Homemade Funnel Cake

I just got back from taking my High School choir to Silver Dollar City for a music festival. It was such a great trip!  The kids behaved really well, and the parents that went along were a huge support.   After singing in Silver Dollar City (and earning top honors…cough cough) we got to experience the ShowBoat Branson Belle dinner cruise. They had a magician comedian, tap dancers/cloggers, and a men’s vocal group that made the evening a delight.

Rachel and Me

I shared a hotel room with Read more

Slow Cooker Greek Yogurt

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and probiotics.  It’s thick and creamy even when made with skim milk.  The only problem is it can get expensive! A 48 ounce container from Costco is around $6, but I can make 64 ounces at home for the price of a gallon of milk.  This week Aldi has milk on sale for $1.65 a gallon!  It’s yogurt making time :).

I like to do a whole gallon at once, because I use yogurt for a lot of things–eating with fruit, pancake topping, sour cream substitute, to make dip and salad dressing, as a base for cream sauces etc.  It’s a fabulous high protein snack for everyone in the family. If you use less, you can cut everything in half and do just a half gallon if you use less yogurt. So here’s how I make it:

Greek Yogurt and Blackberries

Pour 1 gallon of milk in a 5 quart slow cooker.  Place on low for 2-3 hours or until it is 180 degrees. Do not let the milk boil! If you have a digital thermometer with an alarm, you can walk away and forget about it. You can use any kind of milk–skim to whole.  I prefer skim for the lower calories and we are used to it.  Whole milk yogurt is delightfully creamy  though.

Turn off the slow cooker and let the milk sit until it has cooled to 110-120 degrees. (2-3 hours)  I know heating the milk feels like an extra step if you are just going to cool it down, but it’s necessary to unravel the proteins and allows the yogurt to thicken.  I’ve made raw milk yogurt before and it doesn’t get as thick.

Take 1/2 cup of plain yogurt (reserved from your last batch or purchased) and mix it with 1 cup of the warm milk from your slow cooker.  Then stir this mixture into the rest of the warm milk.  It would seem like adding more yogurt starter would just make yogurt faster and thicker–but it doesn’t work that way.  More is not better. 1/2 cup per gallon is perfection.

Cover with the lid and wrap the whole thing in bath towels to insulate.  Keep the slow cooker turned off and allow it to sit overnight.  In the morning it will look like this:

Slow Cooker Greek yogurtYou can see the whey separated and floating on the top with the yogurt solids underneath.  If you stir all this together, you will have regular plain yogurt.

To make Greek Yogurt:  Layer a large bowl with a large colander and line with 3 layers of cheese cloth.  Pour your yogurt  into this and allow to drain without stirring until half of the volume is reduced.  Save the nutritous clear whey for baking and use it like buttermilk in pancakes, biscuits, bread etc.

Take the strained yogurt and put it in your electric mixture with the wisk attachment and whip.  If it’s too dry add a little fresh milk (or cream) until it has the moistness and consistency you like.

It should be very thick and creamy when you are done.  This recipe yields 1 gallon of plain yogurt or 1/2 gallon of Greek Yogurt for around $3.  This is roughly 1/4 the cost of buying the same amounts at Costco and requires very little hands on time.

If your yogurt doesn’t set up, you can leave it another day.  I’ve forgotten about it before and left it for 24 hours.  The yogurt was perfect and the cultures kept the milk from spoiling.  If it doesn’t work at all, it is possible the yogurt cultures weren’t alive.  This happens if the milk is too hot when they are added (high heat will kill them.)  Or if the starter was too old.  It works best if you can make yogurt once a week or every other week and use 1/2 cup from the previous batch to keep the cultures alive and happy.

 

Peach Mint Iced Tea

We save a lot of money by drinking water instead of juice, milk, or soda.  I keep a pitcher of water full in the fridge so it’s cold and inviting.  Even then, sometimes, it’s nice to have something flavorful to drink. Even better if it’s inexpensive and healthy too.  Peppermint tea is my favorite summer beverage to add variety to the every day. I save even more by using 1 tea bag for 2 cups of water and letting it steep a little longer so it’s just as strong.

iced tea

 

Peach Peppermint Tea is a fancier version of my favorite. I first tasted this tea at a wedding shower for my close friend.  The shower was held in a victorian style cottage in a wooded area and everything about it was quaint, delicate and beautiful.  They had tea sandwiches and petit fours with fresh berries. Everything was served on floral vintage china with mismatched pieces.  Serving serfaces were softened with lace and cabbage rose printed table clothes. Dreamy….

peaches

The cold refreshing tea was sweetened with honey, but it’s also yummy with stevia. Here’s the simple recipe:

  • 8 cups  boiling water
  • 4 peppermint tea bags
  • 4 tablespoons honey (or 8 packets of truvia)
  • 2 fresh peaches

Steep tea bags in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Discard bags, pressing moisture from them back into the tea.  Dissolve honey into the hot beverage and add sliced peaches.  Cool until room temperature and then chill until ready to serve.  Serves 8.

 

 

How to Fix Pilled Clothes

I’m cheap, I’ll admit it publicly.  I love getting a great deal on clothing and if you compliment my outfit I’ll say, “Thanks!  It only cost $5!” Or something equally embarrassing.  Most of the time I won’t even have the good sense to be embarrassed.

Sweater

While I know I’m cheap, and I’ll gladly TELL you I’m cheap.  I don’t want to LOOK cheap.   I keep my clothes years and years without paying much attention to trends.  I like what I like.  But when what I like gets pilled…now that I don’t like.

Boutique

When I was a teen, I had a battery operated depilling device that was worthless.  After that failure I gave up on removing pills, concentrating on buying clothes that don’t pill often–100% cotton things and higher quality brands (from the clearance rack, ROSS or the thrift store.)  Recently I noticed my higher quality brands are pilling–and some are manufactured with pills already on them.  They call it slub knit.  WHY?!!!!!!

Sweater farm

My search for depilling fabric renews! I tried a razor (a daisy pink) and it worked pretty well. It removed the pills as long as I kept cleaning it out.  The pills had to be taken off the garment with a sticky lint remover, but it disconnected them really well.  If the fabric was delicate at all, or got a wrinkle in it, the razor would leave a tiny hole.

conair depiller

There are “sweater Stones” and “depilling combs” but I finally took a risk and purchased another battery operated depiller.  If it weren’t for the glowing reviews I never would have done it.  Technology has changed in the last 20 years.  It may look the same as the old depiller but it didn’t behave the same.  My clothing looked like new when I was done, and it collected all the lint into it’s own reservoir.

It works better on bulky knits like sweaters.  The finer knits need more passes and to be held perfectly flat.  The reservoir needs to be cleaned out frequently so it doesn’t get too full and clog the head.

Have you tried any depilling methods?  Did anything work well for you?

 

 

 

The One Important Thing

If you could cut your grocery spending in half and remove all your debt payments, how would your life change?

happy couple husband wife celebrating success jumping for joy

When I was a young bride with 3 small children, we asked ourselves that question.  We were struggling along on a $35,000 income and wondering how we were going to offer things like music lessons to our kids as they grew. At the time, we didn’t know that 3 more children would eventually join our family.  We only knew that if things continued the way they were we’d never have the life we hoped for.  We had an $89,000 debt looming over us.  No longer were we satisfied with limping along paying minimums. We stared it in the face, taking massive decisive action.  In 6 intense months, we were debt free.  On paper, it should have taken much longer.  Looking back we recognize ONE IMPORTANT thing that made the difference in the speed of our journey to debt free success.

Once someone hears the details to our story, there are two responses:  1.  I could never do that because I don’t have blank or blank.  or 2.  This is so motivating I’m going to do it.

I really hope you are #2, because no matter what your situation is, the One IMPORTANT thing will make a difference for you.

I’m hosting a live video event Wednesday, April 6th and along with our debt free details will explain it all. Reserve your spot here.

 

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Flautas

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Flautas

This low-cost entree is fast to make and really yummy.  They travel well, if you find yourself needing a meal on the go.  A few tablespoons of cheese in each one brings out flavor and adds protein without breaking the bank.  Presenting another meatless main dish to throw into your rotation.  Read more

Homemade Lunchmeat: Pros and Cons

My colleague, Tiffany, at Don’t Waste the Crumbs, recently wrote about making DIY lunchmeat. It sounded pretty easy, so I gave it a try.  Here’s my experience:

Aldi Black Forest Ham

We usually buy Black Forest Deli Ham from Aldi for $3.49 a lb.  The kids love it and I buy it even though it’s “coated with Caramel Color.”  That makes me cringe a little every time I put it in my cart.  What is caramel color anyway?  I finally decided to put aside my fears and just look it up. According to this article, it’s basically toasted carbohydrates and is not any more harmful than caramel sugar.  The problem comes if you are allergic to the carbohydrate base which might contain wheat.  In this case, Aldi says it’s gluten free. We’ve never had a reaction, but we aren’t sensitive to any carbohydrates.

Black Forest Ham Aldi

Sodium Nitrite is the other ingredient that makes me cringe. It is added as a preservative to prevent food poisoning.  You will die much faster from botulism than you will from nitrite poisoning, but it has been shown to contribute to cancer in large doses. The first Trim Healthy Mama book said that while it’s nice to avoid nitrates there are enough antioxidants in one orange to counter any harmful affects from an average serving of preserved meat.  My kids won’t eat oranges :(. Sodium phosphate is a non-toxic salt used as a thickening agent.   Basically you can google any ingredient that you aren’t sure about and decide for yourself if it’s something you are ok with.

Sliced Turkey breast

I started my DIY lunch meat by buying a Kirkland frozen turkey breast from Aldi.  It was $8.99 for a 48 oz package.  At $3 a lb, it would save me $1.50 over buying 3 lbs of lunch meat, but there’s a catch.  Inside the package was a bag of “gravy” weighing 10.6 ounces, leaving me with only 37.4 oz of meat. Uncooked I’m now paying $3.84 per pound.

Sliced Turkey Breast 2

I rubbed the meat all over with seasoned salt and put it in the slow cooker.  I think I overcooked it a tad.  I didn’t really keep track of the time and the juices were caramlized by the time I returned.  It smelled heavenly.  I let it cool on the counter a bit before wrapping and chilling overnight in the refrigerator.  When it was completely cold I weighed it before slicing it by hand.  Trying to get the slices as thin as deli meat.  I wasn’t very good at it.

The finally cooked weight of the meat was 1.6 lbs.  $5.61 per pound.  This is 160% more than just buying lunchmeat.

attempted mandolin

I tried my mandolin slicer to see if it would be easier.  It made a crumbly mess.  You really need an electric knife or deli slicer if you want to automate things.

sliced turkey breast in the bag

It tasted amazing, but crumbled pretty easily.  This is probably because I overcooked it, which would have also reduced moisture content and weight a little bit.

Garlic Bread Sandwich

I had a loaf of garlic bread on hand and used it to make an open faced baked family sized sandwich.

baked garlic bread sandwich

Too bad we were out of tomatoes, that would have been really pretty.  The sandwich was delicious!  A big hit for everyone in the family.

Pros:

  • It was delicious and not that hard.
  • It may have fewer questionable ingredients (although the turkey breast was brined with a sodium solution and I forgot to check the ingredients before tossing the package to see if there were any cringe-worthy ones)

Cons:

  • It was a lot more expensive.
  • While it wasn’t that hard, it took more time than just buying lunch meat.
  • It was hard to slice as thin as deli meat
  • It crumbled easily

Would I try it again?  Probably not.  It was delicious but not budget friendly for us.  If I decide to give up lunchmeat altogether to avoid nitrites, cooking a chicken with bones and shredding the meat, would be more cost effective for us.

What do you think?  Would you try it?

Another Easy Meatless Main Dish: Frittata

About once a week I serve a meatless main dish to save on the grocery budget.  It’s important to still have plenty of protein for the people I love, so using plenty of eggs and a sprinkle of cheese makes this happen for little expense.  This is a Sunday favorite, because it’s so easy and we always have the ingredients on hand.

frittata

For this dish, it helps to have a cast iron skillet that will go from stove top into the oven. Before the gas stove, we had a glass cook-top that was too delicate for cast iron. I could still make frittata by transferring the vegetables to an oven-proof dish and adding the eggs before baking.Frittata 8

You can vary the vegetables you use in the frittata.  It’s a nice way to use up leftover side veggies from the week.  I had leftover broccoli and onions on hand. That’s all I used in this dish, but mushrooms, bell pepper, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and olives are all good.  You can also use bits of leftover meat like ham, sausage or bacon if you aren’t set on keeping it meatless.  The recipe recommends 2-4 cups of veggies.  I did 2 cups since I just had one type of veggie, but would go closer to 4 cups if I was using a wide variety of vegetables.

frittata plated 4We went super simple on the side dishes too.  Asparagus was on sale for $1 a lb, so I sauteed the spears while the frittata baked and peeled a few clementines.Frittata plated 2

Frittata

2-4 cups vegetables

1 Tbs butter

8 eggs

¼ cup plain 0% Greek Yogurt

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp white pepper

1 cup of shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt butter in an oven proof skillet and sauté vegetables until they are hot and tender. Meanwhile, beat eggs with milk or yogurt, salt and pepper. Pour beaten eggs over the top and cook a few minutes until the eggs start to cook on the bottom. Transfer the skillet to your oven and bake for 20-25 minute or until set. Sprinkle with cheese and return to the oven until melted.

1/8 of the frittata has 12 g of protein and 164 calories

Does your family enjoy frittata?  Do you have a favorite go to Sunday dinner?

 

Easy Peel Hard Boiled Eggs

Easy Peel Hard Boiled Eggs

Meat and Cheese are the two most expensive categories in my grocery budget. I keep costs down by choosing less expensive proteins a few times a week like eggs.   While I’m not a fan of vegan protein alternatives like tofu and TVP,  I do enjoy fresh or dry roasted edamame.

how to prepare tofu

If someone in my home developed food allergies to all dairy and eggs I’d consider tofutti. Until then…. nope.

Eggs, on the other hand, are little compact nuggets of serious nutrition.  2 large eggs have 140 calories, 12g of protein, and everything necessary to grow a chick = lots of nutrients.   Plus at $1.50 a dozen, a serving of 2 eggs is only $.25.

Grant Slicing Eggs

We like to have hard boiled eggs on hand for snacking.  They are also great chopped on top of a chef’s salad, in egg salad, potato salad, tuna salad, creamed eggs over biscuits, deviled (stuffed) eggs….you get the idea.

Boiled eggs are easy to cook, but may not be so easy to peel.  When eggs are freshly laid, they are slightly acidic which makes the shell stick tightly to the albumin in the egg white and impossible to peel cleanly. The hen covers her eggs with a protective coating as they are laid which keeps this acidic level intact and the egg fresh outside the fridge for 10 days.

peeling eggs

Commercial eggs have the protective coating washed off.  This allows the natural CO2 trapped in the egg to dissipate through the porous shell reducing the acidity and the stickiness of the shell.  Commercial eggs will ripen in the refrigerator to be easy to peel in about 10 days. By the time they reach our homes commercial eggs are typically perfectly ripe.

If you have your own hens, you’ll need to wash the eggs you hope to boil with warm water and a soft cloth before storing in the fridge.  Label them so you’ll be able to tell the date they will be ready to boil and peel (10 days ripened.)  Oiling the eggs for storage will make it impossible for them to ripen to easy peel stage.

Eggs in steamer

We enjoy steaming our eggs instead of boiling them in water.  They don’t crack since they aren’t in the rocking boiling water to knock them around.  We think they are easier to peel than boiled eggs and don’t have the grayish green line separating the yolk from the white, unless we forget about them and over do it.

I use our combo steamer/slow cooker/rice cooker to do it, because it automatically starts timing when the water comes to a boil and sets of an alarm when they are done.  I simply fill the bottom with 2 inches of water, fill the top basket with eggs, set it to steam for 15 minutes and go to something productive.

Peel eggs with a spoon

When the alarm sounds , I use oven mitts to lift out the steamer basket and plunge it into a sink of cold water to stop the cooking process.  When they are cool enough to handle, I tap and roll the eggs on a paper towel (or cloth towel) to break up the shell, then slip a spoon between the shell and the egg.  The spoon curves with the egg keeping it protected and the peel slips off pretty quickly this way. If the spoon doesn’t slide well, I oil the tip with a touch of olive oil.

How about you, does peeling eggs frustrate you? Do you have a family tradition for making eggs easy to peel?