Our economy has gone south and more and more families are facing that all important question, “What do we do about the holidays?” Unfortunately, Doc knows your plight all too well. But hang in there, there are ways to survive. The most important fact you need to know is to avoid pre-cooked convenience foods. These foods cost a fortune and will run your family into a cardboard box before you can say recession. If you consider that a boxed cake mix costs only about $2.50-$3.50 with frosting and a store bought cake costs a good $8-$20 then you understand where I am coming from. Still aren’t persuaded? Well think about this, many states, including tax free NH, charge an 8% or more tax on pre-cooked products. So now that $20 cake costs you $21.60 while the boxed cake still is only $3.50 at the very most!! So dust out that oven and get baking. Not only will you save your family a fortune but you will also provide them with an old fashioned Christmas or Hanukkah they will remember forever.
So where do you go for the best deals on what you need? My first stop is and always will be Mr. G’s of Tilton NH. Located in the Town Line Mall, next to the Dollar Store and Chuckey’s Theater, this little gem has prices far below even Wal-Mart’s prices. They have cake mixes for as low as .99$, frosting as low as .99$ and sugar as low as $1.99 for 5lbs. With prices like that your cake is now going to cost less then $2.00!! That just cannot be beat!!
Now that you have your non-perishable supplies it is time to go get your perishable supplies. For these I always head to Shaw’s of Tilton NH. Here they have a discount dairy rack, a discount veggie and fruit rack, discounted meats and discounted frozen products. Now, discounted milks, cheeses, yogurts and dips may cause you to cringe but think about this interesting fact. Most dairy products will last a good week past their expiration date but most are still good for years after that. Yes, that is right. Cheese can last for a good 10 years or more even with mold on it. Don’t believe Doc? Look at your aged cheddars. Most companies, like Cabot and Helluva Good proudly say on the labels, “Aged for” along with a number of years the cheese has been setting around ripening. Dips, sour creams, milk, yogurt and cottage cheese can last a good 6 months or more providing there is no mold on them. One rule of thumb. Cook any dairy products that are more then a week past their expiration date, except for cheese. Cheese can be eaten, mold removed, without any cooking, for years and years past its expiration date. Sour milk is the perfect ingredient for any and all baked goods. It provides a rich moist taste similar to that of buttermilk. Most of the discount products sold at Shaw’s however are either 1 day prior to their expiration date or right on their expiration date. I have only had about 4 incidences where the milk I purchased on the discount rack was sour. I simply pushed it to the back of the fridge and used it in my baking. No big deal and no loss of hard earned money. As a matter of fact, at $1-$2 per gallon, the sour milk was well worth the price!
Need some apples or other fruits for your baking? Well, first check Shaw’s veggie and fruit discount rack. The other day I actually picked up bags of oranges for only $1 a bag and fancy leaf lettuce for only .50$ a bag!! You can even get bananas for $1.00 or less per bunch. A bit over ripe at times, bananas make great banana bread which makes excellent cheap gifts for family and friends. I will include that recipe at the bottom of this article. If you cannot find what you are looking for consider checking out local farm families or others with fruit trees on their property. Offer them some baked goods or canned goods in return for a few bags of their fruits. If you have an elderly neighbor with a small fruit orchard, they are sure to appreciate tasty baked treats and canned goods devoid of all the work. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. The worse the economy the more people barter. So everyone is doing it. Be safe an open the canned goods with a can opener. You could also dry out the fruits with a food dehydrator.
Now that you have your cheap supplies it is time to get baking. Now you are probably looking at all the stuff in front of you and thinking, “Boxed cake mixes? How fancy are those for my holiday celebration?” Well, the answer is, “Very fancy! Here’s how….
Layer slices of pineapple in a greased round cake pan. Add red cherries inside of any holes around the pineapple to create a pattern. Take a tasty vanilla cake mix and add pineapple juice in place of the called for water on the box. Pour the batter over the pineapples and cherries and bake per the box instructions. You now have a fancy pineapple upside down cake your guests will think you spent hours on!!
To jazz up a plain vanilla 2 layer cake add a package of unsweetened lemon flavored Kool Aid mix to your cake mix. Bake as usual. Out of your oven will come two golden yellow cakes full of lemon flavor. Place your first layer on your serving dish and frost the top with raspberry or strawberry jam. Add your top layer and then frost the entire cake with lemon frosting. Garnish with fresh raspberries. For another spin on this cake add a package of unsweetened orange flavored Kool Aid instead of the lemon Kool Aid. Frost the cake with orange or vanilla frosting. Just prior to serving garnish the cake with mandarin orange slices. Just don’t put the oranges on too early. The juices from them will make the cake soggy.
Mix a spice cake according to the boxed directions. However, with the dry cake mix add 1 cup chopped apples, 1 cup walnuts and 1 cup raisins for an impressive apple cake recipe. Once baked place paper snowflakes on top and dust with powdered sugar. Carefully remove the paper snowflakes and now you have a delicate snowflake pattern that is sure to wow your guests. If you are daring you can even cut out a paper menorah or dreidl and place it on top of the cake before dusting it with powdered sugar. Pampered Chef even supplies special dusting templates for this very reason. However, the Pampered Chef templates come in round so be sure to make a round cake if you are using these.
Mix a spice cake mix with 1 cup shredded carrots, 1 cup raisins and 1 cup walnuts for a tummy pleasing carrot cake. Top with a cream cheese frosting in white and then sprinkle with nuts around the sides, leaving the top white. This recipe will work for either a one or two layer round cake or even a square cake. However, the square cake will be more informal and less festive so I recommend sticking to the round version. Now sit back and wait for all the oohs and aahs!
Mix another spice cake mix with 1 cup shredded carrots, 1 cup raisins, 1 cup walnuts and 1 cup coconut for a fun Morning Glory Cake. Top with coconut frosting and embellish the sides with nuts. Your guests will find the taste incredible but wont be able to guess why!! The first time I had this I thought it was the best carrot cake I had ever tasted until I was set straight of course!! I just couldn’t place that other ingredient that made it Morning Glory Cake and not carrot cake. Finally, I coerced the bakery into telling me. I then went home and made up this version of it which tastes just like the original. This recipe will work for either a one or two layer round cake or even a square cake. However, the square cake will be more informal and less festive so I recommend sticking to the round version.
Prefer chocolate to spice cakes and fruit laden cakes? Well, then do I have a great one for you! To an ordinary dark chocolate cake mix add 1 cup chocolate chunks and 1 tsp cinnamon. Frost the cake with dark chocolate frosting and then embellish with fresh raspberries and curls of dark chocolate and white chocolate. If you make a two layer cake make sure to put some fresh raspberries between layers as well. You can even use homemade raspberry jam in the center of the cake instead of frosting for a special hidden surprise sure to please guests. As for the cinnamon, well it actually enhances and heightens the taste of the chocolate making this cake just that much more decadent. Guests will think you went to the bakery for this one! Don’t worry, Doc wont tell. If you send her a piece of this cake that is!
Another fun chocolate cake recipe involves using a brownie mix. Mix the mix according to the package. Place a few spoons of the brownie mix into the bottom of a small, single serve, oven safe custard dish that has been greased. Top this layer with a few spoons of Dove dark chocolate fudge for ice cream. Finish with a few spoons of brownie mix. Bake until the brownie mix is slightly undercooked and the ice cream topping is runny. Serve warm with Cabot whipped cream or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream on top. Your guests will be dually impressed when they spoon into the oozy gooey center of this unconventional molten lava cake. To jazz this one up even more sprinkle some fresh raspberries on top. Just be sure to serve plenty of milk or coffee with this one. It is sweet and icky!! Just like Doc likes it!!
Notice that in every one of these recipes above I have not had you using fancy icing tubes and multi colored icing. To do that would take extra time and would waste money because of all the frosting that ultimately would go in the trash along with the disposable icing tube. The idea here is to save money and time so you can enjoy your time with your family and friends and not be stuck slaving over a hot oven all day long. Nuts, berries, chocolate, jams and out of the can frosting can give you that professional look you would have paid a fortune for but without the professional price tag. As a matter of fact, if you make up these fancy cakes right in your own kitchen, you could produce approximately 5 of these cakes for the price of just one bakery fresh cake!! Since I have a huge sweet tooth and a huge family, I personally would opt for the 5 cakes opposed to the one cake. These cakes, with their cheap price tags, also make great holiday gifts for that someone special. They are also perfect to bring to Church, Temple and Grange pot luck suppers. And don’t think these cakes are for the holidays only. I make the pineapple upside down cake for my dad’s birthday, tasty carrot muffins for my husband’s birthday and delicious lemon cake for my friend’s birthdays. Just remember to add your embellishments just prior to serving. Nuts, added too early on, will become rubbery. Fruit, added too early on, will sweat and cause the frosting to run and the cake to get soggy.
Now for my grand finally. An amazing banana bread from ‘The Plymouth Congregational Church Cookbook’ of Plymouth NH, circa 1984. This, my favorite cookbook, came to me from my loving grandmother, Rachel Torsey. The recipe itself comes from Ada Sargent and Mrs. Harrison F. To make this recipe super moist add a little extra banana then is called for. I also find that slightly under baking increases the moistness of the bread. To make the recipe super delicious make sure your bananas are very browned. The browner the banana the more banana liquor. The more banana liquor the more taste your bread will have. I use my bananas when they are actually dripping liquids. This seems to be the tastiest ripeness available. I once used unripe bananas and the bread came up flavorless so avoid this at all costs. Just make sure your bananas have no mold on them. At this point they are not even useful for banana bread. To make this recipe even easier and cheaper buy in bulk off of the discount rack, bring the bananas home and mash them all up. Measure 2 cups into quart sized freezer bags, label and freeze. Now when you want to make a double batch of banana bread, just take the bags you need from the freezer and thaw. At the holidays I use mini loaf pans to bake my bread. If you do this pay particularly close attention to the bread as it will bake up faster then in a big loaf pan. After your bread is baked to perfection and cooled completely use colored or printed plastic wrap to wrap the mini loaves. Add a bow of fancy ribbon along with a recipe card with the recipe and a cheerful greeting. Now you have a cheap Christmas or Hanukkah gift that will bring a smile to all who receive it.
- 1/3 cup margarine (I use olive oil so the bread is better for my family!) (Here’s some olive oil dispensers you may like)
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 2 unbeaten eggs
- 1 ¾ cup sifted flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 1/3 cup chopped walnuts (Optional)
- 1 cup mashed and overripe bananas (I add about an extra ¼ cup)
Mix all ingredients together well and bake in a greased loaf pan at 325 for about 1 hour or less depending on the size of your loaf pan. Doc prefers to double, triple or even quadruple this recipe as this only makes one large loaf. Not enough for a large family of banana bread eaters! When I double it we have enough for a family of four for a couple days of eating. When I quadruple it we have enough for a week plus enough to give to our friends who are shut in.
While you’re here, be sure to check out our kitchen product reviews!