Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Easy Hand Pies November 20, 2014

Filed under: cooking — ourprairiehome @ 3:46 am
Tags: ,

If you are like me, you are always on the lookout for a new option for lunches.  Years ago, I used to make my husband homemade hand pies for his lunches.  Of course, this is before he went back into truck driving.  Now that he is working local again, I have gone back to these as a good option for a hearty lunch.

Hand pies are a common name in the US for large empanadas or pasties as they are known in other countries.  Typically, they are a minimum of 3″ diameter in size.  When I make them, I use a large empanada press that I bought through Amazon.  The one linked below is the press that I purchased.  It is low cost, but the quality has been great.  It makes hand pies that are about 4 inches across the long edge.

imusa press

I make a batch of a bread-style dough (recipe below) before serving dinner.  The dough rises as we eat the meal.  After dinner, I roll out the dough and make the hand pies using leftovers from dinner or some other filling.  The hand pies are baked while I clean up.  Twenty minutes later, I have a batch of hand pies ready for the next day’s lunches.

Some of the fillings that we have enjoyed lately include: Philly cheese steak, beef or chicken pot pie, taco meat and cheese, chili and cheese, pizza toppings, beef stew, chicken enchilada filling, shredded cabbage with beef & onion, and a vegetarian filling made with spinach, onions, slivered almonds and feta cheese.  The beauty of making hand pies is that you are only limited by your imagination.  The only real rule of thumb to follow is to not make a filling containing too much liquid.  Add only enough liquid to moisten the filling without making the dough soggy.

For fruit pies, you can use your favorite pie crust recipe, phyllo pastry sheets, or the bread dough listed below.  We like the bread dough for most things.  Unlike pie crust, the bread dough absorbs just enough of the pie filling to give the bread the flavors of the filling.

One note about the bread dough, this bread will not turn a golden brown like most breads.  Don’t wait for it to brown up or you risk over baking it.

 

Hand Pie Dough

3 cups of flour

1 Tbsp. Sugar

1 tsp dry active yeast (or one packet)

1/2 tsp. Sea Salt

4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 cup warm water

In a bowl, mix the ingredients in the order given.  Dough will be slightly dry once fully mixed.  Pour a little olive oil into your hand and coat the palms of your hands with it.  Knead the dough.  The olive oil on your hands should be just enough to moisten the dough to make it smooth and elastic.  Set the dough in the bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled.

Gently punch down dough and knead lightly.  Dough should be very soft at this point.  Separate the dough into 12 equal portions.  Roll each portion out to about the thickness of a nickle.  Place onto empanada press and fill with just enough filling to cover the center.  Check your press’ instructions for the filling capacity measurement.  Close the press, folding the press shut and sealing the dough’s edge.  Place onto a baking sheet.

Bake the hand pies in a preheated oven at 350*F for 20 minutes.

Makes 12 hand pies approximately 4 inches in diameter

Note:  Depending on your filling, you can freeze the unbaked hand pies to be baked later.

 

Home Canning: Vegetable Soup August 13, 2014

One of the easiest soups to home can is a basic vegetable soup.  It is also a great opportunity to cover one of the important truths of home canning.  Even though a soup or sauce may contain tomatoes, the amount of citric acid in the tomatoes is not enough to allow you to safely process the soups through a waterbath method.  Put simply, if you ever add any other ingredient to the tomatoes, such as vegetables or meat, then it MUST be processed by pressure canning.

Right now, gardens are in full swing.  In some areas, the gardens might be nearing the end of the harvest season.  It is a great time to use up the odds and ends of your harvest to make a hearty soup to stock in your pantry.   For me, there is no real recipe for the vegetable soup.  It is  made using whatever vegetables that I happen to have on hand.  Common vegetables that I put in are carrots, green beans, peas, onion, and zucchini or yellow squash.  I have also added things like leeks, bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, and spinach.    Typically, the tomatoes that I use are the pear shaped ones since they are meatier and less juicy.  These tomatoes just seem to hold up and stay in nice sized chunks much better than the large slicing tomatoes.  This is a personal preference however.  You can use any type of tomato that you have on hand.

As with most of my canning recipes, I really don’t measure very much.  This vegetable soup is no exception.  I start by rinsing off the fresh vegetables and then cutting them into bite size pieces if necessary.  I mix all the vegetables being used in a large bowl or stock pot until they are well blended.  Cover with water if needed to prevent anything from browning before use.

If I am adding meat to the soup, I will brown some bite size chunks of stew meat.  I have a natural aversion to putting raw meat into a canning jar.  I know that some have no problem with this, but I feel that the extra time taken to brown the meat ahead of time is worth the safety of the finished product.  I am able to process the jars without worrying that the meat might not be fully cooked by the time the processing is completed.  As I brown the meat, I add any seasonings such as chopped onions and bell peppers.  I like these to be at least halfway cooked before processing as it really enhances the flavors.  I never add salt to the meat while it is cooking.  Instead, I add salt to the jars before sealing.  A basic amount that I always follow is 1/2 tsp of canning salt in each pint or 1 tsp of canning salt in each quart jar.  This is an amount we always have used.

When I am ready to fill the jars, I place about a 1/2 cup of the meat into each quart jar.  Next, I add enough vegetables to fill the jar to a 1/2 inch below the rim.   Lastly, I add enough tomato juice or broth to fill the jar to 1/2″ below the rim.  Wipe off the jar rim, and add the lid and ring.  I process the jars in a pressure canner for the time required for the meat.   In processing anything, whether by pressure canning or waterbath method, always check to see what the processing time is for the various ingredients.  In this case the vegetables vs the meat.  ALWAYS use the processing time for the ingredient that takes the longest.  In this recipe, the meat processing time is longer than what you would use for the vegetables alone. For those wanting a recipe, here is one of my favorites.

Vegetable Soup

12 large tomatoes, cored and diced
6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced
12 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cups of whole kernel corn
4 cups of green peas
2 cups of green beans, cut into 1.5″ pieces
4 medium zucchini, sliced
2 cups of green lima beans
6 stalks of celery sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 quarts of tomato juice
Salt & Pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, mix all ingredients together.  Cook over a medium heat until heated through.  Season to taste.  Ladle the soup into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace below the jar rim.  Add additional tomato juice or water if needed.

***According to the Ball Blue Book of canning (2009 edition), this type of meatless soup should be processed by pressure canner.  55 minutes for pint jars and 1 hour, 25 minutes for quart jars.  Please check your canning book or resources for the proper pressure level to use for your elevation. This recipe will make about 9 quarts or 18 pints of soup.

When I make a soup like this, I will often fill the canner (7 quarts) and continue cooking on the stove the remainder for our evening meal.  This is especially a favorite in the winter when I can make the soup for canning in the morning.  While the canner is processing on the propane stove, I can let the remainder of the soup simmer on the wood stove all day.

One nice thing about this recipe is that you can customize it using vegetables that your family enjoys.  Many times, I will make a vegetable soup without meat so that on days when we want a meatless meal, we have this available.  I home can meat separately so that I can add it to any recipe later on.  If you choose to add meat to this recipe, the processing times will have to be lengthened to the proper amount for meats.   Again, according to the Ball Blue Book, 2009 edition, the processing times for diced chicken and beef that has been precooked are  1 hr 5 minutes for pints or 1 hr 30 minutes for quarts.

 

Canning for Convenience July 29, 2014

I have been being asked if I would be posting more about home canning.  It has been on my mind to do so, but life happens and I haven’t made any new entries on canning.  I am wanting to change that.  It is as much of a help to me to have my recipes on here as it (hopefully) is to those who try them out.

Before I get started, I want to state that this will likely become a series of entries.  Sort of like the ones you see on other blogs, such as the “Throw Back Thursday” type posts.  In this case, it will be all about canning.  There are a few things that I want to state about home canning.  First, ALWAYS check the instructions for your own canner before trying any of these recipes.  I will purposely be leaving the exact canning instructions out of the recipes.  To state that I process a canner load at 10 lbs of pressure may be accurate for those living at the same elevation as I do.  For those who live at an elevation that needs 5 lbs or 15 lbs of pressure, it would be a problem if you used my pressure levels.  To give the time amounts would also be wrong for me to do.  One of the best and most current resources that I have used is the National Center for Home Food Preservation which teaches in detail how to home can, dry, freeze, and pickle just about anything.  It also has great information for those new to home food preservation, including basic information on how to use home canners.  I strongly recommend that you print the pressure and time charts for each type of food or recipe that you will be home canning.  This will make a quick reference for you to follow later on.

In starting from the basics, you will need a few items to do home canning.  The first is your canner.  For fruits and tomatoes, you will need a waterbath canner.  This is a very large kettle with a wire rack inside.  It is deep enough to allow you to fully submerge quart size jars under water.  In this canner, jars are processed through boiling them for the amount of time listed in the instructions from the above website.    Foods processed in a waterbath canner are high acid foods.  Tomatoes and some fruits contain citric acid naturally.  Others require that you add citric acid to prevent browning.  This acid level is enough to allow you to safely process the foods by boiling the jars.  These are the ONLY foods that are processed by waterbath method.

pressure canner is required for low acid foods such as vegetables and meat.  These foods must reach a very high internal temperature in order to kill off any natural bacteria that can become harmful during storage.  A pressure canner is a large, deep kettle with a locking lid.  Some have a gauge to help you regulate the pressure, others have a weighted gauge.  I use a weighted gauge style and find it far easier to work with.  Modern pressure canners have a venting system that helps to prevent accidents.  On mine, there is a vent that pops up once the pressure is above 10 lbs.  which is the amount needed for our elevation.  As a safety measure, there is also a small rubber plug in the lid that will completely pop out should the pressure become dangerously high.  I have never had that one pop out.  I find that once my canner has reached just enough pressure to make the vent lift up, I turn down the heat just enough to keep that vent slightly open.  This allows me to be certain that the pressure in the canner is high enough without worry that it will over pressurize.

The next thing you need are your canning jars.  I have to admit that I am a jar snob.  I only buy Ball or Kerr brands.  Ball was one of the oldest canning jar manufacturers and have been around for ages.  Kerr eventually bought the Ball company and now makes both brands.  I have tried lesser known brands and every time have had a percentage of the jars break in the pressure canner.  That jar breakage causes not only the loss of the money used for buying the jars, but the food as well.

I am developing a routine with the jars that I use.  Food items, such as when I can up homemade stews, meat, or other chunky and large items always are done up in wide mouth jars.  This is for two reasons.  First, the food is easier to remove later on than it is with the regular mouth size jars.  Secondly, in the case of canning meats, if there is any grease from the meat, the wide mouth are much easier to clean thoroughly.

Regular mouth size jars are used for liquid items, such as tomato soup, juices, and small vegetables.  Cut up green beans, shelled peas, and baby carrots are some examples of the small vegetables I use the regular mouth jars for.  I use this method for all the foods that I home can.  Gradually, I will be using only the wide mouth jars in all my canning.  This will make it easier all around.

Some tools that are extremely useful and that I highly recommend are the following.  A jar lifter is used for lifting the hot jars out of the canner.  They look like a large pair of tongs that have a rubber coating on the portion that grips the jar neck.  Of all the tools, this in one of two that I couldn’t do without.  The second tool is a canning jar funnel.  This funnel has a large bowl with the funnel portion being just small enough to fit inside the regular mouth jars.  Using this, you are able to fill the jars with messy food items without getting food residue on the jar rims.  It makes filling the jars faster and easier as well.  The third item that I use each time I home can would be my kitchen timer.  With kids in the home, I cannot trust myself to use a clock to track the processing times.  I get interrupted or distracted way too often.  It is just good practice to have a timer for canning anyways.  The last items are ones that many use on a consistent basis, but I don’t personally use.  One is the magnetic flat lid wand which is used to lift the flat lids from a pan of hot water,  The other is a similar product, a little rack that you stand the flat lids in while they are being heated in a pan of water.  This process is important in that it helps to insure a good seal on the jars.  I just use a pair of metal tongs to lift the lids.  It is what I grew up seeing done and seems to work just fine for me.

When you buy a case of new canning jars, they always come with the rings and flat lids.  I always keep at least 4-6 boxes of replacement flat lids on hand in the pantry.  There are times when a new lid will fail during processing and you will need a replacement lid before you can re-process the jar.  Reusing the flat lids are a good way to risk the jars not sealing properly.  The last thing you want to risk is a jar lid popping open while on the pantry shelf and food spoiling.

Before you start canning, you need to take a hard look at how your family eats.  While there are a lot of yummy recipes out there to tempt you, the mainstay of your canning should reflect your family’s typical diet.  For example, in the cold months our family eats a lot of homemade soups and stews.  These are eaten on nearly a daily basis in the coldest months especially.  So, when I do the home canning, I will be sure to stock our shelves with a good supply of these types of meals.  I began by looking at what our favorite stews and soups were.  Then, whenever I made them, I would make a double or triple size batch.  As we sat eating dinner, the canner would be processing the extras for stocking the pantry.

Another great use for the canner was when my husband was a truck driver and away from home for up to 8 weeks at a time.  I would home can meals in pint size jars for him to take on the truck with him.  Using a cooker powered by the 12 volt plug in the truck, he was able to cook the food for his meals.  One pint size jar gave him a good sized serving.  Doing this saved us a fortune in food expenses on the road.  When we first began doing this, he was spending $600 a month on his meals and drinks on the road.  When he took a month’s supply of meals on the truck with him, he only spent $150 a month on drinks and snacks.  That was an instant $450 savings each month!  Not to mention that he ate far more healthy meals that way.

One of my favorite meals to home can is beef stew.  It is SO easy to do that it doesn’t take long to have a nice supply of it on hand in your pantry.  I like making this when I find a good sale on stew meat.  I buy a large package of the meat then cut it into bite sized pieces.  In a large roasting pan, I place enough vegetables for one meal and all of the meat.  I oven roast the stew as I normally would in preparing a meal.  About a half hour before the stew is done roasting, I start preparing my jars but filling them 2/3 full of the same mixture of vegetables as I am cooking with the meat.  These vegetables are placed into the canning jars while they are raw to prevent them from being over cooked once the jars are processed.  Potatoes, for example, would completely turn to mush if they were roasted before canning.  If I get the jars ready too soon, I fill them with water to prevent the vegetables from browning if necessary.  Once the stew is done, I remove the cooked vegetables and just enough meat for that night’s meal.  The remaining meat is divided up between the prepared jars. (NOTE: if you out water in any of the jars, the should be drained off before adding the meat.)  I then divide up the broth from the roasting process between the jars as well.  If necessary, I will add some beef broth to top off the jars.  The jars should be filled to 1/2″ from the rim.  Wipe off the rims to make sure there is no juice or drippings from the meat on the rims.  Any residue can prevent the lid from getting a proper seal.  Next, add the ring to the jar to hold the lid in place during processing.  Load up your pressure canner and then process the jars while enjoying your dinner.  By the time you are done eating and dinner dishes are being cleared away, the canner will be done processing in most cases.

I don’t have a specific recipe for making this.  My beef stew is different each time I make it, depending on what vegetables I have on hand at the moment.  Use you own favorite recipe.  If you have a recipe that your family enjoys that comes from a favorite cookbook, use it.  Just double the recipe for a canner of pint jars or triple the recipe if using quart jars.

In future posts, I will be sharing some recipes that our family enjoys.  I hope that this series will be one that will bless you in your efforts in building your pantry with healthy wholesome meals for your family.

 

Waste Not, Want Not July 24, 2014

Filed under: cooking,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:47 am

Today, I am likely to step on toes.  So, with that in mind, if you are easily offended consider tucking your toes far back under your chair as you read this.  Ready?  Okay, let’s see how this goes.

One of my biggest pet peeves when asked about our lifestyle is when people are so shocked at the fact we live a lifestyle that can be managed on a single income.  It is beyond unnatural to them that in today’s economy, we are able to take care of our family’s needs without my having to  work outside the home.  What shocks people the most if that with the exception of a couple of times when we had no employment, we have done this without being on government assistance.  On the two occassions when we did go on food stamps, it was for a very short time.  We waited as long as possible, living on our savings, before we took that step.  It chaffed us to have to ask for help.  Both my husband and I are proud people and were raised with the attitude that you do all you can to support yourself and not become a burden on society.  Now, before people start sending me hate filled comments and email, let me state this.  There ARE situation where being on assistance is needed.  We understand that.  We do not condemn others for that.  We simply feel that as long as we are able to work, we should be doing all that we can to support our family.

The problem that I have is the lazy attitudes.  Often, I will be asked how we manage on a single income.  When I share what we are doing, I am met nearly 90% of the time with comments like, “that is too hard of work”.  My husband and I both make it clear to people that we would NOT recommend our lifestyle to anyone.  It has to be a choice that you make for yourself.  BUT, there are things that you can adopt from our lifestyle that will greatly reduce your monthly expenses.  The issue then is, are you willing to put forth the effort it requires?  Does the financial relief it would give have more meaning to you than the option of continuing with the way you currently live?  Let me give you a classic example.

I feed our family of 4 on less than $400 a month.  That is without having a garden to eat from. As I have mentioned many times before, when I prepare meals I cook most from scratch.  It is amazing the savings your food budget will have if you just make this one simple change.  The cost of making convenience foods from scratch is far less than the cost of buying the packaged foods at the store.  On this one issue, I have heard the worst responses.  Most say that it takes too much time and effort, yet complain about their monthly food expenses.

Another aspect that I follow as closely as possible is to strive to not have leftovers.  This means that I watch portion sizes when cooking.  Often, I will cook a bit extra that can be reheated and sent in a food thermos with my husband for his lunch while at work.  This makes it easy for him to eat healthier as well as saving the cost of fast food.  

Two nights ago, I made spaghetti for dinner.  Instead of buying pasta, I made the noodles myself.  A couple of eggs, water, a tiny amount of salt, and some flour was all that is needed to make enough fresh pasta for our family.  If I wanted to go vegan on this, I could have substituted the eggs with flax seed meal soaked in a bit of water.  For those unaware, 1 Tbsp of ground flax seed meal soaked in 3 Tbsp of water will make the equivalent to 1 large egg.  Comparing the cost of making my own pasta with that of buying spaghetti noodles is very significant.  I can make 4 batches of pasta for the cost of a 1 lb box of spaghetti.  In other words, I can make pasta for 4 family meals at the cost of 1 meal using the store bought.  This is based upon the cheapest brand sold at WalMart.  Things like cake mixes are also a good source of savings.  Instead of using store bought, I make cakes from recipes.

One way to reduce the waste of resources is to simply be creative.  I had a couple of small eggplants and zucchini squash.  Not enough of either one to make a meal.  So, I chopped them up and saute’d them with some olive oil, garlic, and onions.  Once fully cooked, I added the vegetables to a tomato sauce seasoned with Italian Seasonings.  This was spooned over rice for our dinner.  The result was a very flavorful meal that the family enjoyed.  Actually, I was surprised when my husband mentioned that it reminded him of a food he ate while overseas serving in the Navy years ago.

Our Grandmothers’ generations didn’t have the convenience of grocery stores to supply all of their needs.  Yes, markets were available, but they often didn’t have the money necessary to purchase all of their family’s food needs at these markets.  They had to grown at least a portion of their own food.  Whatever food they bought or grew was carefully prepared to make it last as long as possible.  Earlier generations would cringe at the amount of food waste that is so commonplace today.

If you are really serious about wanting to save money in your food budgets, then get ready to put some effort into it.  Nothing is free in life.  There is always a price to be paid.  In this case, the rewards of cooking from scratch far outweigh any perceived inconvenience.  The cooking process is enjoyable and you often will find that the recipes taste far better than the packaged foods.  Another side benefit is that you often can cook less.  This is especially true when it comes to homemade pasta.  When I make pasta for our family, I make half as much as when cooking the store bought, boxed pasta.  The homemade is more hearty and satisfying as well as better tasting.  As you become more confident with cooking from scratch, you can personalize the recipes to your family’s tastes.  Play around with the ingredients to make the recipes your own.

Whatever way you decide to cook, just following the no leftovers portion control will save your family money.  Most times, leftovers will end up being thrown in the trash.  Maybe not the first night, but how often have you cleaned out a refrigerator only to toss a large percentage of the food into the bin?  That is waste of your financial resources.  If you get a handle on this one area, you will find that you have more money to allocate somewhere else in your budget.  Maybe even can be used to build up your pantry.

 

No Grocery Store for a Year? June 28, 2014

Filed under: cooking,gardening,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:15 pm

I just read a very interesting and personally challenging blog article, Our Year without Groceries.  I absolutely love the concept of using locally grown instead of buying at a grocery store.  Clare, the article’s author, detailed how they went through a year without grocery shopping.  I was especially refreshed as I read the effects that it had on her family.

In past generations, people didn’t always have the money to be able to go to the market as often as we do today.  Let’s face it, as a society we are spoiled.  It is more typical of society to go to the store at least twice a week than to go once a week or even once per month.

Could our family make this challenge work in our family?  It would take planning.  In the particle, Clare mentions that her son (who came up with the idea) got many of his ideas from the Little House stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In the books, the family often went to the store once or twice a year.  They didn’t have the convenience of going as often as we do today.

Foods were eaten seasonally.  Their meals were not as full of variety as we have available today.  They ate according to what was in season or stored in their pantry/root cellar.  Cannot this same thing be done today?

I am going to give this some thought.  While we don’t have a garden going this year due to other homestead demands, we do have local farms that sell their surplus.  There are a few things that I can grow that can be harvested in autumn to store for winter.  Some include winter squash varieties.  There are also farmer’s markets that we can buy from during the season.  We could buy enough at the farmer’s market or from farms to home can for our winter pantry stores.

I already do a lot of baking now that we have our new stove.  Buying enough flour for a year’s supply would be a part of that once a year purchase.  Another option would be to buy wheat from local farmers’ co-op to grind into flour ourselves.  Buying eggs and milk from local farms is easy in our area if you don’t raise your own poultry and dairy animals.  Hunting or raising your own meat can be managed as well.

Overall, I can see how it can be done with a good plan and attitude.  The two biggest challenges would be getting out of the habit of running to the store so much and not being fussy and picky about the meals being eaten.  Learning to eat according to what is available instead of catering to the wants and wishes of picky eaters or those demanding a large variety.  I definitely understand the author’s comment of the family appreciating the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables during the growing seasons.  Like the families of generations ago, after a staple diet of eating from the pantry stores over the winter, having a fresh salad would be a treat.

Am I considering this for our family? Yes!  I need to do my research first to find local resources for what we will need.  I have already been doing that for some items.  It is simply a matter of expanding the items purchased locally.

 

 

 

Gluten-Free Diet Changes June 8, 2014

Filed under: cooking,family — ourprairiehome @ 8:12 pm
Tags: , ,

In recent weeks, our son’s therapists each were encouraging and supportive of our trying a gluten-free diet with him.  He has already gone dairy-free due to lactose intolerance.  No surprise there since both his Daddy and I are lactose intolerant.  Unfortunately, Pookie still gets a gassy belly whenever he eats foods containing wheat.  So, with that in mind we are going to try gluten-free and see if that helps.  It takes about 3 months of being gluten-free to fully rid our bodies of the effects of gluten.

Being that we eat a predominately vegan diet, we already don’t eat much meat.  Not that we don’t like eating meat, but between how my body feels after eating meat and the high price of meat, it is easy to go without it.  In fact, we no longer buy meat.  The only time we will have meat is when we go out to eat.  Then it is really hard to eat vegetarian/vegan.  We don’t have much in the way of options where we live.   Unless you are completely in love with the idea of eating salads only, you have to get creative.  We found buffet type restaurants to work best for us.  Now, there is a new twist for our eating options.  Now we have to find gluten-free options.

One of the hardest things about going gluten-free is the fact that most breads sold have the texture of styrofoam.  It is dense and the taste is not very pleasant.  So, my first challenge was to find a recipe for homemade bread.  I looked at the various recipes and found that in the comments, there were some who loved the recipe while others said it was too dense and bland. For our family, that would not work out for us.  We love eating bread.  So, I felt that finding a good recipe was critical for us.

We are a family who believes that if one family member has to eat a special diet, then we all will do the diet change in support of that family member.  This is especially true when kids are involved.  It is difficult to explain to a young child with dietary challenges why they cannot eat a cookie or treat that their sibling is able to eat.

I did a web search for recipes for making a gluten-free all purpose flour.  There are many recipes out there.  I wanted one that was easy to make, low cost, and had a good flavor.  I love to bake all of our breads and baked goods.  It is far less costly than the store bought alternatives.  The baked goods are also much better for you in that they are not full of chemicals and preservatives.  Finally, it is just plain fun to bake.  Little Miss, Pookie, and I enjoy baking together.

I found a really easy and good all-purpose gluten-free flour recipe last week.  I like the flour recipe.  All ingredients were very easy to find at the health food store and at a good price.  The same blog has a recipe for a Soft Gluten Free Sandwich bread.   I am going to give it a try this week and see how we like the recipes.  I will post the results.

As for eating out, I think we will continue with the buffets or possibly start using bento containers and taking food with us.  We have done that often enough in the past.  That is my next Pinterest quest…..finding some fun gluten-free meals to take in bento containers that the kids will enjoy.

 

No-Bake Granola Bars April 9, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:58 am
Tags: ,

I have been searching Pinterest again.  I am hooked on that site.  The latest search has been for a no-bake granola bar recipe.

Pookie just LOVES granola bars.  Most recently, he ate an entire box of the Cliff bars in one sitting.  It is nearly impossible to keep him in good supply of them.  With that in mind, I started looking for recipes to keep him – and the rest of us – well stocked.  I especially wanted to have a no-bake version that will allow me to make them throughout the summer without heating up the kitchen.

I found that in all the recipes, there was a basic theme for ingredients.  The liquid ingredients were nearly always the same and in the same amounts.  To these were added the dry ingredients.  Again, the type of ingredients were very similar in type and amount.  The only true variation was in the type of cereal or trail mix added to the recipe.  With that in mind, here is the basic recipe that I am making.

 

granola bars

 

No-Bake Granola Bar

In a saucepan, melt together:

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup honey

1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

4 Tbs butter

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 teas. Vanilla

 

To the liquid ingredients, stir in:

2 cups of quick oats

1 cup crispy rice cereal (can be substituted with trail mix, graham cereal, or other favorite cereal)

Press the mixture into an 8×8 inch pan that has been lined with parchment paper sprayed with vegetable spray.

Top the mixture with:

1/2 cup chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, M&Ms, peanut butter chips, or a mixture of any of these.

Chill for about 1-2 hours before cutting into 12 bars.

 

Now that you have the basics, here are a few variations that may be fun to try.

Graham cereal topped with a mixture of mini marshmallows & chocolate chips for a S’mores bar

Chocolate flavored crispy rice cereal with cherry flavored chips for a Chocolate-covered cherry flavored bar

Chocolate flavored crispy rice cereal with peanut butter chips for a peanut butter cup bar

Basic granola bar recipe with a mixture of finely diced dried fruits mixed in for a trail mix bar

Basic recipe with a mixture of granola cereal with coconut, finely diced dried pineapple & papaya for a tropical bar

Enjoy!

 

 

Off-Grid Gas Stoves Option March 24, 2014

Filed under: cooking,homesteading,off grid — ourprairiehome @ 9:05 pm
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This month, we had a rude awakening. We were buying a new gas stove to replace the one we currently use that doesn’t have a working oven. In years past, having a gas oven was always the popular option. During storm seasons, a gas stove insured that you had a method to cook when the electricity went out. It would seem that is no longer the case.

We went to the store to buy the gas stove and learned that all of the gas stoves sold in our area now require some electricity to ignite the burners and to run the oven. It is a part of the safety features that the government has placed on the stoves. The system saves of gas usage since there are not any pilot lights to keep lit. This was extremely frustrating to find out.

After we got home, my husband and I began to do some research. The Amish had to have some way to cook without using a wood burning stove in the hot summer months. They don’t use electricity, so what was available to them?

After checking online, we learned that there is an option available. By special order, at many stores, you can buy new gas stoves that have 9 volt batteries to run the electrical system instead of electricity hook-up. We did a search for gass stoves with 9 volt batteries and found many stores, including Best Buy, Kmart, and Lehman’s. The brand which Lehman’s carries is Brown Stove Company. The price for the stoves we looked begin in the $450 range and up.

We plan to order a stove soon. With so many stores offering the option of having special orders and online orders delivered to a local store, it cuts out the shipping costs. It is a good option to consider. Especially if you live in an area that has a lot of storms that bring power outages.

 

Extreme Couponing? pt. 2 February 26, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 3:39 pm

In my last post, I mentioned that I had bought 2 months’ worth of groceries for $124.  Most of the items that I only have to add a little from my current pantry stores to in order to make a meal.  Most everything purchased was on sale.  Many of the items such as the boxed meals are not or typical meal choice, but are items I consider “filler” for days when a fast meal option is needed.  Soon, I will be making a shopping trip to do bulk food shopping at Sam’s Club and Whole Foods.  Those foods will be more in line with our typical cooking style.

(4) Old Orchard brand juice bottles, priced 2/$3

(4) Barilla Spaghetti, priced 4/$5

(4) Bush Chili Beans, lg cans priced 2/$3

(12) taco Bell refried beans, priced $1.00 each but was given $6 off at register

(12) boxes of Velvetta Skillet Meals, priced 3/$5

(4) boxes of herbal tea, priced $2.38 each

(4)  1 lb bags of elbow macaroni, priced 98 cents each

(5) 1 lb bags of lentils, priced 98 cents each

(5) 1 lb bags of split peas, priced  98 cents each

(1) large bag of the store brand of shredded cheddar cheese, priced $4.99

(2) loaves of sara lee country potato bread, priced $1.69 each

(4) lg. pouches of salmon, priced 2/$4

(2) lg. cans of StarKist Tuna, priced 2/$5

I was doing so well, that I splurged and bought a few snacks that were on sale:

(2) Chips Ahoy cookies, priced 2/$5

(2) Oreo cookies family packs, priced 2/$7

(1) 30 oz. Animal crackers, priced $3.99

And, not to be left out, I bought kibbles for our cat:

(2) sm. Bags of Purina cat food, priced 2/$8

 

Okay, so how if this 2 months’ worth of food?  Easy!

4 meals of spaghetti using homemade sauce from the supplies I have in our pantry already.

4 meals of Indian tacos, using the chili beans

6 meals of burritos (2 cans of refried beans each) with homemade tortillas

12 meals using the Velvetta skillet meals, adding a handful of pasta from the pantry if needed

4 meals of mac & cheese or tuna casserole using the macaroni

10 meals of lentil stew

10 meals of split pea soup

4 meals with salmon cakes

By adding vegetables from our pantry, to any of the above meals, I now have enough to make 54 meals!   This does not take into account the large bag of shredded cheese that I will use for making cheesy rice with tuna or veggies, stuffed baked potatoes with broccoli and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and much more.  I didn’t buy any breakfast food since we already have several large boxes of both hot and cold cereals, oatmeal, and I make a homemade pancake mix.  Lunches are usually sandwiches unless we happen to have leftovers from the previous day’s evening meal.  With all the meal options that I have, and adding a bit from the supplies already on hand, the purchases made in that one shopping trip will give me meals for a couple of months.

Note, meals like the lentil stew and split pea soup are very economical when you add a sandwich to a cup of soup instead of making the soup the only item in the meal.  I love to stretch out the lentils by making Kashari and serving it over homemade pasta or some rice.

 

 

 

Monthly Grocery Shopping January 2, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:16 pm
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A few years ago, we would do a once a month grocery shopping trip.  It was great.  I would plan out the menu for the entire month and write out the grocery list accordingly.  Life happened and we got out of that habit.  I am amazed at how our grocery bill has risen since that time.  Not only have prices gone up, but I was not as well planned as I needed to be in order to get the best use from our budget.

We are going back to that method of shopping.  In part to lower our grocery costs, but also to save me the extra trips to the city.  The closest grocery store is 10 miles away and over-priced.  Being the only grocery store within 20 miles of their location, the store can pretty much charge whatever they want and people are stuck paying it.  The produce quality is the topic of a long running joke.  Its quality is what most stores would be weeding out of their displays, yet this store charges full price.  We learned quickly to buy only fresh produce if we planned to use it that day.  If you wait much longer than the day of purchase and you will run a high risk of the produce spoiling.  To get good quality produce, we have to travel about 45 miles or more from home.  If we want good deals on the prices we pay for our groceries, we have to go to the larger cities 80 miles from home.  Needless to say, making a monthly shopping run is much more cost effective than weekly trips.

The first step in setting the shopping trip up is to write out a menu.  Some people like to make a monthly menu but I prefer to write up weekly menus.  I plan up to 8 menus for each season (warm and cold weather) which I can choose from.  For any given month, I simply pick out 4 weekly menus and put them in the order I want to use them.  For your convenience, I have a printable Weekly Menu Planner with the shopping list form for free download.

As I write up each menu, I keep a list of the ingredients needed for each meal.  I write each ingredient on a sheet of notebook paper and keep a tally of each item.  I don’t record each individual seasoning or spice unless it is a seldom used one that I would need to purchase.  Once I have tallied all the ingredients for the menu, I write the grocery list for that week on the weekly menu grocery list form.  I keep the menu with its shopping list in a sheet protector in my household binder.  Recipes that are in cookbooks are noted on the menu with the cookbook name and page number.  Recipe cards for my own recipes are placed in the sheet protectors as well.  This keeps it all well-organized for me later on.

When I am ready to plan a monthly menu, I choose 4 of the weekly menus.  Each is placed in the order in which I plan to use them.  I then write up a monthly grocery list by copying the grocery lists on the back of the weekly menus.  I add up how much of each item is needed.  This gives me an idea of what bulk size package to buy.  For example, instead of buying a couple packs of boneless chicken breasts, I would buy a large bag of frozen boneless chicken breasts and break it down into the amounts needed once I got it home.

Now, you may be wondering how I manage buying bulk packages of meat when we don’t use a freezer.  I home can the meat once I get it home.  Let’s say I needed 4 meals with chicken.  I would buy 2 bags of frozen boneless chicken breasts.  From that, I can parboil the bags of chicken until nearly done and slightly pink in the center.  I would cut or shred up some of the chicken and pack meal size portions into canning jars.  You could also place whole boneless chicken breasts into quart size canning jars.  I love to cut up a chicken breast into a canning jar and pour the broth over it.  This makes a great soup base.  Another idea is to shred some chicken and mix with BBQ sauce before canning.

For ground beef, I have browned it until nearly done before draining and rinsing the meat to remove the fats.  I spoon the ground meat into canning jars and fill to about ¾ full.  Add sautéed diced bell peppers, onion, and minced garlic for a great meal starter.  Often, I will can the meat up plain so that I can use it in any recipe.  For beef stew meat, I brown it well, then place into canning jars.  You can use broth over the meat or not.  It all depends on how you plan to use the meat later.

If you have access to a freezer, you would simply break down your packages of meat into meal size portions, wrap well, and freeze.  The main idea is that through purchasing the bulk packages, you save money over the month.

One of the blessings of shopping this way is that we make less trips into the city.  Not only is it costly for fuel, but it always ends up being an all-day event.  Shopping alone with two young children, especially when one is a special needs child who cannot walk the distance of the store, can be a real challenge.  We plan the shopping trips for when my husband is home.  We go as a family and load up the back of our vehicle with groceries. By going together, we have plenty of hands to help make the shopping easier.  I can push our son in his medical stroller/wheelchair while my husband handles the shopping cart.

The only drawback to our way of shopping is that it requires self-discipline.  You can’t go into the pantry and make anything you want, whenever you want it.  For example, a package of tortilla chips may look like a fun snack, but if eaten as a snack, you now don’t have any for that Nachos dinner later on.

I always plan out snacks as well as the meals.  The kids have learned that they have a free shelf in the pantry.  Anything placed on that shelf is for them to eat whenever they need a snack.  Items there usually include granola bars, trail mix, popcorn for me to help them pop on the stove, or some type of sweet like a fruit filled breakfast bar or cookies.  I buy the large boxes of granola bars from Sam’s Club and then place only a few on their shelf at a time.  Trail mix is measured out into snack size baggies.  This limits the amount they get out at a time. Like many kids, if given their choice, they would pick their favorite items out of the trail mix and leave the rest.  By making up the little bags for them, they are limited.  The small packages are great for a grab-n-go snack when we are going on an outing or they are going outdoors to play.

Overall, by using this planning method, we end up saving at least 50% each month off of our grocery costs.  I estimate the cost of each week’s menu and we budget accordingly each week.  The money is set aside in a bank account until it is time to go shopping.

The hardest month to do this is always the first one.  Luckily, I have always been good about keeping a somewhat well-stocked pantry.  Even at its worst levels, I have had a month’s supply of food.  We may be eating a lot of dried beans and lentils through that month, but we eat well.  Once we start buying for the monthly menu, the pantry can begin being built back up again.  I simply budget an extra $25 or more a month to be used strictly for building the pantry.

Some food items bought for the monthly menu may carry over into subsequent months.  One good example is dry active yeast.  I buy it from Sam’s Club for about $4.00 for a twin pack of 1 pound bags.  Those 2-pounds of dry active yeast will last the average family about a year if they bake all of their own breads, rolls, pizza crusts, etc.  Just a quick note:  I did a price comparison 4 years ago of what it would cost for that same volume of yeast if I had bought the little jars or packets from the grocery store.  The savings added up to $196 for a year’s supply through buying at Sam’s Club.  Other purchases that will likely carry over from one month to another are corn meal, sea salt and seasonings, rice, pasta, and dried beans & lentils.

I hope that this helps to explain the monthly shopping a bit better.  It takes a little practice, but the time spent is well worth the effort.  Allow your family to get involved.  Have each person think of some of their favorite meals and include those on the menus.  Maybe have a theme night menu.  If you have a night that is especially busy each week, consider always having a crockpot meal that night.  One fun tradition we have had is homemade pizza & family game night on Fridays.  If you enjoy the once a month cooking style of meals, this shopping method lends itself to that as well.

If you do bulk meal planning and shopping, I would love to read your ideas and thoughts.  Feel free to leave a comment.  If you have blogged about this topic and how you implement it in your family, share the link in the comments as well.