· whole foods

10 Easy Homemade Recipes

We’re getting our homemade on around here. That’s really my version of whole foods living. If I can make it myself, I do. I’m hoping this counts is a baby step toward cutting back on refined sugar and maybe even less grains.

But maybe not. We’ll see.

In the meantime, here’s ten easy recipes for homemade versions of everyday goodness. Enjoy!

1. Rice-a-Roni 
Honestly, rice-a-roni isn’t one of my favorite dishes, but my husband and kids love it. Yes, it’s already pretty cheap and coupons abound, but I’m giving that control up, remember? And they eat it in such great quantity the couple of times a month I rotate it into our menu (usually alongside a saucy piece of chicken) that I was having to make at least two boxes to keep up with the demand. Then I stumbled upon this recipe from The Prudent Homemaker and was hooked. So easy, ingredients I already keep on hand, and the best part? Smashing the vermicilli is a great stress reliever.

Chicken Flavored Rice
Mix equal parts white rice with vermicilli broken into tiny bits. (I make a large quantity of this to have on hand). Saute one cup of the rice mix in 2 tbsp butter. Add 2 cups water mixed with 5-6 tsp chicken flavored bouillon granules (depending on your taste) and 1 tsp dried parsley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

2. Coffee Creamer
This one is still in the experimental stage although we’ve gone through an entire bottle of hazelnut syrup in the past six weeks trying to find the perfect ratio of cream-milk-flavoring-sugar to suit our highly caffeinated and super sweet taste buds. (This would be where trying to cut the sugar comes in.) I’ve pinned several recipe pages, and my friend Abigail swears by the one with sweetened condensed milk (which is my next experimental homemade recipe), but so far, what I like best is blending equal portions of milk and cream with sugar and flavoring to taste. The best part is, again, these are usually ingredients I have on hand anyway, so I no longer feel the stress of being out of International Delight and needing a grocery run at 10 p.m. before the 5 a.m. alarm.

3. Cream Soups
I’m loving this one. In the past year, I’ve probably bought canned cream of chicken soup twice just because I was in a hurry to get a meal done and didn’t have ten extra minutes. But this recipe is definitely better!

Cream of Chicken Soup (adapted from Simply in Season)
2 cups dry milk powder
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup chicken flavored bouillon granules
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp onion powder (optional)

Mix ingredients together. Store in a tightly covered container in fridge until ready to use. To prepare amount equal to one can, mix 1 1/4 cup cold water with 1/3 cup of mix in a saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. (Will take about 10 minutes and will burn if it gets too hot.) **I like to use a saute pan because I can achieve consistency faster and often I’m adding in other ingredients to make a casserole, so I’m conserving my dirty dishes.

4. Alfredo Sauce
I don’t make a lot of white sauces, but one pizza night Joshua had a friend coming who doesn’t like tomato sauce, so I gave this one a try. Oh my goodness. It was awesome. So easy, so cheesy, so delicious on the homemade pizza dough.

Alfredo Sauce (adapted from Simply in Season)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour (all purpose or whole wheat)
Heat butter in saucepan and then add flour. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes then remove.
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Add and return to heat. Bring to a boil, stir constantly until thickens. Add 1/2- 1 cup shredded mozzerella cheese. Remove from heat. Spread on pizza dough or if too thick, add more milk and serve with pasta.

5. Pizza Dough

The Pioneer Woman will show you how to make this with great photographs and witty comments. Or you can wait for me to get around to posting a tutorial, but you’ll probably have to order takeout a few more times first because I’ve had a draft for this post in my account for a year. This is the simplest and most foolproof pizza crust recipe ever. Sometimes I even use whole wheat flour and pretend it’s very healthy under all that cheese.  If you really want to know how to do it and you live local to me, just stop by one Friday night and we can knead together. Or you can check out some of my pizza recipes here.

6. Waffles
“Affle” was one of Gus’s first words. Might be a commentary on how often I make this recipe. Honestly, at least once a week. So lego my eggo and give it a try. Yes, it really is better with whole wheat flour. I like to slice fruit and top the waffle but my kids just prefer syrup. Or a fried egg. Or a piece of sausage. Then they eat the unwashed strawberries straight from the container while I’m cooking. Seriously, mornings at my house require coffee with lots of cream (see #2).

Whole Wheat Waffles (from Simply in Season)
2 eggs
2 cups plain or vanilla yogurt OR 1 cup milk and 1 cup yogurt
Beat eggs and stir in yogurt mixture in large bowl.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Mix in a small bowl and then add to wet ingredients. Stir until just moistened.

1/4 cup oil or melted butter
Add and stir until just blended. Overstirring makes tough waffles. I bake mine in a Belgium waffle maker that makes four 4×4 waffles at a time using about 1/4 cup batter per waffle. I usually get 16 waffles out of this recipe. I usually have none left.

7. Oatmeal
As in baked with lots of goodies like blueberries or peanut butter or chocolate chips for a special treat. My family loves instant oatmeal but can eat through a box of ten little packets in two days, so I started trying this. Jane over at Thy Hand Hath Provided has a great recipe that they all like and is quick to whip together. It makes a lot, too, so I usually just half it. This is the perfect breakfast for chilly mornings!

Might I recommend a bib before feeding the baby?

8. Tomato Sauce
This is another one of those things I almost never buy anymore. It’s so easy to make a homemade version and it’s good even if tomatoes are out of season and I use canned. I’ll be making huge batches of this all summer to freeze. We use it as our pizza sauce as well. Sometimes I even use it as a base for vegetable soup. Or best of all, I just dip a hunk of homemade bread right in the pot. It’s awesome and worth the time. I promise. You can find the recipe on a post I did right here.

9. Salad Dressing
With all the varying recipes out there, why wouldn’t you make your own? I like the simplest versions and am forever stuck on this version of balsamic vinegarette.  Yes, sugar, I know. That’s what makes it good.

Balsamic Vinegarette (adapted from Thy Hand Hath Provided)
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup sugar or honey
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Mix together well and serve with spinach salad and homemade bread. Or drizzle over bruschetta.

10. Apple Dip
This is one of our favorite snacks right now and I feel like super healthy mom when I serve it. So simple that the recipe was told to me by my friend Kelly on the yogurt aisle of Ingles one Saturday morning. Super yum.

Apple Dip
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1-2 tbsp peanut butter
1-2 tbsp honey
Mix together and serve with sliced apples. May need to adjust quantities to taste.  The first time I made this I used vanilla flavored yogurt. That was really good, too.

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thanks so much for reading! Read the fine print about the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle here. 

gardening · · living local · summer · whole foods

The Best Tomato Sauce Ever

The tomatoes are overtaking our garden, and thereby, my countertops.  This picture really doesn’t do them justice.  The container in the background represents a half-hours work of scalding and peeling and chopping only to turn around and realize I missed all these that the girls had piled on the kitchen table.

Oh, and that’s some basil with them.  We’re making tomato sauce tonight.

Which means we had to venture down to the farmer’s market for an onion or two, which means we came home with a watermelon, peaches, zucchini, three onions, and Amelia stole some crayons.

My girls are having an enlightening summer.  Madelynne just realized that spaghetti sauce is actually made from tomatoes.  I’m not sure what she thought it was made from before, ketchup maybe?  Of course, that’s made from tomatoes too.  But they’re not going to admit they actually like tomatoes.

What they like, though, is finding them at summer’s peak hiding behind the leaves that are just starting to wilt from summer’s heat. And they like when I make big pots of this homemade sauce and then ladle it on pizza crust or homemade bread.

They like tomatoes a lot. Too bad they don’t realize that yet.

Basic Tomato Sauce (adapted from Simply in Season)

You will need:
a quality food processor
an apron
some patience
a tolerance for heat

1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic (or 2 tsp garlic powder)
2 large carrots (or more if you like)
1/2 green pepper (or the whole pepper, your call)
2 tsp dried basil (2 tbsp if fresh)
1 tsp dried oregano (1 tbsp if fresh)
1 tsp dried thyme (1 tbsp if fresh)
6-8 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes (about 12-15 romas is best)
6-10 oz tomato paste depending upon how thick you like your sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp honey or sugar to cut acidity if desired

Begin by peeling and quartering your onion. Put it in the food processor and chop it finely. If using garlic cloves, process those too. Saute the onion and garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil until soft. I do this in the bottom of my pot. Peel and chop carrots, then shred in food processor. Same with green pepper. Add vegetables to saute. Add seasonings and stir well. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Allow sauce to simmer at least 30 minutes. Then serve, freeze, or can.

**To peel tomatoes, immerse in boiling water until the skin starts to crack. Remove using slotted spoon and lay on towels to cool. When able to be handled, peel over a bowl using a paring knife. Chop tomatoes directly into another bowl.
**I freeze mine in quart size zip top bags. Let cool before sealing.
**To can, ladle into hot sterilized jars within 1/2 inch of the top. Add 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar per pint to assure acidity, seal with sterilized lids, and process full jars in a water bath for 35 minutes. Makes about 4 pints or two quarts. I usually double the recipe to make it worth my time.

This recipe is really forgiving and is a great base to making the sauce your own. Try spicing up a store bought can of tomatoes. Puree the tomatoes for a really thin sauce or leave it chunky and go garden style. I love the addition of carrots now in any tomato based dish. They add the right amount of sweetness and are one more way I’m sneaking vegetables into my kids.

What’s your favorite food to top with tomato sauce?

Disclosure: I found this unpublished post in my draft box and wanted to get it up to go along with my list of favorite homemade recipes. Right now it’s only April, so I’m not drowning in tomatoes. Yet. · whole foods

Monthly Meal Planning: Four Easy Steps

Moment of Truth: I actually plan my menu weekly. That’s just what works best for me. Also, I’m one of those weird people who actually likes to grocery shop. Might be because a couple times a month I can get my husband to stay home with the kiddos, and I can drink my latte and compare sales tags in peace. 
See, the thing with menu planning is you have to start with a plan for the planning. Otherwise, you might get overwhelmed. At least that’s true for me.
Though I do plan out our menus week by week, I also have a Monthly Meal Planner that’s just a running list of meals that might work for the upcoming month. I jot meal ideas down based on seasonal cycles for produce, our monthly calendar, and what’s already hanging out in the kitchen. I also write down ideas for breakfasts and lunches so I can factor those into my plans.
I have a board full of delicious ideas on Pinterest but truthfully, I’ve made only a handful of those dishes. If I start there, I wind up with a menu that’s based purely on cravings and good photography. Not a good idea for being strategic with my budget. 
1. Consult Your Cupboard
So, instead, when I meal plan I start with what I already have. A quick assessment of my pantry and freezer helps me know what is available to me immediately.  I keep an inventory of what’s on hand using these printables from Getting It Together: A Home Management System that Works.  But I don’t update these as often as I’d like, so often I just do a quick scan of the shelves and make notes of the meals I could make on the Monthly Meal Planning guide from the same set of printables. (And sometimes I’m out of ink in the printer, so I just write on a piece of paper, because, you know, whatever gets it done.) 

There have been times I have planned an entire week’s menu based on what we already have in stock. Those are rare times, but great for when I want to channel the grocery budget into other areas.

2. Consult Your Calendar
When I sit down on the weekend to plan for the following week, I always look at my calendar. I need to know if my husband has an evening meeting or if I have a girls’ night or if there’s an evening that’s not going to allow for a lot of food prep, so I can plan accordingly. This helps me choose which nights are best for crockpot meals, leftovers, just sandwiches, or everyone’s favorite–a quick run through the Chic-Fil-A drive-through. When I make my initial list of monthly meal ideas, I always include dinners and breakfasts I know are easy prep and cleanup for those crazy nights that so dominate our busy lives.

3.  Consult Your Capacity
A home cooked meal is a labor of love and commitment. It is, even if it’s just pancakes on paper plates because you have to make it and clean up after. Dishes are my absolute least favorite part of executing my meal plan. There have been times I’ve tossed it out the window and we’ve just gone out because I simply can’t wash one more dish. So when I meal plan, I have to think about my capacity.  If I’ve got a fairly open week, I have a tendency to think that’s when I’ll make all those awesome (and time-consuming) recipes I’ve been pinning or marking in my favorite cookbooks (or this month’s issue of Southern Living). But even if there’s nothing but family dinner on our agenda in the evening, if I make a big meal from start to finish and the clean up, family night has turned into a kitchen all-nighter and I’m exhausted.  So if I plan for a meal, I know is going to take a little more effort and babysitting, I try to put it in between meals on the calendar that are simple and low-key.  Usually those meals are the most low-budget ones, too.
4. Consult Your Coupons
I used to start with the sales. Because sales and coupon matchups are how you save the most money right? Then I realized that my tendency was to come home with lots of snacks, cereal, and Hamburger Helper, none of which was going very far or keeping everyone from still being hungry. So I started meal planning first based on the sales for meat and produce. Chicken’s on sale? Great, we will have four different versions of chicken casserole and one night of stir fry. So that wasn’t working either. But once I moved consulting the sales to the last thing I do for menu planning, supper got a lot more interesting and I became a lot less stressed. These days, I only coupon for my staples like peanut butter or yogurt. We don’t buy a lot of cereal because I make breakfast, but that’s an easy item to pick up for a low price with a coupon match. I rely on different stores than just my one because I know I can almost always count on better meat deals at Quality Foods and better produce at the local markets or my CSA. Coupons used to rule my menu planning and grocery shopping, now they are just a tool that helps me stay on target with our budget.
So how do you menu plan? Do you use one of the services I hear are great? Do you just figure it out as you go? What tips do you have for me? Because I’m always looking for more creative ways to make dinner a less stressful part of our day.
Linking up with Works for Me Wednesdays.
Coming soon….The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle! So many ebooks, so little money. 
living local · whole foods

Tips for Buying Locally Sourced Produce, Meat, and Dairy::Living Whole(ish) on a Budget

So when I introduced this series, I really didn’t anticipate the response!  Thanks to all who are commenting and sharing.  Blogging is a lot more fun when there’s community. If you haven’t already, hop over here and like my facebook page.  I’ll try to post regularly there and start up conversations where we can all share our favorite strategies. You can also follow me on twitter or instagram, and while you’re doing that, may I recommend you follow the inspiration of today’s post as well? We belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Red Dust Ranch and you can find them tweeting, photographing, and planting cucumbers in rows that aren’t straight right here.
Red Dust is run by my friends Chris and Heidi Hook and a few years ago Chris and I were subjected to school lunches and sassy seventh graders together when we taught at the same middle school.  Since then he’s gone off to literal greener pastures and now works the farm as his family’s sole source of income. I tell you this because that’s my number one best tip for anyone looking to change or improve their family’s grocery budget: 

Make friends with a local farmer (and join a CSA).

Seriously.  Chat with them at the farmer’s markets, stop at the roadside stand, research the local farms in your area and attend one of their functions. Because if you really want to get a great deal on produce, meat, or dairy products, losing the middle man is the first step. At $20 a week (2014 pricing), our CSA is competitive with other farmers but still less than buying the same quantity of organic produce at the grocery store. Also, it’s a set price. This helps me budget because I always know just how many dollars are coming out of that cash envelope. But the real beauty of this is, if Chris has an abundance of a crop, I get extra at no extra cost. You’re charged by the share, not by the pound or the package like at a store. Plus, supporting a local farmer means your money is directly going back to him to support his family or business. It’s a win-win for your budget and the local economy.
For information on joining the CSA with Red Dust Ranch, you can email me:
Shop around the block. 

We all get used to shopping our one store because we like it, it’s familiar, we know where everything is located, there’s a Starbucks inside…I know. Me too. I purposely patronize our local Ingles because I like the clerks, and it’s a small town so there’s lots of familiar faces. (FYI, when you teach someone how to diagram a sentence they will remember that when bagging your groceries.) Plus, the more you shop one store, the better you can get at anticipating their sales and markdowns. So it’s a good thing.
BUT if you make it a habit to notice another store that might have better pricing on something you buy all the time, maybe it’s worth the extra stop to go there too? On my way home from Ingles, I pass a little produce market that’s locally owned and does carry some locally sourced produce, meat, and dairy products. A while back a friend let me in on a secret: it’s the cheapest place around to buy eggs.  A flat of two and a half dozen eggs was $3.99 until last week.  Now it’s $4.49 which the owner tells me is because their supplier (a local chicken farmer) went up on his price. But, she also assures me it will come back down after Easter. I hope so, but even if it doesn’t, once supermarket eggs return to their normal pricing after the Easter sales, it’s still cheaper for me to pick up my eggs here. (Just so you know, I’m not buying free range eggs.  I would like to, but that’s not in our budget. I’m just happy they’re local.)
When the CSA is not in season, I pick up a lot of produce at this little market as well. My kids love carrots. They get them out of the fridge and start gnawing like horses, eating the peeling and all.  They’ve eaten a 5 pound bag of carrots in a week before, so now I buy my carrots here. It’s $3.39 for a 5lb bag. That same bag is $4.99 at Ingles. They and another farmer’s market a few more miles from us were my primary sources for apples all fall and winter as well.  Not only were their prices half of the grocery store, the apples they were selling were from local orchards. 
Don’t be so picky about availability.

We all know that living in America means you can have what you want, when you want it. But if you change your mindset and concentrate on what’s in season, you can save money and learn to withstand some of the entitlement complex we all have. It’s April, right now.  That means you’re seeing lots of greens, salad mixes, broccoli, cabbages, and other cold hardy plants coming into harvest. If you focus your grocery budget on buying what’s available a good price, instead of just what you want, you will save money with very little effort. For instance, I haven’t bought grapes since fall. They’re a summer fruit and I’m not paying $2.98/lb for something that will be $1.68/lb in the prime of its season.
If you shop farmer’s markets, you can go early in the day for the best pick, or you can go late in the day for the best deals. Farmers don’t want to pack up and carry back home what they brought to sell. So if you don’t mind the less popular vegetables, you can often get some great deals.

Looking for the recipe to go with this picture I posted yesterday?
It’s super easy and lends itself to whatever’s in season.
Roasted vegetables and sausage.
Dice up whatever’s in season or on sale (this is sweet potatoes, carrots, and brussel sprouts) and spread in an even layer on a roasting pan drizzled with olive oil. Top with diced sausage. I like smoked turkey links. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until vegetables are done.
Get your own cow or pig. For the freezer, that is. 

If you have the freezer space and the upfront cash, you can buy meat in bulk from local farmers for a set price per pound.  We did this a couple of years ago and bought a quarter of a cow from a farmer in Clayton (about 30 minutes north of us). It came butchered and packaged and we received a variety of cuts: roasts, steaks, ground beef, and stew bones. It came out to about $2.75/lb which is more than I like to pay for the cheaper cuts but way less than I’ve ever paid for a steak. Plus, it stocked my freezer for six months which made meal planning so much easier. 
If you can’t do this, I would suggest doing what I do now. Figure out the store with the best deals on meat and buy it there even if it’s not your favorite place to buy your other groceries.  I like to get meat and dairy products at Quality Foods, which is not the nicest looking grocery store in our area simply because it’s not shiny and new. But their prices are great, and Morning Fresh, their store brand of dairy products, is actually produced just a few miles away from us in North Carolina, which is way more local than Great Value. I’m not positive, but I believe some of their meat is fairly local as well.
Finally, know this. You can’t change all at once. Choose one thing that you really want to focus on and start there. For us, it’s been locally sourced items, specifically produce. I chose this because I knew I wasn’t feeding my kids nearly as many fruits and vegetables as I wanted to and I was blaming the high prices on fresh produce for that. But when I read Simply In Season (World Community Cookbook), it changed my outlook on availability and local sources and made me really want to see this as our lifestyle change. It helps, too, that Joshua loves to garden and he’s on this bandwagon with me. After all, you can’t get more local or frugal than the tomatoes grown on your own back porch.

Living Whole(ish) on a a Budget Series
April 9:: Tips for Buying Locally Sourced Produce, Meat, and Dairy
April 16:: Monthly Meal Planning (Week by Week)
April 23:: Ten Things I’m Making Instead of Buying
April 30:: What WIC Taught Me about Groceries 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that support my blogging and locally sourced habits.