Monday, August 1, 2016

What Sour Cream Is and How to Make (Fake) It

Sour cream from the grocery store is not naturally sour; it's a mass produced version of it and like so many other foods that are mass produced, it's prone to spoilage. Since it is prone to spoilage, government (FDA) guidelines must be followed and it must be 1) made from pasteurized milk only and 2) have specific bacteria introduced rather than allowing what is there naturally to reproduce.

To put it another one, it's been cooked which kills enzymes as well as naturally occurring bacteria, then it's inoculated with the "right" bacteria to sour it.

The real question that never seems to be asked is, "Does it work?" Maybe because the answer is "No." It does not work. Sour cream, no matter how it's made will eventually go bad and it will start to turn pinkish.

Never use it when it turns pink. That's the result of the life and death of a dangerous bacteria that was not killed when the cream was pasteurized. Sometimes there will appear a greenish gray mold in sour cream; don't use it when that occurs, either. This mold is the result of introduced bacteria or mold spores and was not (or was not supposed to be) there when you bought the sour cream.

If you want to make sour cream last past its expiration date, don't dip into it with a spoon that's been used for anything else and keep your fingers away from it, even if they're clean. Keep the edge of the container clean and keep the sour cream in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

If you need sour cream for a recipe and don't have it or just want to save money by not buying any, here's an easy and cheap fix:

Add a quarter cup of powdered milk and a tablespoon of melted butter to a cup of whole milk, or butter to whole milk, or a half cup of powdered milk and a tablespoon of melted butter

It may curdle; if it does, mix the curds back into it.

You can use this in any recipe that calls for sour cream.
to a cup of 2% milk. Add a tablespoon of vinegar, mix well and let it set for a few minutes.

Monday, July 18, 2016

5 Ways You Can Love Zucchini Season!

You know what I mean. You planted two zucchinis, just in case one of them didn't make it. Of course, they both did and now, in the middle of the season, you can't give it away fast enough. Or your neighbor did that and keeps leaving sacks of them on your doorstep when you're not home.

It's a shame to waste good food, of course, but there are only so many ways to use zucchini, right? Instead of getting frustrated and just tossing them in the freezer, try out these five ways to learn to love the season of zucchini.

1. Make pickles from them, just like you would with cucumbers. Use the same spices and the same method, but don't try to ferment them like old fashioned pickles. Use the very young ones, around 4 to 5 inches long. You can make refrigerator pickles or can them, just like cucumber pickles.

2. Zucchini chips are a great snack any time. Slice them thinly, sprinkle a little salt on them and dehydrate until they're crispy. That's all you have to do, but be careful to not overdo the salt! (Make a few without salt and save them to use in soup and stew when the weather gets cold.)

3. Make a pie that tastes and looks like apple pie, but is made with zucchini. Even the larger ones work fine if you take out the more mature seeds. Peel and cut them in half, then slice into 1/4 inch slices and just follow your favorite apple pie recipe. You can freeze these before they're cooked, so make a few for winter eating.

4. Chunk zucchini and add chopped onions, cooked, crumbled sausage, diced or grated cheese and toss. Make up a bowl of cornbread batter and pour it over this. Bake at 400 for about a half hour.

5. Enjoy. Zucchini season only comes once a year. ;)
Got some big ones? Split them in half and remove the seeds, then stuff with a cooked meatball mixture or chicken and rice mix. You can also use rice, mushrooms, onions and tomato sauce for a meatless dish. Bake at 350 until the squash is tender. Let your imagination roam with this one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hot Summer? Make the Coolest Treats Ever

Summer heat means that anything cool sounds good! Frozen treats can be expensive from the store, but you can make the best and coolest treats at home.


Start with a chocolate pudding mix and be sure to use whole milk. You can even substitute a little cream or evaporated milk to make them creamier. Here's how to do it:

To a four ounce package of instant pudding mix, add two cups of milk and beat until it starts to set, then add a half cup of sugar and a cup of evaporated milk or cream (or even coffee cream, made liquid). Mix it well and pour into popsicle molds, small paper cups or other containers to freeze.


Have you ever tried to make popsicles with plain juice or flavored drink? It froze hard and solid, didn't it? Here's the secret ingredient: Jello.

Dissolve whatever flavor of Jello you like with half as much hot water as it calls for, then add a cup and a half of cold water. Freeze in molds or other container.

Plain Ice Cream Without a Freezer

Mix two cups of milk with a quarter cup of sugar (or more; taste it to see if it's sweet enough for you). Add flavorings like chocolate drink mix or dry fruit drink mix. Put this in a can with a very tight fitting lid, then put that in another, larger can. Fill the open space with a layer of ice, then salt, then another layer of ice, etc., until the space is filled. Put the lid on (tape it closed if necessary) and shake or roll it for at least 15 minutes. Check to see if it's frozen yet, if not, continue to shake or roll the can.

Strawberry Yogurt Pie

You'll need a graham cracker crust, a cup of sweetened, mashed strawberries and a couple of cups of plain yogurt. Mix the strawberries and yogurt well, pour into the pie crust and freeze. Simple enough?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How To Bake an Almost Healthy, Frugal Chocolate Cake

We all like to indulge now and then, but guilt may stop you from enjoying common, traditional treats like chocolate cake. Besides that, buying a chocolate cake is not the most frugal of actions.

Baking a healthy cake might seem like an oxymoron, but it really isn't. You simply add or maximize the healthy ingredients and minimize the unhealthy ones.

Okay... cake recipes don't always take well to experimentation! So here's how to bake a chocolate cake that's as close to healthy as you can get. It started as a recipe that I copied from some long forgotten source years ago and adjusted it slowly over time to create a cake that I will and do eat with gusto!

First, dark chocolate is healthy, they tell us, and eggs are, too. Coconut oil? Yes. Oats? Definitely. Here's the complete recipe:

  1. 1 1/4 cup boiling water
  2. 1 cup quick cooking oats
  3. Scant cup of unsifted flour (whole wheat or spelt flour can be substituted for white wheat flour)
  4. 1 1/4 cup or slightly less of sugar
  5. 1/2 cup of baking cocoa
  6. 1 tsp baking soda
  7. 1/2 tsp salt
  8. 1/2 cup coconut oil
  9. 1 egg, beaten
  10. 1 tsp vanilla

Pour the boiling water over the oats and set aside while you mix the dry ingredients very thoroughly. Add the egg, vanilla and coconut oil and mix well, then add the oats and mix again.

Bake in a 14 X 9 inch cake pan at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center of the cake comes out clean.

You can frost this with whatever frosting you prefer, but I enjoy it plain or with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Where to Find Free and Healthy Food

I'm not kidding when I say that wild food can make a dent in your food budget. Foraging is sometimes seen as one of those things that strange people do. It's not mainstream.

Foraging for wild food is a smart thing to do, though, not only for your budget, but for your health. As a rule, wild food is healthier than domesticated crops, delivering up to 10 times as much nutrition in the same amount of food.

There are two things you need to be careful of. One, make sure you know what you're gathering.  There are not many plants that are deadly poison, but be sure you don't gather the few that are.

The second thing is to never forage in areas that have been sprayed with any kind of chemical. Many city lawns have been treated with herbicides to keep down weeds and pesticides to kill insects. Don't pick anything from them.

Where to find free fruit

Not only can you forage for vegetable plants, there are plenty of fruits that can be foraged, in the wild or not. How many apples does a mature apple tree have? More than an average family can use! It doesn't hurt to ask when you see a tree loaded with fruit.

There are fruit trees, brambles and bushes planted as ornamentals on college campuses, business lots and city greens. Check into them; why not? The birds won't eat them all. Some of them may have been treated, but they are not always.

Foraging for vegetable plants is even easier

If you have a back yard, don't put anything dangerous on it. Leave a small part to grow "weeds" or deliberately plant them in a contained area. If you're in a hurry, you can buy seeds from many plants, including dandelion, purslane and lambsquarter.

Don't gather anything from a public park, as it is nearly always treated for weeds as well as insects. You can, though, gather seeds from there if you're careful to be there at the right time and plant them the next year. 

You probably shouldn't gather plants from roadsides, either, unless they're dirt country roads that see little traffic.

Get a good book for your area, since different plants grow in different areas. Here, I harvest lambsquarter from mid spring to fall, dandelions in the spring and again in the fall, purslane from late spring through at least the first frost, but your area may be different. Find out and go gather some free food!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mashed Potato Salad? Yes!

Years ago, when my father was using our home as a stopping place between his home and the hospital where he was taking treatments, the patients had a picnic and he asked me to make potato salad for it. I made mashed potato salad 'just like mom makes' without thinking much about it, but the next Monday, he returned with a request for a written recipe for it!

That kind of threw me into a quandary because I'd never even seen a recipe written for it. I sat down and tried to remember how, what and when to put it together, and this is what came of it.

It needs to be made ahead of time, so it's perfect for tomorrow's cookout or to make for planned leftovers.

    * Make a batch of mashed potatoes just as if you were serving them for dinner. (It's more frugal to plan leftover mashed potatoes, because it won't take extra fuel to cook them.) Make sure they're cool before starting the salad.
    * For each couple of cups of potatoes, chop a quarter of a cup or so, depending on your tastes, of each the following:

    1. Dill or sweet pickles
    2. Onions
    3. boiled egg
    4. sharp cheddar or other sharp flavored cheese

    * Add enough mayonnaise or salad dressing to make the salad creamy and smooth.
    * Refrigerate overnight, or several hours, covered.
Serve cold, with a big spoon!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bean Burgers

Summer time isn't all about eating, but it can seem like it sometimes! Don't let it break your grocery budget, stay cool with real treats - made frugally by you.

This summer treat your family to bean burgers instead of hamburgers. (If you're not a bean person, these are better than they sound!) Serve them with southern style sweet tea for an inexpensive meal that's good enough for company. (Music from the radio or tape or cd player can turn any meal into a festive celebration.)

Here's the basic recipe for bean burgers. After you've made them once, you can adjust them to suit yourself. Different types of beans make different flavors, so don't be afraid to experiment. Add steak sauce, liquid smoke or Worchestershire sauce for different flavors. For this recipe, I used leftover boiled pinto beans from the freezer. Even if you buy canned beans, it's a cheap meal, and healthy, too.

2 cups beans
1 cup of bread crumbs (amount may vary)
1/2 finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, mashed or minced
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 heaping tablespoon flour

Drain beans and reserve the liquid. Mash or puree beans in a blender, then add onion, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Add about half the bread crumbs and mix with a spoon, then add the rest slowly until the mixture is stiff enough to form patties. If it becomes too dry, add a little of the liquid from the beans back in.

Dip the patties into the flour to coat and leave them to set for a half hour or so. This will help them keep their shape when they're cooked.

You can panfry them, but they're great on the grill, too. Either way, 5 to 10 minutes is all it takes. Serve on a bun with traditional hamburger toppings or barbecue sauce.