Homemade Yogurt

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I have been forced to make my own yogurt. The brand I loved, Brown Cow, was bought by a larger company, and now it’s runnier and has a smaller cream top on it. :(  Given that the price has gone up lately, I decided it’s no longer worth what they charge for it, and I needed to find something else.

As usual, the Internet comes to the rescue. I read several make-yogurt-in-your-crock-pot recipes, and they were pretty similar; this one was done best, I think. I started in the afternoon with a half-gallon of organic milk and a little store-bought yogurt, and by bedtime, I had a beach-towel-wrapped crock pot on my counter. And the next morning, I had yogurt!

I added a bit of vanilla to a bowl of this perfectly white yogurt, topped it with homemade granola, and proceeded to eat the best bowl of yogurt ever. I’m sold on making my own yogurt now. Given that my crock pot is nearly 40 years old (one of the longest-lived of our wedding gifts, I think), I’m thrilled that I’ve found a new use for it.

Make Your Own Applesauce

One of the best things about fall where I live is that apples are in season. The grocery store’s produce department has apples everywhere, and local orchards are offering the best apples you can find. But my favorite apples are clearance apples:

IMG_20151020_164106That’s right, I like ‘em cheap and aging, because that means I get to make applesauce. (Save your perfect apples for eating out of hand.) Let’s start by putting a few cups of water, a splash of lemon juice, a dash of salt and a cinnamon stick in a good-sized pot on the stove:

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Turn the heat on low, and while it warms up, you can get started with the apples.

Back in the day, I put my kids to work helping me peel, slice and chop apples. This was the price they had to pay for enjoying fresh applesauce, not to mention homemade apple pie if I was feeling really energetic.

Now that my kids are grown, I’ve found a new, quieter helper:

IMG_20151020_164645This is an apple peeler/corer. I love this thing: it works so fast! I’m sure my kids wish I’d had one when they were younger, but all that apple-peeling was character-building, right? Anyways, if you don’t have one of these, start peeling and slicing until you wind up with some of these:

IMG_20151020_164724Start throwing them in the pot and stirring them in so the lemon juice can keep your slices from turning brown. Add water as needed to keep an inch or so of liquid in the bottom of the pan.

IMG_20151020_170348Check with a fork to see if your apples are soft yet. Once they are, you can easily mash them with a potato masher and then give them a good stir. (Be sure to take out the cinnamon stick first.)

IMG_20151020_174250You might want to add a little sugar. I only buy organic cane sugar now because today’s “regular” sugar comes from sugar beets, not sugar cane.

IMG_20151020_174531Homemade applesauce is great when it’s warm; if you have any left over, be sure to put it in the fridge.

 

Blast from the Past: Lovely Leftovers

Go to your wallet, take out two or three dollars and throw them out in the street.

Sounds silly, but that’s what you’re doing when you pitch leftovers.

Leftovers get a bad rap, but when you throw out leftovers, while they’re fresh or once they’ve gone bad, you’re throwing away your food dollars.

I think leftovers are wonderful. I often double a recipe I’m making for dinner and we eat it two nights in a row. My husband doesn’t mind (he loves home cooking), and it means I only have to reheat dinner the next night instead of making something from scratch. Since I work at home, I’m always looking for easy, economical ways to make dinner, and leftovers fill the bill.

Yesterday we had a wonderful rump roast with mashed potatoes and peas for dinner. Afterwards, there were no veggies left over but quite a bit of roast. So I cubed the leftover roast, added the drippings, and put the cubes in the fridge.

Tonight I nuked some potatoes, then sliced them and fried them in a little oil with some leftover onion slices. I added half of the beef cubes and stir-fried them until they were hot. Topped with Trader Joe’s organic ketchup, it was a delicious dinner.

I put the rest of the beef cubes into the freezer. The next time I make noodle soup, I’ll toss them in, along with any leftover celery, carrots or onion I may have sitting in the fridge at that time.

I do that a lot with meat. If I’m oven-frying chicken pieces, I like to cook extra (the family packs are always a better price anyways) and freeze the uneaten chicken after stripping it off the bones. Then it just waits in the freezer to be added to soup or chicken tortellini salad.

Sometimes I forget what I have left over in the fridge. I used to be afraid to use old leftovers because I wasn’t sure just how old they were. But I got in the habit of writing down menus ahead of time, and now I just look at the calendar to see which day we had the pork chops, or whatever. I’m pretty strict about leftovers; once they’re four days old, I’m afraid of them. So I make a real effort to use them up before the fourth day.

Often, I find weird odds and ends in the fridge and wonder how to combine them. An omelette serves this purpose pretty well. All sorts of veggies or meat taste good in a cheese omelette. A little leftover cheese is good in muffins or bread. A couple of lonely hot dogs can be sliced and stirred into a pan of homemade cornbread. Mmmm….there’s never any leftovers of that stuff!

On the rare occasions when we go out to eat, we always bring the leftover part of our dinner home with us. Restaurant portions are so huge these days that you can’t finish dinner anyway, but they taste even better as the next day’s lunch. I’m not embarrassed to ask for a take-home box. If anyone who sees me with it thinks I must be cheap or tacky, that’s only fair, because I think people like that are stuck-up and very likely not debt-free like we are.  ;)

Whether your leftovers come from the fridge, the freezer or the restaurant, the most important thing to remember about leftovers is that they’re like money…if you lose track of them, it costs you. Leftovers can really stretch your food dollar by making sure you don’t waste anything.

(Originally posted 1/21/09.)

Survival Skills for Kids: Cooking and Gardening

In her book The Prosperous Heart, Julia Cameron shares the story of Richard, an independent graphic designer who blamed his uneven income for causing him to have too much credit card debt. However, an assessment of his situation revealed that the bulk of his debt was due to his daily habit of eating dinner in restaurants:

“I couldn’t believe it was so simple,” he said. “If I ate out only twice a week, I could be out of credit card debt in a year. What I needed were groceries. The price of a salmon fillet at the supermarket was a third of what I had been paying in a restaurant.”

It’s easy for us to react to Richard’s epiphany with “Well, duh!” But the fact is that there’s an entire generation of young people raised on fast food and restaurant meals that don’t have a clue when it comes to preparing food for themselves.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if our economy was booming, and if earning an income high enough to support daily restaurant meals was easy. But the combination of inflation, shrinking incomes and high unemployment has made times difficult for Americans of all ages and especially young people, many of whom give into the ever-present drumbeat of “College! College!” and graduate with considerable student loan debt, along with a college degree that’s not always the golden ticket to jobs it was advertised to be.

When we fail to equip our young people to live self-sufficiently, we handicap them in the best of times, much less the worst. Right now in Greece, highly educated young people are leaving large cities because they can’t find work; instead, they’re trying to eke out an agricultural living in the country on land their grandparents abandoned years ago. Their desperation comes out of necessity, but at least they’re trying. Surely the task is easier for those who were taught to garden and cook.

We could learn from that example and teach our children such survival skills, but U.S. children continue to be fed a diet of useless social experiments masquerading as curriculum. The closest they get to cucumbers is being taught to put condoms on them in Sex Ed. Seems like teaching them to make a fresh cucumber, tomato and onion salad would be a little more appropriate given our dicey economic future.

However, homeschooled children have the opportunity to be taught how to cook and garden by their parents as part of their daily education. These learning activities already occur naturally in the lives of many homeschooled children, and provide them with enough knowledge and experience that they emerge as young adults who can take care of themselves in hard times as well as good times. A bonus is the closeness that develops between parent and child. The lost art of preparing meals together is what once kept families close, and homeschooling families can easily prove it still works.

As for gardening, even modern children (once pulled away from their phones and iPods) enjoy the sight of the seeds they planted later popping up from the soil and quickly morphing into green plants. Once they taste their first fresh tomatoes and green beans, they’re usually hooked on gardening. For many of them, gardening will become a lifelong pleasure as well as a survival skill.

When I homeschooled my children, I could see that including cooking and gardening in our homeschool was fun and educational for them. It was well worth the effort. Remember, the time you spend teaching your children to garden and cook now will eventually result in that many fewer young people trying to feed themselves armed only with maxed-out credit cards later on.

Laboring on Labor Day Weekend

I always look at a project and think, “This shouldn’t take too long.” And I’m usually wrong.

Case in point: last week, I decided to put in a little time over Labor Day weekend doing some bulk cooking. Between homeschooling and finishing my book, I don’t have much time to cook dinner, so having a bunch of meals waiting in the freezer will be a big help. Continue reading