Thursday, 25 April 2013

Snacks and Dollars

I was inspired to write this after reading a couple of things yesterday posted by friends. I'll try to make sure the tone isn't preachy because that is absolutely not my aim.

You are an adult. You are capable of making informed decisions. Some of these decisions are made within a framework of restrictions, such as limited budget, limited time, and the requirements of others. Nevertheless you are master of your own destiny, and I know, and you know, that when something is really important to you, you make sure it happens.


We all have to eat. We have to find a balance between affordable, enjoyable, and nutritious. This balance may require a bit of sacrifice sometimes, but tell me, why do we still, in this age of knowledge, see things like this:

And what are these twin obsessions with sugar and bacon?

If I voice my thoughts on how it might not be the best decision in the world to live on such things, I am called names. I am told that a treat never hurt anyone. No, of course it doesn't, but I think the definition of treat varies.

I freely admit that I don't care for sweet things, and rarely buy them. My son said to me last night "Is there anything sweet in the house?". I racked my brains, and suggested yoghurt. I think we may have some marmalade left too. I don't expect others eat as little refined sugar as we do, and while I eat dessert about once a month, I am perfectly open to the idea of those who want it eating it daily. But perhaps 3 or even more times a day might be extreme in the other direction?

And I like bacon, I have nothing against bacon, but once a week, a little is fine. I don't obsess over it. There is something I said I don't wish to be preachy, but there's a lack of balance when you are trying to get bacon IN your dessert.

Anyway, here's an observation.

When I was a child, you know, when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, we ate more boring food, but it was good at the time, we didn't know any better. The variety today is a globalization thing, and I'm grateful for it, but there's something else today we didn't have much of back then. Snacks.

In fact we saw snacking as a bad thing. We were told it ruined our appetites when "real" meals came along. So it was avoided. Now and again, as a special treat, it was OK, but it wasn't regular.

The one thing I had never come across was "late night snacks". That still blows my mind.

Now, it's none of my business how you watch your health. What is very much part of my aim on this particular blog, however, is how you watch your wealth. The whole Rutabaga concept is of eating GOOD food, for the LEAST money. The vast majority of snack food is not good food, it is junk, and it's very expensive.

When I'm asked directly, the easiest, fastest way to save money on the food bill, I will tell you - CUT THE SNACKS. Look back at those photos. A cart full of junk like that costs twice as much as a cart full of food that will satisfy and nourish.

If you have children, you will need to provide some small items between meals. They can still be real food. This is where fruit and vegetables come in, and of course yoghurt, which most kids will devour. I hear complaints about the price of yoghurt, and I agree with you. The 12 packs here are often $6. That's 50 cents per pot, in fact. Which soon adds up, I agree. But you can look for sale items, and simply substitute other things when it's only available at full price.

It's a bargain compared to some of the things I see people buy for their kids!

If you have a kid going through a weird eating phase, here's a tip I learned 30 years ago. Create a box of fruits, veggies, cheese, etc, and whatever carbs your kid likes, maybe cut up bagels or whatever, and let them choose from that.

While I'm here, one of the articles yesterday was a list of foods you could buy with no red dye in it. I admit I was baffled. If you care about one artificial ingredient, why not just avoid all of them and make your own food?

I repeat...if you want to eat bad food, that is your prerogative. But if you want to save money and eat well, avoid the high-priced manufactured snacks. They serve no pupose, they have no benefit. This is logic.

Saturday, 20 April 2013


I love a good meatball but have never been very good at them, they wouldn't hold together. I just gave up on the whole idea. Then somebody said to me "Why don't you bake them? End of problem". Yes, true, but I had lost interest by that point.

Last week a found a baked meatball recipe on Facebook. I'm going to post it in its entirely and add a few thoughts. You'll see my comments in red.

This Italian Spaghetti and Meatball Recipe is a little bit of work and takes some time. Makes me wonder how fast people expect it to be. Yes, creating little balls takes about ten minutes, but sheesh....It was well worth it. Yes, it is. My Family just loved it. I think we have Spaghetti at my House for dinner at least once a week. This recipe is just great. Because there is a lot of baking it takes a little more time. No longer than lasagne, or a pie, or a gazillion other things. You will love it! Well, we did.
Ingredients for Meatballs
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 Large eggs, slightly beaten

 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese We were out of parmesan so we used cheddar. Will do so again.

1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs

1-2 tablespoon fresh minced garlic or Garlic Powder to taste We used pre-grated in oil in a jar.

1 teaspoon salt We halved this. Most recipes are too damn salty.

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/3 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano We used a mixed "Italian Seasoning" for a more rounded herb flavour.

2 Tablespoons dried parsley

Directions for Meatballs

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

2.Shape into small to medium size meatballs, place them on a baking sheet.

3. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until fully cooked. They were perfect at exactly 25 minutes, wow.

While the Meatballs are baking prepare the Spaghetti Casserole Dish

We didn't bother with this step, just served buttered spaghetti, tossed the meatballs in heated sauce and poured over. But I provide this if you want to bake it. Handy if you have leftover pasta.

Ingredients for Spaghetti Casserole  1 (16 ounce) package thin spaghetti

3 tablespoons oil

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

3 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

black pepper (to taste)

2 (28 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce (or use your own favorite sauce)

parmesan cheese 

1. Boil the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling water until just al dente; drain then place into a large bowl.

2. Toss the spaghetti with 3 tablespoons oil; cool slightly, then add in eggs, 1-1/2 cups Mozzarella Cheese, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper; using clean hands toss until thoroughly combined (you can use a spoon but hands are better!

3. Place the spaghetti into prepared baking dish, then press down slightly with hands.

4. Scatter the cooked meatballs over the spaghetti.

5. Top with spaghetti sauce over the top making certain to cover the pasta completely.

6. Cover with foil and bake 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

7. Remove from oven then sprinkle about 1-1/2 cups Mozzarella Cheese (or amount desired) over the top, then return to oven uncovered for 3-5 minutes or until the cheese has melted.


Tom actually made this without any supervision, so when I say we I mean he:)

These are very good meatballs, and could probably be made even better. Fresh herbs, for example, especially fresh basil, would lift this up a notch. Using cheddar instead of parmesan worked extremely well. I will make them with parmesan, but will also happily do them again with cheddar. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


Today I'm going to tell you about Michelle. This is not her real name. Michelle is just the name I chose as nobody who reads this is called Michelle (I don't think). The person in question is unlikely to read this either, but you never know, so I've changed her name.

Anyway. Michelle and I were friends many moons ago when we were both young mothers. She was an intelligent, educated woman, and came from a rather upper-middle class family. I labour this point because so often when we discuss a situation like this there is a tendency to assume the person in question is compromised by social background/intellect and so on. She wasn't. She was a smart cookie.

But she couldn't fry an egg. When it came to the domestic arts, her skills lay elsewhere. She had a lovely garden, a beautiful home, and her daughter was well-cared for, but not fed well. I don't mean the child was malnourished, but she didn't get gourmet food, let me tell ya. Michelle couldn't cook to save her life.

I learned to cook at a young age, because my mother couldn't, and I like quality food. I had a cookery teacher at school who was a genius. She had a motley bunch of 11-year-olds and she turned us ALL into very competent cooks using traditional French techniques. I combined what I learned in school, with my own experiments at home, and then married a man whose mother couldn't cook, and made him a very happy man.

Michelle's husband was not a happy man. She admitted as much, and she asked me to help her out. Give her some recipes. That was how it began.

They never turned out right. Not once. She didn't outright accuse me of giving her bad recipes, but after a few times, both of us were wondering what the hell was going on.

Of course, as you can guess, we figured out what was wrong - she wasn't following the instructions.

You would think that an intelligent person could do that, but I am here to tell you many years later, after repeated experiences with this, that it happens all the time. I've even watched my kids do it, as they've been learning. They skip a bit, either deliberately (oh, that can't matter, surely?) or they just read it wrong.

So, let's look at two ways this goes wrong.

1. Unintentionally. Often in measurements, but just as often in the directions. Careless reading. My daughter once tried to make custard with water instead of milk. The word MILK was right in front of her, but for some reason, she used water. Obviously, this doesn't work, but at that point in time there was no "obvious" going on. The thinking part of her brain had gone on holiday.

It could be a whole line that gets missed: "Remove pan from heat." "Cover with tight-fitting lid." "Add more liquid if necessary." "Turn after ten minutes." and so on.

One way or another carelessness causes errors.

2. Intentionally. These are harder to explain. The recipe says "Stir constantly" but you decide you're too busy, so it sticks/goes lumpy/burns and you wonder why? The recipe calls for 4 eggs but you only have two, so the quiche doesn't set, and you wonder why? The instructions say "Use parchment" so you use foil, and have to peel it off bit by bit.

But my favourite has to be the substitutions that aren't. This was Michelle's particular area of genius. The recipe called for diced tomatoes, she'd use diced carrots. The recipe said sour cream, she'd use milk. On one spectacular occasion, after berating me for her lasagne being crunchy, she openly admitted to using meat without sauce.

Then at the other extreme, she could never judge how long to cook something for, so NOW she'd follow the recipe TO THE LETTER. The recipe said cook for approximately 15 minutes, but she'd take it out when the timer rang, whether it was done or not.

Which is all rather funny, except that even after we'd discussed it, and we knew what the problem was, she carried on doing it. Time, after time, after time.

I was actually there to witness the pastry disaster. I am not a particularly good pastry maker, but what I make is usable, and edible. Hers was neither. I was actually standing behind her telling her what to do, and she was ignoring me. When it failed to roll out (because it was too dry, and falling to bits) she actually started kneading it. The end result, it goes without saying, was packaging material. I hoped she'd learn from this, as we went through it afterwards, but she just could not seem to take on board the idea that you have to follow the instructions to get the intended result.

Years later I watched a TV show about really bad DIY, where people were ignoring instructions, that reminded me of Michelle. These (mostly) men were told to use a screwdriver, so they'd use a hammer. They were told to cut a hole with a reciprocating saw, so they'd poke a rough one with any old pointy thing, they were told to measure proportions of a compound, and they'd do it by eye, they were told to brace something and not bother, they'd be told to ensure a surface was dry, and ignore that....and so on. The end result was always bad. But they could never see where they were going wrong. So this phenomenon is not confined to cooking. I've also seen it with gardeners.

It's special kind of stupid. What goes on in their heads? Do they think they are saving time?

When I go to recipe sites these days they almost always allow review comments. You can ALWAYS find comments about it not being very good/not turning out right AND they often admit to doing something different. Which almost certainly means a lot of other critics aren't admitting it.

Maybe you are reading this thinking, "Yeah, I don't follow it exactly, but it's OK. Everyone does it. That's not why mine doesn't turn out right, the recipe is bad." Now, I'm not saying this never happens, but if other people are getting good results, and you're not, SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT. There are more of you out there than are willing to admit it, are you one of them?