Pantry Challenge Complete!

We ended up spending $52.54 on food for the month of January.  This was all grocery expense since we didn’t eat out at all during the month.  We consider that a smashing success!!  Here’s how the cupboards looked after the challenge and before the shopping trip on February 1st.

The snack cupboard was the first to empty.

The pantry.  It still looks full but we really did make a dent.

The meat drawer also takes a beating.

Eating From the Pantry Recipes

Here are many of the recipes I have been and will be using this month as we eat from the pantry.  I have included links to many of the recipes I use or recipes I have used in the past.  Most of the meals are delicious and we would eat them any day of the week, so we don’t really feel like we are sacrificing much.

Pizza – with whatever toppings you have handy.  We do pizza night every Friday so I always have plenty of cheese.  I also make my own pizza crust (so easy!) and can my own pizza sauce in the summer.  We love BBQ chicken pizza and chicken-artichoke-ranch pizza as well.  I usually go ahead and make two pizzas even though there are only 3 of us, so we can share with friends that sometimes come over or eat it for lunches over the next few days.  We will likely run out of chicken and cheese before the month is over, but I’ll try to stretch it.

French dip (AKA drip beef).  Both versions are excellent.  If you don’t like spice, avoid the one with pepperoncinis.  I make my own sandwich rolls, which are shaped into mini loaves.  We had tots and spinach salad to balance out the meal.  We will get 3 meals (whether dinners or lunches) out of 2-1/2 pounds of chuck steak (cheapo piece of meat).

Salmon with boxed mashed potatoes (forgot we even had them in the pantry), spinach salad, and green beans with sesame seeds.  The green beans were frozen from the garden last summer.  The salmon (frozen) is from Costco, which is usually a pretty good deal.  We can stretch one salmon fillet (with plenty of sides) to feed all of us.

Enchiladas (using leftover meat from the freezer or from one of the previous meals) with corn (from the garden and frozen), refried beans, and Mexican rice.  I’ll add tortilla chips, olives, guacamole, and sour cream if I have them on hand.  For sour cream I have substituted plain yogurt with a splash of lime/lemon juice or vinegar and it is close enough to fool most people.

Chipotle pork posole with cornbread, green beans, spinach salad (with varied homemade dressing) and applesauce (home canned).  Should be lots of leftovers.

Chili with left-over corn bread and pears (home canned).

Cheese and spinach ravioli (from Costco) with a browned butter sage sauce.  Serve with garlic cheese bread (or french bread), spinach salad, and peaches (home canned).

Chili cheese fries with leftover chili.  Serve with green beans and a fruit (applesauce, pears, peaches, or fresh fruit).

Marinated salmon with couscous, whiskey glazed carrots, and salad.

I use up the meat I have and this time I happened to have 3 steaks I froze in marinade.  Served with fries and a Mediterranean chop (spinach) salad.  I should have made some rolls to go with it, but it was the weekend and I didn’t wanna.  The salad is heavy duty on the protein so it will be part of Hubby’s lunches during the work week.

Passover Brisket with caramelized green beans and pine nuts, and a noodle kugel.  This should be a meal with plenty of leftovers for lunches and even a possible rerun.

Scramble with hashbrowns, onions, bacon, cheese, and eggs.  Serve with cinnamon toast and a fruit.

Maple salmon with spicy yam fries and peas.

Coconut-lime turkey and rice soup with crusty bread.  This will feed us about 3 meals I expect.

Tuna melts with pretzels/chips and a fruit.

Soy glazed salmon with maple whipped sweet potatoes and a salad.

I also make a lot of muffins, scones, and bagels, which all work great for Husband’s grab-and-go breakfasts, as well as waffles and pancakes for those of us who eat breakfast at home.  I typically avoid things that take a lot of eggs, meat, or cheese.

For snacks I make deviled (or plain hard-boiled) eggs, pretzels, or I have cut-up carrots/other veggies and make ranch dressing, hummus or spinach artichoke dip.  For sweet snacks I make cookies or other desserts, “poptarts“, pretzels, or granola/granola bars.  Dessert is actually one of the easiest things to make while cleaning out the pantry.  I also canned some cherry pie filling and apple pie filling and have some frozen berries and other fruit.  We tend to have good desserts because I plan ahead better when doing the pantry challenge.

Taste of Yesteryear

My Grandma Ruth used to make us (actually all 4 of her boys’ families) a box every Christmas with a “Christmas Breakfast Roll”.  At least that’s what I called it.  It always had green and red candied cherries on top, just for Christmas.  Also in the box were divinity, rocky road fudge, regular fudge, rum balls, a chocolate and nut covered toffee, caramels, and peanut brittle.  I longed for the box to arrive every Christmas and there was always a mini celebration when it arrived.  We always (in my memory) saved the Christmas roll for Christmas morning.  I knew without a doubt Grandma was thinking of us and loving us each and every time the box would arrive.  I can’t tell you a single Christmas gift she ever gave me (at least not with certainty) but I remember the Christmas roll and candies with a surprising clarity.

Anyway, I’ve wanted to reproduce those food memories for quite a while now.  Finally, I made the Christmas roll.  My Aunt still has Grandma’s recipes and was kind enough to type some of them up and send them to me.  It is such a blessing to be able to reproduce her recipes. Mine wasn’t nearly as well done as hers but hopefully that will come with time.  As an adult, I found it still takes me back and lets me know that Grandma Ruth won’t be forgotten.  I’ve also found, as an adult, the Christmas roll is excellent with coffee.

Another of Grandma’s recipes.  I don’t remember this one from childhood, but my dad and uncles might.  It was mighty tasty.  A refrigerator roll recipe balled up, coated in butter, cinnamon-sugar, stuffed into a bundt pan with walnuts, and then topped with frosting.  Also good with coffee.  Know what else is good with coffee?  Everything.

*Update*

As requested here are the basic recipes for the dishes above.  Hopefully this will give me some incentive to find the candy recipes and replicate them too.  You will note the recipes are NOT detailed step by step.  As many grandmother’s did and still do, my Grandma Ruth treated recipes as guidelines, if she used them at all.  Therefore some of the steps are missing or unclear because I mostly tried to keep them in their original form.  In the rolls recipe the amount of sugar was missing, so I made a guess.  If you are making the sweet breads I would add a little more.  If you are making dinner rolls the 3/4 cup seemed right to us.  Otherwise, add sugar, butter, herbs, and spices to you or your family’s desires.

REFRIGERATOR ROLLS

  • 2 pkgs yeast (4 ½ tsp; each packet 2 ¼ tsp)
  • 2 ½ c warm H2O
  • ¾ c butter/shortening
  • ¾ c sugar
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • up to 8-8 ½ c flour
  • 2 ½ tsp salt
  • Soften yeast in water (add the yeast to warm water and let it sit a bit), add butter/shortening, sugar, eggs, salt and 4 c flour then add flour as needed*. Cover tightly and store in frig. overnight or until needed.  When ready to use, punch down use amount needed. Let rise until doubled.  For pan rolls – 1/3 dough = 12 rolls. Bake in hot oven at 400•F for 15-20 minutes.

*If you have never made dough before and are unsure of how much flour to add, my rule of thumb is to continue adding until the dough is tacky but not sticky – it won’t stick to my fingers or the counter if I roll it around but if I let it sit for a minute it will stick (hope that helps).

Christmas Breakfast Roll

Combine:

  • 1/3 c butter
  • 2/3 c brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup
  • ¾ c walnuts
  • Cook butter, sugar and corn syrup over low heat till sugar dissolves.  Roll out 1/3 dough into rectangle ½ inch thick.  Spread ½ c syrup & sprinkle ¾ c finely chopped walnuts.  Roll-up, seal edges and shape into ring (easier said then done). Place on a greased cookie sheet with a custard cup in center of ring.  Make 1 inch slashes in dough at 3 inch intervals. Let rise until doubled.  Bake @ 350•F for 30 minutes.
  • Cover with glaze.

Glaze

  • 1 c confectionary sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ¼ tsp vanilla or maple

Golden Crown

Combine:

  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 2 T cinnamon
  • ½ c chopped walnuts
  • ½ c raisins
  • Use about ½ recipe of sweetened dough. Make rolls about size of walnuts.  Roll in melted butter then in sugar mixture.  Place in layers (don’t forget to thrownin handfuls of walnuts between the layers) in greased bundt pan until all dough pieces are used.  Sprinkle remaining sugar mix & any nuts over top.  Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled.  Bake 350•F for 45-55 min.  (I chose to leave out the raisins – me no likey in baked goods!)

Gypsy, This One’s for You

IMG_5939

I made this bittersweet chocolate and pear cake.  Although I have already eaten about a quarter of the cake itself, I wouldn’t say it has really changed my mind about chocolate and fruit (which is to say I don’t love it).  But it is very good.  The cake isn’t too sweet and the pear and chocolate are lovely together.  That said, I still prefer my chocolate unadulterated. I think it would be a great brunch dish but it certainly can be eaten for breakfast, snack, lunch, or dessert.  At least, I’ve eaten it that way.

Now, I think I’ll go have a serving of fruit – in cake form of course.

Food Facts & Cooks Challenge II

Refining

It’s generally understood that refining food destroys nutrients.  Really? Why?

How about refined sugar? There is no such thing as non-refined sugar.  And this sugar is PURE.  I mean it really is nothing but sucrose.  There are no chemicals whatsoever.  Brown sugar, “Sugar in the Raw”/turbinado sugar, and molasses are ALL refined.  At best the “raw sugar” is still 87% refined and more colored and crystallized to look “raw” (by adding molasses back to fully refined white sugar and then recrystallizing it).

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/1971-09-01/Truth-About-Raw-Sugar.aspx?page=3*

*They no longer use true bones as stated in the article.

You can use honey as a replacement if you are still concerned (in recipes you can usually use less honey than sugar but honey actually has more carbohydrates and more calories than granulated sugar does).

Regardless of whether you are consuming honey, fruit, juice, plain ol’ sugar, and even milk, all are considered “simple sugars” and will break down in your body into the same compound – C6H12O6.  And your body treats all of those sugars exactly the same.

Challenge for Cooks

1. Compare the properties of different sugar in making chocolate chip cookies. Select a basic chocolate chip cookie formula that uses one type of sugar. Prepare cookie dough from several different sugars, including brown, white, raw, honey, a mixture, or your choice. Form, bake, and cool the cookies. Compare the cookies in height, spread, color, flavor, and texture. What do these differences tell you about each sugar?

Food Facts & Cooks Challenge I

First a disclaimer:  This post may be a bit like discussing religion or politics.  So if you are a firm believer in returning to our roots and eating like it, then skip these posts.

A return to the “golden days” would not make us live longer or healthier lives like so many people seem to believe.  If we ate like our ancestors we would get sick more often and die younger.  That’s history.  How many people do you know who have a vitamin A deficiency, rickets, scurvy?  None?  Really?  No one?

I get sick and tired of people talking about the way “WE” used to do things and how it was so much better for us.  Yep, no cancer (or fill in the blank of your choosing) back in the day – cause guess what – everybody DIED before they could get it.

I am all about home-grown, get to the roots, fresh food, and using the best possible ingredients (of course) for very simple food (think bread), BUT that being said…aren’t we getting a tad ridiculous?

Organic – Is it Truly Better?

I think growing your own food is wonderful.  I don’t think any store bought veggie can measure up to ANYTHING you grow yourself.  But organic milk – for $4-6 per gallon? Eggs?  Bananas – come on, you don’t even eat the peel!

Reasons not to choose organic products:

1) It’s a cash cow of the large farms – It does not support small/local farms.

2) Less safe on a microbial level, and although these farms can use natural (organic) pesticides, they are still toxins – and they can use higher amounts than commercial fertilizers/pesticides.  It is less healthy in many ways.  (Same idea as “natural” medicines – natural does not equal safe)

3) It takes more room (less room for habitat) and it’s more costly for both the farmers and consumers.  Organic foods are not better for the environment/economy.

And sometimes it is just utterly ridiculous. For example, sometimes a portion of the milk used to make organic yogurt may be taken from a chemical-free cow in New Zealand, powdered, and then shipped to the U.S.

Buying from local farms and farmers would be arguably better but buying organic is not a good choice all of the time. The only reason I can see why organic would be so much better is if you really feel the taste is superior. Then by all means, pay the price for organic. Just don’t complain when you wind up in the hospital with a massive E.coli infestation.

Some websites with information about organics.

http://www.skragglies.com/article2.html

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4019?popular=true

http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/headline/2334

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_42/b4005001.htm

http://www.reason.com/blog/show/126276.html

Challenge for Cooks

Compare the addresses of organic eggs, milk, fruits, veggies, etc. to the store brand and see how far the organic products are shipped.  Buy both organic and non organic and compare the freshness, taste/flavor, color, and texture.  What do these differences tell you about each?

There’s Nothing Like Comfort Food

Baked ziti is truly wonderful, made with homemade spaghetti sauce, high quality cheese, and good ground meat.  I think the homemade sauce really makes the difference for me.  It’s one of hubby’s favorites in the winter, and judging by both the quantity and speed at which Sunita inhaled it, I’m guessing it’s hers too.  The foccacia bread is also a favorite at our house (see below for bread machine recipe).  I have been known to polish off a 9×13 pan in less than two days (WITH HELP).  I have found that garlic for breakfast (or before) really makes me a favorite for intimate conversation the rest of the day as well.  I have also been looking for a really good Caesar salad dressing.  Hubby loves Caesar salad and as of yet we haven’t found THE ONE. So I tried two very different recipes.  Neither was perfect, but the more traditional recipe was a bigger hit. Throw in some home-made garlic croutons, and the meal is complete!

Focaccia Bread with Garlic Cheese Topping

Dough Ingredients:

1 cup Water (80°F/27°F)

1/3 cup Olive Oil

2 tsp. Sugar

1-1/2 tsp. Salt

3 cups Bread Flour

1 tsp. Dried Italian Seasoning

2 tsp. Active Dry Yeast

Topping Ingredients:

1/4 cup Olive Oil

1-1/2 tsp. Dried Oregano

1/4 cup Garlic, finely minced

1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated

1/4 tsp. Salt

Method:

1. Prepare the focaccia dough in the bread machine. (Makes a 1.5 LB loaf on the “Pizza Dough Cycle”)

2. With oiled hands, evenly press dough into a greased 9×13 pan. Using your fingertips, make indentations in the dough.

3. Cover, let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes. While the dough is rising, select the topping and prepare.

4. In a skillet, heat oil. Stir in oregano and garlic. Immediately remove from heat.

5. Spoon topping mixture evenly over dough. Sprinkle with remaining ingredients.

6. Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes or until golden brown.