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!