Friday, September 19, 2008

Pumpkin Bars

As autumn is quickly approaching, I'm excited to get back to baking more and here is a recipe for pumpkin bars. It is loosely based off of a recipe for carrot bars which my mom makes, but I made this one up without calling for a full cup of oil.

Pumpkin Bars
In mixer, mix:
4 eggs
1 t. salt
1 3/4 C. sugar
3/4 C. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 C. oil
16 oz. solid pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 t. baking soda
2 1/2 C. flour
2 t. cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1/2 C. chopped nuts or craisins (optional)

Bake in greased jelly roll pan at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

If you wish, frost cooled bars with with cream cheese frosting made by mixing:
8 oz. lowfat cream cheese, softened
1 t. vanilla
1/4 C. butter
3 C. powdered sugar.

Happy Fall! Now I'm off to add a can of pumpkin to my grocery list.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Barely Keeping Up

There is much to write about, though I honestly have not had the time or motivation to sit down and work on it much. I do hope to get back to blogging soon, but I make no promises. This last month has been filled with lots of fun changes and events for our family and we are still adjusting.

In a nutshell, Sportster started his official academic education at home as well as in a homeschool supplement program (two 1/2 days per week) at the end of August. At home we are using this core curriculum and a random selection of other materials. My husband and I just decided on this option at the end of July and I had just missed the Colorado homeschoolers convention so I basically went with a curriculum that came highly recommended from a mentor friend, blogs and Facebook friends. It is going well so far, though there are the challenges of the charter school homeschool program being 30 minutes one-way from our home and keeping up with a happily destructive and active 2-year-old while we try to focus on schoolwork on our "home days". So we are certainly still working out a routine that works for our whole family, without the teacher/mom becoming exasperated and without children being neglected. We are very blessed that Sportster began reading on his own in April which makes my job so much easier now! Although his core curriculum is for Kindergarten, he is blowing through 2nd grade readers without a problem. I love to listen to this boy read and hear his speaking progress into more thoughtful and articulate conversation!

Our house came off the market in early September so we are in the process of moving things back in from the garage and rearranging our furnishings to best suit our family-focused lifestyle once again. Even though we had very few showings, this was a big weight on all of us throughout the summer so it is a relief to just get back to normal life around here. We've also had a delightful week-long visit with my mother-in-law. We were busy with normal weekly activities, but I think she enjoyed just being here with us and seeing how the kids have grown. It is fun to watch relationships continue to develop between our children and their grandparents. Fall activities are in full swing and include soccer, children's choir, a mid-week church children's program and a small group for us is still to come. It feels like we are entering a season of activity that may very well last for the next 17 years or so.

So, that's roughly what is going on around here, with all the everyday stuff of life, of course, happening, too. Which reminds me, laundry awaits.......

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cheap Eats: Beef & Bean Burritos

Another frugal make-ahead meal we like is beef and black bean burritos. I assemble these in bulk for make-your-own convenience food.

This batch was made using:
3.5-4 C. cooked ground beef, some already seasoned with taco seasoning
6 C. cooked black beans
1/4 C. roasted red pepper, finely chopped
1/4 C. red onion, finely chopped
1/2 can of chili beans
3 C. cheese, give or take
24 flour tortillas, burrito size

Mix everything but the cheese and tortillas, then put a large spoonful of the meat mixture and some cheese into each tortilla. Roll up and group in handy meal sizes for your family. For us, that is 6 burritos to a pack. I wrap each group in aluminum foil and then place the foil packet in a ziplock or reused tortilla bag and put them in the freezer. When you are ready to bake, remove foil packet from bag and place on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serve with salsa and sour cream, if desired. These will cost somewhere under $.50 per burrito to make if you cook your own beans and buy meat and cheese on sale. One burrito is generally an adult-sized portion, hearty, though not Chipotle-sized.

This recipe is very forgiving so I never seem to make it the same way twice. You could also use:
leftover rice
fresh or frozen red, yellow, orange or green pepper
other kinds of beans
the end of a jar of salsa or queso
shredded leftover steak or roast
white, yellow or green onions
diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
green chilis or Rotel
cooked potatoes, cut in small cubes

I also find these convenient to bring to a family in need as you can bring them a package and don't have to invest in disposable dishes and they can bake them when they need them, or even cook one at a time, depending on their need. This gives me more time to focus on the sides I would bring along to that family, too. Or, if we are having company, I just use more packets to serve a crowd.
These would be healthier if I used whole wheat tortillas, but the prepared ones I see at the market seem very expensive to me. When I've tried making them myself they turn out quite thick. Do you have any recipes or tips for making thin healthy, homemade tortillas?

Cheap Eats: Pizza To Go

One of the biggest challenges to cooking and eating frugally is the time it takes to prepare so much of your menu from scratch. We are in a tight season right now so our dining out budget has all but gone away, except for about one trip to Chick-Fil-A or something similar every couple weeks. This causes a need for me to cook every.single.night. To make that task easier I'm working at creating some shortcuts for that ongoing need to cook.

Last weekend I made up a big batch of this pizza crust. I quadrupled the recipe using my Bosch mixer and ended up with 8 fairly thick crusts. I also rolled them on cornmeal so I could roll the dough directly onto the baking pan. I also used whole wheat flour for part of the flour the recipe called for and asiago for part of the parmesan. I sized the dough circles so they would fit into my Tupperware cake taker (a Goodwill find) and could be frozen until we need them. I used waxed paper in between the crusts, but I'm not sure that was especially necessary. If you have rectangular freezer storge containers, maybe you'll want to make rectangular crusts. I was just using the storage option we had on hand. This is our all-time favorite homemade pizza crust, and believe me, I've tried several. I think it's the cheese and garlic that makes it so good. The total cost for 8 crusts was probably around $3, though much of that cost is the cheese. If you went for a cheese-less recipe I'm sure you could make them more cheaply. We will use 2 crusts for a meal and some leftovers, but that's still economical in my books. These are a breeze to take out of the freezer and top with whatever meats, vegetables, sauces and cheeses you have on hand which may also give new life to your leftovers.
What are your favorite time-saving make-ahead meals?