Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Recipe Organizing Ahead December 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 6:56 am
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Can you tell that I am getting on another organizing binge?  Lord help me,  I swear that every time I think I am doing good at this, I find another area of my life that is in need of reorganizing.  It never seems to end.  This time around, it is my recipe collection. What a mess! I have been jotting down old recipes for years in various notebooks, scraps of paper, and recipe cards. Now, I am finding that it is becoming hard to locate a recipe when I need it. Guess it is time to take time to properly organize the collection. I am looking at a variety of ways to preserve the recipes. A simple recipe card file or maybe a binder are two of the options. All I know is that I want the recipes in a central location. I don’t want to have to remember which notebook I write a particular recipe in.

I have enough recipes that I easily fill up several spiral notebooks. For the immediate solution, I could take the pages out of the notebooks and place the recipes by category into a binder. That would work for some of the collection. I also have the recipes written on scraps of paper and index cards to get organized.

I have used the recipe card files before but my collection could easily fill several of them. I am not a huge fan of the index card method though. My biggest fear is the thought of someone dropping the file and all the cards scattering. The thought of having to retrieve and refile all those recipes gives me the shudders.

My recipe collection is more than just the ones I make for meals. I also have recipes for homemade mixes and seasoning blends. Then, there are the recipes for home canning which includes recipes for everything from condiments to meals in a jar. Other categories of recipes which I have include my home remedies, homemade cleaners, massage oils and lotions, tinctures and infusions, and aromatherapy blends.

With this recipe collection, I can already see that I will need at least two large binders if I go that route. One binder for the food type recipes and the other for remedies and all non-food related recipes. It is going to be a large undertaking. I didn’t realize how large my collection was until I tried to find a recipe recently. I spent way too much time trying to find it.

Something that I am finding out about myself is that I am a recipe hoarder.  I save every recipe that looks yummy or peaks my interest.  I have 2 years worth of Vegetarian Times magazines which are filled with nothing but more recipes.  Let’s not forget the plethora of recipes that I have found on the internet or in the cookbooks that I seem to have a hard time passing up at yard sales.

In reality though, I have two basic cooking styles: warm weather and cold weather.  In the warm months, we eat much lighter meals.  It is too hot to be making stews or casseroles.  Instead, we eat a lot of salads or foods that are grilled outdoors.  One of our mainstays in warm months are grilled vegetables.  By contrast, in the cold months, I make more soups, stews, and casseroles.  I got to thinking about all of this and faced a truth.  I could easily glean my recipes down to about 45 entrees, a variety of side dishes, and a few favorite desserts for each of the two cooking styles.  This would considerably but down the recipe collection.  I would start with the basics that we eat on a regular basis.  Next, add a few more recipes that we enjoy less frequently.  In thinking about it, I could easily set up two separate recipe binders.  One binder of recipes for the cold months and the other for the warm weather recipes.  My non-food recipes could go into their own binder, as could my health & beauty recipes with includes my home remedies.   I may even add one just for my canning recipes and homemade mixes.  That means that I am looking at setting up at least 5 binders!  Yikes!!!!!

I wonder if their is a recipe collectors anonymous with a 12-step program I should be looking into.  LOL


Easy Hand Pies November 20, 2014

Filed under: cooking — ourprairiehome @ 3:46 am
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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.


Hot Cocoa Mix Recipe December 9, 2013

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 1:32 am
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When winter storms hit, it is time to make up a batch of hot cocoa mix.  I’ve made this recipe for several years. It is not too sweet and using the non-fat dry milk makes it a recipe even those in our family with lactose intolerance able to drink it.  The recipe is as follows.

Hot Cocoa Mix

25.8 ounces dry non-fat milk
4 cups powdered sugar
2 cups cocoa powder
8 ounces powdered chocolate flavored creamer

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl or stockpot.  Place into an airtight container.

To use:  Add 3 Tbsp of mix per 1 cup of hot water.

Variation: if I have some on hand, I often add 1 large box of chocolate pudding mix to the recipe. The result is a cocoa that is a bit creamier.


Recycled Convenience March 26, 2013

Filed under: family,green living,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 9:11 pm
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I have been taking note of the prices of the serving size packages of yogurt and other foods that we enjoy. It is ridiculous to see how pricey most of these can be.

About 2 weeks ago, I stopped at a KFC to get some lunch for the kids and I. They have the small reuseable plastic containers for their individual orders of side dishes. We saved the containers to reuse when we got home.

I bought a quart size container of yogurt at the store for about $2.50. Using the containers from KFC, I filled up 4 of them to make the kids their own individual servings of yogurt. A 4-pack of yogurt, in the same measurement, costs $1.88 if you buy the Great Value brand from Walmart. The quart size yogurt container is still 3/4 full. This means that I should easily get 12 of those KFC containers worth of yogurt from that quart. If I bought 12 of the individual yogurts at a rate of $1.88 per 4-pack, that comes out to $5.64. By making up my own using recycled containers and buying a quart of the same brand of yogurt, I can get those 12 individual serving for $2.50 or a savings of $3.14. In other words, I can get double the amount (24 individual servings) and still be 64¢ under the price of buying 3 of the 4-packs of yogurt. If you make your own yogurts the savings are even better of course.

I do this same type of thing with jello and puddings. Instead of buying the snack containers, make a box of jello or pudding but divide it into individual serving containers before refrigerating. The convenience is still the same in that you have grab & go containers, but you are spending far less.

I look back at all the snack size packaging that we used to purchase and I cringe. We wasted so much money back then. Now, we are doing it a lot cheaper. The kids still have their snacks available, but we are smarter about the costs. Filling the containers takes only a couple of minutes of my time. Well worth the savings!

You can take this idea to other areas. One is to buy (or make your own) trail mix in large quantity. Using small containers, repackage the trail mix into serving size portions. This again will cut down the expense.

If you have access to a health food store that sells unflavored gelatin in bulk bins, buy it that way instead of buying boxes of jello or packets of knox gelatin. To make your own jello, mix 1 Tablespoon of unflavored gelatin to 2 cups of fruit juice. No sugar is used as the juice is already naturally sweet.

There are many homemade granola recipes available online. Add dried fruits and nuts of your choice to make your own healthy snacks or cereals. As with everything else, you can use recycled containers to make your own individual snack packets.

As you look around your kitchen or pantry, take note of the containers that you can reuse for other purposes. By contrast really noet how much trash you will be tossing out once the single use containers are emptied. It can be quite an education! I now look at most containers at the store. If I can get the same or similar product in a package that can be reused or better yet, composed or burned, then I will buy those before buying a container that is single use. This alone can save you money as well.


High Protein Salmon Cakes March 25, 2013

Filed under: cooking,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:22 am
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Our family loves salmon. Amazingly, it is one of the very few meat items that our son will eat. One day when visiting my in-laws, we were treated to some salmon cakes made with quinoa. We loved them! So, I began making them at home. I wanted to expand on the recipe and after finding several online, I tweaked the recipes until I got the taste I was looking for.

Quinoa-Salmon Cakes

2 large pouches of deboned salmon
1 large egg, beaten
1 sm. bunch of green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs (optional)
Olive oil & butter, for frying

Mix all of the ingredients, except panko bread crumbs, in a bowl. If the mixture is a little too dry, simple add a bit more yogurt until the mixture holds together.

If using the panko bread crumbs, place them into a pie plate. Form the salmon cakes into patties and coat in the panko bread crumbs before frying.

Some recipes call for frying the salmon cakes in oil, butter, or a mixture of the two. I prefer mix the olive oil and butter in a 50/50 ratio.

I make about 10-12 salmon cakes from this recipe. The amount you get will depend on the size and thickness you prefer. I have stretched this recipe out more by adding more quinoa and yogurt.

This recipe also works well with tuna.



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.


Vegetarian Diet & Kids January 26, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 5:10 am
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It is always interesting to me how often people assume that a vegetarian or vegan diet is not healthy for kids. Where did we get the idea that proteins from meat are the only healthy ones? Today, I took the kids to the health food store in the city. Our daughter was absolutely bouncing up and down over my buying some tofu. Yep! I said she was excited about tofu. You see, I have learned to cook it in a way that the kids really enjoy. One super easy recipe is to dice it into bite size pieces after it has been drained. Coat in flour, then egg or egg supplement, then coat in seasoned bread crumbs. Baked for a few minutes at 350*F until lightly golden and you have a fun nugget that can be dipped in any sauce you have on hand. She says she likes them better than chicken nuggets.

A favorite food of our son’s is to make vegetable fritters. I make a simple batter similar to pancakes. Into this, I add a variety of finely chopped vegetables. The ratio of vegetables to batter is pretty even mixture of each. Sometimes, I add so much vegetables that it looks like 2 parts vegetables and 1 part batter. I fry on a skillet the fritters, just as you would pancakes. These are always a hit with the kids. To add protein, I simply add some cooked quinoa to the fritters in place of some of the vegetables. Quinoa (pronounced as “Keen-wah”) is a grain that is cooked as you would rice and is a complete protein.

The bulk bins are my favorite resource at the health food stores. I am able to buy many of our food basics at a fraction of the cost. Today, I bought Sea Salt, Quinoa, and Pearl Barley to add to my pantry. I already have gallon jars filled with an assortment of various dried beans, lentils, split peas, and rice. There is also a good supply of all types of vegetables and some fruits. I love how low cost I am able to build up that pantry. The key is to stick with the bulk bins only.

We bought a case of almond milk while at the store. We love this stuff! Of all the alternative milks, this one has the most mild flavor. We use it for everything, just as we would cow’s milk. The advantage is that it is much easier on our stomachs.

There is so many meatless recipes that are healthy for the entire family. I am surprised often to see the surprise that people get in their expressions when I explain that any recipe that does not contain meat, egg, or dairy products are considered to be vegan. For vegetarians who do eat dairy and eggs, the number of recipes common to meat-eaters is greatly increased. To make those recipes “vegan” you only have to substitute the vegan alternatives for the dairy and eggs.

At the grocery store, our daughter asked if we could get Boca Burgers. These are a vegan burger made from soy. We all love them. The kids and I actually prefer them to the meat burgers. That is one of the advantages that we have right now. Even though our bodies feel sick if we eat too much meat or dairy milk, we do have the option of eating them in moderation. This is an advantage in that we are choosing to eat vegetarian/vegan because we love the recipes and how we feel after eating this way. If the kids really want a beef burger or some salmon, it is no big deal. We don’t believe in denying them the choice. So, we now have Boca burgers in the freezer. Our daughter is thrilled!

I can’t wait to see how the diet change affects my weight. I have extra weight to lose and last time I was eating vegetarian exclusively, I lost quite a bit of weight. I was in the best health and weight that I have been in for a long time.


Chicken and Dumplings December 15, 2012

Filed under: cooking,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:48 pm
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This recipe is a great old standby in our home. We substitute turkey for the chicken after Thanksgiving. It is a great way to use up the leftover chicken from other meals. Simply remove the skin and debone the meat from the fried or roasted chicken and add it to the stew. In our family, we add potatoes or sliced carrots to the stew to make it a bit heartier. One thing to note is that the dumplings are more like a noodle than the balls of dough that many recipes use. Some regions refer to this type of recipe as having “slippery noodles” instead of dumplings.

Chicken and Dumplings

1 large whole chicken
2 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery sliced
salt & pepper to taste

Place all ingredients into a stock pot and cover with water. Boil gently until meat is tender. Remove chicken and take meat from the bones. Return the meat to the stockpot.


2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 large egg

In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Put egg into a 1/2 cup measuring cup and finish filling the cup with buttermilk. Stir into flour mixture. Add a bit more buttermilk if needed to make a somewhat stiff dough.

To the gently boiling stew, add pinched off pieces of the dumpling dough. Gently boil for about 20 minutes or until dumplings are well cooked.

Canning Idea – I love to can up the de-boned chicken in broth with onions and carrots. Then, to make the chicken and dumplings, I only have to add the dumplings to the stew. It makes a fast and easy meal.