Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snowed In


We have a lot more snow this year than we have in the recent past.  As you can see, the snow level is quite a ways up the chicken coop.  We can open the door, and do most days.  We only keep it closed when it's sub zero or the wind chills are extreme.  Even with the door open though, the chickens don't like to come out.  I can't say that I blame them.  If I had a choice I don't think I'd go out in the snow either. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Best Ever Chocolate Cookies

I made a lot of sugar cookies at Christmas time.  I am not ready for more sugar cookies.  What I really wanted was a good chocolate cookie.  Something soft and delicious.  Something I would love and that would make me smile.

As I often do, I started with google.  I searched a few different ways, and then I thought I would try searching for "chocolate peanut butter cookies".  That's when I found it.  But well, not quite it.  It called for peanut butter chips, not peanut butter.  It also called for brown sugar and I didn't have any.  But I wanted to make it anyhow.

So I changed the recipe and made it my own.  I love doing this.  It's fun because I never know if it's going to work out the way I hope.  But sometimes it does.  This time it did.  It was amazing!!  These are my new favorite cookies.  These are the cookies I will be giving to friends for Christmas next year.  It doesn't matter that there is not peanut butter in them.  They are that good. 

First of all, if you don't have brown sugar, you can make your own.  For one cup of sugar I mix in about 1tsp of black strap molasses.  If you use another type of molasses, you might want to add a little more.  Black strap has a stronger flavor.

Now for the best chocolate cookies you will ever make:

2 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

Beat together butter, sugars, and vanilla until creamy.  Add in eggs and beat until well combined.

Add in flour mixture slowly until well combined. 

Place rounded teaspoons on baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  Bake for about 10 minutes.  Cool and enjoy.




Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I Love My Ducks

 We raise Muscovy ducks.  I had never planned to raise ducks.  I was OK with chickens being the only poultry on the farm. 

About a year after we started this whole crazy homesteading thing, a lady offered me a some free Muscovy ducks.  No catch, they are just prolific breeders and she was overrun with them. 

So I talked it over with my husband, and shockingly he said yes.

When I went to pick them up, we were suppose to be getting three.  Two females and male (drake).  We ended up with four total, two females and two males. 

The only thing I really knew about ducks was that they like water.  So I had to start researching.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that this was no hardship for me.  I love to research almost anything.  It's the geek in me.

I found out that that Muscovy ducks are native to Central and South America.  That rather surprised me because they are also very cold hardy animals.

If you cross a Muscovy with any other duck, the offspring will be sterile.  These cross bred ducks are called mule ducks.  It's rather like crossing a donkey with a horse.  The really cool thing, is that the sterile females will still lay eggs, but they won't have a yolk.  How many people on a diet would like an egg that was all white?
They also like to roost high off the ground at night.  It's not unusual to find them sleeping on any gate they kind find, the tops of rabbit hutches, or even roofs (including the house!). 

In the winter, they also like to hide under the porch it get out of the wind and snow.  Of course the fact that this is where we put their food in the winter only serves to encourage this behavior.

They are actually pretty wild in behavior, but they will allow us to get fairly close if they think there is something in it for them, such as food or fresh water in their "pond".  Otherwise they prefer we keep a safe distance.  Especially if there is a mother with babies.

Speaking of babies (stop reading if you don't want to hear about how we raise our own food), we raise these ducks for meat.  I really wasn't in a hurry to eat them at first because I had duck in a restaurant once and really did not like it. 

After being assured that Muscovy meat tastes nothing like any other duck, and that it is very much like beef, I decided to try it.  WOW!  I'm so glad I did. 

Since these ducks forage for themselves well in the spring, summer and fall months, they don't cost much to raise to butchering size.  The meat is amazing and yes, it really does taste very much like beef.  It's very red and high in iron. 

The other great bonus with these ducks, is that when they are allowed to free range they are very lean.  There is some fat, but much less than beef.  And even less than turkey.  What fat is there, has an amazing flavor. 

Overall, I'm very glad we decided to give raising these ducks a try.  They are quiet (they don't quack!), the meat is great, and they eat bugs like crazy.  I would have kept them for bug control alone. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

First Babies Of The Year

We have our first babies of the year here on the farm.  Two adorable male Boer goat kids were born around midnight Saturday.  It was cold.  I don't know the exact temperature, but it was cold enough that it was painful to breathe the air walking from the house to the goat house.

When I went to check on the goats, the babies had not been born for long, but they were both very cold.  the ends of both of their ears were frozen solid and the larger of the two's legs were frozen stiff.  Their mother was trying to clean them, but they were freezing faster than she could lick. 

We wrapped them in towels, snuggled them, and even used a hair dryer on them.  In the end, we brought them in the house to warm  up.  We try not to separate babies from their mother's right after birth, but in this case we had to get those babies warm as fast as possible.

Here's one of them all snuggled up getting warm.  We were seriously worried about weather or not this one would recover.



This was pretty much how he stayed for a couple of hours.  Now and then we would get him to raise his head and cry a little, but he couldn't stand.  His brother was up and moving within a half hour and back with mom.  He's still having a little trouble figuring out how to nurse, but otherwise he is fine. 

Just when I had nearly given up, he finally came around and stood up on his own.  At first all he could do is walk backward and he was getting very frustrated.  But he figured it out quickly and went to be with his mom and brother.  He's taken to nursing just fine and looks like he's going to be quite the big, healthy boy.

Here are a few more pictures for you.





Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chocolate On A Budget

This is chocolate gravy on a biscuit.  Did you know about chocolate gravy?  I did not, until Friday.  Just the idea of it made me so happy that I had to try it for breakfast on Saturday.

You see, I had been feeling a little down because there had been no money in the budget for chocolate.  Then someone told me about chocolate gravy.  I started googling and found many recipes, all similar.  Some had butter, some did not.  Some used milk, some used water.  Some had as little as 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, and others as much as 1/3 cup of cocoa powder.  How was I to know which would be best? 

It seemed pretty obvious that I needed butter.  Butter makes everything better.  It also seemed logical that milk would make it creamier than water.  So having decided that, I set about to start throwing things together in a sauce pan using all the little bits of knowledge I had from all the recipes I read.  I did not, however, use a recipe.  I came up with my own, and it was delicious!  So now I will share it with  you.

Heidi's Chocolate Gravy

1 stick of butter
1 cup sugar
3 TBS flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups milk

Mix the sugar, flour, salt and cocoa powder together.  Melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the dry mixture.  Keep stirring with a whisk until it comes together as a paste.  Add 1 cup of the milk and whisk to keep it from becoming lumpy.  When it begins to thicken, add the rest of the milk and continue to whisk until it is the consistency of a nice thick gravy. 

Serve over fresh, warm biscuits. 

So there you have it.  Very simple and it tastes like warm chocolate pudding.  In fact, as it has cooled it has become very like chocolate pudding.  It actually tastes much better than the boxed instant stuff, and I'm sure it's cheaper to make. 

So am I the only one who didn't know this existed?  I'm told it is a southern thing and is a recipe that came about during The Great Depression. 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sourdough (Part 3) - Beyond Bread

I know the title says  "Beyond Bread", but I just had to share this pretty free-form loaf.  The kids and I have decided that we are going to slice it in half horizontally and make taco pizzas with it since we have left over taco toppings that need to be used up.  I can't wait for dinner! 

Until two days ago, I had never made my own sourdough bread.  But I had used sourdough starter.  Mostly for pancakes and biscuits.  I use the biscuit recipe at http://www.recipesfromscratch.com/categ/sourdough.htm.  Rather than post that recipe here without permission, I thought it would be best just to send you there.

I have used their pancake recipes before and they were good.  But honestly, I came up with my own and I like it better.  :)

So here you go, they come out light and fluffy. 

Sourdough Pancakes

2 cups sourdough starter
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1 TBS oil or melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBS sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 - 2 cups flour

Mix  milk, egg, and oil together well.  Add to starter. 
Combine salt, sugar, baking powder and 1 1/2 cups of flour.
Mix the dry ingredients into the starter mixture.  If your batter seems thin, add a bit more flour 1/4 cup at a time.  If it seems too thick, add more milk 1 - 2 TBS at a time. 

Fry on a hot griddle like any other pancake.  When it looks bubbly and somewhat dry, it's time to flip.  The second side will cook faster than the first.

I like to set my oven to 200F when I start my pancakes.  I set a large baking dish in the oven and put the pancakes in it as they finish.  This way they all come to the table hot. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sourdough (Part 2) - The Bread

The dough I showed you yesterday turned into this:



My first ever loaf of sourdough bread.  I had scoured the internet looking for the perfect recipe to make a basic simple loaf of sourdough bread.  The majority called for multiple kinds of flour and tricks that made you wonder if you were making bread or auditioning for a circus.  The ones that were simple and basic, called for the addition of commercial yeast! 

Now I have nothing against a good loaf of homemade bread that uses commercial yeast.  I've made plenty of loaves that way myself.  But what is the point of going to all the trouble to harness and nurture my colony of wild yeast if I'm going to add commercial yeast to do their work.  It didn't make any sense.

In the end, I took what I know of yeast and made bread.  And it was the softest, most wonderful feeling bread dough I've ever made.  I keep asking myself why it took me so long to try this.

Here's what the dough looked like when I first put it in the pan, and when it was done rising:

I let the first rise go about three hours before I put it in the pan.  Once I put it in the pan, I let it rise until it was about double.  That only took about 2 hours. 

Every site I've read about sourdough bread says it takes a much longer time to rise.  They range from saying 8-12 hours to 12-24 hours.  That could be one of the reasons I've never tried it. 

I probably could have waited just a little longer for it rise and gotten a slightly taller loaf of bread.  I'm just not patient enough for that.  I'm going to let my next loaf rise while I'm out grocery shopping tomorrow.

Hopefully it doesn't over rise while I'm out. 

So the big thing to remember with making bread is that how much flour you need is going to vary according to different things.  How much water is in your mixture is, of course, the biggest.  But also how dry the air is will have an effect.  Since it's winter and the air is drier, I most likely used less flour than I would in the middle of summer when it tends to be more humid.  You want your dough to be a little tacky, but not a messy sort of sticky.

So here's the recipe I made up as I went along.  It says 2-4 cups of water, because I can't remember now much I put in. 

Heidi's Sourdough Bread

2 cups sourdough starter
1 TBS honey
1 TBS oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup of water
2-4 cups flour

Combine starter, honey, oil and water.  Add salt and one cup of flour.  Continue to add flour one cup at a time until a stick dough forms.  At this point knead in flour just a little at at time until you have a tacky and elastic feel dough. 

I recommend using a stand mixer, but if you don't have one knead the dough by hand.  Kneading by hand takes a little longer, but will give you the same result. 

At this point put the dough in an oiled bowl (about 2 tsp of oil in a bowl) and roll the dough around so it's coated well with the oil.  Cover it and let it rise until about double in size.  Punch the dough down and shape it into whatever kind of loaf you would like.  If you want a round loaf, you can put it on a cookie sheet.  I used a loaf pan so I could make sandwiches.

Bake for roughly one hour, or until nicely browned and the loaf sounds hallow when you thump it with your fingers.  Take it out of the oven and try to tell it cool a little before you start slicing it and adding butter. 

The kids and I had grilled peanut butter and jelly for dinner.  It was the only good sandwich making stuff we had and we really wanted to have the bread for dinner.   In case you are wondering, the jelly was apple. 






Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sourdough (Part 1)

Sourdough is an interesting thing.  I love the idea of harnessing the wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria that are in the air around me.  Making a sourdough starter is extremely easy. 

Some websites out there try to over complicate it by telling you that you have to use a certain kind of flour or that you need to buy unchlorinated spring water.  You don't need to do any of these things.  The only exception would be if your water has so much chlorine that it smells like a swimming pool.  In that case, you might want to use bottled water. 

All you need to do to make your starter is simply mix equal parts of flour and water in a plastic or earthen bowl.  Metal is not recommended because it can be reactive.  Although I suppose stainless steel might be OK since it's non reactive, I've never tried it though.  An enameled bowl would work as well.

I started mine with two cups of white flour and two cups of water.  Once it's mixed together well, cover it with some sort of cloth.  I use either a tea towel or a large dish cloth.  If the air is really dry, you may want to dampen your cloth.  I have learned in the winter that if I do not use a damp cloth, I get a hard crust on the top of my starter.  This does not harm the starter in any way, and when it happens I simply take it off and feed it to the chickens.

How quickly your starter will be active depends on the amount of wild yeasts in your environment.  When I start a new starter I see bubbles overnight and have a full active culture within three days.  For some it takes up to a week.  When your starter is ready it will look like this:


See how the top looks foamy?  That is from all the bubbles the yeast causes.  This is how you know that your starter is ready.  It may also smell a little sour, but it may not.  It's a misconception that all sourdough tastes sour.  It just depends on the yeast and bacteria in your culture.  Mine has something of a strong flavor, but is not tangy like some sourdoughs.  This is the reason I keep my own starter.  I don't like over tangy sourdough.

You can use sourdough for a lot of things and I will share some recipes with you over the next few days.  We love to use it for pancakes and biscuits. 

As much as I love sourdough, I have never made bread with it.  So today I'm trying my hand at that.  Here's the beautiful dough I have sitting out to rise as I type:


I tried looking on the internet for recipes, but they all seemed too fussy and over complicated for me.  So I took what I know of bread making and went to work.  I'll give you a full report tomorrow and possibly the recipe (if it turns out). 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Natural & Frugal

I like to keep things as natural as I can in my home most of the time.   A person could go broke with the prices of some of the organic produce out there.  Not to mention the high price tags on all natural cleaning supplies. 

Don't get me wrong, I do know that at least some of the time the higher price tag is warranted.  The manual labor can be higher on organic crops because the farmer is doing everything he can to keep his (or her) yield up without the use of harsh chemicals that could harm bees, the environment and even our health.  Plus there is the whole supply and demand thing. 

Unfortunately none of that changes what I can actually afford to buy.  Every year www.ewg.org puts out their Dirty Dozen List.  These are the 12 produce items that when tested contained the most harmful pesticide residue.  Those are the things I try to grow myself, buy organic or buy direct from farmers using organic methods. 

There is also the Clean Fifteen put out by www.ewg.org as well.  These are the produce items that contain the least amount of pesticide residue.  Those are the things I don't worry about so much. 

As for the things not either list, it depends on how much we eat of any given item.  If we it a lot of it, I try to buy organic as often as I can.  If we only have it occasionally I don't worry so much about it. 

Sure, I would love to eat only organic produce.  Unfortunately that is just not in my budget and my family would go hungry far too often at this point.

Fortunately things are much easier in the cleaning supplies department.  Vinegar, water and baking soda do wonders to clean  surfaces. 

Another of my favorite web sites is www.tipnut.com.  Go there and do a search for laundry detergent.  I've tried several of the homemade laundry recipes on there and I have been happy with them all.  I prefer to make liquid.  I'm not really sure why because I've never had any problems withe the powdered ones, they all dissolved great, even in my hard water.

How do you stay natural and frugal?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Interesting Tidbit

I'm going completely off topic today.  Why?  Because it's my blog and I can.  ;)

I was reading an article today where the word "pshaw" was used.  Whenever I see or hear this word it gets me thinking.  It's not an often used word.  It's quite possible that you don't even know what it means. 

From Dictionary.com:


pshaw

[shaw] Show IPA
interjection
1.
(used to express impatience, contempt, disbelief, etc.)
noun
2.
an exclamation of “pshaw!”
verb (used without object)
3.
to say “pshaw.”
verb (used with object)
4.
to say “pshaw” at or to.
Origin:
1665–75
 
Please note the pronunciation [shaw].  The P is silent.  This is the part that gets me thinking every time I hear the word.  Never once can I recall hearing it pronounced correctly.  In fact, the only reason I know what the word means is because the first time I heard it I looked it up in the dictionary.  If the word had been pronounced correctly, I would not have found it.

So there you have it.  A little peek into the pondering that goes on in my head.  Now when you hear someone say pshaw and pronounce it [P-shaw], you can smile knowingly because you will know they are saying it wrong.   

Monday, January 20, 2014

Jelly?

Remember back last week when I posted about Apple Soda?  Remember how I said my jelly didn't set and I wasn't going to try again with this batch?  I may have spoke too soon. 

We had breakfast for dinner last night and I warmed up some of the apple syrup for our pancakes.  When I poured the syrup back into jars, I noticed that there were jelly-like globs in the bottom of the jar.  Then later I noticed there was a bunch of jelly in the bottom of the pan.  Really, there was jelly!

So now my hope has been renewed and I'm heating quart of the syrup to see if maybe I just didn't cook it long enough.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Those Kids Can Cook!

Four seven years one or more of my kids have competed in our 4H Small Animal Association Cook Off.  The make a recipe that fits in the categories of Poultry, Egg, Rabbit or Goat.  Then they present their finished product to a panel of judges.

I love that my kids can make their own food on some level.  Of course their age plays a part in how involved the recipe can be, but for the most part they decide on their own what they will make.  Sure, I may offer suggestions and set down guidelines, but the final decision is up to them.

They also decide what ingredients will go into their recipes.  At this point Jade, who is 13, pretty much decides on her own what she wants to make and sets out to find out how.  She may come to me with questions, but often I don't know any details until she's already put her plan in motion.

Megan (8) and Braden (6) take much more guidance from me.  I offer suggestions for things and help them brain storm, but in the end it is still their decision.  They still make the food themselves. 

Not only are they having fun, but they are learning a valuable life skill.  For me that is the best part.  I know that they will always be able to feed themselves.


And now here are the recipes they made, as written by them. 
     
Photo courtesy of Nicole Weiss (because mom forgot her camera!)

Deep-Fried Pickles (Jade)

Ingredients:
1 jar of pickle chips
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/8 cup water
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
oil for frying

Directions
1.     In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.
2.    In a separate mixing bowl, combine water, beaten egg, and 2 tbsp. oil.
3.    Add wet ingredients to dry and combine until mixed.
4.    Drain pickles and blot with paper towel.
5.    Dip pickles in batter and fry in about 2 inches of oil until golden-brown.
6.    Salt. Serve with dipping sauces if desired.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Weiss (because mom forgot her camera!)

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (Megan)

2 Cups Peanut Butter
2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 325 F. 

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.

Place 1 inch balls on a cookie sheet about 1 inch apart, or use a small cookie scoop.  Press with a fork.

Bake 6 to 8 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before moving to cooling rack.

Last, but not least, is Braden's recipe.  I don't have a picture for this one, but it's delicious none the less.  You can also make this with chicken if you don't happen to raise rabbits for your freezer like we do.

Rabbit Salad (Braden)

2 Cups Rabbit, cooked and chopped
1 Cup Mayonnaise
1/3 Cup Walnuts, chopped
1/2 Cup Granny Smith Apple, chopped
2 tsp. Dried Dill Weed
1/4 tsp. Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp. Salt

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well combined.
Serve on bread, tortillas or crackers.

All three kids did great and I'm so proud of them!  I'm also impressed enough that I'm tempted to make dinner their responsibility now and then, or at least require their help in the kitchen more often.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

It's All For The Kids

Some days I'd like to just stay in my nice warm bed.  I think about how nice it is snuggled under the blankets, all lost in dreamland.  Today is a day I long to go back there.  It's Saturday.  My day that I normally insist on sleeping as long as I want.

Today is also the annual 4H Small Animal Cook Off.  It's something my kids look forward to every year.  So for their sakes, I'm up and moving and through my second cup of coffee on a Saturday.
 I feel like I've packed up half of my kitchen with three kids making recipes this year.  Plus we are providing the majority of the ingredients for the club recipe this year as well. 

I'm am very excited about the foods my kids are making and since I know one of the judges does read this blog now and then, I won't say now what they are.  However, tomorrow I will post the recipes for everyone. 

My oldest has been doing this since her first in 4H.  I think this is her seventh year.  It's the fourth year for my middle child.  And the first year for my  youngest.

I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about my youngest.  Some days he's very out going and will talk to anyone about anything.  Others he becomes shy and won't talk at all.  Here's hoping he is in a talkative mood.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Enjoy Today

I have been so stressed lately worrying about finances, what's coming up with girl scouts, the 4H cook off we have coming up and finishing up first semester with the kids for school.  I'm constantly thinking about what is coming and I realized recently that I have forgotten to think about today.

It's good to be prepared for tomorrow and have a plan, but not to the extent that you forget to enjoy today.  It was when my kids and I settled down to watch and episode of Doctor Who that I realized how long it had been since we did that.  I realized that a majority of the time, I tell my kids I'm too busy to sit down and watch something with them. 

I realized I don't want to keep doing that.  I don't want my kids to grow up thinking I'm too busy for them.  My oldest turned 13 recently and I realize more than ever that they won't always be here.  I can't get this time back. 

I'm going to make an effort to play more board games with them, read more books together, and watch more movies with them.  I want to involve them more in the little things.  Instead of making meals for them, I want to make meals with them.  Any time I can spend doing something with them is a moment I get the chance to enjoy who they are right now. 

There will always be things to plan, financial issues to organize and people who need my time.  From this point on, I vow to remember none of it is as important as enjoying the little moments of today that I'll never get back.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Granola

I would love for my kids to prefer a high protein breakfast that includes eggs, meat and whole grain toast.  Unfortunately, like most kids, they prefer cereal.  When living on a budget cereal can be a cheap, easy option.  We easily fell into having boxes of off brand high sugar cereals on hand.

When looking at the ingredient list on these cereals I was amazed at the sheer number of ingredients.  Some of them I needed to google just figure out what they were.  Of course some are worse than others.  The ones that have all ingredients I could find in my own kitchen are, of course, the most expensive.

For that reason I decided to start researching homemade breakfast cereals.  I found some really involved things like a bran flake recipe, but really did not want something that was going to take all afternoon to make.  I wanted quick, simple and cheap. 

That's where granola comes in.  After reading recipe after recipe for various homemade granola, I came up with this basic formula for making a simple base that can be made in roughly an hour.  This makes enough to fill a quart jar.

3 cups oats
1 cup shredded or flaked coconut
1/6 cup oil (whatever you have will work, but olive oil leaves a stronger flavor than some other oils)
1/4 cup liquid sweetener (such as honey, agave nectar or maple syrup)

To this you can expand your flavor options a bit with spices.  We like to add a little cinnamon sometimes. About a teaspoon per batch.

To make the granola, mix the oats and coconut together well.  I like to use my hands for this so that I can be sure things are mixed pretty evenly. 

Then heat your oil and sweetener together.  I do this in the microwave for about 1 minute.

Next, add any other flavors you want to your oil mixture such as cinnamon, vanilla, salt, etc. 

Stir this into the oat/coconut mixture with a spoon until it's well coated. 

Put it in a single layer on a cookie sheet or two.  Bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40-50 minutes stirring every 10 minutes.  You want it to be nicely browned, but not burnt. 

With honey, it won't crisp up until it cools, so it's OK if it's soft.  And remember that different sugars will give you a lighter or darker color. 

Once it is cooled put it in an air tight container.  I prefer my old blue Ball jars that I can't use for canning.  I love them and it gives them a practical purpose so I get to keep them. 

You could also add in nuts and dried fruits.  Or other grains.  Just use your imagination. 

Extra add ins have not been in our budget lately, but when they are I plan to try dried cranberries and pecans.

One note I've read is that if you are using nuts, you can mix them in with the oats and coconut before baking if you wish.  Just make sure you are not using toasted nuts because you don't want to be cooking them twice.

I think I will keep add ins separated so that we can customize our breakfast according to individual tastes and mood.

OH, and did I mention that my six year old son will not eat store bought cereal for breakfast now?  All he wants is "the grain cereal".

Give it a try!  Let me know what you think and what flavor combinations you try.  I love that I can customize this to fit our budget and individual tastes.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Apple Soda

This fall I had about a bushel of Macintosh apples to use.  I made apple sauce and attempted to make apple jelly.  I say attempted because the jelly never set.  I've never had that happen with my apple jelly before.  I think perhaps the apples were too ripe to have enough pectin.  But the jars sealed well so I knew I had plenty of time to try again.

This past weekend I rebatched the jelly using some pectin I had tucked in the back of the cabinet.  And guess what?  It still didn't set!  I was really shocked because I did everything right, both times.  And, as I said above, I've never had apple jelly not set before.  I even gave someone my instructions for making apple jelly and hers set up wonderfully. 

Then I took a good hard look at my pectin label.  The sell by date was 2011.  I think it's quite possible I should have read that before I used it.  After some research I quit worrying that it wasn't safe to consume and decided not to try again with this batch.

So I spent a day being depressed and wondering why the apples hated me this year.  Once I was done with that, I started thinking about all the things I could do with my new wonderful apple syrup.  I had thoughts of apple cinnamon pancakes and french toast.  Apple syrup on vanilla ice cream with crushed vanilla wafer cookies sounded good too.

Then I came up with this:
Apple soda.  I simply took 2 tablespoons of the apple syrup and filled the glass with club soda (about 8oz).  Complete deliciousness in a glass. 

Now I am wondering if I can make syrups on purpose with other fruits.  The possibilities are endless.  I'm most looking forward to trying it with the black raspberries that grow wild here. 

Yep, every now and then a mistake can turn out to be a grand adventure in creativity.  This also moves a Soda Stream higher up on my list of wants.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Expect Setbacks

If there is one thing I've learned it's that no matter how good and how sound I think my plan is, there will be setbacks.  Something I didn't foresee or just plain forgot about will sneak up on me and put a damper on my well laid out plans. 

I will admit when these things happen it has the potential to throw me into fits of stress and freaking out.  I usually think it's a bigger issue than it really is at first.  But I am learning to handle these things a bit more calmly. 

You can't predict everything that is going to be thrown your way.  That is why we are working on building an emergency fund.  Basically our goal is to have $500-$1000 put aside to cover emergencies.  For example, a car that breaks down, the furnace quits working, the animals bust through a fence, or any number of other things that we can't necessarily predict.

Right now we have nothing put aside for this, we have spent the last couple months just making it from one paycheck to the next.  However, if my budgeting plans continue to work, I will be able to put a teeny bit into savings for an emergency with our next pay check.  We are talking in the neighborhood of $10, but I'm OK with that.  I'm willing to celebrate victories no matter how small they are.

We are working toward security for our family here.  I can't imagine anything that would make me feel less stress than knowing that if a car breaks or the furnace quits, that there is the money there to fix it and it won't have to come out of my grocery budget!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Menu Planning

The truth is, I do not enjoy menu planning much at all.  However, I have learned that my week goes much smoother when I do it. 

There are several ways to menu plan.  I'm going to tell you my favorite.  I like to keep it simple and not over plan or be tied to a bunch of recipes.

The first thing I do is to make sure I have plenty of things on hand for breakfast and lunches.  Those meals are not big ordeals and everyone pretty much just makes their own.  So this is just a matter of planning ingredients. 

For breakfast the kids usually like to have cereal or toast.  This means making sure I have the following on hand:

Bread
Butter
Peanut Butter
Cereal (store bought or homemade granola cereal)
Milk

Sometimes we like to change things up a little and have something different.  If I have time I might make muffins ahead of time.  I also usually have eggs since we raise chickens.  I often like to have an egg and toast for breakfast with my coffee. 

For lunches it's a lot of sandwiches or wraps with some fruit or veggies on the side.  Here's a basic idea of what I keep on hand for lunches:

Bread
Lunch Meat
Cheese
Tortillas
Seasonal / Cheap Fruit
Apple Sauce
Carrot Sticks and other veggies

You get the idea.  These are things my kids can put together easily on their own to make a lunch.  The picture above is a simple wrap that came together out of wanting to use up what was in the fridge.  I simply spread a tortilla with some cream cheese, added some shredded cheese, green onion, turkey, and tomato.  It was delicious, fast and simple.  That's my kind of lunch.

Now on to dinner.  These are slightly  more complicated, but I still try to keep it simple.  I don't often plan out each detail of the meal if I'm making separate courses.  I'll plan the meat and then make sure I have options on hand for sides (pasta, rice, potatoes, veggies, etc.)  If I'm roasting a chicken, I don't need to over think what goes with it.  If I make sure I have veggies in the freezer and rice or potatoes in the pantry I know I have options.  I also plan about five meals in a week and figure that there will be a couple days worth of leftovers.  I plan for leftovers so that busy days are easier on us.

Here's an example of my dinner menu planning:

Tacos
Roast Chicken
Chicken Soup (with the leftover chicken)
Meatloaf
Potato Soup and Sandwiches

Now that I have a basic idea of what I want to make, I can plan accordingly.  I try to plan meals based on what I have on hand as much as possible.  That way I have fewer things to purchase at the grocery store. 

What I don't recommend when you start menu planning is going out and finding a bunch of new recipes to try all at once.  Do you really want to be learning to make a brand new thing every night?  If you want to try some new things, choose one a week and pick your slowest night to make it.  Busy nights should be things you are use to making so that you aren't overwhelmed. 

I'm working on coming up with a way to simplify my planning even more.  Maybe a master sheet of menu ideas, or note cards with meals on them.  I'm not sure yet, but I will keep you updated. 

Do you menu plan?  What tips would you give those who want to start? 


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Meatloaf

My cousin recently made the comment to me that she needs ideas to stretch her meat bill in a way that isn't just having casseroles for dinner.  As luck would have it, I was dealing with this very dilemma that same night. 

I had one small package of ground meat I needed to stretch into a minimum of six servings.  My solution was meatloaf.  I was able to nearly double what I had with addition of egg, rolled oats, chopped onion and ketchup.  Meatloaf is a "wing-it" kind of meal for me, but here's the basic recipe for those who need it:

To one pound of ground meat (in my case it was goat this time) add:
 1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 - 1/2 cup ketchup
2 whole eggs
one chopped onion (the size depends on how well you like onion)

For seasonings I added approximately:
1 TBS garlic powder
1 TBS Cumin
1 TBS Paprika
1/4 Cup parsley flakes
2 tsp salt

Mix  it all together well.  I like to use my hands.  It's fast and I get it all incorporated well. 

Press the mixture into a loaf pan, or form into a loaf shape on a cookie sheet.  Top with more ketchup and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.

Here's the thing with meatloaf, you can add more to it if you would like.  In the past I've added shredded carrots and potatoes.  You can use crushed crackers or bread crumbs in place of the oats.  Use different seasonings to get a different flavor.  Use BBQ sauce instead of ketchup (this is actually my preference, but I didn't have any). 

Don't be afraid to try different things and make it your own.  You could also use this mixture to make meatloaf burgers and meatballs. 

That's just one idea for making meat go further.  I have a few others up my sleeve I'll share later on.  And possibly a soup or casserole as  well.