Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

This is round 2 for the Head to Head Brownie Challenge. The first batch of box mix and home made were taken to my sewing class, but both were bad. Really bad. I ended up throwing them away, and I’m a tightwad; I hate throwing stuff away! (I must tell you to avoid the Target brand brownie mix at all cost. They were terrible!)

Here’s my second attempt at home made brownies, compared to a Chocolate Walnut Brownie mix by Pillsbury.

The Recipe
Chocolate Walnut Brownies
Serves 12

  • 1 cup white sugar ($.16)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil ($.12)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder ($.55)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract ($.10)
  • 2 eggs ($.34)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour ($.06)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup walnut halves (optional, $.33)

Combine all ingredients and stir until well combined. Bake at 350 degrees F in a greased 8″x8″ pan for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

The Cost Breakdown:

The Pillsbury mix cost $2.89, plus 1/3 c. oil ($.08) and 1 egg ($.17), for a total cost $3.14 for 12 brownies, or $.26 per brownie.

The home made version costs $1.66 if made with walnuts, or $.14 per brownie. Without the walnuts, they’re just $.11 per brownie. That’s 45% less than the mix!

The Taste Test:

I had to redeem myself with my sewing class, so I took in both batches and they got to taste test for me again. The general consensus: store bought wins. I think it may be my recipe, or my lack of baking prowess, but my home made ones just didn’t have the chewy texture that you want in a brownie. The box mix had a more intense chocolate flavor and was sweeter; walnuts were plentiful in the box mix, but I thought they tasted a little off.

The home made version has a mellower flavor altogether. It is less sweet, but I found the box mix to be too sweet for my taste. Its chocolate flavor isn’t quite as strong. There is a nice chewiness, but the box mix wins on the chewy factor. The home made recipe would likely make really good cookies.

Peanut the 4 year old liked both of them. (You’re not surprised, are you?)

The Time Factor:

The box mix took 5 minutes to prepare, from opening the box to putting the pan in the oven.

The home made version took 8 minutes to prepare, including gathering ingredients.

Both times include the help of  a four year old in measuring, mixing, and pouring; your times may be faster if only grown ups are doing to the prep work, or if you use an electric mixer.


Ingredients in brownie mix: sugar, enriched bleached flower (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin, mononitrate, riboflavin, floic acid), walnuts with BHT added to protect flavor, cocoa processed with alkali and cocoa, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, corn starch, salt, natural and artificial flavor, baking soda, corn oil, soy lecithin

Nutrition facts (as prepared):
Calories: 198
Fat: 11 grams
Sodium: 90 mg
Carbohydrates: 24 grams
Fiber: 1 gram
Protein: 2.5 grams

Ingredients in home made brownies: sugar, white whole wheat flour, canola oil, eggs, cocoa powder, walnuts, vanilla extract, baking powder, salt

Nutrition facts:
Calories: 203
Fat: 12 grams
Sodium: 61 mg
Carbohydrates: 23.5 grams
Fiber: 2 grams
Protein: 2.5 grams

The nutrition is surprisingly similar. I don’t like the partially hydrogenated oil in the box mix, and the home made version is made with white whole wheat flour, so there is a slight nutritional advantage to home made, but I don’t think one has the edge over the other. Both are occasional treats, or as Cookie Monster says, “sometimes foods”.

Other Considerations:
The box mix is convenient, since you don’t have to have as many ingredients on hand. You’re likely to find sale and coupon combos that make it cheaper than home-made as well.

Scratch vs. Storebought winner:

Although it costs more, I’m calling it for the box mix, with comparison to this brownie recipe. I will still be searching for a tastier, chewier home made version, because of that 45% difference in cost and the added ingredients that I don’t want to feed my family, but for this comparison, Pillsbury beats the home made recipe.

Do you have an excellent, chewy, chocolate fudgy brownie recipe that is foolproof? Leave it in the comments and I’ll try them to compare with the leftover Pillsbury brownies!


After a bit of re-tooling my blogging schedule, Scratch vs. Store Bought will has found its regular home on Thursdays. I’m always open to suggestions of what to test!

Next week: Microwave popcorn vs. stove top kernels.

(I accidentally posted an incomplete version of the SvSB: Brownies post last week for about an hour, so if you’re subscribed, you saw a post in progress. I didn’t realize that I’d scheduled it to post and learned how not to draft posts!)

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My kids would happily eat PB&J for every meal if I let them, and because it is inexpensive, healthy, and tasty, we do have peanut butter sandwiches several times a week. We’re not alone in our love of the peanut butter – there is even a restaurant in New York City called Peanut Butter & Co., dedicated to the PB&J!

I get bored, though, and want the kids to grow up exposed to a variety of healthy flavors, so I put together The PB Sandwich Matrix. Pick an item from each column and combine to make a unique lunchtime treat.

Bread Spread One or More Toppings
Sliced Wheat or White Bread Peanut Butter Jelly, Jam, or Marmalade
Cinnamon Raisin Bread Almond Butter Crushed Pineapple
Pita Bread Cashew Butter Sliced fruit, like banana or kiwi
Mini Bagel Sunflower Seed Butter Honey
Tortilla Soy Nut Butter Chutney
English Muffin Tahini (Sesame Seed Butter) ¼ c. orange juice and 1 T orange zest (mix with spread)
Waffles Cream Cheese Apple butter, pumpkin butter, other fruit butter
Pancakes Nutella Shredded coconut
Graham crackers Pureed pumpkin and cinnamon
Apple slices and cinnamon
Marshmallow Fluff (makes a Fluffernutter)
Raisins or other dried fruit
Shredded carrot
Sunflower Seeds

Make it creative!

Cut your sandwiches with cookie cutters to make fun shapes.

Use two different types of bread for a checker-board effect.

Grill it like a grilled cheese sandwich.

Roll up your tortillas and slice them into rounds like sushi.

I have the Cut-N-Seal sandwich sealer from Pampered Chef, so I can make a home made (HFCS-free) version of Smucker’s Uncrustables.

You can get even more adventurous and make a Thai-style chicken satay sandwich, peanut butter and bacon, or The Elvis – adding cheese and banana and grilling it up. The sky’s the limit!

My dad makes grilled PB, mayo, and banana sandwiches, which he describes as “deliciously trashy”, but I should point out that he makes dinners like “The Heart Attack Burger” – bacon cheeseburgers with a fried egg on top and mayo on the bun. Rich foods are in his blood (and likely clogging his arteries), and may not be to your taste!

Want to branch out with the PB&J flavors but not interested in a sandwich? Try one of these recipes!

Peanut butter and jelly bars

Peanut butter and jelly cookies

Peanut butter and jelly muffins

Peanut butter and jelly hot wings

Peanut butter and jelly smoothie

Peanut butter and banana crepes

Warm peanut butter and jelly dip

Peanut butter and jelly parfait

Peanut butter and banana bread pudding

(I haven’t tried and don’t vouch for these recipes, but wanted to show the variety of uses for PB&J.)

March is National Peanut Butter month, so go try something new with this tasty, healthy, inexpensive staple!

This post is linked up to Works for Me Wednesday.

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We compared Krusteaz banana nut muffin mix to its home made counterpart for this week’s Scratch vs. Store bought post.

The Recipe:

Banana Nut Muffins

1 1/2 c. flour ($.12 using King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat bought on sale at Thanksgiving)
1/2 c. crushed bran cereal (free with a coupon/sale combo)
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt (I’m calling the powder, soda, and salt $.05, but it’s probably less)
1 t. pumpkin pie spice ($.14)
3 mashed bananas ($.06 – I bought 100 overripe bananas for $2.00 last November and froze them for banana bread. We’re stocked for banana muffins for a long while!)
1 t. vanilla ($.21 – organic and fair trade, bought from Frontier Wholesale; also where I bought my pumpkin pie spice)
1 egg ($.17)
1/4 c. milk ($.05)
1/4 c. brown sugar ($.04 – bought on sale at Thanksgiving)
1/2 c. applesauce ($.12 – bought at Grocery Outlet)
1/2 c. walnuts ($.50 – bought on sale at Thanksgiving)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix wet ingredients, including sugar, in a separate bowl. Combine wet and dry ingredients, mixing as little as needed to combine.

For mini-muffins, bake 12-14 minutes. For regular muffins, bake 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean.

The Cost Breakdown:

Krusteaz Banana Nut Muffin Mix regularly costs $3.99, and includes 2 eggs ($.34) and 1/4 c. oil ($.16) for a total cost of $4.49 for 12 servings, or $.37 per serving. I bought the muffin mix on sale for $2.49. With the eggs and oil, that makes each serving $.25.

The total cost of the home made version was $1.46, or $.12 per serving. If I used full price bananas, it would be $.16 per serving.

The Taste Test:

Krusteaz muffins had an unappealing dry, mealy texture that turned gummy while being chewed. We found it odd to have them so dry and so gummy. Pieces of walnut were present, but not abundant, and not especially flavorful. They are sweet but have an artificial flavor, like the sweetness in Diet Coke. They smell sweet, but not like banana. Mr. Penny thought it had a “white-flour cakiness.” Overall, they were not well received by any of the adult tasters.

The home made muffins, by contrast, were quite moist and had a strong banana flavor without being overly sweet. The larger pieces of walnuts gave a nice crunch and added a distinct walnut flavor. Chunks of real banana were “like a bonus prize” says my taste-testing friend.

The Krusteaz muffins were done before turning golden brown, and had I left them in until they browned, they would have been inedibly dry. The home made muffins were golden on top, and the addition of bran cereal and whole wheat flour made them darker throughout – the color of banana bread, rather than the Krusteaz pale yellow.

Peanut (our 4 year old) liked the Krusteaz better, because the yellow looks like banana and “because I love them!” He doesn’t have a discerning palette, though, and they were ready first.

The Time Factor:

Home made muffins took under ten minute to mix together, including defrosting frozen bananas, pulling out and putting away ingredients. For the huge flavor difference, it’s worth the few extra minutes to mix it yourself.

Other Considerations:

Ingredients for Krusteaz Banana Nut Muffins: Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Walnut, Dried Banana, Food Starch-Modified, Arabic Gum, Leaving (Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Canola or Soybean Oil, Salt, Emulsifier (Propylene Glycol Monoester, Mono-Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Soy Lecithin), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Xanthan Gum, Beta Carotene (Color). (Added egg and oil)

Nutrition facts:
Calories: 220
Fat: 3.5 grams
Carbohydrates: 32 grams
Fiber: 1 gram
Protein: 2 grams

Ingredients for homemade banana nut muffins: banana, whole wheat flour, All-Bran cereal, walnuts, applesauce, eggs, milk, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, salt.

Nutrition facts:
Calories: 140
Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 24.5
Fiber: 3.75
Protein: 4 grams

The home made version is healthier, and made with all real food ingredients. It’s a winner here, too.

Scratch vs. Storebought winner:

Without a doubt, home made wins! It’s more flavorful, healthier, and cheaper. What more could you ask for?

(Special thanks to taste-tester B., who managed to eat a few Krusteaz muffins for comparison without complaint. He left some of the good ones for us to eat later, even though he wanted to spirit them out under his jacket.)

Are there any products you’re curious to see tested? Post Scratch vs. Store Bought requests in the comments!

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OAMC stands for Once a Month Cooking, which is basically making up a bunch of meals all at once, stashing them in the freezer, and pulling them out instead of cooking from scratch every day. This week, I’m going to prepare 6 packages of chicken in marinade/sauce. It’s not exactly OAMC since I’m not making up a month’s worth of meals at a time, but having them ready in the freezer will make meal prep fast and easy over the next month.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts were on sale for a crazy $1.88 this week, so I bought several packages with the intention of making freezer bags full of marinated chicken, ready to defrost and simmer, saute, grill, bake, or broil.  A general guide is 1 cup of marinade per pound of meat when marinated in a heavy-duty plastic bag. I’m planning variations on the following marinades:

  1. Barbecue (store bought BBQ sauce)
  2. Tomato basil (without pasta)
  3. Teriyaki
  4. Peanut ginger
  5. Citrus Mojo
  6. Coconut Curry
  7. “Pretty Chicken”

This week’s menu includes:

Monday –  Citrus Mojo chicken, brown rice, broccoli

Tuesday – Mujaddarah (lentils with caramelized onion), bulgur wheat, spinach

Wednesday – Tomato basil chicken with pasta

Thursday – Meatloaf, baked potatoes, sauteed mustard greens with caramelized onions (extra onions cooked on Tuesday)

Friday – Salmon souffle sandwiches, peas and carrots
(This is a take-off from a recipe in More-With-Less, the classic real food on a budget cookbook by Doris Jansen Longacre. The original has tuna instead of salmon, and it’s like a savory baked French toast with salmon salad and Swiss cheese between the bread layers. Surprisingly delicious, simple, cheap!)

Saturday – Crockpot bean soup w/lots of veggies, cornbread

This menu is shared on Menu Plan Monday over at Orgjunkie.com

and Freezer Cooking Day at MoneySavingMom.com.

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Tonight’s Scratch vs. Store bought comparison is for Stove Top Stuffing, Chicken flavor vs. Home made Stuffing on the stove.

The Recipe:

Stuffing from the Stove, chicken flavor

6 cups cubed bread – I used 100% whole wheat ($1.25)
1/4 c diced onion ($.08)
1/2 c diced celery ($.10)
1 T dry parsley
1 t dry thyme
1 t ground pepper
1/2 t ground sage (I’m counting $.10 for all herbs, and I think that’s high. I buy them out of bulk bins by weight, very cheap!)
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c. chicken stock (free from the freezer)
1/4  c. butter ($.37)

Chop bread and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes or until toasted, tossing once. While the bread is in the oven, saute the onion and celery over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add seasoning, stock, and butter, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add bread when removed from the oven. Stir to combine, remove from heat, and leave covered for five minutes.

The Cost Breakdown:

Stove Top Stuffing mix costs $3.59, plus $.37 in butter, for 6 servings at $.66 per serving.

Home made stuffing costs $1.90 for 6 servings at $.37 per serving. It would be cheaper if I made my own bread.

Home made stuffing on the stove wins at more than 40% cheaper than Stove Top.

The Taste Test:

Stove Top Stuffing tastes like the chicken flavoring packet in Top Ramen. It’s very salty and has a “fake” chicken flavor, according to Mr. Penny. He loves Top Ramen, so this was not a disqualifier for him; I do not love Top Ramen, and it was way too salty for me. The texture is gummy, mushy, and there is no dimension.

The home made stuffing had a more subtle flavor and the added textural elements of onion and celery were welcome additions. The sage, thyme, and parsley gave it a nice herbed flavor, but next time I’ll add poultry seasoning to intensify it a bit more. The bread held its own, not dissolving into mush at the introduction of real chicken stock.

On flavor and texture, home made wins by a landslide.

The Time Factor:

The scratch version took 15 minutes from start to finish. I cut up the bread and popped it in the oven for about 10 minutes; while that was in the oven, I diced up onions and celery, sauteed them for a few minutes, and finished the preparation.

The Stove Top Stuffing took just under 10 minutes. I brought the water and butter up to a boil in a few minutes, then let it sit the 5 minutes suggested on the box.

The 5 minute time difference is small enough that it wouldn’t be a deciding factor for me.

Other Considerations:

Ingredients of Stove Top Stuffing: Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Onions (Dried), Salt, Contains Less than 2% of Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Yeast, Cooked Chicken and Chicken Broth, Maltodextrin, Celery (Dried), Monosodium Glutamate, Parsley (Dried), Spice, Sugar, Caramel Color, Turmeric, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate, with BHA, BHT, Citric Acid, and Propyl Gallate as Preservatives.

I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils; I buy bread without either. Again, home made wins for its real food ingredients.

Scratch vs. Storebought winner:

If it isn’t obvious by now, you haven’t been paying attention! Stove Top Stuffing has no place in our pantry; home made really is the way to go on cost, flavor, texture, and health.

Are there any products you’re curious to see tested? Post Scratch vs. Store Bought requests in the comments!

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Today’s Scratch vs. Store bought comparison is hot cocoa, perfect for the chilly, rainy weather we’ve had lately! I bought a box of Swiss Miss for comparison to our home made version.

The Recipe:

Hot Cocoa for One
2 Tablespoon cocoa ($.08)
2 Tablespoon sugar ($.01)
Pinch of salt
1 cup milk ($.20 liquid; $.14 dry reconstituted)
1/4 t. vanilla

Mix the cocoa, sugar, and salt in a heat-proof mug. Warm the milk and add it to the mixture in the mug; stir until combined. Add vanilla. Enjoy!

The Cost Breakdown:
Swiss Miss is $2.00 for 10 1-ounce packets, or $.20 per serving.

Home made hot chocolate is $.29 per serving when made with liquid milk, $.25 when made with reconstituted dry milk. I didn’t include the cost of salt and vanilla, as the amounts are trivial.

It is worth noting that the serving size is 25% larger for the home made version. For the same sized serving as the Swiss Miss, the home made is $.22 with liquid milk, $.19 with reconstituted dry milk.

*note: I edited for a math error! Swiss Miss is just $.02 cheaper than home made with real milk, and $.01 more expensive than reconstituted dry milk. I’m calling them equal.

The Taste Test:
Swiss Miss was creamier and had a mellow chocolate flavor. The home made version was definitely more chocolatey and had a stronger flavor.  Both were pleasantly sweet.

Mr. Penny and I both preferred the home made version for it’s stronger chocolate flavor.  Peanut liked both of them, squealing, “It’s chot-lit and hot! OH BOY!” Home made wins by a hair, but it could go the other way if you preferred a creamier and less bold cocoa flavor.

The Time Factor:
Negligible. Mixing up home made mix took under a minute, and was done while the milk was warming. Both mugs of hot chocolate were ready in the same minute it took to warm the milk (water for Swiss Miss.)

Other Considerations:

Ingredients for Swiss Miss: Sugar, Corn Syrup, Modified Whey, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Partially Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Nonfat Dry Milk, Less than 2% of: Salt, Dipotassium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Artificial Flavor, Mono- and Diglycerides.

Ingredients for home made: Cocoa, sugar, salt, milk, vanilla.

Which list sounds more like real food you’d want to feed your family?

Scratch vs. Storebought winner:

Hot chocolate is a great treat for a cool day, well loved by young and old alike, and I have to say that in this case, the store bought version is a winner in cost, home made wins by a hair in the taste test, and home made wins for the ingredient list – I try to avoid partially hydrogenated fats and artificial colors and flavors.

I’ll definitely make the home made version in the future.

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On Monday, I posted about using one chicken to make four meals for four. I cook the chicken in the pressure cooker, and use the cooking liquid and bones to make a rich, flavorful stock, perfect for chicken soup.

Here’s my method:

1. After removing meat from the bones, use a heavy knife to cut the bones into 2″ pieces. You’ll get all the flavor and nutrition out of the bones this way. Put them in your crock pot, along with a quartered onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and about 10 peppercorns. If you want to add the liver and gizzards, it’s a good use for them, but it will make your stock cloudy.

You can add a bouquet garni if you like. A bouquet garni usually consists of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, tied together. I like to use a little cheesecloth bag so I can easily pull them off to skim the scum from the surface of the stock without skimming up the herbs.  If you want a clear, golden stock, only use the stems, not the leaves, of parsley.

2. Strain the cooking liquid from the solids in the pressure cooker. Put the strained liquid in the crock pot and add as much water as needed to cover the chicken by at least an inch.  If you haven’t cooked your chicken in water before this step, just use plain water; it will still be delicious! Add 1 T vinegar, to pull the calcium out of the bones. You won’t taste the vinegar in the finished product.

3. Cook on low for 24 hours. You can occasionally skim the scum off the top with a shallow spoon or doubled over cheesecloth, but it’s okay to leave it since we’ll be refrigerating the whole pot and the scum will congeal with the fat.

4. Strain through a fine strainer or cheesecloth and allow to cool before refrigerating overnight. You’ll be able to easily pull the hardened fat layer and scum off the top, leaving a gelatinous, flavorful stock.

6. You can use it now, or freeze it. I like to freeze stock in muffin tins for 1/2 cup servings ready when you are. Just pop them out of the tins once frozen solid and store in a zip-top freezer bag.

Now you have awesome, home made, low-sodium chicken stock ready for soup when the sniffles hit your household or you just need a little warm comfort.

What’s the difference between stock and broth? Stock is made with bony pieces and vegetables, while broth is made with the meat. Stock will have the gelatinous quality that will lend itself to great pan sauces and soups with a rich flavor and mouth-feel – all from bones you might otherwise discard!

To see what works for other moms, check out We Are That Family.

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Occasionally, whole, sustainably-raised, local chickens go on sale at our independent market for $.99 per pound. At that price, cheaper than their conventionally raised counterparts, I stock up and fill the chest freezer. When it’s time to cook them, I s-t-r-e-t-c-h the meat so they last until the next great sale. Generally, I get 4 meals out of each 4-5 pound bird. Here’s how I do it.

1. Cut the chicken into quarters and remove skin and visible fat. Cook it in the pressure cooker with an onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and enough water to cover by at least an inch.

2. Shred or cut the cooked meat off the bone. I keep the bones and return them to the pot, but stock will be Wednesday’s post!

3. Package shredded/diced meat into 1 1/2 cup portions, and freeze the portions to be used later in the week. Generally I can get at least 4 meal sized portions out of one chicken, plus about 6 cups of stock. If you’re using this method, it’s just as easy to do two chickens at once (if your pressure cooker is big enough) and you’ll have enough chicken for 8 meals, plus about 12 cups of stock.

4. Choose 4 meals that call for cooked chicken, including one soup.


Coconut curry chicken with peas and potatoes
Barbecue shredded chicken sandwiches
Chicken and bean burritos
Chicken with pasta and sauce
Chicken casserole
Chicken soup, stew, or chili
Creamed chicken with cornbread stuffing
Chicken pot pie
Chicken salad sandwiches (stretch with hard cooked eggs)
Waldorf Salad, or any salad calling for cooked chicken

There are lots of possibilities, and the basic method allows for a lot of flexibility. The important thing in stretching meat is to make it a supporting player, not the main dish. Most soup, stew, chili, pastas, or casserole recipes are great places to use a little less meat but still have a filling and flavorful meal.


This week’s chicken-heavy menu, still working out of the pantry and freezer:

Monday: Lentil tacos, orange slices

Tuesday: Barbecue shredded chicken sandwiches, cole slaw, pickles

Wednesday: Chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole

Thursday: Huevos Rancheros, refried beans, carrot coins

Friday: Baked beans, corn bread, greens

Saturday: Creamed chicken over cornbread dressing, peas and carrots

Sunday: Chicken tortilla soup with lots of veggies

For more menus, head on over to OrgJunkie.com and to see what people are cooking from their pantries, stop by LifeAsMom.com.

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Today’s Scratch vs. Store bought post compares home made taco seasoning and the little packets made by Lawry’s, McCormicks, and the like.

The Recipe:

Taco Seasoning Mix
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2  teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Mix all ingredients. 3 T = 1 packet.

The Cost Breakdown:
The packet mix was on sale for $1.25 and made 6 servings, at $.21 per serving.

The homemade version cost pennies; I would guess under $.10 for the entire batch. With the tiny portions of each spice, and with spices purchased from the bulk bins for considerably less than the tiny jars on grocery store shelves, it was hardly worth calculating. For inexpensive spices, try bulk bins at health food stores, Winco (a bare-bones grocery store), or the little packets in Asian and Hispanic grocery stores.

The Taste Test:
I browned ground beef and divided it into two batches, then made one with a seasoning packet and one with the home made mix. Tasting the meat alone on a fork, the home made mix won with me, my husband, mother in law, and son. We all agreed that the seasoning packet was too salty and lacked personality. Mixed up in a taco salad with the other fixings, they were both fine, but the home made mix was still favored as it “stands up to the other flavors” according to my husband.

The Time Factor:
Not much of a factor. Measuring spices took under a minute and was easy to do while the meat was browning. You could mix up multiple batches and store it pre-made if you chose to. I would make it up as the meat browns next time rather than pre-make it.

Other Considerations:
The store bought mix was very salty and had a much higher sodium level than my version. Also, the store bought mix had dextrose, a sugar, which mine did not, increasing the calories unnecessarily.

Scratch vs. Store bought winner:
With both cost and flavor firmly on the side of home made, the Scratch side wins by a landslide.

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In the Scratch vs. Store Bought posts, I intend to make from scratch products that I would normally purchase ready-made, calculate the cost and time, taste test, review, and determine whether it is worthwhile to make it myself.

I’m starting out with the Master Mix developed by Purdue University, vs. Bisquick, made by General Mills.

The Recipe:

Master Mix (makes 13 cups)

9 cups sifted all-purpose flour ($.75)
1/3 cup double-acting baking powder ($.50)
1 tablespoon salt ($.02)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar ($.25)
1/4 cup sugar ($.15)
2 cups shortening which does not require refrigeration OR 1 2/3 cups lard ($1.32)

Stir baking powder, salt, cream of tartar and sugar into flour.  Sift together three times into a large mixing bowl or onto a large square of plain paper.  Cut into shortening until Mix is consistency of cornmeal.  Store in covered containers at room temperature.  To measure the Master Mix, pile it lightly into cup and level off with a spatula.

If lard which requires refrigeration is used in the Master Mix recipe, the Mix should be refrigerated.

Click here for recipes that use the Master Mix, broken down into family size or “just for two” servings, including biscuits, muffins, waffles, pancakes, coffee cake, cornbread, dumplings, cakes and cookies.

The Cost Breakdown:
Bisquick costs $3.39 for 40 oz. One serving is 1/3 cup, so this package makes 28 servings at $.12 each.

Master Mix costs $2.99 for 13 cups, or 39 servings, also at just about $.08 each. Master Mix wins the cost comparison at 25% less per serving.

The Taste Test:
I performed two taste tests this week: pancakes and apple crisp. The Bisquick pancakes were the winners; they were lighter and fluffier, and the Master Mix has a very slight, mildly bitter flavor from the inclusion of whole wheat flour. Once butter and syrup were added, it wasn’t noticeable. I liked them, but Peanut and Mr. Penny preferred the Bisquick ones.

The apple crisp had no noticeable difference. Both were delicious and browned nicely.

On taste, Bisquick wins on the pancakes, but only narrowly.

The Time Factor:
The initial mixing took under fifteen minutes. After that, it takes no more time to use Master Mix than to use Bisquik.  

Other Considerations:
I used King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat flour, so my mix is more nutritious than the white flour Bisquick. That also makes it more expensive than if I’d used white flour bought on sale. It doesn’t have a whole wheat flavor like regular whole wheat and has a slightly higher protein content than white wheat. I bought it on sale for $3.99 for a 5 lb. bag before Thanksgiving.

I also used lard instead of shortening as the lesser of two evils. Bisquick uses partially hydrogenated fats, which I try to avoid, and the quantity is higher in the recipe, creating a higher fat mix overall. Neither is an ideal ingredient, but the recipe doesn’t work without it.

Scratch vs. Storebought winner:
If you were able to get Bisquick on sale with a coupon, that may be a better value. It’s also worth noting that shortening would increase the cost of the master mix, making the cost difference negligible. Still, I preferred the flavor of the Master Mix, and with the lower price, minimal time invested, and inclusion of whole wheat flour, it’s a winner for me.

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