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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

For Your Information

Please watch this area for important information like updates, food recalls, polls, contests, coupons, and freebies.
  • [January 15, 2016] - It's National Soup Month so this month's posts will focus on soups. Yum!
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
  • Sticky Post - Warning: 4ever Recap reusable canning lids. The reports are growing daily of these lids losing their seal during storage. Some have lost their entire season's worth of canning to these seal failures!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Smart Take-out

The holiday season is always busy and like many we too like to have a bit of a break from cooking. For the most part I rely on my freezer and pantry stock but there are those days when you get home much later than expected and really don't feel like cooking or even warming up something. If you have read this blog for any length of time you will know we are not huge fans of fast food. The food is of such poor quality and it is too costly in terms of food value. The last time we bought Kentucky Fried Chicken it was a 10 piece with side salads and gravy. The food itself was horrid even though it cost almost $30 CDN with taxes! We've discovered a whole new take-out that is affordable as well as being tasty.

Rotisserie Chicken

I cannot take credit for this idea for take-out. The kids in Wisconsin introduced me to the idea of buying rotisserie chicken hot from the deli. They can buy one for $3 then use it for a meal or pick it for soup. The grocery store where we spend most of our food dollars does not have a deli.

It was a long day on the 23rd and with the weather conditions we wanted to be on the road early on the 24th. At the same time we a full meal even though it was going on 8 pm before we ate. My husband picked up a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken at another grocery store. Apparently they go on sale for $5 CDN in the evening.

Now I do have to comment on the prices of whole chickens here. A raw chicken this size would cost me at least $8 if not more at our prices. Whole chickens never come down in price and they are seldom on sale! Yet a deli cooked rotisserie chicken can be purchased for less than a raw chicken? Each chicken is enough for a hearty meal for two as is or a large batch of soup with bones for stock. This is an ideal, economical solution for those days where picking up take-out is just too tempting. Serve with a couple of warmed (home) canned vegetables and a slice of bread for the taste of home cooking without the work and without the high prices of fast food.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Breads (4) Using/Storing

Frugal Kitchens 101
For the past month I have been discussing homemade breads, why they are frugal and how to save further when making them. This will be the final article on homemade breads in this series so please watch for a new poll that will give you a hint for January's topic. In this Frugal Kitchens 101 article I will focus on how to use and store your homemade breads.

Homemade bread is at its prime piping hot from the oven as anyone who has cut a thick slice then slathered it with butter can attest. The following day the homemade bread is good sliced for sandwiches. If there is any left after that it croutons or bread crumbs. So basically we are looking at a 3 day window for fresh bread storage. The reason for this is unlike store bought breads, homemade breads are not laden with preservatives to extend shelf life. For that reason I prefer to make several loaves spanning a number of days rather than making several loaves in one day.

Storing homemade breads:

  1. fresh storage - Allow the bread to cool then wrap in wax paper (preferred) or plastic wrap. Store the wrapped loaf in a closed bread box. My bread box sits on a shelf inside a kitchen cabinet. A breadbox adds extra protection from both rodents and insects.
  2. refrigerator - Some people keep store bought breads in the refrigerator. This does not work well for homemade breads as it tends to dry them out. If you want to store bread doughs or bread batters in the refrigerator, yeast doughs will keep 3 to 4 days while batters will keep up to 6 weeks. Bring yeast dought to room temperature, shape as desired, proof then bake. Batters can be used straight from the refrigerator.
  3. freezer - Many freeze yeast and quick breads. I do not for the simple reason that from the moment a food goes into the freezer you are paying storage until you use it. Bread products simply are not what I consider frugal use of freezer space just on that one point. Compounding the problem is breads tend to develop freezer burn rather easily making then unpalatable reinforcing my reasoning for not freezing bread products. The exceptions to this is I do freeze bread crumbs in vacuum sealed packets and I keep a loaf or two of quick breads on hand for unexpected company. The bread crumbs are made from homemade breads. My experience has been that quick breads freeze better than yeast breads. Yeast dough freezes nicely when well wrapped. Thaw and bring to room temperature then proof and bake as normal.
Just because a dough is listed as a bread dough there is no reason why it cannot be shaped into rolls or smaller loaves or rounds. French bread dough can be shaped into baguettes and basic or whole wheat dough can be shaped into dinner rolls. Any bread dough can be changed by adding fresh or dried herbs. One of my best breads came about by tossing in a few cherry tomatoes! The dough can be set on corn meal or flour sprinkled with any number of toppings such as sesame seeds or oatmeal. With only a few basic yeast bread dough recipes you can make an incredible number of variations. Quick breads are even easier to change. Toss a handful of dried fruit or coconut or even nuts into muffin batter to make new and yummy combinations. Add blueberries, cranberries, chunks of apple, pear or peaches to pancake batter. There is room to experiment and have fun while having healthier breads on your table AND don't forget how much money you are saving per loaf!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Entertaining Leftovers

We hosted a large dinner party on the 19th but the horrid weather conditions saw a lower attendance than expected. Several appetizers (crabmeat dip*, jumbo shrimp with cocktail sauce, vegetable tray with homemade garlic & onion dip, venison balls) and drinks were served for the social hours before dinner. The menu included tossed salad, roasted turkey, spiral ham, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, gravy, home canned whole cranberry sauce, pickle tray and three kinds of homemade dinner rolls. Desserts included Victorian lavender cookies, shortbread cookies, chocolate dessert shells and banana cake. [Clicking the links will take you to the recipes for these dishes.] I was faced with the problem of a fair amount of left-overs, very limited freezer space and knowing that we were going to be away over the holidays.

Saturday we hosted a smaller get together so some of the turkey and dinner rolls were used for that as well as most of the cookies. I sent some of the left-overs home with the kids who were visiting for the weekend. Sunday morning we deboned the turkey and I set about making stock with the carcass. There was a fair amount of the ham left so I cut it from the bone and divided into two large vacuum seal bags, vacuum sealed then froze. I did the same with the ham bone to make soup with later. There were about 2 dozen of the whole wheat dinner rolls left so I decided to make bread crumbs.

Defatting Stock

Fat is a necessary part of making stocks because it adds a lot of flavour. It adds an element of depth and richness to the stock that cannot be achieved without the fat. Using the fat when making stock allows to to utilize all the flavour in the little bits of meat and skin that come along with the fat. Even though the fat is needed for good stock, the stock should be defatted for a healthier product.

Once the stock has been made it should be cooled completely either before or after straining the bones and vegetables out. The fat will harden as a layer on top of the stock. As pictured the fat layer can easily be removed using a large spoon. You can melt down the fat and strain for use in cooking if desired. The remaining stock is then strained again then canned or frozen for later use. You can also boil down the stock to make a concentrate and freeze it for later use.

Bread Crumbs

Homemade yeast breads do not keep well for extended periods of time. I find it best to make a loaf of bread or dinner rolls every second or third day rather than making a lot at one time. Homemade bread or dinner rolls that is starting to go stale is not tossed to the birds or discarded here as that would be wasteful on a few levels. What I do is turn it into bread crumbs. Making your own bread crumbs even if using store bought bread makes good frugal sense as you are using up something that would otherwise go to waste and you are eliminating one more commercial product you have to buy. Any yeast bread can be used for this purpose although I find dark rye and pumpernickel bread crumbs a little tricker to use in

Making bread crumbs using a food processor is as simple as breaking the bread into chunks and process a few at a time using the grind setting on pulse. The bread does not have to be totally dried to make bread crumbs when using the food processor resulting in a softer crumb suitable for quiche and quick stuffing. If you don't have a food processor and blender on grind and pulse will work as well. A KitchenAid® stand mixer or similar with a food grinder attachment is the preferable appliance to use for drier bread crumbs suitable for making meat loafs. I used a food processor for this batch of bread crumbs.

Stock & Crumbs

The yield from the turkey carcass was 7 L (quarts) of canned and 1 L frozen turkey stock. This is about the normal yield for turkey stock which allows the canner to run at full capacity. The remaining stock is usually used in a soup or stew for dinner that night if we are home or frozen for later use. I like using plastic freezer containers with screw on lids when freezing anything that is not going to be vacuum sealed.

The left over dinner rolls made enough bread crumbs for two 1 L freezer containers. These were frozen for later use. To use thaw although there is no need to thaw prior to using frozen bread crumbs as they tend to break apart quite easily. Any clumps can be broken apart using the prongs of a fork.

Quick Turkey Noodle Soup

Using a few simple pantry ingredients you can quickly put a nice meal on the table with very little effort. When we deboned the turkey, I cut the meat into cubes instead of slices. Dinner Sunday night was a simple soup using turkey that took under 15 minutes to prepare.


2 284 (10 oz) cans condensed mushroom soup**
1 can turkey stock
½ can whole milk
2 generous handfulls broad egg noodles
2 cup turkey

Cook the noodles until al dente in salted water. Drain. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat through. Serve with home made dinner rolls or bread.

* I used homemade cocktail sauce in place of the ketchup and horseradish mix. The result was even tastier!
** Substitute the equilivant home made cream of mushroom soup to equal 3½ cans of reconstituted soup total.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chocolate Dessert Shells

Fancy appetizers, desserts and cookies are the stars of many holiday tables. I love the holiday season because I get to experiment with ingredients I normally wouldn't. I like using ingredients that are fun, different or unique. Some of these ingredients include foods I have seen throughout the year on the Food Network or elsewhere. Some of them fall under the category of "wouldn't that be neat for...".


I saw chocolate dessert shells on the Food Network and immediately thought I had to have some to experiment with. Chocolate dessert shells are simply that, chocolate poured into a mold and allowed to thicken to about and eighth inch thick then emptied to form an empty shell just waiting to be filled. They are available in a variety of shapes and chocolate including white chocolate. When we were at the World Market I found pre-made chocolate dessert shells. They were rather on the expensive side at $4.99 per packages for 8 shells but they just looked like they would be a fun dessert offering for entertaining purposes. The shells were dark Belgian chocolate.

Chocolate dessert shells can be filled with anything you choose as long as the filling is not warm enough to melt the chocolate. The important thing to remember about using chocolate dessert shells is to protect them from temperature extremes that will cause either melting or bloom. Keep at a cooler temperature until ready to use but not necessarily refrigerated. There is no reason why you couldn't make your own chocolate dessert shells using the meltable chocolate wafers used for candy making. That will be one of my new year's projects to try.

Chocolate Dessert Shells

I bought two packages of the dessert shells to be used as part of the dessert tray for the party we hosted on the 19th. The shells come packaged in plastic protective trays. Leave them in the trays to fill. Cover and place the filled trays in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

I used a standard no bake cream cheese filling:

  • 1 c softened cream cheese
  • ½ c granulated sugar
  • 1 c CoolWhip®
Cream the cream cheese and sugar together using a KitchenAid® stand mixer or similar. Mix in the CoolWhip®. Mix until smooth.

I garnished one tray with chocolate cookie crumbs and the other with cinnamon sugar mix then topped each filled shell with a white mint chocolate chip. The filling itself worked fine but next time I would use a smoother, pourable filling that would set up for a gourmet look. I think a nice creamy mousse, fresh made lemon curd or a caramel based filling would be lovely. The possibilities are endless!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Breads (3) Ingredients

Frugal Kitchens 101
So far I have discussed why making your own breads at home is frugal, the money you can save by making your own breads and the equipment needed. In today's Frugal Kitchens 101 I will be discussing ways to save on breadmaking ingredients. Combining these tips with those previously discussed for breadmaking will maximize your savings.

There are a couple of basic rules to saving on ingredients that can be applied to most food items:

  1. unit shop - Always compare the unit prices. A larger box does not always mean a cheaper unit price. Even the sale price does not always mean a cheaper unit price. By shopping unit prices you will end up getting the best value for your dollar.
  2. bulk shop - Staples such as flours, sugars, salts, thickeners, leaveners, shortening, powdered milk and anything else you consider a food staple should be purchased in bulk in the largest package possible at the lowest unit price. Doing so will ensure you have a good supply on hand to use as needed. It will also ensure you save money but also reduce extra packaging so is an environmentally friendly way to shop. Bulk does not always refer to the amount but more the way the food is purchased. If you have a store that sells herbs and spices in bulk where you have to dispense it yourself in the amount you want into a plastic bag you will save a considerable amount over buying herbs and spices in those little, pricey bottles. Second to that is buying those seasonings you use a lot of in large containers. An example of this is Tone's Ground Cinnamon, 18 oz container for $3.87 at Sam's Club. Notice how you are getting 15 oz more for about the same price as the 3 oz bottles in the grocery store? Tone's has a wide variety of spice and herbal blends all in large containers that are very inexpesive. French's, Lawry's and Old Bay also have the inexpensive larger container sizes. Some grocery stores are now selling these larger containers so if you don't shop in warehouse stores then check your grocery store and it is possible to order these larger containers online.
  3. proper storage - Staples as well as all dry foods should be stored in glass, metal or heavy plastic bins with lids in a dark, cool location. Light is one of the worst enemies for any herbs or spices causing them to degrade quicker and loose their flavour. Foods can be left in their original packaging if desired but in areas with high humidity vacuum sealing in glass jars will ensure no loss due to humidity. These types of containers will protect against water damage, rodents, insects and humidity. Plastic food grade 5 gallon pails with lids can found at doughnut shops and restaurants. They are often given away free but some may charge a nominal fee of $1. Larger 1 gallon and 2 gallon glass jars with lids can be found through many restaurants by making a phone call or two. You can sometimes get them through nursing homes or any other place that uses food packaged in institutional sized jars. There is seldom a charge for the glass jars. Other inexpensive sources include yard sales, word of mouth and of course recycling a jar if you buy something in that size jar.
The following tips are more bread specific:
  1. mixes - There are several types of bread mixes available for both quick breads and yeast breads. Many home cooks rely on muffin and biscuit mixes. In general these types of mix will contain a couple of cups of flour, baking soda or baking powder, instant milk, salt, sugar and additional ingredients such as a few dried blueberries at a cost of about $2 to $3 per package compared to the cost of about 16¢ for flour and master baking mix. Essentially anything you can use Bisquick® for you can use master mix and the best part is the homemade mix is considerably cheaper than the store bought. Some manufacturers of breadmachines have been including a breadmachine mix with their machines sending the message to new users that they need to buy a mix. There is absolutely no reason to use a breadmachine mix and in fact it is a total waste of money!
  2. flours - In most cases the unit prices of larger bags of flour are the lowest. Bleached flour should be avoided because of the associated health risks. There really is no need to buy special bread flour as you can get a good rise by using a dough enhancer such as gluten flour or a more complicated homemade dough enhancer. However, two tricks to increase the rise without costing a penny is to increase the knead time which develops the gluten and to increase the proofing time. Whole grain flours and specialty flours such as rye flour are more expensive but by only 1 or 2¢ per cup so they are still very inexpensive to use. In some areas such as our it is a bit more difficult to find specialty flours so when I do find them I buy the largest size I can. Typically here specialty flours such as gluten, 7 grain, 12 grain and spelt flour cannot be found in the regular grocery stores but they are available a specialty shops and the Bulk Barn so you may have to check around for these or shop online.
  3. salt - For best results use non-Iodized salts when making breads. The cheapest of this type of salt is Morton's Kosher salt although Kosher salt may be available under all other brand names. A large box is quit inexpensive at about $1.50 and will make several loaves as well as being able to use for other culinary purposes. Non-Iodized sea salt is slightly more expensive but works nicely.
  4. yeast - One of the most expensive ingredients for many breadmakers is yeast and that is because they are buying those little packages sold in a strip of 3 or individually. There is one tablespoon of yeast in each package for a price of 40¢ or more per package! These packages also produce waste packaging that cannot be recycled so it ends up in the landfill. That might not seem like a lot but at 3 loaves of bread per week that can add up to 156 of those little empty packages per household going to the landfill. When breadmachines became popular Fleischmann's® came out with larger 4 oz jars of instant yeast that sell for about $3.50. So while these are cheaper and more convenient that the packages as well as being packaged in recyclable jars, the price per tablespoon is still more per tablespoon than yeast purchased in bulk. Sam's Club sells 2 - 1 lb packages of Fleischmann's® instant yeast for $4.16 which is almost a 7th of the cost of the jars! Consider the same amount in jars would be 8 or $28 but buying the 2 - 1 lb packages is only $4.16 for a total savings of $23.84 and a lot less packaging. Yeast will keep almost indefinitely in the freezer. What I do is freeze one package immediately then pour what I will use within a month or so into a lidded glass jar kept in the refrigerator and freeze the remaining to refill the jar as needed.
  5. fruits/vegetables - The easiest way to save on these bread additives is to buy in season and use fresh or preserve for later use. Fruit sauces, dried fruits and dried zest are great additions that are very cheap to make at home. When zucchini is in season pick up a medium sized one as opposed to a baseball bat sized one. Shred it up and package into 1 c servings and freeze to give you enough zucchini for about 20 loves of zucchini bread or trays of muffins. In the northern hemisphere some fruits are never really in season but are available in the grocery stores. Take advantage of sales and quick clearance especially for bananas. Extra ripe bananas make for the best banana bread, muffins and cakes! Freeze bananas for later use as is, unpeeled.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Homemade Poultry Seasoning

Herb and spice blends are a must in any kitchen and there are many commercially prepared blends available. Some of these blends are trade secrets (eg. Montreal Steak Seasoning) so actual recipes do not exist. Others are regional blends that were created based on available herbs and spices so vary from brand to brand. A good example of this is Herbs de Provence. Anyone who cooks will want to have a good variety of these types of blends on hand. In many cases there are clone recipes that come very close to the propriety blend and in some cases are a better blend. In most cases the homemade blends are cheaper than store bought.

One reason for making your own herb blends is to use the bounty from your garden. I had 40 different varieties of herbs growing in my last garden and while I very much prefer fresh herbs to dry herbs, I found it necessary to dry for use during the winter months. Once dried the herbs can be flaked or powdered to make herb blends.

Poultry Seasoning

I think most cooks at one time or another have been in the midst of making a dish only to realize that they don't have a certain ingredient. Quite often that ingredient will be an herb, spice or blend. Friday morning I was preparing the stuffing for the turkey being served for our dinner party that night. It dawned on me that I hadn't shared some of the herb blends I make and take for granted. Making your own blends takes one more thing off your grocery list allowing you to focus on the basic herbs and seasonings for the ones you buy. This way you can combine both in various combinations to make several different kinds of blends. At the same time making your own allows you to use any herbs you grow and as you know, growing your own herbs is a sure fire way to save money.

Poultry seasoning is a must for homemade stuffing. It is one of the key ingredients! Commercial blends are generally quite expensive per once because they come packaged in small glass bottles. There are three problems with this. First and most important is clear glass caused herbs to quickly lose their flavour due to light damage so you are paying for an inferior product from the get go. Second you are paying for the packaging aka glass bottle. Finally you will often find yourself out of an herb blend when you least expect it so being able to make your own from what's on hand is a real plus. The first four herbs are essentials in your garden. All are perennials that are fairly problem free.

Poultry Seasoning

4 tbsp ground sage
2½ tbsp ground thyme
1½ tbsp ground marjoram
1½ tbsp ground rosemary
3 tsp ground nutmeg
3 tsp ground black pepper

Grind each herb separately using the grind setting on a food blender or use a dedicated coffee grinder. Measure out the ingredients and combine. Place the ingredients into food blender. Grind 1 minute to well distribute. Use a funnel to pour into spice bottles or spoon into a 125 ml mason jar. Seal. Store in a dark, cool area. Use as you would commercial blends.

Yield: 6 ounces

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dinner Rolls

A common myth is you need to have several yeast dough recipes, one each for a specific purpose. That is simply not the case. What you need is a good white bread recipe, a good whole wheat recipe, a good sweet dough recipe and a few multi-grain bread recipes. Using these basic recipes you can tweak if desired and contrary to some beliefs, yeast dough can be formed into any shape you desire. That means your favourite white bread recipe can be used for bread or rolls or hamburg bun or any other shape.

Forming Dough

Thursday night I made three batches of yeast dough in preparation for Friday's party. The dough included white bread, whole wheat and 12 grain. Instead of making full loaves I decided to make rolls and mini loaves. To make each roll distinctive I used three different shapes.

When I was growing up the local bakery that was famous for their white icing doughnuts made various dinner rolls for the Ladies Auxillary of The Royal Canadian Legion when they catered special events. My Mom would bring a few of these wonderful rolls home for us to enjoy. The bakery as will all stores in our small little Canadian town was closed on Sundays, Wednesday afternoons and after 5 pm the other days with the exception of a few days during the Christmas season. I was always given the task of running down to the bakery with 50¢ to get a dozen rolls and oh how I loved that! The bakery always smelled heavenly!

This shape is called cloverleaf and was one of their specialty shapes. It is formed by rolling the dough into walnut sized balls then placing three balls as pictured in a muffin tin. I used a silicone muffin tin with rack. The rack comes in handy for stabilizing the muffin tins. Once the muffin tins were filled it was time for baking. There was enough dough left over for an oblong shaped small loaf.


I baked the rolls at 400ºF until they sounded hollow when thumped and were golden brown. I allowed them to cool a bit in the muffin tins then turned them out to finish cooling on baking racks. The end result pictured is very similar to my childhood memories. They break easily into 3 mouth watering pieces ready to be spread with butter.

I love the looks of this shaping for dinner rolls! It's very easy to do yet looks like you spent a lot of time shaping them and they make for a lovely presentation. Warm slightly before serving.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Victorian Lavender Cookies

Cookies are a year round favourite but during the holiday season they appear at every event, at holiday bake sales and are given as gifts. They come in all shapes, sizes and flavours. Many have fond memories of helping their Mom or Dad bake holiday cookies. Who can resist warm cookies fresh out of the oven?

Victorian Lavender Cookies

My newly planted lavender plants did not produce enough flowers for drying this year so I bought two packages of dried lavender flowers when I was at World Market. It is quite difficult to find dried lavender flowers in our small corner of the world. The health food store will order them in for me but I've yet to find them readily available in the the grocery stores. Lavender is one herb that many do not think to cook with yet it is delightful! It is an ingredient in one of my favourite herb blends, Herbs de Provence.

Pictured are Victorian lavender cookies with rose water icing. Rose water is another ingredient that many do not think to use. The combination of the lavender and rose water make these cookies decedent! This unique cookie is a sure winner, one you will want to make often.

Victorian Lavender Cookies

½ c butter
1 c organic sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp lavender
1½ c unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ pure vanilla
rose water icing

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Place the butter and sugar in KitchenAid® stand mixer bowl or similar. Cream together. Mix in eggs then remaining ingredients except for icing. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto Silpat or parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Bake about 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove from oven. Place cookies on cooling rack. Spread icing over the cookies after they have cooled. Allow the icing to set up before placing on serving plate.

Rose Water Icing

2 c icing sugar
5½ tsp water
6½ tsp rose water

Place ingredients in small mixing bowl. Mix with a fork until icing is smooth.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Foodie Road Trip in Wisconsin

It wasn't a planned foodie road trip but rather a trip for visiting the kids in Wisconsin. That didn't stop me from making a list of what I would like to pick up because I knew we would be going shopping on the Saturday. I managed to buy some rather interesting food items some of which will be used for holiday gift giving and entertaining so be sure to check back over the next few days to see how I used them.

Cake & Bake

One of our first stops was Cake & Bake in Germantown, Wisconsin. I love shopping in these types of stores mostly for ideas! I also like buying a few items to make something different. I didn't buy a lot there coming out with a Santa candy mold, three cookie cutters, Christmas jimmies, Dora the Explorer® party favours and mint flavoured chocolate waffers.

What I really like about these kinds of stores is being able to get a large variety of molds and cookie cutters for a very low price. Quite often cookie cutters are priced at 99¢ or less. Candy molds are more expensive at $1.99 and more. There is just so much to see! I like watch the cake decorating classes in session and it always smells so good in cake and baking stores.

World Market

I discovered WorldMarket® a few years ago on the food network. This is a chain store that I find quite amazing! The closest one to us is a fair drive so I only get to shop there two or three times a year but they also sell online so I might try that sometime. The closest WorldMarket® to the kids is only about a 15 minute drive so of course we had to stop.

This store has just about everything kitchen and entertaining related from furniture to dinnerware to kitchenware and of course the part I like the most foods from all over the world. There is a large wine and beer section as well. Each of the food aisles is divided into the country of origin for easy shopping. Spice blends and herbs are incredibly inexpensive at WorldMarket®. The smaller 7 g (.25 oz) bulk packages are 99¢ and the 85 g (3 oz) packages are $1.99. They also carry specific spice blends used in regional cooking as well as regional sauces.

I didn't buy a lot this trip and much of it will be used during the holidays. My purchases included: dobla dark Belgian chocolate dessert shells, Albatros® mini toasts, certified organic Japanese secha green and tropical roast mate teas, basil oil, Azienda 100% Italian extra virgin olive oil, Bronco Bob's roasted mango chipotle sauce, Argentine steak rub, Ghirardelli intense dark premium assortment chocolates, Hengstenberg Bavarian style sweet mustard, curry powder, Herbs de Provence, lavender and cinnamon sticks.

Jelly Belly®

I don't keep a lot of candy in the house mainly because no one eats it. What candy we do have in the house tends to be homemade in small batches usually for entertaining purposes. The commercial candies I'm partial to are Maynards wine gums, sour suckers and black licorice while my husband likes an occasional chocolate bar and jelly beans.

The kids gave us a Jelly Belly® dispenser and a 2 lb bag of the gourmet jelly beans. Now this is just a really cute gift! You have to put a quarter in it then twist to get out 5 jelly beans. It is going to be a huge hit with the grandbabies and for entertaining matching nicely with my husband's circa 1973 jukebox (picture here).

Cheese & Butter

Each region of the countries we travel have must bring home foods. Wisconsin says dairy mainly cheeses. Not only are they good quality cheeses they are fresh and inexpensive. I gave a bad rap to cheese sticks (strings) in one Frugal Kitchens 101 post. I should have clarified that I am against individually wrapped cheese sticks not the bulk cheese sticks that some cheese factories like Cedar Valley make available. These would be a frugal, environmentally friendly substitution to the individually wrapped cheese sticks and they taste so much better! They are quite large so I would pull them in half for children. Our other dairy purchases included: 3 lb butter, mozzarella cheese, Swiss cheese, brick cheese and medium cheddar cheese.


Saturday morning before heading out shopping we enjoyed a lovely bacon and eggs breakfast. One of the kids cut up beef tenderloin then poured over a homemade marinade. We left the house just after lunch and didn't finish shopping until close to 6 pm arriving back at the house about a half hour later. It would have been so very tempting to stop somewhere to eat out. We were exhausted! Instead of sitting in a restaurant making the night longer we were able to go back to the kid's house, change into comfortable clothes and wrap presents while dinner was cooking.

The beef slices were broiled to perfection forming a lovely, rich and flavourful beef au jour. Sides were mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes with sour cream and cream cheese.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Homemade Egg Noodles

Early Friday morning we left for our long journey to visit the kids in Wisconsin. After a very eventful first leg of the journey (read more here) we arrived at the kids tired and hungry. My husband was feeling quite poorly with a nasty cold as well. It was bitterly cold outside and Jack Frost had painted the kid's windows. Their house smelled wonderful! A huge pot of homemade chicken noodle soup was simmering on the stove.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Homemade soups are perfect budget stretchers. They are rich and filling comfort foods that need little more than homemade bread, rolls or biscuits to make a complete meal. Homemade chicken noodle soup has a long reputation of being the best soup when you are sick especially when you have a cold. My method can be found here.

Pictured is the homemade chicken noodle soup the kids made. Instead of the carrots and celery being incorporated into the stock as in the way I do it, they were left in slices giving a refreshing eye appeal. What made this soup special was the noodles. They were homemade egg noodles. Add the homemade noodles to the soup after drying

Economics - In many areas the recent increase in the price of flour has caused a corresponding increase in flour based products including pastas. The list of ingredients for the following recipe cost 76¢ at my prices (eggs 15¢ each, flour 8¢ per c). Broad egg noodles are currently priced at $2.49 per 750 g (26 oz) bag or 9¢ per oz. Homemade egg noodles work out to 7¢ per oz. True it is not a huge savings but it is still a savings none the less and for very little effort and the homemade egg noodles taste so much better.

Homemade Egg Noodles

2 c unbleached flour
3 egg yolks
1 egg
2 tsp sea salt
¼ to ½ c water

Measure the flour into a bowl and make a well in the center. Add yolks, egg and salt to the well. Mix into the flour using your hands. Add water 1 tbsp at a time, mixing thoroughly. Only add enough water to form the dough into a ball. Turn the dough onto a well floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Roll dough into thin, rectangular sheets. Roll the dough around the rolling pin then slip out the rolling pin. Cut dough crosswise into desired widths. Shake out strips and place on towel to dry, about 2 hours. When dry, break into smaller pieces if desired. Cook in 3 qt salted water 12 - 15 minutes or until tender. Drain.

Yield: about 6 cups

Note: A KitchenAid® stand mixer or similar can be used for the mixing and kneading stages. Set mixer to slow mix speed until dough forms a ball and cleans side of bowl. Increase speed to next setting for kneading.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Frugal Kitchens 101: Breads (2) Equipment

Frugal Kitchens 101

In the last Frugal Kitchens 101 article I gave you some of the ways that making your own breads can save you money. Today I'm going to focus on how to save on the equipment needed for breadmaking. Even if you make bread by hand you will need good baking sheets, loaf pans, muffins tins and a few other items that will make baking breads easy. If you are using mechanical means you will need a breadmachine, KitchenAid® stand mixer or similar or larger capacity food processor.

The first thing to consider is how you are going to make your flat bread, yeast dough or quick bread batters. In general for making all breads types at home you will need: large stainless steel mixing bowl, dry measuring cups, wet measuring cups, heavy duty mixing spoon (suggested Paderno or similar), baking sheet (2, suggested Wilton, preferred restaurant grade), cast iron pan, coated loaf pans (2, suggested Wilton), silicone loaf pan (2), silicone muffin tin, rolling pin and cooling racks. Optional but not essential are silicone baking cups and Silpat non-stick baking sheets. Both of these will reduce using paper products such as parchment paper and paper cupcake liners something every frugal kitchen should strive for. They will also reduce the cost of food prep by not using disposable prep equipment. Chances are good you already have most of this equipment so you likely won't have to buy a lot since most of the aforementioned equipment has other culinary uses. Silicone bakeware is now quite inexpensive and often goes on sale so if you don't have the mentioned bakeware, wait for it to go on sale. I do not recommend buying a full set of silicone bakeware as you will likely end up with pieces you will seldom use but the sets also go on sale quite often so it's one thing to keep in mind.

Breadmachines - These small appliances have been on the market for over a decade so have come down greatly in price. They tend to be either and I love it or an I hate it appliance for a few reasons. The primary reason people love it is because you can dump the ingredients in the baking pan then simply press a button so the machine does the rest including the baking. It eliminates extra prep equipment and clean-up. The primary complaint with this very convenient appliance is the bread itself. People often complain about the quality of the bread crust and the hole the paddle leaves. The work around many use is to make and proof the dough in the breadmachine then shape and proof as desired. Bake in the oven, convection oven or grill. The second complaint is the amount of room these single use appliances take on the counter. Many kitchens simply do not have the room to have a breadmachine sitting on the counter all the time. The work around is to store the breadmachine off the counter or set it up on a cart to use as needed. If you do not have a breadmachine, new ones are relatively inexpensive at under $50 especially this time of year. However, good used breadmachines can often be found for less than $10 at resale stores, yard sales and estate sales. You may be able to find one on your local Freecycle or check Craig's List.

KitchenAid® stand mixers and similar - The first thing to look for in a stand mixer is the wattage. The higher the wattage the more load that machine can handle. You should also look for additional attachments to extend the versatility of your machine. I have the KitchenAid® stand mixer Professional Series HD (475 W) that I recommend. They are multi-functional so will earn their keep even in kitchens with limited counter space. Stand mixers make quick work of mixing and kneading dough. You can easily add additional ingredients and adjust the knead time as desired. Another benefit of using a stand mixer is the ability to make enough dough for two or more loaves of bread so you can make larger batches of dough to use that day or refrigerate or freeze for later use. Expect to pay in the $250 or better price range for a new stand mixer but considering it is multi-function and can replace a few single-use appliances it may be the best choice for you just in this aspect. Again check the sources indicated for finding breadmachines at a lower cost. Another good source for stand mixers especially used is eBay.

I cannot stress this enough, if you buy a breadmachine or stand mixer take the time to read the manual! Doing so will save you a lot of frustration and give you tips for troubleshooting. Very few bread recipes cannot be converted to using a stand mixer and virtually all breadmachine recipes can be converted however, converting conventional bread recipes requires a bit more. You must first reduce the total amount of flour to be less than the recommended amount of total flour for your breadmachine as recommended by your manufacturer. You must add the ingredients to the breadmachine in the order that your manufacturer recommends. If you buy a used breadmachine that doesn't not have a manual check online for a manual you can either order for a charge or print out. Not all manuals are available this easily so ask on forums and blogs if necessary.

As you can see the equipment necessary for successfully making bread at home is not extensive and need not be expensive. Keep in mind that each loaf of bread you make at home goes towards paying for your equipment investment as well as saving you money on your grocery bill.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Creamy Pennine Rigate

You just can't go wrong with pasta! It's so versatile that you can even serve it rather plain with a little butter and salt. Pasta goes beyond budget stretching because it really is comfort food whether served hot or cold. A little meat or seafood goes a long way when paired with pasta. One thing I like about pasta is there is no end as to how fresh vegetables can be fit into the dish.

Creamy Pennine Rigate

I made a spur of the moment pasta dish for dinner tonight. It's a keeper! Earlier this week we did a small pot roast with vegetables. The following day some of the left-over roast was used for sandwiches leaving only a small piece of roast left over. So I decided to cut this piece into small pieces, use it in a pasta dish and see where it would go. The end result was a creamy pennine rigate with fresh vegetables. What was really nice about this dish is the creaminess of the sauce. This would be a great way to use up small left-over pieces of steak as well.

Creamy Pennine Rigate

½ pk (450 g) pennine rigate
4 oz cream cheese
2 c beef gravy
1½ c roast beef, cubed
6 - 8 mushrooms, sliced
¼ red pepper, chopped
¼ lg carrot, shredded
½ stalk celery, sliced
½ med onion, chopped

Prepare vegetables. Cook the pennine rigate to al dente, drain. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and add to the pasta. Cover and set aside. Sautée the mushrooms then stir in the roast beef and gravy. Bring to a boil. Pour over the pasta and cheese mixture. Mix until pasta is nicely coated and sauce is creamy. Plate. Top with chopped vegetables.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cooking with Dave - Corn Bread

The theme for Frugal Kitchens 101 this month has been bread. I've heard so many people say they use a mix for making cornbread. If you look at the ingredients there is under 50¢ total in the mix yet you are paying $2 or more! So each time you make cornbread you could be saving at least $1.50. If you want the convenience of a mix, mix all the dry ingredients together and store in a mason jar. Then when you want to make cornbread use your homemade mix and add the wet ingredients. I'm not planning on making cornbread in the next few days so found this video to show you how easy it is to make. I wrote out Dave's cornbread recipe for you. Following his recipe is the recipe I use.

Dave's Cornbread

1 c self rising flour
¼ c sugar
1 c cornmeal
⅓ vegetable oil
1 c milk

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Lightly butter cast iron corn bread baking pans. Heat the pans before filling with batter to prevent sticking. Combine the ingredients. Pour into heated baking pans. Bake at 400ºF for 25 minutes.

Corn Bread
source: Betty Crocker's Cookbook (old copy date missing). Pp. 49 with modifications by me (Garden Gnome)

1 c yellow cornmeal
1 c unbleached flour
2 tbsp organic sugar
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
1 c milk
¼ c shortening
1 egg

Pre-heat oven to 425ºF. Grease 8x8x2 baking pan. Place ingredients in KitchenAid® stand mixer bowl. Mix well. Increase speed to 3 for 1 minute. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Crockpot Chicken Stew

A lot of people love their crockpots but I'm not one of them despite having two. Mine tend to be used mainly for stews, during bulk cooking sessions or to keep something hot like apple cider when entertaining. That's it. One reason I dislike crockpots is because they require a long cook time and while that is good for meats it tends to make some foods turn to mush. While crockpots have a reputation of being energy efficient they actually can cost more to operate than a pressure cooker. In reality, crockpots are money savers but for a different reason. You can put the ingredients in the crockpot before you leave for work in the morning, set it on low and by the time you get home a nice, hot and tasty meal will be ready for you.

Crockpot Chicken Stew

The vast majority of my soups and stews are made from scratch without a written recipe. I start with an idea then add as I go jotting down what I add in my kitchen journal. This allows me to duplicate and tweak further. Saturday we were hosting a larger event and since I had a lot of prep to do for that I wanted something easier for dinner. The idea of making chicken stew in the crockpot came to mind. It meant there would be reduced clean-up so I could spend the time between dinner and guest arrival doing last minute prep.

Crockpot Chicken Stew

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 medium potatoes, washed
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
4 lg carrots, coined
1½ c niblet corn
1 L home canned/made chicken stock
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp Herbs de Province
2 tbsp flour

Lightly brown the chicken breasts. Remove and cut into cubes. Place in slow cooker with the chicken stock. Cut wash potatoes into cubes and add to the crockpot. Prepare carrots, onions and celery. Add to crockpot along with corn. Add Worcestershire sauce and herbs. Mix well. Cover then set the crockpot to low. Allow to cook for 6 hours. Check vegetables for doneness. Increase temperature to high. Allow to cook until vegetables are just tender. Mix flour with water to form a slurry. Slowly pour into the liquids in the crockpot. Stir then allow to continue cooking until the liquids thicken.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bangers and Mash

This time of year everyone is so busy scurrying around with holiday planning, shopping and social gatherings it is very, very easy to be tempted to pick-up take-out or order in. Both of those temptations will cut into your holiday budget. One easy way to prevent this is to have quick, easy meals sitting in your freezer. Simply thaw the individual components or entrée or casserole, heat and add salad or rolls for quick, easy and an inexpensive meal.

bangersBangers & Mash

Bangers and mash is an English sausage and potato dish served in pub. It's easy and inexpensive to make yet is the perfect example of comfort food. It is traditionally served with a brown onion gravy and often includes a side of mushy peas. Bangers and mash is a very filling meal! Our banger and mash dinner consisted of honey garlic sausages that had been grilled then froze, mashed potatoes and browned beef gravy.

Note: I put this meal under the label of 30 minutes but you really could have it put together in about half that time.


sausages - I grilled up about 30 large honey garlic pork sausages back in September. Some were enjoyed with sauerkraut and onions on toasted buns and the rest were divided into meal size portions then vacuum sealed and froze. To re-heat I opened the package and placed in a glass baking dish with about ¼ c of water then covered and microwaved on high for about 3 minutes. Microwave ovens vary in power so adjust your timing to get the sausages on the hot side of warm based on your microwave.

potatoes - I cut about 6 medium, unpeeled, washed potatoes into chunks then steamed them until tender. I then put the potatoes into the KitchenAid® stand mixer bowl with about 1 tbsp of butter, 3 oz cream cheese, ¼ c sour cream and just enough milk to smooth the potatoes. Using the mixing paddle I mixed just until smoothing but with smaller chunks due to the peels.

gravy - I used a beef gravy that I had froze earlier but wanted it a bit smoother and glossier not that the way it was would not have been fine. To make the gravy for the bangers and mash I strained the gravy through a fine strainer into a saucepan. Then I added about a ½ tsp of Grace Browning* caramel and brought the gravy to a low boil. I wanted the gravy just a bit thicker so stirred in about 2 tbsp of corn starch** slurry.

* Grace Browning adds a deep brown colour as well as flavour. It is best to add a little at a time to get the effect you want.

** Corn starch as a thickener adds a gloss to gravies.

Please Stand By...

while I do a little Christmas decorating.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Frugal Kitchens 101: Breads (1)

The holiday season is upon us meaning more people are baking so I debated which Frugal Kitchens 101 article to post first. As one reader guess from the poll the topic of breadmaking would be featured at some point. Who can resist the urge to cut a thick slice of piping hot bread just out of the oven? Of the 65 who participated 35% did not make any bread at home and the majority 49% made 1 to 3 loaves of bread weekly. Bread in some form is a fundamental part of many meals and snacks. It is the first choice for lunches eaten at home, taken to work or school and when eating out. One of the most popular ways breads are used is in the form of buns for the American favourite hamburger. The reason bread has been such a staple throughout history and continues to be a staple is because bread is inexpensive to make with a few simple ingredients making breads one of the best budget stretching foods possible.

Despite this making bread at home has for the most part fallen out of favour although breadmachines has brought some of that back over the past decade. It's just too easy to stop at the grocery store and buy a loaf of over priced bread conveniently sliced and stuffed into a plastic bag. If you really want that homemade aroma you can buy the over priced refrigerator rolls or dough in the freezer section or over priced bread machine mix. More discriminate buyers will opt for the often over priced specialty breads. The common theme here is over priced. You are really paying for that convenience while buying products in most cases heavily laden with preservatives.

Breads fall into three categories:

  1. unleavened breads - These are simple breads that do not rise. Examples: flat breads - naan, pita, tortilla, pocket breads
  2. yeast breads - These breads use yeast as a leavening agent. Examples (click links for recipes): sweet breads (cinnamon rolls), pumpernickel, twelve grain, 100% whole wheat, bagels as well as several others in the archives for this blog
  3. quick breads - These are breads that use baking powder or baking soda/buttermilk as leavening agents. Examples: soda breads, pancakes, muffins, zucchini loaf, banana bread, corn bread
Why is making your own bread a good budget stretching strategy? The most expensive ingredient in most breads is flours. All other ingredient (salt, sugar, yeast, oil) costs are so low that they barely more than a couple of cents to the overall cost of the bread. Time to do some math. If we do a cost comparison of my French bread that makes 2 large loaves or 3 large baguettes the store bought equivalent at our prices would cost me $4.47. The cost to make the loaves myself including the electricity for baking 32¢ for the flour, < href="">basic white bread is more expensive to make because it has an egg (10¢) and milk (5¢) as ingredients that at my costs add an additional 15¢ to the overall cost of that loaf. However, this loaf of bread is far superior to the cheap, sandwich bread in the stores. It is more in line with the more expensive packaged breads or bakery type breads that cost anywhere from $2.49 to $3.29 per loaf so even though this breads cost me under 73¢ to make I am still saving a considerable amount of money. Similar saving can be shown for quick breads and flat breads. In short, there are very few breads that you can buy that cannot be made cheaper at home. If you substitute just one loaf of store bought bread for homemade per week you will be saving money.

People often use the excuse that making bread at home is too difficult or time consuming. For quick breads there is nothing more involved than measuring and mixing the ingredients then baking. Quick, easy and budget stretching! Yeast breads involve a little more prep work but need not be difficult or time consuming. Once the dough has been kneaded, the only time involved is waiting for proofing and baking of which you can be doing something else while you wait. First, the dough can be made:
  1. by hand - This involves manually mixing and kneading the dough. It is the most time time consuming but is cheaper because it eliminates any special equipment or additional electricity.
  2. breadmachine - These little workhorses take the guess work out of breadmaking. Simply dump the ingredients into the baking pan, hit the desired setting and the machine does the rest. However, I highly recommend you watch the dough to ensure it is not too dry or too stick after the knead and adjust the flour or liquid if needed. Many people are using breadmachines on dough setting only then baking in the oven because they don't like the bread baked in the machine.
  3. KitchenAid® stand mixer or similar - A stand mixer gives you the greatest degree of control without the time involved by hand. It allows you to increase or decrease the knead time as desired. It also allows you to make the dough for more than one loaf of bread at a time.
I've discussed the monetary savings so now will give some tips on ways you can save time to make breadmaking an enjoyable experience. Did you know that you can make yeast bread doughs then refrigerate up to 4 days or freeze for later use? Well you can and that can be one of your biggest time savers. Make a batch of yeast bread dough for two to four loaves. Bake one or two then put the rest in the fridge or freezer to use as needed. Do the same thing with pizza dough or any other sweet dough. Allow to come to room temperature then shape as desired then proof and bake. You can even make muffin (one recipe here) and pancake batter ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator to use later. Now here is the beauty of keeping these kinds of doughs in your refrigerator or freezer. For a fraction of the cost of store bought and with in most cases under 10 minutes prep time you have created a convenient way for you to enjoy homemade bread throughout the week.

*this is a general estimate for basic low cost ingredients (salt, sugar, yeast, oil)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fountain Blue Reuben Soup

The colder weather combined with the busy holiday season makes homemade soups a perfect dinner choice. Served with a hot slice of homemade bread, homemade soups make for a frugal meal. Most homemade soups can be made in large batches then either canned or froze for later use. The exception to this is soups containing rice, pasta, milk, cheese or cream should not be home canned. If you want to home can these types of soups omit the aforementioned ingredients and add them later before serving.

Fountain Blue Reuben Soup

Our kids in Wisconsin sent me the photo and recipe for this lovely, creamy, homemade soup. It certainly looks delicious! Aside of ham or bacon as an ingredient in soup I haven't seen many recipes for using cured meats in soups. There's no reason why you can't though. Corned beef is usually brisket but sometimes round or silverside that has been salt cured. It is then cooked with spices. This recipe uses corned beef that many think of only using for corned beef and cabbage or the very popular Reuben sandwich. The ingredients in this soup duplicate the flavours of the Reuben sandwich. It's rich, creamy flavour is sure to please.

Fountain Blue Reuben Soup

2 Tbl sp. Butter
1 Chopped Medium Onion
4 Cup Chicken Stock
1 Cup Chopped Sauerkraut, drained
1 Bay Leaf
2 Tbl sp. Cornstarch
1/4 Cup of Water
2 Cup Whipping cream
1 lb. Corned Beef, diced
1 Cup shredded Swiss
White Pepper
Fresh Parsley
Rye Chips or Croutons

Melt butter in a medium sauce pot. Add onion and cook until soft. Add stock, sauerkraut and bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 15mins.

In a small bowl, mix cornstarch with water. Stir into the soup with cream, corned beef and cheese. Simmer gently for 10-15mins, stirring regularly. Remove bay leaf; add salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and croutons.

Note: We usually precook the corned beef in the pressure cooker with the seasonings, then remove those seasonings when dicing.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cinnamon Rolls

What's that phrase? Nothing says loving like something from the oven! Refrigerator rolls have made it easy to pop dinner and dessert rolls in the oven with very little effort but what if you could do the exact same thing except cheaper? Well you can! Consider what ingredients are in refrigerator cinnamon rolls. There is flour as the main ingredient, a bit of butter or most likely butter flavouring, milk solids, yeast, water, sugar, salt and cinnamon, all very cheap ingredients to begin with. The icing consists of icing sugar, milk and vanilla. What you don't notice in the refrigerator rolls in general is the preservatives and artificial flavours that can easily be avoided by making your own.

I decided to make cinnamon rolls today. This post is going to be a more graphic intensive but I really want to show you how easy it is do make these at home for a fraction of the cost of those pop open and bake refrigerator rolls. Total ingredient costs for 24 to 30 sweet rolls is approximately 50¢ at today's cost plus about 5¢ for electricity but you would use the fuel costs for baking anyway so the cost comparison is without electricity. Refrigerator rolls will cost you 3 to 4 times that amount as well as being packaged in environmentally unfriendly packaging. The longest amount of time require for this recipe is the rising times other than that prep time would total likely less than 15 minutes.

The basic method for any yeast bread when using a stand mixer or any other method is to mix the dry ingredients well then add the wet ingredients adding more flour as needed to get a smooth, elastic ball (1). Now here is the beauty of the following Traditional Sweet Roll Dough recipe that follows. Make the full recipe then divide in half. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board then form and cut in half (2). Refrigerate one half for use within 3 - 4 days or you could freeze for later use. Place the remaining dough into the stand mixer bowl, cover with a damp towel and allow to stand in a warm place until doubled in size. Once the dough has finished the first proof, punch it down and roll it out. I don't roll but rather use my fingers to form a rectangle (3). The rectangle is then brushed with melted butter. The original recipe said to use softened butter but I find I can reduce the amount of butter used and get better results using melted butter and a silicone brush.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon mixture together then spread evenly over the buttered dough (5). This will make a little mess but that is easily cleaned up. Try to get close to all the edges. Starting at the long end (6) begin rolling the dough and filling. Do not press hard because this dough is a bit softer than other yeast dough so use a light touch. When you are finished rolling you will end up with a log (7). Carefully turn the log so the seam is on the bottom. This makes it easier to cut the log. Use a serrated knife (8) and slowly cut through the log to form 1- inch thick slices. The original recipe* that has been quite modified by me said to cut into 15 equal pieces. I found that 12 - 15 pieces give a better result with leaning more towards 12 pieces. When you cut each piece leave it standing upwards then slide your knife under and carefully transfer to the pan to minimize the sugar filling from spilling out.

Place each cut piece onto a Silpat or silicone baking sheet lined baking sheet (9). Cover the pieces with a damp towel and set in a warm spot until doubled (10). Bake at 375ºF for 25 minutes or until golden brown (11). Remove from oven and drizzle with icing (12).

The original recipe and instructions came from an old version of Betty Crocker but both the ingredients and method have been modified quite a bit so the following recipe no longer resembles the original. This recipe is a family staple, easily made without even looking at the recipe. This is a recipe you will want to print out and save! This sweet roll dough recipe can be used as the basis for many sweet rolls and coffee cakes.

Traditional Sweet Roll Dough

4½ - 5 c unbleached flour
½ c organic sugar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp instant yeast
1 c lukewarm milk
2 eggs
½ c softened butter

Place 4 c of the flour and the other the dry ingredients in a KitchenAid® stand mixer bowl, reserving the remaining flour. Mix on speed 1 until well mixed. Hand beat the eggs. Stir into the milk and butter. With the mixer on setting 1 slowly add the wet ingredients slowly while continuing to mix. Add in the extra flour 1 tbsp at a time while still on setting one. When the dough cleans the bowl sides knead on setting 2 until the dough is smooth and elastic. Proceed as desired.

Cinnamon Rolls

½ recipe Traditional Sweet Roll Dough
1 tbsp butter melted
¼ c organic sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
icing (recipe follows)

Melt the butter then brush the dough with the butter. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together then sprinkle evenly over the dough. Roll the dough as above. Cut into 1 - inch pieces across the log. Place onto Silpat or silicone lined baking pan. Bake at 375ºF until golden brown. Remove from oven. Spread icing on the rolls while still hot.


1½ cup icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
½ tsp pure vanilla

Mix together. It the icing is too stiff add just a little extra milk ¼ tsp at a time. The icing should be somewhat stiff but not too stiff.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Frugal Kitchens 101: Lunch Money

Anyone who wants to save money on their expenses in general is often given the advice to brown bag it. If you spend $1.50 for a coffee, $1 for an afternoon snack from a vending machine, $5 for lunch and another $1 for soda each work day you are spending $8.50 per day. That doesn't sound like a lot of money does it? Over the course of a year that works out to $2,125 assuming 2 weeks off for vacation. That represents a large chunk of your annual food costs. The reality is you are often spending more than that per day without realizing it. It's easy to see where taking your own lunch can greatly reduce this cost but if you rely on convenience type of lunch foods you will not be saving as much as you could. You will have to change your mindset a little as taking a lunch means making and carrying it as well as bringing your containers home but just keep the amount of money you are saving in mind.

While taking a lunch is a frugal choice the idea of brown bag is not because it is not environmentally friendly. Instead your secondary goal for taking a lunch is to make it garbageless. Replacing lunch items like plastic wrap, paper bags, wax paper and sandwich bags with re-usable containers will save you more money. To start you on your frugal lunch kit the following is a list of suggested items that should cost you about $20.

  1. insulated lunch bag with ice pack - These are widely available and rather inexpensive. Look for heavy zippers, two compartments and heavy straps for durability. An adjustable shoulder strap is nice. I have an AZ MAX™by Arctic Zone® insulated lunch bag with ice pack, water bottle compartment and 16 oz water bottle. It cost $7.99 about 5 years ago.
  2. thermos - In some cases you might want a thermos for hot drinks or soups. I highly recommend the stainless steel unbreakable Thermos for durability.
  3. water bottle - If your lunch bag does not come with a water bottle or you want to take something different to drink in the afternoon you will need one or two water bottles. I recommend the 16 oz size but you can get smaller or larger if desired.
  4. reusable containers - Both Glad® and Ziploc® containers come in several sizes. They are quite durable, reusable and inexpensive. If you have access to a microwave to reheat your lunch take a non-plastic bowl to use.
  5. utensils - Use metal utensils from home.
One trap that many fall into when taking a lunch to school or work is they rely heavily on convenience foods. The problem with this is not only the expense but the over packaging. Avoiding these types of lunch food will save on your grocery bill.
  1. individually wrapped foods - For the most part these are foods that are individually wrapped then put into another type of package. Examples of these are cheese sticks, pudding cups, fruit cups and etc. The over packaging adds to the cost of the food and is environmentally unfriendly. It is cheaper to buy the whole foods and put them into reusable containers. For example 4 oz fruit cups from Sam's Club range from 10¢ to 12¢ per ounce and are over packaged. Apples here based on per lb price range from 4¢ to 6¢ per ounce and they are not over packaged. These also don't have additional sugar or preservatives making an apple the healthy, frugal choice without producing garbage.
  2. lunchmeat - Lunchmeat is a convenience food that can easily be avoided. Price per ounce seldom makes lunchmeat a frugal lunch choice. It tends to be high in sodium as well. The frugal substitution is to slice your own roast beef, roasted turkey breast, ham or boneless skinless chicken breast. When roasting or cooking meats always cook extra. Slice up the extra and freeze in the amount you will comfortably use in a week. Thaw a package as needed. You now have a healthier, low cost lunchmeat.
  3. pop (soda) and tetra pac juice boxes - Both of these drinks are higher in price per ounce that other alternatives. Neither is packaged environmentally friendly and despite being able to recycle the containers in some areas, a better solution is to simply not use them. The tetra pacs are appealing for children though. A good solution is to buy a Rubbermaid® reusable juice box and fill with juice yourself. Homemade juice is often less expensive than store bought but if you do not have a juicer or steam juicer, buy fruit juice in the largest container your family will use in a week. Nutritionally pop (soda) is never a good value for your food dollar. It's best to avoid pop (soda) entirely.
  4. individual sized milk - Everyone is familiar with the 8 oz milk cartons sold in cafeterias and available for purchase at many schools. At $1 per carton this milk works out to 12.5¢ per ounce. At Sam's Club a gallon (128 oz) for $2.96 or 2.3¢ per ounce. Even if a gallon of cost $4 the price would be 3¢ per ounce. Clearly the gallon price is the frugal choice. Pour milk into a thermos for lunch instead.
  5. ready meals - It is very tempting to purchase ready meals for lunches that just need to be heated in a microwave oven. These include but are not limited to individual sized soups or stews, Lean Cuisine® or Weight Watcher's® entrées, Pizza Pockets® and similar types of convenience foods. All of these are considerably more expensive per ounce than what you can make at home and some of them are extremely high in sodium content. They also are over packaged with some packaging that cannot be recycled. The frugal solution is to create your own homemade entrées, make your own soups and stews or take left-overs.
As you start making changes to what you pack in your lunches and start to see the savings rise it will be easier for you to find other ways to cut back. Your lunches need not be boring either just because you are making frugal choices. I hope you find these frugal tips useful and please do share your frugal lunch tips.