A Collection of helpful hints for the Frugal Kitchen that cooks good food!

Sixteen short articles about various things related to the recipes in this cookbook, explains some terms, suggests some alternatives, a bit or two of advice.

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Make your own cream of whatever soup mix

A Greased and Floured Pan?

Bouillon, Broth, and Stock

Convenience Store Traps!

Freezing Breads and Rolls

Freezing Casseroles

Fun Vegetarian Variations

How to make clarified butter

Margarine, Shortening, Oil

Powdered Milk vs. Liquid Milk

Salt, Fat, Sugar

Storing hard cheese without refrigeration

Theory of Casseroles

Three Steps to Managing Your Food Budget

What to do with Bacon Ends and Pieces?



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Three Steps to Managing Your Food Budget

Understand the tricks that advertisers use to convince you that their brand names are better than the foods you make yourself. Beware of the marketing games that say, "Buy Brand X, your troubles will be over." Learn how to identify a goal; plan the steps you need to take to achieve that goal.

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Bouillon, Broth, and Stock

These ingredients may be substituted for each other. "Broth" and "stock" tend to refer to the same thing, water that has had vegetables, or beef, or chicken (or all three) stewed in it so it is flavored. If you don't have stock on hand, add bouillon to water. If you need one cup stock, use one cup water plus bouillon. Stock keeps well in the refrigerator and you can add to it as you get extra stuff from your cooking. For example, if you use a can of corn, and don't need the liquid for that recipe, add it to your stock in the refrigerator. Stock can also be frozen. One handy way is to freeze it in ice cube trays, and then use the "stock cubes" like bouillon. After they've frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer bag or container.

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Powdered Milk versus Liquid Milk

Oh, the kids do whine don't they? "I don't like powdered milk." But they will never know if you cook with it. Any time you see "milk" in a recipe, you can substitute powdered milk. You can either mix it with water and add it as liquid, or you can add the dry milk with the dry ingredients and then add the appropriate amount of water. The basic rule of thumb is 1/3 cup powdered milk plus 1 cup water equals 1 cup of milk. For a richer milk, add ½ to 2/3 cup powdered milk per cup of water. For milk the consistency of evaporated milk (an ingredient you sometimes find in recipes), add one cup powdered milk to one cup water. Use powdered milk when making up mixes, and save yourself one more step in the cooking process. When making gravy or sauces, reconstitute the milk and then add to the flour and fat.

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The Theory of Casseroles

Meat, chicken, cheese, beans, or fish Vegetables
Eggs, soup, sauce, gravy, crumbs Seasonings, spices
Rice, corn meal, macaroni, noodles, potatoes Biscuit dough, pastry, crumbs

NO doubt about it. Casseroles are one of your most economical meals. They taste good too! These six categories of ingredients indicate the main parts of a casserole main dish.

First you have the meat (or other protein), then you add some vegetables, then you add something like rice or pasta or potatoes to fill up the dish. These ingredients are held together by some kind of creamy liquid or gravy. Often the casserole is topped with dough, pastry, or some kind of a crumb crust (such as crumbled crackers mixed with melted margarine). The seasonings and spices support the flavors you are combining. A casserole is a good choice for thrifty cooks. Yum factor is very high. Thrift factor is excellent. Casseroles can be made ahead of time and frozen for reheating later, thus saving time. If you're making one, you might as well make two and freeze one for later.

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Salt, Fat, and Sugar

Truly, these are yummy. Sigh, all too often, they are too much of a good thing. When you examine a recipe, consider how much sugar and fat it's got. You can almost always cut the fat and sugar down from most recipes. Make it "full strength" the first time, and then the second time, cut out (for example) half of the fat and half of the sugar. If the taste factor is seriously diminished, the next time you make it, cut out only one-fourth of the fat and sugar. See if it tastes better. Chances are, it may taste fine with half of what the recipe calls for (there are exceptions, like pie crust). Recipes with only a small amount of fat (say 1 or 2 tablespoons) may be hard to cut because a certain amount of fat may be necessary to make (for example) a sauce or gravy. In regards to salt, use less salt in cooking and allow people to add salt to their personal taste. Don't be afraid to experiment! And remember, one advantage of cooking your own food is that you have control over how much sugar and salt and fat that you add. The factory foods come packaged with all kinds of hidden fats and sugars and salts. Make it yourself and you re the one that is in control.

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Fun Vegetarian Variations

For those looking for a more vegetarian diet (less or no meat), look at the recipes with meat and then imagine them with beans instead of hamburger, or chopped and shredded zucchini, yellow squash, and/or carrots. Use vegetable stock in place of beef or chicken stock. Combine beans and grains in sauces and see what happens.

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Convenience Store Traps!

Just how much convenience do you really need? This is something to think about. Convenience can get pretty expensive. Suppose you go to a convenience store every day. You buy a pack of cigarettes, a super gigantic size soft drink, and some potato chips. Add it up -- cigarettes, $2.25, soft drink, 99 cents, chips or other snack, 89 cents, that's $4.03 plus 32 cents tax, your total is $4.35, thank you very much. Actually, your total is $130.50, which is what you are spending at the so-called convenience store every month. You could also say that your total is $1,566 which is what this one visit per day, every day, costs you for a year. "But I don't buy brand name cigarettes, I get the cheap ones." Ok, if the cigarettes are 99 cents, then we're still talking $2.98 a day, $89.40 a month, $1,087 a year. So think about your convenience store habit. With a little planning, you can have a soft drink and a treat every day, but without paying the high convenience store cost. You could probably use an extra thousand dollars every year. That's how much money you will make, every year, by kicking the convenience store habit.

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Freezing Breads and Rolls.

It is best to freeze breads and rolls after baking. Properly wrapped, they will be just as good after freezing as they were before. Cool the baked bread or rolls completely, then wrap and freeze immediately. For bread: thaw the bread in the original wrapper at room temperature (about 3 hours to thaw a 1 pound loaf of bread.) Slices of frozen bread can be toasted without thawing. Frozen rolls may be placed in a 275 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Bread and rolls properly wrapped may be frozen for up to 3 months. Bake biscuits according to recipe, cool, wrap and freeze immediately. Thaw at room temperature or warm in 275 degree oven.

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Margarine, Shortening, Oil

Cooks tend to substitute margarine, butter, shortening, or oil, depending on their personal preference and what they have on hand. Shortening is best for flaky pie crusts, greasing pans before baking, deep frying. Margarine works well in biscuits and for sauteing a few vegetables. Butter is tasty, but it is also high priced. Oil works anyplace margarine or shortening does. Recipes may call for one or the other, but use what you have on hand or are accustomed to using.

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What to do with bacon ends and pieces?

Chop 'em up into bits and then fry them. Use them as a base for gravy (make the gravy with the fried chopped bacon ends and pieces in the gravy). Add a few to hamburger to add extra flavor, use them (fried and grease drained) as a flavor enhancer in casseroles. Add to soups or beans.

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Freezing Casseroles

When cooking a casserole that you plan to freeze, under-cook it by about 10 minutes. If there is a crumb topping, do not put it on until ready to reheat for serving. Quickly cool the casserole to stop the cooking (you can set the covered pan in a larger pan of ice water.) To save on the number of casserole dishes you need, before putting the casserole into the dish, line it with aluminum foil. When frozen, lift foil out of dish, wrap to exclude all air, return to freezer until needed. When ready to reheat, put back into dish, with the aluminum foil for reheating (this also saves time in cleaning the dish afterwards). It doesn't have to be thawed before reheating. Casseroles can be stored for about three months.

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A Greased and Floured Pan?

Take a pan, and rub it with shortening (oil, margarine, or butter will work, but shortening is best for this job.) Shake a little flour in the pan, and then shake the flour around the pan, including the sides, so that the shortening is coated with flour. This helps your cake, bread, or dessert pop right out of the pan.

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Make your own Cream of Whatever Soup Mix.

2 cups powdered nonfat milk -- 3/4 cup cornstarch -- 1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon -- 2 tbsp dried onion flakes -- 1 tsp basil leaves, 1 tsp thyme leaves, ½ tsp pepper

Combine ingredients, stirring till evenly distributed. To substitute for 1 can of condensed cream of whatever soup, combine 1/3 cup of dry mix with 1-1/4 cups of cold water. Heat and stir until it thickens. Use as you would the canned product. Makes the equivalent of 9 cans of soup, at a cost of pennies per recipe. Mushroom: add ½ cup finely chopped mushrooms. Celery: add ½ cup minced celery. Potato: add 1 cup cooked diced potatoes. Chicken: add ½ cup cooked chicken. Vegetable: add 3/4 cup cooked vegetables. Broccoli: add 1 cup cooked chopped broccoli.

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How to make clarified butter

Clarified butter stores indefinitely without refrigeration (this is handy if the power gets cut off because of a storm, utility problem, lack of money to pay the bill, or y2k disruptions. It's also healthier, as clarifying the butter removes most of the cholesterol, but retains the delicious butter taste.

Melt the butter in a pan with a low heat and bring it to a slow boil. If any scum rises to the top, skim it off. Boil slowly (don't burn) until the white solids clump together on the bottom of the pan. The butter oil will be clear and golden. Skim off the butter oil into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. You can collect the remaining oil and solids in the bottom of the pan, and strain it through cheesecloth or coffee filters, to collect the last of the oil. The solids are then discarded (or fed to animals). Lard can also be clarified by this method, and loses most of its cholesterol while retaining its taste.

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Storing hard cheeses without refrigeration

Hard cheeses (such as cheddar, mozzarella, jack) can be stored without refrigeration. (Remember that cheesemaking began as a way to preserve dairy products long before there was refrigeration.) It only works with hard cheeses, soft and processed cheeses must be refrigerated.

Dip the cheese into a salt water solution (salty enough that an egg floats), and place it on a rack to dry. On the next day, thoroughly rub the cheese with salt. Do this again on the 3rd day. By this time, a rind should be developing on the cheese. Melt wax in a double boiler (a pan inside another pan with water in the outer pan) and dip the cheese in it, and set it aside to cool on a rack. When the first layer is dry, add a second layer. Wrap it in cheesecloth and continue to apply layers of wax until it is smooth and shiny and entirely encased in several layers of wax. If you don't have cheese cloth, add a couple extra layers of wax. If mold develops, just cut off the mold and eat the rest.

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Oral rehydration solution

In the event of severe diarrhea and dysentery, or loss of fluids due to excessive heat, you need to know how to make an oral rehydration solution (common store names for oral rehydration solutions are Gatorade and Pedialyte).

Combine ½ tsp salt and 8 heaping tsp (or 2 handfuls) of powdered cereal and dissolve in 1 liter of boiled and cooled water. Powdered rice is best, but corn meal or wheat flour or cooked and mashed potatoes can also be used. Boil this mixture for 5 to 7 minutes to form a watery porridge. Cool quickly and give to the sick person. Give the dehydrated person sips of this drink every five minutes, until he or she begins to urinate normally. Keep giving the oral rehydration drink often in small sips, even if the person vomits. Not all of the drink will be vomited. When using, make it frequently, especially in warm weather. Without refrigeration, it can spoil in a few hours. (Source: Where There Is No Doctor, David Werner)