Versatile Rice Pilaf

RiceNext time you need a quick and easy side-dish, think of rice pilaf. It can be varied to compliment your main dish.

Basic Rice Pilaf

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup long-grain rice
1 can (14.5 ounce) chicken broth

Melt butter in medium sauce pan or skillet with lid. Add onion and garlic, sauteing until tender.

Add rice and stir until all grains are coated with butter.

Add broth. Bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Approximately 20 minutes.

Mushroom  Variation

mushrooms

Add 1/2 cup diced mushrooms with onions.

Broccoli and Cheese Variation

broccoli

Add 1 cup broccoli florets and 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Include 1/4 cup cream with broth.

Spanish Style Variation

tomatoes

Add 1/2 cup chopped green pepper with onions and garlic. Sprinkle vegetables with 1 teaspoon chili powder.
Stir in 1 cup diced tomatoes with broth.

Cook Like No One is Watching

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Cooking at home is critical to a frugal lifestyle. There are few instances where purchasing something pre-made will be less expensive than making it at home. Perhaps more important than cost, is that there aren’t mystery ingredients in homemade food. You hold more control over what you and your family eats.

So, if you feel that you could use a boost in your kitchen skills, check out these sites. There are many tutorials to help learn a new skill or improve your techniques. I have found that I prefer my own cooking now, over a restaurant meal, since I started improving my cooking skills. I hope all of you can find the same.

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UK Cooking Expert Delia Smith

Arizona Central Offers Basic Lessons

Chef 2 Chef: Learn from Pros

Some Free Classes from Craftsy

National Baked Bean Month

July is National Baked Bean Month. I have not yet celebrated this event.

I’m not a big bean fan but they do fit nicely into summer meals. Is there anything much better than something from the grill served with a side of rich beans? Well, maybe, but not during National Baked Bean Month.

Beans

The problem with cooking beans is that most recipes make far more than I need. I have tried to solve this by creating my own recipe for two. First, I cooked a large batch of beans from a recipe by a well-known author. They were awful. I don’t have a bean pot and I’m sure that was the problem with this authentic New England recipe. If I had a bean pot, they wouldn’t have tasted so bad.

After a couple more tries from various recipe sources, I still haven’t found one that I like. Is there something wrong with me or is it that you just can’t cook beans properly in Texas?

I’m not giving up, especially now that I know about National Baked Bean Month.

All Recipes boasts 70 recipes for baked beans. Maybe one of them is the recipe I’m looking for.

Frugality Requires Things

I might be retired, but that doesn’t mean that I want to spend any more time than I have to in the kitchen. Saving money isn’t rewarding if I don’t have time to enjoy it. I’ve got things to do. That’s why I use machines.

 Four of my most-used machines

Bread Machine

Does anything smell better than baking bread? OK. There might be something, but I think it’s still near the top as far as good smells. Using a bread machine simplifies making fresh bread. I’ve tried making bread the traditional way. It never turned out well and I gave up on fresh bread for many years. The bread machine solves my heavy, dense bread problem. It also solves my pizza dough and Hawaiian rolls problem.

Dehydrator

My husband likes jerky but it’s expensive to buy. Buy a dehydrator and the problem is solved. It’s incredibly easy to make jerky and at a significantly lower cost than commercially prepared jerky. I’ve dried fruit and fresh herbs with it too, but the main use in our house is jerky.

Slicer

We wait until beef is on sale before making jerky. Only one store in our area has a meat department that will slice roasts for you. That’s what we did when we wanted to make jerky. Unfortunately, this store has stopped slicing roasts that are on sale. We bought our own slicer. Now, we can buy beef anywhere it is on sale and not just at the store that would slice it for us.

Food Processor

Does it slice, dice, and julienne fry? Maybe not, but it will do a lot of great things. I use it to make mayonnaise, finely chop vegetables and nuts, and puree sauces. Again, all of these things can be accomplished by using hand tools, but I like the time-saving advantages of machines.

Kitchen tools

I can make great specialty breads for a fraction of the price. I can make a pizza with my homemade dough that rivals any restaurant pie. I can feed my husband’s jerky habit for much less. Add the time-saving benefit to the monetary savings and it’s a double whammy. It does cost money to buy machines and perhaps that isn’t always in the budget. I think we’ve saved the cost of all the machines by making jerky but something more difficult to quantify is also at work here. Life is short and time is precious.

What’s in Your Pantry?

 

A well-stocked pantry saves money and time. Meals can be created quickly with what’s on hand and ingredients can be mixed and matched. Out of vinegar? Try pickle brine or lemon juice instead. No canned broth? Use a can of tomatoes with the liquid. The options are endless.

This is a list of items I usually have on the shelf or in the refrigerator.

Produce

Onions-yellow, red, white, shallots, or leeks
Celery
Garlic
Carrots
Peppers-sweet and hot
Tomatoes
Lettuce-leaf, iceberg, romaine, etc
Parsley

Dairy

Cheese-Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, or Swiss
Milk-fresh and dried
Butter
Sour cream
Eggs

Condiments

Mayonnaise
Ketchup
Mustard-Dijon, yellow, honey
Salsa
Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce-Tabasco, sriracha or other

Sweet Additions

Dried fruit-raisins, cranberries, apricots
Honey
Jam
Sugar-white and brown
Syrup-maple or other flavor

Starches

Dried or canned beans-navy, black, pinto
Rice-white, brown, wild
Pasta-spaghetti, macaroni or other small pasta
Tortillas-flour or corn
Rolled oats

Acids

Vinegar-cider, balsamic, rice, red wine
Lemon or lime juice or fresh lemons and limes
Pickles-dill, bread and butter
Olives-black and green

Baking

Flour-all purpose, wheat, unbleached
Baking powder
Corn starch
Unsweetened cocoa
Vanilla extract

Oils

Olive
Sesame
Vegetable-corn, canola, peanut

Miscellaneous

Canned tomatoes
Tomato sauce
Tomato paste
Canned broth
Frozen vegetables
Nuts
Bread crumbs
Bacon
Peanut butter
Spices
Salt and pepper

 

Food: The Budget Buster

Jars of Jam

 

There’s no shortage of tips and advice about saving money on food.

We all know that eating out is one of the biggest budget busters around, but we still do it. I was reading one website that offered the advice: cook at home one to two times per week to save money. (Sorry, I didn’t bookmark this one.) Really? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? How much would someone save if eating out was limited to one to two times per week?

I know how busy life can get and why it’s so tempting to pick up something to go. It’s also common knowledge that cooking at home is truly the least expensive way to eat. It’s much better to save eating out for a treat instead of a regular occurrence.

Of course, there is information about what families spend on food. The US Department of Agriculture publishes a schedule of average food expenditures in America. It’s updated regularly to accommodate changes in the economy.

There are four food plans:

  • Thrifty
  • Low-cost
  • Moderate-cost
  • Liberal

I was curious about where we were in spending, so I saved grocery receipts for a few weeks, added up all expenditures for food, and then calculated a per week average. Our average spending fell in the Low-cost plan, which is approximately $109 per week. Sometimes I spent more and sometimes less, but the average came pretty close to that figure.

This was done before my husband retired from his job. While he was working, we bought some convenience foods that he took for his lunch everyday. Yes, convenience foods are expensive compared to making it at home, but eating out for lunch is much more expensive than a few packaged foods every week. Now, that we are no longer buying that type of product, our spending is probably trending downward toward the Thrifty plan. Of course, I only counted what we spent at the grocery store. We don’t eat out often enough to make much of a difference in our budget.

Knowing what you spend is important and enlightening. Haven’t we all worked with someone who bought something from the vending machine everyday or had lunch delivered to work most days? If you add up just the snacks from the machine, it could total quite a bit. A study for the vending industry found that the average cash vending machine sale is $1.16. If the purchase is cashless, then that average rises to $1.71. It is just too easy to spend small amounts of money and then forget about it. After all, it was just a dollar or two. Someone who puts five days a week in at work will spend $5.80 cash or $8.55 without cash per week . That’s $290 per year and $427.50 per year respectively. If two people from the same household hit the machines every day, we’re starting to talk about some real money.

If you have not analyzed you spending yet, give it a try. It might show that there is at least one area where you can save without it hurting. A bit of planning may save money in another area and you won’t notice that you aren’t spending as much because you’ve planned a substitute. It’s much like dieting—eat this but not that. Spend this but not that to save on food.

What’s for Dinner?

Menu

Monday:
Sweet Chicken/Bacon Wraps
Green salad

Tuesday:
Stuffed Peppers
Cucumber slices

Wednesday:
Enchiladas
Refried beans

Thursday:
Sausage and Peppers
Hard rolls

Friday:
Chef Salad

Saturday:
Oven-baked Chicken
Mixed vegetable hash

Sunday:
Salisbury Steak
Rice
Seasoned vegetables

I have found, over the years, that it’s much easier to get dinner on the table when I know what to cook each day. It was necessary when I was working. I never wanted to come home and stare at the kitchen, wondering what I could fix. With a plan, I just look at my written, weekly menu and problem solved. My list is so much a part of my routine that without one, even with a full pantry and freezer, I become the deer in the headlights when the “what’s for dinner” question comes up.

Before I go to the grocery store, I plan a week’s worth of dinners. If I want to switch them around, no problem. I did that last week. When I first planned the Chef Salad, it was for the weekend. On Friday, I didn’t feel like cooking, so I made the salad instead. The plan is top secret. No one knows what’s on it but me so changing it doesn’t cause ripples in family unity.

There’s also the opportunity to try new recipes each week and not just fall back on my tried and true meals. For me, that’s the fun part of planning. I’ll sit down with a cookbook and look over all the tantalizing recipes. OK, some aren’t that tantalizing. I skip those. I should mark the recipes in the cookbooks that I want to try, but I’m not that organized. Maybe it’s because I really do like to thumb through cookbooks.

Menu plans help you use up what you have on hand. When I’m planning, I take a quick inventory of the refrigerator and pantry. If there are things that need to be used, like produce before it goes bad, I can add that to my menu. It helps me prevent food waste which saves us some money. I can’t say that I always get to the produce before it’s spoiled. Menu planning makes me look into the refrigerator with a critical eye and I’m more likely to rescue produce on the edge of rotten.

Menu planning is one habit that’s actually good for me. Too bad I can’t say that about other things I do, but that’s for another blog post.

Salisbury Steak for Two

I’m OK with just a hamburger patty as an entree but, if you want to elevate the simple patty, you can call it Salisbury Steak.

salisbury steak for two

Salisbury Steak for Two

1 egg
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 pound ground beef

2 strips bacon
2 teaspoons dried parsley or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons cream

Beat egg lightly in a mixing bowl. Add next five ingredients and stir to moisten. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well.

In a small skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Reserve drippings.

Mix parsley into beef and shape into two oblong patties. Spread 1/4 cup flour on a plate. Dredge patties in the flour and brown in bacon drippings.

Meanwhile, melt butter in small sauce pan. Add mushrooms and saute until tender. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons flour over mushrooms. Add beef broth, whisking continually until thickened. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top patties with mushroom sauce and bacon.

5 Reasons to Scratch It

brownie and coffee

 

Why do I cook from scratch? The stores are full of wonderful ready-to-eat products, why make my own?

1) I have time
Cooking from scratch does take more time, though often not a lot more time. In the case of homemade yogurt, the time is spent on waiting. Heating the milk takes only a few minutes, but the rest of the process takes more than 6 hours. Of course, I don’t have to stand there and wait for it, I just have to not forget about it.

2) I can control my ingredients
Packaged foods contain a few ingredients that help to preserve the contents and provide a longer shelf-life for the product. I don’t have to eat those. I’m sure none of them will prolong my shelf-life.

3) Things taste better
I had a package of seasoned coating mix in the pantry. (I think it was there for a while.) It tasted like salt. There were many other ingredients listed, but all I could taste was the salt. If I want my chicken to taste like salt, I can do that myself. I can add more or cut back on one or more ingredients to make it taste like I want it to taste, even if what I want is salty.

6) It’s usually cheaper
I did a cost comparison for baking mix here. While it may not prove to be true every time, overall it is cheaper to make your own.

5) I can’t go back.
Since I started cooking more things from scratch, packaged foods just don’t taste good to me anymore. I prefer what I make.

When All Else Fails, Bake

My mother is no longer living, but I remember that it was always difficult to find anything to give her for a gift. Perfume made her sneeze; flowers in the house made my father sneeze. She always told us that she had enough stuff. Of course, stuff is easy to find and buy for a gift so, without resorting to stuff, what’s left? She did allow us some openings for gift ideas that she would enjoy. Her words: “If I can’t eat it, read it, or wear it, I don’t want it.” Clear enough.

The best Mother’s day for me has always been to spend it with my daughter and, now that she’s here, my granddaughter. We are planning a picnic. I can’t think of many things I want to do more than that.

So, if your mother is in the eat it, read it or wear it category, here’s something to try. I may make some for myself. They’re truly tasty.

Cherry Muffins

Cherry Almond Muffins with Streusel Topping

  • Servings: 12 large muffins
  • Print

4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups milk
¾ cup butter, divided
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 can (21 ounce) cherry pie filling
½ cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease large muffin pans. (3 inch x 1 ½ inch cups)
Mix 4 cups flour, the baking powder, salt, and ¼ cup sugar in a large bowl.
Melt ¼ cup butter. Add eggs, milk, melted butter and almond extract to dry ingredients. Mix until moistened. Batter will be lumpy.
Fill muffin cups 1/3 full. Put 2 generous spoonfuls of the cherry pie filling (5 to 7 cherries) in each cup. Top cherry filling with remaining batter until cups are ¾ full.
To make the streusel topping, mix ¼ cup sugar with ¼ cup flour. Cut in ¼ cup cold butter until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the chopped almonds. Sprinkle the topping over the muffin batter.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes until the streusel is golden brown.