Emeals – free lunch meal plan

May 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Family Health

Slow cooking meals

I love meal planners. I try, every month to sit down and set up at least a basic schedule of what we’re going to eat for the month. And then… it just doesn’t happen.

I love that there are companies out there that do this for us… at pretty good prices too. And today I’ve been offered the chance to offer YOU a slow cooker plan from eMeals.com – the leading online meal planner.

eMeals.com has launched a new slow cooker meal plan to make your life even easier when it comes to getting meals on the table! Each slow cooker plan will include 7 crockpot dinners, with some timesaving “cook once, eat twice” favorites. They have both a Slow Cooker Classic plan full of tasty comfort food as well a groundbreaking Slow Cooker Clean Eating Plan that serves up quick, simple, and healthy meals. Right now, you can use discount code LUNCHFREE for a free lunch meal plan with the purchase of a dinner plan.

So head on over and give them a try! Let me know what you think!

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How to Make a Strawberry Spinach Salad Your Family Will Love

April 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Recipes

Spinach salad is one of my very favorite salads to eat in the summer … well really almost any time of the year.  It’s healthy, looks fabulous on the plate with almost any other main dish and most people love it!

Avocado & Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar -...

Avocado & Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar – Yummo! (Photo credit: SweetOnVeg)

With a tasty dressing and summer strawberries, you can make a strawberry and spinach salad that everyone in your family will love. If you are introducing this salad to children, chop the spinach into small pieces and mix them well into the other salad ingredients.

For 4 servings of Strawberry Spinach Salad you will need:
-One 10-ounce bag or bunch of fresh spinach
-2 cups sliced, fresh strawberries, washed and tops removed
-1 cup thinly sliced red onion
-1 cup pralines or candied pecans

Optional: chopped cooked chicken or sliced hard boiled egg

Place all ingredients except pecans in large salad bowl. Pour strawberry vinaigrette (recipe below) over salad to taste and toss to combine. Refrigerate any leftover vinaigrette. Sprinkle the whole salad or individual servings with pecans and serve.

Strawberry Vinaigrette
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup whole strawberries, washed and tops removed
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (you can use apple cider vinegar, but balsamic vinegar does especially well with strawberries)
1/4 teaspoon salt – adjust to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4- 1/2 teaspoon sugar – adjust to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend or process until it becomes liquid.

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Early Springtime Observations

April 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Outdoor Fun


Nature (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Getting back in touch with nature is an enjoyable, healthy activity for children and adults. Children are usually fascinated by nature, and enjoy being outside. Adults often find observing nature to be a healing and peaceful activity. With spring right around the corner, now is a good time to teach your children some of the interesting changes that are taking place this time of year.

Spring is brief – there is a rather short window in which to observe spring’s changes, so some planning is required to capture these changes. Here are some ideas to get you started in your nature observations this spring.

* Find a spot to observe. This can be done in your own yard, and it does not have to be a large area. It can be just one square foot or a whole garden, but it should be a low-traffic area so that you are observing nature and not someone’s gardening efforts. You also don’t want people walking over your natural area.

* Once you choose the spot, note how it looks the day you begin your observations. Use a digital camera or garden journal (or a combination of the two) to record details about what you see. If you enjoy drawing, you and your children can make sketches of the area. Some questions to ask as you begin your observations are:

-Is the soil muddy, dry, sandy, etc.?
-Are there moss or rocks present?
-Are there any plants present at all, such as grass or weeds?

* Visit your area daily. If you like, set up a chair or bench nearby. Using your recording methods, sketch, photograph, and take notes on any changes you observe. If birds or other animals visit the area, note that as well as any changes in plants or soil. (Don’t be tempted to put out food to attract animals, however – you are just observing, not interfering.) Even if you don’t note any changes, write that down as well.

* Consider getting a field guide to the plants and wildflowers in your area, and identify the various plants as they grow. If the plants bloom, note when they bloom and for how long, and write down the species if you and your children identify it.

Your children will become attuned to small details in their special spot, a skill that is applicable in other areas of life. You will all be surprised at how much change occurs in nature over a short period of time, even though it is gradual.

When spring turns to summer, go over your observations and see how much the original spot has changed. The beauty of observing carefully is that you are making note of details not discerned in just random, passing glances. You will see the gradual greening of the spot, the blooming of flowers, and changes in the soil from dry to wet, or from packed to loose. This can be a special, annual activity for your whole family.

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Low-Impact Birthday Party Ideas

March 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Articles

English: Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine ...

English: Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine Birthday Party Room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you think of children’s birthday parties, you may get images of disposable tablecloths, plastic favors, paper plates and cups, and balloons. These fun events can be extremely wasteful. But children are often just as happy with home-made favors and reusable tablecloths. They just like time to play and eat cake! So let’s take a look at low-impact birthday party ideas that are big on fun and low on waste.

1. Decorations

Here is where you can get really creative. Children enjoy handmade decorations, both making and looking at them. Here are some ideas.

* Instead of rubber balloons, try setting up stations of eco-friendly bubble solution and large, reusable bubble wands. You can also get paper balloons that are more eco-friendly than rubber.

* Instead of plastic confetti, use a hole-punching tool on old magazines to make colorful circles and other shapes.

* Use flower blossoms, petals, or colorful leaves you gather yourself instead of confetti.

* Make flower chains, or recycle old magazines to make colorful paper chains.

2. Tables and Flatware

* Use an old sheet for the tablecloth, and let the party guests decorate it with fabric paint or markers. It will then be a keepsake.

* Instead of plastic or paper cups, plates and flatware, use washable ones. Again, creativity can go a long way in “covering” for your money saving – for example, have a car wash theme and serve your punch from a bucket (clean and food grade, of course), or serve drinks from a hanging pot (cauldron-style) for a Halloween theme.

3. Games, Themes, and Favors

Remember that children really love to play and run around. Adults tend to think that every unscheduled minute is a wasted minute, but your low-impact party will be remembered as one of the most fun ones ever if you hold it at a playground, park, or other place where kids can be kids.

* Go for a green theme. Let children plant garden plants, flowers, or trees for a seasonal birthday memory. If weather permits, hold the birthday party outdoors in a local park or state forest.

* Games do not need to involve paper, plastic, or other disposable items to be fun. Scavenger hunts (try a nature theme), tag, relay races, and other “old fashioned” games are perfect for a low-impact party.

* Host a “come as you are” party. This party theme does not involve paper invitations, making it even more eco-friendly. Each guest gets notified electronically or by phone at random times of the day, and whatever the prospective party guest is doing or wearing at that moment is how he or she must come to the party.

For example, if you call one of your guests at 9am and he is wearing pajamas, he wears those pajamas to the party. If the prospective guest is out walking her dog when you call, she must bring her dog and wear her walking clothes to the party. This is a really fun theme that can get everyone laughing.

* Favors can be home-made baked goods, potted seedlings or seed packets, or something children will treasure long term, like polished stones.

There are so many ways to celebrate birthdays without spending a lot of money or being wasteful.

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How To Host an Eco-Friendly Kids’ Party

February 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Articles

English: Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine ...

English: Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine Birthday Party Room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Children’s parties are often associated with waste, and for good reason. Between paper plates and cups, plastic flatware, party hats, and favors, a child’s party can turn into a very wasteful event. If you’d like to host an eco-friendly kids’ party, here are some ideas.


1. Hand-make invitations (with your child’s input) on recycled paper. Or send electronic invitations.


2. Bake a healthier birthday cake using whole wheat pastry flour and honey or other natural sweeteners. Instead of a cake, you could bake healthy cookies or muffins disguised as cupcakes. Arrange them in an interesting, dramatic display (cupcakes can be stacked in tiers, cookies can be put on skewers to mimic flowers, etc.).


3. Serve iced herbal tea and water instead of artificially colored, sugary drinks. Brew up some fruit-flavored herbal tea, such as raspberry, and sweeten it with stevia or natural sugar. Iced spearmint or peppermint teas are also favorites with children, as is homemade lemonade and punch.


4. Ask for recycled or used gifts. Request that your guests shop at local antique, Goodwill or second-hand stores for your child’s birthday present, or even in their own attic or basement.


5. Request that gifts be wrapped in reusable totes, cloth, or newspaper.


6. Use reusable tableware and tablecloths, or go with those made from recycled materials. You can also rent party supplies that are reusable.


7. Favors do not have to be plastic trinkets in plastic bags. Use brown lunch bags, for example, decorated with stickers, markers, stamps, etc. Fill the goody bags with eco-friendly (or homemade) candy or cookies, art supplies, homemade play-dough, wooden toys, etc.

8. Party guests can plant a tree in the birthday child’s honor.

9. If it’s evening, have a campfire and stargazing. Daytime parties can involve a local park or playground followed by a nature walk. Camping out in tents overnight is another fun (and green) party idea for older kids. If weather does not permit, “camping” in tents in the basement or living room can be just as fun, and stargazing through windows works fine.


Your child’s birthday party does not have to be expensive or wasteful.


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How to Choose the Right Composting System for Your Home

February 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Gardening


Compost (Photo credit: nancybeetoo)

It’s the middle of winter but that doesn’t mean it’s too early or not a good time to think about your spring gardening chores.  Composting is an excellent practice for young and old alike and easy for kids of almost all ages to help with at various levels.

There are as many composting systems as there are gardeners out there! From small space to large farms, gardeners have all sorts of creative ways to compost their waste. Which system is right for you and your family?

Here are some questions to ask yourself before starting your compost project, and a list of some of the more common systems. This should help you determine what the best system is for your situation.

How much do you compost?

Do you have a lot of acreage? Do you mow and rake a large area and end up with a lot of lawn waste? Or do you basically want a system to compost kitchen scraps? Consider how much waste you generate before deciding on a system.

How big an area do you want to enrich with compost?

Whether you have a small garden, an indoor garden, or multiple, large gardens, they all need compost. Take a moment to calculate how much area you are going to be enriching with compost before beginning, so you don’t end up with too much or too little compost (although your neighbors may appreciate any extra you have!).

Here are some of the compost systems available:

1. Pile it up
The least complicated compost system is simply a pile on the ground in a location that receives a balance of sun and shade. Simply start with yard clippings and add kitchen scraps, and use a pitchfork or shovel to keep it heaped so that it will decompose. This kind of compost will need to be turned by hand. The open pile system may be a problem in certain cities or neighborhoods, so check with your local zoning officials to find out if this kind of system is allowed.

2. An open bin
Also a fairly simple method, an open bin can be constructed with wood and wire netting. This is a good way to use scrap wood such as old packing pallets. Such a bin can have a slatted wood bottom, or simply sit on the ground surrounded by the wood and wire structure. You don’t even need wood scraps; an open bin can consist of a cross section of perforated metal sheeting, or an upright, cylindrical loop of wire. Again, this is a potentially problematic system for those who live in cities or suburbs with close neighbors.

3. A closed compost bin
These look like large, plastic barrels, and that is essentially what they are. Most municipalities accept this kind of composting system, and your local waste management authority should have information about where to obtain such a bin. In fact, some waste management authorities have such bins available for sale. There are quite of few styles and varieties of commercial bins available, including some that can be turned from the outside. Generally speaking, those offered by municipalities are less expensive that those sold at garden centers or online.

4. A worm bin
This is a method of compost that can be done indoors in a garage or basement. Sometimes called vermicomposting, a worm bin uses the natural habits of worms to break down kitchen and yard waste into usable compost. You can purchase a worm bin or make your own – just be sure it is waterproof, has air holes and is opaque (worms like it dark).



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Are Warehouse Stores Wearing Out Your Wallet?

February 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13:  People shop inside of...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Are Warehouse Stores Wearing Out Your Wallet?
Do they save you money or just create more work?
by Jill Cooper

It’s Saturday morning. With grocery list in hand, you drag a very unwilling family out to the car where you proceed to take them on a mega shopping spree at Sam’s or Costco.

Marching down each isle you tell your family members “We need 3 cases of corn, 4 cases of green beans and — Oh! That’s a good deal on peanut butter so let’s get 3 gallons. Of course Susie, your can get a bag of cookies. They are so cheap! …and Billy you can have a few bags of your favorite chips! Yum! Oh look — samples! These taste great. Let’s get some! What a great buy on chicken – we need 20…”

At the dog food aisle the excitement mounts as each member of the family grabs a corner of the 50 lb. bag of dog food to stack on top of the basket. (We won’t mention you only have 1 toy poodle at home.) After waiting in line and waiting in line and waiting in line you push your agonizingly heavy and overloaded baskets out to the car. Getting everything into the trunk of the car makes putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle seem like a breeze but, finally, home you go.

After you lug everything into the house, it’s time to spend the next few hours repackaging things for the freezer. You double wrap your 20 chickens (they could be in that freezer for quite a while) and frantically try to find places for everything else in your cupboards and pantry. By the time you are done, you are so exhausted that you couldn’t begin to lift a finger to cook, so you all go out to eat.

A few weeks later you gingerly sniff the gallon of half used peanut butter as you try to decide if that strange taste is because it has gone rancid or simply because you are sick of peanut butter. You threw out that partially used gallon of maple syrup yesterday because it had sugared and was looking really strange. You still have ten of your chickens left but if you bathe them in some spicy sauce you are pretty sure your family won’t notice the freezer burned taste. In spite of having to throw out most of the 50 lbs. of dog food (after a growing family of mice had invaded it), you’re sure you saved money because “they” said you would.

People constantly ask me, “Can you really save more money at warehouse stores?” I usually answer, “Not any more so than at other stores.” I have checked prices at various stores on many different occasions and factoring everything in, I haven’t found any exceptional savings at warehouse stores.

Here are some tips to help you decide if a warehouse store is for you:

Do your homework and compare prices. Buying in bulk is not always cheaper. You can really save by checking and comparing prices. I was at Costco one day where there was a display of two Clorox one gallon bottles for $1.98 AFTER rebate. I stood there amazed as people frantically grabbed this “great deal.” I knew I could get that same Clorox for $.98 a gallon at my regular discount store and I didn’t have to mess with a rebate, pay postage or lug two gallons of Clorox shrink wrapped together to my car.

Don’t buy impulsively just because it sounds like a good deal. Say you can get 12 bottles of sunscreen for a great price. Think it through before you buy. If your family only uses one bottle of sunscreen a year, that means you will be storing sunscreen for 12 years, not to mention that most of the sunscreen will expire long before then.

In most homes, one quarter of the food people buy gets thrown away. If your family of four eats pancakes once a week, that gallon of syrup is going to last you a VERY long time. You might also consider that unless dry goods and freezer items are very carefully stored, they will go bad or get bugs in them. Remember to buy the size that is appropriate for you.

You need to be very well organized to buy in bulk. Finding places to store everything and then carefully keeping track of what you have is critical if you want to use it all before it spoils.

Most people usually spend more than they originally planned on things they don’t need. This never saves money. We taste samples and so often end up buying. If this is you, be careful. Maybe sampling is a bad idea (unless you’re making lunch of it)!

If you have ten kids, run a day care or are buying for an organization then you almost have to buy in bulk. If you have a small or average sized family, you will probably save as much shopping for sales at your regular grocery store or discount store. The key is to do the math and evaluate your practical needs. You have to decide for yourself if buying at warehouse stores actually saves you money or just creates more work.


For more easy and practical ways to save money and get out of debt, check out Dig out Of Debt (click the title to go to the info page) and learn more about how to keep more of your money!

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit http://www.LivingOnADime.com , sign up for our free Living On A Dime Newsletter and learn to save more!

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How to Roast and Use Pumpkins!

October 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Recipes

Taken for Halloween during a carving

Image via Wikipedia

by Tawra Kellam

Peter Piper Picked a Profoundly Plump Pumpkin — Now what does he do with it?

How to Roast a Pumpkin

You can only do this with a freshly carved pumpkin! Do not use on a pumpkin that has been carved and sitting out for several days.

To bake a fresh 6 to 7 pound pumpkin, halve the pumpkin crosswise and scoop out the seeds and strings. Place halves, hollow side down, in a large baking pan covered with aluminum foil and add a little water. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until fork-tender. Remove. When cool, scrape pulp from shells and puree, a little at time, in food processor or blender. Mix with a little salt.

To freeze pumpkin puree. Put 1-2 cups in freezer bags along with spices and use in pies.

To use pumpkin puree for recipes: Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a flour sack dish towel and let the pumpkin sit to drain out the extra moisture BEFORE cooking with it. Pumpkin is very moist, so in order for your recipe to come out correctly, you MUST strain it.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Boil seeds in water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Sprinkle with salt or seasoned salt. Place a thin layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 250 degrees. Stir after 30 minutes. Bake 1/2-1 hour more or until crunchy.

*Squash seeds may also be used.

Pumpkin Smoothies

1/2 cup pumpkin
3/4 cup milk or vanilla yogurt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. brown sugar
4 ice cubes
whipped cream (optional)
sprinkles (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into 2-3 glasses. Serve with a small amount of whipped cream on top. You may also add orange sprinkles if you like. Serves 2-3.

Pumpkin Crunch

1 package yellow cake mix
1 can (15 oz.) solid packed pumpkin
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup nuts
1 cup butter, melted

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture. Then sprinkle with nuts. Drizzle with butter. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, served chilled. Serve with whipped topping.

Homemade Pumpkin Muffins

1 cake mix (any flavor works, but chocolate is our hands down favorite!) 1 can pumpkin or 2 cups mashed cooked pumpkin

Beat together with electric mixer until smooth (It will be really thick). Add 1 cup mini chocolate chips and stir. Line muffin tins with paper muffin cups and spray with non-stick spray. Use an ice cream scoop to put batter into muffin cups (I can get 24 muffins from one box of mix). Bake at 350 degrees for around 20 minutes. Cool and frost if desired. My family likes them just as they are when they are hot from the oven.

Spice cake mix is great – add white chocolate chips, peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips.

I have made pumpkin muffins with white cake mix and yellow cake mix too. They have around 120 calories apiece with the mini chocolate chips and are virtually fat free. If you are on weight watchers, they only count as 1 point.

This is a fabulous way to sneak some vitamin A rich veggies in on the kids. Just don’t let them see you put the pumpkin into the muffins and they will never know it is there. These are more moist than very expensive name brand double chocolate chip muffins.

Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup pumpkin
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1/2 cup nuts, chopped (optional)

Combine ingredients. Stir just until moistened; batter may be lumpy. Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with vegetable oil. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle. Cook until bubbles begin to burst. Turn and continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with Pumpkin Maple Sauce and nuts.

Pumpkin Maple Sauce

1 cup maple syrup
1 1/4 cups pumpkin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice Mix together until well blended.

Visit www.LivingOnADime.com for more easy recipes!

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit www.LivingOnADime.com , sign up for our free Living On A Dime Newsletter and learn to save more!

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Vegetable Gardening This Summer – What You Should Do Now

April 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Articles

vegetable garden, detail

Image via Wikipedia

Anyone planning a vegetable garden knows that what you do before summer can have a big effect on how your garden grows. There are many things you can do now to ensure your vegetable gardening this summer is productive. Try these tips and watch your garden prosper.

If you haven’t already done so, spring is the perfect time to till your garden spot. Make sure the soil is not too wet. An easy way to determine this is to grab a clump of dirt in your hand and try to make it into a ball. If it crumbles apart when you open your hand, your soil can be tilled. If it still sticks together or feels very wet, you’ll want to wait for it to dry out a bit.

Determine how large you want the garden to be and mark it off. Run the tiller in the garden to incorporate plant matter from the last year.

You may also want to test your soil to see if it has the proper nutrients needed for a vegetable garden. Soil tests can be purchased from most plant nurseries or other stores which sell gardening supplies. Local colleges may provide testing free of charge if they have degrees related to farming.

Plan what you’ll plant. You may already know what vegetables you want to grow but chances are you’ll change your mind at least once before the plants are in the ground. Think about the vegetables your family loves the most. Corn, tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are common plants in a family vegetable garden.

Consider whether you’ll start seeds or purchase the plants partially grown. Of course, there’s nothing quite like watching seedlings as they sprout and grow, but buying pre-grown seedlings makes getting the plants in the garden much quicker. Which plants can you start from seed and which ones will you purchase?

Once you know what you’ll plant, think about where you’ll place each one. Some plants are best planted close to others. These are called companion plants. They may either provide natural pest resistance or nutrients the other plant needs. Take time to research which plants can benefit the others in your garden.

Determine how you’re going to deal with weeds in your garden. Will you rely solely upon chemicals to avoid having to weed, or is there another method you can use? Consider using newspaper covered by black landscaping fabric or black plastic sheeting between rows. This will greatly reduce the amount of weeding you’ll have to do. You can also use the black landscaping fabric in the rows themselves by cutting an ‘x’ where the plants will go. This fabric allows the rain to get through and yet blocks much of the sunlight so the weeds can’t grow.

What will you do about pests? Some gardeners are content to use chemical pesticides. If you’re considering a ‘greener’ approach, you may want to add beneficial insects to your garden. These would include ladybugs, praying mantis and earthworms.

Don’t forget to check your garden tools. Give your tiller and other mechanical equipment a spring-time tune-up. Ensure your rakes, hoes and other hand tools don’t have loose handles. You’ll also want to ensure they aren’t rusty.

Think about other items you may need for your vegetable garden this year. Do you have a large-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face and neck? What about something to sit or kneel on while you’re planting? Do you have a place to sit back and enjoy your garden after the work is done?

There’s so much involved in planting a summer garden you’ll want to get started as soon as you can. You can check your tools to ensure they’re in good working order, plan your garden and start your seeds. Before you know it, the time will be here to begin your garden in earnest and you can look forward to summer with home-grown vegetables.

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Homemade Pie Baking Tips

November 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Recipes

Image by Ilja via Flickr

Homemade Pie Baking Tips
by Jill Cooper

If you love baking pies from scratch and have the time to do so, then go for it, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t. There are many ways to get that homemade taste without as much work. For example, say your family loves pumpkin pie but every year you notice that they only eat the filling and leave most of the crust. Then, this year, don’t put your pumpkin pie filling in a crust. Just pour it into a well greased baking dish or pan to bake. This will save you time and calories.

If your family loves apple pie but you don’t have time for a crust then make an apple crisp instead.

For homemade cinnamon rolls: Use frozen dough — most people can’t tell the difference. I’ve told this story before but it is a perfect example of what I mean. My grandmother-in-law made the best “homemade” noodles that everyone fought over and raved about at every family get-together. No one made noodles like grandma’s. One day I decided to ask grandma what her secret was and she took me to her freezer and laughingly, pulled out a bag of frozen egg noodles. Everyone assumed that she had made them from scratch.

Make your life easy and take shortcuts when you can. It is much less expensive to use convenience foods sometimes than to go out to eat.

Here are some more pie tips for you bakers and non bakers:

For something different, try serving your apple pie with butter pecan ice cream instead of the usual vanilla and/or top it with a little caramel ice cream topping.

Replace 1/4 of the white sugar in your apple pie recipe with brown sugar and/or replace your regular spices with pumpkin pie spice *(below).

You can give canned apple pie filling more of a homemade flavor by adding apple pie or pumpkin pie spice* to it.

Lime juice works much better than lemon juice to prevent fruits like apples from turning brown.

When making fruit pies, microwave the filling for 5-7 minutes before pouring it into the crust. This prevents the crust from becoming overly brown before the filling is completely cooked. In the case of an apple pie, you won’t have to worry about partially cooked apples.

When making pumpkin pie: Before you pour in the filling, bake the crust for 2-3 minutes just until it starts puffing a little on the bottom. Watch it carefully because it only takes a minute and you don’t want to totally cook it. This really helps prevent those sometimes very soggy pie crusts.

If you like cheese with your apple pie, mix 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese into your pie crust and then layer the apple filling with another cup of grated cheese.

If your pies are too runny, add 1 Tbsp. of tapioca to your filling.

When making pecan pie, melt the butter in a saucepan until it turns golden brown. Watch it so it doesn’t burn. This adds the most wonderful caramel like flavor to your pie.

When making a graham cracker crust, add a little cinnamon to the mix.

The Best Pie Crust

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/4 cups shortening, cold
1 egg, cold
1 Tbsp. vinegar, cold
5 Tbsp. cold water

Mix flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or 2 knives. Add egg, vinegar and 3 tablespoons water. Mix lightly. If dough is too dry, add more water. Mix with hands. Don’t overmix. Mix just until the dough sticks together. Divide into thirds. Roll out to make 3 pie crusts. When using the crust for the top of the pie sprinkle sugar on top. Crust can be frozen in balls and then defrosted and rolled out when ready to use. Makes 3 crusts.

Graham Cracker Crust

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 stick margarine, melted

Mix all ingredients together and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Cool and fill with favorite pudding filling. Makes 1 crust.

Pecan Pie

1 stick butter
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt
1 1/4 cups pecans, chopped
1 (8-9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Brown butter in a pan until golden brown. Do not burn. Cool. Add other ingredients in order given in a separate bowl. Mix well. Blend in cooled butter well. Pour into pie crust. Bake 10 minutes at 425° and then 40 minutes at 325°. Makes one pie.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. cloves

Mix ingredients well. Makes 1 teaspoon. Use in any recipe calling for pumpkin pie spice.

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt, by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit LivingOnADime.com

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