Monday, October 31, 2011

Breakfast Dogs

So, this isn't a Bake or Buy, so sue me.  It's good nonetheless.

Now, I haven't always been a non-meat eater.  And since it's Halloween and people may need good hangover foods tomorrow, I thought I'd throw something out there that is SCARY good (hey you get TWO special holiday posts - don't get used to it).

This is what I like to call a breakfast dog.  I invented it in college when I wanted a hot dog for breakfast, but I didn't want people to look at me funny (not successful).

Yeah you guessed it - cook that bad boy up, put it on a bun, and top it with scrambled eggs, cheese, and salsa.

Yeah, the photo quality is bad, but hey, I took that photo about five years ago!

If you're going to eat meat (and that is your own decision), EAT ONE OF THESE!  And then eat one for me!

Sunday, October 30, 2011



Since I'm going to be going to a Halloween party anyways, I'm going to make pumpkin pie bites for comparison (I can't eat 48 of those things on my own...).  The question is, do I use the pumpkin puree from the can or bake my own pumpkin? 

OMGoodness, I'm going to probably eat all these before the party.

The store brand: Libby's Pumpkin

My recipe (for the pumpkin puree):
- Preheat oven to 450º.
- Cut pumpkin in half (harder than it sounds).
- Place cut side down in baking dish.
- Fill baking dish with ~1/2" of water.
- Bake 45 mins - 1 hr until pumpkin in soft.

- Scoop out filling and puree in food processor until smooth.

My pumpkin puree came out a little bit runny, so I drained it through a cheesecloth to thicken it to the consistency of canned puree.

So, how do they compare?  Mine is a lot lighter (I think it was the variety of pumpkin I used).  Even after straining the puree, it was thinner than the canned.  Nutrition-wise they are exactly the same - the only ingredient in the canned pumpkin is, well, just that - pumpkin.

If you want the recipe for the pumpkin pie bites, you can get it here:

And the price comparison?
            Size     Cost        Cost/oz
Libby's Pumpkin15 oz $      1.95  $           0.13
Homemade4 cups  $      5.00  $           0.15

Hmm, so it actually costs more to roast your own pumpkin.  The taste was a little different - the canned pumpkin was more of a typical pumpkin taste, while mine was a little more like squash.  In the recipe, my roasted pumpkin tasted a little smoother, but the color of the canned was bright orange (great for my desserts!).

So in the end, we have a can of bright orange pumpkin puree from a can that is pure roasted pumpkin that costs less than my pumpkin.

Bake or Buy?  BUY!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


My friend Hollywood has a suggestion for a blog that I am totally up for tonight - PIEROGIES!  It involves making pasta, so this blog is getting hard fast (!).  Either way, I am pushing forward with this effort.

The store brand: Cheemo Potato and Cheddar Pierogies - frozen pierogies may be the only kind I've ever eaten.  A college staple that I've stood by... I'm a little nervous to challenge it's good name.

The recipe is taken from
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large potatoes
  • 8 ounces sharp-tasting cheese
  • salt and pepper

- Mix flour, water, and egg and salt together. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Cover dough with bowl and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Boil potatoes until soft. Drain and rinse. Add cheese. Let stand a few minutes until cheese melts. Then fold potatoes and cheese together. (I actually lightly mashed the potatoes with a masher and then stirred the cheese in) 

- Roll out dough about 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch squares. Fill each square of dough with one teaspoon of potato and cheese filling. Fold in half and pinch ends together to seal. (I used a round cookie cutter - I think 2.5 inch)

- Drop in hot boiling water and simmer for 8 minutes.
- Drain and fry in butter a few minutes until heated through.  Salt and pepper, to taste.

So how did they turn out?  Mine is on the left:

Maybe it was just that the Cheemo ones had been in my freezer for a while, but the pasta was hard.  The filling was bland - husband and I were saying that you couldn't even tell it was cheddar (not that "cheddar cheese" was a listed ingredient).  I liked that the homemade pierogi filling had texture since I left the potatoes chunky.  The dough was soft with a little crisp from the pan fry.  They were SO. GOOD.

As a note, once they were both pan-fried in butter, I stirred them in with mushrooms, onions, and cabbage that I had previously pan fried in butter and garlic.  Just top it with parmesan cheese and parsley.  They were FAN.TAS.TIC:

So, how does the cost compare?
         Count     Cost Cost/Pierogi
Cheemo Potato and Cheddar14 $      3.00  $            0.21
Homemade30 $      3.90  $            0.13

My recipe made a LOT of pierogies - I actually packaged half up and froze them (after a quick 2 minute boil).  Now I have my own frozen pierogies and they cost a lot less.  They did take quite a while to make - about 1.5 hours from start to finish, but next time they will be easy peasy from the freezy.

Bake or Buy? BAKE!

Monday, October 24, 2011


There isn't a more American condiment than ketchup.  To be perfectly honest, I don't think I've ever had a homemade ketchup - it's always been Heinz style for me.

I got the ketchup recipe from Julie Von Rosendaal (The Family Kitchen):

drizzle of olive oil
1/2 purple onion
1 garlic clove
5 medium tomates (1.5 lbs)
7.75 oz tomato paste (half can)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of dried red chili flakes

To make it, add the onion to a hot sauce pan with the olive oil.  Cook about 5 minutes and then add the garlic.  Another minutes later add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, and let the sauce reduce for about an hour. 

Once you have a thick sauce, use a hand immersion blender to puree the sauce until smooth.

And the final product:

So how did it taste?  I have to say, it was AMAZING.  It had a little spice from the chili flakes, and it was so tomato-y tasting.  I went light on the sugar, and it was perfect.  Tasting side by side, the Heinz tasted really salty in comparison.  When we were done with our burgers and tater tots, the homemade bowl was scraped clean, and there was lots of Heinz left.

Nutrition-wise, the homemade wins, hands down.  The Heinz was made with high fructose corn syrup and has scary high sodium levels.

What about the cost?

Heinz20 oz $      2.19  $      0.11
Homemade33.8 ounces $      4.75  $      0.14

It does cost a little more to make the homemade batch, but $3 of the $4.75 was tomatoes.  If I made a couple batches of this when I make my salsa, I could easily cut that tomato cost to ~$1 and then I could can pints of ketchup for use year-round for less than store-bought.  The recipe also states you can freeze the ketchup for up to 6 months.  Too bad I didn't think of this a couple months ago during tomato season!

So - Bake or Buy? BAKE!

Bisquick Pancakes

mmmmm, pancakes:

So if I'm going to make pancakes, I usually make them from scratch (only because I don't usually keep bisquick on hand).  Today I will be making the standard bisquick pancakes and a fancy pants recipe from Alton Brown. 

The bisquick recipe: 2 cups bisquick mix, 2 eggs, and 1 cup milk - mix together

The Alton Brown recipe:

The mix: 
6 cups flour
1.5 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar

For the pancakes:
Use 2 cups of the mix prepared above
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
4 tbsp melted butter
butter for greasing pan

Whisk together the egg whites and the buttermilk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the melted butter.

Combine the buttermilk mixture with the egg yolk mixture in a large mixing bowl and whisk together until thoroughly combined.

Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the pancake mix. Using a whisk, mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don't try to work all the lumps out.

The batter looked very different.  The bisquick batter (left) was smooth and thinner, while the Alton Brown pancakes were thick and lumpy in appearance:

While actually cooking the pancakes the Bisquick (left) puffed up much more than I thought they would and they ended up looking remarkably the same:

Taste-wise?  Well testing side by side sans toppings, the Alton Brown pancakes may have a slight edge.  They have a little bit more flavor, but in all fairness, they have pure buttermilk and half a stick of butter.  So I'd have to say nutrition-wise, my Bisquick with skim milk and egg must have the leg up, even with the preservatives from the mix.

How the costs compare:

Pancake Mix
Bisquick40 oz $      3.79  $      0.09
Homemade50 oz $      1.45  $      0.03
Prepared Pancakes
Bisquickmakes ~10 $      2.10  $      0.21
Homemademakes ~10 $      1.86  $      0.19

The mix is much more cost effective to make, but once you factor in the buttermilk and the extra butter, the cost to make both recipes is about the same.

The main factors for my decision include:
- I'm an impulse pancake maker, and it's not often, so the likeliness of me having buttermilk on hand is almost zero.
- The buttermilk and melted butter is an added evil, that didn't give enough extra deliciousness to warrant the fat and calories.
- I can save about 5 minutes (and 3 less dirty dishes) by the ease of ingredient combining with Bisquick.
- Once you top these things with fruit or syrup, the taste difference is almost indistinguishable.

Bake or Buy? BUY!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Vegetable Stock

The weather is getting colder here, and it's about to be soup season.  Buying cartons of stock is so very easy and it's great to be able to keep it on hand in the refrigerator.  But the question is: should you be making your own stock?

The store brand: Kitchen Basics - Natural Vegetable (no salt added):

And my recipe (taken from

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
2 stalks celery
2 large carrots
1 bunch green onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic
8 sprigs fresh parsley
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
8 cups water

First off, i cleaned the veggies and cut them up in 1 inch pieces.  Add the olive oil to the pot and then throw everything in except the salt and water.  Let it go for ~10 mins.

Now add the water and the salt (I used celery salt since I was fresh out of celery).  Let it simmer for 30-60 mins and then strain the liquid out and you're all set!

So, how did it turn out?  Alright, mine is on the right, and the first thing you'll notice is the obvious color difference (the store brand had tomato paste).  Taste wise they were both tasty - I think the biggest difference was mine was a little saltier (I bought the no salt added version at the store).

The great thing about vegetable stock is that although there is a recipe, you can add in clippings from any vegetables you've used lately - ends from carrots or asparagus, stalks from all your herbs you would normally toss, etc. You can keep a ziplock bag in the freezer and throw your ends in there, then when you're ready, voila - free stock ingredients!

And the cost breakdown?

Size (fl oz)CostCost/oz
Kitchen Basics32 fl oz $      3.65  $      0.11
Homemade48 fl oz $      3.60  $      0.08

Even if you are using all fresh ingredients to make this stock, it's still a little cheaper to make your own.  If you are using "recycled" vegetable pieces, then even better!  Nutrition wise, they came in about the same, since I purchased the all natural, no salt added.

So will I bake or buy in the future?  I can't get over the convenience of stocks cartons.  And the price isn't very far off, so I'll let those recycled vegetables hit the compost.  I think I'll make a point of it to stock up when it's on sale... PUN INTENDED!

Bake or Buy?  BUY!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I LOVE Larabars.  But I'm cheap frugal, and at $1.50 a piece, I don't eat a lot of them.  My favorite flavor is banana bread - reading the ingredients, I'm thinking this could be an easy slam dunk.

They contain: almonds, dates, bananas.  Doing a little internet research, multiple sources site they can be imitated using the following proportions:

1/3 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup dried bananas (use banana chips or dry them out yourself in the oven at 200º for about an hour)
1/4 cup dried, pitted dates

The method couldn't be much easier, I'm not even going to write it in recipe format:  Start by blending the almonds in food processor, then blend dates and banana chips together, and mix all constituents together.  Divide into four parts, wrap in saran wrap, roll out into bar. 

And the outcome?:

Well - fantastic.  Mine were a little lighter than the original bars (I was running a little low on dates), but contain the same ingredients.  The good news is they taste great!  Very fresh and moist and super sweet from the dates.  The Larabars were a little chewier, but I'm guessing I could add some more dates and get the same consistency. 

The entire process took about 10 minutes, so how does the cost break down?

Dates $  0.87
Dried Bananas $  0.66
Almonds $  1.40
Total Cost $  2.93
Cost per Bar $  0.73

Size (oz)CostCost/oz
Larabar1.8 $      1.50  $      0.83
Homemade1.67 $      0.73  $      0.44

Nice!  At almost HALF the cost, I can make a bar that is just as good as the Larabar!  Alright, so mine doesn't look like a perfectly shaped bar, but what can you do?  Stop being so anal, that's what.

So... Bake or Buy?  BAKE!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bake or Buy Criteria

I'm a numbers person, so there's got to be a grading system to this madness, right?  Here are the categories up for consideration:


Price is pretty cut and dry - I'm not calculating out how much it costs to run my oven or anything, so sue me.  Taste will be almost entirely my personal opinion (my husband gets an opinion, but naturally it counts less).  Nutrition will be compared in general terms (store bought contains corn syrup? - FAIL).  The overall winner will be my opinion of whether the item is worthy of being handmade again.

So, that about sums it up - let's get it on!