Thursday, June 30, 2011

All Purpose baking mix or better known as bisquick

Okay, so you raised on Bisquick and you know it has dozens of uses, but do you know how easy it is to make yourself? I came across a recipe that makes all purpose, baking mix for pennies compared to the commercial stuff. I have been making this for years now and it always makes great pancakes and biscuits. I got the original recipe from a reader who sent it in to Countryside Magazine many years ago, but I have altered it over the years to suit my needs. The original recipe contained dry milk. After reading about dry milk and how through the process of making it dry, it oxidizes the fats of the milk which could lead to cancer causing problems later on, I have decided to go without it. My recipe uses buttermilk and whole milk in place and actually works better.

8 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup baking powder

2t salt

Sift all of these these ingredients into a large bowl and (I ) use a whisk to slowly mix all of these together very thoroughly. Put the mix into a large container and store for future use.

Now when you need to use this, you will need to add oil/fat to the mixture. I measure out the needed amount of mix and add 1/8 cup of oil or butter to each cup of the mix. If you do not add the fat until you are ready to use the mix, the mix will stay fresh much longer.

Additionally, here are some added items needed for different items

Biscuits: 1/3 cup milk or buttermilk to 1 cup mix, bake at 425`F

Pancakes: add 1 egg for each cup of mix, add enough milk/buttermilk (I have found a 50/50 ratio works best) to get desired consistency of batter.

Dumplings: a little less milk than the biscuit mix to make a thick dough. Roll thin and slice

Corn Bread: add equal amounts corn flour to the mix. Add 1egg to each cup of mix. Add 2/3 cup liquid (water, milk or buttermilk) to make a thick batter. Do not over mix.

Muffins: To each cup of mix add:

1t cinnamon

1/3 cup sugar

½ cup milk

I find that using buttermilk will always make a better product because the acid of the buttermilk reacts better with the baking powder to make the product rise higher, making a lighter and fluffier product.
These are basic recipes, so add your own additions to it to improve the finished item.

It's all in the mix with Chef Cheapo... saving you money and helping you cook better.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


       This middle eastern specialty is one of the easiest, nutritious and tasty foods to make with only a minimum of ingredients. I was shown this recipe by a nice Lebanese woman when I first moved to NC (go figure). If someone asked me what hummus was made from years ago, I would not have a clue. I am guessing some people are in the same category.

       This recipe is not given in any precise measurements because this is highly dependant on your taste, so make the basic recipe and adjust to what suits your taste. Peel several cloves of fresh garlic and place them into a food processor. Process them until they are minced well. Take a can of chick peas (also known as garbanzo beans), drain, rinse and add to the processor. Add lemon juice and TAHINI (ground sesame seeds- can be found in better grocers and Whole Foods). I generally add half the amount tahini as there is chick peas. The lemon juice is added as needed to make the entire concoction blend easy in the processor. Stop and scrape the sides, add S&P and continue until the hummus is a smooth, light pastey substance. It should have a flavor of fresh garlic and lemon with an undertone of the sesame. That’s it.

        You will be saving money by preparing this yourself. The beans are very cheap and even cheaper if you start with dried chick peas and soak them over night and cook until tender. The tahini is a bit pricey, but that is unavoidable. All tolled, it will be less than paying $2.99 or more for a 6 oz. tub at the store. Some extra variations that I have seen and would suggest is roasted garlic, chili peppers or roasted red peppers. It is also a great way to get beans into your diet, adding all the good vitamins and minerals and fiber to promote good health. Serve with pita chips, crustini or crackers or make a hummus sandwich with sprouts and tomato.

       Variations on traditional hummus are almost limitless. Use any different bean you prefer- black, white (cannelloni), fava, perhaps even green pea? Experiment with what you’re adding into it to come up with your own family favorite.

       Chef Cheapo, making your food even better and less pricey.

Monday, June 27, 2011

They call me, "the meat man" !!

This post has a double edged sword to it. It will require you to spend some money up front, but it will save you money and give you better food in the end. One of the best tools in my kitchen is my Kitchenaid mixer.  Mine allows me to use attachments to it for different tasks. There is a plug cover that comes off and the attachment goes into the body of the mixer. I have had my mixer for many years now and I have a meat grinder attachment that I found early on. It generally cost around $80 for this attachment, but one money saving way is to look for it on EBay, yard sales or thrift stores. I found mine in a thrift store for $10 and it is cast aluminum, not plastic. In the past year, I went out and bought a meat grinder that Lowes Hardware sells. That is all it does- grind meat. It was on sale for 20 % off, the last one they had was the floor model and they gave me another 10% off and I got a $20 rebate to boot. Now THAT’S a bargain hunter for you. With the sale pricing and the amount of meat I will grind, I figured it would be worth it.

So, why should you want to grind your own meat? You will be amazed at how much money you will be saving and how the quality difference is from store bought ground meat. Most commercial ground meat (beef) comes from a factory butcher that processes thousands of animals a day. All of the non-prime cuts and bone scrapings become ground beef. The mixture of this meat from the thousands of animals is what has brought out the meat recalls over the years from ecoli and salmonella. In addition to the safety of the meat, there is the question of quality. The ground meat has been ground and “refreshed” several times by the time you have purchased it, allowing more fat than may be labeled to be added. By regrinding the meat, it also makes it look fresher. Another trend the meat industry is using as of late is prepackaging the ground meat at the factory so the store has nothing to do with it. Check the ingredient label on these prepacked meats. You will see many of them have “additional flavoring added”. Why would meat need extra flavoring?

 Additionally, something to watch out for that has become prevalent in the meat industry the past couple years is the practice of adding “flavor enhancers” “broth” or some other synonym for ADDED WATER. Basically, that’s what you’re getting- WATER, and usually it is some salt derivative water. So not only are you paying more for a hunk of meat that has additional water weight, but the water added is salt water and will add salt to your diet. The industry does this these days to cut costs. The cost is rising and people aren’t going to keep paying more for meat, so they must find some way to cut costs. If this meat is so good, why do people pay top dollar for a steak at Ruth’s Chris? RC offers AGED beef, or beef that has dehydrated, or lost water weight to some degree to concentrate the beef flavor.

When you grind your own, YOU have the control. You know better what you are eating and the quality of the meat as well. You bring the chance of contamination down greatly. Ecoli thrives in the moist environment of the ground meat, not as well on the surface of a roast, so if you start with a hunk of meat, less contamination. I will wait until I see CHUCK ROAST on sale. This will give you a good moist ground beef that will make great flavored hamburgers. If you plan to use the ground beef in recipe like burrito, tacos, meat loaf, etc., you can use a leaner cut of meat, like eye round, sirloin, and rump roast. Ground beef sells for anywhere from $2.59 (on sale) to $4.50 a pound. I have seen chuck roast on sale for $1.89/pound. Here's the money savings! Buy the roast, cut into cubes to fit into the grinder, grind, weigh, and use. I will buy 10-20 pounds at a time and portion into 2 pounds per quart Ziploc bag and freeze and use as needed throughout the month.

        Using chuck roast will yield you 80% lean, 20% fat ground beef, perfect for hamburgers. Eye round, sirloin and rump roast will be about equal to 93% lean. Fat is not the enemy here. When you cook the ground beef, the fat will melt off and you can drain it off if that is a concern for you. I have also been fortunate enough to get venison from local hunters every autumn. Most will gladly give it away, so what they are harvesting has some use. This makes EXCELLENT meat, for everything you would use beef for. Most people will not tell the difference if not told. Same thing for other meat- chicken, pork. Buy it cheap, grind your own and save money.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Here's a quick tip that will save you pennies each time you use it. My two favorite piece of money saving equipment in the kitchen are my rubber spatula and my funnel. Whenever you get to the bottom of that ketchup bottle, remove the lid from the new bottle, insert funnel and turn the old bottle upside down in the funnel. Allow this to sit for about a half hour in the corner of your counter. You will be surprised how much ketchup is left in the bottle that you would have tossed away. Of course you can do this with any bottled item. I use the rubber spatula for the same purpose for those wide mouth bottles like mayo and peanut butter. Again, you'll be surprised how much peanut butter sticks to the jar.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Whey to go!!

So now that you have this yogurt, what can you do with it? First, let’s assume that you have made plain, unsweetened yogurt. One of my family’s new favs is yogurt cheese. By simply draining off the whey from the curd, you will get cheese. The cheese is already cultured, but it is best as a soft cheese. We eat it in place of cream cheese. Spread it on a bagel and sprinkle some sea salts on it and you have a great morning start. I have also used this cheese as a base for a cheese spread (like Aloutte) by adding some dried herbs and seasonings to it. Spread that on a cracker and enjoy. Additionally, it will more healthful for you since that cheese still has the active cultures in it.

So you may at first want to toss that whey that you strained off the yogurt, BUT DON’T!! That’s some valuable stuff there and you will want to keep it in a clean mason jar in the fridge. I use this whey to make bread (adds tenderness and feeds the yeast) and to make pickles. If you get Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions, it goes into great depth about using whey as a means for fermentation (making traditional pickles). This whey still has some of the cultures the yogurt had and will add these to the food being pickled making it a live food, adding to the healthy benefit. I also think it is essential in fermenting foods. I tried to make sauerkraut once without the whey and it became moldy after a week in the crock. Recently having made kraut WITH the whey and it has stayed fresh and mold free for weeks in the fridge. The difference being the live bacteria keep the bad molds and bacteria from getting hold of the food and keep it preserved. You can use the whey and pickle almost any veggie (and some fruits) you can think of. Think of all of the traditional foods that used to be fermented- kim chee, sauerkraut, okra, carrots (see my ginger carrot recipe in a later post), onions, peppers, radish, chutneys and preserves.

How to make yogurt cheese

First line a colander with large coffee filters (I use a china cap-a conical shaped strainer) making sure to use one filter on bottom first and build the walls around it. Place this strainer over a large bowl. After yogurt has been removed from warmer, slowly empty jar of fresh yogurt into the strainer. You should immediately see some “water” dripping out of the strainer. This is the whey. The milk solids will stay in the strainer. Allowing this to stay draining for at least 6-8 hours on the counter is ok, but you can put it in the refrigerator if you prefer. This process will work better when the yogurt is warm because the whey will separate from the solids more easily. Expect to get about half, or even a little more, of the yogurt batch to become whey (so 1 quart of yogurt will become 2 cups of whey +/-).  You will notice that the cheese will become more solid around the edges first and the center of the strainer may still be a bit liquefied. In this case, I will very gently scrape the edge of the strainer to the middle and allow the wetter cheese to get to the edge. I will occasionally collect the strained whey into a mason jar so I can see how the straining is progressing. When the amount of whey coming off has slowed to virtually nothing, I will jar up the remaining whey and put the cheese into a container in the fridge. The cheese should easily come out of the strainer and peel away from the filter. Use a rubber scraper if needed. Enjoy!! This cheese should stay fresh for at least a week or 2 in fridge (if you don’t eat it before then). The whey will stay fresh for at least a month.

Cheese spread

1 batch of strained yogurt cheese

½ t. – 1 t. garlic powder (or granulated garlic)

½ t  chives

½ t. parsley flakes

½ t. sea salt

½ t. white pepper (black will be ok if you don’t have white)

½ t. dried minced onion

*all herbs are dried, but you can use fresh.

Add all ingredients to cheese and mix vigorously to combine thoroughly and incorporate air into cheese. Adjust seasoning to your taste (you can experiment will chili powder, cumin, curry, etc.). Chill and serve.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


        Are you a big yogurt eater? We are and if you eat more than a quart in a week, (which we easily can do) what I am about to tell you will save you not only money, but you will be kicking yourself for not trying this great tasting yogurt sooner. When I was a kid, I always found that the yogurt you buy in the store was too tangy . I like that now as an adult, but the yogurt you can make at home will be much smoother, fresher  and not necessarily as tangy. For me, the whole progression of liking yogurt was when I got a whole milk yogurt at Whole Foods. The fat content of the whole milk made the taste smoother and less twangy. I learned how to make my own and I was very surprised how easy it is. I prefer to make whole milk yogurt. You can use 2% or skim if you prefer, but some additives will have to added because of  the lower fat content.

You MUST start with fresh milk. As milk ages, the proteins break down and the yogurt will not culture properly. If you had your own cow, it would be great, but start with the freshest milk you can buy. You must also buy a package of store bought yogurt. This is your starter and will add the yogurt culture to your batch. I prefer Stonyfield Farms. You can use any maker’s, but it MUST be labeled “Live and active culture”. I like Stonyfield because they have 6 different cultures and the more beneficial cultures you have in your yogurt, the better gut flora you will have, which aids in digestion.  Again, make sure the yogurt you buy is the freshest available. You should have a yogurt maker, but you can make it without it if you do not want to buy one. I bought one off Amazon for under $20 and it holds a quart jar. I will offer a method that uses an alternate method so you can get started right away.

I usually make a quart at a time, so measure out 1 quart of milk. Pour it into a sauce pan. Put the milk on a very low heat and warm the milk until the temperature reaches 190 degrees.  Stir the milk a couples in the course of heating it. Make sure you scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to loosen any milk that has started to stick to the pan. Remove from the heat and add about 1/3 cup of sugar. You can adjust this in future batches to your liking. At this point you can add any flavorings, such as coffee (use instant coffee- only about 1 teaspoon) or vanilla. Allow this to cool until it gets below 120 degrees. Take a teaspoon of the  store yogurt and put it into a small bowl. Add about an ounce or two of the warm milk and mix together until the yogurt has smoothed out and become more liquefied (this is called tempering). Then add this back to the milk. By doing this, you allow the yogurt to fully mix into the milk and not clump. You will need to strain out the milk mixture to be sure you do not have any scrapings from the bottom of the pan or yogurt clumps. Strain this milk mixture into your quart jar (Glass works better, by the way, because it conducts the heat better than plastic). Place into your warmer and allow this to culture over night or for 8-10 hours.  In the morning, put into your fridge and chill to serving temp and enjoy.

 Okay, here’s some incidentals.

You don’t have a commercial warmer? Make one! You will need a large stock pot, a heating pad and the quart jar. Put your jar with your cultured milk in the large pot. Wrap the jar with the heating pad, so both are in the pot. Turn on the pad on low and continue recipe.

Wanna try lemon yogurt? Put lemon zest (not any of the white pith) in the milk before you warm it up. The warm milk will draw the lemon oils out of the zest and flavor the milk without curdling it.

Do you like fruit yogurt? Then make plain yogurt and add your favorite jam, preserves or marmelade to the finished yogurt as you serve it.

The longer you keep the milk in the warmer, the more “zip” or twang you will have. You must culture it for a minimum of 8 hours, but at 10, you have more zip to it, although the whole milk will subdue the twang to a great degree.

By bringing the milk to 190 degrees, you are stretching the proteins of the milk out. By under heating them you will create a soupier yogurt, so be sure to heat the milk to get that creamy, thick yogurt.

I used to suggest adding dry milk to the liquid milk to aid in thickening it. From what I have read about dry milk (see Weston A Price), I have altered my thoughts on it. I have experimented with gelatin with pretty good success, but making sure you heat the milk to 190 will alleviate the need for the additives, except maybe in skim and milk alternatives.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

So who are you?

So you may be asking yourself, who is this guy and why do I want to read his blog? Good question. My name is Greg and I am a classically trained chef (Culinary Institute of America 1991). I worked in the restaurant business from the time I was 16 starting as a dish washer and busboy and onto running restaurants. I have worked in every area of a restaurant from bartender and waiter to dishwasher and executive chef.  Over the years, I had to make the decision whether family or my career was more important to me. Family won and I have never regretted the decision.  Although I am not cooking great food every night for paying guests, the joy derived from my family eating great food and the accolades from family and friends is enough to satisfy. Now you may ask, “How hard can it be to feed your family?”. Well, with 7 hungry kids (aren’t they are always hungry), you  soon  learn that good food costs money and you have to find ways to save some here and there. That is where I come in.

                I advocate wholesome, whole foods whenever possible. Organic  is best usually, but can be pricey and the price is not always worth it. Personally, I have become an advocate for traditional foods. Having watched the movies Food Inc. and King Corn and read the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, I have become even more aware of the junk that is in our food. Many of the practices in Sally’s book go back to the time before refrigeration and when people had to preserve their food to avoid going bad and making someone sick. You will see some of the recipes that I will include make use of this practice. I bet most people don’t remember a REAL pickled cuke or tasted real whole milk yogurt made in your kitchen.  I have a batch of garlic dills on the kitchen counter right now turning into pickles. I will be lucky to get one myself before the kids devour them.

                The tips and ideas I will present are practical ideas that I use every day in my home and are ones that will work and will save you money (in most cases) and allow you to eat better. I hope you enjoy the blog and please leave any feedback and ideas that will enhance the blog. Thanks for reading and God Bless!