Posts Tagged cooking

Home Made Yogurt in the Crock Pot

I have been kicking around this idea for a long time. I want to make yogurt at home, but haven’t had the time time mess around with finding the right container and and heat source combo. I can’t believe i didn’t think of this.

The basic idea for making yogurt is:

  • Heat the milk to 160F.
  • Add yogurt cultures from live yogurt to the existing heated milk.
  • Maintain the heat for about 8 hours.

This seems like a great way to do it.

Check out Corrie Haffly’s video on doing just that. If you would like to see the entire story, see here.

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Home Cooking – Does it pay?

Some Background

spaghetti.jpg

photo: NuriKharah

Okay, over the past few weeks, I have been flooded with requests for my meatball recipe. To type this thing up, I have to find time to sit in front of my computer, open up a text editor, and bang away. I have decided that while I am at it, I might as well write an article I have been promising myself that I would write soon.

If all you’re looking for is the recipe, it’s at the bottom of this article. Feel free to scroll past the breakdown.

How Much to Dine Out?

The main reason I wanted to look into this is that I saw a story on TV stating that it was cheaper to eat out than to cook dinner. In all reality, they were eating at drive throughs and buying off the dollar menu, but it really did make me wonder how much it cost to feed my family a good nutritious meal. My test meal? Spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic bread.

Having had such a meal in restaurants infinity times, I let’s break this down for a family of four:

Entree$9.99
Drink$1.75
Total$11.74

For four: $46.96 + $9 (tip) = $55.96

This excludes dessert and grown up drinks. Add those, and your bill can really skyrocket.

How much to cook in?

Let’s price out the recipe below. Your mileage may vary, but I am gonna say you should have enough for dinner one night, and lunch for someone the next day (we cage match over the leftovers.. just sayin..).


Spaghetti – 1lb$1.09
Green Bell Pepper$0.50
Onion$0.30
Can of Sauce$1.20
Sausage$1.50
Ground Beef$1.50
Eggs$0.17
Tomato Paste$0.15
Parmesan$0.30
French Bread$0.63 *
Total$7.34

*I am making the assumption that you are making bread from scratch, according to an old post I wrote on baking. This also includes a whole full sized loaf of bread.

So, let’s pretend we are being really tight, and we go through the drive through, and everyone gets one item. This would be a total of $3.96. In other words, for $3.38 cents more, the family could eat a great meal.

Let’s also pretend that instead of eating leftovers tomorrow, that one person bought another burger for lunch. That means it’s only $2.39 more. If, at any time two people want fries, the difference is now only 41 cents.

So, eating off the dollar menu doesn’t sound so good anymore does it?

Conclusion

while feeding everyone (1) one dollar hamburger might sound cheaper up front, it’s really only marginally cheaper, and horrifyingly less nutritious.

Post Conclusion – Is this doable?

The big question that people are going to ask: where do I get the three hours to cook? The quick answer would be to make a triple batch, split it into three parts, and freeze two of those parts. Then, at mealtime, all you have to do is thaw, boil some noodles, and eat!
There are more solutions, but we can hit them in a later article.

The Meatball Recipe

Okay, here goes. The first part is for the sauce, the second is for the meatballs. This is the base recipe. It will easily feed four people. You can multiply this recipe from here.

The Sauce

  • One half green bell pepper, chopped
  • One half white onion, chopped.
  • One clove of garlic.
  • Half a teaspoon of fennel seed
  • A sprinkle of cayenne.
  • 1/2 tablespoon of oregano
  • 1 15 oz can of your favorite sauce – I use Hunt’s.

Into a blop of olive oil, toss the fennel seeds. Heat until they start to sizzle. Toss in the peppers and onions. Enjoy the smell! As soon as the onions start to go translucent, toss in the garlic. Cook for about thirty seconds, stirring. Drop in your can of sauce. Lower the heat and cook covered, as this stuff will splatter on your kitchen and clothes and make a mess.

The Meatballs

While your sauce is heating, hit this:

  • Half Pound of Italian Sausage
  • Half Pound of Ground Beef
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 water
  • Half a small can of tomato paste
  • 1/2 Parmesan. Get real parmesan and grate it. Not out of a can!!

Mix the sausage and the hamburger together. Mix it well. You can do it by hand, I use the paddle on my stand mixer. When mixed, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix only well enough to combine everything. Don’t mix the hell out of it. Just make sure everything is well combined.

Using wet hands, make egg sized (but round) meatballs, and place them into the sauce. Make sure they are all covered.

Simmer for about 45 minutes with NO STIRRING. This will allow the meatballs to form without getting mushy. Cook another hour and a half or so.

Enjoy!

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The Art of the Frugal Spice Rack

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Photos: Prakhar

I sense a flux of cooking articles coming on. I have been hammered with questions, and lately, they are all centering around cooking, and how to get started. Today, I thought I might cover what needs to be done when shopping for spices.

Some Background

In just about every kitchen I have ever visited, on the wall, is the venerable spice rack. There are usually several tiny bottles of more spices than would ever be needed in any cooking situation. The spices in these starter sets are usually the same batch that have been siting in there since the first round.

People usually then ask me what to do with all these spices.

My first recommendation is shocking: take them all, and throw them out.

There are a few rules you should use when evaluating your spice rack:

  1. If you have had a spice for more than a year, and been puzzled by it, it’s probably time to pitch it.
  2. If you can’t remember the last time you used any individual spice, pitch it.
  3. If you can’t name three recipes that would use it, you should probably pitch it.

After all this pitching, your options will be much smaller, but much fresher.

Herbs and spices have a limited shelf life, and once you get the hang of it, you can tell how long they have been sitting there by looking and smelling them. For now, just trust me on this one.

Determining your Needs


Now that you are devoid of stale spices, you have to figure out what you need. This can be really tough at first, and will vary widely by tastes and ethnicity. If you have a stable of recipes you normally cook, and are looking for something new to try, this is where it might get tricky.

When I start to get bored with my current menu offerings, I do the following:

  1. Think of something you love from a restaurant. Then, start searching around for recipes. You will probably have to experiment to figure out how you want to dial it in, but that’s the fun part.
  2. Think of a dish from your past. Something your mom or grandma made, then resolve to learn it.
  3. Watch the food network for about five minutes. That will give you all sorts of silly ideas to play with.

Armed with those recipes, make a shopping list of spices.

Avoid the Grocery Store

Now that you are ready to set out to start or replenish your supply, avoid the grocery store if you possibly can. The grocery store is the most expensive place EVER for spices.

I have started picking up spices at my local bulk food store, and found it now impossible to fork over such serious money at the grocery store. for example:

SpiceGrocery StoreBulk Food Store
Cumin$5.34$0.76
Cinnamon$4.31$0.80
Rosemary(Whole)$5.12$0.71

These prices are for 2 oz containers.

If you are not sure about bulk food stores, make sure to stop by my article on them, and try to find one in your area.

At the bulk food store, there really is no discount for buying larger quantities, so I would definitely recommend buying smaller quantities and replenishing often.

While you are there, don’t buy anything not on your list unless you have immediate plans to use it. You are trying to make sure you have fresh spices on hand. Don’t goof it up.

In the Future

So, you now have a manageable spice rack with only the things you need in it. What to do now? Keep up with more of the above. Experimenting, buying spices on the cheap, and exploring new ways of cooking.

Once you get into a groove, you will definitely keep your spices rotating and fresh.

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The Frugal Pantry – Kick the Can Game

Some Background

While watching the news the other day, I ran across a story of a woman who decided that, besides milk, she would not go to the grocery store for a month. Her family would eat everything that had accumulated in the refrigerator, pantry, and freezer for the month. The endgame was, she ended up saving $800 in grocery bills that month.

At first glance, it sounded like a neat idea, but I quickly remembered that I have been doing the frugal kitchen thing for quite some time, and did not have endless stockpiles of Hungry Man meals at my disposal. I let the idea drop.

Until.

Looking into my pantry, I realized that it was overflowing with purchases that I had made without really thinking. I also had things stuffed into corners of the pantry that were picked up by a more impulsive shopping partner. My whole kitchen could maybe make three meals, tops, but the accumulation of canned kitsch was impressive.

I decided that the herd of cans and packets needed to be thinned. Not like a lion casing the joint for a wobbly zebra, but a slower and more complex hunt. It was on.

Some Definitions

Fumbling through my dusty pile, I realized that there were only a few categories that these cans fit in:

  • I’d Hit That! – These are foods that I really would eat. I usually forget that I have them in the house, so I buy them again. And again. Cans of tomato paste, tomato sauce, italian sauce, green beans. You get the idea. Anything you would possibly eat (even if it’s at 2AM after last call) goes in this category.
  • No Way, Jose – These are the things no one in your house would touch. Some leftovers from out of town visitors, an ex flame who had this thing for cans of pickled hobbit knuckles, canned okra. That kind of food goes in this category.
  • Expired – Yes, even modern food preservation techniques can’t be stretched into eternity. Sooner or later, your pickled beets will be magically transformed into purple botulism death.

Armed with these definitions, the rules are simple.

Rules of the Game

Here’s where it gets interesting.

While you are making your artful frugal grocery list , each meal must address one of those mystery cans.

Take a good hard look at your shelves, and pick one can for each day. Once you do this for a week, you might even want to do two cans a day. Take that one can, and categorize it:

  • I’d Hit That! – This can goes into one of your meals. Craft your menu around using that can for a meal. Hit a few cans of soup for lunch, and you can save a pile of money!
  • No Way, Jose! – While canned smoked ox tongue may sound horrible to you, chances are that if they made a whole canning factory to put said tongues into said cans, someone out there thinks this is a delicacy. Put this in a box. This box is destined for charity. There are probably several charities in your town which would gladly take your cast offs.
  • Expired! – Well, do us all a favor and throw this out.

Do this for a few weeks, and watch your pantry become magically cleaner!

Endgame

Since I no longer stockpile my refrigerator or freezer with unnecessary purchases, they are both in good shape. If you are new to restraining from rote and impulse grocery shopping, you might want to play this same game with your refrigerator.

It beats the pants of cleaning everything all at once, and I think it encourages some actual thought before randomly pitching things.

Advanced Game

For those of you who think I am a little overboard in my descriptions about things you may find in your kitchen, take a look at one of my favorite blogs, Steve, Don’t Eat It! .

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The Art of the Frugal Grocery List

Brief History

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When I first started living out on my own, one of the things I enjoyed (and still do) doing was cooking my own meals. If you are taking on the frugal lifestyle as a newbie, this might be a whole skillset for you to learn. Cooking your own meals is not only fun and relaxing, you will soon find that the food you cook in your own kitchen can be much better than most anything you can find at most restaurants. If there is interest, I will start writing more articles about cooking and grocery shopping in general, but I thought this might be a good starting point.

I knew there was a problem with my methods when I started having to clean out my refrigerator every week or two when I went grocery shopping. I would throw out lots of extras that I bought, lots of extras I bought without a game plan, and lots I bought without any sort of thinking whatsoever.

I found that my major flaw was that I was shopping sometimes without a proper grocery list, and many times, I was shopping without a list at all.

So, a few years ago, I decided to fix this, and come up with a proper plan for grocery shopping. Hopefully, you can adapt this to your needs, and do the same thing.

Do NOT Shop without a List

This is probably the most important thing you can do. Countless times, I have decided to just go grocery shopping on the way home from work. I was a good cook, and could plan a menu in my head, so why should I bother making a list?

There were some very good reasons to do so, I found out.

When you make your list, you do this at home, when you can look into your pantry and refrigerator, and check for duplicates. There are several things that every kitchen should always have in stock. I will write more about this later in the week, but obviously, these are things that you probably don’t need to buy.

I found that without my list, I would buy these essentials over and over to the point where I had many duplicates of them in my kitchen. Sure, it’s okay to have them in stock, but i probably didn’t buy them at a sale price, so I had lost hard earned money to stock my shelves. I found that I had TONS of:

  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Rice
  • Chicken Broth

All things that I could have saved money on by planning before I shopped.

I also found that if I wasn’t diligent in my planning, I would buy stupid things that didn’t make any sense while I was shopping. Cookies, ice cream, candy, and a whole list of things that I don’t even like to eat, but sound good when you are aimlessly strolling around in the grocery store.

So, rule 1. Make a list. But how do you make a list that makes sense?

Properly Planning a Grocery List

So, you realize your system is flawed. You start making a list, but you still have extras of everything at the end of the week that get thrown out. What you have to do is plan your menus that make sense.

Before I went with the high tech method, I was doing everything in my field notes . Here’s how I would break it down.

  1. On the left page, I would list the days of the week. Under each day of the week, I would list the menu items for the day. You should be specific, too. An entry like: Spaghetti with meat sauce, Garlic bread, Red Wine. This will give you a good starting point to plan that day’s meal.
  2. On the right page, start making a list of the things you need to make those dishes. This is where the art of the grocery list comes in. We will talk about this in a minute.
  3. On the right hand side, start making headings based on the departments in the grocery store. Things like: Dairy, Meat, Produce, Condiments, etc. You will have to do this a few times before it starts making sense. Although there is some grunt work here, this is a sure way to save time on your trips. You might even find that there are several specialty stores you need to visit. Put these items under an appropriate header.

Now, when you go to the grocery store, you can fly through the aisles, confidently buying all the things you need. That confidence in your planning skills will also go a long way in making sure you don’t buy extra bags of chips or cookies that sound like such a great idea.

Where is the art you promised?

Okay, grasshopper. Once you have gotten to this point, you will be saving a great deal of money on your food bill. This is where you might find that there is still one snag. On each grocery shopping adventure, you still have things to throw away: half a bag of carrots, half a head of lettuce, two tomatoes, and five nasty old potatoes. While you can compost this stuff, it would be better to be end up with none left at all.

Now, what you need to do is plan your meals strategically, so that there is as much overlap as you can muster in your list without having to buy extra that will spoil. Since there are no real rules to how to do this, and each family is different, I will demonstrate my line of thinking for a week. This week, in fact.

This week’s meal plan!

  • Sunday – We are having guests for a late lunch, so I decided to make barbecued chicken sandwiches. This means I will have grilled chicken leftover, and a few nice buns. I will also need to buy carrots for the sandwiches (let me know if you want the recipe and why I am adding carrots), cilantro, and jalapenos. The rest of the stuff, I have in my well stocked kitchen.
  • Monday – Since I have leftover chicken, and some nice buns, let’s do chicken salad for lunch. Oh! And I have some turmeric in my well stocked kitchen, it will be an interesting salad. For dinner, I will be in a rush, so I am gonna make spaghetti. I will need a green pepper. I have some cans of sauce, and cheese, so I need hamburger and italian sausage. I will buy extra hamburger to grill on wednesday, and since I will be buying sausage, let’s make pizzas on thursday!
  • Tuesday – That spaghetti was good. I have leftover sauce, so let’s have rigatoni with that leftover sauce for lunch. For dinner, let’s go crazy and make chile verde, a pot of beans, and a pot of rice. So I need pork steaks, ortegas, and crushed tomatoes (but I already have these). I can make tortillas from scratch with the flour I have, so I only need to buy two things. Wow! Cheap!
  • Wednesday – Wow. I made a pot of chile verde last night. less than ten bucks later, and I have enough to feed an army. Let’s make a burrito for lunch. The rest of the chile verde is going into the freezer. I can eat that for several sunday breakfasts. I bought hamburger earlier in the week, so I will grill those. I need to buy buns, a head of lettuce, and I got some tomatoes from the neighbor. I have cheese in my well stocked kitchen, so, I just need buns.
  • Thursday – I have a head of lettuce, so let’s make a salad. I might as well make a big one, and have it for dinner tonight, and maybe tomorrow’s lunch. Tonight, we will make pizzas. I only need a few things for pizza: provolone, mozarella, pepperoni, and olives. I have parmesan, sauce, flour and yeast for the dough already. I will serve salad with dinner.
  • Friday – You guessed it. Leftover pizza for lunch. For dinner, let’s go nuts and make a pot roast. I already have the carrots, onions, and potatoes. All I need is a roast, and a can of beef broth (I used my last one last week.) That salad is still good, so let’s have that. I also made bread on wednesday for 62 cents a loaf , so let’s warm some up, butter it, and serve that too! Man, we eat so good around here!
  • Saturday – I have some potatoes left, and a small pot of mashed potatoes is so easy to make. I will mash those, and make open faced pot roast sandwiches for lunch. Hmm.. while I have potatoes boiling, I will reserve some to make a potato salad, since I have everything i need already. For dinner, I am gonna gamble. I will go to the butcher shop, and see what cuts of meat are on sale, and whatever looks good, I will buy it, and cook it up. Whoa! Pork spare ribs for $1.19 a pound. yes! I have beans left over from that pot of beans the other day, so let’s make bbq beans. So, we’re eating bbq spareribs, potato salad, bbq beans, and fresh bread. Less than ten bucks to feed my family a killer dinner. This would cost me more than sixty bucks if we went out.

Okay, I realize that this line of thinking is very much geared towards my situation and my family, but with just a little bit of goofing around, you can easily own this line of thinking and your family can eat like kings, on the cheap, and end up throwing away a very minimal amount of stuff at the end of the week. And, you should be composting anyway, so you can just put it on the pile.

The High Tech Method


So, I grocery shopped this way for years. I used my handy field notes book (which goes everywhere with me) for such a purpose. At some point, I started pursuing developing software for the iPod Touch. The reason I picked up the device was to practice writing an app to automate my grocery shopping style. It turns out that someone else had tackled that problem with an app called Grocery Zen. I purchased this app for $1.99, and it was everything I hoped it would be, so I ended up cutting my development teeth on another project.

Conclusions already!

So, yes, over the years, I transformed my grocery shopping into yet another adventure in planning, frugality, and creativity. I realize that some of these ideas might be a little daunting to newcomers to frugality, and that many of you might not have the cooking skills to hit the ground running, but please stick with me.

In the next few weeks, I will be posting a few hours that will make your leftovers much more interesting, and the smells wafting from your kitchen making your neighbors’ stomachs rumble.

Until then, let me know if you have any questions on cooking in general. Thanks!

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