Saturday, December 26, 2015

You're Not Cooking!

If you celebrated Christmas, you probably have lots of leftovers, so there's no need to cook... but if you don't have leftovers, then what do you do?

On those nights when you don't want to cook, don't want to spend the money to eat or order out, what do you do? I have a few "go to" meals, but these are not the only ones.

1. Plate of cut up veggies, meat like summer sausage, ham or poultry, anything that can be served cold. Or boil a few eggs (I know, that's cooking!) and/or serve cheese instead of meat. Add crackers or toast and there you go.

2. Reach for the cans. There are times when canned meat or soup is good to fall back on. You'll save more by doing that than by going out to eat.  Corned beef with mustard on rye makes a great sandwich, but you can make a quick (I know... cooking!) soup with canned meat by using quick cooking pasta and frozen or canned vegetables.

3. Raid the freezer. If you are diligent about saving leftovers, you will probably have a few meals in the freezer. You may not have enough of anyone one things, so you have two options: a) Thaw out a variety and let the family members choose which they want, or 2) Find some things that go together and heat them to make a soup or casserole.

What do you do when you don't cook a meal?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Simply How to Roast a Turkey. Failproof!

I've been talking about dressing and gravy and goodies for the holiday season, but if you're afraid of the turkey, the rest is not so important.

It's not hard, honest. As a matter of fact, roasting a turkey is very, very easy. If you've been told it's hard, you've been bamboozled.

  • You need a large pan either with a loosely fitting lid or a piece of aluminum foil.
  • You need an oven.
  • And you need a turkey.

The recipe? First, thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator for two to three days, depending on the size. Remove the giblets the day before and boil them to make dressing and/or giblet gravy.

Plan on about 30 minutes per pound for falling off the bone, deliciously baked turkey, although most labels say 20 minutes per pound. Suit yourself, but if you go for 20 minutes, plan on having to leave the turkey in the oven an extra half hour to an hour.

Stuffing a turkey is frowned upon any more, although you may do it if you're careful. A stuffed turkey will take more time to cook all the way through, so plan on an extra hour. Otherwise, put the stuffing, covered, in the oven an hour and a half or so before the turkey is done. If you use the cornbread stuffing, everything is safe to eat before it's even in the oven, so that's not an issue.

Make sure all the pin feathers are cleaned from the turkey, rinse it off and be sure the insides are clean of excess whatever it is in there. If you have to start the turkey very early in the morning, this step can be done the night before.

When it's time, put the turkey into the pan and cover it loosely. Turn the oven on to around 325 degrees and put the turkey in it. Close the door;  go back to bed or open gifts or whatever.

Don't open the oven until about halfway through the estimated roasting time. Check it by piercing the inside of the thigh, where the meat is the most dense. Don't pierce it anywhere else or it will lose its natural juices and the meat will be dry. If you think you absolutely have to, you can baste it at this point, but as long as you're cooking it at a low temperature, basting is not necessary.

If the turkey seems closer to done than you had planned, turn the oven down to 300 degrees. If it's getting done but not browning, take the cover off.

Check again at about the three quarters mark of the estimated time and adjust the temperature and cover as needed.

That's all there is to it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Inexpensive and Simple Sweet Treats

Here are a few ideas to make treats inexpensively and simply. They would be appropriate for Christmas stocking stuffers or a gift basket of treats any time.

Chocolate covered marshmallows. 

One bag of miniature marshmallows or marshmallows of your choice.
One chocolate bar
A sheet of waxed paper

Really, that's it. Using a small pan, melt the chocolate over low heat. Drop marshmallows into it and turn them to be sure they're completely covered, then remove them with a toothpick and let them cool on waxed paper.

When they're completely cool, store them in a glass jar or package a few in plastic wrap for stocking basket stuffers.

Rock Candy

Rock candy is crystallized sugar. Make it ahead of time because it takes awhile to crystallize properly and making it is NOT a science, so you might have to try a couple of times. Basically, water is super saturated with sugar and allowed to evaporate so that the sugar forms a few large crystals instead of thousands of small ones.

A simple recipe is 1 cup water and 2 cups of sugar. Bring the water to a boil and stir the sugar into it until it's completely dissolved. Now's the time to add color if you like.

Pour the mixture into a clean jar and balance a pencil across the top of it. Tie one or two strings from the pencil and position so that they hang into the sugar mixture. When it cools somewhat, cover with plastic wrap or foil and put it in a place where it won't be disturbed.

It takes upwards of a week for the crystals to form - and if they simply won't form on your string, look in the jar... they could be clinging to the sides of it instead. As I said, it's not a science.

Chocolate Covered Citrus Peels

Save the peels from oranges, lemons or other citrus fruits, cut into strips and candy them. This done simply by making a simple sugar syrup: 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. Bring it to a boil and add the peels. Cook until the peels are soft, about 45 minutes, then remove and cool, being sure to separate them  so they don't stick together.

Melt a bar of chocolate over low heat and drop the peels into it one by one. Fish them out with a fork and let them cool on wax paper.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Brown Gravy

The price of a can or mix for brown gravy is crazy when you can make your own easily.

Brown gravy is traditionally made from meat "drippings" (what's left in the pan after removing roasted or fried meat), water and corn starch or flour.

The method is simple, but I don't have precise measurements. Each pan of drippings will vary slightly and that's what you start with.

First, add enough water, or broth if you have it, to cover the pan by at least a half inch. Water is fine because the drippings have all the flavor needed.

The cornstarch package usually has the amount to be used for thickening, but if yours doesn't, use 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or flour for each cup of broth/water (estimate; don't worry about being exact). Don't put either directly into the pan, but mix with a small amount of cold water.

The easiest way to do this is to put it in a small jar with a tight lid and shake it until the thickener is dissolved.

Bring the water and drippings to a smart simmer and add the thickener slowly, stirring all the while. If it's too thick, add more water. If it seems too thin after a few minutes of cooking, add more thickener (careful... use a teaspoon full at a time in just a little water).

Keep cooking for about 15 minutes, stirring often. The gravy will be thicker as it cools, so don't let it get too thick.

No pan drippings but you still want brown gravy anyway? No problem. For each cup of gravy, bring a cup of broth of your choice to a simmer, add thickener as above and that's it. If you want giblet gravy, just add chopped giblets to the gravy.

Simple? It's almost as easy as opening a can, and it's a lot cheaper!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Save Costs and Stress During the Holiday Season

Most people have the holidays on their minds right now. Each holiday has its special treats; some expensive, some inexpensive. The main thing to keep in mind is that although you may spend more for those treats or the ingredients to make them, you can still cut costs in other ways.

By using all of the shopping tips you can come up with (look through the posts on this blog!), cooking from scratch whenever you can and stretching the more expensive ingredients for every day meals, you can save enough to splurge on the traditions that make your holiday special.

Most of us are busier than usual this time of year, too, so keeping meals simple definitely helps!

Instead of making a salad, for instance, cut up a few vegetables and put out the salad dressing. Make simple ground beef patties, add a vegetable and a starch if you want and there is a meal. Cut up raw vegetables, slice some cheese and cold cuts and call it good.

You don't have to overdo either the cost or the stress of the season to make it great!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cornbread Dressing for Turkey or Chicken

If you've never made dressing before or are looking for something different or cheaper or better... this is for you. It's an inexpensive way to make a super special dish that just might become a family favorite. Don't let the ingredients or instructions fool you as it's really simple to do once you see what needs to be done.

First, you need a big pan of cornbread. You can save leftover cornbread throughout the year for the Christmas turkey, but if you haven't, it doesn't take long to bake a pan of it.

Secondly, you need the giblets. Turkey or chicken tastes about the same, so whatever you can come up with works. For a large turkey, I usually add giblets saved from chickens, but it isn't necessary. Boil the giblets along with the neck and set aside to cool. Keep the liquid!

You will need:

Cornbread - one large pan full
Giblets - cooked
Water in which giblets were boiled
Two or three slices of dry white or wheat bread
Celery - one medium to large bunch
Onion - one large
Sage - a lot. Probably half a small can or more.

The amounts of each one will depend on how much liquid and giblets you have as well as your own tastes and preferences, so feel free to add or subtract whatever suits you.

Put the pan liquid in a large bowl. Chop the giblets and pull the meat from the neck, cutting it into small pieces. Cut celery and onion into small pieces and add to the giblets, then begin crumbling cornbread into the bowl. Mix it in with your fingers, breaking it into small pieces. Break the white bread into small bits and add it, then let the dressing set a few minutes so the breads will absorb the water. The consistency should be a little soupy, but not much. Press the back of a wooden spoon into it and there should be a small well that slowly fills with liquid. If the mixture is too dry, add a little plain water and if it's too soupy, add plain white bread, torn into pieces. Mix again and let it set. When the texture is right, begin adding sage to taste and when it seems just right, add just a little more, as the cooking will minimize the flavor.

Cover and bake at 325 or so along with the turkey or chicken, for about an hour and half .

Easy Cornbread

Sure, it's easy to buy one of those boxed mixes, but nothing beats a pan of homemade cornbread! And it's easy to do, too. And inexpensive. If you've stocked your pantry with the basics, like cornmeal, flour, baking powder... then it will cost you very, very little.

You can make cornbread with buttermilk or regular milk and you only have to adjust the leavening agents. With regular milk, use baking powder and/or eggs and with buttermilk, add baking soda. You only need to remember the number "1" then "2" when making cornbread and you'll remember the ingredients.

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar (you can increase this if you like sweet cornbread)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons of oil
  • Milk or buttermilk, about a cup

Or... 3 eggs and no baking powder, or 2 teaspoons of baking powder and one egg, or 3 teaspoons of baking powder and no eggs. Cornbread with no eggs makes a more crumbly bread, but it's good, anyway.

If you want to use buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients.

Mix all of the dry ingredients together very well, then beat the eggs in the oil and add them. Add milk a little at a time, stirring, until the mixture is not too thin, but pourable with a little help. Oil a pan lightly and add the mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Potato Soup Extraordinaire (Cheap!)

With the busy season upon us as we hurry to celebrate our various holidays, mealtime can become a problem. Instead of opting for take out or sandwiches, make your own delicious potato/tuna soup. (You could call it a chowder if you like.) This goes great with either crackers or cornbread as a light, yet satisfying, lunch or supper and the kids usually love it.

This is similar to "Simple and Delicious Potato Soup" but with a twist. It's very inexpensive, but you must plan ahead a little to save the liquid, either water or oil, from several cans of tuna over time, keeping it in the freezer until you're ready to use it. If you make a habit of doing that, you'll be ready whenever the urge strikes you.

Here is the recipe:

1 to 2 cups of tuna "liquid" 3 to 4 medium potatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 can evaporated milk.

Peel and dice potatoes and onion and place in a pot with enough water to cover by an inch. Bring it to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender. The water will have been reduced by this time, but don't add more water unless there is danger of scorching. Instead, add the tuna liquid and the milk and heat through. If you are using tuna water rather than oil, add a tablespoon of butter to the soup before serving.

Friday, November 27, 2015

6 Ways to Eat Turkey Sandwiches

1. Plain, simple: A slice of turkey, white bread and mayonnaise or spread of your choice. A little lettuce if you want it. It doesn't get much simpler than that.

2. Club sandwich. You need three pieces of bread, turkey, lettuce, tomato and onion. Use mustard, mayonnaise or salad dressing for a spread. Cut in quarters to eat.

3. Layered sandwich. If you love the dressing, put a thin layer of that on sandwich bread of your choice, then a layer of sliced turkey and a layer of cranberry sauce.

4. Open faced creamy sandwich. This is great for those small bits of turkey. Put it in just enough leftover turkey gravy to make it a little sloppy, but not much. Spoon it over bread or toast.

5. Turkey and avocado. Slather mayonnaise or spread of your choice on a piece of bread and add slices of avocado, turkey and tomatoes. A light sprinkling of salt brings it all together.

6. Turkey salad sandwich. Mince leftover turkey (dark meat has more flavor), then add minced pickled, chopped hard boiled egg, shredded cheese and minced onion. Hold it together with mayonnaise or salad dressing.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Frugal, Traditional Ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner

As you plan Thanksgiving dinner, it might save money and make a more memorable Thanksgiving, too, if you look back at the first Thankgivings. The Pilgrims had what was available and that was fish, poultry, squash, corn and other fall harvest garden crops, as well as wild food.

How can you plan your dinner around that? Poultry is easy; that's the turkey. If you don't have or can't find a turkey due to the shortage,  a large chicken (or two) will do nicely. Ducks are expensive in most places.

Squash, yes! That included pumpkin. If you have been following this blog, you'll remember that I said to buy fresh pumpkin while it was cheap and available. If you did that, you have plenty in the freezer.

Winter squash of all kinds can be a part of your meal.
This soup is made with butternut squash but winter squash of any kind can be used, even pumpkin:

1 medium whole squash, baked, with the seeds and rind removed.
1/2 pound bacon, either pork or turkey, minced
1 medium onion
1 can or two cups of chicken stock
Garlic, salt and pepper to taste.

Put stock and squash into a pot and heat thoroughly, the remove from heat. Meantime, cook bacon and onion together until onion is translucent and bacon is done. Divide in two portions.

Add one portion of bacon/onion to the squash and process it in a blender or food processor until it's smooth. Return to heat and add the remaining bacon/onion, the garlic, salt and pepper.

Homemade bread is a good, inexpensive accompaniment, but if you don't want to, or don't have time to make yeast bread, make yeast biscuits instead. Just use the recipe for biscuits and substitute yeast for about half of the baking powder. This dough can stand a little more handling than plain biscuit dough, so it's all right to knead it to get it smooth. Turn out, cut and bake the same as baking powder biscuits.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Turkeys and Eggs are in Short Supply

You might know the connection. The price of eggs are going up and up and the scarcity of turkeys may make this a different Thanksgiving for some. The "bird 'flu" is to blame, with millions of both turkeys and laying hens being slaughtered to try to prevent the spread of this disease that can be deadly to domestic poultry and humans who come into contact with them. (Before you panic, the bird flu does not spread from human to human.)

If you're lucky and already have your Thanksgiving turkey, good for you. Be careful not to waste a bit of it, because it's going to be awhile before supplies and prices are stabilized. Buying a turkey breast early next year may not be a sensible option. There are tons of ideas on the internet to help you save and use every bit of the turkey you have.

If you don't have one yet, consider something else. Ducks and chickens are affected by the shortage, so think about having a ham or some special ethnic dish this year.

Eggs can be another problem altogether, but for frugally minded people, it's simply a matter of eating fewer. Baking for the holidays takes more eggs than usual, but you can substitute in some instances or find recipes that don't require eggs. Eggless cakes, cupcakes and bread recipes are easy to find on the internet. Many breads that call for eggs are just as good if you substitute an extra tablespoon of water and a teaspoon of baking powder for each egg.

Pumpkin pies may be a different story, but even then you can short the pie one egg without causing a problem.

Some stores have already put limits on egg purchases and turkey purchases are limited as well, but don't run out and try to get more than your share. It makes sense to be careful with the use of these two foods right now, not only because it will save you money, but because with the shortage, you will allow others to have them, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Turkey Time

If you're planning on having turkey for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, get it as soon as you can. There is a shortage of turkeys this year (a real one this time) so they are going fast. What will be left, if any, the few days before Thanksgiving will be the most expensive ones.

Which  ones are the best? Well, any of them, if you're going to believe the butcher. Really, the brand name turkeys are not any better than the "generic" ones, but if you really need butter under the skin, it's easy to put a tiny slit in the skin or slip a little butter under the edge of it. Why pay so much for someone else to do it?

Turkey is one of the cheapest meats there is, even if you pay the higher price for it. If you make broth from the carcass, you will waste very little of it. Buy as big a turkey as you can afford because the leftovers will provide many tasty and inexpensive meals over the next year, until they go on sale again!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Make Your Own Sweetened Condensed Milk

With the holidays fast approaching, making treats might be on your mind and if you have need of that certain expensive sweetened condensed milk, don't just run out and buy it.

Here's how to make it cheaper:

1 cup of powdered milk
2/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup of boiling water
3 TBS of butter or margarine

Add the sugar to the milk, mix and pour in the boiling water. Mix well and add butter or margarine. Use this while it's still hot, or refrigerate. The fats will separate when it gets cold, so reheat it to use later.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Simple Substitutes for Cooking and Baking Ingredients

Did you ever want to cook or bake something but didn't because you didn't have all the ingredients on hand? While you can't find substitutes for or create everything you might need, there are many simple substitutes you can make from  what you already have.

For instance, baking powder is baking soda and cream of tartar, smoothed with cornstarch. Take equal amounts of baking soda and cornstarch, then add that much cream of tartar. For example,  1/4 tsp. baking soda, 1/4 tsp. cornstarch and 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar. Mix them together well and store in a cool, dry place and do your baking with it just like you would with commercial baking powder. That was easy, wasn't it?

How about cake flour? Here's an easy substitute, too: Sift 3/4 cup of regular, all purpose flour with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. That makes one cup of cake flour, believe it or not. If you make your own cake flour, you don't have to store extra flour and making it this way is cheaper than buying it already made. You'll be ready for baking any time you feel like it.

Now you want to bake that cake and decorate it with colored sugar, but you don't want to go to the store to get the colored sugar... Just use white sugar with a drop or two of food coloring. Put the food coloring into a container with a tight lid, add a couple of tablespoons of white sugar, put the lid on and shake it hard. Spread it to dry. If the color isn't as intense as you like it, do it again. If the sugar clumps when it's dry, shake it again.

Oops... wait a minute. You need cream for that frosting and you don't have any. Time to make another substitute: Add 2 tablespoons of melted butter to 7/8 cup of milk and there you have it. If you need heavy cream, add powdered milk to it, too - about 2 generous tablespoons per cup will do it. 

Does cold weather make you hungry for a hearty breakfast? Pancakes to the rescue! I like mine with sausage. Or maybe I like sausage with pancake syrup, but either way, there is a way to make pancakes more frugal.

If you like buttermilk pancakes, but can't keep buttermilk on hand for that sudden urge, substitute powdered milk with a little vinegar added to sour it. You don't have to keep any special ingredients on hand, and it's cheaper than buying buttermilk, too.

Follow a recipe for plain pancakes. To make buttermilk pancakes, use the buttermilk or sour milk as above and add a half teaspoon of baking soda.

Okay, so now you can make the pancakes or waffles, but you don't have any syrup? That's easy, too. Mix 1 cup of white sugar, 1/3 cup of brown sugar and 2/3 cup of water and cook it at a simmer it until it gets to the soft ball

If you keep a small bottle of maple flavoring on hand, you won't have to store syrup at all and you'll save space and money. If you don't have brown sugar, you can use all white sugar, or add a little molasses if you have it.

When I was a kid, we lived a half hour from town, Daddy worked 12 hours a day six days a week and Mom didn't drive, so she had to learn to make do. When she ran out of something, she figured out how to substitute something else. It worked then and it works now. And the more you stay out of stores, the less you'll be tempted to buy other things you don't really need.

stage. Remove it from the heat and add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and maple flavoring if you have it, to taste.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Easy, Simple, Self Rising Crust for Meat or Fruit Dishes

It's not really a crust, but an environment for whatever you please! This very simple, never fail recipe can be used for a "pot pie" type of dish or a sweet cobbler desert. It's just the thing to pop into the oven on those nights when you're tired and want a good meal.

  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 scant cup of milk
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For a cobbler, add 1/3 cup sugar.

The recipe can be cut in two easily:

  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 Tbs milk
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Get your meat pie or cobbler ingredients together:

This is enough for four to six cups of fruit, cut up and sweetened. If you're used to making pies or cobblers, don't add corn starch!

Four to six cups of cut up, cooked meat and vegetables, mixed. Potatoes and other starches don't work well because they tend to get lost in the crust.

Put the fruit or meat mixture into a large casserole dish or baking pan and pour the crust mixture over the top. Bake at 350 for about a half hour, or until the crust is lightly browned.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Don't Throw Out The Potato Water

If you boil peeled potatoes for any reason, don't pour the water down the drain. It's chock full of nutrients and potato starch, which means it's good food.

You can use it in place of milk in yeast bread or quick breads like biscuits and cornbread. Quick breads won't be exactly the same, not bad, just a little different. You won't be able to tell the difference in yeast bread and that includes everything from pizza crust to dinner rolls.

Potato water makes great "milk" gravy and a bonus is that it's easier to make gravy with it when it's still hot, so you can drain the potatoes to mash and make the gravy right away. The gravy will have a slightly translucent look to it, but it tastes fine. Try it and see.

Another place where potato water is welcome is as a base for chowders, cream soups and such various soups as Italian wedding soup. Check can labels from (or while you're in) the store for "potato starch" to see which commercial soups use potato starch (in dehydrated form) in their soup and you'll have an idea of what can be done with it.

If you can't use it right away, it will keep three or four days in the refrigerator. Shake it before using it because the heavier bits will settle to the bottom. If you can't use it up before it goes bad, it can be frozen for a few days, but don't try to keep it much past a week. It tends to turn gray and look unappetizing. It won't hurt you at this stage, but your family probably won't eat it.

About the only thing you can't use it for is desserts or other sweet dishes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Make Your Own Sausage

Sausage is expensive, but you can make it from plain ground beef, or grind your own from an inexpensive cut of beef if you have a meat grinder. You can make sausage from any other ground meat also, including pork, chicken and turkey. If you have access to wild meat like venison or bison, so much the better.

The ingredients are common, but you may have to experiment to get it the way you want it, so make it in small batches at first.

A quarter of a pound of ground meat is a good start. Other ingredients can vary but you will always want salt and nearly always fine pepper, sage and onion powder. Depending on the type of sausage you want, add other spices and condiments.

For Italian style:

1/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp sage
1/4 tsp minced garlic
Minced onion or onion powder
A sprinkle of caraway seed

Breakfast sausage can be made with simple ingredients. I will leave how much of what you use up to you. Fry up just a tiny bit and then adjust the ingredients. 


If there are other spices that you like, try adding them in small amounts. Rosemary, thyme, dill and many others will lend their own unique flavor and once you've hit on a combination that you like, you can make it every time - but only if you write down exactly what you did, every time. Don't miss that step or you will be forever experimenting!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

What the PLU Means

With all the publicity about organic food lately and how conventionally grown and genetically modified food is inferior quality, or at the least, not as nutritious or safe, knowing for sure how that head of lettuce or bag of potatoes or bunch of grapes was grown might be important to you.

PLU (Price Look Up) codes are four or five number codes that bring up the price of each item. Within these codes is information about the food itself.

If the code number (you can see it on the label or price tag) is four numbers, the product was grown conventionally.

If the code is made up of five numbers, the product is either organic or genetically modified. An organic product code starts with the number 9, while a genetically modified product code starts with the number 8. Never buy a product (unless it's at a farmer's market or direct farm to consumer) without a PLU code and know what it stands for.

Knowing about food before you buy it can insure that you get fresh, nutritious food not by chance or by trick, but by choice.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Potato Peel Snacks

Besides using potato water to cook and bake with, if you peel your potatoes for any reason, save the peelings for a snack. Why not? Potato peels are sold as snacks in the store, so why throw yours away?

Be sure to wash the potatoes thoroughly before peeling them and try to keep the peelings as large as possible for easier handling. As you work, drop the peelings in a bowl of cold water.

To make them, drain the water and let the peelings drain for a moment. Preheat the oven to about 400. Drizzle just a little oil over the peelings and toss to distribute, then put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and sprinkle salt over them.

Bake just a few moments, checking every five minutes or so, until they begin to brown and crisp. Remove and cool and there you have an expensive snack, for all practical purposes, for free.

Note: Alternatively, you can deep fry them like french fries or potato chips, but unless you're peeling a LOT of potatoes, it's probably not worth it. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Five Golden Rules to Save Money at the Grocery Store

1. Never shop when you're hungry. Everything looks good then and you're more inclined to bring home too much junk food or too much or whatever you're hungry for. "Too much" means that it can spoil before you can eat it. It could mean that your grocery budget will be too short to cover the rest of the food you need later. It can also mean that you buy more than is nutritionally good for you to eat. One candy bar may be ok, but a dozen can break your budget as well as your health.

2. Shop alone whenever you can. That way you can control what you buy. Spouses, children, parents and friends all have their ideas of what they think you should buy. If you're buying for your family, of course take their tastes into account, but when you shop by yourself, you can find ways to minimize extra costs in various ways. For instance, you can buy ingredients to make their favorite food from scratch rather than buying ready-made.

3. Make use of coupons only when they make sense. Don't automatically assume that they will get you the product cheaper than any other way. Keep an eye out for sales, compare generic to brand name and then consider coupons. You may be surprised to find that some regular generic prices are less than brand name with coupons.

4. When food is cheap, buy as much of it as you can, then dehydrate, freeze or can it for later use. Around Thanksgiving, turkey is cheap: buy an extra for later. At Easter, traditional hams go on sale, St Patrick's Day means corned beef; Lent means fish. Summer time is good for stocking up on various vegetables and fruits, late summer and autumn brings squash and pumpkins. Pay attention to seasonal fluctuations in prices and you can save by not buying them at their highest.

5. Never shop with your eyes on the most convenient section of the shelves. Look high and look low. Grocery stores know that we are too lazy to stoop down or stretch up, so the highest priced goods are within an easy reach. Watch out for "end cap" sales, too. Sometimes they are real sales and sometimes, not. Occasionally, you will come across a really good, unadvertised sale, so keep your eyes open.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Basics of Dehydrating Food

If you have a lot of something and you don't want to can or freeze it, think about dehydrating it. Dried food keeps well, takes little space and is easy to make.

To dehydrate foods, always begin with fresh, good quality. Make sure it's clean and free from damage. Pretreatment isn't always absolutely necessary, but food that's blanched keeps its color and flavor better. Use the same blanching times as you would for freezing.

You can marinate, salt, sweeten or spice foods before you dehydrate them. Jerky is meat that's been marinated and/or flavored by rubbing spices into it. Vegetables and fruit can be treated the same way, but avoid fat, as it will turn rancid as the food dries.

Slice or dice food thinly and uniformly so it will all dry at the same time.

Space food on a dehydrator tray so air can move around each piece.

Different foods take different amounts of time to dry, so it's easier to fill your trays with all the same type of food. You can, of course, dry different types of food at the same time, but remember to watch and remove the food that dehydrates more quickly. Don't mix strong vegetables like onions and garlic as other foods will absorb their taste while they're dehydrating.

The smaller the pieces, the faster a food will dehydrate. Remove the stalks of leaves like spinach, celery, etc. before dehydrating or they'll be overdone by the time the stalks are dry and lose flavor and quality. Leaves don't even need a dehydrator if you have a warm, dry place to put them.

Dense food like carrots, will feel very hard when they're ready. Others will be crispy. A food that is high in fructose will be leathery when it's finished dehydrating.

Remember that food smells when it's in the process of drying, so outdoors or in the garage is an excellent place to dry a big batch of onions!

Always test each batch to make sure it's "done." You can pasteurize finished food by putting it in a slow oven (150 degrees) for about 5 minutes. Let the food cool before storing.

Store in air tight containers. Jars saved from other food work well as long as they have lids that will keep moisture out. Ziplock types of bags work, too. Choose the storage container that will fit best in your storage area.

Jars of dehydrated carrots, celery, beets, etc., may look cheerful on your counter top, but both color and flavor will fade. Dehydrated food keeps its color and flavor best in a dark, cool place.

Dehydrating food takes time, so don't rush it. When you're all done, you'll have a food stash to be proud of!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How to Make Almond Milk

Do you like almond milk but the cost just seems like too much? You can make it yourself for less!

To make it, first get some raw almonds and roast them yourself because freshly roasted has more flavor. Just put a cup of raw almonds in a layer on a cookie sheet and roast them in the oven at 350 degrees, stirring two or three times, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Let them cool.


To that cup of roasted almonds, add four cups of water and put into a container with a lid. Put it in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. Pour the whole thing into your blender or food processor and blend until it's smooth. Strain it through a cheesecloth, or do as I do and use a loosely woven cotton dish towel because it lasts longer.

Keep the pulp to add to hot cereal or bread.

Add a little honey or sugar to the almond milk, as much or as little as you like and there you have it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Before You Buy That Pumpkin

First, if you can, go to a farmer and buy a pumpkin or two for fall decorations and holiday pies and dishes. They're a lot cheaper to buy from a "pumpkin patch" than from the grocery store.

When you buy, look for brightly colored pumpkins because they will taste better and be more nutritious. Check to be sure there are no cuts or deep scars and look for the pumpkins that have at least an inch of stem where they have been cut. The longer the stem, the better it will keep. Pass by the pumpkins without stems unless you plan to cook them right away.

I am assuming you will cook the pumpkin and not waste it. Even jack o'lantern pumpkins can be salvaged for food. You can look for pie pumpkins, but field pumpkins make very good pumpkin pies if they are done right.

If you are planning on keeping the pumpkin indoors, you'll need to cure it first by leaving it outside for about a week, unless it's freezing weather. In that case, keep it cool until you can take it outside.

If you plan on displaying the pumpkin out doors, be sure to protect it if a heavy frost is predicted, but pumpkins can handle light frosts with no problem if they're cured properly.

When you cut into the pumpkin, take out the seeds, of course, and rinse them in a colander. Remove the strings and put them in a bowl of salted water to soak overnight. The next morning, drain them and put them in a shallow layer on a cookie sheet and roast them at 300 degrees for two to three hours, stirring now and then. You can tell when they're done by tasting one. If you have any left to store, put them in an airtight container.

Now make your jack o'lantern or arrange your display and enjoy.

Pumpkins will last deep into winter if they're stored in a cool place with plenty of air circulation, but you might want to work yours up all at one time and make pumpkin pie or soup or bread or any of the other delicious pumpkin dishes.

The easiest way to do this is to take the seeds out and clean the stringy part out of the pumpkin, put the "lid" back on and put it in the oven. Bake it at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the size. When it's done, let it cool, then peel or pull the rind off of the flesh. You can process the flesh in food processor or blender or mash it up by hand.

You'll find that even a small pumpkin may yield more than you can reasonably use right away, so freeze the rest in one cup portions for future recipes. When you thaw it, you might have to drain off some liquid, but don't unless it's necessary for the recipe. Use it just like canned pumpkin in any recipe, but it's much cheaper and much better!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Barbecue Sauce Your Way

Let's have some fun today. It's easy to grab a can of that sloppy joe sauce and pour it over a pan of browned beef, but it's just as easy to make it with barbecue sauce and making your own barbecue sauce is simple. As long as you have some basic ingredients on hand, it's fun, too, because you make it to your own tastes.

It takes mustard, ketchup and honey or brown sugar. You can add steak sauce, "liquid" smoke flavoring, Worcestershire sauce or whatever else you like. You can put in more mustard than ketchup or more ketchup than mustard, eliminate the honey or brown sugar or substitute them with other sweeteners, from white granulated sugar to date sugar.

You can eliminate the mustard altogether, add horseradish or hot pepper sauce, substitute tomato sauce for the ketchup or do away with it entirely and use steak sauce for a base.

Didn't I say it would be fun? It can also be confusing. To make it easier,  you can start with equal amounts of mustard and ketchup and one of the sweeteners. Try the flavor and adjust it to suit yourself. When you're comfortable with that, you can add other flavors to create your own special, signature barbecue sauce to use everywhere you would use the store bought kind.

Simple and Delicious Potato Soup

This is Mom's recipe and it's one of the best recipes I know of for potato soup. The secret is the evaporated milk. it just doesn't taste the same if you substitute any other milk. The other ingredients are few and that's the best way to make anything.

The recipe has never been written down, so I've done the best I could. If you don't follow it exactly, it will be good anyway, as long as you add the evaporated milk!

  • Two to three medium potatoes, diced
  • A half onion, minced
  • Enough water to cover by a couple of inches. 
  • One can of evaporated milk
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Bring to a boil, cover and turn the heat down then simmer gently until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat and add the evaporated milk and salt and pepper to taste.

You can add other things, of course, cooked and crumbled bacon, tuna, minced sweet peppers or whatever you like, but it's fine without anything added.

A pan of cornbread goes really well with this.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dumplings: Homemade, Cheap and Good

I just read an article where a woman was giving ideas for cheap meals. One of her ideas was to buy a can of biscuits and tear them into pieces and drop them into boiling soup or stock, also known as dumplings.

I have a cheaper way and you don't have to go to the store if you keep some basic items on hand. Homemade dumplings are very simple to make and taste better than the store bought kind, hands down.

2 cups of flour, unsifted
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 to 1 cup of sour milk or buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients and add milk to make a soft dough that you can pat out on a floured board. Pinch or cut off small pieces and drop into a boiling pot of stock, soup or stew.

If you don't have sour or buttermilk, Check the Quick Cooking Tips and Substitutions Page

Store Brand Savings

Store brands have come a long way since the first plain black and white "generic" label that started it all. There are still generic brands, but they've decided that a more stylish colorful label doesn't cost that much to produce and individual stores have successfully taken up the banner.

Kroger's, Safeway and others have their own brands that often rival national brands in quality but are priced for less, and sometimes far less than national brands.

Krogers goes under the name of King Soopers here and sells the Kroger brand. They also sell their own organic brand, "Simple Truth" and another brand, called "Pssst" (how do you pronounce that?), which is very basic and very inexpensive. Some of it's good and some, not so much. For instance their saltine crackers are fine but their facial tissue is very rough.

Safeway has had its own brands for years and some of it is very good. I used to prefer Safeway's Edwards Coffee over Folger's, but I don't drink coffee now and I hear that the coffee has changed. Safeway also has its own organic line as well as several other brands.

Other stores have their own brands, but those are the two biggest chain groceries here. One other store that has an excellent store brand is located in only a few states. If you're lucky enough to have a Sprouts store near you, check out their store brands. I have yet to be disappointed, although their prices are overall slightly higher than bigger stores.

I know this is just the tip of the iceberg and I'm sure you have your favorites. If there are some store brand products you have shied away from so far, give them a chance. You and your food budget might be pleasantly surprised.

We all have favorite name brand products and that's okay as long as we can afford it. Some name brands really do seem better, but they are few and far between, as the saying goes. We don't have to buy everything at a premium.

All in all, store brands can save up to 20%, or possibly more if we're careful. Some stores even have coupons on their own products and of course, they have sales, which means even more savings.

The next time you shop, why not make it a point to try one store brand product that you haven't tried before? Every time we switch to a less expensive version, we save another little bit and those little bits can add up to quite a bit!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Make Your Own Granola and Granola Bars

Do you buy granola? Did you know that you can make it for less money and make it  exactly the way you want it? Here is the basic recipe, and you can take it from there:

3 cups quick cooking oats1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup honey

That's it. Add whatever you like to make up another three cups: Raisins or any other dried fruit, cut in small pieces, chopped nuts of any kind, coconut, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, sesame seed and on and on. Add cinnamon or nutmeg if you like. Check your cupboards to see what you can put in it.

Mix everything but the oil and honey. Mix the oil and honey together, pour over the granola and mix very well. Spread it on a large cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. Let it cool and store in an airtight container.

To make granola bars (yes, the same granola bars that you buy a half dozen at a time for at least 50 cents each), add 1/3 cup butter and an additional 1/3 cup of honey. Press into pan and bake the same as above.

Cut into bars or squares while it's still warm (but not hot). When they're cool, you can even wrap them individually for school lunches.

Monday, September 21, 2015

It's Fresh Apple Season

From late August through October, apples ripen and appear almost everywhere. If you've been lucky enough to come across a glut of fall apples, there are several ways you can use and keep them.

The easiest way is to put them in cold storage. Depending on how many you have, you might be able to imply fill a refrigerator crisper drawer with them. They will keep months in there. If you don't have room for that, find the coolest place in the house. Basements and rooms with outside walls are usually the coolest. Set up a cardboard box for them by insulating it with newspaper, bottom sides and top.

Carefully sort through the apples, putting aside the ones that are bruised, cut or otherwise damaged. Only put the best in cold storage and sort through them regularly. The saying "One bad apple spoils the barrel" comes from real life.

The second way is to make and can applesauce. Home canned applesauce is so much better than store bought, so if your family likes it, it's well worth a little trouble. Follow instructions in the Ball Blue Book or from Pick Your Own

You can also can apple pie filling, which is really handy when you want a fresh apple pie! Again, Pick Your Own has easy instructions.

If you're not into applesauce or canning, you can simply make apple pies with the recipe there and put them in the freezer. Apple Pies Made to Freeze  tells you exactly how to do that.

More ideas? How about apple juice or jelly? Either one is easy to make. Don't let the harvest pass you by! If you know someone who has an apple tree, or can find one free for the picking, get out there and get them. Ask around; look around.

There are no doubt other ways to use and save apples. If you do something different or have another idea entirely, let us all know in the comments, please!

Redneck Stroganoff

Stroganoff is one of those things that's so good but a little expensive to make the "real way." This redneck version tastes just as good and it's faster and cheaper to make, too.

For a large pot of it; enough to feed 4 to 6 people and have leftovers, you'll need:

Brown the ground beef in a large pan; meanwhile, boil the noodles and leave them in the water to stay hot until the ground beef is ready. Then all you do is mix everything together, heat through, and serve. I like to cut the mushrooms into small pieces, but you don't have to do that.

Simple enough, isn't it?

Image: "Beef Stroganoff-01" by Pittaya Sroilong - originally posted to Flickr as Beef Stroganoff. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Three Ways You're Probably Wasting Food (and Money)

If you think the things below will save only small amounts of food and may not be worth the trouble, you might want to put a bigger plan into practice. The chances that you are wasting significant amounts of food is very high. As a matter of fact, the United States Department of Agriculture claims that "An average family of four leaves more than two million calories, worth nearly $1500, uneaten each year." That's a lot of food and that's a lot of money.

I seriously doubt that the readers of this blog are average. If you're looking for ways to save food and save money by saving food, you are probably a lot more aware of food waste than the average American family. Even at that, we can all find ways to cut back on wasting food.

Here are the most common ways we waste food:

1. We buy too much "fresh" produce that won't last long enough for us to eat. Things like fresh spinach, summer squash and tomatoes don't keep well. Know your vegetables and your eating habits and buy only enough at one time that you will use up.
If you find yourself with produce going bad, make a point of using it quickly. Most vegetables can be cooked and kept a few days longer if you can't eat it all right away.

2. We toss out perfectly good parts of food out of habit. Broccoli stems, radish leaves and green onion tops are among the most common, but there are others like bread heels that some people throw out. Have you ever bought broccoslaw? It's broccoli stems. Radish leaves are greens and green onion tops are... well, onions. Eat them.

3. You throw away small bits of leftover meat and vegetables. Save them in seperate containers until there is enough to make a meal, then toss them all in a pot with some spices if needed and make a stew or casserole. Add rice or barley if you like for a stew or layer the meat and vegetables with cheese or whatever you like, for a casserole. There's a "free" meal.

Food World News reports that the US wants to slash food waste by half in the next 15 years. That's a big project and I don't know how they plan to do it, but we will probably hear more about it in the future. In the meantime, we can do our part and be 'way ahead of the game before time they start telling us what to do to save it!

Why You Should Stock a Pantry

Most, but not all of us are within minutes of a grocery store, and don't think too much about keeping a great stock of basic groceries on hand. It used to be that every house had a pantry and every pantry was stocked, according to the season, as well as the lady of the house could stock it.

Even now, it pays in real dollars and cents to keep the pantry full. I gave a list of things to keep on hand, but you should adjust it to suit yourself. One person may not be able to survive without tomato sauce; another may be in bad shape without soy sauce. Make a list of those things you feel are basic to your food needs, then keep a sharp eye out  for inexpensive

There are many ways to stock your pantry, including salvage groceries, loss leaders, free food, gardening (and canning, etc.), and judicious use of coupons.

All the talking in the world won't help one bit when the time comes that you are without a vehicle or the weather is too bad to go to the store or you have had a financial crisis and you need to feed your family.

That's why you should stock a pantry, even if it's a small one. If you don't have a pantry or room for one, look for other places to store food. A box under the bed will store canned food, while a closet shelf could hold dry foods like flour, beans or pasta.

If those places won't work, slip it behind the couch, under a cloth covered table or in a dresser drawer. Look for unconventional places.

Stocking a pantry when you find low prices will save you lots of money and just having food on hand will save you some panic time.

If you can only devote $5 a week (or a month) to stocking up, do it. There will come a time when you will be very glad that you did.
ways to accumulate them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

To Coupon or Not to Coupon (And How to Get the Ones You Want)

I admire those coupon queens who can go into a grocery store with a fistful of coupons and come out with a hundred dollars worth of groceries for twenty bucks. I sometimes think that would be nice, then I remember how scarce coupons are for store brand rice and generic salt.

Okay, I'm being extreme, but if you buy basic food and cook from scratch, many of those "money saving" coupons are worthless. Why buy a package of dried fruit "roll ups" with a coupon worth 50 cents off when you can make your own for free from found fruit? Or why buy three cans of cream of celery soup and save another 50 cents when you can make it for much, much less with the last bit of almost gone celery?

Sure, there are times when coupons are great. True confession: I will only use organic or raw milk. There are no coupons for raw milk since grocery stores aren't allowed to sell it here, but it's easy to find coupons for organic milk and other dairy products, and it really helps lower the cost of these items.

Go to the manufacturer's web site of whatever product you like to buy the brand name version. Many times the manufacturer will have coupons on their site. If they don't, sign up for their newsletter and you have a good chance of getting some through that. Another tactic is to simply email them and ask politely. If that doesn't produce a few coupons, email and praise their product (you do like it, don't you? Else why would you want to buy it?). That will often yield results. At the same time, put the word out that you are looking for those coupons and who knows? Maybe someone will remember you when they run across them.

Use the coupons that make sense, but really think about them before you use them. A
sk yourself if you could make the product cheaper than you could buy it with a coupon. You might be surprised at how often the answer is yes.

Easy, Good and Frugal Home Made Egg Noodles

You know those bags of egg noodles you find in the grocery store? They're not expensive, really, and they keep very well so it's nice to have them on hand. However, if you make your own, you can save more money and your noodles will be much better quality. It will seem as if you spent a lot more on them.

The recipe is very simple; just three ingredients that you should have on hand already.

If you'd like to try, here is the recipe for homemade egg noodles:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Put the flour in a bowl, then beat the egg with the salt. Make a well in the middle of the flour and put some of the beaten egg in it. Mix it in, then add the rest of the egg and mix well. The dough should be quite dry but stick together.

You can halve, double or triple this recipe as much as you like. If you double or triple it, you might find that one egg to each cup of flour isn't quite enough for it to stick together. In that case, add just a tiny bit of water. Not too much water, though. Measure it by the teaspoonful because it doesn't take much to make a sticky, gluey mess and that's not what you're after!

When you have it all mixed together and you have a dough that sticks together but still seems dry, it's just right. Knead it until it's smooth, then roll it out on a floured surface as thinly as you can. Once the dough it rolled out, cut it into strips with a knife or pastry cutter. You can cook these right away or dry them for later. Make a bigger batch than what you need right away and you'll save time later on.

To dry them, you can drape them over special noodle racks or you can just use tall glasses or a cake rack suspended between two glasses or a towel rack or a broomstick suspended between two chairs or the back of a chair, for heaven's sake. Just make sure whatever you use is clean.

When they're dry, store them in an airtight container at room temperature. They'll keep for about a month.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Basic Cooking Ingredients You Need to Keep on Hand

Saving on food often means cooking from scratch, so there will be some things you use often. These basic things are generally inexpensive and store well.

Keeping a full pantry will save you money, but you may not want to run out and buy everything all at once. If you watch for sales, you can stock up and be ready to make many dishes whenever you like. You don't even have to plan ahead much if you keep certain things on hand.

Here is a list of the basics, but yours may be different, depending on what you use the most often.

  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Cornmeal
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Cornstarch
  • Yeast
  • Powdered or canned milk
  • Powdered baking cocoa
  • Vanilla
  • Oil
  • Eggs or egg substitute
  • Spices
  • Garlic
  • Onions

You might also add dry beans, pasta, rice and various grains such as oatmeal and barley, depending on your preferences.

Since it takes awhile to cook them, it's not a bad idea to have a few cans of cooked beans on hand, but it's less expensive to cook your own. They freeze very well, so when you do cook them, make enough to freeze in portions for future dishes.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How to Make Your Own Cream Soups

Cream soups that you pay a good price for when you get them in cans from the store can be made for much less and it's not that hard to do.

First, gather your ingredients. Do you want to make cream of mushroom soup? Cream of chicken? Asparagus? You can make this basic dry mix ahead of time then it's almost as convenient as opening a can when you want it.

  • 2 cups of powdered milk
  • 3/4 cup of cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup chicken bouillon granules
  • 2 tsps dried onion flakes or powder

Mix it all together and store in an airtight container. When you wan to make cream of whatever soup, use 1/3 cup of the mix and stir in 1 cup of cold water, then cook until thickened. Add whatever (cooked) you want to this: mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, celery, potato, tomato

You can also use this as the base for hearty meat and seafood soups, like crab, chicken or beef and noodle. Add spices like garlic or sage or even chili powder to make your own unique soup.

You can make a cream soup fresh, of course. You can use liquid milk and add chicken bouillon, onion and then enough cornstarch to thicken it. To a cup of milk, add a teaspoon or more of bouillon, a half teaspoon of onion flakes or powder, then put a tablespoon of cornstarch in a small amount of water, mix thoroughly and add to the milk mixture. Cook until thickened and add ingredients as above.

Whichever way you do it, you'll be money ahead and you won't have to find pantry room to store cans of pre made soup.

Image courtesy

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why You Should Save Apple Peelings

It's apple time! Fresh apples are coming into season and they're cheaper now than they will be in the future.

If you don't eat the apple peelings, or have a child who doesn't, do you toss them into the garbage? Don't. Be sure the apple is washed before you peel it, then save the peelings in a plastic bag in the freezer until you have enough. Here are a couple of ways to use them:

Apple Peel Tea

1 cup of frozen apple peelings
1 cup of water.

Put this in a jar or glass bowl and put it in the sun or in the oven on very low (150 to 175).  When it's warmed thoroughly, set it out on the counter to cool, the strain the peels out of it, pressing them to get all of the tea. Add in a tiny, tiny pinch of salt to bring out the flavor and there you have it. You can add sweetener if it needs it. Drink it hot or iced.

Apple jelly

Put apple peelings in a large pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for at least a half hour, until the peels are soft and cooked. Strain the peels out, measure the liquid and return it to the pot.

To two cups of juice, add 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Bring this to a hard boil and boil until it sheets from a spoon. "Sheets from a spoon" means that when you take a tablespoon of it and hold it high over the pot and pour it back into the pot, the spoon will develop a sheet of it which won't fall back into the pot.

At this point, take it off the heat and immediately pour into sterilized jars. You can keep this in the refrigerator or seal it in a boiling water bath if you're familiar with that. (Boiling Water Bath Canning)

Related Ideas:
Fresh Apple Season
How to Find Free Fruit

Make Your Own Pancakes

Pancakes are fairly frugal and basic, even if you buy a mix, but why do that when they're so simple and cheaper to make from scratch? Flour can still be bought for less than $2 for five pounds, at least at this writing and five pounds of flour will make a lot of pancakes. I won't promise that price for tomorrow, but you can bet that if the price of flour goes up, so will the price of pancake mixes.

Here's the basic recipe:

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 1/2 cup milk

Mix dry ingredients together well and beat egg into milk, then add, stirring gently until almost smooth.

If you want buttermilk pancakes, substitute buttermilk for the milk and baking soda for the baking powder. 

You can add whatever you like to make them special, of course. Try blueberries, chopped apples or chocolate chips.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fried Yeast Bread

Fried yeast bread is a treat that goes with just about everything. It's good hot, cold, buttered, plain, fresh and leftover (as if!). And... it's frugal!

It takes the most basic of ingredients, adjusted to whatever you have

You can't really ruin this recipe because there are so many variations.

To start with, you'll need a table to knead the dough, and yes, knead it. Not with a bread machine - that takes the life out of bread. Kneading bread is sort of a ritual that gives life to those who eat it and those who knead it.

The recipe:

    1 tablespoon lard, shortening, butter, margarine, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil or vegetable oil or any other fat.
    1 tablespoon sugar, molasses, brown sugar, powdered sugar or honey or anything other real sweetener.
    1 teaspoon table salt, sea salt, canning salt...
    1 heaping tablespoon or 1 package active dry yeast or 1/2 cup of sourdough starter.
    1 cup milk, half milk and half water, or half milk and half potato water, or half water and half potato water, or all potato water or all water.
    3 to 4 cups of white or whole wheat flour, or 2 cups white flour and 1 to 2 cups of whole wheat flour. Substitute oat, rice, barley or any other flour for up to a cup of wheat flour. Add flax seed, poppy seed, sesame seed, garlic, minced onion, sun dried tomatoes...

Warm the liquid (don't let it get too hot to comfortably stick your finger in); add the fat. If you're using solid fat, let it melt.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, salt and yeast, then pour the liquid with the fat into it. Mix well and add a cup or so of flour, mix again and put it, covered, in a warm place. Go have a cup of coffee or sweep the floor while it begins to work.

In about a half hour (or longer if you're using sourdough starter), it should be bubbly and smell pleasantly yeasty or like your sourdough starter. If it's not yet, wait another half hour or so. Stir it down gently and begin adding flour (use a wooden spoon) until it becomes a soft dough, still a little sticky.

Flour a board or smooth table top generously and turn the dough onto it and knead it, adding flour if necessary, until the dough is smooth and silky to the touch. This should take about 5 minutes, maybe more. If you enjoy kneading, it won't hurt it to knead a little more. Kneading not only smooths the dough, it develops the gluten which holds the mixture together, and allows it to rise.

Kneading is an important step in any bread, and you can laugh if you want to, but steel kneading appliances just don't give it life. The touch of a human hand is necessary. Bread making is an art, not a science, and one has to feel their way through from ingredients to finished product to appreciate it.

After kneading, let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes while you heat a skillet over medium heat with about a quarter inch of oil in the bottom.

Pinch off pieces of the dough, roll into a ball and flatten to a quarter to a half inch thickness, and plop them into the skillet. Fry until browned on both sides and brush with butter as soon as you take them out of the skillet.

Fried bread is a perfect compliment to a summer's backyard barbecue or a autumn tailgate party, Easter dinner, or a stew made for a blizzard!
on hand. Sugar can be in almost any form - but no faking it. It has to be real, but it can be molasses, brown sugar, white sugar, honey... you get the idea.

How to Find Free Fruit

Would you like to can a dozen jars of applesauce from free apples? How about eating free grapes, or making grape juice? Or picking pears just right for eating, although you don't have a pear tree?

If you have a fruit tree, you know how abundantly they can produce in some years. You may have had a problem keeping the falling fruit cleaned up or trying to process it for winter use. You're not the only one! People all across your town or city or rural neighborhood often have a glut of fruit and would love someone to come and pick it.

When you're out and about, driving or walking, keep a sharp eye out for trees or vines that look overloaded. It never hurts to ask if you could pick a few and if the homeowner says no, just say, "Thanks" and go on. The next will probably will be eager to have you pick some of the fruit.

Another way to find free fruit is by word of mouth, of course. Put out the word that you're looking for it and you might be surprised at the results. Freecycle and Craigslist are both good places to watch for free fruit. If you don't see anything, ask for it. Both sites are free to use.

Falling Fruit is one site that can help you find local free fruit and another, called Neighborhood Fruit started out  looking very promising, but it doesn't look very good now. Still it might be worth checking out.

Public lands sometimes have fruit trees, either wild or planted. As a rule these fruits are available to the public for the picking. We have picked wild plums, apples, chokecherries and raspberries on public lands and right of ways. Just watch for them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tenderize a Cheap Roast

That meat counter is scary any more! A decent roast can cost you an hour's work or more, so why not use a cheaper cut? Too tough, you say? Not if you do it this way. Guaranteed, the meat will be so tender it will fall apart. You won't be able to have it rare or medium rare; it will be well done. That's the only drawback for some of you.

Here we go:

Get a cheap chuck roast or other cut of beef (it doesn't have to be called a "roast"), put it in a roasting pan and pour about a half cup of apple cider vinegar over it. After that, pour a cup of strong black coffee over it. Then you can sprinkle on salt, pepper and any other spices you want.

If you're using a slow cooker, go ahead and add cut up vegetables. If you are using an oven, let the roast cook about half way before adding vegetables. Put the lid on, turn the heat to high in a slow cooker, around 350 in an oven and walk off.

Easy enough? And cheap, too.

This method (vinegar and coffee) can be used on any tough cut of meat. The vinegar helps break down the connecting tissue while coffee brings out the rich, robust flavor of beef or similar meat. The caffeine in coffee doesn't seem to be a problem, but if you're feeding someone who doesn't tolerate caffeine, decaf works nicely, too. Instant coffee is great to have on hand for things like this.

Grocery Buying Tips and Tricks

You probably know that grocery stores stock their shelves with the freshest, newest of any food item toward the back of the shelf so the oldest will be sold first. It makes sense and works well most of the time. You can't even call it a trick, it's just good, common sense. 

There are those times, though, when the "use by" date is too short for your purposes. Don't feel bad about pushing aside the front cans or boxes or bags to find a fresher date if you need it. (Be sure to put everything back when you're through.)

If you're going to use the product right away, don't do it, though. Play fair. Groceries are generally guaranteed to be good through the date given, so you won't gain anything by digging out a newer product and leaving the older one on the shelf.

A little common sense goes a long way, but even if we have enough common sense, how are we supposed to know which loaf of bread is freshest? Or if that unmarked package of carrots is organic or genetically modified? There are a few more tricks about the food you buy that you should know.

When bread is delivered to a grocery store, it sports either a "twist'em tie" or a plastic tag closure. You may have noticed that they come in different colors, but did you know that those colors are codes for the day of the delivery?

If the bread was delivered on Monday, the fastener will be blue; if it's on Tuesday, it will be green. Bread isn't usually delivered on Wednesdays, so there isn't a color for that. A red fastener means the bread was delivered Thursday and a white fastener means Friday. Saturday deliveries sport yellow fasteners. Bread is usually not delivered on Sunday.

So if you go to the store Thursday morning and all you see is blue and green fasteners, you'll know that the bread is not as fresh as it could be. Go a little later in the day to find bread with red fasteners, a sure sign that it was delivered to the grocery store that day.

Another trick has to do with saving money. When you shop, your tend to see things in a general area from slightly above your eyes to just below your waist. Grocery stores know this and they display the most colorful, yummiest looking (and most expensive) packages of food within this area. The colors and styles have been developed just for you... because we react to those colors, styles and pictures by reaching for the product.

How to beat it? Look above your head, then bend down to the lowest shelf. Other brands of food may not be as showy, and they won't be as expensive. It's your choice.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Gleaning From a Farmer's Field

It took a long time to get up the courage to ask a farmer if we could glean his field! Today's big harvesting equipment leaves a lot of food in the field. Big isn't always inefficient but in this case, it is.

That's fine, because you and I can benefit from that inefficiency.

Onions, carrots, potatoes, beets and anything else that grows in large fields are usually harvested by machinery that is set at a certain height or depth and since nature is anything but consistent when it comes to how plants grow, the machinery often skips and misses the produce.

Are you ready?

Get some bags, several small ones work better than one large one. Get in the car and go looking for freshly harvested fields. Find the farmer and get permission to go and pick up "a few leftover carrots" or whatever.

That's it. Go and pick up the carrots. Or cabbage or potatoes or whatever. Take it home and take good care of it. Can it, dehydrate it, freeze it, eat it.

Just remember to use up the bruised or damaged ones first and don't try to keep them for more than a day or two without doing something with them.


Strange thought? Not really. Gleaning is a way of gathering food that's leftover or not harvested (and no one intends to harvest it; we're not talking about thievery here!).

Where do you find food to glean?

Farmer's fields after they've been harvested. It's amazing how much is left out there after the big machinery finishes. Be sure to ask permission first and don't be discouraged if you're told you can't. Just go on to the next farm.

Fruit trees, grape vines, etc., on empty lots or anywhere no one wants them. I saw a beautiful grape vine filled with grapes alongside a gas station. No one would go to the trouble of picking them. I have seen apple, peach and pear trees so loaded with fruit they were making a mess on the lawn. Go to the door and ask. It won't hurt!

Roadsides sometimes have escaped food growing. In farming country, corn might be growing alongside the road or a stray sugar beet could have found a home there. Watch for things like these.

Don't pass by food because it's squished or split, either. For instance, onions are sometimes transported in open trucks here and a few fall off when an overloaded truck turns a corner. When they hit the ground, they ofte split or get smashed on one side. They are still food. You can take them home, cut off the damaged part and eat the rest.

If you're in the right area, food companies will have receiving decks or facilities where they sort the produce from farmers. Often the rejected produce is available to be picked over. Sometimes they require you to sign a waiver that it will only be used for livestock feed. Do horses eat cucumbers? I don't know...

Right now is the time to glean food, so take a look around and see what's out there. You might be really surprised.

Monday, September 7, 2015

About Those Seasoning Mixes...

Quick, look in your pantry or cabinets right now. What do you see? Do you see seasoning or sauce mixes? Cans of soup? Packages of cookies?

I won't tell you to throw them out, but do use them up. Then don't buy any more, if you want to save money. Instead, buy ingredients.

If you have a favorite mix on hand, like that for tacos or stroganoff, look at the ingredients. They will be listed in order of quantity. You can estimate how much of what (skip the stuff you can't pronounce) and you can experiment a little until you have the exact "recipe" for that mix. Make your own and keep it on hand, or just write down the recipe and use it each time.

Do that with every mix you have and those that you want to buy. I have even stood in the grocery store and written down the list of ingredients in a mix that I wanted to try.

It's easier than it sounds, because there is really no magic to these mixes. The only things you will miss are the preservatives, artificial colors and other chemicals they use to make their mixes last longer or look "better. You'll miss having to pay for them, too.


It took me a lot of years to learn how to make good biscuits. I tried every recipe I could find, and while some of them were edible, they weren't good... you know? (And some were downright inedible!)

I tried keeping the fat as cold as possible, using a knife to "cut it in" to the flour. I tried one recipe that used oil, dumped in all at one time. Another recipe said you had to use butter and not any other kind of fat. How much of what was another problem because every recipe was different!

Nothing worked for me, so in desperation, I called Mom one day and asked her how she cut the fat in. "Oh, I just use my hands," she said. Done. If Mom could, so could I, and I did.

"How much baking powder do you use to how much flour?" I asked.

"I don't know. I just dump it in until it seems right."

So with a deep breath, I plunged in. I dumped flour and salt and baking powder into a bowl until it "seemed right," then I cut in the fat and added enough milk to make a soft dough and turned it out onto the floured table top.

That was the first batch of biscuits I ever made that were good. If I can do it, so can you.

Start heating the oven to 450 degrees. Put enough fat to coat the bottom about an eighth of an inch thick into your baking pan and set it in the oven while it heats.

Use a large bowl to begin with, and I can tell you this much: For a standard 9 X 11 baking pan, use about two cups of unsifted flour. Add salt and pretend like you were going to eat the mixture, so you don't put in too much or too little. After that, put in a couple of heaping teaspoons of baking powder, then at least a little more than you think you'll need, then mix it all together.

Estimate about a quarter cup or less of fat. Use butter, shortening, lard, bacon grease or whatever you like, and mix it into the flour mixture with your fingers until it's like coarse cornmeal, just like they say.

Pour in the milk a little at a time until you have a soft dough, barely past the sticky point. Turn it out onto a floured surface and cut biscuits with a glass or biscuit cutter or a small empty can (Those small mushroom cans are great for this.)

Get the pan from the oven and set it on a heat safe pad or on top of the stove and begin putting the cut biscuits in by dipping them into the fat, then turning the dipped side up in the pan. By having the tops covered with fat, it will help them brown better.

Bake about 20 minutes.

Go ahead and try it!

Welcome to Basic Food Saving Ideas

Let's start off with a bang, shall we? Saving on food is probably the easiest or the hardest way to save money, depending on your circumstances, and how much you've been spending and how much you want to save. It's really up to you.

If you're already frugal with food and know how to cook a lot of things from scratch, the journey might be a little harder because the bites you can take out of the budget are smaller.

On the other hand, if you're used to stopping by somewhere and grabbing something for dinner on your way home from work, or filling your freezer and cabinets with meals ready to eat, you can shave a lot right off the top with the next grocery shopping trip.

Does that give you a clue as to where to start? Good, then, let's go.