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Monday, February 28, 2011

GROUNDBREAKING information

I stole this from my sister, but holy cow it's genius.

Take 1 cookie sheet with 1/2-1 inch sides.  Cover with foil and put a wire rack on top of the foil.  Place delicious bacon on top.  Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

The bacon turns out perfect.  It doesn't get all wrinkly and you don't have to spend time over a spitting pan flipping bacon.

Please try this.  Today.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Baby food - doing without

Say WHAT?


No, I'm not recommending NOT feeding your baby, but rather making your own infant slop.  Making your own will save you some serious cash.  Not to mention you'll cut down on trips to the store and the waste that comes with tiny glass jars or plastic tubs.  And there is peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly what your kid is eating.

J bone never ate a jar of baby food as far as I can tell.  My mother in law may have slipped him something, but it was never on my watch.  I realize there is convenience in premade food, but with some proper planning and research, making your own is pretty easy.  Store bought baby food is a fairly recent invention.  That means, for thousands of years, kids have survived without Gerber Graduates and all that jazz.

First, the resources:
1) wholesomebabyfood.com is a fantastic and free website.  It provides you with sample menus, loads of information, and great ideas.  We were also gifted a great book that I can't seem to find anymore.  Head to the library for a few resources!
2) stroll the baby food aisle.  I used to do this when I was bored with what I was making for Jack.  A nice walk down this aisle is a great reminder of WHY it's great to make your own food.  Those little sausages in the jars?  No thanks.
3) containers.  You can use whatever works for you, but I found a wicked deal when I was knocked up on Baby Cubes and I LOVED these.  They're convenient, easy to use, and BPA free.  My sis is currently using these, and they'll be around for more kid(s) at some point.  1 kid for me, and who knows how many for my sis!  Ice cube trays are also a great storage tool!  Freeze, then remove from tray and put into freezer-proof storage.
4) get your hands on a blender, foodmill, immersion blender, or fancy system.  We were gifted the Beaba Cook from one of Jack's godmothers and it was wonderful.  It's not necessary to go that fancy, but we did enjoy having it...for free!  If you use a blender, foodmill, or immersion blender, you'll also want some way to steam food.  A metal insert works great, or you can use a bamboo steamer, or even a rice cooker if you already have one.

I think Jack's first foods were yams or sweet potatoes.  We skipped the rice cereal because a) if I were a baby I would think it's gross and 2) there are zero nutrients in there.  Jack hit 6 months in the fall, so sweet potatoes were in season and therefore, cheap!  I could get organic sweet potatoes that would make enough food for weeks for around $3.

To make the food, simply peel the veggies or fruit, chunk, and steam.  Once it's soft, drain, and throw in to the blender/foodmill/etc., add a little of the cooking water, and blend.  Check out wholesomebabyfoods to learn which foods you shouldn't reuse the cooking water from!  Then, portion in to your storage container of choice, and freeze.  The baby cubes would thaw overnight in the fridge, so I would remove his food for the next day the night before.

I found out the hard way that cherries are NOT worth the work it takes to turn in to baby food.  You pit, you put through the foodmill and you get a few tblsp of cherries for your efforts.  I'll pass.

Once we moved to food with more texture, Jack's favorite was "Thanksgiving dinner".  I would steam a few slices of organic turkey deli meat, carrots, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, apples, pears, cranberries, and whatever else I had on hand.  Troy tried some once and proclaimed it "really delicious".

When we moved on to just finger foods, I stopped making his food to freeze.  Because he was allergic to wheat and dairy (still allergic to dairy), his meals were usually prepared separately from us.  But, I always kept a big supply of diced and steamed apples sprinkled with cinnamon on hand.  Homeboy would gobble these up like apples were about to be made illegal.  My aunt jokes that apple pie will always be his comfort food.

I would cook for about 2 hrs over the weekend every few weeks.  If I was smart and purchased enough food, the supply would last for two weeks.  At the time, I was commuting 2.5 hrs a day while working 50 hrs a week, so I promise you it can be done!  With a variety always in my freezer, his palette rarely got bored.

The money savings were off the charts.  Even with my initial investment of $40 for the babycubes, we came out way way ahead.  Jack's "thanksgiving dinner" meal would cost about $11 for all organic ingredients and it would make enough for about 3-4 weeks of lunches.   To compare a 4 oz jar of organic babyfood without coupons runs between $.69-1.19.  I don't remember how many oz he ate a day, but I know it wasn't costing me $3-4 a day - that is for damn sure!

If you have a kiddo who is in the baby food stage, I really encourage you to give making their food a try.  If it doesn't work for you, the option to go back to what you're doing now is always there!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pasta with browned butter and mizithra cheese

Carbs, butter, cheese, aka the holy trinity.

One of my best friends and also one of Jack's godmothers (he has 3 - his Jesus posse) is married to a very very picky man.  He's beyond sweet, but when it comes to food choices, he has a well defined comfort zone.  They live an hour south of us, so when we do get together, we typically just meet up halfway and have lunch.  Captain Picky Palate usually dictates the location, and that always ends up being The Old Spaghetti Factory (which is fine because the food is good and they are toddler friendly!).

We went on New Year's day and they were advertising their mizithra cheese and browned butter pasta.  With bacon.  Bacon caught my attention, so I ordered it.  Dear.god.YUM.  Last night I attempted to recreate it, and I think I did a pretty darn good job!

Diet busting spaghetti with browned butter
1 lb of whole wheat spaghetti
1.5-2 sticks of butter
3-4 oz of mizithra cheese, shredded
1/2 lb of bacon (1/2 lb for the recipe, and the other half lb for snackon which is bacon that you snack on while you're cooking)

Cook spaghetti in salted water.  Hopefully you don't need instructions on how to do that. 

Cook bacon until it's reached your desired level of doneness (if you're awesome, that level is almost burnt), then drain and crumble.

On medium low heat, melt butter in a small sauce pan.  Stir constantly.  I probably had it on the stove for about 7 minutes until it developed a rich golden tan color and a sweet and nutty taste.

Over a bowl containing the drained pasta, pour the browned butter through a sieve/fine metal strainer (or a paper towel if you don't have a sieve).  Add cheese, and crumbled bacon. Mix.  Serve with a salad so that you can give off the impression that you're somewhat healthy.

Let's run the numbers!
Box of organic whole wheat spaghetti - $2
Mizithra cheese - $3.15 for 4 oz
2 sticks of organic butter - $1.72
1/2 lb of local bacon made from free range piggies - $2.50
Total: $9.37 (made enough for 2 adults and 1 noddle-loving toddler for dinner, and 3 servings for lunch the next day).

I found Mizithra at my local Fred Meyer near the service deli in what my sis and I refer to as the "snooty cheese section".  It was sold under the spelling "Myzithra".

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tip of the week - cleaning cast iron pans

I haven't been too successful in properly seasoning my cast iron frying pan, but I'm a pro at cleaning up the screw ups!

Never ever clean a cast iron frying pan with water or soap.  So, what do you do if you have a pan with crusty crap stuck on it?  A mixture of olive oil, and kosher salt rubbed in to pan usually removes any baked on junk.

So, there you go!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yum - crockpot baked beans!

I had a hankering for some baked beans this week, but despite searching all my go-to sites, the perfect recipe eluded me.  I found one that looked good from the Yardhouse Restaurant in LA, but I didn't have many of the ingredients it called for.  Below, please find my recipe for some homemade bomb-ass baked beans (very very loosely based on the Yardhouse recipe).

Frugal Toots
1-1.5 lbs dried beans (I used a mixture of Navy Beans, Pinto beans, and Northern White beans)
1.5 cups of BBQ sauce
3/4 cup of brown sugar (why not make your own?)
1.5 tblsps of Tabasco or other hot sauce (we love Choulua...I know I'm spelling that wrong). If you don't like spicy, reduce to about 1.5 tsp
3 cups of chicken broth
1 diced onion
a buttload of diced garlic...maybe 1-2 tbslps?
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water.  Drain in the morning.

Here is where things get super complicated.  Ready?  Ok.  Throw everything else but the salt and pepper in the crockpot, mix, and set on high.  Cook on high for 1 hour, and then switch to low for 6-8 hours.  Salt and pepper to taste after it's done cooking.  Salting beans before they're cooked will result in tougher beans.

Phew, that was exhausting!

I didn't track the cost on this one, but since I bought dried bulk beans, and had everything else on hand, I'm going to say about $3-4.  And it made a ton.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Product rave

About a year ago, I saw battery operated candles at Costco and laughed at how stupid they seemed to be.  I mean, come on just light a candle, right?

After thinking about it a bit, I added some to my Christmas list and was gifted with these from my fantastic mother-in-law.  In the back of my mind, they still seemed a bit silly.  That is, until Monday night when our power went out.  We have plenty of candles, flashlights, lanterns, and headlamps, but the flameless candles were great to keep in Jack's room and in the bathroom overnight.

Our bathroom is small, and the counter space is minimal.  Any place we would have placed a real candle would have been considered pretty dangerous.  And there is no way on god's green earth that I was going to leave a candle burning overnight in my kid's room.

They didn't give off a ton of light, but they provided enough illumination so that we didn't have to fumble for flashlights to check on Jack, or to pee.

So, I made fun of them before, but now I'm a convert!  The downside to them is that they do use batteries, and once those batteries are used up, you have to toss them which conflicts with my low impact personal philosophy.  I don't like that aspect, so we'll continue to use real candles most of the time.  However, in a pinch they were a great asset to have on hand

Now, words of warning, if you buy them from Amazon via the link I posted, I get a teeny part of the purchase price.  But Target, Wal-Mart, and Costco have great deals on these as well!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tip of the week!

A day late, but hopefully not a dollar short.

This week's tip comes from my friend Elaina.  Elaina and I go back a few years, and found out we were both pregnant within the same 24 hours.  Our children have been united in a promised marriage since before they had distinguishing gender features.  We just knew they were destined to be together, so as long as they were happy, we didn't care what the relationship looked like.  Unfortunately her daughter Lyla cries whenever she sees Jack, so happily ever after is a work in progress.

Elaina sent me a text saying "I have a frugal tip...you can use shower caps instead of plastic wrap/foil to cover things in the fridge".  BRILLIANT*!  I would also add that I use shower caps on the tops of my boots when I store them in the garage after the rainy season is over.  Shower caps = spider-free boots the next year.

If you have a tip that you think others would find useful, shoot me an email and make sure you link your blog if you have one!

*PS, thankfully I ran spellcheck before posting this, because in my speedy typing haste, I misspelled brilliant...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Today I quit

After fighting a mildew problem for MONTHS in our apartment, I just gave up today.  I felt insanely sorry for myself and had the ugliest of all ugly cries.  Every time I turn around we're finding a new part of our apartment covered in mildew.  Our landlord is wonderful and has attempted so many times to fix this, but nothing is working.  Our lease is up in May, and if getting out early was an option, we can't find anything that fits our needs.

Today I mourn for my old life.  The life where I had options and some money, and time to myself.  A life when I didn't HAVE to make everything from scratch if I didn't want to.  A life where I could have cable and my nice cell phone, and could eat out once or twice a month.  I'm sick of this, fucking sick of how things are and how they won't be changing for at least another year.  We're good people and haven't been able to catch a break for more than a year now.  I'm sick of getting kicked down whenever I think I'm actually up.  This blog isn't just about making graham crackers and cleaning solutions, it's about my life - real life and some times it fucking blows.

So, today I mourn.  I'm throwing a lovely pity party for myself and you're all invited.  There will be homemade bread and brown sugar at the party. 

And yes, I know I'm being a wee bit irrational.  We have our health (for the most part), have food to eat, and a roof over our head.  Takeout, cable, and cell phones aren't necessary; I get that.  But it's my pity party so I'm making the rules.

Tomorrow however, I take a deep breath, put on my big girl panties and try to find a kick ass recipe for gumbo.  Stay tuned.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Menu and a game plan for next week

I spent about 30 min yesterday looking for new recipes and creating a game plan for meals next week.  I'm getting so sick of my normal food, so I'm looking to branch out.  I'm also doing a lot of prepping this weekend so that I won't have to do too much actual cooking during the week. 

So, if you want to take advantage of my love of pre-planning, and you like the same food as me, steal my menu and enjoy!

I'm not sure how, but this became the week of the sandwich.  Little dude and big dude are sandwich fanatics, so it will work out well.

Saturday

1) cooking a big ass ham in the crockpot (ham, 1 cup of brown sugar on low for 7-8 hrs. Divine and easy). Having it for dinner with green beans and rolls
2) making bread and dinner rolls
3) potentially making foccacia
3) after Jack goes to bed, I'm making a batch of bombass pie crust. Making 3 quiches (recipe below) with leftover diced ham and then freezing.
Sunday
1) making Buffalo chicken sandwiches in the crockpot. Freezing half, half goes in the fridge
2) potentially dinner at my parents
3) making a big pasta salad
4) Making mashed sweet potatoes

Monday (I'm not home for dinner, so I need something Troy and Jack can heat up)
Leftover ham
Pasta salad
Mashed sweet potatoes

Tuesday
Buffalo chicken sandwiches (save money and preservatives by using the dry ingredients in "my" homemade ranch dressing)
Pasta salad
Coleslaw (minus all that sugar, "miracle" whip, and gross veggie oil.  Going to use evaporated cane juice, homemade mayo and walnut oil)
Wednesday
warm ham & brie sandwiches
Crockpot baked beans
Asian Green beans (frozen green beans from my summer garden.  Mix and heat with some soy sauce, sesame oil, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  SO GOOD).

Thursday
Quiche (from the freezer)
Fruit

Friday (I'm off of work because of so much accumulated overtime)
Making a  rotisserie chicken in the crockpot, then using chicken to make chicken salad
Chicken salad on sliced avocados
Sweet potato fries
Rolls if we think we need them
Saturday
Homemade Chicken nuggets
Probably coleslaw again
Rolls

My mom's quiche recipe
Not sure if she made it up, or if it's from someone else, but consider it yours now.

Place 2 slices of swiss cheese on unbaked pie crust that is already in a pie pan. Sprinkle veggies on top of the swiss cheese. Mix 3 eggs, 1 cup half and half, 2 tblsp flour, and 1 tsp salt. Pour into shell and top with bacon bacon, sausage, turkey bacon or whatever else meat you might want. Put 1/4 cup of shredded cheese on top of that. I like to sprinkle dill and chives on top of that.


Put in freezer uncovered until frozen solid. Then cover with foil and freeze for up to a few months.  Unfrozen (i.e., you cook it the same day you make it), bake for 350 degrees for 45 min. If frozen, I typically need to bake it about 60 minutes.

That's it!

Oh, and if you're like my brother-in-law and think that "real men don't eat quiche", you may consider this "egg pie".  A term coined by my sister.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A book review - Lamb by Christopher Moore

This has nothing to do with being frugal, but I enjoyed this book so much after a recommendation from a good friend, that I decided that YOU also need to know about it.

Lamb is the story of christ told through the viewpoint of his childhood best friend, Biff.  It's hilarious, it's raunchy, it's touching, and it's weird - basically right up my alley!  The book is a humorous attempt to clear up some "gaps" that the bible doesn't fill in from the time of Jesus' birth until his early 30's.

I am religious and have my opinions on god based on what I've learned in church, Sunday School, read in the bible, etc.  But I also appreciate a good joke (and think Jesus probably did too) and think that if anyone takes this book seriously as blasphemy, then they should remove their pious head from their righteous ass. 

Just a word of warning, if you buy the book through Amazon via the link above, I get a teeny tiny percentage of the purchase price.  But, since my blog is about being frugal, I would encourage you to check it out through the library like I did!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tip of the week

This tip seems like a no brainer, but apparently it is not...

Today's tip is to 1) read directions that come with products and 2) adhere to said directions.

If time is money, then I wasted a buttload of it cleaning this up.  On the bright side, the awesome chocolate ice cream that came out of this mess was delicious.

So, read the directions and follow them.  Now you know!  And if GI Joe taught us anything...


Friday, February 4, 2011

Make your own brown sugar in 5 minutes or less

I started making my own because I couldn't find organic brown sugar that didn't drain Jack's college fund. I like to bake. A lot. So, I was buying the C&H stuff at Costco and it was $4.39 for 4 lbs. Decently priced, but I really wanted to try to find a better solution. And I did.

It's easier and cheaper than you think.  Make it at home and impress your friends!  And if you use blackstrap molasses, it adds (delicious) iron to your diet.
  • For light brown sugar, use 2.5 tsp of molasses per 1 cup of sugar
  • For dark brown sugar, use 1 tblsp of molasses per 1 cup of sugar
1) Gather your ingredients (I totally cleaned the stacks of junk off of my counter for this photo.  You're welcome):


2) Add to a mixer (or mix by hand):


3) It takes 4 minutes in my Kitchen Aid to turn in to this (with stopping 2 minutes in to scrap the bowl):


Let's run the numbers!
*This is potentially some fuzzy math because it's somewhat hard to convert cups to pounds.  And my Bachelors degree is in Criminal Justice and Political Science, so I was more focused on the humanities and social sciences classes during college.  Sue me.  Or don't...my Crm-J degree will take you down!

10 lbs Organic evaporated cane juice from Costco - $8.69
     2 cups of sugar equals approximately 1 pound, which makes it $.869 per pound.  Would you believe I   
     actually busted out the calculator to figure that out.  :head desk:

     I use 3 cups of sugar to fill my brown sugar jar (that sounds pervy), so $.869 x 1.5 = $1.3035
16 oz of Organic blackstrap molasses - $5.69
     1 fluid tblsp = .5 oz
     16 oz = 32 tblsps
     $5.69/32 = $.117 per oz
     I use 3 tblsp of molasses for my recipe, so 3 x .117 = $.53

So, my 3 cups (1.5 lbs) of organic homemade brown sugar comes out to $1.84 or $1.22 per pound.
The non-organic stuff I was buying at Costco was actually cheaper at $1.09 a pound.  But, compare it to $6.50 (on sale) for 2 pounds of organic brown sugar, and I'm saving about $.40 a pound.  That's not "gettin' rich" money, but it something; especially considering how much I like to bake.

But more than anything, I will never run out of brown sugar because I always have regular sugar and molasses in my house.  Additionally, I'm not going through plastic packaging every 6 weeks buying more brown sugar.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe

You can stop looking, because this is it. I've found it. The ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe. Look no further.

When I was 5 I asked my parents for a cookbook. I got the ABC cookbook for my birthday and for years used the "C is for chocolate chip cookie" recipe quite happily. Then one day, my friend Anne made cookies and the skies opened, angels sang, and birds flew in the window and helped me clean my house. The cookies were that magical.

She gave me the recipe and for over a year I just couldn't get it right.  I tried different kinds of flour, bought a new box of baking soda, but nothing made them taste the same as when Anne made them.  I finally realized this recipe MUST be mixed by hand.  If you put it in the KitchenAid or other mixer, you will ruin it.

Anne's Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies
Melt 1 stick of butter (already off to a great start, right?)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup of brown sugar (I make my own!  Check out tomorrow for the recipe and DIY directions)
1/4 cup of white sugar (I use the organic evaporated cane juice sugar from Costco)
Mix!

Add 1 egg
Mix!

Add a pinch of salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 & 1/4 cups of flour in 1/2 cup increments
Mix!

Then add 2 cups of chocolate chips (any recipe that uses more chocolate than flour is a sure bet)
Mix!

Bake at 375 for 7 min 30 seconds.  Our oven sucks, so I always have to bake them for 9 minutes 15 seconds.   They will look undone, so let them rest on the pan for about 10 minutes.

The recipe makes about 12 cookies plus 5 sizeable mouthfuls of cookie dough 18 cookies.

You need to make these tonight.  Please don't delay.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Free toys + imagination = 1 happy boy

A few weeks ago I scored an awesome play kitchen for Jack on freecycle.  If you don't already use freecycle - you need to!  It's kind of like craigslist, but everything is 100% free.  You can send out emails saying you're looking for something, or have something to get rid of.  I've scored nearly new toddler rain boots ($20 at Target), an almost new pair of snowpants that Jack can use in 1-2 years, and now Jack's play kitchen!

J bone has LOVED to help me cook for months.  It usually takes about 5 times as long to make the food, and 10 times as long to clean it up, but it's worth every second because it makes him so happy.  I wanted to foster his love of cooking and encourage creativity, but there were two issues:

1) we don't have extra money for a play kitchen
2) we don't have extra money for a play kitchen

Er...I guess that is just 1 issue.

Anyhoo, I posted on freecycle that we were looking for a play kitchen.  Withing 24 hours, someone responded that they had a wooden one that had been "rode hard and well loved, but it should clean up well".  On MLK day, Jack and I drove out to the BFE portion of our county and picked it up.  The little girl who had outgrown it came running out of her house with a huge bag of plastic food and said "he can have these too".  SCORE!  Freecycle isn't about bartering, but I did give them a fresh and still warm from the oven loaf of my bread as a thank you.

It stayed in Troy's truck for a few weeks, but finally this weekend we brought it upstairs after Jack went to bed and cleaned it up.  "We" is a relative term because I made Troy do it all.  We threw the plastic food in the dishwasher on sanitize.  Troy covered the kitchen with a blanket, and we waited for Jack to wake up the next morning.

The kitchen was A HIT!  And who cares that it's pink!

We've run in to a new way of teaching Jack about what constitutes "real food".  I'm doing my best to make clear to him that an onion, banana, egg, and a corn cob are not the core ingredients of a successful birthday cake.  You have to give the boy credit for creativity though!  And hey, the dinosaurs LOVED it.

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