Meatballs and Gravy for Two

Having mixes in the pantry are great if I remember to use them. The Stuffing Mix seemed the perfect choice for binding meatballs and it’s already seasoned, so it’s quick and easy to use.

Easy Meatballs and Gravy  for Two

Meatballs and Gravy for Two

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

1 cup stuffing mix
1/4 cup milk
1/2 pound ground beef
1 egg
1 14.5 ounce can beef broth
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In a medium bowl, beat together milk and egg. Add stuffing mix and set aside until bread cubes have softened.
Add ground beef to bowl and mix completely. (Hands are the best tool for this)
Shape mixture into 1 inch balls and place into a baking dish. Bake until browned and no longer pink.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter. Add mustard to melted butter and whisk together. Whisk in flour until smooth.
Pour in broth and whisk until blended. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring continually, until the mixture boils. Reduce heat and continue to cook for 1 minute.
Stir in Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Remove from heat and add cream. Stir thoroughly.

Serve meatballs over mashed potatoes, pasta or rice. Top with gravy.

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My Pantry: A Black Hole of a Mess

There comes a season for all things and Spring has somehow been named the season to clean. Too bad for Spring. Instead of fun, its claim to fame is work.Overloaded pantry

Well, in keeping with the spirit of Spring, I decided it was long past time to tackle the chaos in my pantry. As you can see from this photo, I’ve managed to ignore this chore for too many Springs. No longer. This year is it.

First thing was to take a trip to the dollar store. There is always an interesting array of baskets and bins that are ideal for organizing untamed stuff. I picked up a dozen assorted items in a lovely lime green and brought them home with pride in accomplishing this much. Secretly, I hoped the elves would come at night and finish the job. They didn’t.

Armed with my new bins and baskets, I faced the pantry and froze. Where do I start? I just didn’t know. There was just too much stuff. I needed an answer for the miscellaneous small items that jammed the shelves, most of which were spices and seasonings. My spice and seasoning organizer was already full and the overflow had no where to go.

The next thing I did was hit the Internet for an over-the-door shelf unit to store those small items. Once that came, I could revisit the pantry. I took out all the loose, small items that were cluttering the shelves and put them on the door unit. Eureka! I Created space. From there, I could move forward.

The next items I addressed were the canned goods. They were sorted into usable categories and stacked into bins. More space freed. Baking supplies were the next to succumb. A basket corralled powders and extracts nicely. Dry beans found a home. Pasta had a place. Things were really coming together.

As things were sorted, I found things that had been pushed to the back and lost for some time. Four packages of dried chilies surfaced from the depths. Only one was opened. Apparently, I couldn’t find them so I bought more. Not a very frugal thing to do.Dried Chili Peppers

I took some of those chilies and made some great enchilada sauce with them. I adapted a recipe from A Dish of Daily Life.

Enchilada Sauce


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons flour
4 dried Ancho chilies
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste

Chop the dried chilies into small pieces. (The food processor works well for this.) Set aside
Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add carrots, onions, and garlic. Saute until soft. Stir in flour.
Add water slowly, stirring until well mixed. Add the chilies, oregano and cumin. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Puree the sauce in the food processor, a blender, or with an immersion blender until smooth. Season with salt.
May be frozen.

Pantry

My pantry isn’t completely finished but it is so much more workable now. I can find things and I’m working on using things I have on hand to further reduce the clutter. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. I faced this challenge with only a little fear.

DIY Stuffing Mix: Not Just for Thanksgiving

DIY Stuffing MixMy favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is the stuffing. Maybe the pumpkin pie, too but mostly the stuffing. The meal is simply incomplete without it. I make a big batch every year and there’s always plenty of leftovers. This is one time I don’t worry about it because not a crumb will go to waste.

Bread stuffing is just too good to only have once a year. There are alternatives to homemade but packaged stuffing mixes are just short of awful, in my never humble opinion. They are loaded with salt and little else. In their defense, they are convenient.

A weeknight dinner doesn’t lend itself to lots of time-consuming cooking in most households. Even in my retirement, when time is not at such a premium, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on dinner. There are simply too many other things to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t want good food. It’s why I love this mix. It takes a couple hours to make but most of that time is waiting for the bread to dry in the oven.

I use the French or Italian bread I find on the clearance racks at the store. It’s usually half the price of a fresh loaf and perfectly good for this mix. Cubing the bread is a little tedious, but worth the effort.

This recipe comes from the book Make-A-Mix by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, & Madeline Westover. If you like DIY mixes, it’s worth the effort to find a copy. I have to admit that mixes fascinate me and I’ve written about them before:

Five Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

The Baking Mix Scoop

The original recipe calls for adding dried onions to the mix. I made them optional in my version because, if I make it for stuffing a chicken or a side dish, I want to add fresh onions to it. If I use it as part of a recipe, then it’s easy to add a bit of dry onion.

Herbed Stuffing Mix


30 slices firm-textured bread, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
2/3 cup cooking oil
3 tablespoons instant minced onion (optional)
3 tablespoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons garlic salt
3/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put bread cubes in two 13×9 baking dishes. Toast the bread in the oven, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
Drizzle oil over bread cubes. Add onion (if using), parsley, garlic salt, sage, and pepper. Toss to combine.
Store in an airtight container. Use within 3-4 months.

The following is straight from the Make-A-Mix book. I’m sure you would only need half of this recipe to stuff a chicken.

Supper Stuffing


3/4 cup water or broth
7 cups Herbed Stuffing Mix
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 onion, diced
4 large stalks celery, chopped

In a large bowl, moisten stuffing mix with liquid.
Melt butter in a medium skillet. Saute onion and celery until tender. Combine with stuffing mix and toss lightly.
Mixture can be baked in a lightly buttered casserole for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

What mixes do you like to have in the pantry? Please leave a comment.

Panzanella Salad for Two

Panzanella Salad for Two

Panzanella Salad is a delicious mix of tomatoes, cubes of crusty bread, and a rich dressing. Does it surprise us that this salad, that has been around since the 14th century, didn’t originally include tomatoes. A previous post about a bit of tomato history is here. It just wasn’t that tomatoes weren’t available in Europe until the 16th century, they were suspect as a food source long after. The first references to this salad described it as a mix of onions and stale bread. The recipe of that time consisted of pieces of bread soaked in water and vinegar and then tossed with any fresh vegetables that were available. Onions have long storage time and were often the freshest produce around. That doesn’t really sound that appetizing but with the reputation of the tomato, who am I to judge?

In the middle ages, bread was a staple of life and a precious resource for families. Most households did not have an oven inside their residence. People had to use the communal ovens in their village to bake bread for their tables. Oven space was finite, so bread was baked only when ovens were available. Couple this with the inability to store the bread well and the loaves often became stale before the next baking day. Panzanella salad is thought to be a way that people of that time used their stale bread so that it wasn’t wasted.

The tomato remained absent from this salad until the twentieth century when availability was increased and superstition was decreased. Not only is this salad a good repository for leftover bread but any fresh vegetables in the refrigerator can be added. So in keeping with the concept of Don’t Toss It-Eat It, use any leftover bread you have on hand, such as, the last of the dinner rolls, the remainder of a loaf of bread too large for your family, or the heels that no one wants. Toast them for Panzanella instead of tossing them.

Panzanella Salad for Two

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

2 cups fresh bread cubes
1 cucumber, sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 Bell pepper (any color), diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
2 TBS chopped parsley
1/4 cup Italian dressing
1 TBS lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan[/recipe ingredients]

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread on a baking sheet and bake until crisp. Combine vegetables in a large bowl. Mix lemon juice and dressing. Pour over vegetables and toss until coated. Add bread cubes and toss to combine. Serve immediately. Note: For an extra punch of lemon, add the zest from one lemon to the salad.

5 Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

5 Frugal Things I've Done This MonthLiving frugal is a lifestyle and I have been doing this a very long time. When I look back at things that I’ve done, it’s sometimes hard to remember frugal activities because they are so much a part of my everyday living. Here are just 5 of the things I’ve done this month.

1. New mixes for the pantry

Three mixing spoons
Mixing spoons

I love mixes. I love homemade mixes even more.

The first mix was for ranch dressing. Yum! It’s really good and so easy to do. I found this same recipe on several websites, so I can’t say for sure where I first located it.

Ranch Dressing Mix

Ingredients

1/2 cup dry buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together until well combined. Store mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To use: Mix together 1/4 cup ranch dressing mix, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk. Blend thoroughly.

The second mix I found Cooperative Extension Department at Utah State University. (This link will open a pdf file) I have used the SOS mix several times instead of canned soup and the recipes have come out very well. The cool thing is all the recipes that come with the basic mix. It really shows you how to use this mix.

Soup or Sauce Mix

Ingredients

2 cups powdered, non-fat milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 tsp Italian seasoning (optional)

Directions

Combine 1/3 cup of dry mx with 1 1/4 cup of cold water. Whisk until thoroughly blended.
Cook and stir until thickened. (Stovetop or microwave)
Add to recipes as you would a can of cream soup.

2. Remembered the dollar store

I started giving my daughter a Valentine card when she was a little girl. She’s well into her thirties now, and I still get her a Valentine. We all know how expensive greeting cards can be but not at the dollar store. The savings is worth the trip. Plus, there’s a lot of other cool things at that store worth investigation.

3. Made broth

Bowl of homemade broth
Homemade Broth

I’ve made chicken broth many times but not with any regularity. A few months ago, I bought and Instant Pot. Of course, I read all kinds of things online about using my new gadget and one of the things I found was making broth. Now, I purposely make broth. I buy whole chickens, roast them, pull the meat from the bones and make broth from the carcasses. The leftover rotisserie chicken can also be used for broth. Of course, beef, pork, or turkey all make excellent broth.

Also, I’ve started saving vegetables in a freezer bag for vegetable broth. I’ve made one batch so far, and I’m pleased with the results. I put leftover vegetables, peels from carrots and potatoes, and little bits and pieces that result from preparing vegetables for a meal. It all goes in the pot and comes out wonderful broth. I bought 2 cup freezer containers (at the dollar store) to store my broth. The Instant Pot makes it easy to use frozen. Just thaw enough to remove from the container.

How to Make Instant Pot Broth

Put chicken or turkey carcass, beef or pork bones, or 4 to 6 cups of vegetable scraps into the Instant Pot. Fill with water to the 2/3 line. Set time for 1 hour at low pressure. Use natural release. Refrigerate broth overnight and then skim off any fat before storing.

4. Started my garden seeds

Seed Starting in Newspaper pots
Starting seeds for spring

Garden plants have become expensive. Spending $3 or more on a plant for the garden makes it more difficult to save money by gardening. I will still buy a few, but some are so easily started that it doesn’t make sense not to do it.
I first posted about starting seeds in Fearless Gardening. Make these useful seed-starter pots with these instructions here and here.

5. Shared a no-cost solution

I’m including this even though I didn’t save money by doing it. Someone close to me was paying a subscription site for audio books to listen to while she was jogging. I pointed her to her local library which has audio books available to borrow. This is about a $10 per month saving for her and a warm and fuzzy feeling about helping someone for me.

How did you live frugally this month? Be sure to leave a comment.

Tomatoes: Are They Evil or Are They Fruit?

Tomatoes: Are They Evil or Are They Fruit?
Tomatoes: Are They Evil or Are They Fruit?

In 1521, the Aztec city of Tenochititlan came under the control of Hernan Cortez. It’s likely that the explorer was the first to bring tomato seeds back to Europe after the plant was found in what is now Mexico. The fruit we know as the tomato was called tomatl by the Aztecs and they were yellow rather than the classic red. Instead of using the newly arrived plants as a food source, many grew it in the garden as a spot of color.

The tomato was declared to be a poison apple in the 18th century. Someone made the observation that people who indulged in eating tomatoes died. Never mind that it was likely the lead poisoning caused by eating a highly acidic food from a pewter plate. Each bite of an 18th century Eggs in Purgatory delivered another dose of lead leached from their fine dinnerware.

Others were certain that the tomato had influence on human behavior. When the plant was classified as a mandrake, references from the Bible warned that the tomato could act as a love potion, triggering the nickname of love apple. I’m not at all sure why we should avoid something that brings us love. Being lumped into the Solanaceae family of plants didn’t bode well for the tomato. In that group, the tomato was also thought to be kin to Nightshade, which had hallucinogenic properties as well as an association with witchcraft.

Aside from its characteristics as an aphrodisiac and a hallucinogen, the humble tomato was also assigned supernatural powers. German folklore tells us that witches used the tomato to call werewolves. This practice of using the tomato to summon lycanthropes influenced the name of the plant species: Lycopersicon esculentum.

To top off its sullied reputation, the tomato was the subject of a Supreme Court case. In 1893, when the Court heard the case of Nix v Hedden, the fruit or vegetable argument was settled. It was to be considered a vegetable, even though it fit the definition of a fruit. Why, you might ask? Money. Vegetables were subject to tariffs and fruits were not.

In spite of its rocky past, Americans eat about 22 pounds of tomatoes every year. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that most of this consumption is the form of tomato sauce. All the ketchup and pasta sauce on our dinner table add up.

So, if you dare, indulge in pasta with a tomato-based sauce. Here’s hoping for the best!

Simple Tomato Pasta Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients


1 medium carrot
1 celery rib
1/2 medium onion
1 clove garlic
28 oz can tomato puree
1/4 cup olive oil
Basil or oregano to taste

Directions


Using a food processor, finely chop the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Mix all ingredients in saucepan and simmer until vegetables are tender. Allow to cool and return to food processor. Blend until sauce is smooth. (Optional) Add seasoning as desired.

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Show Me the Whey

I’ve been making yogurt for about a year. I like the texture of Greek-style yogurt, so I drain the whey from the mixture. The problem is what to do with the whey. I did try replacing the liquid in a bread machine recipe with the whey. It was OK but not great. The bread was a bit dense.

Somewhere online, I found that whey could be substituted for buttermilk, so I tried this route by making buttermilk biscuits. They were tender and flavorful, so I think this was a success.

Buttermilk Biscuits

  • Servings: 10 biscuits
  • Print

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 cup whey

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F.
Combine dry ingredients in the bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor.
Cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. If using a food processor, pulse until reaching the proper consistency.
Add whey and mix until moistened.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and gently pat the dough until it is approximately 1/2” thick. Fold dough over several times and pat out again until it is 1” thick.
Using a round cutter, cut out biscuits and place on a cookie sheet. For soft-sided biscuits, place the rounds close together.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until light, golden brown.