Homemade Food Gifts: The Cooks’ Gift

If you’ve taken the time to make the homemade vinegars, oils and butters that have been featured here on the Frugal Recipes blog, then you have a great base for a cooks’ holiday gift. If you have made dried herb gifts, you will be able to add them to this. All of these items, combined with some homemade baked goods, will make a great gift.

Place a combination of these items in a large gift basket, over a dish or tea towel, or other fabric. Tie a bow on, and add a tag.

You can add to this gift if you have affordable ways of obtaining certain other items. For instance, why not add some homemade knitted or crocheted dish cloths to the gift. (My sister makes me a couple of these each year, and I just love them.) A dollar store will net you wooden cooking spoons and rubber spatulas, or even dish towels. I once found two large metal pots at a yard sale for .50 each. They were used, but looked almost new. A thrift shop may net you a hand grater for a quarter, or a couple of whisks. If you’ve been lucky enough to find such deals, create gifts with them.

This would be an easy project for children to put together, as they aren’t really preparing any of the foods themselves.

Tips

  • Combine in a container. No need to wrap.
  • If you choose to use a basket, they can be found affordably at thrift shops.
  • I once found four large baskets at a yard sale for $1.00 each.

What food gifts do you give at the holidays? Please share with us in the comments below.

Shannon

Note: I know sweets and many baked goods are not healthy, and that we really shouldn’t be eating them, but I have family members who don’t limit such things. So yes, I give these items at the holidays. Also, I don’t think it is necessarily bad to treat yourself once-in-a-while. You just don’t want to make a habit of it.

Tortilla Wrap: Shrimp Scampi & Veggies

I bought tapioca flour just to try this recipe, and I’m so happy I did. With a love of tortilla wraps, I was really missing the flour tortillas that I used for so many favorite recipes. But now I’ve found a non-grain, Paleo version. Yay! Eating healthier means I miss out on some old favorites, so if I can find a replacement recipe I am a happy lady.

Note that I do not use cheese often and, when I do, I use only a little. It is more like a treat, and one I will likely be cutting out completely.

Ingredients

2 almond flour tortillas (I use this recipe from Paleocupboard.com.)

1 tomato slice, diced

2 cucumber slices, diced

shredded lettuce

6 shrimp scampi (I use the scampi recipe from Paleoplan.com.)

mozzarella cheese, shredded (optional)

mild cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

  1. Place the tortillas on a plate.
  2. Spread shredded lettuce over each tortilla.
  3. Top with the other vegetables.
  4. Place three shrimp on each tortilla.
  5. Top with just a little of each shredded cheese.
  6. Enjoy!

Tips

  • Almond and tapioca flours do not come cheap. Shop around online and off for the best deals.
  • Buy whatever vegetables you like that can be found on sale, to save money.

Serving Suggestions

You May Also Enjoy

Shannon

Farmers’ Market Shopping by Shannon L. Buck

Shopping Locally is the Way to Go

Shopping at a farmers’ market is a lot of fun. They offer many items and a lot of the fresh produce sold at these events is very reasonably priced, if you know when to shop. I shop in Orono, Maine, because it is close to my home. This makes it easy to purchase fresh produce and other needs from a local source.

Granted, these farmers do not generally live right down the street from us. The markets allow various farmers to come together in one place for us to visit once or twice per week. This saves fuel in two ways: 1) Products are not being shipped in from other states and/or countries, and 2) all farmers’ market customers do not have to travel here-and-there-and-everywhere to purchase state grown products.

I’ve noticed that when I visit the market an hour or so before they close, I can usually get even better deals on the fresh produce. Why can you get better deals at the end of the day? Because the farmers don’t want to have to take the fresh produce and baked goods, or even the frozen items, back home with them if they can help it. They grew and/or made these items to be purchased, not to be brought back home. The products may not last until the next farmers’ market, so the seller may be more apt to bargain toward the end of the day.

Our local farmers’ market has more than just fresh produce. I’ve seedlings, soaps, homemade jams, jellies, butters, pies, breads, and more. Even frozen seafood and dried herbs. Last year, someone was selling homemade, organic dog treats. These wonderful products are just what I’m looking for.

I find that almost all of the products offered at a farmers’ market are organic. If an item is not organic, I can choose not to purchase it. I want to purchase as many natural, organic products as possible, so this is a very attractive reason for me to shop at the farmers’ market rather than the grocery store. I also like the fact that the products are made and/or grown in my home state.

To shop a farmers market, you need a few things

1. Reusable shopping bags, which you will want an abundance of.

2. The knowledge of what you need, and how much you’ll be able to use before your next visit.

3. The knowledge of how to preserve and/or store anything you are able to get a good price on.

Stock up when you find good deals at a farmer’s market

You don’t want to stock up on anything that wont last until you can eat or use it up, but you’ll want to take advantage of good deals on the items that will last. This will save you money in the long run.

I’m now going to offer you up an assignment. I’d like for each reader to visit a nearby farmers’ market. Spend some time there. Ask about the products that are of interest to you. Find out if they are organic, if the sellers are willing to bargain at the end of the day, and how often the sellers attend that particular farmers’ market. When you return home, comment here to let us know how things went and what you learned.

 

Using After Christmas Sales, Closing Sales, and Thrift Stores to Score Items for the Kitchen

Yesterday I posted on Single Mom Family: Loving Life Together about a girls day the bestest and I had last Thursday. The article, called  A Much Needed Girls Day, covers the reasons we needed the girls day, as well as what we did: Lunch at Governor’s and shopping!

Because I live in a room, my kitchen belongings are few. All my pictures for this blog use pretty much the same dishes, bowls, etc, and I’ve wanted to switch things up for a while. I’m looking to incorporate different colors and styles, and various size items.

This means some things are going to have to go, which is fine. I don’t have enough space now for everything. My plan is to give away/donate items as I clear them from the shelves, so I know they wont be going to waste. I’m looking for interesting pieces at great deals so I can photograph food with different place settings and whatnot. And I’m allowing myself to mix and match.

I think experimentation is creative, and want that creativeness to show through in my photographs.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck, copyright January 15, 2017. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/shannonbuckI love the Pioneer Woman line. While the bestest and I were at Wal-Mart we checked out the clearance section. A four-pack of the Pioneer Woman Adeline Snow 10 ounce embossed sundae cups goes for $13.72. That is $3.43 each. By purchasing a single cup at $3.00, I saved $.43 on it. I only need the one cup, so it would have been wasteful to buy more.

I also found a Pioneer Woman Adeline Snow 13 ounce embossed bowl. Sold in four-packs, these cost $17.52, so one bowl would be $4.38. I paid only $3.00 for my bowl, saving $1.38.

You can somewhat see the design in the picture. They are so pretty! I’ve needed another bowl, and have wanted a sundae cup for photographing upcoming parfait recipes. Watch for the recipes to be posted this coming June.

These will help me to prettify my photographs, for sure. I’ve learned a little more about food photography, and want my photographs to reflect that learning. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised in the coming months.

I’d say my walmart shopping venture was a huge success based solely on those two purchases, and I found other wonderful deals as well.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck, copyright January 14, 2017. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/shannonbuckThe Macy’s in our area has already started its closing sales, so I took advantage of the deals to get a couple of small plates. These are saucer-size plates, not full size. I think they’ll make great dessert plates.

You can’t really tell by the photo, but the plates are slightly different shades of white. The Cellar White Ware Square plate is interesting, likely because I don’t have much for square items. It caught my eye right away. The plate is usually $3.00, but with the 30% discount I paid $2.10. A $.90 savings.

The round one is a White Elementals Plate. Originally $1.00, I paid $.70, a $.30 savings. Not a bad deal.

I want a number of white items so I can put them in place settings with colored items. The white will stand out from the colored pleasingly, I believe. I’m trying to use a mix of white and colors, hoping for more interesting table settings, and you’ll see me experimenting with this through my photography throughout the year.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck, January 14, 2017. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/shannonbuckOur last stop was the Goodwill thrift store, and I found a few items I liked while perusing the aisles.

The soup bowl is amazing and, yes, it says “SOUP” right on the front. It cost $2.00 and is well worth the price. A very sturdy bowl, it will hold a good amount of soup. I have another, not exactly the same, that I paid $5.00. The estimated savings on this item would be $3.00.

I love the square bowl, though I’m not entirely sure if it is a bowl or bakeware. Notice the size in relation to the size of the saucer; it isn’t really much bigger. I paid only $1.00 for it, but have no idea how much one would cost normally. If anyone knows if this is just a serving bowl or if it is bakeware, please let me know. For now I’m going to use it for serving.

The small bowl will add some color to a place setting. I paid $1.00 for it, and I think it is the perfect size for cereal or ice cream.

And the saucer is so pretty. The back says Vintage Fine China. I paid $1.00 for this item as well. The saucer will add a splash of color to an otherwise white setting, and I think the round white plate from above will fit over it nicely and still allow for seeing the artwork.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck, copyright January 14, 2017. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/shannonbuckThe mug has a more interesting design. I like the blue and white, and you can see the yellow ring near the top. This is not a full size mug by any means, but it will be perfect for a little hot cocoa or tea on a cold evening. This mug cost $1.00.

If you look closely at the pictures, you’ll see the burgundy napkins have a design cut out around the edges. Fancy! While these can obviously be used as napkins, I think they would also make good placemats for the place settings that I’ll be creating with the smaller plates, bowls, and cups. The two napkins cost $1.00.

The holiday napkins came as a three-pack, and can also be used as placemats if I want to get fancy at the holidays. The three napkins were $1.00, but I only had to pay $.50.

I can’t tell you exactly how much I saved on these items because I don’t know the regular prices for most of the items I bought at Goodwill, but I can tell you the savings on the items I do know the regular prices for. That savings would be $6.01. But I’m sure I saved quite a bit more by shopping at the thrift store.

Have you found any good deals for kitchen needs since the new year? We’d love to hear about them.

Happy shopping!

Shannon

 

 

How I Prepare Food for the Beginning of My Workweek

It’s not likely I will ever get up early enough to make lunches, on mornings I have to go to work. Instead, I tend to spend part of my Sunday afternoons preparing for my first three-day stretch. You see, I work a mixed schedule every week: 8-3, 7-3, 3-10, Thursday off, and then 3-11 Friday and Saturday with Sunday off. Because of this, I like to be prepared for those first few days each week. I bring my 2 lunches and 1 dinner to work with me, and place them in the housekeepers refrigerator. Then I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything.

What I Prepared

lemon-honey waters

lemon iced tea

vegetable jars

applesauce

butternut squash and carrot mash

chili

zucchini chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting

As you might imagine, my place smelled amazing all day!

 

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014

The first thing I did was start the chili. I always make this in a slow cooker. Find the recipe here. I used New York strip steak, ground sausage, ground beef, and turkey smoked sausage as my four-meat combo. I had a coupon for the sausage: Buy 1 get 1 free, and they were on sale at $2.50 each. So I paid $2.50 for both, and only used 1. Good deal!

While my chili was slow cooking, I made some applesauce. The chunky applesauce recipe is here, though you may enjoy an apple-pear sauce instead. For my sauce, I used 2 Red Delicious and 1 Granny Smith. They came in a bag of about 4 each, with some oranges, and were on sale $3.50 when I was at the store the other day. Another good deal!

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

Once the apples cooked down, I divided the sauce between three containers. I left them uncovered to cool, then covered and placed them in the refrigerator.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

While the chili and the applesauce were cooking, I filled a few jars with vegetables. In 1 jar I put cucumber rounds. The other two jars I filled with celery sticks and broccoli that I had leftover from the previous week. You can find more vegetable combination ideas here. With the broccoli and celery being left over from last week, and the cucumber coming from my parents garden, I did not spend any money to make these vegetable jars.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

I also made up a few water bottles of lemon-honey water. I keep these on my table, drinking one each morning. My first morning water is always room temperature. Supposedly, this is good for you. Simply place a few slices of lemon in the water bottle, add a teaspoon of honey if desired, and add water. Cover and set aside. A guest at the inn dropped off a couple of lemons at the front desk, indicating they couldn’t bring them across the border. Free for me!

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

Using the other half of that lemon, I made lemon iced tea. Considering the tea bags were leftovers from the previous winter, I did not really pay anything to make this either.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck Copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck Copyright 2014.

The butternut squash and carrot mash was easy to make. Because the squash came to me fresh from may parents garden, and the carrots were left over from last week and figured into that budget, I did not spend anything to make this recipe. Another freebie!

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

The squash and carrot mash was more than enough to cover dinner, 2 work lunches, and a work dinner. Notice how I used the rest of the cucumber for my dinner.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

And I had leftovers.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

I topped the squash with chili. Look at that healthy dinner! It was delicious. And already my work meals are taken care of. I had more leftovers.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

My 2 lunches and 1 dinner for the beginning of my work week. Squash and carrot mash topped with chili, vegetable jars, and applesauce. Yum!

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

And the leftovers? Enough for dinners at home Monday and Tuesday. I will have some cucumber and zucchini rounds on the side.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

Next, I used my moms recipes to make dessert. A chocolate zucchini cake with cream cheese frosting. I know people tote the separating of wet and dry ingredients, then combining them, but I just don’t do that. It would only mean more dishes to wash. I combine everything into one bowl. For the cake recipe, I used zucchini from my parents garden.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

And it is easy to mix everything together.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

Because I rent a room, I only have a toaster oven for baking. I made small cakes in mini bread pans, and 6 cupcakes.

Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.
Photograph by Shannon L. Buck copyright 2014.

I frosted these cup/cakes with the homemade cream cheese frosting, and I kept just a couple small pieces of cake for myself. The rest I gave away to people at work.

As you can see, I had a very busy day of cooking. I also cleaned and did the fall decorating. I was one busy lady.

Shannon

NOTE: (January 2017) While I am eating much healthier these days, and this blog is going to be reflecting that, I am not above having something sweet once-in-a-while, especially a family favorite such as this cake. I make it once a year.

Every so often you will see a recipe that is not healthy but, for the most part, this blog is now going to be about eating as healthy as possible on a budget,

 

 

Best Ways to Save Money on Food While Keeping it Healthy

It’s difficult to eat healthy while sticking to a small budget, but it’s important we try. Our medical bills later on will be astronomical if we don’t, and the future of health insurance is unsure at this time.

  • Grow as much of your own food as possible. Having an indoor window garden for growing herbs year round will save quite a bit of money, as will having a garden outside.
  • Even a small garden where greens, carrots, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes can be grown will allow you to save a lot of money on your grocery bill, especially if you learn how to extend the gardening season.
  • Be sure, when gardening, to use organic seeds. Heirloom varieties are the best choice, but any organic seeds will work. Find these online or in catalogs. Organic seeds may seem to cost a bit more, but will provide you with the healthiest possible produce.
  • Use organic soil for gardening as well. Make your own by building and maintaining compost bins. Don’t put anything that is not organic into the bin, and your soil will be the healthiest soil around.
  • Learn to can, freeze, and dry the foods you grow, and those that are given to you – or that you purchase. Canning supplies can be found at yard sales and in junk stores, but be sure to get new lids. Also, you may be able to find them free online.
  • Try to refrain from buying many overly processed foods. These are the least healthy.
  • Learn to make your own items, such as breads and pancakes, using healthy ingredients. Cooking and baking from scratch is usually cheaper in the long run.
  • Look for organic products such as tomato paste and pure vanilla extract, or at least products with no added sugar or ingredients that you are unfamiliar with. For convenience, Walmart sells unsweetened applesauce in individual containers. A multi pack costs under $2.00. Read the labels.
  • Couple coupons with sales on items you much purchase, whenever possible. Search these coupons out. Get on mailing lists for the companies.
  • Brand loyalty should only come into play when one brand has a healthier version of something than the other brand. For example, stick with a brand that offers no sugar and preservatives on an item. Forget about the brand that is loaded with both.
  • Store brands, when healthier than the name brands, are an option as well. The taste of store brand items is comparable, and sometimes better. If this generic brand is the same as the name brand nutrition wise, choose whatever is going to be more affordable after the coupon is applied.
  • Look for store coupons that can be applied to your overall grocery bill, even if that means stocking up on a few items (as long as they will get used). A general coupon of $7.00 off a total purchase of $75.00 is a good deal, if you can swing it. Especially if there is a good sale going on and you’re able to combine other coupons with some of the sale items. You will save even more money this way.
  • Farmers markets are great, but some of the items can be pricey. Check the prices. Cucumbers are often sold three or four for a dollar, and they are a good size. Zucchini is another good item to purchase, as are plant starts. Talk with the vendors about whether or not their products are organic. And, if it is close to closing time, ask about a discount on the more expensive fresh produce and meat products, as well as the eggs. You never know.
  • Farm stands often sell fresh items at affordable prices. Strike up a conversation with the owner to see if you can get a discount for buying a bunch of stuff right then.
  • Whenever someone offers you food items for free, take them. Then worry about figuring out how to use and store them. This will save you a great deal of money.
  • If you notice that someone owns a fruit tree or berry patch, and they don’t seem to take advantage of the bounty, ask if you can have the produce. They wont have to rake up all those little apples, making less work for them.

NOTE: If you are in an emergency food situation, nutrition be gone! Get to a food cupboard and take whatever they will give you. If you’re normally eating fairly nutritious meals, these foods will not hurt you sometimes. Unhealthy food is better than no food.

Shannon

 

Harvest Soup

Autumn is my favorite season. I love watching the leaves change, photographing yards dressed up for the autumn months, and creating new recipes from the foods local farmers are harvesting.

While Farmer’s Markets may seem expensive, you really can find good deals when shopping them just before closing time. In-season produce is often on sale at the grocery store, and roadside stands sell produce pretty cheap this time of the year. My stepfather recently purchased a 50 pound bag of potatoes for $10.00. This was a good deal for fresh potatoes.

Soups are just one meal I enjoy experimenting with. This is a recipe I came up with for the slow cooker.

Ingredients:

10 baby red potatoes

1 sweet potato

1 small acorn squash

10 baby carrots

about 10 pumpkin chunks

1 small can diced tomato

1 small can vegetable stock

water

fresh parsley

fresh rosemary

crushed garlic grinder

sea salt grinder

black peppercorn grinder

  1. Wash the produce. Lay on a towel to dry slightly before beginning to fill your crock.
  2. Cut any bad parts off the red potatoes, cut into halves or thirds, depending on their size, and place these in the bottom of the crock.
  3. Add the carrots to the crock.
  4. Cut up the squash and the sweet potato, placing these over the carrots.
  5. Add the pumpkin chunks, the tomatoes with their liquid, and the can of vegetable stock.
  6. Fill the crock to the 2/3 point with water, then add the seasonings. (I do seasonings to taste, adding a little now and more toward the end of the cooking time.)
  7. Cover and cook: High – 2 to 3 hours, Low – 4 to 6 hours.

Tips

  • To save the most money, grow most of the produce. Look for deals everywhere else.
  • For added savings, make your own vegetable stock. Or, purchase store brand types at the grocery store.
  • Feel free to add some meat, if desired.

Serving Suggestion

10 Ways to Save Money on Your Food Bill

Food prices just keep going up, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to these increases. While grocery shopping the other day, my sister mentioned that her coffee went up $3.00 since the last time she purchased it. The vanilla wafers I used to get for a treat have gone up more than a dollar in the last year. It’s getting ridiculous.

(Update 2017) And the prices are still inching up.

How can we combat these rising costs? Here are my top 10 best suggestions for saving money:

  1. Start an herb garden in your kitchen window, or in any window that gets a good amount of sun. Start with the herbs you use the most. Parsley is my main herb. What’s yours? Use eco-friendly pots, and organic soil and seeds or plant starts for the healthiest herbs. Don’t worry about spending a few extra dollars right now, because you’ll save a lot by growing the herbs yourself.
  2. Grow a salad garden. Again, do this organically. You don’t need a large area for planting, and can use a window box or other container. Grow whatever your family likes in their salads. Lettuce, spinach, and cabbage are easy to grow, and bush cucumber will not take up much space. Cherry or grape tomatoes will go well in salads, as will berries.
  3. Check out the local farmer’s market. Go during the last couple of hours and see what deals you can make. Even when going earlier in the day, you may be able to make a deal if you purchase enough produce.
  4. Check out reduced price racks and carts, often found at the back of the store or off in a side aisle. Our local IGA even has a few small refrigerated units set up specifically for this purpose. I often find deals bananas and bacon this way, among other things. Simply bring them home and pop them in the freezer until you need them. The bananas are great for making breads, muffins, and pancakes.
  5. Shop dollar day sales. These are in-store sales where each item costs one dollar. It may also manifest as a 10 for $10.00 sale. We get to mix and match the items here.
  6. Use coupons, especially during dollar day sales and on reduced price items. You may actually glean a few food items for free.
  7. Make homemade sun tea.
  8. Use small eggs for almost everything, even when the recipe calls for large – when you can get a great deal on small eggs. I buy whatever size is the most affordable.
  9. Make sure you know your serving sizes for foods and beverages. Each person in your household may need to consume a different serving size, and most of us eat way too much. Your body will get used to smaller servings, and you wont starve while it does.
  10. If you are desperate, visit local food cupboard. And always accept any food items that someone offers you. If you can’t use something, give it to a neighbor or donate it.

How do you save money on food during these trying times? Share your tips with us in the comments for this post.

Shannon

(Originally posted at Frugal is Fabulous! on June 20, 2011)

Can You Eat Healthy When Utilizing Dollar Day Sales?

Whether or not you can eat healthy while utilizing dollar day sales depends on what the store is offering up. It is always worth it to check the sales out, because you never know what they might include.

Examples of Healthier Dollar Day Foods

canned peas (2 for $1)

Canned carrots (2 for $1)

cucumbers (2 for $1)

1 dozen eggs

1 pound baby carrots (2 for $1)

oranges (3 for $1)

grapefruit (2 for $1)

Lemon (3 for $1)

Limes (2 or 3 for $1)

bananas (3 pounds for $1)

baked beans, if your diet allows for this (2 for $1)

canned pears (2 for $1)

canned peaches (2 for $1)

canned pineapple (2 for $1)

(Update January 2017: When updating this list to use healthier foods, it was cut drastically. You can’t always find many healthier foods at dollar day prices, but keep an eye out just in case. Get the extra, and store them in the pantry or freeze to use later.)

There are many things that can be made with these items, providing you have other healthy staples on hand.

Ideas for Using Foods from Dollar Day Sales

Breakfast:

  • Smoothies
  • Omelets
  • Eggs with a fruit salad

Dessert:

  • Fruit parfaits
  • Paleo ice cream

Lunch/Dinner:

  • Baked beans with a side salad
  • A simple vegetable soup

I’m sure you can come up with other ideas as well.

I usually have little bits of leftovers from these meals, which are frozen whenever possible. Any freezer plan site will be able to tell you what can and cannot be frozen. Even if there is just 1 or 2 teaspoons of vegetables or meat, I freeze them for soups or casseroles later on. A few chunks of fruit can go into a fruit mix-up bag for smoothies later on.

Warmest Wishes,

Shannon