Monday, July 24, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money THREE WEEKS 7/1 - 7/23

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
Thanks for your continued understanding as my hectic schedule keeps me from updating as often as I'd like.

* I harvested tons of herbs from the garden.
* I harvested 75 heads of garlic. Some weren't huge, but overall I'm happy with my harvest. I have it curing on the patio and will bring it in when it is to rain.
* I'm harvesting a lot of peppers, mainly banana and Hungarian hot wax, but also some padrons and serranos. No bell peppers yet, but I wasn't expecting those to do well (I do regret buying bell pepper starts since my garden doesn't seem to grow large peppers well).
* I've been harvesting cherry tomatoes almost daily, just a few, but enough to enjoy.

* We got more free sauerkraut. This time it was kimchi. I love this perk.
* I made shakshouka for dinner one day. I can't believe I waited to make this. It is basically just eggs poached in tomato sauce, but oh my goodness. I had some tomato sauce in the freezer from last year (free tomatoes from the farm, cooked down without seasoning and frozen) that I cooked down further with half a large onion, sliced thin and sauteed with a small head of garlic. I added Worcestershire, a healthy pinch of paprika, some chile powder, salt and pepper. Once it was cooked down enough, I added some oregano, thyme and marjoram from the garden and added the eggs. Once they were poached (I did overcook them a little, so the yolks were firm, but in my defense it was my first time poaching an egg), I added a healthy handful of basil from the garden. While it is traditionally served over toast, we had it over spaghetti since I didn't have any decent bread. It was phenomenal. It will definitely get into the regular rotation. I've been trying to use more seasoning in cooking and this well-seasoned tomato sauce explodes with flavor. The eggs provide plenty of protein for a great vegetarian meal that is cheap and hearty.
* I hit the motherload. Awhile back a coworker of mine told me about this wholesaler at the airport that sold to the public. The schedule didn't really line up with mine, so I just got around to hitting it and I'm so glad I did! In addition to a decent selection of produce, meat, cheese and imported goods, they also had a clearance section. These were items that were intended to sell to restaurants, but that were slightly past their prime. They were already cleaned and in some cases prepped. There were also less-pretty items at a steep discount. I got a half gallon of half and half ($1), a half gallon of heavy whipping cream ($1), several pounds of broccoli (cleaned and cut into florets) for $2, a giant bag (10-15 pounds) of green beans for $.99, local tomatoes at $1.49/lb, 4+ lbs of jalapenos for $1, and several pounds of celery (cleaned and cut into sticks). I also got jumbo brown eggs from a local Amish farm for $2.50/dozen. Some other goodies I saw but didn't purchase: a giant bag (probably close to 5 lbs) of cilantro for $.99, lemons for $.10, oranges for $.20, grapefruit for $.33, mangoes for $.50, giant butternut squash for $1, canner tomatoes $5/15 lbs, and onions $15/25 lbs. I do plan on going back for some onions to caramelize for the freezer.
* I made stock with produce scraps and some bones from the freezer. I used strained and frozen tomato juice from last year when I made tomato sauce. That added a lot of flavor and was perfect for beef stew. I used the bones in a second batch of stock with fresh veggie scraps. The second (and third and forth) batches of stock with bones aren't very flavorful, but there's still some nutritional value as the bones continue to break down. Often for later batches, I'll add some bouillon cubes for flavor.
* I used my first batch of stock to make a beef vegetable soup. I seared some beef with onions, then added garlic, garlic scapes, carrots, celery and patty pan squash. It cost around $3.50 and was enough for 6 meals.
* I made shrimp scampi. How have I not been doing this before? (This seems to be the question of the week). I didn't really use a recipe, but it turned out great. I found frozen shrimp for $4 at Aldi, added half a box of angel hair pasta (manager's special for $.50, so $.25 for the recipe), used half a stick of butter ($.65), half an onion ($.15), a small head of garlic (free from the garden; next time I'll use more), parsley (free from the garden). basil (free from the garden) and 1/3 bottle white wine. The wine was one we got on vacation. (Once you factor in the coupon, it cost $5. However, once we got home, it just didn't taste right. Slightly vinegary. Not unbearably bad, but not pleasant to drink. Rather than dump it down the drain, I used most of the bottle in stock making in place of vinegar.) It worked really well in the scampi, although using a Niagara wine in a Italian dish was far from authentic. So, since the wine would have been dumped if I didn't decide to use it in cooking, I'm not factoring the price in (I made scampi as a way to use the wine instead of throwing it away). The cost was a hair over $5 and was enough for 5 meals.
* We had popcorn as a snack.
* I made roasted chicken (manager's special) with roasted veggies (beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic and onion) for dinner one night. We pan seared shishito peppers  as our appetizer. It was amazing.
* On "National Ice Cream Day" we bought half gallons of ice cream for $.99.

Food Preservation:
* I froze some half and half in ice cube trays to use small amounts to add creaminess to soups, colcannon, mashed potatoes or other dishes.
* I froze all the remaining celery and garlic scapes. I sliced the celery and froze on cookie sheets before bagging. The scapes were simply chopped and bagged.
* I chopped too much basil for the scampi so I put it in a small container, covered with water and froze. That will get chucked into some soup at some point.

* Vacation week!!!
* We took a weekend trip to Niagara falls. We stayed on the American side because I didn't want to spend the extra money on passports. It was a wonderful time. We used to reserve our room and earned a free night to use later. I used the Entertainment book to save money on dinner and outings. We went to the Aquarium of Niagara using a BOGO coupon and got to see a sea lion show. We went on a lot of hikes and got up close and personal with the falls. We'd thought about going on the Cave of the Winds tour, but neither of us felt like getting wet. We explored the ruins of the Schoellkopf power station and rode the elevator down. We also went on the Niagara winery tour and sampled some yummy wines (Niagara is my favorite grape, so I was happy). Our entertainment book got us some BOGO coupons on tastings and bottles, which dropped the price considerably. We went cherry picking and paid about the same price as cherries cost at the store, but they were super fresh. On the way home we stopped at a farmers' market on the Seneca reservation. I got banana bread, a mini rhubarb pie and sour cherries. It was a nice little trip and short enough that I still got ample time to have fun at home as well.
* We went to a billiard hall and used a BOGO coupon to get two hours of play for $8. I'm terrible at pool, but determined to learn and Trucker is patient as he teaches me.
* We earned a bunch of coupons for participating in our library's summer reading program: BOGO movie theatre, BOGO burritos at Chipotle, free cookies, coupon for a local pizzeria and a bbq joint, and a free book from the Friends of the Library sale.
* I'll definitely continue to purchase entertainment books. Whether for a vacation destination or our home city, we get our money's worth every time.
* We had a beer tasting with a few friends one evening. Everyone brought a few beers that we all sampled and some snacks. We had a lovely evening of laughing and talking.
* We used one of the Chipotle coupons for dinner while out one day. We get the bowls and a tortilla on the side so we can make the size burrito we want (restaurant portions are way too much). We had enough leftover to make enchiladas the next day and that provided another 3 meals.
* My family was on vacation for longer than we were. My grandpa stayed home and we knew he would be lonely since he usually goes to my mom's house for dinner every night. We drove out and took him out for Bob Evans for dinner. Trucker had a BOGO coupon and Grandpa was excited to get a chicken pot pie. I just wanted a salad. Trucker ordered a meal and it cost $1 extra to get a second side and $.50 to upgrade it to a salad, so for $1.50 I got the $3 salad I wanted. We were all full and content. Afterwards, he took us on a tour around town to show us where he grew up and all the buildings he had built in the area (He was a brick mason for 50 years because he is amazing). It was a perfect evening. We brought him gifts: sauerkraut (free as a job perk; he LOVES sauerkraut), banana bread (from our trip) and a DVD set of 50 war movies that Trucker got for $.50 at a garage sale. Grandpa is a big history buff and was so excited about the set and kept exclaiming the titles of the movies and said he was going to put a disk in as soon as we left and have the banana bread with some milk. It just goes to show that you can make someone's whole day without spending much; thought and care is the important thing.
* We went fossil hunting, using a BOGO coupon, $9 total. We found a ton of crinoids, corals, brachiopods and trilobites. It was such a fun day and I checked something off my bucket list!
* We spent a day with my parents, sisters and bro-in-laws at the lake near my parents house. We had a wonderful picnic, fished and swam. It was marvelous.

* One day we went to a local arboretum. We had a lovely time walking around the gardens. They had a canopy tour that was amazing. Afterwards we climbed an 8-story tower for some spectacular views.
* We were in awe at the falls and loved walking up and down river to see the multitude of smaller falls. It was great getting to see new flowers that don't grow in our state.
* Trucker has been loving the bird feeders by the office window.
* We enjoyed a walk at the audobon. We loved watching turtles by the river.

* We bought some allergen protection covers for our pillows, but once we opened the package they were really loud and uncomfortable. We returned them and had the money put back into our account. That saved us $9. We returned them when we were already going to be next door to the store.
* Trucker signed up for the loyalty program at Meijer. We already got $7 off purchases and have coupons for $1 off a future purchase and a free head of lettuce.

House and Home:
* I reorganized my clothes. I don't really have a good system (and never have found one that works since we moved in), so I'm trying again. Without a good system that works for me, my clothes live on a chair until I wear them again and the drawers/closet are just filled with the things I don't like as much. I took everything out of the dresser, got rid of a good 1/4 of those items and separated out the items that fit but are too worn to wear in general or to donate. I'll have a drawer dedicated to chore clothes and will wear them til they fall apart.
* Trucker tackled the scary tupperware cabinet. It was terrifying, really. He separated out each type of container and then I went through everything and threw out food containers we didn't need (I had a ton of large yogurt tubs that I used to save back when I didn't have a tupperware set that included large containers) and items without matches (I still had 3 containers from my old tupperware set, but 12 lids!).
* I put all of our fossils from our adventure and put them in a pretty bowl in the entrance. I had previously had a bunch of pine corns and acorns in the bowl, but I moved those into a little metal bucket that now sits on a shelf.

* It's summer break from work, so I have been enjoying some much needed time off. I go back for a couple days and then get another long weekend. We get a break in July and another for the winter holidays. So basically about the time you are burning out, you get a nice, long break to revive.
* The countdown is on for starting second shift. Two more weeks.
* Friday was my last day with my coworkers. It was a really sad day. They are really amazing, just some of the best people you could ever hope to know, let alone work with. I'll miss them a lot.However, I do know that I am making a smart choice and am looking forward to the new job next week.

* Next week I start my new job! I can't wait. This will give us security and a future, so I'm happy.

* We have gotten back in the habit of hitting the gym regularly. I'm mainly concentrating on my arms and cardio. Trucker didn't go while we were on vacation, and then got a cold, so he had to ease back into it.
* I got a cold the weekend before I start the new job! Oh no! While I usually try not to use medicine unnecessarily, I will definitely use something to make training tolerable (and me less gross to my new coworkers!).

* Daisy is an absolutely amazing friend. When we were out of town, she took care of all of the fur babies. It was comforting to know they were alright (and the house wasn't burned down!). I am continually thankful for her (and her hubby's!) friendship. Making friends as a grown-up is awkward and more than a little hard which makes it all the more special that we found them.
* I left her a few little goodies: sauerkraut, garlic scapes from the garden, some extra cukes from the farm stand, sriracha ketchup and a basil transplant. I potted up the basil into a little pot I already had. I also brought her a goody from our trip.
* Daisy left me a few little gifts for when I got back: a candle with a lovely quote about friendship, some teenage mutant ninja turtles stickers (Because she knows me well!) and a trash can for the bathroom. Daisy has one of the best eyes for decor and is my inspiration when it comes to crafts and decor. I've been decorating my main bathroom in a sunset on the beach theme. Everything was looking pretty nice and I considered it almost finished, other than wanting to replace bathtub knobs and the sink. The only problem was that I still had the terrible kokopelli trash can we got when we first moved in together. Daisy bought a basic white trash can at the dollar store and wrapped it in twine. It ends up being a beautiful, simple trash can that oozes beach charm. I love how she can take basic materials and make a fantastic piece that is exactly what you needed.
How was your week?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pepper Poppers

Pepper poppers are one of the cheapest and easiest appetizers you can make. They are also incredibly popular and go well whether you are serving a taco bar or having a party for a sporting event. They don't take long to make and can even be assembled in advance and tossed into the oven a little before guests show up. My garden is producing loads of peppers this year, and this is a great way to use up a bunch. The farm stands also have them pretty affordably as well. When peak pepper season is on, I like to core whole peppers and freeze them.

Jalapenos are my go-to, but I also use small hungarian hot wax, large padrons or shishitos, sweet banana, mini bells and lunchbox or other small sweet peppers. Depending on the size of the pepper, ease of removing the seeds and desired presentation, I'll either core them out and shake out as many of the seeds as possible or cut in half longways and scoop out the guts. Reminder: Don't forget to wear gloves if handling hot peppers.

I don't use a recipe, I just guesstimate based on what I have that needs used up. I will use sour cream, cream cheese or cottage cheese, as I have it. Sometimes if I have a little bit of a creamy dip I'll use that as all or part of the creamy addition. I'll also use up little bits of salsa or hot sauce. Sometimes I'll mince onion in. If the filling needs some oomf, I'll use either a packaged seasoning blend or just add some black pepper, salt, chili powder, onion powder and granulated garlic. Blend all well, then put into a piping bag or sandwich bag and cut the tip. Squeeze the blend into the pepper. If you are using frozen peppers, you don't need to even thaw them. Just fill when frozen and bake a little longer than you otherwise would.

I place them all in a baking dish, overlapping some. Sometimes I cover them all with enchilada sauce or cheese. Sometimes I leave them plain. I bake at around 350 until the peppers are soft, around 30-40 minutes. I often use the toaster oven to keep from heating up the kitchen.

These are always popular and disappear fast. If I do have any leftovers, they are great for my work lunches and I think are even better chilled.

What are your favorite frugal and easy appetizers or sides?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Basic Galette, Pie, or Tart Instructions

When I teach someone to cook, I like to teach a skill rather than a recipe. If you learn a recipe, you know how to make one dish, but if you learn a skill, the whole world opens up. When teaching a newbie to cook, I often make Goldenrod Eggs. That teaches two important skills: how to hard boil an egg and how to make a bechamel. From those two skills, you can make a wide variety of dishes for a wide variety of circumstances.

When I teach someone to bake, I aim to do the same thing and galettes are the perfect intro to baking. Even for someone who has been baking for years, the endless variations make this one of my favorite dishes to bake. The hardest part of this recipe is making a good pie dough, but even if you take the cheater's way out and buy a pre-made crust, it will still turn out good. (Moment of confession: I did use a store-bought crust once because I was doing my last-minute grocery shopping for company coming over in a little over an hour). The recipe is super flexible and can be modified in a nearly infinite number of ways.

First, make a nice pie crust. I always use the King Arthur recipe: 2 c AP flour, 1 T sugar (leave out if making a savory dish), 1 t salt,  2 sticks of butter cut into pats, 1 egg, 2 T milk. If it is really hot, you can toss the ingredients into the freezer to prevent the butter melting (which would result in a tougher, less flaky crust, which no one wants). Sift together AP, sugar and salt, then cut in butter just til it holds together if you squeeze it, but you still want to see little lumps of butter as this will result in a flaky crust. Gently mix in the egg and milk just until moistened and no more. Divide in two, shape, wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least a half hour or up to 2 days. You can freeze if desired. I've found that this batch of dough will make several galettes, so freezing the extra can make it much easier to whip up a dessert later.

Generously flour your work surface and roll out your dough to roughly 1/8 inch thick (it doesn't have to be perfect). When making galette, I usually pull off a chunk of dough and roll it into a really rough circle, about 8-9 inches across. Once I have the dough rolled, I put it back in the refrigerator to rest while I make the filling.

I use a basic cream cheese filling for a lot of my fruit galettes. I can't remember where I found the recipe originally, but most recipes are just variations of this recipe: 1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened, 1/2 cup sugar (leave out if making a savory dish), 1 egg and a tsp of vanilla. This recipe is pretty flexible. You can use a little less cream cheese or a little more egg or reduce the sugar and it will still turn out. Beat together well. If you do it by hand, it will feel like it is taking forever, then all of a sudden it is ready. It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth and it will still bake fine. This recipe is enough for 2-3 galettes and it stores well for a few days in the refrigerator. If you want to make a smaller batch, just halve everything and you can either use the full egg (I've tried it and it works fine) or use about half the egg and use the other half as an egg wash (which makes for a great color and allows you to sprinkle the crust with some grainy sugar). This filling is really forgiving which is why I love it.

I spread a layer of filling over the middle of the dough, leaving about an inch around the edge. You can do a thin layer (makes for a less filling dessert) or thicker (cooks up fine and you can serve smaller slices). Layer on some fruit. Basically use whatever you like that you have on hand. I love to use apples or peaches. Sometimes I mix a variety of fruits, placing in a pretty design. Whatever you do, either slice thin (pears, apples, peaches, plums) or cut in half (larger blueberries, cherries) if needed so they cook through. Smaller berries can be left whole.

Fold over the extra dough around the edges. Don't make it too pretty. I like having some variation. Some slices of galette have less crust, others more so everyone can get a piece they like best (I like the extra flaky crust). Plus if you try to make it perfect, you really need to make it perfect. If you aren't trying to make it perfect, there's less pressure. Every little "mistake" just gives it more rustic charm.

If you'd like, you can brush some egg wash onto the edges and sprinkle with some grainy sugar. The egg wash will give a nice shine and color to the crust, but left bare it has more ruggedness.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. You want the bottom to be nicely golden as well.

Beef Pot Pie is an easy way to give
life to leftover beef stew.
I love how flexible this recipe is. If made free-form and flat, you have a galette. You can make a rustic pie by quickly placing the dough in a pie plate and coarsely folding the excess pie dough back in. You can make a large tart or little tartlets. Put the filling on just one half, then fold over, crimp the edges and you have a hand pie. Roll dough into a rectangle, cut into smaller rectangles, put filling on one and top with another rectangle and you have pop tarts. Put into a pie plate and add a savory custard for a great quiche. Put in a pie plate, add some leftover beef stew and cover with another layer of crust for a quick beef pot pie.
I placed some curly garlic scapes
on top of this quiche for great
presentation as well as flavor.

 The basic cream cheese filling goes brilliantly with a variety of fruits, or you could leave out the sugar and make a savory galette. It would be perfect to mix in some fresh herbs or scallions before layering on some roasting tomatoes (especially heirlooms in a variety of colors), caramelized onions, bacon, ham or asparagus. Garlic scapes or fern fronds would make unbelievable presentation.

You don't have to stick with cream cheese filling. I like to use a goat's milk caramel when I make apple galettes. Try real maple syrup, honey, jelly or jam. Spread nutella on the dough under strawberries.

Use fresh fruit. Use frozen fruit. Cook down some overripe fruits into a lovely compote. Add nuts. Make a streusel topping. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper if making a savory dish or sprinkle some cheese around the edges.

Make it your own. Make it for breakfast, brunch, a light lunch, appetizer, dinner entree or dessert. Make it tonight!

Have fun baking!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money June 2017

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

Life has been a little crazy for a bit, so I'll be scaling back this post a little. I'll stick mainly to highlights in each category, rather than the journal-type entries I'd gotten in the habit of writing.
* I planted more goodies and have started harvesting bits of greens and peppers. It looks like it will be a good pepper year. The basil is going gang busters. I transplanted lots of plants into containers that I have growing all over the house. I foresee lots of pesto and caprese in our future, so life is good.

* A few times I made galettes using fresh fruit (either from the farm or Aldi), a basic cream cheese filling and my pie crust. I used half an egg as a wash over the crust. They turned out fantastic each time. They are sweet enough to count as a dessert for me, but not too sweet to make a lovely breakfast. I love how easy it is to pull together while still having some "wow" factor for entertaining.
* I hit the farm stand a few times. Mainly, I've been scoring little cukes and carrots. We love having fresh veggies on hand, chopped and ready for snacking.

* We took my parents out for my dad's birthday. He generally likes boring meat-and-potatoes type meals, but absolutely loves hibachi. The Japanese steakhouse near us is pretty pricey, but we bought a $60 Groupon for $30 which lowered the price enough. We all ate half of our meal and took half home for lunch the next day. Afterwards, we took them to a local garden park and laughed a lot as we walked around. We finished off the evening getting frozen yogurt at a local place. It was a really fun evening.
* We caught a blues concert at a coffee house near us. We used a BOGO coupon for our coffee, so it ended up being a pretty frugal date.
* Daisy came over once for crafting and she and hubby came over for dinner and movies another night.
* We went out with one of my coworkers and his family to the drive-in theatre. We brought snacks and drinks from home. He brought sports stuff so for a couple hours before the movie started, we played football or catch. When dusk came, I broke out some sparklers I bought at the grocer for $2 and the kids had a blast.

* We went hiking several times. The best one was a park about an hour away. It seems like just a normal little park, but hidden in the park is an osage orange tunnel. Farmers used to plant osage oranges as a living fence. It was a positively magical hike.

* I finally got the phone call. I got hired on for full time at my job. For the last six months I've been a temp. I interviewed 5 months ago. Sometimes people would wait several years for an interview and a couple years between interview and getting hired on, so I'm really happy with the timing. This job will pay significantly more, provide extensive benefits and will eventually give me 7 weeks of paid time off a year. They generally try to keep you in the same area you are currently working (which would be ideal), but could move me anywhere in the company, as needed. The main change will be switching from first shift to second shift. I am a little nervous about it, but I think I will adjust okay eventually. I will miss my current coworkers desperately, but am glad that we will become a lot more secure now. My dad has worked for the company for going on 35 years, and I believe it will provide a good life for my family as well.

* I can't remember if I included this in an earlier post or not. My dear friend's partner was gifted some items from his client's parent's estate. They couldn't use all of it, so they gave us two beautiful bar stools and a ridiculously gorgeous lamp. These are very high-end pieces that we would never, ever be able to afford. I am super excited because I've been passively looking for some bar stools for the island since we bought the house five years ago.

How was your week?
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