Monday, January 25, 2016

Making Cheese. From Scratch. With Things In Your Kitchen.

A few times during the last challenge I experimented with making cheese out of milk on the ragged edge.  Since then I have done a little more experimenting, and here are my results.

Ingredients: Old milk, vinegar, salt.

I used whole milk and waited until it had expired by 8 days, never having opened it.  I had previously used partial gallons that were near spoilage, but in this case I wanted to determine the yield on 1 gallon to accurately calculate the yield.

For 1 gallon of milk, add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar.  Add salt too, I don't know how much becuase I didn't add enough.

Put it in a pot. Stir it for a while.  No, just keep stirring.  I promise it will eventually turn into cheese.

See? There it is getting all clumpy.  When the background fluid (the whey) looks pretty clear you're done stirring.

Now dump it into a collander lined with cheese cloth.  drain as much whey off as you can.

Tie the bundle, cover it with a plate and put a weight on top.  I used a pizza tray with holes in the bottom and my SFS Hammer of Victory as the weight. 

A few hours later (I think I left it for 2 or 3) you have a very crumbly cheese.  Yield on 1 gallon of whole milk was about 17oz. 

Sure, you could age it for weeks in optimal conditions, or you could just build a smoker and chuck it in.  I had previously smoked some queso fresco I bought in the store and knew it would work well.

Raw cheese goes in 

Smoked cheese comes out.

It should have come out better but it was 20 degrees out with a driving wind when I put the smoker outside, and the chamber was a little too cool to melt it consistently.  I ended up

How does it taste? Not salty enough.  I think I only added a few tablespoons to the gallon so if you're trying yourself go from there.

Was it a good value?  No.  Shopping at the store the other day, 8oz blocks of cheese were on sale for $1.69.  The milk was $2.89/gal and yielded about a pound, so that 's 49c for the labor, fuel, and cheese cloth.  I would do this again with milk about to expire or to say I made cheese but not because of the savings over store bought product.

Oh, and here's a video of the pot close to the end.  Riveting, I know!


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Apples are IN!!!

A family friend has an orchard.  He invites us to come and pick apples for free every year.  Mom, Carolyn and I went apple picking on Monday morning.  Carolyn and I picked from one tree and didn't even put a dent in the amount of apples still on the tree.  There were SO many apples that some of the branches were almost reaching the ground.  We didn't pick for a real long time as I had to go to work. We'll probably go back on Sunday for more!!!  I LOVE applesauce.  That's a good thing because I made and traded so much for the last challenge that the rest of the challenge participants are tired of applesauce.  More for ME!!!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Is anybody out there?  Too bad we are not involved in the challenge now.  I got my first harvest of beans (both purple and green-see picture), tomatoes and pea pods.  I have tons of garlic, onions, leeks, eggplant, celery, lots more tomatoes, beans, squash and plenty of herbs still to come.  Oh, I forgot about the numerous tomatillo plants that seem to come from nowhere every year.  Lots of sage, mint, basil, lavender, and sorrel as well.  Unfortunately, the robins eat most of the strawberries as soon as they show signs of getting red.  The pear tree is loaded with pears as well.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Final Tally, Final Notes

$365.01.  That's $4.10 per day, $2.05 per person per day.  Translating lunches we give to those who do work for us into per diems, it would bring the average to about $1.75.

If we started again (which I am not going to do) I am confident that $50 per person per month is possible.  I learned a lot, made a few mistake purchases (why did I spend $1 on frozen spinach when there is a can of spinach here!  Why did I pay $1.99 for a 2-liter, ever?  The list goes on...)

I realize this blog has not been very interesting to follow during this challenge.  It was not a romantic challenge like the previous two.  It did not harken back to a time long forgotten when we used sticks to hunt game. This challenge was about being poor, but being smart about being poor.

Restaurants, particularly fast food, offer food that is cheap and convenient.  It is really bad for you.  You don't know until you spend the time eating quality food for a few months that you come to realize this.  For less money you can create a higher quality of food in that room next to the dining room, the kitchen.  The dining room, by the way, is the one with the big table and all the bills stacked on it.  You can pay those bills by saving money on food!

Here is my very practical advice to you, if you are trying to save money on food.

1) Find websites for the stores around you.  You're obviously capable of getting on the internet, or else you wouldn't be reading this blog.   In our area we have a local chain called Apples, a regional chain called Marc's, a Save-A-Lot, several Dollar General and Family Dollar stores, and a GFS.  There are other stores nearby as well, I don't shop there are their food carries premiums.  All of these stores publish their circulars on line.  I bookmarked them on my phone, so I just check them all once I made my list.

2) Pay attention to who stocks your needs, cheapest.  I don't super coupon, I don't even regular coupon.  I still managed a $60 person/month budget.  We drink a lot of soda, for example.  We decided per fluid ounce 2-liters would be far more economical.  At $1.99 for a 2-liter (a fairly common price point here) you would basically get four and a half free cans over buying $6 12-packs.  I wish, in retrospect, that I had bought all of the Sunkist the Dollar General had at $.88/2-liter a few weeks ago!

3) Never buy boneless skinless anything.  Chicken is an excellent meat source.  One local store often carries it for $.49/lb, another $.59/lb, and another $.69/lb.  They usually come in 5lb o 10lb bags, sometimes frozen, sometimes fresh.  Get over the idea that white meat tastes better, it doesn't if you prepare it correctly.  And all that bone and skin? The bones make the best soup stock you ever had, and the skin fries up delicious.  I will in the future post my recipe for soup.

4) Stock up on things when they are cheap, but only if you will use them or they store well.  Milk always spoils in our refrigerator.  Always.  Cheese holds up for a lot longer, and so does sour cream.  Cheese has the added bonus of being freezable.  Once you're at this a bit you will be better able to anticipate your needs and how long supplies will last you. Potatoes, for example, are used in heavy rotation here.  I was looking at the sales flyers for my shopping trip tomorrow (as I am in the habit now) and I am struggling because I cannot find what I consider a good enough deal on potatoes!  Buy small amounts of the very perishables as you need them, and wait to purchase more rugged goods until they are on sale.

5) Keep track of your money.  Budgeting is a practical skill that not enough people employ.  Whatever your allowance is, just write it down and then map out how to use it most effectively.  If you do the math there in the store (bring a calculator if it doesn't happen in your head) you can figure out by the pound or by the ounce what is cheapest (or, if you've looked at the circulars like I suggested in #1, you'll already know going in.)

6) STOP GOING OUT.  As mentioned we went out to visit with a friend last week, and went to a local tavern.  We had dinner beforehand to reduce our expense.  It still cost $17, for 4 drinks!  Even the most premium of delicious beers, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel, is only $12.99 for 4 drinks at the store.  Using my extreme price comparing skills, I could buy 4-16oz 6-packs of Molson Ice and a 24oz Honey Brown (yes, I even price shopped the most cost-effective beers, and that comes out to 2-1/8 gallons.)  Even not on the subject of beer, dining out is expensive, and the food is usually of a middling quality.  Cooking is labor intensive, without a doubt. You'll find a sharp increase in quality and an equally sharp decrease in expense.

As a closing note, on February 5th I had a doctor's appointment.  Just a routine appointment, nothing of interest.  I weighed 217-3/4lbs when I went in there.  After 3 months, never being hungry, simply shopping thrifty and cooking our meals, I am 8lbs lighter today.  Jessica has lost over 20lbs, and had to go buy new pants because she can take her old ones off without unbuttoning them. Though we aren't going to keep to such a shoestring budget, we are going to continue to eat like this.  This challenge took a long enough time to change our fundamental habits and not just feel like a crash diet.

I shall see you all in perhaps a week, when I will share some of my cooking knowledge with you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

March On

In March, I started with a plan to find an inexpensive staple and incorporate it into as many meals as possible. Having really enjoyed the sweet potato and kale hash in February, I decided to load up on sweet potatoes and find various recipes. I think I started with about 6 lbs of sweet potatoes. By the time those were gone, I was starting to get sick of sweet potatoes so I scrapped that plan. March On!

Friday, April 25, 2014

No Celebration for an Early Victory

We had family dinner last night.  As i suspected, everyone confirmed that they have already given up on the challenge, declaring me the victor.  Sharon said she was spending $115 per week in February and knew she wouldn't compete.  Everyone else gave a concurrent view, that they didn't think they would win so they stopped keeping track.

I myself have gone over my original intended budget.  My goal was roughly $303 for the 89 days of this challenge.  As of last Tuesday we were at $299.67, and I had work to do off-site.  I can't cook if I'm not at the building, so I bought enough for lunch and to rejuvenate some of our depleted supplies.  I spent about $17.  I went shopping this Tuesday again as I was going to be out for the evening and once again we were running low on several things.  I spent another $24.  So we are in the ballpark of $340 now.

Despite the surrender of all opponents I will press on for these last 5 days of the challenge.  It seems silly to come so far and give up.  I plan to continue to spend as little as possible, though we will likely go out this evening to visit with a close friend who is going through a hard time.

If we started this challenge over, I do believe I could make 3 months on $300.  there were a few mistake purchases and a few stumbles along the way.  We have had a lot of actual work so I was not able to make my 'earn the money' goal either, though I also believe if pressed into hardship I could make enough money to feed us.

As for this blog, I will update it on May 1st to let you all know what our final tally was.  As it stands, and counting all the meals we shared with others, our cost per person per day looks like it will average to about $1.75 over the 3 months.

Beyond that, I plan to put up a series of posts (or if I get really ambitious, videos!) of the most economical meals I prepared over the course of this, our third and final food challenge.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

End of March Notes

2 more weeks have passed since posting about our expenses, and my overbuy has paid off pretty well so far.  I didn't go shopping at all the week after my last post, but the wife and I shared a gyro from the restaurant next door - $4.35, though I found a dime on the ground just outside so it only cost $4.25.  I went shopping this week and spent $5.90 on a few essentials, including the first jug of milk I've bought since the challenge started.  It expires on may 6th, it seems almost wasteful to even buy something with such a short shelf life.  I did buy whole milk so that it would keep a little longer.  There is still a bit of sour cream and a whole lot of cheese I bought week 1, and it is all still fine. This brings our total spent to $274.03 out of $302.78, with 4 more shopping Thursdays to go.  I might spend $9.53 for the next 3 weeks and then try to 'power through' that final week on what we have left instead of $7.18 each week.

Why $302.78?  Well, let me mention that when I set my $300 for 3 months goal, I had a second part to that goal.  In addition to spending only $300, I wanted to earn that amount through atypical means.  I had a few ideas to start with - one was selling pierogies I made with challenge funds.  Another was gathering discarded things left at auctions or thrown in their dumpsters.  The third was patrolling the streets for scrap metal.

On the way to pick up one of our workers a few weeks ago I saw a stove on the curb. When he got in the car I told him if it was there when we went past again we'd go get the van and grab it.  It was there, so we swapped vehicles.  By the time we got back it was gone.  A dishwasher was in its place.  I had a parlay with the guys cleaning the house out, which had suffered from a fire recently.  I asked if they had any more appliances and they said they had 2 fridges and a freezer.  I told a friend of ours who scraps a lot and knows a place that takes refrigerators and recovers the freon from them.  Long story short, I found 97 pennies on the front porch, and earned $20 from scrap.  I still have the dishwasher to take to the scrap yard along with a few auction gatherings.

While hanging drywall at my mom's house this week, I spotted a large pile of trash on her street.  The people were still carting stuff out there.  I spied a great looking globe with stand I plan to sell, though I do have to make a small repair part.  It is missing a pin that holds one of the axis in place.I hope to make a big chunk towards the $300 earnings goal.

The 97 pennies combined with the $1.81 my sister gave me on my birthday, which was part of her 'change I found' stash, brings to total to $2.78, the overage I plan to spend per the challenge rules.

2 more notes - Todd came over last weekend with 6 roosters.  He had won 10 chicks at a fair last year and ended up with mostly males.  We spent the afternoon slaughtering and preparing them.  If you want details just ask, I don't mind sharing.  Suffice to say, it was far less gruesome than you'd imagine.  If you've ever gone fishing and actually ate the fish, those creatures probably go through a lot more suffering than Todd's poultry did.  he gave me one for helping him out.

Finally, I sugared another batch of sap from the boxelder.  There was 3 gallons of sap and I yielded 11oz of sugar.  This was a little lower yield than the previous batch but still better than the sugar maples by better than an ounce per gallon.