Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Sarah: Popcorn January 7, 2013

Filed under: Food & Cooking,Snacks — suburbanpioneers @ 4:09 am
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Waaaay too delicious...

Oh, yes…another batch please…

Here is yet another I-meant-to-post-this-in-Deprocessed-December-and-didn’t recipe for those chilly winter evenings.  There’s nothing extraordinary about this…other than that it’s something we think will be too much work to make ourselves.  Instead we settle for chemically-laden, microwavable popcorn.

Making your own isn’t hard, I learned from my sister, who has made it her specialty (and who says she has to stop making it her specialty as she makes it far too often and eats far too much at once).  Here’s what you need:

Homemade Popcorn

1/2 c.-2/3 c. corn kernels1-2 Tbsp. oil (I use olive oil, sunflower or grapeseed oil instead of vegetable oil)
salt to taste
grated parmesan cheese and/or melted butter (optional…but dangerously delicious, though I hear you can use yeast or olive oil as a healthier option…I myself go for full calories whenever possible)

  1. Put oil in a tall pot with a lid over medium-high heat.
  2. Add corn kernels and cover.
  3. Continually shake the pot a bit to keep the kernels from sticking and burning.
  4. When the pot is full of fluffy goodness, you’re done.  Top with salt and cheese and butter.
  5. Consume.  Repeat.  Consume.  Repeat…

Believe it or not, this whole process takes about 5 minutes…ironically, only two minutes longer than the normal popping time for a bag of microwavable popcorn.  And the finished product tastes far, far better.

Put oil and corn kernels into a pot.

Put oil and corn kernels into a pot.


Shake pot to prevent sticking and burning.


When pot is full of fluffy goodness, you’re done.


Drizzle with butter, salt, cheese…whatever you feel like!


Sarah: Homemade Vanilla

I even reuse my vanilla beans if they haven't lost their potency by refilling the container with vodka when I've used up the first batch.

I even reuse my vanilla beans if they haven’t lost their potency by refilling the container with vodka when I’ve used up the first batch.

Yes, I know.  Deprocessed December is officially over.  But…well…I got all caught up in the holiday busyness of family, friends, cooking, wrapping, baking, church-going, candlelighting, decorating, and I didn’t get to finish putting up some of my favorite recipes!

I’m working on a few more to post.  Consider these the New Year Bonus Recipes.  Today’s?  One that would have been quite useful for all that Christmas baking.

Really, really delicious, authentic vanilla extract is expensive…unless you go to Mexico.  Mexican vanilla is awesome and cheap.  Except that it’s not because traveling to Mexico is pretty pricey.

So unless you have friends who regularly go to Mexico and will pack their suitcases with large bottles of Mexican vanilla to smuggle back for you, here’s the way you make it at home.

Mexican Vanilla

vodka (yes…it can be cheap vodka, too…don’t go for the pricey stuff)
3-4 vanilla beans (find at the bulk foods store or co-op–the more beans you use, the stronger it will be)
a pinch of cumin (yes, cumin)

  1. Fill an old container (I save my maple syrup bottles and use them) with vodka.
  2. Stick the vanilla beans in and add just a pinch of cumin.
  3. Leave it in the back of your cupboard for a month or two before pulling it out.  The longer it sits, the darker and more delicious it will be.

Sarah: Leftover-Vegetable Stock December 19, 2012

Replace THIS

Replace THIS

with THIS!

with THIS!

And for our next Deprocessed December recipe, here’s something that I use frequently as a soup base, to cook rice for extra nutrients and flavor, and to thin mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes or other vegetables: vegetable stock.

A lot of recipes call for chicken or beef or vegetable stock.  For most recipes, I substitute vegetable stock for chicken or beef just because of the environmental benefits of eating less meat, but no matter what type of soup stock you’re buying, it gets pricey.  You can expect to pay at least $3.00 for a 32 oz. container (about 4 c.).

My favorite butternut squash soup recipe (see upcoming post) calls for 4 cups of stock, for instance.  Lauren’s recently-posted recipe for Spiced Stuffed Acorn Squash asks for 2 c. of the stuff.  Even though I use stock a lot in my cooking, I have a hard time putting it into my grocery cart because I figure I’m basically paying for water with flavoring.

Instead, clean out the refrigerator!

I used to compost all the extra vegetables rolling around (or mushing around) in the bottom of my refrigerator’s vegetable drawer (see previous post about our prolific composting habits).  But there’s a better thing to do with the limp celery and the carrots that are on their way out, and this allows you to control the amount of salt and type of ingredients in your cooking.

Leftover-Vegetable Stock


  • Leftover Vegetables (nothing actually rotten, just veggies that can’t pass for fresh): carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms, parsley, kale, onions, garlic, parsnips, leeks (I would avoid starchy veggies like potatoes and sweet potatoes because they will thicken the soup and you won’t get a clear broth)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 6 – 8 c. of water (depending on number of veggies and size of pot)
  • spices (I used leftover fresh thyme that was drying out in my fridge and needed to be composted)


  1. Fill a stockpot with water and turn heat on medium-high.
  2. Chop veggies into large pieces (quarter the onions, halve the mushrooms, etc.) and put in pot.
  3. Stir in salt.
  4. Boil for an hour or until the liquid turns golden-brown.
  5. Scoop out the veggies and compost them.  Then freeze the broth that’s left (I recommend cutting the tops off of whipping cream or half and half contains and washing them out, then freezing stock in these–cover with tinfoil.  They’re a convenient size for the freezer and it’s a great reuse of something you usually chuck in the garbage!).

After two hours of being in the kitchen, I had vegetable broth made with the wilted veggies, stew made with the good veggies (enough for 4 meals), and pureed carrots for Little Bear (I’ve been making all her food, and I swear it’s easier than cooking for myself–I’ll tell you more in an upcoming post).  I had also washed all the dishes while the broth and stew were boiling away.  “I am,” I told my husband, “a domestic goddess today.”  He did not disagree.

Frozen carrots and limp celery...yum.

Frozen carrots and limp celery…yum.

Use pre-compost heap to make stock.

Use pre-compost heap to make stock.

While making stock with the limp vegetables, I used the good parts to make vegetable stew.

While making stock with the limp vegetables, I used the good parts to make vegetable stew.

And to make it a three-for-one, I also made pureed carrots for Little Bear while stewing my veggies.  I like to make the most out of my kitchen time.

And to make it a three-for-one, I also made pureed carrots for Little Bear while stewing my veggies. I like to make the most out of my kitchen time.


Lauren: Top Eight Easy, Healthy, Less-Processed Substitutions Anyone Can Make December 18, 2012

1. Coconut Oil or Olive Oil instead of Canola or Vegetable Oil


According to, coconut oil’s health benefits include:  “hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and soothing properties.”

Now that’s good stuff.

Tips: Coconut oil is usually solid unless it’s kept in a really warm place. Use as a solid to saute or place the jar in warm water to turn it into a liquid.

You can also massage the oil onto your body as a moisturizer or into your hair to help combat dandruff.

2. Whole Wheat Flour instead of regular white flour


Regular white flour is often bleached as well as highly refined (a.k.a. processed), which causes it to loose nutrients. I use regular whole wheat for breads, white whole wheat for muffins, roux, pancakes, etc, and whole wheat pastry flour for cookies and desserts (Seriously! You can’t even taste the difference!).

See this article for more information on whole wheat.

3. Honey, Molasses, or 100% Maple Syrup instead of white granulated sugar


I mostly use honey as my white or brown sugar substitute since molasses has a distinct taste and real maple syrup is pricey. Here’s more info on honey.

Tips: When using honey in baking, use 1/2 a cup of honey for each cup of sugar called for in a recipe, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 of a cup, and set your oven 25 degrees lower than the directions say.

4. Whole Grain Pasta


This is a super easy switch to make and you get used to the more wholesome taste.

Tips: Look for 100% whole grain.

5. Natural Peanut Butter


A lot of the peanut butter on the market has hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugar or dextrose, and salt. All you really need is peanuts!

Tips: Steer clear of ones that say “Natural” and then add more ingredients like palm oil, etc.

6. Recognizable-ingredient (five or less) snack foods


Let’s be honest. Sometimes you just need an easy go-to snack. The ingredients for Triscuit Thin Crisps are: whole grain soft white winter wheat, soybean oil, salt. And the Unique Pretzel Shells include: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Canola Oil, Salt, Yeast, and Soda. These break some rules (the oils) but are a lot healthier than most other snacks on the market.

7. Real Butter


Real butter doesn’t have all that hydrogenated fat. Go organic if you can. And if you’re able to find butter from grass-fed non-hormone-treated cows, that’s even better.

Here’s more on butter versus margarine.

8. Brown Rice in place of White Rice


White rice undergoes a process that removes most of its nutrients. Brown rice has only had the hull removed so most of the good stuff is still there. And we like the good stuff:)

Here’s some more info if you’re interested.

That’s it. Most of these substitutions don’t cost all that much more, if at all. And your body will thank you. It’ll be like getting a massage. . . on the inside. . . sort of. . .


Lauren: Salted Caramel Mocha / Hot Chocolate December 12, 2012

This is one of my very favorite treats. I like the homemade version even better than the Starbucks one- and so does my wallet, which also makes my husband happy. It’s a win-win-win!


Shout out to my incredibly talented sister-in-law who made the mug!


2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tsp honey

1/4 cup water

2 tsp caramel (Try to find some at the store with only five or six ingredients. They are out there! Or make your own!)

generous pinch of sea salt (not coarse)

1 cup milk

Homemade whipped cream (see below)

caramel and salt (for drizzling and/or sprinkling)

Microwave Directions: 

1. Add cocoa powder, honey, and water to a mug. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Add caramel and sea salt. Stir until dissolved.

2. Microwave milk in a seperate glass for one or one and a half minutes. Slowly pour into chocolate sauce while stirring. Top with whipped cream, caramel, and salt.

Stovetop Directions:

1. Add cocoa powder, honey, and water to a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until honey is dissolved. Add caramel and sea salt and stir until both are dissolved.

2.Add milk. Heat until hot but not boiling, stirring occasionally.  Pour into your favorite mug and then top with whipped cream, caramel, and salt.

For the more caffeinated version:

Reduce milk to 1/2 cup and add 1/2- 3/4 cup strong coffee. Pour in the coffee at the same time that you add the milk in the recipes above.

Homemade Whipped Cream:

1. Chill the mixing bowl for about fifteen minutes. Add 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract to the cold bowl. Mix on medium speed until soft peaks form (about five minutes). Don’t leave it too long or you’ll make yourself some butter!


Sarah: Simple Apple Cider December 10, 2012

As our next Deprocessed December recipe, fill your home with a little holiday cheer!  Of course, you can buy hot apple cider in instant packets at the store.

But I recommend you substitute thisScreen Shot 2012-12-09 at 10.35.16 PMfor this:

Easy Homemade Apple Cider

6 c. apple juice (no sugar added)
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 sticks of cinnamon

Heat all ingredients to boiling in a pot over med./high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 10 minutes.  Strain if desired (I usually don’t because it’s too much work).

Frugal Reduce and Reuse Note: finding the cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks in the Hispanic foods aisle at the grocery store means they’re not only cheaper, but the packaging is much less bulky than those plastic bottles that are in the spice aisle.  For an even better solution, though, go to the spice section of your bulk foods source and reuse your spice bags (save your empty spice bottles, containers, and small jars so that you don’t need to buy the packaging just to get the spices).

I sometimes double this apple cider recipe and then freeze half.  I think the real substitute for individually packaged apple cider would be to freeze it in individual serving sizes (if you ever get to-go cups from eating out, they’re the perfect size to rinse out and fill partway with the cider).  Once they are frozen, you can remove them from their cups and put all those frozen chunks of cider in a gallon ziplock or other container to pull out and microwave as single servings on those wintery nights!  So…it’s a little more work, but I see two advantages: 1) No mysterious ingredients or additives (have you ever read what’s in one of those packets?!)  2) Making your own cider makes your house smell heavenly…and it always impresses the in-laws.


Lauren: Spiced Stuffed Acorn Squash December 9, 2012

DSCN1124I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of plain baked acorn squash, but I love it stuffed with couscous, garbanzo beans, carrots, peppers, raisins, and apples. Underneath all those delicious ingredients, the acorn squash gives just a hint of sweetness in every bite. Yum!

This recipe is very flexible. Feel free to substitute other fruits or veggies, and if you don’t have some of the spices on hand, omit them or use other ones.


1 tbsp butter                                                                              1 tsp cumin

4 acorn squash                                                                           1/2 tsp coriander

2 tbsp olive oil                                                                            1/2 tsp turmeric

2 cloves garlic, minced                                                                1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 carrots, chopped (small)                                                           1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup red pepper, chopped                                                     1/4 tsp ginger

1 can garbanzo beans, drained                                                   1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup raisins                                                                           1 14 ounce can chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup peeled, chopped apple                                                  1 cup uncooked whole wheat couscous


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cut squash in half. Place cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes or until tender. After removing the squash from the oven, spread butter on squash.

3. Meanwhile, heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, carrot, and pepper. Cook approximately five minutes. Add garbanzo beans, raisins, and apples. Stir in cumin, coriander, turmeric  cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.DSCN1122

4. Pour the broth into the skillet and mix in the couscous. Cover and turn off heat. Let sit for five minutes. Then stuff squash halves with the skillet mixture. Serve and enjoy.


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