Monthly Archives: January 2009

Very Easy Vegetarian Chili

Chili is one of those flexible things that works well for improvising with whatever you have on hand, so you don’t have to be exact.  But I’ll share a couple of the recipes that I initially based mine on (and mine varies every time I make it, depending how much I have of what in the fridge :)).

Very Easy Vegetarian Chili

  • 1 c. chopped onion
  • 3/4 c. chopped carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c. chopped green pepper
  • 1 c. chopped red pepper
  • 3/4 c. chopped celery
  • 1 T. chili powder
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped fresh mushrooms (I don’t think I ever used mushrooms)
  • 1 – 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped, or 1 – 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 – 19 oz. can kidney beans (I cook them from dry, so about 2 cups cooked)
  • 1 – 11 oz. can corn (I use frozen, about a cup and a half)
  • 1 T. cumin
  • 1 1/2 t. oregano
  • 1 1/2 t. basil

Saute the onion and garlic until tender, add the carrots, celery, pepper, and mushrooms, and saute until all are soft.  Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer twenty minutes more until done.

Here’s the next one – it has fewer ingredients and that makes it quicker and easier:

Vegetarian Chili

  • 4 potatoes, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 – 15 oz cans garbanzo beans (4 c. cooked)
  • 2 – 15 oz cans kidney beans (4 c. cooked)
  • 2 – 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 T. chili powder
  • 2 t. cumin
  • 2 zucchini, sliced

Cook everything except zucchini until tender.  Add zucchini and cook ten minutes more.  Serves 8.

I prefer the second recipe, but combine elements of both.  For example, I use carrots (like the first) and potatoes (like the second) when I make vegetarian chili.  I tend to leave out the zucchini, especially since I make chili much more frequently in cold weather, when zucchini isn’t seasonal.  I also like to use stock instead of water (which doesn’t make it vegetarian), but it tastes good, or the pan drippings from Shabbos chicken.


Pumpkin Bread

I realized last night that I never posted two recipes that Dina requested a few weeks ago  – I’m sorry about the oversight!  So I’m posting them now. :)  The adaptations I make are in the parentheses.

Pumpkin Bread

  • 15 oz canned pumpkin, or 2 c. cooked pumpkin
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c. oil (we use coconut oil or butter)
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 3/4 – 1 c. sugar (I use sucanat and usually reduce the amounts of sweeteners called for, so I wouldn’t use more than 1/2 c. probably)
  • 3 1/2 c. flour (whole wheat)
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t. salt (sea salt)
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 t. cloves
  • 1/4 t. ginger

Mix the pumpkin, eggs, oil, and water.  In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients.  Then mix the wet and dry ingredients together until just mixed – quick breads will be tough if they are overmixed.  Put in three greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. 


How to find good books for read alouds

>>I need more read aloud ideas.  Where do you go for titles?<<

I find books that are collections of reviews of good books useful – the two that come to mind most immediately are Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook, and Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt.  I don’t own either of them, though, so every couple of years I check one out and get some new ideas.  I also own a book called Books Children Love, by S. Wilson, which is also good.  Honey for a Child’s Heart was especially valuable in choosing good quality books for my younger kids. There are a lot of kids books out there that just aren’t so good, and it’s annoying to read them repeatedly when you can hardly stand to read it the first time!

I also look at online book recommendations, at the Sonlight catalog, the Robinson book recommendations, and the Newberry Honor and Newberry Medal lists.  The classics can be good, too, though you have to be careful that they’re age appropriate.  Because the language of the classics tends to be written in a literary style that is unfamiliar, kids can easily get turned off if introduced to them too soon.  I try to look for books that are engaging, well written, and fun to listen to together.

I’ve thought that it would be fun to make a list of all the books we’ve read aloud over the years to share with you (just chapter books, not picture books), but the idea overwhelms me and I don’t know how I could possibly remember all of them!


Stainless steel baking pans

Woo hoo!  I am so excited by my newest kitchen additions!  I’ve been wanting to get stainless steel baking pans for ages, but they are sooo expensive.  Several years ago, I bought a number of baking pans at Walmart, not realizing they were aluminum.  I soon discovered they were terrible quality (they left black marks on the bottom of the food cooked in it, through the parchment paper) and after a while I threw them away (and I don’t recklessly throw things out – they were really horrible).  And I went back to using disposable aluminum pans lined with baking paper. 

But I really don’t like using them.  I don’t like the wastefulness of having to periodically buy a large stack, and then having to throw them out (I rewash and reuse them, but they still don’t last long).  Pans are something you should be able to buy once and then have them.  And I don’t like the health concerns associated with using aluminum (even though I line them before using).  And my kids really don’t like washing them, since they have those difficult to clean ridged sides. 

But I haven’t been successful in finding affordable alternatives.  I looked at Sam’s Club, to see if they had some decent quality pans, but they were all aluminum.  My husband checked prices from restaurant suppliers for stainless steel pans a while back, and they were out of my budget.  Periodically I think about where and how to get good metal baking pans (not glass because glass doesn’t last long around here), but I  haven’t had any luck finding anything suitable in mainstream stores at reasonable prices. 

On Weds. night, I was totally out of disposable pans, once again unexpectedly (it happens when you discover all the pans you have have teeny pin sized (or bigger) holes on the bottom and have to all be thrown away unless you want a burnt-on mess in the bottom of the oven at the end of the cooking time from the leaks).  And the pan I borrowed when I was given the meat from a restaurant a while back (the meat was in it) happened to catch my eye.  It’s been put to the side for ages, waiting to be returned, but hasn’t quite made it out of the house yet.  I figured since it was the only usable pan in the house and the people I borrowed it from wouldn’t mind, I’d use it for our honey baked lentils last night, and I did. 

Then this morning, I finally took out the Lehman’s catalog that came along with my oil lamps a few weeks ago.  I was flipping through, and in the kitchen section, I looked to see if they had any stainless steel baking pans.  They had one baking pan with a lid for about $35.  The pan I used the night before from the restaurant suddenly flashed into my mind, and it occurred to me that I could ask the owners if they had extra pans like that which they might be willing to sell me.  If they had more than they could use, they’d make a little money and get rid of pans they weren’t using, and I’d be able to buy some more cheaply than I could buy them new.

Yesterday I asked my husband if he could speak to them, since he’s the one who has more of a relationship with them than I do.  He said he’d try, and I figured within a few days, I’d hear if they would sell them and what the price would be.  When he came home several hours later, he brought a surprise for me – nine stainless steel pans!  All of them were 9 x 13, six were standard depth, and three were like the one I didn’t yet return, about double that depth.  So now I have ten strong pans that will last me forever, enough for whatever cooking I do at any given time.  Bye, bye, disposable pans!

And guess what?  They told him we could have them for free!!  Can you believe that?!  I wasn’t expecting it AT ALL.  I would have gladly paid for them and counted myself very lucky to have them at less than the retail price.  (I think the only reason they did that is they like my husband. :)) Isn’t that a nice way to go into Shabbos?  And my ten year old son, whose turn it is for dishes, is very happy about them, too – he hates washing the disposable pans, and just in the nick of time, he’ll have something much easier to wash this Saturday night! :)


Finding buckets for grain storage

I’ve written about how I find it most effective to store the bulk grains that I buy (, but since someone recently mentioned to me that they planned to buy buckets, and someone else called us a couple of days ago to ask us about where we got buckets (and I know many new blog readers don’t go too far back into the archives), I thought it would be helpful to share again on this.

You can find 3 – 6 gallon food grade plastic buckets for free or a nominal cost at many restaurants.  Restaurants buy lots of foods that come in them, and usually don’t have a need for them when they finish.  Ask around at local restaurants, and let them know you’d love to take the buckets off of their hands when they have extra.  You may have to wash them out yourself (or you may not – I’ve been lucky in this regard, since they very generously wash them for me), but since it costs about $6 for a five gallon bucket, and $10 for a six gallon bucket, the savings in spending five minutes washing each bucket are justified.

You can also ask at ice cream stores and bakeries.  Frosting buckets can be a pain to wash out, but other than that, they work as well as anything else.  I don’t recommend using the buckets found at stores like Home Depot, which aren’t intended for food use. For the same reasons, I wouldn’t use empty drywall compound or paint buckets.  They could be useful for other things, though.

Because there are so many similarly sized round buckets but the lids vary slightly from one company to another, you might get some buckets and lids that don’t perfectly match up.  My choice was to accept whatever buckets and lids they had, and then keep the ones that didn’t match up for the next time around when I picked up buckets.  Over a period of time, I got lids to match almost everything, and even when I didn’t have the perfect fitting lids for my buckets, they were still adequate to cover the top.  When I put another full bucket on top of it, the lid was held down and pretty effectively sealed against insects or other intruders for all intents and purposes. 

Another option is if you are able to get the buckets but still need lids, you can buy the lids separately online.  Look for gamma lids, which are better than the regular lids because of ease of use.  If you have tight fitting lids, I wouldn’t personally suggest going to the extra expense.  But it can make it possible to take advantage of the free buckets that you otherwise might not think usable.


Ground chicken

This past Friday, I ran into the store at the last minute (something I rarely do) and noticed that ground chicken was on sale for $1.29 lb.  Hmm, I thought, I smell a bargain.  :)  So true to myself, I had to buy some – 35 pounds or so; I hate to leave a good deal behind.

No, I don’t worry about if I’ll like it or how I’ll use it.  I figure that I’ll work that out once I get home, and if it’s inexpensive enough, we’ll have to like it. :)   I had just finished placing the last of six large packages of it on the conveyor belt at the store when the woman in front of me noticed it, and asked me what I was going to do with it.  While I was answering her, a man behind us in the next lane asked ds15, who had come along with me, what we were doing to do with it.  Fortunately I had told my son I’d use in the same way I use ground beef, so he had a ready answer. 

When I was checking out, I asked the cashier if it was a new item, since I didn’t remember noticing it before (though I didn’t find it quickly even when I was looking for it because of it being in the sales flyer).  She said she hadn’t seen it before I checked out, and I was there on the last day of the week long sale!

I did some online searching for recipes, and came up with some that looked good.  We used one package (five or six pounds) for chicken burgers for dinner on Monday, and they were a huge hit.  (That made enough for two meals for the ten of us, and it cost less than $8.)  I then canned 17 pounds of it, which filled 17 pints.  A pint may only be a pound of meat, but it’s enough to frugally add some flavor and body to a casserole or stew.  And I can always use two jars instead of one for dinner and not be so frugal, so that one canning session should be enough for 8 – 17 meals.  And now it’s not taking up freezer space. 

My experience so far with ground chicken is very positive.  It is juicy and flavorful – I was expecting it to be more bland and dry, like ground turkey.  Because it’s lower in fat than beef, it doesn’t reduce too much when cooked, so it’s really a bargain, since most of what you’re paying for, you end up eating.  My kids all liked it a lot, and I like that it costs a third of ground beef – I can be a lot more generous with it and make it go a lot further.  Ground beef has small pieces that are easily defined, while this is kind of pasty and mushy (sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?!), so don’t picture it being the same consistency, but it’s very easy to work with.  The difference once it’s cooked isn’t noticeable.

So why was I seemingly one of the very few people to take advantage of this great deal in the past week?  I think that it’s because many people don’t want to try something new, because they might not like it.  Or they think that if it’s a really good price, something’s wrong with it, or it’s not worth more than that (the ‘you get what you pay for’ philosophy).  We tend to get stuck in our culinary comfort zones, like everything else.

I checked the online flyer for this week and didn’t see it listed on sale, but I went back anyway, thinking there might be some left at the sale price.  Sure enough, there was – it looked as if no one had touched the shelf since I was last there!  So I did the store a favor and emptied the shelf for them. :)  There’s more canning in my immediate future!


Soaking and drying nuts

Last night I decided to try soaking some nuts again, thanks to the encouragement of blog reader Chava.  (Here’s why I soak nuts.)  I had some unroasted walnuts that I thought would work well, so I soaked them overnight in water with sea salt.  Early in the afternoon, I strained them out, rinsed them, and put them in the dehydrator at 145 degrees (my oven doesn’t go low enough and over-toasted the nuts I tried in the past).  And since four cups of walnuts only took up one tray, I chopped up a bunch of purple onions I bought at .29 lb and prepared four trays of those, so the dehydrator wouldn’t be running for just one tray.

After dinner, I took the tray out, and they were done perfectly.  The kids and I tasted them, and we all agreed that they are good – they hardly tasted any different than they usually do.

I’m so glad I tried to do this again.  Now that I see how easy it is, and the results are good, I’ll try to integrate this on a regular basis.  The easiest way to do it would probably be to buy and then prepare a large batch of nuts at a time, so that they are all dehydrated at one time.


Brown Rice Crackers

This is a recipe that I’ve seen in several places, but I don’t know where it first came from.  It’s a nice afternoon snack, and is gluten free.  It’s also quick to put together if you already have cooked rice on hand.

Brown Rice Crackers 

  • 1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
  • 2/3 c. cooked brown rice
  • 1 T. flax seeds (optional)
  • 1/4 t. sea salt
  • 1/4 c. oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 c. water

Mix all the ingredients until combined, adding the water last a little at a time until the dough holds together.  Roll or pat out thinly onto a baking sheet.  Score into 1.5″ pieces.   Bake at 375 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

We tried it a couple of days ago for the first time, and everyone was generally happy with it.  My inspiration for making it was having a couple of cups of brown rice left over, and I thought it’d be more fun to make crackers than to have to remember to use it for something else!  We made four times the recipe, but the recipe as written yields 3 dozen crackers.

Something I’d suggest being careful of is to be sure that your brown rice flour is fresh.  Usually I’d grind it fresh myself, but I happened to have purchased some rice flour when our grinder was being repaired a couple of months ago.  So I used that, but I think it must have been slightly rancid, because the kids commented on a slight bitter flavor at the end of chewing.  It didn’t stop them from enjoying them, but I’d want to avoid that next time. 

Also, I added sesame seeds to it – the flax seeds had been misplaced so I thought I’d use sesame seeds instead, and as I was adding the sesame, someone found the flax seeds.  So I used both. :)


Making time for yourself

>>“If you’re home with your kids all day, every day, how do you have time for yourself?”<<

First of all, I have to say that I truly enjoy spending time with my kids – they’re great company! Enjoying your kids is critical, but you need to learn how to carve out time for yourself and your needs, so that you don’t get burnt out. You must recognize your own needs as valid and find ways to meet them.

Homeschooling doesn’t mean being on active duty all day long. There are lulls and quiet periods. There is early morning or later in the evening time, and if you have a husband who can make himself available, then he can be home while you get out.

How you meet your needs depends on what you enjoy. I didn’t have money for a babysitter when my kids were all little, I didn’t have a husband who had a schedule that made it possible to watch the kids, I didn’t have any friends or family members who could give me a break, but I still found ways to have time for myself. It can be something as simple as some quiet time to read a book, take a relaxing bath, call a friend, or have a cup of tea. The key is to take the time and take it regularly.

Here’s something I did when I had six kids ages 9 and under, and had all the limitations I just shared with you. I found that a short break in the middle of the day kept me going and I didn’t get worn down. I instituted a daily rest time for every child. I would put the infant and toddler in for a nap, then everyone else had to stay in their beds for an hour. They didn’t have to fall asleep, but they had to stay there quietly. They could read, quietly play a game or do a puzzle (they chose it before rest time), but there was no talking or getting out of bed allowed until rest time was over. This gave me regular daily time to know I would have for myself without having lots of little people around. I don’t remember how long I kept that up – but it was a huge help, and something I would do even now if I felt I needed it.

Be very careful that you don’t end up using your free time to clean up. I do sometimes stay up in the evenings when the kids are asleep and do some straightening up, but not for long.  I would resent spending my precious quiet time cleaning up the messes of the day. No matter how much you love your kids and spending time with them, you need to have some space for yourself or you’ll end up claustophobic and wanting to put them in school so you get a break.

Don’t give that quiet time up for something that can be done in the daytime when the kids are awake, with them. It’s that space that makes us able to give all day long, and enjoy it. Lose the space, and you lose the enjoyment.


Coconut oil sources

Here are the companies I’ve ordered coconut oil from.  The first is Omega Nutrition.  I order in five gallon buckets, and you have to call to get the pricing on that.  They may not know what to do with you because you aren’t a restaurant, but just tell them your friend ordered a big bucket and you know it’s possible, and they’ll figure it out.  :)    They have the extra virgin and regular organic.  I’ve ordered both in the past.

I more recently discovered Mountain Rose Herbs – they also have two kinds of coconut oil, but only one is suitable for eating (the other is for cosmetic use).  It’s a raw high quality oil.  Their prices for five gallon buckets as well as smaller containers are on the page I linked to, and their prices are lower than Omega.  But you’ll have to clarify about the status of their hechsher (kosher supervision) on your own; they say it is kosher and it is a raw and unrefined product.  But as I said, you’ll probably want to clarify with your lor.  I use it but prefer recommending Omega for this reason.

Even in large amounts, coconut oil isn’t cheap.  And I’ll warn you ahead of time that shipping is also expensive because the bucket is so heavy – probably about forty pounds or so; figure in about $40 per 5 gallon bucket for shipping.  But – it lasts a long, long time, and stays without needing any refrigeration.  As I’ve said before, I economize in a lot of areas of our food budget, and that creates room to buy the more expensive things like this.  I do kind of dread when I have to place my coconut oil orders, though, because it’s so expensive, even though it’s in the budget!