Sunday, December 30, 2012

Joining a Pantry Challenge

W already made the comment that we needed to do a pantry challenge.  When I saw this post on Good Cheap Eats, I knew I wanted to join in. 

My goals are to use what we have and cut my grocery spending.  I did some stocking up over the holidays and am paying for it now.  We have plenty of food on hand and are in no danger of going hungry or even feeling deprived.  It will involve some cooking from scratch.  I will still pick up a few fresh foods.  Otherwise I will use what we have.

Are you planning to eat from the pantry to start the new year?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Furry Friday




Monday, December 17, 2012

Homemade Gift - Cinnamon Roasted Pecans

I have a few people on my gift list that like to give a food gift each year.  This year I adjusted the recipe here.  The original recipe called for almonds.  I have pecan trees in my yard which means I have an abundance of free pecans.  I substituted pecans for the almonds.  I used 4 cups instead of the 3 1/2 cups.  I found that it reduced the amount of wasted sugar.  I made a double batch of cinnamon roasted pecans.

A couple of years ago I picked up some cute holiday themed Chinese takeout boxes.  I think I paid 9 cents each for them.  They have been sitting in a plastic tote waiting to be used.  I lined each one with a piece of waxed paper. 

I filled each box with pecans, signed the gift tag, and they were ready to go. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bell Gift Tags

I am making an effort to use my Cricut more and have decided to jump in on this week's challenge from the Fantabulous Cricut Challenge Blog.  The challenge is Bells Are Ringing.  I used the Very Merry Tags cartridge to make some bell gift tags.  I used some scrap paper and leftover ribbon so it was a very frugal project and even better than buying gift tags!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Handmade Christmas Gifts

My family has lots of little girls in it.  This year I learned to knit using circle looms.  I decided to make some knitted gifts.  First I made knitted hats in two sizes based on the ages of the girls.

Here is a close up of one of the hats.  I should say a big thank you to hubby W for making the flowers for me.

The older girls are getting matching knitted scarves in the same pink yarn.  The younger girls are getting leggings made from knee high socks.  I used this tutorial.  It was really quite easy.  I think they turned out cute.

I used two and a third skeins of yarn (less than $10) to make six hats and two scarves. The knee high socks were $2 a pair.  I would have paid at least $10 each to buy similar hats.  Making these items was definitely worth my time and helped stretch my budget.   

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reader Question - Waterbath

Reader Dan asked the following question:  can someone explain the jars in a waterbath stage? ive never heard of this and i make a lot of jams

Technically any recipe that is canned needs to be heated either by waterbath or pressure canning.  This is to heat what is inside the jar and kill and bacteria.  I admit to occasionally using what is called the open kettle method meaning I do not process the jars at all.  I should point out that this method is unsafe and should never be used

Waterbath and pressure canning are very different.  Only fruit or jams should be waterbath canned.  Meats and vegetables should be pressure canned.  You can read more about the differences here.  Waterbath canning involves completely submerging the jars in a pot of boiling water for a set amount of time.

While I like to live on the edge, I have started waterbath canning my jams/jellies.  The main reason is that I now use a low sugar pectin.  Sugar can help prevent bacteria growth.  Using less sugar in a recipe means there is a greater chance of bacteria growth.  It is simple to do, and I figure it is just an added precaution. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Wonderful Kitchen Tool

I should warn you ahead of time that this pictures in this post are a bit mixed up.  I took some one day and the rest another day so they do not match. 

This is my favorite new kitchen tool:  an apple peeler, corer, slicer.  It took me minutes to peel, core, and slice an eight pound bag of apples.  It was so easy I did three 8 pound bags of apples.

It was not all just for the fun of using the machine.  Those apple slices went into the dehydrator and become dried apple slices.  They are yummy for snacking and delicious in my morning oatmeal.

With the apple slices I was left with piles and piles of apple peels and cores.  W was insistent that I do something constructive the "leftovers".  I piled them all in a pot with a bit of water.

Once they cooked down I strained out the apple juice to make jelly.  Here is where the mixed up pictures come in.  These are Granny Smith apple leftovers but the picture shows jelly made with Red Delicious leftovers. 

The now cooked and mushy apple leftovers went to the chickens who found them to still be quite tasty.  This was a no-waste project.   Sure I could have tossed the peels and cores straight into the compost pile, but I would have missed out  on the middle man - yummy apple jelly.  Every bit of the apple was used and enjoyed!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Greenhouse Update

Oh my, I can hardly believe over a month has flown by since my last post.  It is past time for an update of what is going on in the greenhouse. 
When I posted last it was practically empty.  We had a night of below freezing temperatures a couple of weeks ago.  I moved my plants into the greenhouse.  The tomato plant you see near the left hand side looks sad, but it has quite a few tomatoes.  I am crossing my fingers that they will grow a bit and ripen.
On the other side of the greenhouse are lots of  pineapple plants, the lettuce, and a few ferns and other flowers.

Remember that container of dirt that I planted lettuce seeds in about a month ago..... Here is it.  This picture was taken after I had clipped a bowl full of lettuce.  I have missed homegrown organic lettuce.  The never ending fresh lettuce in the middle of winter is one of my favorite benefits of a greenhouse. 
The pineapple on one of the larger plants is growing well.  We should be eating fresh pineapple in a month or so.  (I do not know why the picture rotated itself.)
Some of the cuttings I took are showing signs of life.  I hope this means they are growing roots as well.  I am trying to be patient and will check them at the end of this month.
This biggest surprise to me what how quickly the dwarf lemon tree has grown.  I should have put it in the greenhouse a month or so sooner.  It went from looking okay to being covered in little bloom buds.  I can hardly wait until they open.  It seems like that happened overnight!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Indoor Plants

Not only do I have plants outside I also keep some inside.  My indoor plants are mainly in the kitchen windows as they are safe from the cats there.  I have a variety of violets.  All of them were purchased on clearance. 


You should be able to see a small pill bottle in the middle.  While I was repotting one of the violets over the weekend, a leaf fell off.  It was a small, new leaf so I immediately put it in water to root.  I hate to waste it when it could become a new (free) plant.
I also have an orchid which was purchased on clearance for $2.50.  I am still learning to grow these, but I am enjoying the blooms now.
I have mentioned before that I enjoy finding clearanced price plants.  With a bit of care they can quickly grow back into their former glory.  I do not mind a little patience in exchange for saving money!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Greenhouse

A couple of weeks ago W and I put new plastic on the greenhouse in anticipation of the upcoming winter months.  My greenhouse is not fancy, but it is big.  I need all of the room to store our potted plants, grow lettuce during the winter, and start our spring seedlings.

I am putting it to use a bit right now.  I took some cuttings from our pear and pomegranate trees.  Those are in a mixture of sand and compost and will hopefully root in a couple of months.

I also planted some lettuce and spinach seeds and have that in the greenhouse since it is much warmer in there than outside.  I have three containers and will plant them a week apart from each other so we have a steady supply of lettuce and spinach.  This year we have three rabbits to help us eat it.

Another reason for putting the lettuce in the greenhouse is to keep it away from our visitors/helpers.  These ladies do a great job of scratching in the compost pile and adding a bit of fertilizer. 
They do love anything green and tender lettuce leaves are a particularly tasty treat.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rooting Pineapple Tops and Dividing Older Plants

I bought two pineapples this week at the grocery store and took advantage of a sale and coupons.  I cut those up this past week.  The two tops of course are now rooting on my kitchen counter so I will have two more pineapple plants in a few weeks.

When a plant gets older, it will begin to put on "pups" (shoots off the base of the main plant).  I had two plants with pups.  I only removed them from one as the only plant is producing a pineapple.  I do not want to disturb it too much.  Here is a picture of the second plant so you can see one of the pups.

It is a little hard to see since the plant is so big.  If you notice the front left side of the plant, you can see leaves which are slightly smaller.  There is a second one on the other side.  You simply find the base of the plant and cut away the pup with a sharp knife.  Of the two I removed one had very defined roots while the second did not.  Roots will grow once the pup is planted. 

The two plants in front are the pups.  I removed them from the plant that produced a pineapple earlier this year.  That plant is still growing strong.  These will be kept in a shaded area of the yard for a couple of weeks.  The removal of the shoots was simple and they should grow just fine.  My free pineapple plants just keep producing more and more freebies for me!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Yard Sale Finds

This past weekend was an annual holiday bazaar and yard sale at a local church.  W was off work and able to go with me this time.  We ended up with some wonderful deals.  He found several pieces of cast iron cookware.

First we got a frying pan with cover for just $4.

We got an 8 inch frying pan for $2, a 6 inch frying pan for $1, and an 8 inch griddle pan for $1.

They all cleaned up nicely and were seasoned with grease.  We did not necessarily need any of them but will certainly use them.  At those prices it was impossible to pass them up.

I found the piece of fabric below.  I have not taken exact measurements but estimated it to be about 2 yards.  I am planning to use it to make napkins.  I only paid $2 for the fabric.

The final item was found by my mom at another yard sale.  I needed a box grater for making homemade hash browns.  The small grater I have has holes wich are much too small.  I had borrowed hers but was on the lookout of one of my own.  She found one that looks brand new for only 50 cents! I saw a similar one in a store for $10, which means I saved over $9.

I was pleased with all of our purchases.  They were all useful items.  Now that I have a good collection of cast iron I will be tossing our non-stick frying pans.  The napkins will be well used and will replace some of our current napkins which are getting threadbare. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Freezer Challenge Days 12 - 14

The past few days I have focused more on using up items that have been in the freezer longer than I intended. 

Day 12 - I made cherry tarts using half a package of phyllo dough.  I am experimenting with pre-making the tarts and baking them at a later date.  I also used a package of ground venison to make sloppy joes.

Day 13 - I cooked a frozen homemade hamburger helper type meal, squash, and butterbeans.  It was nice to eat a meal entirely from the freezer.

Day 14 - Lunch today is fish fillets, whole kernel corn, and roasted potatoes.  The potatoes were a convenience food that was free as a trial item.  I baked them, smashed them, and then baked a little longer.  The potatoes were definitely an item that needed to be used up. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Goodyear Blimp & Freezer Challenge Day 11

Freezer Challenge First..... 

Yesterday we had a bacon cheeseburger pizza.  I cooked a pack of turkey bacon from the freezer and also used pizza dough which I had frozen a couple of weeks ago.  The bacon needed to be used.  I, of course, did not use all of it on the pizza.  The remainder will be eaten with waffles (from the freezer as a future meal).

Last Sunday I was only in the church service long enough to play the piano.  Then I went back over to the social hall to finish cooking crescent rolls.  My parents always cook the chicken tenders for church meals.  When they drove up with those, my dad pointed to the sky.  What a surprise to see the Goodyear blimp flying overhead.

We live in an extremely small town so this was quite a treat.  In small towns odd things become major excitement.  Still it was fun to see it flying  by. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Freezer Challenge Days 6-10

Have you ever felt like you were taking one step forward and two steps back?  That is what it has felt like here recently.  Sunday was Homecoming at our church.  I was busy with various things related to that.  Then it was a matter of catching up on things at home after it was over.  I did still manage to use a few freezer items along the way. 

Saturday the 6th - I took out two packages of whole kernel corn to thaw for Sunday's meal.  I also used some pecans.

Sunday the 7th - I took 160 frozen crescent rolls out of the freezer.  I am thankful for a warming oven which allowed them to rise quickly.

Monday the 8th - I used the last two frozen turkey burgers and two homemade hamburger buns.  I also cooked some frozen french fries.

Tuesday the 9th - I used a package of ground venison and half a package of frozen mixed vegetables to make soup.

Today - Sadly the only thing eaten from the freezer has been ice cream.  We spent longer than planned in town today and had take out for lunch.  We have enough leftovers for supper.  Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day. 

It feels good to be caught up and have life back to normal - for a little while!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Freezer Challenge - Day 5

Yesterday I used two homemade pie crusts and one package of chicken pot pie filling.  The pie crusts were definitely on the must use list.  They had almost been in the freezer too long.  That is the main purpose of this challenge.  I know I have items lanquishing in the freezer that just keep getting pushed to the side.  I hope to use up some of these items over the next few weeks.

I apologize for the rather dull posts this week.  I have had other things going on that took up too much of my time.  I have some more interesting stuff to share along with the freezer challenge updates next week.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Freezer Challenge - Day 4

Another quiet day for the freezer challenge.  I used a package of ground venison to make taco salads for lunch.  I used two of the homemade tortillas I froze earlier in the week to make tortilla bowls.  I had a homemade frozen meal for supper as W was working late.  I did make vanilla ice cream which went into the freezer.  W has already started working on that.  I think I should have better luck using over the weekend.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Freezer Challenge - Day 3

Yesterday was not an especially great day for the freezer challenge.  I did reach my goal of using up one item.  I had a small bit of sliced ham in the refrigerator freezer.  This was an item that definitely needed to be used.  I thawed it slightly and W diced it to go on our homemade pizza. 

Grocery shopping yesterday was minimal.  I spent $19 on four boxes of cereal, two packages of grapes, sausage, and Goldfish crackers.  I guess even my shopping yesterday was a bit dull. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Freezing Challenge - Day 2

Yesterday was another good day for using items from the freezer.  I also added something to the freezer though - homemade tortillas.  I tried making them once before and they did not turn out well.  I recently saw a recipe for homemade tortillas from Mom on a Mission.   I prefer whole wheat tortillas.  Since we began cutting back on processed foods, I found that the ones we still ate tasted awful.  I have not tasted these tortillas yet.  However, they rolled out much easier and cooked up better than my previous attempt.  I will be using them to make taco bowls later this week.

Here is what I took out of the freezer yesterday:

From the refrigerator freezer
~two homemade English muffins for W's breakfast
~chocolate chips for lava cakes

From the big inside freezer
~macaroni and cheese
~jalapeno poppers

I also put dough for a pizza crust in the freezer.  That will be used next week though. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Freezer Challenge - Day 1

Yesterday was the first day of my freezer challenge.  I was able to use several items since I made a serious effort. Here is a quick rundown of what I used on day 1.

From the refrigerator freezer
~For breakfast I ate the last biscuit
~I also took out two bags of homemade bread ends/pieces.  Those only half count since I turned them into bread crumbs and put them back in the freezer. Now they are usable.
~My lunch was one of my homemade frozen meals.
~I removed a container of chickpeas to roast.
~I used shredded zucchini to make muffins.

From the outside freezer
~A container of half and half is thawing in the fridge and will become vanilla ice cream.
~I needed a pound of butter and pulled one from the freezer.

From the inside freezer
~I used cranberries in the zucchini muffins.  Those went back in the freezer but will be my breakfasts over the coming week. 
~Homemade burritos were our supper last night.

I am certain every day will not be that good.  It proves that I have plenty of useful items on hand already.  I just need to be proactive about making use of what I have. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Another Freezer Challenge

With the freezer cooking I did earlier this month and the freezer cooking I have planned, I need to make some room in my freezer.   The easiest way to do this is to eat from the freezer.  My goal for the month of October is to use something out of the freezer every day.  I have an abundance of frozen fruits and vegetables and am going to make an effort to use some of these. 

Join me this coming month as I take some things out of the freezer so I have room to put more in. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Freezer Cooking

First I should apologize for the long time between posts.  Life got in the way.  A second apology is due for the lack of pictures in this post.  At the time I was trying to squeeze in all of the cooking and keep the kitchen clean.  I guess this post is more about making the best use of ingredients by cooking multiple dishes rather than the dishes themselves.

My latest freezer cooking all started with the purchase of four chicken breasts for $2.89.  I knew I wanted to make chicken pot pie filling.  I boiled the chicken breasts which also netted me a pot of chicken broth.  My first dish was the chicken pot pie.  I shredded three of the chicken breasts and used two cups of the chicken broth.  I also used part of a can of evaporated milk and pack of frozen mixed vegetables.  Both were bought on sale with coupons.  I finished up with onions and celery which I had on hand.  I ended up with enough filling for two pot pies.

Since I knew I would have chicken broth I also purchased fresh broccoli for $4.38 to make broccoli cheese soup.  I chopped up some onions and carrots to go along with the broccoli (I kept out one crown for another use) and added in about four cups of the chicken broth.  I also added in some half and half from the freezer.  I had bought it on clearance a while back.  I used cheese purchased on sale.

I used the final chicken breast and remainder of the broccoli in a broccoli chicken rice casserole.  I used most of a bag of brown rice again bought on sale with a coupon for about 20 cents.  I used the remainder of the chicken broth in homemade cream of chicken soup.  That gave me the equivalent of two cans of soup to go in the casserole.  It was much cheaper than buying the healthy, low-sodium canned soup. 

From the first two dishes I had some leftover evaporated milk and half & half.  I added in a bit of water to make enough for a double batch of whole wheat waffles.  Since I had cooked an entire bag of rice, there was enough left to freeze for a future meal in addition to what went in the casserole. 

I did not waste anything by planning out meals to make good use of all the ingredients. The chicken broth could have easily been frozen too.  Find ways to use up what you have rather than tossing it out.  Little things add up in the long run!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Garden Check In

I have started on my fall garden.  I am fortunate to be able to grow vegetables outside almost year around where I live.  (The other few months I can grow lettuce in the greenhouse so gardening is all year long here.)  First I planted cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprout seeds.  The seedlings were so spindly that they ended up dying.  I tried again and am having better luck this time.

I planted some other seeds in an older raised bed.  Most are not doing too well, but I do have a nice bunch of radish seedlings.


You will notice I have wire over the top of them.  This is what happens when you combine unprotected radish plants and free range chickens.  Obviously chickens love radish tops.

I have a new tomato plant that sprouted in the compost pile.  I dug it up and put it in a large pot.  If the super cold winter weather holds off, I should be eating fresh tomatoes at Christmas.

Last week I worked really hard on refreshing one of my raised beds.  I added some organic peat hummus we bought at an auction, horse manure (from a neighbor's farm), compost from all the kitchen scraps, and peat moss (purchased).  I planted zucchini, cucumber, yellow squash, and sunflower seeds.  W said that if they did not grow then I was doing something really wrong as the soil is super rich.  The packet said that the seeds would sprout in 10-14 days.  It took them only four days to sprout.  We should be eating fresh vegetables by Halloween. 

I still have room in the raised bed and am considering planting some lettuce and spinach along the edges since the soil in this one is so much better than the other.  I also need to do some maintenance work on my spring planted tomatoes.  With a little coaxing they will produce more tomatoes too. 

Do you grow a fall garden in your area?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Front Porch Plants

I had mentioned working on the front porch last week and thought I would share a few photos of the plants.  First up is the ferns.  If you will remember back in May I purchased a fern on clearance for $4 and divided it into three plants.  Here is the original picture when I divided it.


Here is one of the ferns now just over three months later.  It is now full and lush.  Not bad for less than $1.50 each.

Next up is a banana plant, which is a succulent and not a plant that will actually produce a banana.  I bought a cutting off eBay for a couple of dollars last year.  The cold got to it a bit, but it has since fully recovered.  I saw a plant about half the size of this one at a garden center for $12.  I have another decent sized one growing from a cutting I took.  Before winter I will take several cuttings off this one for more new plants - free with my original $2 investment.

I had two containers like this one with plants in them. 

The base of one of the planters had broken on one side.  When I repotted the plants, that side of the base crumbled completely.  I was going to toss it.  W offered a solution.  He turned it on its side, and the planter balanced perfectly.  I added some soil and planted some cuttings from another succulent.  Can you tell I love succulents?

Given a bit of time these cuttings will fill in the pot and begin to drap over the sides.  What might have been trash is now a nice addition to the porch.  Again a freebie since I already had the pot and took cuttings from my own plant. 

Those large plants sold at the garden centers look great and often have a price to match the size.  Consider buying a smaller version and adding a little patience.  You might also want to choose plants that can be divided or that you can take cuttings from.  That large fern will be divided again in the spring and will give me another plant at least.  Perhaps you have friends you can trade cuttings or extra plants with once or twice a year.  You can each get some new plants for free!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Make It Yourself

Last week I was pre-chopping rabbit vegetables.  It is easier to feed them each evening if I can grab a container of vegetables and go.  While I was chopping those, I realized that I should be chopping up some people vegetables.  I know everyone has seen the pre-chopped/prepared vegetables in the grocery store.  The price per weight is much higher than buying whole vegetables.  It did not take me too long to cut a bunch of celery into sticks, wash grapes, make carrot chips, and slice up a package of cheese.

I put everything in clear containers so it is easy to see.  (These are my new Lock and Lock containers. )  We have been snacking on them over the weekend.  It is much easier to grab a healthy snack now.  Plus I saved some money by making it myself.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Holiday Grand Plan - Week 2

Week two of the Holiday Grand Plan is Living Room/Question Week.  This is a good time to take a look Christmases past.  Decide what worked, what you want to do again, and what you can let go.  Ask your family what they like best about the holidays and which things they would be happier without this year. 

Here is my week two list:

~Make and freeze one extra meal - I'm making macaroni & cheese
~Print Christmas card labels
~Clean living room
~Wash outside trash can
~Work on homemade gifts
~Work on Christmas cards
~Make and freeze one batch of crescent rolls for church dinner next month

I am happy to report that I got a good start on my Christmas cards on Saturday.  I chose a simpler design this year and embossed the front with a Cuttlebug embossing folder.  I should be able to finish these up this week.

Cleaning the living room will be an easy task since I did a bunch of work in that room several weeks ago.  Yesterday I organized the television cabinet and removed the cover from the couch.  It looks like a brand new couch.  It is amazing what a change in pattern will do.  The main thing left is to give the living room a good vacuuming.

For homemade gifts I will be knitting scarves this week (and probably for a few weeks).  Most of those will need to be mailed so I need to finish them first.  I found the yarn for them on discount so it will be a nice but inexpensive gift.

I will be back with an update over the weekend!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Week and HGP Check-In

I have been busy working in the yard this week.  The front porch is looking much better.  I got rid of the dead flowers and repotted some others.  Without spending any money the plants look refreshed. 

I also started on the fall garden.  That is a simple way of saying I spent three days hauling organic hummus, peat moss, horse manure and compost to revive a raised bed.  I planted yellow squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and sunflowers in it yesterday.  Those should sprout in a week or two.  I am looking forward to some fresh veggies by Halloween.  I also replanted the cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprout, and cabbage seeds.  The new sprouts look much better than the first ones.

I found time to bake some breads.   I made hamburger buns and also two loaves of French bread.  The French bread was for French dip sandwiches. 

I am at the end of week one of the Holiday Grand Plan.  I did quite well.  The lists are started.  The porch is clean, and I have already received the Operation Christmas Child materials.  A couple of things are left undone right now.  I still have not started on my Christmas cards in spite of putting it at the top of my list every day.  We also did not take our Christmas card photo.  We got rain almost every afternoon this week.  It did not rain yesterday, but we had company.  Plus I was just too tired.  Hopefully the first of next week will be better.