sales price is $1.99 for five pounds in my area. Store in a cool dry area, not near your onions – I like to store in a loosely closed paper bag. Don’t know what to do with a large bag? Make what recipes you’d like to, then make Freezer Twice Baked Potatoes with the rest. I often pick out the smaller, misshapen potatoes for mashing and save the more regular sized ones for baking or other recipes. Whenever possible, I scrub and keep the skins on, even though they may not be shown that way in a recipe…
  • A medium” sized potato (in my mind) runs about 5 ounces, smaller a few ounces less and a large around 8. Large “baking” potatoes look gorgeous but are always pricier and way above normal serving sizes. Cost for a medium at $1.99 for 10 pounds, is 4 cents.
  • Olives: For this recipe, any green olive will do – I often find them on special around Holidays and during the summer, sometimes with coupons. Just like with Tuna, your pharmacy shops often have great sales on olives. (They’re often 99 cents at Walgreens, and often there are 50 cent coupons available.) I’ll find them, also, sitting in grocery carts with other items reduced for quick sale as their reach their “best by” date – a seemingly arbitrary date stamped on the jar by the manufacturer, it seems to have little meaning for many items, including olives. They keep forever in the jar, and literally for months in the fridge after being opened. This small amount was 20 cents.
  • Romaine lettuce: Look for 99 cents a head, buying by the head is much less expensive than the prebagged varieties. I used about 1/2 a head, cost 50 cents.
  • Cheese: Cheese is an item that I almost always buy on sale. Often with store specials, coupons and special offers from the producers I can get cheese very cheaply, and sometimes at no cost. I’ll stock up then – if it’s not open, it keeps forever. If I have to freeze, I will sometimes do this – it’s ok when used in a casserole, but not very good for eating. I look for a price of a dollar (or less) for an eight ounce block of store cheese. I used about 4 ounces of colby, and paid about 40 cents.

Put Your own Spin on It:

Feel free to vary, add, omit any ingredients you wish.

Fast Food Option:

Taco Bell Tacos - 16 tacos will put you back $20.43!
Taco Bell Tacos – 16 tacos will put you back $20.43!

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

Did you know a potato masher makes short work of breaking down hamburger?

002

Smothered Pork Chops in Onion Gravy

Down home cooking at it’s best and perfect for fall, these pork chops smothered in a gorgeous onion gravy aren’t your Grandma’s pork chops, or even you Mom’s. That is if your Mom was like mine and used a canned soup or a Lipton’s mix. These are succulent and moist, tender and never dry. The onion gravy, just thick enough to nap, then pool, is full of flavor.

Smothered Pork Chops in Onion Gravy
Smothered Pork Chops in Onion Gravy

Thank the folks at Cook’s Illustrated for taking down home to the next level. What do a bunch of New Yorker’s know about a Midwestern favorite like this? Well, a lot, apparently! Of course, I had to temper their recipe with just a dash of Iowa sensibility – no multiple pans and processes here. Just me and my cast iron skillet. And a bit of bacon doesn’t hurt, either.

While a bone-in chop is always a winner for flavor and moistness, this gentle braise on the stove-top or in the oven always produces tender meat. Even the workhorse pork loin, which can dry up in a heartbeat is perfect here as long as it isn’t overcooked. Don’t buy the center loin chops at the store if you decide to go with a loin chop; it’s much less expensive to buy a whole loin and slice it to your specifications.

Do serve these Smothered Pork Chops with mashed potatoes rather than rice or noodles…Cook’s doesn’t know everything, after all! My Simple, Rustic Mashed Potatoes are especially good with this dish and can be put on the table for about 50 cents, the pork chops run around $3.88. Scant room in the budget for a vegetable if this is to be a Bargain Meal of the Week, but something on sale shouldn’t put you too far over!

Smothered Pork Chops in Onion Gravy, serves 4

  • 2 slices bacon, 1/4 inch pieces
  • 4 pork chops, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, preferably bone in
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 medium yellow onions, halved pole to pole and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 medium garlic cloves minced
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • green onion or parsley for garnish

If finishing in oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Fry bacon in cast iron skillet or heavy oven proof pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate, leaving fat behind. There should be about 2 tablespoons bacon fat; if not, supplement with vegetable oil.

Pat pork chops dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Brown chops in single layer until deep golden on first side, about 3 minutes. Flip chops and cook until browned on second side, about 3 minutes longer. Add onions to pan when chops are flipped. Transfer chops to large plate and set aside while onions finish cooking.

As onion cooks, add the tablespoon oil and two tablespoons water. Cook onions until softened and lightly browned and water is evaporated. Add in garlic and cook for a moment longer. Reduce heat and sprinkle flour over the top of the onions. Whisk in until smooth and cook, whisking frequently, until mixture is light brown, about the color of peanut butter, about two to three minutes. Whisk in chicken broth in slow, steady stream; increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, stirring occasionally.

Return chops to skillet in single layer, covering chops with onions. Cover, and simmer gently or place in oven and cook until pork is tender, about 25 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chops. Check by inserting a paring knife into the chops. They should meet very little resistance

If desired, transfer chops to warmed serving platter and tent with foil. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer sauce rapidly, stirring frequently, until thickened to desired consistency, about 5 minutes.

Cover chops with sauce, sprinkle with reserved bacon, and serve immediately.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

The obvious easy reduction in pricing is to simply leave the bacon out of the recipe – a bit more inexpensive, possibly a bit better for you, depending on your choice of diets. It does give a slight smoky flavor and a bit of added richness.

  • Pork Chops: Pork Chops are often expensive in the store, even in the family packs – dirty little secret? Many of the “better” chops, especially the thick ones, are sliced Pork Loin. This is great news – Pork Loin is sold in large packages for $1.99 to $2.39 a pound. Put out 12 to 20 bucks and buy a Pork Loin and slice your own chops “to order.” Make an assortment of thicker ones for special meals and thinner ones for quick dinners, package them and stack them in your freezer. (Sharpen your knife first!) A pound and 1/2 is about $3.00.
  • Bacon: Used to be an inexpensive ingredient, its price has risen with its popularity. Let’s face it, bacon isn’t the healthiest – we seldom use it here on its own as a meat, but do use it in small amounts in recipes, where I consider it as a “flavoring” rather than a protein. I buy on store specials and take advantage of coupons – my go to price is between $3.00 and $4.00 a package. I freeze until needed, partially thaw (until a knife will go through) and cut across the bacon from top to bottom. 1/16th is the same size as a strip. I wrap the bacon back up and freeze again.If we’re making something like a BLT, I’ll think about cooking a bit extra for something like this recipe. Cost for the bacon, $3.89 a pound, 2 slices (2 ounces) is 50 cents.
  • Onions: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi’s is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad.
  • Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you have enough, consider making French Onion Soup. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. 2 at 66 cents a pound, about 20 cents.
  • Chicken Stock:  If you read me regularly, I make my own with scraps of vegetables and bones – here’s the basic recipe I use for Best Turkey or Chicken Stock - it’s not particular and though it simmers for a long time, the burner is barely on – I just count it as free.
  • Olive Oil: I have a little strategy for buying olive oil – using coupons and sales to lower the price, so click on the link. I also look for new brands and stock up – heavy competition means that when a new brand comes to the store, it is often at a fantastic price for a few weeks, then settles in at around the same price as the others. I think it’s important to use olive oil as opposed to many others – the health benefits outweigh a bit more extra cost, and it can be had at a very reasonable price. I also like the fact that Olive oil contains no hidden trans fats like Canola or Vegetable oil. Cost for this recipe: 16 cents.
  • Garlic:  I look for a price of about $2.99 a pound, or about 54 cents a head. Check the pricing of the bulk per pound as opposed to the packaged. I never really find it on sale, but I use so much, I pay attention and buy a bit more when I see the price is lower.  Cost for 2 cloves, around 2 cents.
  • Green Onion: I try to buy on sale for about 50 cents a bunch (usually during Holidays) then put the white tips in a jar of water in a sunny window to regrow. Kids love taking ownership of the project. I only need to replenish every few months. Cost is so minimal that I don’t even count it.
  • Other ingredients minimal.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

Making small slits through the fat (or the edge) of a chop keeps it from curling while it cooks – Keeping the chop flat maximizes contact with the pan and ensures even cooking.

Small slits through the fat on a pork chop every inch to inch and a half keeps it from curling.
Small slits through the fat on a pork chop every inch to inch and a half keeps it from curling.

Put Your own Spin on It:

  • Cook’s Illustrated suggesting using about a teaspoon of thyme and two bay leaves in the gravy.
  • Vary the pork chops according to budget and preference – just watch the timing if going thinner.

The Best Home-made Chocolate Pudding . $1.10

Chocolate pudding has long been one of my favorite desserts, from the time I sat at the formica table as a child and ate it out of melamine bowls (ours were a robin’s egg blue) to today. If you’re not loving chocolate pudding, it’s likely you’re eating the premade or the mix, both of which pale in comparison to the real thing.

Best Chocolate Pudding - a few minutes to make, the hard part is letting it cool!
Best Chocolate Pudding – a few minutes to make, the hard part is letting it cool!

Mom used the mix, but when I was a teenager, I happened to notice the recipe for pudding on the back of the cornstarch box – it was a revelation. I could make pudding right now even if we didn’t have a box of pudding in the cupboard? It was ok, but not great, and it wasn’t until I began reading my grandmother’s cookbooks that I discovered why. The simple cornstarch pudding lacked the structure, richness and body of one that included egg yolks.

If only we’d had the internet back then!

Egg yolks incorporated into a recipe require a little sleight of hand – if they are thrown into a hot pudding they may cook before they’re incorporated. Mixing a bit of the hot pudding into the eggs while whisking vigorously, then putting the whole works back into the pudding eliminates that whole issue. The second issue, though? The little bits of white clinging to the egg may cause a few harmless but unattractive lumps. A quick strain isn’t strictly necessary, but only takes a minute.

Why all this work for something you can buy in a plastic cup, shake together or use a mix for? Taste – beautifully rich chocolate taste. And believe me, it’s not really all that much work, and best of all can be whisked up any old night you happen to feel like it from pantry ingredients – especially dangerous if you like it still warm.

Using plain old cocoa gives a gorgeous milk chocolate flavor, a blend like Hershey’s special blend, half plain cocoa, half Dutch process really brings home the chocolate flavor. A full Dutch process cocoa, to my mind, is a bit overwhelming. Try home-made, even once, and you’ll never go back. This is marvelous topped with whipping cream.

The Best Chocolate Pudding, serves 6

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup natural cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon butter, in small pieces

Put milk, sugar, cornstarch, salt and cocoa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, and vanilla in a bowl. Gradually whisk about a cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture. Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat whisking constantly, until the pudding comes to a full boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and continue whisking until thick, about 2 or 3 minutes more.

Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Strain mixture, using a spatula to force through the strainer, discarding any solids. Pour the pudding into 6 small cups. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight until set.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

I often use 1 or 2 percent milk, rather than buying a richer milk for this recipe. If I am using whipping cream, and have it on hand, I may replace about 1/4 cup of the lesser milk with the whipping cream. I don’t mind going a little less richer, though, for an everyday recipe like pudding.

The egg whites shouldn’t go to waste: incorporate them into scrambled eggs, make another recipe or freeze until ready to use.

A few cents could be saved here by eliminating one of the eggs and the butter, and it will still be very good. The price of the pudding would drop from $1.09 to $.77.

  • Cornstarch:  This is one of those baking items best bought around the winter holidays when baking items are at their least expensive and coupons are available. Look for great prices at your drugstore, too. Cost for 4 teaspoons: about two cents.
  • Milk:  Buy on sale – unopened it keeps a bit past it’s “sell by” date – then you can pick up one for the beginning of the week, and another at the end of the week for the week following. In our area, it is often on sale for $2.99 a gallon.
  • Be careful with your milk, and even opened it will last a lot longer – pour, lid and put away, don’t bring it to the table or leave it on the counter while you eat dinner or down your cereal and you’ll notice it stay fresh last MUCH longer. We’ve cut way back on dairy, as most health experts suggest – putting it away helps with that, too. Cost for two cups, about 16 cents.
  • Eggs: Stock up on eggs when they’re inexpensive, normally during Holiday weeks. Low prices in my area range from free (often with other purchases) to anywhere from $1.89 for 18 eggs. They last for weeks in the fridge – The date on the container is a ‘buy’ date, and you can expect them to last a good four to six weeks past that date. If you pick up two or three packages when they’re at their low, you’ll rarely need to pay full price.
  • Refrigerate right away and never store in the door; eggs keep best in a colder part of the refrigerator, in their own box. (Then put your partially used vegetables in the door where you’ll see them and remember they need to be used ASAP – the half a bell pepper or onion, etc.)  In doubt about an egg? If it floats in water, discard, just to be on the safe side. If they float, it means the egg inside is drying out, not that it is bad in any way. Cost for 3 eggs, about 30 cents.
  • Cocoa: Just like with almost any baking product, try to buy during the Holidays that most often have such items on sale, from shortly before Thanksgiving through New Years. Watch for sales during Valentine’s Day week and Easter, as well. Use a coupon, too, if available. I’m afraid I’ll need to estimate the cost, about 25 cents.
  • Vanilla or other Extracts:  Believe it or not, liquor is often cheaper than vanilla or many extracts, but there is a strategy to buying on the cheap: for the past few years McCormick has had great coupons combined with Catalina offers (buy so many, get a coupon back to get so much money off your next grocery purchase, always in the Spring.) Check your coupon matching sites weekly so you don’t miss this – it’s often unadvertised. Your store will likely have the best sales, then, too.  I never thought of Vanilla or extracts as being seasonal before…but now I get free if I buy several smaller packages. I’ll count it as about 10 cents.
  • Butter:  A bit of a splurge, cost and calorie wise – but for taste and health, I’d rather use real butter than trans fat laden margarine or oils. Yes – they do have trans fat, even if the label says they don’t. Harvard, for instance, says unequivocally: “The key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats and to avoid trans fat.” While butter isn’t a healthy fat, many feel that trans fat is worse than saturated.
  • Buy on deep specials, often around the holidays with store coupons. I shoot for $2.50 a pound and freeze, where it stays fine for months, but haven’t seen this price for awhile. At nearly $5.00 a pound, butter is about 22 cents in this recipe.
  • Sugar: Look for sugar on sale, which usually happens around the holidays. While any holiday generates a sales price, the best sales are generally from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when coupons are abundant. Check out Aldi for your sugar; their prices are generally great. 1/2 cup is about 4 cents.

Burning Question:

I prefer NOT to put the plastic directly on top of the pudding, but instead to let a thick top part form. It seems I am in the vast minority, and most people hate a thick chocolate layer on the top of their pudding.

Which camp are you in?

 

Horchata, light & refreshing . 20 cents

I was introduced to Horchata (glad to meet you!) late in life, which is a bit of a shame as it is the perfect thing to drink with Mexican food. Well, other than Margaritas. Cool and light, barely sweet, this is my version of the drink.

Yes, please, I will have some Horchata!
Yes, please, I will have some Horchata!

After my initial introduction, I went on a bit of a spree, sampling Horchata whenever I saw it on a menu and trying various recipes. I was looking to recreate that first Horchata; like a first love, innocent and pure, it was hard to duplicate. So often, the simplest of things are!

Horchata, if you’re unfamiliar, has a long history, and may be made with many variants, but here in the states it is generally made with rice, cinnamon, perhaps a bit of milk and some type of sweetener. It is considered to be an Aguas Fresca, and as such is not typically thick as some restaurant versions are, and generally not overly sweet.

While some versions use almonds as well or instead of the rice, here’s what I settled on, below. Feel free to tinker as desired. Do plan ahead as this has a 12 hour soak.

Because I like to make a rice pudding, a Horchata Arroz con Leche (recipe coming) with the dregs strained from Horchata, my method varies just a bit from some traditional recipes – I try to break down the cinnamon stick into very small, edible bits.

Horchata, 6 cups, 4 servings 1 1/2 cups each

  • 1 1/3 cup rice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, about 4 inches long, broken up
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of vanilla, to taste, optional

Lay cinnamon on a protected surface and break up with a heavy object into small slivers. Add to blender with rice and pulse several times. Add about 1 1/2 cups of water, blending to break up the rice, then add another 2 1/2 cups and blend again. Four cups total are in the blender at this point.

Either pour into another container or simply set the blender cup in the fridge. Leave for about 12 hours.

After the resting period, blend again, then begin the straining process. Reserve the solid bits for the rice pudding. The easiest way I’ve found to strain is to use a three step straining process, primarily because I don’t like to waste cheesecloth, nor do I have the patience to scrape and facilitate straining once the cheesecloth becomes coated with the mixture.

  • Pour the mixture through a standard sieve. My basic kitchen strainer worked well. At this point, add the remaining cup of water to the blender, swish around and pour it through as well.
  • Pour the mixture through a smaller sieve (my small four-inch sieve has smaller holes and removed quite a bit more of the dregs.)
  • Pour the mixture back through the standard sieve, lined with three layers of cheesecloth.

Add sugar and salt to milk in a small, microwave safe container like a Pyrex measuring cup – heat for a moment, then stir to dissolve sugar. Add to the Horchata. Refrigerate for another hour or so, then pour over a generous amount of ice and enjoy.

Note: While some recommend squeezing the rice after straining, I found I only had a very small amount, about a tablespoon, of liquid that came out, and determined the mess was just not worth it. Cover and refrigerate the rice if you wish to use it later. I found it easy at this point to pluck out any large pieces of cinnamon.

Note on salt: while it may seem meaningless to add a pinch of salt to this recipe, the salt actually makes the drink taste just a bit sweeter – allowing one to get by with a little less sugar.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

Horchata leaves behind dregs of rice, which I’m sure most Mexican cooks find some use for. I’ve come across methods for making a thick kind of cream of rice type dish, which tastes quite a bit like and has the same texture as cream of wheat. I’ve also made a pudding from mine. Both recipes coming soon. Some cooks have claimed to make bars, bread and other items from the rice, and sometimes from a rice/almond mixture.

  • Rice: Always inexpensive, there are two ways to buy rice: Either go for a smaller, name brand box or bag and use a coupon, which with a good sale can net you rice for free or just pennies, or alternatively: Look for the largest bag you can find on sale that you will use in a reasonable amount of time. Check the Rice/Pasta aisle, the Mexican Aisle and the Asian aisle (or markets) and do a little comparing of price/weight. Once you figure what is least expensive, you might want to recheck every now and then. I jot down what I paid for rice in my price book or even on the bag, so I have an idea of how much I paid originally. I figure a good price in my area is about 8 cents a cup (uncooked.) Cost about 12 cents.
  • Sugar: Look for sugar on sale, which usually happens around the holidays. While any holiday generates a sales price, the best sales are generally from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when coupons are abundant. 1/3 cup is about 3 cents.
  • Milk:  Buy on sale – unopened it keeps a bit past it’s “sell by” date – then you can pick up one for the beginning of the week, and another at the end of the week for the week following. In our area, it is often on sale for $2.99 a gallon.
  • Be careful with your milk, and even opened it will last a lot longer – pour, lid and put away, don’t bring it to the table or leave it on the counter while you eat dinner or down your cereal and you’ll notice it stay fresh last MUCH longer. We’ve cut way back on dairy, as most health experts suggest – putting it away helps with that, too. Cost for a 1/2 cup, about 4 cents.
  • Vanilla or other Extracts:  Believe it or not, liquor is often cheaper than vanilla or many extracts, but there is a strategy to buying on the cheap: for the past few years McCormick has had great coupons combined with Catalina offers (buy so many, get a coupon back to get so much money off your next grocery purchase, always in the Spring.) Check your coupon matching sites weekly so you don’t miss this – it’s often unadvertised. Your store will likely have the best sales, then, too.  I never thought of Vanilla or extracts as being seasonal before…but now I get free if I buy several smaller packages. Holidays are also a great time to buy Vanilla. I’ll count it as about 5 cents.
  • Cinnamon: While I don’t count the cost of herbs and spices, I’ve found a rather strange place to get a great price on cinnamon. The craft store. I know, sounds strange, but check from around Hallowe’en to Christmas. If you’re going for authentic, you may want to try a Mexican cinnamon.

Nutrition:

While I do not have a clear idea of how to judge the nutritional value of the rice, the serving size of 1 1/2 cups (6 cups total in recipe) means the added sugar and milk (2%) in this recipe amounts to about 32 calories per serving.

Put Your own Spin on It:

  • Try a splash of Rum or Kahlua for an adult Horchata.
  • A bit of almond extract may be very good in this instead of vanilla – be careful as it is strong!
  • Use a mixture of blanched almonds and rice.
  • Sweeteners can be varied. Many recipes use condensed milk instead of sugar and milk.

 

 

The Best Muffins Ever – Big, Beautiful Muffins

We’ve always loved these Big, Beautiful Muffins in the Frugal Household – out of this world fantastic, but still very much a muffin, not a cupcake. These big, beautiful muffins can pretty much be adapted to any favorite flavor. My favorite? Raspberry with little chunks of Almond Paste. No, wait, Lemon Poppy Seed or maybe Toffee Crunch with a Streusel Topping. I nearly forgot about the Cranberry Orange…aw, heck, I love them all, and have many variations!

Big. Beautiful Muffins - these are chocolate chip toffee streusel, but a dozen variations are given
Big. Beautiful Muffins – these are chocolate chip toffee streusel, but a dozen variations are given

These started out as Cook’s Illustrated Big & Beautiful Muffins, or maybe America’s Test Kitchen’s, or both. Depending on the show, book or magazine, the recipe has floated back and forth with a few variations. I’ve been making them for years, since way, way back when we all knew bigger was better! What’s with all this “less is more” stuff, anyway?

It seems in the late 90’s, home cooks wanted nothing more than to compete with the big bakeries and professionals who were turning out huge muffins, and Chris Kimball and staff came through. Muffin tops that spread all across the pans, so big they have to be cut into squares…Crunchy on the top edges, moist and tender inside. Better yet, they taste fantastic! For company or to take to friends who might be going through a difficult time, I make them still.

For people like me, people that just want a muffin, thank you, and not an extravaganza, cutting the size a bit gives the same moist, wonderful muffin in a much more reasonable presentation. The batter easily divides into 18 muffins rather than 12.

Big, Beautiful Muffins - the only Muffin recipe you'll ever need. Small or large, a dozen variations.
Big, Beautiful Muffins – the only Muffin recipe you’ll ever need. Small or large, a dozen variations.

A big bonus with either the large or the small muffins? The muffins can be divided and frozen in the batter state, then baked off later. Perfect for smaller families and would be gluttons – and I’m speaking of myself, here. It can be dangerous for me to have too many of these home-baked muffins on the counter, especially if I happen to wake during the night!

Note that there are two recipes below:

The first requires a mixer (the second doesn’t) and directs one to cream the butter and add wet and dry ingredients in additions. They are utterly fantastic, high rising with a perfect muffin texture. Sturdy, yet moist, delicate and fluffy. These are out of this world fantastic. The only drawback is the butter has to be softened and you have to drag out the mixer, unlike the quick version, below.

The second version is hand mixed, uses melted butter and is super quick and easy. It’s perfect for a busy morning or if you don’t wish to bother pulling the mixer out. You’d swear they were the best muffin in the world, but compared to the creamed version there are very subtle differences. They’re just a bit heavier and don’t rise to quite the height of the first.

Additions:

One of the best things about these muffins is that they are fantastic plain, with no additions, but the thick gorgeous batter can support many flavors, add ins and toppings, below. I, personally think muffins are like cupcake’s old maiden aunt – some decorum and restraint should be shown. The great thing about making your own – you don’t have to agree and may put whatever you wish in these, in any amounts you please!

Cost is going to vary according to the types and amounts of fruits and add-ins, but the basic recipe is about $2.67 for 12 very large or 18 basic muffins. Sure beats the $3.69 price I saw for four at the store’s bakery the other day.

Big, Beautiful Muffins – Hand Mixed (Quick, Easy Recipe)

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled (if you use salted, decrease the added salt to 1/4 tsp)
  • Mix-ins, below, optional. Add in at the appropriate time as directed.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375 *F. Generously grease or spray a 12 cup muffin tin, including the level top portion. For best results, do not use liners.

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt in a large bowl. In medium bowl, whisk the yogurt and eggs together until sooth. Gently fold the yogurt mixture into flour mixture with rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in melted butter. The batter will be thick.

Portion the batter into each of 12 muffin cups. (This should be just below the rim, depending on the volume of the mix-ins.) Bake until light golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan half-way through baking. The only way to go wrong is to over bake, so remove them from the oven by the crumb test, not the color.

Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Directions below for making 18 muffins instead of 12 and for freezing.

Note: These muffins rise higher if a cupcake liner is NOT used.

Big, Beautiful Muffins – Mixer Method (Cream Technique)

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 10 Tablespoons (1 stick plus two tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature (if you use salted, decrease the added salt to 1/4 tsp)
  • Mix-ins, below, optional. Add in at the appropriate time as directed.

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 375 *F. Generously grease or spray a 12 cup muffin tin, including the level top portion. For best results, do not use liners.

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar until lightened in color and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and slowly beat 1/3 of the yogurt into the creamed mixture. Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients, beating until just barely incorporated. Stop and scrape down the side of the bowl and add 1/3 of the yogurt. Beat on low again, until just barely mixed, stop, scrape and add remainder of flour. When nearly mixed, stop again ad add the remainder of the yogurt, mixing as little as possible to blend together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix with a spatula.

Portion the batter into each of 12 muffin cups. (This should be just below the rim, depending on the volume of the mix-ins.) Bake until light golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.  The only way to go wrong is to over bake, so remove them from the oven by the crumb test, not the color.

Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Directions below for making 18 muffins instead of 12 and for freezing.

Note: These muffins rise higher if a cupcake liner is NOT used.

 Smaller Muffins – Both Recipes:

 Portion into 18 muffins rather than 12. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, but don’t be too concerned about browning on the top. With the smaller muffins there is a greater risk of drying with increased browning. Check with a toothpick and remove from oven when it comes out with just a few crumbs adhering.  The only way to go wrong is to over bake, so watch carefully. Note: These muffins rise higher if a cupcake liner is NOT used.

Refrigerate or Freeze – Both Recipes:

Note: Batter can be made ahead of time and stored in either the fridge or the freezer. For the fridge, store it in a covered container up to 24 hours. For the freezer, portion the batter into the muffin tin and place tin in freezer to flash-freeze. Once frozen, remove from tin and store in a freezer container. To bake, return to muffin tin and let sit 30 minutes while preheating the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. (I generally use a muffin cup liner when freezing.)

Variations & Mix-Ins –  Both Recipes:

Because some of these variations add to the volume of the batter, if you’re making smaller muffins, you may be able to squeeze an extra muffin out of the batter. With the ginourmous muffins, well, they’ll just be a bit larger. Watch the baking times as it may slightly affect the muffins.

While you may want to try any of these variations by themselves, feel free to riff and try in combinations – a huge number of variations can be made with different combinations of fillings, add-ins and toppings. The amounts given are only guidelines. Feel free to increase or decrease any of the options to suit your taste. The addition of too much fruit, chips, etc., can alter the texture of a muffin. Usually a cup to a cup and a half is about right to add flavor but not overwhelm.

Toppings:

Sugar Coated: Sprinkle the tops with 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar or sanding sugar before baking.

Streusel Topping: ½ c white or brown sugar, ⅓ c all purpose flour, ¼ c butter, cold & cubed, 1/2 to 1¾ tsp cinnamon, apple pie spice, or other flavoring. Mix together until crumbly.

Streusel Topping with Oatmeal or Nuts or Toffee Chips: ½ c white or brown sugar, 1/4 c all purpose flour, ¼ c butter, cold & cubed, 1/2 to 1¾ tsp cinnamon, apple pie spice, or other flavoring. Mix together until crumbly. Use about 1/3 cup of oatmeal, finely chopped nuts or toffee chips.

Cinnamon Coated: Mix about 1/2 cup of sugar with two teaspoons cinnamon. Dip warm muffin in melted butter and then in the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Citrus Glaze: Mix 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of citrus, simmer in a small saucepan for three minutes until slightly reduced. Brush on top of still warm muffins.

Chocolate Drizzle: Any drizzle can be made by combining one ounce of chocolate with one teaspoon of shortening or butter. Shortening tends to give the best texture.

Fillings:

Berry: Almost any berry is wonderful in these muffins. Larger berries like strawberry should be chopped. The trick to getting the berries to distribute evenly and not bleed too much into the batter is to gently shake them in a bit of flour, then shake off the excess before adding them to the batter. Sprinkle them across the top of the batter and gently fold in. Do not thaw if using frozen berries. No need to be exact, but don’t over do it – usually 1 1/2 cups is more than sufficient.

Berry Plus Citrus: Some berries just go well with other flavors. Add one teaspoon and up to one tablespoon of citrus zest to the yogurt. Gently fold into the batter 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen berries (do not thaw if frozen).

Lemon Blueberry (or Raspberry) Muffins: Add 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest to the yogurt mixture. Gently fold into the batter 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen berries (do not thaw if frozen).

Berry Plus Extract: Add in about a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of your favorite extract with the yogurt. Some extracts are very strong and very little is needed. Almond comes to mind. Others are a little less overwhelming and the full 1/2 teaspoon will be needed. Gently fold into the batter 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen berries (do not thaw if frozen).

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins: Add 3 tablespoons poppy seeds to the flour mixture and 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest to the yogurt mixture. While the muffins bake, cook ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until it turns into a light syrup, about 3 minutes. Brush the warm syrup over the warm baked muffins and serve.

Apple Pecan: Finely dice two apples and fold into finished batter with 1/2 to one cup of chopped toasted pecans. Substitute all or part of the white sugar with brown, if desired. Try a little maple syrup mixed with melted butter for a topping. Also very good with a streusel topping.

Peach Pecan: Finely dice two peaches and fold into finished batter with 1/2 to one cup of chopped toasted pecans. Substitute all or part of the white sugar with brown, if desired. Try a little maple syrup mixed with melted butter for a topping. Also very good with a streusel topping.

Apple & Cinnamon Chip: Finely dice two medium apples, substitute some of the white sugar (or all) with brown sugar, add about 3/4 cup of cinnamon chips. My preferred topping is brown sugar streusel.

Apricot Almond: Add three tablespoons almond paste with yogurt and mix in 1 1/2 cups finely chopped dried apricots. (Use a thin knife coated with cooking spray to finely chop Apricots. Freshly dried works best, here, ones that have been sitting for some time may be rather tough, although they can be softened by pouring a little boiling water over them and allowing to steep to desired consistency. Sprinkle a few sliced almonds over the muffins before baking.

Jelly or Jam Muffins: Add three tablespoons almond paste to a small amount of the yogurt, mashing it into a cream. Mix with the remaining yogurt. Fill muffin tins halfway, add a heaping teaspoon of jam, then continue to fill them with the desired amount of batter.

Raspberry Almond 1: Add three tablespoons almond paste to a small amount of the yogurt, mashing it into a cream. Mix with the remaining yogurt. When filling muffin tins, Spoon 2 tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup. Drop 1 teaspoon raspberry jam into each cup, then spoon the remaining batter evenly on top.

Raspberry Almond 2: Add ½ teaspoon almond extract to the yogurt mixture. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup. Drop 1 teaspoon raspberry jam into each cup, then spoon the remaining batter evenly on top.

Raspberry Almond 3: Add fresh raspberries and small chunks of almond paste (three to four tablespoons worth, broken into the size of chocolate chips) to the finished batter. Fold very gently.

Raspberry White Chocolate: Fold in 1 1/2 cups of raspberries and 3/4 cups of white chocolate chips to the finished batter. Do not thaw if using frozen berries.

Cranberry Orange Muffins with or without Nuts:
Add 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest to the yogurt mixture. Fold 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries. If desired, add ¾ cup coarsely chopped toasted nuts into the batter.

Toffee Crunch: Add one cup (or more!) of toffee chips to batter. Use all white sugar, all brown or a combination. Marvelous with the chocolate coated toffee chips or combined with 3/4 cup chocolate chips.

Toffee Crunch Almond: Add a cup each of toffee chips and slivered almonds to finished batter. Like above, this can be made with any combination of brown and/or white sugar. Marvelous with the chocolate coated toffee chips, too.

Mocha Chip: Dissolve three teaspoons instant espresso powder in yogurt and fold in one cup of chocolate chips into the finished batter.

Chocolate Chip Muffins: Add 1 teaspoon vanilla to the yogurt mixture and fold 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips into the batter.

Banana or Banana Rum: It’s just hard to go wrong! For Banana, add 1/2 teaspoon of grated nutmeg in the dry ingredients and 1 1/2 cups of diced firm banana, folded into the finished batter. For Banana Rum, use 1/2 teaspoon Rum Extract mixed in the yogurt and then fold in the banana.

Banana Banana Chocolate Chip: Fold 1 ½ cups finely diced bananas and 3/4 cup chocolate chips into the batter.

Banana Walnut Muffins: Substitute light brown sugar for the granulated sugar and add ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg to the flour mixture. Fold 1 ½ cups finely diced bananas and ½ cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts into the batter.

Other ideas: I have yet to try every flavor combination I’ve thought of, and am always thinking of more, usually while I’m eating the ones I’ve just baked. Here’s a few I hope to make friends with sometime in the future: Cherry, Cherry Almond, Cherry filled, Cream Cheese Cherry filled, Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip filled. Pineapple Coconut, Mango, Tropical Combinations, with perhaps a coconut topping, or grated lime zest, or a lime citrus glaze.

Put Your own Spin on It:

So what flavors would you dream up to incorporate into these lovely muffins? I bet you have something in mind already!

 Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Flour: Buy around any holiday when it is on a great sale price, especially the winter Holidays. I freeze all flour products when I bring them into my home for three days to avoid any issues. The five-pound bags are often much less expensive than the larger bags and are on sale so often, that it isn’t necessary to buy the larger bags unless one does a lot of baking. Sometimes coupons are available for the brand names during the sales. 5 pounds for $1.55 (Aldi’s) is about 17 cups, unsifted, 9 cents a cup. Cost for the recipe 27 cents.
  • Sugar: Look for sugar on sale, which usually happens around the holidays. While any holiday generates a sales price, the best sales are generally from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when coupons are abundant. 8 cents.
  • Eggs: Stock up on eggs when they’re inexpensive, normally during Holiday weeks. Low prices in my area range from free (often with other purchases) to anywhere from $1.89 for 18 eggs. They last for weeks in the fridge – The date on the container is a ‘buy’ date, and you can expect them to last a good six weeks past that date. If you pick up two or three packages when they’re at their low, you’ll rarely need to pay full price.
  • Refrigerate right away and never store in the door; eggs keep best in a colder part of the refrigerator, in their own box. (Then put your partially used vegetables in the door where you’ll see them and remember they need to be used ASAP – the half a bell pepper or onion, etc.)  In doubt about an egg? If it floats in water, discard, just to be on the safe side. If they float, it means the egg inside is drying out, not that it is bad in any way. Cost for 2 eggs, about 20 cents.
  • Yogurt: I habitually buy the large cartons of yogurt, even when I can get the individual ones on sale with a coupon, just because I try to avoid as many additives and as much sugar as possible and I find them to be a bit better quality. If I feel like a flavored yogurt, I’ll add in a bit of fruit to my bowl, or maybe a teaspoon of jam.
  • Yogurt lasts for weeks and when the dates were first put on dairy, the buy by date, as a way of rotating stock, it was never intended as an expiration date! Any separation in yogurt is the “whey” and to maintain the same consistency, should be stirred back in. Use your eyes and nose in determining when yogurt is good, not the date you should by it by. Cost for a large carton at Aldi’s $1.79. For this recipe, 90 cents.
  • Butter:  A bit of a splurge, cost and calorie wise – but for taste and health, I’d rather use real butter than trans fat laden margarine or oils. Yes – they do have trans fat, even if the label says they don’t. Harvard, for instance, says unequivocally: “The key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats and to avoid trans fat.” While butter isn’t a healthy fat, many feel that trans fat is worse than saturated.
  • Buy on deep specials, often around the holidays with store coupons. I shoot for $2.50 a pound and freeze, where it stays fine for months, but haven’t seen a great price in ages. At $4.86 a pound, a stick is $1.22.
  • Baking Soda, powder, salt: The cost is so minimal I don’t know how to count it. Look for baking items during any holiday to be at a low, and an all time low from just before Thanksgiving through New Years, and possibly around Easter, as well.

Nutrition:

For 12 muffins. plain – no add ins or toppings, using low fat yogurt: cal 234, tot fat 9g; sat fat 5g; mono 2g; chol 63mg; sod 201mg; pot 127mg; carb 33g; fib 1g; sug 12g; prot 6g; vitamin A 6%; calc 14%; iron 7%

For 18 muffins. plain – no add ins or toppings, using low fat yogurt: cal 156, tot fat 6g; sat fat 2g; mono 2g; chol 42mg; sod 201mg; pot 85mg; carb 22g; fib 1g; sug 8g; prot 4g; vitamin A 4%; calc 10%; iron 5%

Obviously, choice of add ins and toppings will affect the nutritional values. The smaller Rasbpberry/Blueberry muffins shown above came in at 177 calories. In my mind, the fruit improves the nutritional value just a bit. The large, streusel topped muffins in the top photo, with a cup of mini chocolate chips and 3/4 cup of toffee chips came in at 528 calories, pretty much on par with the nutritional values of those from Panera, Starbucks, etc.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

Fill empty muffin cups half way with water to prevent the pan from overheating on one side and warping.

Use butter wrappers to grease pans. When ever you remove a wrapper from butter, fold into a square and save in the freezer. They will be at the ready anytime you bake. I keep mine at the far end of a door shelf.

When you use citrus, take a moment to zest it, even if you aren’t using zest in the recipe you’re making. Put it in a small snack size ziploc bag and it will be ready anytime you wish to make a recipe that uses just a bit of zest, such as these muffins.

My Big, Fat, Green Smoothies – on a budget

“Let Food be thy Medicine, and Medicine be thy Food.”

Hippocrates lived around 460 B.C.; amazing, isn’t that we still haven’t learned this lesson – at least I always need to keep reminding myself! One thing I think I do right? I try to start off nearly every morning with a green smoothie – some hopeful family members refer to these “tongue in cheek” as Shamrock Shakes. In my own mind, I refer to Green Smoothies as “Pond Scum.”

My Big, Fat Green Smoothie - on a budget
My Big, Fat Green Smoothie – on a budget

I make no attempt to make my Green Smoothies taste good. I simply drink them down like the medicine they are. If there is by chance an ingredient that seems like a flavoring, don’t be deceived: any flavor is incidental. Things like Cinnamon, Ginger, Citrus are all in my Green Smoothie for healthy reasons only.

Now I live frugally, and if you’ve done much reading on my blog, you’ll probably pick up the idea that I dislike waste – it makes me crazy. I have pages and pages about using left overs – see the tab at the top of the page. I make Spa Water from Fruit and some vegetable peelings, skins, etc. I save peels from garlic, onions, parts of celery that most discard and use along with Chicken bones for my lovely Chicken Stock.

It took about two days of drinking Green Smoothies to realize that much of what was designated for the trash or compost would be better served feeding me – just because a piece or part of a vegetable or fruit isn’t attractive to eat or serve doesn’t mean it is any less nutritious than the rest of it. Some parts we often discard are just as rich in vitamins, nutrients and fiber, or even more so than the parts we eat. Citrus peels, for example.

I’ve also learned to use up any left over vegetables I fear may languish in the fridge, the water they’re cooked in, as well as sauces like salsa, tomato sauces, etc. If there’s a little dab of pesto, or a bit of left over what ever, it’s a prime candidate for my blender.

I take the cup of my Blender and add in all the pieces and parts of dinner that I’m not using as well as any vegetables, etc., not designated for a better use, then cap it and put it in the fridge. Before I go to bed I add spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and whatever else is going into the smoothie. The next morning I can add water, cooking liquid, green tea, yogurt if I’m using, ice, etc. and blend it up.

The base of my Green Smoothies is almost always Kale, but sometimes Spinach or Swiss Chard plus the left overs from my cooking the day before (scraps, peelings, stems, etc.) In addition, I add 1″ piece of Ginger (peel and all), a teaspoon of Cinnamon, 1/2 of a citrus fruit, usually lemon, or any citrus peels. I often add a mushroom or two or a bit of tomato unless I already have scraps to use.

What I save for Green Smoothies:

  • Pieces and or seeds of tomato, but not stems or leaves.
  • Peelings and ends of broccoli.
  • Stems cut off mushrooms.
  • Core of cabbage or cauliflower.
  • Citrus that has been juiced.
  • Leaves and stems from any greens or herbs (I save some parsley and cilantro in my freezer for soups)
  • The skin of kiwis, apple, pear, peaches, etc., unless I am using them for Spa Water.
  • The core of pineapple, which is the most nutrient dense part, but not the skins.
  • Beet greens and stems.
  • Radish pieces and leaves.
  • Just about any fruit or vegetable that I happen to be using will be likely to contribute something to my green smoothie, unless it’s on the list below.
  • Left over vegetables and sauces.
  • Cooking water from vegetables.
  • If in any doubt that a portion of a fruit or vegetable is not ingestible, look it up!

There are a few things that don’t go in my Green Smoothies:

  • Pits or seeds that might be dangerous or not good to eat, like the seeds of cherries and apricots, plums and apples, as well as pits and seeds that aren’t blendable. I avoid all pits and seeds just so I don’t have to remember what is what, with the exception of celery and tomato and melon.
  • Potato or sweet potato skins; they go in the compost.
  • Parts of lettuce that aren’t used (too little nutritional value to make it worthwhile, so it would displace other more important vegetables.) Compost.
  • Celery, carrot and onion that I save for soup.
  • Fruit or vegetable peelings that I love in my Spa Water. One is cucumber, the rest is usually fruit or berries
  • Parts or pieces of vegetables or fruits that are rotten.
  • Parts of items that are waxed, although the wax probably wouldn’t cause harm.
  • Seeds and stems from Bell Peppers or Hot Peppers – The stems don’t blend well, and of the seeds, the first are extremely bitter, the second, awful hot. They go in compost.
  • Parts of peppers that aren’t used in a recipe – like the bit around the stem – I usually chop it up to flavor cream cheese for spreads.
  • Apple Cores: they just get awfully nasty, and the seeds can form cyanide in the digestive track: they go in the compost.
  • Melon rinds: I don’t usually save or blend, they would displace much of the other items in my smoothies. I may add a bit of watermelon rind, and use some for Spa Water, and compost the rest.
  • Banana Peels: they absorb lots of chemicals, so unless it’s organic, I don’t bother blending them – they go in compost.
  • Stems of tomatoes, which contain an unsavory chemical.
  • Rhubarb leaves, which are poisonous.
  • If in any doubt that a portion of a fruit or vegetable is not ingestible, look it up!

Here are things that NEVER go in my green smoothies:

  • Fruit Juices
  • Protein Powders
  • Weird “power” or “healthy” formulations
  • Anything Chemical
  • Most Dairy
  • Soy
  • Large amounts of fruit – maybe a few peels
  • Nut butters
  • Any sweetener, whether real or man made, in what ever form. I think that covers it all…stevia, agave, maple syrup, white, brown, turbinado, palm. I just suck it up and drink it!
  • Any dried fruit: dates, raisins, etc.
  • Trendy and expensive items that may become all the rage, but may not be well thought out additions: Flaxseed, high in Omega 6, is a perfect example.

Here’s what I Mix my Green Smoothies with:

  • If I happen to have it around, I may use some of the whey left over from my yogurt in my smoothie. Sometimes I add a little yogurt.
  • Sometimes I’ll use green tea.
  • If I think to save it, the water I’ve steamed my vegetables in.
  • Usually, I use plain old water.
  • Sometimes I add a few ice cubes – the cold helps to dull the taste a bit.

Plain, simple, wholesome and good for you. The spices and mushrooms are chosen because of their great anti inflammatory properties. Because the amounts I make may vary in volume, if I have any left over, I’ll put it in the fridge in one of my favorite jars.

I’ve heard a few things:

  • Kale is best a few minutes after being blended, so don’t drink immediately, but wait five minutes. See the link from the World’s Healthiest Foods.
  • I’ve also heard that green smoothies are best used within 20 minutes. For me…well, drinking one that’s been refrigerated is better than not drinking one at all. If it’s there and at the ready, I will drink it.

So how about you guys? Does any one out there have great tips on what to add to their green smoothies and how to keep costs reasonable?

 

 

 

 

 

Food Safety & Expiration Dates

Being a person who was well into adulthood when these magical little dates that are often incorrectly called “expiration” dates began appearing on food, I’m often shocked at how people toss their food by these dates. It amounts to a huge amount of waste, and forgive me for saying so, because of ignorance. I use the term ignorance not as an insult, but by definition: “the state or fact of being ignorant :  lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.” Believe me, ignorance is NOT bliss! Ignorance is expensive, wasteful and extravagant.

Food Safety & What Those  Dates Mean
Food Safety & What Those Dates Mean

Now, I know I may be coming across as a bit harsh, and I’m guessing the readers who think so will likely be the ones who haven’t educated themselves about these dates, what they mean, how food goes bad and what the danger is. A lack of understanding of food safety is a dangerous thing!

Here’s your chance to mend your ways! So please take this with an “If the shoe fits, attitude.” By the way, dates on food, what they are, and how long food lasts past these dates is not MY opinion – it’s fact. While there may be variables, almost any food can be looked up at sites put up by reliable agencies, boards, etc. I’ve included some links below.

History: Sell by or Buy by dates:

Perhaps I can shed some light: Those dates evolved first as a way for the producers, manufacturers, shippers and retailers to rotate stock. “First in, first out.” It was very helpful to consumers when, in order to protect the consumer, by choice, and later by law in a few states (by 2013 there were 20 states that had some type of laws regulating dates) the producer/manufacturers began to use a “sell by” date instead of just a code on their packaging. I think it was in the late 80’s that these dates first began appearing where I lived.

A consumer was able to gauge by the date on the package how long it might be good in the home. It also helped head off buying something, getting it home, and finding out it wasn’t quite right. Sour milk – yuck! By the way, if you’re surprised by the dates of milk and yogurt in the next couple of paragraphs, or if you disagree…guess what, you’re wearing that shoe, right now, and really need to read on.

Let’s use milk as an example: If one buys milk with a suggested “buy by” date, one could expect that milk, if properly refrigerated and handled, to be good five to seven days after the date if opened, and up to 10 days if not. If properly handled! This is why dairies used to deliver once a week, at least until they started handling a large variety of products and came more often to make more money.

Another example is yogurt, which has an extremely long shelf life. Real yogurt really doesn’t need refrigeration – the refrigeration slows the fermentation process down to almost nil, which keeps the good bacteria from continuing to grow and those little cartons from exploding – it is not a safety issue, but a quality one.

The national dairy council gives unopened yogurt a very conservative date of two to three weeks past the “buy by” date. Since yogurt was originally made by placing camel milk in stomach intestines and riding around the dessert with the container tucked under the saddle, one can imagine it is normally a pretty safe product. Why only two to three weeks past the buy by date? Yogurt is mass-produced, and thereby quality is somewhat in question, and the dairy council operates on a better safe than sorry attitude. Probably a good thing.

Use By Dates or Best By Dates:

At some point we moved on to “use by” dates. This is a date that appeared only recently in the state I live in and this varies by state. I first noticed it on meats. I bought a package and two days later noticed a “use by” date – for the day before. I was astounded. Use by? What the heck is “use by??” I only had it for two days! I opened the package with dread to find the meat perfectly fine.

“Use by” or “Best By” are dates the manufacturer/producer puts on food to suggest to consumers that it is the date the product is “best by.” It is not some ominous date that means the product is or isn’t good, nor does it remove the manufacturer from any responsibility if the product is contaminated, even after the date. I will say this: if a product is within that date and shows any sign of spoilage, the stores in my area take it right back with NO questions asked. It’s very quickly, efficiently and quietly whisked away from the service desk counter and replaced. Later than that date and one will need to address the manufacturer.

When I buy my cars, do I consider the car to be bad and throw it out after the one-year protection date by the state, the lemon law? Ridiculous! What about when the manufacturer’s warranty is over? No way! Does it go “bad” at 10,000, 50,000 or 60,000 miles? One hopes to get good mileage from a car, and frankly, food is pretty much the same.

Whether it’s a jar of mayo, a piece of meat, a bag of rice, food isn’t perfectly good one day and not the next.

Nearing the Date:

Lately I’ve heard more and more stories, both from people I know and on the internet, of those throwing food away because it is NEARING the “EXPIRATION” date! Since there is no “expiration” date, see below, it boggles me. Scarier, still, is that some of these are people present as intelligent beings. Even worse, if they have these products it means they are probably cooking or at least feeding them to themselves and possibly others. People have to pass a safety test to drive. Maybe there should be one before they are allowed to buy and prepare food.

If I were speaking to friends who know and love me, and who I hope would forgive me for my bluntness, I’d say something like, “If you’re that stupid, you shouldn’t be cooking. You’re gonna kill someone. Because if you throw out food because you can’t judge if it is good or not, that means that you can’t judge if food is good or not! And if, indeed, you can’t judge whether food is good or not, you shouldn’t be cooking. That’s just down right dangerous.”

Perhaps some of this waste could be eliminated by putting it curbside with a citation in Craig’s list. Someone who knows better could come by and pick it up.

Expiration Dates:

I fooled ya! Because never, ever in all my years, and I’m pretty old, have I seen an “expiration” date on a food. Now, I will say that I’ve not looked at all foods nor have I lived in every state, so it may be possible there is an “expiration” date somewhere on some food. What does it mean? Expiration: “the fact of coming to an end or the point at which something ends. the last emission of breath :  death“. Now to say something is good on one day and bad the next is really the ultimate nonsense.

Safety:

So frankly, unless we’re talking about certain live cultures or you’re eating the heart out of a live cow or crawling around eating food off a vine, your food is already expired. The question, then, is simply a matter of education:

You need to know how to buy, transport, store and prepare food safely, and hopefully do so to keep it at its optimum freshness & nutritional value.

No Offense Intended, But Is This You?

If it is, learning more may save your life, the lives of your family and the lives of friends. At the very least, it may save all of the above from some nasty food poisoning or that nasty “stomach flu” that seemed to run through the family like…well, I’ll just avoid that pun about what, exactly, might be running.

Now, there are some who might think this harsh, but when the subject comes up about “food” dates, as it does sometimes among family or friends who cook or talk about shopping, and I hear someone going on about expiration dates or throwing out food because it went past the “buy by” date, I’m actually hesitant about eating at their homes. And here’s why:

They’ve betrayed to me that they don’t hold even the most basic knowledge of food safety or food storage and management. If they don’t, can’t or refuse to understand how food goes bad and when it is or isn’t good, how much do they know about food safety? I’m guessing next to nothing. Do they know about salmonella, e-coli? Perhaps. What about botulism? Maybe. Those are pretty well-known. But what about the rest of the 31 food related pathogens that cause illness, hospitalization and death?

If they ask me to their home for dinner, I’ll often throw in a quick and enthusiastic, “Even better, why don’t you guys come to MY house!” I’ve had a couple of cases of food poisoning and don’t plan on repeating the experience if at all possible! As a matter of fact, many cases of what we often think is the stomach flu is actually a foodborne illness, the Norovirus.

The CDC estimates “…that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. The 2011 estimates provide the most accurate picture yet of which foodborne bacteria, viruses, microbes (“pathogens”) are causing the most illnesses in the United States . According to the 2011 estimates, the most common foodborne illnesses are caused by norovirus and by the bacteria Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter.”

Educate Yourself:

FoodSafety.gov – A great place to look for information about food recalls and all kinds of food safety issues. How long is soft cheese good for? What if there is mold on it? What kind of things can be lurking in your food?

FDA’s site on foodborne illnesses and contaminants. Includes how to buy, store and serve safe food. (See Bad Bug Book, below.)

The Center for Disease Control. CDC and Food Safety. If you don’t know yet what to be afraid of, read this site. There is no need to be afraid of food that isn’t expired because one doesn’t understand how the dating works, but there is a very REAL need to be afraid of bacteria and foodborne illness. You’ll find the most common ones ranked down to the least, as well as discussion and facts about the ones that make more people ill as well as the ones that kill the most people. Hint: they aren’t the same! You’ll also find out who is most at risk. It is simply a wealth of information.

Weill Cornell Medical College has an excellent PDF on how to tell if food is bad! Of course, as they say, when in doubt about food safety, throw it out. Hopefully, though, after reading the above, that will be because you are afraid of a safety issue, not just uninformed about dates.

Food Safety at the most basic. A bit of a fluff site, but it has a few cute videos to show your kids about food safety.

FDA’s BAD BUG BOOK – in my opinion, this should be required reading! If nothing else, perhaps look up the top contaminants and foodborne virus and bacteria.

Introduction for Consumers: A Snapshot (This is an excerpt from the Bad Bug Book)

Most foodborne illnesses, while unpleasant, go away by themselves and don’t have lasting effects. But you’ll read about some pathogens that can be more serious, have long‐lasting effects, or cause death. To put these pathogens in perspective, think about how many different foods and how many times you eat each day, all year, without getting sick from the food. The FDA and other Federal agencies work
together and with the food industry to make the U.S. food supply one of the safest in the world.

You also play a part in the safety of what you eat. When you read the consumer boxes, you’ll see that different pathogens can be risky in different ways, and that a safety step that’s effective against one might not be as effective against another. So what should you do? The answer is to follow some simple steps that, together, lower the risk from most pathogens.

 Washing your hands before and after handling food, and in between handling different foods, is one of the most important steps you can take. Do the same with equipment, utensils, and countertops.
 Wash raw fruits and vegetables under running water. These nutritious foods usually are safe, as you probably know from the many times you’ve eaten them, but wash them just in case they’ve somehow become contaminated. For the most part, the less of a pathogen on a food – if any – the less chance that it can make you sick.
 Cooking food to proper temperatures kills most bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and the kinds of E. coli that cause illness, and parasites.
 Keep any pathogens that could be on raw, unwashed foods from spreading by keeping raw and cooked foods separate. Keep them in different containers, and don’t use the same equipment on them, unless the equipment is washed properly in between. Treat countertops the same way.
 Refrigerate food at 40°F as soon as possible after it’s cooked. Remember, the less of a pathogen there is in a food, the less chance that it can make you sick. Proper refrigeration keeps most types of bacteria from growing to numbers that can cause illness (although if a food already has high numbers of bacteria when it’s put in the refrigerator, it could still cause illness).

Here are a few examples of why following all of these steps is important. Some types of bacteria form spores that aren’t killed by cooking. Spores are a survival mode in which those bacteria make an inactive form that can live without nutrition and that develops very tough protection against the outside world. After cooking, the spores may change and grow into bacteria, when the food cools down.

Refrigerating food quickly after cooking can help keep the bacteria from multiplying. On the other hand, cooking does kill most harmful bacteria. Cooking is especially important when a pathogen is hard to wash off of a particular kind of food, or if a bacterium can grow at refrigerator temperatures, as is true of Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia enterocolitica.

As you read about the differences among the pathogens, remember that there’s a common theme: following all the safety steps above can help protect you. The exceptions are toxins, such as the poisons in some mushrooms and a few kinds of fish and shellfish. Cooking, freezing, and washing won’t necessarily destroy toxins. Avoiding them is your best protection.

USDA’s site with discussion and storage dates. While there is some information here that is good, I will say that I am very unsure where some of the dates for storage of meat products came from. Many are rather unreasonable. Poultry is generally good for three to four days, depending on how it is handled. Ground products generally carry the greatest risk, but most ground beef is good longer than 1 to 2 days, but not by much. I can’t comment on ground poultry as I avoid it and grind my own for safety and health reasons. The smoked and cured products are often good for weeks.

Conclusion:

I hope I haven’t been too hard on you, or been too much of a Cranky Old Poo, but if you’re buying, storing, cooking and feeding people food, you need to know what you’re doing!

How about you? What horror stories have you heard regarding any of the above, food dates, food safety, etc.? Any thoughts from my friends in other countries? Do you have boards and agencies that regulate with food dates and safety issues?

Chicken Fried Steak . $5.82

It’s often said by “experts” in the field of nutrition that there are no “bad” foods, but I do have to wonder about Chicken Fried Steak – it just tastes so darned good, though! A huge childhood favorite, Chicken Fried Steak is a favorite of child number 2’s, as well. When fall rolls around, so does his birthday, so this year I dusted off the recipe, pulled out the cast iron skillet and went to town. Actually, I guess I went to “country!”

Chicken Fried Steak with Country Gravy
Chicken Fried Steak with Country Gravy

When special occasions roll around, family dinners, celebrations, birthdays, the food is often a subject of conversation that goes on for days and days beforehand! My son doesn’t want a steak dinner, he doesn’t want lobster, and he usually doesn’t even want to go out. He’d rather have an old down home favorite, and this is one of them. And he’d rather have French Silk Pie than cake, so guess what blog post’s coming soon!

Ah, to be young again and pretty much eat anything one wants…

In the case of chicken fried steak, every calorie is worth it, so, eat sparingly and seldom, and enjoy it when you do. Try serving with a big salad beforehand, and a lovely vegetable. Think about my Rustic Mashed Potatoes which are a bit healthier than some. With all that country gravy? No one will notice if they’re a bit lean. You can try, as I do, to limit the damage by making “just enough” and keeping the portions reasonable. I don’t know about you, but if I have some of this left over in the fridge it calls to me…and calls to me…

The Chicken Fried Steak came in at about $4.32, so with the potatoes and a vegetable (pick up what’s on sale for a great price) you’d be paying around $5.82 for the whole meal.

This was adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated or Cook’s country recipe – growing up in Iowa, it seems like I always just knew how to make this – on a whim, one day, I tried their version and was immediately hooked on the buttermilk/soda/powder crust and the bit of onion in the gravy – non-traditional variances, for sure! A few of their other tweaks, lots of garlic and thyme, just distracted from the down home flavor.

Chicken Fried Steak, serves 4

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 4 cube or minute steaks, each about 4 to 5 ounces
  • Oil – enough to bring the level of the oil near the top of the steaks, but not over

In one shallow dish, place flour, cayenne, pepper, and salt, and mix. In a second shallow dish, place baking powder, soda and buttermilk. (The mixture will foam.) Set a wire rack over a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Set a paper sack on a large baking sheet. Heat oil to 375 degrees as you bread the steaks.

Working with one steak at a time, gently pat steaks dry. Dip first in flour mixture and gently shake off any excess, then in the buttermilk mixture, letting excess drip off, then back into the flour mixture. Place steaks on rack. Reserve the seasoned flour, discard the excess buttermilk.

When finished, gently place steaks in the hot oil. Fry on the first side for about 5 minutes. Carefully turn when a deep golden brown and juices from the steak begin to appear on the top side. Continue to cook for another four to five minutes until the second side is a deep golden brown. Work in batches if necessary.

When the steaks are desired doneness, remove from pan and place on a baking sheet lined with a paper sack and place in oven to keep warm. Strain the oil from the pan, reserving the browned bits & oil. Return 3 tablespoons oil to the pan along with the browned bits, and make the gravy, below.

Country Gravy

  • 1 medium onion, very finely minced (optional)
  • Pinch of thyme (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons flour (may use flour reserved from dipping)
  • 1/2 cup of chicken stock
  • 2 cups whole milk (1 or 2 percent is not as rich, but works)
  • Salt as desired
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
  • pinch of cayenne

Over medium high heat, cook onion with thyme until softened and just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes or so, stirring often. Add flour, stirring and cook for a minute. Add stock, stirring, then milk, slowly, and rest of ingredients. Stir until bubbly and thickened. This gravy will appear a bit loose, but thickens up as it cools.

Notes:

  • If you use the seasoned flour, you may not need additional salt.
  • A proper country gravy like this should have a pourable, but still thick consistency. Any left overs may need to be thinned with water or milk.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

The little minute or cube steaks are harder to find in my area than they used to be – but one way to lower the cost of this meal is to buy round or rump roast at a great price, slice it about 3/8ths of an inch thick and pound it with a meat mallet, the pointy side, until it is broken down but still holding together. It can also be pounded with the edge of a sturdy plate, but the texture will be quite a bit different.

  • Minute Steaks: These are a cheap rump or round that have been “needled” by a machine to give them a texture that’s not too tough to eat when cooked like a steak. Often sold in large “family packs”, divide them into portions to suit your family and freeze. 20 ounces at $2.39 a pound was $2.99.
  • Flour: Buy around any holiday when it is on a great sale price, especially the winter Holidays. I freeze all flour products when I bring them into my home for three days to avoid any issues. The five-pound bags are often much less expensive than the larger bags and are on sale so often, that it isn’t necessary to buy the larger bags unless one does a lot of baking. Sometimes coupons are available for the brand names during the sales. 5 pounds for $1.55 (Aldi’s) is about 17 cups, unsifted, 9 cents a cup. Cost for the recipe 18 cents.
  • Buttermilk:  I rarely have buttermilk on hand unless I’m planning to bake – but if I were to buy it for a recipe like this, I’d plan on making other items requiring buttermilk. Buttermilk will store better in a jar than in the opened container, and does last for several weeks without going bad. While buttermilk may need to be shaken together again if it sits in the fridge, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with it. Look for any discoloration or odd odor – trust your nose. 1/2 gallon is usually much less per ounce than a quart or a pint. I’ll use this in my mashed potatoes, too. Cost $2.49 for 1/2 gallon, 1/2 cup is 15 cents.
  • Milk:  Buy on sale – unopened it keeps a bit past it’s “sell by” date – then you can pick up one for the beginning of the week, and another at the end of the week for the week following. In our area, it is often on sale for $2.99 a gallon.
  • Be careful with your milk, and even opened it will last a lot longer – pour, lid and put away, don’t bring it to the table or leave it on the counter while you eat dinner or down your cereal and you’ll notice it stay fresh last MUCH longer. We’ve cut way back on dairy, as most health experts suggest – putting it away helps with that, too. Cost for a cup, about 16 cents.
  • Eggs: Stock up on eggs when they’re inexpensive, normally during Holiday weeks. Aldi’s often has great prices, too. Low prices in my area range from free (often with other purchases) to anywhere from $1.89 for 18 eggs. They last for weeks in the fridge – The date on the container is a ‘buy’ date, and you can expect them to last a good six weeks past that date. If you pick up two or three packages when they’re at their low, you’ll rarely need to pay full price.
  • Refrigerate right away and never store in the door; eggs keep best in a colder part of the refrigerator, in their own box. (Then put your partially used vegetables in the door where you’ll see them and remember they need to be used ASAP – the half a bell pepper or onion, etc.)  In doubt about an egg? If it floats in water, discard, just to be on the safe side. If they float, it means the egg inside is drying out, not that it is bad in any way. Cost 10 cents.
  • Onions: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi’s is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad.
  • Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you have enough, consider making French Onion Soup. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. 1 at 33 cents a pound, about 10 cents.
  • Olive Oil: I have a little strategy for buying olive oil – using coupons and sales to lower the price, so click on the link. I also look for new brands and stock up – heavy competition means that when a new brand comes to the store, it is often at a fantastic price for a few weeks, then settles in at around the same price as the others. I think it’s important to use olive oil as opposed to many others – the health benefits outweigh a bit more extra cost, and it can be had at a very reasonable price. I also like the fact that Olive oil contains no hidden trans fats like Canola or Vegetable oil. Cost for this recipe: 64 cents.
  • Other ingredients: I don’t generally count the cost of spices and the baking powder, soda, etc. I buy the spices in bags in the produce area and baking aids like this, generally around holidays with coupons, when I stock up for the year.

Nutrition:

It’s always difficult to exactly figure out the nutritional value of these recipes that are dipped in milk/egg washes and flour, and fried. I’ve had to estimate how much is left behind (and although I try to make that as little as possible) it’s impossible to be absolutely exact.

Calories 550, tot fat 30g; sat fat 6g; mono 14; poly 6; chol 119mg; sod 930mg; potassium 656mg; tot carb 27g; fib 1g; sug 8g; prot 41g; vit A 6%; vit C 4%; calcium 27%; iron 25%.

Heritage Recipe:

Many old recipes like this, recipes that got our families through hard times in generations past, passed on through the years have their places, even today. They do, however, often represent an “old-school” way of thinking about budgeting and cooking. They were developed at a different time, when goals were often to use up, make do, and keep a little meat on the bones in a time when people worked hard, lived without modern conveniences and often went through times of lean and plenty.

When compared to a more balanced meal full of vegetables, light on the meat and starches, Heritage recipes often fall short. While not necessarily “expensive,” Heritage recipes do not necessarily allocate our funds towards the most balanced, nutritious meals we can have for around the same price. Have them now and then, enjoy them, pass down cherished memories – but remember that a Heritage Recipe may not offer the most “bang for the buck” on the nutritional level.

Egg in a Mug – 2 Minutes

I love these little egg scrambles in a mug – as many of my friends and family know, I am not a morning person. When the kids were small, it was all I could do to get them dressed and out the door. Cooking was reserved for weekends. Egg in a Mug would have been the perfect thing – as each child wandered in the kitchen I could have had one of these made nearly as fast as cereal! Best of all? No messy pan!

Egg in a Mug - Clockwise from top: Pizza, Salami & Provolone, Spinach Parmesan and Ham & Cheese
Egg in a Mug – Clockwise from top: Pizza, Salami & Provolone, Spinach Parmesan and Ham & Cheese

My friends and family know, too, that I under utilize my microwave. I recently learned how to make the most perfect asparagus in the microwave as well as poached eggs, and then these. It was my big bro who originally told me of his breakfast microwave scrambles and I’m hooked for sure, but late is better than never!

I do want to note that in the photo above, I cooked all the Egg in a Mugs, above, in a larger mug and transferred it to my cute little mugs. Its easier to stir in a big mug and then only one mug has to be cleaned of cooked egg. Not that it was that difficult to clean, but if you’ve cooked eggs, I’m sure you know what I mean – you have to use the scrubby part of the sponge and it gets all gooky…plus, I’m lazy and always looking for the easy way out!

Wow, was this true confession day, or what? Now you all know I’m not a morning person, lazy, and never really learned how to use the microwave, which certainly means I don’t read instruction manuals…but I’m a good cook and I always like to think that compensates for my lack in other areas…

If you have multiple people that get up at different times, make up a little platter of veggies, cheese, and so on the night before, cover it, and put it in the fridge. The next morning, everyone can make their own Egg in a Mug and choose from the assortment.

Wouldn’t this be great when sharing a vacation house with others – everyone is covered for breakfast and can get off to their favorite activities (or sleep in) and can clean up their own minimal mess. Any left overs could easily be tossed into a salad for dinner.

Egg in a Mug, individual serving

  • 1 to 2 eggs, or egg whites, or a combination
  • 1 ounce cheese
  • vegetables of your choice
  • meat of your choice

Spray the inside of a microwave safe mug with cooking spray (or use a bit of butter or oil.)

If using vegetables, place desired amount in the mug, microwave for one minute.

Drop in the eggs, do not stir. Microwave for one minute – until barely set around the edges. This may vary a bit depending on the strength of your microwave. Remove and add any meat or cheese. Stir together.

Place back in microwave and cook for an additional 10 seconds and up to 30. This will vary depending on the amounts used. Remove from microwave before it is quite “set” as it will continue to cook in the hot mug – and be careful, the mug will be hot.

Eat from the mug or turn out to another mug or plate.

Note: If cooking plain scrambled eggs the cooking time may vary – watch closely until you get a good idea of how long to cook in your microwave. One egg vs two eggs will affect the cooking time, as well.

Favorite Things

These little mugs can be adapted to almost any flavor that would be great with scrambled eggs or omelets. Classic flavors like the Denver Omelette, Spanish Omelet, Quiche Lorraine, etc., are always great, but there are so many wonderful combinations.

I love the “Pizza” mug, above. “Greek” mugs are another favorite, with olives and Feta. I sometimes do a “Mexican” mug. I’ve been thinking about an “Egg Foo Yung” mug, but haven’t gotten around to it – you’re only limited by your imagination and what’s in the fridge.

  • Meats: Salami, ham, pepperoni, any type of cooked sausage, etc. If you’re interested in using a breakfast sausage or chorizo, a small amount could be cooked in the mug, lightly covered, then drained before adding in the vegetables.
  • Cheese: Any good cheese, hard or soft would be great here. Goat, Feta, Parmesan, Provolone, cheddar or colby, even Velveeta. If you love it, you can’t really go wrong.
  • Vegetables: A few finely diced onions work well, but make sure to finely dice or they may lend a raw taste to the egg mug. I’ve yet to find any vegetable that doesn’t work unless it is something that requires a long cook time. A small dice is the key here.
  • Add ins: Don’t forget other fun add ins like olives, salsas, pizza or spaghetti sauce, hot sauce, sriracha, etc.
  • Left overs: In some cases, left over vegetables may work, but should be added in at the first stir. Think Broccoli Cheese (num) or other combinations.

Cost and nutrition vary according to ingredients used.

 

 

Orange “Julias” . 79 cents

Labor Day weekend – it seemed long this year! Number 2 was home with his “gf” and I pulled out a few old favorites to teach them. I don’t think I’ve made Orange Julias since the yunguns were in grade school – but it sure impressed a few of their friends when they had sleep overs. Now I’m wondering about an “adult” version – less sugar, a little tequila, a touch of grenadine…hmmm. That’s another post, but in the meantime, enjoy these!

Orange Julias - OJ Concentrate, Ice, Milk, Sugar, Vanilla - A quick whir in the blender
Orange Julias – OJ Concentrate, Ice, Milk, Sugar, Vanilla – A quick whir in the blender

The recipe I’ve used for years is so simple, so cheap, and so easy you’ll be surprised. A bit sweet for my taste, I often cut back on the sugar. As written, it does taste a lot like the Orange Julius one can buy in almost any mall, although I admit to not having tasted one for years and years.

See, I’m not much of a “mall” person – as a matter of fact, I can easily go years without stepping inside one. When Saturday rolls around, you’ll find me almost any place but a mall likely trouncing around somewhere with Gibbie! Child number 2, though, tells me Orange Julius has now paired up with Dairy Queen, but I’ll still make mine at home. In my PJ’s, no doubt!

By the way, don’t think you’ll health this up and make it with orange juice – while you can freeze the juice and use it instead of ice and still get a nice slushy texture, and it will still taste good, it will never have that intensity of flavor or creaminess one gets from the frozen concentrate!

Orange Julias

4 servings, about 3 1/2 cups total – about 7 ounces each

  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 6 ounces of frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 14 ice cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Add all ingredients to blender, process until smooth and creamy. (hint – start with the ice crusher button and move on to the frappe.) You may need to stop after a minute or two and stir.

Notes:

  • I made the above using the concentrate while still frozen – it gives the best results. If you’d like yours slushier, put the concentrate in the fridge the night before so it is melted when you use it.
  • Notice the servings of these are fairly small by many of today’s standards! Slightly under a cup. Even that has quite a bit of sugar and is a much more “reasonable” size than the giant servings you may be used to at fast food places.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

Unless you have a really great blender, don’t double the recipe, make two batches if you need to feed more people.

I buy a large (11 ounce can) of concentrate and use half in the recipe and cover the rest and keep in the freezer for another batch or simply make the other half as orange juice. The large containers cost less per ounce.

  • Orange Juice Concentrate: Like any frozen juice, buy on sale with a coupon. I often get juice for free or nearly free this way. There’s no good reason to pay full price – or even sales price! Cost for OJ when I was at the store varied from close to $3.00 down to $1.19 for generic. I paid around a quarter, but will count the generic price, 60 cents.
  • Milk:  Buy on sale – unopened it keeps a bit past it’s “sell by” date – then you can pick up one for the beginning of the week, and another at the end of the week for the week following. In our area, it is often on sale for $2.99 a gallon.
  • Be careful with your milk, and even opened it will last a lot longer – pour, lid and put away, don’t bring it to the table or leave it on the counter while you eat dinner or down your cereal and you’ll notice it stay fresh last MUCH longer. We’ve cut way back on dairy, as most health experts suggest – putting it away helps with that, too. Cost for a 1/2 cup, about 5 cents.
  • Sugar: Look for sugar on sale, which usually happens around the holidays. While any holiday generates a sales price, the best sales are generally from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when coupons are abundant. 1/2 cup is about 4 cents.
  • Vanilla or other Extracts:  Believe it or not, liquor is often cheaper than vanilla or many extracts, but there is a strategy to buying on the cheap: for the past few years McCormick has had great coupons combined with Catalina offers (buy so many, get a coupon back to get so much money off your next grocery purchase, always in the Spring.) Check your coupon matching sites weekly so you don’t miss this – it’s often unadvertised. Your store will likely have the best sales, then, too.  I never thought of Vanilla or extracts as being seasonal before…but now I get free if I buy several smaller packages. I’ll count it as about 10 cents.

Nutrition:

185 Calories, 1g fat, 2g protein; 43g carbohydrate; dietary fiber 4g; 4mg cholesterol; 20mg sodium; exchange: 1 fruit, 0 nonfat milk, 0 fat, 1 1/2 other carbohydrates.

Put Your own Spin on It:

  • Variations of this recipe are really endless, made as above, any concentrate could be used.
  • While the OJ and milk makes it taste like a creamsicle, of course you’re not limited to using milk as your liquid. Try any juice you’d like.

 

Eat Better for Less

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