Homemade “Sun Dried” Tomatoes

Last week I bought 12 lbs of tomatoes. I was planning on making a whole lot of tomato soup, but silly me forgot to check how much basil I had. I didn’t have enough to make 12 lbs of tomatoes into soup! So I decided to make sun dried tomatoes in the oven with the left overs! I just quartered my tomatoes and removed the seeds by scraping the tomato with my nail. I then placed them on one of my pizza racks that is not solid. I sprinkled them with salt, pepper and italian seasoning and dried (baked) them on the oven at 175° for about 4 hours. Take them out when they are leathery but not brittle. I had to take out a few before the others were done. They are so good and sweet. They taste like a little piece of pizza! A great low calorie, on the go healthy snack that can also be frozen. Use them on salads, pizza or pasta. Check out the before and after photos:

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Peanut Butter Balls

Last week I said that I was going to make some peanut butter balls for Lance’s lunches. He loves these little protein balls. They are simple to whip up and store wonderfully in the freezer. I don’t really follow a recipe. I just dump things together to make the consitency of a thick cookie dough.

This batch had:

About 1 cup peanut butter

1/2 c  or so dry milk powder (can use protein powder)

1/2 c or so ground flax (or chopped nuts)

2 T or so honey

Mix them all up and scoop with small cookie scoop. I rolled mine in some crushed apple cinnamon cereal and a few in some nesquik chocolate drink mix to keep the stickiness at bay. Freeze on a cookie sheet until hard then put in a baggie.

Homemade Chicken Stock Tutorial

In my Frugal Tip of the Week post the other day I said I would show you how I make homemade chicken stock from the bones of my whole chicken. After dinner was done the other night. I made sure to save any bones from the meal, then I cut off the rest of the meat on the chicken and cut it up to use in my white chicken enchiladas for tonight. I saved all the skin and bones and threw them in the crockpot with some veggies. You can use whatever you have on had to help flavor your stock. I added celery, onions and garlic as well as salt, poultry seasoning and lemon pepper. I cut the onions in quarters and pulled them a part a bit. I just broke the celery in 2 and smashed and peeled the garlic and threw them in. No fancy chopping, it’s just there for flavor.

Add the bones and skin from the chicken and fill the crockpot up with water. Turn it on low and leave it overnight to cook. Mine cooked about 12 hours. It will look like this in the morning with a lovely color:

Now spoon out all the big chunks with a slotted spoon into the trash. Pour the broth through a strainer into a container. I highly recommend doing this in the sink, it can make a real mess!

Cool the broth in the fridge. There will be a fat layer on the top after it’s cool. Just spoon that off. Now your broth is ready to use for soups or to cook rice or any other recipe you have that calls for broth. Or, you can pour it into those containers you have been saving and put it in the freezer for later. This will make about a gallon or so. It depends on the size of your crockpot! And it is so much better than the canned stuff you buy, it has more flavor and nutrients and you control what goes in it, like the salt! Enjoy your super cheap chicken stock!

Baking Day: Whole Wheat Tortilla Tutorial

At the beginning of the month, I did a whole day of freezer cooking, but I never got to my tortillas that were on my list. I finally got to them today, only because I needed them for dinner tonight! I decided I would post a little tutorial for all of you on how I do my tortillas from scratch. Now, these are burrito type tortillas, the thin and flexible kind based off of this recipe. I did change it a bit to make them whole wheat, and of course I used my secret ingredient!

Whole Wheat Tortillas

2 cups whole wheat flour (I just used the gold medal kind)

3/4 tsp salt

3 T bacon grease (the secret ingredient! you can use shortening or vegetable oil instead)

1 cup warm water (the original recipe for white flour only uses 3/4 c, but the whole wheat needs more)

Mix the salt and flour. Use your hands to rub in the bacon grease or shortening. Slowly add the water and mix into a sticky ball. Knead the dough on a lightlu floured surface for about 3-4 minutes (if you are using white flour 1-2 minutes is fine). Cover with a damp cloth for 15 minutes. I did mine in my mixer.

This batch makes 8, 10 inchish tortillas. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions and shape into balls. Place on a cookie sheet or plate. Cover with the damp towel for 30 minutes. I press my dough into a 6 inch or so round and cut like a pizza to divide.

Now it’s time to roll. But first, put your pan on med/high heat. These need to be rolled out by hand and it takes a bit of practice. Mine are not perfect circles, but they are good enough and taste wonderful! The rolling is a 2 part process. Lay out a piece of wax paper or parchment paper. Press the dough ball out flat on a floured surface to about 4 inches like this:

Then roll out in the best circle you can. I find working from the center out working your way around does a pretty good job. With this first roll you will only get them to about 8 inches or so, then they start to shrink back on themselves if you try to roll them more. Place this partially rolled tortilla on the parchment/wax paper to rest and let the gluten relax under the damp towel while you work the others. Only layer them 4 deep and put a bit of flour in between them to keep them from sticking. Keep track of which ones you do first so you know which ones to start with on the next round. DO NOT RUSH THIS STEP AND TRY TO JUST ROLL THEM BIG HERE! Ask me how I know it doesn’t work!!!!

Ok, now you can roll them big and thin. Start with the first one you rolled originally and work your way through. I cook them as I go and get into a rhythm. This takes some practice though so you may want to roll one and cook it before starting on the next one. Have a thick clean towel handy to put your cooked tortillas on and covered while you work on the rest of them. Roll them out to 10-12 inches. Make sure they are thin! I have a lefsa stick that I use to transfer mine to the hot pan. Lefsa is a Norwegian potato tortilla like thing. I had my mom pick me up one of these sticks last summer when she was visiting my grandma in South Dakota. I can’t find them here in Cali, and they work so nicely for the tortilla transfers! That’s what that wooden stick is in the picture.


Cook them for about 30 seconds or so on each side. I like to push the tortilla a bit with the back of my spatula to keep the bubble from getting too big.

Here they are all done and hot. I ate one with some honey hot off the grill. Well, I had to test them out you know!!! Mmmmm, heaven! After tasting homemade tortillas, you won’t want those nasty things from the store. These are infinitely much better!



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Whats for Dinner? Homemade Pizza Tutorial

Pizza….we are passionate about pizza around here. Is there a food that is more perfect? Cheese, bread, tomato, toppings….mmmmmm…it’s calling my name! If you can’t tell, we like pizza. Want proof, check my monthly menu. We have it every week. Usually on Thursday nights. If we were to purchase pizza every week we would spend about $60 a month on pizza alone! That is way too much $$$ for me and I like pizza too much to give it up, so now I make my own. And it’s good…really good. I prefer it over most pizza places and so does Dallas! Don’t even try and compare it to frozen grocery store pizza, it is sooooooooooo much better. I buy my cheese at Sam’s club and freeze it, which is way cheaper than the grocery store sales. Then I buy plain tomato sauce. With sales and coupons this can be purchased really cheap! I got 24, 8oz cans at Walgreens this fall for free with a Walgreens circular coupon stacked with a Hunt’s coupon. Can’t beat that! I also wait for pepperoni to go on sale and stock up the freezer when it does! The dough only costs me a few cents to make, so it all adds up to be a lot cheaper than Domino’s or Pizza Hut.

You will need a few kitchen tools:

  • a good thick pizza stone or unglazed quarry tile. Mine is a well seasoned pampered chef 15″ stone.
  • parchment paper (this isn’t absolutely necessary, but makes transfer so much easier)
  • pizza cutter or sharp knife
  • For christmas I got a pizza peel, the flat thing with a handle to transfer the pizzas. Again not absolutely necessary, but a great addition to my kitchen arsenal.

Sauce

You can buy sauce or use your favorite spaghetti sauce. Our favorite is semi-homemade. I have found that an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce is perfect for one 15″ pizza. About a half hour before I want to top my pizza, I make my sauce. I put a bit, just a bit of olive oil in a small sauce pan, heat over medium heat. Add 3 or so minced garlic cloves. Add the sauce. Add about a tablespoon of italian seasoning (I never measure, just dump!). Simmer on low for about half an hour so the sauce reduces and thickens a little bit.

Dough

Now is the time to put your stone in the oven and preheat it along with your oven to 450°. Time for the dough. I spent the better part of last year in search of a great dough recipe. This is it, no kneading!

3 c bread flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 T sugar

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 c water

Stir dry stuff together. Stir in water. Put in baggy or covered bowl in fridge for 18 hours-3 days. If you want to freeze wait until after 18h or so.

I usually have mine premade in the freezer so it’s ready to go. It will get all bubbly and look like this:

Don’t be alarmed. The dough is sticky when you take it out of your bowl/baggie. Dust your surface with a little flour. This would be my parchment paper. Sprinkle a little flour on the top of the dough as well.

Lightly form dough into a ball. Dust your hands with flour and begin to push the dough into a circle. I find that using the heel of my palm works well. Start in the center and work your way out. It takes several minutes to work it out to a nice round….or not so round as mine sometimes are! Just a tip, this dough will rise some in the oven so make it a little thinner that you want when flattening. Another tip, you can divide it into 6 pieces and make individual pizzas. We do this at my mom’s when we have family gatherings with 2 ovens and 2 stones. We have a pizza bar with lots of toppings and everyone makes their own and times their own in the oven. It’s a ton of fun!

Top your pizza with your favorite toppings. We are suckers for a standard pepperoni or italian sausage. But we also enjoy BBQ sauce, cooked chicken, onions with jack/cheddar cheese or ranch with chicken and mozzarella. You can be creative as you want with your toppings and have endless combinations.  Trim the edge of the parchment paper a bit and then transfer your pizza. The tricky part is getting it onto the hot stone. This is where my handy dandy pizza peel comes in. If you don’t have one, take the stone out of the oven and plop the pizza and parchment onto the stone and put it back in the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Depends on how much cheese you put on and how thick your pizza is. If your pizza is doughy and your cheese is done, you may want to put all your toppings on the pizza without the cheese, bake for 5 minutes then add the cheese.

 

 

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How I Meal Plan

It’s the time of the month for meal planning. I like to plan a month of dinners in advance. For many new meal planners this can sound a bit overwhelming. I know it did to me at first, but I am totally converted now. I find it saves me time, money and from those “what do you want for dinner”, “I don’t know” conversations. All we have to do is look at the fridge and see what’s on there. I use this printable monthly menu planner. Each month I print it out, take stock of what we have on hand in the pantry and freezer, find recipes that use the ingredients we already have and organize any new recipes I want to try. I keep my past months and use those as a guide for meals that we like. I look at the previous month and find the meals that didn’t get made, because inevitably something came up and we didn’t eat our intended dinners for a few nights. I will still have those ingredients, so I incorporate those meals into the next month. This is just what works for out family. I encourage you to try and find the best meal planning strategey for your family and lifestyle.

Here is where I must tell you, I do not shop like most people. I am a stockpiler. When meat, canned goods, pasta, beans, rice, cheese etc. are on sale I buy a bunch and freeze or store them for later use. I buy ingredients that I know we will use or are common in our diets. This way, when I meal plan usually I just have to buy produce and a few dairy items at the beginning of the month. This keeps my grocery bills low. Granted, I do make most of our food from scratch and I purchase a very limited number of processed or boxed items. Rather, I spend my money on different types of flours and baking goods and spices to make things like tortillas, breads, buns, english muffins, regular muffins, cookies and just about anything else that can be baked.

These meals are not set in stone. If we don’t want a particular dinner that night, then we can rearrange and pick something else from the list since I know that we have the ingredients for that too. Our side dishes may change with the produce we have on hand, but that’s ok!

I also do quite a bit of freezer cooking to make my own “convenience” food. Jessica over at Life as Mom has a fabulous description on the basics of freezer cooking HERE. Crystal at Money Saving Mom has how she plans for freezer cooking and lots of free printable worksheets HERE.

This is a picture of a normal shopping trip for me. This is one that I did not even use any coupons! I went to food4less our kroger affiliate store since they were having a sale on chicken. Well, they had several of the on sale packages of chicken on managers special, meaning they need to be used or frozen by tomorrow and were marked down half price. That made it $0.50/lb!!! I also got some marked down pork chops, spiral sliced half ham for $0.99/lb and splurged on some shrimp for Dallas! This trip was definitely a stock up meat trip! There is about 25 pounds of meat here that will last us quite a while, longer than a month for sure.  I have not decided completely what I am going to do with it all yet, but I will make some shredded chicken taco/burrito meat in the crockpot and some bbq chicken legs that I can then freeze for later in the month. I think I will crockpot most of the pork into pulled bbq for sandwiches to freeze and I may freeze some whole. Not sure what all I will do with the ham yet. Probably cut it into smaller portions, make some soup and figure it out later! There is also, flour, tomoto soup (for chili and sloppy joes), cottage cheese, applesauce, apples, celery and dry beans. I spent just under $45.00.

 

 

This afternoon I will be working on my menu for next month. I will scan it and post it later or tomorrow so you can see exactly what I do. Stay tuned for that.

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Baking Day: Golden Potato Rolls

This past weekend my family and I went camping with our off roading jeep club. We decided to have a potluck on Saturday night. Of course, I volunteered to bring bread and dessert! So, I made these wonderful potato rolls out of  Cleo’s Creations or “the book”. What is “the book” you’re wondering? Well, many years ago my cousins and I all asked our grandma to put together all of our favorite recipes of hers into a cookbook. She spent an entire year sorting recipes, handwriting them all out and then my cousin put them all into books for us for the best Christmas gift I have ever gotten. We have over 250 pages of handwritten recipes from her. I have used mine so much over the years that I have had to replace my binder 3 times!

This recipe is one of my favorite bread recipes from the book. It takes some time, but these rolls have excellent flavor and are well worth the wait! I have made them into dinner rolls as well as hamburger and hotdog buns. The recipe calls for them to be rolled triangles similar to a crescent, but I always make dinner rolls. We like to use them for sandwiches, slider hamburgers or just to eat with dinner. They are the perfect size for my 3 year old when made as sandwiches and work wonderfully in lunches for the kids!

Golden Potato Rolls

1 pkg dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons

1/2 cup warm water

Stir those together and set aside for a few minutes to bloom.

1 cup milk

3/4 cup butter

1 1/4 cups leftover mashed potatoes

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs beaten

about 8 cups flour (I only use about 6 1/2, just depends on the day)

In a saucepan, combine milk, butter and potatoes, stir over low heat just until butter is melted. Remove from heat, place in large bowl and add sugar, salt and 2 cups of flour and the yeast mixture. Add eggs and mix well. Allow to sit covered with plastic for 2 hours. It will look bubbly like this.

Stir in enough of remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on floured board and knead until smooth and elastic…about 6 minutes. Place in a greased bowl turning once to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 1 hour. This is the freshly kneaded ball:

Punch down dough and divide into thirds. On a floured surface, roll each portion into a 12 inch circle. Cut each circle into 12 pie shaped pieces (pizza cutter works well for this). Beginning at the wide end roll up each wedge. Place rolls point side down 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise until almost double in size. Bake at 375° for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Brush tops with butter while warm if you like. These freeze well and are totally worth the effort!

I did not make the rolled up style rolls. At the shaping stage above, I made dinner rolls instead. I take 1 1/2 ounces of dough (about a golf ball size) and shape into balls. In a 9×13 pan this is 3 rows of 5, you will get about 42 rolls this way. Then let rise and bake as usual. These are mine just as I put them on the oven (I used a large sheet pan that I have that holds 28 rolls):

Another tip: You can freeze the dough just after you shape it before the last rise on the pan or cookie sheet or whatever you use. After they are solid, put them in a baggie to save space. Then pull them out at about noon on the day to bake, let them thaw and rise. Then bake as above. You can also let them thaw in the fridge and just take them out to rise and bake. This is good for holidays. You can have fresh bread without all the work on the big day! According to my blogging friend Chef Tess Bakeresse, you should be able to let these rise all the way and then freeze and then bake directly from frozen. You can read about that HERE. I have not tried that with these rolls yet, but I have tried her freezer cinnamon rolls made from a dinner roll recipe and they are amazing! I only changed the frosting a bit and made it with less cream cheese, since Dallas is not a big fan of cream cheese icing.

Visit Ultimate Recipe Swap over at Life as Mom for more great recipes.
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