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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

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Monday, March 05, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Homemade Convenience (1)

Frugal Kitchens 101
We live in a very busy world with a lot of demands coming at us from every direction.  The food industry recognized this problem back during WWII when many women went into the workforce.  They began perpetuating the myth that convenience foods like commercially canned foods and tv dinners saved the busy homemaker time because these foods eliminated the prep time necessary for home cooked.  About the same time the budding fast food industry came on to the scene further perpetuating the myth of convenience.  What neither the food or fast food industry told the consumer is their convenience foods were chuck full of artificial food additives, sugar, salt and fat.  In addition to being unhealthy or at best borderline unhealthy, these foods were expensive and yet the consumer bought in to the myth thanks to the every growing bombardment of advertising.   There is absolutely no reason why you cannot make your own homemade convenience and guaranteed it will be at a fraction of the cost of store bought.  The reason you save a considerable amount of money is because you are using the raw ingredients then assembling yourself.

Equipment Needed:

  • freezer containers - Aluminum trays (Sam's Club or dollar store) are ideal for freezing casseroles and side dishes.   Plastic freezer containers are quite inexpensive ranging from the Ziploc style containers to stronger Rubbermaid containers.  Zipper style freezer bags are cheapest when bought in bulk at Sam's Club - 8¢ per bag compared to 40¢ in the grocery stores and 30¢ per bag for vacuum seal bags.
  • mason jars/glass jars - Mason jars can be bought new or found for free through your local Freecycle or Craig's list.  Glass jars can be recycled from any food you buy in glass jars or put the word out to your family and friends that you need jars with lids.  If you need the larger 1 gallon jars, ask at restaurants.
  • plastic bags - By far, vacuum sealing foods for the freezer protects them from freezer burn better than any other sealing system.  The cheapest source for vacuum bags is The Sweet Attack.
  • specialty equipment - The following will help you create your homemade convenience:  BWB canner (free - $20), food vacuum sealer ($50 to $100), and food processor or attachment for KitchenAid stand mixer ($20 to $60).  It will help to have larger volume stock pots as well that you can likely find at yard sales or thrift stores for $2 to $5 but you only need one or two.  Ideally, you will buy a pressure canner ($70 to $250) as well BUT many of the foods that are pressure canned can also be froze.
Homemade convenience can be though of essentially duplicating what you are already buying (eg. cake mixes, cookies, canned beans, canned soups, breaded frozen fish sticks or chicken pieces, rice or pasta mixes and frozen dinners.  Take a walk through your grocery store with a set of new eyes knowing most of the foods in the canned, frozen and baking mix sections you can easily make yourself, not only saving money but  the homemade versions are healthier for you because you control the ingredients.  Here are a few of my homemade convenience products and a few tips:
  • inspiration - The biggest inspiration is knowing I'm saving money yet getting a healthier product.
  • recipes - You don't need a lot of fancy recipes.  Refer to blogs like this one or Google for 'bulk cooking' or 'Once a Month Cooking' or 'OAMC'.  There are oodles of tried and tested recipes out there and don't forget many of your family favourites can easily be frozen.
  • meal quick starts - When starting out with homemade convenience, focus on meal quick starts.  This will be family specific but some of mine are cooked meat or poultry in gravy, seasoned ground beef or pork, taco meat, chopped onions, chopped green peppers, breaded or coated anything (eg. vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, mushrooms, cheese),  side dishes, meatballs and that type of think.  While some of my meal quick starts are home canned the majority are frozen.
  • mixes - Oh my gosh the food industry really charges through the nose for mixes.  In reality you are buying into the myth and paying for the packaging.  A cake mix that costs 99¢ contains about 10¢ worth of ingredients and you still have to add oil, water or milk and an egg or two.  In less than 15 minutes time you can easily put the ingredients for 10 cake mixes together at a cost of $1 or 1/10th the price of store bought.  The same can be said for homemade shake & bake coating, many seasonings like poultry seasoning and taco seasoning, as well as mixes like stove-top stuffing and rice-a-roni.  The beauty with most mixes is they can assembled so quickly so it is quite easy to have 10 cake mixes or 10 bread mixes sitting in your pantry in about 10 minutes time.
  • cookies - The dry ingredients for cookies can be assembled as a mix or you can make refrigerator cookies.  These are similar to the store bought cookie tubes in the refrigerator sector but at a fraction of the price.
  • sauces - Many store bought sauces can easily be made at home at a fraction of the cost of store bought.  A jar of my roasted tomato sauce costs about 20¢ compared to store bought at $3.99 and while I love the convenience of having it ready to use in the jar because I home can it, most tomato sauces freeze quite nicely if you don't want to can them.
  • soups - I buy most soups to use as a sauce and by far the most purchased is cream of mushroom soup.  Aside of cream soups, homemade soups can be home canned (an easy and less expensive alternative to store bought) or they can be frozen.
  • casseroles and ready meals - Many casseroles freeze nicely in aluminum trays for freezer to oven convenience.  Most quiche freeze nicely as does homemade tv-style dinners.  The beauty of making your own tv-style dinners is they are geared to your tastes and are considerably lower in sugar and sodium than most store bought tv-dinners.  
  • rice, potatoes, beans -  All of these starches can be cooked in advanced then froze for later use.  Potatoes and beans can be home canned for dump and pour convenience.  A 2 lb bag of frozen french fries will cost you about $1.50 or 75¢ per lb but a 10 lb bag of fresh potatoes costs at it's highest price here $3.99 or 40¢ per lb.  Using a French fry cutter, that 10 lb bag of potatoes can easily be turned into ready to cook French fries for your freezer in about 15 minutes.  Freeze rice and beans in meal or recipe sized portions.
  • snacks - Store bought snacks are expensive!  One of the best ways to avoid the expense is to switch to fruits with their own protective packaging.  Prepare carrot sticks, celery sticks, pepper slices and cucumber slices in advance then keep them in the refrigerator for a quick, yet healthy snack.  Homemade popcorn is always inexpensive and easy to make fresh but you can make it ahead then seal tightly for later use if desired.  You can do the same with oven baked potato chips.  Dehydrate fruit purée for fruit leather, and vegetables like zucchini for healthy vegetable chips.  Buy fruit on sale or grow your own then dehydrate to make your own trail mixes or granola.

4 food lovers commented:

Anonymous said...

I do most of these, but have some problems with the tomato sauce. I am not a fan of tomatoes, but my family is, so I grew tomatoes last year for canning. I had mostly Roma and some Lemon Boy, so was using both to make sauce, hopefully to use some for tomato soup which I do like. I cooked them till soft, put through a food mill and then reduced it to the consistency I wanted. I canned it and everything looked really good. However, the sauce is really, really acidic, despite about 1/3 by volume being the less acidic Lemon Boy. I read about using baking soda to neutralize it, but was rather surprised at how much it took to make the sauce mild enough for our taste.

I have canned for years, WB and pressure canning, only have trouble with the tomatoes. The year before, I made sauce and froze it, but used it as an addition to purchased tomato products and did not notice any acidity issues. I would rather can it to save freezer space, but we need to be able to use it. Any suggestions?

Garden Gnome said...

Hi and thanks for visiting. The pH value of tomatoes range from 4.0 (acidic) to 4.6 (less acidic) but some tomatoes have more sugar content making them taste less acidic. There are few things you can do to reduce the acidity in your finished sauce. First, reduce your cooking time as over cooking increases the acidity of tomato sauces. Cut your tomatoes then let them sit. This will release some of the liquid in the tomatoes. Drain the tomatoes. The golden liquid is very tasty and can be canned for use in soups, stews and gravies. Put the raw, cut pieces of tomato through the food mill then cook it as desired for canning. Removing the skins before cooking will reduce the acidity. Starting with a thicker initial raw product will give a thicker final product while reducing the cooking time.

The second way to reduce the acidity in tomato sauces is to add a little sugar. Don't use baking soda as that may result in an unsafe pH level (above pH 4.6) meaning the product would need to processed in a pressure canner rather than BWB. Any tomato product processed in a BWB canner must be acidified using citric acid, standardized lemon juice or vinegar.

The variety will determine the acidity as well. Romas are good for sauces because they are meaty with less liquid. Lemon Boy is not as good for sauces because it has a higher liquid content which requires a longer cook time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I will try that this year. I did use lemon juice when I canned the sauce and the baking soda when I was using it out of storage, not while canning. It will be nice not to have the sauce on the heat for so long too. I have never heard of draining the cut tomatoes and using the liquid, I'm guessing as you would a vegetable broth?

Garden Gnome said...

If you search this blog there are several posts on how I use the tomato stock. It really adds a lot of flavour to roast beef while tenderizing it. It has a wonderful flavour that adds depth to a dish.