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52 Things I Learned In One Year – Part 2 of 3

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Ah, what was I thinking when I came up with the notion of writing about 52 lessons learned? One lesson per week of my challenge – that should be a piece of cake. Okay then maybe I just have a bad old case of writers block. I’ve challenged myself to write up my second list of 15-20 lessons over the past three weeks and I’ve come up dry. Getting out of the routine of cooking and blogging was not at all difficult to do. Even though I’m not filling my time with meal preparation like I was this time last year, my time is plenty full with large work projects, summer gardening, and all the great weather activities I feel I may have missed last year.

But when push came to shove, there really were more lessons there than I originally may have imagined. So on with the countdown…

37 – Planning meals around seasonal ingredients is a great way to be a bit more creative with what goes on the dinner table. While we had many a meal composed of the typical “protein, starch, and vegetable” – there were some terrific moments of creativity using seasonal vegetables. Check out the spring asparagus salad (if it’s not too late in your region) or plan for this corn salsa.

36 – Processing your own tomatoes into something like sauce can be economical. I learned that while it takes a heck of a lot of tomatoes to get to the end product, the end product was generally a better value than the price I would pay off the shelf. By the way, I used 52 pounds last year to yield 144 ounces of diced tomatoes, 96 ounces of tomato sauce, 80 ounces of pizza sauce, 54 ounces of pasta sauce, and 28 ounces of roasted tomatoes. Check out the post, 52 weeks by the numbers.

35 – Roma tomatoes make the best sauce and give the best yield. I was a bit fooled by the notion that any tomato is a good tomato to process. I was wrong. The Roma’s make all the difference in the world.

34 – I won’t again be fooled into thinking I can “thicken” a pasta sauce by blending up the tomatoes with an immersion blender. Good sauce takes time on the stove. Plan for long cooking time, 4-6 hours not only helps thicken the sauce but it really brings out the flavor.

33 – I swore that after this year, I would never again purchase granola. It’s been eleven weeks since I ended my year, and I have made about six pounds of granola during that time. Keeping true to this lesson, it’s so easy to do yourself and the benefits are that I control the flavor, the sweetness, and the amount of pecans I want in every bite! I will start a batch at 6:30 in the morning, and it’s ready to eat by 7:15.

32 – Homemade bagels are not all that easy to make, they take a bit of time to make, and the flavor is, well OUTSTANDING! Don’t be scared by the bagel is the lesson learned. Also eat them quickly, they really are the best the day you make ‘em.

31 – I figured out my slow cooker isn’t just for dinner. We made “Crock Pot oatmeal” which fills the house with a wonderful aroma, not to mention is ready when you get out of bed. And then there is Crock Pot yogurt, which is not only so simple it’s also a great value. Strain some yogurt in cheesecloth to make Greek yogurt, and you’ve saved even more money.

30 – Bison is better than beef. Don’t get me wrong, I l-o-v-e beef of many cuts and eat it often. However when I want to cut down on the fat and calories without losing any flavor, then bison is a surprisingly great choice.

29 – One can make cinnamon rolls without yeast. While they taste a bit more “biscuity” than yeasty, once you pour on the glaze it hardly makes a difference.

28 – I won’t go back to eating frozen pizza. Okay, I did break that promise this week as we were leaving our friend’s house after helping her move and it was already 7:30 pm and we hadn’t had dinner. A frozen pizza was easy, and quite honestly pretty tasteless by comparison. I won’t go back to eating frozen pizza!

27 – I now understand what little Miss Muffet was thinking, don’t discard the whey! I still regret making the first batch of cheese and tossing all of that whey goodness down the drain. Now I use it in place of milk when baking and it really does add some great flavor.

There you have it, and I have only 27 more lessons learned to write!

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52+ Weeks of Recipes

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Breads, Pastry, Pasta

Bagels

Cinnamon Raisin English Muffin Bread

Cornmeal Crackers

Corn Tortillas

Croutons

Egg Noodles

Eggless Pasta

Flax Crackers

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Pie Crust (Curried Chicken Pot Pie)

Pizza Crust

Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Sweets & Breakfast Treats

Christmas Stollen

Chocolate Graham Crackers

Cinnamon Rolls Quick & Easy

Granola Number Five

Granola Bars

Whole Grain Pancakes

Beef

Bison Chili

Bison Stroganoff

chipotle meatloaf

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Lasagna

Pork

Frijoles Borrachos

Pork Carnitas

Posole

Tomatillo Pork Stew

Chicken or Turkey

Curried Chicken Pot Pie

Curried Turkey (or lamb) With Autumn Vegetables

Mediterranean Chicken with Potatoes

Tomatillo Chicken Dia de los Muertos

Vegetarian & Vegetables

Anasazi Bean Burgers

Corn Salsa

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

Refrigerator Kimchi

Roasted Tomatoes (oven dried)

Spring Asparagus Salad

Sushi

Super Lentil Dal

Sauces, Dressings & Condiments

Bechamel Sauce

Balsamic Salad Dressing

Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing

Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Marinara Sauce

Mustard

Pizza Sauce

Tomato Sauce

Tomatillo Salsa

Vita’s Pasta Sauce

Make It With Milk

Crock Pot Yogurt

Meyer Lemon Cheese

52 Weeks By The Numbers

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Let the countdown begin. When I began my year of inconvenience I thought it might be interesting if I kept track of the quantity of staples I was buying and making. Not everything mind you, but mainly the items I would have typically purchased conveniently at the supermarket (or in this case at my co-op). I’m pretty sure I missed tracking a number of items, or at least it feels that way now recalling how many weeks these items were part of my at times, frustrating routine.

Here’s a glimpse into my 52 weeks of inconvenience, primarily cooking or baking for just the two of us (although some food items became gifts, while others were served to our dinner guests. I started to provide links to the recipes below, but decided instead to develop a recipe listing in one of my future posts just to stretch this out a bit further.

Ingredients Made From Scratch
40pounds of flour(14 lbs. whole wheat flour and 26 lbs. white flour) 40 loaves of sandwich bread, 7 loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, 3 loaves banana bread, 6 Christmas Stollens, 24 hamburger buns, 24 flour tortillas, 24 popovers, 18 bagels, 12 pita breads, 12 pizza crusts, 4 batches flax seed crackers, 2 batches chocolate graham crackers, 8 crusts for chicken pot pies, and 4 pounds of pasta. Oh, and a crazy cake, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and I’m sure I missed a few other things as well. Whew!
52 pounds of tomatoes 144 ounces diced tomatoes, 96 ounces tomato sauce, 80 ounces pizza sauce, 54 ounces pasta sauce, 28 ounces roasted tomatoes. And I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to last.
8 pounds of rolled oats, 5 pounds of pecans 21 pounds of granola8 batches of granola bars (200 of 2×2 squares)The rest of the pecans were used in the Christmas Stollen
5 pounds Masa 7 batches (80) corn tortillas. I love making these and likely will not go back to buying them pre-made.
13 pounds of whole chickens and 13 pounds of turkey breast About 4 chicken and turkey dinners as well as leftovers for sandwiches, soup, and stock.
448 ounces (or 56 cups) of stock Chicken soup, veggie soup, turkey soup, lamb stew, tomatillo pork stew, chicken pot pies, dozens of rice dishes and other crock pot dishes
48 Tablespoons or 24 ounces Instant yeast Sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread, stolen, hamburger buns, bagels, pita bread, pizza crusts.
52 ounces honey Breads, 8 batches of granola bars (200 squares)
48 ounces maple syrup Granola (sweetener) and pancakes. Life is so sweet.
10 pounds fair trade sugar Okay that number should scare me into a five-mile hike. Yikes, that’s a lot of baking.
3 pounds (48 ounces) brown sugar Granola, some breads, granola bars, cookies
8 pounds (256 tablespoons) unsalted butter Wow, really? What did I make with all that butter? I only use unsalted for baking and some cooking. And I wonder why I gained 6 pounds this past year…
97 ounces or 12 cups of olive oil Salad dressing, marinades, pasta sauce, and all of those made from scratch dinners.
20 dozen eggs (that’s 240) Okay, if Lisa and I averaged 4 eggs/week total for breakfast that would be understandable. Many, many eggs were used in baking and pasta – and the rest made for some great breakfasts.

My year ended on April 17, and I still have some of the tomatoes and chicken stock in my basement freezer. I remember when I was so worried about putting up enough tomatoes last summer, to last me through the winter, and much to my surprise I didn’t use them all. We’ve eaten a few meals over the past two weeks (since the year officially ended) that were part of my stocking up on frozen dinners. Things like curried chicken pot pie, turkey meatloaf, turkey noodle soup, and pork carnitas have added a bit of value to what might have otherwise been a convenience food splurge for me.

In fact, over the past two weeks not a whole lot has changed for me… uhm yet. I baked two breads, made a batch of granola, one pizza, a number of from-scratch dinners, and averaged at least 3 out of 7 lunches from scratch each week. What did change is that I purchased pasta, chips, salsa, breakfast cereal, canned beans, a few salads and one sandwich from my co-op. I have a half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator right now for making yogurt (tonight) and I also think twice before buying anything convenient, partly out of habit and partially out of guilt. Could I actually be a changed woman? Only the next 50 weeks will tell for certain.

Week 42 – Saving Money And Some Time

If you’ve been a follower of my blog over the past 41 weeks, you’ve seen my vintage garlic-keeper mascot in many of the photos.

He unfortunately passed away this morning, the result of what I expect was some kind of disagreement…

… over his place in the pantry and with this “innocent” creature named Olive.

RIP Garlic Man, I’m very sad to see you go.

 

When I first began this year of inconvenience it was springtime and I was filled with ambition and the spirit of adventure. That bubble was adequately “popped” a few weeks later as I struggled to figure out how to make the time I needed to get the food I loved on my table, and more importantly, into my freezer. Local tomatoes were not in season and I didn’t have a hint of anything that resembled tomato sauce, pasta sauce, chicken stock, soup, or tortillas in my freezer. To make these things for myself I was spending the majority of both weekend days cooking, which meant my “free time” was limited and the whole situation was making me (and someone else in my house) a little crabby.

So here I am now with those 42 weeks behind me and only 10 more weeks to finish the year. My freezer is pretty well stocked and I have my regular routine of bread or cracker or granola baking planned out so I’m no longer in any panic for food essentials. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about managing my time around food preparation, other than totally forgetting I had a bread rising in the warm bathroom last night – things are mostly under control.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with my readers, a time and cost comparison of the foods I hope to continue to make from scratch even in week 53. That’s the question I’m being asked now by a number of people, “when this is all over, what are you going to continue to make from scratch?” Besides a few more of my new favorites, these items are topping off the list.

Food Hands On Time Additional Cooking or Baking Time Cost Comparison
Corn Tortillas 35 minutes from mixing to pressing to cooking 8 tortillas None Holy cost savings – tortillas are the best value around! Only      3 ½¢ per ounce or 28¢ for 8 ounces compared to 89¢ for 12 ounces at the grocery store (7¢ an ounce)
English Muffin Bread 20 minutes to gather the ingredients and mix the batter 60-90 minutes rising time, 20 additional minutes baking time Organic cinnamon raisin bread costs me $2.77 to make a 16 oz loaf. The same size package of organic English muffins are $4.99at my co-op.
Pizza (crust and toppings) 65 minutes total, for crust and toppings (using frozen sauce I made) Crust rises for 30 minutes while prepping cheese and veggies. Bake for 15 minutes I obviously don’t know how much cheese is on the frozen pizza, I used 1/3 of a pound on my own. Cost is about 19¢ per ounce for homemade and 26¢ per ounce on the frozen as a cheese only pizza comparison.
Chicken Stock 10 minutes throwing everything into a large stockpot with water You need a slow simmer for at least 4 hours to get a rich tasting stock I use celery, carrot, onion, fresh thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns with my chicken carcass. I included the cost of the carcass when buying the whole chicken. No surprises here, at 3¢ per ounce homemade, 12¢ per ounce for Pacific brand.
Yogurt 20 minutes to bring milk up to temp, 20 minutes to let it cool down, add culture, wrap up in towel 8 hours or overnight unattended I didn’t think there would be much of a savings because the starter costs $1.16 a packet. However, using organic milk and starter, my homemade cost is only 8¢ per ounce compared to 11¢ per ounce of my favorite local brand, Sugar River.

I’m sure it’s not much of a surprise that things like chicken stock or homemade bread is so much more economical. What surprised me was that these things don’t take that much time and I can come home from work at 6:30 and still get a fresh-made, better than anything frozen, pizza on the table in just about one hour. I do believe I am becoming a convert of inconvenience. Except for beans… and pasta… and the occasional canned tomato imported from Italy that makes the best sauce ever. That is, until someone else can convince me otherwise.

Week 38 – An Inconvenient Pantry (Part 1)

Being the kind of person who likes to drive around the neighborhood at night because I’m curious to see the inside of other people’s houses, I stumbled upon a website a little while ago that takes a peek into other people’s pantries. The Perfect Pantry author Lydia Walshin has been food blogging since 2006, and her website is a great place to dig in to find a great recipe or to peek into someone else’s pantry. Some of them are awesome while others are honestly quite horrifying.


Lydia let her readers peek into my pantry this week which inspired me to write about how my “well-stocked for inconvenience” pantry has been helping me through this one-year challenge. Before we peek further, I also want to give a shout out to Outpost’s Pantry Raid girls, Diana and Carrie, who not only are darling and funny but were also an inspiration to me to take on this challenge. Don’t miss their blog on Outpost’s website – it’s not only fun but the recipes are truly delicious and inspired.

Now on to my pantry. Part One of my inconvenient pantry focuses on the dry good essentials – items I just can’t do without, and in a pinch, will help me pull together a either a baked good meal. These ingredients are the backbones of the things I used to buy ready-made, such as bread, crackers, chips, breadcrumbs, tortillas, pita bread, polenta, rice pilaf, granola, pizza crust, granola bars, and all beans that are canned.

I like to store them in vintage jars, my favorites being vintage herring jars, which are appealing for their size as well as the lid graphics. Of course I like to collect vintage anything and finally found something with a purpose. I’m actually about three steps shy of hoarder, so watch for me soon on your favorite Discovery channel.

Here is a chart of the pantry essentials and why you want to keep them in stock:

Item Why I keep it stocked
Rolled Oats Granola, granola bars, and the occasional cookie
Quick Cooking Oats Instant oatmeal in the microwave, ingredient in multi-grain bread, ingredient in meatloaf if I don’t have breadcrumbs made. Convenience food? Don’t judge.
Corn Grits Polenta, ingredient in multi-grain bread, bottom coating for a variety of breads and pizza crust
Masa Harina Corn tortillas, corn chips, also thickening agent in some Mexican stews
White and Whole Wheat Flour Wow, need I explain? Breads, pizza crust, popovers, muffins, thickening agent (roux), cakes, cookies, crackers (it’s no wonder I’ve gained 5 pounds)
Instant Yeast I get a good rise out of this!
Semolina Flour Pasta!
Flax Seeds and Flax Meal Breads, crackers, granola bars, banana bread
Sesame Seeds Bread topping, crackers, Asian cooking
Quinoa, Couscous, Rice Salads and side dishes galore!
Beans & Lentils I admit I hate cooking beans and don’t do it all that often. Red lentils have come in handy for making dal since it’s quick to cook.
Nuts & Seeds Are you old enough to remember Euell Gibbons? Ever eat a pine tree? Okay – Granola, granola bars, breads it is.
And Finally, Chocolate Chips Seriously! Granola bars, pancakes, banana bread, and a nice little snack every now and then.

My New Year’s resolution (or acclaim as I’d put it) was to make the best of my final fourteen weeks and try to make something new each week. This past week I tried to make mozzarella cheese and tortilla chips. The operative word here really is “tried.”

The cheese came out “okay” mostly because I didn’t do enough research ahead of time, like watch cheese-making videos on the web. Little did I realize the curds have to be as hot as the sun before you handle them and then stretch them into what should resemble cheese. So I overworked them a bit at first and lost a bit of the milk fat. We did enjoy them on what I was hoping would be the perfect pizza on New Year’s eve – homemade crust, sauce made from scratch from the tomatoes I canned, and homemade cheese. It just wasn’t meant to be perfect I guess, as I overworked the crust as well as the cheese, but I was pretty proud of taking inconvenient to the extreme.

The tortilla chips, well I’m going to save that story for another post when I get them right.

Watch for Part Two of my pantry posts next week, which will be appropriately titled “condiment whore.”