Category Archives: cooking

Make Do

Quiche to eat and to freeze. Kale from the garden. Local beer.

Quiche to eat and to freeze. Kale from the garden. Local beer.

I switch back and forth between scrutinizing our food budget, and then not giving a damn. I’m sure some of you think, “How reckless!” while others would think, “Man, I never even ponder a budget for food!” I think wherever you are on this scale depends on different factors.

If I was receiving food benefits I’d have a very specific number to work with, and if we were filthy rich I’d probably be going out to eat 4 nights a week, not because I don’t love to cook (it’s great!), it’s just that I love going out to eat. But we fall somewhere in between.

We recently returned from a vacation (a huge rarity for us) and we lived it up while we were away. This means we need to be a bit stingy with our budget for awhile while our finances catch back up with us.

Since our bills are basically as low as they can be, our food budget is the only thing with flexibility. Since most of the items I get don’t have coupons available, I’ve stopped bothering with couponing. I also get my veggies from my work, and most other items from the farmers markets.

What’s left are staples and specialty items. At the moment I don’t own a Vitamix so faux milks must be purchased. Also, I get a lot of great deals using Amazon’s Subscribe and Save feature, so each month or so I get wild-caught tuna, canned tomatoes, rice cereal, sunbutter, and coconut oil shipped to me, and I don’t even have to think about it.

For awhile now I’ve actually been buying bread and some other snacky items that I’ve made in the past. But when I narrow the budget I realize I will need to start making this stuff again. Also, I need to dip into our food reserves.

I have things I need to use up, even if I really don’t want to. Putting food by is really great, when you use it in a timely fashion…and I haven’t been. My first step in this process is checking what I really have, and organizing our food. I’m still working through this.

However, each time I do this I think, “Wow, I totally forgot I had that!” or “I don’t remember buying that!” Scary. I realize how fortunate I am to have this problem, and that most people in the world can’t even fathom this.

So now I’m going through and planning out meals that I can make with what’s on hand. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes intention. Last night I used up two heads of broccoli and a big slab of home-cured bacon to make quiche. Three, to be exact. Served up with kale salad from kale I harvested moments before it hit the bowl.

I realized I had a ton of crusts I bought at Aldi one week when they were on special. They had been sitting in the freezer. I also had an abundance of eggs, so it made sense to make extras to freeze for later, when I don’t feel like cooking. Pretty nice to cook and clean once and get three meals!

Today I have to soak some beans and harvest some greens. I plan to keep going on this path until I get caught up on my excess food. I may also make some muffins or quickbreads, and some granola to snack on.

It feels good to be getting back to making more. Around this time of year I start to feel more “nesty” anyway. I think my summers are just too crazy. Now I want to leave the house less and less as the days get cooler, and the more I’m home, the more I want to cook.

Ok, off to soak those beans!

When the Spirits Come

our altar

Today is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. I enjoy celebrating this as it reminds me of growing up in the Southwest. I’ve always loved Mexican folk art as well, and really love the ideas behind this holiday.

Jack and I made Pan de Muerto last night, which you leave out with other goodies for the spirits who come to visit, on this day when the veil between our world and theirs is lifted. It’s filled with orange and anise, a little sweet and a little bitter, just like life.

On top you can make a skull and bones as well, and that was Jack’s job this year. He made a pretty awesome skull, although the little bones sort of slid down the sides as it baked. It’s still delicious!

We also left out pumpkin tea, Mexican chocolate spice cookies, Jack made a special bowl of his leftover Halloween candy (he even unwrapped them so the “good spirits” specifically could get at the sweetness), he also put out coins and I added a squash, some candles, the sugar skulls Jack made in art class, and this cool little Our Lady of Guadalupe light I got ages ago in Phoenix.

This year I was especially glad we did this. Chris and I both lost old friends who were very young and died suddenly. Just this week a good friend of our family passed away as well. In some odd way it comforts me to place these ofrendas out for them. It makes me feel like the distance is less, like those spirits still walk among us.

Even if those spirits are really just memories, I’ll take it.

In a Jam & I Painted a Chicken

Spooning in the jam.

Today I get to mention my friend Jillian twice. For starters, she also recently made the toaster pastries I’ll be talking about, and her combos not only look delicious but they are allergy safe.

At the April Food Swap I got to meet Alana Chernila and snagged myself a copy of her book The Homemade Pantry. Pretty much anyone who ever cooks food for themselves should own this book. The very next day I made the toaster pastries that are pictured on the cover, and knew it wouldn’t be long before I made them again.

Several half-used jars of homemade jam were piling up in my fridge. I wanted a way to use them all up before they went bad, plus I was overdue for some bulk snack making. I promptly made up a double batch of Alana’s crust and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Ready to bake!

When I woke up I got to rolling. I really love her crust. It’s so easy to use because it’s never crumbly and it isn’t prone to ripping apart from itself. If you fear homemade crust, get the book and use this recipe.

In the end I made 18 toaster pastries. The flavors are blueberry cherry balsamic, raspberry balsamic, and strawberry/raspberry/rhubarb. I left 6 out and packaged the rest to be put into the freezer.

The finished product.

Later in the day Jack decided he wanted to paint. I’ve wanted to paint for some time as well so we headed out to get a few supplies. When we got home we set everything up and then just painted whatever felt right at the time. His is a chaotic scene of animals and fictitious creatures, and mine is a chicken.

creative genius

We are now officially participating in Jillian’s Artful Summer! I will continue to post about our journey with art during this season.

Chili For When It’s Chilly

Chili served up "Frito Pie" style and loaded up with micro cilantro from KFF. Paired with some tasty local brew.

It occurred to me that I’ve been posting a lot about stuff we’ve done but not much about the things we are noshing on. So to remedy this I’ve decided to share with you a super-simple slow cooker chili that I like to make.

Now, when my garden’s a-hoppin’ in the summer I like to add all sorts of fresh stuff to this chili, but in the winter it gets slimmed down to the basics. That being said, you may have different produce options in the winter if you live in a warmer climate, so feel free to add whatever else you like.

All of this can be thrown into a slow cooker in the morning in about 10 minutes. About 30 minutes before you are going to eat it I would recommend making some corn muffins or cornbread as well to serve on the side.

Snow mouse

Simple Slow Cooker Winter Chili

Ingredients:

-2 lbs. ground beef

-1  can of beans (I like black or pinto beans for this.)

-1 can of organic corn or 2 cups frozen

-1 large can or aseptic box of diced tomatoes

-1 large can or aseptic box of crushed tomatoes

-1 large onion, diced

-3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced

-Mexican seasonings, to taste (I use a mix of chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and sea salt.)

Method:

-Throw everything (except seasoning) in a crockpot and set to low for several hours.

-If you are home while it’s cooking, stir it from time to time.

-An hour before serving add the seasoning and taste the chili. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

I like to serve this up with plain Greek yogurt and a little shredded cheese. It’s also great with cilantro on top, and I’m lucky enough that the farm I work for grows micro cilantro. It’s excellent!

 

 

~happy home~ The $50/Week Grocery Challenge

Made this super tasty baked oatmeal with sweet potatoes tonight with ingredients I happened to have on hand.

I’m sure you’re already aware that one area of a budget that can always be tweaked is a food budget. Most bill amounts are pretty standard from month-to-month but food budgeting can change depending on what is going on in your life at the moment.

For instance, in December, with various meals, edible gifts, and parties I calculated that I spent close to what we used to in rent. Scary, right?! I knew after the first of the year I had to get this under control.

Two problems I kept running into were: lumping “eating out” with regular food purchases, and making excuses for why I needed to spend more. In fact, just about every month I can think of several excuses as to why I should spend more….housewarming gifts of wine, appetizers for parties, food swaps, etc.

I realized mid-month that we were on track to blow my estimated budget of $400 for the whole month. Finally I put my foot down and decided that to make up for it I would see if I could only spend $100 for the last 2 weeks combined.

*Gulp*

Ok so here’s how it goes in our house: there are only 3 people and all of my vegetables (plus some eggs) can be acquired through my CSA share which I get in return for work for the farm. That is a huge amount of any food budget! This begs the question, “Why would you be going over in the first place you moron?!?!?” At least this is how I pose it to myself.

So, with those two things out of the way I have the following left to buy: fruit, baking items, dry staples (rice, beans, pasta, etc.), milk/cheese, snack items.

There are a few ways I’ve cut costs on those items and I’ll go into them in more detail in future posts. Basically what it comes down to is planning. Different stores (especially with coupons and sales) allow me to spend less, but I have to plan trips to those stores in my daily routine.

We have basically 7 days left until we get paid again and I’m happy to report we still have $24 left and plenty of food in our home. And in the realm of planning, I already have much of that $24 allocated for the items I’m sure we’ll need before the next payday.

Stay tuned to see if I can keep it up in March! I’m honestly a little nervous but I think I’ll be able to do it.

Recipe above comes from here.

Chocolate Peppermint Pretzels & More!

The finished products.

I needed to make some simple gifts for neighbors and the Kilpatrick Family (because they are seriously like a surrogate family to me, and they are amazing people), and I really wanted to do something where Jack could help.

I figured these chocolate dipped peppermint pretzels would be the perfect solution.

Peeled candy canes, ready to be turned into minty dust.

I used two different colored candy canes (traditional and ones that include green), peeled them, and then separately gave them a good crushing in my food processor. When each was done I poured them into their own shallow bowl.

Powdered minty magic.

I got 2 bags of the honey wheat pretzel sticks. They are a good, medium length. I melted (separately) white and semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler. When they were all melty, I put the bowls at our workstation and we got to dipping.

After we dipped each one we rolled it around in the peppermint crunchies, then we set them down on a huge silicone mat. You could also use wax paper or parchment paper if you don’t have a silicone mat.

Almost done....

At the end we took red and green colored sugar and sprinkled it on them, then waited for them to dry.

Scrumptious

I realized when we were finishing up the pretzels that I still had lots of melted chocolate left. Since wasting food makes me feel nutso, I knew I had to figure something out.

Chocolate peppermint coins

I got out my mini muffin tin, spritzed a little cooking oil in the bottom of each space and then started pouring the melted chocolate in. I quickly sprinkled the leftover peppermint and sprinkles on, then stuck the whole pan in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

If you don’t have a mini muffin tin you could use a regular one, but the disks would just be thinner and wider. They may also be a little harder to get out so silicone muffin cups might make things easier if you have those.

When I pulled the pan out I let it sit on the counter for a few minutes before carefully popping them out. I put them in little baggies and I’ll be giving them as gifts.

For the pretzels I got some inexpensive containers to package them in. I found a set of green plastic containers and a glass jar with a hinged lid. The glass jar was less than $3 at local dollar store!

When I filled them I put some candy cane striped ribbon around the top and then little “To, From” labels on the top.

The whole project didn’t take more than a couple of hours and it was really affordable. This would also be a great project if you have kids of multiple ages, because even though they might not be able to all the steps, even just putting on the sprinkles would be fun.

So if you are scrambling for any last-minute gift ideas definitely give these a  try!

St. Nick…you ninja!

Image Source

Our first real Christmas here (we first arrived just a few weeks short of Christmas, so that one doesn’t really count in my mind) we only had a few friends in the area. I whipped up a few spice rubs for our friends and neighbors, got a couple gifts for Chris and Jack, and that was about it.

Now we are fortunate to have lots of awesome friends, and since I love making stuff (duh), I want to make all sorts of nifty things for them this holiday season. Here’s the only problem….I swear it’s sneaking up on me faster than ever this year!

I really should start planning this stuff in the summer. I know that sounds bonkers, but some things take longer than others to make and can sit around for a few months before Christmas. I’m referring mostly to knitted/crocheted/sewed things. Also, I should stretch my canning endeavors to include extras for gifts. I didn’t really think of that this year. Ooops.

Then there are the things I have to make right before gifting, such as edibles. Now, I obviously can’t make these whenever I have a free moment, since I have to make them right before I give them….but I should’ve been thinking about these recipes back in October!

Again, I know this is making me sound like some crazy Martha Stewart nutcase, but not all my friends like the same edibles, and with food restrictions and allergies, I can’t just make one big batch of something and dole it out to everyone. I actually need to sit down with a list of people and make notes next to it.

In the end, I know it will all get done, and it will be fun to deliver everything. But seriously, next year, in the heat of the summer (when Chris starts singing Christmas songs because he’s weird like that) I’m going to get out a pen and paper (and login to Pinterest) and get crackin’ on planning.