Posts Tagged ‘frugal cooking’

Make Inexpensive And Healthy Broth – Frugal Challenge

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I’ve fallen victim to a rather lazy trap and I guess it’s time to confess – I love having cans of chicken broth in my pantry.  Lots and lots of cans of chicken broth.

I discovered this addiction while I was cleaning out my pantry recently.  There they were – six big cans of chicken broth.  Adding up the money is what got me thinking about this wasteful habit.

Of course, approximately 9 out of 10 recipes call for chicken broth, so why not stock up?  The answer is simple.  The cost is crazy.

Typically, I would now be offering up my recipe for making your own chicken broth.  But wait.  Before you go out and buy a bunch of whole chickens to make your own chicken broth, I had another epiphany.  Why chicken broth?

The last time I made a chicken casserole that called for chicken broth to be added, it should have struck me then.  You already have the chicken in the casserole, why do you need more chicken in the added broth.  What would you miss if you used vegetable broth?

Of course, I checked the price of vegetable broth in the grocery store before I took my next step and found that even the vegetable broth was outrageously expensive.  The next logical step, of course, was to make my own vegetable broth and use that as the basis for my casseroles, soups, and stews.

That’s what I will share with you today.  Here is the process I used to make my very own tasty, frugal, and nutritious vegetable broth.

carrotsI scrubbed and washed some carrots.

I didn’t bother to peel them;  just took my vegetable scrubber and got them clean.

A coarse chop was next.

celeryI washed and cut up celery, including the tops.

A coarse chop with the celery is just fine as well because everything gets strained out anyway.  Nothing in a vegetable broth has to be bite sized because once the vegetables are boiled and simmered for hours, there’s no flavor left in them.

radishesI had some radishes on hand so I scrubbed those, cut them in half, and threw them in.

Why?  I like the peppery flavor and I had them on hand.  They probably will add a little color to the vegetable broth as well.

onionsI scrubbed up some yellow onions, cut them in half, and threw them in the pot.  I am of the Jamie Oliver school of cooking when it comes to this sort of rough cooking.  Wash the onions and put them in skin and all.  Not only does it add nutritional value but the yellow skins add rich color to the broth.  Scrub the roots well, but if you’re squeamish about the roots, just cut them off.

vegetable brothThen a handful of salt and about 10 whole peppercorns, garlic if you like, and cover with fresh, cold water, and voila!

You have the beginning of a beautiful broth!

Let me share my final secret ingredient here for a successful vegetable broth that looks like chicken broth and tastes rich and wonderful.  Olive oil.

Olive oilYes, drizzle about a tablespoon or so of olive oil in your vegetable broth and you won’t miss the chicken!

Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook as long as possible to get the most flavor.  Adjust your seasonings.

The next time I make my vegetable broth I would cut the amount of carrots in half.  Too many carrots make for a sweet broth and I prefer my broth a bit less sweet.  I also would stick with yellow onions and not try the sweet onions for the same reason – just not enough onion flavor, which I prefer.

vegetable broth completedI ladled out a bit of the broth before I poured it into my freezer containers so you could see the results.  It did turn out pretty colorful and rich.

For the cost of a couple carrots, a bunch of celery, a half dozen or so yellow onions, some water and spices, I have a nice supply of flavorful broth stored in my freezer.  What other broth do I really need?

This is one frugal tip worth trying today!

Depression Era Cooking Revisited – Real Frugal Challenge

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The homemakers during WWI and The Great Depression didn’t just WANT to cook frugal meals; they HAD to cook frugal meals.  Oftentimes, it wasn’t a matter of a tight budget, it was a matter of limited food supplies.

A year ago, we did a short series of Depression Era Recipes that sparked a lot of discussion.  The recipes are very interesting and the videos are heartwarming and informative, much to the credit of  Clara Cannucciari and her recounting of cooking and living during those times.

Click on the picture here to take a look at Clara’s incredible cookbook,  Clara’s Kitchen.Clara's Kitchen

Then, please take a moment to revisit the following videos and recipes and see if you can find something useful for your own family’s frugal meals.

Peas and Pasta – Frugal Recipes From The Great Depression

Egg Soup – Frugal Recipes From The Great Depression

Poorman’s Meal – Frugal Recipes From The Great Depression

Peppers and Eggs – Frugal Recipes From The Great Depression

Simple Bread – Frugal Recipes From The Great Depression

Cooked Bread – Frugal Recipes From The Great Depression

Cook Some Depression Era Meals – Frugal Challenge Monday

Frugal Recipes From World War I

Vinegar Cobbler – Depression Era Recipe

Here’s one more video from Depression Era Cooking that I thought families with kids would especially like because it’s PIZZA. Enjoy!

p.s.  If you haven’t already, be sure to click on Clara’s cookbook, Clara’s Kitchen, as the stories she tells and the wisdom she shares alone are worth the read.  This is NOT just another cookbook.

p.p.s.  Clara dvdAnd, if you just can’t get enough of Clara’s great videos, click on the picture you see here to enjoy the entire collection from Season 1 of Great Depression Cooking With Clara on DVD.

p.p.s. All these videos played as of time of posting, but if any are taken down, I apologize.

How Does Your Food Supply Look Today – Frugal Challenge

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Home Canned FoodAfter last week’s frugal cooking challenge, I was wondering if your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator are starting to look a little empty now.  I’m still chipping away at a lot of frozen leftovers from all the holiday cooking, and my grocery bill is breathing a little sigh of relief.  I’m guessing this will be a very good frugal exercise.

If you missed last week’s challenge, click here to read all about it.

The fun thing about this frugal challenge that my friend Christine, TheMenuMom.com has started, is that you can really get creative with your cooking.  Some of those standard recipes you’ve been using may not be very useful when you are looking at limited food supplies.  Having to find substitutes for certain food items does prove to be a challenge all on its own.  But, since some of our best recipes were developed back in the good old days with food that was available at the time, you might be surprised what you come up with in your own kitchen.

I’ve often had to turn to my refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards for ideas for dinner when time or money ran out.  A grocery budget is crucial and a meal plan works to help contain costs, but sometimes things just happen.  Once again, necessity is the mother of invention, and many an odd but delicious recipe has been created out of having to forage in my own kitchen.

Back in May of last year I wrote about the method of “shopping your kitchen store” when trying to get a meal on the table when plans fall through or grocery money is tight.  If you want to read more about this concept click right here.

I hope you also develop some new, tasty recipes as you clean out your food reserves.  Come back and share your new recipes here if you like.  Even if you think you are not a creative cook, I’m guessing you’ll be forced to look at food in a new way, and that’s always a great talent to learn.  Happy foraging!

Holiday Meals Stretched To Fit Your Budget – Frugal Challenge

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Thanksgiving TableWith Thanksgiving right around the corner, I seem to be focused on cooking.  I’m gathering my favorite recipes and looking for some new ones that could become family favorites.  One of the challenges for many families, especially this year, is creating a feast on a limited budget.  Even though turkey prices are usually reasonable, like most families, I’m looking at a variety of side dishes to round out the table and fill up our tummies.

Last week I talked about making dishes that are more creative for your guests who are vegetarian.  If you’d like to read about serving beautiful meatless main dishes, click here.

The same theory applies to the side dishes served with a turkey as the centerpiece of your meal.  Just because you’re looking for frugal dishes to make doesn’t mean those dishes have to be sparse looking or tasting.

What are some of the classic side dishes you enjoy at Thanksgiving time?  If the famous Green Bean Casserole is on your menu, you’re in luck.  There are many variations to this dish that will spruce it up a bit, making it more of a centerpiece in the meal.  Add extra crunch with water chestnuts or almonds.  Spice it up a little more with a dash of soy sauce.  You could stretch this classic dish out a little further by adding flavored croutons to give it more of a casserole appearance and texture and less of a green bean side dish.  Think of your Green Bean Casserole as more than a side dish – think of it as a guest of honor on your table.

Don’t forget to make extra stuffing when you stuff the bird.  A bit of extra stuffing cooked in a casserole dish adds a lot more mileage to your feast.  Kids especially will love filling up on this inexpensive side dish.  Pass some more gravy and you’ve got another full plate, and full tummy!

And, what about those mashed potatoes?  They’re yummy with just a bit of gravy, true, but you could turn them into a glorious creamy casserole instead.  By whipping in some sour cream, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, half-and-half, some chives, or whatever else you can think of.  Your once plain ol’ mashed potatoes are now ready for their close-up!  These potatoes take center stage on any holiday table when topped off with a little butter and a sprinkle of paprika.

Serving dinner rolls to help stretch your food budget is smart, but putting cranberry muffins or pumpkin muffins on your table is even better.  I know many people who will pass up a regular dinner roll but will help themselves to a couple flavorful muffins when they are passed around the table.  Muffins are easy and inexpensive to make and will stretch your food budget without anyone noticing – or caring!

Pumpkin pie is a classic, but you really can’t stretch it very far.  If your dinner guests are dessert fanatics, try a pumpkin cake in addition to your pumpkin pie.  You can serve quite a few people with one cake, stretching that food budget even further.

When you plan your Thanksgiving or other holiday meal, keep in mind that you can stretch your budget by serving side dishes that are economical, but more importantly, that are a feast for the eye and the tummy!  If your guests can’t resist helping themselves to more of your side dishes, you will accomplish what you set out to do – serve a glorious and plentiful meal at an affordable cost.  And that’s something to be thankful for!

p.s.  If you are looking for a recipe for a perfectly roasted turkey click here.

p.p.s.  You may want to review a whole list of recipes to find even more side dishes to stretch your holiday food budget.  Just click here for some tasty holiday recipes that could become your new family favorites.

10 Steps To Get Your Freezer Ready For The Season – Tidy Tuesday

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

sponge and rag websizeOur freezer is somewhat ignored all summer.  With the exception of popsicles and ice for slushies, we don’t see the inside of our freezer very often during the lazy days of summer.  We are more likely to be eating right out of the garden than out of the freezer.

Then, when winter approaches, we start “putting by” a bit more and cooking big hearty soups, stews, and casseroles.  We normally start cooking for the freezer just as the last of the garden crops are being harvested.

The harvest just happens to coincide with holiday cooking time, and my plans very often involve making meals specifically to stock the freezer during the holidays.  I want a stack of casseroles ready to grab and cook when our family gets busy with the holiday festivities.  It’s also nice to have your freezer ready for baking and freezing bread, muffins, cookies, and other treats.  And, you know you’ll need to have your freezer ready for those big turkeys!  And, of course, I’ll be planning for lots of leftovers so we’ll need to prepare for that, as well.

This is a good time, then, to give the freezer a thorough cleaning to get it ready for the season.  Here are the steps I’ve found work best for me when I clean my freezer before the winter “cooking season.”

Step 1 – Plan ahead to eat anything you can fit into your menu plan before you begin.  The less food you have in your freezer the less stressful this project will be.  If you have delicate items, things that will melt quickly, you will want to eat those items or give them away rather than let them melt during the time you are washing out the freezer. You may need to give yourself a week or so to clear some of the food out, or you may be looking at an already fairly empty freezer.  Either way, this planning stage will make your task go quite a bit easier.

Step 2 – Gather your cleaning supplies.  You will want a bucket, some good clean rags, some old towels, a shallow pan like a cake pan, and possibly a plastic paint scraper if you are trying to remove ice build up.

Step 3 – Grab your coolers, boxes, newspapers, or old blankets to store any food you have in the freezer for the time this project will take.

Step 4 – Unplug your freezer and start removing the food items, putting them into your short-term storage solution; your coolers or boxes.  If you know someone who can store your food items in their freezer, that helps to ease some of the pressure to hurry and get the job done.  But, you’ll still need to put the food into something in order to transport it.  Remove the baskets and set those aside.

Step 5 – Even though this isn’t really a separate step, I like to highlight the importance of this part of the process.  As you are filling your temporary storage boxes and coolers with frozen food, you’ll be culling out any food that is damaged somehow; freezer burned, frost coated, opened, and the inevitable “mystery packages.”  Better safe than sorry – if you don’t know what it is or how long it’s been in the freezer, you don’t want to feed it to your family.

Step 6 – If you don’t have much ice build up on your freezer, just leaving the lid open will get things started pretty quickly so this shouldn’t take you very long.  However, if your freezer has a thick coating of ice, you may want to take your bucket, fill it with warm to hot water, and just gently trickle the water over the sides, melting the ice as you go.  You can use a plastic (notice plastic) wide paint scraper to encourage the ice to let go of the sides.  NEVER use an ice pick – you will puncture the wall, rendering your freezer useless.

Step 7 – Once the built up ice has been dislodged from the sides of the freezer, you can then drain the water out of the bottom of the freezer.  You’ll see a drain with a plug in it.  Once you find that, you’ll want to put some old towels or rags around the floor to catch any spills.  Then, set your shallow cake pan under the drain to catch the water, and then remove the plug.  If you have a lot of water, you may need to put the drain plug back in, dump the water, and keep doing the same thing until the bottom of the freezer no longer has a lot of sitting water.  Some freezers have the fitting for, and suggest the use of, a hose attachment to quickly and easily drain the water.

Step 8 – Fill your bucket with warm, soapy water.  Take your clean rags and gently wash down the sides and then the bottom of the freezer.  You may want to drain the freezer again, and then repeat washing, depending on what condition the freezer was in.  Do this washing as often as necessary, draining the bottom of the freezer after each time.

Step 9 – Now, fill the bucket with clean warm water, and using fresh rags, give the inside of the freezer a good rinsing.  Repeat this as many times as necessary, draining the water in the bottom of the freezer after each rinse.  Some folks like to add a little white vinegar to the final rinse water to freshen up the freezer.  Baking soda works well, too.  Either way, decide on your final rinse, and drain the freezer for a final time.

Step 10 – Dry the inside of the freezer with clean, dry rags or towels.  Be sure you dry the freezer thoroughly to discourage ice from forming immediately when you plug in the freezer again.  Wipe down the baskets if you need to with clean water, then re-install.  You’re done!  All you need to do now is get your frozen food back in the freezer and plug it in.

Now, doesn’t that feel great?  You know what you have in the freezer;  you know the freezer is as clean as a whistle; and you are now ready to cook up a storm.  I hope your “cooking season” is a great success!

p.s.  Some folks freeze water in milk or juice jugs before they clean their freezer.  These big blocks of ice help a less-than-full freezer reach the temperature required to keep the food frozen after the freezer is plugged back in after it has been cleaned.  It also helps a somewhat empty freezer operate more efficiently.  Running an empty or next-to-empty freezer is not economically sound.  Give this some thought when you develop your strategy to clean your freezer.

I know it’s a long way from spring, but I’m sure once you get your freezer smelling all fresh and clean you’ll want some more ideas.  Click on Spring Cleaning For Mom and see what we’ve got in store for next year!

Depression Era Cooking Once Again – Frugal Challenge

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Cast Iron Pans websizeMaybe it’s because kids are back in school, or maybe it’s just the change of seasons peeking out from deep in the woods, but I’m feeling nostalgic these days, whatever the reason.  Putting your youngster on the school bus once again is always cause to stop and reflect.

Folks I know are all looking in the rear view mirror these days.  Frugal living tips often are pulled from our ancestor’s experiences and are the topic of increasingly robust debates in all corners of the world.  What may be one person’s most trusted frugal idea, can be another person’s most vehemently opposed idea to save money.  No matter what the answer is for saving the most money and resources, the debate will rage on and it is a good thing, indeed.

One topic that gets a lot of discussion is saving money on food.  Earlier in the year I raised the issue of cooking like our grandmothers and mothers did during the Depression Era.  When I look back on some of the discussions, I realize that we all have the same desire – to cook good, frugal meals that our families will enjoy.  Take a look at some of our discussions and great family recipes that our readers were willing to share by clicking here.

The issue of frugal cooking seems to resonate with many folks.  Once again, we’re trying to dig our way out of a depressed economy.  We’re all counting our food dollars and trying to make every penny stretch just a little further, while keeping our families’ tummies full.

I’ll share one of my family’s Depression Era recipes with you that I’ve enjoyed.  After you read through this recipe, click here to re-visit the Depression Era Cooking discussion that we held earlier this year.  There are a lot of great ideas, very user-friendly recipes, and even a question or two about healthy-versus-frugal ingredients.  I hope you can find a few recipes to use in your own frugal kitchens.

Plentiful Zucchini Cheese Hot Dish

  • 6 or 7 medium sized zucchini
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 green pepper (if you have it)
  • oil enough to fry vegetables
  • 2 or 3 medium sized tomatoes (or use some canned)
  • 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt
  • 6 or so slices of stale bread, cut in cubes
  • a little more oil
  • 1/2 cup or more grated cheese (if you have it)
  • a little butter if you have it

Use what you can out of your garden. Fry up the zucchini, onion, and green pepper in oil until vegetables are softened a little.  Add the tomatoes and salt, then pour the mixture in baking pan for the oven.  Throw the bread cubes in the hot skillet that the vegetables were in and brown them, adding more oil if you have to.  Put the bread cubes on top of the vegetables in the baking pan.  If you have cheese, grate it for a topping.  If you have butter, a few pats on top is nice.  Put the dish in the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour or until everything is hot and cooked.

This recipe was handwritten on a slip of paper in one of the old cookbooks I inherited from family members years ago.  You can see that the idea is to use what you have and stretch the meal with stale bread.  Cheese may have been a luxury by the looks of the instructions.  And, as we all know if we’ve planted zucchini, that is one crop that gives and gives and gives.  The more zucchini recipes you have on hand, the better off you and your budget will be!

Please take the time to look around the other Depression Era discussions we had, watch the video, and see if you can find something that can help you deal with the challenges that face your family’s budget today.

Literally Cutting Your Food Budget In Half – Frugal Challenge

Monday, August 24th, 2009

chicken plate webIt occurred to me the other day as I was making dinner, that the chicken breasts I was using were really way too big.  Since dinner was almost ready it was too late to change anything, but I vowed to pay attention to the size of the chicken breasts I bought the next time I was in the grocery store.

Sure enough, yesterday as I was browsing the meat department, I found the packages of chicken breasts that I normally buy contained pieces that where unnecessarily big.  I say unnecessarily because I’m sure each piece was more than one person needed to eat.

I will admit that when I make a recipe calling for chicken breasts, if the recipe calls for four chicken breasts, I just take out the four breasts from the package without questioning the size.  With some forethought, and a sharp knife, I believe I can cut this expense in half.

I don’t believe, when feeding a family of four, that it would be wise to cook only two breasts instead of four in order to cut your expense in half.  It would seem quite unsavory to cut the cooked chicken in half, serving a half a chicken breast each to your hungry family.  They’re going to feel gypped!

Instead, what I propose is cutting those larger chicken breasts in half lengthwise before preparing your dish.  Rethink your chicken breasts… turn them into chicken cutlets.  There are many recipes that call for chicken cutlets, which are basically thin or flattened chicken breasts.

Here’s how you do it:  If the chicken breasts are fresh, put them in the freezer long enough so they get a little more solid.  That makes them easier to handle and won’t slide around when you’re trying to slice through them.  If they’re frozen, thaw them out just enough to be able to separate them from each other and to be able to get your knife through them easily.

Place the chicken breast flat on a cutting board, fatter side facing you.  Carefully hold down the chicken breast with one hand, place blade of knife at halfway point of thickness of the breast, and carefully cut through lengthwise, away from you, until you have cut the breast in half.  Separate the halves and you have two chicken breasts.  At this point, you can pound the breasts flatter to form cutlets if that’s what your recipe calls for.  Do this by placing chicken between sheets of plastic wrap or in a zip-lock bag, leaving it unzipped,  and pounding gently several times with a heavy frying pan.

Once you have chosen your recipe, determine whether you want a cutlet or just a smaller chicken breast.  You may want to increase the amount of vegetables, rice, potato, or pasta that you serve with the chicken.  This is a great way to stretch your food budget without your hungry family sacrificing their full tummies.

The next time you are buying chicken breasts, check the size of each individual breast and see if this applies.  It may seem like nitpicking, but if I can get two meals out of a package of chicken breasts instead of one meal, and no one goes hungry, it works for me, and my budget.  This is one frugal challenge I would really like you to take!