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Friday, February 26, 2010

Brekkie on a Budget


Don't break the bank for breakfast!



Yes, I made this breakfast! From the

biscuits right down to the hollandaise

and potatoes. It was amazing, and

barely cost a thing!*



This may seem obvious to some, and maybe not so obvious to others - but STOP BUYING FAST FOOD. Yes, this includes COFFEE SHOPS. Tim Hortons may have brainwashed you that buying a cup of their swill in the morning is part of being Canadian, but you've got to be smarter than that! If you buy a medium coffee every day at $1.30, you're spending almost 40 dollars a month and close to $500.00/year on a non-essential food item! The sad part is, most users of drive-through windows don't buy JUST one coffee a day, so imagine how the cost can double or triple. $500.00 doesn't seem like a big deal to you? You'd better be putting that much away in an RRSP then!


Coffee:

Not only is buying coffee from a shop expensive, it's also not the best coffee you can get (typically). Even on a tight budget, you can afford Fair Trade and Organic coffee. Our family enjoys beans from London Ontario, from a place called Las Chicas Del Cafe. Their father farms the beans, sends it to his daughters living in Canada, and they roast the beans fresh the day I order them (I buy bulk of course). If you can't find something as wonderful as this - investigate the different coffees you can purchase at your local farmers market or even the grocery store. Do some reading about black ink and see if you even want to support the mainstream coffee market - you may not want to be a part of the exploitation.



Breakfast on the Go:

Are you in a mad dash every morning no matter how early you set your alarm? Plan ahead! Make a batch of muffins, homemade granola bars or scones to keep in in the cupboard and grab for the commute to work. Sometimes getting the kids out the door for the bus is harried, and they've stood outside eating a muffin waiting for the bus on more than one occasion. Here's a basic recipe for scones that can be played with to suit your family's tastes. We personally love a bit of cinnamon and sugar, some raspberries, or a fruit/nut mix thrown in - but the possibilities are literally endless.


This scone recipe, from King Arthur Flour, has never steered me wrong. I've tried different variations of this recipe and have loved it every time.


http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/scones-recipe


Breakfast on the Cheap:

Do you love having an unhealthy treat once in a while? If you don't, I don't like you and stop reading my blog. Nothing, and I mean nothing beats homemade doughnuts, funnel cakes or fried bread. Just last week I made funnel cakes with whole wheat organic flour, so although it was fried and sprinkled with icing sugar - at least I knew what was in it! The point is you don't have to splurge to have a treat. Each funnel cake cost about .25cents and they filled us up until long after the lunch hour.


It may seem like I'm obsessed with KAF, but they have a great funnel cake recipe and fried bread recipe


Funnel Cake

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/funnel-cakes-recipe


Fried Dough

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/quick-and-easy-fried-dough-recipe


Sometimes I just keep searching for decent looking recipes until I find one that uses the ingredients I already have in the house. Don't go out and buy something just to make a recipe - take advantage of the age of Google and search for recipes until you find something you can make with what you have.


Where's the Juice?

We drink tap water, coffee, and occasionally milk. Juice is a pretty bad habit to get your kids into, and if you don't have kids you may want to look at the nutritional information on the side of your juice carton to see what you're actually drinking. If you want to drink something special, make a veggie shake (Feb.25,2010 blog). If you're going to consume calories by the hundreds make them count! Enjoy it in a cookie, not a glass of "fruit drink".


Buy everything else on sale and throw it in the freezer. I love bacon, I don't care what that makes you think of me - but I love it. Recently, a food wholesaler in the area had Canadian produced bacon for 1.99 a pack, but if you bought more than 5 it was 1.69/pack. I bought 6 and threw them all in the freezer. Same thing goes for cereal - when that stuff is on sale, stock up! The only thing is that healthy cereals don't often go on sale, it's the junk loaded with sugar that advertises "whole grain" or "fiber" to trick parents into feeding it to their poor kids! That leads me to the last cheap breakfast tip....


OATMEAL

Do you eat oatmeal? You should. It's great for you, it's cheap (even organic is cheap) and it's quick. Don't buy the individually packaged stuff - it's insanely wasteful (garbage) and really expensive in comparison to the bulk bags. It takes 3 minutes to cook a serving of oatmeal on the stovetop (sometimes more if we're making enough for everyone) but that small amount of time is worth the health benefits and the savings. Some of the things we do to keep oatmeal interesting around here:


Applesauce and cinnamon (we do this one 9 times out of 10)

A touch of maple syrup on top

Super-ripe fruit

Raisins or Cranberries


We have had cake sprinkles in our cupboard for years and years. I bought them before I cared if things were fair trade or organic, and I won't throw them out - so, on Saturdays the kids get a sprinkle of cake decoration on their oatmeal and they think they've hit the jackpot. It's a FRACTION of the sugar you'd find in the individually packaged instant mixes (yes, even the so-called fruit flavours), and kids think it's a treat. Give oatmeal a try, you won't regret it.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Before you throw it out...

Throwing food out should not be an option. Part of leading a truly thankful life is appreciating what we have and using it to its full potential. Just because the apples are too soft to eat or the bread is a bit stale doesn't mean they go in the garbage or compost. Here are a few things we do around the McGrath household to avoid trashing something:


1. Bananas

- this one is obvoius, BANANA BREAD or BANANA MUFFINS! Duh. We will often pick up 50% off organic bananas that are on their last leg just to make a few loafs of our favorite snack/breakfast. If bananas have managed to get a little too ripe (doesn't happen very often around here) we also add them to shakes (I'll get to shakes in a minute). Banana bread and muffins freeze VERY well, just thaw them overnight at room temperature before you want to eat them.


My all-time favorite Banana Bread recipe, adapted from Cat Can Cook:


Banana Bread

3 or 4 Large bananas, mashed

1/2 cup white sugar

1 slightly beaten egg

1/3 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

Mix the mashed banana, sugar, egg and butter together. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. Add dry ingredients to wet. I line my bread pan with parchment paper, but you can grease it with butter if you prefer. Bake @ 350F for one hour.

You can also make 12 muffins with this recipe, just lower your cooking time to 20 minutes.

* Have some extra carrots drying out? Shred them and add it to the bread/muffin mix. You may want to add 1/2 cup applesauce or an extra banana to balance out some of the moisture the carrots will suck out!*


2. Apples

- Apples can go soft before you know it, especially in the winter when they've been sitting in a barn or warehouse for months already. Making applesauce is not only delicious, but it's a great way to make sure you know exactly what's in your sauce! I never add sugar, but if you'd like to put in a bit of honey or brown sugar it's totally your choice. What I really LOVE about making applesauce is keeping the skins on. The skins of fruits and vegetables contain such a high amount of their nutrition that it pains me to not use them. I simply core and slice the apples, add a small amount of water, and cook until soft. Once the apples are good and soft I throw it in the blender to ensure there are no big pieces of skin and it's good to go! If you have a lot of apples to cook, consider canning some of the sauce you won't be eating within a week or two. What you plan on eating should be refrigerated. Do you hate applesauce? Do your kids? They might not notice that you've replaced half of the sugar in your cookies with applesauce, or that you've sweetened their oatmeal in the morning with a generous dose. There are lots of ways to eat applesauce that doesn't include eating it straight with a spoon.


You can add all sorts of other fruit to applesauce. Ripe peaches, berries, even frozen fruit can be added at the cooking stage to add a bit of kick.



3. Vegetables

- If you notice your veggies are starting to turn, there are a few things you can do

- Steam and freeze. You want to steam most veggies before freezing so it means when you defrost them you have to cook them in some way.

- Grill and save. If your zuchinni, eggplant, peppers are starting to get soft, just throw them on the George Foreman or the barbecue and grill them for 20 minutes and put them back in the fridge. It will help them last a few more days and since they're already cooked and ready to eat you could simply throw them in the middle of a grilled cheese sandwich and have a deluxe lunch or light dinner.

- VEGGIE SHAKE. Surprisingly, veggie shakes are a hit with the old and young alike. The kids love the bright green of spinach and the adults love the nutrition of raw fruit and vegetables. If you notice your spinach is getting soft (not wet and dark) or you have a few carrots or pieces of celery starting to dry out, they are really easily added to these quick and healthy shakes. I sweeten mine with an apple or two and a banana or two (depending on the batch size I'm making), If you're just making it for yourself or family members, stick a straw into the blender jug and give it a quick taste before pouring everyone a glass - you may find you want to adjust the taste a little depending on what state your veggies or fruit was in. A good handful of ice is needed, or if you've frozen a few bananas that were turning they work well to cool the beverage to more of a frozen treat.

- Don't ever throw out veggies. You can make soup stock, soup, pizza, pasta sauce, cottage pie, samosas, ANYTHING - just cook them and use them goshdarnit.


4. Bread

- Home made croutons are simple and delicious. Cube the bread into whatever size of crouton you'd like and toss in a bit of olive oil and herbs (I like dill and garlic). Throw in your toaster oven on low (250-300) for however long it takes them to dry out (usually an hour) and you've got delicious croutons that aren't loaded with salt.

- Breadcrumbs are expensive considering they are CRUMBS! Sometimes you want to make pickle spears, or breaded chicken and because breadcrumbs don't really go bad you can make them in advance and save them for a few months. Just toast the bread, throw in a food processor and save in an airtight container.

- Bagels that are going stale can be sliced thinly, and just like the croutons - tossed in a bit of olive oil and herbs, baked low until they dry and used instead of chips. Bagel chips are delicious with homemade hummus.


I've said this before, and I'll say it again KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE so that you use it before it goes bad. Finding a bunch of $4.00 asparagus rotting and limp at the back of your veggie drawer should hurt - you just threw money away! Plan on using your fresh food first, and saving the food that will last until the end of your shopping week. Not throwing food away is the simplest and most obvious way of saving money - start getting creative with your not-so-fresh food and you will be amazed at how much life you can get out of something you thought was garbage!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pretzels, Bread and Stuffed Bread - Oh my!


Today was a bake day. I gave myself to the kitchen for a few hours and will have days (and more) of food to show for it. I can't say exactly how long it took because I had to break up a few fights between my two youngest, but the baby to sleep, do the dishes a few times, etc. Including all of those things, it took 4 hours from start to finish - but those hours weren't all spent in the kitchen. I pay my own utilities, so to cut down on energy costs I bake as little as possible - cramming as many things into one session as I can. I often freeze things soon after they've cooled so when they're defrosted they taste as fresh as the day you made them.


Please note I couldn't even take a picture without Sol grabbing a pretzel!







First on the list:

Soft Pretzels


12 big soft pretzels


2 tbsp Yeast
2 tbsp Sugar
2 tsp Salt
4 tbsp softened butter or softened margarine
2 cup warm water

5 1/2 cups flour

Coarse Salt to sprinkle on Pretzels before baking
5 tsp baking soda mixed in 4 cups water


Preheat oven to 475 F


Mix sugar and salt with warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top and let proof for about 5 minutes. Add butter and two cups of flour, mix well, and let it bubble again (another 5-10 minutes).

Add remaining flour one cup at a time until dough pulls from the bowl. Turn dough onto floured work surface and knead. Dough should be moist but not sticky.

Allow dough to rise to about double (typically 1 hour)

When dough is risen enough, punch down. Begin to boil water and add baking soda only once the water has boiled. Knead dough a few times, then divide into 12 even sized pieces. If you'd like to make smaller pretzels just keep an eye on them as they bake.

Roll pieces into long ropes (anywhere from 1 - 2 cm thick) and watch video on bottom of page to see how to shape them. Place them into boiling water-baking soda mixture one or two at a time.

Let the pretzels boil for 1 minute, then flip them over with a slotted spoon and boil on the other side for another minute.

Fish them out of the water, let them drip off and place them on cookie sheet. Your cookie sheet needs to be greased or have parchment paper.


Sprinkle the pretzels with rock salt while they are still wet from being boiled.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the pretzels are golden brown.



Bread


While my dough was rising for the pretzels, I began to get a batch of sandwich bread going. I'm not going to share the recipe I used, because I used specialty bread flour and most people bake with all purpose. There are a TONNE of bread recipes online, but I particularly like a recipe from King Arthur Flour website. It's called "The easiest loaf of bread you'll ever bake"


http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/the-easiest-loaf-of-bread-youll-ever-bake-recipe


It's rustic looking and beautiful like a baguette. I'll make a few loaves soon and post the pictures.


So, I made three loaves of sandwich bread for the kids lunches. It took no more work than making one loaf, and since bread typically takes an hour to rise and another hour to rise in the loaf pan - the timing will work out perfectly. When my pretzels are done baking I can turn the oven down for the bread and it will be ready to go in. After they've cooled, I'll keep one in the bread box and the other two will go straight to the freezer for when we need them next.


Ever get stuck for lunch ideas? Stuffed bread is AMAZINGLY delicious and quite simple to make. You can substitute the meat in this recipe with grilled vegetables if you prefer, any way you change it - it usually turns out delectable.


This recipe is an adaptation of the "All-American Ham and Cheese Roll" from King Arthur Flour


Stuffed Bread


Crust
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 tbsp corn starch
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tsp traditional Italian herbs (oregano, parsley, whatever you'd like. I used the Tapinade mix from Epicure)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 teaspoons instant or quick yeast
1 cup water (you may need more depending on weather)

Filling
thin-sliced deli meat

thin-sliced cheese

Butter

Mustard


I haven't specified amounts for the filling, because this is entirely to taste. I used enough meat to cover the dough, and only enough cheese to cover one "fold". Today I had specialty turkey (onion and sage flavored) that I bought 50% off and froze. You can use more if you're not on such a tight budget, or even replace the meat with roasted peppers, zuchinni, eggplant, etc. Just be sure to keep the veggies to one layer and not to pile them on top of eachother.


To make the dough: Combine all of the dough ingredients (wet ingredients last), and knead them together until you've made a soft, smooth dough. This is where you may find you need an extra tablespoon or so of water. Allow the dough to rise, covered with a damp cloth or dishtowel, for 1 hour.

Roll the dough into a rectangle until it is roughly 1cm thick. Brush one third with soft or melted butter. Brush all over with mustard, leaving a 1" mustard-free zone all around the edge. Lay your meat (or veggies) out in a single layer across the dough, again leaving a 1" border. If using veggies, you might want to substitute the mustard for hummus (see Hummus recipe). Add the cheese to one third of the dough.


Starting with a long edge, roll the dough into an log. Pinch the long seam closed (or as close to "closed" as you can get) then fold the ends over and pinch them closed too. Curve the log into a horseshoe shape on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, seam-side down. Cover the sheet, and allow the roll to rise for 1 to 2 hours; it should look puffy, though not doubled. I only let mine rise for an hour today, because the oven was ready for it and I had a doc appointment coming up.

Score the roll crosswise (you may want to sharpen your knife first), about ½" deep, at 3" to 4" intervals along its length. Bake the roll in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 minutes, until it's golden brown, tenting it lightly with foil if it appears to be browning too quickly. Remove it from the oven, and allow it to cool for 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.





Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hummus

Time for a dip....


If Hummus isn't your best friend, it should be. Whether you spell it hummous, hummus, or chick pea dip it doesn't matter. This stuff is not only delicious, it's healthy and dirt cheap! Plan on having hummus in your fridge to dip veggies, pretzel sticks, line a pita before filling it, etc.


*You will need a food processor to make this dip*

I did not have a food processor for a long time (it takes time to find a good one second hand) but I borrowed from family and gave them a batch of hummus to pay them back for the favor.


Soak chick peas for 24 hours in water, in fridge (important to refrigerate)

You may want to add a bit of salt, as this will help soften them - but it's not necessary


I transfer the garbanzo beans to a pot, bring to a boil, and let simmer FOREVER until they're soft enough to put through the food processor. Really, it could take two hours to simmer them. Go do something else or use the time to prep other food.


The rest of the hummus is totally dependent on taste, you can add as much or as little of the following as you'd like.


Garlic

Tahini (ground sesame)

Olive oil

Water

Lemon juice


I typically add 1tbsp of each for every cup or two of chick peas. When I haven't managed to find a good price on olive oil, I use a bit more water and lemon juice and little less oil.


Place 1 cup of chick peas (or more if you have a nice big processor) into food processor, and add garlic. Pulse until all the beans are broken. Slowly add olive oil, water and lemon juice until it can move freely around the processor bowl. Add tahini and you should really see the dip coming together. If you've used too much garlic or lemon juice in the first cup you process, simply omit it from the next round. This will freeze very nicely, just let it thaw in the fridge overnight before using.


Happy DIpping!

Getting Started....

Back to Basics


Remember the good ole' days when women stayed home and worked themselves to the bone? If you're lucky enough to stay at home, this should be a welcome addition to your family life. You may have to work a bit harder in the kitchen, but believe me you'll have one happy husband and even happier kids. There is something very satisfying in seeing your loved ones enjoy something you've made with them in mind. If you're one of many who want or have to work outside the home, you may want to pick one or two of your days off to start some of these projects. Even with a limited amount of time, you can still cut food costs with just a little kitchen time.


Tip #1

Stop shopping. Visiting the grocery store a few times a week is a sure way to blow your budget. If you're unsure of the food and spices you have, check it out and start a mental inventory (some of us need to write it down). Have a meal plan for the week. Of course you may switch a meal to a different day, but having a basic plan takes a lot of pressure off meal time and also keeps impulse buying to a minimum. Be sure to remember what you'll be eating for breakfasts, lunches and snacks - picking things up outside of the home is very expensive (coffee and muffin, bag of chips, etc.) and usually unhealthy.

Can't stop shopping? Work in a grocery store? Switch to a cash budget. Have an envelope with the amount of money you've allocated for your week or month and simply take your cards out of your wallet. Make sure to keep receipts so the money doesn't disappear into thin air!


Tip #2

Prep your food. You may not want to do it right after coming home from the grocery store, but you need to do it by the next day at the latest. Example: Buying bulk carrots instead of baby carrots is a great way to save money. Spend ten minutes peeling and cutting the carrots into sticks or coins and store them in water in your fridge. You'll have quick snacks ready and you're more likely to eat all of what you've purchased.

Part two of Tip #2 is stop throwing away perfectly good food! The carrot peelings shouldn't go in the garbage or the compost right away. Save them with any of your other vegetable scraps and plan on having soup during the week. Home made stock is a great way to save money and it tastes better than the sodium water they sell at the grocery store. Do you have a pet? Could they use the nutrition of an apple core or a half eaten piece of bread? Know what food you have and make sure you eat it before it rots or goes stale. It is estimated that North American families throw out 12% of their food! Do you know how much you throw out? Start to notice what is going in the trash and think of the dollars you are literally throwing away.


Tip #3

Make stuff! Why pay a major brand to make something you could make better and more suited to your tastes? There are very few things you can't make yourself with a bit of time. The trick is to make it in multiples. If your family can eat ten samosas in a week, make 100 and freeze 90. If you love soups and stews, make a giant pot and freeze it in meal-sized bags or containers. When you're going to make something simply multiply it by any amount you want and save yourself the trouble of making it again next time!


Tip #4

Don't be proud. Keeping up with the Jones' hasn't gotten anyone anywhere except in debt and unhappiness! If you can't really afford skinless boneless chicken breasts, then you can't afford it. Keep an eye out for 30% or 50% stickers and if something comes up that you've wanted and can afford at a discount, then allow yourself that luxury. I shop at a high end grocery store because it offers the most organic foods in town - but it also has the most discounted food in town as well. If I see a pink sticker on something, I check it out. I often find foods that I normally can't afford. Organic cauliflower for example. I just got three heads last week: prepped them, steamed them and froze them for mashed cauliflower to top the cottage pies I'll be making when I get ground meat on clearance. No one cares if your cart is full of discounted food - except for me, because you'll be snatching up the deals before me!


There are hundreds of little tips and ideas that go along with shopping smart and shopping on a budget, but these are a good start. The most important thing is to be creative and to be flexible. Most of all APPRECIATE the opportunity to have access to such delicious and reasonably priced food. If you start feeling bad for yourself because you're on a budget you will ultimately fail. Enjoy being smart with your money and accept the challenge instead of feeling trapped by money and forced to spend less.

Monday, February 22, 2010

In the Beginning...

We are an average family, but we used to be a lot more average. We bought the "norm" hook line and sinker. Christmas, Easter and birthdays used to have presents galore. The kids got new knapsacks each September. We would go to big box stores just to see what was on clearance. You get the idea. It's hard to believe that all of this changed from simply changing how much we spend on food, but it did.
Lent 2009 we decided that if more than half of the world lives on less than $2.00/day, then surely we could manage to eat for less than that. Lent means Spring (Anglo Saxon) and also means forty (Greek) and is typically a period of fasting before the Easter celebration. We did not exercise the right to reprieve the experiment on Sundays (makes the Lent period an even forty days), but did not count gifts of food (my Dad often drops off muffins on Sunday morning) or having a meal at someone else's house. "Yes, we'd love to come over for dinner - but would you mind keeping it under $2.00/per person?"
So, what's the point? What does eating for less have to do with people who don't have a choice of how much they spend on groceries? During Lent, (or year round), cut your budget to what most of the world has to live on and give the remainder away. Yep, give it away. I trust World Vision but you may have a trusted charity that you could make a donation to. If you give this an earnest effort, you will be amazed not only at how much food you can eat for less than $2.00/day, but how much fun you (and your family) will have.