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.


This post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ginger carrots

Looking back on some previous posts (here), I noticed that I promised a recipe for ginger carrots and I never followed through, so here it is. This recipe comes from the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.

This recipe uses a process of fermentation of the carrots. Don't be scared. It's quite easy to do and so rewarding when you try it, that you will wonder why no one makes this commercially. It uses dairy whey as an ingredient to help ferment this dish. The fermentation process was widely used by our ancestors as a way to preserve their food for long periods of time. This is where we got everyone's favorite- pickles. No, not the pickles you buy in the store made with vinegar. These are a more complex flavored pickle. You get the flavor of the seasonings and the cucumber. It is not overpowered by a simple vinegar taste.

The whey is derived from a live cultured product- yogurt, kefir or cheese. After making the cultured milk food, the whey is the clear, yellowish liquid that drains off of the curds. This whey has all of the live cultures that the yogurt or kefir had and adding it to the vegetable, in this case, the carrots, help to break down the cellular walls of the veggie, making it easier to digest. These live cultures also keep bad bacteria from getting a hold of the food and spoiling it. Get the kids involved grating the carrots and make it a family affair.

Ginger Carrots

4 cups  grated carrots, tightly packed
1 T freshly grated ginger
2 T sea salt
4 T whey (if no whey is available, use and extra 1T of salt)

In a bowl, mix all ingredients and pound with a wooden pounder or meat hammer to release juices. Place in a quart sized, wide mouth mason jar and press down firmly with the wooden pounder until juices cover the carrots. the top of the carrots should be at least 1 inch from top of jar. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

I discovered a wealth of information from this book about using whey to transform other ordinary food into extraordinary additions to our diet. I highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in eating healthy and/or expanding their diet.

We use these carrots as a topping, a condiment, on other foods. On a grilled chicken sandwich, it is outstanding! It has just enough ginger flavor and the carrots become sweeter for the fermentation process.  Give it a try. You may be asking, "How is this a money saver?". I have nothing to go on. You can't buy this in a store. I would guess it would be quite pricey though if were available, so with that in mind it is a huge money saver and you will be eating better than you were before.

Affiliate links are in this post.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Vinegar's Many Uses: Tips for the kitchen and beyond


Vinegar is a kitchen staple. In its simple form, it is derived from wine that has gone bad (although a variety of different starters can be used). Though not seen widely in America, you can find vinegars made from such diverse items as kiwi fruit, sherry, rice wine, raisins, palm, sugar cane, beer, coconut, dates and apple cider. After the juice is made from the fruit or grain, it is exposed to acetic acid bacteria, usually in the form of a "mother", which convert the alcohol to vinegar, usually leaving the flavor of the original "wine" behind to flavor the vinegar. There are also the more celebrated vinegars like balsamic and East Asian Black.

For the purpose of this writing, I will focus on the use of simple white distilled vinegar as this is the most economical and easiest to find. Some of these tips will specify using apple cider vinegar, which is also very economical. Be aware that there are a couple different kinds of white vinegar- white distilled, cleaning vinegar and non edible cleaning vinegar. I use only regular white distilled vinegar. The difference between regular and "cleaning" is 1% of acidity. The non edible cleaning has not been refined pure enough for eating and for my needs has no purpose in my kitchen. It is also more expensive. Just stick with regular distilled white vinegar and you will have no worries and it is less expensive. Look for another post for ways to use more exotic vinegars like balsamic, rice wine and others.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Digital couponing


In another post, I talk about how I feel about couponing. Here I will talk about digital coupons and digital rebating. Back in the day, there were no digital coupons or smart phones and rebates had to be done by mail. You would find a pad of rebate coupons hanging on the shelf in front of the rebated item and you would have to cut out the UPC symbol off of the package and mail it along with your register receipt to the manufacturer to get your rebate. This has all but gone away for everyday groceries. You can still find a lot of this type of rebates being done with beer, wine and alcohol, as well as non grocery items.


In today's world, we have smart phones and apps like IBOTTA, CHECKOUT 51 and SAVINGSTAR. There are several others that are more niche for organic foods that you would have to go to Whole Foods to find. Probably the biggest of the 3 is Ibotta. If you are not familiar with this app, it works like this: you find a store you shop at on the app, find a product you are going to buy and after doing your grocery shopping, you will take a photo of your receipt after highlighting which products you bought. DONE! It usually gives you the credit for the purchase within the day. After you accumulate the withdrawal amount, which is $20, it will be deposited in your Paypal account or redeemed for gift cards. They do usually have a few generic items, such as a gallon of any milk or some produce. They also have ways to save money on your purchases at other stores, such as drug, sporting good, hardware, clothing, electronic and various online shopping sites. The other apps work the same way, but at this time seem to only have the grocery items. 
Another way to save on your grocery bill is to use online coupons linked to your grocery store's rewards program (and most have them these days). Many large grocery stores have their own app that will allow you to scroll through a list of coupons you can tap onto your loyalty card and they will be automatically redeemed when you buy the qualifying item. Not every store has the same coupons and usually you can only redeem the coupon once. The coupons offered will change regularly, so you will need to check it out before doing you shopping to be sure you are getting all of the savings you can. I have found this to be much easier than remembering to bring my stack of coupons into the store and have to sort through them to find the one I need every trip.

Overall, I have found using digital coupons and rebates is a lot easier than using paper coupons. The time savings alone make them worth the effort and you will have a good visual account of what your savings are.




Affiliate links are included in this post.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Couponing with paper coupons

Redeeming coupons for a product you purchase has been around for quite some time. The first, at least modern use of coupons, came in 1888 when The Coca-Cola company used coupons that were handed out to get people to try their soda for free. Many people today are familiar with cutting out a paper coupon from the Sunday paper, taking it to the store and getting a few cents to a dollar off a product you want to buy. When I was a kid, I remember helping mom cut coupons out of the Sunday AND Wednesday newspapers. Back then you were lucky to get 25 cents to 50 cents off a product.

Today, you don't need to go out and buy 10 of Sunday papers to get coupons. There are several websites that allow you to print these coupons at home on your printer. Coupons.com is probably the largest of these and has the widest assortment of coupons. You only need to click on a coupon, it goes into your cart and at the end you simply click to print the selected coupons. There are many other smaller sites that do the same thing and many product websites also occasionally offer a coupon you can print at home. I would say that you have to be aware of the cost of paper and ink involved with printing at home and see if the cost to print them is offset enough by the cents off you are getting.

Now, my opinion of couponing may surprise you. I am not a big fan of it. I have been doing it for a long time, but as I have gotten older and my food consumtion has changed, I find it less and less valuable. Your opinion may differ. For me, the time and effort involved with finding the coupons, cutting them out, sorting them, trying to remember to bring them and then going through them at the store is just too much effort. Also, the type of coupons that seem to be available no longer match up with the foods I eat and feed my family. By my observations, more of the food coupons today seem to be new items, overly processed and/or a slow moving items the manufacturer wants to drive more sales and less of the core items I used to use them on. We do still use coupons when we come across them for cleaning products, soaps, health and beauty aids and non edible products that we do still consume.
If you do find that the items you buy are in line with the coupons out there and being offered then they are a great way to cut a few dollars off the grocery bill. Here would be my warning and I often have to stop myself from asking every coupon lady I come across at the store, “are you actually going to USE all of that product or is it you are getting a “good deal” on it and will it wind up sitting in the pantry?” If it is not something you do use or will use, it is wasted money.

Today, there are many websites and blogs devoted to “couponing”. A google search will give over 8.7 MILLION sites talking about couponing. I see it as a hobby for some and a necessity for others. Many of these sites have areas to brag about how much you saved on your grocery bill and to me that makes it more like a hobby than a necessary way to save money. Most give great tips on how to save using coupons. Again, for me, the time and effort involved with all of the different aspects of “couponing” - getting the coupons, sorting them , checking the various stores sales for the week and trying to line them up with your available coupons, just does not equal a good return on my time to manage all of it. I have enough hobbies to keep me busy.

I do check out my frequently shopped stores to see what they have on sale and I do take advantage of these items when they are on sale. For example, one store has their store brand of cheese, both shredded and blocks, on sale every month. They cost out for $3 a pound or less in either form. Even with the best coupon I have ever seen offered for brand name cheese, it will never beat this price. I find this to be true for many core items. The store brand, on sale, beats the best coupon. If you shop a store that offers double coupons, you may be lucky to get close to the sale price of the store brand but often not. Additionally, I have discovered a few years ago a different grocery store that gets the majority of my shopping dollars. That store is Aldi. I like the quality of their products and I like that they have mostly core item groceries that we buy and not a lot of overly processed foods. They also have a new competitor, name Lidl, also a German grocer and together, these 2 new stores are turning the established grocers on their heads with both the quality and everyday low prices and that is what they are saying in that industry, not my words. It is their everyday prices, when compared to the established competitor's pricing that wins the day. Pricing on essential items like a gallon of whole milk for less than $3, butter for $2 a pound, a loaf of whole wheat bread (which looks just like Arnold wide loaf) for less than $2 a loaf are examples of why I no longer spend time couponing. Why do I need to cut coupons when the everyday price is lower than all I need to do couponing to get close to the same price?

I am sure that I may have ruffled a few feathers, but I have stated this is my opinion on this, yours may differ. If it works for you, then continue doing what works. I just ask you to examine these points about using paper coupons. Is the time INVESTED worth the payoff? Are you able to buy nutritious foods with your hard earned dollars or are you filling your pantry with overly processed, low nutrition products? If you are stockpiling “good deals”, are you actually using all you are buying or is it just sitting on the shelf?


I do have a differing opinion of DIGITAL COUPONS and rebates that I will put in another post. I do want to note that I have no connection to any group or organization mentioned in this post and these are my opinions and yours may differ.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

QUICK TIP: Storing Potatoes and Onions.


This tip will save you money in that you won't have food going bad (at least as fast). I was reminded of this one this morning when everyone in the house kept saying they smelled fish. I haven't had fresh fish in the house in weeks. THEN, I remembered! As I walked past the onion/potato bin, I caught a whiff and I realized instantly what happened. Some of the potatoes had gone bad and started to rot. Potatoes and especially onions give off gases as they age. These gases, if kept contained, will make the onions and potatoes start to rot. Since many people store potatoes and onions close to one another, this tends to happen.

So what I have found the best way to store these is in large, mesh onion bags, just like the plastic mesh bags the onions come in when you buy them in the store. I hang these bags over the steps to the basement on pegs I hung along the wall. They like the airy nature of the mesh bags which allows the natural gases to escape and prevents over ripening and rotting. The cooler temperature of the cellar also help them from going bad longer also.




I recommend these bags on Amazon. They are 5 star rated, come in a variety of sizes and are washable and reusable.
This post contains affiliate links.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What's your beef? ...or how to save buying beef

MOO !! Look! It's a BEEF!!
How often do you go to the grocery store and look up and down the meat aisle and try to figure out what you can make for dinner and if you can afford it? Currently, the price of beef is on the rise and the price of almost any cut is even more expensive. Being a chef, I like to do as much as I can for myself in the kitchen and with a little effort and only a few extra minutes, I am going to show you how to save some money buying beef.

The general rule with meat is that the more the butcher does for you, the more you are going to pay. Even though very few grocers butcher their own meat today (yes, it is almost all done at the factory slaughter
where the different cuts come from
house), you can save a few dollars per pound on some cuts of beef. Let's look at beef cut in strips, usually labeled "for stir fry". I have seen this selling for as much as $7.99 in some grocery stores. Now look at the price for a sirloin roast or eye of round. The price of these is selling for around $3-$4 a pound, if you find it on sale. If you buy that roast and do your own cutting, you will be saving $3-$4 a pound off of the same meat. All that is required is taking the roast home, cut a slice off the roast and cut that slice into strips. That should not take longer than 10 minutes. The same can be done for minute steaks or steaks that will cook in any gravy or sauce. If you are splurging and want good steak like ribeye or NY strip, try buying a whole ribeye or strip loin. Overall, the price will be higher for theroast, but per pound you will be saving money flor the finished steaks. Usually $1-$3 a pound can be saved by buying the whole ribeye or strip and simply cut your own steaks off of it and you get the benefit of cutting it to the thickness you want.

Ground beef can be a real savings in this area if you follow my tips given in this previous post that talks all about how to save money on ground beef. Sure you can get ground beef for maybe $3 a pound right now, but this is usually 73/27 beef which means that 27% of the ground beef is fat. When you cook this off, you are going to lose a quarter of the beef's weight to fat. You also have the addition of added sinew, "pink slime" and bits of bone that make their way into the ground beef. Now when making a burger, you do want a higher fat content to the beef so that you will have a juicy burger, but if you have too much, you will have a huge fire on your grill as the fat hits the hot coals and flares up. Burgers should only have AT MOST 20% fat. when making your own ground beef from a whole cut roast, you control how much fat is in the finished product. You will also avoid he higher chance of e-coli contamination prevalent in ground beef.

So, when buying a cut of beef, I suggest you look to getting a larger cut of beef and doing your own cutting. Sure, you may be unsure at first what you are doing, but with a little patience and practice, you will be able to do it. You will also be getting a better cut and you will have a little more control over the quality of what you are making.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Getting Started with Kombucha

It's new. It's trendy! It's good for you! Well, as the song goes, two out three ain't bad. It is trendy now and it is good for you, but what is it? Kombucha is basically, fermented sweet tea. It is made in much the same way as fine, traditional vinegars are made. It is probably one of the easiest fermented foods you can make. It is easy to consume and all of the probiotics are great for digestive and overall health. It has been recorded to have
been made as early as 221 BC in China, but has been popular in Eastern Europe, China, Russia and Japan for centuries
One of my continuous batches.
Note the VERY large mother. When it gets this much,
you will need to remove all but a small portion of it.

How do you make it? First make a batch of fresh, sweet tea, like we do here down South. This is made from real tea leaves, not a sugary tea mix. I make a gallon batch of tea at a time. Take 1 ounce of tea, which you can find in a 1 ounce tea bag or use 4-6 small tea bags. After the tea has steeped for 15-30 minutes, depending on how strong you want this tea, remove the bag and add sugar. I usually add 1 ½ -2 cups of sugar. Stir and you have sweet tea. Once this tea has become room temperature, you can add what is called a mother or SCOBY (which is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). This gelatinous blob is not the most attractive looking thing but it is a culture of anywhere from 20-30 different bacterias and yeasts, depending on where you get it. This living blob loves the sugar in the tea and after you place it in the tea and allow it to ferment on the counter for a week, you will see a thin film form on the surface of the tea. This is perfectly normal and desired. It means your scoby is working. Give it another week and the film will get a bit thicker and float on the surface of the tea. Usually after 2 weeks of fermenting, it is good to drink. After 2 weeks, it will still have a slight sweetness to it and be more pleasant to drink straight up. The longer you allow it to ferment, the more acidic it will become. I use a 2.5 gallon glass dispenser with a spigot at the bottom so I can draw off as much as I want right from the kombucha as it ferments. As the level of tea decreases, I add more room temperature sweet tea. Usually the mother will rise to the top and new layer will form on the surface and become part of the old mother. Eventually, you will need to remove some of the excess mother or it will take over your dispenser. No need to worry, because you only need a small amount of scoby to keep it going as it continues to grow more.

So what do you do with this newly fermented tea? Drink it! I usually add some to a glass of juice because although some people like it straight up, the older the batch gets, the stronger it tastes. These cultures are actually making vinegar, acetic acid, which in itself is good for health, but the added cultures give it a real kick to gut health. Some people add the kombucha to fruit juice and bottle it to make a healthy refreshing soda. When bottled, the kobucha will self carbonate like a fine champagne or beer. Just be careful you only add 20% juice or there will be too much sugar and your bottles will explode. This is one reason why I opt for the continuous batch method.

Kombucha has, generally, 1/3 the amount of caffeine as the original tea you started with, so the amount is fairly low. It also does have a small amount of alcohol, but this is usually no more than .5%, so you would have to drink 6-8, 12 oz. bottles just to get a slight buzz and I don't know anyone that wants to drink that much kombucha for a buzz.

So how do you start? Find a scoby from someone. I have found these from friends that brew their own and also on places like Craigslist. Since it always makes more mother, anyone that brews it is always looking to find somewhere to get rid of the excess. You can also find it on Amazon in dehydrated form, but this will take a bit longer to make a good batch, as the scoby takes time to rehydrate and get all the cultures active. If you are local or want to me to mail order you a mother, please email me your info and we can work it out.


There are many more resources online with more detailed explanations of everything kombucha, but this has been a good primer to get you started. So why pay $3 for a small bottle when you can brew your own for pennies?

Monday, June 12, 2017

"SCHMALTZ to you !"

So what exactly is schmaltz? Schmaltz (or in Yiddish,”Schmalz) is traditionally rendered chicken or goose fat that is usually eaten on bread, like butter.  I use it a bit differently, but more on that below. Traditionally, the raw fat is cut into small pieces and rendered until the fat separates from the solids, kind of how lard is made. This post's title is a Yiddish expression used to wish good luck to another person.

For our purposes, I have taken a slightly different approach to preparing it. After you have a made a batch of stock and allowed it to cool for a day or two, a layer of fat that was cooked off of the birds will form on the surface of the stock. After it has fully solidified, it can be removed, either by skimming it off if it is on the watery side or cut with a knife and removed by hand. If you make frequent batches of stock you can hold onto this until you have enough to make a larger batch of schmaltz, but no more than a week.

Put your fat into a heavy sauce pan and let it heat up on a low heat. After it melts and starts to get hot, the water and stock that was still on the fat will begin to cook off. You will hear it rumbling and sizzling under the fat as it cooks off. When the noise has stopped you are pretty much done. Any remaining solids that were in the fat will have cooked and settled on the bottom of the pan. After the fat has cooled down to room temperature (or pretty close to it), it can be ladled off and put into a clean mason jar. It should be stored in the refrigerator.

So now that you have a fresh batch of schmaltz made, what do you do with it? I use it to cook with. For my home, I always looked as this as free fat. I cooked the bones and trimmings for the stock and anything extra after the stock is a bonus. When sauteing, I use this in place of any other oil. It has a higher smoke point and it is healthier than any of the vegetable fats normally used. I have also used this in pie crusts, especially when making pot pies or any savory crusts or dumplings. The added taste from the chicken fat will greatly increase the flavor of your overall dish. I also use this to saute vegetables, which adds even more flavor to them. This is also a great oil for stir frying with. Again the high smoke point makes it great for the high temperatures of a stir fry.


So if you are keeping track of savings, you buy a whole chicken at the store. If you bone out the meat, you can get a meal or two of of this meat alone. The bones go to make chicken stock that can be used in other dishes. Any meat that was still on the bones can be picked off and used for another dish, like a cassarole, or given to the dogs, which they will love you for. The fat from the stock can be rendered and made into schmaltz, which you use to cook with. How is that for stretching your money?

Affiliate links are included in this post.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Kefir Grains, part 2

So now that you have made your first batch of milk kefir following my instructions, what do you do with it? I have personally found a few simple ways to enjoy it. If drinking the kefir, you can try it straight up or add a bit of honey (not too much though because honey has antibiotic properties that will kill the good bacteria). You could also add some chocolate or caramel syrup.

Wanna try something a little more impressive? Make kefir shakes or smoothies. I blend some bananas, blueberries and strawberries into a quart of kefir, adding a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar for extra sweetness. You can also blend any combination of fruit but, stay away from citrus as it will curdle the kefir. 


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Asparagus

So what is this vegetable? An "asparagi" is a stem or frond of an asparagus plant. If allowed to grow out this stem will grow 4-6 feet tall and develop fern like fronds from each of the cladodes or scale like leaves on each stem. What we eat is the immature stem that has just emerged from the ground and is usually about 8-12 inches long. They may be pencil thin or thick as a pretzel stick. Either size is good, depending on what you are planning to do with it. There are 3 varieties commercially available in varying degrees- the most common is green, the gourmet white (which is just green asparagus that has not been allowed to develop chlorophyll) and purple. The purple variety was developed in Italy and has a higher sugar content and less fiber than the green.

How do you use it? First, the tough, woody root end should be snapped off. I do this by holding the stem and just snapping the stem as far down to the root as it will snap. Don't throw these root ends away!! Save them in a plastic bag in the freezer until the bag is full. Use these ends to make asparagus soup at a later time (more on that at another time)
. In many restaurants, a chef will then take these stems and pluck each of the scales off up to the tip. Others even peel the skin to be sure the stems are tender. Personally, I do not see the point in all of this extra work. You will likely not be charging $20 a plate for these, so the extra work involved just seems a waste to me.

There are many recipes for ways to use asparagus in both recipe books and the internet. My favorite way to eat them is probably the simplest. I will place my cleaned stems in a shallow pan. I pour a small amount of olive oil and then salt and pepper on them and coat thoroughly. Place these stems on a hot grill, rolling them after a few moments to get good grill marks on all of them, to be sure they are cooked evenly and not burned. After they have cooked, maybe 7-10 minutes total, I put them back in the shallow pan with a few pats of butter and a good squeeze of lemon juice over them. Try to evenly coat them and serve immediately. That's it!! If by chance there should somehow be any leftover, these are absolutely wonderful when cold. I eat the leftover, cold asparagus for lunch whenever we have these leftovers. Another great, easy recipe would be to prep them, place in a shallow pan, add butter, lemon juice and sprinkle grated parmesan cheese over the top, cover with foil and place in a 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. The lemon juice will help to steam the aspargus and the cheese will soften and start to melt over it. Serve immediately.