Friday, January 24, 2014

Frugal Friday: 30 day rule

Here is a little frugal tip that you may already know but might not be putting in to practice. Instead of purchasing something 'on a whim', wait 30 days and re-evaluate at that time. This goes for online orders too!! It seems online impulse buys are even easier to get sucked in to since it only takes one click and the purchaser is quite removed from handling money.

After 30 days, think: do you still think you need the item? If so, what is the most economical way to purchase the item? Is it something you have to have new? Or can you take some more time to find a good one, used? Or maybe a friend or family member has the item and is willing to give it to you? Or share it with you? It's worth investigating.

Try to never purchase anything on impulse.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dehydrating Apples

In case anyone has ever wondered ... here is what one pound of apples looks like before and after dehydrating.

One pound of fresh apple slices.

One pound of fresh apples fits just right into one dehydrator tray!

One pound of fresh becomes 2.35 ounces dried.
Now we know!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Homemade Brown Gravy and Biscuit Tips

This was supposed to be posted last week, however all the sudden I felt like I got hit by a bus and hardly survived. The flu. I slept for four days straight and then spent the rest taking it easy by necessity. And I am STILL puny! I think it hit me so hard because of MS but I'm not sure? I didn't know I was capable of sleeping for days at a time. Then Corban got it. Then Brianna. Malachi did not seem to get it but did have the yucky stomach thing instead. Tylor is the only one that got a very mild version of it. He's been a great blessing to us sick folks!

Anyway, enough of that mess :) here is the delayed 'tasty tuesday' post. I hope it's a help to someone.

Brown Gravy. The secret? Toasting the flour till it's somewhat golden brown. It adds just the right flavor and color. Here is a quick video I did of that:

Now ... gravy  making is different for everyone. The ingredients will vary depending on what you are making and what you have on hand, however the basic components are: liquid, flour and fat. Liquid could be water, stock or milk. You already have your browned flour (and extra for later if you made a few cups!). The fat can be the drippings from the pan of whatever meat you are cooking, or you can use butter (a good substitute) or really you can just cut the fat out altogether, however your gravy will not be as rich tasting. Of course you might need to add some seasonings as well, however that's done at the last.

The ingredient ratio will be something like 2c of liquid per1/4c flour and fat. That's a good place to start (we double or sometimes triple this - so it will all depend on your needs).

Start with fat (opt) and flour and then slowly add the liquid, whisking all the while till very smooth. If you are not using fat, you might find it easier to start with cold ingredients. Or, if you can, take the meat out of your roasting pan and begin adding the gravy ingredients to it. The method is pretty versatile ... the main point is to whisk almost constantly while adding ingredients to prevent lumps.

TIP: If you find it clumping and heating too fast, remove it from the heat and continue whisking till you have things under control. Return to the heat source and continue on. And another
TIP: Sometimes it's easier to just throw everything into the blender. ;)

Be sure to simmer for a while before deciding to add more flour - it will thicken as it heats but it will eventually stop getting thicker. If it's too thick, add a little more liquid. If it's not thick enough, in a little bowl or cup add a few tablespoons of flour to a fourth cup of COLD water, whisk till blended well, and then whisk in to gravy. If you just put the flour directly into the gravy you will have little dumplings instead of smooth gravy.

OK, now for another fun tip.

While traveling recently I watched a sister making biscuits. Instead of taking time to roll the biscuits out, she simply used an ice cream scooper. GENIUS! I was so thankful to see this handy tip and have put it in to practice several times since being back.
You may flatten slightly with the back-side of the scoop.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Homeschooling - Studying Countries

I guess I do not talk much about homeschooling on this blog, so maybe I will not get much response to this post :) But here goes anyway! I guess after this I might be sharing more about homeschooling.

We purchased a really nice, large, laminated wall map of the world the other day and hung it in our dining room. This has re-awakened a desire in me to study each country in alphabetical order (Afghanistan first) ... so over the next few days I hope to have a little time to search out resources that would be good AND free. Maybe someone out there knows of some links to share?

My idea is to make some sort of form to fill out on each country and this will act as a cover page of sorts; this form might already exists in various ways for free online? At the very least, I can get ideas from what's already out there and personalize it to suit our needs and interests. We might keep each country in a separate folder or maybe all together in a binder (or two or more) by continent or what I don't know? The cover sheet will contain basic information about the country like government, religion, language, population, capital, major cities, popular folk song, popular food/dish, etc. Does anyone have more ideas on what would be good for this cover page?

Beyond the cover page will be more specific things. Maybe some notes we take, maps, a recipe we found and tried with a space for the results (did we like it?), a copy of the song, examples of their dress, etc. I don't know, I'm just in the brainstorming stage right now so feel free to add to the storm!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Packaged / Processed foods ARE convenient!!

Let's be honest here. Store-bought packaged and processed foods ARE convenient!

The other day I had the tedious job of picking meat off turkey bones after simmering the stock for a day or so. I was not feeling the best, so even this easy job was really big to me at the time. I had the thought about how YES!! packaged foods are convenient! I could just buy some cooked turkey meat and some canned turkey stock at the store. No effort involved whatsoever because I could even send someone else to the store for me. However then I would not know what was in the meat or the stock and it certainly would NOT be frugal! [I don't have money for that anyway] While I believe these packaged, processed foods DO have a place on rare occasion, I do not believe they should be the norm.

But, these are not the ONLY processed, packaged foods available; you can make your own at home! And that's exactly what I was doing ... now I have 4 freezer bags of turkey stock (8c each and one with 4c) and a gallon freezer bag of meat. Think of all the meals I can make with that. Turkey and noodle soup. Turkey and dumplings. Hot turkey sandwiches with turkey gravy and mashed potatoes.  A little bit of effort now means less effort at meal prep time.

I hope to post more about this in the near future, however for now I must go to bed; it's been a long day.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Meal planning is not optional!

Today I would like to share my thoughts and experiences with meal planning with the hopes of helping you become a more efficient keeper-at-home.

For so many years I tried to get by without planning out a week or two of meals. I had many excuses but they were pretty lame!! One day I finally decided to sit down and plan out a week's worth of meals AND follow through with them, and I will never regret that decision (though I did regret not doing it sooner!).

I'll start by listing a few benefits ...

~ Like I just said, it will help you be a more efficient keeper-at-home. It really does take a lot of stress away from the day, which in turn makes things more peaceful in the home. What a good way to show love to your husband and children!

~ Save money by planning around what's already in your fridge and pantry, and what's on sale that week.

~ Eat healthier - cut the last-minute trips to the fast food places or the use of quick packaged meals.

~ Save time and money by making a shopping list and sticking to it at the store.

~ Have fun!! Meal planning is a great way to get the children involved. Various meal prep jobs can be added to the children's chore or to-do lists on the appropriate day(s), and a few hours in one day can be set aside for everyone to work together pre-making some of the items.

~ Ministering opportunity - make extras of certain meals to share with others in need ... like a mother who is ill or who just had a baby.

There are so many other benefits, but those are a few key ones.

Tip time ...

~ If it's too complicated it will not last. Keep it simple.

~ Sit down with your family and make a list of meals you all enjoy. Later you can turn your list in to categories like "Chicken" "Beef" "Vegetarian" "Ethnic" "Crock Pot" and so on. This list will be stored in a handy place where it will not get lost and will serve as a spring board for ideas of what to make the upcoming week.

~ Now make sure you have these recipes on hand!! While often times I will just throw things together, I still like to keep favourites on recipe cards just in case someone else would like the actual recipe, or my daughter is making it and does not have it in her head yet.

~ Note what meals are easy to make double or triple (or more) of. For instance, lasagna freezes really well and is nice to give to someone else in need. Instead of making one pan of lasagna, plan on making 3 or 4 -- be sure to have enough pans on hand, or put them on your shopping list. When I make freezer meals for others, I like to assemble them in to a sturdy foil pan and cover with HEAVY foil (or a few layers of the flimsier stuff) and use a sharpie to write the instructions on the top. If it's for me, I will just use my glass cake pans; I pick up extra ones at garage sales.

~ Keep all of your meal plans as a reference ... it will help you know what you have not eaten in a while (variety is nice if that is an option for you) and it will give you ideas when your mind goes blank. I like to use a cheap weekly planner from Dollar General. NOW is the time to get them!!! They are only $2.50. If you wait a few weeks they will be half off IF they still have any left. 

~ Try to have a scheduled day when you sit down and plan your meals for the week. Also, try to be consistent with your shopping day if you can. I like to plan my meals on sunday and shop early monday morning, though sometimes I have to wait to go shopping till later monday morning or afternoon.

~ Sometimes it helps if you begin with a few 'themes' in your planning. For instance, every friday night can be homemade pizza. Mondays can be ethnic foods. Tuesdays can be crock-pot meals. And so on. I plan our breakfasts and suppers but do not plan our lunches. Breakfasts are basically the same each week but I will break the routine if I have some left-overs that  must be used. Lunches are left-overs from supper. If nothing is left-over, I have home-canned soups as a back up.

~ Keep in mind things you have to do each week. This coming wednesday for example we have to pick up our monthly bulk-food order at 6pm. It is 45 minutes away and I am the coordinator ... AND ... we have a full house for supper ever wednesday, so I have to be sure and plan something that will be easy for me to prepare (like a crock pot meal that will be ready when I am) or just send my daughter while I stay home and cook. The point is: be prepared!! Know what's coming up and make a note of it on your meal plan.

~ Some things can be prepared ahead of time. I like to have a baking day each week to make bread and whatever else is needed for the week(s) to come. Items can be frozen if needed. A large salad or two can be made, but be sure to dry the leaves (a lettuce spinner works great for this, or put the washed leaves in a pillow case with a rubber band to close and put it in the washer on the spin cycle for a few minutes) leave the wet things out (tomatoes) till the last minute!! If you have a larger block of time, you can also prepare sauces and other components of meals (ground beef for example) to make the actually supper time preparations quicker.

OK ... now for the nitty gritty...

I'm sure there are many different ways of doing this, but I will show you what has worked for me ... maybe it will work for you too, or at least get you started until you figure out something that works better.

~ Do a quick run through the fridge, pantry, and deep freezer, making note of things you want to use or have to use.

~ Look through the weekly store ads, making a list of things on sale that you like.

~ Make a list of potential meals based on your findings in the first two steps. I am very sloppy with this, seriously.

~ Take that list and think of what order makes the most sense. Are you doing anything that week that will call for a simple meal on a specific night? Write the meals in day order.

~ Transfer your meals to your handy-dandy Dollar General weekly planner. There is plenty of room to make note of what's for breakfast, as well as anything that needs to be prepared that day for that night or the next day.

~ Now, add to your already started shopping list anything else that you will need.

~ And of course -- FOLLOW YOUR PLAN as best as you can. Sometimes things come up and plans need to change, but do your best to stick to it.
My first list.

My second list - meals from the first list organized by day.

Transferred to my planner with breakfasts and daily prep notes.
And there you have it! I told you I was sloppy. I really do not care about my handwriting unless I am writing a letter. Normally others do not see this list, but now I am sharing it with the world :-D

Do you plan meals? If so, please share some of your favourite tips; I am always up for ideas to help things run more efficiently in my home. I think I'll start sharing my weekly meal plans in a new tab at the top, so be watching for that if you are interested in it!