Monday, September 28, 2009

Mad Science Experiments in the Kitchen

When I was in high school I wanted to be a scientist, a neuroscientist to be exact. Earlier in my adolescence, I had wanted to be a writer, an actress, a painter, an astronaut, a doctor....

At one point, I wanted to be a mathematician. My mother informed me that was silly, that there was nothing left to discover in mathematics. As an eighth grader, I knew she was wrong. There were at least more numbers in pi to be discovered. I was right, but I didn't end up discovering any of them.

If we think that it's all been done, we won't try anything new. What does that have to do with frugality? Everything.

I don't think you can be frugal if you won't try something new. Sure, you can have a small budget, and one that works for you. You can slowly shave a little off here, and a little off there, as an idea comes your way that you think meshes with your lifestyle. But I get satisfaction from continually slashing my budget down further and further, penny by penny. Am I the only one?

That's why I do so many kitchen experiments. You may think this is odd, as I have only a two week menu rotation. But those two weeks of meals is my control group. I try something new with a dish, knowing its cost and taste before.

Did I improve it's taste? Yes. Did I slash its cost? No, the cost is the same. So, I have improved our quality of life for free. Or, it may happen the other way around, where the taste is the same, but the cost is less. I still come out ahead. Sometimes, I win on both fronts, like with my new sausage, which is yummier and cheaper, not to mention healthier. But I am constantly trying, testing and trying again.

My stevia baked beans recipe is in the process of failing miserably, and I'm considering tossing it and replacing it with something else in our menu, but I have a few more ideas before I'm willing to do that. I'm going to try harder, because we really do love baked beans.

I probably do enjoy kitchen science experiments more than the average person, and experiments in general, so what do you do if you don't? I would say try it, and see if you get satisfaction out of it. See if you save money, and if the time playing is worth it to you.

One commenter said they were working on their bread making technique. It took me a long time to get my bread strategies to where I love my bread. Now, a new variable has entered into my bread making. My son likes to help me knead. This takes longer for me, but improves my quality of life without affecting the cost. As long as I take the extra time to make sure it is kneaded thoroughly, I have won again.

I can't win unless I try.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

LOL, I don't have a lab, but I do have a kitchen! I'm with you on this one all the way.

Ah, bread is a lifelong journey, no doubt about it.

Diana Par-Due said...

I absolutely LOVE experimenting in the kitchen. I'm not as much of a stickler for the cost of each dish....just the cost of my bi-weekly grocery trip.

Tonight, I will be making a gluten-free vegan lasagna for myself. It'll be a challenge but I'm so excited

Amber said...

I also love experimenting in the kitchen... It's how I discovered an awesomely delicious chicken marinade for grilling chicken! You never know what you'll come up with :)

Lyn said...

I love being creative in the kitchen and with frugality in general. I think that is what makes it all fun, versus being drudgery, don't you think?

It's what I loved about Amy Dacycyzyn too. She was always breaking down things mathematically and was creative in so many ways. There's never been another better frugal book and I doubt there ever will be.

Just wondering what's going on with your beans, maybe we can help?

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily. I found your blog through the Nest, and I'm hooked! You have very interesting ideas!

I might've missed this, but why are your photos in black and white? I wish they were in color!

Emily said...

Lyn, in my beans I am trying to imitate molasses with stevia. We took out molasses as it was sugar and expensive, and I'm a little lost. I've tried a barbecue baked beans and one with apples. I've tried to adapt the recipes. I'm thinking of trying my old molasses baked bean recipe with stevia, non GMO corn starch and maple favoring to replace the molasses.

Lyn said...

How about maple syrup or agave? Are you opposed to all sweeteners, even natural ones? Agave and even xylitol are natural and will not increase glycemic counts. Agave reminds me of honey, I actualy like it a lot.

I'm not a fan of stevia just because of the taste, but know a lot of people like it. I'll look around and see if I can find something for you.

Emily said...

Lyn, it's all sugars we don't like, anything that will effect our blood sugar rapidly like sugar does. It's the molasses flavor I'm trying to imitate, I think I can get the texture pretty easily.

Lyn said...

I googled a bit and couldn't find anything. It was either molasses or brown sugar. That's probably going to be a tough one to substitute for if you want the baked bean flavor. You'll have to let us know if you find a good substitute!

Rachel said...

I'm not really into the science and math, but I do love trying new things. I think that is what makes some people eager to be frugal. Anyone can buy a bar of soap, but can I make a bar of soap? Years ago a neighbor invited me to go with her to cut down a Christmas tree at a tree farm. I said sure, and off we went. It was a wonderful experience and I paid $6.00 for a 6 foot tree. I've never done it again. Allergies to trees made us go the way of artificial, but I know that I can cut down a tree!

My husband has a less adventurous nature, he's sort of a slug. He eats raisin bran every day. When I told him I had found a recipe for homemade raisin bran he looked at me like I was crazy! He said he'll stick with Post or Kellogs. This used to really bother me, but I just shrug it off and move to the next project. I think people who are stuck in the same way, every day, no adventure are so sad.

Rachel said...

Emily, for those who post anonymously and would like to add their name, here is how I do it. Click on Name/Url, add your name and leave url blank. Click on post comment. It will tell you its not going to work, but click it one more time. Then you should be able to enter the coded letters. then it will say comment visible after approval.

Atheist Mama said...

I'm an odd just like you (haha!) and totally enjoy shaving off a penny here, penny there on my budget! Every cent counts!

Atheist Mama said...

*Um...I meant "odd-ball". I think I forgot the "ball". Whoops! Just call me the typo queen :P

katie said...

That's an awesome post, and encouraging. I love cooking and baking, but I'm always nervous to stray from the original recipe. Thanks for giving me new ideas through your blog!

This is off topic, but I was just wondering: We have a bakery where we live that offers their leftover bread from the day for free. You just have to sign up for a certain evening, and there might be a couple other requirements, I'm not sure. But anyway, it's really yummy, high-quality bread, without any preservatives. So anyway, have you ever heard of something like this, or tried it? We get tons through our church ministry, and it freezes very well.

p.s. My sister told me about your blog maybe a week ago and i have been enjoying it very much!

Barbara said...

For baked beans, I use a pound of dry beans to a 1/2 cup of real maple syrup.That isnt a lot of maple syrup to a serving. A pound of beans is suppose to be 8 servings. I feel like it is a lot more than that. But at 8 servings that is 1/16 of a cup of syrup. Not bad for the flavor and protein in the beans. You could experiment and try for less syrup to see how the flavor would taste. Just an idea. Babs

Carol said...

I got my molasses in bulk (55 lbs in a bucket) that I worked out to be .09/ounce (good price for molasses) then the container arrived damaged so I put it all in quart jars, and the company sent me ANOTHER bucket, so it worked out to .03 1/2 an ounce. Obviously, we use molasses a bit. :)

I find this blog really inspiring. We go to a place on Saturdays that gives you milk, as much bread as you can use and some fruit/vegetables and a protein for $5. All the food is donated by stores (where otherwise it would go in the trash) and the bread is top quality local bakery bread.

Jen said...

I actually am a scientist Emily... LOL! I'm a SAHM now, but I worked as a researcher for 10 years before my son was born. Whenever people would say that science, research and experiments must be so hard, I would laugh and ask, "Can you follow a recipe?" At least to do the actual experimental grunt work, that's all you need to know how to do.

I LOVE to cook, and experiment all the time in my kitchen. I've had a few flops, but for the most part I've been successful. I am frugal, but my husband enjoys good food (and so do I), so most of my experiments are for flavor, and to knock his socks off. :) We are frugal in many areas, because it is important to us to spend more in this area.

I applaud your experimental efforts, and love reading your recipes, and about your kitchen experiments.

crabcakes said...

If you are having trouble with beans, you could try lentils. They cook faster, I've found. And you don't need to soak them. I found a great recipe on spark people for honey baked lentils. I might have used maple syrup for that one and it also calls for a wee bit of soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. It's incredibly tasty and when I figured the cost it was something like 25 cents a serving.

Lori said...

I think your problem is that you are trying to replace something sweet, but not getting there because it's something that also has a substance presence in the recipe. Like...you couldn't make caramel with stevia. The sugar is part of the bulk as well as the flavor.
I know you make your own ketchup. I think if you were to use your ketchup in place of the amount of molasses for bulk, and then add in the amount of stevia you are looking at for sweetness, you might find something closer to what you are looking for.

mary bailey said...

You probably don't have a lot of time to read, but if you find you can squeeze in a book, I think you would like "Cheaper By the Dozen" by Frank Gilbreth. (It's totally not like the movie if you've seen the movie).

The parents in the book are always doing experiments, but what they like to save is *time* instead of *money*. They come up with these elaborate ways to accomplish tasks with the most efficiency. Also you might enjoy it b/c it is about a large family and it is just a fun, cozy, clean book!

Anonymous said...

what happens when food experiments fail? we usually get pizza but that would have a big impact on your budget.

Sarah said...

You didn't address this before, but I was wondering if you tried canning? In my area, people have excess tomatoes and cucumbers that they are giving away for free. You can easily can these for future use.

Emily said...

Anon, when food experiments fail, there's generally someone that still like them. If there isn't I can incorporate the failed experiment some other way, but usually if even my husband doesn't like it, I'll eat it myself, since I know the ingredients are nutritious. I can't think of anything I've made that's inedible, sometimes it's just not as good.

Sarah, we have not tried canning, but it's something I'm interested in. We had no where near enough produce from my small graden this year. We've gotten some of other people's surplus, but we've stayed on top of it and eaten most right when we get it. We've frozen some.

Post a Comment