Tag Archives: kitchen

Pantry Staples

unnamed (6)After a recent post about groceries, I was talking with a friend about how we manage to go grocery shopping so “rarely”–anywhere from one week to three weeks.

That got me to thinking about how we pull it off, and what it boils down to is this:  we keep certain things (foods, spices, etc.) in our kitchen that can be utilized by many different dishes.  Here are a few examples:

1.  A broad assortment of spices.  In addition to the standard spices, like cinnamon, salt and pepper, make sure to have a few other options available too.  Ones I find I use a lot include ginger, cumin, parsley, and (surprisingly) crushed red pepper flakes.

The benefit to having a variety of seemingly random spices is that if you don’t have a spice on hand that a recipe calls for, a quick internet search often yields an appropriate substitute, thus eliminating the need to go out to the store and spend money.  For example, I did not have poultry seasoning on hand for a recipe, but I did have rosemary, oregano, sage, ginger, marjoram, and thyme that Google told me would make a decent DIY poultry seasoning.  It worked!

2.  Protein source.  Be it lentils, peanut butter, chicken, beef, fish, or lamb, keeping a protein source at the ready can help you create the skeleton of a recipe.  Plus, if you stock up when meats are on sale, you can also save money!

3.  Veggies.   It is a well-known fact that I incorporate almost-rotten foods in my cooking because I hate the idea of wasting food (and thus wasting money), but don’t discount frozen and canned vegetables either.  Toss them in with your spices and protein source, and you are well on your way to a tasty casserole of your own making.

4.  Cream of something soup.  Ronnica makes her own cream of chicken soup; I prefer to buy mine.  No matter your soup origin preference, if you have cream of chicken/mushroom/celery soup on hand, then you have a critical component of hundreds of recipes.

What food staples do you keep handy?

How it Works: Family Meals

10538295175_1440a7fcac_zTake a moment and consider what gifts you have in your life.

I would be willing to bet that, for many of you, family and friends top the list of gifts in your life.  The question then becomes:  How can we nurture that gift of relationships?

In our house, one of the ways we seek to nurture the gift of family (and friends) is through family meals.  Studies have proven time and again the benefit of regular family dinners; one would be hard-pressed to find proof that family dinners are a waste of time.

We have incorporated family meals into our life for quite some time now.  With that in mind, here are a few key traits of our family meal experience.  Note:  While I reference “family” dinners, I see no reason why friends cannot be considered family too.  If you have no family nearby, why not consider a friend dinner?

1.  It isn’t always dinner.  Since various times of the year are very busy in Riley’s line of work, there are times when supper as family mealtime simply isn’t feasible because he isn’t home until long after the kids are in bed.  The solution:  family breakfasts.

I haven’t seen a study yet that says family meals have to be supper to be beneficial.  We still get the connection and conversation that is essential to nurturing family relationships–we just get it at 7 a.m. instead of in the evening. Tasty, filling breakfasts are also a special way to begin the day!

2.  No toys (electronic or otherwise) at the table.  Because distractions come in many forms.  This rule applies to adults and kids alike–no TV, no phones, no computers, no stuffed animals…just you and your family.

3.  Teachable moments are many.  We have been able to use family mealtimes to teach our kids basic manners–both the “how” and the “why” of table manners are important!  We have started small (sitting on our bottoms for a few minutes) and worked our way up to more complex manners (passing condiments, chewing with mouths closed, etc.).

4.  Everyone gets a chance to chime in.  Usually we start meals with a prayer, and then each person is asked how their day was, and what their favorite part of the day was.  Questions should not be limited to just these, however–this site has some great conversation starters.

Family mealtime is one aspect of our life that I aim to continue as our family matures.  It’s a special time that is treasured by all of us, and one I cannot recommend highly enough!

Photo by Didriks

Wintry Weather Recipes

04f11a8c-94b6-4eec-b3ca-25ba4fca0263I don’t know about where you are, but as I write this post, it is sleeting.  Winter is very definitely here–what better way to keep warm than in a toasty kitchen?

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared some recipes, especially ones of the “use it up” variety.  Here are a couple that have been on heavy rotation over the last several weeks.

Baked Potato Soup (borrowed from Grit Magazine)

4 baking potatoes (about 2.5 pounds)

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

6 cups 2% milk

1 cup cheddar cheese, divided

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup reduced fat sour cream (I use plain Greek yogurt.)

3/4 cup chopped green onions, divided (I use dried minced onion instead.)

6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled (We aren’t bacon people, so I omit this.)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Pierce potatoes with fork and bake for about one hour, or until tender; cool.  Peel potatoes and discard skins (Since much of a potato’s nutrition is in the skin, I omit this step).  Coarsely mash potatoes.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cup; level with knife.  Place flour in large Dutch oven (or pot); gradually add milk, stirring with whisk until blended.  Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly, about eight minutes.  Add mashed potatoes, 3/4 cups cheese, salt and pepper, stirring until cheese melts.  Remove from heat.

Stir in sour cream and 1/2 cup onions.  Cook over low heat for ten minutes, or until thoroughly heated.  Do NOT boil.

Ladle soup into individual bowls and sprinkle each with equal amount remaining cheese, onion, and bacon.  Yield:  8 (1/2 cup) servings.

We always serve this with a homemade biscuit or cornbread.  A delicious way to use up those old potatoes and soon-to-expire milk you may have!

Daddy Granola

8 cups oatmeal

1.5 cups flax seed

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup finely chopped almonds

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

3/4 cup honey

1 cup coconut oil

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Spray two 9×13 baking dishes with nonstick spray.

Combine oatmeal, flax seed, sunflower seeds and almonds in a large bowl.  Stir together the brown sugar, honey, oil, cinnamon and vanilla in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to coat.  Spread the mixture out evenly in the baking dishes.

Bake until crispy and toasted, approximately twenty minutes.  Cool, then stir in the raisins (or other dried fruit).  Can be stored in an airtight container for several days.

Riley (the “Daddy” of the title of this recipe) and Bean will eat this dry for breakfast; Peanut and I prefer to eat it with some yogurt.  It is a tasty treat, even if it doesn’t strictly follow the limited sugar diet we prefer.  It is also worth noting that a little goes a long way–the flax seed and oatmeal do a great job ensuring regularity (if you know what I mean…)!

Got any tasty recipes I should try?


Groceries Update

My trusty grocery sacks.
My trusty grocery sacks.

As has been mentioned here on more than one occasion, groceries are one area of our budget that we have a good amount of control over.  As the primary grocery shopper in the family, I am always on the lookout for new ways to cut costs but still keep some semblance of nutritional value.

To that end, I wanted to give you a little update on two modifications to my grocery shopping habits–while one has worked remarkably well, I am still on the fence about the other.

First up: being more flexible with how often I go shopping.  For the longest time (we’re talking years), I stayed true to grocery shopping every two weeks.  Any longer than that and we ran out of fresh produce and dairy, and any shorter than that was a scheduling inconvenience.

These bananas fell victim to my "old" way of shopping.
These bananas fell victim to my “old” way of shopping.

For the last couple of months however, I have only gone when I needed to.  Sometimes that’s once a week, and sometimes that’s longer than three weeks.  I make it a point not to go for one tiny thing, and still continue to go by the grocery list. But if we need, say, diapers and milk, I won’t hold out–I go out and get what we need, plus whatever is on the list at that point in time.

What I’ve discovered with this modification is that I wind up spending less because I’m not as focused on stocking up on things we don’t need for the immediate future.  We also waste a lot less because I’m not as determined to stretch the food for longer periods of time (which meant that produce often went bad before we used it).  The verdict:  I think I may keep doing this…it’s working well for us.

Also, we have paid for some groceries using cash.  A quick search for how to save money on groceries will invariably point you to the cash-only route.  While I love how this method forces me to stick tightly to the list and all but eliminates impulse purchases, I find that I am a bundle of nerves when it comes to checking out, because I am fearful that my cost estimates are off and I won’t have the right amount of cash on me.

If we decide to continue this grocery shopping modification, I am going to have to continue to carry my debit card on me, just in case.  This will be especially critical with larger purchases, at least until I become more confident in my math skills!

So once again, I am reminded that flexibility is a key trait to exercise, especially where groceries are concerned.  How do you stick to your grocery budget?

4 Organizational Projects

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I identified a few projects that would help me keep my apartment clean from an organizational standpoint. Today, I’m going to share with you what those projects are.

While I tend to have homes for most things, I tend to be lazy and not take the time to put things back where I know they belong. And once you’ve done that with one thing, you do it with two…

There are 4 areas I identified that could have organizational quick fixes:

1. My shoe pile by the door
2. My pile of coats and bags on the couch
3. My spices in the kitchen
4. My pens on the couch

Here’s how I’m going to address each of these:

1. My shoe pile by the door

shoe pileI always kick my shoes off before I get to my carpet. Problem is, they never seem to find their way to my closet. All the shoes I regularly wear end of up in a pile by my door.

When I read Marie Kondo’s book, I remember she talked about her coming-home routine included putting away the previous day’s shoes. While she didn’t say her reason, this makes sense: today’s shoes are sometimes too wet to be put away immediately and can use the time to breathe.

Instead of a pile, I’m going to allow myself two pairs of shoes by my door: the most recent shoes I wore and my outdoor flip flops.

My first thought was to buy a solution: a small shoe organizer to put my door, but I’m going to attempt to fix my problem by self-discipline, first.

coat and purse2. My pile of coats and bags on the couch

When I come in after work, I not only kick my shoes into the pile by the door, but I put my coat and purse on the couch. You can bet if shoes never walk themselves to the closet, coats (who don’t even resemble feet) never do either.

Instead of the couch, I’m going to put hooks on my entryway wall for these things to have a place that is “away” within easy reach.

3. My spices in the kitchen

I use a lot of herbs and spices, as I make a lot of things from scratch. When I cook, I don’t always put the spices away in my cute little rack, because I may need them still. The rack is always a few steps away and sometimes blocked by other items.

I’ve decided to fix this issue by moving my spice rack to the counter where I do all my cooking (right next to the stove). By having them more convenient, I’m hoping I’ll be less likely to leave them out.

4. My pens on the couch

I do almost everything at my “spot” on the couch. I use 5 pens (4 fun colors and 1 black), a Bible highlighter and a nail clipper regularly in this spot, so they tend to hang out on the couch cushion with whatever book I’m reading. But as you might guess, they don’t like to stay put, regularly getting lost in the couch or on the floor.

To combat this, I used a birthday gift card to buy a cheap pencil pouch.

I’m hoping by having these 4 areas neater, it’ll inspire me to be neater in other areas as well. I’ll let you know the outcome after I’ve had a few weeks to test them out!

Hunting and Gathering

unnamed (3)Although I have gotten back on the grocery planning wagon, there are still many folks who are really, really passionate about grocery prep–even more so than I am.  Some of the ways some people prepare is by meal planning and/or freezer meals.

While I do try to have a good idea of what to make for meals in between grocery trips, I confess my planning is a bit more haphazard than I would like (for photographic evidence, one need look no further than the picture at left, depicting my “gathered recipes.”)  This is mostly due to the fact that I subscribe to a couple of cooking magazines courtesy of Recyclebank, and when those arrive each month, I manage to find some recipes that sound delicious that I must try as soon as possible.  (I am also a social media junkie, and when a great recipe comes up, I add it to the “to try” list.)

Another reason I may deviate from my meal planning is because I have too much (or too little) of a particular food or seasoning, or it needs to get used up quickly.  When that happens, I find myself searching online for a good way to use up that ingredient.  Many times, those recipes become new family favorites that enter the meal rotation!

One such recipe was for baked potato soup, courtesy of grit.com.  We had several pounds of potatoes that would be going bad soon, and it has been soup weather here in the Midwest, so cook soup I did.  It was fantastic!  Check out the recipe here.

We also had lots of carrots set to expire, and in true “Use it up” fashion, I put my love of baking to work and made carrot cake.  Maybe not the most nutritionally sound, but it was delicious.  It’s my grandmother’s recipe, but not a secret, so here it is for your culinary enjoyment.

Grandma’s Carrot Cake

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

3/4 cup oil

4 eggs

3 cups grated carrots (I grated in a food processor)

Mix all ingredients together, and spoon into a 9×13 greased pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Grandma’s Carrot Cake Frosting

1/4 cup butter

4 ounces cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla

1 3/4 cup powdered sugar

Mix all together and spread on cooled carrot cake.  (And this made me laugh–from my grandmother’s original recipe:  “[Papa] always liked a lot of frosting, so I doubled that recipe.” So I did too!)

Now to organize my cookbooks…

The Quest for $150

unnamed (16)
These grocery bags are my constant companions.

I recently mentioned here that, with the cost of food steadily increasing and through my own attitude shift, our grocery bill has jumped.

As a stay-at-home mom, this wasn’t going to fly as a long-term trend. Mama is on a tight budget.  So, I made it my mission to reduce my bimonthly shopping excursion bills by $150 or more.

This number was arbitrary; it was not the difference between Amanda’s grocery shopping trips of a few months ago and the trips of today, nor did it represent the amount of money we needed for X each month.  It was a nice, solid figure to me–doable, but challenging for us–that represented a drop in the average cost of the last several grocery runs.

I went grocery shopping last Friday, and I’m happy to report that, while I didn’t quite make it to the $150 mark, I did make great strides in cutting our costs.  Upon reflection, I determined the following helped made that decline in cost possible:

I went back to my “old ways.” Enough said.

Really, there’s no list I could compile that would sum it up better.  Things are getting a bit more expensive, but shopping as I have in the past (that is, thoughtfully, sticking to a list, price-checking, etc.) really made all the difference.  And those impulse buys (which is where a large part of our budget overage originated)?  They stayed on the shelf where they belong.

This may not work for us for much longer; as I’ve noted, the price of food where we are is steadily increasing.  And we’re still working on the “milk thing.”  But for now, I’m reveling in this not-so-small victory!

Knowing Your Foundational Habits

Not my actual sink or dishes. Because I've never taken a picture when they're bad...but you get the idea.
Not my actual sink or dishes. Because I’ve never taken a picture when they’re bad…but you get the idea.

I feel like my apartment’s neatness comes and goes in waves. Right now, I’m on the upward swing towards neatness.

I have found that there are a few things that I can do to increase the likelihood that my apartment will be clean.

I call these my foundational habits for tidiness.

I think that we all have foundational habits, though they likely vary from person to person. Foundational habits are the things, when done, that drive us to take an extra few seconds and walk something back to it’s proper resting place or to throw something away rather than piling it on the table.

These are my foundational habits:

1. Emptying the dishwasher of clean dishes. If I don’t remove the clean dishes from the dishwasher, then I have to pile dirty dishes in the sink. When the sink gets full, I have to pile them on the counter or table. Any new dirty dishes don’t get rinsed, as the sink is full, so they require more work before they even make it into the dishwasher.

When I see the dishes piled on every kitchen surface, I’m also less likely to put away groceries or anything else that might have found its way to my dining room table. Finally, when I see my table piled high, I’m less likely to allow books and papers to pile at my “spot” in the living room.

2. Taking out the recycling. I don’t struggle with taking out the trash: it gets smelly before it gets full. But the recycling is another thing. My kitchen recycling bin can fill with recyclables in less than a week. Additional recyclables then are piled on the recycling can, table, chairs or on the floor. This adds to the clutter from above and makes me not want to do anything about straightening up.

3. Putting away clean laundry. I grew up in a house where laundry was done in an orderly fashion. It was collected regularly, sorted in the laundry room, promptly done, then folded/hung immediately out of the dryer and stacked in piles for each person in our house.

When I first started doing my own laundry in college, I was equally orderly in my laundry. But somehow in the last few years, I got in the habit of piling my laundry instead of folding it. This got worse when I hung it to dry instead of using the dryer: now it tends to hang on the line in my bedroom until I wear it or I have more laundry to hang two weeks later.

If my laundry is hanging in my bedroom, what drive to have to put away anything else in there?

These are the three habits I’ve found to be foundational, so they are the things I work on first when I tidy up (ideally 10 minutes a day). What habits are foundational for you? Are there any changes you can make to make these less of a bottleneck?

In a couple of weeks I’ll share one way I’ve learn to make laundry less of a hindrance to tidiness.

Trying Terracycle

If you are the parent of a young child, chances are good you have encountered baby food pouches at some point.  This handy pouches  are also great for the busy adult who wants a quick bite to eat on-the-go.

But they aren’t so great for the environment.

There are ways around the environmental impact, of course; there are devices that let you whip up some homemade food and put it in reusable pouches, and while more economical (certain pouch brands can get a bit pricey), for various reasons, this may not be the most practical or feasible for your situation.

It seems like Terracycle was made for just a time as this.

I finally took the time to find out what this little green label is all about!
I finally took the time to find out what this little green label is all about!

While I have not had an opportunity to take part in the Terracycle program fully yet–I am still “collecting waste” (pouches my son consumes)–this seems like a win-win for all involved.  After signing up for a “Brigade” (or several, if you wish–because they don’t just collect pouches!), you collect the items you intend to send in to Terracycle; ultimately, these items will be upcyled into any number of awesome products.

When ready to send in, you print off a shipping label (most Brigades have free shipping, but there is a cost for some), drop it off, and within a few days, points are awarded to your Terracycle account, which can in turn be donated to various charities and nonprofits.  Sounds pretty easy, right?  Anything to reduce the load on our planet, especially when it is relatively simple, seems like a good stewardship move to me!

Have you done Terracycle before?  Any hints, tips, or tricks you would recommend to this Terracycle newbie?

Sourdough Foray

I have mentioned before my desire to keep thing as simple and wholesome as possible when it comes to food and cooking.  Bread is one of the items that we try to keep as unprocessed as possible.

We have a breadmaker that has seen increasing use in recent years, and we buy sprouted grain breads to keep our sugar intake at a minimum and nutritional content at a maximum.

Since I love sourdough bread, I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at it.

It didn’t sound too complicated when I browsed various recipes online.  How hard could it be to set out flour and water and let the yeast in the air work its magic?

I ultimately decided to go with this one.

Through no fault of the aforementioned recipe, for various reasons (including one house occupant accidentally throwing one out), I had to go through five different sourdough starter attempts.  The last one seemed like it would be “the one”:  bubbly, yeasty-smelling…perfection!

unnamed (38)

But on Day 4 of starter prep, I started to notice a rancid odor coming from the top of the refrigerator (where the bowl was kept).  I didn’t think much of it–the instructions indicate the odor would get stronger as the prep progressed.

Then I looked in the bowl, and was greeted by this:

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The picture really doesn’t do the contents justice.  I was torn between gagging and crying in frustration (I’m a pretty emotional person).

I don’t know what microbes and mutant yeast are growing in my kitchen, but clearly something went awry.

After more than a month attempting sourdough, I’m taking a break from it.  Living the simple life is supposed to be gratifying, not maddening, and this was a battle I was not up for fighting right now.

I hope to try sourdough again in the future–I maintain it can’t be that hard, so it must be user error–but in the meantime…add sourdough to my list of things I splurge on.