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Archive for December, 2008

If you are like me, you struggle trying to determine how much is “enough” for your supplies and food storage.  How many rolls of toilet paper should you have put back?  How many cans of green beans?  These are the questions many of us who stockpile lay awake at night thinking about.  Although the food storage calculators online are a very good starting point, you do have to customize your storage for your own personal preferences.  Not everyone will use 50 pounds of green beans in a year, but some families might use twice that.

I have a practical suggestion which may make things a bit easier.  There are a couple of ways to do this, one of which will take more time but will be much more accurate.  Bascially, you need to keep track of how much you use of each item in a year, or at least within a specified period of time so you can calculate a year’s usage.

One method would be to keep a running list all year of everything you use – from cans of veggies, soup, potato flakes, canned milk, etc. to toilet paper, shaving cream, soap, razors, toothpaste, etc.  This method will be more time consuming, but will be spot on if you are determined to know exactly how much your family uses in a year’s time (and disciplined enough to keep track of everything).  Creating a list in Excel or Word and posting it in a prominent location (a magnetic clip on the fridge works great) will help make the task easier.

The second method (and my personal preference) is to write the date on an item when it is opened, and when it is used up, see how long it took to use it, and calculate accordingly to see how many you use in 12 months.  For example, say you open a tube of toothpaste in the morning (Jan 1st).  Write the date on the tube with a sharpie marker, and when the tube is used up (say January 31st), you know your family averages a tube of toothpaste in a month.  Buy 12 tubes and you’re good for the whole year.   I find it helpful to keep a running list of what we have onhand and how many I still need to purchase to achieve our storage goals.

Last night, I started working on new lists for the coming year and was determined to see what areas of our storage still need work.  I did some number crunching and decided our family averages about 4 rolls of toilet paper a week, which works out to be 208 rolls a year (4 rolls/week  x 52 weeks/yr =208 rolls).   We buy the big Northern packs at Sam’s Club which have 36 rolls per pack.  If we purchase 6 packs, that will give us 216 rolls which (theoretically) should last all year.  It will be interesting to see if this actually works out to be correct when I do a tally next December.

If you have tips for what works for you and your family, I’d love to have you share them with us.

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We have been getting several hits on our blog with folks searching for bulk meat purchases, so I thought I’d offer some suggestions on what worked for us.

For the beef we bought and put in the freezer, we knew someone who had calves for sale, and he arranged delivering it to the slaughterhouse where they took care of everything for us, including vacuum-packaging the meat.  All we had to do was pay for it and pick the meat up.

Here in Arkansas, we paid $2.55 a pound (which included the cost of the cow, processing, packaging, etc.).   I requested as many roasts as they could get off of it, along with ribeye, T-bone, chuck, and round steaks, and LOTS of ground hamburger meat.

The beef we bought dressed out at about 175 pounds which took up over half of a 14.6 cubic ft chest freezer.  Be sure you have ample space available before you order the meat.

If you are looking for a side of beef or a whole cow to purchase, do a search for a local butcher or slaughterhouse and they can provide more information.  Many butchers will have the amount of meat you need onhand, and if not, they should be able to direct you to someone who owns/sells cattle.  Look for grain-fed beef that has not had antibiotics used on them.

As far as flavor goes, it throws rocks at what you buy at the store.  Most of the grocery store meat has a smell to it that almost makes me gag when it’s cooking.  Fresh beef is very mild, and even our ground hamburger contains very little fat – you almost have to spray the pan with non-stick spray just to cook it – it’s great!   I nearly overseasoned the meat the first time I used it simply because I’m so used to covering up the store-bought taste of the other.  The steaks are divine, and the roasts literally fall apart they are so tender (even the chuck roasts).

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I recently had the opportunity to review several products offered by the company Shelfreliance, including their Cansolidator Pantry.  I’d like to thank Shelfreliance for their generosity in allowing us to sample their items and give our readers our honest opinions.

The Cansolidator Pantry is a front-loading system which will hold up to 40 cans and automatically rotate them.  The system is customizable and can be used either stacked or horizontal.  Overall dimensions of the product are:  Height: 11″, Width: 20″, Depth: 16.5″.

While I do think the Cansolidator is innovative and could be a great organizer for some people, I will say there are a few issues with it.

In order to use the stacked configuration, there should ideally be a 6th track or one of the levels is virtually useless for standard-sized cans. When using the Cansolidator horizontally, it would be helpful if the brackets were a tad longer to enable the use of standard-sized vegetable cans all the way across. As I currently have mine configured, it is limited to 2 sections of vegetable-sized cans, and 2 sections of soup-sized cans. Any other configuration on the horizontal level left us with a section that was too small for any of the other canned goods we currently use.

Also note that you would need to store the same type of canned food within each section of the unit – otherwise you will have to unload it to get to a particular can.

For people who need help organizing their food storage, I think the Cansolidator could be a feasible option. If your pantry shelves are not very deep, it could be a potential problem as it does require more shelf depth than some people have. I originally tried it in my own pantry, and had to move it to another shelving unit for that reason. However, the Cansolidator does do what it says it will do – I was able to get 40 cans into the unit with no trouble.  (Granted, in the same amount of space, I could store more than 40 cans without the unit – just a side observation.)

Overall, the Cansolidator is sturdily built and should last through many years of use.  Check your measurements carefully before ordering to be sure it will fit your pantry shelves.  It is priced at just over $40 (not including shipping), which may be out of some folks’ budget given the current economy.

Pros:

  • Rotates food automatically
  • Organizes pantry so that it looks less “cluttered”
  • Holds 40 cans with no problem
  • Sturdy and easy to put together

Cons:

  • Design needs some tweaking to get a usable configuration for most standard-sized cans
  • Unit is over 16″ deep, which may be an issue for folks with narrow shelving
  • Unit takes up considerable space, which would hold more than 40 cans of food
  • Price could be an issue for some families

The freeze dried strawberries offered by Shelfreliance are fabulous!  We have a few other food items we have not yet tested, but will be adding notes on them shortly.

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If you look at everything that needs to be done to prepare your family for hard times, it can be almost overwhelming.  I’ve decided to break my “to do” list down into more manageable tasks, and focus on what I can realistically accomplish in a day.

Today, I’m dehydrating a#10 can of mixed vegetables.  The can originally weighed over 6 pounds (with liquid), and by the time it’s completely dried, it should easily fit into a pint size jar.  This saves valuable storage space and also extends the shelf life of the veggies.

Another day, I plan on pressure canning a batch of pinto beans so they’ll be handy whenever I need them.  I love storing dried beans, but there are times I’m running behind and forget to soak them.  Having a few jars canned will help make some quick meals later on.

I also need to take a day and break down some larger sized purchases into smaller bags and vacuum seal them.

A little here and there adds up in the grand scheme of things.   The important thing is to actually start.  At the end of the day, I have a sense of accomplishment knowing I’ve done something positive towards my goal of being self-sufficient.

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If you live in the south, it ain’t “stuffing” we serve on the holidays, it’s “dressing”.   🙂   I know there are variations on the recipe, but it’s basically the same principle. Go easy on the sage – it can really do a number on the tummy!

Some people use a combination of cornbread, dry bread, or biscuits. At our house, it is strictly cornbread. I have two versions to share – the first is my mother’s and the second is my father-in-law’s. Mom’s uses eggs and celery, while FIL’s uses neither but adds garlic (this is my personal favorite, but shhhh – don’t tell mom!)

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Mom’s Cornbread Dressing
(Makes a 9×13 pan, and can easily be doubled if needed)

4 packages cornbread, mixed according to directions and baked (we prefer Morrison’s Corn Kits – NOT a sweet mix like Jiffy)
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 small onion, chopped fine
1/4 stick butter
chicken broth (homemade is best, but you can use canned)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoons sage (dried or rubbed)
2 eggs
1 can cream of chicken soup (optional)
de-boned chicken (optional)

In a saucepan, melt margarine and add some broth along with the onion and celery. Cook until vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, crumble cornbread in a LARGE bowl (or a dishpan works great also). Add sage, salt, and pepper. Add vegetables/butter/broth and stir well. Add more broth as needed (you don’t want it to be too wet, but it shouldn’t be dry either – this is something that you get a feel for after years of making it!).

At this point, you can add a can of cream soup if you’d like. Adjust your seasonings to taste, being mindful that the flavors will blend wonderfully as it sits, so don’t over-season.

Beat 2 eggs and add to mixture (don’t taste it until after it’s fully cooked from this point on).

In a 9×13 pan, layer half of the dressing, then a layer of deboned chicken, then top with the remaining dressing. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Uncover and bake approximately 1 1/2 hours.  When it’s done, it should be lightly browned on top.  Enjoy!

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Father-in-Law’s Dressing

3 skillets full of cornbread
sage (small container)
green onion, chopped and sautéed
garlic (about a teaspoon, minced)
chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken
butter or margarine – about a stick and a half
cut-up chicken

Mix and put into large pan. Put dabs of butter all along the top – spread it out over the entire pan. Bake 2 hours @ 350 degrees or until it browns on the top.

Ray used no eggs and no celery – he said celery would dry out the dressing.

We eat dressing throughout the year – it’s too good just for Thanksgiving and Christmas!   🙂

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This is wonderful on a cold night!

1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
1 onion, chopped, and cooked with the ground beef
1 can rotel (drain some of the juice off)
1 can Ranch style beans
1/4 pkg taco seasoning
1 pound Velveeta cheese
8oz sour cream

Mix all of the above together (except sour cream) in a large skillet and simmer on LOW until cheese melts. Stir often or it will stick. Add sour cream and stir just until it incorporates (do not boil!). Serve over crushed corn chips (we like Santitas) and lettuce.

YUM!!!!!!!!!! It’s even better the next day! 🙂

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Not low fat.  :oP  These make wonderful Christmas presents!  It’s not terribly expensive, and it makes a LOT.

2 boxes powdered sugar (32oz total) – sifted
1 stick margarine – melted
1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (*not* Pet milk)
1 can coconut – (probably about 8 to 12 ounces)
1 cup pecans – chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix by hand. Chill overnight and roll into balls (1/2″ or so). Dip in melted chocolate almond bark.

I have used a melon baller to make the balls before.

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