My 3 favorite homemade spice blends

I have a stash of herbs and spices that I use just about every day. I keep them on a spice rack that came with a set and the rest are in a rectangle shower caddy in my cupboard. I never knew how to cook with herbs or spices before I was married. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I lived in the dorms for 4 years as an RA/mentor and never had to cook for myself! I’ve gathered some delicious go-to recipes over the years and many of them include using herbs and spices to add flavor.

Making your own blends is cheaper than buying from the store since you have to do the work yourself but it’s really an easy process. All you need are some measuring spoons and a mason jar or empty spice containers. I usually make a big batch that will last me a few uses so I don’t have to make the spice blend every time I need it. I’ll share my 3 favorite homemade spice blends and their recipes.

Poultry Seasoning
I’ve become a big fan of making a whole chicken in the crockpot ever since I tried it this summer and learned how easy it was to do! The recipe called for poultry seasoning and I didn’t have any on hand so with a quick google search I found a recipe from Peace, Love, and Low Carb that has been my go-to for chicken recipes.

photo credit: Rachel Schultz

photo credit: Rachel Schultz

Taco seasoning
I sure use this a lot. We make tacos a few times each month because it’s a quick and easy PFC dish. My college friend Rachel Schultz has an amazing blog and takes beautiful pictures of her recipes (not like my iPhone snapshots of a half-eaten plate of food). She kindly shared the recipe for her homemade taco seasoning here at Budget for Health. I usually multiply her recipe by 4 and store it in a mason jar. For every pound of meat I use 3 Tbsp taco seasoning and 1/2 cup water. I stir it in to the cooked ground meat and let it simmer until some of the water has evaporated. I wrote this ratio on the lid of my mason jar because I’d forget how much to use every time.

Curry powder
I found this recipe when I was making one of my favorite dishes, coconut chicken curry stew. Side note: if you haven’t made this, you should. I’ve probably made it 20+ times in the past year because it’s my go to recipe for Meal Baby recipients and I always make an extra batch for us to enjoy or freeze for later use. It called for curry powder which I did not have on hand so I tried out a couple curry powders and stuck with this one. I use 2-3 tsp of the curry powder in a batch of the chicken curry stew. This recipe makes 5-6 tsp so you may want to double or triple your batch if you plan to use it often.

Mild Curry Powder

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger

Instructions

  1. Mix spices together and store in an airtight container
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What are your favorite spice blends?

Budget Review: July – September 2014

What a fun summer! We traveled a lot and enjoyed the beautiful Michigan weather. Here’s this quarterly budget review with our spending for this quarter along with an explanation of significant events/ circumstances that affected our budget.

Budget Review: July – September 2014 (actual spending)

budget review

What happened this quarter?

New Car
We’ve had money set aside in our Capitol One 360 savings account for a year or so because we weren’t sure when the day we would come that we’d need to replace our trusty old 1999 Honda Accord with 200k miles on it. It ran well and Accords are known to get another 50-100k beyond this but Dave didn’t want to play that guessing game and it made him feel better not having to worry about me breaking down somewhere in the winter with Nora. You don’t see this chunk in the pie chart because we set money aside a long time ago and were able to pay for our new car in cash from savings and what we made from selling the Honda.

Car Insurance
Our insurance went up a wee bit from our new car but thankfully our insurance company was looking out for us and knocked off $80/month by transferring our new car to what was the Honda’s policy rather than creating a new policy for it. Dave drove that Honda since high school so apparently having 10+ year-old policy gave us a hefty discount.

My life insurance
I finally got a life insurance policy set up for myself. Unfortunately my policy costs the same as Dave’s even though his is worth more and is for a longer term than mine. The reason for this is because during a prenatal appointment I learned that I have extra heartbeats and had to do a bunch of tests only to find out it’s not really a big deal. It was still a big deal to the insurance company so the cost of my policy was doubled from the initial quote I got. Tip: Get your life insurance set up now!

Tax refunds
We ended up getting two tax refunds since Dave’s company withheld extra while we were living in Canada for 6 months. It came as a pleasant, unexpected surprise used this to buffer our car savings, our clothing fund, vacation fund, and a little extra entertainment money to attend a Detroit Tigers baseball game with Dave’s family. I still have clothes from high school and my ten year high school reunion is right around the corner. Time to change up the wardrobe.

PiYo Instructor Certification
I got certified to be a PiYo instructor in September and I’m going to start teaching my own classes! I’m so excited about this! The certification cost $189 but it will pay off after a teaching a few classes. Now I’ll get paid to workout. Saweet!

Leftover savings from our DIY patio
We saved $2000 to tear up our rotted deck and Dave, my handy man, pulled off a DIY project and now we have a new brick patio! It only cost half that amount so we put the leftover savings toward a new bike as a reward for his hard work and an extra mortgage payment. Again, you won’t see this $2000 spent in the pie chart because we set money aside for it each month while we were in Calgary last year.

Darn grocery bill
How did I get so awful at sticking to our budget??? I mentioned in the last quarterly review that it’s been creeping up and it continued to do so this quarter. I’ve asked Dave to help me with this issue so our plan for October is to take the old-fashioned route and pay for groceries with cash. I’ll use the envelope system so I can see how much money I have left rather than letting myself go over by using a plastic card.

Room swap
Dave referenced the movie Mean Girls when we switched rooms with Nora because she has the master bedroom now. Since our home is so poorly insulated we came up with a game plan for the winter. We’re buying a space heater and will keep it in Nora’s room which is now her bedroom and a big play room where we will spend most of our time when home. Our heater was running non stop last winter even though we only had the temperature set to 60 degrees so we are hoping our electric bill won’t make our jaws drop this time around. Of course I have to include pictures of our growing baby! She can crawl, walk along furniture, and has her two top and bottom teeth. She weighed in at 19 pounds at 8.5ish months. I have a feeling she’s going to be an early walker. Doesn’t that smile melt your heart?

What category do you have to pay special attention to so you don’t overspend?
As a parent- what was your favorite age for your child(ren)?

Juicing tips

I was recently contacted by Williams-Sonoma to share a Q&A interview regarding my thoughts on juicing. I’m not a big advocate for juicing but if you do decide to juice then I’ll explain the best way to do it in our Q&A interview. I am not compensated for sharing this post and the opinions are my own.

Question 1
It seems that juicing can be very expensive to start out. Buying a juicer then all the ingredients can get pricey. How would you go about starting a juicing journey? Any tips and tricks on how to save money/cut back on spending when purchasing ingredients for your juice?

1. Buy local produce that is in season. Local produce will likely taste better since it didn’t have to be picked before it was ripe in and then travel across the country. I will also be cheaper because, again, it didn’t have to travel across the country.

2. Drink less juice (to clarify, you don’t have to juice less, just drink less of it when you do). That seems like an odd tip to say in a post about juicing but I’ll explain more in question 3.

Question 2
Fresh juice is always the best when your ingredients are fresh. When it comes to storing food whether it’s in a refrigerator or at room temperature, what are some easy tips or tricks that have helped you when storing your fruits or veggies?

Keep foods that ripen other foods separate so they don’t go bad before you get a chance to use them. You may have heard to keep bananas away from apples or to put an apple, banana, or avocado in a brown bag to ripen it quicker. Having this tip in mind will help you store your produce differently. Try displaying your apples on the dining table and your bananas can hang out in the kitchen.

As for greens, a good practice is to get rid of any bad leaves since they can speed up the ripening process. Wash them as soon as you get home and dry them well with a paper towel. Avoid chopping the leaves until you’re ready to use them to prolong their crispness. Wrapping the leaves in a towel and storing them in a plastic bag can help to absorb additional moisture and keep them fresh.

Those are just a couple examples of best storing practices. Some produce are best stored in the fridge and some at room temperature. If you’re not sure of the best way to store a certain fruit or vegetable, a quick Google search can do wonders!

Question 3
When starting a juice journey its hard to know when to juice and when not to juice. Do you recommend using fresh juices as a meal replacement or as a supplement to a meal?

Supplement! NOT as a meal replacement! If you do juice, only make enough for a small serving and do not drink it without enjoying protein and fat on the side. The reason I said to juice less in response to question #1 is because when you juice fruit or vegetables you take away the beneficial fiber and the juice is essentially liquid sugar. Sure it’s naturally occurring sugar from the fruit or vegetables but it’s still sugar and we want to watch our intake. I recommend a combination of protein, fat, and carbs at all meals and snacks. Juice only offers one part of that combination. You do benefit from the vitamins and minerals but the body will still convert the carbs from fruits and vegetables into sugar. Quick, budget friendly options could be a hardboiled egg (protein) and a handful of nuts (fat) or tuna (protein) salad made with real mayo (fat).

There’s also something to be said for chewing your food. It would take me more than 10 minutes to eat 2 large apples and I’d likely feel full after eating one since all that fiber would take up space in my stomach. However, it wouldn’t even take 10 seconds to drink the juice from 2 apples and I’d still be hungry afterward.

In summary, if you do decide to juice then make sure you’re only drinking a small amount, drink it slowly, add a protein and fat on the side, and be sure to get your fiber elsewhere in your diet! If you’d like to learn about the different juicers Williams-Sonoma offers you can check out their juice resource page.

Do you juice? If so, how often do you juice? What’s your favorite combination?

How to Freeze Peaches

Fruit purchased in season is way cheaper than out of season and it tastes fresher than fruit that travels all over before reaching the grocery store. Therefore, I bought 25 pounds of peaches on sale at my favorite wholesale produce market and recruited some help to prep them for storing in my handy deep freezer.

I had never prepared peaches for freezing but I knew if I just sliced them up and dumped them in a bag they would get stuck together in clumps and would be hard to break apart. I figured the strategy would be similar to how I freeze blueberries (rinse, dry, then freeze on a cookie sheet/baking pan) but there’s more prep-work involved since I had to peel them first. With a simple google search I found this 1-minute video from Better Homes & Garden that explained from start to finish how to freeze peaches.

My friend let me borrow her fruit peeler but I didn’t even need it because the method we used allowed the skin to peel right off. In a nutshell, here are the simple steps to freezing peaches:

1. Cut a shallow X on the bottom of each peach
2. Lower 3-4 peaches at a time into a large pot of boiling water for 30-60 seconds. I recommend 60 seconds but no more or they will start to get mushy. Leaving it in for 30 seconds led to using the fruit peeler for parts of the skin but with 60 seconds it slid right off without making the peach all mushy from getting cooked.
3. Quickly transfer the peaches from the boiling water to a bowl of ice water
4. Slip off the skin and discard
5. Cut the peach in half from top to bottom around the pit
6. Twist the peach to separate the halves and discard the pit
7. Slice em up and lay them on a baking sheet lined with wax/parchment paper so they aren’t touching.

That’s it! Now we get to enjoy fresh peaches on our yogurt and occasional smoothies until next summer rolls around.

Do you have a deep freezer? What do you stock up on?

Breakfast on the Farm

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I recently attended an event put on by Michigan State University Extension called Breakfast on the Farm. It was a free event open to the public that allowed families to tour a local farm and see what goes on there. A free breakfast was provided followed by a quick hayride tour of the corn and soybean field. After the hayride was a self-guided walking tour that had informative signs along the way that shared information about the crops and animals on the farm. I had never been to a farm before so I was excited about this opportunity. So was Nora as you can tell. It was fun to go with friends and see everything but unfortunately I didn’t leave with much respect for the direction our culture has gone with processing food and making it sound like a good thing.

Our day started with a free breakfast that included 2 pancakes with a 2 Tbsp packet of syrup, 2 sausage links, the equivalent of 1 scrambled egg, 4 ounces of flavored yogurt, and a 16-ounce bottle of either 2% or chocolate milk. I know it was a free breakfast but I was bummed to see that every food item except the eggs contained some form of added sugar, mainly high fructose corn syrup. Not the greatest start to the event but we still enjoyed our time with friends.

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On to the tour- It’s amazing how marketing tactics work. You can take something negative and say it in a positive way that makes people thing it’s a good thing. For example, one of the signs said that cows used to produce 2 gallons of milk every day but now they can produce 8 gallons per day! I’m sure some of this has to do with having machines that are more efficient than man power but I’m not sure if cows were meant to produce 8 gallons per day. I would speculate that it’s the reason hormones and antibiotics have to be used.

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Another example that was concerning the feeding methods for the beef. All cows graze on grass for their first year of life after they’re weaned off the mother’s milk. The difference between grass-fed and grain-fed cows is what happens after that 1-year mark. Grass-fed cows stay in the pasture while conventionally-raised cows are moved to a feedlot where they are “finished” and fattened before slaughter. In the feedlots they get a concentrated mix of corn, soy, and grains. This can speed the growth of the cow enough to get them ready for slaughter a year earlier than if they were grass fed. However, since cows’ digestive systems weren’t quite made for this type of diet, supplements, hormones, and antibiotics enter the picture. This is when knowing your farmer comes in handy; the term “Grass-fed” may not mean what you think since all cows are fed grass at some point. It’s how they are finished that makes the difference.

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Let me give you one more example of marketing tactics:
There was a kids area with lots of games and visuals like sheep shearing and a display that showed every cut of meat. I was baffled when I saw a table with products marketed to kids like Cheez Its, Go-Gurt, Quaker Chewy bars, and more. I wasn’t baffled because those products were there but because the sign next to it basically said “look at what corn and soy has allowed us to do!” as if it were a good thing!

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I’m not sure if there is a happy conclusion to this post. I understand the population is growing rapidly and supply has to meet the demand but it sure doesn’t seem like it’s to our benefit the way food is being “grown” these days. My plan is to eat as much real food as I can and avoid the highly processed, refined foods with all their false health claims.

Have you visited a farm before?

Skip the nutrition label and read the ingredient list

Stop reading the nutrition label. Seriously, it doesn’t do you any good.

Calories are not created equal. Even if they were created equal, our bodies are not. Fat won’t make you fat. Fat, carbs, and protein work best when consumed together in appropriate portion sizes (read more about PFC eating).

I strongly encourage you to check out the links in this article that will take you to other relevant articles I’ve written. This article is already 1,100 words so the links keep me from writing a novel!

A nutrition label is just a bunch of numbers and it distracts us from listening to our bodies because we are caught up with eating NUTRIENTS rather than FOOD. You can learn everything you need to know about a product by scrolling a little further down to the ingredient list. Here are some things to know:

1. Ingredients are listed in order of most to least
For example, if you read the ingredients in strawberry Pop Tarts- strawberries are at the bottom of the ingredient list long after 5 different types of sugar are listed.

2. Zero doesn’t really mean zero
Just because it says “trans fat free” doesn’t mean there isn’t any trans fat in the product. Confusing, I know, but the nutrition label will say zero grams while the ingredient list says otherwise. You can read how to identify trans fat in products here.

3. Identify added sugars
If you’re buying products that say “lite” or “light” you will often see the sugar content is less according to the number of grams on the nutrition label. However, a glance at the ingredient list will show whatever artificial sweetener that was added. Those are just as bad if not worse for you than regular sugar. Get to know the many faces of sugar if you don’t already; they are in everywhere. If you don’t know what the definitions are behind words like “reduced” or “light” I explain what they are here.

Currently, the grams of sugar listed on a label does not tell you if it’s from natural sugar versus added sugar. You have to look at the ingredient list to figure it out. For example, if you buy plain yogurt you will still see roughly 9 grams of sugar per cup. The only ingredient in plain yogurt is milk so you can conclude that the 9 grams of sugar is the natural sugar, lactose, found in milk. It’s another story if you buy flavored yogurt. You’ll see upwards of 23 grams of sugar; 9 naturally found in the milk, 14 from whatever type of sugar they added.

4. Health claims usually mean unhealthy products
Some claims sound healthy but the product itself is not healthy at all (ahem, whole grain Pop Tarts???). Ready to hear some gross facts? Michael Pollan shares a few in his book “In Defense of Food:”

When you buy fat-free products you’ll notice that the fat that gives product its creaminess is replaced with hydrogenated, highly processed oils or guar gum or carrageenan. Instead of eating real bacon bits, they’ve replaced the….bacon… with soy protein. That coffee creamer you love? Our fat-phobic culture got rid of the fatty cream and replaced it with corn starch and trans fat-filled oils. The list goes on.

5. Fortifying doesn’t make it healthy
Frosted shredded wheat has way more nutrients than plain shredded wheat because it has been fortified. That doesn’t make it healthier considering you have to eat a sugar bomb to get those nutrients and you hardly get any protein or fat if a bowl of cereal is your breakfast. If you’re eating more fruits and veggies and taking a multivitamin then you won’t need to rely on sugar-loaded cereals to get your nutrients.

6. Fats aren’t created equally
While oils like canola, peanut, or soybean will claim to have heart-healthy fats, they are damaged through so much processing that the benefits are essentially canceled out. However, these oils are way cheaper than olive or coconut oil so they are used in everything from salad dressings to cereals. Margarine or butter-imitations and many packaged products contain hidden trans fat (the devil). Lean cuts of conventionally-raised meat are fine since the hormones, toxins, pesticides or whatever else they feed the animals are stored in the fat BUT if you’re buying cuts of meat that are higher in fat your best bet is to get the grass-fed meats, pastured chickens, and wild-caught fish. A nutrition label won’t tell you that.

7. A long list of ingredients is a good indicator of a highly processed product
If you throw a bunch of peanuts in a blender for a few minutes, you get peanut butter. It’s hard to believe, but that’s really what happens. Nothing else is needed. However, if you take a look at a healthy-sounding product, Simply Jif, you’ll find the following ingredients:

ROASTED PEANUTS, FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, MOLASSES, SUGAR, SALT.

Here we find cheap, processed oils (rapeseed is another word for canola) and added sugar. That doesn’t sound very simple to me. You would think Simply Jif would have a simple ingredient list like, I don’t know, simply peanuts.

8. We have been brainwashed with good vs. bad nutrients
Saturated fat and cholesterol are two components of food that we’ve been afraid of for decades due to a couple inconclusive studies that kind of thought they might lead to heart disease but weren’t too sure. This led to doctors telling patients to only eat 1-2 eggs a week. Thank goodness that isn’t true because I regularly eat around 4-6 every day! You’ll find according to the nutrition label, one egg provides 62% of your daily allowance of cholesterol. That sounds alarming but now we know cholesterol is an indicator of inflammation that contributes to heart disease, not the cause. High blood cholesterol doesn’t mean you’re eating too many eggs, it’s your body warning you that something has gone wrong- high stress, hormone imbalance, smoking, artificial sweeteners, over-exercising, lack of sleep, excess sugar consumption… these factors lead to inflammation; cholesterol sounds the alarm. Now that you know cholesterol isn’t a bad thing, ignore that 62% and eat more eggs, yolk and all.

Start reading, stop counting
I apologize if this overwhelms you but the food industry is so tricky when it comes to marketing products. The copious loopholes with health claims makes it easy to lead us into thinking we’re making healthy choices. I hope this opens your eyes to what nutrition labels aren’t telling you. If you have questions I’d be happy to answer them.

What other “healthy” claims have you seen on food packaging?

Cookbook Ambassador: 100 days of Real Food

100 days of real food cookbook

Listen up, folks. Here’s a book you’re going to love.

I have the privilege of being a cookbook ambassador for Lisa Leake’s 100 Days of Real Food cookbook that was just released August 26th. She sent me a free signed copy and I get to tell you all about the book. I even get to share one of the recipes with you! How does a hearty veggie corn chowder sound? Mmmm smells like fall…

veggie corn chowder

Photo Credit: Carrie Vitt

I started following 100 Days of Real Food on Facebook over a year ago because we share a common desire to avoid processed foods and simply stick with real food. While reading the intro to her book I felt like she was sharing the story of my upbringing in terms of the types of food we ate (uh, melted cheese on Doritos… Kraft Mac n’ Cheese with cut up hot dogs… anyone else relate?) Lisa started making changes to her food choices after reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and embarked on a 100 day challenge to cut out highly processed and refined foods. This short-term experiment turned into a lifestyle and now she has a book to tell others about it!

Leake family at farmers market

Photo Credit: Kelly Trimble

Lisa does a great job of sharing tips and recipes for quick meals that are cost-conscious and made with wholesome ingredients. I appreciate that she focuses on the cost of food since many people think eating healthy means spending a ton of money. You know how much we love our budget so this cost-conscious concept is right up my alley. If you have kids then you’ll find plenty of real-food ideas for packing lunches; perfect timing for back to school season!

Enough talking though, let’s eat! Here’s your free preview of the veggie corn chowder recipe featured in 100 Days of Real Food.

Veggie Corn Chowder recipe

If you’d like to order a copy of 100 Days of Real Food you can find it on Amazon.

Check out the video below to learn more about the book.