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Figs!

We have a fig tree overhanging our parking lot. I don’t like figs, so in previous years I would just mutter a few uncomplimentary things about figs as I would try to walk through the parking lot without getting crushed fig on my shoes, which is sticky beyond belief.

This year things were different. First, my son likes fruits I don’t. Maybe he likes figs? Second, my parents love figs and are even crazier about fig jam. Third, isn’t it a pity? Figs (and organic figs, at that) are rare and expensive. Isn’t it a pity to leave them to be crushed under cars and eaten by strange and exotic insects?

I decided to taste one, just to make sure I don’t like figs. Aaah what sweetness! I discovered that I love fresh figs, and I mistakenly thought that dried figs had any connection to figs off a tree. I don’t like dried figs at all. But fresh – this was like eating pure honey with a crunch.

So I took a small step-ladder and spent a few minutes picking figs. I put some aside to give to my kids and parents, and with the rest I made fig jam. My parents are crazy about it, even going to the point of buying some from a local coffee shop at an exorbitant price. I’m OK with fig jam – I mean it’s tasty and all, but it doesn’t compare to apricot or strawberry jam in my opinion, but it tastes good.

I looked round the Internet a bit to find a good recipe. My in-laws bought me some Dr. Oetker’s Gelfix from Germany (it contains pectin) but the instructions were all in German 😦 . So I tried to find the instructions on the Internet as well. (Of course, I could have called my mil but then I would have had to bring her the box and I was a little short on time. Besides, the Internet has everything).

The results – divine…

Ingredients

0.5 Kg figs, washed and peeled*
175 gr sugar
1/2 packet Dr. Oetker 1:3 Gelfix
1 tbsp lemon juice (I squeeze and freeze in ice cube trays. Easy and convenient)

* some recipes didn’t peel, or only peeled the thicker peels, or soaked the figs in boiling water for 10-15 minutes to soften the peel. I just peeled it – the type I have in the parking lot has rather thick peel that’s easy to remove.

figs before peeling

figs after peeling

Mix everything together in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Crush if you like (I use a potato masher. You can also slice the figs in advance, but it’s really not worth the trouble in my opinion). Boil for 4 minutes. Check if jelled enough for your taste (see note). Pour into clean glass jars with an airtight lid. Turn upside down to cool.

Everything in the pot

I had 1 1/2 jars, so I gave the full jar to my parents, and kept the half jar for myself. I barely got to most of the fruit on the tree though, so today I got hold of some neighbors and told them that if they’ll bring me figs, I’ll make jam for them. Why waste?

Mix and crush

Notes:

1. To check if jam jelled: keep a small plate in the freezer (empty). When you want to check the jam, take it out of the freezer and place a spoonful of jam on it. Wait until it cools to room temperature (a few seconds) and run a finger through the jam. If it closes over the trail, it is not ready. If it doesn’t it is.

2. If you want the jam to keep for longer than a few months you need to sterilize the jars by boiling jar and lid for at least 10 minutes. If you intend to eat within a few months, clean jars ar enough, but keep refrigerated. If mold shows up on your jam, throw it all away, don’t just remove the moldy part, as the mold secretes poisonous substances into all the jam. If mold shows up after less than a month, start sterilizing your jars even for short-term storage – maybe the type of jar or implements (or fruit) you’re using is more susceptible to mold.

3. If you don’t have pectin, you can add some more fresh lemon juice, or lemon pulp (without the seeds) or the core of an apple in some cheesecloth (so you can remove it easily and the seeds don’t get into your jam). Citrus fruit and apple skin and cores are a great source of pectin. This usually needs more cooking time – minimum 20 minutes and usually more, at a lower heat. The jam should simmer, not be at full boil. Check every 10 minutes if jam jelled.

4. Turning jars upside down: This causes a vacuum while cooling, promising that the jam will keep longer. To be foolproof, boil the jars with the jam in them for 5-10 minutes. Jam made with sterilized jars that were boiled afterwards with the jam keep for up to 18 months.

5. Labels: I printed great jam labels at graphic garden.

Jars ready...

Unfortunately, my son doesn’t like figs in the end, but I don’t mind… more for me!

Love Food - Don't Waste!

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I’ve been dreaming for a long time of making my own ice cream. I even bought two vanilla beans for that purpose about a year ago, and kept them in vodka in a dark place (thus creating real vanilla extract as well). I never got arund to actually making it, though. Until now.

With some excitement I poured the cream into the pot, and took out one vanilla bean from the jar.

It looked disgusting. It smelled of alcohol, not vanilla. I thought it might be spoiled, but I read around a bit and vanilla beans keep very well. I thought, “Well, let’s give it a try. Maximum it will taste terrible…”. I opened the bean as I’d seen in numerous cooking shows (this was my first time with an actual vanilla bean) and scraped the inside into the cream, and threw in the vanilla bean as well. It looked extremely unappetizing, with little black dots. I heated the cream, stirred, and then removed from the heat. I tasted – and almost stopped dead.

This was the best vanilla flavoured anything I have ever tasted. The bean was still floating inside, and still looked heartily unappetizing. I tasted again. Unbelievable.

What were they thinking? The people who started using vanilla beans? “Oh, here’s a strange looking plant with a faintly nice smell, let’s see if it can be used?” How many utterly disgusting things did they try before scraping it and boiling it in liquids? Fried vanilla bean? Chopped in a salad? People had more patience once. Nowadays, I don’t think anyone would have looked at it twice.

In any case, the result was stupendous. The only problem was my husband, who is not a fan of yogurt in ice creams and not a fan of vanilla anywhere. Sigh. At least my kids got the right genes…

Vanilla Ice Cream

The original recipe calls for 500 ml of cream. I had only 250 so I substituted white sweetened yogurt instead. Of course, the reason I had only 250 ml was because I wanted to lower the fat content. The result is creamy with a faint sour aftertaste from the yogurt – I assumed that this was what my husband didn’t like. I admit that fat percentage is not as high on my priorities either. I intend to make chocolate ice cream next, and there I will probably use cream only. The original recipe is from “The Perfect Scoop” by David Lebovitz.

I chose this recipe because it has no eggs. This is home made and stays in the freezer a while, and I didn’t want to take chances with raw eggs.

250 ml cream
250 ml white yogurt
250 ml milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
3/4 tsp real vanilla extract

Put the cream (ony one cup if you are using only cream) into a pot with the sugar. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the bean and add the vanilla pod to te pot. Warm until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add the milk, the yogurt, and the vanilla extract. Cool thoroughly in the fridge.

I don’t have an ice cream machine, so I did it the old-fashioned way: I froze for about and hour, and then blended. And then I repeated this 3-4 times, blending once an hour (The idea is to break the ice crystals so you get ice cream and not a block of ice). You can see the process in the pictures. Notice the frozen edges and the soft middle in the second image.

It was delicious.

Bon Apetit!

Before putting in the freezer

After one hour

End result

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Rant

I am sick and tired of the misleading information on food. Sick of it. Every food is now touted as “with added vitamins!” “Only natural ingredients” “No sugar added” “0% fat” etc. And when you look a little closer at the nutrition and ingredients, you find that:

“with added vitamins” = this has so much sugar and fat that we had to add stuff so that you would look at this (and no-one knows if added vitamins are absorbed by the body at all)

“Only natural ingredients” = sugar, sugar, more sugar, and some glucose to round it off.

“No sugar added” = we added tons of fructose in the form of dates/carobs/fruit puree/fruit concentrate.

“0% fat” = we added more sugar!

This has to stop! For once I would like to find something that is actually healthy! It has come to the point where I am instantly suspicious of anything that claims to beneficial in any way.

I am still furious at a baby-formula company who started making baby-pasta: slightly precooked pasta (so that it will be quick to make and soft) with added vitamins and they are touting this as a necessary food for every baby! Since when do 6 month old babies have to eat pasta? All added vitamins are suspect because it hasn’t been proves the body absorbs any of this. So why are they claiming that this is a necessary part of nutrition and scaring well-meaning parents! And if it is really that important, what’s wrong with overcooking some regular pasta and adding a good sauce and some cheese? What do we need baby-pasta for?  😡

And the granola I saw – I usually make my own granola but things have been hectic and I considered buying. I saw in the “healthy” section of the supermarket granola with no sugar added. I took my old brand (that I used before making my own) and this one and compared calories. The one with no sugar added had more calories than the one with sugar. Why? because they added date spread and carob powder. But this brand is healthier! I suppose it didn’t occur to anyone to simply not sweeten it at all? That’s what the dried fruit is for! At the most I add a few tbsp honey to a huge batch, but certainly not more…

And jam with no sugar added – it’s so much healthier than regular jam except that they add fruit concentrate = fructose in amounts. So what’s the difference except for the inflated price?

And don’t get me started on granola bars…. aaarghghghgh!!!!

It’s impossible to buy anything anymore!

I needed that. Thank you for listening.

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Bread

Before my toddler was born, I used to bake bread using a bread machine. I enjoyed it, and experimented with adding onion and sunflower seeds and stuff.

Then I had my first child, and I simply forgot. So many things to do and remember, baking my own bread wasn’t high on the list.

Until a few months ago, when I had the urge to bake my own bread again, and I took my bread maker out of the cupboard (well, my husband did 🙂 ). I looked around the internet and tried to find a good recipe.

Whole loaves of bread never really worked for me in the bread machine. What I liked was to make the dough in the bread machine and bake rolls/challah in the oven. So I tried this recipe and the results were absolutely awesome!!

I also tried substituting up to 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour (I intended to start with less, but I ran out of white flour) and the results were still great!

I was less successful in finding a 100% whole wheat recipe, though. I tried this recipe , without the dry milk. When trying to make a loaf in the bread machine, the bread fell so the bread was very dense and heavy. And when I tried to make rolls from the same dough, the rolls were also pretty dense. I found them tasty, but my husband prefered the white or mixed because they come out really light. I’m going to try the first recipe with 100% whole wheat flour and see how it turns out.

The problem with loaves in the bread machine is that it doesn’t take into account the weather. The bread machine doesn’t look at the dough and think “hmm, that needs another 10 minutes of rising”. It just switches to bake mode and that’s it. When baking rolls, you can look and decide whether it goes in the oven now or in another 10 minutes, and I think that makes the difference. That and the fact that I suspect that 4 cups of flour might simply be too much for my bread machine.

In any case, rolls go better at my house than sliced bread. Everyone prefers it (including me, frankly). So this was definitely successful.

We pretty much stopped buying bread. I have sliced bread in my freezer in case I need it, but that’s it. I don’t know how much money we saved, because we buy humongous amounts of flour (whole and white). My husband bought a huge package of dry active yeast for a ridiculously small amount, so that’s not where the money goes. Also, I don’t calculate electricity and stuff. But we’re probably saving on the order of 20 NIS per week on challot alone.

Of course, we’re also eating a lot more bread now. The problem with freshly baked rolls is that you blink and they’re gone! Here is the “before” image (I added the larger roll a few minutes later. That’s our Challa for guests).

 Before

And here is the same place 15 minutes later:

After

Need I say more?

Bon Apetit!

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Granola Base

I love making granola at home. It tastes better, has much less fat and sugar, and best of all I can put whatever I want. I love dried apple and am not crazy about raisins – so I always have dried apple in my granola. I love sunflower seeds and almonds and walnuts. Though I have a sweet tooth, I don’t like to indulge it all the time. I find that bought granola (and bought food in general) is much too sweet. So I adjust sugar/honey to my tastes.

Sometimes, however, I don’t have the time or patience to begin chopping nuts and dried apples, and mixing, etc. So I started making a granola base.

This is oatmeal mixed with a bit of sugar and veg oil, toasted in the microwave. The great thing about it (other than the fact that it is easy and quick) is its versatility. I can add some chopped nuts and fruit and I have granola (some people toast their nuts when making granola. I don’t as the toasting can ruin the nutritional benefit of the nut if too high, and as I make my granola in the microwave, there isn’t much control of the exact temperature). It can also be sprinkled on fruit or ice cream or pudding to add some healthy crunch. It can be mixed with puffed rice and eaten with yogurt or milk as a breakfast cereal (or alone). The sky is the limit!

Ingredients

1 cup oatmeal, (not instant or quick-cooking. I use Quakers).
1 tbsp (or to taste) brown sugar or honey
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Mix everything together in a glass pyrex or other microwave dish (I read that some people make their granola directly on the microwave platter).
Microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Mix.
Microwave for another minute. Mix.
Microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time until golden and toasted, mixing after every interval.

Note: You don’t really need the oil, you can do without very easily. However, then the granola doesn’t turn brown and it can be hard to tell when it’s ready (you know when it burns? 1 minute before that :)). You can omit the oil completely.

You need to be careful not to burn the oatmeal. However, if some does burn, it’s no big deal – just discard the burnt part (it clumps together and smells burned, even though it doesn’t turn black or anything) and keep the rest.

Store in an airtight jar with a lid. It keeps quite well for a few months without loosing its crunch. I keep old jam and honey jars for this type of thing.

Bon Apetit!

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Home-Made Flavoured Water

I used to love apple flavoured water, or mint flavoured water. At half the calories of juice, you get something much tastier than water.

Until I realized that I was being had.

By taking 100 % apple juice, and diluting 1:1 with water, I had flavoured water, at half the calories of juice. In addition, I had the nutritional benefits of half a cup of pure apple juice.

Most people don’t like diluting juice because they compare it to undiluted juice. If, on the other hand, you compare it to flavoured water, you get a very tasty drink.

The best thing to drink is water, and that’s still what I mainly drink. But sometimes, when I want a change, I make my own flavoured water.

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