Monday, 24 October 2016

Pterodactyl Legs

I eat a lot differently now that I live alone.  There are many reasons for the change but I'd have to say that the top two are that I have considerably less money to spend on food now, and that it takes one person a long time to make their way through a full recipe of anything.  Both of those things have, of course, also affected how I shop for food.  

These days, before anything goes in my grocery cart, I ask myself can I afford it, and can the leftovers be frozen, canned, or re-purposed into a new dish.  Since I dislike eating the same dish over and over again for days in order to use it up, that second question is every bit as important as the first.

One way I get more bang for my meat-shopping buck is to head for the grocery store early in the morning.  Meat and poultry that are getting near to the "best by" date marked on their packaging are marked down by the department manager, usually by a factor of about thirty percent.  Provided it's used, frozen, or canned on the day it's purchased, the contents of those discounted packages are perfectly safe to eat, and the price reduction can make a significant difference to my budget.  

I found a package of discounted turkey drumsticks on an early morning foray to the store this weekend.  I like turkey but a whole bird is really a lot of meat for me to get through and, unfortunately, turkey parts are usually a lot more pricey pound-for-pound than a whole, frozen bird.  These drumsticks were a case in point:  although not subject to the same kind of mark-up as turkey breast meat, they are regularly priced at about $3.25/lb compared with the $0.95/lb price of a seasonally priced whole turkey.  The package of two drumsticks I was looking at was regularly priced at $6.77 and marked down by 30%.  That's still not as inexpensive as a whole frozen turkey but, with the reduced price falling below $5.00 for the package, it fell within my budget.  First criterion met.

Turkey's infinitely adaptable. I knew I'd have no problem finding a way to cook it so that it could be frozen and/or re-purposed so I bought it.

The drumsticks were huge (they made me think of peterodactyl legs, which made me grin) so I decided to cook them in my slow cooker, remove the meat from the bones, freeze some of it, and use some of it for my main meal the next day.  The question then became what flavours to use with them.  I decided to go for a taste of fall and pulled together the following ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup onion, cut in a 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 pint jar (approximately 2 cups) applesauce.*  
  • 2 large turkey drumsticks
  • poultry seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper

I seasoned the drumsticks all over with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning, then put them in the slow cooker, sprinkled the diced onion over them, and poured the applesauce evenly over the top.  After putting the lid on the cooker, I left them to cook on the high heat setting for about 4-1/2 hours.  When they were cooked through and falling-apart tender, I removed the drumsticks from the pot to a platter and let them cool to room temperature.

I removed the sauce from the slow cooker too, transferring it to a glass bowl and letting it cool to room temperature as well.

When everything was cooled, I put a lid on the bowl of sauce and put it in the fridge, then pulled the meat off of the drumsticks. (I found my fingers worked best for breaking up the turkey. I was able to more easily find all the cartilage pieces and remove them.) I divided the meat into a sufficient quantity for my meal the next night and two packages for the freezer. I stored it in the fridge overnight.

The following day I skimmed the fat layer from the top of the sauce bowl and discarded it.  I then put the turkey I'd portioned for my supper that day into an oven proof dish and covered it generously with sauce.  I reheated it in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes, until heated through and bubbly.  It was delicious!

I added some sauce to the freezer packages, labeled them, froze them, and - because I had some left over - also froze a jar of sauce by itself.  

I can think of several ways to use my frozen portions of turkey and sauce:  I could make an open faced sandwich, mix the meat and sauce with rice and veggies to make a casserole, or use the meat and sauce together with some cubed, roasted root vegetables as the filling in a meat pie.

All in all, the drumsticks and the ingredients I cooked them with turned out to be a good value. I'll get at least two more tasty meals from that package of turkey; a fine thing for both my meal planning and my budget.  :)

*I make my applesauce with unpeeled apples and cook it down for a long time, until it's quite thick and dark.  If your applesauce is thinner or you're using a commercial product, you may want to opt for apple butter instead.

Monday, 11 July 2016

What's for Supper: July 11 - 15

Every Monday my Facebook friend Meal Planning Maven invites people to share their meal plans for the week on her page.  I've been participating in this conversation for a long time both because I love her page and the recipes she shares and because I find great inspiration from the other folks who post there.  This post was written with that conversation in mind.  I hope you'll share your plans and recipes on her page too.

Here's what I've planned for supper this week:

Monday, July 11 - Yesterday I made palak paratha (an Indian flatbread) using plantain instead of spinach.  I have some left over so tonight I'm going to use one to make a wee pizza with diced fresh tomato, finely diced red onion, diced zucchini, and shredded mozzarella and edam cheese as my toppings.

The recipe I used for the palak paratha came from Veg Recipes of India.  You can find it here.

If you'd like to learn more about plantain, check out this excellent post from Prairieland Herbs.

Tuesday, July 12 - Breaded, oven roasted chicken thighs, new potatoes boiled with a little fresh mint (both the potatoes and the mint were a gift from my friend Donna's garden), steamed carrots and sugar snap peas.

Wednesday, July 13 - A slice of cheddar, broccoli, and tomato quiche (from the freezer), brown rice cooked in vegetable stock, and a salad of romaine, chickweed, cooked sugar snap peas (leftover from Tuesday), diced pickled beet, and calendula petals, dressed with blushing beet salad dressing.

Thursday, July 14 - A chicken, rice, and vegetable salad.  Look for the recipe later this week.

Friday, July 15 - A portabella burger, and some carrot sticks, celery, and sliced cucumber.

Friday, 24 June 2016

How Living on a Limited Income Helped Me Go Green(ish)

When my husband died my household income declined sharply. Although I did receive the survivor's benefits from his Canada Pension Plan and superannuation, that amount was 50 percent of what he had been receiving. His full pension amounts were low enough that he had been entitled to an Old Age Security benefit but, being under the age of 65, I wasn't entitled to receive that top up. The harsh financial reality is that the total amount of pension coming into this household was reduced by about sixty percent.

Anyone who has lived alone can tell you that a household of one is not sixty percent less expensive to run than a household of two. My mortgage payment and condo fees remained the same, my home insurance went up, my car insurance and car maintenance costs were largely unchanged, and - because I'm not eligible for the senior's home owner grant - my property taxes more than doubled.  

I'd left work to care for my husband during the last months of his life and did receive a small unemployment insurance cheque for a while. but that ended four months after he died.  I found a new job but because of some on-going health issues of my own I chose to leave it, stay at home, and try to get by on solely on pension income. 

Tight does not begin to describe my budget.  

Just to be clear, I'm not complaining here. I'm doing okay. I have all of life's essentials, I'm surrounded by loving friends and family, and I'm gradually making a new life alone.  I did experience some big changes though, and I learned some good things along the way. 

These days I'm very clear about want versus need. I don't ignore every want - life is no fun without a few little treats - but I consider very carefully before I spend my money and I economize where I can. This is where the green(ish) part comes in.  It turns out that much of what I do to keep my budget in check is also good for the environment.

I don't buy stuff I don't need (or at least not very much of it), and it's amazing how many tchotchkes, shoes, clothing items, and dishes I don't  need.  If I don't buy it, I don't need to pay to maintain it, or store it, and I end up throwing far less away.

I source most of my craft materials and the fabric for my sewing projects from thrift stores.  It's far more affordable than shopping retail and it extends the useful life of items others have discarded.

I walk for most of my errands around town, only taking my car out if I'm going to be carrying something very large or heavy.  I'm not such a purist that I don't drive at all, but walking when I can reduces my fuel bills and car maintenance costs. It also reduces my carbon footprint.  

I buy plain, unprocessed food because it's less expensive.  It also usually comes with less packaging.  I do end up with some plastic, cardboard and tin to recycle, but much less than I used to.

Being vigilant about waste is the most important thing I do for both my budget and my impact on the environment. I can't afford to buy things and then not use them up. 

Unless I'm putting it by for future use, I don't buy more food than I can eat.  I try to use every edible bit of the food I do buy, including peels, cores, tops, leaves, skin, bones, shells, and fish heads.  It saves me money, makes respectful use of the energy required to grow/catch, transport, and package what I eat, and it produces some wonderfully flavourful stocks and sauces.

Whenever I can, I use rags made from worn out flannel sheets instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper, and glass jars and covered bowls instead of plastic wrap.  Freezer bags do have a place in my kitchen but I reuse them as many times as I can.  I also reuse the heavy zip closure bags that dry fruit and frozen goods come packaged in, and the liners from cereal boxes (awesome sandwich wrap!).

I use envelopes and any blank paper that comes in the mail for drawing, art projects, and making lists.  I cover both sides of the paper before I send it to recycling.  

I don't buy clothes unless I absolutely need them and when I do buy them, I usually buy second hand.  I mend my clothing and wear it until it's worn out, then use the salvageable fabric, buttons, and zippers to make new things.

All of these things are kind to the environment.

My new, very simple life works well for me. I can take quiet days, and rest when I need to.  I spend time outdoors every day.  I know exactly what I can afford and what I can't, and I can plan for that. My stress levels are greatly reduced.

Isn't it nice that many of those changes benefit the environment too? That's a win/win.

Do you have any frugal green living tips you'd like to share? Please feel free to comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Google+.  I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, 10 June 2016

How to Get Rid of Unpleasant Odours in Your Dishwasher

This is my dishwasher.  It's nice and shiny but it's old. The springs on the door are broken so I have to prop the open door up with a footstool to keep it from opening so far that the hinges break.  If I use it every day for three or four days in a row, it arbitrarily stops working and won't start again until I've given it a week's rest.  It's not worth fixing and I can't afford to replace it.

Now that I'm on my own, I don't have as many dirty dishes as I used to so I mostly wash them by hand but, despite its many faults, my dishwasher is still of use to me.   I use it once a week to sanitize my cutting boards and wash whatever dishes happen to need cleaning on that day.  I also use it when I have company, and extra dishes to wash.

Perhaps because I use it less often than I used to, I recently began to notice an unpleasant, garbage-y odour coming from my dishwasher.  It was pretty awful and, if I left the door propped open, it pervaded my entire apartment.  I had to do something about it.  

Pinterest is my go-to place for all things housekeeping, so I did a search to see if I could find a tip for de-stinking the dishwasher.  I came across a post by that suggested using vinegar and baking soda.  I use baking soda for cleaning my stainless steel sink, and vinegar and baking soda to keep my sink drains clear, so it seemed to be something worth trying.

I put a cup full of vinegar, upright, in the top rack of the dishwasher, poured an approximately equal amount of baking soda onto the bottom deck of the machine and then ran the dishwasher for a half cycle on the "sanitize" setting.

It worked really well.  My dishwasher is sparkling clean inside and smells nice and fresh.  

Cleaning my dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda cost me a lot less than it would have cost to buy a commercially made dishwasher cleaning detergent, and it was kinder to the environment too.  That's a win/win in my books.   

Do you have any housecleaning tips you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Refresh You Clothes and Reduce Your Ironing

Every fall, I pack my summer clothes into Rubbermaid bins and store them away in my storage locker, down in the basement of my apartment building. They stay there for almost 9 months before warm weather encourages me to bring them out again. 

The bins do a great job of keeping my clothes clean, dry, and moth free but, when I unpack them, my clothes come out smelling not bad exactly, but storage-y: kind of musty and not fresh.  Also, because I pack the totes tightly, everything ends up creased and wrinkled.  

On the scale of domestic challenges, I figure this barely registers at all but, still, getting those clothes ready to wear does make for a tedious chore. In past years I've re-laundered all my clothes after taking them out of storage, and then ironed them all before putting them away in my dressers and closet.  It was a lot of work. This year I wanted to simplify the process.  

I'd washed them before storing them in the bins, so my clothes were already clean. I decided to try a little experiment.  Instead of laundering them again, I hung a few of my T-shirts on hangers along the shower curtain rod in the bathroom and used a spray bottle to dampen them all over with water.  After that,I did nothing at all but leave them alone until they were dry.

The photo above shows the results.  It worked very well.  Not only did my T-shirts regain their freshness, but most of the wrinkles relaxed right out of the fabric.  They weren't perfectly smooth like they'd be if I ironed them but, hey, they're T-shirts.  The results were good enough that I'd wear them without pressing them first.

I repeated the hanging/spraying/drying process with the rest of the clothing from my bins and the results were good throughout.  I still chose to press some of the dressier items but, having removed so many of the wrinkles from the fabric before I ironed, the job went much more quickly than it would have with clothing straight from storage.

So there you have it:  Simple, work saving, and free. Housekeeping tasks don't get much better than that.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Busy Night Eggs

I'm sure that I've mentioned before how much I enjoy the "What's for Dinner" conversation at CanadianBudgetBinder on Facebook. It's always lively, in part because there's a new question to discuss each day.  

Recently, the "What's for Dinner" discussion was about our go-to dishes for busy nights.  Eggs immediately sprang to mind. They're wonderful things to have in the fridge:  Quick to cook, nutritious, and inexpensive. They're versatile too.  A little imagination is all it takes to cook up something really quite wonderful.

There are some egg dishes show up on my table with great regularity.  Busy Night Eggs are one of them. Busy Night Eggs are changeable things:  Based on what I have on hand and different almost every time. They all have one thing in common though: They're all made with Spike seasoning.* 

Spike's been around for a long time. I first learned about it in my maternal grandmother's kitchen.  It remains one of my very favourite ways to season eggs.  

Spike contains no chemical additives to keep it from clumping so you'll need to use a table knife to give it a good stir in the jar each time you use it. It's worth the effort.

Here's the version of Busy Night Eggs I'll be eating for supper tonight.  For each serving you'll need:

  • 1 Tbsp. of oil, or butter, or other fat (I'll be using pork fat I rendered myself, from a whole pork leg.)
  • 1/2 cup cubed cooked potato
  • 1 thinly sliced green onion (scallion), divided
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • Spike seasoning
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • black pepper
  • Grated cheese (I used manchego but whatever you have on hand will do)
Melt the pork fat in a frying pan over medium high heat, then add in the potato and the white (root) part of the green onion.  Don't rush the cooking of these.  Let them sit until they take on a little colour, then stir and let them sit again, repeating the process until they're nicely browned.

Add in the tomato and a generous amount of Spike. Continue cooking and stirring until the tomato is heated through and softens up a bit.  It won't take long.

Add in the beaten eggs and move them around in the pan until they start to set up, forming soft curds.  Take the eggs off the heat while they're slightly undercooked.  They'll continue carry over cooking on the plate, and you don't want them to be dry.

Season the cooked eggs to taste with freshly cracked black pepper, then grate some cheese over top of the dish. Garnish with the chopped green tops of the scallions.  

Easy Peasy, right? Enjoy!  

*I am not being paid or provided with promotional considerations by the company that makes Spike.  I've included it in this recipe because I really like it a lot.  I think you will too.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Tandoori Cod

Tandoori Cod combines a very Indian flavour - tandoori masala - with a very North American ingredient:  Pacific cod. Like most of my meals these days, it's easy to prepare and quick to cook. 

I use a store-bought, pre-made curry paste to season this dish. I want you to know that the company who makes it (Patak's) didn't sponsor my post, nor will I receive any payment or promotional goods in return for sharing it with you.  I just really like their product a lot.

Around here, Patak's tandoori paste can be found in the "ethnic foods" aisle of most grocery stores. If you can't find it where you live, you can still enjoy this wonderful flavour by making a dry spice mix yourself from Ruchi's Kitchen recipe for Tandoori Masala.

For each serving of Tandoori Cod you wish to make, you'll need

  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons Patak's Tandoori Paste or homemade dry tandoori masala and a little cooking oil
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cod fillet, skin removed

Mix together the tandoori paste and yogurt, stirring until well combined.

If  you're using the dry spice mix linked above instead of tandoori paste, mix it into the Greek yogurt a little at a time, tasting as you go, until it reaches a level of flavour that suits your taste. (I would use about 2 teaspoons, or maybe a little more, for each 1-1/2 Tablespoons of yogurt.)

Place the cod fillet on a baking sheet that has been brushed with oil, then spoon the seasoned yogurt over the top of the fillet.

Bake the fish at 400F until it's almost opaque - in my oven that takes about 15 minutes - then put it under the broiler for just long enough to give the topping some colour, maybe 3 to 5 minutes more. Watch it like a hawk and take care not to overcook the fish.  It should be opaque and should break apart easily with a fork, but you don't want it to taste overcooked and dry..

I served this over a bed of mixed greens but a more traditional accompaniment would be basmati rice, a cooked vegetable dish of some sort and a chutney.  Any way you choose to serve it, it's delicious.

Related post:  Making Yogurt in a Thermos