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Cooking Challenge Steps Up My Cooking A-Game

This week I decided I wanted to try a meatless Monday challenge and then take it one step further and focus on just six ingredients to make a complete meal.  As much as I'd like to say my grocery list doesn't exceed my budget, the truth is there never seems to be enough in my budget to buy everything I'd like to stock my pantry with.  And I am one of those cooks who prefers to meal plan for the month and have staples on hand to avoid shopping weekly.  I don't mind stopping for a quick jug of milk but I'd prefer to stay out of the grocery store until it's time for me to stock up the pantry again.  Once every two weeks is good and helps me stick to my menu and my diet.

A couple of years ago, as part of my daughter's curriculum for homeschooling, we began container gardening.  From there we have begun to plant in raised beds and a small garden area as well.  Next year we hope to have a really nice garden to grow food in.  One of the things we learned quite quickly is homegrown food tastes so much better than anything we've purchased in the store, even if it is organic.  Our Farmer's Market came in handy during the summer months and I was able to preserve a lot of vegetables and fruits.  Now we are kind of 'in between' seasons so I'm looking for ways to challenge myself, as a cook, and also to keep my kids interested in eating food that is good for them, and as organically grown as possible.  Since I don't have a hunter in my family, wild meat is scarce in my household, as is fish.  At least Saskatchewan raised fish.  So it can be a challenge to meet all the criteria I want to meet while still providing affordable and healthy meals for my family on a tight budget.  

The ingredients I chose are all purpose flour, yeast, sugar, lemons, mushrooms and onion.  From this I will make bread, mushroom soup and lemonade.  On average, a loaf of white bread costs anywhere from $.99 to $4.95 in Prince Albert, depending on what sale and how old the bread is that you choose to purchase.  I figure making a loaf of bread costs about $.75 - very affordable.  A can of soups averages about two servings... my soup will serve six to eight people.  And, depending on how much the ingredients cost, a bowl of soup can range from $.50 to about $.95.  Finally, the lemonade is basically the cost of the lemons - about $.10 a glass to about a dollar.  Remember, it IS possible to freeze and thaw whole lemons so buy them in bulk or on sale, freeze them and then pull two lemons out of the freezer the night before you're going to make lemonade.  That's huge savings for you right there.  Also, harvest the seeds you pull out, sprout and grow them.  Whatever seeds that turn into trees will eventually result in your own, home grown lemons or you can sell the trees.  I've seen house plants selling on VarageSale this month upwards of $80.00 so that is an awesome return on your initial investment of a few quarters!  

I'm including the three recipes I've used to make my meal as well as photographs.  I hope you try one (or all of them) and let me know if this is something you'd like me to continue once every six weeks or so.  I have some delicious recipes I can share with you for beet leaves, spinach and baby tomatoes that are very delicious and fun to eat.  

 

White Bread Recipe

1 cup of hot water

2 Tbsp sugar

2 level tsp yeast

1 tsp vinegar

3 cups all purpose flour

1/4 c melted margarine

 

Method:

I use the hot water out of my tap, once it's reached its hottest temperature.  Mix the sugar into the hot water until it's dissolved.  Add the yeast and allow five or so minutes for the yeast to develop.  Stir together and pour into a clean glass bowl.  Add the vinegar to the yeast mixture and then add the flour, one cup at a time, stirring after each addition.  You may need more or less flour to knead the dough until it comes together and has a smooth texture.  Clean the bowl.  Use some of the melted margarine to 'oil' the bread pan you'll bake the dough in.  Rub the rest of the melted margarine over the dough and place back into the bowl until the dough has doubled in size.  Punch down the dough to release the air bubbles.  Roll the dough into a loaf type shape and place in your baking pan.  Cover and let the dough rise until it is double in size again.  The dough will continue to rise as it bakes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and, when it has risen to your liking, bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes or the bread sounds hollow when you tap on it.  Serves 12 slices, depending on how thickly you cut each slice.

Lemonade

Two ripe lemons, at room temperature

1 c sugar

1 gallon of water

 

Method:

Place the gallon of water on the stove to heat up.  Cut each lemon into 1/8 and squeeze the lemon slices into the water (I use a slotted spoon to catch the seeds.  See photo for reference.)  Put the lemon wedges into the water to heat up and release pulp and more juice.  Add the cup of sugar and stir to dissolve.  I always add the sugar last, for two reasons.  I can adjust sugar to taste - depending on the lemons sourness you may need more or less sugar.  And secondly, if I drop a seed into the water, I don't want it coated in the sugar syrup.  Once the water has boiled, turn off the heat and let the lemonade return to room temperature.  Remove the lemon wedges and squeeze them out once again.  Any seeds you find now will likely not grow so you can throw them into your compost along with the lemon peels.  Pour the lemonade into a pitcher and chill in the refrigerator (or freezer, if you'd like slushier lemonade, my favourite!) until you're ready to enjoy.

* I also serve the lemonade with blueberries and strawberries.  Take the tops off the strawberries, crush them very well (if you're using a straw, otherwise the berries get caught as you suck through the straw) and squeeze the blueberries into your glass, add some ice and top up with lemonade.

*Add extra sugar to the original lemonade recipe.  When the lemonade is ready to serve, pour the glass to about half full (with the ice) and add sparkling water to top it up.  This has been my trick for giving up diet soda.  I wanted the bubbles from the carbonation and this way I get bubbles and flavour!  

 

Mushroom Soup

1 finely chopped onion

1 - 3 cartons of mushrooms, chopped (the more mushrooms, the thicker the soup)

2 chicken bullion cubes or two cups of home made chicken stock

2 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup water

1 litre of water

 

Method:

Heat the chopped onion in the bottom of a 3 litre soup stock pan.  You can season with a bit of salt, since that helps the onion release the moisture in the vegetable.  As you chop the mushrooms, add them to the onions, stirring occasionally to keep ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Mix half a cup of water with the cornstarch and stir until there are no lumps.  Add the cornstarch to the mushrooms and cook for about one minute.  Add the litre of water and two cups of chicken stock.  Allow the soup to come to a boil and thicken.  Season to taste and serve.

 

*the chicken stock packet that comes with ichiban noodles works well in this soup and allows you to add a couple extra cups of water to stretch your meal if unexpected company arrives as you're serving up the meal.

*to make cream of mushroom soup, add 2 cups of half and half or whipping cream to the soup along with the water.  If you don't have cream, three heaping teaspoons (pictured) of sour cream will give the creamy look we are used to seeing from a can of mushroom soup.  The sour cream will melt once the soup has simmered on the stove top.

*for garlic mushroom soup, add four cloves of chopped garlic to the onion as it cooks.  It's very delicious.  Enjoy!

 

My kids, 11 and four years old, have been serving themselves mushroom soup with slices of bread over the last two days.  Usually I use left over soup as I make rice to go with pork chops or after browning the pork chops, I pour the mushroom soup over the chops in a baking dish and finish letting them cook in the oven.  Or else, I just put the remaining soup in a freezer bag, let it freeze flat and then stand them up in the freezer.  Meals packed away for another day without taking up a lot of space in my freezer.  However you choose to enjoy your recipe, I hope you find sustenance and success in all you do.

Have a great week, everyone!

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