Category Archives: Dips and Sauces

Hand-Dipped Chocolate Covered Strawberries

With Valentine’s Day being tomorrow, you may be one of those people who is desperately searching the internet for the perfect “last-minute” ideas. Maybe you are almost ready to run to the store and shell out way too many dollars for over-priced and sub-par drug store candy.

Or perhaps you are celebrating solo, or with your friends, and just want a little treat for yourself or your girls, to make the day extra special. But you don’t have all day to slave over a hot stove.

Here’s your answer!

Chocolate dipped strawberries. They are universally loved, as who could resist a sweet, juicy fruit dipped in chocolate? And they are marvelously easy to make, taking mere minutes plus a little bit of chill time. But, you could make them as fancy as you wish, by mixing dark, regular, and white chocolate, sprinkles, coconut, crushed nuts, or any other whim of your imagination.

coconut oil and chocolate with a strawberry

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chocolate chips (whatever kind you like)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • Berries

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Step 1: Put a smaller pan over a large pan of water, and bring the water to a boil. This helps to melt to the chocolate, but keep it from burning or getting scorched on the bottom. The coconut oil also helps to make the melted chocolate smooth and glossy.

very last minute valentines day dessert idea

 

Step 2: Once melted, dip your strawberries in! Hold them by the green parts and the top, and drag through the melted chocolate.

Dipping a strawberry in chocolate

Mmmm look at that melty goodness! You could use any kind of berry or fruit for this honestly, bananas or pineapple would also be great.

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Step 3: Lay your chocolate covered berry on wax paper, on a plate or cookie tray that can fit in your refrigerator or freezer.

Chocolate dipped strawberries

Step 4: Put the berries in the fridge or freezer, to harden, at least 10 minutes. If using the freezer, don’t forget about them! You don’t want strawberry ice cubes. They are best fresh!

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The fun part about making your own chocolate-dipped treats is that sometimes you have extra melted chocolate. And you can go as crazy as you want! I had some almonds and peanuts, so I made nut clusters with mine, and sprinkled it with sea salt. The same idea applies, just let them chill for 10 minutes to an hour in the fridge before enjoying.

 

Do you have any Valentine’s Day plans tomorrow? If you want to avoid the crowds and overpriced “prixe-fixe” food, I’d suggest a simple yet impressive meal at home; everyone loves to be cooked for 😉 <3

Easy Spinach & Mushroom Pasta Sauce

Sometimes, when you just need a quick dinner and don’t feel adventurous, it is easy to discount pasta as “too easy”, or feel guilty about all those carbs. But the good news is, pasta is a great blank canvas on which you can paint all sorts of tasty, healthy flavors.

You can use generous amounts of pesto, which can be made in a blender and contains easily 2 servings of vegetables per plate. You could also whip up a white bean alfredo sauce, which is essentially watered down hummus, and is super healthy and filling.

Or you could make my favorite veggie-packed sneaky healthy red sauce of all time: spinach and mushroom sauce.

mushrooms and spinach

The beauty of this is its simplicity. You only need spinach, mushrooms, some spices, and a giant can of crushed tomatoes.

You can easily substitute in a jar of pre-made sauce, and add the veggies; or use diced or even whole tomatoes, just whir them in a blender before simmering. Canned or dried mushrooms would work just fine as well. You can also use frozen or canned spinach, but it will make the sauce much waterier and it would be best to simmer the sauce for an hour or more to thicken.

homemade pasta sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pint of any type of mushrooms
  • 2 heaping cups fresh spinach
  • 1 tbsp dried onion/onion powder
  • 2 tbsp Italian spice mix
  • Garlic salt, pepper, to taste

spinach and mushroom pasta sauce ingredients

Step 1: In a pan, add the mushrooms and a bit of water, wine, or stock. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Cook 5-7 minutes, and then add the spinach. Cook another 3-5 minutes until wilted.

simmer tomato sauce for pasta

Step 2: Add in all the spices, and the tomato. Bring to a gentle simmer, and place the lid on, slightly askew so that the steam can escape and your stovetop isn’t covered in sauce bubbles. Simmer until thickened to your liking, usually about 15 minutes for me.

spinach mushroom pasta sauce

Serve with or without meatballs, sausage, or any other sauce additions you like. The flavors all work together beautifully, and most people won’t even notice there are extra veggies! If you want to really fool them, you can puree the sauce with a blender or immersion blender before serving.

 

What’s your favorite way(s) to sneak more vegetables into your diet?

Carolina Reaper Pepper Hot Sauce

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new top dog in the world of spiciness. You probably know all about jalapeños, maybe even serranos and habañeros. If you’re a true spice afficianado, you might even be aware of the previous holder of the record for the world’s hottest: the Scorpion Pepper.

Well, since August 7, 2013, the new top dog in town, crowned by the Guinness Book of World Records, is a gnarly looking pepper with a shape reminiscent of a flame: the Carolina Reaper.

Bred as a child of the previous record holders the Bhut jolokia (also known as the Ghost Pepper or ghost chilie) and a red habañero, the Reaper was developed by pepper expert Ed Currie in South Carolina. A man driven by the pursuit of health which led to the pursuit of heat, Ed has been breeding and processing peppers for several decades.

One day while strolling, I noticed a bush, with some strange looking orange fruits. Of course I was interested, as an incurable foodie and forager. I snapped some pictures and went home to research. In short order I found out the above information, and confirmed these were indeed Carolina Reaper peppers! They happened to be in a public garden space, so I quickly snatched a few with no recipe in mind, but a burning curiosity (see what I did there??).

Carolina Reaper pepper plant

Once I got home with my trio of terror, I started googling recipes. Turns out not many people want to tangle with the Reaper in their kitchen, and for good reason. Too much heat can produce burning sensations, raise your temperature and blood pressure. In extreme cases, you can lose feeling in your hands or face, start shaking or even have a seizure, and become unable to breathe.

The way pepper heat is measuring is using the Scoville Heat Unit scale. An average jalapeno hits about 8,000 SHU, whereas pepper spray (the kind meant to completely disable attackers) is around 2 million SHU. The Reaper averages about 1.5 million, with the hottest plant on record hitting 2.2 million Scoville units.

So basically, a Reaper is the equivalent of pepper spray.

This recipe is for a homemade hot sauce; if you are using Reapers or other similarly strong peppers, please use caution. Make sure you have food-grade gloves to protect your hands, and make it in a well ventilated area. Leaving the seeds in always makes it hotter, so if you truly want to bring the pain, leave in the seeds. I did not…

The recipe works with all types of hot peppers, so you can sub in your favorite kind, or mix and match. This makes about 14 ounces of hot sauce.

Carolina Reaper hot pepper hot sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 2 Carolina Reapers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • garlic salt to taste

Carolina Reaper pepper hot sauce ingredients

Step 1: Cut the tops off the peppers and discard. In a food processor or blender, chop the garlic, onion, and peppers. Add the vinegar and spices. If you want it totally smooth, add the tomatoes and blend well until liquid. Otherwise, add the tomatoes just before canning.

Carolina Reaper pepper hot sauce

I could have cooked the sauce down to thicken it a bit more, but I didn’t want to take the chance. Even just boiling it on a stove might create fumes that I didn’t want to deal with.

I jarred it in two glass jelly jars. If you want to process them in a canning or pressure bath the sauce can be stored in the pantry for years. Otherwise, store in the refrigerator for up to one year.

Hubs insisted on labeling the sauce appropriately: “Death For Sure”.

He had a burger, and put about 4 drops on it, spread all over the patty. He said that was a good amount to create a “nice burn” for the next several hours. I stuck a fork in the sauce, let the actual sauce drip off, then licked the fork, and my mouth and tongue tingled for at least 2 hours after… suffice it to say, I won’t be using much of this! The sauce should last us a good long time.

 

Have you ever, or would you, try a Carolina Reaper? Do you make your own hot sauces?

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Remember my Salmon & Couscous salad that I was 100% addicted to for a few weeks last year? During a BOGO sale on salad dressing, I got a bottle of “Green Goddess”. How in the world, as a food blogger and obsessive reader of recipes, have I not heard of this thing prior to then? The world will never know.

The Green Goddess was amazing, perfect in every way. It was creamy, tangy, smooth, and light tasting. It made me feel like a goddess every time I drizzled it on a salad. And then I ran out. I couldn’t find it at the 3 stores I usually go to. So I decided to try to make it myself at home.

And then I read the ingredients.

Corn syrup, xantham gum, colorings, “natural flavor“, sugar, cultured skim milk, dried buttermilk… all kinds of things I’m trying to cut down on, and that I don’t 100% understand but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be eating.

So I went on a quest. A mission of sorts. To re-create a dressing just as tangy, creamy, and satisfying, but with a far less questionable list of ingredients.

Friends, this is the answer.

With a base of avocado and tahini for that rich healthy fat, spinach for that vibrant green color, garlic and green onions for a bit of a spring kick even in the dead of winter, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar for a note of acid, and a sprinkle of salt and dash of honey to balance it all out, this stuff is darn near irresistible.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup spinach or herbs, packed
  • 2 small avocados
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or almond butter)
  • 1/2 tsp honey or sweetener of choice
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 4-5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste, I used about 1 1/2 tsp

Step 1: In a food processor, chop your garlic, spinach, and onions.

Step 2: Add the avocado, and all your liquids. Whip well, using a spatula to scrape down the sides, until smooth.

Feel free to add the liquids slowly, and add more of the acids or even some plain water to reach your desired consistency and flavor.

The recipe is 100% vegan, but you can also mix in some plain unflavored yogurt, mayonnaise, or sour cream at approximately a 1:2 ratio for extra creamy flavor, and it tastes pretty radical. Though it is already good enough that I basically want to eat it with a spoon.

The awesome thing about this dressing is that you can customize it to your tastes too. You can easily sub half or all of the spinach for fresh herbs like dill, basil, parsley, or cilantro. The sweetener can be xylitol or stevia, maple syrup or brown rice syrup, or like I used, a flavored honey (whipped lemon, mmm mmm!). If you don’t care for tahini or it’s too expensive for your tastes, try almond butter, sun-butter or peanut butter instead.

The only limit is your imagination!

Plus, not only is this the best dressing of all time on salads, it is also great on wraps, sandwiches, burgers, baked potatoes, chicken, steak and fish. Basically, put it on anything and everything.

 

 

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 cup spinach or herbs, packed
  • 2 small avocados
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or almond butter)
  • 1/2 tsp honey or sweetener of choice
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 4-5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste, I used about 1 1/2 tsp

Instructions

  1. In a food processor or blender, chop your garlic, spinach, and onions.
  2. Add the avocado, and all your liquids. Whip well, using a spatula to scrape down the sides, until smooth.
  3. Feel free to add the liquids slowly, and add more of the acids or even some plain water to reach your desired consistency.
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http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegan/vegan-green-goddess-salad-dressing/

Restaurant Review: Rock’n’Roll Sushi

Since it’s been a while since I’ve done a food review, I figured it was about time! I’ve been to several wonderful places now throughout the Triangle, including Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. Even a few far-flung places like Asheville and Sunset Beach. In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

 

Today’s review is for a new sushi restaurant in Durham: Rockin’Roll Sushi Express! Located in a shopping plaza at 3405 Hillsborough Rd, Suite E, Durham, NC 27705, they are convenient to downtown Durham as well as the rest of the triangle via highway 85 & 147.

Y’all know I love my sushi, whether homemade or with a burger inside, and was a regular at my old favorite sushi place in Connecticut. Hubs and I have been known to take down plates of nearly 100 nigiri before. So now that I’m a Carolina girl, I had to find an AYCE place to satisfy my insatiable sushi cravings, without breaking the bank.

For only $10.99 each, this place fits the bill!

Not only is it quite affordable, and all you can eat, it is also free entertainment! The restaurant operates with 2 large conveyor belts on each side of the room, which rotate around several tables and chairs. There are little doors in the glass that the customer opens to pull out the dish they want as it rolls by.

According to the adorably named Get-Offline.com, “The conveyor belt sushi (Kaiten-sushi) is a Japanese fast-food style sushi concept. Initially invented so that sushi chefs could quickly serve customers with fewer servers, the “Kaiten-sushi” has since taken off as a fun and fresh way to dine out.”

The conveyor belt rolls by at a pretty decent clip, not so fast that you can’t grab the things that catch your eye but fast enough that by the time you polish off your third roll the thing you wanted seconds of is coming back around.

They have a good assortment of your standard expected rolls like California, Philly, Tuna and Spicy Tuna. They also have some pretty creative specialty rolls, like the Crazy Monkey Roll with fried bananas, or my favorites, the Naughty Crab and Volcano Roll.

Seriously, the Volcano Roll is deep fried goodness. I’d recommend you eat your fill first, because this bad boy takes up a lot of stomach space. They also have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, including a cucumber roll, avocado roll, and seaweed salad roll.

Obviously, as an all you can eat place, you cannot expect the most amazing delicacies of all time. You get what you pay for, folks, and this is pretty typical American style sushi. Though I must say, the nigiri slices are generous for the fact that you can have as many as you can handle.

If you’re like me and enjoy a light bowl of miso soup before digging in or in between courses, you’re in luck! There is a miso soup dispenser. Yup, you just put your styrofoam bowl underneath and press the button, and a stream of piping hot miso comes pouring out.

The down side is you cannot choose your volume, every pour is the same amount. But they do offer traditional toppings of tofu pieces and chopped green onion. Not to mention literal gallons of soy sauce, yum yum sauce, and teriyaki sauce.

There is also a salad and toppings bar that is included. This has goodies like seafood salad (which is apparently some of the best my grandma has ever tasted, and she is a bit of a seafood salad connoisseur so that’s quite a compliment!) regular green salad, edamame, pickled ginger, and seaweed salad.

I personally had at least 2 big helpings of the seaweed salad. Something about that slimy stuff, I just can’t get enough of the salty umami flavor. There are few dessert options, but they do have oranges and a strange cheesecake like thing. It isn’t very powerful, but it is somehow perfect after a belly full of fish, rice, and soy sauce.

I see this as a personal challenge now, every time I go I need to have more plates! The rolls come with 4 or 6 pieces, and the nigiri come as a set of 2. The plate colors don’t matter, because it is all included in the admission price. This makes me more willing to try things I’ve not had before, and I appreciate not losing out because I like the typically pricier raw fish pieces the best.

There is some soft rock and pop mix playing as you eat, and generally all the diners keep to their own tables. The decor is really fun, with bright photos and definitions of common words like unagi and kani salad on the walls. The bathrooms were quite clean, as was the entire restaurant. There is a self-serve trash area to clear the plates and put them in bins for washing. And you can see the sushi chefs behind the bar at the back, making rolls as fast as you can eat them.

Overall, I’d rate Rock’nRolls:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Value: 10

Weekly Eating – 7/31

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Excuse me while I have an existential crisis real quick…

{OMG WHAT ITS AUGUST!? It was January like 2 seconds ago, we just moved to a new state, started a new job, had no furniture but an air mattress and knew not a darn soul… now we’ve been here TEN WHOLE MONTHS and have, like, a real adult home?!? And friends?? WHOA. Pretty sure this is where I should insert “hashtag blessed” or something..}

Okay, thanks for hanging in there readers, on to the deets of this week’s noms!

I had made a big ol’ pot of crockpot chili on Sunday night, which is one of my favorite things to do. I take all the kinds of dried beans in the house, and soak them in water overnight. In the morning, I pour out the water, refill it, and add the extra tomato juice, veggies, meat, and spices. Then you just let it rock and roll all day.

It is insanely cheap, because dried beans. It is also insanely versatile, use up the ends and bits of whatever, lentils, bell peppers, onions, black beans. So it is a little different every time. This became lunches several days, kept the work-from-home hubs from starving, and also chili cheese dogs and chili baked potatoes! <3

Monday:

Breakfast – bagel with almond butter & apple. This has become one of my favorite to-go breakfasts, so fast and easy, yet healthy!

Lunch – stuffed poblano peppers from last week’s food swap

Dinner – eggplant parm & pasta. I have tried multiple times, I just cannot like eggplant! This saddens me, because it is so good for you, and people very often want to give it away. But I just cannot.

Snack – white bean rosemary hummus with raw veggies. Y’all, if you have not tried this yet you are missing out! Get out the blender, go read the recipe right now, and make it!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – 2 egg veggie omelet. Had some onions, peppers, and mushrooms so I stir fried them and wrapped them in eggs!

Lunch – tuna noodle casserole. This is giving it a bit more credit than I probably should. I just took some leftover cooked pasta salad that already had bits of peppers and onion and mayo, and added a can of tuna to it to give it protein. Then I called that lunch!

Dinner – baked blue cheese & spinach chicken rolls with oven-roasted potato wedges & garlic aioli. Sounds super fancy, I know, but honestly it is literally 3 ingredients! Just thin chicken breasts, a pinch of blue cheese and handful of spinach, roll up and secure with cooking twine or toothpicks and bake!

The garlic aioli is 1-2 garlic cloves diced small, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, and 1/2 cup mayonnaise, mixed well. This is an excellent dip for chicken and potato wedges. Feel free to pull out this recipe anytime you need to impress someone but have seriously 5 minutes to focus on making the food.

Oh, and I also got a little crafty this week! I had seen a YouTube video for a bathing suit wrap that’s almost no-sew, and just had to try it. Of course, I didn’t get to it in time for the beach last weekend, but that’s ok.

It really was so easy! Just cut it to the right width to wrap around you, cut arm holes, and braid 3 strips of fabric for the shoulder straps. The straps were the only sewing part, and it took like 10 minutes total! I can’t wait to go somewhere that I can use it!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade pretzel PB choc chip granola bars using THIS RECIPE from Tiffany @ Don’t Waste the Crumbs

This recipe was so easy to follow, and I LOVE pretzels, so how could it possibly go wrong? Well, I think using JIF added more oil than it needed, what with the extra coconut oil, so it was pretty greasy… but the flavor was out of this world delish, so this recipe is a keeper! I will definitely tweak it and make these again.

Lunch – crock pot turkey chili, I brought in a big enough container that I could only finish half! Good thing we have work refrigerators

Dinner – slow cooker pulled beef sandwiches with steamed broccoli and pinto beans. I literally just stuck a pound of beef roast in the crock pot before work, came home and shredded it. Could not ask for a simpler, but seriously tasty, dinner!

Snack – white bean hummus with raw veggies

Thursday 

Breakfast – pepper & onion omelet for me, cherry vanilla smoothie for the man. I think we’ve found a new favorite! 1/2 cup frozen cherries, 1/2 cup cherry juice, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder. It is GOOD!

Lunch – the rest of the turkey chili & more white bean hummus! See how making big batches of things early in the week can mean less work the rest of the week?

Dinner – turkey burritos! Because burritos are the kings of food.

I also had a great batch-prep night because this is when I went grocery shopping for the weekend parties (see below). I cooked up like 6 pounds of ground turkey and beef and packed it in 1lb zip locks to freeze, got a great deal on marked-down overripe bananas that I froze to make smoothies and bread in the future, and washed and cut up and bagged grapes, cherries, and strawberries for snacks.

Friday

Breakfast – vanilla Greek yogurt with strawberries, chia seeds, & walnuts. I made a grave error at the store, and grabbed flavored Greek rather than plain. I do make my own yogurt, but haven’t mastered the making it thicker like Greek yogurt part. So I got some for the hubs to put on burritos… oops. Well, now we will have smoothies and yogurt for breakfasts.

Lunch – Beef & veggie leftover soup. I took my small crock pot to work, and used up the little bit of leftover pulled beef, beans, broccoli, and some kale. I added a bit of barley, and let it go on my desk all morning. The office smelled great, and I had a cheap hot lunch!

Dinner – One pan roasted chicken, potatoes, and cauliflower with a side salad. I know this dinner is so “white” i.e. not much color. And also, not stir fry. But the below mentioned cheap chickens were around, so I roasted one, and Kroger also had a 5lb bag of potatoes for 0.99, so…

Hence the side salad, for at least a little greenery in our diet.

Snack – granola bar nomnomnom

The Weekend

Saturday is a neighborhood potluck, for which I plan on making some potato salad and ham sandwiches. I also got whole chicken on sale this week for 0.79 / pound!! Can you even believe it! Yeah I stocked my freezer, as you’ll see below in the total…

And then Sunday we are hosting  a wine tasting by Unique Pairings! I’m super pumped because it means an excuse to eat all the cheese and sweets and try lots of wines! This also helped to inflate the food budget a little, but totally worth. I adore hosting parties.

Total: $177.86

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

Lessons Learned

Uh, yeah, so we overshot by $100. BUT. As noted above, we are going to 2 different parties this weekend, and most of the extra food was for appetizers/foods to share. Also, as hosts, we will frequently wind up with tons of leftover food, which will likely feature in a lot of next week’s meals.

Plus, SEVENTY NINE CENTS A POUND for chicken!! Come on. Tell me you wouldn’t buy like ten if you had the freezer space for that. A lot of this was stocking up on good sales, so that in future weeks we won’t have to spend as much on meats/etc.

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

White Bean Rosemary Hummus

 

Hummus is a wonderful thing. It is delicious and versatile, you can add it to sandwiches and wraps, stir some into soups to thicken it and add flavor, or eat it alone or with chips or crudites.

But hummus is so expensive at the store! you say. I know, I don’t love paying $3 for 8oz either.

Ever tried making your own?

It’s super easy, I promise. Do I look like a girl who likes complicated? (Well, maybe sometimes. It is fun to get a little crazy and make a giant Ethiopian feast every now and then. But mostly I like plain and simple, the cheaper and faster the better.)

One of the reasons hummus can get so expensive is the tahini paste. Marketed as a key ingredient, it helps give hummus that earthy umami flavor and smooth texture. But what if I told you instead of a $10 ingredient, you could use a $1 ingredient, and it would taste essentially the same?

Think about it. What is tahini paste? It’s ground sesame seed. Which is kind of like a nut butter. And guess what tastes similar? Other actual nut butters! I’ve used peanut butter and almond butter before, I think Almond Butter is my favorite!

Oh, and what if you don’t like chickpeas? Or think those are too over-priced as well? Good news! You can make black bean hummus just as easily, or try this amazing white bean recipe below. Each creates a slightly different flavor and texture, try them all and make a big dip buffet!

Ingredients:

  • 1 can white (cannelini) beans, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tbsp almond butter
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Dash of salt to taste

Step 1: Drain beans, add to blender. Add in the garlic, lemon, oil, almond butter, and rosemary. Blend well for about 1 minute, until it is a thick paste. Add some more oil or a dash of warm water if you’d like it thinner.

This recipe makes about 2 cups prepared hummus. I pack it into small containers and take it to work with diced up fresh veggies as my afternoon snack most days! It is also great for parties and potlucks.

 

Disclaimer: This blog is a part of the Amazon Affiliate program. Some links will take you to an Amazon page to buy those items. This does not impact the price you pay, but the blog gets a teeny tiny commission that over time helps pay the bills. Thanks in advance if you participate! 

How to: Make Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

 

Have you ever had the Greek yogurt flips? They are so delicious, and I’ve recently fallen in love with them, as a quick breakfast or anytime snack or treat. But…

  1. They can do some damage to your budget, at about $4 per 4-pack
  2. They cause a lot of plastic waste with their cute individual serving size square plastic covered to-go-ness
  3. They contain a pretty big dose of sugar

In my first Weekly Eating post, I promised that I would try to find a more frugal alternative. Turns out, making your own yogurt at home is quite easy, if tons of bloggers are to be believed! Special thanks to Mrs. Picky Pincher, whose blog finally convinced me to give it a go.

There are so many ways to do so, from fancy temperature-controlled and timer-activated yogurt making machines to crock pots to stovetop.

But who has time for that?

Not me! I’m all about the easiest, most frugal solution that satisfies a need. Therefore when I read that making yogurt in a mason jar was a thing, my eyes lit up! Conveniently, I read this on my go-to-the-store day, so I picked up a half gallon of milk to experiment with. Even if it went horribly wrong, I would only be out $1.18.

Turns out, it truly is SO SIMPLE!

I turned on a show on Netflix after dinner, and while hubby and I enjoyed bonding time the yogurt was doing its thing. We even left it overnight to do the incubation part, and I woke up to 2 fresh quarts of delicious, additive and sugar free homemade yogurt! Talk about feeling like a badass homesteader.

This recipe makes 2 quarts of yogurt from one half gallon of milk.

You can easily scale it up for a whole gallon and make 4 quarts, or even down to make as small as one pint of yogurt. Now that I know how well this works and how easy it is, I will probably make at least one gallon each week.

For starter culture, just pick a plain yogurt that you enjoy the taste of, and use about 2 tbsp per half gallon. It can be plain or Greek yogurt, organic or not, you decide. That’s the beauty of making your own homemade staples! You can also find freeze dried or powdered yogurt starter cultures online.

 

You will need:

  • 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
  • 2 large quart mason jars & lids
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt to start the culture
  • A big pot to boil water
  • Optional but helpful: A thermometer, a crock pot

Step 1: Make sure your jars are washed and clean. If you really are paranoid about germs (silly, since you’re about to purposefully grow jars of bacteria, but whatever…) you can boil them or run them through a dishwasher cycle first.

Fill the 2 jars with milk, leaving 1-2 inches of space at the top. Place them in a pot of water that covers them at least 2/3 of the way. I added extra jars around them so they do not tip over or rattle as the water boils. Bring the water to a gentle simmer.

Step 2: Go do something else while you wait for the milk to reach about 180 degrees. If you have a thermometer, great, you can check it every half hour or so. They took about an hour to reach 180 for me. If you don’t have a thermometer, the milk will be ready when a thick “skin” forms on top of the milk. Throw this skin away, and remove the jars from the water.

Step 3: Preheat a slow cooker on high, this will be your incubator later*. You can be lazy like me and just leave the hot jars on a surface to cool, this will take about an hour also. Or you can put them in a pot of lukewarm to cold water, to cool them faster. I didn’t want to chance breaking the jars, so I just put them on the stovetop and we went for a walk.

You want the jar to reach 110-120 degrees before adding the starter culture. If you don’t have a thermometer, just go by feel. When the jars are cool enough that you can wrap your hand around it and hold on for a minute or so, they are ready. You want it cool enough that the good bacteria you are about to add don’t get immediately scorched, but to grow they like a nice cozy temp.

Step 4: Take about 2 tbsp of plain yogurt, pour 1/2 cup of the warm milk into it, and mix well. Then pour half of this mix back into each jar. Give it a nice stir to distribute the good guys all around the milk, but not too violent. Unplug your slow cooker, put the jars in the warm crock, cover, and wrap in a few towels.

That’s it! Let your jars sit, undisturbed, for at least 8 hours up to overnight. You can start this in the morning and let it go all day, or start it at night and let it cook while you sleep. This is a great hands-off activity that leaves you feeling so accomplished!

*If you do not have a crock pot, you can also use a small cooler for the incubation period. Just take a small, waterproof container and fill it with warm to hot water. Put  your mason jars with starter culture in there, cover well, and wrap it in some towels. Let it sit for at least 8 hours up to overnight.

How to: Make Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

Yield: 2 quarts

How to: Make Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
  • 2 large quart mason jars
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt to start the culture
  • A big pot to boil water
  • Optional but helpful: A thermometer, a crock pot

Instructions

  1. Make sure your jars are washed and clean. Fill 2 jars with milk, leaving 1-2 inches of space at the top. Place them in a pot of water that covers them at least 2/3 of the way. Bring the water to a gentle simmer.
  2. Go do something else while you wait for the milk to reach about 180 degrees. If you have a thermometer, great, you can check it every half hour or so. They took about an hour to reach 180 for me. If you don't have a thermometer, the milk will be ready when a thick "skin" forms on top of the milk. Throw this skin away, and remove the jars from the water.
  3. Preheat a slow cooker on high, this will be your incubator later. You can be lazy like me and just leave the hot jars on a surface to cool, this will take about an hour also. Or you can put them in a pot of lukewarm to cold water, to cool them faster. You want the jar to reach 110-120 degrees before adding the starter culture.
  4. Take about 2 tbsp of plain yogurt, pour 1/2 cup of the warm milk into it, and mix well. Then pour half of this mix back into each jar. Give it a nice stir to distribute the good guys all around the milk, but not too violent. Unplug your slow cooker, put the jars in the warm crock, cover, and wrap in a few towels.
  5. That's it! Let your jars sit, undisturbed, for at least 8 hours up to overnight.
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Disclaimer: I am not a health professional, no content on this blog is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure and ailment or condition. I am also a member of Amazon Affiliate program, some links will lead you to products which, if you choose to buy, will give the blog a portion of profits without affecting your experience. It helps keep this great content coming for you! 

Balsamic Berry Sauce

 

Fresh berries are nature’s candies. Bright and juicy, they are one of the most healthful natural foods. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, whatever the color they are super! If you want to use them for something other than snacking and parfaits, here is a great dessert sauce recipe!

This sauce is a perfect accompaniment to ice cream, or poured over angel food cake, or even by itself with some fresh cream. It would make a great sauce for chicken, duck, or pork as well. You may like it so much you just eat it from the pan with a spoon! Not that I would or did do that…

Frozen berries would work just as well, you would just have to cook it a little longer to evaporate the extra water. The longer you simmer, the thicker and more syrup-like this will become. You could even use it on top of pancakes! I used half blackberries and half raspberries, you could mix however you like.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

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Step 1: In a frying pan, mix berries with sugar, lemon juice and balsamic. Bring to barely a simmer, and cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes, until berries have liquefied and the mixture has become thick and syrupy.

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Step 2: Pour over some high quality vanilla or flavored ice cream, and enjoy warm!

This is delicious warm, and has a nice little tang from the vinegar. The lemon juice brightens it, but it is not absolutely required. You could try cherries too, I bet that would be the bomb diggity.

 

Last Minute Apps & Snacks

 

So, rumor has it tonight is some big sportsball thing…

Just kidding, of course as an American I’m aware of what is basically a national holiday, the Super Bowl! This year we even get back Roman Numerals (remember those things from history class? dare you to remember what more than 3 letters stand for…)

SuperBowlLILogoThis is a little ironic for me this year, as I just moved from CT (New England) to NC (the South, like Atlanta). While I could root for either, I think I like the Falcons’ colors better TBH.

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Whether you’re hosting or attending a party, you may not have had time to fully prepare, or you may have realized you have way more guests than you have chicken wings. In that case, you could panic and spend this week’s paycheck at the deli or getting a pizza…

OR you could try any of these super-simple app and snack ideas, each guaranteed to cost <$10 and take minutes to put together! I know which one I’d go with.

*Twice baked potato skins: Rinse and poke holes in a dozen medium potatoes. Bake at 350 for 45 min – 1 hour, until soft. Cut in half, scoop out the insides into a bowl and mash with some cheese or milk. Load back into skins, top however you want, and bake open-faced for another 15- 20 minutes. You could even build a “pick-your-own-toppings” bar, or let them keep warm in the oven until needed.

*White bean dip: Open a can of white beans, drain. Puree in a blender, and add garlic salt and lemon juice to taste, slowly pour in olive oil until you get your desired consistency. Serve with pita chips and fresh veggies.

*Bruschetta: Slice Italian bread thinly, top with diced tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. Bake at 350 for 15ish minutes, sprinkle with basil, parsley, and/or garlic salt.

*Mac-n-cheese bites: Make a box of mac n cheese, then scoop into a greased muffin tin. Sprinkle with bread crumbs or crushed crackers, bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Portion control!

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*Bacon-wrapped asparagus: Take slices of bacon and wrap around 2-3 bunched asparagus spears. Lay on a pan and bake in the oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until bacon is crispy but asparagus is soft.

*Football deviled eggs: Make deviled eggs as normal (hard-boil a dozen, cut in half, take out the yellows. Mash with some mayo and mustard, fill back into the white halves) but then make them cute with football “laces” made from chives, black olives, etc.

*Caprese salad: Super simple, just layer sliced fresh mozzarella and tomato with some basil leaves, drizzle with olive oil. Bonus points if you get baby mozarella and grape tomatoes and put them on a skewer!

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*Quesadillas! Who doesn’t love quesadillas, they are a perfect hand-held food. Just take 2 tortillas, fill as you like with beans, avocado, guac, hummus, any kind of cheese, and fry on both sides until golden. Slice into quarters and serve with dips and toppers.

*Crock Pot Meatballs! There are so many options, but the best ones are just toss-it-in-and-wait. Swedish Meatballs are a classic, of course you could do regular tomato sauce and serve with thick hoagie buns, or try sweet and sour for an Asian twist.

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*Loaded nacho bar: Open a bag of chips and dump into a big bowl. Line a table with smaller bowls of beans, salsa, guac, sour cream, sliced olives, shredded lettuce, cheese, etc and let your guests customize to their heart’s content.

*Black bean hummus: open and drain a can of black beans. In a blender, combine with a clove or 2 of garlic, 2 tbsp peanut butter (yup you read that right), and olive oil. Whir until smooth!

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*Spinach Artichoke Dip: there are so many variations, but I’d go for any crock pot version. This way you can toss all the ingredients in, turn it on high when you arrive, then by halftime that dip is ready to keep the party rockin when all the wings are gone

*Football pepperoni roll pinwheels: roll out a tortilla, cover with a thin layer of pizza sauce, mini pepperoni, and cheese. Roll tightly, press down to make an oval shape. Cut into slices, lay on the side, and draw football laces with mustard, sour cream or sliced pepperoni

*Football shaped fritter: these are the cutest darn things, and actually quite healthy! Don’t let the beer-chugging manic shushing everyone know there’s a serving of veggies in there

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*Classic cheese or veggie tray: if you have some carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, or radishes, just serve with some ranch dressing or any dip. And if you’ve a brick or chunks of random cheeses, now is a perfect excuse to lay them all out artfully and clean your fridge at the same time

Whatever you make or eat, make sure you enjoy the company. That’s what any party is really all about!