Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Homemade Hidden Valley Ranch

Around our house Ranch dressing is the king of salad dressings. At one time my grandson went through a phase in which just about everything he ate was coated in ranch dressing. And not just any ranch dressing, it had to be Hidden Valley brand. Now it is true that not all brands of ranch dressing taste the same, but for the most part, they are all similar in taste and ingredients. Because my grandson was so picky, and would not eat any other brand of ranch dressing I decided to save the empty bottle and I began to refill it with a cheaper brand. Yes, sneaky I know, but he never could tell the difference. Well, he never mentioned it if he did.

The problem was that even when we could find it on sale, I knew I could make a homemade version of ranch dressing that was quite a bit cheaper, even if I still had to keep refilling the 'Hidden Valley' ranch bottle with my homemade version to appease my grandson. Now there are two different approaches to making your own ranch dressing. The primary difference is whether you use fresh buttermilk (wet recipe) or a dry buttermilk power (dry recipe). I have made it both ways, but as I generally keep a container of SACO dry buttermilk powder on hand, if most often use the 'dry recipe' and use whole milk in place of the buttermilk. In addition to this being more convenient, the dry mix is more versatile as well as being quite a bit cheaper to make than buying the commercially available dry 'Hidden Valley' brand ranch mix.

There are many different recipes of dry ranch dressing mixes out here on the Internet some are more elaborate than others, but most have the same basic ingredients. I have made several different batches of dry mixes, and the following is my go to substitute for 'Hidden Valley' ranch style dry mix. Generally I just make a one time recipe equivalent to an individual store bought packet (1 ounce), but during the writing of this blog entry we are well into the holiday season which at my family gatherings means many veggie trays with ranch dip, Cajun Fire Crackers, and lots of ranch salad dressing. For that reason, I have included both a single portion packet recipe as well as a recipe for make your own powdered ranch mix in bulk quantity it you wish.

The Ingredients

So why go to all the trouble of making your own version of 'Hidden Valley' dry seasoning mix? I mean the commercial 1oz packets of the dry seasoning mix are convenient to use, and they taste good. In my case the two primary concerns is that first, I can control what goes into my seasoning mix, and secondly it is quite a bit cheaper to make. The fact that I think it tastes just as good or better than the store bought is of course an added bonus. So let's look at the ingredients used in both the 'Hidden Valley' ranch seasoning mix, versus or homemade version.

Hidden Valley Ranch – Maltodextrin, buttermilk, salt, monsodium glutamate (MSG), lactic acid, dried garlic, dried onion, spices, citric acid, less than 1% calcium stearate, artificial flavor, xanthan gum, carboxymethycellulose, and guar gum.

Homemade Ranch Seasoning – Cultured buttermilk powder (includes sweet dairy whey and lactic acid), parsley, dill, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, sugar, white pepper, paprika, and monosodium glutamate (optional).

Now, I am not the monosodium glutamate (MSG) police. I have never known or met anyone who has an allergy to this flavor enhancer, but maybe you have or if you have concerns regrading the safety of it's use simply omit it from this recipe. Sometimes I use it in my mixes, and sometimes I do not. That's the beauty of making your own seasoning mixes, you have total control of the ingredients that you use.

Cost Benefit Ratio

As you can see, at my local Walmart 4 individual 1oz packets of the 'Hidden Valley' brand seasoning mix will cost you $4.58 ($1.15 per packet/oz), whereas 12 ounces of the SOCO buttermilk powder will cost you $4.48 ($0.37 per ounce). The 4 ½ teaspoons of dried spices that you have to add to the buttermilk powder to make 1oz of homemade ranch seasoning mix will cost you about $0.05 to $0.08 for a total of $0.42 to $0.45 per 1oz, a savings of $0.70 per ounce. So making your own ranch seasoning mix will save you approximately 61% versus buying the 'Hidden Valley' brand prepackaged mix. There is no difference in savings between making a single serving mix, versus the bulk mix, as the price of the ingredients is the same. Therefore I only make the bulk recipe during the holiday's or when I want to share with friends and family.

Homemade Ranch Dry Mix (Equal to a single serving packet)

2 tablespoons dried buttermilk powder
1 ½ teaspoons dried parsley, divided
½ teaspoon dried dill, divided
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon Accent (MSG) (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika

  • Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork. Use as needed.

Dry Ranch Dressing Mix (bulk Recipe)

1 cup dried buttermilk powder
2 tablespoons dried parsley, divided
2 teaspoons dried dill, divided
2½ teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Accent (MSG) optional
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

  • Remove two teaspoon parley and ¼ teaspoon of dill and place in a small bowl off to the side. Combine the rest of the ingredients into a small food processor and pulse 4 to 5 times. All the mix to settle for a few minutes before removing it from the food processor.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and mix together.

Ranch Dressing – Combine the milk and the single packet homemade seasoning mix recipe, or 3 tablespoons of bulk recipe mix with 1 cup of mayonnaise and 1 cup of whole milk until smooth. You could use more or less milk depending on how thick you like the your dressing to be. Refrigerate for at least 1 to 2 hours before serving, although I find waiting 24 hours before using yields a better flavor. The following are a few of the variations that I have made over the years. I am sure there are many other possible combinations so I encourage you to experiment and expand your palate.
  • Bacon Ranch – Add 4 to 6 slices of crispy bacon chopped fine.
  • Buffalo Ranch – Add 3 to 4 tablespoons Louisiana Hot Sauce.
  • Buttermilk Ranch – Substitute buttermilk for the whole milk.
  • Chipotle Ranch – Add one chipotle pepper (smoked jalapeno) and one teaspoon of the adobo sauce. Remove the seeds if you wish as they contain most of the heat and do not attribute to the flavor of the dressing.
  • Fiesta Salsa – Add ¼ to ½ cup of your favorite salsa.
  • Santa Fe Ranch – Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of salsa verde (green chile salsa) or Hatch green chilies.

I find that when making any of the variations that have solid ingredients such as the 'Chipotle', 'Fiesta Salsa' and 'Bacon' ranch etc. That combining the milk, seasoning mix, and additional ingredients in a pint mason jar and pureeing them with my emulsion blender before adding the mayonnaise helps give the dressing a smoother creamier texture.

Sour Cream Veggie/Chip Dip – Add one single recipe of your homemade seasoning mix, or 3 tablespoons of bulk recipe into 16 ounces of sour cream (or Greek yogurt). Add 1 teaspoon dehydrated onions and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before serving, although as with the ranch dressing, I find waiting 24 hours before using results in the best flavor.

I will be honest with you, most of the time we just use ranch dressing as a dip for vegetables when we make a veggie tray as we usually have one variety or another on had. The consistency of the ranch dressing is just right as a vegetable dip. This recipe really shines as a dip for chips as it is thicker and easier to scoop. Any of the additional ingredients used to make the dressing variations work well in the veggie/chip dip.

The Bottom Line

Making your own ranch seasoning mix is 61% cheaper ($0.45 versus $1.15 per ounce) than buying the commercially prepared 'Hidden Valley' ranch seasoning mix. Having control of the chemicals or lack thereof that goes into the dressing that your family will consume is well....”priceless”. In addition, making your own ranch dressings and or dips give you the ability to experiment with different flavors and textures and change them to suit you and your family's individual needs. I hope you and your family enjoy making your own ranch dressings and dips as mine does.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Slow Cooker Series: White Meat & Bean Chili

As I have mentioned repeatedly in many of my posts, most Walmart stores will price match their competitors grocery ads. Each individual store is different, some allow you to purchase meats and poultry at these reduced prices, others will not. A month or so ago we were able to purchase chicken breast for $1.69lb (regular price was $3.24lb, a 52% savings). One of the recipes I like to make when I am able to get chicken breast at a reasonable price is a 'White Meat and Bean Chili.' Now, I say white meat because this recipe is readily adaptable to using rabbit meat (which is all white meat) and turkey breast as well. This recipe makes 96 ounces of chili.

6 cups of water or rabbit, chicken, or turkey stock
1 ½ pounds white meat (chicken, turkey or rabbit)
1 ½ cups navy beans, dried
1 (7.8 ounce) Salsa Verde (Green Mexican salsa)
1 onion, minced
2 tablespoons chicken bullion
1 teaspoon cilantro
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper

Sort though and remove any small rocks you may find. Yes, I said small rocks, as you may find some, but they are not as prevalent in Navy beans as they are in pinto beans, and you really do not want to break a tooth. Add the navy beans to the crock and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water, then soak the dried beans overnight.

In the morning drain the water (pour it in your houseplants or garden, why waste it) and add 6 cups of fresh water or stock to the slow cooker (if you are using chicken stock, omit the powdered chicken bullion). Add the remaining ingredients (except the onions and any raw meat) and set your slow cooker on high.

While the slow cooker is heating up, saute your onion until it starts to become a golden brown. If you are using raw chicken as we are in this recipe, brown (saute) the meat as well to enhance the flavor and texture of the chicken. 

If your meat is already cooked (such as that removed from the bones of a chicken, turkey, or rabbit) chop or shred the meat to the desired size and add it to the slow cooker. Once you have completed sauteing the onions and the white meat add them to your slow cooker and leave it on high for one hour.

The only decision left to make is to determine when you want your chili to be ready. If you want to be able to eat the chili within the next 3 to 4 hours then continue to cook it on high for another 3 or 4 hours. If however you are wanting to cook the chili over night, or you want it took cook while you are at the office or running errands, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 8 to 10 hours. Remember the only thing not cooked in this recipe are the beans. So if you over cook them they may dissolve and become part of the liquid making the dish more like a soup than chili, but it will still taste great.

Cost Benefit Ratio:

So lets look at the actual cost of our homemade chili versus that of three of the most popular commercially prepared chili's available on supermarket shelves here in Texas. I realize that in other parts of the country there may be different brands and prices may very, but the following prices are pertinent as of 11/2014 here in East Texas.

Hormel White Chicken Chili with Beans $1.98 for 15oz can (0.13 cents per ounce)
Wolf Brand Chili, Texas Recipe No Beans $1.83 for 15oz can (0.12 cents per ounce)
Stag Ranch House Chicken Chili with Beans $1.86 for 15oz can (0.12 cents per ounce)
Campbell's Southwest-Style Chicken Chili with beans $2,98 for 15.7oz can (0.19 per ounce)
Slow Cooker Chili $5.38 for 96 ounces (0.5 cents per ounce) A 50% Savings over store bought!

This Recipe:

1 ½ pounds chicken breast cubed (1.5lb x $1.68lb = $2.52)
1 ½ cups navy beans, dried (12oz x $0.08 per oz = $1.00)
1 (7.8 ounce) Salsa Verde (Green Mexican salsa) $.078 per can
1 onion, minced (3/4lb x $0.20lb = $0,15)

Misc Spices Listed Below ($.50)
2 tablespoons chicken bullion
1 teaspoon cilantro
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper


This low fat white meat chili recipe is not only healthy, but delicious, and at 0.5 cents per ounce it is 50% cheaper than store bought chili's of similar ingredients. This chili can even be made at a lower cost if you use the meat removed from chicken. turkey or rabbit bones when making soup stock. Not only do you get a great homemade stock, any meat removed from the bones when the stock is strained is essentially free. And everyone likes free, Right? Anyway, I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as mine does.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cheap Ground Beef Can be Just as Healthy as Extra Lean!

Each week before we do our weekly shopping we gather our locals ads and check out the sales at the various supermarkets in the DFW area as our local Walmart will price match ads from their competitors. Price matching is one of the many strategies that my family uses to get the best deal we can thereby lowering our food budget without compromising on quality. One of the items we try and keep an amble supply of is ground beef. While we have cut down our eating of red meat, I use regular ground beef (you know the cheap stuff) in many of my casseroles, tacos, spaghetti, soups, breakfast burritos, homemade Rice-A-Roni and Hamburger helper mixes and other recipes. I know, I know, the cheap stuff is full of fat and unhealthy right..... Well maybe not. What if I told you the cheap old regular ground beef could be as low fat as the more expensive lean ground beef. You'd think I was crazy right? Well read on my friends and prepare to be amazed!

When checking out the meat department of your local supermarket, the most common types of ground beef you will find are: Extra Lean (93/7), Lean (90/10), Ground Chuck (80/20), Regular Ground (73/27). All ground beef is labeled according to it's fat to meat ratio. The number on the left side of the hash mark is the percentage of meat in the product and the number of the left is the percentage of fat content. So extra lean is 93% beef and 7% fat, whereas on the other end of the spectrum regular ground is 73% meat and 27% fat. Depending on the supermarket, the actual description or labels on the ground beef package may be different, but no matter the descriptor, the important part to remember is the fat to meat ratio of the product.

Obviously ground beef with a lower fat content is higher priced. In our local Walmart extra lean (93/7) is actually more than $1.10 per pound higher than ground chuck (80/20), and $1.50 per pound higher than regular ground (73/27). Many homemakers feel that they have to sacrifice their families health by purchasing ground beef with a higher fat content simply because of the price. In addition, ground beef of higher fat contents can be purchased in bulk (3 to 5lb chubs) for substantial price savings, while the more lean ground beef is generally sold in only 1 to 2.25lb packages.

As you can see, purchasing regular ground beef (73/27) in a 5lb chub (tube) is actually 46% cheaper than purchasing lean (93/27) ground beef. These of course are regular store prices, if you comparison shop you may actually find regular ground beef even cheaper. I know, I know, what about the unhealthy fat content of cheap ground beef? Well, the good news is that regular ground beef (73/27) when cooked and prepared properly can be as almost as healthy as the higher priced extra lean (93/7) or lean (90/10) ground beef. I realize this almost seems impossible, but you do not have to take my word for it. There is plenty of documented proof that validates this outlandish statement.

Iowa State University Study (1992)

According to a study conducted at Iowa State University in 1992, ground beef of three different fat levels (90/10, 80/20, 73/27) were prepared by browning the ground beef in a pan (pan frying). In the first test, three 100 gram (3.5 ounce) samples of the ground beef were placed on paper towels after cooking and blotted for 30 seconds. In the second test, three 100 gram (3.5 ounce) samples of the ground beef were placed on paper towels and then placed in a strainer, and rinsed with hot water (150°F), and allowed to drain for five minutes. The results of their findings are listed in the following table.
      Iowa State University (1992) Grams of Fat
Product 90/10 80/20 73/27
Ground Beef, uncooked 10g 20g 27g
Ground Beef, pan fried 8g 11g 11g
Ground Beef, pan fried and rinsed 3g 4g 4g

The results of this particular study are quite eye opening. According to Iowa State University's research, the cheaper regular ground beef (73/27) when cooked and rinsed had almost the same identical fat content as the more expensive lean ground beef (90/10). While simply blotting the ground beef with paper towels did reduce the overall fat content, rinsing the cooked beef further reduced the difference in fat content between the lean (90/10) and regular ground (73/25) beef from 3 grams to only 1 gram.

The one major thing missing form the Iowa State University research is that they did not include a weight/yield ratio. A weight/yield ratio is simply a pre and post cook weight of each ground beef sample. While we know the precooked weight of the ground beef (100g) we do not know the cooked weight. A weight/yield ratio is simply the precooked weight minus the post cooked weight. For example if the precooked weight of the ground beef is 100g, and the cooked weight is 73g then the yield of the cooked beef is 73% (73 divided by 100 = 0.73 or 73%). Fortunately for us the next study does include a weight/yield ratio.

Canadian Beef Information Centre (BIC) Study (1997)

In 1997, the Canadian government released similar research which is available from the 'Beef Information Centre (BIC)' at www.beefinfo.org. While they classify their ground beef similarly to U.S. standards, there are some minor differences. According to the BIC, lean ground beef is classified as any ground beef with a fat content of less than 17%, medium ground beef is classified as any ground beef with a fat content of less than 23%, and regular ground beef is any ground beef with a fat content of less than 30%.

As with the research performed at Iowa State University, the Canadian researchers browned (pan fried) three 100 gram samples (3.5 ounces) of lean, medium and regular ground beef. However, in the Canadian research, only the regular ground beef was rinsed with hot water after being cooked, as the focus of their research was to show that regular ground beef when cooked and rinsed with hot water was actually leaner than lean beef that was not rinsed after cooking.

BIC Study (1997) Grams of Fat
Product Lean Medium Regular
Ground Beef, uncooked 13.1g 16.1g 24.1g
Ground Beef, pan fried 9.5g 11.4g 15.1g
Ground Beef, pan fried and rinsed n/a n/a 9.4g
Lean (maximum fat content 17%)

Medium (maximum fat content 23%)

Regular (maximum fat content 30%)

Looking at the chart we see the ground beef the BIC used in their research was comprised of lean (87/13), medium (84/16), and regular (76/24). The results of Canadian research validate the findings of the Iowa State University research conducted in 1992. As expected, the BIC concluded that the cheaper regular ground beef when browned and rinsed with hot water had an overall fat content less than that of lean ground beef that was not rinsed with hot water after cooking. Now, I am sure, that rinsing both the lean and medium grade of ground beef after cooking would reduce the overall fat content of both as well, however as I mentioned earlier this was not the focus of the BIC study.

So rinsing away the fat is great, but what about the overall yield of regular ground beef compared with that of the more expensive lean ground beef. After all, if you only have half the amount of beef remaining after cooking and rinsing then when you started compared to the lean or extra lean, your not really saving any money. Well I think you will be surprised and pleased with the yield of ground beef compared to that of lean.

BIC Study (1997) Weight/Yield ratio
Product Lean Medium Regular
Ground Beef, uncooked wt 100g 100g 100g
Ground Beef, pan fried 66.5g 65.1g 58.7g
Ground Beef, pan fried and rinsed n/a n/a 62.3g
Lean (maximum fat content 17%)

Medium (maximum fat content 23%)

Regular (maximum fat content 30%)

As you can see, the yield of the less expensive regular ground beef after cooking and being rinsed (62.3g) is only slightly less than that of the lean ground beef after cooking (66.5g). That is to say the lean ground beef after cooking lost 33.5% of it's precooked weight, whereas the regular ground lost 37.7% of it's precooked weight. The difference in loss between the two is only 4.2%. Yes, the lean ground beef had a higher yield by 4.2%, however it costs 30 to 47% more than the regular ground beef depending on where your purchased your ground beef and whether or not you purchased it in bulk.

Low Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF)

Obviously if you are following a LCHF eating program, you are not worried about your fat intake. In fact, the higher fat ground beef is actually a better choice for making hamburger patties or Salisbury Steak


So what does all this mean for us? Well we can draw several conclusions from this research. First, purchasing cheaper ground beef to use in your recipes can lead to significant cost savings. Second, by following a few simple steps, you can reduce the fact content of cheaper ground beef to approximately that of significantly more expensive lean ground beef. The bottom line is that if you are on a budget like many of us are, you can save significant money on your food bill by purchasing regular ground beef on sale and or in bulk without sacrificing the health of your family.


The Canadian Beef Centre, accessed 10/10/12

Buege, D. 1993. Reducing fat in ground beef. Wisconsin Meat Facts and Analysis. ME 93-1.
Love, J.A. and K.J. Prusa. 1992. Nutrient composition and sensory attributes of cooked ground beef: Effect of fat content, cooking method, and water rinsing. J Am Diet Assoc 92:1367-1371.
USDA National Nutrient Database: Tips for Reducing Fat in Cooked Ground Beef Crumbles by Rinsing

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Powdered Bullion Mixes

So what do you do when a recipe calls for chicken stock/broth and you do no have any on the shelf or frozen in the freezer. Well if you are like me, you have powered bullion of one type or another in your pantry. Yes, I admit it, I have three different types currently in my pantry and they are all Knorr brand: chicken, beef, and tomato & chipotle flavor. I use the Knorr brand simply because that is what is most readily available at the supermarket in which we shop.

There is no doubt that using a good homemade stock in your recipes instead of a commercially prepared one you will definitely give your food a depth of flavor and mouth feel that is unmatched. However, in the real world sometimes life just gets in the way and the need to use a powered or granulated bullion product is a necessity.

I often use these powdered bullion products when making recipes such as my homemade Rice-A-Roni and Hamburger Helper mixes. In addition I use them when needed to supplement the flavor of soups and stews, and on occasion even to fortify weaker chicken of beef stock. Yes, I know there may be several reasons why you might object to using such powered and paste mixes in your kitchen, but just to let you in on a little secret, most restaurants use these stock mixes in one form or another. That’s right, rarely do restaurants make their own stock from beef or lamb bones in the traditional way as I was taught, quite frankly, it is to time consuming and expensive. Now, I am not saying there are not some restaurants that make their own stock, but they are few are far in between.

For the homemaker, granulated bullion is 1) cost effective, 2) shelf stable, and 3) convenient to use. If you do not have the time to make stock from scratch (I will show you how I do this in another post on the blog), just add 1 to 2 teaspoons of powdered bullion to water to taste or add a small amount to your soups and stews for a flavor boost. On of the major things you must consider when using such products is that they tend to be very high in sodium, so may will need to adjust the amount of salt in your recipe when using them.

So if you are going to use these mixes when cooking for your family, and you have concerns regarding their safety, a through understanding of exactly what goes into each of these products will help you make the decision on whether you wish to use them or not. I for one use them on a regular basis as do most cooks; however I opt for fresh homemade whenever possible.

Knorr Chicken Bullion

Ingredients: Salt, Sugar, Corn Starch, Monosodium Glutamate, Beef Fat, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Dried Chicken Meat, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Chicken Fat, Water, Parsley, Disodium Inosinate, Citric Acid, Onion Powder, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Whey (From Milk), Sodium Caseinate (From Milk), Natural Flavors, Colors (Yellow 5, Annatto, Yellow 6).

Wylers Chicken Bullion

Ingredients: Salt, Sugar, Corn Maltodextrin, Water, Hydrolyzed Corn Gluten Protein, Monosodium Glutamate, Chicken Fat, Onion Powder, Cooked Chicken Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Turmeric, Natural Chicken Flavor, Disodium Inosinate And Disodium Guanylate, Gelatin, Garlic Powder, Corn Syrup Solids, Natural Flavors, Celery Seed, Modified Corn Starch, Hydrolyzed Soy Gluten Protein, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And Cottonseed Oils, Soybean Oil, Tricalcium Phosphate, Tbhq (Preservative), Artificial Flavor, Alpha Tocopherol (Antioxidant), BHA (Preservative), Propyl Gallate, Citric Acid, Butter Oil. Contains Soybeans, Milk. Processed On Equipment That Also Processes Wheat, Soybeans, Milk, Egg.

Knorr Beef Bullion

Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Beef Fat, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Sugar, Dried Beef, Water, Corn Starch (Sulfur Dioxide Used To Protect Quality), Water, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Maltodextrin, Caramel Color, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Garlic Powder, Natural Flavors (Milk), Dried Parsley, Onion Powder, Turmeric, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Citric Acid, Spices.

Wylers Beef Bullion
Salt, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Sodium Bicarbonate, Monosodium Glutamate, Sugar, Beef Fat, Water, Cooked Beef, Onion Powder, Dextrose, Corn Maltodextrin, Hydrolyzed Corn Gluten Protein, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Hydrolyzed Soy And Wheat Gluten Protein, Calcium Silicate, Disodium Inosinate And Disodium Guanylate, Dextrose, Hydrolyzed Torula And Brewers Yeast Protein, Caramel Color, Lactic Acid, Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten, Soybean Oil, Natural Flavor, Silicon Dioxide, Artificial Flavor, Soy Lecithin, Tricalcium Phosphate, Propyl Gallate, FD&C Red 40, Alpha Tocopherol (Antioxidant), BHA (Preservative), Corn Oil, BHT (Preservative), Citric Acid.

Definition of Ingredients:

The following is a listing of the more uncommonly known ingredients that you will find if one, both or either Knorr and Wyler’s bullion products. I have tried to supply you with the most accurate information regarding their definition as possible. As this is simply for informational purposes, I have decided to omit any informational claims as to each ingredients safety or lack thereof.

Alpha Tocopherol – An antioxidant, alpha tocopherol is the strongest of several forms of tocopherol elements that scientists and nutritionists call “vitamin E”. They are found naturally in a variety of foods including olives, spinach, turnip greens, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins, and some nuts and seeds.

Autolyzed Yeast Extract – Autolyzed yeast extract results from the breakdown (lysis) of yeast cells which releases amino acids, salts and carbohydrates. It naturally contains free glutamic acid, or monosodium glutamate, and is often used as a less expensive substitute for MSG.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) – Is a potent synthetic antioxidant that is used in many foods as a perservative. It can be found is: cereals, gum, fast food, processed potatoes, drink mixes, shortening, snack foods, and many others.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) – Is a potent synthetic antioxidant that is used in many foods as a preservative like it counterpart BHA. It can be found is: cereals, gum, fast food, processed potatoes, drink mixes, shortening, snack foods, and many others. It’s even been certified Kosher by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and also certified Halal by the Islamic Food Nutrition Council of America.

Disodium Inosinate - A naturally occurring precursor to DNA and RNA, it is almost always derived from animal origin; it is used as food enhancer and or intensifier in conjunction with monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Disodium Guanylate (GMP) - Is the salt of a nucleotide, which actually occurs naturally in the body. In food, it is used as an additive which enhances or intensifies savory flavors and is frequently used in combination with monosodium glutamate (MSG) to make MSG more effective. GMP is commonly found in the following foods: cured meats, salty snacks, instant noodle flavor packets, and other foods prepared in many restaurants.

Hydrolyzed Corn Protein - Also known as hydrolyzed corn or hydrolyzed corn gluten, is a corn gluten that has undergone hydrolysis. Hydrolysis breaks down the corn proteins into their component amino acids. Hydrolyzed corn protein is essentially glutamic acid, which is a type of MSG.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – Also known as MSG, monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally-occurring non-essential amino acids found in tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, and other fruits and vegetables. It is used as a flavor enhancer that intensifies the meaty, savory flavor of food, as naturally occurring glutamate does in foods such as stews and meat soups.

Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil – Soybean oil that has been heated and had hydrogen bubbles through it until it is a semi-solid (partially hydrogenated oil) that has a consistency like butter, only it's a lot cheaper. It can then be dried and used in it’s powdered from as a flavor or ‘mouth feel’ enhancer. In addition to its powdered form, and because it is cheap it is a big favorite as a butter-substitute providing a richer flavor and texture, but doesn't cost near as much as it would to add butter.

Propyl Gallate – Is an artificial antioxidant that is generally used in conjunction with BHA as food preservative. It can be found in many foods including: meat products, microwaveable popcorn, soup mixes, chewing gum, mayonnaise, and frozen meals.

Sodium Caseinate (From Milk) – A protein found in milk, sodium caseinate is used as a food additive. As a food source, casein supplies essential amino acids, carbohydrates, sodium, calcium and phosphorus, although some people may be allergic to it.

Tert-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) – Also known as or tertiary butylhydroquinone, it is an aromatic organic compound in the phenol family. Because of its antioxidant properties, it is used as preservative in foods especially for unsaturated vegetable oils as well as many other edible animal fats, and spice mixes. TBHQ does not change the color, flavor or odor of the food to which it is added, and is often used in combination with other food preservatives.

Tricalcium Phosphate (TCP) – Is a calcium rich salt of phosphoric acid also known as bone ash. It is frequently used as a food additive in powdered spices, where it acts as an anti-caking agent.

Whey (From Milk) - Consists primarily of α-lactalbumin and β-lactoglobulin. Depending on the method of manufacture, whey may also contain glycomacropeptides (GMP). The powdered form is derived from drying the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a by-product of the manufacture of cheese or casein and has several commercial uses.


Many of the ingredients found in these products may be controversial, and there are large numbers of websites either extolling the virtues of such products or claiming they cause terminal illness. As with most things in life, there is probably a fine line in which both parties’claims have some validity, but again, that is not our primary focus here at ‘Culinary You’. Instead, we have supplied you with all the necessary ingredients of each of these so that products so that you can do your own research and make an informed decision regarding whether you want to use them in your recipes. As for me, the 'Three Amigos' are a staple in my pantry and are at the ready whenever I need them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Slow Cooker Series: Chili, A Cheap and Healthy Alternative

As I have mentioned in several of my posts, it is winter once again and the cool weather is a perfect time to dust off those soup, stews and chili recipes. While I love my 'Texas Style' chili recipe (see December 2011 post). Sometimes there just never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done that you need to do. That is where slow cookers or 'crock pots' come to the rescue.

These simple devices make it easy for you to gather all your ingredients and throw them in to pot, turn it on and walk away returning after several hours to a hot cooked meal. Well...not exactly, but they do make your life easier when it comes to cooking certain types of dishes. Obviously some of main advantages of fresh home cooked meals is that 1) they help rescue the food budget because it is way cheaper to eat at home than eating out, 2) you have complete control of what goes into the pot, and 3) you can load up the cooker overnight or during the day before you go to work and have a fresh hot meal waiting for you when you get home. The following recipe makes about 10 to 12 eight ounce servings.

2lbs hamburger (weight before cooking)
3 1/2 cups water
1 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups pinto beans, dried
1/2 cup chili powder (4 tablespoons)
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or one jalapeno, minced, seeds removed

Sort though and remove any small rocks you may find. Yes, I said small rocks, as I generally find at least one in every bag of pinto beans I buy and you really do not want to break a tooth. Add the pinto beans to the crock and cover with 2 inches of water, then soak the dried beans overnight.

In the morning drain the water (pour it in your houseplants or garden, why waste it) and add the 3 1/2 cups of fresh water to the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients (except the raw hamburger)  and set your slow cooker on high.

While the slow cooker is heating up, brown your hamburger meat. Now I take my browned (cooked) hamburger meat and place it in a metal strainer and rinse it in hot water to remove any unwanted fat. If you are using a lean hamburger meat you may not need to do this, but typically for spaghetti, soups and chili I buy the cheaper 73/27 hamburger meat (more on that later). Once you have rinsed the hamburger meat add it to your slow cooker and leave it on high for one hour.

The only decision left to make is to determine when you want your chili to be ready. If you want to be able to eat the chili within the next 4 to 5 hours then continue to cook it on high for another 3 or 4 hours. If however you are wanting to cook the chili over night, or you want it took cook while you are at the office or running errands, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 8 to 10 hours. If cooking overnight, you may also want to increase the amount of water from 3 1/2 to 4 cups as you will not be around to monitor the moisture content

Cost Benefit Ratio:

So lets look at the actual cost of our homemade chili versus that of three of the most popular commercially prepared chili's available on supermarket shelves here in Texas. I realize that in other parts of the country there may be different brands and prices may very, but the following prices are pertinent as of 11/2014 here in East Texas.

Hormel Chili Cook-off Series Texas Style $1.98 for 15oz can (0.13 cents per ounce)
Wolf Brand Chili, Texas Recipe No Beans $1.83 for 15oz can (0.12 cents per ounce)
Stag Chili with Beans $1.86 for 15oz can (0.12 cents per ounce)
Slow Cooker Chili $5.39 for 96 ounces (0.5 cents per ounce) A 50% Savings over store bought!

Breakdown of Slow Cooker Chili Cost:

Now the cost of your chili may vary, we typically buy hamburger in bulk or when it goes on sale at one of the Mexcian markets in Dallas/Ft. Worth Area (DFW) or Tyler as our local Walmart will price match. Looking at the sale ads and buying items when they are available at the best price like this can really cut your grocery bill signifigantly.

Hamburger $3.98 ($1.99 per pound), pinto beans 0.91 cents (0.7 cents per ounce), onion 0.20 cents (5lbs for $1.00), garlic 0.10 cents (approx), seasoning and spices 0.10 cents. Total price of about 5 cents per ounce (actually 5.6 cents per ounce) or 44 cents per serving. The reality of it is that this recipe probably has a higher meat to bean ratio than I would normally put in my chili. I usually use a ratio of 1lb or hamburger to 1 1/2  to 2 cups of beans which lowers the cost down to about 4 cents per ounce or 34 cents per serving.

Any way you look at it, making your own chili at home saves you 50% over commercially store bought chili's and the flavor as well as the nutritional value is greatly enhanced when you make your own chili. To validate the nutritional claim, let's look at the following ingredients list.

The Ingredients List:

So is making your own chili more healthy? In my opinion that is a definite yes! Just to emphasize my point, let's take a look at the ingredient list of the 'Hormel Chili Cook-off Series Texas Style' ingredients versus our homemade chili.

Hormel Texas Style: Water, Beef, Textured Vegetable Protein (Soy Flour, Caramel Color), Chili Powder (Chili Peppers, Flavoring), Corn Flour, Oatmeal, Concentrated Crushed Tomatoes, Contains 2% Or Less of Jalapeno Peppers (Contains Vinegar, Salt), Sugar, Flavoring, Hydrolyzed Soy, Corn, And Wheat Protein, Salt, Yeast Extract, Modified Cornstarch, Spices, Oleoresin of Paprika.

Slow Cooker Homemade: Beef, pinto beans, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, paprika, salt, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes and water.

Now I do not know about you, but if you are concerned about what you and your family eat, I definetely know whicih chili I would rather serve my loved ones. I am not saying that commercial chiili's are bad or that you should avoid them, I am simply stating that if you want non GMO ingredients, and wish to limit the extra stuff in pre-processsed foods that your family consumes, then making your own chili is far cheaper as well as being healthier for you and your loved ones.

I hope that you and your family will enjoy this recipe as much as mine does and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are not only saving money, but serving your family a far healthy meal that one out of the can.

Friday, November 14, 2014

'Jiffy' Style Southern Corn Mufin Mix

Winter is here and nothing beats the cold than a hot bowl of stew, chili or plain old pinto beans for warming both the body and the soul. The one side dish I almost always have to have with either of these is cornbread. I admit that I like 'Jiffy' brand corn muffin mix, and will buy it if I get a good deal. But about a two years ago when we started raising our own chickens and growing our own vegetables I finally decided it was time to start go back to making my own cornbread from scratch. Below you will find the recipe that I worked to get that 'Jiffy' style flavor. If you do not like sweet cornbread simply omit the sugar, however you may want to increase the salt to 3/4 to 1 teaspoon.

Todd's Homemade 'Jiffy' Corn Muffin Mix

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup milk
¼ cup corn or canola oil
¼ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (While the oven is preheating add 1 to 2 teaspoons of bacon grease to an 8-inch cast iron skillet and place it on the middle shelf of the oven).
Add the wet ingredients (oil, egg, and milk) to a small bowl and whip with a fork or wire wish until combined. Add the dry ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the wet mix into the dry.

Mix the wet and the dry together making sure there are no dry spots on the bottom of the bowl. The mixing process should take about 20 to 30 strokes; it is normal for the batter to have some small lumps.  

Remove your cast iron skillet from the oven once it has finished pre-heating, and spoon the batter into your heated cast iron skillet and bake at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool slightly before removing from the pan.

Note: When it comes to sweet cornbread, Jiffy brand cornbread mix is one of my favorites, and at about 50 cents a box it is hard to beat. However, if like me, you have all-purpose flour and cornmeal on hand this recipe will definitely cure your hankering for 'Jiffy' brand cornbread mix, and not only does it taste great, it's even cheaper than Jiffy. I hope you will enjoy this recipe as much as we do.

Rabbit Brautwurst Sausage

Sausage making has always been a way for farmers and hunters to preserve as well and use all the meat from any animals they butchered or were able to successfully kill during the hunt. On our small homestead we raise New Zealand White (NZW) rabbits for meat. A great thing about rabbit meat is that it is all white and very lean, however you do need to add some fat to any sausage to keep it from drying out.

This recipe was originally made with pork, however pork and rabbit which are both white meats, are very similar in texture when cooked, and both make great sausages. BTW, rabbit does not taste like chicken, it tastes like....well..rabbit. Anyway I hope you enjoy this recipe.

2 ½ lbs rabbit, cubed
½ pound smoked bacon
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
natural hog casings.

De-bone the rabbit and chill thoroughly. Grind the rabbit meat and bacon together in small batches using the coarse plate on your meat grinder. Combine the meat in a bowl with the spices. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for an hour. After the sausage has cooled, take a small portion and pan fry to determine if the spices in the sausage need to be adjusted. If you are satisfied with the flavor, then it is time to get stuffing.

If the sausage casings are salt-packed, rinse and soak them for 30 minutes. Slide the casing onto your sausage stuffer's tube. Put the meat mixture into the stuffer and run the motor (or press the mixture, if using a manual stuffer), pushing the mixture until it begins to emerge from the sausage stuffer. You want to start pushing meat into the casing before tying off the end to make sure no air is trapped in the casing.

Tie the casing into a knot and start extruding the meat into the casing, slipping more casing off as necessary. You want the casing to be tightly packed with the sausage mixture, but not so full that it bursts. At first, this can seem tricky, but as you go you'll get the hang of it. Now you have one long sausage. Gently twist it into 4-inch lengths. Take a small sewing needle or sausage pricker and prick a few small holes in the sausage anywhere you see air bubbles. Cut apart or leave in a string and refrigerate until ready to cook, no more than two days. To store longer, freeze in zip-top bags with as much air squeezed out as possible, or for longer storage use a vacuum sealer such as a foodsaver.

I like to grill my brautwurst, about 6 minutes per side on my gas grill using indirect heat. (i.e. heat grill with both burners, then turn one burner off and place sausage on side of grill without the flame, then reverse the process). You can also pan fry them until done. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do.