Friday, January 23, 2015

Make it Yourself - cheese

Cheese is expensive, y'all. Full stop. Now, while I am no Caroline Ingalls, buttering and aging cheese for my family on the pantry shelf, I have dipped my toes into cheese making. I will say that mozzarella is my favorite, but this recipe for farm cheese is the most accessible, easiest recipe I've tried. You don't need rennet, citric acid, or any aging. As a matter of fact, part of its appeal is that you likely have everything you need to make it right now.

For the cost of a gallon of milk (under $3 if you're doing it right), and a half hour of time, you can have about a pound of delicious farm cheese and heaping helping of whey to make crepes, pancakes, or as a power-packed drink for yourself or your chickens. (You DO have chickens, right?)

This is not the stuff that you Kraft sells, wrapped in plastic on your grocery store shelves. It isn't a hard cheese. It is soft and crumbly - more like a feta or ricotta with a very mild flavor. It lends itself well to adding garlic, herbs, and the like.

So here's what you'll need:
1 gallon of milk - any milk will do, but whole milk makes for a tastier cheese.
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (I make my own, but that's another post!)
1 Tbsp salt
minced garlic, herbs, or whatever else you'd like to add

  • Place your milk in a large pot, bring to a boil
  • Remove from heat
  • Pour in vinegar and stir
  • Wait for the cheese curds to separate from the whey. You will know that this has occured when the whey is yellowish and clear - not white.

  • Pour the contents of the pot into a colander lined with cheesecloth, a bandana, or a clean cloth napkin (like I did here) set into a large bowl to catch the whey.

  • Add salt and/or herbs
  • Gather the cloth up and give it a good twist to remove the excess whey. Be careful. It is very hot. Because of this, I sometimes tie the corners of the cloth together over a skewer and hang it through the handles on my kitchen cabinets, allowing the excess whey to drip out.
  • That's it! You now have about a pound of farm cheese. Eat it on salads, in pastas. Spread it on crackers or eat it straight from the bowl.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Make it Yourself - bread

I have found my new go-to bread recipe. I used to prepare a dough in my bread machine and bake it in the oven, though I had to keep a close eye on the timing, this worked...until my bread machine went kaput. I've looked for an easy recipe ever since. I found it! I remember reading about Jim Lahey years ago in Martha Stewart's Living magazine, but I didn't own a Dutch oven. I clipped the article anyway (this was long before Pinterest). Well, my neighbor mentioned that he has made bread this way, so I went searching. Apparently, good ol' Martha also had him on her show. You can find the link (with video, no less) here.

This is a super easy bread that is crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. It is great for sandwiches or stand alone. The beauty of it all is that you mix up a few ingredients at night and leave it alone for 12-18 hours. You let it rise again for a couple of hours and bake it in a hot Dutch oven. So easy!


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Meat shopping trip

After my No Spend month and a half and the holidays, my pantry and freezer were looking pretty bare. I was in Taylorsville this morning - a small town outside of Louisville and decided to stop into Country Mart and stock up on meat.

This is one of the ways I am able to save so much money on my grocery budget each month. I hit Country Mart every three months or so.

Well, here is what I got today!

Here's the list:
20lbs potatoes
17 1/2lbs pork butt
10lbs breakfast sausage
6 1/2lbs chicken legs
10lbs pollock
10lbs sirloin pork steaks
10lbs bacon

Total? $112!  That's just over $1.50/lb for the meat!

There are great deals out there if you are willing to look and maybe go a bit off the beaten path.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My monthly menu board

For those who are curious what my monthly menu looks like, here it is. This is the product of me taking inventory of what is in the house, looking at our past menu items, and planning it out for the month. It is just a dollar store frame with the cardboard removed and a sheet of scrapbook paper inserted.

This will be our menu from December 10-January 12. Each time we eat something, I just wipe it off so I know what is left. I try to stay pretty true to the order, but there are always times when I've forgotten to thaw a meat or something else comes up. Doing the menu on a dry erase board keeps me from having to rewrite the whole menu if things get juggled around a bit.

I always keep frozen chicken breasts and we have a handful of chicken recipes that get rotated through. As you can see I try to use big and either inexpensive or on sale cuts of meat for several meals, saving both time and money. This month, it's pork shoulder and a spiral sliced ham that was on sale for the holidays. As per usual, beans make a few appearances monthly, as do breakfast foods. Leftover nights are planned in and I try to have a dessert on those nights as an incentive to clear out the fridge.

We pick up take and bake pizza (using a coupon) nearly every Sunday, so those days aren't included on the menu. We will also have Christmas Eve with my parents and Christmas dinner with Anthony's mom, so I don't have to worry about those days, either.

This is just what I have found has worked for me over the years. This is not the first "system" I've used, but it seems to be the most practical and the easiest.  It also helps to keep our grocery budget low, because I use what I already have, know what I'll be cooking from night to night, and uses up leftover food before it has a chance to go bad.

In case  you were wondering, yes, that is a tub of Lincoln Logs and an IKEA kiddie stool in the picture. I cropped out the Animals of the World encyclopedia and A Picture Book of Frederick Douglass, as well as a stack of coupons waiting for me to clip them. It's pretty real over here guys!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eat What You Have Days 28-49

OK, so I've waited so long to post what we've been having that I've forgtten what we even had for a few days. Boo.

Day 28- Leftovers
Day 29- Dinner at a friend's
Day 30- Burritos
Day 31-?
Day 32-?
Day 33- Pizza
Day 34- ?
Day 35- Spaghetti
Day 36- Thanksgiving with my family
Day 37- Thanksgiving with his family
Day 38- Chili Friday
Day 39- Leftovers
Day 40- Pizza
Day 41- Parpadelle with carmelized onions
Day 42- Salsa chicken with beans and rice
Day 43- Pizza (Mama was sick)
Day 44- Breakfast
Day 45- Turkey and sides
Day 46- Leftovers
Day 47- Birthday dinner for the twins at Nana's
Day 48- Turkey and dumplings
Day 49- Turkey burgers

So, I finally went for a grocery trip after 49 days. I still have about 10 meals in the house, though, in the effort of warding off a mutiny, I gave in. Gotta keep the family happy. Usually, after my annual Eat What You Have Challenge, I end up spending $100 or so more than I usually do. This year, I was actually $50 UNDER my monthly budget of $400! It can only help that I was able to make a stop at Aldi's.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Easy jambalaya

This is recipe that comes togther quickly and is cheap and tasty. Confession: I usually make this on a day when I haven't thought ahead and thawed some meat. I just boil the chicken from frozen and pop the sausage in the microwave for a minute and it's ready to go. Add more or less seasoning depending on how hot you like your Cajun food. This is one recipe where I don't mix my own seasonings, though I've shown what you would need to do so. We use Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning instead. This is also another recipe where I use rice that I've cooked and frozen ahead of time as a time saver.


2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1lb chicken breast
1pkg smoked sausage, cut into ½ inch rounds
1 ½c rice, cooked according to package directions
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning -
     1tsp ground red pepper
     ½tsp salt
     ½tsp chili powder
     ¼tsp garlic powder
     ¼tsp onion powder
     ¼tsp black pepper
     ¼tsp oregano

  • Place the chicken in a small saucepan, cover with salted water, boil until cooked through, coarsely chop; reserve cooking liquid.
  • Heat the oil in a pot over medium high heat; add onion, pepper, and garlic, cook until slightly softened; add chicken, sausage, and 1-2 cups of reserved liquid; add seasoning, cook until warmed through.
  • Add rice to meat & vegetables, stir to combine; serve hot with extra Cajun seasoning.
Price breakdown
Oil - 30¢
Onion - 35¢
Green pepper - 50¢
Garlic - 10¢
Chicken - $1.79
Sausage - $2
Rice - 15¢
Seasoning - 5¢
TOTAL - $4.24
Price per serving (6 servings) - 71¢

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Task 8 - Shop "alternative" stores

Another great way to save money is to look to stores that you wouldn't normally shop. A great store to save you tons of money is Aldi. If you have one near you, I would encourage you to add it into your regular shopping routine. The closest one to me is quite out of the way, but it is on the way to my mother-in-law's, so I plan my trip accordingly. There are tons of Aldi shopping tutorials out on the web. Their best prices for me are on oats, spices, all dairy - including eggs, bottled water, canned goods, tortillas, and cheese.

If you use a lot of spices, like we do by cooking Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican dishes, you should look in your area for an Indo-Paki grocery. I buy spices in bulk usually at a 70% or more savings over a traditional grocery store. That can really add up over time. If you think you won't be able to use a larger amount, split the difference with a friend.

Meat is one of the biggest grocery expenses. Look for alternatives here, as well. I, personally, look to small independently run stores in more rural areas. For you locals, I stop by Country Mart in Taylorsville monthly or bi-monthly. They have cheaper meat prices overall and have a 10lb. meat sale monthly. You can also look at more rural butchers and Mexican groceries and/or butchers, as well.