Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Left-Over Challenge

Every once in awhile somebody issues a "Once A Month Shopping Challenge", and Erica on Living Life in Rural Iowa (see my sidebar) has done so most recently.  I thought about joining the challenge, but usually it just doesn't work for me.  I may do a once-a-month trek to Walmart, for things like cat food, the cold-cuts Hubs wants for his lunch-time sandwich, and maybe to check out whatever plants they might have on sale.  But mostly I stock up on things when they are on sale.  We live in an unincorporated area near Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a town of between 30,000 and 36,000, depending on whether Phillips Petroleum aka Conoco-Phillips is laying off or booming.  We are 50 miles from Tulsa, which is the nearest city that is large enough for competition for the grocery dollar to be stiff enough to make retailers slash prices just to get people to come to their store.  But seems like lately that's only just so much hype.  We do have access to a food co-op, but it is for organic producers and their prices are about three times higher than those in any of our local grocery stores.  If you can afford to be a "locavore", then the co-op is your best bet, especially during winter when the farmer's markets have closed down, but you can only get things from them once a month, and you have only a small window of time in which to get your order made.  If you are needing economy it's not a very good option.  Since I mentioned farmer's markets, I have to say that what's offered here is also extremely expensive and I question whether some of the vegetables are really organically grown as there are no flaws on them whatsoever.  I don't know about you, but everything I bring in from my garden is imperfect in some way, thanks to insects, wind, and rain or lack thereof.

I often say that The World As I Knew It has already disappeared.  It happened gradually, while most people were not paying attention, and one of the things that has completely gone away now is the farmer who would bring a truckload of whatever he had a bumper crop of, be it watermelons or tomatoes or corn, and he would sell from the back of his truck parked along the highway till it was gone.  His price was better than store prices because he had very little overhead, and every dollar that he took in was profit, unless you counted his time and the money he spent on gas to get there.  It's not the same now.  If he's even there, he hangs a sign out that says "organic" and the price is very high.  When I was a child, my dad used to buy tamales, made by a local Mexican woman, on his way home from work.  It was not as expensive as take-out, and it was something that Mom didn't know how to make, so it was a treat to have them for supper.  Now, if you can find someone selling them at all, the price is such that the economy part of it has completely gone out the window.  I know making them is a lot of work and I'm sure they're worth what's being charged for them now but what I'm saying is that nowadays they wouldn't be cheaper than fast food and probably not something a low-income family would buy on a regular basis.  And I know that there are costs associated with producing food, so it's not that I necessarily think the small producer is gouging.  When we had our chickens, we had costs associated with each egg they produced.  We had to buy feed.  And we were constantly buying fencing materials and replacing things they damaged with their digging when they "broke free".  Yet we had friends who were really happy to get eggs from us as long as they were free.  I didn't mind at all sharing eggs with people who did things for us but we soon started asking those who just took eggs and didn't contribute anything back to pay us a couple of dollars per dozen.  My gosh, the way they reacted, you would've thought we'd asked them for the moon.  So I understand both sides of it, it's just that it's hard to get a bargain, anywhere.

While I was raising my children, who are now in their 40's, I always kept a full freezer.  I started out buying half a beef from the local butcher shop but then I began to feel that this wasn't as economical as I thought, because the price per pound quoted was always "hanging weight" and not "trimmed weight", and I never knew how much per pound I was really paying for the meat.  Plus I got a lot of cuts I wouldn't ordinarily buy.  Oh, Hubs loved those t-bone steaks, though.  But if you're raising a family on a tight budget, and your teenagers are eating you out of house and home, you can get that 'steak experience' with cheaper cuts.  So then I just started watching the grocery ads that came in the paper on Wednesday, and I'd go out on Friday and hit the specials in three stores.  It'd take me the greatest part of the day, but I'd get great prices.  Now, it's getting harder and harder to even do that.  Apparently all the stores in town are owned by the same corporation.  So all of them run the same specials.  And that means that it's pointless to go to more than one store, unless you find yourself in one that has run out of the sale items, or one that just won't put more than one or two out at a time.  Our local Food Pyramid is bad about that.  Sometimes you have to ask them to bring some out "from the back", and then they will ask how many you want and what they bring out will be of their choosing.  If you say you want twelve, they'll give you the old fish eye and tell you they don't think they have that many.  Other times it may say, right in the ad, "Limit two with $20 purchase".

Last week, while we were in Tulsa, Reasor's was having their "Big Meat Sale", and so we decided to take a look at that.  They had their butchers out in the open, cutting meat, and they had A LOT of meat.  And so yes, they were offering a lot of meat for sale and they were able to cut it just like you wanted it cut.  But the prices?  Meh.

So sometimes getting food at a decent price at the store is your biggest challenge.

Your next big challenge is making absolutely sure you do not waste that which you have paid A King's Ransom for.

I have found that management of leftovers is key.  I store "bits and tads" in my refrigerator freezer, which might be enough of something left over from a meal that might only serve one person, or the liquids from cooked or canned vegetables, or maybe those last few bananas that are getting overripe.  About once a week I go "freezer diving" and challenge myself to make an interesting meal from what's in there.  Sometimes I'll do this every day for a week, if the freezer's become pretty full.  It just depends on whatever else is going on here.  If I'm busy with the garden or getting things canned, I'm kind of lax about this and that's usually when I will end up devoting a week to eating out of the freezer.  Usually I use bananas in banana bread, but when I had kids at home, they loved to eat the frozen bananas, and I still like to do that, especially in the summer.  You can get fancy and put them on a skewer and dip them in melted chocolate chips and then roll them in chopped peanuts, if you want to.  But I prefer them plain.  I put them in the freezer in their peels.  The peels turn black when they freeze but the banana inside stays pale yellow.  Take out of the freezer as you want one, run warm water over the peel, cut off the ends, and run the sharp point of the knife all the way from end to end, going only deep enough to cut through the skin.  Stick the point of the knife under the edge at the cut and usually the peel will come off in one piece.  Seedless grapes can also be frozen for snacks later.  I imagine citrus fruit could be peeled and sectioned, and frozen, but I'm never able to buy citrus at a good enough price to buy it in large quantities.  I had a sister that lived in Florida for awhile, and she had an orange tree in her yard.  She would juice it and freeze the juice.  That was some really good juice. 

Milk and eggs can be frozen.  The milk separates a little, but if you shake it well after it's thawed, it's fine.  We freeze milk sometimes if we find it at an unusually good price.  When I had my chickens, I froze eggs.  Eggwhites, separated from the yolks, can be frozen just as they are.  Yolks with no eggwhite need to have a little something added to keep them from becoming gummy, like oil, or milk.  Whole eggs can be frozen with nothing added if you break the yolk and blend it into the white.  I don't like the taste of frozen eggs if they are thawed and fried, but they can be used without any change in taste in baking, in casseroles or in things like puddings.  I preferred to freeze whites in the amount required for pie merengue or for angel food cake, and yolks in groups of two or three.  Most recipes call for two eggs, so when I froze the yolk and white together, I'd just do little containers of two eggs, if they were large, and three if they were medium-to-small.  I read somewhere, a long time ago, that if the size of the egg isn't mentioned, it's most likely a medium-sized egg, so if the recipe calls for three eggs and you have large eggs, you can do two. 

Milk that has gone sour, as long as there's not mold growing on it, can be used in baking in place of buttermilk, or if you add a little baking soda, in place of sweet milk.  And it can be frozen in amounts that are called for in the recipes for which they will be used.  I freeze in 2-cup containers and usually use for pancakes.

You want to manage your pantry in the same way.  Did you make too much jam, or a kind that nobody seems to like?  You can make a German Jam Cake, or a Jelly Roll, or make breakfast muffins that call for lots of different ingredients like oatmeal, nuts and raisins, and use jam instead of the sugar called for in the recipe.

Check your potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions every time you take some from the bin.  If any are becoming soft, or making sprouts, it's time to do something with them.  Onions can be peeled and chopped and stored in the freezer.  Wear eye goggles like they sell in hardware stores and refrigerate the onions, and you will not "cry".  Frozen onions aren't good candidates for salads and other things that are not cooked, but they are fine for everything else.  And they'll need to be double-bagged in the freezer to keep them from stinking everything up.  Sweet potatoes that are starting to sprout can be canned, but I prefer to freeze if I have the room.  Usually I just peel and cube them and fry in a little butter.  We'll enjoy some with the meal I prepare that day and all the extra can be packed away in pint containers.  Regular potatoes don't freeze very well unless you make mashed potatoes.  I usually spread mashed potatoes in a rectangular cake pan, score it into meal-sized squares, and then freeze.  After they're frozen I dump them out of the pan, break them apart where they've been scored, and store them in a zipper bag.  I enjoy the convenience of having mashed potatoes multiple times with only one preparation and the mess that goes with it.  Or you can freeze hash browns if you boil the potatoes in their skins until heated through (to stop growth of enzymes) but still crisp.  Cool, peel, and shred.  Form into patties or squares and pack into the freezer.  I have some of those Tupperware hamburger patty containers that I like to use for this.  I keep the water that the potatoes cooked in, but usually only if the potatoes were peeled before cooking.  I might use it as the base for potato-broccoli-cheese soup, or for potato yeast rolls.  I guess you could use the water from unpeeled boiled potatoes if you really scrubbed the potatoes super-clean, but I discard it or use it to water plants.

I haven't really been doing much with my leftovers lately so I decided to make today be "catch-up day".  I mixed up some Biscuit Mix (Recipe HERE) and I'm putting together a Breakfast Casserole (recipe in that same post containing the Biscuit Mix recipe).  What I took out of the freezer to make the Breakfast Casserole was a pint of frozen kale from last spring's garden, a pint container of frozen condensed milk, and two butt-ends from turkey ham that we bought at Walmart.  When we buy turkey ham, we always have it shaved by someone in the deli.  They sometimes ask whether we want "the ends".  Well HELL YES, I want the ends!  I weighed them, and that's about 4 oz for each end, total half a pound.  And I'm gonna let you throw it away?  That ain't happenin' today.  I stick those ends in the freezer and when I need a little chopped ham, whether for a casserole, an omelet, or a little ham salad, I use those ends.  I'll chop up onions and a bowl of small potatoes from the garden, because I need to be going through them anyway.  There's a chunk of Velveeta that I need to be using up, I'll slice it thin and put it on the top and I'll fill out the rest of the cheese called for in the recipe with some shredded cheddar cheese that I keep on hand, frozen, for taco fixin's.  Barring that, I'll use shredded mozzerella that I keep on hand for pizza.  That reminds me, cheese is another thing you need to watch closely, because it will grow mold really quickly.  I mostly use hard cheeses in shredded form so if I don't bring it home from the store already shredded, I'll shred it all as soon as I open the package, and then freeze it.  You'll find tips in some of those old cookbooks about wrapping cheese in a cloth that's been soaked in vinegar and I just never found that to be satisfactory.

Coolish weather is upon us and that hollers "Soup, Stew, and Chili!" to me.  This is also an excellent way to use up bits and tads of stuff you might still be getting out of the garden.
This almost looks too pretty to cook, doesn't it?
Summer Zucchini Stew
Serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Original recipe yield: 4 servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cups Italian or polish sausage, sliced thin (may pre-boil if you prefer less fat – skim the fat from the water and use in the recipe) (there's about that much in a package in the freezer)
1 medium onion, finely diced (there are some in the refrigerator that need to be used soon.)
1 large potato, diced (ditto.  Could even substitute with chopped sweet potato.)
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced (growing in the garden.  I like to let my peppers ripen, so that they are red, orange, yellow or purple, before I pick them.  Sometimes they will finish ripening on the counter if they have already started to show a "blush" of color.  They are sweeter when they're ripe and they freeze better.  )
2 cloves garlic, minced (I always have frozen garlic and, this time of year, fresh garlic that I need to be checking for damage.  I keep them in paper bags in the crisper of the refrigerator.)
1 large zucchini, diced (I'll be using Cucuzzi, since that's what's still producing in the garden.)
1 quart jar chopped tomatoes, with juice (I'll use whole tomatoes that I cored and put into the freezer, a few at a time, the ones that had bad parts cut out and weren't pretty enough to slice for Hubs' lunchtime sandwich.  Normally I add these to the pot when I make tomato sauce but I'm not getting enough tomatoes now for that.)
2 quarts water (approx.) (I'll use two containers of "vegetable broth" from the freezer, which is usually a mixture of broths from cooking any kind of vegetable.)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (growing in the garden)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (growing in the garden) (I'll use a tablespoon, since it's not dried.) 
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley (growing in the garden) (Seriously?  Only a teaspoon?  I like a lot of parsley in my soup.  At least a tablespoon, maybe two.)
salt and pepper to taste (I leave out the salt if I use "vegetable broth", since there's usually some salt in that.  Hubs has high blood pressure and I don't need extra salt, either, so I don't normally add salt when I cook.)
1 (15 ounce) can green beans, drained (still getting a few beans every few days from the garden, I wash and snap and put, raw, in a zipper bag in the freezer.  This is not a good long-term storage option, as they need to be blanched for that, but for short-term, they are fine.  I'll use these.)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Mix in the sausages, onion, potato, green bell pepper, and garlic. Cook 10 minutes, stirring often, until potatoes are slightly tender. Mix the zucchini into pot. Pour in the tomatoes and their liquid. If using fresh green beans, add now, with the water called for.  Season with basil, oregano, parsley, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, and simmer 40 minutes. If using canned green beans, add to the pot last, with liquid, and continue cooking 5 minutes, until beans are heated through.

Here's what it looked like when it was ready to eat.

If it's cold and rainy on Friday, that will be a perfect "soup day".  Saturday will be chilly too, and I'm kinda feelin' hungry for a pot of chili.  We like beans in our chili but we find those big red beans a lot of people use are just too much bean.  So I cook pinto beans in the pressure cooker, and I use them in my chili.  What's left can be frozen for use as refried beans (just add a little bacon fat to a skillet, sauté some onion and maybe some peppers, -- sweet or hot or both -- till tender, then pour in the beans, and mash them with a fork while they heat.

I always soak the beans before I cook them, if I haven't thought ahead and let them soak overnight, I'll cover them well with hot tap water and cover with a lid.  In an hour or so, they're ready.  Drain and add about twice the water to cover the soaked beans.  A little more if you like more bean broth.  They are tender after about ten minutes under pressure, most stove-top pressure cookers cook at 15 pounds pressure.  The one that I use is a six quart (liquid measure, not jars) stove top.  Lots of people have those electric ones nowadays and I think on those you can choose different pressures.  If in doubt, check your booklet that came with the cooker, it'll probably have instructions on cooking beans.  HERE is a good blogpost that might be helpful, with one caveat.  Never, ever, ever, try to bring the pressure down on your pressure cooker by running cold water on it!!!!  You're looking at a big accident waiting to happen.  Plus the sharp temperature difference can warp your cooker.  Just wait a little bit for the pressure to come down by itself.  If you want to you can cut a few minutes off the pressuring time to make up for the difference, but I never do.

But anyway, when I make my chili I'll go out to the garden and see if there are any green tomatoes I need to pick, either because a hard freeze is coming or because there are some out there that have a bug hole that needs to be cut out.  They won't ripen well, anyway.  I'll use my home-canned tomato puree for the base.  If I didn't find any tomatoes in the garden I might add a jar of whole tomatoes with the juice, or a quart of tomato "juice" that is the watery liquid that I pour off the tomato solids when I make my tomato puree.  (Some people who make their tomato puree or sauce this way actually pour this "water" out!  OMG!  Can it, too.  Add 1/4 tsp citric acid and 1/2 tsp salt to each jar.  I will often have a glass of it with my breakfast.  There is usually an inch or so of tomato solids that settles to the bottoms of these jars and when the jar's shaken up that's enough for juice for me, as I don't like that thick commercial tomato juice, anyway.) 

Add the beans, maybe some hamburger mix that didn't seal and has been waiting in the freezer for just this occasion.  Once that's used up, I'll just brown a pound of lean ground beef.  Onions and garlic.  Ground Ancho pepper powder, ground cumin, oregano, paprika.  Start with 2 tsp. of the Ancho and 1 tsp of the other spices, bump it up after it's cooked a little if it's not to your liking.  Maybe some chopped, fresh jalapenos from the garden.  If not that, a splash of homemade hot sauce, to taste.  Some people add cilantro but it tastes like soap to me so I never use it.  Beans and corn, together, are a complete protein, which is why normally when I make anything that has beans in it, I'll make corn muffins or at least have some corn chips or tortilla chips handy.  I like a little crunch with my chili. 
Chili freezes well, and so what's left over is usually packed away in large yogurt containers for storage in the freezer.  I had enough left over for two more meals from this most recent batch.  It's nice to have things like this to fall back on, on days when I just don't feel like cooking, or maybe I'm in the middle of a project and don't want to have to stop to cook a meal and clean up after it.

Years ago, I knew a man who would have a big chili supper for his neighbors in his front yard every Halloween.  I think he lived in Independence, KS.  He would always add whole-kernel corn to his chili.  It's actually quite good that way.

Hubs will be glad to know that I found some little balls of pie crust in the freezer!  And I think I have a can of cherry pie filling somewhere..... 

I'm also on a quest to use up several cans of condensed milk.  I like to keep them around for pumpkin pie but I overbought at some point.  They are approaching their Point Of No Return.  However, they can be used in place of milk in recipes if they are thinned out with an equal quantity of water.  They make really good puddings so maybe I'll use that pie crust for chocolate pie and kill two birds with one stone.  When using canned milk for puddings or pie fillings, I only add about 1/2 as much water instead of an equal amount, and then I leave out the butter that the recipe calls for, since the milk has such a high fat content.  My recipe for "Makes It's Own Crust" pumpkin pie calls for canned milk, which is why I keep canned milk in my pantry.  I'd make up some of those except for the fact that Hubs doesn't like pumpkin pie and I'd end up having to eat it all.  Now's just not a good time for that, though I guess I could cut the sugar by half and cut the pie into pieces that could be frozen, for a treat just every now and then. 

I've been thinking about buying Milnot instead of canned milk next time.  Milnot is not a milk, it's a soybean product, but it's displayed same place as the canned milk, and is in cans.  Looks the same to the casual observer.  It will whip better than canned milk and so it lends itself better for things like those pink Jell-O desserts with graham cracker crumbs.  The recipes that are posted all over the Internet call for Cool-Whip to be blended into the Jell-O, but the original recipe, developed in the 1950's, called for real whipped cream, and then later, when Milnot was created and marketed, they printed off little recipe folders where you'd whip a chilled can of Milnot into red Jell-O that had chilled till it was partially congealed but still loose.  Those were the only two ingredients and it would be frothy and just melt in your mouth.  You could serve it with graham crackers, or crush them and sprinkle the top with the crumbs, or make a graham cracker crust and turn it into a pie.  I've seen recipes for "Pink Stuff" ( that are close but they call for the addition of cottage cheese and/or cherry pie filling and/or crushed pineapple, and this recipe didn't include any of those.  Just plain, simple, though both nowadays what I consider "fake food".  Heh.  Ah, childhood in the 1950's..... when fake food was new and exciting and verrrrrry popular among housewives, who still stayed home, raised the children and considered running a household a worthwhile and full-time occupation.

While I'm on the subject of pie, I might offer you this recipe.  It is one of those 1950's recipes that you don't see very often, and makes a delicious, less cloyingly sweet, alternative to Pecan Pie. 

Pumpkin Pecan Pie
1 Unbaked 9” pastry shell
1t. vanilla
1 C canned pumpkin
1 C pecans
1 C sugar
1/2 C dark corn syrup
3 eggs, beaten
1 and 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt

Arrange the pecans in one layer on the pastry shell. Combine remaining ingredients and pour carefully over pecans. Bake at 350 about 40 minutes. Chill. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Sooooooo........ What do YOU have languishing in the back of your refrigerator, that's still recognizable?  (been there, done that).  I challenge you today to open that refrigerator door and use what you find, (as long as it's still edible, that is) for today's meal.  Allrecipes has a search function by ingredient that I use sometimes if I have something I can't figure out how to use, by the way....

Hugs xoxoxo


  1. I was looking in our refrigerator just a few minutes ago thinking it sure does look empty. I have a jar of cultured buttermilk in there that I use to make cheddar cheese that will probably go bad and the pigs will get it. I think our cheese making is over for a season, or at least until February when the milk supply increases again. Now you have me hungry for chili, but we don't use beans. I just may have to make some tomorrow after I can some more pears. I still have about 2 1/2 five gallon buckets to go. Thanks for the ideas, Ilene.


    1. Make some biscuits or pancakes with that buttermilk, maybe. My pear tree is still young and so I've got all this year's pears put up. Looks like you have several canner-loads there. But oh, you will enjoy them this winter!


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