Monday, November 24, 2008

Week 9: Angel Food Ministries

The Holidays are quickly approaching and it seems everyone is feeling the pinch due to the troubled economy. I think this time of year is always hard for people since we tend to spend more money on food and presents, and I think this year will be even harder for people. My experience growing up with an Italian Mother and Grandmother was that food was an important part of the celebration and we always, always had more than enough food for any holiday meal. My Grandma Jam always had to have your favorite dish for a special meal and cooked as though we were having the entire church over for dinner, and sometimes we did! Manga! One year for Christmas, we had enough food to feed an army and she says to my Dad, do you think we need turkey roll? I am not sure what a turkey roll is, but boy did my Grandma think we needed more food.

Knowing that a lot of people will have to scale back this holiday season, we came across a great non-profit company that offers food for 4 people, for a week for $30! You can basically contact a ministry near you (nationwide) and schedule to buy as many food boxes as you would like for that month. This price is open to anyone, any economic background, no requirements needed to order. Not bad, we thought, so we decided to try it out and see. Here is a list of what we got below:

Angel Food Ministries - November Box

  • 1.5 lb. New York Strip Steak (4 x 6 oz.)
  • 3 lb. Split Chicken Breasts
  • 2 lb. Baby Back Pork Ribs
  • 2 lb. Chicken Chunks
  • 28 oz. Jumbo Charbroiled Beef Patties with Gravy
  • 1 lb. Smoked Sausage
  • 1 lb. Ground Turkey
  • 1 lb. Green Beans
  • 1 lb. Diced Sweet Potatoes
  • 10 oz. Peanut Butter
  • 15 oz. Cranberry Sauce
  • 7 oz. Beef-Flavored Rice & Vermicelli
  • 20 oz. Shoestring Fries
  • 32 oz. 2% Reduced Fat Shelf-Stable Milk
  • 6 oz. Pancake Mix
  • One Dozen Eggs
  • One Dessert Item (Box of cookies)

  • Quite a bit of food for $30! We found that most of the brands we did not know or could not find in our local grocery store, but all the meat products looked okay, we are not quite sure what the chicken chunks are, but the rest is fine. We guesstimated that this was close to about $40 to $50 worth of food if you were going to buy it all on your own, a 33% discount is not bad! The food does not include fresh fruit or vegetables, but you have an option to order additional meat or fresh veggies if wanted. But we thought, that for about $40 to $50 per week total with supplemental veggies and fruit, a family of 4 could feed themselves dinner for a week.

    They also have pre-prepared meals for $2.80 per meal, which is a balanced meal and probably better than the processed TV dinners at the supermarket. So all in all, we thought this was a pretty good value.

    Check out the site below and you can search for a location close to you. Food pick up is once a month and you have to order a few weeks before pick up, which for us was the third Saturday of the month and we needed to have our order in a few weeks before that. So this requires a little planning, but worth a try to help cut down on some food costs. When we arrived on Sat to pick up our food, we just gave our name and they had a box just sitting and waiting for us. Easy, fast, and more convenient than going to the grocery store! Thanks Angel Food Ministries!
    Check out the Hillbilly Housewife’s site, she prepares menus and recipes monthly based on the food provided at Angel Food Ministries, so you can find some economical and creative ways to use up the pound of hotdogs =). (We are not big hotdog eaters, but figured corn dogs would be good!)

    Try something a little hillbilly! Have fun and enjoy.

    Angel Food Ministries:
    Hillbilly Housewife:

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    Week 8: Easy Microwave Popcorn

    My boyfriend lovessss popcorn at the movies. I do too, with a Diet Coke. There is something great about watching a movie and eating popcorn. We have been watching more movies at home with Netflix and we were just missing the popcorn that we would get at the movies. Scott came across a simple easy recipe to make popcorn in the microwave. As a kid we had an air popper or used to buy that tin-foil type that you put over the stove burner and it would pop up like crazy!! I don’t have room for another kitchen appliance and those tin-foil type poppers take a little bit of work on my part, so this microwave popcorn recipe is simple, easy, and inexpensive.

    I know this may seem pretty simple to make popcorn, just buy a bag from the store and stick it in the microwave and you are done, right? But, have you seen the price difference between buying a 6-pack box of popcorn vs. just a plain bag of unpopped popcorn kernels. The price difference is staggering, okay a few dollar difference, but is Orville’s popcorn worth a 10x difference in price? You are certainly paying for the convenience of a sealed bag of popcorn with processed ingredients? Here is a simple way to make popcorn in the same amount of time as the pre-packed stuff and add the flavorings you want to the popcorn. Nice, natural, and a little hillbilly.

    Microwave Popcorn:

    • ½ cup unpopped popcorn

    • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

    • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

    Special items needed: brown paper bag

    Step 1: Mix together the unpopped popcorn and oil in a bowl. Use your hands, it’s fun and a good way to get messy. Now that your unpopped popcorn is nice and greasy, pour it into a brown paper lunch pag, and sprinkle in some salt. Fold the top of the bag over twice to seal. Make sure you have it standing upright. Don’t need to lay it down like the store bought sealed bags.

    Step 2: Cook in the microwave at full power for 2 ½ to 3 minutes, or until you hear pauses of about 2 seconds between pops. Carefully open the bag to avoid steam, and pour into a serving bowl. Don’t get greedy and try and pop all the kernels, popcorn is cheap, stop popping when you hear time between pops. The last thing you want is a house filled with burnt popcorn smell. Yuck!

    Experiment with different types of oils, olive, walnut oil, etc. to add different flavors and try flavored salts to add an interesting taste. I have truffle salt, vanilla salt, and lavender salt that I am going to try next. Yeah, that is it. Inexpensive, healthy, and a quick snack. Enjoy!

    Recipe credit to:

    Sunday, November 9, 2008

    Week 7: Crochet Rag Rugs

    Here is another great holiday gift idea, make homemade rag rugs! I remember these great rugs as a child and they always reminded me of Grandmothers and old farm houses. There is something great about a rag rug and the practicality of using up old scraps of fabric was a perfect way to make something useful and needed, back in the old days. I am half German and the term "use it up" came up a bit when I was a child. Nothing went to waste, my Dad would find ways to use up things and create something different out of something old and broken. Heck, my home office desk I have is an old door that my Dad painted, added some book shelves, and used on old metal clothing rack as the base. It does not get more "use it up" and hillbilly than that! The hole for the door handle makes a great spot for all the cords and cables!

    So I think I have always been fascinated by rag rugs. Using old pieces of cloth, scrap fabric, old sheets, and clothes was truly a brilliant way to take things that were no longer functional as their original use and turn them into a usable rug for the floor, bath, or kitchen. Nice & hillbilly! I learned how to knit about 5 to 6 years ago, but I had never crocheted before. One Christmas while visiting at my boyfriend’s family, his step-Mom taught me how to crochet a rag rug and I have made a dozen since. I love it! There is only one stitch you need to know for this project and if you do not know how to crochet, I would recommend picking up a simple book on how to crochet or go online. I have the Idiot’s Guide to Knitting and Crocheting. I also found a few websites below that may help. Here are some of my tips on making a crochet rag rug.

    Special items needed:

    • Large crochet hook. Size K or Q

    • Scissors

    • Fabric cut into about 1" strips

    Step 1: Select your fabric. I know I spoke of using up old cloth, but I actually like going to the fabric store and selecting "pretty" colors that go together, you decide. I like to have about 3 to 4 complementary colors that will look well together. Try for contrasting colors so the rug pops out a bit. Don’t worry about too many patterns on the fabric since you will not really see a lot of detail in a fabric pattern. I try and find fabric on sale that is less than $2.00 to $3.00 per yard to help keep costs down. I buy about 2 to 3 yards of each fabric. It will depend on how big you want your rug and you may want one color to dominate the rug. I find that the fabric usually costs me about $25 to $35 for each rug. I usually have left over fabric at the end of a rug and I incorporate it into another rug.

    Step 2: Wash your fabric first. It will make it easier to work with and softer. I was taught to iron the fabric so that it is smooth, but I am not real big on ironing so I just try and fold it and smooth it out as best I can.

    Step 3: Folding & cutting. Your goal is to try and get long strips of fabric when you are done. So, you want to fold the fabric end to end, and then fold it over on itself a few times so that when you cut it, you will have strips that are the length of your fabric (2-3 yards long). I usually have a rectangle of fabric about 12-20 inches long now and I can still easily cut it with scissors. You don’t want the folded fabric too thick or it will be hard to cut. Now you are going to cut about 1-inch strips. Use a ruler if needed, but I don’t get too crazy with the size, they are all going to get folded and crocheted together. I separate each fabric color into their own bags so they are easy to get to, see, and find.

    Step 4: Now you are ready to begin crocheting your rug. You can decide if you want an oval or circular rug. If you want an oval rug, you are going to crochet a chain of about 20 stitches (more or less depending on the size of the rug). For a circular rug, I always get a little crazy when I do this, but I somehow just start crocheting around a chain of 3 or 4 stitches. This is where you are going to have to follow instructions from a book, but basically you create your chain, and then you keep crocheting around and around your chain. The key is to add extra stitches especially at the corners/turns and add them frequently at the beginning. The fabric will buckle and curl if you do not add extra stitches every so often. (I know this is vague, but I just add an extra stich every 10 stitches or so at the beginning of my rug)

    I usually take the strips and fold it in half, you will find some fabric has the darker color as the front and a lighter color on the back. I try and fold so that the lighter color does not show. It is not perfect, but I try and get my main color on the outside. Also, I try to end my rug with a dark color since the edge of the rug will get the most foot traffic and get dirtier.

    Step 5: Connecting fabric strips. Since each piece of fabric is between 2-3 yards, you are going to have to add and incorporate new pieces as you go. I usually crochet until I have about 3-inches of fabric left, I then take a new strip and lay it/overlap it on the back side of the fabric I am crocheting. It will be a little thicker at this junction, but if you fold the fabric over and continue crocheting, it will just work into your next few stitches. There are always a few ends that pop up sometimes, but that is part of the character of the rug I think. To change fabric and color, you just lay your new color just like you did the rest of your strips. I always love seeing the new color evolve as you work it into the rug.

    That’s pretty much it. It is great to work on this while watching TV, I feel so much more productive and am creating a beautiful rug! Once you get the hang of it, it goes pretty fast and you can stop anytime when you have decided the rug is big enough or you run out of fabric. Have fun and enjoy!!

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Week 6: Family Cookbook

    It is the beginning of November and the holidays seem just around the corner. I have begun to think about Christmas gifts for my family. I know it may be early, but all my family lives back in the mid-west and I have to ship everything to them, which takes a week and I don’t want to pay a fortune in shipping costs. So, that means I need to be done with shopping, wrapping, and ready to ship by the first week in December or so! That is a month out!!

    I mentioned I wanted to give some holiday gift ideas and some of the homemade jams and quick breads are great for local gifts. But what about something special for my parents that really have everything they need or will buy whatever they need throughout the year? An idea struck me! I come from an Italian family on my mother’s side and a German family on my father’s side. (Interesting household & combo!!) The Italian side is very animated and loud talkers, the German side is quiet and reserved, but it seems to have worked out pretty well with my parents celebrating their 40th year wedding anniversary this year!! The one thing that both sides of the family have in common is the love of cooking and great food! (Thank God, my youngest brother became a chef!)

    So, with all that said, what about a family cookbook? I have seen cookbooks sold at school fund raisers or my parent’s church produced a cookbook. I thought this would be the perfect gift for my parents, brother, cousins, and hey even myself. So off I was to find a software program or web site to set up the cookbook. Now the challenge began. There are a ton a website out there that will produce 1,000 cookbooks for you! I didn’t want that, I want to make maybe 5 cookbooks! Finding a site that would do small production for a reasonable costs, under $50 or so was the harder part. This is the criteria I was looking for in a web site for producing my cookbook:

    • Free software

    • No minimum quantities of books, I only need a few

    • Economical, it depends on how big your book is, but between $20 to $50 would be reasonable

    • Template application that would be easy to edit and put in photos
      Not just a simple plastic spiral bound cookbook. I wanted something a little nicer and classier.

    • Production time relatively short, under 2 weeks to produce. (Hey, I have a month to get this done!)

    Well after testing a few free software programs and trying out their format and templates, I found a site that so far is working out great. I am about half way through inputting all my recipes, so I have not gone through the production process yet or seen the final product. I will Blog about the end result in a few weeks! So the site I chose was...

    Check them out. They have templates for cookbooks, photos books, wedding books, poetry, etc. and there are different size formats you can choose for your book. You can sign up for free and download their software program for PC or Mac for free. The software is called, Booksmart and is pretty easy to use. I am not much for reading instructions or taking a tutorial and you can pretty much just cut and paste your text into the template. There is flexibility to change the book pages, add photos, change the style on each page, and just be creative. It is a bit like scrap booking, but digital.

    Here are a few things I would recommend to start your family cookbook.

    • Put all your recipes in a digital format. I set up separate Word files for each section of my cookbook so it would be easy to just copy and past my text into the software.

    • Scan any recipes you are not going to type in and put them in a .jpg format. You can insert them as a photo in the cookbook.

    • Sort through any photos you want to include in the cookbook. These can be uploaded easily in the software and inserted into your cookbook. Make sure your resolution is medium to high, since it will be printed. I tried to use some ClipArt and the software told me it was too low of a resolution to use and look good.

    • Input all your recipes first and then work on the color templates, background colors, etc. I found myself playing with this and not getting the cookbook together. Get the whole thing done and then pick your color theme and even insert your photos at the end.

    That’s really it! It takes time to copy and paste the data, but I think the book is going to look beautiful and will be a special treat for my family at Christmas. Good luck, have fun, and enjoy. Let me know how your cookbook comes out. I would love to hear any stories or share some special recipes you found. I am excited to share my Grandma Zita’s recipe from probably the 1940's Hunting & Fishing’s Cookbook, Squirrel with Dumplings. Now that's Hillbilly!