Sunday, August 31, 2014

Guilt Free Chocolate Zucchini Muffins Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan, Refined Sugar Free, Xanthan Gum Free

You know what I love? When I'm able to pass off nutritious and healthy food as candy or cake or other treats to my kids or others.
Take these chocolate zucchini muffins. I made them to serve my family for breakfast in place of cereal. I wanted them to be refined sugar free, filled with protein and whole grains, and vegetables. Oh, and I wanted them to be super awesome.
I based these off of this recipe, transforming it to make it gluten free, vegan, refined sugar free, etc... and the results were amazing.
My only regrets is that I need to order more coconut sugar from iherb before I can make these again...

I loved serving these for breakfast. My kids loved them and I had absolutely no guilt about serving them this "treat".

If you want to keep these gluten full, feel free to replace the first 6 ingredients with 2 cups of gluten flour. You can also use any other gluten free all purpose flour mix- you don't need to use these exact measurements like I did- just follow these rules if you want to mix up your own gluten free flour mix.

And of course, if you want to keep the costs down, you can replace the coconut sugar with white sugar.

This makes 24 muffins.

While my husband was very skeptical at first about zucchini with chocolate, in baked goods... these won him over and he approved.

Guilt Free Chocolate Zucchini Muffins Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan, Refined Sugar Free, Xanthan Gum Free

Friday, August 29, 2014

Amazingly Fluffy Gluten Free Rolls Recipe- Vegan, Allergy Friendly, Refined Sugar Free Option

 photo IMG_1040_zps4f6b347c.jpgIf there is one recipe I am currently in love with, it is this recipe...
For those of you who have been reading my blog for years, even before I went gluten free, you'll remember that making bread was never my strong point; I flopped more loaves of bread than I can count.
And then once I started making gluten free foods, I had to learn from scratch how to make bread again. I've had many flops and many successes when it comes to making gluten free bread.
The biggest problem I've had, though, is that gluten free bread nearly always comes out better with eggs; the ones that I've found that are egg free are good, but the texture isn't perfect. And another recipe uses a whole bunch of different flours, which I don't always have in the house. And they're also not the most nutritious flours either...
But even the most perfect gluten free bread recipe, I've found, tends to not taste so great when it isn't fresh out of the oven.
I pretty much thought I'd be stuck with mixing a bunch of different flours and needing to bake bread fresh from scratch whenever I wanted it... until I went to my friend, Susie's, house.
Susie is an awesome baker, and a family member was recently diagnosed with celiac, so she's switched to baking gluten free. She asked me for tips on how to cook gluten free, and one of the things I told her is that I like the combination of untoasted buckwheat flour and short grain rice flour, since they both have nice textures and hold together nicely. (My pizza recipe made with untoasted buckwheat flour and short grain rice flour is amazing!) With that, Susie figured out this recipe for gluten free rolls, based on her gluten standard bread recipe, and when she gave me two rolls to taste... my kids didn't let me eat them myself- they gobbled them down, absolutely loving them.
Susie told me makes these rolls and freezes them, defrosting them as needed. I begged her for her recipe since it was so awesome...
And then, knowing me, I can't leave well enough a lone... I tweaked her recipe, so that I can make it refined sugar free, with less xanthan gum, etc...
It works well with half the amount of xanthan gum Susie put in hers, and since xanthan gum is the most expensive part of the recipe, I am happy to cut back on that since it greatly reduces the cost. I haven't been able to tell much of a difference, if at all, from the batches with more xanthan gum vs less.
The yield is a fluffy, moist bread, that works best as rolls. I have made it in loaf pans, and it does work well as bread loaves, which I slice into bread for sandwiches, but it just doesn't get as fluffy or rise as much that way (its close, but not exact). These rolls, as I said, can be frozen, but they also stay good for a few days fresh.
 photo IMG_1092_zps4e7f9790.jpg
You can see it didn't rise perfectly this time, that the middle of the
loaf was more sunken in than the sides. I've discovered that leaving it to
rise longer, the second time, prevents this, and the bread is fine.

It tried adjusting the ratio of rice to buckwheat flour (1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour and 2 cups rice flour instead of 2 cups buckwheat flour and 1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour) and while they both tasted good, on a side by side comparison taste test, the batch with the higher ratio of buckwheat to rice flour tasted better- higher rice flour gave it a slight slight aftertaste, for some reason. So I go with the higher buckwheat version, but if you want more rice than buckwheat, go ahead, it works as well.

The best thing about this, though, is that I am able to make an easily portable bread mix- I brought along a few batches on vacation- and it was perfect. I made a bag of (dry) sweetener and yeast, and put it inside a bigger bag filled with flours, xanthan gum, sweetener, and salt. To cook, I took out the little bag, dumped it into a bowl with 1/2 cup warm water, then after 5 minutes of proofing added the big bag and 2 1/4 cups water and 1/4 cup oil, mixed it well and let it rise for 30 mins. Scooped it into rolls, and baked it for 20-30 minutes. Perfection. Great sliced and filled with sandwich fillings- the kids got regular yellow cheese and ketchup, I got sheep gouda and lettuce. Amazing sandwiches....
I'm still experimenting, to see if I can just mix all the ingredients together and not need to proof the yeast separately...

But as I said, I am in love with this recipe. It works perfectly for me, the bread flopper... And its easy and gluten free, and naturally egg free. You have no idea how appreciative I am of my friend Susie for this. My kids love it, my husband loves it, I've gotten lots of compliments on it from other people (gluten eaters).
In other words... if there's any recipe of mine I recommend, it's this one.

Just a note- make sure that the buckwheat flour you're using in this recipe is untoasted buckwheat flour. I have no idea if it would work with toasted buckwheat flour, but I suspect not, since they have different textures and tastes...

P.S. If you're not gluten free and want a perfect homemade bread recipe- try these two out, they're amazing. 

Buckwheat Rolls- Gluten Free, Vegan, Refined Sugar Free Option

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How To Make Your Own All Purpose Gluten Free Flour Mix- With No Xanthan Gum- Including Whole Grain Mix

Gluten free, vegan, refined sugar free, high protein,
zucchini chocolate breakfast muffins- recipe coming soon-
made with my own all purpose gluten free flour mix
When new to gluten free cooking, one of the biggest adjustments you have to make is the mindset of thinking that you can just replace wheat flour with some other gluten free flour. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way- wheat and gluten have special properties that allow stuff made with them to stick together, rise nicely, have a mild taste, etc... which you can't get if you just substitute a 1:1 gluten free flour for regular flour.
However, there are some gluten free all purpose flour mixes that I do find useful in replacing wheat flour, and have successfully used them in many, many recipes.
The thing about those recipes is that they're with xanthan gum, which, aside for being pretty expensive and ups the cost of the baked goods tremendously, it also gives many people stomach issues. On top of that, they're not the most nutritionally packed.
So, I was excited to read about how to make your own all purpose gluten free flour mix that doesn't require xanthan gum on There's her regular all purpose flour mix, and there's her whole grain all purpose flour mix. She says they work with all gluten free flours, as long as you follow her specific instructions, however... I don't use eggs in my baking, and eggs stop things from falling apart/crumbling, so... I've been nervous about trying all the variations she mentions- since I'm afraid that they will crumble.
However, here's the rule:
You need a scale.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How To Save Money On Your Holiday in Spain

This post is brought to you by Sandy Cretz.

Spain remains one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations, attracting visitors from across the globe, and it’s little surprise that over 50 million of us each year head to the country. Spain holidays are perfect if you want to unwind and enjoy beach vacations that combine tranquil sunbathing and fun-filled island hopping. It is a country that boasts a rich culture, unique cuisine and breath-taking heritage. But if the cost of a holiday to Spain seems to be out of reach then a number of money-saving options exist to make travelling with the family more affordable.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Spending No Money On Kids, For A Year- My Thoughts

A homemade Reversi game
Over the past few months, a few times I had read about an extreme frugality blog, and was contemplating posting my thoughts on it, but was hesitant to do so. I don't like being overly critical of people and the choices they make in life, and especially when their lifestyle is similar to mine. But after a few people contacted me asking me what my thoughts were on that blog, I decided to write a post about it.

This blog is called "Free Our Kids" with the subtitle "The toddler and me and our year for free". I have to say, firstly, that I think it's a great read, with so many wonderful money saving ideas, and I think the mom is incredibly creative and there is a lot to learn from her.

In summary, this blog is on its second year. The first year was an experiment a mom in England, named Hattie Garlick, decided to do- for a year spend absolutely NOTHING on her kids other than medical care, etc... This included clothing, diapers, kid specific foods, activities, etc. Instead, she would barter, make from scratch, accept hand me downs, dumpster dive, etc... The reason for this experiment was twofold- also because they lost a large chunk of their income, and as a way of reacting to the tremendous pressure in the whole "baby/kid industry" where people are encouraged to spend insanely large amounts of money on their kids to get them "everything a kid should have".
The second year, she decided to revamp the rules a bit, and included a "once a month 'get out of jail free'" pass. 12 purchases allowed for the kids for the year- and of those only 6 can be new, the other 6 need to be second hand purchases.
I read on the site (but can't find the page where it was written) that these rules apply only to their kids, not to themselves, the parents. The reason she said for this rule was that she already was pretty frugal with herself, and only spent on what was needed, but was more tempted to spend on her kids than she was on herself. I hear that, but....

So, back to what I said at the beginning- I was reluctant to post this, because I think that Hattie, the mom who writes the blog, is an incredible woman and I like her attitude towards life in general- her non preachy attitude, her love for thrift and living within her means, etc... I certainly don't want her to feel attacked by this post, and if you're reading this, Hattie, I want to apologize, since that isn't the intent.
But at the same time, I do have some critique for her and her blog, and I don't think her experiment is a good idea.

Instead of criticizing her specifically, I think I'll try to focus on why I would never do such an experiment, and how I think my kids, etc... would react should I try to do such a thing...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

This week was a super busy, great and frugal week. Unfortunately, since it was so busy, I didn't keep track day by day what was done to save money, but here's what we did.

Friday, August 22, 2014

How to Make Beef Dishes For a Fraction of the Cost

 photo IMG_1083_zpsc1483fd4.jpg
Beef stir fry, made with super cheap meat
I like the flavor of beef, and like to vary up our diet, and not have chicken be the only animal flesh our family eats. Because of this, I do try to make beef here and there, even though it is more expensive than chicken. Fortunately, I am able to get ground beef for not too much money, but sometimes I want actual beef pieces, for things like steak salad, stir fries, pepper steak, or similar.
The problem is that with beef, you either get cheap beef that is tough and chewy unless you cook it for a long time, or you can get super expensive meat that cooks up softly. In terms of price different, the cheap, slow cooking meat, can typically be found for 1/3 the price of the more expensive, softer, quicker cooking meat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to Get Himalayan Pink Salt Cheaper Than Stores- Turning a Salt Hunk into Usable Salt

 photo salt_zps3365a758.png
In general, in life, I try to have things in as natural a form as possible, non refined, without man made chemicals added to it in the production process. This is why I try to make as much from scratch as possible, and try to stick to the non refined form of something, such as non refined sweeteners.
Salt is one of those other things that are generally consumed in the refined form, so that the salt you eat is stripped of all its nutritional benefits, pretty much, and then has chemicals added to it, like free flowing, anti caking agents, etc...
I have heard about the benefits of Himalayan pink salt, how it includes in it over 84 different minerals and trace elements, but unfortunately, the cost of it is daunting. At Iherb, Himalayan Pink Salt usually costs a couple of dollars for less than half a pound - the cheapest I've seen is $5.93 per pound, plus shipping.
So I bought it just a few times and used it sparingly, though would like to use it more often.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

Hi y'all! It's that time of the week where I am excited to share about all the different ways my family managed to save money over the course of the past week!
This week I have some super exciting news to share, which saves money and time... and I've been waiting so long to be able to post it! Anneliese, now 2 years and 8 months, is fully potty trained! She's been potty training on and off for the past few months, and for a while now was just wearing diapers at night and to poop, but now she is 100% of the time in diapers, is dry at night and poops on the toilet, so good bye diapers for Anneliese! Now its just little 5 month old Rose in diapers, and she is cloth diapered!
Unfortunately I discovered that the place where I was going shopping to buy cheap meat and chicken, etc... is currently closed until the end of the summer, so I've needed to spend a little more when I need to buy that.... But at least I've managed to find other stuff cheaply, even if not the meat/chicken.
I also am happy to share that, though it is summer, typically a time when people are tempted to spend a lot of money on summer activities for the kids, I've been good about that and have been keeping our summer activities super cheap, if not free.

So, here's what we did to save money this week:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Homemade Yummy Refried Bean Enchiladas Recipe- Vegan, Gluten Free Options

I decided that I'd be making vegan food tonight for supper, and wanted to change it up from the lentils I've been making a lot lately when I decide to cook vegan. In my freezer, I had frozen cooked kidney beans, which I cooked in large batches and froze in can sized portions.
My kids are not bean fans, and I'll be honest, beans aren't my favorite food either... but my wallet loves them, so I decided to try to make them into a fun and tasty dish, that would be so flavorful and appealing that you'd forget that it's made with beans instead of meat.
Enter enchiladas.
Awesome filled tortillas, baked with a delicious sauce and cheese..
Typically filled with gluten, dairy, and meat. Though I figured out how to make them with egg in place of the gluten. And then discovered that egg makes me sick.

So, this is how I made my gluten free, vegan enchiladas.
They're pretty versatile.
And of course, while I made mine entirely from scratch and gluten free and vegan, you don't have to make yours vegan if you don't want to. And you don't have to make them gluten free if you don't want to.
It's just a general idea more than an exact/precise recipe.

Homemade Yummy Enchiladas Recipe- Vegan, Gluten Free Options

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fluffy Pancakes and Flat Bread Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan, Refined Sugar Free, and Xanthan Gum Free Options

 photo IMG_1079_zpsf7e7d5dd.jpgI wanted to share this recipe for pancakes that I've been making for my family lately for breakfast (since I'm trying to wean my family off of cereal and milk). They're vegan, cheap, and I make them gluten free (though you can just as easily make them not gluten free). They're based off of this recipe, and I serve them with jaggery syrup, though you can just as easily serve them with maple syrup. When I want to increase the nutritional value of the meal, I often make a peanut butter jaggery sauce for it instead.
Just a note- this recipe doesn't make so many- I need to double it for a family my size.
You can make these without the cinnamon and vanilla and use them in place of slices of bread for a sandwich, whether closed or open faced.
I usually make my pancakes without any xanthan gum in my flour mix, since its expensive and I don't find it necessary, but if you're making yours gluten free and want a flexible pancake, you might want to use a tad of xanthan gum.

Fluffy Pancakes and Flat Bread Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan, Refined Sugar Free, and Xanthan Gum Free

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Collecting Useful Things that are Free or Cheap

This is a guest post written by my friend R. She's an awesome person, and we love bouncing frugal ideas off each other.

Hi, this is a guest post from a friend of Penny's. I live near where Penny does, my husband works at an hourly job for a relatively low salary, I'm currently looking for work, and we live in a relatively expensive area of the city. Oh, and we don't have financial support from family. Naturally, this combination lends itself to a frugal lifestyle, by necessity. Penny has become my frugal guru in addition to being one of my closest friends.

Although my husband and I are relatively newlywed and don't have children yet, we do plan to eventually, and I have enjoyed collecting baby things for free or cheap since I've been married, even knowing we don't need them yet. Neighborhood bulletins and email lists are good for this; just a couple of days ago I went to a previously-­unheard-of neighbor's moving sale. I got a pack- and-­play, a bib, a play mat, a baby carrier, a nursing pillow, and some baby lotion, plus a first-aid kit, for a combined price of just over 20 dollars—and then I messaged Penny, begging her to let me show off my frugal skills by writing a guest post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Total Expenses on Groceries this Past Month- Breakdown and Analysis

I must admit that I've been feeling very lazy lately. The summer heat does that to me, as does not getting enough sleep... So that's why, although I've had this data for the past few weeks, I haven't actually written up the breakdown and analysis of our grocery bills for the last month we recorded- from June 23-July 22...
But finally, here I am, plugging away the numbers and doing the concentrating that I haven't been in the mood for.
 photo graph_zps58d2d941.png
For the record, I decided to take a break from recording exact grocery expenses... I haven't been tracking our groceries this past month, other than keeping a very rough idea in my head. I will start tracking again, perhaps in September, perhaps in October... Who knows. But for now, sharing the data from the last month.

First off, the grand total- $508.32. I have to say I'm very surprised. I thought it would be much higher than that, especially since I wasn't able to go shopping in my usual super cheap places this month for various reasons, but even so it was low. It definitely can be lower, as you will see in the breakdown, but I'm happy that after two higher months, we're on a downward trend. I hope it continues.

If you take a look on the graph in the upper right hand side of the post, you can see how our grocery expenditure has fluctuated, but now seems to be on a downward trend...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

I have to say I'm proud of myself this week. This summer heat and lack of sleep (for various reasons) is getting to me, and its hard for me to be inspired to be frugal instead of super lazy, but even so, I pushed myself and all in all, we had a great week that barely cost us a cent. So that was pretty terrific.
Another perk is my husband figured out a way to change the settings on our washing machine so it uses less electricity, and consequently, our last electric bill was lower, just because of the times he did the wash. So now that he taught me the trick, hopefully our next month's electric bill will be even lower.
And despite the heat, we've barely used the AC, and even don't even use the fan most of the time, so that was certainly frugal.

Here's what we did to save money this past week.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ginger Mango Chilled Soup Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan Options, GAPS Legal

 photo IMG_0986_zps5fc88311.jpg
The other day when I was in the farmer's market, I saw a big box of mangoes about to be thrown out. Why? Because they were super soft, and the vendors knew they couldn't sell them that way.
But I? I love overripe fruit, especially mango, since it is delectable and sweet when overripe. So I brought the entire box home.
Unfortunately, these overripe mangoes, while delicious, were rather on the fibrous side, so I had to figure out a way to get the most of the mangoes' goodness without getting a mouthful of mango "hair".
I figured a chilled mango soup would probably hit the spot on a hot summer day. I got the very basic idea from this recipe, but then played around with it and made it my own.
Everyone in my family really loved it, including each kid of mine, despite the raw onions and ginger in it. There were no leftovers.
If your mangoes aren't overripe, you may need to add a drop more honey to give it the sweetness it needs.
P.S. Don't expect this to be a sweet soup- while it definitely has sweet notes, it is definitely more of a savory than sweet dish.
This soup is GAPS/Paleo/Primal friendly, and if you use a vegan sweetener, is completely vegan as well. It also is allergy friendly. I'd say this soup is good for every diet, other than for people who don't do well with raw onions.

Ginger Mango Chilled Soup Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan Options, GAPS Legal

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pressure Cooker Lentil Vegetable Risotto Recipe- Vegan, Frugal, and Easy

I like one pot meals. I like cheap meals. I like easy meals. And I like yummy meals.
This meal fits all those criteria- its got your protein, starches, and veggies in there, is packed with flavor, and is pretty frugal, to boot. It's pressure cooker lentil vegetable risotto, and it's awesome.
Fennel bulbs are cheap where I live when they're in season. I know they're relatively expensive in some places, so if you live in a place where they aren't cheap, feel free to replace the fennel with another veggie, like half celery and half zucchini, or chopped cabbage.
This is made in a pressure cooker, but if you don't have one, feel free to make it in a regular pot, in the traditional risotto fashion, or in a crock pot.
I was inspired by this recipe.

Pressure Cooker Lentil Vegetable Risotto Recipe- Vegan, Frugal, and Easy

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Homemade Hair Donut/Bun Maker From Socks- Tutorial

 photo IMG_1077_zps30f5e889.jpgIf you've been following my blog for a while, you'd know that one of the things I get the biggest kick out of is taking things that were destined for the trash, and repurposing it into something useful. I love doing that with food, and that's when I do it the most, but I also really enjoy crafting and making useful items with "trash".
Take socks, for example. Often they get holes on the bottom, especially mine do, since I alwayls wear socks around the house without shoes, and that wears through them pretty quickly. So when socks are no longer usable (and I mean after I've already darned the small holes), I've actually made some projects with those socks.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Homemade Curry Powder Recipe

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One of the types of food I make most often in my house is curry- an Indian dish made with a variety of different spices, giving it an "Indian flavor" and each curry has its own unique spice mix, and there are even specific curry spice mixes known as garam masala or panch phoron.
But sometimes you want just a simple curry powder, the equivalent of what they sell in the store labeled as "curry powder", and this is that.
Feel free to use it as is in red lentil dal, with veggies, on meat or fish, etc... or just in any recipe that calls for curry powder.
I left out the hot pepper flakes in it, since I like being able to adjust the heat on my own, but feel free to add some to your mix if you want to.

Homemade Curry Powder Recipe

Monday, August 4, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

Hi there! This week was a pretty frugal week for us, despite mitigating circumstances that made it harder to be frugal. I would say the biggest frugal accomplishment this week was our not using the AC and barely even the fan, despite extreme heat. 

Here's what we did to save money this past week:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cantaloupe Curry Recipe, Made With Cooked Unripe Cantaloupe

 photo IMG_1003Medium_zps5d2ad89d.jpgI buy most of my produce from the "Grade B" stand at the local farmer's market since it is much cheaper than what I can find at the grocery store. Often the produce I get there is overripe and needs to be used immediately, but sometimes, like this past shopping trip, the produce is unripe.
With most unripe produce. you can stick it in a bag (ideally with an apple or a banana) and it will ripen on its own, but cantaloupe is special in that it does not ripen once picked. Unfortunately, the entire bag of cantaloupe that I bought was all small and mostly unripe, and not so pleasant to eat as is. It just wasn't sweet- just a tad sweet and that's all.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pumpkin Fish Tacos- Gluten Free, Egg Free, Refined Sugar Free

I made the most awesome fish tacos this past week- and they were gluten free, egg free, dairy free, refined sugar free, and super yummy. My nearly 5 year old, Ike, who says he hates all fish other than tuna and sushi (even salmon, can you believe it?) absolutely loved these tacos, even knowing they had fish in it. Everyone had seconds.
I got inspired for this recipe after seeing a friend posting that she made mango, avocado, and fish tacos. I didn't have any avocado or mangos at home, but did have pumpkin, and it seemed to me that the sweetness and texture of steamed pumpkin could be similar enough to mango to also work with fish in a taco recipe. And instead of the avocado, I thought a spicy mayo would lend a creaminess to it that would perfect it.
I don't have an exact recipe, but a general approximation of what was in it. But it doesn't have to be exact, it'll be good even if the proportions are a drop different.