Saturday, July 15, 2017

DIY Clips for Your Chip Bags

Have you ever paid your hard-earned cash for a package of chip clips? I remember paying nearly $10 for a pack of plastic clips at a home kitchen-supplies party. Well, how does FREE sound? A lot better to my ears. Let me show a quick and easy way to do it.

Look in your closet for those plastic hangers that typically hold pants, skirts or shorts on them. You know, the hangers with the clips on either end. 

Using a serrated knife, cut through the plastic of the hanger so that the clip can be separated from the body of the hanger. 

I can usually cut part of the way through the plastic and then snap the remaining part of plastic off cleanly. 

Repeating the process on both sides, you should end up with two clips and the interior body of the hanger (which you can either discard or use for some other re-purpose).

I am sure if you are a really crafty person you can easily use a hot glue gun and attach a couple of round magnets to one side of each of these clips so you can hang them on the refrigerator when not in use.

Keep your eyes open in your local super center or department store parking lot because for some reason this type of hanger seems to get abandoned there often. Or the next time you are at a clothing store simply ask the clerk if you can have some extra hangers. I am sure they would not really care if they gave them away or put them in the back room.

One man's trash is another man's treasure!

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Crock Pot BBQ pork

If you did not know, I live in North Carolina. North Carolina is known for their pork barbecue, although where in the state you are, how to make it can start a debate. Here in Carolina there are two kinds of  'Cue. You have vinegar based and tomato based. The further east toward the beach you get, the more vinegar based the 'cue gets and the further away from the beach, the more tomato based you get. I personally like both, but I am partial to the vinegar based 'cue. There are a lot of barbecue places around this state and everyone makes theirs a little different. Usually it is the sauce, which can have more spice or a different mix of spice added to the vinegar, but sometimes it is how it is cooked. Some places cook with wood to add a smokey flavor to the pork. Others slow roast without the wood. 

After eating it as long as I have lived in NC and having been behind the scenes at few of these places and seeing how they make their 'cue, I was always a bit intimidated by the length of time required to make good barbecue. I finally got past that and decided to make some of my own one day after seeing pork butts on sale at the store and trying to figure out how to do make barbecue without having to spend 12 hours over a smoker. I was struck with the thought of using my old friend, the slow cooker. I am fortunate enough to have the largest one I have found available, a 7 quart cooker. Having 8 kids requires a large cooker to have enough of anything to feed us all. I found that a 8-10 pound pork butt (also called a Boston Butt or pork shoulder) fits into a 7 quart slow cooker

After seasoning the butt and putting it into the cooker and letting it go on low for 8 hours, I had a pork roast that simply fell apart, the sign of good barbecue. Here in NC we also have different style of serving the 'cue- either chopped or shredded. The chopped is literally the meat deboned, defatted and deskinned and chopped into small bits. This is then tossed with the sauce of the house. Pulled is all of this juicy pork deliciousness deboned, deskinned and defatted and pulled apart so the fibers of muscle give you long shreds of pork. This is then tossed with the house sauce and served. I prefer shredded, so that is how I make mine. 

Now here is a few things about making this in the slow cooker. After cooking for 8+ hours, there will be a good amount of juice and fat that has cooked out and is now stewing in. Save this juice, more on that later. The pork will also not have a smoky flavor to it since it is not cooked over wood. You can add a few drops of liquid smoke if you like a smoky flavor to your 'cue. If you prefer, you can put the meat onto a sheet pan and in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes to dry it out a bit, if you prefer a dryer bbq. After pulling the meat off the bone, save the bone to make a bone broth or stock later. DO NOT give it to your dog. Dogs should not have pork bones as they splinter and can lodge in their throats. Save the skin and make cracklins or cut up into smaller pieces and give to the dog (or the kids) as a treat. 

Here is my recipe for slow cooker barbecue.

1   8-10 pound pork butt
spice blend (this will depend on YOUR taste. We like a little zip and spice to ours, so adjust to your taste)
    2 part                  kosher salt
   1 part                  black pepper
  1/2 part                    cayenne pepper
  1 part                   granulated garlic, not powder
  1 part                    onion powder

I have also added such spices as star anise, nutmeg, anise seed, chili powder, red pepper flakes, etc.
Mix these spices together in a bowl and rub well all over the roast, getting into all the cracks and crevices. Put roast into cooker on low for 8 hours or until meat easily pulls away from bones. Remove from cooker and process meat as you like (shredded or chopped). Add your favorite sauce and mix well. Serve. Here is a recipe for True NC BBQ as served by  Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue by Reed. I would jazz it up to suit your taste by adding brown sugar, hot sauce, chili peppers, molasses or whatever you think works for you, but this is a good base recipe.

1 gallon apple cider vinegar
1 1/3 cups crushed red pepper
2 T black pepper
¼ cup kosher salt

So what do you do with all of that left over juice from the cooking? I will strain and put it in the refrigerator to cool and allow the fat layer to harden on top. I will take this fat and either clarify it and use it for cooking or just feed a little bit at a time to the dogs. Use the broth to flavor other dishes like beans soups or chili. You can freeze or can the broth to use at a later time.

If you are able to take advantage of a sale on pork roast, you will easily save a lot of money making a pretty good bbq. Around here it costs $7.99 a pound for fresh prepared bbq. If you pay only $2 a pound for raw pork and even with a 30% loss of weight due to the cooking you will still be paying less than $3 a pound for fresh bbq. I hope this helps you make a great meal for your family and don't forget the cole slaw and hushpuppies

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Avocados and guacamole

HASS variety avocado
Avocados are an excellent and tasty way to get a highly nutritious food into your kids. Some of my kids don't really like them fresh, but make some guacamole and it disappears. Guacamole is a Mexican dish made from fresh avocados and different spices. It is great with many Mexican dishes as well as a fresh dip with some tortilla chips. It is essential when making seven layer dip. There are other ways to use them as well, which you can find a few at the end of the post.

FLORIDA variety avocado
When shopping for avocados, you will generally find two kinds, the Hass which is predominantly grown on the West Coast and the Florida avocado. The Hass is smaller, has a dark, almost black as it ripens, rough skin and the Florida varieties are larger, almost double the size of the Hass, and have a green, smooth skin. I would liken the Florida varieties similar in appearance to a mango. You can use either variety interchangably. You will usually find them under ripe in the grocery stores. Simply leave on your counter for a couple days and it will be ripe when it softens to gentle pressure. Once ripe, put in your refrigerator or it will quickly over ripen. You will be able to tell an over ripened avocado when you cut into and the flesh has blackened. 

So what do you do with them once they ripen? We all like guacamole, so eating it is no problem, but when all of the avocados ripen at the same time, you either have to eat them with everything or you can freeze them. Yes, avocados can be frozen. In fact, many restaurants buy them that way for use on their menu. Commercially, you can get them halved, skinned and pitted or pureed for making guacamole. They are IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) which helps preserve their integrity better than just putting them in the home freezer, but for our purposes, simply freezing them works fine. I find that making guacamole and then freezing it  works very well. Remember to freeze it in containers that are just the right size for what you will eat at one time and not in a huge batch. Once the guacamole thaws, there may be some separation of liquids in it, but you can simply stir it back up and it will be fine. You can also half, skin and pit them and then put them on a wax paper lined sheet pan in the freezer. Once frozen, put in a zipper bag and pull out for use as needed.

The easiest way to remove the flesh from the halved, seeded fruit is to use a tablespoon. Simply slide the spoon along the skin, separating it from the flesh and you should have am entire half of an avocado. Simply slice or mash according to your use. There really is no need to go out and buy an avocado knife or special avocado tool for removing the flesh.

The avocado is extremely nutritious and are one of the highest sources of monounsaturated fat (which is good for you). High intake of avocado has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. There are numerous ways to make guacamole and no one way is right, just what your preference is. Here is our basic recipe. Feel free to adjust to your taste.

2 avocados, peeled, seeded and mashed
1 lemon or lime, juiced
salt and pepper
1 roma tomato, diced
2 cloves garlic, mashed
 1 jalapeno, minced (optional)
1/2 t onion powder

Add all of the ingredients to the mashed avocados, mixing well. If fresh garlic seems too overpowering for you, substitute 1t of granulated garlic. Taste and adjust as needed. Other ingredients that can be added include chilis, scallions, chili powder, coriander, cumin and cilantro.

That's it!! Simple!! I bet once you try it and see how simple it is, you won't pay $3 for an 8 ounce package in the produce case again. If you buy the avocados on sale, you can prepare twice the amount for what you will pay for prepared in the store. Yours will also not have the preservatives in it either. Remember that air is the enemy, so unless you keep it well covered, it will start to turn brown. Put the finished guacamole in an airtight container and before sealing, put a piece of plastic wrap directly over the guacamole and get out any air bubbles. This will slow the process of it turning brown. The added acid (lemon or lime juice) also works to slow this down.

Other good recipes for using avocados are chocolate pudding, avocado cucumber soup (it is served cold and is a refreshing summer cold soup) and chocolate caramel avocado brownies.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Perfectly Cooked Bacon- An easy way to cook it and what to do with the fat

I think everyone but my mother loves bacon. I usually can never make enough at my house before it disappears. Whenever I try to make extra so we can have BLT sandwiches for lunch, there is rarely ever enough to make more than a couple sandwiches. One of the biggest problems with making bacon is HOW you cook it. Most people likely cook it like mom did, in a skillet on the stove.

Let me let you in on a method widely used in the food service industry. If a place were to cook every slice of bacon in a skillet it would take all day to get it done. A busy restaurant will go through several boxes of sliced bacon in a Sunday brunch, so what would be the fastest and cleanest method to cook it? In the oven! In the biz, bacon usually comes sliced and laid out on parchment paper sheets. This makes it very easy to put a sheet of bacon onto a metal sheet pan and put it in the oven to cook. You also can do this at home the same way. Take your bacon and lay a single layer of bacon slices on a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Wax paper will not work here. It will only melt the wax and everything will stick to the pan. In a home setting a half sheet pan (18" x 12") will fit into your oven. A standard sized sheet pan is double the size (18" x 24") and will not fit.

Using this cooking method will help you save time and cleanup. There will be less splattering as the bacon cooks and when it does, it will burn off as the oven is heated, saving on the clean up. You will also have the benefit of a more evenly cooked bacon slice. I do recommend that you take the pan out after 10 minutes and fluff up the slices. This will keep them from sticking to the pan and each other. Cook for about another 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven, depending on how crispy you like your bacon.

The only other issue with cooking bacon is what to do with all of the fat, or as they call it in the South, pan drippings? In my house, this is like liquid gold. After the fat has cooled down, but before it starts to solidify, pour it into a clean mason jar. Put this into the refrigerator and whenever you are cooking something like pan seared greens or scrambled (or any pan cooked eggs), just take a spoonful out the jar and use this as your cooking fat. Not only is animal fats healthier for you, they can be cooked at a higher temperature without burning and also add a lot of flavor to your food. When cooking greens, like spinach, swiss chard or kale the ease of having readily available bacon fat saves time when preparing because you do not have to wait for the raw bacon to cook and crisp up and then there is always the issue of a messy, greasy cleanup. If your fat still has bits of bacon in it, don't worry. It will be an extra addition to your final dish having the bits of real bacon in it. By using this fat that some people would other wise throw away, you are saving money from having to buy vegetable oil.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Say Cheese!! Saving money buying cheese.

If your family likes cheese like mine does, it can be a bit pricey to buy "good" cheese. Now understand when I say cheese, I am not taking about the sliced stuff that is individually wrapped. I am talking about real cheese that has to have been cut from a big block that was traditionally made. This cheese can be any kind you can imagine from any place in the world. Blues, soft, aged, wine rubbed skin, cheddars, goat milk, sheep milk, cow milk, brine cured, fruit infused and wine infused are just a sampling of some of the kinds of many different cheese out there. The one thing that most have in common is when they are great for eating and when they have gone past their prime.

Cheese is a naturally fermented food where the milk has been inoculated by whatever bacteria makes that kind of cheese. Through the fermentation process, the bacteria transform the simple milk into something even better. What some people may not realize is that this cheese is still a "living" medium. When you buy that cheese, the bacteria are still alive and continuing to do their thing with that cheese until their food supply has been depleted and they die off. This is especially true in fresh, soft ripened cheeses like brie and camembert. Don't be alarmed! These bacteria are not bad for you. They actually are very good for your health, like eating fresh yogurt adds the live cultures to your gut. Even after the bacteria has died off, the cheese will still weap out whey as it hardens and ages, in essense, respiring.

Usually, if you are fortunate enough to get cheese from a cheese monger (someone that sells cheese), they will take great care to make sure the cheese is the freshest it can be. They may trim any unwanted mold from it and regularly rewrap it so that it can breath. Yes cheese breathes. Cheese would traditionally be stored in the open air so that the cheese can age properly and breath and it will inhibit mold growth, if kept under the proper conditions, such as temperature and humidity. When I worked as a cheese monger, we would regularly go through the cheese case and rewrap cut blocks so they would stay as fresh as possible until purchased.

So how can you do this at home? First remove the plastic wrap and dry off the block if there is any moisture and allow it to air dry for a little bit. Next you have 2 options on how to store blocks of cheese. The first would be to wrap it in wax paper. This will allow the cheese to get some air activity and not be sealed off by plastic wrap. The other option as I posted in this previous post, would be to wrap it paper towels or flour sack cloth that has been lightly moistened with white vinegar. The vinegar will keep unwanted mold from forming on the surface. Either way, put the wrapped block in the warmest part of the refrigerator, like a veggie or lunch meat drawer.

Soft ripened cheeses, like brie or camembert, need to be eaten young. They definitely have an expiration date and that is inherent with this type of cheese. The best way to be be sure your cheese is of high quality is to smell it. Soft ripened cheese should have a fresh smell to them, like the type of cheese they are. If you detect the faintest wiff of ammonia, this cheese is past it's prime. The ammonia is the over fermentation of the milk in these cheeses and if you eat them, you will definitely taste it and not the smooth, creamy milk taste you would expect. Most of these type of cheese are wrapped in a wax paper and can easily be slightly opened up and smelled. The white mold skin on these cheeses are desired and quite tasty.

Some harder block cheeses, like cheddars, provolone, parmesan and others will age pretty well if you follow the above recommendations. As they get older, they will get harder as they dry out further. This will only increase the intensity of the flavor. As they do age, they will get harder and harder and here is a pro tip- chefs love these hard cheeses. We grate them over a dish to add a little more flavor to the food. If you use a micro plane grater, you will get extremely thin shavings of cheese. A little of this goes a long way and you do not want to drench a dish with cheese, just a adding a little extra kick to it.

Brine cured cheese, like feta, should be stored in the salt brine it came in. This brine not only is there to flavor the cheese, but keeps it fresh. The salt inhibits any mold growth on the cheese, as salt is a natural mold inhibitor. If you happen to spill or not have enough brine to cover the cheese, you can easily make more brine. Add 2-3 tablespoons of kosher salt, not table salt which has iodine in it, to a cup of water. Dissolve the salt, taste and be sure the brine is salty and add to cover the cheese. When using this type of cheese, just remove the block from the brine, blot to dry and crumble or slice as needed. Put whatever cheese remains back in the brine and refrigerate.

So I hope you found this post helpful. It may not save you money on the front end of buying these cheese, but it will on the back end by keeping it fresh until consumed. Enjoy!!

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Iced Coffee Indulgences on a Shoe String Budget

Are you one of those people that like cold coffee? Do you enjoy one of those Starbuck's iced lattes that cost $3 (or more) for a 12 ounce bottle? As this type of drink has become more popular, I have noticed how the price has crept up on them. Have you ever read the ingredient list? Potassium sorbate (a preservative),citric acid (another preservative) and "natural flavoring", whatever that may be, are all ingredients in the commercial stuff.

So how would a person enjoy these without having to pay so much for them and without the nasty stuff??  Simple. Make your own! It is very easy to make your own. First, make a fresh pot of coffee. When it is done, add sugar to your desired level of sweetness. Add cream, milk or half and half to your desired level of lightness. When you have this all mixed up, pour this into a mason jar, cover tightly and place into the fridge. This should be made about 6-8 hours ahead of time so that it will cool down. I do not recommend adding ice cubes to chill it faster because this will water down the taste, especially if you are not using a dark roasted coffee with strong flavor.

After it has cooled down, put into your own bottle or jar and take it with you. For an added taste, you can add some cinnamon or cocoa (to make a mocha latte) in the brew basket as the coffee is brewing. Add a shot of coffee flavoring if you want after the coffee has brewed, like caramel, chocolate syrup or fruit syrup  I am sure you will think it tastes even better knowing how much money you saved making your own and knowing what is in it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

DIY foamy soap dispensers

In a much earlier post, I wrote about how to save some money on soap HERE. That post explained how to turn all of those leftover soap slivers into liquid soap. I have recently discovered a way to stretch this reclaimed investment even further. The current rage in the soap industry is foamy hand soap. Almost every public bathroom soap unit has been changed to dispense foam and you can purchase personal use foam dispensers for your home as well. I am usually a little late for the dance, so I discovered this just recently via one of my Ibotta rebates. Having purchased a bottle of the foamy soap, it quickly ran out in my household of ten. That got me researching how I could refill the dispenser with my own soap solution.

Here's how:

Items needed:
  • 1 foaming soap dispenser (you'll need to purchase one filled and wait until it's been emptied)

Start with any normal, thick, liquid hand soap of your choosing. Fill the empty, foamy soap dispenser about 25% of the way with this soap. Then, add warm water to fill the bottle the rest of the way (leaving a little head room for the plunger to fit back in the bottle without spilling any out). Tighten the plunger and shake the bottle well to mix the soap and water solution.

That's it! All ready to go and tackle those dirty hands.

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