Last issue we talked about some things you can do to stretch your food budget and make great use of every bit of food you buy. This article is full of convenience foods you can make yourself and keep on hand to make your life easier.
When I look at the things that are available in the stores to make cooking simpler and quicker, I see boxes and boxes of mixes filled with fat and sodium and devoid of vitamins and nutrients. When I look at the ingredient list, I see all kinds of words I can't pronounce. Then I look at the price yikes!
So I've slowly been replacing the purchased mixes we use in our kitchen with homemade versions, and I've discovered that not only are the homemade versions tastier, they're cheaper. And because I'm in control of what exactly goes into them, I can at least control which unpronounceable ingredients I include.
Some of the ingredients called for in homemade mixes tend to make people cringe (powdered milk and bouillon granules, for instance). As an advocate of healthy eating, I sympathize, however the plain fact is that if you are struggling to put food on the table, whether due to financial strains or time constraints, these mixes will make it possible to feed everybody pretty well with minimal cost or effort at meal time. When making mixes at home, your final product will still be better for you and your family than something you could buy pre-made.
Sure, it takes time to assemble the mixes, and at first you will have to invest in some items that you haven't been keeping on hand, but in the end the total cost per individual mix will be so low that it won't be worth it to go back to the purchased mixes.
Tip: Don't try to replace everything at once. Just make note when you are running low on a mix that you normally keep, and plan to stock up on ingredients for making it yourself on your next shopping trip. This way you will only have to buy a few things at a time, and you'll only have to arrange for appropriate containment a bit at a time.
There are so many different recipes for various pantry mixes that you'll need to try a few to find which ones you like best. The following are ones I like, but you can certainly tweak them to suit your needs.
Baking mix: I use a recipe from Hillbilly Housewife, which can be adapted for several different kinds of flour.
For all-purpose flour:
9 cups flour
1½ Tbsp. salt
¼ cup baking powder
2 cups solid vegetable shortening
For self-rising flour (which already has salt and baking powder in it):
10 cups flour
2 cups solid vegetable shortening
Either recipe will yield the same results; just use the one that best suits your ingredients.
Mix all dry ingredients first in a large bowl. Measure the shortening by packing it down and leveling the top with your finger or a kitchen knife. Add shortening to the flour mixture, then cut or knead the shortening into the flour. Mix until the texture is like lumpy cornmeal.
Store in a tightly-sealed canister or jar. Makes 11-12 cups of baking mix that you can use anywhere Bisquick is called for.
When making a baking mix, I prefer to use vegetable shortening because it doesn't have to be refrigerated.
One of my favorite ways to use this mix is to make tortillas. Simply combine one part water with four parts baking mix, knead until smooth, then tear off golf-ball sized pieces and roll them out thin on a floured surface. Toast the tortillas in a dry skillet for a few minutes until they are speckled brown. These store well in the freezer, but put pieces of waxed paper between them or they will stick together when they thaw.
Universal muffin mix: You'll find a variety of delicious muffins made with this mix at GroupRecipes. Here's the basic mix recipe.
18 cups flour
5 cups sugar
2¼ cups dry buttermilk or nonfat dry milk powder
6 Tbsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. salt
2-3 Tbsp. ground cinnamon (to taste)
2-3 tsp. ground nutmeg (to taste)
Combine all ingredients and store in a jar or canister in a cool, dry place.
To make 24 regular-sized muffins preheat oven to 400° F. Coat muffin tins with cooking spray. In a large bowl beat 3-4 eggs, 3 tsp. vanilla, 2 cups water, and up to 1 cup of oil or butter. Stir in 5½ cups muffin mix and any additional ingredients (2 cups of fresh fruit, shredded vegetables, nuts, or flavored chips) just until moistened. The batter should be lumpy. Fill muffin tins and bake 18-20 minutes.
This is the only sweet-bread muffin mix I use now. Husband Rudi and daughter Ella particularly like the banana muffins made from this mix and I love lemon-poppy seed.
Muffins made from this mix also freeze well. Put them on a cookie sheet and let them freeze until the outside is frosty first. That way when you put them in a storage bag they won't stick together.
Pizza dough: Okay, this isn't really a make-ahead mix, but you can make a double batch and stash the second lump of dough in the freezer.
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115° F)
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2½ cups flour
Dissolve yeast in water. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix. Dump onto a floured surface. Knead into a smooth dough (about five minutes), then roll out and press onto a greased pizza pan. Add your toppings then bake at 450° F for 12-15 minutes until the crust looks crispy and lightly browned.
For toppings, start a bag of leftover bits of this and that. Just label the bag and stash it with the dough in the freezer. When you find cheese on sale, shred enough for a pizza and put it in the bag, too!
Cream of anything soup mix: Here's another one from Hillbilly Housewife.
4 cups powdered milk
1½ cup cornstarch
½ cup instant chicken or vegetable bouillon granules
4 tsp. dried onion flakes
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp dried basil, crushed
1 tsp. pepper
Measure all ingredients, mix together, and pour into an airtight container.
To use this, combine 1/3 cup of the mix with 1 cup of water. Heat at medium-low heat in a small saucepan until it starts to thicken. This will make the same amount as one can of soup.
Our family loves this so much more than the stuff from the store. Using the low-sodium bouillon makes it even healthier than the canned stuff. If you prefer, you can leave out the bouillon and replace it with your own homemade broth when you make the soup. It's also great for using in things like chicken casserole or green bean casserole.
Onion soup mix:
This one is also from Hillbilly Housewife.
¾ cup instant minced onion
1/3 cup beef bouillon powder
4 tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. crushed celery seed
¼ tsp. sugar
Combine and store in an airtight container. Five tablespoons of the mix equals one package of store-bought onion soup mix.
This is another mix in which you can leave out the bouillon and instead add broth while you're cooking. I use this mix a lot in the crock pot, and it makes a great onion dip when stirred into some sour cream or plain yogurt.
Breading mix: I live in the south. Breading things is how we roll. This mix also makes a great addition to meatloaf or salmon patties. I have been known to cheat on the seasonings and just use an equivalent amount of Old Bay seasoning because I love that stuff.
2 cups bread crumbs
¼ cup flour
3 Tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. onion powder
4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground oregano
½ tsp. ground red pepper
½ tsp. garlic powder
Mix all ingredients and store in a sealed container.
To cook one chicken, cut up the bird and shake the pieces with about 2/3 of a cup of the breading mix in a plastic bag. Arrange on a baking sheet and cook in 400º F oven for 50 minutes or until the juices from the chicken run clear when pierced with a knife.
You can switch up the seasonings to suit your own tastes. I like the paprika and red pepper for the color and spiciness.
Taco seasoning: Taste of Home (tasteofhome.com) has a great taco seasoning recipe that is tasty on ground beef or chicken. It also works great to season beans for burritos. You can even mix it into plain yogurt to make a tasty dip!
8 tsp. dried minced onion
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Combine ingredients well in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container. Yields six tablespoons, so you might want to double or triple the recipe for storage.
I usually use this for making chili, too, with the addition of my double-secret chili awesome-ifying ingredients: a heaping tablespoon of cinnamon powder and just a little unsweetened cocoa.
Ranch dressing mix: The Anti-Housewife has a great recipe for this. This mix works equally well for salad dressing, veggie dip, and as a delicious dressing for wrap sandwiches.
½ cup dried parsley
2 Tbsp. dried minced garlic
2 Tbsp. dried minced onion
1 Tbsp. dried dill weed
¼ cup onion powder
¼ cup garlic powder
1 Tbsp. salt (or less, to taste)
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. red chili flakes
Pulse the parsley, garlic, and onion in a food processor. Add the other ingredients and continue processing in pulses. Store in a jar or canister.
To turn it into dressing, mix 1 tablespoon of mix with 1½ cups mayonnaise and ¾ cup cultured buttermilk. Whisk all ingredients together.
Hot cocoa mix: I always have this on hand during December, and I'm on standby to make it whenever our family watches The Polar Express.
4 cups instant nonfat dry milk
1½ to 2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 package of instant store-bought chocolate OR vanilla pudding mix (optional, but a tasty addition)
Whisk all ingredients together, then store in a canister or jar. Kids will like it with the full two cups of sugar. Grown-ups might like the addition of ¼ cup of instant coffee.
To turn it from mere mix into a steaming beverage to warm body and soul, place 1/3 cup of the mix in a mug, add boiling water, stir, and serve. Sometimes I dress this up by putting in a few chocolate chips or using a peppermint stick to stir it.
Russian tea mix: Ok, this is completely unhealthy and has all kinds of junk in it, but I love it. It reminds me of childhood and makes me feel like an astronaut. It also makes a great warm punch for big gatherings.
½ cup instant tea powder
2 cups Tang or other orange-flavored drink mix
3 oz. lemonade-flavor drink powder
¾ cup white sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground cloves
Mix all ingredients. Store in a jar or canister.
To prepare, just spoon two or three rounded teaspoons into a mug and add boiling water.
And there you have it. These are my basics. You'll know what your own basics are by looking in your pantry. There are so many mixes you can make at home that you will have plenty to keep you busy on these long winter nights.
Next issue, I'll show you some of the ways I store our foods and show you why the vacuum sealer is my new best friend.
Rowena Aldridge is a former professional ballerina who now spends her days homeschooling and homemaking. She is a certified educator in a number of old-school domestic skills, but her real passion is empowering others to go out and conquer the world on their own terms.
Learn more about her classes and other projects at www.romesticity.com
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