Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The freezer: part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the ungodly amount of stuff that I keep in my freezers.  Since most of that was on sale or purchased in bulk, it is definitely a cheaper way to get/keep your food supply.  But, since this week's focus is reducing food waste, I thought we'd touch on that.

Baking:  I bake often.  Like, every day.  One would think that as a family, we're either A.) bigger than barns from eating all that stuff, or B.) have baked goods up to our noses.  Actually, neither is true.  Whenever I bake, we eat it for that meal and I freeze the rest for another time.  Most of my muffin recipes make 48 mini muffins.  The daycare kids eat between 10 and 24 usually, depending on what meal they are served at (unless it's chocolate chip and then I never make enough).  The others get stored in a gallon freezer ziploc bag for another use.  The uses vary from I don't feel like making more muffins, so we'll eat from the "stash," to the girls or hubby need a little something extra in their lunch so I'll throw a couple muffins in.  Then, there's the late night, the little guy isn't in bed yet, but I want something to eat and I can shove a whole muffin in before he notices.  I do the same thing with waffles, brownies, cookies, pancakes, and rolls (any bread really).   This reduces food waste by not letting food sit on the counter and get stale, or worse yet, we eat it when we aren't really hungry making it pointless consumption.  I'm becoming very big on "eat to live, not live to eat."  Also, by keeping a nice stash in my freezer, I don't have to buy as much food.  If I were to throw away 10-20 muffins every time I made them because they got stale or moldy, I would need to make more at a later time, spending more money and using more food.

I'm a leftover kind of girl, but I don't necessarily want to eat the exact same thing over and over--enter the freezer.  I do this a couple different ways.  First, I can make a soup for dinner.  The family eats it and I save extra out for lunches the next day.  Then I freeze the rest for a quick meal another time, and because it's frozen, we might eat it next week or next month and it's still as good as the first time.  The second way is to remake a dish.  If we were to save the leftover veggies from dinner each night (supposing there are any) and I keep them in a bag in the freezer at some point, there will be enough for a vegetable soup or chicken pot pie.  Even if it's only a couple spoonfuls, that is food that would otherwise be throw away and now I'm using it to complete another meal (saving both money and reducing waste).  I also save leftover taco meat, sloppy joe meat and sausage crumbles.  They can be reused by themselves in their original state or mixed together to make something completely different-in Hamburger Helper or enchiladas perhaps.

Freezing is a good way to keep produce from spoiling.  I often buy several pumpkins in the fall and bake them.  Then I puree the pumpkin and freeze it in half-cup portions for pumpkin muffins and bread.  I do the same with butternut squash.  Last year, my garden produced several zucchini squash.  I shreddedall of the extras and froze them, portioned in ziploc bags so I have them ready to go when I want to make zucchini bread or cookies.

The same principle works well with cream of mushroom (chicken or whatever cream soup you use).  I make a large batch from scratch and freeze it in my muffin pan.  Then I pop them out to store in bags in the freezer.  One half-cup "muffin" equals one can of your "cream of ___" soup.  By making a big batch of soup like this and freezing it, I don't waste the container of mushrooms that I needed to buy and only used 2 mushrooms for another recipe.  I can use the rest up on the soup and have it ready to go when I make casseroles or porqupine meatballs.

Lastly (and I only remember this because I did it yesterday), you know that little bit of spaghetti sauce that is left in the pan after a big spagetti dinner.  It isn't really enough to make another serving, but seems like too much to throw away.  Put it in a jar in your freezer.  If you do this 2-3 times, you will have enough sauce remnants to use when you make pizza.  Yesterday, I made a smashing cheese pizza from scratch in 30 minutes.  Part of my speediness was being able to defrost the sauce that was in the freezer, it only took 5 minutes and was from another pizza making last month and Monday's spaghetti lunch.  If I had throw out the leftovers on those other occasions, I would have had to open another can of tomato paste and sauce, plus add the seasonings and simmer it.  So, not only did I not waste food, but I saved myself some time in the process.  Gotta love the win-win!

What sort of things to you freeze that reduce your overall food waste?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My favorite waste reducing appliance: the freezer part 1

When it comes to food waste, I've already admitted that I was horrible.  But, that was then, and I'm much better now.  The appliance that helps me reduce food waste the most is my freezer.  I should say freezers, because I have a collection.  I have my big refrigerator/freezer upstairs.  Then downstairs I have a small chest freezer (I think probably a 6 cu.ft.), a large chest freezer (maybe 16 cu. ft) and a second refrigerator that has a small freezer up top.  Each has a specific purpose and helps me be thrifty, healthy and maybe one day green.

Our upstairs freezer holds the day to day items that we use.  In it, you can find leftovers, baked goods, flours (whole wheat and gluten free), flax seed, half bags of frozen veggies, ice packs and the occasional box of ice cream.

The downstairs big freezer is a 1950's model (so not energy efficient).  However it works and why throw something away that works?  Plus, I try to help it be more energy efficient by keeping it full and opening it as few times as possible (I dig meat out once a week for the whole week).  My disclaimer is that every other day or so, I crack the lid, reach in and make sure it is still working, because if it dies and we don't catch it... oh my, I don't even want to think about it! (enter shudder and cry smilie guy here).  We store our meat, cheese and butter in this freezer.  Currently there is about 50 pounds of ground beef, 3 or 4 whole chickens, about 6 pounds of chicken legs, 12 pounds of boneless/skinless chicken breasts, 7 pounds of shredded cheese, a turkey, a brisket and a couple packages of porterhouse steaks.  The freezer isn't completely full right now as I'm getting ready to divide up my 50 pound bag of oats into icing buckets and store it in the freezer.  Hopefully that will happen this weekend.

Next to the big guy is my smaller chest freezer.  We got this when we were apartment dwellers and needed a place to keep the meat my parents gave us.  When we moved into our house, we moved the meat to the big freezer and the smaller freezer became the fruit and veggie freezer.  Big bags of blueberries, mango, strawberries, corn, peas, green beans, broccoli, etc. are in there as well as my 50 pound bag of white wheat flour.

The small freezer above the second fridge holds produce from the garden.  There are 6 gallon bags of tomatoes and 1 gallon bag of individually packaged shredded zucchini in there, and some odds and ends in the door (miscellaneous bag of English muffins and some boo-boo packs for the dc kids).

And just to round out the group, I'll tell you that the second fridge holds all the extra milk, sliced and shredded cheese (would freeze it but we use it too fast), butter from the freezer that is thawing, and overflow produce that won't fit upstairs or falls later in the menu plan.

You can definitely tell that my freezers help me stockpile foods items, and while that may be thrifty (to buy great quantities when items are on sale), you may wonder how that reduces waste.  I'll get to that part tomorrow!  I've got some carrots to peel before the babies wake up (if you've ever tried to peel carrots and hold a squirmy baby, you would agree! LOL).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Week 13:Reduce Food Waste

As I look back on my life I see some definite failings in the area of food and thriftiness.  I vividly remember not that many years ago buying groceries on Saturday afternoon and then throwing most of the produce away that was in the refrigerator and replacing it with what I had just purchased.  And, then the next Saturday-yep, the same thing.  I don't dare imagine how much money I threw away by not using the food that I had purchased, which is why this week is devoted to reducing food waste.

I had this whole litany of tips in my head for this post, but they were tossed aside this morning when a daycare mama brought me a present (not really!).  She brought me a bag of Cookie Diet Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and said that they were the nastiest cookies she (or anyone else brave enough to try) had ever eaten.  Great!  Thanks.  Bring your nastiness to me.  But, then I decided that since good money had been spent on these "cookies," I would try to salvage them.  I actually just looked up the price of these things and OMGoodness that is ALOT of money!

I broke off the edge of a cookie and tasted it.  Yes, I would have to agree-not tasty!  I broke my piece in half and tried to feed it to my guy but he sniffed it and said "gross!"  After pondering my options, I decided a muffin might be the best course of action.  I threw the bag of cookies (6) into the food processor and ground them up into bits, similar to granola.  Then I started adding with reckless abandon.

6 Cookie Diet Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, pulverized into crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 cup of sugar (evaporated cane juice)
2 eggs
Pulse to blend wet ingredients and cookies
Then add:
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups whole white wheat flour
Pulse until completely blended.

I tasted my concoction and it was sooooo much better, but I decided I needed to give it a little ooomph!  I dumped in 1/3 of a bag of mini chocolate chips and mixed that in.  I filled my mini muffin pan using a 1 tbsp. scoop and baked them for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

We changed up our menu plan and had these muffins for morning snack.  Every child ate 2 and most ate three muffins (even the child from whose home the cookies were delivered and my kiddo who had declared them "gross").  It was a stunning victory.  Now, the problem is that this mama is going to bring me the remaining 46 bags of cookies.  I just know it! LOL

Now, am I suggesting that you run out and buy hideously overpriced, bad tasting cookies so you can remake them into something edible?  Heck no!  But, we've all made some less than stellar dishes, or let the bread sit out and get stale or let the grapes sit in the fridge a day or two too long.  Instead of throwing that food (money) in the trash, how about brainstorming other ideas to reuse and reinvent that food into something new and maybe even better?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I'm ruined!

Hello all!  We just got back into town from a weekend trip to Kansas City.  My side of the family (my sis, bro and their families) decided that instead of spending a lot of money on Christmas gifts that the kids really didn't need, we would get them an experience.  We chose to take all 6 of them (ages, 10, 8, 5, 3, 2 and 2) to see Toy Story 3 on Ice.  We also checked out Hallmark's Kaleidoscopes, T-Rex Cafe and of course the motel swimming pool (deemed the favorite activity by the kids-isn't that annoying?).

My family ate out 6 times in the past two days and I can't say that I enjoyed it at all.  First, the cost of feeding 5 people 6 meals was astronomical, budgeted for, but astronomical the same.  We spent more in 2 days on food that we do in 2 weeks normally.  Second, I kept analyzing the nutrition (or lack thereof) in our meals.  Before leaving Saturday morning, I fixed egg and cheese omelets and whole wheat cinnamon toast with butter.  I packed almonds and raisins for snacks on the road.  Doing well so far, right?  Then it was a downhill spiral with with Kraft mac 'n cheese kids meals, soda, french fries, hot dogs, fruit loops, Taco Bell and frozen custard with candy bar add-ins.

Everything I put in my mouth I was thinking about HFCS, GMOs, vegetable oil with an imbalance of Omega-6 fats, bleached flour tortillas filled with parabens... You get the idea.  Ask me how I feel?  Horrible.  I'm bloated, nauseated and have a horrible headache.   My little man has horrible diarrhea.  The older daughter is complaining of not feeling well.  The other two are fine, but they probably eat more junk food than the rest of us combined.  They must be used to it.

I firmly believe "everything in moderation."  Obviously, there was no moderation this weekend, but there wasn't much opportunity to eat well.  Even the salad options that I had offered little in the way of health-covered in fried chicken strips or pre-coated in Caesar dressing.  Plus, I have trouble paying $15 for a salad.  It's a salad for goodness sakes.

We are taking our big family vacation in June.  We will be driving from Missouri to Maryland and taking about 9 days (2 driving out, 5 there and 2 driving back).  Between now and then, I need to come up with some strategies to balance our eating.  It will be easier as we'll be staying with my sister-in-law and I can cook at her home, but there will still be lots of "on the road" time and eating out.  I will be scouring various menus of the most convenient fast food places to come up with some acceptable options for me and the kids (I wouldn't think of telling Hubby what he can and can't eat-that would go over like a lead balloon).  I'll also come up with some simple meals that we can pack before we start our daytrips so that we eat at least one meal "picnic style" and then eat out the other one.

This weekend was certainly an eye opener about what I can and cannot eat and what I need to do to prepare us for the big trip. 

Other than the food (and no one had any problems with it but me, I'm sure), a good time was had by all and we're already brainstorming ideas for the Christmas trip of 2012!

Now, I need to go grocery shopping and pick up the produce for this week's menu.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I made an oops!

This morning I got ready to finalize my grocery list for next week.  We are headed out of town on Saturday morning and probably won't be back until later Sunday afternoon.  I wanted the list ready to go, so when we got home, I could just run out and pick up the few things (produce and milk) that we needed.  The problem?  I didn't make a menu.  When I did my initial menu for the month of March, I made it for four weeks and needed it to be for five.  Oops!

Since I have no money coming in next week, it meant that I had to do a "from the pantry" week.  This wasn't be too hard since I have several staples that I purchased in bulk.  My biggest thing was to use up what we already have so I don't have to buy much.  I think I did a pretty good job.  You will notice several of what would be considered to be more convenience meals.  They will still be from scratch, but they are made from the basics that we always have on hand.  Also, there are a lot of "eggy" dishes.  I have 9 dozen eggs.  I purchased 10 dozen at the beginning of the month, my father-in-law has brought me another 6 and we've been/will be out of town for two weekends, so there is no shortage of eggs in this house.  That's ok-we love 'em and eggs are very versatile.

So, here it is:
Breakfast:  Oatmeal, Strawberries
Morning Snack:  Veggies and Hummus
Lunch:  Spaghetti, French Bread, Clementines, Salad
Afternoon Snack:  Smoothie, Graham Crackers
Dinner:  Taco Salad, Spanish Rice, Corn

Breakfast:  Pancakes, Smoothie
Morning Snack:  Almonds
Lunch:  Cheese Pizza, Green Beans, Cantaloupe
Afternoon Snack:  Carrots with Peanut Butter
Dinner:  Fried Rice, Teriyaki Chicken

Breakfast:  Egg Muffins, Apple Juice, Toast
Morning Snack:  Smoothie
Lunch:  Chicken Strips, Broccoli, Blueberries, Breadsticks
Afternoon Snack:  Squash Oatmeal Muffins
Dinner:  Ham & Beans, Cornbread

Breakfast:  Granola Bar, Oranges
Morning Snack:  Raisins
Lunch:  Waffles w/ Cranberry Syrup, Smoothie, Apple Slices, Corn
Afternoon Snack:  Popcorn
Dinner:  Cheese Omelets, Bacon, Toast, Fruit (whatever misc. fruit is around)

Breakfast:  Freezer muffins (I have a few of several different kinds hanging out in my kitchen freezer), Orange Juice
Morning Snack:  Cereal
Lunch:  Egg Salad, Peas, Banana, Crackers
Afternoon Snack:  Brownies
Dinner:  Grilled Cheese, Pretzels, Cut up veggies

Breakfast:  French Toast Casserole
Lunch:  Meatball Sliders, Pea Salad
Dinner:  Chicken Lasagna

Breakfast:  Leftovers
Lunch:  Leftovers
Dinner:  Will pick up when doing monthly grocery shopping or we will eat out if I do well budget-wise while shopping! :)

Grocery List
Strawberries $1.18
Carrots $1
Broccoli $3
Grape Tomatoes-if I can find some at a reasonable price $2
Lettuce $7 for 2 pkgs.
Spinach $4
Bananas $2
Mushrooms $1
Crackers-one of our stores has these B1G1Free $4
Sour cream-for making ranch dressing and for taco salads $1.25
Organic tortilla chips $3
Small container plain yogurt (to use as starter-I forgot and ate all of my batch without saving some to start the next batch) $.50
3 gallons whole milk (2 for drinking/baking, 1 for yogurt) $10

Total = almost $44

This is about average for what I spend on "off" weeks.  Plus, grocery prices are increasing every week it seems.  It is getting harder and harder to spend less on groceries and still maintain quality.  I am trying to justify the cost with the hope that eating better will mean less spent on medical.  Of course, as I type this, I'm dealing with a horrible sinus infection and have spent well over $150 treating it in the past two weeks and I'm no where near healed.  Ugh!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I've figured out the art of baking with whole wheat, for the most part...

... and it only took 50 pounds of flour!  LOL!  Just kidding, sort of!  For a while now, I've been baking with whole white wheat in muffins and cookies with great success, but until last week I had little to no success making whole wheat yeast breads.  After learning about the "sticky dough" concept while baking the 100% whole grain wheat bread last week, I decided to apply it to the other yeast breads I had been trying to bake. 
Monday I used the garlic twist recipe to make breadsticks.  Instead of using 2 1/4 cups of flour and extra for flouring the counter while kneading, I used 2 cups and kneaded the dough mostly in my stand mixer.  I added just enough flour to keep it from sticking while I rolled out the breadsticks.  They came out light and fluffly.  I buttered them right when they came out of the oven and sprinkled them with garlic powder.  Now that I know these are really good, I'll mix garlic powder, chives, parsely and dill into the dough for a more flavorful breadstick.  Keep your eyes out for that recipe.  We're having spaghetti next week and these breadsticks would be a perfect accompaniment.
Last week (or maybe the week before) I had made 40 minute wheat buns.  These turned out really well, but I was curious how they would do as dinner rolls.  So today, I made that recipe and instead of flattening the dough balls on a cookie sheet to make buns, I rolled them and put them in my stoneware muffin pan.  They rose beautifully, browned nicely, were soft with not too many crumbs and tasted awesome!\

Of course, I still have my moments.  I made chocolate chip mini muffins this morning and I put both mini muffin pans in the oven side by side to bake.  10 mintues later the burning smell emerges from the kitchen.  Yep-burned all 6 muffins on each edge.  They were supposed to bake 9-11 minutes-10 was obviously too much and the reason that I don't put both muffin pans in at once is because it blocks the air flow-burning the edges.  Yeah.  It was painful to dig out the six on each side and run them down the garbage disposal.  Fortunately the 36 muffins in the middle came out unscathed and were promptly devoured before pictures could be taken.  I'll have to get pics of those.  They are yummy!

My last hurdle is French Bread.  I made it a while back and wasn't super crazy about the end result.  It made good French Toast, but occasionally I want to do something different with my French Bread-like eat it as bread!  LOL!  My goal is to get a loaf of this made by the weekend! 

So there are my bread escapades for this week!  I hope to make a hamburger cabbage casserole to share.  I've got half a head of cabbage that needs to be eaten, soon!  And, I can work on using the last of those canned tomato sauces I have in my basement.  As my 3 year old would say, "Yep!  That's a plan!"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Week 12: No more cans!

Just to start, I apologize for falling off the face of the Earth!  We were out of town this weekend, and so far this week, I have the remnants of a sinus infection, two daycare babies who are teething and have at least one drop-in daycare kiddo (and on Thursday, I'll have two).  This week has been crazy and there's been no time for blogging during nap... maybe tomorrow! LOL!

Of course,  I've still been cooking.  I've made breadsticks (I revamped the garlic twists recipe.), oatmeal muffins and strawberry jam (canned 5 pints).  Hopefully I'll get the chance to blog about those things sometime this week.

Also, this is a new week, so there's a new baby step.  I will no longer buy canned foods.  The vast majority of foods are put in cans lined with BPA.  The few that aren't are much more expensive due to the extra cost of the BPA-free lining, and aren't carried in my regular grocery store.  I could get things online, through Amazon or similar places, but I am choosing to find alternatives. 

I haven't purchased canned vegetables in years.  My family likes fresh or frozen better and since I have tons of fridge and freezer space, but very little pantry space, that has always worked in our favor.  Until recently, I kept a small stash of canned fruit for an"emergency."  After the same four cans stayed on the shelf for 7 or 8 months, I decided that an "emergency" probably wasn't going to happen, and if it did, canned fruit probably wouldn't solve the problem.  I let my daughter make a couple of fruit salads to get rid of those.

The two items that have been the biggest to overcome are tuna and tomato products.  This past month I stopped buying tuna in a can and purchased the pouch instead.  So far I'm happy with it.  I bought 7, but I've only used one, so I don't have a lot of experience.  The one thing that I did notice was the lack of water/oil to drain from the pouch.  That's a plus-I hated getting tuna water on my hands when I drained the can! 

Tomato products are my last hold out.  Typically I try to keep a case of diced tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato sauce on hand to make my own spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce or for use in casseroles, chili, etc.  Originally I planned to get rid of all the cans except the tomato ones, but after doing more reading on BPA, I know that I need to stop buying them as well.  So right now, I have 5 cans of diced tomatoes, 8 cans of tomato paste and 4 cans of tomato sauce.  When those are gone, there will be no more.  So, what will I do?  One thought was to never eats tomatoes again, but I know that isn't realistic. =)   I have 5-gallon bags of tomatoes in my freezer from last year's garden.  I will start by using those and then I'll have to buy tomatoes/sauce until summer canning begins. 

I will have to do some cost analysis, because it might be cheaper to buy organic pasta sauce ($2.50/ 32 oz. jar) than it would be to buy an equivalent amount of tomatoes to make it, especially since tomatoes aren't in season now.  That is also something that I might be able to find coupons for to make it more affordable.  I will definitely have to do some checking on that.

My only other food that I usually buy in a can is diced green chilies.  I don't buy that many (maybe a dozen little cans a year), but I use them in white chicken chili.  Surely there's a jarred variety of those I can find.

So, that's it.  Just a few more cans and we will be a can-free house.  Is anyone else "can free?"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Banana Walnut Oatmeal

Since this week is "buying in bulk" week, I thought I'd include an oatmeal recipe.  This wasn't made with the oats I bought, but rather the last of the old.  The daycare kids have a funny relationship with oatmeal.  They either love it or hate it-although never the same kids at the same meal.  My guy loves it though, so I will continue to serve it just for him and hopefully the others will grow to love it all the time.

This recipe isn't too hard.  It's one of those "keep adding until it looks right" sort of things.  I followed the directions on the can for 2 servings (which made more than enough for 3 kids and me).  It was 1 cup of oats to 1 3/4 cups water and a dash of salt.  Stir together in a saucepan and heat to boiling then reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes until thickened.  That part isn't so hard.  Then I added 1 mashed banana, 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, a heavy drizzle of maple syrup (maybe 2-3 tablespoons) and a couple splashes of milk to thin the oatmeal to a consistency that your family likes.  Stir it all together and heat through.

Today everyone loved it, although only my guy and baby girl (14 months) ate all of theirs.  In the world of real-food and daycare, that is a success.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Egg Muffins

I probably should've made these egg muffins last week for egg week, but forethought and planning don't happen that often in my world!  Anyway, last night we had breakfast for dinner: egg muffins, rope sausage, roasted potatoes and fruit salad.  The muffins are super easy to make, are easy for little hands to pick up, great for on-the-go breakfasts and they freeze well (meaning you can nuke them for 30 seconds before walking out the door.

The original recipe came from Taste of Home.  I deviated from it some just because I didn't have the exact ingredients.  But, it seems that this is a very forgiving recipe and I'm sure there are countless ways to incorporate your own tastes.  The recipe makes a dozen muffins.  I made 6 with only onion and 6 with onion, spinach and tomato.  My kids loved the plain ones (because they couldn't see the onion) and Hubby and I scarfed down the "adult" version.

Here's how I did mine...
  • 15 eggs (I used extra because some of my eggs were on the small side.  12 large eggs would probably be enough if you are using store, all the same size, eggs.)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped spinach
  • 1/4 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I topped mine with the cheese when they were done baking.  Next time I will stir it in with the eggs like the recipe says to.)
Note:  My amount of spinach and tomato were for 6 muffins.  You might want to up that amount for 12-or choose something completely different.  And since I was doing two different kids, I put the spinach and tomato in the bottom of six muffin cups and then added the eggs on top.  If you wanted to have a "make your own muffin" meal, you could just have the eggs and spices mixed together and invite everyone to put their own favorite add-ins in a cup and have personalized muffins.

Directions:  Whisk eggs together in a large bowl (be sure to remove them from the shells first. :P ).  Add remaining ingredients and stir together.  Divide the egg mixture evenly among 12 greased muffin cips.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Muffins are done when a knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Edited:  I just linked up for Real Food Wednesday on Kelly the Kitchen Cop.  Go check it out!

Today's Lunch-Hamburger Helper

I love casseroles, and from what I can remember, I always have.  My Mom always cooked dinners from scratch, so we didn't have Hamburger Helper.  We had ham casserole, hamburger casserole, tuna casserole-you get the idea.  I didn't know "Helpers" existed until I was in college, and oh, how fond of them I became.  It wasn't until 2-3 years ago that I actually read the ingredient label.  OMGoodness!  Ewww!  I decided that we weren't going to have any more boxed meals.

OK, so I decide to say "no" to boxed meals, now what?  Again, my Mom comes to my rescue when she found a Hamburger Helper seasoning mix recipe.  It's a batch mix that you add to ground beef and other ingredients to make your own Hamburger Helper.  I made my first batch and my whole family loves it.  Now, I try not to let myself run out, because it is a fast, healthy meal that I can prepare in about 30 minutes.

Hamburger Helper Seasoning Mix (makes enough for 3-4 meals)
1 1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1/2 cup minced onion
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 2/3 cup nonfat dry milk
3 1/2 Tbsp. beef bullion crystals

Since the beef bullion is not the healthiest of options, I think the next time I make a batch I will leave this out and cook with beef broth to see if I notice any difference in taste.

Variations of Hamburger Helper
Cheeseburger Helper
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup pasta (We are pasta people and I like to stretch my meat, so I use a pound!)
1/2 cup seasoning mix
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup of water (obviously more if you use extra pasta)

Mix together and simmer, covered, until pasta is tender, adding water as needed.

Chili Mac Hamburger Helper
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup pasta
1/2 cup seasoning mix
1 cup water

Follow above directions.

Other ways to use seasoning mix
Potato version: ground beef, sliced potatoes, homemade cream of mushroom soup and cheddar cheese
Taco:  ground beef, brown rice, black beans, chili powder, paprika, cheddar cheese and sour cream
Mock Stuffed Pepper Cups:  ground beef cooked with diced peppers and onions, brown rice, diced tomatoes and cheddar cheese

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Squash Muffins

I mentioned that I made squash muffins in my post yesterday about my bulk purchase.  Bfuzzy2 asked if I would post my recipe.  Not too many people ask for my recipes, so I'm happy to oblige those who do! LOL!

Time saving tip:  I bake a whole butternut squash and divide portions into sections of a muffin tin.  Each muffin cup holds approximately 1/2 cup.  With the squash I baked the other day, I had one portion for these muffins and 5 to freeze to make muffins, quick bread or even use in a smoothie at another time.

1/2 cup butternut squash puree, thawed (if it was frozen to start with)
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2-1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 a cup of evaporated cane juice in these and they could've used a smidge more)
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups whole white wheat flour
2 Tbsp. Demerara sugar, optional

Mix together the first four ingredients (wet).  Then add the next four (dry ingredients).  Stir to combine.  Fill muffin cups (I used a mini muffin tin) and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 10 minutes.  To check for doneness, gently touch the top of a muffin.  If the muffin springs back, they are done.  If there is a dent left in the muffin, let them bake a couple minutes more.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Honey Wheat Bagels

For a long time I held off trying to make bagels from scratch.  The process seemed intimidating and with so many steps, I could easily see myself skipping something and screwing the whole thing up.  About a year ago, I found a bread machine bagel recipe and loved it.  With my recent switch to whole wheat flour, I'm finding that I can't just switch out the all-purpose flour for whole wheat (on some things that works fine, but with yeast breads, I've had more trouble).  So, I went on the hunt for a whole wheat bagel and immediately found one at Heavenly Homemakers.  I will say at the start that this recipe has a lot of steps, but if I can follow them and have beautiful bagels at the end, so can you!

I followed the ingredients and directions exactly as written, so head on over to Heavenly Homemakers and check it out.

Week 11: Buy in bulk when possible

I'm always on the lookout for ways to save money on our food bill.  I don't want to sacrifice quality, but I want to get the most I can with my food dollar.  Buying in bulk can do just that.  This past Saturday I visited a local Dutch Bakery and picked up a few items that I hope will last 2-3 months.  I purchased 50 pounds of Wheat Montana Prairie Gold Whole White Wheat, 50 pounds of old fashioned oats and 50 pounds of Wholesome Sweeteners Evaporated Cane Juice (a little healthier sugar).  Those were the big things.  Then I also got 5 pounds of brown rice, a pound of steel cut oats (to try, if they work for our family, I'll buy the 50 pound bag of them next time), a brown and wild rice mix (no seasonings, just the rice), 1 pound of raw sunflower seeds, 32 ounces of pure maple syrup and some chocolate turtles (a healthy lifestyle is a work in progress).  My total came to right around $122 and I'm thinking that while I might have to buy more flour in a couple months, the oats and sugar should last 4 months or more.  I'll keep track of how long it takes me to use everything. 

My ulitmate goal would be to have a rotating stock of bulk quantity items so that each month I may spend $50 to build up what I'm getting low on.  I would eventually like to keep 20+ pounds of brown rice, pinto beans, flour, sugar, and oats on hand at all times and smaller quantities of a few varieties of beans, wheat germ, seeds and nuts, etc.  If I did this consistently and also purchased our meat direct from the farmer and had it locally processed, I can see our overall grocery bill dropping considerably while maintaining, or even increasing, the quality of our food. 

The bags lasted in my kitchen about 3 hours before I tore into them and started cooking.  I have already blogged about the 100% whole wheat bread that I made (delicious!).  Last night I made squash mini muffins, and chocolate chip cookies.  This morning I made a batch of whole wheat waffles and honey wheat bagels.  Everything has turned out very tasty and I'm excited to share the recipes with you!

Our mini-challenge

Several weeks ago, I came across a blog called 100 Days of Real Food.  The premise of the blog is that a family of 4 took the challenge that for 100 days they would eat no processed foods.  They finished their first 100 days a while ago, but have been having mini challenges since.  I decided that I'm going to join this time.  The challenge is also for 100 days, but you take on a new healthy task each week (hmmm, does that sound familiar? LOL).  Anyway, week one's challenge is to add more fruits and vegetables to our diet.  They are asking for 2 servings at every meal.  This shouldn't be too hard, as we already have 2 with lunch and dinner.  I just need to add an extra fruit at breakfast.  I'm also trying to add a bit more variety.  I picked up a honeydew melon yesterday, some broccoli slaw mix and a spring salad mix-just a little different than the same 'ole stuff.

I'll let everyone know what each week's challenge is and how we're doing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I did it-wheat bread success!

I made wonderful 100% whole wheat bread!  Woo-hoo!  For years I've been trying to do this and it has always turned out super dense, crumbly and very dry tasting.  Not this time though!  I am such a nerd that I would name this as one of the most exciting things that has happened in a while! LOL

I picked up the recipe from  I haven't had the best luck on there in the past.  I'm more of an allrecipes or taste of home kind of girl usually, but when I searched "100% whole wheat bread recipe," this one popped up.  There were 60+ reviews and almost all gave it 5 stars and said wonderful things.  They had me hooked.  I printed the recipe and headed to the kitchen last night (at 9:00 pm of all times).  The dough was a little hard to work with, but I resisted the urge to add extra flour, which the recipe specifically said to try and avoid.  I'm so glad I actually followed the directions.  I could tell when the bread started to rise that it had promise.

As you can see, I made one large loaf and 3 mini-loaves.  The daycare kids like the smaller loaves and it works out great for me because I only have one loaf pan.  I baked them for 36 minutes as the reciped directed, but the large loaf took an additional 5 minutes.  The top picture only shows 2 loaves, because we cut in, and ate, one of the minis within minutes of it coming out of the oven. :)

Here's the recipe.  I'm cutting and pasting the original recipe and I'll note my changes (which were minor).



Prep Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 3 1/4 hrs
  1. 1 Place the first five ingredients in the bowl and mix.
  2. 2 Add: 2 Cups 100% Whole Grain Wheat Flour. (to cool the water and end up with warm dough) Mix then add 2 Tbs of Dry Active Yeast. If your not sure about your yeast proof it in a little warm water first.
  3. 3 Add: 4 Cups of 100% Whole Grain Wheat Flour.
  4. 4 Mix until the consistency is some what even. Then continue to slowly add flour 1/2 Cup at a time until the dough quits sticking to the sides of the bowl. It should be tacky to the touch. The trick is to have enough consistency to stand up with the least amount of flour so the bread will be fluffy. It will most likely be 6 1/2 cups but in any case do not exceed 7 1/2 cups of wheat flour. You can trade one cup of wheat flour for one cup of all purpose white if you wish. Don't over mix or the bread will be tough.
  5. 5 When your dough is finished, leave it in the mixer, cover the bowl and let it rise for about 30-45 minutes. The dough will be larger but it doesn't need to double.
  6. 6 Grease two bread pans with Crisco. You can also flour the pans to reduce sticking.
  7. 7 Mix the dough again just enough to knock it down at least close to the original size.
  8. All that remained of the first mini loaf!
  9. 8 Drop the dough on a floured surface so you can work the dough and shape it. Shape it with your hands to make a nice ball getting enough flour on it so it isn't sticky. Divide the ball in half and do it again. Shape the loaves by turning the dough under it's self over and over. When the dough is shaped the sides and ends will be sealed and all you will see is a nice oblong shaped loaf with smooth sides and top. Drop the loaves in your bread pans and let them rise until almost doubled. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 36 minutes. If you forgot to preheat 41 minutes. (gas oven).
  10. 9 When done turn the bread out of the pan to a rack to cool. You can eat it right away (a great time for real butter) don't wrap it until completely cooled. (Condensation will make it soggy) Put in tinfoil to store on the counter. If you put it in the refrigerator it will turn into a brick. Enjoy.

Now that I understand the whole "sticky dough" concept, I'm going to go back and try those garlic twists and French bread again and see if I can get them a little fluffier than before.  I'll update as I get around to doing those.  Bagels are on the menu this coming week.

Friday, March 11, 2011

40 Minute Wheat Buns

I made these as whole wheat rolls for the first time today and I can say that I love them.  They are tender, soft, slightly sweet and they almost melt in your mouth.  I paired them with salmon patties-a recipe I found on Green & Thrifty (Hi, Marishannon!).  The daycare kids were a little skeptical at first, but once I got them to take the first bite, they were hooked (funny pun, LOL!).  My son ate three and was mad that there wasn't more.

Oops, off track... back to the buns.  The kids didn't need any encouragement to dive into these.  I managed to save enough so that hubby and the girls can have one with dinner tonight.  If they give them thumbs up, which I'm sure they will, these will be our new go to dinner roll/bun recipe.

The original recipe came from Taste of Home, but I modified it a bit.  Imagine that! :)

1 cup warm water
2 T. yeast
1/3 cup oil (I'm using up my canola oil, but will most likely use coconut oil next time around)
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
3/4 tsp. salt
3 cups whole white wheat flour

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in water and let stand for several minutes.  While the yeast is doing it's thing, put the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl.  I used my stand mixer for this recipe.  Start mixing the ingredients in the big bowl together and then add the yeast mixture.  Mix together.  I added a bit of extra flour here-maybe 1/4 cup as my dough was a little too gooey (this is a soft dough, but it has to be workable too).  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead about 5 minutes.  Immediately cut the dough into 12 pieces, rolling them and shaping them into balls.  Place on a greased baking sheet and press slightly to flatten (or you buns will be the size of softballs-yeah, I did that!).  Cover and let them rest 10 minutes.  Bake in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Place buns on wire rack to cool.

UPDATE 03/23/2011:  Given that I've now figured that sticky is better for whole wheat dough, use as little flour as possible to make these buns.  I did it the other day with 2 3/4 cups, but it wasn't very humid (that can be a big issue in Missouri).  I roll the dough into balls and put them in a muffin pan to bake.  They made wonderful dinner rolls-great with homemade strawberry jam!

Garlic twists

I made these garlic twists last week as part of my "whole wheat" week, but failed to get them posted.  They grew on me.  At first I didn't like them, but after a couple days, they were ok.  I think it's taking some time for me to get used to the wheat flour.  The white wheat that I'm using does make breads less dense than red wheat, but they still have a stronger flavor than something made with all purpose flour.  My 2nd child grabbed on of these rolls and said, "I like these, but they are a little too wheaty!"  Really?  How am I supposed to respond to that?  "Uhh, maybe it's beacuse they are wheat rolls."

Anyway, the recipe

1 cup warm water
1 T. yeast
2 1/4 cups whole white wheat flour change to just shy of 2 cups-only put enough flour in to make them workable-less is better!
3 T. wheat gluten
1 T. sugar
1 T. oil
1 egg

Mix the yeast and warm water and set aside.  Put the remaining ingredients in a bowl and begin stirring to combine.  Add the yeast water when it is foamy and continue stirring until the dough comes together.  Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead about 8 minutes.  Cover and let rest 10 minutes.  Then roll into a rectangle approximately 10" x 15" (jelly roll pan size).  Spread the dough with

1/4 cup softened butter
1/4 tsp parsley
1/4 tsp dill weed
1/4 tsp garlic powder
liberally sprinkle with cheddar cheese (I recommend sharp cheddar.)

Fold in thrids (top down, bottom up) and cut into 1 inch strips.  Twist and tie in a knot.  Let rise for 30 minutes and then bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

A variation (which I actually like better) is to use these as cinnamon rolls.  Make as directed, except spread with 1/4 cup butter, 1/2-3/4 cup brown sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Frost with cream cheese icing while still warm.  Mmm!

UPDATE:  I found that these are soooooo much better when you put less flour in.  Wheat flour tend to absorb more liquid, so if you are modifying a recipe that uses white or bread flour, using the same amount of whole wheat flour will cause your bread to be very dense and, as my little girl puts it, "too wheaty!"  Only use enough to make the dough workable-sticky is ok!  In this recipe, I start out with 1 3/4 cups wheat flour and add a little at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl-for this it ended up being just shy of 2 cups, but I think humidity plays a part, so it might vary a little each time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

French Toast Casserole

Is it Friday yet?  I've been cooking and using eggs all week, but there's just been too much other stuff going on to blog about it.  Today I'll try to crank out several posts on what I've been working on.  We'll see how long that baby will sleep today!  LOL!

Last week I made whole wheat French bread.  It was ok, but I wasn't in love with it, so I tossed it in the freezer hoping to find a better use for it.  A use presented itself fairly quickly as French toast was on my menu this week.  My mornings are usually rushed getting the girls off to school, so I don't usually fix anything fancy for them (scrambled egg sandwiches are the highlight).  I decided that I would put together a casserole the night before and wake up early to bake it.  Surprisingly I did well.  I got up at 5:20 and set it out and turned the oven on.  At 5:50, I hopped up and stuck it in for 45 minutes.  The downside is that I had it all set up to eat at 6:50, which would give the girls 15 minutes.  Unfortunately, I took the foil off the pan and that hindered the baking process.  It took an extra 15 minutes to bake.  The girls didn't get to try it until today, but they enjoyed it just the same.  Acutally, they probably enjoyed the French toast not being ready because hubby felt bad for them and got them a treat at the gas station on the way to school (I'm sure it was oh-so healthy... unlikely!)

Anyway here's the recipe.

1 pound whole wheat bread torn in pieces or cubed
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. sugar (I had to use powdered sugar as I was out of both my regular and brown-it worked ok, but next time I'll use honey or maybe maple syrup)
1/2 tsp salt

Put the bread in a realatively even layer in a greased 9x9 casserole dish.  In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients together.  Pour over the bread.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning set the casserole out for 30 minutes and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the foil and sprinkle cinnamon sugar on the top and replace the foil.  Bake 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Serve with maple syrup if desired.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Week 10: Eggs

I used to get farm eggs all of the time.  A guy who worked with my father-in-law had chickens and would bring eggs into work.  Then that sort of fell through several months back and I was left purchasing grocery store eggs.  When I started reading about the living conditions of the chickens, the lesser nutritional value of the eggs and the GMO feed which the chickens were fed, I knew I needed to get something else going.

I was talking about this to one of my friends and she told me that her brother had chickens.  To him, the chickens are treated like pets and they have free reign of his few acres each day and then come back to the coup each night.  He is very particular what they eat and always has several dozen to sell.  It took a while to actually get in contact with him, but last night I got everything set up and picked up my first batch of eggs.  He sells them for only $2/dozen, which is a steal compared to what the grocery store is selling cage-free eggs for.  Plus, yesterday when I went to the store, regular eggs were $1.59/dozen.  The extra $.40 is money well spent in my opinion.

My kids now want chickens.  They fell in love when we went last night.  As we pulled up, about 15 chickens came running up from near their coup to greet us.  My son cried when we had to leave because he didn't get to hold a chicken.  Hopefully we'll get to see the chickens each month.  The guy even told me about a local animal swap where you can pick up eggs, chicks or full grown chickens.  I might have to go check it out, just because it seems like it would be an interesting afternoon!

I didn't get around to making as many whole wheat bread recipes as I wanted to, so I will be doing more of that this week, along with a few egg dishes.  I think the first will be a french toast casserole using the French bread that I made last week (the longer the bread sat the denser it got-I'll have to work on that one).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Whole wheat waffles

It had originally been my plan to work on my yeast breads this week, but with things being so crazy this week, that got put on the back burner for a day or two.  Hubby is out of the hospital and all the tests were negative, so that is good, but it was definitely an interruption to the daycare and cooking schedule.

This morning both girls had their yearly eye exams, which meant that they didn't have to leave right away for school this morning.  To celebrate, I made waffles.  Of course, about half way through, I remember that we are out of maple syrup, so today we had cream cheese and strawberry jam on our waffles.  The kids thought they were great and each ate 2 whole waffles (even my teeny, tiny, daycare baby girl).  Above is my guy.  He is definitely "in the zone!"

Whole wheat waffles (adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, you know, the red plaid one)

1 3/4 cups whole white wheat flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks (separate from the whites and put them in their own small bowl)
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
2 egg whites (these are the ones that you saved)

In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt).  In another bowl, combine the milk, egg yolks, and coconut oil.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  With the egg whites that are in the small bowl, beat them until they form stiff peaks.  I suggest doing this with a mixer.  I've tried doing it by hand and my arm just gets tired and I still don't get stiff peaks.  Dump the egg whites into the waffle batter and gently fold in.  Follow the directions for your waffle iron.  I have one of those cheapo Black Friday Belgian waffle makers and for it I use 1/4 cup per side and it takes about 4 minutes to get done.  Something I've learned is the watching is more important than time on waffles.  The waffles aren't done until all of the steam stops coming from the waffle maker.  If you remove them before that, the waffles will end up soggy.

And just for fun, here's a better shot of my waffle-eating kiddo!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Whole Wheat French Bread

When I first started making my own bread, I used my breadmaker.  I had several recipes in my collection and the breadmaker recipe for French bread from Towards Sustainability was (and still is) my favorite.  French bread appeared in all sorts of places in my meal plan.  It could be found as simply French bread with spaghetti or as slices of French toast or even as garlic parmesan croutons.  All were yummy.  Sadly, one day my breadmaker pan started leaking.  I had used it to the point that one of the welds on the bottom broke and started leaking any liquid that I put in the pan.  Let's take a moment of silence...

Just kidding (kind of)!  I didn't have the funds to replace the breadmaker so I started making bread by hand.  I found that it wasn't very difficult and given the amount of bread I make, I have arms of steel (kind of). LOL

Anyway, enough of my blabbering, I was concerned that when I switched to whole wheat bread, that I would have trouble making all of the yeast breads that add so much to my meal plan.  I picked up a loaf of whole wheat bread at the local Mennonite store and read the ingredients:  Prairie Gold whole white wheat flour, honey, canola oil, water, salt, yeast, wheat gluten.  I had everything on hand except the gluten.  I decided that I would pick some up and give it a try to see what effect it had on my breads.

Recipe for French Bread
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat gluten
2 tsp salt
3 tsp olive oil

In a small bowl mix warm water, yeast and sugar.  Stir a bit to dissolve.  Let sit 10 minutes or so to let the yeast do its thing.  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine flour, gluten, salt and olive oil.  Add the yeast mixture and stir to combine as much as you can.  When stirring gets tedious, turn the whole thing out on a clean counter.  Use your hands to push it all together, working all of the loose flour into the dough.  As it comes together, knead for several minutes, maybe 8-10.  Form the dough into a large ball and place it back in the mixing bowl.  Cover and place somewhere warm for an hour.  When the first rise is finished, punch down and I usually divide the dough in half to make 2 baguette type loaves, although making one big loaf is fine too.  Make a few diagonal slits across the top, cover and return to the warm place to rise a second time.  I usually do another hour.  At the end of the second rise, brush top and sides of loaves with milk and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

My review:  It smells awesome.  Every daycare parent that came to pick up their kids, noted how wonderful my house smelled.  I think the bread turned out ok.  The crust is a little tough.  It always was with the bread flour as well, but I think it's more noticeable with the wheat flour.  I probably baked it a bit too long.  I also used 4 cups of flour and then added the gluten, because I'm a little ditzy and forgot that I should take out some flour to make the gluten and flour together equal 4 cups.  The bread will still be really good for French toast and if there is any left, I'll make some croutons, but I think it's a little dry to just eat toasted with butter.  With the small changes, I'm sure that would soften it up a bit and make it a better whole grain French bread.

My middle child thinks it's awesome and was trying to chew some off the end of the loaf.  She's 8.  You wouldn't think I would have to explain how inappropriate that is, but I did!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

No bread today

The plan was to make a loaf of bread today and experiement with whole white wheat flour.  Wouldn't you know, my plans changed in a heartbeat when Hubby called to say he was headed to the ER with chest pains.  He's spending the night and I spent about 5 hours today in the hospital with him and then another hour tonight with him and the kids.  I've just spent the last 3 hours trying to pick up my house that the daycare kids destroyed in my absence.  Here it is, almost midnight and no bread.  After I get home tomorrow from being with him for the stress test, maybe there will be bread.  Hopefully there will be bread!
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