Archive for the ‘Fight Back Friday’ Category

Allergen free Easy Bake Oven recipes

April 15, 2010

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade. Check it out for lots of information, recipes, and ideas about real food. Food Renegade Banner

I find that being frugal and caring about the environment go hand in hand, at least for me. I hate spending a lot of money on things. Although, I will willingly spend good money on a good product, such as grass-fed beef or a good pair of sneakers or toilet paper. I am willing to spend a lot of money on food. In fact, I insist on buying high quality items as much as possible. Some things are worth the money. One thing that is often NOT worth the money is toys for the kids. Buying new is expensive (not that each little toy is expensive, but it adds up over time). It uses resources, such as oil for the plastics and gas to get toys here. Even if they are wood toys and made in the United States, there is still a cost, though it is definitely better for the economy and the environment. We try to buy used toys as much as possible, from Ebay, the thrift store, etc.

So what do I do when we are at the thrift store and there is an Easy Bake Oven and Aidan wants it? I mean the packets that come with it or that you buy at the store are awful. How is it even possible to make a cake where you just add water? The good thing is that I am not the only person who thinks like this. And the other good thing is the Internet. Oh how I love you, Internet! Where else can you find recipes for Easy Bake Oven sized desserts? I found a few good recipes on this site. We used the brownie recipe, but I admit I tweaked it to make it gluten-free*.

Also, I made my own chocolate sauce from scratch to avoid the high fructose corn syrup and other artificial stuff (see a list of the ingredients in Hershey’s chocolate syrup here). So anyway, I found a recipe for homemade chocolate syrup. I, of course, modified it as well. It seems I am constantly modifying recipes. In fact, Tim calls me Ida after some lady who made some substitutions to his mom’s recipes and then said it didn’t quite taste the same. I like to think that I am a better cook than Ida, though. Obviously I know what I am doing and she didn’t! 🙂

So, now that I have given credit to the recipes that inspired me, here is what I ended up doing.

Allergen Friendly Easy Bake Brownie Recipe (Gluten, dairy, egg and yeast free and easily corn free):

2 T succanat (though honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar would work)
1 t sunflower oil (a light olive oil would work in a pinch, as well as any other light vegetable oil)
1/8 t vanilla extract (NOT imitation vanilla!)
4 t homemade chocolate syrup
1 1/2 T buckwheat flour
1 T brown rice flour
1/8 t baking powder (if you have a corn allergy, it’s easy to make your own or you can buy Hain Featherweight brand)

  1. Mix the wet ingredients together first, including your sugar if you are using syrup or agave. If you are using some granular sugar, I’d add it with the dry ingredients.
  2. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until mixed.
  3. Grease Easy Bake pan lightly and pour batter into pan (mine was thick and didn’t really pour, but I patted it in there nicely).
  4. Bake 15 minutes.

Aidan said it was good. I asked him if it cooked all the way and he said yes. I asked him if it tasted good and he said it did, but could have more chocolate in it.

Now, for the chocolate sauce recipe:

Chocolate Sauce

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 c succanat
1/4 cup agave syrup**
1 1/4 cups water
1 t vanilla extract

  1. Mix sugar(s), cocoa powder, and water in a small saucepan.
  2. Stir together and heat until boiling. Boil for about 1 minute.
  3. Remove from heat and add vanilla. (I let it cool a bit before adding the vanilla, but I’m not sure it matters).

Next time I make this, I am going to try to use stevia, maybe mixed with a bit of maple syrup.

*At the moment I’m not supposed to be eating gluten or sugar or dairy or a whole big, long list of things. The kids can eat those things, but I figured nobody needs that much gluten anyway and the buckwheat flour is tasty and more nutritious than wheat flour.

**I’ve been using agave syrup/nectar, but I keep reading bad stuff about it so I probably will not be using it anymore. It’s a shame because it’s one of the few sweeteners my doctor said was OK. I think perhaps she doesn’t know the bad stuff about it. If you are curious, read Agave Nectar: Good or Bad? at Food Renegade.


Making jerky

November 20, 2009

Now, before I tell you all about our jerky making adventures and how to make jerky, I have to tell you that I didn’t really do much of the work. Unless you count mixing the seasoning together and leaving it on the counter for several days until it had to be thrown out because it was disgusting, had Asian lady beetles in it, and had a dirty towel land in it (shh, I don’t think I told anyone else that part!). Other than eating the finished product, that was my only real contribution. Tim did the rest, so I must give credit where credit is due.

This post is more about our learning how to do this rather than being able to teach anyone else how to do it. Keep that in mind, too. If you want to learn how to make jerky yourself, I suggest searching some other sites or good old-fashioned trial and error, which worked for us.

First, Scott the Farmer gave us some venison to turn into jerky. He has particular cuts of meat that he prefers for jerky. That’s all I can tell you because I am not wise in the ways of cuts of meat, especially cuts of deer meat. Second, he gave us the recipe he uses. I will post that and give him credit even though I am not sure where he got the recipe from. I suspect it is not from a cookbook or anything, though.

  • Two cups soy sauce (adjust to taste)
  • 4 oz. liquid smoke
  • 2-3 T worstershire sauce
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups honey

Whisk and let sit.

That’s it. Now there are some other directions Tim found on the Internet, but basically you slice the meat (keep in mind it will get thinner while drying, of course), soak it in the sauce as long as you like. Then put it in a dehydrator or an oven. We turned the oven on to the lowest setting, which turned out to be too high, really. The first batch was in the oven overnight and it was pretty dry. It was still edible, though. The second batch Tim made used more honey and we watched it more carefully so it didn’t get too dry. It was delicious!

The best thing about jerky is that it is a great snack. It keeps well in the car, even in the summer. It’s low in carbohydrates and fat, but high in protein. The problem with store bought jerky is that it is expensive and it almost always contains MSG! Making at home gives you more control over the ingredients you use. And I’m sure there are a ton of recipes for jerky seasoning and there are many stores that sell jerky seasoning packets. I have no idea what is in those, though.

I can say that making jerky was surprisingly easy and super delicious. We have more venison in our freezer that is good for jerky, so we will make some again soon.

Edited to add this link to Making Jerky in Mother Earth News.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade

Pancakes, cornbread, and brownies

October 16, 2009

This last week, I was busy in the kitchen as usual. One thing I did was to clear out the pantry a bit and organize things. We have a lot of glass containers that we bought from IKEA more than a year ago. Some were empty on the floor of the pantry, while others needed to be combined or put into smaller glass containers. For example, I ended up putting rice in glass containers instead of leaving it in the loosely closed plastic it came in. I had an empty container that I filled with chili powder I bought at the bulk dry goods store in town, called Sugar N Spice. I need a lot of chili powder and cumin to make our own taco seasoning. I could actually use a few more glass containers, but I believe the closest IKEA is in the Chicago area.

I guess I was feeling particularly energetic, so I decided that while I was at it, I would measure out the dry ingredients for several batches of pancakes and cornbread and store it in the jars. Not that it is all that difficult to make cornbread or pancakes from scratch, but I admit that sometimes Bisquick sounds so darn convenient. So this is a compromise. Having the dry ingredients premixed and stored in the pantry will save some time. In fact, I’ve used the pancake mix and so far it’s been pretty fast to make pancakes. The biggest problem with this method is figuring out how much of the dry ingredients to measure out. However, I figured I’ll just scoop some of the dry ingredients out, add an egg or two and as much milk as it takes to make them the right consistency. It’s easy and requires no measuring that way. Now the only problem is that I need a bigger container for the pancake mix because now it is so much easier to make pancakes that we have had them twice this week. It’s just about time to make more chili and cornbread, too.

Another thing that happened in the kitchen this last week is that I made brownies twice and accidentally put in 3/4 a cup of sugar instead of 1 3/4 cups of sugar. The first time I did this I thought they didn’t taste all that sweet, but I thought that maybe I had had some store-bought ones lately and that was why they didn’t taste so sweet. But no that wasn’t right because I haven’t had any store bought brownies recently. Plus, the next time I made them they were also not sweet enough, as well as not being quite right because I had run out of baker’s chocolate and had to use cocoa powder and butter to substitute. So anyway, somehow it dawned on me what I had done and I realized that the brownies would probably be just fine with way less sugar. They are not quite sweet enough with 3/4 a cup of sugar, but I think that 1 cup or so might work. I will have to try and report on the results. All three recipes are from the Joy of Cooking. The brownie recipe I use is the Book club brownies.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday. Check it out for more great recipes and thoughts on food.


Monkey brains and other things

October 9, 2009

I have a recipe of sorts to post. It isn’t really a recipe, more of a meal idea, inspired by another meal idea. I read Cold Weather and Comfort Food at Miss Effie’s Diary. She called her meal Wild Rice Stuffed Squash. I took her idea and changed it a bit, making it more like Tom’s hamburger helper and calling it Monkey Brains. Tim called it “Monkey Brains,” I guess because it looks like eating monkey brains. So that was what we told the kids it was and they were intrigued, just not intrigued enough to try the stuffing in the squash today.

The Monkey Brains had the following ingredients: grass-fed ground beef, onion, garlic, red peppers, celery, zucchini, broccoli, and tomatoes, acorn squash, and wild rice. We also added basil, parsley, salt and pepper. All the vegetables and herbs are from our garden or the farmer’s market. The rice is from a local store called Sugar N’ Spice. Carol, the owner, sells bulk herbs, spices, flour, rice, baking goods, etc. The grass-fed beef is from a family cattle company that is about 30 miles from us, the same people who sold us our cows. Our freezer is full of grass-fed beef.

freezer full of grass fed beef

freezer full of grass-fed beef

So, like Miss Effie, I cooked the rice and the acorn squash while I made the stuffing. The stuffing is really the part that can vary widely, depending on what you have available. It would work with any ground meat, or even stew meat, I would think. She used a white sauce in her recipe and I used a tomato base. She used mushrooms and cranberries, too. Tom doesn’t like mushrooms and we didn’t have cranberries, so that was out. But, then I started thinking about ground beef and veggies and realized that what really sounded good was Tom’s hamburger helper dish. That’s why I called it more of a meal idea than a recipe. In fact, last night it worked out that the squash wasn’t done so we pretty much ate the stuffing, which wasn’t really like stuffing at all, and talked about how we could do something similar with a casserole.

By the way, I have to say that the celery from my garden has flavor. I mean serious flavor. Nothing I’ve ever had at the grocery store compares. I don’t know if it’s the variety I planted (not sure what variety it was as Scott the Farmer gave it to us) or the soil or just the taste of organic celery. I really don’t know, but I know that it has lots of flavor and it doesn’t take much to add flavor to a dish.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade. Go ahead and click to read more interesting posts about food!


A (mostly) sustainable birthday party

September 24, 2009

Aidan’s birthday party is Saturday. In my ideal world, I would be making all the food from scratch or buying all-natural or organic food to serve. We would use real dishes, silverware, and cups. I would bake and decorate the cake myself, make the ice cream, cut up the veggies, make the dip, etc. We would serve only homemade soda, juice, water, and tea. We would decorate with homemade, recycled things.

OK, time to wake up from the dream and be realistic. Maybe someday this will work for a birthday party, but not this year. Tim and Tom have both been working long hours and my mother-in-law is sick. I’ve had to pick up the house and the outside and do the cleaning with only a little bit of help. In fact, it’s still not quite done. I’ve been picking up one room at a time, but of course the rooms get messed up again quickly. It’s unrealistic to expect the kids to not get toys out for two days or to not make messes. And we still need to use the house until the party. So it won’t be perfectly picked up and clean, but it will be better than it was. And, as always, the house cleaning is done without chemicals, mostly using vinegar and baking soda.

Yet I’ve had to compromise on a few things. I think it’s safe to say that this will still be a mostly homemade, sustainable birthday party. I’ve done my best, while also not putting too much on my To Do List (who wants a party to be stressful?) since I do also have two kids to play with and feed.

Here is what I am making or planning on making from scratch:

  • mayonnaise
  • ranch dressing
  • ice cream
  • tea and coffee
  • egg salad
  • popsicles

Here is what I am planning on buying from the Farmer’s Market:

  • fresh fruit, probably apples and raspberries since that is what is in season
  • any vegetables that can be served raw for a snack tray
  • tomatoes for the sandwiches

We considered getting platters of sandwiches from Jimmy John’s, but I thought buying stuff at the store would be more frugal. I’d have to actually do the math to make sure, but I am pretty sure that I paid less for the amount of food that I got at the store than I would have for the same amount of food at Jimmy John’s. The other things I’ve had to get from the store:

  • carrots, which are not quite in season, and possibly more veggies for a snack tray if I can’t find them at the Farmer’s Market
  • lettuce for the sandwiches
  • lunch meat and cheese
  • bread, though I considered buying this at the Farmer’s Market, but didn’t want to slice it all or make everyone slice their own
  • the cake
  • juice and/or soda

As far as decorations go, I tried not to buy too much but I did end up buying some things at the dollar store. Honestly, I’m just not that crafty. Maybe for Mo’s party in January I’ll try to make some homemade decorations. We will also get a few balloons on Saturday when we pick up the cake.

I am proud to say that we have enough silverware that we won’t have to use plastic, especially since we will only need silverware for dessert. I bought plastic cups that are recyclable and I bought dinner sized paper plates and dessert plates that can be composted. Any food waste can be fed to the cats, chickens, or compost heap accordingly. So the only waste will be wrapping paper and packaging from gifts. The toy I bought Aidan came in a cardboard box and had very little plastic to throw away, and it was not made in China, though Italy is still far away.

What I have realized (or confirmed) is that we have way too much Stuff. It’s quite easy to just see the toys and think we have too many toys, which we do. However, it’s more than that. It’s too much clutter and too much stuff or not places for the stuff we do have and want to keep. I try to declutter and donate things all the time. It just seems that things come in faster than they go out. I have been telling the kids that we won’t buy something if we already have it at home or can make it at home. It’s time to seriously start thinking about all our purchases and questioning whether we really need that item.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday.



September 18, 2009

Ever since I posted something last Friday for Fight Back Friday, I couldn’t wait for this Friday to arrive so I could write a new post and read posts by others. However, last Friday inspired me so much that I spent a lot of the weekend and early part of the week cooking and blogging about what we made. Now I don’t feel that I have much to write. I can tell you that in the last week we’ve made two batches of tomato sauce, chicken noodle soup, curried butternut squash soup, “hambuger helper,” grilled cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, pancakes, and salad dressing. There’s probably something I’m forgetting, but once you start cooking at home it becomes so natural that you don’t think much about it. Or at least it seems so in our case. We’ve always cooked a few times a week, but honestly we went out or got carryout once or twice a week and ate convenience meals at home, plus all the Starbucks we used to enjoy! So now we are barely going out to eat and are seriously avoiding fast food and it feels really good.

By the way, the “hamburger helper” is just browned beef and whatever veggies and leftovers we have. Tom has made this twice now and it was really yummy both times. It doesn’t always look yummy, but it is. He’s used homemade tomato sauce and/or broth to keep it from getting too dry. I think the next leftover surprise will be a quiche, assuming we get enough eggs from our chickies in the next few days. Also, the meatballs I made included one of our own chicken’s eggs, bread crumbs from bread I bought at the farmer’s market, and beef from grass-fed, locally raised cows. Our freezer is full of beef right now.

And yet, let me make some confessions.

  • Confession 1: On Tuesday or Wednesday we took the kids to Granny’s house and ordered pizza while Tom and I went out to dinner. We did go to a local restaurant rather than a chain (not that there are a lot of chains in Macomb). We were both tired and needed some time to talk, so going out to dinner seemed perfect.
  • Confession 2: On the way to Peoria last week, we purchased cookies at the gas station. I love cookies, but these cookies were god-awful sweet. It made me want to make cookies at home more often.

So, while we aren’t perfect in our quest for local, organic, sustainable food I feel we are doing great. We are doing better than we did a year ago and that counts for something. I suspect that a year from now we will be doing even better and I hope to hardly go to the grocery store at all and only go out to dinner every once in an while. Sometimes I wish we could make big changes all at once or go cold turkey, but baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

This post is part of Fight back Friday. Click on the link to find other interesting posts!


Homemade food

September 11, 2009

We’ve gone to several carnivals and fairs this summer. The latest was in the small town closest to us. The kids love to get lemon shake-ups, which is basically lemonade that is shaken, I guess. I suspect these are made with corn syrup, but I am not sure. It’s some kind of sugary water with ice, squeezed lemons, and cut lemon. The vendors also sell lime and strawberry shake-ups. The kids love these so much that they’ve been asking us to make them at home. To my surprise and delight, Aidan said the ones that his dad makes are much better than the ones at the carnival. Tom usually makes them with stevia, water, and lemons. Sometimes we use honey or cane sugar. I really think that better ingredients make better food, and it seems that the kids agree most of the time.

The one exception seems to be Taco Bell. Aidan has commented that Taco Bell has the best taco meat. I just cannot make taco seasoning like Taco Bell. However, I saw a packet at the store and looked at it and figured out why I can’t compete: MSG. Using MSG is cheating. It’s saying that you can’t make your food flavorful, so you have to cheat by giving it an extra boost. Needless to say, we try to avoid MSG. So now it’s time to avoid Taco Bell (not that we go often, but they just built a new building in our town so it’s been a treat for the kids, though I’ve pointed out that the food is not new, just the building.

Yesterday I bought some tomatoes from the farmer’s market and combined them with the ones from our garden. The sauce is halfway done since I peeled and seeded the tomatoes yesterday. The last time I made the sauce I also used fresh basil and parsley from our garden and it was super yummy. Tom ended up using some of it with some ground beef, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, peas, and green beans. It was like Hamburger Helper from scratch and it was delicious, not to mention way more nutritious.

I also made my own honey mustard dressing yesterday. I had considered buying more honey mustard dressing at the grocery store yesterday, but then I looked at the ingredients again and saw high fructose corn syrup was listed second or third. I figured it would not be hard to make my own and that mine would be completely sweetened with honey rather than high-fructose corn syrup. It had three ingredients: plain yogurt, dijon mustard, and honey. That’s it! Easy and yummy.

The other foods I would like to cook today are chicken noodle soup and curried butternut squash soup. We have a defrosted chicken in the fridge and some chicken stock that Tom made from the last chicken we roasted. These chickens are from a lady that lives nearby. Eventually we will be eating chickens we’ve raised ourselves. I expect our flock of 23 will reproduce nicely come spring.

As far as the curried butternut squash soup goes, I will be using the following from our garden: butternut squash, celery, and chives. The onions will be either from our garden or the farmer’s market (it’s hard to keep track of where it’s from once it’s piled together on the table!). I’ll post the recipe later, once I test it out again. It’s a recipe I found online and modified. I haven’t made it in a while so I’d like to test it again before I post the recipe. I might have to make it in steps since we are heading out of town for the night. I’ve found it works well to do things in steps, like peeling and seeding the tomatoes and then putting them in the refrigerator until I’m ready to make sauce. I think I will probably cook the onion, celery, and garlic part up and put it in the fridge so I can finish the rest later. After all, the squash isn’t going to go bad any time soon!

This post is part of Fight Back Friday.