Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wedding day survival kit for under $20

A friend of mine had a bridal shower coming up.  I went to pick up the crock pot she had on her registery but the store was sold out.  Being of limited funds, I came up with a Wedding Day Survival Kit.  I was at a certain box store therefore able to get everything I needed for very inexpensively.  Including items I had laying around the house, I paid less then $20 for the gift.

Wedding Day Survival Kit for under $20
  • plastic "shoe box" storage bin ($0.96)
  • Johnson & Johnson first aid kit ($0.97)
  • hand sanitizer ($1.00) i used one I had from a spree at Bath & Body Works during their 5/$5 sale
  • mini deodorant ($0.94)
  • lint tape roller ($0.50) came in a 2 pack for $1
  • Wisps :1 use tooth cleaners ($0.94)
  • tissue pocket pack ($0.25) came in multipack of 4 for $1
  • hand lotion ($0.94) i got mine at that box store but can be picked up at Bath & Body Works during their 5/$5 sale
  • bottled water ($1.50)  this may be something some people already have around the house so could be done cheaper
  • chocolate bar ($0.70)
  • iced coffee mix ($0.70) these came in a multipack.  That Seattle based mermaid logoed company makes one of the only good instant coffee that can be mixed in cold water
  • note pad ($0.25) came in a 4 pack for $1
  • pen ($0.50)  most people have these laying around, mine all had adverts on them
  • gum or hard candy ($0.70) 
  • lip balm ($0.94)
  • wet wipes ($1.00) 
  • bobby pins ($1.00)
  • 2 alcohol "nips" ($5) obviously, youll have to go to another store for this. "Nips" are those mini, 1 shot, bottles.
  • ponytail holders *
  • small scissors *
  • mini sewing kit *
  • Tums*  i was able to use what I had and put them in an old (clean!!) pill bottle
*items I already had

This kit that I made had things that I found useful on my wedding day.  Gear your kit to your bride.  My bride-to-be was someone who enjoyed coffee, if yours doesnt, try those single serve Crystal Lite packs.  Doesnt eat chocolate?  Try package of peanuts.  Choose a sanitizer and lotion scent that your bride-to-be enjoys.  If she's a smoker, maybe spend a little extra and throw in a lighter and pack of her brand.  Or, if shes a smoker, add an inexpensive purse body spray.
I used old pill bottles (washed out, of course!) for things that I already had and just split up: bobby pins, tums, ponytail holders

Sunday, October 28, 2012

homemade mexican chocolate and homemade caramels

I found a great recipe for homemade caramels earlier this week.  Thought I would give it a try but didnt read the red bit at the end about their gooeyness.  I thought maybe it was due to my sweetened condensed milk substitution but I guess it was just the way the recipe is.  I also had a good bit of melting chocolate laying around.  Inspiration struck.  Its Halloween time, Im sick of ordinary chocolate.  I decided to go south of the border with it.

Mexican Chocolate
10oz of melting chocolate (its a weird amount, I know, but its what I had left over)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp cayenne powder

I find the best way to melt chocolate is in the crock pot on low.  It doesnt take very long and heats it low enough as to not seize the chocolate.
Put chocolate into crock pot.
Melt on low.
Once chocolate is melted, mix in seasonings.
Pour melted chocolate into a form, I used ramekins but anything will work.  Muffin tins also work well.
Allow to cool.

*Since I had leftover yummy caramel, I poured some of the caramel on top, allowed to cool, then added more chocolate to make a layered disk.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bushel of apples

There is a local farm stand that is open until Halloween.  Being Upstate NY, they always have large amounts of local apples.  In preparation for my housesitting for them, my parents picked up a bushel of apples for me to process.  My motto tends to be "work smarter, not harder".  Here was my setup: Bin #1: apple scrapes & cores for cider, Bin #2: lemon water for apple rings to dehydrate, Bin #3: mangled apples for sauce, Bin #4: nice apple slices for pie filling.

Dried Apple Ring
I cheat and use a dehydrator
This is really easy and mostly up to personal preference.
Prep apples by peeling, coring and slicing (*save all the scrap for cider).
To make dried apples in the oven:
Lay rings out on cookie sheets, season if you like with cinnamon and nutmeg
Turn oven to lowest temperature

Leave apples in oven 8-10 hours or overnight
Seal in air tight container

6 cups of prepped apples, peeled & cut. (*save scraps for cider)
3 tbs lemon juice
1/4c white sugar
1/4c brown sugar
1c water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp clove

Put all ingredients into pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  mash or blend depending on how smooth you like your applesauce.

Apple Pie Filling
Instead of making pie now,
I put it into a ziplock to freeze until needed
4 cups of prepped apples, peeled and sliced (*save scraps for cider)
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp clove
pinch of salt
2 tbs butter

Mix all ingredients, except butter, together in a large bowl.  Pour into pie shell.  Add butter in dollops on top of filling.  Bake at 425* for 40 to 50 minutes.

Apple Cider 
apple scraps boiling
Apple scraps (from 2/3 of bushel)
water (1.5 gallon or 25 cups)
cinnamon sticks (3)
whole clove (palm full)
nutmeg (1/2 tsp)
brown sugar (1/2 cup)
white sugar (1cup) (I used splenda to make it lower in sugar)

Put apple scraps in a large pot.  Fill with enough water to cover scraps.  (Measure as you go.  My rations are based on 25 cups (about 1.5 gallon) of water.)  Place all ingredients in pot and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 3 hours.  Cool down and strain.  Will keep in fridge for about 2 weeks.

Canning Made Simple
Canning jars with lids and rings
large pot
small pot
hand towels (at least 3)
  • Place hand towel on the bottom of large pot, put empty cans/jars into pot and fill with enough hot water to cover and fill jars.  The towel should be large enough to prevent the glass jars from touching hot metal of the pot.  
  • Boil for 20 minutes to sanitize.  
  • While the jars are sanitizing, put lids into small pot of water, bring to a boil.  Turn off burner and leave lids in water until ready to use.
  • After the jars have been sanitized, they are ready to fill (see above for applesauce, apple pie filling, or apple cider).  Fill almost all the way, leaving at least an inch of head space.  Clean the threads and top of jar.
  • One by one, remove lid from hot water, dry, put on filled jar then screw ring on just short of tight.
  • Put jars back in large pot, add water if needed to cover jars with at least 2 inches of water. Boil for 10 minutes.
  • Remove, tighten rings, place on towel away from drafts for 24 hours.  My favorite part is listening to the telltale pops of the jars sealing!
I highly suggest picking up a canning kit.  You can get them at "major retailers" for about $20.  They include specialized tongs to lift jars, a funnel specialized for jars.  These things came with my mom's large canning pot kit (they run about $60) and I have found them indispensable.  As for the canning pot itself, you can do just as well with a large pot from your own kitchen.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fall yumminess

Its been a while, but Im back online and cooking with a vengeance.  Husband and I moved into a nicer apartment with a much nicer kitchen.  Our new roommate is a vegetarian so its less that Im trying new dinner recipes and more baking.  Last night and today I made some yummy fall foods.
                     Dinner was a pumpkin sweet potato soup, no-knead bread and pumpkin cider.

                                                             Pumpkin cider from Aldi's

Pumpkin Sweet Potato Soup  (for once its my own recipe)
1 md onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
3 tbs margarine                                
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tbs salt
1 tbs pepper
1 15oz can pumpkin
3 md sweet potatoes, cubed
4 c vegetable stock
2 c water

1) In large pot saute onions, celery and carrots in margarine until onions have clarified.
2) mix in seasonings
3) add remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes, until sweet potatoes are soft.
4) use potato masher, food processor or wand blender to get desired consistency.  *I like a smoother soup so I mashed with a potato masher then used my wand blender.

Amazing No-Knead Bread from Frugal Living

6 cups bread (recommended) or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 t. instant or active-dry yeast
2 1/2 t. salt
2 2/3 c. cool water
  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated; the dough should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest 12-18 hours on the counter at room temperature. When surface of the risen dough has darkened slightly, smells yeasty, and is dotted with bubbles, it is ready.
  2. Lightly flour your hands and a work surface. Place dough on work surface and sprinkle with more flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice and, using floured fingers, tuck the dough underneath to form a rough ball.
  3. Generously dust a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with enough flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran to prevent the dough from sticking to the towel as it rises; place dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran. Cover with the edges or a second cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.
  4. After about 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 425-450 degrees. Place a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven, in the oven as it heats. When the dough has fully risen, carefully remove pot from oven. Remove top towel from dough and slide your hand under the bottom towel; flip the dough over into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough looks unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
  5. Cover and bake for 40-50 minutes. Uncover and continue baking about 5-10 more minutes, until a deep chestnut brown. The internal temp of the bread should be around 200 degrees. You can check this with a meat thermometer, if desired.
  6. Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

*Mine turned out a little squat because my dutch oven is short and round*

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spaghetti sauce and apple cobbler

Sometimes being a domestic diva means being a diva of someone else's domicile. I left my home a couple weeks ago to help out a friend in Long Island. For the first week or so, my diva laid low. A couple ago my diva lept out like a tiger let loose from a cage. I did somea cleaning, but moreover, I started to do my cooking thing. Last night, noticing there was a metric shitton of apples, my brain started ticking. Upon searching the cabinets I found all the makings of an apple cobbler.
Today, I was trying to figure out what to do for dinner because there was nothing defrosted. Again, I went to the cabinet for inspiration. I found a can of diced tomatoes and a box of spaghetti. I decide to make up my own sauce.

Apple cobbler
5 medium apples
2tbs lemon juice
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 stick (4 tbs) cold butter or magazine

Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 9x9 pan.
Peel, core and cut up apples. Coat apples with lemon juice then coat with the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Put seasoned apples in baking dish.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar and oats. Cut in the cold butter. sprinkle mixture over apples.
Bake 30-45 minutes until top is golden and apples are soft.

Quick and easy spaghetti sauce
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs dried parsley
1 tbs dried basil
28 oz can of diced tomatoes

Place oil, garlic, dried parsley and dried basil into a pan. Sauté ingredients for 2 or 3 minute. Add diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

7 more freezer to crock pot recipes

The first attempt at bulk buy and freezer-to-crock-pot meals was a huge hit in our house. I spent another day of recipe research and list writing before our next big grocery trip. This time, I got husband involved! He did most of the prep chopping, while I did the mixing. 6 of these recipes are new, 1 is a repeat from the first time around because it was such a hit. Most of the recipes were taken from Kraft's slow cooker website
These recipes serve 4-6 people. Generally I calculate a large portion around 1/4lb of meat.
Savory Chicken
Sweet & Tangy Meatballs
South African BBQ Chicken
Sweet & Sour Chicken
Beef Barley Stew (this is a repeat of last go around, but we loved it so much we wanted more)
Cheesy Chicken and Potatoes
Curry Chicken
Shopping list:
zip freezer bags (find a brand you can trust not to leak. I use freezer bags from Aldi)
Staples: (at least in our house)
brown sugar
soy sauce
onion soup mix (1env)
curry powder
dried parsley
white wine
ginger root
4 onions
2 bags baby carrots
1 rib celery (I usually get hearts because they take less prep)
2 green peppers
1 red pepper
1lb red potatoes
1 jar minced garlic or 7 gloves fresh garlic minced
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup golden raisins
Cans, jars and condiments:
2 cup chicken broth
29 oz beef broth
10 3/4oz cream of chicken soup
14 1/2 oz diced tomato
2 can stewed tomato
1 jar salsa (mild, med, hot- your choice depending on how hot you like it)
2 med jars grape jelly
1 bottle Catalina dressing
32oz BBQ sauce
8oz chunked pineapple
velveeta or similar easy melt cheese (I use cheese dip found in chip aisle with salsa)
12 lbs chicken breast
1 1/2lb stew beef
1 lg bag of meatballs
1 md bag frozen broccoli

South African BBQ Chicken 
3 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs
1-1/2 cups Barbecue Sauce
1 cup chicken broth
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 Tbsp. curry powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups hot cooked rice

Cook on low for 8 hours. Serve over rice (Crock pot rice: 2 cups water, 1 cup rice, 3 tbs butter, 1 tbs salt. Cook on high 2 hours)

Cheesy Chicken & Potato
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 lb. red potatoes (about 3), very thinly sliced
1 tsp. paprika
2lb chicken breast
1 can (10-3/4 oz.) condensed cream of chicken soup
1/4lb. (4 oz.) VELVEETA®, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley - (I subbed dried parsley)
When making freezer back add everything but the cheese. Cook 6 hours low. Add cheese and cook high for 5 minutes. Stir melted cheese in.

(sorry its upside down!)
We ran out of chicken.  I put all the ingredients together anyway.
Ready to just add chicken

Sweet & Sour Chicken
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1-1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup KRAFT Classic CATALINA Dressing
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tsp. grated gingerroot
1 can (8 oz.) pineapple chunks, drained
1 each green and red pepper, cut into strips
3 cups hot cooked long-grain white rice

Cook low for 6 hours. Serve over rice. For thicker liquid make a roux, add to crock and heat on high for 30 minutes until thickened.

Curry Chicken
2-3/4 lb.chicken breast
1 jar (16 oz.) Salsa
1 onion, chopped
2cTbsp. curry powder

Cook low 8 hours. Serve over rice with steamed vegetables. To take some heat out add sour cream when serving. (for us, this was mild enough that we didnt add sour cream. we also used mild salsa

Beef Barley Stew
2 cup carrot
1.5 lb cubed beef
1 envelope onion soup
29 oz beef broth
14.5 oz diced tomato w/ liquid
2 cup water
1 cup uncooked barley

Cook low 8-10 hours

Sweet & Tangy Meatballs
1 lg bag frozen meatballs
2 md jars grape jelly
20oz BBQ sauce
Cook low for 2-4 hours. Serve over egg noodles with vegetables

Savory Chicken
4-6 chicken breasts (boneless/skinless)
2 cans stewed tomatoes
4 tbs white wine
4 cloves minced garlic
1 lg onion
1 c chicken broth
2 tbs salt
*4c frozen broccoli (do not put into freezer bag with rest of ingredients)

Cook low for 8 hours. Add broccoli for last 30 minutes of cooking time

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's day food and drink

Father's day is at hand.  Im spending mine with my mom and daddy at a minor league Mets game.  Afterwards, Im going back to their house for bbq.  It's summer.  Its hot and sunny.  I dislike mayonnaise, especially in warm weather.  I did my thing and looked up a couple recipes to prepare.  The meal plan is steak, coleslaw, potato salad, grilled corn on the cob and sugar-free Arnold Palmers (half lemonade/half iced tea).

Coleslaw- I bought the pre-packed coleslaw mix in a bag.  At mom's suggestion, I mixed in fat free Italian dressing.  Yum!  I had to have some with dinner last night just to taste test.  Its not only yummy but a healthier alternative to coleslaw laden with mayo.

Potato Salad w/out mayo
for this I tweeked Allrecipe.com recipe to delicious results

2lb red potatoes, cubed
2tbs vinegar
1/4c extra virgin olive oil
1tbs dijon mustard
to taste: salt, pepper, onion powder, dried basil

In large pot bring potatoes to boil in lightly salted water.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes until tender; drain
In large bowl, whisk remaining ingredients together.
Mix hot potatoes into bowl with flavored mixture.
Allow to cool before serving.

Sugar-free Arnold Palmer
This is Tyler Florence's recipe.  I just subbed sugar for Splenda.  I also changed a bit of the measurements because it isnt specific about how much they mean when they say "kettle of water"

4 tea bags
6 c water
1 c simple syrup (1:1 sugar solution.  boil to dissolve sugar if using sugar instead of Splenda)
1 c lemon juice
2 c ice cubes

Bring tea bags to a boil in water.   Boil for 3 minutes.  Remove tea bag and allow tea to cool on counter or fridge.  Leave tea bags in longer for stronger tea.
While tea is boiling, blend simple syrup, lemon juice and ice.  Keep slushy lemonade in freezer while tea is cooling.
When ready to serve, mix 1:1 tea & lemonade slush.

Foil Grilled Corn on the Cob
Just a suggestion here: prep ahead of time by wrapping the cleaned, lightly salted cob in foil with a couple pads of butter.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Yummy Gummy

Husband and I both love those gummy fruit snacks that you put in kid's school lunch.  Husband love to take them to work but I find myself grabbing a package or 3 along the way.  Although they arent expensive, I thought, there has to be a way to make it.  Behold the wonders of the interwebs!  Im not going to link a recipe because, to be honest, there are so many of them I cant give credit to one recipe author.

Jello Gummies
1 package flavored Jello (sugar free or regular is fine)
2 packages unflavored Knox gelatin

1/3 cup water

Pour water into a small saucepan.  Sprinkle the Jello & gelatin into water and let set for 10 minutes.  While pot is setting, prep your molds**.  Heat pan on medium, continually whisking/stirring until gelatins are dissolved.  Once dissolved pour into molds.  Let set 20 minutes on counter or 10 minutes in fridge.

**As I've mentioned before, we're all about the cheap.  Screw buying expensive silicon molds.  I use cupcake tins lightly greased with a oil soaked paper towel.  Once the gummies have set, I use my kitchen shears to cut the disks into bite size.  I then lightly toss in corn starch to remove/cover the sticky parts.  Husband has suggested using Splenda on the sugar-free ones instead of corn starch.  When I make another batch I will try that and update the blog.
I cant tell you how long these gummies are good for because a batch has never made it through the night.  They are wicked addictive!

Monday, June 4, 2012

French Toast Casserole

Husband and I recently we given a couple nice loaves of leftover bread.  It was more then we would eat before it would go bad.  I remembered a great recipe my sister gave me a couple years ago for a French toast casserole.  Since French toast was invented as a way to use stale, leftover bread, this recipe was perfect.  This recipe is fantastic, too, for pot lucks and big family brunches.

French Toast Casserole
8oz (1/2 large loaf) French bread
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
cinnamon, sugar, butter

Cubed bread and put into a greased 9x9 pan
Mix eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar and salt, pour over the cubed bread
Refrigerate for 8 or more hours.  Its best to sit overnight at least
Remove 30 minutes before baking
Top with cinnamon, sugar and pads of butter
Bake, covered, at 350* for 45 to 50 minutes

**French bread isnt a must.  You just want to make sure it is a nice, crusty bread.

Another great option that I just discovered is to cover with apple slices.  You could also mix in raisins and/or apple chunks.

I want to sing the praises of electric knives.  I love mine.  I bought it originally for meat carving but I use it the most on bread.  An electric knife is a quick and easy tool for butting up bread.  Especially stale, crusty, bread.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Small things

It takes very little to make something look special and make someone feel special.
There was leftover chocolate fondue after the bachelorette party on Friday night.  I decided that it would be nice if husband and I had fondue for dessert while watching movies.  Instead of just throwing bags on the table, I put the marshmallows, Pringles, pretzels and strawberries into containers, along with the crock of melted chocolate, unto my nice wooden cutting board.  It make a big difference to take an extra two minutes to make things look nice.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who doesnt love chocolate?!

I recently had the pleasure of being the matron-of-honor for a friend's wedding.  As such, it was my job to throw the bachelorette party.  The bride-to-be loves chocolate (who doesnt?!).  I decided for the party I would make chocolate fondue.  I do have a traditional fondue pot but it was at my parent's house and the last couple times I tried to use it we had trouble getting the temperature right.  As I have such love for my crock pots I decided to try doing chocolate fondue in my mini crock pot.  I headed to the market to buy the ingredients and dippers; strawberries, marshmallows, pretzels and pound cake.   The pound cake at the grocery store bakery was $5.  Forget that!  I decided to go full domestic diva and make my own pound cake.  All the ingredients for the pound cake are pantry/fridge staples but cake flour.  To the Google!  Making your own cake flour is wicked easy.  Place 2 tbs of corn starch into a 1 cup measure then fill the rest of the cup with all purpose flour.

chocolate fondue
24 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 c evaporated milk (little less then 12oz can)
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Place ingredients in crock pot.  Turn on high for 30 minutes, stirring frequently making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so nothing burns.  Turn on low for at least 1 hour.

pound cake

3 large eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons milk, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups  sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
13 tablespoons (1/2 cup + 1/3 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Butter or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf pan. 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), place the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar) and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds or until blended. Add the butter and half of the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about one minute to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture, in 2 additions, beating about 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the egg and strengthen the cake's structure.  
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 55 to 65 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If you find the cake browning too much as it bakes, cover with a piece of lightly buttered aluminum foil after about 30 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and cool completely on a lightly buttered wire rack.
The Pound Cake can be covered and stored for several days at room temperature, for one week when refrigerated, or it can be frozen for two months.
Makes one 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Domestic Harmony and balls

Often, the key job of a domestic diva, is to keep peace in the home.  In our home the biggest bone of contention is money.  I am currently waiting to hear whether I will be deemed as disabled by my Fibromyalgia.  Husband's income is our only income.  Our first year as a couple, it was the opposite with me making a comfortable enough living to support us both.

All that being said, to keep peace and harmony in the house, I look for ways to save or make money.  To save us money on Christmas gifts I taught myself how to crochet so I could make gifts.  YouTube was a wonderful resource to learn with tons of great video tutorials.  By far, I felt the best YouTuber was Bobwilson123.  Her tutorials are very easy to understand and she offers written patterns for a lot of the tutorials.  I made over 20 gifts for about $20 worth of supplies.   Then I got my first commissioned work.  A friend saw a toddler hat I made and asked me to make her daughter a hat/scarf set for Christmas.  I suddenly realized that I could translate my new hobby into a money making venture.  Dont get me wrong!  It will never make me rich, nor will I ever want to be in a position where I have to push myself very hard to get things done for other people.

My newest money making venture involves a local Inter-tribal PowWow.  I am making a couple things to sell that have seemed to be a hit among my friends.

Hacky Sacks/ Balls
I use size H/8- 5.00mm hook and #4 medium yarn

Rnd 1 - Ch2, 6 sc in 2nd from hook, join with slst
Rnd 2 - 2sc in each sc, join
Rnd 3 - alternate 2sc/sc, join
Rnd 4 - alternate 2sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 5 - alternate 2sc/sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 6 - alternate 2sc/sc/sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 7-9 - sc, join
Rnd 10 - alternate sc2tg/sc/sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 11- alternate sc2tg/sc/sc/sc, join
Rnd 12- alternate sc2tg/sc/sc, join
Rnd 13 - alternate sc2tg/sc, join
*stuff with your choice of filling
Rnd 14 - alternate sc2tg, join
close with running stitch, pull tight and tie off

*There are a large variety of things you can stuff with depending on what you have and what you are using the balls for.  For some of mine I lined it with the toe of an old stocking and filled with rice, using twist tie to close stocking.  I also used feed corn.  Another great filling for hacky sacks is plastic pellets found at local craft store.  I went the least expensive route.

Water Bottle Sling
I use J/10- 6.00mm hook and #4 medium yarn
Gauge isnt important but you may want to have a water bottle close by to make sure it fits after Rnd 5.  It should be and will be a little snug.  It will loosen up with use.

Rnd 1 - ch 4, 12dc into 4th stitch from hook, join,
Rnd 2 - ch 3,  2dc in each dc, join, ch 3
Rnd 3 - ch 3, alternate dc/2dc around, join,
Rnd 4 - ch 4, tr in every other stitch
Rnd 5-11 - ch 4, tr in between each tr
Rnd 12 - create strap by ch 180
Rnd 13 - dhc in each ch, tie off.
Securely attach both ends of strap to bottle sling

Summer Loom Knit Beanie
Im not enclosing the whole pattern here because its pretty simple.  When using round knitting looms they recommend that you use 2 or more strands of yarn.  To make a lighter weight summer beanie just use 1 strand and knit loosely.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Old Fashioned Laundry and Cookies

I did too much yesterday.  What forced me out of the work force was having Fibromyalgia.  The fun of this insidious illness is that you can feel perfectly fine but if you push yourself too hard you can end up in bed, in pain, with fatigue for days.  Between 3 hours grocery shopping, 4 hours of prepping dinners, making bread and all the clean up required plus the normal housekeeping I do, it left me feeling completely in shambles today.  We needed to get some laundry done but barely have enough energy to walk down the stairs, much less the 2 blocks to the laundry mat.  Ghetto laundry it is!

Old fashioned/ghetto laundry:
Being of limited energy and limited finances frequently, I have resorted to doing what I refer to as "ghetto laundry".  There was really no pride lost when I thought about all the generation before me who washed their clothes by hand or the people in other parts of the world washing their clothes a river.  Our apartment here is very small, thusly so is our bathroom.  Way back when I lived in an apartment in Mass. I use to use my bathtub.  Not having a bathtub, only a small stall shower, I had to become inventive.  I put my clothes in a milk crate, put the crate into a storage bin, the storage bin goes into the shower.  I use whatever laundry soap I would use for that amount of clothes then fill the bin with hot water.  Usually, I'll let it set/soak for a little while, then I'll go in, elbow deep in hot soapy water, and use myself as an agitator.  I'll lift the crate out then empty the bin of dirty water.  How many times I refill the crate/bin, agitate, then empty just depends on how dirty my clothes are.  I keep doing it until the water is clear.  I'll then take the crate out, set the bin aside, letting the clothes drip dry for an hour or so.  Long ago, I had picked up, rather cheaply at Walmart, a adjustable plastic curtain rod.  I hang that in my shower, put my clothes on hanger to let them dry more in the shower with the fan on.
Word of warning: NEVER wash your husbands socks in the crate with your shirts... or really with anything else that you dont want smelling like dirty feet.  I have made this mistake and had to rewash everything at the laundry mat to get rid of the feet smell.

Old fashioned cookies:
Today, Upstate NY was its usual dreary, rainy, self.  Last night, while cleaning up, I noticed I had not only a large tub of old fashioned oats but a large tub of quick oats AND a medium ziplock full of quick oats we had been given but was cut too small to make a decent oatmeal with.  Whats better on a dreary day then a batch of homemade oatmeal raisin cookies?  There was only one catch in the plan; my brown sugar looked like a pile of dark brown rocks and was about as soft.  Interwebs (and husband) to the rescue!
To soften up hard, dried brown sugar:
Put sugar into a microwave safe bowl
Fill a small bowl of water
Place both bowls into the microwave for 1 minute.
If your sugar is large clumps like mine was, break up the clumps a bit (its easier to do this after microwaving then before)
Continue microwaving at 15 second intervals until sugar is soft enough to work with
Brown sugar problem solved, I was able to throw together a super easy batch of oatmeal raisin cookies
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
1 1/4 cup Butter/Margarine softened (2 & 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup Packed Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 cup Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
3 cup Oats (can use quick or old fashioned)
1/2 cup Raisin 

Pre-heat oven to 375*.  Mix all ingredients together in large bowl.  Spoon onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake 8-9 minutes for chewy, 10-11 minutes for crispy.

Our kitchen is incredibly small, Ive had to learn some ingenious tricks.  My baking, cooling racks double as wall racks to hold my pot lids.

Monday, May 7, 2012

... and 4 breakfasts

I decided to make a half batch of ready-made oatmeal breakfasts.  Having not an inch left in my freezer, I figured that if I make a small batch it can just be refrigerated for a couple days.  I bought frozen peaches, mixed berries, strawberries and fresh apples.  Since we like to use the frozen fruit in shakes and husband likes to each frozen peaches as a snack, I decided to make apple and cinnamon.  I put 1/2 medium apple diced into each container and about 2 tsp of cinnamon.

Crock Pot Oatmeal
4 cup Old Fashioned Oatmeal
4 cup Milk -(I used Original Almond Milk because Im lactose intolerant)
4 cup Water
3 tbs Honey to sweeten
- Put all ingredients into crock pot and cook on low until to a tenderness you like (I did mine about 1 hour).  This 2:1 liquid:oatmeal combo makes a fairly runny oatmeal.  Adjust your liquid to your preference.
- Allow to cool slightly.  Scoop 1 cup per container.
- Add fresh or frozen fruit.
If you will be eating it within a couple days you can refrigerate just keep an eye on it if you use fresh fruit.  You can also freeze it.  When ready to eat, pop into the microwave to reheat.

Cutting the recipe in half produced four containers of 1 cup oatmeal each

14 dinners and yeast on a diet

Today, the day that we get our grocery money, husband and I went to get shopping.  Not only did we get the usual work lunches and snack but also bought the ingredients to make freezer to crock pot dinners.  I had to make a couple major changes, mostly that I had to switch out turkey breast for chicken.  

We started out trip at Aldi's.  Aldi's is a fantastic store when you are on a tight budget.  A large portion of the groceries are the same as the major brands, just off label.  Some of the savings are passed on due to some of Aldi's cost cutting measures.  You must rent a grocery cart for 25 cents which encourage people to put their own carts back, cutting the need to have an employee gather carts strewn all over the lot.  They neither provide free bag nor bag the groceries for you.  You can bring your own bag, grab an empty box or pay a small free to buy bags, even thermal-freezer bags.  Aldi's does carry your staple groceries but they also have some odds and ends other groceries including pet food, flowers, vitamins and energy drinks.  When husband and I switched to Aldi's our grocery bill was cut almost in half.  We still have to go to a name brand market for out cat supplies because Boo (our 3 year old tuxedo princess) will not eat anything other then Friskies canned food.  She'll turn her nose up, wasting it rather then to lower herself to generics.

14 Dinner:
An extra trip to Price Chopper market was needed to get some of the remaining ingredients for the freezer dinners.  All together, between the two stores, the bill came to just about $90.  The cost per meal is about $6, each meal serving 3 to 4 people making a serving around $2.  As soon as I got home I started by separating what was husband's lunch stuff, what was general groceries and what was for the freezer dinners.  You'll see that I got generic freezer bags.  I dont recommend it!  You will not see the meats because those went right into the fridge.  I started with the poultry recipes, cleaned off my surface, washed up the dishes, then took a break before moving on to the beef recipes.  Just the meal prep too me about 4 hours.  It could have taken less time had I bought different meat but the beef  I bought need some butchering to remove larger pieces of fat.  I suggest that people plan their freezer space ahead better then I did.  We have a fairly small freezer so there was a lot of finagling that needed to be done to get everything in the freezer.  Because I didnt get the best quality of freezer bags I had to stand a couple up in a casserole dish until it was hard frozen.  I made sure to write on the bag in Sharpie not only what it contained but also how long to cook it in the crock pot on what setting and if a side dish was needed.  (You'll notice the large quantity of pot pies.  Husband loves them every day for lunch at work.  And I mean EVERY day at work)

Yeast on a diet:
Last night I had planned on bruchetta and fresh made Italian bread for dinner.  I made a delicious bruchetta with plum tomatoes then started to gather ingredients for Italian bread.  There was no sugar.  Being experimental and knowing that bread in my machine is not expensive, I tried to see if the yeast would eat Splenda.  Apparently, yeast are diet free.  The dough never proofed.  They do say that bruchetta taste better when it has had a chance to sit for a while.  It is still sitting.  I made sure that we picked up sugar today.  Time to go try make Italian bread again, this time giving those little yeast bugs real sugar instead of substitute.

Of course, I had to add a picture of my Boo Radley, my princess.  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bruchetta and v-stitch hats

It's Sunday.  In our little family Sundays mean watching premium cable shows online.  This time of year it HBO's Game of Thrones.  The husband works 2nd shift, meaning that our dinner is usually around 1am.  Im not sure what dinner will be tonight, but snack will be stellar.  I had the husband pick up some tomatoes for the pre-made burgers we had last night.  When I opened the freezer last night I noticed I still had a chunk of mozzarella.  I ran over to a market and bough some olive oil.  I will admit, sadly, that its probably not good olive oil.  Snack tonight will be bruchetta.  My plan is to balance out the not wonderful olive oil with wonderful homemade/bread machine made Italian bread.
Once snack is started, I plan to finish the double crochet v-stitch hat I've been working on.  When I get this hat done my next project will be crochet water bottle slings.  Im possibly going to vend at a local PowWow and think they would be a hit there.

Tomato & Mozzarella Bruchetta (my recipe is on the cheap):
Italian herb
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt & pepper

Chopped the tomatoes, I like to take out some of the seed area leaving as much of the meat as possible.  Cube mozzarella fairly small.  Use enough oil and vinegar to moisten.  If you are using dry herb, rub them in your hands to crush them and release more of the flavor.  Add herb, salt and pepper to personal taste.  Its good to let it sit for a while to let the flavors intensify.
As you may notice, there are no measurements.  Recipes like this I do just "to taste", meaning the way I like it.   Of course, I would rather use fresh basil and fresh herbs, but this is budget cooking.

Now to the V-stitch part.  I currently trying to finish a double crochet v-stitch hat in pink and purple, something light for spring.

Double Crochet V-Stitch Hat
**DCV- (DC, ch1, DC) in same stitch
1.  Start with either a magic loop or chain 6.
2.  12 DC (double crochet) into loop or 5th chain from the hook.  Join/Slst (slip stitch) into top of 1st DC
      Each increase row will start with ch 3 (counts as 1st dc)
3.  Increase by 2DC in every other st, joining at the end.
4.  Repeat #3, increase, until it is desired width. (the way I learned to measure was put your hands on either side of your head with the hat on your head.  It'll fit when the hat barely touches your hands).
5.  v-stitch row: ch 4 (counts as dc, ch1), DC in same st as ch4.  DCV in every other st.  Join
6.  Ch4, DC in same stitch.  DCV between every DCV of the row before.  Join
7.  Repeat #6 until desired length.

I tend to use whatever hook I feel goes with the yarn.  All the yarns I use are either cotton, acrylic or a blend as Im allergic to wool.  Plus, blends are much less expensive and easier to care for.  For the hat Im working on right now I alternated every other row between pink and purple.  To alternate, I added the new color at the ch4 of step 5.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Make ahead freezer to crock pot recipes

I'll post all that blah, blah, blah, background stuff another time.  Wanted to get right to my first post.

Between my health and the soon to be sauna-like temperature in my apartment, I wanted to make ahead a bunch of recipes that I could put everything together, freeze, then throw into the crock pot whenever we wanted.  So far, I have collected 7 dinners (each making 2 freezer bags) and 1 breakfast recipe.

Meals: Onion Turkey, Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew, Mediterranean Chicken with Wild Rice, Beef Barely Stew, Teriyaki Chicken, Goulash/Beef Stew, Turkey & Cranberry and Freezer Oatmeal.

Shopping List:
     *meats: Turkey Breast: 6-8 lbs
                 Chicken Breast: 2-3 lbs 
                 Cubed or Stew Beef: 4-5 lbs 

     *veg:    baby carrots: 4 bags (could also use regular carrots.  But this is all about ease)
                 celery: 2 ribs 
                 potatoes: 6 md 
                 sweet potatoes: 2 md
                 onions: 3 md
                 green pepper: 1
                 minced or crushed garlic: lg jar  (again, you can crush yourself but its about ease)
                 lemon juice: 1/2 c fresh squeezed (usually about 2 lemons)

     *seasonings : onion soup mix: 3 envelopes
                          garlic powder
                          celery seed
                          teriyaki sauce (enough for 1 cup)
                          extra virgin olive oil (enough for 1/4 cup)

     *the rest:  stewed tomatoes: 1 (28oz) can
                     sun-dried tomatoes: 1/2 cup
                     diced tomatoes: 1 (14.5 oz) can
                     tomato paste: 2 (6 oz) can/tube
                     chicken broth: 1 cup
                     beef broth: 29oz
                     wild rice blend: 1 cup uncooked
                     barley:  1 cup uncooked
                     rolled oatmeal (not quick oats!): 4 cups
                     canned pineapple: 2 (20oz) cans
                     whole cranberry sauce: 15oz
                     orange juice: 1/2 cup
                     milk (I use soy or almond): 4 cups
                     frozen or canned fruit

     *sides:      egg noodles
                     rice of choice
                     instant stuffing or mashed potatoes


Each recipe makes 2 freezer bag with aprx 2-3 servings.  When prepping, unless it says otherwise, divide ingredients between 2 bags.

Onion Turkey:
4 lbs boneless/skinless turkey breast
1 tsp garlic powder
1 envelope onion soup mix
4 md potatoes peeled & cubed
1 bag of baby carrots
2 ribs of celery peeled & chopped
*Cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Serve over rice or pasta

Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew
4 chicken breasts cut bite size
2 md sweet potatoes peeled & cubed
2 md potatoes peeled & cubed
2 md or 1 bag carrots
1 (28oz) stewed tomato w/ liquid
1 tsp each: paprika, salt, celery seed
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp each: cinnamon, nutmeg
1 cup chicken broth
*Cook low 6-8 hours.

Mediterranean Chicken w/ Wild Rice
1 lb chicken breast
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup uncooked wild rice blend
10 cloves (or equivelent) crushed garlic
1/2 cup sun-dried tomato (if using dry, rehydrate first)
2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup EVOO
*mix liquids together before adding to chicken & rice.  Cook low 8 hours

Beef Barley Stew
2 cup carrot
1.5 lb cubed beef
1 envelope onion soup
29 oz beef broth
14.5 oz diced tomato w/ liquid
2 cup water
1 cup uncooked barley
*Cook low 8-10 hours

Teriyaki Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1 bag baby carrots
1 md onion chopped large
2 (20oz) cans on pineapple, drained
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup teriyaki
*Cook low 8 hours.  Serve over rice

Goulash/Beef Stew (for the record, I found this recipe online. this isnt the way I make stew)
3 lbs stew beef
1 green pepper, sliced
4 carrots, chopped
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves of chopped garlic
2 (6 oz) can/tube of tomato paste
4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
*Cook 8 hours on low.  Serve over egg noodle with (optional) sour cream

Weeknight Thanksgiving Dinner
6 turkey breasts
15 oz whole cranberry sauce
1 envelope onion soup mix
1/2 cup orange juice
salt & pepper to taste
*Cook 6-8 hours on low.  Serve with instant stuffing or potatoes

Freezer Oatmeal
4 cup rolled oatmeal
4 cup "milk"
4 cup water
*Cook in crock pot on low until done to desired softness.  Allow to cool.  Place into single serving containers.  Top with honey, syrup, or frozen or canned fruit.  Freeze.  When serving, microwave until desired temperature.

Full disclosure, I havent made any of these myself at this time.  I also cant claim that they are my recipes.  Some recipes I got online (I'll add links to the sites later) or from the "Fix-it and Forget-it Cookbook".