Butternut Curry Coconut Soup

Butternut Curry-Coconut Soup

 

Butternut Curry Coconut Soup

I don’t know why kids are so opposed to eating soups with, you know, pieces. Maybe it’s just genetic. My mom’s magic solution to getting us kids to eat her (delicious) soups was to puree them in the blender before filling our bowls. This applied to any kind of soup–be it beef stew, lentil soup, Italian, clam chowder, or vegetable, it went in the blender. Honestly, the thought of eating pureed beef stew or vegetable & noodle soup is pretty repulsive to me now. I can’t bring myself to puree my own kids’ soups because it just sounds so–ugh. Yet I can’t deny that my offspring seem to favor smooth, uninterrupted bowls of soup.

Fortunately there is a way to compromise. Occasionally I serve a soup that is by nature silky-smooth and completely tantalizing that way. This butternut curry-coconut soup probably has the most depth and full-bodied flavor of any soup I have had. I’ve tried a number of butternut or pumpkin and curry soups, but none of them quite made the cut. I think it is the variety of vegetables that make this one stand out, particularly the addition of a sweet potato (i.e. yam).

I try to avoid making the whole “even people who don’t like–insert food–will love this” claim on my blog because I think that is just asking for trouble. I see that said a lot, I actually think it has the effect of making people want to prove to you that they don’t like said food and you can’t make them. (Because not liking a food makes you superior? Beats me!) But that said, if sweet potato isn’t your thing, I will comment that you would be hard-pressed to detect sweet potato in this at all. It doesn’t taste like sweet potato, and the sweet potato is truly indispensable in giving the soup its rich, sweet, enticing flavor. It’s like it fills in a gap in the overall taste of the soup that just can’t be filled any other way.

If you already have roasted squash in the freezer, this recipe comes together very quickly. If you don’t, this post for directions on how to roast a  squash. If you don’t want to turn on your oven, you could use pre-cut squash from the store and add it along with the sweet potatoes.

Enjoy this creamy, fresh soup with rice, cilantro, shrimp, and/or roasted squash seeds as desired. And if you love soups made with winter squash, be sure to try another favorite, Roasted Winter Squash and Ham Bisque.

Butternut Curry Coconut Soup

Butternut Curry-Coconut Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 TBS oil
  • 2 medium-large onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 TBS mild curry powder
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 TBS brown sugar
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 large butternut squash, roasted or peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha chili sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 20 ounces coconut milk (about 1 1/2 cans)
  • Additional chicken broth as desired

Instructions

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and saute until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, coriander, and curry powder and cook for 2 more minutes.

Add the chicken broth, brown sugar, sweet potato, squash, sriracha, salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until all of the veggies are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Use an immersion blender to process the soup until smooth, being careful not to splatter yourself with hot soup. Or transfer to the jar of a blender and process in batches, being careful to vent the steam.

Stir the coconut milk into the soup and cook just until heated through. If you want the soup thinner, add additional chicken broth.

Serve with rice, cilantro, shrimp and/or toasted squash seeds if desired.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/butternut-curry-coconut-soup/
peanut butter granola

Peanut Butter Granola

peanut butter granola

Peanut butter and honey–a match made in heaven. I make no apologies to you, jelly. And thank goodness we don’t have peanut allergies in our house because peanut butter is pretty much its own food group.

I love granola, but it hasn’t had a regular place in our cupboard until recently, when I discovered this peanut butter granola. Given our student-family status, the reason isn’t hard to figure out. Granola is super-dee-duper expensive, like $10 per pound or more. I’ve even bypassed homemade granola because it usually calls for other expensive or specialty items like flax, chia seeds, hand-plucked acorns of a truffula tree…you get the picture. Nuts come at a minimum of $7 per pound, and as dearly as I love them, I just have to say no at this point in life. Dare to resist food the price of illegal drugs. Yep, that’s my motto…

When I stumbled upon a recipe for this peanut butter granola through one of my favorite bloggers, I had it in my oven ten minutes later, no kidding. It uses ingredients I almost always have in the pantry. I adapted the recipe a bit to suit our tastes and to be more college-budget-friendly. The result is a golden, crunchy, peanut-buttery granola sweetened with honey that warms your mouth with hints of tropical coconut and cinnamon.

Literally nothing could be better with bananas than this peanut butter granola (okay, except homemade hot fudge sauce). Bananas and yogurt, banana milk, banana ice cream, we’ve tried it all. It’s also great on its own with milk. As in, ten-billion-times-better-than-frosted-corn-flakes good.

If you want a simple, inexpensive yet terrifically tasty granola, this is for you!

Peanut Butter Granola

Peanut Butter Granola

Ingredients

  • 4 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Instructions

Position two oven racks in the center-most positions in the oven. Preheat to 325*. Line two baking sheets with foil.

In a large bowl stir together the oats and coconut. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the oil, butter, peanut butter, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt over medium heat. Stir and heat just until everything melts together. Immediately pour over the oats and coconut and quickly stir until everything is coated.

Divide between the two prepared baking sheets and spread the oats into a flat layer on each pan. Sprinkle with a little additional salt for added flavor if desired.

Place both sheets in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir the granola, and return to the oven, trading the position of the baking sheets so that the one from the lower rack is now on top. Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until the granola is golden and fragrant. If it is under-cooked the coconut will not be fully toasted and will be chewy.

Let cool completely before breaking apart. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Makes about 5 cups of granola.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/peanut-butter-granola/
How to afford fruits and vegetables

Frugal Grocery Guide Part 6: Making Produce Affordable

How to afford fruits and vegetables

I use to buy into a myth. Maybe you have too, or still do.

The myth is that you have to be wealthy to afford fruits and vegetables in your diet, or to eat healthily in general.  Every time I hear someone claim that they can’t afford produce, it’s backed by a ridiculous example—”that little box of blueberries costs $6 and a package of noodles only costs $1. How can anyone afford to eat fruits and vegetables?”

It is possible to fill your diet with fruits and vegetables on a low income. Our family’s income is defined by the state as “very low” for our county, and we spend almost half of our take-home pay on our rent (which incidentally, is on the low end for our area). And yet, we still eat a satisfying diet with plenty of whole grains, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Of course, if you have a restrictive grocery budget, keeping produce in your diet (like any quality food) will take greater effort than if you have abundant funds to use on groceries. I’m going to give you some ideas on how to start exerting your efforts to make produce more affordable. Even if you don’t need to spend less but simply want to be smarter with your shopping, these basic principles will help immensely!

Buy only in season.

This is part of the absurdity of the blueberry “evidence” I mentioned above.

Buying produce out of its growing (and selling) season will decimate your budget. Produce is at its cheapest when it is in season, but just as importantly, this is when it tastes good. If you live in North America and you buy fresh peaches in December, then eat them and conclude that you don’t like peaches, there is a reason. Peaches shipped to the USA in December have to be shipped from so far away that it means they never had a chance to ripen naturally. They won’t taste anything like a peach should. I attempted to make a December peach pie as a high school student. I did not realize my folly until I tasted that pie–it wasn’t even recognizable as peach!

If you have no clue when produce is in season, start by looking at your grocer’s ads. The price is your guide. If it’s on sale, it is most likely in season. You could also ask someone from the produce department at the store to point out what is in season. And of course, the internet has many resources to guide you in the seasonality of produce and how to look for quality when purchasing. Here is one good reference from the USDA.

Some produce is in season year round. However, if really want something that is out of season, you need to consider other forms than fresh…

Consider all your options—fresh, frozen, and canned.

People often assume that canned produce is the cheapest, but this is not always the case. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the Frugal Grocery Guide, it’s not to make assumptions!

Fresh produce that is on-sale and in-season will often be the same price or less expensive than its canned or frozen counterparts. For example, a 15 ounce can of corn has about 1 ½ cups of corn and costs me $0.50 on sale. An ear of fresh corn yields about ¾ cups of kernels. When fresh corn is in season, I buy it for $0.20 per ear. Considering both cost and taste, it makes more sense to buy the corn fresh at this point. However in the winter, fresh corn is much more expensive, if available at all, so canned corn wins out. Another example is carrots. A 16 ounce can of sliced carrots holds about 1 ¾ to 2 cups of carrots and costs me $0.50 on sale. I purchase fresh carrots (year round) for $0.79 for 2 pounds, which yields about 5 cups of sliced, cooked carrots. Fresh is the obvious winner in this case, at less than half the price-per-cup of canned. In other instances frozen will offer the best price.

Some fruits and vegetables are consistently low-cost. I typically see carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, cucumbers, and apples for less than a dollar per pound. That’s far less expensive than most meat or cheese, and usually less expensive than grains such as pasta or bread. In addition, a pound of fruit or veggies usually divides into more servings (as defined by the USDA) than meat.

If you really want produce that is out of season, see what frozen or canned options there are. I regularly buy bags of frozen blueberries that equate to $0.17 per ounce. That is equivalent to buying a 6 ounce clamshell of fresh blueberries for only $1. Frozen produce tends to stay about the same price year-round.

The Nutrition Factor

Is fresh, frozen, or canned produce the most nutritious?

Well, it depends. Frozen produce is consistently equivalent to fresh. The nutritional content of canned produce varies depending on what it is. Many fruits and vegetables lose nutrients during the heat and pressure of the canning process. There are a few, however, that are actually enhanced. Tomatoes and pumpkin have higher nutrient counts after being canned, and they also retain a good flavor, unlike most canned veggies. Most canned fruits and vegetables do retain their fiber even though their nutrients are diminished, which does makes them better than having no produce in your diet.

In addition, frozen fruit and veggies are usually comparable or even less expensive than canned goods, as well as claiming superior taste and texture. Don’t neglect the freezer aisle if you want your diet to be produce-rich year round! I typically find a variety of vegetables here for less than $1 per pound.

Keep your produce in fresh condition.

If you buy frozen produce, keep it in the freezer, obviously. If you buy canned, stack it in your pantry, under the bed, in the garage…anywhere in normal living conditions.

If you buy fresh, however, you need to invest a little Google time (or talk-to-your-produce-man-time) into learning how to keep those fruits and veggies fresh and tasty until you’re ready to use them. When you buy some lettuce and don’t know how to keep it fresh, search “how to keep lettuce fresh” on the web. You’ll get answers quickly, and it will be worth your time to have fresh, crisp lettuce when you need it later on this week instead of limp, moldy lettuce. In short, acquire the knowledge you need to actually use what you buy instead of letting it go to waste. Likewise, don’t buy more than you are able to use or preserve.

Buy produce in bulk and preserve it.

If you have the luxury of a deep freezer, it’s easy to stock up on quality fruits and veggies when they are on sale. Most fruits need only be peeled, sliced, and placed in freezer bags. Berries don’t even require peeling. Some vegetables, such as onions and carrots, can be frozen after peeling and slicing, while others like broccoli and green beans require blanching (a brief bath in boiling water) before they are frozen. By stocking up on on-sale produce and freezing it, you can have fresh-tasting produce any time of the year. Here is a nice starting guide to give you ideas about freezing food. If you are in doubt about whether you can freeze something, there are many resources online to help you.

If you have some basic canning equipment, you can choose to can your fruits. Canning acidic fruits and veggies requires only a large pot and rack for water bathing the jars, while canning non-acidic foods like beans and meats requires a pressure canner. Canned foods can obviously be stored more easily than frozen, however, keep in mind that home canning still depletes the nutrients in some vegetables, as compared to freezing them.

The USDA link I mentioned above has great, quick information about selecting and storing many different types of produce.

Buy locally and think outside the box.

Your grocery store is likely not the only place to get fresh produce. During the summer and fall, many areas have a variety of farmer’s markets and fruit and vegetable stands. These are great places to find bargains and grab up the freshest, sweetest produce.

Many places also have access to food co-ops. I buy most of my produce through this one, which serves several of the western states. Buying through a co-op eliminates many of the “middle-man” fees associated with grocery store produce. It is simply a group of people pooling their money to buy fresh produce (or other food) directly from farmers, so the co-op isn’t marking up the food for a profit.

Don’t forget the smaller stores. Even if you do most of your shopping at big chain supermarkets, don’t forget about smaller local or ethnic stores. They can have some great prices and fresher produce—if you’re serious about working produce into your budget, they are worth exploring.

In addition to famer’s markets, many farms offer “pick your own” deals. If you are willing to do the work of harvesting yourself, you can get fresh produce for less.

Grow your own.

Ah, I saved my favorite for last. Growing your own food, even a little, is something that I love to encourage. If you have a yard with some open space you can really go gangbusters, but there are many other ways to grow a little food even without acres of land. Depending on your produce preferences, you can save a pretty penny by growing your own, especially if you know how to preserve your harvest for later. Even a small pot of fresh herbs in your windowsill will save you quite a bit of money over buying fresh every time you want them!

You Can Make Produce Affordable!

Even on a low income, fruits and vegetables can be part of your diet. It requires effort on your part, but it is possible. Eating well is easier when money is abundant. But by investing the principles above, you can absolutely afford produce without breaking the bank. Even if you are already buying plenty of produce, utilizing these strategies will help you spend less on that great colorful food. Give it a shot and tell me what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

cheese crazed garlic breadsticks

Cheese-Crazed Garlic Breadsticks

cheese crazed garlic breadsticks

My daughter was born with lovely full cheeks and softness everywhere. I credit those cheeks to the chocolate shakes, and to these breadsticks.

We lived for a time in the basement of my aunt and uncle’s home, and one of my cousins would make these ridiculously good breadsticks. After we moved out, I just kept thinking of those breadsticks…my breadstick fantasies went on for months…and then finally I was smart enough to ask her for the recipe.

Smooth, dry breadsticks have never been my thing. But I love the airy, chewy pull-apart variety. Don’t be scared by the mayonnaise in the topping. It’s part of what makes these breadsticks so moist and flavorful. You can choose your favorite combination of cheese to put on top; I like any mixture of mozzarella, cheddar, Parmesan, and/or feta. You can also adjust the proportions and spices in the topping until you create your ideal breadstick.

One of the best parts about this recipe is that it’s easy to prepare, as breadsticks go. You don’t have to do any forming or twisting or rolling of individual breadsticks. Much like a focaccia bread, you just press the dough into a greased cookie sheet. Then you spread on the cheese topping, and use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to slice through the dough, forming breadsticks that you can pull apart when they are done.

Use these breadsticks as an indulgent side to any soup or salad—they’re perfect with this lasagna soup! If you’re really feeling indulgent, double the cheese topping on the breadsticks. The effect is amazing.

cheese crazed garlic breadsticks

Cheese-Crazed Garlic Breadsticks

Ingredients

    Dough:
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 ½-4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Cheese Spread:
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup Mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ cup shredded cheese (any combination of cheese--parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, feta, etc.)
  • Optional: other Italian spices as desired

Instructions

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve the yeast and sugar in warm water. When yeast is dissolved (about 5 minutes) mix in the salt and 3 ½ cups flour. Gradually add the rest of the flour until you have a soft, sticky dough that is just starting to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, combine the butter, mayonnaise, garlic powder, and any additional spices. Stir in the shredded cheese.

Grease or spray a rimmed baking sheet and your hands. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and use your oiled hands to press the dough out to the corners of the baking sheet. If the dough resists stretching far enough, let it rest for a couple minutes and then press it the rest of the way to the corners.

Spread the cheese topping over the dough.* With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough once lengthwise down the middle of the pan, and several times across the width of the pan. This is where the breadsticks will pull apart after baking.

Cover and let rise until almost double, 30-60 minutes.

Uncover and bake in an oven preheated to 400* for 12-17 minutes or until golden on top.

Let breadsticks cool slightly before gently pulling apart. Serve warm. These breadsticks are best the day they are made.

Makes about 16 breadsticks.

*If you're really feeling indulgent, double the cheese topping!

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/cheese-crazed-garlic-breadsticks/
Lasagna Soup

Lasagna Soup

 

Lasagna Soup

Need a special meal to cook for your Valentine? Or just a no-fail staple recipe? I have one for you today! This one never, ever fails to please family and friends, and while it looks and tastes fancy, it doesn’t require any Herculean efforts in the kitchen.

Not a fan of lasagna? You may still want to give lasagna soup a try. It’s just tastier, I say… Let me tell you a little story about lasagna.

A few years ago I went on a trip with a school group. We were very graciously fed by a variety of thoughtful hosts throughout this trip, which lasted about 2 ½ weeks. And nearly every dinner consisted of lasagna, spaghetti, or pizza. Especially lasagna. Although I dearly love variety in my food life, this dietary monotony would normally pose only a minor annoyance.

Lasagna Soup

However…

I was about 2 months pregnant and in the height of morning sickness. As many of you know, finding anything to eat that won’t hit the puke reflex is difficult in these circumstances. It was a little difficult to ride on a bus all day long as well as have almost no control over what I ate. And then there was lasagna. Every. Single. Day. Now don’t mistake me—I did everything in my power to hide my discomfort from my hosts, who were wonderful. I would never be so rude as to insult food that someone had graciously prepared for me. But honestly, by the end of the trip I was hiding in the bathroom at the scent of lasagna/pizza/spaghetti. Bless the family who served us a roast and potatoes on the last day. You are my heroes.

Not surprisingly, I avoided the lasagna (and its comrades-in-arms pizza and spaghetti) for the duration of my pregnancy. Although I no longer have an aversion to lasagna, you’ll never find it on my meal plans. Pizza yes. Spaghetti yes. And lasagna soup, YES!

Somehow the classic flavors of lasagna—sausage, tomato, garlic, basil, oregano, and melty cheese—are just more appealing in a savory, broth-y bowl than in cheese-pasta-meat slabs. I’m not suggesting you should take lasagna off of your menu if you love it—but then, if you love lasagna, all the more reason to try lasagna soup!

Serve lasagna soup with a side of breadsticks or focaccia and a green salad and you’ve got a classy and crowd-pleasing meal. Hint: I’ve got a knock-out breadstick recipe for you coming right up :)

If you’re worried about squeezing ricotta into your budget, go check out my post on how to make it fresh for a fraction of the cost. Or sub in cottage cheese, whichever you prefer.

Lasagna Soup

Lasagna Soup

Ingredients

  • ½ lb Italian sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups (or 2 cans) chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup small, uncooked whole grain pasta
  • 2 cups roughly chopped spinach leaves, loosely packed
  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Optional: shredded mozzarella for garnish

Instructions

In a soup pot, brown sausage until cooked through and drain any excess fat, returning sausage to the pan. Add the onions and sauté for a few more minutes until the onions are softened. Add the garlic, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes. Cook for a minute more, until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, broth, water, and bay leaf to the pot, stirring to combine. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, cook the pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta and Parmesan cheese along with a pinch of salt and pepper.

When the soup is done simmering, remove it from the heat and add the spinach, stirring until the spinach wilts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, place a generous spoonful of the cheese mixture in each bowl along with some of the cooked noodles.* Then fill the bowls with hot soup. Sprinkle with mozzarella if desired.

*If you wish, you can add the noodles to the soup before serving. The drawback to this is that if you have leftovers, the noodles will soak up most of the broth in the soup.

Serves 4-6.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/lasagna-soup/
Amish sugar cookies

Amish Sugar Cookies

Amish sugar cookies

I have so many fond memories of flouring, rolling, and carefully cutting (and eating) cookie dough as a kid. My siblings and I would each have a personal pile of flour to repeatedly dust our cutters, but we’d always end up prying the dough off anyway.

Then of course there was the frosting and sprinkling. And the eating. I’ll be honest, the eating is the least prominent in my memory. That is probably due to the fact that with all the flour involved, those sugar cookies were always crunchy.

Incidentally, I avoided eating sugar cookies for years. They were always at the bottom of my cookie list because they were either crunchy and tasteless, or they were the thick, crumbly kind from the store with garish frosting—and also tasteless.

I have on occasion sampled really good soft, thick sugar cookies at other people’s homes, but regrettably I don’t have a recipe for those.

Then I met Amish Sugar Cookies. Now sugar cookies are back at the top of my list. Not only are these practically impossible to stop eating, they don’t require chilling, flouring, and cutting. My poor children don’t have those flour-covered memories because when I make sugar cookies, it’s always this kind.

amish sugar cookies

I don’t know what relation the cookies have to Amish folks, so don’t ask. If they were in fact invented by the Amish, I commend them for their taste in cookies.

The texture of Amish sugar cookies is not what you’d probably expect from a sugar cookie. They’re more akin to a snicker doodle (thanks to the cream of tartar) but not as chewy. They are slightly chewy but light and melty at the same time, almost like a butter cookie. The cookie and the sour cream frosting (which is like, 10 times better than buttercream) halve a decided salty note that contributes to my uncontrollable cookie consumption.

Instead of chilling, rolling, and cutting these cookies, you’ll spoon the dough like a drop cookie and then press each ball of dough gently with a sugar-dusted glass. The dough is not sticky, so chilling is optional, however chilling does result in a thicker cookie. I usually bake one batch right away and then put the rest of the dough in the fridge for the next day.

One drawback to the sour cream icing is that it needs refrigeration, so you’ll need to refrigerate the cookies after you ice them. Or, you can store the unfrosted cookies in an airtight container but refrigerate the icing, and ice them just before eating or serving. That’s what we do—we just grab the bowl of icing out of the fridge and smear some on just before enjoying our cookies.

You can of course use food coloring to dye the icing any color you want. With Valentine’s Day this weekend, these cookies would make a special treat in pink!

Amish sugar cookies

Amish Sugar Cookies

Adapted from Our Best Bites

Ingredients

  • 1 cup room-temperature butter
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. table salt
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Sour Cream Icing:
  • ¼ cup softened butter
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 ¾ cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Food coloring as desired

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350*.

In a large bowl, beat butter and oil until thoroughly combined. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of powdered sugar, mixing well. Mix in eggs and vanilla.

In another bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar. Gradually mix flour mixture into sugar mixture, beating at low speed until combined.

If desired, chill dough 30-60 minutes. Otherwise, scoop the dough about 1 tablespoon at a time onto a cookie sheet. Take a glass and gently press one of the cookies to moisten the bottom of the glass, then dip the bottom of the glass in the ½ cup sugar. Press the glass gently onto the cookie again. Dip the glass back in the sugar and press the next cookie, and so on until each cookie has been pressed with the sugar-dusted glass.

Bake at 350* for 9-12 minutes, removing from the oven when the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Allow cookies to cool completely.

To make the icing:

Beat together the butter and sour cream, then add the powdered sugar, salt, vanilla and food coloring and beat until smooth. Ice the cooled cookies as desired.

Refrigerate iced cookies until ready to serve, or store un-frosted cookies in an airtight container and refrigerate the icing, then ice cookies prior to serving.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/amish-sugar-cookies/
meat in grocery budget

Frugal Grocery Guide Part 5: Managing the Meat

meat in grocery budget

Pound for pound, meat is one of the priciest food groups we purchase. To keep your grocery budget trim, you need to know your way around the meat aisle, and of course your own kitchen. Here are some great ways to save money on meat:

Use less meat in your meals.

I don’t plan on ever becoming a through-and-through vegetarian, and you don’t need to either (if you want to, I won’t stop you.) You can still stretch your grocery dollars by simply reducing the amount of meat in your family’s diet. You’ll notice that in most of the recipes on this blog, I use a smaller amount of meat than would traditionally be called for. I compensate by adding more of another ingredient, usually and inexpensive vegetable, grain, or legume in the recipe. This strategy is easiest when you serve soups, casseroles, salads or stir-fries, or any dish with multiple ingredients. The idea is to utilize meat as an accent to the meal rather than making it the star performer. If you do want to serve meat as an independent item, be sure to feature it next to delicious, frugal and healthy sides so you can serve smaller portions.

Start by playing with your favorite recipes. Replace each pound of meat in the dish with either ¾ or ½ pound of meat. Replace the remaining ¼ or ½ pound of meat in the recipe with another ingredient like veggies, beans, pasta, or rice to make the recipe produce the same amount of food.

Flavored or cured meats like bacon, sausage, and ham can be used in smaller amounts while still lending their flavor to the dish you are cooking, so don’t be afraid to use them sparingly.

Eat meatless on occasion.

Try making meals that don’t require any meat at all. If you’re used to eating meat with all your meals, you’ll probably need to start slowly and build up a repertoire of meatless recipes. I’m working on this one. I try to feed our family at least one meatless meal each week, occasionally two. It’s important to concoct meals that have plenty of protein and fiber so that you will feel satiated. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you’ll just fill in the “meat-shelf” with ice cream an hour later.

Beans, milk, yogurt and eggs are good inexpensive sources of protein. Protein powder, besides tasting nothing like real food, is expensive and therefore not a good option if you’re focus is on stretching the budget. Cheese can be a good protein source, but may or may not be less expensive than meat, so use caution. The same tends to be true of tofu. Some vegetables also contain decent amounts of protein, such as edamame, peas, mushrooms, spinach, and broccoli.

Fiber and healthy fats are also important elements in making a filling meal. Whole grains are less caloric but keep you full longer than refined grains, so try using whole grain pasta and replacing some of the flour in your baking with whole wheat or your favorite whole grain flour. Oats are a great, inexpensive source of whole grain and fiber, as is corn and cornmeal, and rice.

There seems to be a great divergence on the web (and even among health professionals) about what constitutes healthy fat, so I dare not make any authoritative statements…for our family, I try to use more unsaturated fats and less saturated or animal fats. Avocados are probably our family’s food of choice when it comes to a fatty, filling vegetable. Unfortunately it isn’t always budget-friendly, and the same is true for nuts, which I dearly love. In any case, consult your doctor/health specialist about which sources of fat are most appropriate in your diet and make sure they have a presence when you are omitting meat from your meals.

Use the whole animal.

I don’t mean you need to buy an entire animal, although if you have the freezer space and either hunt or can buy a fresh butchered animal locally, those are great options.

What I do mean is that you don’t want to waste any part of what you purchased at the store. First of all, when you are selecting cuts of meat, look for cuts that have less visible fat, because chances are you will want to discard that. You generally pay by the pound for meat, so you don’t want to pay for fat just to throw it away if you can help it.

Second, if you buy bone-in meat, don’t throw out the bones! You can make your own broth or stock from leftover meat bones, be they from chicken, pork, or beef. Collect bones in a bag in the freezer until you have what you need. Homemade broth is tastier and far more nutritious than bouillon or canned broth, in addition to costing pennies. You can have broth simmering in the slow cooker while you go about your day, then strain out the vegetable pieces and bones, skim the fat, and either freeze or can your broth for later. To pinch even more pennies with homemade broth, I flavor it using (washed) ends, pieces, and peelings from my onions, celery, and carrots that I collect in a freezer bag just like the meat bones.

Substitute less expensive meat.

A recipe may call for a specific cut of meat, but you can almost always get away with using something else. Some of the cheapest cuts of meat are chicken breasts, lean pork chops and country ribs, pork roasts, and whole chickens (particularly if you plan to use the bones). If you are making a slow-simmering pot roast, stew, or soup, don’t waste an expensive cut of steak or high end roast! Tougher, cheaper meats are often sublime after a few hours in a slow cooker or oven. Don’t ever let recipes bind you when you are trying to eat frugally! They are more like guidelines than rules 😉

Be cautious of lunchmeats. Processed deli meats are often comparable to steak (in price, not taste!) if you actually calculate the price per pound. I usually see packages of cheap lunchmeats priced in the region of $2 for a 9 ounce container. That is close to $4/pound, and you’re not paying for pure meat but alsofor the water, additives and preservatives. Not to mention…have you ever sampled inexpensive lunchmeat that actually tastes like, well, meat?

I almost never buy deli meats. Instead, when we eat sandwiches, we use either peanut butter, tuna fish, or chicken salad to fill them. We think it’s hard to beat a sandwich made simply with garden tomatoes, avocado, cilantro and a little salt and pepper. All-veggie sandwiches can be ridiculously flavorful. And yes, my husband agrees.

Buy discount meat.

Many stores will have a place where you can find meat near its “sell-by” date, and the prices may be significantly discounted for quick sale. Of course, I don’t advocate buying that ribeye because just because it is now $12 instead of $14. But if you see discounted meats that fit within the price range and diet you want, grab them up, then use them right away or package them away into your freezer immediately. Some stores will put out there discounted meats either at the end of the business day or first thing in the morning, so try some early morning or late night shopping to see if you can snatch a deal.

Handle your meat correctly.

Don’t pay for meat just to let it spoil in the fridge. I’ve learned this painful and stinky lesson too many times, folks. Even if the “sell-by” date on the wrapping is still a few days out, my rule is to use it or freeze it the same day I buy it. I’ve seen, er, smelled too many cuts of meat that went bad in my fridge just a day or two after purchase. Be smart, not only after you get home, but while you’re shopping. Place fresh meat in your cart last, and plan your shopping so you aren’t letting the meat sit in the car for a great length of time while you cruise other stores. The FDA guideline is that meat should not sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours, 1 hour in temperatures above 90*F. Incidentally, I learned this lesson as a child by consuming a (cooked) Jimmy Dean sandwich that had been in our passenger van in South Florida all day. I need not recount the unpleasant details. In short: don’t eat meat that has been in a van all day.

 

What strategies do you use to make meat affordable?

Eat from home

Frugal Grocery Guide Part 4: Eat From Home

Eat from home

We pay for convenience. Whether it’s reheating a frozen dinner, grabbing a burger in the drive through, or sitting down for a meal created by a professional chef, eating food prepared by someone else will almost always cost you more than making it yourself. Whether the convenience is worth the price to you is of course your call. But if your primary goal is to eat for less, you need a strategy that will keep you eating from home.

Avoid eating out.

It’s not hard to see how eating out will rapidly erode your food budget. If I spend $3 for breakfast at a fast food joint, I’ve already spent as much money on breakfast as I normally would spend on an entire day’s worth of meals and snacks for one person. Not cool. If our family went out for dinner just once a week, our food spending would increase by 40-45%. Takeout falls into the same category. A medium pizza for about $12 would feed our family dinner. Or, I could make a fresh pizza at home for less than $4.

Of course I’m not saying that eating out is bad. I love eating out with my family. But since keeping our food budget tight is a priority, we reserve eating out for special occasions, and budget it as special occasion spending.

Packing lunches also falls into this category. If my husband and I bought $5 sandwiches every day when we were in school instead of packing leftovers or sandwiches, we would have spent $200 per month just on weekday lunches–that’s well more than we used to spend on all of our food for a month.

Would it be worth it to you to cut back on habitual dining-out if you could divert that money toward other goals?

Avoid packaged and processed foods.

Cooking from scratch with whole food ingredients is almost always less expensive than buying something that was prepared and packaged for someone else. You’re paying for another person’s labor. A $3 smallish frozen dinner or pizza for each person would, once again, decimate an entire day’s food budget for us. A quart of (house brand) yogurt from the store would cost me $2.50, whereas it sets me back only $0.50 to make a quart of yogurt at home.

Another item that really makes you bleed cash for convenience is pre-cut fruits and vegetables. I’ve seen small cups of pre-cut fruit cost more than a 10 lb watermelon. (I did in fact buy one of these exorbitantly priced fruit cups once. I was at school, and pregnant, and I wanted fresh fruit so bad…it was totally worth it). Yes, buying those pre-cut stir-fry veggie packs will save you 10 minutes of your time, but is it worth it to you to pay three (or more) times the price?

Of course, there are more benefits to cooking from scratch than just price. Number one in my book: it tastes WAY better. I wouldn’t buy most pre-made foods even if I could afford them, for that reason alone. This is also why when I do eat out, I want to choose a dish that I couldn’t easily make at home. Number two, you have control over your health needs. Unless you pay a pretty penny for high-end specialty products, most pre-packaged foods will contain higher amounts of sugar, fat, and non-nutritious additives, fillers, and preservatives than your made-at-home version.

Make your own snacks.

Groceries almost always cost more when they are packaged and “individually wrapped” into small portions. Instead of buying cheese sticks, buy the block of cheese that’s likely around the same price but twice the quantity. Then grab a large knife and slice it into sticks yourself, and throw your fresh cheese sticks into a container in the fridge or freezer. If you want them wrapped on the go, wrap them in plastic wrap or baggies, both of which are inexpensive. Making your own “snack packs” can be done with just about anything—dried fruit, crackers, cut veggies. You can even make your own granola bars for a fraction of the cost. Don’t believe me? Spend a few minutes on Pinterest. If you have kids like mine, packing little baggies of their favorite on-the-go foods will likely be an exciting activity, so get them involved too. I’m not always this prepared, and I know from experience how much money I shell out for snack foods when I haven’t planned ahead and packed my own snacks!

Have a quick-meal backup plan.

No matter how dedicated you are to cooking every meal from scratch, there will be days that don’t go according to plan. If you always have a pantry or freezer meal stocked that you know will come together very quickly, you’ll be far less tempted to order take out or run to the nearest drive through. A couple of my favorite “back-up” meals are spaghetti (the boring kind from a can that I can whip out of my pantry) or tuna salad. I also try to make extras of meals now and then to put in the freezer for thaw-and-eat dinners on busy days. Some folks are really hard-core about stocking their freezers with ready-made meals, and you can find lots of ideas if you search the web! A few meals from Raspberries in the Rough that freeze well are Beef & Bacon Smoky Beans, Winter Squash and Ham Bisque, Chipotle-Lime Chicken, Blackened Chicken Alfredo (minus the noodles), and Slow Cooker Refried Beans.

Don’t shop hungry.

This can be hard advice to keep. I know I’m usually thinking of everything except my stomach when I’m planning a shopping trip—how to keep the kids entertained, making lists, my husband’s schedule, the best route to get to the store while avoiding traffic and not getting lost…BUT if you remember to at least grab a snack (you know, one of those snacks you prepped in advance :)) it will be much easier to pass up all those goodies and hot foods at the grocery store. I notice all sorts of enticing foods at the store when I’m hungry that normally wouldn’t catch my eye at all.

The bottom line is that preparing food at home will help trim your budget, keep you healthier, and best of all, it will taste superior!

What are your favorite ways to make sure you eat from home?

More from the Frugal Grocery Guide:

Part 1: Don’t Buy at the Regular Price

Part 2: Stock Up to Save

Part 3: Meal Planning

Part 5: Managing the Meat

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Homemade Ricotta

fresh homemade ricotta

I’ve always either avoided recipes calling for ricotta, or swapped the ricotta out for cottage cheese. The reason is probably not surprising—at $4 to $5 for a little cup, ricotta cheese just isn’t easy to smoosh into the budget.

Then I found out you can make your own ricotta, and it isn’t complicated at all. You only need three ingredients: whole milk, vinegar or lemon juice, and salt. That’s it. The result is a creamy fresh ricotta to use in all of your favorite recipes.

A gallon of whole milk produces roughly 4 cups (32 ounces) of ricotta. Since I buy milk at $2 per gallon or less, that puts one cup of ricotta at only $0.50. Now that I can fit in the budget! Now that ricotta can be a regular in our refrigerator without breaking the bank, I’ve found that there is a whole world of recipes opened up to me. Ricotta can be used in desserts, Italian dishes, baked goods, with fruit, well, it seems like almost anything!

Traditionally ricotta was made with fermented whey, which produced something a bit different, but many varieties of commercially-made ricotta cheeses are created using a similar method as the one I will describe. The biggest difference between homemade ricotta and store-bought is that yours will be fresher!

As with yogurt, you can technically make ricotta using lower-fat milks, but the yield and quality will vary. I like to make yogurt and ricotta from whole milk for both quality and quantity, so I have not tested homemade ricotta from low-fat or skim milk. Feel free to experiment on your own milk if you wish. We like our whole-milk products here :)

What you need:

A mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or several paper towels

8 cups whole milk

1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice

½ tsp salt

First, line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth or several paper towels and set it over a bowl. Set it aside for now.

Pour the milk into a large saucepan or double boiler. Heat the milk to 185* F. At this point it will look foamy and steamy but it won’t be boiling. If it does boil, just remove it from the heat. If you happen to burn the milk on the bottom of the pan, don’t fret. As long as you don’t scrape it up into the milk you can still have perfectly good ricotta.

When the milk reaches 185*, remove it from the heat and add the vinegar or lemon juice and salt. Give it a gentle stir, just enough to distribute the vinegar. Then leave it undisturbed for 5-10 minutes until you see the milk separate into white curds and clear yellow whey. If the mixture still looks milky or not distinctly separated after 10 minutes, sprinkle in a couple more tablespoons of vinegar.

how to make ricotta cheese

When your milk has clearly separated into curds and whey, use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds out of the whey and place them in the lined strainer until only the whey is left in the pan. Let the ricotta strain for 5-20 minutes depending on how firm or dry you want your cheese. I usually only let mine drain for about 5 minutes. If you let it get drier than you want, just whisk some whey back into the cheese.

how to make ricotta

If there are any small curds remaining in the pan, carefully pour the whey into your lined strainer to strain them out.

homemade ricotta

Use your fresh ricotta immediately or keep in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

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Homemade Ricotta

Ingredients

  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup white distilled vinegar, or lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

Line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth or several paper towels and sit it over a bowl. Set aside.

In a large saucepan or a double boiler, heat milk over medium heat until it reaches 185* F. It will appear foamy and steamy but shouldn't be boiling. If it begins to boil, remove it from the heat.*

When the milk reaches 185*, remove from the heat and immediately add the salt and vinegar or lemon juice. Give it a gentle stir, just enough to distribute the vinegar. Then let it sit undisturbed for 5-10 minutes.

After resting the milk should have separated into white curds and clear yellow whey. If it still looks milky or not distinctly separated, add a few more tablespoons of vinegar.

Use a slotted spoon to skim the curds out of the whey and place them in your lined strainer. Let the cheese drain for 5-20 minutes until your ricotta reaches the consistency you want. The longer you drain it, the thicker and drier your cheese will be. If you let it drain longer than you want, just whisk some whey back into the curds.

If there are small curds remaining in the whey, pour it through the lined strainer to separate them from the whey.

Use the ricotta immediately or store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Yield: About 2 cups.

*If you burn the bottom of the milk, don't scrape it up. Your cheese will be fine as long as you don't scrape the burned part up into the heated milk.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/homemade-ricotta/
Chipotle Southwestern Salad

Chipotle Southwestern Salad

Chipotle Southwestern Salad

I absolutely love a salad that is a full meal, independent of anything else. Salads offer so much variety of color, flavor, and texture all in one place. A full-meal salad is a fundamentally different experience than those namby-pamby cafeteria salads with their bits of iceberg lettuce and carrot shreds that you have to drench with a quart of ranch to make worthy of consumption.

This salad is of course one of the former. It stars this chipotle-lime chicken and this creamy avocado-lime dressing, and it’s hearty and flavorful enough that you can omit the chicken if you want a fresh meatless meal. The array of flavors here work perfectly together. The chipotle-lime chicken and roasted sweet potatoes are somewhat spicy on their own, but combined in the salad with the creamy dressing, they create a great mild-medium heat. Sweet corn, smoky black beans, and green onions round everything out over a bed of crisp lettuce.

Chipotle Southwestern Salad

I wouldn’t have guessed my 3-year-old would be into salads, but surprise, he not only wanted thirds, but chose it as his snack the next day. The chipotle roasted sweet potatoes were definitely the favorite item!

Another great feature of this salad is that the ingredients can all be prepared in advance. You can cook a couple pounds of chicken ahead of time and use half for one meal (or freeze it) and save the other half for this salad later on. You can also roast the sweet potatoes and whip up the dressing ahead of time. Then all you have to do is open a can of beans and a can of corn and you’re ready to go.

It seems like everyone on the web is working on some diet or another. I’m not, but I do look for nutritious meals that don’t sacrifice taste. This is one of them! High in lean protein and veggies, this chipotle southwestern salad is a winner on our table–speaking of which, I’m (very) happy to report that our family now has a dinner table! As in, an actual hardwood-not-cardboard dinner table. Complete with chairs. Woot!

Chipotle Southwestern Salad with Creamy Avocado-Lime Dressing

Chipotle Southwestern Salad

Inspired by Pinch of Yum

Ingredients

  • 1 head romaine lettuce
  • 1 lb sweet potatoes
  • 2 TBS oil
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 recipe chipotle-lime chicken
  • 1 recipe avocado-lime dressing , cut into bite-sized pieces
  • cotija or queso fresco cheese, optional

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425* and line a baking sheet with foil.

Peel and chop sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces and place on the foil-lined baking sheet. Toss with 2 TBS oil and spices, using your hands to ensure they are evenly coated. Spread into a single layer on the pan and roast at 425* for 15 minutes. Flip/stir the sweet potatoes on the pan and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes or until they are beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.

Arrange lettuce on salad plates and top with sweet potatoes, beans, corn, chicken, green onions and cheese if desired. Serve with avocado-lime dressing.

Serves 4-6.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/chipotle-southwestern-salad/