Check it out: Peeps Soap! Just in time for Easter. Click on the link to learn how to make it.
I love this simple, elegant appetizer. It’s a radish stuffed with butter and sprinkled with chives–perfect for an early spring get-together. Check out the recipe at Martha Stewart.
Following up the post about How To Make Your Own Cat Scratcher: there’s nothing more annoying than buying or making a cat scratcher when they refuse to go near it. Even worse is when your cat prefers to scratch on the sofa instead of the scratching post.
The good news is that cats can be trained. Like dogs, bad behavior can be broken and good behavior can be introduced.
Cats scratch to sharpen their claws and mark their territory. When they scratch, not only are they leaving visible evidence they were there, they are leaving behind a scent pheromone that other cats can smell. It’s a way of saying, “This is my spot, I own it.”
The key to getting them to use the cat scratcher to make clear that they have a spot in the house that they “own” for scratching, but only one place. And that’s not as hard to do as some people think.
Here are some tips to get a cat to use a scratcher:
1. Play with the cat around the scratcher. Wiggle a toy near the scratcher so that the cat claws on it. A few times of this and the cat will start to associate the scratcher with play.
2. Put catnip on the scratcher. Sprinkle a bit of catnip around the scratcher and the cat will want to go near it more and associate it as a fun, good place.
3. Reinforce that the scratcher is the only place where scratching is allowed. If you catch your cat scratching on your carpet or furniture, tell him no (or spray with a water bottle) and then pick him up and move him to the scratcher. A few times of this and he will start to understand that this is the place he is allowed to go for scratching.
4. Praise the cat for using the scratcher. Saying “good kitty” or “good boy/girl” goes a long way with cats. They respond better to positive reinforcement than punishment. Believe it or not, they do want to please you.
5. Remove pheromones. The above tips should be enough for most cats. However if you have a bad scratching problem, it’s important to remove the cat’s pheromones from the old place they scratch and put them in the new place. There are products you can buy in the pet store that mask the pheromone smell. I’ve used them and they work. If you apply the spray to the old place and follow the above steps consistently, your cat should start to use the scratcher exclusively.
Well, most of the time, anyway. You know how cats are.
Those are my tips. What has worked for you?
Chickens are not fancy, so they don’t need fancy a fancy place to lay their eggs. Here are five examples of people recycling other things and turning them into chicken nesting boxes.
Most of us know that when you choose convenience in the grocery story–the food that has been sliced, diced, and pre-prepared for you–you pay for the privilege, but a recent article in ShopSmart, a magazine put out by ConsumerReports, demonstrated just how much.
The magazine sent their staffers to grocery stores in New York to compare the prices of “convenience” groceries such as pre-sliced apples or crumbled cheese to their whole counterparts. They found that sometimes you are paying a whopping 60% more for products that have been precut for you. Here’s the breakdown of what they found:
Baby carrots cost 63% more than whole carrots, at $3.99/lb. vs $1.49/lb. Since most baby carrots are whole carrots that have been sculpted down, that’s a pretty big savings. Switch to carrot sticks?
Broccoli florets cost 63% more than whole broccoli, at $3.99/lb vs. $1.49/lb. It takes approximately 30 seconds to cut a whole broccoli into florets.
Crumbled feta cheese costs 63% more than whole feta cheese, at $8.65/8 oz. vs. $3.23/8 oz. I didn’t know this one, but I did know that crumbled cheese molds faster than whole cheese.
Sliced granny smith apples cost 50% more than whole apples, at $3.97/lb. vs. $1.99/lb. Like the broccoli, that’s a lot to pay for a few minutes of work.
Ground beef patties cost 33% more than regular ground meat, at $5.99/lb. vs. $3.99/lb. You still have to handle the meat either way, right?
Cut-up chicken costs 25% more than whole chicken, at $1.99/lb vs. $1.49/lb. I can understand not wanting to cut up a whole chicken, but if you eat a lot of it, that’s a savings that’s hard to ignore.
The moral here? It sounds like you can passively add savings to your shopping cart just by opting for the more labor-intensive product. Convenience costs a lot.
And while we knew that, it’s still nice to see the numbers.
When it comes to owning chickens, the difference between success and failure is to choose a breed that produces a lot of eggs. Chickens were bred for different reasons: some for meat, some for eggs, some for the color or size of their eggs, some for their ability to endure heat or cold, and some just for their pretty looks. The Silver Sebright may be a lovely bird, but at only 25-100 eggs a year, I’d pass.
Chicken Waterer has a list of breeds according to the number of eggs they lay. For example:
Champion Egg Layers (250-300 Eggs Per Year)
Rhode Island Red
Star (also called Sex-links)
Excellent Egg Layers (200-250 Eggs Per Year)
It also lists Good Layers (150-200 Eggs) and Poor Layers (25-100 Eggs), which you can read here.
At this point, I have two Rhode Island Reds and two Black Stars. I’m hoping to be rolling in eggs in the future…
Awhile back, it occurred to me that I needed a wide-mouth funnel for canning or transferring bigger things, like dried beans, to bottles. I looked in the store and found that wide-mouth funnels start at $6, so I decided to make one out of an old 2-liter soda bottle instead.
All you do is cut around the top of the bottle and invert it so it works like a funnel. Very simple and it works great. I’ve used the funnel countless times and even wash it in the dishwasher when it’s dirty.
And the best part is that it didn’t cost a thing.
My husband decided he wanted to make bacon. We had been eating a lot of it lately, and well, what meat-eater doesn’t like bacon?
It turns out that making bacon is easy. It takes a little bit of time, but it’s not hard at all, and well worth the effort.
On top of that, making your own bacon is fairly frugal. Good bacon–the thick-cut, apple- or hickory-smoked, lower-fat bacon–costs about $6-$8 a pound. Our bacon ended up being around $3 a pound, and I would say it is as good as most of the fancy stuff from the grocery story.
Of course, if you are content with the stringy $1/pound bacon, then you are not going to come out ahead on price here. However, you will come out ahead on quality.
Bacon is made from the belly of the pig.
We bought the belly from our local grocery store. We asked at the butcher counter and it turned out they had an 8 pound belly in the back that they were willing to sell us for $2/pound. That sounded okay to us, so we ended up with a long thick slab of belly with the pork skin still on it.
Aside from that, it was just a matter of time–9 days to be exact–plus seasoning, heat, and smoke until we had bacon.
A couple of notes before I give the recipe. we adapted the recipe from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. I really can’t say enough about how awesome this book is. If you are interested at all in curing meats, go out and buy it.
Secondly, we used our smoker to make the bacon. According to Charcuterie, if you don’t have a smoker, you can use the oven, although of course then the bacon won’t be smoked. Check out the book for more information if you’re interested.
Okay enough talking.
How To Make Your Own Smoked Bacon
(in this case, it is more accurate to weigh the ingredients, so get out the kitchen scale)
- 1 8 pound pork belly
75 grams (approx. 3 oz) kosher salt
18 grams (approx. 3 tsp) pink salt
75 grams (approx. 3/8 cup) packed dark brown sugar
90 milliliters (approx. 2 1/10 cup) maple syrup
1-2 3-gallon ziploc plastic bags
A good sharp knife
First, trim excess meat from either end of the pork belly so it is a rectangle. I froze the excess as pork belly is wonderful to cook with.
Create the cure. Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Rub the cure over the meat side of the belly. (There’s no point in rubbing it on the skin since you are just going to cut it off.) Put the whole thing in a big ziploc bag and put it in the fridge.
Now, you wait. It takes about a week (we waited 8 days) for the cure to penetrate the meat. Every day, flip the bag over so that the cure is redistributed. During this time, you will notice liquid leeching out of the belly. This means the salt is doing its job.
After a week, remove the belly from the fridge. Congratulations, you have just made fresh bacon. If you want, you can slice a little off and fry it up–it’s good. It tastes like pork belly.
But we want to make smoked bacon, so onward! Next, rinse the cure off the pork belly:
And then set it on a wire rack. Put the belly, uncovered and meat-side-up, in the fridge overnight. During this time, a pellicle will form over the meat, which is a gooey film that comes from the salt cure pulling water out of the meat. This is an important step because the pellicle helps the smoke penetrate the meat.
The next day, you finally get to smoke the bacon. We used almond wood instead of traditional apple or hickory wood because that is what we had lying around. My husband smoked the whole pork belly at around 185-190F for about 2 hours, until the thickest part of the belly registered 150F on the meat thermometer.
After it cools, remove the skin off the belly. This is the hardest part because it requires you to cut along the line where the skin meets the fat of the belly. Using a knife, carefully slice the skin off, trying not to remove the fat in the process. Discard the skin.
What you have left is a nice slab of freshly smoked bacon!
We ended up with 5 pounds of bacon after the skin was removed. It is much leaner than the stuff in the store–I ended up needing a bit of oil to cook it, which is a first for bacon. It is neither too sweet nor too salty, just the right amount of crispy, and very delicious:
My husband says that the only thing he would do differently next time is to divide the pork belly in half because that would have been easier to work with. Otherwise, I would say our bacon adventure is a success.
This weekend, I made my own sausage for the first time. It was easy and cheaper than buying sausage in the store. It took about 20 minutes and I ended up with 2 pounds of sausage, which I froze in half-pound sections for easy use.
2 lbs of pork shoulder
1 Tbs salt
1 1/2 Tbs paprika
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp pepper
1/3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tbs parsley
A couple of months ago, I bought several pork shoulder steaks for cheap at my local market. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, since the steaks are tough and have a lot of fat. Since someone gave me a sausage attachment for my KitchenAid Mixer, I decided to try making my own sausage with the meat.
First, I cut the pork into cubes and combined all the herbs in a bowl. I mixed thoroughly to combine the herbs and meat.
Next, I simply ran the meat through the attachment. I used the smaller of the two blades I had, put the meat in the top, and watched it come out of the blade. I did a little bit and then fried a piece up to make sure it tasted good. It did–it tasted like a mild, properly seasoned sausage. Satisfied, I ran the rest of the meat through and ended up with this:
To store, I separated the meat into half-pound sections, wrapped them in wax paper and plastic bags and put them in the freezer. Well, all except the bit I fried up and put on homemade pizza.
Now that I have had a taste (no pun intended) of making sausage, my mind is open with possibilities. Chicken-and-apple sausage. My own Chorizo. Lamb sausage with Mediterranean spices… Hmmm….
Cost: 2 lbs pork shoulder: $1.69; Spices: $.40-ish.
Total Cost: $2.05 for 2 lbs, $1.05 a pound.
In the stores: In my grocery store, country sausage–i.e. Italian-ish sausage outside the casing–goes for $1.99 a pound. Sausage in the casing seems to be much higher, 4-5 sausage for about $5.99. However, for the sake of comparing apples to apples, we’ll go with the $1.99 a pound price.
Total Savings: $.94 a pound
I like this soup because it is thick and creamy, flavorful, but also chock full of vegetables and protein. It’s a very satisfying soup, especially if you are a vegetarian.
On top of that, it’s insanely cheap to make–$2.30 for an entire batch of soup! (That is considering you make your own vegetable broth.) Here’s the recipe:
Spicy Carrot Peanut Soup
- 2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 Tbs parsley
1 spicy pepper–jalapeño works fine.
2 garlic cloves
4 c vegetable broth
2 c water
3.5 Tbs peanut butter
3 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
1 Tbs salt
Prepare all the vegetables. In a soup pot, warm the oil and add one at a time the garlic, onions, carrots, celery, parsley, and pepper. Sauté on high heat for 10 minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Add the water and broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 25 minutes.
Next, stir in the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, salt, and pepper. In a blender, puree the soup in batches. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you want it spicier, add a little dried red pepper. Enjoy.
This makes a large batch of soup. I usually separate soup into single-serving containers and freeze for an easy lunch.
Cost of Dish: Oil: $.05; Carrots: $.99, Onion: $.20; Celery: $.02; Parsley, garlic, lime, and chili pepper: free from the garden; Vegetable broth: free; Water: free; Peanut butter: $.84; Soy sauce: $.20; Salt and Pepper: practically free.
Total Cost Of Dish: $2.30 for the batch, or $.23 per serving.