Seasoned roasted potato wedges

These days I’m on the lookout for new, delicious ways to prepare a bunch of russet potatoes. This recipe for Oven Potato Wedges from onceamonthmeals.com was a big hit. Most of them went in the freezer for future meals, and I don’t know how well they’ll reheat yet, but I’m optimistic. The fresh ones were delicious, mostly thanks to the seasoning blend. It’s called Best Burger Seasoning and it adds a lot of flavor and a little spice to basic roasted potatoes.

Process notes

  • used 12 potatoes (which were on the small side)
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp Best Burger Seasoning blend (I adapted the seasoning recipe to get about 2 tbsp of seasoning):
    • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
    • 1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
    • 3/4 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/4 tsp cumin
    • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne chili powder
    • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
    • 1/4 tsp dried basil
    • pinch celery salt
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Homemade yogurt, take 2

Success! After making yogurt for the first time recently, I learned what system doesn’t work for me. This time I followed the instructions from the book Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule. And I’m still excited about the results, several days later.

Process notes

  1. Rub an ice cube along the bottom of warming Dutch oven. Pour in 1/2 gallon whole milk (just regular Kroger brand milk) and heat to 180° over medium-high heat without stirring. Once at 180° turn heat down and maintain temperature for 5 min. This process took me about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat oven to 200° for 2 min., bringing it to 110°, then turn off and turn on proofing function. Note: this was too long and the oven got too hot and I needed to let it cool some. Next time turn oven off sooner.
  3. Cool milk to 115° by stirring gently. This took about 40 min.
  4. Whisk 2 tbsp yogurt (I used Maple Hill Creamery plain yogurt) with 1 cup of the 115° milk. Add back to pot, stir gently, and cover.
  5. Place in oven, with proofing function on. After 4 hours, I turned this off because the Dutch oven had retained enough heat to keep the oven warm. Incubated for a total of 6 hr 40 min.
  6. Remove 1/4 c for next batch and freeze in a small jam jar.
  7. Transfer yogurt into two 1-quart mason jars, cover, and refrigerate. I didn’t stir my yogurt before putting it into the containers — I just spooned it in gently, and there was a little bit of whey on top. Let rest in refrigerator until next morning.

Greek style: I was going to leave both quart jars of yogurt at their regular consistency, but the next morning I got inspired to take one jar and strain it to make Greek style yogurt.

I placed my fine mesh strainer over a mixing bowl (the small bowl in this nesting set), and layered two paper towels inside. Then I poured one of the jars of regular yogurt into the paper towel-lined strainer, folded the paper towels over the top, and refrigerated the entire thing for 3 hours.

After 3 hours it was perfectly thickened. It yielded about 1/2 quart Greek yogurt and a scant 1 1/2 cups whey.

Results

It was so thrilling to pull the pot out of the oven and see it had set up properly. I really liked the method of keeping it in the Dutch oven instead of pouring the cooled milk into jars right away because the cast iron helped keep the yogurt cozy during incubation.

Seeing the wonderfully-textured, creamy, white yogurt filling up my quart-sized mason jars made me giddy. This batch tasted just like the store-bought yogurt I’m used to. I think the Greek style is even more delicious and mellow somehow. I can’t wait to make more!

In addition to the pleasure of making this myself, I’m enjoying the cost savings. Milk was on sale for $1/half gallon, which was nice. The little 6-oz container of plain yogurt for my starter was about $1.30, but I spent more there to get the high quality ingredients. My hope is that by starting with a finer starter, it will yield a finer yogurt in my kitchen.

So for about $2.30, I made just under 2 quarts of yogurt (equal to about 60 oz, or 7 1/2 c), at a cost of $.04/oz. Of course once I made it Greek style, that cost was effectively doubled, BUT I was left with the whey as a byproduct to cook with as well. So there wasn’t any waste, and it gave me a chance to make something else that called for buttermilk.

The only thing I’d do differently next time would be to only turn the oven on for a few seconds to give it a slight warming boost, because the Dutch oven will be warm when it goes in. I’ll still turn on the proofing function to help keep it at the same temperature.

HOMEMADE YOGURT POSTS

What I’m doing with 10 pounds of Russet potatoes

I could not pass up the seasonal 10-pounds-for-$.87 sale. Even though last year I swore I wouldn’t do it again because most of the potatoes went bad long before we could eat them.

But this Fall I have a new plan: freezing. I broke that 10-pound bag into a few groups:

  • 4 to bake and freeze
  • 5-6 to shred into hash browns and freeze
  • 5-6 to dice into cubes and freeze
  • 6 for the refrigerator to use in the immediate future

For the baking group, I scrubbed them clean, pricked once with a sharp knife, and baked for 60 min. at 300°. They didn’t get wrapped, just went right onto the baking rack. Then cooled, wrapped in foil, and frozen.

For the hash browns group, I followed the freezing potato instructions from Taste of Home.

  1. bring a large pot of water to a boil
  2. peel potatoes
  3. shred potatoes (in food processor with shredding blade)
  4. dump them into a large bowl of ice water, resting for a couple of minutes
  5. drain
  6. add to boiling water, cooking for 3 min.
  7. prepare a new ice bath
  8. drain potatoes
  9. cool them in the ice bath
  10. drain again
  11. spread on paper towels and blot dry
  12. divide into sandwich bags, 6 oz each
  13. squeeze air out, wrap in foil, label, and freeze

For the diced group, I did the same thing, except instead of shredding them I diced them, and cooked for 4 min. These divided into 9-oz bags.

I’d like to make some potato salad from a couple of the refrigerator potatoes, and some regular old baked potatoes for a couple of dinners.

My goal is to use up the freezer potatoes within 12 months as directed. Which sounds like an easy thing to do, but I’m continuously shocked by how many things I put in the freezer don’t get used within the year. A sign that it would be smart for me to get back to my menu planning based on what’s in the pantry/refrigerator!

After reading that potato-freezing results were hit or miss, I sure hope these work OK. The thought of stretching that $.87-bag over many, many meals just delights my frugal side.

Update: In mid-February (about 3 months later), I finished the last of my freezer potatoes. My results from freezing were mixed, and I’m going to find new ways to take care of a big bag of potatoes.

The baked potatoes did not fare well, and the texture upon reheating (in the microwave) was awful. The insides were tough and stringy, and became kind of laminated. The hash browns didn’t cook up very well, at least the way I did them. I would cook them in a pan on the stove top (first squeezing out the water so they didn’t splatter), in some butter and/or oil. They got very thin and dry, and never really browned up. The cubes did the best. Those I roasted in the oven until browned. But the down side was that they were rather dry inside, almost like hollow cubes.

Easy lentil soup with carrots, celery, and tomato

Easy Lentil Soup with Carrots, Celery, and Tomato

One of my big grocery store weaknesses is the bulk section at Winco. (The other big one is cheese.) So with some impulse-buy French green lentils in my pantry, I needed to figure out what to make with…French green lentils. I also wanted to use up some diced carrot and celery, making this Easy Lentil Soup recipe sound like a great fit.

I made a few substitutions based on what I had on hand and came up with a slightly revised version. Which was surprisingly hearty and full of flavor considering the simplicity of the ingredients. As soon as I finished my bowl I was already looking forward to next-day leftovers. And the lentils came out really nice — firm and pleasant, not mushy or bland.

A bowl of easy lentil soup with carrots, celery, and tomato

Easy Lentil Soup with Carrots, Celery, and Tomato

Adapted from Easy Lentil Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium celery stalk, small dice
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and small dice
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried minced onion
  • 1 tsp dried minced garlic
  • fine sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp vegetable broth mix
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juices
  • 1 1/4 cups French green lentils, rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • splash of balsamic vinegar

Instructions

  1. Stir the vegetable broth mix into the water and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the celery, carrot, and dried onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the dried garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with several generous pinches of salt and pepper.
  3. Stir in the seasoned water, tomatoes with their juices, lentils, and thyme. Cover and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat to low and continue simmering, covered, until the lentils and vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.
  4. Taste and season with more salt or pepper as needed, then stir in the vinegar. Purée half of the soup in a blender, then stir it back into the rest of the soup.

thread spool and bobbin rack

DIY spool and bobbin rack for thread

My thread and bobbins have been sitting on my work table for awhile now, and every time I bump them they go clanging all over the place. I don’t have a ton of thread spools, but there are enough that it’s become cumbersome to just have them sitting out.

I didn’t feel like buying a new one and wanted to go the DIY route. We had some old cabinet doors with cat scratches on the front, so I picked a medium-sized one for the thread rack. My husband helped me put it together by cutting 3/16-in. dowels into 4-in. pieces, and while I sanded down the ends of the cut dowels he drilled the grid of holes I had measured out onto the door. Then he tapped in the dowels that had been tipped in wood glue, hung the panel onto the wall, and I was good to go.

Using some wood-colored wax that had originally come with the cabinet doors, I filled the holes that had been left by the door handle.

finished thread rack
Finished thread rack, with room to grow

It felt good to repurpose something that was only slightly damaged, and now my thread is nice and organized. Plus, each dowel holds a matching bobbin, so I don’t have to hunt them down and hope the thread is the same.

The cost to make the rack was $15. This covered the dowels, wood glue, sandpaper, and drywall anchors. It only took a tiny bit of wood glue and sandpaper, so there’s plenty left for future projects. Some of the sandpaper is earmarked for distressing a pair of jeans that I’ll be tailoring soon.

finished table with cutting and ironing tools

Fabric cutting and ironing station (Ikea Hack)

I’ve been reading lots of sewing books lately, and one common theme is to have a cutting station that’s counter-height to ease back strain. This makes sense — my back has been pretty achy from leaning over my desk to cut fabric. And my ironing board is rather wobbly and really un-fun to use, so I wanted to incorporate a pressing station into the cutting station.

A quick search online for ideas led me to craft room Ikea hacks and lots of promise. Since we already had two Expedit (now Kallax) 2×2 cubes, that sounded like a good direction. I particularly liked this trio approach and this 2-cube approach. Rather than purchase an additional cube that wouldn’t quite match my two older Expedit shelves, I settled on the 2-cube design.

For raising it to counter height, I could either add legs to the bottom of the shelves, or raise the table top like this. I chose to raise the table top to keep the base more stable, and it buys me a bit of storage between the top and the shelves.

My husband helped me put together this hack, although the table top was lightweight and one person could do this alone if needed. Two people makes it easier.

I wanted the top to be easily removable and the whole setup to be easy to move and reassemble. One thing I don’t like about Ikea furniture is that once it’s put together, you’re pretty much stuck with full-size furniture if you ever want to move it around. We decided to glue inverted legs to the top of the shelves, positioning them toward the front of the shelves since the top doesn’t reach from front to back, and affix industrial-strength Velcro to the feet base (which is now the top because they’re upside down) and the bottom side of the table top. Then we tacked down a layer of cotton batting on the underside of the table top, and finished by tacking down unbleached muslin.

There are a few inches of empty space at the back of the shelves where I intend to put some narrow storage bins. The Velcro appears to be working great, and if it loses its sticking power we can always cheaply replace it with new pieces.

One improvement I would make in the future is to finish the edges of the fabric cover so they don’t hand down sloppily once the top is in place and it looks more finished. But hey, like my husband says, it’s a hack. So I’m not too concerned about it. My top priority is how it functions, and it appears to be a great solution.

legs glued to shelf base
The leg plates were glued to the shelf base with Liquid Nails
bases with legs in place
Bases with finished legs in place
finished table
Finished table, with an extra cute addition to the top
storing tracing paper roll under work surface
There’s enough space under the top to store a roll of pattern tracing paper

Supplies list:

  • two 2 x 2 Expedit shelves (already owned)
  • 2 packs of Besta legs (4 total legs): $20.00
  • Linnmon table top, 59 x 29 1/2 in.: $25.99
  • Drona storage box for shelves (1): $5.99
  • Velcro Extreme, 1 in. x 4 in. 5-pack: $4.87
  • Liquid Nails glue: $3.57
  • Unbleached muslin, 2 yards of 44-inch wide (had 50% off coupon at Joann): $2.99
  • Natural cotton batting, 1 1/4 yards of 96-inch wide (had 50% off coupon at Joann): $9.37
  • large white furniture nails, 25-pack: $2.49

Total cost: $75.27 + tax

I’m so happy with this table because it gives me a nice large space for cutting fabric in my sewing room, and provides a large pressing surface. And the most exciting part is that it was a frugal DIY solution for my specific needs.

Strawberry freezer jam

Strawberry Freezer Jam

I’ve been craving strawberry jam these days, and although they’re aren’t any crazy good deals on fresh strawberries right now I did find a decent enough price to pick up 2 pounds (2 lb/$5 at Sprouts).

After pureeing the strawberries in the food processor, I was left with 3 1/2 cups of crushed strawberries. The Ball Pectin Calculator didn’t have a conversion for that exact amount, so I upped their quantities a tiny bit to compensate. After mixing together 1 1/3 heaping cups of sugar and 4 slightly rounded tablespoons of RealFruit Instant Pectin, I stirred in the strawberries for 3 minutes. Then I poured the jam into 6 quarter-pint (4-oz) jars and the rest went into a pint jar(14 oz of a 16-oz jar) and let them sit, covered, for 30 minutes. The pint went into the refrigerator and the rest into the freezer.

The jam isn’t as firm as I’d like, but it does have a really fresh strawberry flavor which I like. After I finish this container of instant pectin, I may try cooked freezer jam to see if a different pectin acts differently. I don’t mind the extra work if it results in improved (firmer) texture. Another thing I’d consider is crushing the strawberries with a masher instead of pureeing in the food processor. It might release less liquid and the strawberry chunks would be OK by me.

Cost for this batch

2 lb fresh strawberries: $5.00
Pectin ($.17 to make quarter pint): $1.70
Sugar (1 1/3 cup at $.44 per cup): $0.59
Jars (6 at $.87 per jar)*: $5.22
Total: $12.51 for 38 oz

Compared to my favorite strawberry jam at the store which costs $3.99 for 8.8 oz, this strawberry jam cost me $2.90 per 8.8 oz to make. Savings: $1.09 per 8.8 oz.

*First time using these jars. After this batch, there won’t be the cost of the jars.

Basil and oregano in pots

Indoor herb garden

I’m starting my indoor herb garden with basil and oregano. I love fresh basil on Italian dishes but hate paying the high cost of a little clamshell of fresh basil at the store. And while I’ve never cooked with fresh oregano, I find myself reaching for the dried oregano often for salad dressings and sandwiches. We already enjoyed a few leaves of each on last night’s pizza.

They’re situated near a south-facing window that’s been letting lots of light in as we get into autumn. I just hope I can keep these little guys alive despite my lack of a green thumb.

Apricot freezer jam

Apricot freezer jam

Ever since making apricot crisp, I’ve been obsessed with apricots. There not something I had purchased in the past but they were so delicious in the crisp. They’re in season right now, and one of the local grocery stores had them at a great price.

I had instant pectin on hand from my raspberry freezer jam project, and just needed to pick up some smaller jars. We had a tough time finishing the large jars of jam last time, plus the curved sides of the jars aren’t good for the freezer anyway. So I settled on the little 4-ounce size that will just go into the freezer and can be taken out as needed. This small size also allows me to feather in another fruit flavor if I find something at a great price, plus as a two-person household there’s that 1-3 week deadline for eating the jam once it’s in the refrigerator.

This jam is going to be great on the buttery croissants that are all rolled up in the freezer and ready to be baked!

Cost for this batch

14 1/2 oz fresh apricots: $0.44
Pectin ($.17 to make quarter pint): $0.77
Sugar (2/3 cup at $.23 per cup): $0.16
Jars (5 at $.87 per jar)*: $4.37
Total: $5.74 for 18 oz

Compared to my favorite strawberry jam at the store which costs $3.99 for 8.8 oz, this apricot jam cost me $2.81 for 8.8 oz to make. Savings: $1.18 per 8.8 oz.

*Since I didn’t have the jars, there was an initial cost to purchase them.

Raspberry freezer jam

Raspberry freezer jam

I love jam, but holy cow is good jam expensive! I’ve been researching what it takes to start canning fruits and vegetables, and at this point it’s still a little overwhelming and I’m not sure if the payoff would be there since I’m not currently growing my own garden.

This week raspberries are marked way down at the grocery store, and they were on my shopping list but I didn’t actually know what I’d do with them. Coincidentally, I’ve also been planning the meals for an upcoming camping trip. PB & J is on the menu, and I remembered that we actually don’t have the J part of the equation.

My path was suddenly clear — it’s time for me to make my first freezer jam! It’s a relatively small investment (instant pectin, sugar, and fruit — I already had a couple of canning jars) and very little time. It doesn’t require heating, just some mixing and pouring.

My 4 (6-oz) containers of raspberries made 3 cups of crushed fruit, so I used a multiplier of 1.8 when following the instructions on the Ball RealFruit Instant Pectin. After waiting for the instructed 30 minutes before covering and storing in the refrigerator and freezer, it wasn’t as set up as I had expected, but some quick online research confirmed that freezer jam doesn’t get as firm as canned jam.

The batch made two pints of jam, which I split into two 16-oz jars.

By the spoon, it tastes fresh and good. The refrigerated jar needs to be eaten within 3 weeks (which I’m not sure is going to happen with just the two of us), and the frozen jar within a year. Next time, I’ll get some smaller 4- or 8-oz jelly jars so a smaller amount is in the refrigerator at a time.

Cost

24 oz fresh raspberries: $3.48
Pectin (cost for this batch): $1.32
Sugar (cost for this batch): $.31
Total: $5.11 for 32 oz

Compared to my favorite strawberry jam at the store which costs $3.99 for 8.8 oz, this raspberry jam cost me $1.40 for 8.8 oz to make. Savings: $2.59 per 8.8 oz.