Home Made Instant Cocoa Mix

love hot cocoa in the winter. But those little packets at the store are loaded with dairy and god knows what else, so they just don’t work at our house. Fortunately, it couldn’t be easier to make a batch of instant hot cocoa mix to have on hand (or even to give as a gift). And the best part? It’s made with just a few ingredients, all with pronounceable names. Okay, second best part? It’s way more affordable than buying the pre-portioned packages that only come a ten to a box. You’ll need the following –

  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (bonus points if it’s vanilla-infused)
  • pint mason jar with two piece lid

Step 1 – Measure the sugar into the jar. It’s going to look like you perilously don’t have enough room to add the cocoa, but you do – shake the jar a bit until the sugar settles.

Step 2 – Add the cocoa to the jar, and put the lid on. Shake, shake, shake until the sugar and cocoa are combined. And that’s it! You’ve got your own cocoa mix –

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To serve, mix a heaping tablespoon with two warm cups of your milk of choice (soy, almond, dairy – they all work). A good tip for making sure there aren’t any lumps is to start by mixing in just a teaspoon or two of milk at first so the cocoa forms a paste, then whisk in the rest – simple!

This small little pint jar will make a whopping 64 cups of hot cocoa! Doing a bit of loose math on how much those small amounts of sugar and cocoa costs, I figure it’s around a nickel per cup. Add in the soy milk and you’re probably around fifty cents. When was the last time you got a nice hot drink for less than a dollar in under two minutes?

 

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Preserving From the Discount Bin

Think you can only fill your freezer and take out the canning pot at the height of the late summer harvest season? If your local grocery store has a discount bin, think again – you can stock the larder whenever you find a fantastic deal.

One of my favorite local grocery stores has a discount bin where their put produce that is just at, or a day or two past, it’s peak freshness. Lettuce that is ever so slightly starting the wilt, cauliflower with a touch of brown, things like that. Sometimes they just let go of overstock at bargain basement prices, and that is always an incredible deal. Use your best judgement when pawing through the bargain bin, and know that you’ve got to act fast – this isn’t stuff that’s going to keep for a week in the fridge.

Here’s an example of some of the stuff I’ve found recently, and what you can do with it to get some serious bang for your grocery buck –

Lemons – a few weeks ago I found a couple of bags of organic lemons for  just $1 each – they normally sold for $5. There was just a little bit of brown on the stem ends, otherwise they were perfect. I snapped up two bags and used them to make a home made lemonade concentrate to store in the freezer. If I had been smart, I also would’ve zested them and dried the peel to have lemon zest or candied lemon peels for cooking and baking, but I honestly didn’t think of it at the time. You can easily do this with any type of citrus you might find.

Mushrooms – my store had 4 boxes for $1 – usually they’re $3 each so this was a super deal. They looked perfect too, so just overstock. I didn’t get them at the time, but I should’ve – dried mushrooms are about the easiest thing in the world to make, and are great to have on hand to add to soups or skillet dinners.

Peppers – I got two bags of organic sweet peppers for $1, and diced them and froze them. They’ll be great in chili and stir fry. You could also dehydrate them or pickle them too.

Bananas – my store has incredible deals on overstock bananas pretty frequently – you can usually get a paper grocery sack full for $1! After you’re done gorging yourself on fresh ones for a few days, you can roast the rest in their skins (until they turn black – it intensifies their flavor), mash them up and then freeze them for use in banana bread or other baked goods.

Greens – they’re a little bit harder to deal with unless you want to have a big salad for dinner the very day you buy them, but some preserve better than others. Spinach and kale can frozen fairly well, especially if you use them in soups or sauces and freeze the finished dish for a quick meal – one of my favorite easy ones to throw together is a bean and sausage soup, with chopped greens mixed in.

 Cauliflower/Broccoli – freezing is the best way to go for these. Just cut away any darker spots, chop it into bite-sized pieces and freeze – it’s great in stir-fry, roasted in the oven or simply steamed as a side dish.

So don’t turn up your nose at the discount cart – you might find some great produce to tuck away for future meals at a rock bottom price. Just be smart about the quality of the items you choose, and make the commitment to put it up as soon as you get it home.

Thanksgiving Recipe Round Up

Even though I plan to make an exceedingly simple and classic Thanksgiving dinner this year, there are so many wonderful recipes out there I thought I would share a round up.

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Turkey Recipes

Slow Cooker Herbed Turkey Breast

Cider Brined & Glazed Turkey

Apple Cider Brined & Smoked Turkey

Honey Riesling Turkey (okay, chicken – but the same with turkey)

Side Dishes

Stuffing Muffins

Sage Onion & Bacon Stuffing

Cauliflower with Garlic Thyme Vinaigrette

Corn with Bacon Vinaigrette

Rosemary & Balsamic Baked Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms

Smokey Roasted Cauliflower

Pan-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Bacon Mustard & Garlic

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Kale with Roasted Peppers & Olives

Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Home Made Cranberry Sauce

Desserts

Rustic Apple Galette

Pumpkin Pie (allergy friendly)

Flour-less Chocolate Lava Cake

A Cozy Thanksgiving For Three

It looks like this year will be just the three of us for Thanksgiving, so I think a simple dinner is in order. I debated doing a small turkey breast in the crock pot, but I do still have a frozen full sized turkey in the freezer, so I figure I may as well cook that. And plus, having the leftovers will be great – making stock and having turkey soup and turkey noodle casserole are some of my favorite ways to eat turkey leftovers.

I think I’ll do a cider brined and glazed turkey this year, and keep the sides really simple – mashed potatoes  with gravy, corn bread stuffing, steamed broccoli, home made cranberry sauce and a pumpkin pie. And we’ll have a nice bottle of beaujolais nouveau to go with it. So, a simple and classic meal. I’m really looking forward to a low-stress relaxing day at home with the menfolk.

DIY Dehydrated Snacks

I have had The Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer MacKenzie, Jay Nutt, & Don Mercer on my shelf for months. I received it ages ago as a review copy from the fine folk at Robert Rose, and then I got busy with house projects, work insanity and summer fun. But now the weather is cooling and I’m feeling very nesty, which leads me to want to fill the larder. And though the bulk of the produce season is behind us, it really is the perfect time to think about squirreling away easy, healthy snacks. If you have wholesome things on hand to snack on when hunger strikes, it’s easier to eat well.

The appeal of having dried snacks is great, because they store well and are easily portable. Like all of the Robert Rose books, this is an in-depth primer on how to dehydrate foods at home. It’s an excellent guide for how to use a counter top food dehydrator. One of my favorite recipes in the book is for Maple & Whiskey Ground Meat Jerky – in an afternoon, you can turn a humble pound of ground beef into a tasty snack, without the preservatives and expense of store bought version. Home made jerky paired with some olives is delicious. Apple cinnamon oat crisps and pumpkin leather are a couple of other options that are tasty and easy to make.

The book also has a chapter on making crafts with your dehydrator, including “gingerbread” ornaments and drying seeds for seed saving. And the entire second half of the book is given over to recipes that utilize dehydrated foods, so cooking with what you preserved is effortless.

If you don’t have a dehydrator currently, keep your eyes peeled at the thrift store. I often see them for $10-15 each. If you get to be picky, choose a model that has a fan on it and the ability to have different settings, as they will have better air circulation. The Excalibur dehydrators are the gold standard, so if you ever see a square black one, snap it up! Though the Nesco brand is also pretty good.

So if you’ve been curious about learning how to dehydrate your own food at home, whether for snacks, camping food, emergency preparedness or just because you like to tinker around in the kitchen – I’d recommend picking up a copy of The Dehydrator Bible.

Canned Tomatoes!

Lest you think I’ve done no preserving this year, I have proof of life photos to show otherwise. I broke from my usual practice of canning plain whole tomatoes in their own juice, to do some prepared tomato products – grab and go convenience won the day. I did one canner load of marinara sauce –

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And one canner load of salsa –

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And when I finished doing these, I promptly took a jar inventory, as those were practically the only pint jars I had in the house! I have over 50 quart jars, but only a measly 10 pint jars (I still have a couple of the squat Elite ones left). So I’ll have to remedy that before next season, as pint jars are really the perfect size for so many things.

So I have put up just a little bit – not as much as I intended, but who knows? Maybe I’ll get in another batch of two yet, if the harvest holds another week or so. Oh – and I love our stove. It’s been the first five burner stove with a continuous grid on it that we’ve ever had, and it’s just a dream to can on. No more worrying about the wide base of the canning pot getting all wobbly trying to balance on a single burner setup. Love it!

Fair Season

Ah yes, fair season is upon us. Carnival rides, elephant ears, corn dogs, and of course – the home economics competitions. After spending the majority of my life in Chicago (where Cook county does not run a county fair) I am finally living in a county that does. So after years and years of wanting to enter my food in the fair to compete for the coveted blue ribbon, I finally have my chance!

I decided to enter three things this year that have been winners in our household for many seasons – my crumb coffee cake, my pumpkin butter pumpkin bread and blueberry pie.

I’ve got the pumpkin butter cooking down in the crock pot at the moment, but I am procrastinating firing up the oven to do any actual baking as yet – it’s 80 degrees and humid here. I was outside earlier to mulch the vegetable beds with straw, and it was brutal. So I think I’ll wait until the sun goes down before firing it up. But today is the day for baking, hot temps or no – everything needs to be dropped off on Tuesday and the fair starts Wednesday!