Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pumpkin Melts

I've written before about base recipes and making components that can be used for multiple dishes.  This recipe is like that.  Every so often, I cook up a pound of beans, bag them up in one-cup portions, and freeze them.  That's what I did to get the beans for this recipe.

Navy Beans and Salmon

1 onion, diced
2 chopped mushrooms (optional)
1.5 c cooked navy beans (other types would work fine, too)
1 6-oz can of salmon or other fish or an equivalent amount of leftover fresh fish
1 T dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt

  • If the canned fish is packed in oil, pour that into a frying pan and use it to saute the onion and mushrooms (if using).  If not, use butter or the cooking oil of your choice.  Cook the onion until translucent.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients except the fish.  Stir until well combined and heated through.
  • Mix in the fish.
The resulting mixture can be used as follows:
  1. Serve on top of rice
  2. Combine with white sauce and pasta
  3. Serve on its own as a main dish.
  4. Add canned olives and artichokes and serve on top of pasta for an Italian-style dinner
  5. Make Pumpkin Melts:
Pumpkin Melts
(serves 6)
3 mini pumpkins, halved and seeded
~1 c Navy Beans and Salmon
Swiss cheese (3 slices, if using pre-sliced)

  • Place the pumpkin halve upside-down in a baking pan in about 1/2 inch of water.  Bake them at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until tender.  Remove from oven, and allow to cool until you can handle them.
  • Fill the cavity of each pumpkin half with Navy Beans and Salmon, and place in a muffin tin.
  • Top the pumpkin halves with Swiss cheese (about half a deli slice each).
  • Return the stuffed pumpkins to the oven, and heat at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted and has begun to brown.
This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, and The Mommy Club.

Packing Framed Pictures

To me, one of the most annoying parts of moving is packing framed pictures. Using newspaper always seems insufficient, time consuming, and wasteful.  The last time I had to pack frames, I found a better way.
    • Lay out a towel.
    • Lengthwise, down the center of the towel, lay out a row of pictures of similar width.  They should all be face up and spaced about two inches apart. If you don't have pictures of similar widths, place the largest ones on the outside edges, then the two largest pictures will help secure the smaller ones. 
          • Fold the sides of the towel up towards the center of the pictures.
          • On either end, fold the outermost pictures in onto their adjacent picture. 
          • Continue folding the ends toward the center.   When all the pictures are enclosed, close the two ends like a book.
            The result is neat, compact, and secure.  Better yet, you are packing your pictures and towels at once, saving both space and time.

            This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, The Mommy Club, MYHSM and Busy Monday.

            Monday, October 6, 2014

            Savory Bread Pudding

            Here's a good recipes for using up bits of this and that, and it would be appropriate for any meal.  The spinach and mushrooms could easily be swapped out for other ingredients, and the cheese needn't be cheddar.

            Savory Bread Pudding 

            4 slices of bread, cut thick and cubed
            1 c frozen spinach
            2 chopped mushrooms
            1 c grated cheddar cheese
            3 eggs, beaten
            2 c milk
            Dried basil to taste
            Ground pepper to taste

            • In a greased 9x13 baking dish, combine the bread, spinach, and mushrooms.  Top with cheese.  
            • In a bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, and pour over the bread mixture.  
            • Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the egg mixture is set.

            This post has been linked to The Mommy Club, WFMW, Hip Homeschool HopBusy Monday and MYHSM.

            Saturday, September 27, 2014

            Banana Peel Rice Pudding

            A few months ago, I shared that I had started cooking with banana peels.  I have a little more experience with it now, and I'd like to share a couple tips and a new recipe.

            1. The flavor of the peels is improved if you allow them to soak at least a couple hours before cooking with them.  Just chop them up, put them in a bowl, cover with water, and pop in the fridge.
            2. Peels are much easier to cut while frozen.  Don't worry, though, they thaw very quickly.
            3. The stems are too fibrous to eat, and the blossom ends are gritty.  Cut those off, and use the rest of the peel in recipes.  The stem and blossom end can be used in teas or boiled to give a banana flavor to milk or water, and then discarded.
            4. Peels turn brown when soaked or frozen.  Don't let it surprise you or turn you off.When freezing, you can freeze, chop, then spread on a cookie sheet to refreeze.  Stores the chopped peel in baggies, about 1 cup per bag, to save space and ease use.

            Banana peel rice pudding is a new favorite breakfast in our house.  We're eating it about twice a week.  It's filling, tasty, and an excellent source of fiber.

            Banana Peel Rice Pudding

            1.5 c brown rice
            1 c milk
            2 banana peels
            3 c water
            2 T sugar
            1/2 tsp vanilla
            • Chop the banana peels, discarding the stem and blossom ends.  Cover in a small bowl with 1 cup of water, and allow to soak at least two hours, but up to overnight.
            • Combine the rice, milk, soaked peels, soaking water, remaining 2 cups of water, sugar and vanilla in a large pot.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.  
            • Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.  Allow to cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally and watching for boil over.  Add more water if necessary.

            1. This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool HopBusy Monday an MYHSM.

            Sunday, September 21, 2014

            Using Fruit Scraps, yet again!

            As promised a couple weeks ago, I have made syrup from my fruit scrap mystery juice.  I now have two pints of homemade syrup for pancakes, and I won't have to buy syrup for quite a while.  Here's what I did.  Remember that most of my fruit scraps are apple cores, so my mystery juice ends up being mostly apple flavored.

            Cider Syrup

            2 parts Fruit scrap juice or apple juice
            1 part Sugar
            Ground Cinnamon to taste
            Ground Cloves to taste
            Citrus Peel (I used a quarter of a grapefruit peel)

            • Combine the juice and sugar in a pot in a 2 to 1 ratio (1 pint juice to 1 cup sugar, for example).  Once the sugar has dissolved, add the citrus peel and the cinnamon and cloves.  
            • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer until the syrup has reduced to an appropriate thickness.  
            • To test thickness, spoon a little onto a saucer and allow it to cool.  When the cooled syrup moves slowly on the saucer, it is a good thickness.
            • When the syrup is done, let it cool, remove the peel, and pour into jars.  Reserve the citrus peel in the freezer to cut up into batter for baked goods.

            This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschooling HopBusy Monday and MHSM.

            Monday, September 15, 2014

            Spaghetti Sauce: A Follow Up

            In a comment on my last post, Making the Most of Tomato Sauce, Becca wrote:
            I don't understand how that can be enough sauce for two meals plus the 2 Tbsp. 6 oz tomato paste + 2 cups water = less than 3 cups of sauce, right? My family eats almost 1 cup of sauce per person, per meal. I like the idea of using the sauce jar rinse water to steam vegetables! I'll have to try that. You might enjoy my index of spaghetti sauce recipes. I make it a little differently every time, depending on what vegetables we have
            Becca's curiosity strikes at something I've known for a while but have been unsure how to articulate.  Frugality isn't just a matter of what you buy and how you prepare it, it is also a matter of consumption.  Let's use this as an example.

            I'm not saying that I'm frugal and Becca isn't.  On the contrary, I've learned a lot from Becca's blog, The Earthling's Handbook.  Rather, it's a difference in priorities and viewpoints.  Judging from her comment, Becca and I think differently about the role of tomato sauce at the dinner table. These are not earth shattering matters of principle or priorities of any great importance, but they are differences that result in differing levels of consumption of a given item.  Those differences translate into differing meal planning, shopping, and cooking habits and differences in spending.

            First, Becca is right that two cups of water and six ounces of tomato paste would make less than three cups of sauce.  However, I end up with around four cups of sauce because I rely on the bulk added by the onion.  If I also use a bell pepper, the yield is even greater.

            Second, how much sauce do we consume in a meal?  Becca estimates about one cup per person, while I probably use about half that for an adult.  Here is a difference in perspective.  Spaghetti night at my house is a light meal night.   Either we each have a bowl with toast on the side, or I serve it on half a salad plate and salad, broccoli, or peas on the other half.  For many, spaghetti is a comfort food served in large quantities.  For my family, it is a good option for a light meal midweek.

            Another possibility is that Becca serves twice as much sauce for the same amount of pasta.  It is tempting to put a lot of sauce on the pasta, especially if you want to maximize the vegetable content of a high carbohydrate meal.  Perhaps Becca makes chunkier sauce than I do, but I don't like it when a bunch of sauce winds up in the sink because it fell through the spaghetti.  For me, about half a cup of sauce per adult serving is fairly easy to eat with one person's worth of pasta, and about a quarter to a third of a cup per child's serving.  If we are eating small servings and a side dish, then it's closer to a third cup per person.

            For the sake of generalization, we'll say that a spaghetti dinner for my family of five uses a little less than two cups of sauce.  It is worth noting that my sons are 5, 3, and 1.5, and that they each eat about the same amount.

            The amount of sauce that I consider a serving is also based on making sauce from scratch.  When starting with tomatoes, I find that one Roma tomato per person is a fairly reasonable assumption.  It certainly would be if you were serving sliced tomatoes as a side dish.  If you add to that one tomato part of an onion and perhaps part of a pepper, you have a pretty reasonable vegetable side.  And if you cook those three things into a chunky sauce, the result will be around half a cup at most, and the lost volume is water and air.

            Again, none of this is to say that Becca is wrong. She does what makes sense and works for her family, just as I do for mine.  Streamlining expenses involves figuring out what will work best right now and going with it.  A lot of waste results directly from doing things that don't work well for you or don't work well right now.  As we evaluate ideas, it can be important to bear in mind the things that already work.  When what is already successful conflicts with ideas being suggested, the suggestions may well not work for you.

            This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday and MYHSM.

            Tuesday, September 2, 2014

            Making the Most of Spaghetti Sauce

            Whenever I make spaghetti sauce from tomato paste, I use one little 6 ounce can and make enough sauce for two spaghetti dinners or one spaghetti dinner and one homemade pizza.  When the sauce is made, and before I divide it for its two meals, I spoon out two table spoons to freeze and add to my next batch of chicken soup.

            When I empty a container of spaghetti sauce, I don't let any of the residue remaining in the jar to go to waste either.  I scrape out as much as I can with a rubber spatula, and then I pour about a quarter cup of water in the jar, screw the lid back on, and shake it until the water dissolves all the sauce remaining in the jar and on the underside of the lid.  To that water I add a generous helping of basil and ground pepper and a little salt.  I then pour that liquid over chopped vegetables to use as the steaming liquid when I steam in the microwave, such as zucchini or broccoli.  The flavored tomato liquid seasons the vegetables very nicely, and I serve them topped with a pat of butter.  It's been an effective way to get my boys to eat zucchini.

            The used steaming liquid is then added to my stock pot for making chicken or vegetable broth or used in cooking rice or pasta.

            I first tried this after reading the cookbook Ruhlman's Twenty (thanks, Mom!), in which the author discusses the uses of different materials and techniques in the kitchen.  One idea he explores in his chapter on the use of salt is the importance of seasoning the water used for boiling pasta.  Indeed, pasta boiled in broth is delicious, and the broth, now thickened with starch from the pasta, is perfect for using in soups.  But if seasoning the water for pasta flavors the water, then seasoning the water for boiling or steaming vegetables might flavor the vegetables, right?

            It does.  And it's a good way to flavor vegetables that are relatively bland, such as summer squashes.  That it helps me use every last drop of tomato sauce is a lovely bonus.

            Here's how I make spaghetti sauce.  It's the basis for many frugal meals, and having spaghetti once a week really helps keep the grocery budget down.

            Basic Tomato Sauce

            1 onion, chopped
            2 garlic cloves, minced
            1 tsp salt
            1-2 T butter or oil
            1 6-oz can tomato paste
            1.5-2 c water
            Ground black pepper

            1 T sherry
            A squirt of prepared mustard
            Pepper flakes
            2tsp catsup

            • In a pan, heat the oil or melt the butter. 
            • Add the onion and saute until translucent.  
            • Stir in the minced garlic and salt, and allow to cook a few minutes more.  
            • Add the tomato paste and dissolve it in the water.  Once the paste is fully incorporated, add the pepper and any of the optional ingredients desired (add to taste).  
            • Bring to a simmer and reduce to desired consistency.
            • Spoon out and freeze 2 Tablespoons to add to soup.
            • Divide in half for two separate family dinners, and freeze any that will not be used quickly.
            This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday, and MYHSM.