Saturday, December 3, 2016

Economics of Shake and Bake

We enjoy a childlike approach to life, so we eat a lot of kids' meal-type foods such as chicken fingers; shaped fish nuggets, and cracker-and-spread snack foods. Switching to our veggie and fruit-based diet almost overnight meant that we sometimes found ourselves stubbornly wishing for our high-fat, breaded favorites. It seemed like a good idea to make our own nuggets so that we could control the fat content and eliminate the high fructose corn syrup and salt in most commercial coating mixes. Convenience won this week, so I found myself hunting for Shake and Bake so that we could try making some breaded tofu chunks.

I had a case of sticker shock when I realized that I was about to pay $3.99 for a 5-ounce box, especially when I saw that it was just bread crumbs, spices, and high fructose corn syrup. Near the Shake and Bake, I saw that seasoned bread crumbs were just $1.39 per pound. I wanted barbecue flavor, though, so I looked at the spice aisle and found A-1 dry spice rub for $2.99 for  a four-ounce bottle. I mixed the two together and wound up paying just under $4.50 for a full pound of spiced coating mix. I would have paid close to $12 for 15 ounces of Shake and Bake.

Kid-fu tofu chunks
Photo by Jack V. Sage 12/04/2016

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mini Chorizo Meat Loaves

Food City had chorizo for 1.50 off per package, making it 69 cents per 12-ounce package, because they were due to expire the next day. I bought 10 packages and put them in the freezer as soon as I got home. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, keeping food continuously frozen extends its shelf-life almost indefinitely. For best quality and flavor, however, they advise using the product within one to two months.

I decided to make mini meat loaves, using one package of the chorizo and 1.5 pounds of ground beef. I added 1 cup of chopped celery, one whole chopped green bell pepper, and two chopped onions, along with about 1 tablespoon of basil. I mixed everything together, patted the meat into 10 individual rectangles about two inches by four inches by one-inch thick. I covered each loaf with some four-cheese spaghetti sauce and sprinkled additional basil and chive on each loaf. They are baking in the oven as we speak.

Photo by Jack V Sage, 06/29/2015

Because I have a wall oven, it is hottest near the back, so I turned the pan around after 30 minutes at 350 degrees F, then cooked them for another 30 minutes.

Photo by Jack V Sage, 06/29/2015

One of my writing friends -- Toastmaster and Caffeinated Entrepreneur Lee Rowley -- asked me how they turned out. I could have doubled the chorizo or used less ground beef. The chorizo flavor became a pleasant undertone, and the loaves stayed juicy and delicious. I should have made some mashed potatoes or riced some cauliflower to go with them, and maybe added a side salad for a complete meal.

Reference: Focus On: Sausages 

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Best Things Are Free

One of many ways I cut corners in my food budget is by taking part in product sampling. BzzAgent will send you free products (or coupons for free products) in exchange for writing about what you think of the product after you have a chance to #GetItFree or get it with a deep-discount coupon. All they ask in return is that you try the product, then give your honest opinion of whether it is good enough to buy again, whether it serves the purpose it was intended to serve, and what qualities make it a product worth recommending or not.

Last week I tried this:

Looks good, huh? Well, it tasted even better. Only a New York cheesecake from a bakery could possibly outdo the creamy, smooth cheesecake-flavored yogurt swirled with smooth, decadent strawberry sauce. The sidecar compartment on this one holds granola, and the nifty fold means you can tip the entire contents into your yogurt without spilling any.

I #GotItFree at Fry's Foods, part of the Kroger family of stores, thanks to #BzzAgent, and my friends and coworkers got coupons for $1 off on two Müller® Dessert Inspired Yogurts. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Throw a Little More Shade

We assembled the shade structure yesterday, with a few modifications. We decided to use wood screws to hold the 3-way side outlet fittings in place, so we don't need any PVC cement. We also decided not to use supports at the center of each long pipe, because the structure holds together fine without them. That eliminated the need for the six slip-tee pipe fittings. Those two modifications shaved $13.50 off our material costs. Including the cost of the six side outlets, the packet of wood screws, four spring clamps, and the nine pieces of PVC pipe, the entire structure will cost us just a little over $55 for a ten-foot by 8-foot by 8-foot structure.

Here is our first build. We have not yet put the screws in, and we still have to decide whether to grommet the canvas and secure the tarp with bungee cords or use more spring clamps, like we are already doing.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Throw a Little Shade

Gypsy and I decided to design our own shade structure to use with the gravity chairs we bought in 2013. Picture a quarter-section, lengthwise, of a cylindrical solid. The curved "outer" edge will be covered with a tarp, nine feet by twelve feet. The two flat faces of the solid will be interchangeable as the "front" and the "base." It would be shaped like this:

Picture the black lines as lengths of white PVC pipe, and imagine that the flat sides were just the connected pipes, eight feet long for the "upright" pipes, and ten feet long for the "length" of the quarter-cylinder. Here are the parts we are using to make the structure:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Everlast-in' Love

Rebuilding yourself after a stroke or other major health issue can be frustrating, especially for someone with a lifelong history of intense daily physical activity and a career that depended on stamina and coordination. Staying motivated becomes the biggest challenge when mundane tasks and exercises just don't light your inner fire.

Boxing might seem like an odd choice for a rehabilitative activity, but it turned out to be just the right thing for us. We started out with an Everlast cardio bag, two pairs of Everlast gel sparring gloves and a pair of Everlast Mantis punch mitts. The bag consists of a two-piece, water-filled plastic base, a pole with a spring, plus the bag itself. Here's what the bag looks like after assembly:

While the cardio bag is great for punching a specific spot (I like to hit the center stroke of the "E") the base is not heavy enough to keep it from sliding around on the floor, and the spring allows the bag to get out of control if you throw punches that are not equal in strength, speed and direction.

Its five-foot height makes it great for seated workouts, for those who have trouble standing for any length of time. We use rolling office chairs, and brace our feet on the base while one of us steadies the bag for the other.

As Gypsy worked out and regained strength and control, the cardio bag was not enough challenge. We needed something that encouraged or even required standing, so we finally bought an Everlast single-station heavy bag stand.

It was not as hard to assemble as we thought it might be. It came with its own tools and all the fasteners it needed: 

There are seven major parts: three for the base, two side braces, and two pieces for the hanging arm:

We assembled the base first, bolting the two side arms to the center foot.

Next, we bolted the bottom half of the hanging arm to the base:

Next, we bolted the top half of the hanging arm to the bottom half, then we bolted the right and left support arms into place before hanging the bag:

Gypsy had a great time punching the bag. If you scroll down quick enough, you can watch Gypsy's workout:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Waegukin Kimchi

We avoid antibiotics whenever possible, due to their "kill-'em all, let the gods sort 'em out" effect on the body. Beneficial bacteria die in as great or greater numbers as the germs, leaving the body vulnerable to damage long after the infection is gone. For that reason, Gypsy and I have developed a number of recipes over the years that have a "damn the torpedoes, this will kill me or cure me" philosophy behind them. The main ingredients in Gypsy's version of kimchi might not work for someone who is allergic to hot sauce. If you don't like spicy dishes, double everything except the hot sauce.

1 large cabbage, chopped into two-inch thicknesses
1 large Bermuda onion, coarsely chopped
1 whole bulb fresh garlic, peeled and chopped, about 1/3 cup
1 pound grated or diced carrot
2 large cans (30 ounce size) crushed tomatoes
1/8 cup hot sauce
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup vodka or rose petal wine (optional)
3 cups fresh chopped tomatoes 
4  large ribs celery, coarsely chopped
2 quarts chicken stock

Combine all ingredients in a large kettle or crock pot and cook slowly on medium low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Store in quart containers in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.