Monday, September 21, 2020

Chocolate Pudding Recipe

 I remember buying instant chocolate pudding mix for 39 cents. I suppose it was on sale and probably and "off"brand, but still... when I looked today, the store brand was 69 cents. 

Now, you might not think that's much to quibble about but if everything you bought went up almost  double, wouldn't that be worth doing something about? I know we can't do anything about the prices but we can do something about what we buy and how we obtain the things we want without paying the going price .

Chocolate pudding (or any pudding, for that matter) is very easy to make and requires nothing special. It may not be instant but it's still pretty quick and makes a great, cheap dessert or snack. 

You will need: 

  • 2 3/4 cups of whole milk
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons of baker's cocoa (the unsweetened kind) 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt 
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 Put all the dry ingredients into a large pan and add milk; stir to mix. Heat  to a slow boil, stirring constantly and cook until it thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Take off the heat, add vanilla and butter. 

Ingredients always seem to cost more than the store bought product but can make a lot of pudding with a box of cornstarch and one of cocoa. 

You can substitute whole milk for skim or 2% if you add a couple of tablespoons more butter, or you can use evaporated milk, reconstituted. Powdered milk or nondairy milk can be used, too. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Hoarding or Stocking Up?

This year it seems like stocking up is on a lot of people's minds. Having lived through the COVID-19 panic and feeling the natural impulse to get ready for the coming winter, grocery stores are still having a hard time keeping up with the demand for some food products. 

That makes the urge even stronger for some but we need to keep things in perspective. 

First, don't hoard. There's a not so fine line between hoarding and stocking up. Hoarding is when you are already stocked up and keep on buying. Even if it's on a very good sale, if you already have a case of tuna at home, don't buy it. If you do, you might be keeping someone else who really needs it, from getting it. 

Secondly, shop the sales before even thinking about buying extra of anything. If you can buy three jars of spaghetti sauce when it's on sale go ahead. But if it's not on sale, wait. Buy what you need, look around and eventually you will find a good price on it.  

Thirdly, be prepared to share if something happens where products are not available. If you have a dozen packages of toilet paper and your neighbor has none, what kind of sense does that make? 

So what is stocking up, really? It's having more on hand than you need for the week or month or year. That could be beans or soap or socks. Stocking up is being comfortable with what you have and that will be different for each of us. We know when we cross the line from stocking up to hoarding. We may not want to admit it, but we do know. 

Hoarding is selfish and doesn't even make sense. Even well prepared and packaged food will only last so long and if you hoard, you will find yourself not wanting to eat what you have because you have to save it. For what, no one knows 

So check yourself, do a good job of keeping products on hand in case you can't get them in the future, but don't take food or good from others, either. Keep it in perspective. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Do You Wild Forage for Food?

Wild foraging really can make an impact on how much you have to spend at the store. Everything from jelly to nuts and from greens to teas. coffees and roots and tubers can perk up your menu and save money.

Wild crops are seasonal, just like domesticated crops, with berries, some greens and teas available early in the year, changing to other greens and vegetables, then to tubers, roots and finally to nuts and things like dandelion coffee.

Here, some greens are still good, like lambsquarter, while dandelion greens are way past their prime. Now is the time for purslane and early, small tubers from daylilies and sunchokes.

Your season may be ahead of us, since we have a short season here. You may be able to dig dandelion roots for "coffee" or to gather sunflower heads for snacking seeds.

What would you like to eat this winter? Go looking for it! It's far too much to give you a complete picture in this article, but there are many resources both online and off.

Here's a basic "calendar" of common wild food:

Spring: Strawberries, wild salsify, lambsquarter leaves, dandelion greens, flowers and buds.
Early summer: Other berries like blackberries and raspberries. What's available depends on where you are, but there are many different kinds of wild berries.
Summer: Sunflower buds, lambsquarter leaves, mallow leaves, purslane, a stray dandelion blossom here and there. Plums.
Late summer: Daylily and sunchoke tubers, mallow "cheeses" (green seed rounds), purslane along with its seed. Wild plums or other tree fruits.
Fall: Several varieties of wild nuts, dandelion roots, sunchoke tubers, sunflower seeds.

That's a very limited picture of what is available. There is much, much more, but you will need to find out what grows in your region.

Don't let this source of free food go to waste!

Monday, June 29, 2020

How to Make Sourdough Starter

Why buy yeast? Make and maintain your own sourdough starter.

San Francisco sourdough is famous because of it's flavor, but don't expect to be able to keep a starter of it, because the flavor (and smell) of the sourdough will change. That's because wild yeasts are different everywhere, and even vary from house to house on the same block. You cannot keep a batch of sourdough completely safe from other wild yeasts and the ones that grow where you are will eventually overpower any imported ones.

You might know someone who has sourdough starter to share, but if not, you can make your own. Whichever way you obtain yours, you'll need a volume of at least one and 1/3 cups.

There are several methods for making wild yeast sourdough:

One is to grate a raw potato, add enough water to cover and enough flour to make a thin batter of about a cup and a half in volume.

Another method is to use water that you've boiled potatoes in instead of the grated potato and water combination.

You can also use flour, sugar and water. Use one cup of flour, a tablespoon of sugar and enough water to make a pancake consistency batter.

Yet another way is to simply mix together equal amounts of water and flour (whole wheat is best for this). Make your choice based on what you have handy and just because that's what you'd like to try.

Don't worry about whether or not one set of ingredients will work better than another, because the chances are that they will all be equally efficient in attracting wild (sour) yeast. There is no exact recipe because there are so many other variables in each house that will invite or dissuade wild yeasts from entering the mixture. The most important thing is the

When you have decided on the ingredients you want, put them in a glass container that will hold at least three times the  volume of the ingredients. Mix lightly with a wooden or plastic spoon as some metals will react to it. The working of the starter will mix itself.

Leave the mixture undisturbed and loosely covered with a cloth or perforated plastic (to allow gases to escape) at room temperature until it begins to froth or "work" and expand. This is a sign that wild yeasts have made themselves at home - that's what you're after. The new starter will rise up in the container, then fall again. When it has, it's ready for use. (Note: It will smell sour!)

When you use it, always leave some in the container and add flour and water back to equal what you've taken out. Most recipes call for a cup of starter, so replace it with a half cup of flour and a half cup of water to the starter and set it in a warm place to work again.

You will probably see a liquid covering the top at one time or another. This is called "hooch," and it's exactly what it sounds like, but don't drink it! Actually, it's harmless, so stir it back into the starter if the starter is thick, or if it's thin, just pour the hooch off. It's nothing to worry much about either way.

Keep sourdough in the refrigerator unless you use it at least every third day. If you use it that often, you can leave it on the counter or any place where it's safe. To keep the sourdough starter fresh without refrigeration, you'll have to throw out a cup of it every second or third and then and replenish with flour and water.

A properly cared for starter can live indefinitely, but if you leave it out without using it for too long, the yeast can literally suffocate in its own waste products. If the starter looks off color (grayish is normal) or turns pink, toss it and start fresh.

What can you make with sourdough? Besides the traditional bread, you can make biscuits, pancakes, pretzels, bagels, muffins, cornbread and even cookies! Once you're comfortable using it, you can experiment with your favorite yeast or baking powder recipes. Simply put, you substitute sourdough for leavening and part or all of the liquid.

The basic recipe for plain sourdough bread:

1 cup starter
1 tbs of fat (margarine, butter, vegetable oil or olive oil)
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
Enough flour to make a dough that can be handled without sticking, but is still pliable.

Knead by hand or machine until it's smooth, then cover and let it rise until it's doubled in bulk. This will take longer (sometimes quite a bit longer) than yeast leavened bread, so don't give up and throw it out! Make sure you keep it warm, but not hot, while it's rising.

Again, there is no hard and fast rule because circumstances are so variable. Your starter might be more or less robust, or thinner or thicker, or your kitchen may be warmer or cooler.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and knead enough to remove all the bubbles, then form it into a loaf shape and put it in a lightly greased bread pan. You can sprinkle a little corn meal in the bottom of the pan and on top of the loaf just for fun if you like. Let it rise in the pan, then bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.

Baking sourdough bread is a learned skill and one that takes practice, but even if your first loaf doesn't meet your expectations, it will be edible. Once you become familiar with the process, you can experiment on making just about anything that is leavened. Biscuits, cookies, pancakes, cornbread, specialty breads and even cakes can be made using sourdough starter instead of yeast or baking powder.

Besides creating incredibly delicious baked goods, you'll save a bundle of money over time by not buying yeast!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020


What to do if you have a glut of food? That might be a strange question in today's world, but it happens. Whatever you do, don't waste it. You can preserve a lot of things you may never have thought you could.

You don't have to can or even have a big freezer if you have an area where you can dehydrate food away from animals and rain. Electric dehydrators are all the thing now but people dried food thousands of years ago before electricity was discovered.

They used to place food on racks on the roof and cover it with cloth to keep birds and bugs away from it. That method still works very well but if you have a car that's parked several hours each day you already have a dehydrator that's pest free. Position the food where the sun will hit it (unless it's herbs, then keep it out of the sun), crack a window in the back and one on the opposite side in the front. Old dehydrator racks work well for this, or some of those screen splatter guards (Goodwill style) will work too. If all else fails, you can use window screen, but put a cloth between it and the food, as it's not food safe.

What to dehydrate? Almost anything  Or maybe everything.

Sun dried tomatoes are expensive. Make your own, or make tomato base by drying tomatoes and pulverising them in the blender. Mix in a little corn starch to keep it from clumping and store it in a glass container. You can use this to make tomato sauce, paste, soup, and spaghetti and pizza sauce.

Vegetable chips of all kinds are great snacking and will save you having to buy so many snacks. Especially good are summer squash and cucumbers. Slice them uniformly, salt lightly and let them dry. If you have trouble with them sticking, turn them half way through, Don't add oil as it will become rancid in storage.

Vegetables for later cooking can also be dehydrated but some need pretreatment. Peas, green beans, celery and the like each need treatment and this post is going to be long the way it is. There are many sites only where you can get instructions for each food.

Beef or other red meat makes jerky. For this you will need a hot place and they say a controlled temperature. I would never advise you to do differently, but I want to mention that the Native Americans dehydrated venison and bison meat without even electricity. There are many good recipes and instructions online for jerky.

Herbs are usually more fragile so be careful about putting them in full sun and don't let them get really hot. It's kind of touchy because if it's cloudy and the humidity is high, they won't dry. You can dry them indoors on top of the refrigerator for instance but not if you're boiling things on the stove

Foods to not bother much about dehydrating are the "root crops" like potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, and maybe onions if you have a good place to store them. Apples and winter squash, including pumpkin, will store well in a cool place.

That said, onions dehydrate very well and are handy to have to toss in a stew or soup. You can make onion powder in your blender easily. You can dehydrate carrots but they won't taste good unless they're blanched for 3 minutes before dehydrating. It's not a big deal to slice them and drop them in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain them and arrange to dehydrate. (Don't waste the water they are blanched in, your plants will love it or you can even boil it down to use as a soup base.)

You don't have to wait until you have a lot to dehydrate without electricity because you won't be wasting anything because of a small load.

There is much, much more that I haven't mentioned but don't let that stop you. If you have questions, email me or put it in the comments below. Just don't let food go to waste.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Hotdogs for Dinner

Hotdogs or weiners are looked down on by the haute cuisine folks and may be with reason, but if you're feeding a family on a tight budget, you can do wonders with them.

Of course, kids like hotdogs, so you can't go wrong there. You can dress them up, too. Grown ups might enjoy horseradish or hot sauce while the younger folks may prefer sweet relish. Different cheeses and sauces help, too.

What's beyond hotdogs? A lot!

An Americanized German dish is hotdogs with sauerkraut. It's easy, cheap and it's good. Simply slice wieners like you would slice cucumbers but make them about a half inch in size. In a good sized pan, put a layer of sauerkraut about a half inch thick, cover it with weiner slices. If you need more, put another layer of sauerkraut and another layer of weiners, then cover with a lid and put on medium heat until it's heated through.

A "down South" type of dish is cornbread with hotdogs. Make a batch of your favorite cornbread batter and slice hotdogs into it, stir well and bake. This is sort of a one dish type of corndog.

Beef weiners are great in lentil stew, along with celery, carrots and onions.

There are always "pigs in a blanket" which is hotdogs wrapped and baked in a crescent roll or biscuit dough.

Don't just think hotdogs when you see a package of weiners on sale (or not!) They're an inexpensive meat that can be dressed up in many ways.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Oatmeal when you don't like it

I don't like oats. I know they're good for you and I know they're cheap and easy to make, but I just don't care for them.

So I decided to try dressing them up. Now, I already tried cinnamon and apples and raisins and peaches and maple syrup and even chocolate and nothing masked the taste of oatmeal.

Finally... ready? The solution!

Peanut butter and jelly. Simple enough and it tastes like peanut butter and jelly. So now I can eat oats with the addition of a little bit of inexpensive coverup.

If that doesn't suit you, try it with different flavorings until you get one you like.

Or you could make a yummy, chocolatey "Almost Healthy, Frugal Chocolate Cake."