I have been on a quest to know what are the best oils to use in cooking and baking, and it is often a confusing journey. What is all this about mono unsaturated, saturated, poly-what? Is canola a good oil? I honestly haven’t figured it all out, but in my pursuit of simplicity and desire to eat nutritionally, here are some of the best options to the best of my knowledge.
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My dear cousin, Amy Best (also known as my tomato pal -growing tomatoes together!), has graciously written a post for us on the interesting topic of making your own water kefir. There are two types of kefir: water kefir – small transparent grains that ferment sweetened water; and milk kefir – white or cream coloured grains that look rather like cauliflower florets that ferment milk. (For how to make milk kefir, visit here). As Amy is allergic to dairy, this is a wonderful substitute, still allowing the healthful benefits of kefir with out the diary! Thanks Amy!
Kefir has many reputed health benefits. It has antibiotic and antifungal properties. In addition to beneficial bacteria and yeast, kefir contains many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Particularly calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, B2 and B12, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin D. Tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids abundant in kefir, is well known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. Because kefir also has an abundance of calcium and magnesium, also important minerals for a healthy nervous system, kefir in the diet can have a particularly calming effect on the nerves.
This recipe is so easy to make! And it’s yummy and very nutritious!
I referred these questions that were asked in regards to my Tomato Tricks & Tips post to the farmer who grew my tomatoes from seed (Michael @ MiIlenium Farms in Ridgefield, WA), and he provided this helpful information:
I told a friend about your great ideas for the tomato plants and she advised me against the plastic water bottle because of trying to go organic, the plastic would release toxins into the soil. Is this a problem?
Coming from a long line of Mennonite farmers, I am quite concerned with the soil and will do nothing to harm it or the beneficial life which dwells in it. As such, I am not aware of immediate breakdown of the plastic used in 2 liter soda or water bottles. In fact, they are high-value targets for recycling because of their long half-lives, so any idea of immediate breakdown in the soil is really stretching, in my humble opinion. One could always use glass vessels, unless one fears their breakdown as well.
Amy asked: How often did the guy say to water them? The lady at Shorty’s said to water once a week…??
Tomatoes in the ground should be watered twice a week, to the equivalent of 1 inch per watering, until the end of July. Then, I would suggest eliminating watering to allow the plant to rely upon deeper sources of water to help minimize fruit cracking, as well as to accelerate fruit ripening and fruit flavor enhancment. I would remove the plastic wrap when the plant fills the cage, which will then allow the bees to pollinate and further stimulate the plant. If in containers, you will have to continue watering as recommended above, twice a week.
I thought this information to be very helpful!
It was such a joy to start my own garden on Saturday! There is definitely something fulfilling in planting your own food. Since I was really nervous in the whole preparation process, I was surprised to find it so enjoyable to actually set to work and do it! Now I wish I had planted more than my four cute tomato plants, but then space is limited, and I am taking baby steps!
Okay, so I am no expert…let’s get that straight! In fact, this is the first year I am attempting to grow my own garden of sorts on my back deck, but I do have some tips and tricks to share from our local farmer. And he guarantees success!
1. Get a good cage! Wherever you plant, you will want a solid metal cage to secure and uphold your load of tomatoes.
2. If planting in ground, put down mulch where you plant. Use black trash bags – it will trap more heat for the roots.
3. Strip off the bottom 4 inches of branches and plant the plant 4 inches deeper than it is in the pot (the disposable container a tomato start comes in). You want to plant it pretty deep, a lot deeper than you would naturally think.
4. At the bottom of your hold put a handful of sweet lime/calcium and a handful of fertilizer, then cover with a little dirt.
5. This is the biggest tip! Place two or more large 2 litter plastic containers (or as many small containers as you can scrounge up), and fill them with water. Seal them with the caps on and place them as close to the stem of the tomato plant as possible.
6. Wrap your cage with saran wrap! Yes, that’s right! Plastic wrap! (This is the one thing I decided to make an exception for to buy plastic wrap for the cause, as I honestly don’t use it anymore!) The whole idea is to create a green house effect, and keep your roots warm, especially at night. If you’re anything like me, I did a terrible job getting a tight rap around my cages, so I let my husband do it…his expertise came to the rescue! His advice: Start at the top and work down! Two layers is even better!
7. Make several ventilation holes on the top and around the side with a knife or something else.
8. Water your plants at night – avoid getting your leaves wet…for that is when they grow, and another reason why you want to keep them warm.
My plants have already grown quite a bit since Saturday! We’ll just have to stay in touch to see how successful these little tips are this year!
It’s not too late to plant tomatoes! At least around here they say you can plant them up through the first week of June!
So simple! Requires no yeast, or rising. Dough will be wet and is baked like any other pastry. Results in a moist but higher density than yeasted breads, but the flavor, simplicity and quick baking process makes it a keeper! You will love having fresh baked bread so quickly without taking all day! Beware that this tends to spoil between 4-6 days (due to the milk content, I believe), so I would store it in the refrigerator to preserve it, or freeze in smaller quantities. This is a great place to start if you are a newbie at bread making too!
Spelt is a wonderfully nutritious grain. According to Sue Gregg, “Spelt dates back to Old Testament times (see Exodus 9:31, 32; Isaiah 28:25; Ezekiel 4:0). Spelt contains both soluble and insoluble fibers, spelt is easily digested and has considered beneficial for indigestion, gas, and nausea. It is rich in essential fatty acids and higher in fiber than wheat. With a higher fat and protein content than common wheat, spelt is a high energy food.”
As I love exploring with different grains to get a wider rarity of nutrients, I have been exploring with this grain in bread…so here you are!
- 8 cups spelt flour
- 1/2 cup seeds (sesame, flax, sunflower, or combination)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/4-1/3 cup honey
- 3 teaspoons baking soda
- 4 1/4 cups milk (half and half with buttermilk or kefir)
Soaking Step, optional (to break down the phytates): Soak 8 cups of flour with liquids for 12-24 hours. This last time I used 1 cup raw milk, 3 cups buttermilk and 1/4 cup kefir (as my acid medium, because my buttermilk comes from a powder, and therefore not cultured). I left covered on the counter. After soaking, add remaining ingredients and bake.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 9×5 inch loaf pans.
- In a large bowl, mix together the spelt flour, seeds, salt, honey, baking soda and milk until well blended. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
- Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden. Placing a tin of the same size over the top of the loaf while baking gives it a lovely crust.]
Visit Tammy’s Recipes for more kitchen tips!
In an effort to cut back on grocery costs, eating nutritionally on a budget, I have found the most successful means of completing this is to learn how to make things on my own. Ketchup is one of those useful condiments that I personally can’t live without! Everything from hot dogs to sloppy lentils! Ketchup is often loaded with preservatives, or else the organic ketchup version is loaded with organic sugar! Sugar is sugar in my book, and I would rather substitute with a more natural alternative. After some experimenting, here is a rather tasty alternative!
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons Rapadura (rapadura is a wonderful natural sweetener, great replacement for brown sugar! I would imagine this would also be successful with replacing rapadura entirely with honey! Worth a try!)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon molasses
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup water
Mix together all ingredients in a saucepan over low heat; simmer gently until you get the consistency of ketchup, 30-45 minutes. Add a little more water, if necessary. Taste and adjust salt if desired before serving. Makes about 1-1/2 cups. On average, homemade condiments last anywhere from 2-3 weeks.
Visit Tammy’s Recipes for further kitchen tips.
It Frugal Fridays! This is our frugal and nutritious (F & N) meal of the week! This is a variation to sloppy joes without the meat, and is actually quite good! Served on a sprouted wheat bun (I haven’t had success making my own buns yet…), topped with raw cheddar cheese and peas and corn on the side! Yum! We are eating lentils once a week now and it is a great way to save money on the food budget, cutting back on meat while still eating healthy!
3 cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed
salt to taste (optional)
1 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
15 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2-1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
3-5 tablespoons rapadura, molasses, or honey
1 Tbsp white vinegar
salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 hamburger buns, split
Soaking Step (for benefits read here), optional: Allow lentils to soak over night in warm filtered water with 2 Tbsp acid medium. Rinse and cook as described below.
Combine water and lentils in a saucepan; season to taste with salt if desired. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cook onions with the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the onions have softened and turned translucent, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, tomato paste, ketchup, mustard powder, chili powder, molasses/sweetener, vinegar, salt and pepper; simmer 5 to 10 minutes until thickened.
Drain lentils and reserve cooking liquid. Stir lentils into sauce mixture, adding cooking liquid or water as needed to obtain the desired “sloppy joe” consistency. Serve on buns.
With a recent stop at my local Costco, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much organic products they are carrying now! I found tomato products (diced, tomato sauce, paste) with the best prices I have seen, they even top Azure Standard! For example, organic tomato sauce (12/15 oz. cans) for $5.95, Azure sells same quantity for $15.95!
Check out my updated list with all the organic products that our local store carries in case you have one nearby.
Buying in bulk has it’s pros and cons, as discussed in where bulk buying goes wrong.
First, don’t buy what you don’t normally eat or would use. It might be a great deal, but if it is not a standard purchase or a staple item, don’t buy it. Don’t be tempted by organic pop tarts, please!
Secondly, limit your visits to these bulk warehouses and keep a budget! It adds up fast! I make a monthly stop at Costco and have a set amount to spend. Bulk buying is something to budget in because you may find a deal at one time that you aren’t prepared for if you haven’t set some aside specifically for bulk purchases.
Lastly, my solution with making sure bulk items are not used up too quickly (because we have a natural tendency to think because there is more, I can use more!) is to date them. I put the date they were purchased and then the estimated time it is required to last before restocking (based on previous wise usage).
For example, I have decided that one 1/2 gallon of coconut oil should last for about three months, so I wrote “mid-April-June” on the container, meaning it was purchased in the middle of April and must last through June. Or my large container of detergent should last 3 months as well, so I marked March-May. This has been extremely helpful and assists me in stretching all my bulk purchases to get there full value! I keep an eye on it…only use 1/3 each month!
Bulk buying can definitely save you money, but only if it is done wisely!
Recently, I shared our chili recipe with the secret ingredient (at least in my book!): taco seasoning mix! Maybe its the addition of paprika & onion powder that does the trick for my chili! Making it yourself prevents the additions of MSG and other additives that are very often included in these types of mixes. These are my favorite seasoning mixes and are frugal and natural alternatives!
This works splendidly for seasoning up refried beans and fajitas or any Mexican dish!
6 tsp chili powder
4 ½ tsp cumin
5 tsp paprika
3 tsp onion powder
2 ½ tsp garlic powder
1/8 – ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Mix all the ingredients, and store in an air-tight container. The homemade mix is twice as strong as the store-bought one, so add only half as much.
If you want to add a little extra flavor and zest to practically any dish, dash a little seasoning salt on it!
8 Tbls salt (we use realsalt)
3 Tbls pepper
2 Tbs paprika
½ Tbls onion powder
½ Tbls garlic powder
Mix together in a bowl and store in an airtight container (an empty spice shaker works great).
Rice Seasoning Mix
This is a yummy seasoning mix that we used frequently growing up!
1 cup sliced almonds, coarsely chopped
½ cup chicken bouillon granules
½ cup dried parsley flakes
1 Tbls dried minced onion
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp lemon-pepper seasoning (or 1 tsp pepper, and then add a a bit of grated lemon peel to the batch of rice when cooking)
1 cup uncooked long grain brown rice
2 cups water
Combine the first nine ingredients. Store in airtight container for up to 6 months. Yield: 10 batches. To prepare rice: Combine 3 tablespoons seasoning mix, rice and water in a rice cooker or over the stove. Yield: 4-6 servings per batch.
Enjoy and may it spice up your life!
For more tips on using herbs & spices in your cooking, check out this post.
It’s Kitchen Tip Tuesdays!
This is a family favorite meal at our house! Serve with some homemade refried beans, corn and/or a green salad and you have a wonderful meal. Dollop with a little extra sour cream! I make this recipe in two 8×8 pans for our family and freeze one for another day. Works very well for freezing, by simply skipping the baking step till later. This is the recipe we used for our freezer meal service project. Enjoy!
2-3 cups chicken, cooked & shredded (I use the leftover chicken pulled off the bones after cooking up a whole chicken, but you can also cook 2-3 chicken thighs and then shred them), or 1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
1 (29 oz) can of enchilada sauce (homemade is best and free from any preservatives, try this easy recipe here – it works great!)
2 (4-6 oz) cans chilis, optional
1 cup sour cream or cream of mushroom soup substitute
1 (15 oz) can of olives, sliced
1-2 cups kidney or black beans, if desired
cheddar cheese, grated (raw cheddar cheese is the best!)
12 tortillas, homemade or whole wheat
Combine garlic and onions and fry in a little oil until golden brown. Add chicken, enchiladas sauce, chilis, olives and just enough sour cream to make a creamy consistency. It will be runny, but that’s okay. Add kidney beans, if desired to make a complete protein. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Layer flat in a 13×9 pan, starting with a thin layer of sauce, tortilla, sauce, cheese, tortilla, etc. ending with a layer of cheese. Cover with tin foil, and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until heated through and cheese is melted. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes otherwise it will be on the runny side.
For the Crockpot:
Cook meat, onions and garlic in a large saucepan over medium eat until nicely browned. Add enchilada sauce, chilis, sour cream, olives, and black beans and mix until well combined. Cover the bottom of your crockpot with a thin layer of sauce, followed by a layer of tortillas, another layer of sauce, and then cheese, and repeat in that fashion until all your ingredients have been added (probably 3-4 layers). Finish with a layer of sauce and cheese. Turn your crockpot on low heat, cover, and allow to cook for 5-6 hours. Serve with a dollop of sour cream!
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