Thursday, August 30, 2012

Country Loaf Bread

Okay, this not making what I said I was going to make is getting embarrassing.  We’re going through a really busy spell in our house right now gearing up for the school year (my husband is a teacher).   So when I finally got around to making my dressing I realized I had no oil! But fortunately I made some incredible bread this week.  My friend Matthew brought over a loaf of amazing bread that he made, and said it was really simple.  He sent me the link, and I had everything on hand, so I went for it.  I will say that it came from a website that is all about bread, and I highly encourage you to go to the site, they have lots of hints and videos and whatnot.

You will need

3 cups warm water (free)

1 Tbsp granulated yeast ($1.95 per 6 ¾ teaspoons, $1.95/6.75tsp = $.29 x 3 tsp = $.87)

1 Tbsp kosher salt ($2.99 per 48oz, $2.99/94.42 Tbsp = $.03)

6 ½ cups (2lb) organic flour, plus a little more for dusting ($5.04 per 5lb, $5.04/5lb = $1.01 x 2lb = $2.02)

First off, this requires a special piece of equipment: a baking stone.  I don’t actually have one, but I do have a cast iron crepe pan my sister brought me from France, and that worked very well.

Day 1: Combine the first three ingredients in a 5 to 6 quart container that has a lid.  I used a large mixing bowl.  Dump in all the flour and mix it till combined.  Put the lid on, but don’t make it airtight.  Let it sit for 2 hours at room temperature.  Put the whole thing in the fridge for at least a day. 
The rough dough, ready to rise.
Risen dough.

Day 2: Sprinkle a little flour over the dough, a little on a piece of parchment paper, and dust your hands with flour.  Pull out a 1 lb chunk of dough (roughly 1/3 of the dough) and make a ball by pulling the dough from the top of the ball to the bottom (the site has videos on this!).  Allow this ball to sit at room temperature for 40 to 90 minutes on the parchment paper.  Cut a few slashes in the dough. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with the baking stone or cast iron plate on the middle rack, and a metal broiling pan on the bottom rack.  When the oven is hot, put the dough, still on the parchment, on the stone, and pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiling pan.  Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the parchment from the bread and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until it is deep golden brown.  Cool the bread on a cooling rack till it is room temperature, and enjoy!
This is my 1lb ball.
Rested, slashed, and ready for the oven!
Finished bread.  It didn't last long in our house!

This bread is fantastic!  The longer you wait on all of the times, the better- the flavor and texture develop beautifully.  

Try It

It makes three loaves.  $2.92 for 47.35oz total, or $.06/oz

Buy It

This bread is comparable to the Country White Sourdough from La Brea, which is $2.39 for an 8oz loaf, or 


This bread is not only crazy cheap to make, but it’s the easiest bread I’ve ever made!  It’s also so good you could bring it to a party and people would actually love it.  It has a great crust, chewy crumb, and people might think that you have mad bread skills.  Absolutely Try It!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vanilla Syrup

I ran out of vanilla syrup for my coffee.  Okay, not the end of the world, but coffee my daily indulgence, and I like it with real ½ & ½ and vanilla.  I thought about buying a bottle, but it’s not cheap, and as simple as simple syrup is, I thought why not? 

I did a search, and everyone basically agreed that vanilla syrup is just vanilla extract (or vanilla beans), sugar, and water.  The proportions were a little different in each, but it doesn’t matter much.  This project was made even easier by my cousin Kelly of Mix Bakery who left me a bunch of stuff left over from making cupcakes for my little sister’s wedding this past weekend!  So this project was actually free to me.  Thanks Kelly!

You will need

2 cups sugar ($2.75 per 5lb, $2.75/80oz = $.03 x 7.5oz = $.26 x 2 = $.52)

1 cup water (free)

1 tsp vanilla extract ($.01 per ml, $.01 x 4.92ml = $.05)

Before heating..
...and after.  It doesn't need to bubble any more than this. 

Heat the water and sugar over medium low heat stirring frequently until the water has started to boil, the sugar has dissolved, and the water looks clear, not cloudy.  Take the syrup off the heat and add the vanilla.
Tastes delicious!    
I thought it would fit in a pint jar, but I got a 1/3 of a cup extra!  Looking forward to my morning cup tomorrow.
Try It

$.57 for 18.64fl.oz, or $.03/fl.oz.

Buy It

$7.99 for 25.4fl.oz, or $.31/fl.oz.


Fastest thing I’ve made yet, and I will definitely Try It from now on!  Sub this vanilla for the chocolate syrup in the Frozen Mocha, and you’ve got a cheap frozen vanilla latte, add it to a Coke like they do at Waffle House, or add it to coffee or tea for a cheap treat.  Lovely.  Vanilla not your thing?  Add a different extract like almond, mint, or raspberry.

NEXT WEEK: French Dressing!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Try It or Buy It is now on Facebook!

Yes, I started a Facebook page.  I thought this might be a good forum to post updates on projects I'm working on, as well as seeing some of yours!  "Like" the page and follow along, though I'll warn you there's very little there at the moment!

Caramel Corn

Last week I was invited to a birthday party.  We had just gotten back from the beach, and our kitchen was looking a little sparse.  I still asked my friend who was hosting the shindig if I could bring anything, and she said a dessert or a side.  Looking around three hours before the party I concluded that there was very little in my pantry, and no time to go to the store.  I did, however, have a whole bunch of popping corn, and I ALWAYS have sugar and butter.  I showed up one time with a nice little treat!

I actually made two batches of this recipe from Allrecipes(very slightly modified).  The first one I made according to the recipe, and it was a total disaster.  I ended up throwing it in the compost.  The second batch came out very nicely with a few tweaks recommended by a commenter.  These instructions are (obviously) for the successful batch!

Ruined first batch that was supposed to be done entirely in the microwave.

You will need

About 2/3 cup popping corn (should make about 16 popped cups)($1.69 per lb, $1.69 x .31lb = $.52)

1 cup brown sugar ($.99 per 16oz, $.99/2.35 cups = $.42)

1 stick butter ($4.99 per lb, $4.99/4 sticks = $1.25)

¼ cup light corn syrup ($1.99 per 16fl.oz, $1.99/16fl.oz = $.12 x 2fl.oz  = $.25)

1 tsp homemade vanilla ($.01 per ml, $.01 x 4.92ml = $.05)

½ tsp baking soda ($.77 per 16oz, $.77/94.38tsp = $.01 x .5tsp = less than $.01)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and grease two baking sheets. 
Pop the popcorn in two batches in the microwave in a brown paper lunch bag- about a minute and a half per batch, or until you hear no pops for 2 seconds. Pour into a large bowl (bonus if you get the unpopped kernels out!).  While it is popping, heat the sugar, butter, syrup, and vanilla over low heat until it is very bubbly.  Remove from heat and add baking soda.
Work quickly, but make sure it's very evenly distributed!
Pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn and mix well with a rubber spatula until evenly distributed, working quickly before the sauce sets and becomes unmanageable.
Pour mixture onto the baking sheets and distribute evenly.  Bake at 300 degrees for about 8 minutes.  Allow to cool.

At this point, you can heat up some chocolate and drizzle it over the popcorn if you want.  It’s pretty tasty!
One of two pans of this treat!

Try It

$2.49 for 16 cups, or $.16 per cup.

Buy It

$15 for 4 gallons at Great Scott’s Gourmet Popcorn, or $.23 per cup.


Try It.  Aside from the fact that most places probably don’t have an awesome popcorn store in their area, it’s cheap and easy to make.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bulk and Produce Bags

I’ve been buying a lot in the bulk section at Martin’s and Whole Foods, more and more over the last year, and I’m realizing what a money and packaging saver it is.  I got inspired by Bea from Zero Waste Home to make some cotton bulk bags for all my oats and what-have-you.  

One of my original set.
I happened to find a 100% cotton king-size white fitted sheet at Goodwill for $1.00, and I thought it would be perfect for this project (I also saved all the elastic, I’m sure it will come in handy someday!).  It’s lightweight, which is important in case the cashier forgets to tare the scale.  I made these a year ago, and they’re still holding up wonderfully after many washes!

Now, me being me, I did not realize I would have to re-make this project in order to make the tutorial.  I’m crazy like that.  When I went looking for my sewing materials, my sewing box was nowhere to be found, and the remainder of my sheet is MIA.  No problem, I have other cloth, and there was thread in the sewing machine.  It also made me remember that in a pinch you can rip cloth instead of neatly cutting it with a rotary blade like I usually do.  

Those edges are pretty raw, but they work!
You will need

1 piece 8 ½” x 13” cotton fabric ($1.00)

20” flat cotton webbing ($.79 per ft, $.79/12” = $.07 x 20” = $1.32)

Thread (free from other projects)

1.       With the fabric laying long-ways, fold over the top sides just enough to sew down 3” long.  Sew this 3” strip on each side.

These edges will become the ends of the drawstring tube.

2.       Fold that top edge over ¾” and iron flat, with the raw sewn-down edges facing each other.

3.       Fold over again, iron flat, then sew down as close to the fold as you feel comfortable.

4.       With the folded part facing out, sew along the two remaining sides. 

5.       Now go back over the two sides you have sewn with a zigzag stitch between the straight stitch and the edge of the cloth to prevent fraying.  

6.       Turn the bag right side in.

7.       Take a safety pin and stick it through the end of the webbing.  Inch the safety pin through the drawstring opening until the webbing is all the way through.  Tie a knot in the webbing.

8.       Take the bag to the customer service desk at the store you’ll be using these in.  Ask them to weight it.  Mark your bag with this weight so the cashier will know what tare to put on the scale.  I used my trusty sharpie, but you could get fancy and use freezer paper to ink them on!

9.       Remember to bring them in the store when you’re buying produce or bulk items!!
I have eight of these that I made all at once assembly-style.  They don’t take much time, and they’ve been really useful!  I made a few similarly sized produce bags out of tulle, but I decided I liked the cotton ones better for produce because they protect greens and other more delicate things in the fridge better.You can see in the first picture that I also included a spot to write the item number in.  I used a pencil to write this in.  It sometimes washed out, sometimes not so much.  If I were to make these again, I wouldn't bother.  I find it just as easy to write down all the item numbers on a piece of paper and read them out to the cashier as he or she scans them.   

Try It

$2.32 each if I never use (or find) the sheet again.

Buy It

$10.79 for 3 8.5” x 11” Ecobags, or $3.59 each.


This is the easiest sewing project next to diaper wipes that you can attempt.  Try It, you’ll like it. 

NEXT WEEK: Caramel Corn!