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Kitchen Nightmares

I am beginning to realize that I totally have kitchen staples, and that my life literally falls apart if I don’t have them. I start doing crazy things, like subbing mayo in for eggs in pancakes. Seriously. This happened this morning. We survived.

Especially since our household is dairy- and oat-free, we’ve had to get creative. And, I’ve never particularly liked the taste of olive oil in cooking, nor felt particularly wonderful when using cooking spray. (It just feels right, I tell you, to smear oil with a paper towel.) So! Here’s my list of things I MUST HAVE in my kitchen for my culinary life to be complete. And not fall to pieces. But first, I must flip my mayo pancakes.

1. Coconut Oil

coconutoilSeriously, if you can’t already tell from my over-use of the word, I’m totally serious right now. This stuff rocks my dairy-free world. Not only can I use it on toast, I can bake with it, saute with it, and use it to whiten my teeth! (Oil pulling is awesome. I only did it once, because my mouth filled up with spit and that was kind of gross, but my breath was so fresh and coconutty, and my teeth felt so nice!) When you find something with health benefits that’s natural and not the gross fake non-dairy margarine that’s one molecule away from being plastic, your life is made.

2. Applesauce

No, not that jarred stuff you find in H.E.B. The real stuff. The “just finished cooking this” stuff. Theapplesauce-2 “no added sugars, but added spices and love” stuff. It’s amazing. A divine experience. And I am amazed at how easy it is, that we don’t ALL do this! After running out of eggs, I made brownies with this. A-stinkin’-mazing. I will never cook brownies any other way. For real, dude. Of course, I used two of my other staples as well: coconut oil, and almond milk. So good… like fudge cake. But again, applesauce needs to always be in my fridge. Not only is it an uber-healthy snack for the kids and easy on toddler teething gums, but it’s a baking essential.

3. Almond/Rice Milk

almond milkI interchange these always. My mayo pancakes today were with rice milk. Almond milk is my preference for baking, though, because it’s thicker and sweeter. It makes my world glorious. Seriously. Too exhausted to make cupcakes from scratch? Get the box mix, add almond milk, coconut oil, and dairy-free (or regular) pudding of your choice to those suckers, and get ready for an explosion of awesomeness. Plus, my kids can drink it and get that daily dose of calcium, as well as a little protein.

4. Spices??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Dude. Spices. ALL THE SPICES! I MUST HAS THEM ALL! (I’m having flash-backs to my childhood of Pokemon-induced comas.) No meal is complete without something from the spice rack, and a simple addition of salt (GASP) and pepper can bring that bland tilapia to its full, glorious potential. That, and some concentrated OJ heated up. Mmmmm….. I need to make that this week…. But spices are where it’s at. Cooking 60 years ago was centered around spices, and our international culture has brought so many fun ones to us! Nearly every week, another spices sneaks into my grocery basket and smuggles its way into my kitchen. They’ve started taking over another whole shelf.

Cooking in general, but especially dairy-free cooking, NEEDS these things. I cannot survive in my kitchen without them. Of course, there are tons of other things that I have in my pantry that are essentials, but all of them can be switched out for something else. No couscous in the pantry? We’ll use rice. No broccoli? Canned green beans it is! No nanners? Have some applesauce, wee one!

What are your kitchen must-haves?

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Recipe Review: Homemade Applesauce

applesauce

 

A few months back, I jumped onto the homemade baby food bandwagon. My cousin had told me it would help save money and, given my tiny food budget, I jumped at the chance to save a few bucks. Not unsurprisingly (because she almost always is), she was right. I was shocked! One bag of strawberries pureed would last me two or three weeks. Peaches and pears gave out between four and six traditional baby food jars. And who can forget applesauce? I grabbed the H.E.B. brand off the shelves, thinking it would be better than the baby food. More flavorful, perhaps. Still with that same weird metallic taste. And then, about two months into my little experiment, I looked at the back of the label. High fructose corn syrup? Sugar? Artificial coloring? It’s applesauce, people. What the heck are you coloring?

So, I resolved to make my own applesauce. I love to cook, but this seemed a little more difficult than usual. After all, apples are hard, right? If I’d only known how easy….

Homemade Applesauce

8 apples, cored and cubed (I leave the skin on for a little extra fiber)
1/2 cup of water

Put apple pieces into a large pot, add water, and cook covered on medium heat until apples are browning and they are soft. It’s usually between 20 and 45 minutes. Then, set aside to cool. Once cool, puree or blend them until they’re smooth. Voila! Applesauce!

 

Now, if you want to add a little cinnamon or sugar, go for it! There is nothing wrong with that. Some people even suggest brown sugar for a little extra depth. It sounds amazing. Other suggest adding a little nutmeg or allspice. In the fall, maybe a little pumpkin spice? When it’s homemade, you can get wild with it! Add some vanilla, maybe, or some orange zest and cranberries. I don’t know, but whatever you try, let me know. I’m always up for something new.

As for me, though, I’m sticking with the basic for the moment. It’s still incredibly sweet (possibly due to the Fuji apples that remain on sale), and the less sugar for #2, the better. Slowly but surely, I’ll start reducing the amount for the rest of us, though I’ll never get rid of it completely I suspect. Ah well, at least we’ve got our applesauce.

Food For the Frugal

foodMy family is frugal. My husband might call it a different word, perhaps closer to “cheap,” but I prefer the word frugal. After all, I’m not out to pinch every penny and use old t-shirts as toilet paper. I’m just trying to keep it so we have money at the end of the month, not more month at the end of the money. One of the largest ways I try to do this is through our food allowance every month. The trick, though? Eating anything other than ramen, spaghetti, or hamburger helper every night for dinner. With a very tight budget, every little cost-cutting tool is needed.

I’ve found a few meals that fit in with a frugal meal plan, but it’s still incredibly difficult. I’ve found that lentils, regardless of what recipe I use, usually make enough for two or three meals afterwards. Fantastic! And pastas, being so cheap, are another great alternative. Until… you try to get whole wheat, because Lord knows I can’t attempt gluten-free on this budget, as much as I’d like to. Shockingly, making #2’s food at home has helped save some serious cash, as well. And, we don’t necessarily eat meat for every meal. I know, it’s so un-American of us.

So, how do you frugal families out there make it work? Do you stick to chicken thighs, or are you a bean fanatic? Do you avoid pork? Do you search for those lesser-loved cuts that sell for cheap? What are your secrets for quick meals? Crock pot meals? Hearty meals for the husband to take to work the next day? Do you use canned quick steps, or make your own? And for you parents of babies, do you have any tips for a homemade baby food attempter?

Any and all comments much appreciated. 🙂 Here’s to the frugal among us! May our wallets be never empty, and our tummies always full!

Recipe Review – Quick Chili 1

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The first thing my husband said when he saw me cooking was, “Ew… Chili has tomato sauce in it?”

If that’s your reaction, too, be not afraid! I was a little unsure myself about the three cans of diced tomatoes, bunches of beans, and the addition of sugar. (The longer I cook, the more I appreciate the power of sugar in savory dishes. Teriyaki, anyone?) Needless to say, the family loved it. We spooned it over H.E.B.’s knock-off Fritos and added a bit of shredded cheddar cheese: voila! The best frito pie ever! (And as a side note to all you savvy Texas shoppers, the H.E.B. fritos chips are the best. Why? They literally fill their bags to the very top. It’s fantastic.) The true mark of a great meal? The husband took it to work with him today. I guess those tomatoes weren’t so terrible after all.

I did makes some… adjustments to our chili. I soaked about a third of a bag of pinto beans overnight (and into the next night…) to take out one of the cans of beans. I also had a fruit loop moment and got a can of pinto beans rather than kidney beans, so we had double the pinto power. It actually turned out really well, though. The bagged beans had almost a popping sensation when you ate them. It was cool! Also, because my boys are not partial to spicy things, I didn’t add any hot sauce. I also didn’t add hot sauce because I don’t currently own any hot sauce and my weekly budget was already used up, so hot sauce was not had. Feel free to make it as you wish!

Here is the original recipe from allrecipes.com, courtesy of user Pam Smith.

Quick Chili I

  • 2 pounds ground beef (I use 90/10 just so I get a little more)
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans Italian-style diced tomatoes
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce

Directions

  1. In a large stock pot lightly brown ground beef, and drain if needed.
  2. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent.
  3. Add tomatoes, diced tomatoes with chili peppers, tomato sauce, water, kidney beans, pinto beans, chili powder, cumin, sugar, salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Simmer for 30 minutes and then serve.

I will post a picture after lunch today. Left-overs!