Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Homemade Baking Mix & Pasta Recipes February 16, 2013

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:42 pm
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Here is today’s recipes that I wanted to share. The first is for those who love the convenience of baking mixes, such as the boxed versions sold in stores. Here is a really inexpensive homemade one that I love to use. I use this in place of the “Bisquik” for making biscuits during the winter when we eat them nearly daily with soups or stews.

Homemade Baking Mix

6 Cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. Baking Powder
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1 Cup vegetable shortening

Into a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt to mix well. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Place into an air-tight container and refrigerate. This mix will keep for up to 4 months.

Homemade Pasta Noodles

2 Cups of all-purpose flour
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
4 Tbsp. warm water

Place flour into a bowl and make a well in the center. Add eggs, olive oil, and water. Mix together until well blended. Turn onto a lightly floured table and lightly knead until glossy and no more flour can be kneaded in. It makes a somewhat firm dough. Form into a ball and cover. Let rest for an hour. (Do not skip this step! It really makes a difference in the quality of the pasta texture.)

Roll out the dough to desired thickness. I like to make it a little thicker than a dime. Remember that pasta will thicken up a bit more when cooking!

Cut the dough into desired widths and drap over a clean dowel rod to dry overnight. Once fully dried, the pasta can be stored in plastic containers until ready to use.

When making the pasta, I never make more than a month’s supply. Our climate is very humid and I don’t want to risk molding from the humidity. Because of this, I have no idea how long a batch would keep in the pantry.

***Here is a quick tip that the kids love – in place of the water, use pureed vegetables. It provides the liquid, yet gives the pasta beautiful color and added nutrients.



Pantry Building Cheaply

Filed under: cooking,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 3:33 am
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For some time now, I have wanted to start sharing more practical tips for living more simply. It surprises me to see the level of interest the topic has, yet the sheer number of people who are not willing to make even the smallest of changes in their lifestyle. These same people want to have more money, less stress, more time with family, etc. They truly want to learn how we are doing it in our family. Once they talk to us and realize that it takes change on their part, they are beyond reluctant. They simply say that it is too much work or that they are not willing to give anything up.

Living our lifestyle is not something that we think everyone should do. Some families have a passion for a simpler lifestyle while others do not. That is okay. We have never felt that our way is the only right way. It is just the right way for our own family. If it inspires others, then we are happy to have done so. There are many ways that someone can adapt what I talk about in the blog to fit their own situations.

One of my favorite topics is stocking the pantry. It is something that affects all families in at one level or another. It is one of the biggest expenditures in a typical family each month. It is also one of the easiest to cut down to a fraction of what you may currently be paying. We are a family of 4 in our home. There are 2 adults and 2 children, ages 5 and 7 years. My darling husband is on the truck most of the time, but takes enough food from home that I count him in my monthly grocery shopping. There was a time when we spent nearly $500 per month in the grocery store. Today, I pay no more than $200 per month. Most months I spend closer to $150 per month. That is a huge savings!

The largest expense in grocery shopping is meat. Luckily, the kids and I eat primarily a vegetarian diet. This has significantly cut down our spending. On the days each week when my husband is home, I have meal containing meat. If we were lucky enough to get hold of some deer meat, I would cook meat more often. Unfortunately, I cannot eat commercially raised meat very often or it causes health problems. Until we are able to hunt deer, I simply eat meat as sparingly as possible. Thankfully, the kids enjoy the vegetarian meals that I make.

When I do purchase meat, I have learned to shop around. The only grocery store in the nearest town is expensive. It brings me to the problem of either paying the higher price or saving up my meat purchases until I am at another town where prices are more reasonable. As it happened, I found a tiny little convenience store that has a meat deli. The store is a real blast form the past for me. I remember going to a small store like that when we were going to visit my Grandma when I was a kid. As you walked into the store, there was a small butcher shop style deli in the back. We always bought meat there on the way to Grandma’s home. The store in town is very similar. The butcher/deli area is small but well stocked. Their prices are significantly lower than the larger grocery store. It is now where I go to buy meat when my husband will be coming home. I save on average $1.25 per pound. Some sliced deli meats are as much as $2.00 per pound less than the larger store. The meat quality is great. In this one shopping choice, I can save about $25 per month. Of course the savings would be much higher if I bought meat more often.

Another area that is a grocery budget buster is convenience foods. Wow! This one really can pack a wallop on your monthly costs! What I consider to be convenience foods are the boxed meals, canned meals, frozen dinners, and hot foods from the deli. Pay attention to any person’s shopping cart and you will see that most people buy a large percentage of their groceries in this form. You can easily cut back on this expense. A quick online search will give you a plethora of websites containing recipes for homemade mixes. I have found everything from flavored rice pilaf to homemade cake mixes. Even your basics, such as the biscuit mixes, can be easily made at home for far less than the packaged versions. Quite often, our family found that the homemade versions are more flavorful than the packaged.

When I first began making my own “convenience” foods, I was thrilled to see how quickly they are to make. In two hours, I am able to make enough homemade dry mixes to last over a month. The amount spent on the mixes cost much less than expected. I had thought I might save 50% if I were frugal. Turns out that I had a 75% savings on average! That was significant enough to excite us into keeping the mixes as a pantry staple. A couple of my favorite homemade mixes are listed below. I hope that you will enjoy them also.

Homemade Rice Pilaf

1/2 cup of orzo pasta or spaghetti broken into small pieces
3/4 cup long grain rice
14 ounces of broth (any flavor)
2 Tbs butter

To make the pilaf, melt butter in a pan and lightly brown the pasta. Add rice and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until all liquid is absorbed.

Tabbouleh – Most recipes for Tabbouleh contains wheat bulgur as the grain base. I changed this to Quinoa for my version. Being predominately vegetarians, I wanted to have the addition of protein to the recipe. Like the wheat bulgur, cooked Quinoa blends well to any flavor added to it.

1/2 cup Quinoa
1 cup water
2 bunches of fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbs. fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 roma tomatoes, finely diced
1 teas. sea salt
1/2 teas. pepper
6 Tbsp. Lemon juice
6 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Bring water to a boil and stir in Quinoa. Remove from heat, cover and let set until all water is absorbed. In a bowl, mix quinoa and all ingredients until well blended. Chill for a couple of hours before serving. (I usually make it a day before I want to serve it.


Wood Stove Canning February 12, 2013

Today, I tried something new that I have avoided. I canned spaghetti sauce and peach jam on the wood stove. I don’t know why I avoided it as long as I have. I used the waterbath method since the sauce didn’t contain large chucks of veggies or meat. It is a basic sauce and I add the veggies & meat when I set it to simmer during meal preparation.

It was so easy to process the sauce. No different than canning on the modern stove. The only true difference is keeping the fire in the firebox hot enough to keep the kettle of water boiling.

I used a large stockpot that was deep enough for processing pint jars. That is the size jar that I use most often, so getting out the large canner made no sense. I placed a small round rack in the bottom of the stockpot to prevent the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. The stockpot held 7 jars, which is similar to the large waterbath canner.

I set the filled jars into the canner and covered them with water so that the water level was about 2 inches above the jar tops. I used the stockpot lid throughout the processing to help keep the water boiling consistently. I allowed the water to boil for the recommended amount of time in my canning book. When they were done, I lifted the jars from the water to place onto a folded towel. As I lifted them out, I heard that wonderful noise that all home canners listen for – the popping of each jar’s lids as they sealed.

I tried a new idea as I did my canning. I had a large, tall jar of peach jam that was less than half full. It was becoming difficult for our young daughter to remove some jam out when making herself a sandwich. I took out a couple of 1/2 pint size canning jars and filled them with the jam. I had a small amount left over that was placed into another small jar for our daughter to use.

I placed these into the canner along with the 5 pints of spaghetti sauce. The jam sealed wonderfully. If this little experiment works, then I will have yet another way to break down large bulk size containers of food that I buy on sale. In retrospect, that size jar of jam that I had bought would easily have spoiled by the time it would have been used up had I not broke the amount down into smaller jars. We simply don’t go through jam that quickly. This jar was an exception as it was a new flavor for the kids.

If the jam turns out well, then I am going to start watching for the good sales on large containers of jam. It is far cheaper to buy it than to buy the fruit and make your own. I watch closely the ingredients and stay away from high fructose corn syrups and other questionable ingredients. To be able to save extra money this way will sure help the family grocery budget.


Pantry Building for the Holidays November 24, 2011

I had an idea just prior to making the holiday dinner preparations.  Instead of just making what we would need for the meal, why not start early and cook double or triple the amount?  It isn’t as silly as it may seem.

I make fresh whole cranberry sauce each year.  I buy the cranberries at a good price so that I can buy extra.  This year, I made the sauce and then canned it up in jars for the pantry.  I have enough for the holiday meals with a bit extra for later.

Sweet potatoes were on sale a month ago.  I purchased 9 pounds of them.  They were peeled, diced, then processed in canning jars.  I ended up with a dozen jars.

An extra turkey was roasted, then deboned.  I removed any skin and placed the meat into canning jars with broth mixed with a bit of water.  Once processed, this gave me jars of cooked turkey to use in recipes this winter.

I home can many of the foods in pint or half-pint jars so that my husband can take them in his truck.  This makes healthier meals than eating truck stop food every day.  It is also much easier on the monthly budget.  Knowing he wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving, I had an early holiday meal last time he was home.  When he went back on the road, he had all of the fixings for the holiday meal in canning jars to take with him.  In his lunch box cooker, which plugs into a 12 volt outlet in the truck, he is able to fully cook any of the meals.  I sent along some stuffing mix to add to the turkey & broth so that he will have turkey & dressing.  Half pint jars of turkey gravy, some sweet potatoes, and home canned pumpkin round out his meal.  Needless to say, he thinks he is spoiled.  I love spoiling him.  It is my small way to be able to still provide meals for him, even when away from home.

Now that I have seen for myself just how stress-free the canning made my holiday meal preparations, I will be doing this again.  I may take advantage of the season and buy more of the cranberries and other holiday foods while they are on sale.  It is a great way to stock the pantry.