Cooking Therapy: Jam-Filled Muffins

Cooking TherapyY’all, do you ever just have one of those days?

Today was one for me. It started out with bad news and got even worse. What with work and the extra stuff going on in my life, I was stressed, frustrated, and beyond annoyed.

I needed something practical, something helpful for my hands and mind. So I got to baking!

Does anyone else use baking as therapy? Sometimes it is the only thing that will calm my mind and improve my mood. There’s just something about deciding on a recipe to make, gathering the ingredients, and then baking it all up.

Oh, and don’t forget surprising your family with something yummy!

Anyway, a few weeks back my husband bought some jam for us as a treat. It was a locally made wild blackberry jam. It has a tart yet sweet taste, just perfect to spread on toast. But what about baked in a muffin? A tiny bit of searching, and I found this recipe.

As I didn’t have much time to get the recipe mixed up before my next shift, I loved the fact that you could mix the batter by hand. And better yet, I had all of the ingredients in my pantry! So very frugal and easy for me.

Just a few (very minor) changes:

  1. I used coconut oil in place of the vegetable oil in the recipe.
  2. I filled each muffin tin about 1/3 with batter, put in the jam, and then topped it with more batter.
  3. Using only about 2 Tbsp of butter for the topping, I melted it in the microwave and poured it over the finished muffins. I then gave each muffin a generous sprinkling of the cinnamon sugar mixture. It was just easier (and quicker) for me to do it this way.

Although nothing in my life had changed by the time the muffins were out of the oven, my viewpoint had shifted a bit toward the positive. I had done something helpful and baked a treat that my husband would appreciate.

Cheap and frugal therapy, right?

 

The Importance of a Full Pantry and a Good Attitude

Full Pantry and Good AttitudeDo you ever just wake up overwhelmed? I do.

The first thought on my mind this morning was not one of gratitude, but rather, “I have SO much to do!” And instead of taking a moment to re-focus, I proceeded with my day, hurrying and grumbling about what lay ahead.

After a few hours of work and over an hour of house cleaning, I was tired. And grumbling. And well, more and more overwhelmed.

Then it hit me. We had nothing for lunch.

I was tempted to order takeout in that moment and continue my grumbling, but I stopped and thought about something I had read in Deliver Me from Negative Self-Talk Expanded Edition: A Guide to Speaking Faith-Filled Words. Paraphrasing, of course, but the author says at one point in the book that we often miss the blessings in front of us when we’re wishing for something else.

(The above link is not an affiliate link. I’m just a happy reader wanting to pass along a good read.)

I stopped and looked around, thinking about the blessings all around me. And my mood shifted to more of a can-do attitude.

So I looked through the pantry and found a package of red pepper corn chowder from Frontier Soups. Once that was one the stovetop, I began mixing up some quick biscuits. Those went in the oven, and lunch was in the works.

I felt better and grateful. And when my husband came up the stairs and said “Wooo! It smells great up here!” I felt happy.

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.  —Isaiah 40:31

Hey! How are you? Just thought I’d wave hello!

 

 

Spicy Slow Cooker Soup

Spicy Slow Cooker SoupIt was a super-busy holiday season with gifts and work and family and get-togethers and baking and fun. The post holiday season let-down has been rather relaxing, though, and the leftover party food has provided us with many days of meals.

But the party’s over, and with my work hours greatly diminished, I need to cook frugally.

Onward, brave housekeepers! To the slow cooker!

Today was a somewhat slow day workwise, so I had some time to throw together a spicy soup, all with ingredients from our kitchen.

Here’s the basics for the soup. Feel free to take this as inspiration and change according to your own tastes or what you have on hand. Frugal cooking isn’t frugal if you have to go out and buy ingredients, right?

Just a fair warning, this turned out quite spicy.

Spicy Slow Cooker Soup

  1. Cook bacon and save the grease to use later.
  2. Bake chicken tenderloins, cutting into small pieces.
  3. Once the chicken is cooked, throw in a good helping of sliced peppers and onions. Add some heaping tablespoons of bacon grease and ghee.
  4. Spice the chicken, peppers, and onions with habanero-infused salt, cumin, herbs and spices blend, onion powder, and chipotle seasoning.
  5. Stick the dish with the chicken, peppers, and onions back in the oven to cook a bit more. Take it out when the peppers and onions are cooked, and everything  is smelling great.
  6. Add to the slow cooker a drained can of pinto beans, a can of Ro-Tel, crumbled bacon, and a can of regular diced tomatoes. Stir in the chicken and pepper mix.
  7. Cook on low for the day. Enjoy!

Hubby seemed to love this soup! He went back for seconds!

 

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Graham Cracker Toffee Crunch, or Overcoming Fears in the Kitchen

Graham Cracker Toffee CrunchDoes anyone else have those dishes that you just avoid making…

Mine would be anything related to homemade caramel or toffee. Yes, I have my own kitchen fears, those dishes that seem to loom larger than life, just taunting me with my own past mistakes.

Back when I was a teenager and fresh out of home-ec class, I decided to take upon myself the task of making dessert for a special dinner when my father’s boss would be visiting. Yes, indeed-y, I was determined and courageous.

I found this delectable recipe in a magazine that involved making homemade caramel, which was absolutely necessary for the recipe. My mother encouraged me to do a simpler dessert, but I wouldn’t listen. No sir, I was confident in my ability. So we gathered the ingredients, and I set to work about an hour before dinner was to begin.

You can probably guess how this turned out, right?

I burned everything. It was awful…I mean, awful. And living in a rural community, we couldn’t just run out to a grocery store or a bakery. My mother hurried to prepare something else while I stood dejected.

I suppose I learned several valuable lessons that day, but I also developed a fear of those sorts of dishes that would last quite awhile. I never wanted to smell that awful burnt smell again, so I just avoided making those dishes. A good plan, for awhile.

But lately, with the onset of middle age and just a ton of shake-ups in my personal life, I decided to give it a try again. I’d been seeing a recipe for Graham Cracker Toffee Crunch floating around the internet. As we had an unused box of graham crackers in our kitchen, I thought this would be a good time to face my fears.

To the kitchen! Honestly, it was pretty much all bravado. I felt more like the following quote from The Princess Bride:

Miracle Max: Have fun stormin’ da castle.

Valerie: Think it’ll work?

Miracle Max: It would take a miracle.

I was careful, very careful. And you know what? It turned out just fine. No awful burnt smell, no dejection. It was a quick and easy cooking experience, and it used up some old graham crackers, so frugal too.

Would I make it again? Yes, I sure would. I think it would make a quick and easy treat for the holidays. And we all need easy and yummy treats for the coming months, right?

Plus I can say that I made it, despite my fears. I stormed the castle of toffee and came out alive.

Helen Keller Sky Quote with link

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Making Cooking Cool: Induction Cooktop

Induction CooktopMy husband and I have tried various alternative cooking methods over the years. This was not only a search for useful techniques but also a way to stretch our own cooking skills.

For whatever reason–a broken oven, lack of electricity, or whatnot–our stove may not be available. Too, without a traditional summer kitchen, finding other ways to prepare meals in the summer without heating up the kitchen can save money. Definitely a win-win, all the way around.

Here are some cooking methods that we’ve tried:

  1. Solar oven
  2. Campfire
  3. Wonderbag
  4. Induction cooktop

And here’s one that I’m still considering: a Herc Oven. I would love to try this method but so far have not been able to justify the initial expense.

So with the heat of summer still lingering, I decided to purchase an induction cooktop. After doing a bit of research, I finally decided on this one. I won’t pretend to understand the science behind this cooking method, but I can tell you that it works. And best of all, it doesn’t heat up the room, so we can enjoy a hot meal without turning up the air conditioning.

Other than a cooler kitchen, one of the main benefits of using this cooktop is precise temperature control. Also, the time to do anything is lessened; you can boil a pot of water in just minutes. Seriously! Wondering about drawbacks? Well, you can’t use all cookware with this although you can purchase a heat diffuser that will allow you to do so.

We’ve mainly cooked with the skillet so far, but we’re eager to try cooking with a dutch oven and the like. Have you tried cooking on an induction cooktop? What are your thoughts?

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Cooking Disasters, or When Good Intentions Go Bad

CLast night, during a break from my online work, I had a bright idea. I would find a bread machine recipe and surprise my husband with some homemade sweet bread for snacking and breakfast. The machine would do all the work, and I would get all the credit. Sounds good, right?

Well, in theory, I suppose. After a bit of searching, I discovered a brown sugar and pecan bread that apparently worked well in one person’s bread machine. Excited, I threw the ingredients in our aged–and secondhand–bread machine and went back to work. I checked on the bread periodically and gradually became suspicious when there was no delicious bread smell. Still, I was optimistic.

When the machine beeped, I opened it up only to find that the outside of the bread was browned to perfection with the center soft and squishy. Great.

Tired after a day’s worth of work, I began to panic. Still, I was determined not to throw the disaster in the trash. I tossed the partially cooked loaf of bread in a large pan with some butter and stuck it all in the oven. I let the bread brown a bit and then cut it up as it cooked further. Realizing that there was no salvaging this as a regular bread, I decided to make a bread pudding for my husband.

After the bread bits were fully cooked and browned, I soaked it all in a mix of milk and half-and-half. After awhile, I poured a whisked mixture of eggs and sugar over it all. Everything got good and stirred, and then back in the oven it went for about an hour.

And you know what? It actually worked. My husband was pleasantly surprised with his treat. With a bit of ingenuity and desperation, I had managed to create something from a total cooking disaster. Frugal living can be a great thing!

 

Easy Cheesy Soup (In a Wonderbag)

easycheesysoupHaving worked late last night, I wasn’t much in the mood for a heavy day of cooking. Dinner had to be easy and simple, especially since I would be working shifts throughout the day as well.

Luckily, my husband had stocked up on Progresso Recipe Starters awhile back when our local grocery store had run a sale on them. We always stock up on sale goods, especially when they’re canned and shelf-stable items. And who doesn’t like to save money? Anyway, he chose a selection of the various flavors, and luckily we had one of the Creamy Three Cheese starters left in our pantry.

Although the old brain cells take a bit longer to come up with something at my age, I was able to put together an idea fairly quickly. Easy Cheesy Soup! Improvising my own recipe from an established one would have to be the way to go in this case as I definitely wouldn’t be running to the grocery store for a few items. I found a good basic recipe online and began from there.

Here’s what I put in the pot:

  1. 2 links of hot Italian sausage
  2. 1 can of Creamy Three Cheese recipe starter
  3. About 1/3 bag of frozen Mirepoix vegetable mix
  4. Couple of handfuls dehydrated green and red peppers
  5. Ghost pepper infused sea salt from The Spice Lab
  6. Habanero infused sea salt from The Spice Lab
  7. Assorted spices (chipotle, roasted herb mix, garlic powder, etc)

I first browned the sausage in a bit of coconut oil, adding the Mirepoix veggies after a bit. Spices went in next; I then threw in the peppers and soup. I returned everything to boiling and put the steaming pot in the Wonderbag. It sat on my counter for an hour or so until we were ready to eat.

The result? Yummy! We chopped up some cheese in our soup for a garnish, and it turned out cheesy and wonderful. I’ll definitely try this again. And the Wonderbag made it all easy and convenient even for my work schedule.

Dinner Is in the Bag!

dinnerwonderbagBe sure and check out my latest frugal improvisation for dinner in a Wonderbag!

Dinner Is in the Bag!

It was a tasty and easy meal! Plus, as it used up ingredients we already had on hand, very frugal. I’ve got tons of other articles on Bubblews, so be sure and check those out as well. You might find something useful on there!

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Krista Schnee on Bubblews

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Boiled Eggs in a Wonderbag

boiled eggs wonderbagSo, if you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen a recent tweet about my purchase of a Wonderbag. Although I covet very little these days, I must admit that I had been wanting one for quite awhile. Challenging myself to learn different cooking methods is kind of fun–perhaps I’m a bit odd that way–and so this looked to be right up my alley. I finally relented and bought one online.

When we first began our solar cooking journey, we jumped right in and began cooking full meals. While not disasters, the stews and soups didn’t always quite turn out. We then decided to go back to basics, learning to cooking single items, such as rice and eggs, to see how the solar oven performed and give us a better idea of the quirks involved with solar cooking. Having learned from those experiences, I decided to begin my Wonderbag journey with the easy stuff.

Waking up this morning, I thought, “Today is the day!” I would finally use my Wonderbag for the first time! Thinking about the food we currently had on hand, I decided to boil some eggs. With just a bit of searching, I found a guideline for doing this in the Wonderbag. It looked simple enough, so I began as the directions described, covering the eggs in water and bringing it all to a boil. After a quick period on the stove, the pot was boiling nicely and ready for the Wonderbag. In the bag it went, the whole kit-n-kaboodle sitting on my counter for about seven or so hours.

And the result? The eggs cooked perfectly. About the only difference from what was described in the guidelines was the ease of peeling of the eggs. The eggs were fully cooked, but they just didn’t peel very easily. I’ll admit that this might have been due to the quality or age of our eggs. After peeling one egg, I did put the rest in a bowl of cold water, which seemed to help significantly. However, I would say that this method is a success as it was easy–always a bonus!–and utilized very little gas for cooking.

My opinion of the Wonderbag so far? I have to say I’m a fan. This method of cooking would certainly be perfect for those days when cooking in the solar oven would not be possible, and it didn’t heat up my home during even a hot morning.

Do you have a Wonderbag? What are your experiences? Any favorite meals or recipes? Please share!

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