January Newsletter is Up!

Last night the January issue of “The Imperfect Homeschooler” went out to all subscribers. If you’re not a subscriber, you can check it out here.

This month’s lead article is the first in the Back to Basics 2010 series; it’s called “Kids and Cooking.” Let me know what you think!

(PS…..Just three days left on the Buy One, Get One Free sale…..don’t miss out!)

New Homemaking Tips

After so many years of reading homemaking tips in books and magazines, and later on at websites, I thought I’d read them all. But this week I stumbled onto two tips that I’ve never heard of, and now I wonder why I never thought to do them? They make so much sense!

The first tip is in this beautiful cookbook I’ve been reading called Organic and Chic: Cakes, Cookies, and Other Sweets That Taste As Good As They Look. (Seriously, it’ll give you a sugar buzz just flipping through it.)

Author Sarah Magid shares this tip along with her brownie recipe:

I like to be resourceful and eco-friendly by covering the bottom of the brownie pan with butter wrappers, butter side up. (Save butter wrappers by placing them in a plastic freezer bag whenever you go through butter sticks. Simply defrost when you’re preparing your pan.)

Later in the book, she elaborates a bit:

They make the perfect coating because they’re already covered with a thin film of butter. Just fold each one in fours and snip the corner off in a rounded shape and place it in the pan, buttered side up. It will open up into a round that’s perfect for smaller pans.

Ever since I learned about what’s in margarine, I’ve used butter for all of my baking and cooking, so I know I could amass a nice little stack of butter stick wrappers fairly quickly. And using them in baking pans would save money on parchment paper. Again, why didn’t I think of that?

By the way, did I mention that this is one gorgeous cookbook? Her cakes are works of art. Those concerned about the sources of their food will appreciate the fact that she bakes with only organic ingredients, and shares her sources for them as well as for her equipment.

I’ll share the other great tip next time :)

Exercises in Frugality, Part 5

Homemade Baking Mix

I was raised on Bisquick baking mix. My mom was sick a lot, so when my dad came home and found four hungry little kids waiting for dinner, he’d whip up a batch of pancakes made from Bisquick.

I never knew you could use Bisquick for anything besides pancakes until I was married and started cooking every night. That’s when I learned that you can make dumplings, and Impossible Pies, and all sorts of good things. I even sent away for a Bisquick cookbook that I still use today.

But at some point along the way, I learned that General Mills, maker of Bisquick, donated money to Planned Parenthood (you know, #1 provider of abortions in this country), so I stopped buying Bisquick (or anything else from General Mills). Instead, I learned to make my own baking mix.

I don’t know if General Mills still supports Planned Parenthood, but I do know that homemade baking mix is cheaper than Bisquick and works just as well. I make baking mix in my food processor, but you can use a pastry blender in a bowl to do the same thing. A food processor does make it less lumpy, though.

Here’s the recipe I use for baking mix:

10 cups flour
1 T. salt
1/3 cup baking powder
2 cups shortening

Blend together dry ingredients; cut in shortening until it looks like flour. Store in a tightly closed container. Keep in refrigerator during the summer.

My food processor isn’t big enough to do the recipe all at once, so I make half at a time and dump it all in a big plastic container:

5 cups flour
1 ½ t. salt
2 ¾ T. baking powder
1 cup shortening

(BTW, I use Aldi flour and shortening; definitely less expensive than store brands.) I use this mix for oven-fried chicken, adding spices to it and shaking it with the chicken pieces in a plastic bag.

The other night I made dumplings to go with stewed chicken. How easy is this?

Dumplings

3 cups baking mix
2 t. dried parsley
1 cup milk

Mix together until soft dough forms. Drop dough into boiling stew, on top of meat and veggies. Cook on low 10 minutes uncovered, then 10 more minutes covered.

Exercises in Frugality, Part 2

Hot Chocolate Mixes

Living here in chilly Wisconsin, we love our hot chocolate. I usually buy big boxes of hot chocolate mix at Sam’s Club, but decided to try to save a few dollars by making my own. Since I have a food processor, this isn’t hard to do.

There are many hot chocolate mix recipes online. Here’s the one I found, with ingredient costs in parentheses (all ingredients purchased at Aldi):

Hot Chocolate Mix

4 cups dry milk ($1.87)

1 1/2 cups sugar ($.26)

1 cup powdered coffee creamer ($.26)

¾ cup cocoa powder ($.50)

½ package instant vanilla pudding ($.25)

Blend ingredients together in a food processor. Use 1/3 cup mix in a mug of hot water.

A mug of this hot chocolate tastes fine. The instant pudding prevents the mix from sinking to the bottom of the mug. So what’s the problem?

The cost! It works out to 14 cents a serving. A box of 60 envelopes of Swiss Miss mix from Sam’s Club is $5.38 for 60 envelopes, or 9 cents a serving. Bummer. I didn’t work out the price ahead of time because I figured homemade would be cheaper.

However, all is not lost. Our son loves a brand of peppermint hot chocolate mix that is a bit expensive. Adding ½ t. of peppermint extract to this mix recipe makes the hot chocolate he loves at far less than its usual cost of 28 cents per serving.

Exercises in Frugality

R2D2, aka DAK

R2D2, aka DAK

Frugality, one of my favorite topics, continues to increase in popularity as the economy negatively affects more and more families.

Some people apparently take frugal tips pretty seriously; note a couple of cranky commenters at this post. Two thought the blogger’s tips were too common, and one misguided soul suggested the blogger stop homeschooling, put her kids in school and start an in-home daycare.

Instead of complaining that someone’s frugal tips are too basic, most commenters helped by sharing their own tips. I think I’ll do the same for the next few posts.

Bread machines

My beloved Oster bread machine died several months ago after about ten years of use. The unit still worked but the pan began leaking oil (or something similar) into the bread because the seal was shot. A perusal of eBay introduced me to a few people* who would love to sell me a replacement pan for $20 plus $10 shipping.

Not interested. Instead, I hit the local Goodwill and bought a replacement, a Regal for $9. It made so-so dough and baked bread that resembled a doorstop in shape and heft.

I waited patiently while watching Goodwill for a new bread machine but kept seeing the same type as the Regal. A blogging friend suggested I buy a Zojirushi BBCCX20 Home Bakery Supreme Bread Machine as she’d had great luck with it. I checked it out on Amazon: $200+, and some (though definitely not most) people had trouble with it.

I know how ticked I’d be if I spent $200 on anything and it didn’t work right. So I decided to keep being patient and checking Goodwill. But then I saw a Sunbeam breadmaker at Walmart for $50. It had pretty decent online reviews, so I decided to use my birthday gift money to buy one, but when I went back, they’d cleared out that model and replaced it with another, whose model number came up empty on a Google search. Not a good sign!

Not long after this, I stopped by Goodwill and found four bread machines. Three were Regals or looked like them. The fourth was so funny looking that I didn’t realize it was a bread machine at first. But it came with recipes, and at $5 it seemed worth the gamble.

Turns out it’s old (1990) and works great! It has quite a fan club, and I can see why. I thought I was being so clever calling it R2D2 until I found out that many people call it that.

Anyway, it makes great bread and dough, it was $50 cheaper than the bread machine I saw at Walmart, and $200 cheaper than the Zojirushi. Definitely worth waiting for!

* Sounds like a profitable racket, so I gave my old Oster and the Regal to my eBay seller daughter, hoping she can make some money off the parts, paddles and manuals :)