Homemade: Taco Seasoning

Have you ever looked on the back of your favorite packet of taco seasoning and read the ingredients?  I don’t have any to reference right now, but I do have a packet of Taco Bell fajita seasoning.  First ingredient: corn syrup (dried).  Yep, first ingredient in FAJITA SEASONING.  What the heck?  Next is garlic, cornstarch, salt, sugar, chili peppers, onions, then the dreaded MSG, spice (what the heck is spice anyway? I think I read its a way for companies to generically label their products so others can’t copy the exact recipe.  Sheesh.), citric acid, soybean oil, calcium silicate (as an anticaking agent).

Sounds appetizing, eh?

Yeah, not so much.

After realizing all the crap they put in these packets and that the majority of it is sugar/corn syrup and salt/MSG, I thought “Why can’t I make my own taco seasoning?  Surely it can’t be that hard?”  And I was right.  It’s not that hard.  In fact, it’s so easy you’re going to smack yourself right on the forehead and say to yourself “Self, why didn’t I start doing this years ago?”

And as all seasoning combinations, adjust it to your own taste.  Like garlic?  Add more!  Like it spicy?  Add more red pepper flakes or add in some cayenne!

Just mix up a batch, keep it in a resealable container (I use an old sour cream container) and use it as needed.  Two to three tablespoons is the equivalent of one packet.  You can also use it in place of the chili powder/cumin combination you see in many Mexican/Southwest/Tex-Mex recipes.

Like any of the Midwest Mexican recipes from, *ahem*, yours truly.  🙂

Taco Seasoning

Ingredients:

  • 3 TBSP chili powder
  • 2 TBSP cumin
  • 1 TBSP kosher salt
  • 1/2 TBSP ground black pepper
  • 1  1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together.  Store in an airtight container.  Two to three tablespoons is the equivalent of one packet of storebought seasoning.

Homemade: Grape Jelly

Did you know you can make your own jelly?  Just your basic, average, run of the mill grape jelly.  I just figured this out about a year or so ago.

As you know I’m a big fan of Kristen at The Frugal Girl.  As I was perusing through her blog I saw a post about making homemade grape jelly.  Given how much PB&J my kids eat (well, okay, how much Maddie eats — she wants it every day, not that I blame her) we go through some jelly.

And you also know how I like to try to keep artificial ingredients out of my kids diets where I can, and I also try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, especially when it’s one of the main ingredients in a product.  Not that I’m saying sugar is healthy, but when I have to choose between the two, I’ll always choose sugar.

So I gave it a shot.  And guess what?  I turned out great.  So I’d like to share it with you.

What equipment do you need?  A pot, a whisk, and two empty glass jars.  I just use old jelly jars.  Just run them through the dishwasher before using them.  I also use a funnel to get the hot jelly in the jar without spilling, but it’s not a necessity.

What else do you need?  Grape juice, sugar, and pectin.  Yep, that’s it.  Pectin can be found in any grocery store near where they keep the canning supplies.  It’s in the paper goods/cereal aisle at Price Chopper.  Get the kind for regular jelly, not the kind for less sugar/sugar-free jelly.

So start out by measuring out 3 cups of grape juice and pouring it into your pot.  Dump in one packet of pectin.  Bring to a boil, whisking to incorporate evenly.

Once boiling, add 4 cups of sugar.  Then pick yourself back up off the floor and keep reading.  Yes, I said 4 cups of sugar.  But how much do you want to bet that much or more goes into the store bought stuff?

Bring the mixture back up to a full rolling boil, so that if you try to “stir it down”, it won’t.  Boil this way for one full minute.

Remove from the heat and pour into jars.

Screw the lids on, and let cool on the counter for a few hours.

Then you can transfer them to the fridge.  It may take a while to jell (like 4 hours or more) so don’t worry when it seems like you just have super-sweet grape juice at first.

I’ve made this several times and even after opening a jar it will last for weeks and weeks in our fridge without going bad.  I’ve even found that if you use old jelly jars the heat from the jelly will reseal the jar so that the unopened one could be stored on a shelf.

And that’s it!  Super easy and yummy too.

Now is it more cost efficient?  I think this might actually be a case where the homemade way is more expensive, kind of like Homemade Mac & Cheese.  If you get the juice for $3 and use about 1/2, that’s $1.50.  Pectin is $2.50, and the sugar is probably about $.50 (say 1/4 of a 4 lb bag which you can get for about $2 on sale).  So about $4.50 for 1 1/2 jars of jelly.  But I know what’s in it, it tastes good, and the kids get a kick out of seeing me make it.  I don’t let them make it themselves yet since 4 and 2 year olds and boiling juice just don’t mix.

Have you ever made homemade jelly?  What’s your favorite store brand?  Does the homemade version live up to the store brand?

P.S. What do you think of the new format?  Too busy?  Should I go back to the old one?  Or do you like it?

Homemade: Biscuits

Have you ever made homemade biscuits?  No?  You should really try.

They’re very simple, and I bet you have all the ingredients needed for them in your kitchen right now.  Flour, butter, baking powder, salt, sugar, milk.  Go ahead, go check.  I’ll wait.

{Insert Jeopardy theme song here.}

You do?  Fantastic, then let’s get started.

Here’s the cast of characters.

First, before you begin, you want your butter to be cold.  Very cold.  Not necessarily frozen, but the colder the better.  What I usually do is cut the butter into small cubes, put them on a plate, and set that plate far back in my fridge where it’s nice and cold.  If I’m in a hurry, I’ll put it in the freezer for a bit.

While your butter is gettin’ nice and cold, get the rest of your ingredients mixed up.  Flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.

Now I like to blend all mine in my food processor.  It’s not necessary, not by any means.  But for me it’s nice and quick, and it gets the cold butter chopped up nice and fine within the flour mixture without melting too much and getting all sticky and gooey. 

So dump all the dry ingredients in there and pulse it around a bit to get it all mixed up.  Then get the ice cold butter from the fridge or freezer and scatter it around the flour mixture.  Grind/pulse for just 20 to 30 seconds or until the butter is finely mixed in with the flour and the mixture is sort of crumbly looking.

Now the butter does not have to be all completely blended in.  In fact, you want little chunks of butter here and there.  It will make the biscuits all that much more yummy.

Then add your milk.  I probably could have done this in the food processor too, but I chose to dump it into a bowl and add from there.  Go slow.  You may find you don’t need the full  cup, you might use a tablespoon or so less.  Just pour in most, stir, and keep adding until the mixture starts to pull away from the bowl.

Plop the dough onto a floured surface, sprinkling with more flour if needed. 

Now gently fold the dough over on itself four or five times (fold, flatten, `turn, fold, flatten, turn, you get it)

and pat it until its about an inch or so thick.  Do not knead this dough or it will turn out tough.

Next take a biscuit cutter….  What?  Don’t have a biscuit cutter?  No worries, neither do I.   You can use any old round glass or jar to cut the biscuits.  I use an old pickle jar.  I’ve even used just an old drinking glass.  Whatever you have lying around. 

Dip the opening in flour, place on the dough, push, then tap to make the dough come out.

Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. 

See those gnarly ones?  You’ll end up with some scraps at the end.  Just gently pat them together to form a biscuit shape and add to the baking sheet.  It may not be pretty but it will still taste as good.  I promise.

Now you can either bake them immediately or put the baking sheet in the fridge for a bit until you’re ready to bake.  Just don’t leave them on the counter.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 13 to 15 minutes, or until just turning golden brown on top.

When they come out, they will be lovely and golden and just waiting for you to put their yummy flakey goodness into your mouth.

Oh my.  Hello there.

Mmmm, get in my belly!  But not before topping with a bit of butter.

Oh yeah, that’s more like it.

Happy eating!

Here is the full recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, cubed and very cold
  • 1 cup milk

Mix together flour, baking soda, salt and sugar.  Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.  Stir in milk slowly until mixture just comes together.  Turn onto floured surface, folding and turning several times and pat to 1 inch thick.  Cut biscuits into rounds and brush off excess flour.  Place biscuits on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 13 to 15 minutes.

Homemade: Yogurt

As you may have figured out by now one of my frugal heroes (heroine, I guess) is Kristen aka The Frugal Girl.  One of the things I love about her blog are the ideas for things you can make yourself rather than buying from the store.  I love the idea of a better quality product to feed my family that I made with my own two hands.

Outside of yeast bread, homemade yogurt was one of the first homemade items I attempted on my own.  And I must say, it turned out fab. u. lous.

Now I make my yogurt sweetened and with vanilla.  Then we can serve it straight from the jar and over fruit without having to add to it.  Or we can sweeten it a bit more with just a touch o’ honey. 

But you can make yours plain.  Or partially sweeten it.  Or just add vanilla.  Or do what ever the heck you want so that you love it.

And I used to always make it with whole milk.  But recently I started making it with skim.  However since skim won’t set up as good as whole, I add unflavored gelatin to make it thicker.  I personally like it both ways.  Whole is of course creamier, but I like the skim a lot too, and of course it is more calorie-friendly.

So here is how I make homemade yogurt.

Equipment you will need

First, for a half-gallon’s worth of yogurt, you’ll need about 3 sterilized jars that hold about 24 oz. (or 4 cups or 2 pints) each.  Or use two larger jars that each old 36 oz. each.  Or one large jar that holds 72 oz.  You get the point.  I use old jelly or spaghetti sauce jars.  And I just run them through the dishwasher before using them.

You’ll also need a cooler that will hold said jars after they’re filled.

And you’ll want a couple of pots to heat and/or microwave the milk and water.

And finally, just a simple instant read thermometer.  Just the $5 kind.

Ingredients

The only ingredients you really need are milk and a yogurt “starter”.  If you want, you can add sugar and vanilla, and if you prefer to use a less fattening milk and still want thick yogurt you’ll want a packet of unflavored gelatin.

Directions

First, start by heating the milk to 180 to 190 degrees.  You can do this in a pot on the stove or in the microwave.  I’ve done both with good results on each.  I’ve found cold milk from the fridge will need about 18 minutes or so in the microwave to get to 185 degrees.  It will take just about as long, if not a bit longer, to heat it on the stove over medium-low heat (to avoid scorching the milk).

After the milk reaches the 180 to 190 degrees, set it either on the counter or in a sink filled with cold water to cool it down to 120 degrees.  Needless to say on the counter will take longer, but either method works fine.

Once the milk has reached 120 degrees, add in your starter.  Whisk it in real good to ensure all those bacterias get mixed evenly into the milk. 

If this is your first time making yogurt just buy a good quality plain (or vanilla if you want to sweeten yours) yogurt from the store.  I just happened to get a Yoplait Greek yogurt this time around, but  yours does not have to be Greek-style.

If you already have homemade yogurt (or some already opened yogurt) in the fridge you can use that, as long as you haven’t dipped in the jar, taken a bite, and put the spoon back in.  The bacteria from our mouths will kill the good bacterias in yogurt, and you need all those bacterias to make the yogurt. 

And if you want to add any “extras”, now is the time to do it as well. 

I usually add around 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar for a half-gallon of milk.  It keeps the yogurt a bit on the tangy side still, but since my kids like to add honey regardless of whether the yogurt is already sweet or not, I don’t want to overdo the sugar. 

I also add about 2 TBSP vanilla.  I just like the flavor it gives.

And if I’m making skim milk yogurt I add one packet of unflavored gelatin.  The boxes I buy come with 4 little packets, so I just use one of those little packets.

Then pour the milk into your jars.  I find using a funnel helps immensly if you have one.  If you don’t just try a ladle.  Either way, be careful, you do NOT want hot milk all over your kitchen.  Not a fun mess to clean up.

Skim off any bubbles on top, if you wish.  It just makes it look nicer and you can get the jars nice and full if you’re low on jar space.

Screw lids onto the jars, place the jars in a cooler, and add about a gallon or so of water that has been heated to about 120 degrees.  I usually am heating the water on the stove concurrently with the milk, but keep it at a very low temp. 

Close the lid to the cooler.  Let it sit for at least 3 hours, although I’ve let mine sit up to 7 with no ill effects.  I think especially for the less fattening milks you want to let it sit for a while so it sets up okay.  After the allotted time remove the jars from the cooler and move them to the refrigerator.

This is (hopefully) what your yogurt will look like. 

Just serve…

…and enjoy!

For other directions, more pictures, and lots of great comments about various ways to make yogurt, check out The Frugal Girls’ post on yogurt.

Have you made homemade yogurt before?  How do you make it?  Do you make it plain or do you add extras?