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!


Cooking Lunch in a Solar Oven

solar lunch finishedWhen I first purchased our solar oven, my husband was a tad frustrated. “What will you cook in it?” he asked. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it at the time. I just knew I had to try solar cooking for myself.

We started slowly, cooking single items, such as rice or eggs. Gradually as we became more comfortable with the solar oven, we relaxed and just started cooking. Although cooking in a solar oven does take a bit of adjustment and more watching than a regular oven, it’s not difficult to do. And once you get comfy-cozy with solar, then the sky’s the limit!

This morning I decided to go ahead and put us some lunch in the solar cooker. One nice thing is that you can use a solar oven pretty much like a slow cooker, allowing you to “set it and forget it.” I put our lunch in this morning, turning the oven once or twice during cooking time, and our lunch was hot and ready for us by noon.

solar oven SaturdaySo what did I put in the pot? All leftover stuff that we needed to use up! It was a frugal meal that didn’t heat up the house. Here are the ingredients:

  1. Progresso Fire-Roasted Tomato Recipe Starter
  2. Simply Balanced Sausage (2 hot dogs)
  3. 1/2 Bag of Fingerling Potatoes
  4. 1 can of black beans

I first poured a bit of olive oil in the pot and then came the tomato soup. We like things spicy, and so I next added assorted spices. Everything else got thrown in the pot and stirred around. And that’s it!

Keep in mind that cooking times will vary, and so I can’t give you an exact time for cooking. However, we allowed it to cook several hours, which resulted in a nice, thick chili. Also, don’t feel confined by my ingredient list. If you’ve got something else on hand, then that’s fine! This is more to give you an idea of what’s possible than a strict guideline.

Do you solar cook or want to learn more about solar cooking? Let me know! And feel free to share your own tips and tricks for cooking in a solar oven.

Treats for the 4th of July: Chocolate Peanut Butter Mocha Powerballs

choco bites

Have you ever just needed to make something yummy? Perhaps it was all of the talk of the holiday on Facebook, or maybe it was simply a craving for chocolate. No matter the reason, I had to make a sweet treat today for my honey and me.

While the sky’s the limit when it comes to treats and possibilities, there were some conditions. With such a hot day outside, it had to be a no-bake recipe so that I didn’t heat up the house too much. Second, it had to use ingredients we already had around the house. And finally, it would have to be quick as I am working today. With the internet at my fingertips, I knew I would find something, though.

After much searching and finding other awesome recipes, I finally found Chocolate Peanut Butter Mocha Powerballs. This recipe had everything I wanted and needed–caffeine, chocolate, oats, and a little sweetness. These would power us both up and give us energy to get through our day.

My choices for the recipe were as follows:

  1. Maple syrup for the sweetener
  2. Whole oats
  3. Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee

Generally, with the choices above, this was a fairly frugal recipe as we already had everything on hand. Plus, purchasing oats and cocoa in bulk helps quite a bit in the long run. The two main ingredients that were expensive would be the maple syrup and the Starbucks. As honey can be purchased in bulk and stored easily, this might have been a better choice to make this recipe a bit more frugal. However, I was feeling lazy and so grabbed the syrup.

With the help of my trusty little food processor, I was able to mix these up rather easily. To make them a bit fancier, I gave them a good coating of cocoa before putting them in the fridge.

These treats pack quite the punch! They are not very sweet but rather have a dark chocolate sort of taste. The flavors mix well and make a perfect treat for afternoon coffee. They are filling, and so I would recommend making these a bit smaller. Still, they are a cool, chocolate-y treat for a hot July day.

Review of Prairie Land Food

Review of Prairie Land Food

Prairie Land Food is a local food share program, but others surely exist throughout the country. Even if you don’t qualify for a food pantry, you can still participate in these programs and get quality food at a low cost. I highly recommend looking at them if you are struggling financially. Click on the link above to find out more.

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Learning to Cook Creatively


When I first began cooking, I was quite the frightened amateur. I followed recipes strictly, frantically running to the store if I ran out of an ingredient. Obviously, this was neither frugal nor practical. I had to find a way to utilize the ingredients that we had on hand while providing my family with a variety of meals. It took some time, but I finally managed to begin improvising when I cooked.

I was inspired to do this partially by my grandmother, who managed to cook for a large family during the worst time in our nation, the Great Depression. She always amazed me in her ability to create meals out of nothing and with no guidance from a recipe. This instinct seemed to come naturally to her, and it certainly frustrated me with my lack of it. I also discovered The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, which provided me with some idea as to how to cook without a recipe. These two influences were crucial in my developing cooking abilities.

How did I begin this type of cooking? I first began studying how basic dishes such as a casserole or a stir fry were put together. For example, a casserole usually includes a carbohydrate such as rice or noodles, some sort of sauce, veggies, and the like. Too, I also looked at the type of spices used for Mexican, Italian, Asian, and similar dishes. Knowing these spices and having them ready at home made cooking so much easier. Learning the basics of cooking is an ongoing process, but it has been worth it.

In addition to studying easy cooking recipes and the basics of such meals, storing a wide range of ingredients at home is necessary. Whether it is a spice, rice, or a vegetable, making sure that you have a good selection for your improvisation will make it that much easier. There are lists of basic pantry items online or often in specialized recipe books. Looking at these suggestions and tailoring them to your family’s tastes and budgets will help you build up the size of your pantry.

And what then? I just learned how to cook as I went along. After I had gathered ingredients for our home pantry, I found myself creating soups, casseroles, and other dishes. These meals vary from time to time, and written recipes look more like suggestions for another person’s creativity. This method for cooking food has been of great benefit for our small family as well as our small budget.

So what do you have to lose? Put that recipe book aside for the evening and give your own creativity a chance for expression in the kitchen. You might enjoy the change!