Mommy Cafe

Vegetarian home cooking, kid tested and approved

Simple Staples

Since last October’s unprocessed challenge, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to labels. And after reading Food Rules by Michael Pollan, I’ve been thinking more about what actually constitutes food. I know what flour is. But is it really still flour after it’s been stripped of all its nutrients and then “enriched” to add those nutrients back in? I have my doubts.

As a result, I’ve been looking at my staples and trying to find ways to make them healthier. For example, instead of all-purpose flour I use white whole wheat flour, which is less dense than a whole wheat but still has all the nutrients… naturally. Instead of white sugar, it’s raw sugar or organic evaporated cane. Table salt won’t be found on my table, it’s sea salt or bust.

In other words, my budget is stretched.

For a long time I was buying organic peanut butter. Spendy stuff. And when we consume a lot of PB&J, it was starting to break the bank at $5 a jar. Then I discovered how ridiculously easy it is to make peanut butter. The ingredients consist of peanuts. That’s it. Just peanuts. Unless you want to make something fancy, like cinnamon or chili peanut butter, in which case you add cinnamon or chili (who would’ve thought?). Drop them in a food processor. Turn it on. Walk away and come back in five minutes or so and you’ll have peanut butter. Yep, it’s really that easy. Kudos, Averie Cooks, for sharing this recipe. Is it still a recipe with just one ingredient?

Another thing I’ve been making is brown sugar. It had never even occurred to me that it could be homemade! For one cup of white sugar, add one tablespoon of unsulfured molasses. Mix with a fork until it comes together. Takes all of 3 minutes. And you can make any amount you need. My new favorite dressing calls for just 1 T of brown sugar. I eyeball the molasses and add more if it doesn’t look dark enough. Crazy simple. Thank you, Joy the Baker, for showing me the way.

Speaking of dressing, I’ve tried a bunch of organic whole foods dressings. I’ve hated them all. Save your money and make your own vinaigrette. Three parts quality oil, 1 part vinegar or acid (red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or some freshly squeezed lemon juice), and a little salt, sugar, or minced herbs to taste. Put it all in a small container with a lid and shake it up, baby. Base your ingredients on your salad, your entree, or your mood. I love red wine vinegar with a little oregano. My absolute favorite is a blueberry vinegar on spinach with fresh strawberries. With a flavorful, quality vinegar, you can get away with less oil — use just enough to make the vinegar stick a little! My good friend Mandy, pantry chef turned food design queen, taught me the way to remember the vinaigrette ratio: vinaigrette is three parts oil, and oil had three letters. It was much prettier when she said it, but at least the concept stuck. 🙂

One of the hardest parts of going unprocessed is no ketchup. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like ketchup, and I am certainly no exception. Nearly a year later I still miss the stuff like crazy, so I tried a couple of recipes. I served this one to Will’s cousin recently, and he exclaimed “This is the BEST ketchup I’ve EVER had!!” I agreed. It’s not quite as easy as the previous items, but it is by no means difficult. Credit to Skinny Taste for coming up with this deliciously easy recipe.

Last but not least, my latest discovery: almond milk. Oh man. This takes a little more effort. I don’t care. It’s worth every minute. Especially after you look at the ingredient list on store-bought almond milk. After much internet research, I tried this recipe. Bingo! My only complaint is that it disappears so much more quickly than the stuff in a box. The solution, I think, is to make two batches: one for everyday use, and one with a little extra honey for making chai tea or, now that the weather is cooling, a creamy hot chocolate.

So there you have it. A handful of ways to lessen your intake of processed foods, save some money in your wallet, and give your taste buds a new reason to thank you.


September 12, 2012 Posted by | Food for thought, Recipes, Vegetarian | , , , , | 2 Comments

Biscuit Muffins

At Suzy’s request, here is the recipe for the muffins that I made to go with our tuna salad picnic lunch.  These muffins look and taste just like biscuits, so they make a great side to soups or stews.  And apparently salads 🙂  These are fantastic with honey, and I imagine they’d be just as spectacular with some homemade strawberry jam (hint, hint!).

I feel a little contradictory posting this recipe during my unprocessed month.  It certainly doesn’t pass the test!  To make it a more healthy muffin, I would use white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and replace the sugar with 1/6 cup of honey.  Yes, I know it’s hard to measure a sixth of a cup.  Eyeball it, and go short on the honey if you can’t get exact.

This recipe came from The Muffin Cookbook: Muffins for All Occasions.  Sure enough, picnics in the park are one such occasion!

Prep time: 10 minutes   Cook time: 20 minutes   Estimated cost: Way less than $1 for 12 muffins

Southern Biscuit Muffins

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 T baking powder
  • 3/4 cup cold butter
  • 1 cup cold milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease 12 muffins cups.  (These muffins brown better on the sides and bottoms when baked without paper liners.)  In large bowl, combine flour, sugar and baking powder.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles course crumbs.  Stir in milk just until flour mixture is moistened.  Spoon into muffins cups.  Bake 20 minutes or until golden.  Remove from pan.  Cool on wire rack.

Makes 12 muffins

October 3, 2011 Posted by | Recipes, Vegetarian | , , , | 1 Comment

Clean Anything Detergent

Once upon a time I tried making my own dishwasher detergent.  It cost mere pennies per wash cycle, which appealed to my cheap, er, frugal nature.  And not having unknown chemicals washing up against the glasses I drink from was another benefit.  Sadly, my glasses came out looking frosted, even after running the dishwasher with Jet-Dry or vinegar.  Adding citric acid made it only minimally better.  So I went back to my store-bought detergent and was left with several cups of homemade powder.  Worthless.

Or was it?

Fast-forward a year.  I found myself with a nasty microwave and no chemical cleaner would cut through the nuked spatterings of reheats past.  In a last ditch effort, I brought out the homemade dishwasher detergent, added a little water to make a runny paste, and hoped for the best.  One swipe and I could see white again!

Since that fateful day, I have used this detergent for cleaning just about everything: countertops, sinks, stove top,  linoleum floors, showers, and more.  It is truly a wonder-cleaner… unless you need to wash the dishes.  I’ve played around with the ratio of powder to water for different jobs.  I’ll list a few of those at the end of the recipe, but it really depends on the job and the level of dirtiness.  My kitchen floor, for example, needs a pretty high concentration of the powder to scour away the ground-in food (thank you, Will).

Keep in mind that if you use a strong concentration of powder, you’ll likely need to give your surface a water rinse.  Otherwise it will look like my glasses.

Clean Anything Detergent

  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1/4 cup citric acid

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

  • General cleaning: 1/2 T per 12 oz warm water.  Shake well to dissolve.  Store in a spray bottle for everyday cleanup.
  • Mopping: 3 T per 2 quarts warm water.  Stir to dissolve.  When finished, do a quick water-only mop for a nice shine on linoleum.
  • Heavy-duty cleaning: 1 T with a small amount of warm water.  Stir to make a paste.  This is pretty abrasive, so don’t use on surfaces that could be scratched, such as stainless steel.  Great for microwaves and stove tops.


February 18, 2011 Posted by | Cleaning Products | , , | 3 Comments

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Part of my unofficial New Year’s Resolution is to become less reliant on the store for things I can make myself.  A couple of years ago I started making my own laundry detergent.  Then I made my own general cleaner.  Recently I’ve moved on to homemade deodorant.  Many of my friends have also been making the move to natural, homemade products.

These items don’t neatly fit in with recipes for soups and pastas, but they’re still worthy of posting.  I’m starting with the laundry detergent, because it’s a great way to get used to homemade products… and it’s such a tremendous cost savings!  A friend of mine did the math once and told me it cost about 2 or 3 cents (yes, cents!!) per washer load.  Besides the cost savings, I’ve also found it to be easier on my clothes, less fading, and I can add my own essential oils instead of smelling the heavy perfumes that are in most store-bought detergents.

I make my detergent in a 5-gallon bucket.  Once it has set overnight, I pour some into a Rubbermaid pitcher with a sealing lid for everyday use.  You can also use your empty store detergent bottle.  It’s so much easier to shake a 5-quart container than a 5-gallon one.

Look for more cleaning and self-care products in the near future.  Just please don’t eat the deodorant!


Homemade Laundry Detergent

  • 4 cup hot water
  • 1 bar Ivory soap
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • ½ cup borax

Grate soap and melt with water.  Fill a 5-gallon bucket half full with hot water.  Add melted soap, washing soda, and borax.  Stir until dissolved.  Fill bucket with water and let stand overnight to thicken.

To use, shake well and pour 1/2 to 1 cup of detergent into wash.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Cleaning Products | , , | 1 Comment

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Buying stock from the store started eating up my food budge once I started cooking more.  Solution? Homemade stock!  The idea came from my friend Blakely, who is probably even more frugal than I am!

Homemade stock is practically free to make.  When you peel an onion or carrot, chop the stem off your broccoli florets, and snip off the celery leaves, save the parts that you would normally throw away and put them in a bag in the freezer.  You’ll be surprised how quickly they add up!  Once you’ve accumulated 3 full quart bags, you’ve got the ingredients for stock!  You can mix up the herbs to your taste.  I like to sing “Scarborough Fair” in my head while I’m adding my herbs 🙂

One batch of stock typically yields 7 cups.  I freeze mine in various sizes of containers (I save yogurt and cottage cheese containers for just this purpose!) from 1/2 cup to 3 cups for easy measuring when it comes time to cook.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

  • 3 quart bags of vegetable “scraps”
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 to 3 bay leaves
  • 3 T. parsley
  • 1 T. sage
  • 1/2 T. rosemary
  • 1/2 T. thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Put vegetable scraps in a large stock pot and cover with water.  Add garlic and herbs.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.  Strain cooked stock through a fine-meshed sieve or cheesecloth.  Let cool, pour into containers, and store in freezer. 

Yield approx 7 cups stock

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Recipes, Vegetarian | , , , | 1 Comment