Thursday, July 31, 2014

Food Preservation: Herbs


There are several methods to preserving herbs.  The most popular methods being freezing in ice cubes and drying or dehydrating.  My preferred method is dehydrating.  Dehydrating herbs is very easy.  It doesn't require any special equipment and one is not dependent on electricity or a freezer that is in good working order.  When using dried or dehydrated herbs, remember to use 1/2 the amount of fresh as the flavors are concentrated when dried.
 After cutting the herbs from the plant wash them in a sink of COLD water by swishing them around.  Allow the water to settle for a few moments which will allow any garden particles to sink to the bottom of the basin.  Remove the herbs, drain the basin and repeat the wash process.  I always wash my herbs twice & my greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.) three times.


 After the herbs are washed, I remove the excess water by giving them a good spin in my salad spinner.  (I've been a mother and wife for more than 30 years so, I've had plenty of time to collect all sorts of nifty kitchen gadgets, like my salad spinner.)  If you don't have a salad spinner you can place the herbs in a recycled mesh onion or potato bag and while standing on the back porch give them a good shake.
After removing the excess water I remove the leaves from the stems and spread the leaves on a baking sheet.  (Growing up in  the Gulf Coast region, our climate was too humid to air dry herbs, so I learned to dry them in the oven.)  Place the baking sheet in the oven.  If you have a standing pilot on your oven, all you have to do is close the door and wait 36 - 48 hours.  If your oven is fancy with an electric oven igniter, press the bread proofing feature and turn the oven light on.  Turn the proofing feature off after 30 minutes, keeping the light on.  Your herbs will be dehydrated within 36-48 hours.

If you need to use your oven prior to the dehydrating process being completed, just temporarily remove them and when finished baking allow the oven to cool before returning the herbs.
Once the herbs are completely dry they will easily crumble between your fingers.  I like to use recycled herb containers or canning jars for storage.  I store my containers of herbs in a cabinet near the prep station in my kitchen.  Any excess dried herbs are stored the in canning jars and placed in our food storage pantry located in the cool, dark basement.

Growing and preserving your own herbs is an easy, no sweat way of reducing your grocery bill.  As mentioned in my post, Stewardship in the Kitchen: Setting a Realistic Grocery Budget , when priced by the pound, herbs are the most expensive grocery item you will purchase.  Since herbs are so easy to grow and preserve, anyone can implement this technique and save money while still eating well.  Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What Will $1.39 Buy You?

Well, a chicken fried steak dinner, of course.   (Yes, one can take a southern girl out of the south, but the south can't be taken out of a southern girl).  My last POST showed you how I can save up to 40% on ground beef.  Using that same principal, I can save 56% on beef cutlets ($4.89 lb. up here), also known in the Gulf Coast region as cubed steak,  the cut of beef used to make chicken fried steak.  I, again, purchased sirloin steak at half off from the "reduced for quick sale" bin.  Instead of grinding it into ground beef, I used my meat mallet to pound it into beef cutlets - 3 minutes of work.
Our green beans were FREE -  homegrown and home canned from last summer's garden.  The chive and parsley potatoes cost $1.32 for six servings and the gravy and steak breading cost only $0.09 per person.
What sort of strategies have you implemented to reduce this week's grocery bill?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Saving Serious Money: Proteins

 I recently posted about saving money on proteins, specifically meat products, by always purchasing them via a deeply discounted sale or from the "reduced for quick sale" bins. ( link )  In my neck of the woods, groceries, especially animal products and fresh produce, are significantly more expensive than down home on the Gulf Coast.  Up here on the Montana prairie, the regular price of ground beef is $3.69 lb.  When it goes on sale, we are expected to pay around $3.29 lb. About once per year we can find it for $2.99 lb. with a 5 lb. limit. 
 When purchasing beef on a tight budget, ground beef seems to be, by far, the first and most economical choice for most families.  However, I have found a way to eat ground beef for only $2.15 lb.  That is a 40% savings off the full priced ground beef and more than 25% savings off the once per year (5 lb. limit) sale price!

How do I do this?  Prior to making any meat selection at the grocer, I always check the "reduced for quick sale" bins.  For example, the above pictured sirloin steak was marked down
50% from $4.29 lb. to $2.15 lb. It took me only five minutes of extra time to grind that same sirloin steak into a full pound of ground beef.  The result was 4 very lean and generous 1/4 lb. sized hamburger patties ready for the grill at a cost of less than $0.54 per patty.  If our buns & pickles are homemade and our lettuce, tomato and onion, are homegrown, our hamburgers cost us significantly less than $1.00 per person. 
I hope this example provides you with one more strategy for getting the most out of your grocery budget.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's a Dirty Job ...

... and it's her job.
She was showered with dirt while changing the air filter on the swather.

The ranch and farm boys are lined up at the door and ready for courting.  They'll have to wait until she's finished scrubbing all that mud out of the bathtub.  Click here and scroll down to see a picture of her after a bath.  I think she's stunningly beautiful all the time.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One on One Time With Farmer Boy

The past couple weeks have found our family busier than usual.  In addition to working, Songbird attended the Montana State 4-H Congress at MSU.  She had a terrific time, and now wants to obtain her college education at MSU ... college - I am no where near ready to even begin to think about entertaining all that.   While Songbird was at 4-H Congress, Mr.B was working out of town.  That left Farmer Boy and me on our own as we traveled to Havre, MT for his baseball team's state divisional tournament and then farther west into the mountains to visit Grandpa.  Farmer Boy has a strong tendency to be quite obnoxious.  While many, like Mr.B & his brothers,  may find his behavior humorous or "boys just being boys", I, being the way too serious one in the family, find it unacceptable.  So needless to say, I was not enthusiastic about spending an entire week completely alone with Farmer Boy.  After a stern warning about how much I dislike obnoxious behavior and a brief outline of acceptable behavior, we packed the vehicle and set off for a 1,400 mile road trip.  I am so proud of Farmer Boy.  He controlled himself and I didn't have to discipline him regarding unbecoming behavior ... Now, that I know he has the diligence to control himself, maybe he will begin to mature into my idea of a  respectful, polite young man.
While at the tournament, we found ourselves with quite a bit of free time between baseball games.  Being a homeschool mom I seized the opportunity to take Farmer Boy on an educational field trip to an excavated Native American Buffalo Jump.  We were blessed with a great guide who was able to keep Farmer Boy's attention and made the tour interesting for him.
Farmer Boy gives a big silly smile as he poses in front of various buffalo artifacts.
 Our tour included a brief lesson on how to use an atladle - a Native American tool used to propel spears into wild game when hunting.  Of course, this was Farmer Boys favorite part of the field trip.  What boy doesn't love throwing spears?

Ready, Aim ...

... THROW!  Farmer Boy was a natural.  He hit the buffalo target 4 out of 5 times!
The following day, we also spent a couple hours hiking around Beaver Creek Dam.  Farmer Boy had a fun time skipping rocks and trying to teach me how to skip rocks.  He also collected rock material that he thought might be good for making his own arrow heads. 

If I recall, this is the rock that skipped 8 times!
Our final day in Havre found us enjoying a historical underground tour.  In 1904 a fire destroyed the entire downtown area of Havre, MT.  Several years passed before brick and other building materials were delivered via rail to the remote Montana wilderness for rebuilding.  During the long wait, the businesses moved underground into the basements and were accessible via underground steam tunnels.  In addition to visiting an underground early American barbar shop / dentist office, bakery, bank, butcher shop, Chinese laundry, funeral home, doctor's office and general store, I took my 12 year old son to a saloon, a bordello and an opium den ... What sort of mother am I! 

When the tournament was over ... by the way, his team took second place in the state divisional championship tournament ... we packed up and continued our travels west into the Bitterroot Mountains for a short visit with Grandpa at his off-grid log cabin where he lives full-time.

The meadow near Grandpa's.  The mountain he lives on  is in the background.
 Below is a photo of Grandpa's fully functional wood cook stove.  It is wonderful to cook on it during the late autumn, winter and early spring ... But things really heat up when cooking on it during the summer.  I'd love to add a wood cook stove to my own home someday.
Yes, although I live in a fully functioning modern home, I do know how to use a wood cook stove.

Farmer Boy and I had a very pleasant trip.  With Songbird working long hours this summer and Mr.B's demanding work schedule, Farmer Boy and I will have many more opportunities to spend one on one time together.  I think a day hike through the Badlands should be our next outing.

P.S. When we lived in all the hustle and bustle too close to a metropolitan city down home, I always dreamed of moving to the mountains.  I love the scent of mountain pines, the sound of Grandpa's babbling brook and the unique echo of sounds as they travel through the mountains.   I've always thought the mountains were where I dreamed of spending all my days.  However, when I returned to the prairie I stepped out of our vehicle and inhaled the sweet scent of Russian Olive trees and fields of alfalfa and canola blooms;  I heard the gentle rustle of wind dancing through the prairie grasses;  I looked up into an unobstructed view of a field of black velvet dusted with millions upon millions of diamonds; I felt a soft gentle breeze caress the exposed skin on my face and hands.  It has taken me three years and a short visit to Grandpa's to realize that my dream home is not located in the mountains - it is right here with the sweet scents of the prairie, the whisper of the wind and a sky bigger than one's imagination.