The Farmer’s Market …

August 18, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Well, skipping forward, a lot has happened in the last several months. We’ve moved, started a new job, started a new part time job, bought a house, moved again … and I REALLY hope life is about to settle down.

So I shall now proclaim to you a new era in the world of cheap grocery shopping that even Michael Pollan would approve of. (Yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition. So shoot me.)

I present to you … the farmer’s market!

We are blessed to have landed in an area of the country which is capable of growing just about anything, vegetable-wise. And where animals of all kinds both survive and thrive. So there are an abundance of farmer’s markets in the Dayton, Ohio area. I’m certain that our favorite is not, by far, the biggest, the cheapest, etc. But that’s okay. It has a certain sort of charm and we like it. Every Saturday, R and I head over to the National City 2nd Street Market in downtown Dayton. The market, similar in idea to Cleveland’s famous West Side Market, is essentially a gathering place for people of all creeds, colors, and ideas to get together, get along, and get some AMAZING food. At a really good price.

Our typical visit on Saturday mornings goes like this. Around 10 o’clock, we hit the ATM, withdraw only the cash we’ll need, and drive the 25 minutes to the market, with at least a good idea of what we want or need for the week ahead. Planning doesn’t always work out, but so far it hasn’t let us down too badly. Anyhow, once we arrive at the market, there’s a quick stop at Caffeine for some organic fair-trade coffee (brewed, not ground), then it’s off to visit Sabine at Crepe Boheme for the rest of breakfast. (Incidentally, those who haven’t had a real french crepe – you are missing out.) After our crepe is done, we head down to the “dining area” for some live music and a bit of people watching.

Next, it’s down to business. We usually check out the adoptable pets at the Humane Society, watch Jon Graham make some pottery for a few minutes, then head over to KJB Farms for fresh pork, chicken, lamb, and eggs. After that it’s down the aisle to Hydro-Growers and Wick’s Rabbits for some hydroponically grown veggies (best tomatoes ever!) and rabbit brats. We might also stop off at Garber Farm for other locally grown veggies. Next, it’s E.A.T. Food for Life for fresh beef and real milk. Along the way, there’s possibly a stop at the Spice Rack for amish specialties and bulk foods, as well as spices. Next is Blue Jacket Dairy for fresh cheese (try the quark!) and then Pastafinity for fresh, handmade pasta. Usually, that’s it, although there are some other really great vendors, like Rahn’s Artisan Bread, All Mixed Up, and Dohner’s Maple Camp. Our last stop on the way out is a visit to The Flower Man for a couple bunches of fresh flowers to decorate the mantel.

What’s the best thing about the farmer’s market? Getting to know the people who supply your food and supporting their efforts. Oh … and saving a lot of money. Generally when we leave, we walk out of the market with MORE than enough fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs, and dairy for a whole week and have spent around $30. Now THAT’S a food revolution.

(Incidentally, I tried to give credit to every company we normally shop, but there are many many more worthwhile vendors. And if you happen to find a website for any vendors that I somehow missed, please let me know!)

My Leave of Absence

August 18, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Okay, I admit it. I’m a flake. I don’t mean to be. But I have a very hard time keeping up with a thousand things at the same time. And when something has to give, this blog is the first.

I apologize. But I’m done moving (for a LONG time, I hope), my job is settled, and life is normal. Or as close to it as I can get. So I’m back and I’ll be back for the foreseeable future. Look for a new post this afternoon – to prove it.

Operation Baking GALS

July 13, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
We Can Bake It!

We Can Bake It!

So, a few weeks ago, my friend April started talking about this program called Operation Baking GALS, whereupon someone you know (April) adopts a soldier (in this case, her brother Luke, who you can read more about here) and recruits everyone she knows to bake goodies for him and his friends. So … I signed up. I live near a very large military installation and I love, respect, and honor soldiers and their families every chance I get. In this case, I admit that I was a little late. Technically the deadline was Saturday, July 11. I managed to get my shipment into the hands of the post office two minutes before they closed today – July 13. Well, I was close.

So, all that being said, I have now placed in the mail a package of 30 of my “top secret” brownies (I thought it was appropriate, given that they’re being sent to the military). Here’s hoping they survive the journey to Iraq and make it into the hands (and mouths) of some hungry, deserving soldiers. It ended up looking like this when I was all done …

Brownie Box

April, I’m sorry I forgot to take pictures of the brownies mid-packing. Also, I forgot to put ANY note in the box. So if they get there and are nasty or otherwise, please let me know, I’ll try again.

Six Week Raisin Bran Muffins

June 2, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments
Six Week Raisin Bran Muffins

Six Week Raisin Bran Muffins

This is a recipe I have had in my arsenal since forever. I got it from my friend Corrie at work, but since I haven’t caught up with her lately, I have no idea if there’s any other way to give her credit. They are healthy and, to the confusion of both R and myself, really taste better cold. Rare for a muffin. But true. When warm, the bran comes out a little TOO much and it tastes like a whole mouthful of healthy. Cold, you can taste all the individual flavors and they are delicious! Calorie count and cost analysis after the break!

INGREDIENTS:
4 large eggs
1 cup oil
3 cups sugar
5 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
15 oz raisin bran cereal
1 quart buttermilk

DIRECTIONS:
In a very large bowl, combine eggs, oil, and sugar. You are creating an emulsion here, so wisk fast. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

To liquid mixture, alternate adding flour mixture, raisin bran, and buttermilk, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Mix just until combined.

Bake at 425 for 8-12 minutes (my crappy oven took 16 minutes+)

Makes very large amount of batter (42 regular size muffins, to be exact). If desired, covered batter can be stored in fridge for up to six weeks (YES, really) and used a little at a time. My friend Corrie recommended that you could make a fresh batch every morning for breakfast if you really wanted. Preheat the oven when you get up and prior to the shower. Then pop them in right after the shower and they will be ready when you are done getting dressed.

CALORIES:
Makes 42 muffins at approximately 205 calories each.

COST ANALYSIS:
4 large eggs = $0.33
1 cup oil = $1.71 (I use olive oil from Sam’s Club)
3 cups sugar = $0.67
5 cups flour = $0.53
5 teaspoons baking soda = $0.02
2 teaspoons salt = $0.08
15 oz raisin bran = $4.85
1 quart buttermilk = $2.00
TOTAL COST: $10.19 (That’s $0.24 per muffin … not bad at all!)

Making the Best of a Bad Thing – Waste Not, Want Not

May 13, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Oops | 1 Comment

I guess I’m going to categorize this post as a grocery shopping tip of the weak week.

Not that this technically has anything to do with grocery shopping. Instead, it has to do with making do and making it work. As you may have noted from some of my recent posts, I’ve had some magificent failures lately. And there were several which were so BAD, I felt that posting it could ruin my public image of perfection *cough, cough*.

So most recently, R had expressed a desire for one of those chocolate-on-chocolate layer cakes and I found a recipe, which will get posted in about a week, after I try it again – hopefully with success this time. Anyhow, it was a VERY complicated recipe and to top things off and make them worse, I decided it would be a great idea *cough, cough* to change it up and make it a roll cake. You know, like pumpkin roll or whatever? Um … stupid idea.

To make a very LONG story short (-er), I used a cake recipe that was way too moist and fluffy to be a roll, causing it to essentially crumble to bits at the unrolling step. I had already made this WAY complicated frosting, so – in the spirit of making the best of things – I decided to make it a torte. So I went about crumbling and ended up with pieces too small. And frosting too runny. *sigh* So … the final result was crumbled up cake mixed with slightly runny frosting and smooshed back into a 9 x 13 cake pan. The flavor and texture was somewhere between actual fudge and a fudgy brownie. Yum. Very, very, very yum.

The moral of this (admittedly long and rambling) story is that sometimes in the kitchen, things go wrong.
And you know what? That’s okay.

Homemade Barbeque Sauce

May 6, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Posted in Sauce | Leave a comment
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In yet another installment of my “Why buy when you can make it for less” series … I gave homemade barbeque sauce a try. And discovered something. But more on that later. This recipe was obtained months ago off the internet, but I’m not sure what site … so if you recognize this recipe, please leave me a comment and I’ll give credit. This barbeque sauce made some delicious Crock Pot Ribs, although I used country-style pork ribs yesterday instead of bone-in beef ribs. The results were fantastic and I really like that I can change up the flavorings to suit my fancy, so to speak.

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup molasses
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon mustard (I used some sort of fancy Mesquite Smoked stuff we had in the fridge)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder (I ran out at about 1/2 a teaspoon)
1 teaspoon chili powder (I actually used 1.5 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon black pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Heat the vinegar and molasses in a small saucepan until the molasses dissolves and mixes with the vinegar. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients.

That’s it. Really pretty simple. And tasty! If you’re going to use this on meat as a basting sauce, you can use it right away. If you’re going to dip stuff in it or whatever, I’d refridgerate for a few days to let the flavors mingle.

Calorie-wise, I guess it depends how much you’re planning on using. If you divide this up into 20 servings (I guess for dipping), it’s about 32 calories a piece. If you’re using it in larger chunks (like in a recipe), it’s 646 calories in the whole recipe. You can do the math.

COST ANALYSIS:
1/4 cup cider vinegar = $0.10
1/3 cup molasses = $0.90
1 cup ketchup = $0.40
1 tablespoon mustard = $0.03
1 teaspoon garlic powder = $0.02
1 teaspoon onion powder = $0.02
1 teaspoon chili powder = $0.08
1 teaspoon black pepper = $0.10
TOTAL COST: $1.65

That’s the surprise. I thought for sure it would be way cheaper than that. To be honest, I’m fairly certain you can get cheap-o BBQ sauce (especially for use in recipes) for a dollar at any local grocery store. However, I will say that this sauce offers so many possibilities that it’d be worth it in the long run.

Bagels … Done Right!

May 1, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Well, I finally did it. I tried a complicated food that has intimidated me for years. And it wasn’t that hard after all. In fact, although my oven is stupid and I didn’t exactly follow instructions, what I got was deli-worthy bagels which are both cheap and healthy(ish). Go figure! The bagels here come out chewy because of the water bath – so if you’re not a fan of jewish-style bagels, these are not the recipe for you. I gave them an A+ for taste and myself a B- for evenly-rounded and normal looking. Ha! Apparently making perfectly round bagels is an acquired skill. Anyhow, I got this recipe from Melinda Lee and it was worth the effort. I tried to take step-by-step photos for this but missed a few b/c I was up to my elbows in flour. I will try to add them as I re-make the recipe in the future. Cost analysis and calorie information after the recipe.

Without further ado, here they are:

INGREDIENTS:
3 1/2 cups bread flour (I ended up using about 3 3/4 cups b/c it was raining and the dough was really sticky)
2 packages yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)
3 quarts water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg white – beaten with 1 teaspoon water

DIRECTIONS:
In your mixer bowl, combine 3 cups of the bread flour and all the remaining dry ingredients (I use the “Stir” function for this). It’ll look like this:

Mixed Dry Ingredients

Next, get your hot water ready. I just use the tap water on full-hot, but I check it with a digital instant-read thermometer until it is over 120 degrees (but not over 130 degrees unless you want to kill your yeast and make crackers instead):

Correct Water Temperature

Pour the hot water into your dry ingredients and stir on low speed (mixer setting 2 or 3) for about two minutes. Add the remaining flour a little at a time, stirring constantly (again the “Stir” function). The batter should become thick and heavy and begin to stick to itself.

Dump the dough onto a floured surface (I use the top of my dishwasher). It should look like this:

dough-pre-knead

Knead vigorously for 10 minutes (using the standard ram’s head, push-turn-fold technique) until the dough is smooth and firm if you pinch it. Add flour as needed throughout. It should look like this when you’re done:

dough-post-knead

Next, spray a large ceramic mixing bowl with cooking spray (I use PAM Organic Olive Oil). Place the dough inside, turning it over once to coat it, and cover the whole thing with a cotton towel. (The original recipe calls for plastic wrap, but I hate it and I prefer to cover the bowl with a clean, lint-free towel instead.) Place it in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size. Because I keep our house pretty cool, I use the oven. Turn it on to 350 for about 1 minute, then turn it off and place the bowl inside. It will rise perfectly in about an hour.

Toward the end of the rise, put 3 quarts of water into a large pot and bring it to a vigorous boil. When it reaches full boil, add the sugar and stir, then turn it down to a very low simmer. The water should be just barely moving.

When the dough has completed the first rise, turn it out onto your floured work surface and punch it down using a flat hand to remove excess gas. Mine usually ends up looking like a pizza crust by the time I’m done. Next comes the part that is the hardest for me. Divide the dough into 10 parts and form each one into a ball. Allow them to rest for a few minutes, then flatten them with the palm of your hand.

Take the flat dough-ball and push a hole into the middle (as close as possible to exact). It is important to make the hole larger than you think is actually necessary due to re-rising. I learned this lesson the hard way. Put the dough over your finger and spin it rapidly in a circle until you can fit it around your hand. That’s about the right size. When you have completed all 10 bagels, cover with wax paper and allow them a half-rise (about 10 minutes or even a little less).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper. You may also want to coat a pan with a lint-free dishtowel to drain the bagels onto. At the end of the second rise, place the bagels into the simmering water two at a time. Turn them over after 30 seconds (or so) and then remove them from the water and onto your prepared dish towel at the one minute mark. Give them a few seconds to drain, then move them to your prepared baking sheet. Repeat this process until you have water-bathed the whole batch. They will be shiny because of the sugar in the water and will look like this:

Almost ready

Next, brush the tops of all the bagels with the prepared egg white mixture. You can also flip them over and do the bottoms, but to be honest, I tried this the first time around and I didn’t like the bottom of my bagel with that texture.

brush-with-egg-whites

After you brush with egg whites, you are finally ready to bake! The original recipe says to turn them over when the tops have lightly browned to prevent the bottom from being flat, but you don’t have to unless you want to. (Plus, I can’t open my oven that often without screwing the cooking process all up.) So I didn’t. Bake for 25-30 minutes, then remove onto a wire rack to cool. The finished product will look like this:

results

As you can see, my oven doesn’t cook evenly. It came with the apartment, I can’t help it. But the results? Delicious!!

Makes 10 bagels, about 187 calories each.

COST ANALYSIS:
Bread flour (approx 4 cups = 1.12 lb) – $0.37 (I buy 25 pound bags of bread flour at Sam’s Club)
Yeast (2 packets = .5 oz) – $0.19 (I buy yeast in 1 pound packages from King Arthur Flour)
Sugar (4.5 tablespoons = 2.25 oz) – $0.07 (I buy 10 pound bags of sugar at Sam’s Club)
Salt (1 tablespoon = 1 oz) – $0.04 (Regular 26oz round container of Morton from IGA)
Egg (1 large) – $0.05 (Eggs are currently about $0.60 a dozen here)
TOTAL: $0.72

Yes, you read that right. It costs less than a dollar, not including energy and time, to make 10 delicious bagels. That’s $0.07 a piece. Just saying, but that’s ridiculously cheap.

Crock Pot Rice

April 24, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Posted in Crock Pot, dinner, Oops | 3 Comments
Tags: , , ,

Well, this week has not been a good one for me, food-wise. I screwed up a couple of different meals in minor ways. One not-so-minor. But I am getting ahead of myself. Because we decided to go ahead and start house-shopping, as well as be good citizens and pay our taxes, as well as be good consumers and buy stuff, as well as be good debtors and pay for things we owe money on … and so forth … we are on a strict budget right now. And when I say strict, I mean … well, we’re not buying anything. Nothing. Not at all. This brings the idea of “budget gourmet” to a whole new level.

So I’m trying to make-do with what we have in the house. Normally not an issue for me. However, I’m starting to run out of ideas. So yesterday afternoon I got the brilliant (?) idea to make rice in the crock-pot. I hate making rice, even though it’s really cheap, because it just takes so DANG long. And the pot ends up really nasty with starch when I’m done. So I thought if I put it in the crock-pot and used a liner, this would be great!

Well … here’s an up close photo. See if you can guess what went wrong:

It was a nice try, anyhow.

It was a nice try, anyhow.

That’s right – some of the rice cooked up nice and fluffy. And some wasn’t cooked at all. Eww. I don’t know how to fix this, either. I don’t know if I didn’t put enough water in, if I went overboard on the quantity, if I cooked too “low and slow”, if I should have stirred it … so all we can do (sadly) is eat my mistake and try again next time. I think I’ll go with less rice, cooked on high, for less time. That will (hopefully) fix the problem.

Unless someone out there has an idea or a foolproof method? Leave me a comment!

Cheater, Cheater, Cheater.

April 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , , ,

Those of you who know me well know that I am all about doing things the old-fashioned way – from scratch. However, I will admit that I am not always in the mood for the hour-long process that is homemade spaghetti sauce.

I am also a big fan of supporting small businesses and local companies.

So how do you combine these two things to get a meal that tastes like “from-scratch” without the hassle? My favorite jarred spaghetti sauce (gasp!) …

The best alternative to "from-scratch" I've found

This is a company local to my hometown of Canton, Ohio. (Okay, they are actually located in Navarre, but close enough) They still make their sauces the old fashioned way, simmering in (relatively) small batches. As yet, I haven’t found a “big-name” brand that’s even close. In fact, their sauces are better than most of the so-called “gourmet” brands, too. The thing I like best about their sauces is that if the spices are not quite to your liking, you can add more without completely changing the character of the sauce.

So … if you get a chance to try MID’s, whether its pasta sauce or pizza sauce (also yummy), do it. You won’t be disappointed.

Back to Basics: A Confession.

April 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Well, up until now, there were very few things in my life I was positive I couldn’t live without. My family, some sort of food, and a viable means of transportation were pretty much it.

Or so I thought.

Allow me to make a confession – I am a microwave addict. I never realized it until just now. But I am. It’s amazing for someone like me (who loves to do things as “old school” as possible) to admit, but I’m addicted. Here’s the back story. About two weeks ago our microwave just up and quit. It would blow a breaker every time you tried to turn it on. Although it was frustrating, I thought, “Well, time to buy a new microwave … ” and move on. However, those of you who know me well know that I suffer from what I like to call “Sesame Street Syndrome” which means that, essentially, I ascribe non-living items with humanoid attributes. In this case, the microwave was a gift from my parents and I felt like I was betraying an old friend. No other microwave would do.

So I hit the Panasonic website. Ahhh – a certified repair center right here in Dayton! To make a long story short, for the past week, the microwave has been “in the shop” so to speak. I have NO microwave at all. And a stove which can only be described as crappy on its best days. So all the things I’d been taking for granted (like heating water to the exact right temperature for my bread, melting butter, and defrosting meat) are taking me by surprise.

For example, I have my bread-making routine down to a science. I know how long the water has to go in the microwave for, how long it takes to melt but not boil the butter, and so forth. Doing all these things by hand (particularly melting the butter) was not only weird, but completely threw off my “groove” so to speak.

All that being said, I am sure the microwave, my old faithful friend, will be back soon and better than ever. Or at least I hope so.

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