Friday, May 31, 2013

Copycat cheesy beef taco hamburger helper mix

I've been busy experimenting with hamburger helper mixes the past couple months and loved this one because it's gluten free (my husband is sensitive to wheat and has been trying not to eat it lately). Instead of pasta it's made with rice and topped with corn chips.

Copycat cheesy beef taco hamburger helper mix

1 cup rice
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons powdered milk
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

This will be quite salty. I would suggest using 1/2 teaspoon of salt if you don't like salty food.

What else you'll need

1 pound cooked ground beef
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
corn tortilla chips

Combine mix with water in a saucepan and stir well. Add in beef and simmer on medium heat until rice cooks and sauce thickens. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese and stir until it melts.

Top each serving with remaining cheese and a handful of crushed tortilla chips. I served mine with a delicious salad to balance it out.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Drying fruits, vegetables and herbs for mixes and other uses

When I first started mixing it up, I bought a lot of dried foods at Bulk Barn to make my mixes, which was often expensive. But something about the sun dried tomatoes always smelled funny to me, so I was determined to start making my own. They were a complete success:

I bought a bunch of cheap fresh tomatoes on sale for 88 cents a pound and made a giant batch.

I started experimenting with other foods. Like when mushrooms went on sale.

Or sweet red peppers (can also do the same with green)

I dried a bunch of apple slices when my apples were starting to get a bit shriveled looking in the fridge.

I made banana slices from the girls half eaten and overly brown bananas

I made dried blueberries and strawberries (not photographed) as well.

I also dry a lot of herbs (especially cilantro for salsa mix, because store bought dried cilantro is impossible to come by around here). I always have a surplus of fresh herbs from my garden, or my dads garden, or from bunches bought from the store or received in our farm share.

A lot of people buy food dehydrators to 'save money'. Ovens use a lot of electricity and heat up your house. But 1. I didn't want to spend money on a food dehydrator and 2. I didn't have any more space for ANOTHER small appliance. So...

I went to the dollar store. Bought a package of 100 Watt light bulbs. Put one in my oven. Think 'easy bake oven'. An oven is a small space and light bulbs are hot. This means you can dehydrate any fruits and vegetables you want using just the amount of electricity it takes to use one light bulb. This way you can also leave the oven unattended all day or over night while you dry them, it's just a light bulb.

For most things I just slice and dry them plain- but you can coat things in salt, oil or fruit juice depending on the flavor you want. I toss my tomato slices in sea salt and olive oil before drying.

I learned the hard way that everything sticks to baking sheets, so I use parchment paper or silicone baking mats on them now. Silicone baking mats are amazing, you can dry the thinnest slices of mushroom even without them sticking.

Drying fruits, vegetables and herbs has become such a great way to save money- you can utilize wilted produce, sales, garden surplus or half eaten toddler foods without using up any precious freezer space. Home dried only sit around until you're ready to use them- not in transport and on store shelves too, so they have much more flavor and none of the chemicals (or in some cases allergens).

I plan to try out a lot more this summer- peaches, carrots, apricots... basically anything I want to use up or can buy cheaply. Do you ever dry foods? What do you make and how?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Onion and chive cream cheese mix

Aside from pizza and toasted French bread with butter, bagels with cream cheese are my greatest carb-tastic addiction. I love making all sorts of flavored cream cheeses, especially...

Onion and chive cream cheese mix

2 teaspoons dried chives
1 teaspoon onion flakes
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

What else you'll need

1 package of plain cream cheese

Combine mix with cream cheese and stir well. Let it sit in the fridge for 20 minutes or more (if you can wait!!!) to let flavors mix.

Enjoy on bagels, crackers or chips!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Creamy sun dried tomato and basil penne mix

I've been on a big sun dried tomato kick lately. I used to think I hated them, but I think it was just some gross chemical they cure them with. Because I bought a big flat of gorgeous tomatoes at Costco recently and made my own sun dried tomatoes with them in the oven. They are amazing!

This pasta is another Sidekicks copycat...

Sun dried tomato and basil penne mix

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons powdered milk
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

What else you'll need

2 cups water
1 cup uncooked penne or other pasta
2 tablespoons butter

In a small saucepan combine mix with cold water and stir well then add pasta and butter.

Simmer on medium heat until pasta is tender and sauce thickens.

It's supposed to be a side dish but I ate the whole batch as a main course instead, it was that good!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Popcorn shrimp batter mix

My husband and I are working our way through season one of 'Big Bang Theory', an episode or two every night. Yes, we're THAT behind on the times. Once the kids are in bed we kick back in our new 'his and hers' recliners (best idea ever!) with some sort of treat and finally get to relax. On the nights that we're not feeling like something sweet, we've really been into popcorn shrimp- but I'm not into the fact that a bag that you pop in the oven is at least $10 and full of all sorts of chemical additives.

I recently learned you could buy massive bags of little shrimp at costco for $10 as well, about 4 times as much as those regular bags of popcorn shrimp from the grocery store. So I decided to mix it up and the results with fabulous!

Popcorn shrimp batter mix (single use)

3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

What else you'll need

1 pound cooked salad shrimp (the tiny ones)
2/3 cup ice cold beer (or in our case, root beer)
oil for frying

Pre-soak shrimp in ice water while you're assembling the batter, then drain and dry. Combine mix with beer (we don't drink, so we make our batter with root beer (or sometimes even gingerale, since we don't drink soda either but keep gingerale in the house for illness). Stir mixture until it's a thick batter, then stir in shrimp until evenly coated.

In a small frying pan filled with oil on medium high heat, spoon lumps of battered shrimp into the pan and fry it for a couple minutes until it starts to brown. Remove using a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel.

This will take several batches if you use a small pan (this will save you money as you don't have to use as much oil to submersed the shrimp). Serve hot with seafood sauce and enjoy!!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Play dough mix

This mix isn't food, but a very useful mix for parents to have in their cupboards.

They are always selling new play dough 'sets' for $20+ that basically include a couple of cans of dough and a few plastic doohickeys to shape it into various things. But I find that stuff such a waste of money- play dough is always getting left out to harden and mixed together to form disgusting new colors. The plastic doohickeys get old and broken fast.

I've been making my own play dough for a while now, and buying my daughter various plastic cookie cutters at the dollar store to mix things up. She also likes making layer cakes using different sized cups to cut the pieces and decorating them with unlit birthday candles.

Homemade play dough is awesome- it's softer, it smells better and it's REALLY cheap to make. The problem is that most recipes make a BOATLOAD. But, play dough is better in smaller amounts because it's a lot less wasteful when it gets left out over night and turns into a giant rock. I figured if I could keep cake mix in the cupboard to whip up at a moment's notice I could do the same with play dough!

Play dough mix (big batch- makes 4x2 containers)

4 cups flour
2 cups salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar

I store it in a flour container and it half fills it. So a double batch would fill it right up, although that's a LOT of play dough!

What else you'll need

1 cup water
1 tablespoon oil
food coloring

Combine 1 1/2 cups of mix with water and oil in a small saucepan and stir well. 'Cook' on medium heat, stirring vigorously with a spatula until it starts to thicken.

Let it cool and then knead into a ball.

Divide into 2 small containers and add 8 drops of food coloring of your choice to each, then knead until the color is uniform.

An inexpensive gift under $5 would be to make the 6 colors of the rainbow in little dollar store containers and add on a package of plastic cookie cutters. (Plastic rolling pins and pizza cutters also make nice additions).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Roasted Red Pepper Cream Cheese Seasoning Mix

Well I survived the week and am almost better, although my house was completely trashed in the meantime and we have almost no food left here. I can finally buy groceries today!

One thing we did have here was plain cream cheese, due to a massive sale on plain cream cheese a while back. We also have dried sweet red peppers- those were also on sale, and I dried some in my oven when I didn't have enough time to use them all fresh. They were perfect to use in...

Roasted Red Pepper Cream Cheese Seasoning Mix

1 tablespoon dehydrated red peppers
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine mix with 250 grams (8 oz) of plain cream cheese (I regular sized package) and let sit in the fridge for at least 20 minutes to let the flavors meld.

I like my cream cheese on toasted bagels... this one didn't last very long at all!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Blackened Seasoning Mix

I am just getting over the flu. Who gets the flu in May? What a waste of beautiful weather!

I didn't make it grocery shopping this week so we are still eating from our freezer. Aside from all the ground beef, we also have a giant bag of frozen sole I bought at Costco, so I wanted a new way to cook it. I looked around and came up with...

Blackened Seasoning Mix

2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon- 2 teaspoons cayenne (1/4 for super mild-feed-to-your-kids, 2 for super spicy or anything in between)

I put mine in a dollar store spice jar with a shaker top. A double batch would probably fill the jar.

Blackened seasoning is good on chicken or fish, but I had fish to use up so that's what I made. I'll probably use the rest of the jar on some chicken later this week.

I coated the fish in melted butter, sprinkled on the seasoning on both sides and then pan fried it.

I served it with homemade fries and steamed broccoli. It was perfect!