Bargain Baking . . . Sort Of!

In the pursuit for savings, we all know the less we frequent the grocery stores, the more we save! However, we often need that certain cake, cornbread or muffin mix. Now, not only are these boxed conveniences expensive when you are counting pennies, the temptations you pass in the aisles can put some items in your shopping cart you didn’t even know you needed.

I have found that premixing packages of baking mixes saves time in the long run and last-minute trips to the store. The concept is simple, you mix up the necessary dry ingredients for your recipe, seal it in a bag along with a stapled on note card with what you will need to finish it. Start simply. Make up one supply, try doing it a week later and see how it works into your schedule. You increase your supplies as you begin to include them into your family’s requirements.

A good, nutritious breakfast or lunch bread is easy to have on hand.

QUICK FRUIT-NUT BREAD

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons salt (Can be reduced if you are watching salt intake)
4 teaspoons baking soda
4 cups rolled oats
4 cups raisins (or a mixture of your favorite dried fruit, coarsely chopped)
2 cups coarsely chopped nuts, your choice

Sift together the flour, salt and soda and divide into 4 strong plastic bags or air-tight containers. Add one cup of the oats, one cup of the fruit and ½ cup of the nuts to each container and shake well to mix. Store in refrigerator or freezer until needed.

Additional Ingredients required for baking one loaf:

½ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Beat the sugar and egg until fluffy. Stir the lemon juice into the milk and set aside to sour. Add the soured milk to the sugar and egg and beat until smooth. Add the contents of one bag of your baking mix to the milk-sugar mixture and stir gently to combine. Stir in the oil. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake in 350 degree preheated oven for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, slice and serve.

The best part of having a homemade baking mix on hand is your ability to whip up another loaf of bread immediately since your first one is sure to disappear within seconds of leaving the pan.

Many of the recipes we make from scratch can be broken down in the same manner as the above bread mix. The trick is combining the dry ingredients ahead of time and attaching a note of what you will need when you want to bake. Think about the cake mixes I know many of us use. We bring home a box of flour, baking powder, spices and flavoring at a cost of over a dollar. And when we come home, we have to add our eggs, water and oil. We can drop the fancy box and the brand name and start using the house brand—our own!

Frugality is a handsome income. (Erasmus: Colloquia 16th century)

Easy Cheesecake!

Although we always called this a holiday cheesecake, I think it appeared many times at dessert time on ordinary days of the week. Naturally, any time cheesecake showed up after dinner, could be declared a holiday!

EASY HOLIDAY CHEESECAKE

Crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup melted butter or margarine

Combine above ingredients and press into a spring-form pan. The crust should come more than halfway to the top of the pan. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pan requirement: seven to nine-inch spring form pan.*

Cheesecake Recipe
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups granulated sugar

Place softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. using an electric mixer, beat at medium speed until cream cheese is thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well combined. Add vanilla. While running the mixer gradually add sugar, beating well. Mixture should be thick and smooth. Carefully spoon mixture into crust. smoothing evenly.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 50 minutes. Top will brown and crack. Cool and refrigerate eight hours or overnight before serving.

You can strike a festive note by spooning a puree of strawberries over each serving and garnishing with a mint sprig. Crushed pineapple also compliments cheesecake. Prepare about an hour ahead, a cup and a half of crushed pineapple combined with the zest of a lemon. Spoon over individual slices just before serving.

*A spring form pan is pictured above. Walmart usually sells them, three to a set for a budget-friendly price considering how often you will be baking cheesecake now!

Salad Bites?

Vegetable Soup was simmering on the stove and cheese bread was baking in the oven. It seemed that the meal needed something a bit more to satisfy a hungry husband who would have had to fight the Friday night traffic coming home from work and a daughter who is always nibbling.

Then, I remember something on Facebook where someone peeled a cucumber, sliced it lengthwise, scrapped out the seeds and then filled one side with lunch meat, greens, etc. and topped it off with the other side of the prepared cucumber and sort of an instant gluten-free sandwich. The moment had come for me to try this!

I prepared my cucumber and lay in a half leaf of Romaine, layered tuna salad with tomatoes on top of that with an extra touch of freshly ground black pepper. I ‘closed’ my ‘sandwich’. To stabilize the whole thing, I stuck in toothpicks every half inch or so and sliced between them. They were now easy to access at dinner and kept their good looks until dinner!

Deconstructed Beef Pot Pie

When the children were little, making pot pies was a mistake because they would only eat the crust and forget about the meat and vegetables. Very frustrating when you carefully fill and top individual pot pie dishes only to have most of the contents returned. And, yes, cries of desperately hungry children 30 minutes later didn’t move my heart to make them a peanut butter sandwich.

The parents, on the other hand, felt that they would prefer a bit more of the crust which evolved into my Deconstructed Beef Pot Pie. Hey, I couldn’t find any laws on the books saying that the crust has to be baked on top of the meat. As you can see from the pictures, the meat gets stewed into a tender treat and the crust can be cut to order. These days, everyone wants their beef pot pie contents on the crust rather than under it. Another plus is that I don’t end up having to crowd four to six individual pot pie dishes into the dishwasher.

The crust is gluten-free and made with butter, some olive oil, and enough iced water to form a dough. I bake it at 400 degrees on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Ethnic Food Appropriation Night?

Not sure with the craziness of the world, but I think that we are still allowed to cook any kind of food we want in the privacy of our kitchen. Being of German heritage from my mother’s side of the family, naturally, I’m making fajitas and homemade tortillas for dinner!

Anyway, I learned a long time ago in my family meal preparation, homemade is better and less expensive. I’ve been making flour tortillas forever and no longer even follow any set recipe. When my husband had to be declared a gluten-free zone, I just switched the flour ingredient in my recipe to a gluten-free blend. Authentic Foods Gluten-Free Bread Flour Blend is currently my favorite although I still enjoy using BetterBatter Gluten-Free flour.

We decided we had a yearning for fajitas for dinner this evening. My husband only has one or two Saturdays a month off so we decided to celebrate this. I spent the afternoon with food prep and he cleaned the house for me. Since I’d rather cook than clean house and he’d rather clean house than eat the mediocre dinner he might venture to prepare, it was a good deal for both sides!

My recipe for flour tortilla? Basically, I put around three or four cups of wheat or gluten-free flour in the bowl, add a teaspoon of baking powder, a teaspoon of salt, combine, and then add hot tap water slowing to the dry ingredients until a workable dough evolves. I use an ice cream scoop to parcel out the amount of dough to roll out for each tortilla. I have a cast iron pan but most any frying pan would work for cooking them on both sides or until some bubbles and browned blisters show up. You want them baked but not crispy!

Hard as I try to roll them out to a beautiful, uniform circle, I usually end up with what looks like various countries removed from the map. I do have a tortilla press (More of that German heritage!) but it only makes small one and, sometimes, you need a larger size.

This is also a fun kitchen activity for mom and the children so they can see what goes into fixing a meal and be proud of the results of their efforts.

And, The Secret Ingredient Is . . .

For quite a few dinner preparations, I had to hide the above fact from my family lest I get early votes on something they weren’t going to try. Cauliflower has actually been the best thing that has happened to our mashed potatoes and once tried, the family doesn’t want to change back. In fact, a few weeks ago, I ran out of cauliflower and made the ‘regular’ mashed potatoes with, well, only potatoes like the normal people do. At the first bite, shocked faces turned to me and demanded, “What happened to the mashed potatoes?” I admitted that there wasn’t any cauliflower to add today.” They finished their dinner but left the table with, “Don’t EVER let that happen, again!”