Friday, July 31, 2009

Delicious and frugal Summer cobblers and crisps!

Two of my favorite desserts are cobblers and crisps. I love them because they are tasty, easy, frugal and less fattening than eating pie. Summer's bounty of fresh fruits makes it the perfect time to enjoy a myriad of tasty treats. I know I do...It probably contributes to me not losing that last 10 pounds of baby weight!:P It's tough when you're home all day and you love to cook. Here are some of my favorite cobbler and crisp recipes for your eating enjoyment.

Blueberry cobbler

(For the biscuit)

2C all purpose flour or half white flour half whole wheat flour

2Tbsp sugar

1Tbsp baking powder

1/2tsp salt

6Tbsp cold, unsalted butter

1C milk or buttermilk

Combine the flour, sugar and baking powder together in a large bowl. Cut the butter into 5 or 6 pieces and add it to the flour blend. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is the size of small peas. Pour in the milk or buttermilk and stir just until the dough comes together. You may need to add more flour. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and roll out 1 inch thick. Cut the dough into 8 biscuits. You will have to re-roll the scraps a couple of times. Place the biscuits on a plate and place in the fridge while you make the filling.

(For the filling)

3/4C sugar

3Tbsp cornstarch

1/2tsp salt

2 pounds fresh or frozen blueberries

2Tbsp lemon juice

Wash the blueberries and place them in a large bowl. Add the cornstarch, sugar, salt and lemon juice and toss with the blueberries until well combined. Scrape the mixture into a greased baking dish (I use a deep dish pie pan) and place the biscuits on top. You might have extra biscuits. I just place the extras on a baking sheet and bake them along with the cobbler. Bake the cobbler at 375 for 45 minutes. If you are also baking extra biscuits, remove them after about 15-20 minutes.

Fun Fruit Crisp
(For the topping)

1C flour

1C old fashioned rolled oats

1/2C brown sugar

1/4C white sugar

1/2tsp cinnamon

4-8Tbsp butter

Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until crumbly. Refrigerate until ready to bake.
(For the filling)

6C fruit in bite size pieces (I'll give my favorite combinations at the end)

3-5Tbsp sugar

1Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1Tbsp lemon juice

(Assemble and bake)
In a greased baking dish, mix together the filling ingredients. Remove the topping from the fridge and sprinkle half of it evenly over the top. Bake the crisp in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining filling over the top. Bake for a further 20-25 minutes.
Some of my favorite crisps are: Apple crisp (add 1tsp cinnamon to the filling)
Peach crisp, mixed berry crisp, plum crisp

I usually serve the crisp with sweetened whipped cream, but that is certainly an optional ingredient!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The air conditioning company

I've been away for a while, because my downstairs air conditioner stopped working about 2 weeks ago and my computer is downstairs! Anyway, I wanted to write about my experience in getting it fixed, so that everyone will be warned of the possible perils out there.
My air conditioner stopped working while we were at the movies, so we came home and the house was inexplicably hot. I quickly figured out that my air conditioner was still running, but not blowing out cold air. I called an air conditioning repair place called, Connells heating and cooling. Technician one came out and told me that my problem was blown fuses, so he fixed the fuses, charged me $90 and left. 20 minutes after he left, my air conditioner stopped working AGAIN, so I called back, but connells was no longer open for the day. So I called back the next morning.
This is where my story takes a more sinister turn. Technician two came out and told me that I needed to get a whole new air compressor and that the new fuses were already blown He told me that my compressor had leaked freon, run out of it and burned up. He said that my compressor was still under warranty and that he would do me a huge favor and install the new one for $1400. I arranged for him to do it the next day. Then I called my dad and when I told him that the air conditioning company was charging me $1400 just for labor, he told me I was being overcharged and to call other air conditioning repair companies to compare what they would charge. So I did and THREE different companies told me they would charge about $650 to install a warranted air compressor. $650 instead of $1400! I quickly called Connells and cancelled my appointment and then I called one of the other places and arranged to have technician three come out the next day.
Technician three arrived and checked out my compressor. He told me that my unit was FULL of freon and that what was in fact wrong is that it had probably been struck by lightening. He told me he could replace it for....$570. Man am I glad I called around and didn't just go with that first company!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Strawberry jam!

This weekend I was at sams club and I bought 8 pounds of strawberries for $9! My family loves strawberries, so I know we'll eat a lot of them as snacks or in smoothies. Strawberries are extremely perishable, however, so I decided to preserve 4 pounds of them by making some jam! Here is my recipe.

Stellar Strawberry Jam
4 pounds fresh or frozen strawberries, rinsed and hulled.
6C sugar
1/2C bottled lemon juice

Steep the strawberries by mixing them with the sugar until the sugar has liquefied and then letting them sit, for 4 hours at room temperature. You can also let them sit in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Place the strawberry sugar mixture and the lemon juice in a large, heavy bottomed pot and bring to a rolling boil, stirring frequently. Cook at a rapid boil until the mixture reaches 220 degrees. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam. Ladle the jam into 3 or 4 sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch at the top and screw on the lids. At this point you can either can the jars or refrigerate them. Canning ensures a much longer shelf life, so that's what I always do. You can find detailed canning instructions online.

Beautiful Blackberry Jam
Peel, core and grate 1 granny smith apple. Mix with:
2 pounds blackberries
1Tbsp orange juice
3C sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pot and boil rapidly until it reaches 220 degrees. Skim off any foam and ladle into 2 or 3 pint sized jars that have been sterilized, leaving 1/4 inch at the top. Screw on the lids and then can or refrigerate the jars.

My family loves these two jams, so I make a lot every Summer and we enjoy it all year. Our favorite uses for the jam, (besides spreading it on toast) are to mix it into yogurt or cream of wheat, use it to top pancakes and waffles, or even to top vanilla ice cream.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Frugal granola bars!

I love granola bars and so do my 3 kids. If I let them, they would each eat a whole package of 6 granola bars every day! Since a package of granola bars is about $2.50, that would get very expensive. Luckily, I found a great recipe for chewy granola bars on . I took the recipe I found on that website and gave it a few Frugal Liz tweaks and here is what I came up with!

Frugal Granola bars master recipe
2C quick oats
1C flour (I prefer spelt, but any kind will work)
1/4C brown sugar
1/2C wheat germ, oat bran or ground nuts
1/2 tsp salt
1/2C oil
1/2C honey
1 egg
2tsp vanilla extract
Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the wet ingredients and then add them to the dry ingredients. Stir very well to combine. Pour the mixture into a greased 9x13 cake pan and spread over the bottom in an even layer. Bake @350 degrees for 16-18 minutes. After they are cool, cut into granola bar shapes and enjoy! My kids eat these with homemade yogurt for breakfast and sometimes for lunch too! I pack them as snacks when we go to the store, so the kids won't whine for junk food. This recipe makes 24 granola bars.

Variation I
Make the master recipe adding 3/4C raisins and 1/2tsp cinnamon with the dry ingredients.
Variation II
Make the master recipe adding 3/4C chocolate chips to the dry ingredients and 1/4C smooth peanut butter to the wet ingredients.
Variation III
Make the master recipe adding 3/4C dried cranberries and 1/2C coarsely chopped almonds to the dry ingredients.

The possible variations are pretty much endless, so by all means experiment and come up with your own. Make sure you write a comment about it or e-mail me so I can try your ideas too!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I finally made some decent yogurt!

I've tried sporadically for the past 6 months to make some decent yogurt, but for some reason, all of my attempts were failures. I tried all different recipes and incubating methods, but the yogurt always turned out too soft or too tart. Monday was finally my first success, so I want to share the recipe and method I used to make 4 quarts of yogurt. This is really going to save me some money, because my kids eat a TON of yogurt and I was buying a whole bunch for the week and spending about $12! Now I can just buy 1 gallon of milk and make the same amount of yogurt for about $2.30. I got my recipe and incubation method from a website called:

Plain yogurt
1 gallon whole milk
1/2C maple syrup
2/3C dry milk
1C plain yogurt with live active cultures
Pour milk into a large, heavy bottomed pot and slowly heat to 185 degrees over medium heat. You'll need to stir frequently to avoid scorching and check your thermometer! After the milk reaches 185 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and cool it down to 110 degrees. This will take a LONG time. Make sure you check your thermometer frequently once it gets close to 110 degrees. While the milk is cooling, add the powdered milk and maple syrup, stirring to dissolve everything. After the milk reaches 110 degrees, add the 1C of yogurt, stirring well with a whisk to combine it with the milk. Pour the milk into 4 CLEAN quart sized canning jars and screw the lids on. Place the canning jars in a cooler and heat some water up to 120 degrees. Pour the water into the cooler with the jars, stopping about 1 inch from the top of the jars. Place the lid on the cooler and let the jars sit for about 12 hours. Remove them from the cooler and transfer to the fridge for another 12-24 hours. Now your yogurt is ready to enjoy!

I've found that homemade yogurt isn't as stiff as store bought, but it still turns out pretty good! My kids ate up a whole quart of it yesterday and I plan to use some in their morning smoothie today.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A great sandwich bread recipe I found

I'm always looking for new recipes and I found this great one for sandwich bread in "The Bread Bible."

Sensational sandwich bread
(To make the sponge starter)
2 1/4C plus 3Tbsp bread flour
1 3/4C water (not cold)
2Tbsp plus 1tsp honey or sugar
3/4tsp yeast
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk together for 2 minutes until very smooth and aerated. Set aside while you prepare the flour blanket.
(To make the flour blanket)
2C plus 3Tbsp bread flour
1/4C dry milk
3/4tsp yeast
Mix the flour blanket ingredients together and then sprinkle them evenly over the sponge. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to sit for 1-4 hours at room temperature. While you wait, set out 8Tbsp of butter to soften.
(To mix and knead the bread)
Add the softened butter and 2 1/4tsp salt to the bowl. Mix by hand or on low speed until all ingredients are moistened. Continue mixing by hand or on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Stop mixing and let the dough sit undisturbed for 20 minutes. This will make it less sticky. After the 20 minutes are up, continue kneading the dough for about 10 minutes on medium speed or by hand. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat both sides. Cover and allow to rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled. Punch dough down, fold over itself 3 times and allow to rise again for 1-2 hours. Divide the dough in half and shape it into 2 loaves. Place the loaves into 2 greased loaf pans, cover and let rise for 1 more hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the bread for 50 minutes. Take the loaves out of the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes. Unmold the bread from the pans and cool completely on wire racks before cutting.

You can also use this dough to make hamburger buns! In the shaping step, simply cut each half of the dough into 10-12 equal pieces and shape them into hamburger bun shapes. Let them rise for about an hour and then bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. Or you can make one loaf of bread and use the other half dough for hamburger buns.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Frugal Cherries!

Cherries are only frugal in the Summer, so at other times of the year, these recipes would be pretty expensive! I buy my cherries from sams club for about $2.30 a pound and they are totally worth it! Cherries are not only delicious, they are versatile. The only drawback is you have to pit them, but that can easily be accomplished with an inexpensive cherry pitter. Here are some of my favorite cherry based recipes.

Cherry Focaccia
3/4C plus 2Tbsp warm water
2 1/4tsp yeast
2 1/4C unbleached flour
1/4C brown sugar
1 1/4tsp salt
3/4C dried cherries
1C fresh cherries, rinsed, pitted and halved
1Tbsp sugar
Place the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Add the flour, 1/4C sugar, salt and dried cherries. Knead on medium speed with the dough hook for about 7 minutes. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow to sit for 2-3 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a 10x10 rectangle. Transfer the rolled dough to a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with a dry towel and let sit for about 45 minutes.
preheat oven to 400 degrees
Gently dimple the top of the dough with your fingertips. Place the cherry halves on top of the dough, pressing them in slightly. Sprinkle the 1Tbsp of sugar over the dough. Bake on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes.

Cherry Tart
(For the tart dough)
12Tbsp softened butter
1C powdered sugar
1/2C almonds, finely ground in a food processor
1 egg at room temperature
1/2tsp vanilla extract
2C unbleached flour
1/4tsp salt
Beat the butter and sugar in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Add the almonds, egg and vanilla and then the flour and salt. Mix until just combined. Shape dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
(For the cherry filling)
1 pound fresh cherries, rinsed and pitted
2/3C heavy cream
1/3C sugar
2 eggs
1/3C sliced almonds, toasted
Heat the oven to 400 degrees
Remove one disk of dough from the fridge and roll out into a round 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 9 inch tart pan that is at least 1 inch deep and has a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan.Remove excess dough and discard or save for cookies. Put the pan on a baking sheet and line the dough with parchment. Fill the parchment lined dough with dry rice or beans and bake it until the sides are set, 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the rice or beans and the parchment and return the pan to the oven. Bake another 7 minutes, or until the bottom is set and lightly browned.
Spread the cherries over the bottom crust in a single layer. Whisk together the cream, eggs and sugar and carefully pour the mixture over the cherries. You may have a little extra. Sprinkle the almonds on top and bake until the top is brown and the cherries are bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let the tart cool until it can be removed from the pan.

Cherry smoothie
1C orange juice
1C soy milk, almond milk or cows milk
1C pineapple
1C cherries
1-2 frozen bananas
Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth and creamy. My 3 year old calls this her "Red shake".:P

Poached cherries
1 3/4C water
2/3C sugar
3 strips lemon zest
3 strips orange zest
1/4 vanilla bean, split, or 1tsp vanilla extract
15 peppercorns
1 pound cherries, rinsed and pitted
In a saucepan, bring the water, sugar, lemon and orange zest, peppercorns and vanilla to a boil. Add the cherries and simmer for 10 minutes, skimming off any foam. Let cool and then refrigerate. Strain off cooking liquid before serving.

Cherry mousse
1 pound cherries, rinsed and pitted
3Tbsp powdered sugar
2C heavy cream, preferably not ultra-pasteurized
Combine cherries and 1Tbsp sugar in a food processor and puree. Whip the cream with the remaining sugar until medium peaks form. Fold in the cherry puree. For a fun dessert, layer this mousse with the poached cherries in clear wine glasses for a stunning effect!