Monday, September 5, 2011

Weekly Menu - 9/4

This week is light on cooking.  I'm planning a frittata for breakfasts and leftovers for lunches.

Sunday - Family dinner

Monday - Cook-out

Tuesday - Chopped salad with black beans

Wednesday - Tomato cream soup with grilled cheese and spinach balls

Thursday - Buffalo chicken lettuce wraps

Friday - Breakfast tacos with refried beans

Saturday - Date night = Dinner out!

For more menu ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at Organizing Junkie.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Queso Blanco

 We had some extra milk a few weeks ago, so I decided to try something new.  Queso blanco is a mild white cheese and is frequently used in Mexican dishes.  It's not a melting cheese, so it's a good cheese for stir fries, soups and deep frying, according to my trusty copy of Home Cheese Making.

I heated 1/2 gallon of milk to about 190 degrees then slowly stirred in 2 T of apple cider vinegar, about 1 tsp at a time.  You only want to add enough vinegar to curdle the milk.  If you add too much, you may be able to taste it in the cheese.  Once the curds started to separate from the whey, I spooned them into a sieve lined with butter muslin.    

Next, I gathered up the corners and used a rubber band to hold them closed.  Then I looped the rubber band over a cabinet knob, and let the cheese drip into a bowl for about 2 hours.

The result was a soft yet slightly crumbly cheese with little flavor.  This cheese definitely needs some salt and/or herbs added to liven it up a bit.  We used the cheese as a topping on black bean burgers; we also mixed it with garlic powder, oregano and mozzarella and used it to make a stuffed crust pizza!  I think next time I would not let the cheese drip quite so long so as to keep it more moist.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Getting Away from the Grocery Store Mentality

I definitely have the grocery store mentality - whatever food I want should be available for purchase all the time.  Now that I've written that out, it sounds so completely self-absorbed and irrational.  Yet, I think most Americans are in the same boat.  Who doesn't get irritated to find that some food item that they want is sold out?

Now that we are trying to eat more seasonally and locally, I'm getting frustrated with the inconsistent supply of things I want, specifically milk.  Most weekends we go to the farmer's market on Friday (produce/eggs), grocery shopping on Saturday (produce/most other things), and then I hit the indoor farmer's market as I have time (eggs/meat/milk), usually on Sunday.  The indoor farmer's market is the only somewhat convenient source of local milk I have right now.  If they are out, as they were this week, I have to go back to the grocery store to buy conventional milk or drive all the way across the city to go to Whole Foods -- not the most efficient use of time or gas. 

What's the solution?  I'm still trying to figure that out, but first I think I need to take a deep breath.  It's not the end of the world that I made yogurt with conventional milk this week.  I suppose that the next time the indoor farmer's market is out of milk, I could simply accept it as a part of supporting small farms and co-ops and do without for the week.  I also need to consider whether I could buy local milk in bulk and freeze it.  That's what I plan to do with bacon as soon as it's available next month.  Freezer space is an ongoing issue here, so that will take some consideration.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Food Budget

I've always considered myself to be frugal.  I still do, but my family might disagree.  "You pay how much for eggs?!?!"  However, I think being frugal means making thoughtful financial decisions and also not being afraid to spend when necessary.  J and I think high quality food is necessary.  I go out of my way to purchase grass-fed beef almost exclusively and pastured chicken as much as possible.  I also splurge on free range eggs from the farmer's market and local, mostly-grass fed milk in glass bottles.  These purchases are important for our health and for environmental reasons.  Because these items are so expensive, we don't use a lot of them, i.e. we eat quite a few meatless meals each week.

We are at the point now where we need to trim our budget a bit.  Actually, the problem is that we need to keep our budget where it is but get our expenditures in line with our budget.  Common problem, right?  We have identified several areas where we can cut back, most notably eating at restaurants.  We both agreed, however, that while we need to be more cognizant of how we spend our food money, we don't want to sacrifice quality.  As a compromise I plan to get back into couponing.  As much as we try to avoid processed and packaged food, there are certain items that we can't seem to get away from like ketchup and taco shells.  We might as well use coupons and shop the sales to reduce costs a bit.  We also need to be less wasteful -- not buying too much and eating everything that we buy.  I'm hoping these small changes as well as a heightened awareness of where our money goes will make enough of a dent in our expenses that we won't have to feel guilty about spending money on good food.

I've been wondering how some of our homemade items compare cost-wise to similar prepared items from the store.  I think I may do some research while grocery shopping this weekend.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My First Sweater

Last year for my birthday J bought me a bunch of knitting needles and other supplies.  He also purchased a skein of yarn that he liked so that I could make something for him.  With the help of Knitting For Dummies, I managed to learn to cast on, knit and purl.  I decided to make J a scarf, but since I didn't really know how to read patterns, I just started knitting.  I used way too small of a needle for really bulky yarn, and the result was a really wide, really stiff scarf that took forever to make.  I view the project as a bit of a waste of yarn, but he insists he likes it.  At least he will have a toasty warm neck this winter!

After that, it seemed like a good time to take some lessons.  Since February I've been taking lessons at a local yarn shop once a week (usually).  After learning some new techniques and practicing a few patterns, I decided to jump right in with a short-sleeved sweater.  This was circa March.  I'm just now nearing the end, and I can't wait to try on the finished product.  After all of the time, aggravation and money, I'm a little worried that it's not going to fit.

In the photos below, you can see that I just finished the ribbing on the right sleeve, and I'm still working on the left sleeve.  The neckline will be the last thing to do before sewing up the sides.

Simultaneously I've started working on a hat (using a pattern from The Purl Bee) for J using really nice hand-dyed alpaca yarn from 84 Alpacas.  We stumbled across this delightful little yarn store while exploring Washington County several weeks ago.  I don't think I'm going to have enough yarn to finish the hat, so we'll have to go back soon and get some more. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Yogurt Update

I'm still making yogurt about every two weeks -- two quarts at a time.  A couple of months ago I came across a new method on Passionate Homemaking, and it is so much faster than what I was doing!  Yesterday it only took me about 30 minutes to go from milk in the refrigerator to milk culturing on the counter.  With the old method, I heated and cooled the milk in the jars which took  This method heats and cools the milk in the saucepan, so it takes a little bit more attention to make sure that I don't burn the milk.  However, the added speed and convenience are totally worth it.

I start with a half gallon of the best quality milk I can find.  This week it was Natural by Nature Grass-fed Milk, but I prefer to use PastureMaid's non-homogenized milk in glass bottles that I can get at the indoor farmer's market.

I pour the milk and 1 T vanilla into a 3 1/2 qt saucepan and heat over medium until it reaches 180 degrees (about 20 minutes).  Next I set the saucepan in a sinkful of cold water and let it cool (about 10 minutes) to about 112 degrees.  Per the instructions on my culture packet, I sprinkle the culture over the milk and let it rehydrate for two minutes.  Then I gently swirl the culture into the milk.

I carefully pour the milk into two quart-size canning jars and screw on the caps.  Then I place both jars in my largest stockpot and fill it with hot tap water.  Then I set it on the counter and let it culture for 12+ hours.  Since I tend to make this in the early evening and let it culture all night, I usually refresh the hot water before I go to bed.

Technically, I'm supposed to culture the yogurt at 110 degrees.  My yogurt would probably turn out thicker if I did so, but that temperature is difficult to maintain without a yogurt maker.  The best way to come close to that is probably to use the cooler to incubate the yogurt.  Per Kitchen Stewardship's instructions, I fill my stockpot with water and bring it to a boil.  Then I line a large cooler with a towel (so the pot does not melt the plastic) and place the pot of steaming hot water and the yogurt jars side-by-side in the cooler.  With the lid on tight, it stays moist and steamy in there for a long time.  Once it's done incubating, move the yogurt to the fridge to chill.  I really can't be bothered to dig out the cooler right now, but as we move into fall and winter, I'll probably have to do so.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Mama K called me at work on Thursday to see if I wanted her to pick me up some peaches at Kaelin Farm Market.  Yes, please, but not too many.  Ha.  I came home to a half bushel of very ripe peaches on my dining room table.

Friday night we processed 30 c of peaches and stuck them in the freezer.

Saturday night we canned 6 quarts of peaches.

This afternoon I made a peach pie.

And now the peaches are gone!