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 www.thefrugalgirl.com . 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: www.thefamilyhomestead.com

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!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Saving change

Two years ago my husband and I started paying for all of our weekly expenses (food, gas, fun stuff, miscellaneous expenses) with cash. We just budget a certain amount every week and take it out of the bank. This cash system has really helped us to stay within our budget and it also has the added bonus of generating a lot of change for us to save. We used to just save the change in a jar, but now we have a piggy bank.:P I keep the pennies separate from the other coins in the old jar, because it makes it easier when it comes time to roll everything up.
Change really adds up fast in a surprisingly short amount of time. My husband and I roll ours up every 4 months or so and we have ended up with between $85-$115 every time. After we roll it all up, we take it to the bank and exchange it for paper money. Then we use the money for fun! I know a lot of finance bloggers use their change to pay down debt or to pad their emergency fund and those are great ways to use the money as well. We don't have any debt (except for mortgage debt) and while every emergency fund could use some padding, I think you need to have some money for fun sometimes. Even when my husband were so poor we couldn't afford a car, we still had some money in our budget for fun.
Saving our change has been an easy and painless way for my husband and I to save some money. even if you only save $5 a week in change, that's still $260 a year you'll never even feel yourself saving!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cooling drinks that battle the Summer heat

I hate to be hot, so it's too bad I live in Georgia. The Summers here are extremely hot and humid, so I'm always looking for ways to stay cool and comfortable. One of the best ways (besides setting the AC at 70 degrees and having a fan on at all times!:P) is to drink a lot of cold beverages and to eat as light as possible. Nothing makes me feel hot like a heavy meal! Here are some of my favorite Summer drinks and light meals!

Cantaloupe milk
(I got this recipe from the book "Fit For Life".)
1 cantaloupe, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2C soy milk, almond milk or cows milk
Place ingredients in a blender and process until a smooth, pale orange "milk" forms. Pour into 2 glasses and serve. You can also add a frozen banana for a more substantial meal. I would have this for breakfast or a light lunch.

Honeydew milk
Make the same way as cantaloupe milk, but substitute a honeydew instead. Or you can use half honeydew half cantaloupe!

Watermelon juice
(To make this, you need a juicer)
1/4 large SEEDLESS watermelon, preferably chilled
Remove rind and run watermelon through a juicer (I have a champion). Pour into a large pitcher and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Watermelon juice is extremely refreshing and delicious!

Mango parfait
1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
2C plain yogurt
4Tbsp maple syrup (divided)
Place 1/2C yogurt in a bowl. Top with 1/4 of the mango chunks and drizzle with 1Tbsp maple syrup. Repeat with remaining yogurt, mango and maple syrup to create 4 servings. Enjoy! You can also use fresh peaches, strawberries, blackberries or cherries in place of the mango. My kids go crazy over this!

Friday, June 19, 2009


Back in 2004, when I was 24 years old, my husband and I came into some money from my husband going TDY and then from the military giving us some money for moving expenses. We ended up saving about $10,000 all together and since at that point our emergency fund was in pretty good shape, we were looking for something else to do with the money. I ended up talking to the financial advisor at the bank and he told me I should start an IRA for my retirement. At first I thought he was crazy...I mean I was 24 after all! Then I started doing some research and I found out that if I contributed $4,000 a year for 10 years and then just left the IRA alone, that when I was 59 years old the $40,000 I had put in would have grown to about 1.5 million dollars! There is some risk involved, because the money is in the stock market, but the risk is pretty minimal because I have the money in a balanced fund. A balanced fund is a mixture of stocks and bonds, which makes it less risky...But you also don't have as much potential for a big return.
Since 2004, my husband and I have contributed $4,000 a year to our Roth IRA and now we have $20,000 invested. Some years it's been pretty hard to save the money to contribute, but we've always made it a high priority. It scares me to think about being old and poverty stricken...Unable to even afford air conditioning or medicine, which is what happens to a lot of people once they are too old to work. Also if we had to we could take out any of the money we've contributed without incurring a penalty, because we have a Roth IRA. That would of course be a last resort, but in a pinch, $20,000 would go a long way towards getting us back on our feet!
So once you have a fairly large emergency fund and you're looking for another way to save, I would recommend looking into a retirement account. We have ours with The Vanguard Group and so far I've been very happy with them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My $665 car repair

Today I took my car to the local auto repair shop, because the brakes were making a weird sound and the steering wheel would shake whenever I tried to stop the car or even just slow down. It turned out that all four rotors needed to be replaced along with the brake shoes and pads. With parts and labor it came to $665...Ouch. Luckily, my husband and I have some savings, so we could afford a car repair, but it still hurts.
Last October we started saving to go on an awesome family vacation to Disney world this October. Our goal is to save $3000 and so far we have $2500. This vacation fund is separate from our long term savings, so only "extra" money can go in there. I was hoping that this month we could get the rest of the way there, but I guess it will have to wait...Especially since the car needs a tune up and the roof on my house needs to be replaced! These things always seem to happen all at once, don't they?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Frugal Pizza!

Pizza is one of my favorite foods, but ordering it is so expensive. My family would spend anywhere between $15 and $22 for one pizza meal, back when we used to get our pizza from a restaurant. I started making my own pizza about a year ago and I never looked back. Here is my recipe!

Perfecto Pizza
5 tsp yeast
2C warm water
5-6C bread flour
1Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
About 1C pizza sauce
4C shredded cheese
Toppings of choice
Dissolve yeast in the warm water for 5 minutes in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add salt, oil and 5C of flour and mix on low for about 1 minute. If the dough is too wet, mix in more flour 1/2C at a time until the dough comes together in a smooth ball and cleans the sides of the mixer bowl. Knead the dough for about 2 minutes longer. Place dough in a greased bowl and spray cooking spray over the top. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise until doubled (about an hour).
Punch dough down.
Preheat oven to 450
Cut dough into 2 equal pieces and roll each piece into a round about 10-12 inches in diameter. Place rounds on 2 greased cooking sheets, rolling the edges slightly to create a crust. Spread about 1/2C sauce over top of the pizza and sprinkle 2C shredded cheese over the sauce. Top with desired toppings and bake for about 20 minutes, switching the pans around halfway through.
My favorite pizza toppings:
Chicken, pineapple bacon, or just chicken and pineapple!
Mushroom and green pepper
Ham and pineapple
Pepperoni bacon (my husband's favorite!)

The way I keep this pizza easy and frugal is I buy bread flour in bulk from Sams club at $7 for 25 pounds and I buy shredded cheese from Sams club at $6.75 for 8 pounds. I know that's a lot of cheese, but it lasts for a long time in the fridge and I use it for other recipes, like lasagna and baked ziti.