Monday, November 21, 2016

Lowe's: New Washer & Dryer for $235

Look at this lovely pair of machines we just bought for $235! Yep, you read that right!
New Washer & Dryer

Let me explain how...

First, the best time to buy large appliances is September and October (okay, I know it's November). The new models are coming out and stores need to get rid of last years models, so this pair that was originally $1872.55 with the stacking kit was marked down to $1214.80, saving us $657.75.

Lowe's is also running a deal where if you buy 2 or more appliances, you can get a rebate of up to $400. We bought 3 appliances (my parents also bought a dishwasher on the same receipt), so we got a $100 rebate. But since my parents also contributed to the purchase, we split it up so that we got 2/3 of it and they got 1/3 of it since we bought 2 appliances and they bought 1, saving us $66.67.

My mom had also gotten a coupon on the bottom of one of her receipts before for 11% off your total transaction. Unfortunately, that couldn't be combined with the military discount of 10% off, but since it was a little more, we were still happy with it, since it saved us $133.63.

We also have a Discover Card that gives us Cashback bonuses on all our purchases. We had saved up over $450 in rewards, and since they are partnered with Lowe's we could get a $100 gift card for $90, so with that $450 in rewards, we got $500 in gift cards. So, that saved us $500. (If you register for Discover with my link, you get a bonus $50 in Cashback and so do I!)

I also have been using the Shopkick app for a couple years, and had saved up enough points to get $70 in gift cards to Lowe's. Plus, I had $9.62 left from when I had gotten a gift card to buy Adam a Christmas present a year or two ago. So, Shopkick saved us $79.62. (I'd love it if you used my referral link, if you choose to sign up for Shopkick. Or enter hornet9061 when you download it on your phone. Right now they're not offering sign up bonuses though.)

Since we're remodeling and want a stacked set instead of a side by side, we're replacing a set that works perfectly well. Instead of paying for haul away when they deliver the new ones, we're going to list the old ones on Craig's List. We've sold a dryer before on Craig's List for $75, and these ones are in better shape, so we plan on listing them for $100 each, which means we're saving $200 on replacing working appliances.

So, after all is said and done, we saved $1637.67 total on a brand new washer & dryer for our laundry room and mud room remodel, meaning we paid $234.88. When Adam and I figured it all out before we made our purchase, he said, "Can we afford to not buy them right now?"

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Easy Basic Granola

Granola is an easy treat to make that can be customized so many ways to suit your own personal likes and preferences. Early granola consisted of crumbled whole grain products that were then baked until crisp. Nowadays traditional granola is made with oats, nuts and fruit as a base, however do not let that limit what you use as there are many tasty combinations that lend themselves to a healthy nutritious breakfast food or snack.

Spent grain barley a by product of  brewing beer,
dehydrated for alternate uses. 
 When making my basic granola recipe, I use a combination of oats and spent grain barley, which is a by product of the home beer brewing process. The brewing process simply stated involves boiling the barley and water to make a barley 'tea' that is then fermented into beer. The leftover barley still retains much of its flavor and nutritional values. I dehydrate the spent grain and store for future uses. Since I have access to a fairly regular supply of spent grain barley, I have made use of it in several recipes including my granola.

The process of making granola involves gathering your grains and nuts and toasting them; making a sauce that will act as a binding agent and then dehydrate the mixture at 135 degrees overnight approximately 12 hours or until the grains once again are dry and crispy. Add in your desired dried fruit, completely cool and then package and seal to keep out additional moisture.

Oats and barley toasted stove top.
You can toast your oats either in the oven or stove top. Toasting the grains take away the raw taste and helps to bring out the natural sugars. I toast mine in a skillet stove top in 2 cup increments being careful to stir often to prevent the oats, grains and nuts from burning.

The following recipe is for a small batch which I recommend for the first time granola maker. With a small batch the first time you will get a feel for what you may or may not like with out being out a lot of ingredients. Later this recipe can be easily doubled or tripled to suit your need or capacity to dehydrate.

Granola sauce heated to when it just begins to boil.
I then make my sauce and bring it just to the point of boiling, and then pour it over my nut and grain mixture stirring until the sauce has been well incorporated. This is then placed on on the paraflexx sheets in your dehydrator set at 135 degrees for up to 12 hours. (Times will vary).

Dehydrate the granola at 135 degrees for up to 12 hours or until dry and crispy.

Once your granola is dry and crunchy, add in your dried fruit if desired. Adding the dried fruit after dehydrating the granola keeps it from overdrying and becoming overly brittle. However if you prefer your granola with a more brittle or crispy fruit feel free to add it at the same time with the other dry ingredients.

Mix in the dried fruit of your choice.

Once the granola has cooled store in containers, vacuum seal for longer term storage to retain freshness. Because of the oil used in the sauce, I would recommend using within 6 months to prevent rancidity.

Packaged in jars and vacuum sealed for longer term storage and some for immediate enjoyment.

Easy Basic Granola

8 cups oats (I prefer the old fashioned not the quick, you can use a combination of grains and oats to total 8 cups, I use half oats and half spent barley grain, organic puffed rice or sesame sticks are another great alternative, I have also used in a pinch rice krispies and other cold cereals)
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup oat bran (sometimes I have a hard time finding oat bran so I improvise by grinding 1 cup of oats to make my own)
1 cup flax seed
4 cups nuts (use a combination of your favorite, use more or less to suit your taste: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup honey (this can be a combination of honey, maple syrup, molasses, corn syrup or fruit syrup)
1 cup coconut oil (alternate oils can be use as well like vegetable, grapeseed, canola)

**The following spices and flavorings can be adjusted more or less to suit your personal tastes.
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger

OPTIONAL- To the sauce or wet mixture add your choice if desired an additional 1 cup of any of the following: peanut butter, applesauce, mashed banana, pumpkin puree, Nutella or any other 'flavor' enhancer of your preference.

**2 cups dehydrated fruit of choice - add last after dehydrating is complete

**Mini chocolate chips, m&m's, yogurt raisins or carob raisins can be added as well after the granola has completely cooled for a more trail mix like granola.

Lightly toast the oats, alternative grains and nuts stove top stirring often to be sure not to burn. Combine the oats, nuts, wheat germ, oat bran, flax seed in a large bowl and set aside. In the same sauce pan where you toasted the grains, add the remaining ingredients except the dried fruit and bring to a boil, then pour this over the dry ingredients mixing well until the dry ingredients have been completely moistened. Spread this wet mixture on your dehydrator trays lined with the paraflexx sheets, dehydrate at 135 degrees overnight or up to 12 hours testing for crispiness. Dehydrating times can vary. Once the granola has reached the level of crispiness desired, remove from the dehydrator and add 2 cups of dehydrated fruit. Once the granola is completely cooled, package and store as desired.

*If you prefer the above recipe can be made in the oven as well. Skip toasting the grains and nuts and follow the recipe as directed placing the mixture in the oven set at 300 degrees stirring every 15 minutes until dry and toasty. Add fruit after removing from the oven and cool and package as directed.

**I have also made this recipe in the oven overnight with the oven temperature set at 140 degrees using the 'keep warm' feature with great success.

***The granola is great as a topper for fruit and yogurt, eaten with milk as a cold cereal or even cooked with milk for an oatmeal like hot cereal or by the handful as a quick ready to eat sweet snack.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup

    With fall fast approaching there is nothing better than a hot bowl of soup to warm you from the inside out. One of our family favorites is the following recipe for creamy chicken wild rice soup. Add  a loaf of warm crusty bread for a hearty 'stick to your ribs' meal that tastes like you have spent all day in the kitchen cooking. We like to make a double batch, so we do all the work once, but can throw a couple means in the freezer for later.
Double Batch (7+ meals for us!)

My mom had to have a bowl right away! :)

Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup

2 c. chicken breast ( approximately 2 large)
4-6 chopped/diced carrots
1 medium chopped onion
4-6 stalks celery (can use the leafy tops as well)
1/2 c. butter
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. parsley
3c. cooked wild rice
1 c. water
8 c. chicken broth
1 pint of heavy cream
1/2 c. toasted slivered almonds (optional)

COOK: Saute the chicken in your stock pot using 2 tbsp. of the butter, when juices run clear remove from the stock pot and set aside. In the same pot saute the vegetables with the remaining butter (carrots, onions and celery), when tender add the flour and seasonings (salt, pepper and parsley) to the vegetable mixture and incorporate until well mixed. This will create a rue that will thicken the soup. Add the water and the chicken broth and whisk well until the rue is completely blended into the added liquids. Simmer until the broth is starting to thicken. Add the chicken (diced/cubed into bite size pieces) and the rice and bring to a gentle boil reduce heat and add the heavy cream and almonds (optional) and simmer until hot. 

Serve with a crusty bread or even in a toasted mini bread bowl.

*I use Zatarain's Wild Rice blend (or any other brand will do) that totals 3 cups cooked rice. I add it uncooked along with the water needed to cook it at the same time that you add the water and chicken broth, adjust your cooking time to allow for the rice to get tender before adding the chicken and heavy cream. These rice blends come with a season packet that makes the soup taste wonderful. When using the seasoning packet I omit the salt called for in the recipe.

** Use garden produce to help make this meal cheaper!

***I like to use my food processor to quick chop the carrots and onions and slice the celery.

****Use a rotisserie chicken if they are on sale or if you previously froze cooked chicken for future dinners. 

*****I have also made this where I cook up a bunch of chicken breasts in the crock pot a day or so ahead of time, when I get them on sale. Then I shred them with a fork and toss into the soup at the end. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Eggplant Bacon - dehydrated

     Having a good sized vegetable and fruit garden has allowed me to save on grocery costs. However sometimes when a particular crop is coming in...I can end up with more than what we can consume freshly. The solution is to either can, freeze or dehydrate the excess bounty.
     That is where I found myself recently with a large amount of Japanese eggplant, normally I dehydrate them in slices to be used in cooking at a later time however... I wanted to try something different.

Dehydrated eggplant slices - plain

    I had come across this blog Real Food Tulsa that had an interesting post on Eggplant Bacon. Intrigued, I decided it was worth a try especially since I had all the required ingredients on hand.

Dehydrated eggplant bacon

    When dehydrating any food item it is important that the size or thickness of what you dehydrate is consistent. To maintain a uniform thickness in the sliced eggplant I originally opted to use my mandoline slicer. But I was having some trouble getting it to slice nicely, the eggplant was not feeding through the mandoline slicer easily. I needed to improvise... so...I cut each eggplant in half lengthwise set each half between a pair of chopsticks then using the chopsticks as a guide for my knife I was able to get perfectly proportioned and uniform slices. My slices ended up approximately 1/4 inch in thickness. This results in a finished product that is similar to thick cut bacon.

Improvised slicer guide for proportioned slices

    I followed the posted recipe with just a few minor adjustments to suit my tastes and using what ingredients I had on hand. Since I had more than the suggested 2 eggplants, I doubled the marinade. After slicing all the eggplant I let it marinate for one hour. I then placed the marinated eggplant slices on my Excalibur Dehydrator trays and set the dehydrator temperature at 125 degrees.

'Bacon' Marinade
2 medium eggplant cut into bacon like slices
4 Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp maple syrup
4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp liquid smoke
1/4 cup bottled lime juice
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
fresh ground black pepper approx 1/2 tsp
2 Tbsp olive oil

    While the eggplant was dehydrating I decided to reduce the remaining liquid marinade to a syrup like consistency. I simmered the marinade over a low flame until it was fairly thick and nicely concentrated. I then used this to brush over the slices before they were completely dry. I did this approximately 4 hours into the drying process, I brushed each eggplant slice with the concentrated marinade glaze on both sides and returned each tray to my Excalibur to finish dehydrating until crispy. Since I had started this project late afternoon, I let my dehydrator run over night and by morning the eggplant bacon was nicely dry and crispy. Drying times will vary depending on how thick you slice the eggplant and the wattage of your dehydrator.

    After cooling I stored the eggplant bacon in quart sized mason jars and vacuum sealed them for storage...

Vacuum sealed jars for long term storage

    But not before I had some with my lunch...turkey swiss on white with garden lettuce, tomato and eggplant bacon...delish!!

Turkey swiss on white with garden lettuce, tomatoes and eggplant bacon...delish!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sweet Corn Cob Jelly

    I was recently gifted some lovely early bi-color sweet corn from some very good friends. Since it was more than we could eat at once I decided to prep it for the freezer following the directions on our site Cooking the Deals. As I was getting ready to take the clean cut corn cobs to the compost bin, I recalled seeing a recipe for Sweet Corn Cob Jelly on this site: Canning Homemade! I decided to give it a try, I followed the direction exactly as written and I have to admit that it was probably the easiest jelly recipe I have ever made. The jelly set perfectly and has a very light, sweet almost lemony floral flavor.

This recipe is an excellent way to get even more from your produce. So this lovely gift of a dozen ears of corn netted a total of one dinner,

seven containers for the freezer for future dinners and one pint and 3 half pints of sweet corn cob jelly. This will definitely be one for must make file!

Dill Pickles

My husband LOVES pickles. Specifically, dill pickles. This year from our garden I was able to make 15 quarts and 1 pint of dill pickles. (Okay, if you count them in the picture, you'll see we're one quart short... that one is in the fridge being eaten. ;) )

Dill Pickles
Cucumbers (sliced lengthwise for spears or across for slices for sandwiches & burgers)
Dill (1 head per jar)
Onions, quartered (1 quarter per jar)
Fresh Garlic (1 toe per jar)
Peppers (hot or sweet optional)
Pickle Crisp (1/4 teaspoon per quart or 1/8 teaspoon per pint)

For the brine (makes about 5 quarts):
1 quart water
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup canning salt

Prepare the brine in a pot and bring to a simmer. Prep your jars in your water bath canner by sterilizing for 10 minutes in boiling water. Add pickle crisp to sterilized jar and layer in dill, onion, garlic, peppers, and cucumbers. Add the brine leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the lip of you jar clean with a damp cloth to be sure nothing will prevent the jar from making a good seal, put on lid and ring, then return to the water bath canner. Once all jars have been returned to the canner, bring the water to a boil and process for 15 minutes, then remove to cool and seal (the *ping!* sound you hear... Love that sound!). Allow to sit for at least 2 weeks, but over a month is better, for the flavors to really be infused into the pickles.

This recipe is well suited to a refrigerator pickle as well. Just combine all your above ingredients in a large container, I used an ice cream pail, and store in your refrigerator once it has cooled down. You will still need to wait at least 2 weeks for the flavors to develop. When making multiple batches be sure to mark the date you made each batch so you know when each is ready. Refrigerator pickles are a great way to make a home 'canned' pickle without the investment in canning supplies which can lower the initial canning investment significantly. These pickles can be bottled up in recycled jars and kept in the refrigerator or given as a hostess gift during the holidays. In this batch I added lots of red ripe jalapenos and plenty of onions which are great on those burgers or sandwiches. I also added some small yellow summer squash which is a great addition to those refrigerator pickles.

This year I spent about $7.31 for 15 quarts and 1 pint of pickles. To buy that equivalent in the store would be about $40. That means I saved over $32 on pickles.

Here's the break down of approximately what I spent on each item. 
Sugar $1.49
Vinegar $1.78
Canning Salt $1.18
Garlic $1.95
Pickle Crisp $0.96
Cucumbers Free from the garden
Dill Free from mom's garden (mine didn't grow so well this year)
Onions Free from the garden
Peppers (I used banana) Free from the garden

Cucumber Chips

What do you do with garden cucumbers too large for pickles and too many to eat before they go soft? Make cucumber chips in three flavors...garlic herb, ranch and sea salt vinegar... a healthy no guilt snack that is easy to make.

Slice your cucumbers approximately 1/8 inch thick either by hand or with a mandolin into a bowl. Add just enough olive oil to just barely coat the cucumber slices and toss gently. The olive oil can be optional, it mainly aids in keeping the cucumber chips from sticking to the trays for easy removal but is best if you plan on eating the chips in a short amount of time the oil can soften the chips again over time. For longer term storage, omit the olive oil, any seasoning you add will cling to the damp slices and stay once dehydrated.  Place the sliced cucumbers on your dehydrator trays (to prevent sticking you can very lightly spray the trays wiping off any excess with a vegetable oil like Pam) and lightly sprinkle with your seasoning of choice. I made two trays each of three different flavors.

The first was ranch using Hidden Valley powdered ranch seasoning and dressing mix.

The next two trays were made using the Weber Roasted Garlic and Herb seasoning, this seasoning is great on any vegetable.

Lastly, before placing the last of the cucumbers on the dehydrator I added some balsamic vinegar and after placing them on the trays I sprinkled lightly with Morton sea salt however a kosher salt or any larger grained salt would also work well.

I have also experimented with a light basting of Frank's Hot Sauce for a buffalo version that is simply amazing with humus as a dip...or even a blue cheese dressing dip.

For a little sweeter version try brushing with a balsamic vinegar reduction and sea salt a less tangy version of the straight balsamic vinegar sea salt.

Place your trays in your dehydrator and set at 125 degrees and dry for approximately 4-6 hours or until they are crisp. Times will vary due to temperature and humidity levels in your area and the moisture content of the cucumbers being dehydrated.

If you plan on storing the chips long term, omit the olive oil as it can soften your crisp chip to a more leather like chip over time. If you have a Food Saver vacuuming system for mason jars it helps to vacuum seal the jars. Another option is to use oxygen absorbents instead or in conjunction with the Food Saver vacuum system.

These make a great, guilt free healthy snack.