Monday, January 16, 2012

Money Monday: January 16, 2012

I went to Costco this weekend. Which I really didn’t want to do, because Weekend + Costco = 12-layer Crazy Cake, but, we were out of eggs, flour and sugar.

Let’s be honest here: A lot of us “peek” as shopping carts wheel past us. I too can be fascinated by the choices others make. And sometimes I wonder why somebody buys what they buy. The answer is usually really simple: Because they don’t know there’s an alternative, nor do they WISH to know, so, ZIP IT, CRAZY LADY.

But as I was charging around snagging things off the shelves and racing for the finish line, I bumped up against somebody who was stunned to discover that a) #10 cans of tomato sauce existed and b) they were significantly cheaper than the 6-packs of the same exact brand.

This week, the #10 can of S&W tomato sauce was $2.49. They also had a 12-pack of the same stuff for $6.99. A #10 can holds 106 ounces, making the cost per ounce about two cents. The 12-pack of 14.5 ounce cans comes to 174 ounces, or four cents per ounce.

Which calculations were done on my phone while a fellow mom looked on in wonder. We then discussed the various uses for “that much” tomato sauce, and how to manage what you didn’t use that very day when you opened the can.

The idea that you could simply take a few quart-sized Ziploc bags, put 2-4 cups of sauce in each one, lay it flat in the freezer, and have a minimal-footprint supply of frozen spaghetti sauce ready to go…was revolutionary.

I had a new best friend. She followed me around the warehouse watching every single thing I put in the cart, and wanting to know how I used it, how I stored it, why this not that, etc. etc. etc.

It was a stern reminder for me, actually. I tend to think of a lot of things as “obvious” that really aren’t…until somebody else points them out.

Like…yogurt. A lot of us like yogurt, as a snack or in recipes. Did you know it’s super easy to make at home? Seriously. This is all there is to it.

At the store, buy one small tub of plain, unsweetened yogurt; you want the kind with live, active cultures. I haven’t found that the starter yogurt having gelatin added hurts anything, but definitely no sweeteners or vanilla-flavoring! I generally grab the store’s generic plain yogurt, which runs about fifty cents when not on sale. (You can also buy yogurt starters if you either want different flavors or can’t find a yogurt that pleases you in the store – Cultures For Health has a variety of easy-to-use starters, both the kind you can perpetuate [e.g., make another batch from the batch you just made] or direct-set [you have to use fresh starter for each batch].)

Take the yogurt out of the fridge and set it on the counter to move toward room temperature. If you have an electric oven, turn on the oven light; if you have a gas one, the pilot light is probably enough to keep it at around 100 degrees (you can check that with an inexpensive thermometer) (I have two…because I have two malfunctioning ovens, awesome!!).

Take four cups of milk, and heat it to scalding (just starting to bubble around the edges, but not outright boiling); let it cool to between 90 and 110 degrees (you can put your [clean!!!] finger in it without yowling).

Stir the now-room-temperature yogurt into your cooled milk. Cleanliness is key here – make sure whatever container you’re using is super-clean, because what you’re going to do next is let it ferment for a good six to ten hours in your ~ 100 degree oven…prime temperature for all kinds of things to thrive, yogurt and otherwise. You do not want harmful bacteria to be joining the yogurt’s party!

Shorter fermentation results in a less-tangy end product; I usually go with ten full hours, which usually makes for a particularly tangy yogurt. Because I am a wild thing that way.

Then, carefully move it from the oven to the fridge – don’t stir, shake or otherwise agitate it! I’ve discovered through trial and error (mostly error) that if I don’t agitate it, I end up with a nice, thick, creamy yogurt. If I can’t resist the temptation to stir (or taste-test) it, I get a runnier version. It’s not bad, exactly, but I prefer the yogurt to resist the spoon a little bit when I’m using it.

You can also use a crockpot – preheat it while you’re scalding your milk, then mix the milk and yogurt in the crock, turn the crockpot off, put the lid on and wrap the whole thing in a nice warm towel for the duration.

I’ll stir in some fresh or frozen berries, homemade preserves, honey, vanilla or whatever for the ones that are snacks, and leave the rest as it is – set aside about half a cup of it for the next batch and you can be making homemade yogurt for a good long while. When you start getting “runny” or “flavorless” batches, it’s time for new starter…I generally get a good two months of weekly batches out of each $0.50 tub.

To me now…that’s so obvious.

But I was stunned when it was first pointed out to me a couple years ago that it was that easy to do.

Come right down to it, nothing I do is particularly hard, or requires skills only attainable after twenty years of meditation on the Holy Mountain.

It’s easy, practical stuff…it just takes time, and curiosity. The ability to laugh off your mistakes helps a lot, as does the ability to look at something from a variety of angles.

If you can do that, a lot becomes “obvious” that makes other people go, “Whoa, wait, what? You can do that? REALLY?!”

Which is a deeply satisfying feeling, by the way. Just sayin’.

This week’s meals are largely about getting large, bulky things out of my way in the freezer; we’re still down by one freezer and I need to clear some shelves so I can cook breakfasts and lunches ahead again!

Also, there is a lot of spinach going on right now. I just harvested thirty POUNDS of the stuff this weekend. Yoinks!!!!!

Monday: Leftover Extravaganza! (a.k.a., everybody forage, mommy is busy having a What Do You Mean I Hafta Work Tomorrow?! episode)

Tuesday: Balsamic-glazed pork roast, roasted red potatoes, spinach

Wednesday: Lamb roast, “Turkish” rice [rice with peas, slivered almonds, and other horrifying things in it] [the Denizens are not fans of ‘mixed up’ foods, but, they’ll just have to deal]

Thursday: Roast Chicken, [hopefully] Blue Nile potatoes [rogue potato plant ready to dig up – here’s hoping it actually has potatoes attached to it!], more spinach, yay!!

Friday: Beef Soup (crockpot, because I am always lazy on Fridays)

Saturday: Chicken pot pies

Sunday: Beef empanadas, Spanish rice


Jeanne B said...

I agree, it is kind of funny what some people don't know. Then again, there are occasions upon which I become one of THOSE people--for instance, now.

I did NOT know it was possible to make my own yogurt that cheaply. I like yogurt. But I don't buy it, because it's too expensive to buy the little containers, and a big one just winds up dying in the Food Mortuary before being tossed half-used.

But now that I know...

And yeah, I live in my freezer. I probably freeze stuff that isn't supposed to be frozen. But what the hey. I have two full pans of lasagna to eat off of this winter, as well as a LOT of homemade soup. (My green pea rocks.)

Um, if you have any other tips like that, let me know. I remember how mad/excited I was the day I found out I don't have to BUY Bragg's ACV every time I run out, I can just buy one horrendously-expensive gallon and use it like sourdough starter. I love this kind of stuff. It makes me feel so... superior and off the grid. :-)

PipneyJane said...

Ahhh.... The alchemy of frugality. I love watching people finally "get it".

On the spinach front, do you like Indian food? Saag Gosht (Lamb with spinach), Saag Bahjee (spinach stew), Onion Bahjees made with added spinach, all spring to mind as do the two recipes I referenced here:

- Pam (contemplating growing spinach this year)

Kaviare said...

I don't make my own yoghurt much anymore because I don't eat it fast enough, and I don't like the texture once it unfreezes. I DO make my own ricotta a lot. That's my dinner plan tonight - I also have a bunch of... well, it's silverbeet not spinach, but same difs. It's something I have in the garden pretty much year round. That, plus home made ricotta is often dinner in some form. It;s summer here so I'll fry some onions, whack the lot on some pastry and call it pie, but there's lots of combos.

For ricotta, take milk, add vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid to curdle. Drain. That is all it is, seriously, but it does take a bunch of milk to make not that much cheese. But then you can use the whey to mix with more milk to make low fat ricotta, or I add it to things instead of water when baking. Bread, cakes, etc.

RobinH said...

Spinach quiche? Spinach salad!

Colleen Mole said...

I feel like such a slacker for not making my own yogurt yet, but in my defense I'm living in a teeny tiny studio apt above my Mother with my DH and 1yo. I don't think I could really fit it all in my puny little fridge!

Trina said...

My parent's always called the leftover/no plan night "Make Your Own". And my brothers and I were always up for it. It was when we learned to make meals ourselves, starting with boiling water things and graduating high school with full meals whipped up from leftovers and raw ingredients. I think that it was how we all learned to toss things together and make it into food.

Louiz said...

My parents were given a yoghurt maker as a wedding present so I grew up knowing you can make it. It always stuns people when I tell them! You've reminded me to try it again.

Trina said...

You are such an influence! (I would say bad influence, but hopefully this is a good thing)
I just came home from Costco with 2 #10 cans of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. $5! Woot! ;)

Hopefully the sauce I make will last us until late summer when I can make my own from my garden.