Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I love those big, fluffy muffins from Starbucks. The ones that are like little personal cakes. They cost a fortune, though, and the nearest Starbucks is 100 miles. So I've been working on making my own.

Most muffin recipes from cookbooks have the texture and taste of cornbread. They were written before the cake-muffin trend got going. I have an excellent cookbook, though, called The Cake Mix Doctor, which takes standard, grocery store cake mixes and makes them into something special.

Why not try to get one of those yummy cake muffins from a cake mix? I also found a pumpkin-cranberry bread recipe which had excellent flavor, but not the correct texture and was very fussy to make. The following recipe is not exactly what I was aiming for, it's a little heavier and denser, but it turned out very well, so I thought I'd share it.

Pumpkin Raisin Muffins (or cake)

1 box yellow cake mix
1 small can (16 oz) pumpkin (or 1 C fresh, roasted pumpkin puree)
1C vanilla low fat yogurt
1 egg
1 cup raisins (or dried cranberry, or a mix)
1C chopped pecans

350 degree oven

Mix all ingredients until fairly well blended, put into greased muffin tins of the size you want, or a cake pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean-- about 25 - 30 minutes for a cake, a little less for small muffins.

Note that these are low fat-- no oil or butter -- and yet they turn out pretty moist and tasty. The pumpkin adds a little nutritional value, too. If you want to make them a little fancier, save 1/2 the pecans and sprinkle them on top before baking. You might also try roasting the pecans slightly before adding them to add more flavor.

I'm working on an Orange-Cranberry recipe at the moment. If I ever get that perfected, I'll be in heaven :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

So easy a 3 year old could do it!

My goal is to make dinner, every night, for around $10 for 4 people. Sometimes I miss, but most nights I'm pretty darned close.
Tonight's dinner was pretty darned close (and the reason we missed was really good) -- we had steak, potatoes, corn, and blueberry pie. The steak was on sale at the local market-- $2 each ($8.10 for a pack of 4), 5 lbs of potatoes for a buck, corn from the food pantry, Blueberries 2 pints for $4.98 and I had Pillsbury pie crusts frozen from when they were on sale at Christmas ($2).

Broiled the steaks, baked the potatoes, microwaved the corn... cost, $2.10 per person (or so, I didn't count how many potatoes were in the bag). The pie put me over a little, because berries are so expensive this time of year, but it was really really good... here's the story.

My 3 year old granddaughter LOVES The Backyardigans (a show on Nick Jr.). Her favorite episode, which she has on DVD, is "Making Pie like a Samurai." A couple of weeks ago, she was dancing and singing in the kitchen while I was doing dishes, and she stopped and said "Gramma, can we make some pie?"

Well... we have frozen blueberries, and frozen pie crusts, I'm sure we can put something together. We didn't have any corn starch, though... pie thickened with flour is not nearly as bright as that thickened with tapioca or corn starch. I thought I had some tapioca in the pantry, but while searching for it I found the bag of powdered sugar.... which gets its texture from corn starch...hummm... we can try that. The pie was perfect! Beautiful, thickened just right and really tasty.

Today, knowing my granddaughter was coming over, I bought fresh blueberries (which were expensive this time of year, but were on sale)... and really, fruit pies are a pretty wonderful winter treat. This time I used the powdered sugar by choice. Again, it turned out wonderfully... so here is the recipe for the pie... so easy to make, a 3 year old can (mostly) do it.

Jax Blueberry Samurai Pie

1 box Pillsbury ready made pie crusts
2 pints blueberries (or 2 cups frozen, rinsed)
1/4 C powdered sugar

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees (F)

Mix sugar into blueberries, try and coat them very well (GENTLY, Jax says, don't break the berries)
Spread one crust into a pie pan
Pour blueberry/sugar mixture into crust and try to make it even
Cover with the other crust
Crimp the edges with a fork, trim off any excess (and give to the 3 year old to play with).
Slice a steam vent into the crust

Back for 40 - 50 minutes (until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly).

LET COOL COMPLETELY! (Really, otherwise it'll run all over the place. I know it's hard because it smells so good, but trust me on this, hot blueberry pie is more like blueberry soup).

Makes 8 slices for about $6.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Take out pizza no more

We only do take-out pizza for very special treats. It's expensive and has, in these economic times, become "an unnecessary". Instead, we make home made pizza. Especially for birthday parties. My 11 year old's friends are very happy when they come up and we make it because we make individual pizzas and they can put their own favorite toppings on.

I used to make a yeast dough and that made "pizza" very time intensive. The last few times, though, I've made a biscuit crust and it's fast and easy and I like it better because it's nice and crispy. You can use Bisquick biscuits or canned refrigerator biscuits if you want, but this recipe is cheaper, should be able to be done out of basic pantry items and works very well for crust

Sour Milk Biscuits
2C Flour
1/4t Salt
1/2 t Baking Soda
1T shortening (or butter or margarine)
1C sour milk (or plain yogurt or sour cream or butter milk or canned milk or even fresh milk-- all add different flavors but nothing outrageous.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix the dry ingredients, work the shortening in with your fingers until very small pieces are formed, add the milk (or substitute) and mix GENTLY! just until all the dry ingredients are just barely incorporated.

For pizza crust, roll or gently push the dough out to cover the bottom of the pizza pan or cookie sheet or whatever you're cooking on-- you want the dough to be about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick all over.

You can cover this with pizza sauce from a jar (or make your own, recipe to follow) and add your favorite toppings and cheeses and bake for about 20 -25 minutes, depending on the toppings and how thick you make the crust and how much cheese you put on it.

Home Made Pizza Sauce

1 can of tomatoes -- diced, whole, or pureed.
dried basil
dried oregano

dump tomatoes in a sauce pan, add garlic, basil and oregano to taste, simmer until it smells good, then puree in the blender. It will be a little thinner than your jarred sauce, but it has a fresher flavor.

If you're going to put sausage or hamburger on the pizza, you should cook it first. Pepperoni is easy to find in the little packs. Shredding the cheese yourself is cheaper than buying it already shredded. Slice vegetables thin to lessen cooking time.

By the way, the biscuit dough works very well for drop biscuits, for rolled biscuits, and if you add 1/4 sugar, for shortcake for fruit shortcakes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The beginning-- 3 tips and a bread recipe

It has recently bubbled up in my awareness that, as bad off as we are, economically, we're still doing better than a lot of people. We've learned to count pennies, and that a dollar or two matter and while we sometimes have our difficulties with the utility companies, we do manage. Our house hasn't been foreclosed upon and we manage to eat. I thought that this spot to drop tips and recipes for the other un or under employed people -- other '99ers' as it were, might be a good thing.

So first, a little background--
I'm an IT manager who has been unemployed for more than 3 years. I live in a very economically challenged area, which currently has 12% unemployment rate (yes, 12%). We own (along with the bank) a house built in 1885 (bought in more economically optimistic times). We have 3 children, 2 still at home, and 1 or 2 grandchildren (depending on how you count, as I make ends meet by taking care of a difficult little boy whose mother works 2nd shift, who calls me grandma).

My husband runs a consulting company, altho for the past 3 years his primary job has been a part-time cashier at Wal-mart. The job at Wal-Mart pays the bills (HA!) and provides him with a version of health insurance. My insurance is provided through the VA(I'm a vet) while the kids get theirs thru Mi-Child, a medicaid program in Michigan.

This is quite the downturn from a few years ago when we were making $150k/year. We're learning to live like that...

At this point, we've run through any savings we had, and we're living on a part time salary from Wal-Mart, food stamps and prayer. I run a little sock yarn web site--Lady A's Yarn, and we occasionally get something thru my husbands consulting company-- Tau Seven Solutions-- tho for the last couple of years that's less process or project management and more web development and fixing home computers. But hey, whatever pays the bills, right?

Actually, that's my first bit of advice... do whatever you can that's legal to pay the bills... if that means working at WalMart or babysitting the neighborhood children, if it brings in money it's a good thing.

Second bit-- If money goes out make sure it's absolutely necessary. That means cutting out Starbucks and driving somewhere you can walk to, among other things. The walking is good for you, and the gas saved will help get you to work or the grocery store or where ever. That $25/week saved from Starbucks means $100/month. $100/month can pay a gas bill or help make a house payment.

Make a priority list of money going out. Groceries, house payment, gas bill, electric bill, water bill, phone bill, fuel for the car, and whatever you have. Every time you're tempted to spend a couple of dollars not on the priority list, look at the list.

I'm not suggesting that you not do stuff for fun, but you have to think about what it is you're used to doing and what you can do to replace it that doesn't cost as much. Do you like to go to the movies? What about getting a Redbox DVD instead? That's $1 instead of $20 or more. Like fancy coffee? You can buy a Mr. Coffee espresso maker at WalMart for $30... that's less than a weeks worth of Latte's at Starbucks and it'll make fancy coffee for you for a year. Instead of going to Starbucks, make your latte at home and drink it on your porch. Quieter than Starbucks and costs a lot less.

That's 3 pieces of advice in 3 paragraphs and is probably enough for the first day. The money saving recipe for the day is a bread recipe.

For $10, you can buy 25 lbs of flour and a jar of yeast. This will make enough bread for 4 people for at least a month. Believe it or not, bread is very easy to make and home made bread tastes a LOT better than store bought.

So, a basic bread recipe:

2C warm (skin temp) water
1 T yeast
2T sugar
1T salt
5C flour -- you can use white, bleached flour or a combination of whole wheat and white or fancier when you get going, but you might want to start with white flour until you're more sure of yourself. (And I'll post more recipes as we go on).

Start by mixing the dry ingredients together (everything but the water).
Add the water, and start mixing, using your hands (or a wooden spoon, but clean hands are the best).

When it starts to come together, you want to knead it for 5 minutes to 10 minutes. There are several videos on how to knead, but this one is as good as any.

Let rise for about an hour, punch it down (that means knead it again for a little bit) shape it into loaves and put it into 2 bread pans. Let rise a second time for 45 minutes to an hour, then bake it for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

If you like a soft crust, spread butter over the crust when it comes out of the oven. Believe me, you won't go back to store bought bread without a fuss. You can also set the bread to rise in the refrigerator, which will slow it down enough that it should be ready for punch down after a day spent working (or looking for work).

If you figure 3 loaves of bread a week for a month, that means $6/week times 4 = $24/month. So making your own bread (not counting the fuel for the oven) is a savings of $14/month. That's a savings of $168/year. That's one winters gas bill here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.