Another Healthy Fat for Free! {Something from Nothing}

something from nothing graphic Once upon a time, thrifty agrarian folks – who were hearty and healthy and rarely suffered from conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes – took great pleasure in the fruits of their labor and enjoyed it to the fullest, wasting not even a morsel or a speck. Especially bacon. They had no qualms about eating bacon every day for breakfast to their heart’s content… and they made sure to save every last drop of the rendered bacon grease to use for frying… or even drinking. (Don’t believe me? Check out this list of grandmas and grandpas who enjoyed their bacon.) For generations, they survived and thrived on bacon (and a few other things of course).

And then in the twentieth century, a new generation came along and declared that those old folks knew nothing. They were killing themselves eating all that nasty saturated fat! No, no, a healthy diet must include no fat at all. OK, maybe some fats, but only the healthy polyunsaturated kinds. Definitely no saturated fats ever. Oh, wait, no, maybe it’s the trans fats that are the problem.

And then heart disease sky-rocketed. So did diabetes. And cancer. And all sorts of other first-world diseases.

Hmmm. Maybe the old folks knew something after all. 

Me? I figure they were on to something, and I aim to follow their example. If you’re not convinced, read Food Renegade’s primer on healthy fats. Or any number of well-researched and well-written books like The Good Fat Cookbook,  In Defense of Food, Good Calories Bad  Calories, or Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It.

Which is why I religiously save every bit of bacon grease when frying up bacon and keep a jar of it in my refrigerator at all times. It is absolutely my favorite way to save money and eat healthy.

Bacon Grease: A Free, Healthy Fat

In my book, Your Grocery Budget Toolbox (You can get the first chapter free simply by subscribing!), I talk about the importance of prioritizing healthy food so that you know where to spend your hard-earned money. I determined that for myself, healthy fats were of the utmost importance, because those unhealthy fats (that everybody says are so good for us… I’m talking about canola oil, vegetable oil, margarine and the like) can do a lot of damage and I want to avoid that if possible.

Unfortunately, healthy fats can be very expensive! To really get the good stuff (expeller-pressed, virgin, etc.), you almost need to spend an arm and a leg. Or at least your entire grocery budget. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and bacon grease is one of them.

How to Get Bacon Grease

I buy uncured, nitrite-free and nitrate-free bacon at Trader Joe’s for $3.99 a pound (Grass-fed would be better if you can afford it.) and fry the entire batch up at once. I make sure to fry it at low or medium heat so as not to burn the grease and get all kinds of little black specks in it, as it’s not quite so good (or good for you) then (although some people disagree with me on that). Once all the bacon is cooked, I give the pan and the grease a chance to cool off a little, then I pour the liquid grease through a mesh sieve into a jar. I let it cool completely, and then I store the jar in the fridge.

Some sources say the bacon grease will last a month; others say it will last indefinitely. Saturated fats are pretty stable (which is one reason why they are so healthy), so I personally think it lasts significantly longer than a month. At any rate, it doesn’t stick around here for too much longer than that because I use it for everything!

How I Use Bacon Grease

Although it has a very strong bacon flavor, bacon grease goes well with just about everything. (Bacon makes everything better, dontcha know?) Some of my favorite uses are:

  • frying eggs (Mmmmmm!)
  • sauteing vegetables
  • panfrying meat
  • greasing a pan
  • cooking green beans (I should have bought green beans at the farmers’ market today)
  • refried beans

Some other bloggers have other great ideas for using bacon grease:

Or maybe you’re in the mood for Bacon Grease Chocolate Chip Cookies?

Do you save your bacon grease?

Did you know you can also save chicken fat?

Sharing at Fight Back Friday, Frugal Friday, Friday Favorites, Homestead Barn Hop, Better Mom MondaysTitus 2sdayTraditional Tuesday, Teach me TuesdayDomestically Divine TuesdayHealthy 2Day Wednesday, Women Living Well WednesdayWorks for Me WednesdayThe Mommy ClubFrugal Days Sustainable Ways, Allergy Free Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Your Green Resource

 

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Don’t Throw Away Those Sweet Potato Peels

FoodWasteFriday
One of my biggest pet peeves is throwing away food. I could kick myself every time I dump food down the drain or in the trash: it’s just a complete and total waste! And I hate waste. Which is why I am so thrilled to link up to  The Frugal Girl on her weekly feature where she posts a picture of all the food she had to throw away for the week, and invites other bloggers to do the same. The idea is to feel some accountability – who wants to admit they threw away all that money to the whole world? – to help you avoid throwing away food in the future.


So in the picture above, you see what I threw away this week:

  1. a child’s serving of chicken
  2. cucumber-tomato salad
  3. (not pictured) 3-4 soft potatoes

The chicken is leftovers from going out to eat with our extended family to celebrate some birthdays. I tried 3 different times to get both kids to eat their leftovers, but they categorically refused. By then, it was time to throw them away. Sadness.

I made myself the cucumber-tomato salad, ate half of it, then forgot about the other half. Oops.

And the potatoes went bad surprisingly quickly! I’m going to half to cook up the rest of the bag for dinner tonight before they go bad, too.

You’re probably wondering about the sweet potato peels, aren’t you? I have not recently thrown away any sweet potato peels. In fact, I’ve discovered recently that sweet potato peels actually make an amazingly delicious little snack that’s good for you, too. Considering it’s made from something most people would grind in the garbage disposal, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal!

Now if you Google “sweet potato peels”, you’ll find a bunch of tutorials that instruct you to bake the sweet potato whole, scoop out the flesh, and then roast the peels. That’s great if you actually need sweet potato puree, but not so great if you’re wanting to peel and cut the sweet potatoes for some other purpose (like sweet potato fries, for example). In that case, you’re starting with raw peels, a totally different thing altogether.

I couldn’t find a single recipe online that started with raw sweet potato peels, so I invented my own. And Oh. My. Goodness. They were soooooooo good. Even better (in my humble opinion) than the variety that starts with baked potato peels. Instead of baking the peels, I boiled them a little bit first so they weren’t completely raw when I put them in the oven. The olive oil just soaked into the tender peels and created a crisp but tender salty little treat that was rather addictive.



Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the finished product, but trust me. These are good!

Boiling the peels adds an extra step, so these aren’t the QUICKest snack in my repertoire. But they’re still done in half an hour or less.

Very EASY! No special skills required.

Oh yeah, these are CHEAP. Can’t get any cheaper than this!

And very HEALTHY, too. The fiber from the peels and all the antioxidants and other goodness from the sweet potato is just the icing on this cake.

Sharing at Frugal Days Sustainable Ways

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Something from Nothing: Healthy Fats {Guest Post}

something from nothing graphic

I’m so excited to have my friend Stephanie, The Cheapskate Cook, guest posting for me here today. Her blog is one of my favorites, and I read each and every post. She always inspires me with her cheerful attitude and her ability to stretch a grocery budget beyond believable limits. Speaking of stretching… she has a great idea that will help us all stretch our own grocery budgets. I’ve only recently started doing this, and I can’t believe it took me so long!

When I was four years old, I learned to stretch. I was in a ballet class full of tutus, tights, and soft pink shoes; and we were all sitting on the floor, legs stretched out in front of us, trying to touch our noses to our knees. I gritted my teeth and, unlike when I try to stretch today, my nose eventually bounced off my knee. Of course, I was four, so I was much more elastic than I am now.

However, that day I learned that stretching isn’t always easy. It’s not a comfortable word. Usually it implies extra work and maybe even a little bit of pain. Little did I know how much I would have to learn to stretch over the years.

Many of us have had to learn to stretch a lot of things. We had to stretch our comfort zones when we grew up and took responsibility of our work, our bills, and our future. We had to stretch our skill set when we took that job. We had to stretch our patience when we had that kid (especially when that kid turned two). And most of us reading this blog have had to stretch our grocery budget.

Anne has given us a lot of resources here, and I’m thankful to learn with other people who are stretching their food in healthy ways. I remember when we had $35/week for groceries, and I learned how to stretch chickens across more meals than I knew was possible. Who could’ve imagined the mileage you could get out of those things? It was like the endless poultry. I’m still learning these tips and tricks, one of which I want to share with you today.

Many of you are already familiar with making your own chicken broth or stock from the bones of leftover chicken (if you aren’t, here is an easy stepping stone method you can try as you cook up the chicken in your crock pot. If you already make chicken stock or broth, here is a list of tips I’ve learned over the years to increase nutrition and ease.). I’ve been doing this for years, and I usually pour the stock into clean glass jars then store them in the fridge or freezer (jars that are frozen can only be about 2/3 full to prevent the glass from breaking). But before I put them in the freezer, I wait.

I wait because I’ve found a way to stretch the chicken just a little farther. After the stock sits in the fridge for a few hours, a layer of fat forms on the top. This fat actually helps seal your stock and keep it from spoiling, so I try to leave at least a thin layer of fat on the stock.

But as you can see from the photo, the layer is often really thick. So I scoop the excess into a small jar and use it throughout the week whenever I need to sauté vegetables or meat, or grease pans for savory dishes. Works great, adds flavor, and it’s a healthy fat. Using a dab of this chicken fat helps me stretch expensive ingredients like butter and olive oil. And you know I’m all about stretching.

Little practices like this make my frugal kitchen a little more real foods based, helps me waste a little less, and keeps my food flavorful and healthy. Stretching isn’t always fun, but a frugal, efficient kitchen is very rewarding.

When Steph and her husband got married, they lived in a renovated shed and had a grocery budget that matched. As a passionate whole-foodie, Steph was determined to continue eating healthy, minimally-processed foods on their shoestring budget. So The Cheapskate Cook was born.

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Something From Nothing: Dried Orange Zest

something from nothing graphic

A large part of frugality is being careful about what you spend. You know, don’t waste your grocery money on Twinkies and Oreos and then say you can’t afford organic fruits and vegetables.

But an often overlooked aspect of frugality is being careful with what you already have. As our grandparents said, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Our generation is just starting to grasp this concept, but we’ve got a long way to go. Take a clue from those who lived through the Depression and the Great War, and learn to use up every last bit of everything before you throw it out. 

Personally, I find it a rather fun challenge to see if I can find a new use for something that I used to just mindlessly throw away. For example, making an elegant dessert out of stale bread, or turning egg cartons into gift packaging. Or turning orange rinds into gourmet orange peel granules. Sure, you could pay $9 for someone else’s orange peel trash… or you could make your own and save your $9.

orange peel

Trash into treasure. Something from nothing. It’s like you’re a magician. 

The process is pretty simple. All you have to do is this:

  • If your orange is not organic, wash it very carefully before peeling it.
  • Peel your orange (or clementine, or tangerine) and eat it. Yum, yum!
  • Take the pieces of the peel and lay them on a plate. Leave them there for about 24 hours.
  • Run the dried orange peel through a coffee grinder (A clean coffee grinder, please. You don’t want coffee grinds mixed in with your dried orange zest!)
  • Store in an empty spice container (see all the trash you’re turning into treasure?!)
You can also store the dried orange peels in their entirety, and just grind them as you need them. Whatever’s easiest!
The people who know (those gourmet foodie types) recommend removing the pith (that white stuff that sticks to the inside of the peel) to avoid a bitter aftertaste in your orange zest. This is great advice that I usually don’t follow. Personally, I think it’s only a real issue if you’re going to simmer the peels for a long time in something like broth or spiced cider. (Or maybe it’s because I only ever use clementines. I hate oranges with a passion, mostly because they have a lot more pith and membrane than clementines. I mean, by the time you get to the good stuff, you’ve discarded half the orange!) But if you want to take that extra step, I actually recommend that you remove the pith after it’s dried and not before. It scrapes off really easily with the back of a small paring knife when it’s dry. At least with clementines. As I mentioned, I have no experience with real oranges because I avoid them like the plague. (Maybe I should retitle this post “Dried Clementine Zest”. Hmmm.)
Now what to do with those orange-y bits of goodness? Use them pretty much in the same way you would use fresh orange zest. Here are some of my favorite uses:
The possibilities are practically endless! Anywhere you want a little orange flavor, throw in your dried orange zest and voila! Instant orange clementine yumminess.
What’s your favorite something-from-nothing trick?
Linking up to Monday Mania, and…
Homemakers Challenge

 

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Something from Nothing, Or Vegetable Stock

There is nothing so frugal as taking something you would throw away, and instead turning it into something you can use. Like vegetable peelings, for example. Most people dump them in the trash or down the disposal, because, really, what else are you supposed to do with them? Or, for those green thumbs among us, they add them to the compost pile (which is an excellent option for anyone who can). However, there is another use for that miscellaneous collection of apple and carrot peelings that swirl down the drain to the hum of the disposal. I’m talking about stock.

No, not stock options; the kind of stock that is used to make broth or gravy or sauce. Normally, stock is made from the bones remaining after the rest of the meat has been cooked (a whole chicken, for example, or a bone-in roast). Some vegetables and seasonings are usually added to increase the flavor and nutritional content. Sometimes the word stock is used interchangeably with broth, but technically, stock is made from bones while broth is made from the actual meat. Most people purchase their broth in boxes, cans, or cubes at the grocery store and use it in any recipe that calls for stock or broth.

Purchasing broth, however, is neither healthy nor cheap. Most varieties of store-bought broth contain MSG, a major no-no for anyone interested in more healthful foods. In fact, most store-bought broths contain a lot of sodium, period, more than any person needs for good health. On top of that, I find store-bought broth to be rather expensive, especially considering I can make it for nothing at home.

Yes, you heard me. Nothing. Nothing comes from nothing, you say? I beg to differ! Remember those vegetable peels I was talking about? Instead of swirling them down the drain, put them to good use. If you have some left-over meat with bones, so much the better, but they’re not absolutely necessary.

I know, I know, it sounds disgusting. But it’s not, I promise. (Well, it is better if you leave out the potato/sweet potato peels because they add a really earthy kind of flavor that you may not like.) But we all know that the peel of vegetables and fruits usually contain high concentrations of nutrients, sometimes more than the fruit or vegetable itself. Unfortunately, they are often hard to chew, or don’t work well with the dish we are making: putting them in a broth solves that problem and makes good use of the hidden nutrients.

Making vegetable stock is more of a procedure than a recipe. It requires 3 main categories of ingredients, and an optional fourth (which takes it from vegetable stock to meat stock). There are a variety of methods and ways people choose to make their stock, but this is what I do. Do as I do, or do a quick google search and find some more ideas. Whatever you do, don’t throw away those vegetable peels! They’re valuable!

Making Vegetable (or Meat) Stock: A Basic BluePrint
I.Vegetable Peelings
Whenever I peel vegetables and fruits, like apples and carrots, I save the peels in a freezer-safe container or bag. Once I have about 4 cups worth, I am ready to make my stock. For the healthiest stock, use organic produce, but if that’s not always an option for you (it’s definitely not always an option for me, unfortunately), consider using only the skins from the “clean fifteen“. Or at the very least, scrub and wash the non-organic produce very well before using the skins.

I tend to use a lot of carrots and apples, so those peels are often in my stash, but the possibilities are endless. Really, pretty much any root vegetable is perfect for the task. Wilted lettuce leaves are great additions. Cores and ends of most produce can also be used. I always try to have some celery and celery leaf, as well as onion and garlic (including skins) on hand, because they add so much flavor to the stock. I’ve even heard of people using remnants like avocado pits in their stock… pretty much anything goes, it seems! I do avoid including potato peelings, as I mentioned above, and citrus peelings because they tend to add bitterness.

II. Water
I use 6-8 cups of water for every 4 cups of vegetable peels.

III. Seasonings
The sky’s the limit as far as creativity here, but generally speaking, I use a bunch of peppercorns, a few allspice berries, several whole bay leaves, and salt to taste. Depending on my mood, I might add a bit of rosemary, thyme, or other herbs that I like. If I don’t have actual celery or onion, I’ll add celery seed or granulated/dried onion. I also love to throw a bit of dried lemongrass into my stock as well.

IV. Meat Bones (optional)
Whenever I prepare bone-in meat (such as a whole chicken or turkey, or a bone-in roast beef or even pork), I save the bones and freeze them just like the vegetable peels. Then when I have enough ingredients in my stash, I add the bones to the above ingredients and proceed as normal.

Procedure
Stock can be made on the stove top or in the slow cooker. The slow cooker is my favorite, but if I dont’ have time to wait for it, or it’s being used for something else, I’ll use the stove top method.

Place the vegetable peels (and bones if using) in a large stock pot, or in a slow cooker. Add water and seasonings. For the stove top method, bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, and allow to simmer for an hour or so. For the crockpot method, I like to use the “low” setting for 6-8 hours. I find mine gets too hot if I use the high setting, so I prefer the low.

Once the stock has simmered and reached its full flavor potential (taste tests may be required. Add seasonings as needed.), drain through a colander into a bowl. Allow the broth to cool before storing in the refrigerator. (For meat stocks, there is no need to scrape off the fat before refrigerating, as some stock recipes direct. Traditionally, the fat is removed just before using in the recipe, which is easier, anyway, because at that point, the fat will be solid and easily removed.)

Uses
If I’m going to use this stock for broth in a soup, I doctor it up if necessary with some seasoning first. But I don’t hesitate to use it for any other purpose that broth and stock are typically used for, especially sauces and gravies, or in casseroles.

Storage
I store my stock in canning jars or pitchers in the fridge. I try to use them within 2 weeks, although I think their shelf life is longer than that.

It may not be as QUICK as stirring granules into hot water, or pouring from a can, but you have to admit the hands-on time is minimal. If you use the slow cooker, you can either make your broth during the day or overnight, and very little is required from you in the way of preparation.

Isn’t that so EASY? I personally think it’s one of the easiest steps a person can take into creating a more frugal and healthy lifestyle.

It’s definitely CHEAP – I don’t think anyone can argue with me there. Pretty much as cheap as it gets.

And so HEALTHY, too. As we’ve already discussed, using up those peels, cores and ends allows us to make full use of a vegetable’s health potential. Using bones also adds calcium and other minerals, very necessary in a healthy diet. Extra bonus – no MSG, and only as much sodium as is needed to taste, which I guarantee is not as much as they put in those cans.

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Something from Nothing, Or From Humble Bread Crumbs to Elegant Dessert

I love the movie “Sound of Music” but my absolute least favorite song ever is “Something Good”. You know, that song where the Captain and Maria drone on and on about nothing? As in, “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever couououououould……” I always thought it was the most boring song ever on a musical, which is saying something because there are lots of songs on lots of musicals and a lot of them have boring potential. However, that one holds the “THE Most Boringest” title in my mind. What’s more, the song is not even true. It sounds true: nothing comes from nothing. But I am here to prove to you that it is definitely not true.

OK, so maybe sort of true, because we’re starting with bread crumbs, which is definitely something. However, these bread crumbs came from old stale bread, which is generally considered trash or compost. And trash is comparable to nothing, right? Work with me here; I know my logic is stunning at times.

Actually, in my house, stale bread is never considered trash, because I know what a true treasure in disguise it is. From the humble dry bread can come a multitude of amazing edibles, including, of course, bread crumbs (Don’t ever buy those, by the way. They are SO simple to make and cost, well, practically nothing.), but also meat loaf or meat ball filler, croutons, stuffing, even bird food if nothing else. I save all the “heels” from my loaves of bread and any bread that gets stale before it is used up, and I freeze them in a plastic zippered bag. When the bag is full, I usually make bread crumbs, but if I don’t happen to need bread crumbs, I like to make more fun and exciting things.

Like this absolutely delicious chocolate bread pudding. It’s actually more like a soft, moist, elegant cake, delicious and pretty enough to serve even to distinguish guests. It’s really something. And it came from nothing!

So don’t throw away your stale bread. Not only can it be used for such staples as toast and bread crumbs, it can also be magically turned into a deliciously yummy dessert. This chocolate bread pudding is even worth buying a loaf of bread and watching it go stale! Yes, that good.

You can find the original recipe here. I’ve significantly health-fied it by reducing sugar, switching the shortening out for butter, and using homemade whole wheat bread crumbs instead of store-bought white bread slices.


This pudding can be eaten on its own, but it’s even better garnished with some berries and whipped cream or ice cream. This recipe will serve 6.

You have to allow an hour for bake time, but the prep is pretty QUICK, probably about 15 minutes or less, so very little hands-on time.

It’s very EASY, also. Using a water bath sounds complicated but is actually very simple. I just place a cookie sheet in the oven, and then put the baking dish on top of it. I pour water into the cookie sheet, and that’s it! It’s also a very useful technique for cheesecakes.

Such a CHEAP dessert. The base of it is the bread crumbs, which would otherwise be trashed. It does take 2 cups of milk, but if you really wanted to save money and have a slightly less rich dessert, you could use a mixture of milk and water. Or use powdered milk for baking.

It is dessert, but it’s a fairly HEALTHY one. The sugar is really the most unhealthy thing about it, and I reduced that by half from the original recipe. I also used bread crumbs from homemade whole wheat bread, so they are significantly healthier bread crumbs than the typical white bread fare. Each serving (without the whipped cream) is about 230 calories.

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something out of nothing – bread crumbs

something from nothing graphic

Wait! Before you throw it away, think for a second. Can you use it for something else? Frugality is not only saving your money when purchasing, it is saving your money by getting everything out of what you have already purchased. I read somewhere that the frugal person’s motto was the same as the environmentalist’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I think that if we all followed that motto, we’d save a lot of resources, in our homes and around the world.

For starters, what about that stale bread? Or those end slices no one wants to eat? Whatever you do, don’t throw them away! Here are just a few ideas of what you can do with them:

-bread pudding
-croutons
-stuffing
-french toast
-grilled/toasted sandwiches
-and my personal favorite, bread crumbs

Whenever I have stale bread, or leftover chunks or pieces, I never throw them away. Instead, I use them to make bread crumbs. If I don’t have time at the moment, I bag them and put them in the freezer until I do. Some people keep a bag in their freezer for just such a purpose; every time they have some extra bread, they throw it in there and make a big batch of bread crumbs when they’ve collected enough.

Bread crumbs can be used for a variety of purposes, the main one being to bread meat such as chicken or fish before baking it. This adds flavor and texture. Bread crumbs are also used in meat loaf, or as a topping for a casserole or cooked vegetables. They also add nice crunch and a pretty touch sprinkled on thick soups, such as potato or chowders.

There are about as many different ways and methods of making bread crumbs as there are uses for them, but this is what I do:

Easy Bread Crumbs
Rip the bread into chunks and place in a food processor. Process until fine. Add spices to your liking (I like to use Italian spices such as oregano, basil, parsley, etc.), even grated parmesan cheese or garlic or onion powder, and pulse once or twice in the processor to blend it together. Spread in a fine layer on a cookie sheet and leave in a warm oven until very dry. I like to leave it in there for quite some time – half an hour or so – just to be sure all the moisture is gone so I can store it longer. Cool the bread crumbs and store in a tightly covered container (I reuse an applesauce jar for this purpose) in the cupboard. Alternatively, you can store it in a plastic bag in the freezer.

For meat loaf and some other uses, you may want soft bread crumbs. In this case, all you need to do is pulse the bread chunks in the food processor a couple times until you have coarse crumbs. Keep those crumbs in the freezer until your next meat loaf!

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