Friday, December 26, 2014

To DRIP or not?



The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.
- Lucretius

Part of good investing is understanding that you will only succeed through compounding the effects. There's an old joke about compound interest being the most powerful force in the world, and while it wasn't actually said by Albert Einstein, its still worth noting.

In investing terminology DRIP stands for Dividend ReInvestment Program.  There are several kinds of programs, both run by individual companies, by mutual funds, and by trade houses.  But they all operate on basically the same premise.

When a stock or fund pays a dividend, the owner of that holding can opt to have the funds reinvested in that stock or fund instead of taking the cash.  The funds are used to buy whole or partial shares and these are credited to the account. there are many benefits and a few drawbacks to be aware of.

Benefits

  1. You can often avoid commission fees.  When you are first starting out, commissions can be a large problem as they eat into profits.  Most DRIP programs are free, and will purchase the shares without charging you anything.  This can be very meaningful when you look at stocks that can a monthly dividend.
  2. The purchasing of small amounts of shares over a long period of time allows you to cost average. You will never be able to fully time the market, and this takes the stress out of worrying about that part.  The shares you purchase will never be a large part of your portfolio since most dividends are less than 0.75% of the value of your current holding. 
  3. You are putting the money to work right away.  The dividends don't sit in an account, accruing no interesting.  Instead they are now part of your ownership of a company. Again this can be especially meaningful if you are looking at monthly dividend companies.
  4. Its automatic! The first thing every investment expert will tell you is that automating your savings is critical.  You are saving money without having to actively do anything.  If you find yourself losing track of days and trying to get your "to do" list accomplished, this is now one less thing to worry about.
Drawbacks
  1. First and foremost, you have to remember you still need to pay taxes on these dividends.  When you are getting cash, you understand its value, understand it is income, and expect to pay taxes. Under a DRIP system, you don't really notice or appreciate the value you've received.  Instead you simply see the number of shares you own go up.
  2. You may  will be over overpaying for some of your shares.  You don't control when the dividend is paid, nor do you control when the shares are purchased.  Some trades take place during the first thirty minutes of the trading day which are always more volatile.  Sometimes you may be purchasing stocks on an up day.  In theory the value of the share should drop by the price of the dividend, but in practice it is never a one to one relationship. 
  3. You will likely receive partial shares.  These are extremely difficult to trade. Normally you can not sell a partial share.  So you will have these until you sell your entire holding.  With some trade houses, you may need to contact customer service for help with this.
I held off on setting up a DRIP for several months.  My original plan was to simply add any received dividends into my next large purchase to super charge them.  The reality was that this didn't happen as cleanly as I would have likely.  You can't always buy partial shares, so having an extra $15 to buy stocks with didn't help when shares cost $30.  I also wanted to try to only buy shares when my systems indicated it was a good time to buy, But I was fretting over pennies and missing the big picture.  So recently I coded my entire Tradeking account to automatically DRIP any dividends that came in.  This was a free service, but requires an email to their associates. I has already automatically purchases a wuarter share of GM (GM)and a half share of America Realty Capital (ARCP).

For more information on using DRIP to your advantage I strongly recommend you take a look at this site: The DRiP Investing Resource Center

Monday, December 22, 2014

December Investments

Sorry for the delay in posts.  I've had several weeks of off-site training for my job that involved a lot more traffic than I usually sit in.  I did want to do a quick write up on my December Investments though. 

December was all about fuel prices.  As an engineer I know in my heart of hearts that we will be burning fossil fuels for a long, LONG time.  We need them to continue to run our country. There is no easy replacement.  Further petroleum is used to make plastics.  So even as vehicles become more energy efficient, one of the drivers is the use of more advanced plastics. Keeping that all in mind, when the bottom fell out for several oil companies, I saw this as a buying opportunity. 




Chevron (CVX) - This company is one of those gold standards in dividend investing.  They've been [aying dividend since 1912, and have increased they're dividend every year for over 27 years.  I scooped this stock up at $108.75 a share to lock in a 3.88% dividend return rate.  I could have waited and gotten a better deal, but I'll take what I can get.


ConocoPhilips (COP) - I've already psoted about this company.  When it dropped again I decided to double down and buy more.  I was able to purchase additional shares at $66.43.  All told my current average cost per share for my ConocoPhilips holds is $68.56 when I factor in commissions, but this locks in a dividend yeidl rate on my investment of 4.26%

So that's it for December.  I will probably be taking a break from investing for a few months, other than some automatic purchases in Loyal3.  As we enter the new year its time to circle the wagons for a pause, take a survey, and see how we're doing.






Thursday, November 20, 2014

My First IPO purchse

I've been using Loyal3 for about three months now and one of their biggest features is something I shied away from.  Loyal3 is not only a simple, no fee, dollar based trading firm for big brands, they also want to bring IPOs to a broader group of people, namely you and me.  I'm not one to jump on IPOs because of the potential for quick money, that's not my trading style, but I decided to try an IPO this past week to learn from the experience.


One of the reasons I went for it this time was it was for a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust).  I own a few of these and have posted before about how I like them in a diverse, never sell, portfolio.  While I shy away from mortgage trading REITs, the ones that buy property and lease them to tenants is a very good, reasonably stable, slow grow area that appeals to my long view.  This week STORE Capital (STOR) had an IPO.  Here's how the process worked.


Last week I received an e-mail from Loyal3 (I opted into this) and was told there would be an IPO for this company and I had a window I could log in, take a look at the prospectus, and reserve a spot for a minimum of $100 potential investment. (More on the "potential" part of that later.) there was a link to the SEC filing, and an estimated cost between $17 and $19 per share.  I looked over the documents, found the company, saw that they would probably be paying about $1/year in dividends, which worked out to about 5%. They own just shy of 500 properties, have 200 customers, and a very experienced management team.  As there was no fee to the investment, I figured I'd go for it, if it tanked, I'd pull out having learned a lesson and at least I wasn't making Loyal3 rich by doing it.


I put in a $200 reserve spot.  I was then prompted to transfer the $200 to my account, which I did and was painless.  You're then told that you will be contacted when the price is set.  But there are a few caveats.  If the price is below the estimate, or more than 20% above, you will need to confirm your reservation again.  If the company changes any filings, you will need to confirm your reservation again.  Otherwise you need do nothing.  When the price is set you will have a two hour window to bail out.


The price was set at 5pm on Monday at $18.50 and an email told me I had two hours to withdraw, otherwise my reservation would be set.


Here was where things got a bit odd. not good, or bad I guess, but odd.  If more people sign up more money than there are shares available, then Loyal3 does some math voodoo in the background to make sure everyone gets something, equal reservations get equal or similar shares, and some sort of first come, first serve thing. 


Tuesday morning I received an email stating that I would be getting $112.44 of STOR stock, at the price of $18.50.  This came to 6.0778 shares.  My cash account was reduced and the stocks were purchased, at that price at 3 pm on Tuesday.  I took the remaining cash from the $200 and drop it into UniLever (UL) which I had been eying.


So, things I learned:
  1. Loyal3 IPO was rather easy
  2. You may not (and history shows will not) get your full reserve.  If you strongly believe in a company, you may wish to put in a higher reserve, risking that you will get more than you thought, but at least you won't get less.
  3. You don't seem to be able to sell your shares the day of the IPO.  Probably not a problem unless you're looking to have a VERY fast turn around, but then Loyal3 isn't the best platform for short term trading.
  4. I will probably do an IPO again if the company looks to interesting.  If I know it will pay a dividend  I'll be more likely, but at $100 (and probably less if there is a lot of interest), it's a low risk venture.
I hope this helps you as you move forward with some minor investing.  If you have any questions, ask below and I'll do my best to answer, at least form my experiences.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Koolicks (Koolaid Pickles)

So I tried something this summer and a friend just asked for the recipe.  Sadly, I can't find any pictures but I'm sure you can google it and see hundreds of them.  This is my recipe for making these, which used less sugar than most of the recipes I've seen.

Koolicks

  • 2 Quart sized jars of Dill Pickles (I used my refrigerator half sours with added dill.)
  • 1 pkg of Koolaid (I used Black Cherry for the color)
  • 2/3 Cup Sugar
  1.  Drain the Brine from the pickle jars into a large bowl.
  2. Add Koolaid packet and sugar to the bowl and stir until sugar and mix is dissolved
  3. Pour back into jars, filling to the brim
  4. reseal jars and place in the refrigerator for at least one week, two is better.
Results:

 Both jars were consumed within a day of opening, One at a party, and one as a gift to a Monsignor friend (hence the color choice). I thought it was a nice balance of sweet and salty.  I have NOT tried this will commercial pickles, so your mileage may vary.  Let me know in the comments how your koolicks turn out.
 


November Investments

This month I had a lot of head scratching to do thinking about where to put my money.  I still had $10 trade commision credit with TradeKing that I needed to use by the end of this month, so I knew I'd make two purcahses in my TradeKing account.



ConocoPhilips (COP)

ConocoPhilips is an energy company.  Its primary focus is oil and natural gas exploration.  It employs over 18,000 people around the world.  It has been paying dividends since the 1930's, with annual increases for the last 13 years.  It popped up on my radar because the price has dipped to 79% of the 52 week high (mostly in seems due to dropped oil prices).  I happen to think the world is getting more energy hungry and minor and even major dips in oil prices are temporary.  I bought this stock for $69.55 / share. The annual dividend payout at this price will about 4.1%



American Realty Capital Properties (ARCP)

This was a gamble, and I know it going in, so when I get burned I'll have no one to blame but myself.  For those following the markets, American Realty Capital Properties is in trouble.  It made a mistake in reporting (bad, but not unheard of), it then tried to cover it up (very bad).  As a company that requires the good faith and trust of investors in order to grow (unlike McDonalds who just needs the faith and trust of hungry people who want a cheap burger), ARCP shot itself in the foot. 

I had previously bought shares of ARCP at $11.80.  The stock has since tumbled, losing a third of its value.  It has since climbed back slightly and I bought ~50% more shares at $8.51.  What that means is I've done some cost averaging and gotten the stock at $10.57 a share.  But why would I do this?

My first thought is that the company is not just its stock price.  They own over #30 Billion dollars worth of properties.  Further, as a REIT they are still required by law to pay out a dividend at least 90% of net income.  They are currently paying $1/share annually, so my investment should be yielding a juicy 9.4% dividend. So while other investors are going to shy away from this, I'm going to risk that the company still has legs, and there's money to be made while there's "blood in the streets."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pumpkin Spice White Chili


Wow, did this turn out much better than expected.  For this months Cast Iron Cook competition, the secret ingredient was "Pumpkin Spice."  I was not thrilled with the choice and I out right refused to make a dessert.  When in doubt, I usually turn to the crock pot to fix most of my cooking problems.  I was not let down.  Joining a few recipes I found on-line and tweaking to my tastes, I made this chili and it was extremely well received by the judges.  It came in second after the scoring was done, but it was requested at next months neighborhood block party.  So I'll take that has a win of a different sort.

Pumpkin Spice White Chili

  • 1.3 lbs Ground Turkey
  • 1 Chicken Breast, diced raw
  • 1 yellow onion (diced)
  • 1 green bell pepper (chopped)
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 16 oz can light red kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 16 oz can cannelini beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 14.5 oz can of pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • The Spices
    • 2 tsp kosher salt
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp whole cloves
    • 1 Tbsp chili powder
    • 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
In a skillet, brown the ground turkey and onions until the meat is cooked and the onions clear and starting to brown.  Transfer this to the crock pot and add all of the other ingredients except the spices.  Be sure to rinse the drain the beans both to remove gas inducing toxins and to make sure your chili consistency is right.

I put all of my spices in an old coffee grinder and set it spinning and pulverizing my cloves, cinnamon, and other spices to make a fine fully mixed powder.  When that was done I then pour that over the contents of the crock pot and stir well to fulling incorporate.

Cook this on high for at least 3 hours.  (Be careful because there is raw chicken in this mix, so no tasting for an least  90 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked).  I propped the lid off to the side for the last hour to thicken the chili up.  This is to your preference.

The Result:
This was awesome.  I see no reason to change anything at the moment.  I would recommend this recipe to anyone looking for something with a little taste of fall harvest.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Spicy Cranberry Salsa


This is the dish that won me the September Cast Iron Cook competition in the neighborhood.  The secret ingredient was cranberry, and I wanted to make something with some spicy kick to it.  The recipe is dead simple, but it will take a little planning.  If you start around lunch, it will be ready to serve as an appetizer before dinner.

Spicy Cranberry Salsa

  • 12 oz dried cranberries
  • Cranberry Juice (100% juice, not cocktail)
  • 3 green onions
  • 1/2 Cup cilantro (chopped fine)
  • 4 jalapeno, minced
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
In a medium pot, soak cranberries in enough cranberry juice to cover for thirty minutes.  After that time, kick up the heat on the stove to medium and bring to cranberries to a simmer Cook for 15 minutes.  Kill the heat and add all of the other ingredients. 

Transfer this mixture to a medium bowl and place bowl in an ice bath to bring down the temperature.  When cooled to room temperature or below move to the refrigerator.  Salsa is best is allowed to mellow for a few hours and let the flavors continue to blend. 

I served this over two logs of goat cheese with some small crescent rolls, but honestly the salsa would be good over anything from pork loin to just served with chips.

The Results:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hero 9201 Fountain Pen is Garbage



I've been getting into fountain pens lately.  I bought my wife a Lamy Safari (Neon Coral) and she loves it.  I also got myself a Pilot Petit1 and a few Platinum Preppys to play with.  So I thought, maybe I'll get something that looks a little nicer, less plastic, but still cheap.  I wanted a pen I could use at work, but if I left it in a conference room I wouldn't be that upset about.

I thought about the Fountain Pen Hero 616 , which is a Parker 51 knock-off, but I don't like the look of the hooded nib.  Instead I saw on Amazon a Hero Fountain Pen 9201 . Nice black pen with gold looking features and a built in converter. I did a little looking online but found no real reviews of this pen.  Since it was cheap I pulled the trigger.

The Pen


A simple classic looking black pen.  Nothing remarkable, but better looking than a plastic Bic or Uni-Ball. Respectable weight, and i like the feel unposted.  Posted it's back heavy.  There is also an overly tight clasp that I can't seem to attach to anything. 



The pen comes with a converter.  The converter doesn't use the usual twist piston but instead has a slider attached to the piston.  Loading it with Noodlers Baystate Blue took about four piston pumps up and down and its still only about 70% filled.


The nib is nice looking.  the gold around the grip is textured.  Again, unposted its got decent hold and balance.

The Problem

It writes like crap.  I'm new to using a fountain pen.  My Pilot Petit1 is very smooth, and a bit overly wet, but I enjoy writing with it.  This thing is scratchy, hard to start, dry, basically everything bad about a fountain pen rolled into one. 


There is a tiny bit of flex in the medium nib, but it starts and stops constantly at a decent rate of writing.  In some cases most of the first word is just missing and I have to find scrap paper to get the pen going again.  I hate it. Its junk. Its like a dried up ball point you get at a hotel.

Save your money folks, a Platinum Preppy writes way better for half the price.  Otherwise get a cheaper Lamy and be happy.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

October Investments



As you've no doubt seen, the market has taken a bit of a tumble.  I'm viewing this as a moderately god thing since I'm not really a short term trader, and it gives me a better opportunity to buy some stocks at a better price.

A few months ago TradeKing made a boo boo and to correct it, they gave me $30 in commission money.  All well and good... until I noticed it has an expiration.  It seems they can only give you three months to spend that trade commission money so I have some "use it or lose it" money. Normally in my TradeKing account I don't want to make purchases less than $500 to keep the commission below 1%, but since this was basically free trading I made a few smaller purchases.  I will likely add to these positions later, so they just get my foot in the door and assist in diversification.

First up: AT&T (T)

AT&T is an old company.  It's known as a solid, steady, slow growing juggernaut of a company.  My interest in AT&T is the high dividend payout (over 5%) and the fact they've been paying higher and higher dividends for over 25 years.  As I don't ever plan on selling (at least not in the short or medium term), I like the confidence that by the time I retire I will have received enough dividend payouts to cover the initial cost of the stock, that on top of any changes in value of the stock itself which will retain value in one form or another.  I bought AT&T today at $35.00 a share.

Next: Realty Income (O)




I like the concept of owning a piece of a company who owns a lot of property they rent out.  and Realty Income has been doing it for coming up on 50 years.  They also pay a dividend over 5% annually, but they pay it out monthly, which is different than most companies who pay quarterly.  I was able to snag shares at $41.00 a share, which is less than 10% off the 52 week high.

(I bought this through Tradeking, but if you're just interested in investing in Realty Income, you cna invest directly through their site and pay no commission.  Further they have a free dividend reinvestment program that lets you take additional shares instead of cash [look up DRIP investing].  Thats a pretty good set it and forget it approach to investing.)

Finally: iShares Mortgage Real Estate Capped ETF (REM)

 


This is a gamble, but since I had some left over cash to invest I wanted to try it.  This is an EFT, similar to a mutual fund but traded like a stock.  This fund focuses on companies who invest in mortgages, borrowing and lending money at different rates.  I chose this because of its mouth watering dividend of 13% paid in quarterly increments.  I bought 18 shares at $11.75 each.  I'm hoping to get between $5 and $7 a quarter from this investment and use that cash to pay the commission on future investments.  If it goes belly up I'll be out $200, but if it works then it funds future investment decisions and makes me less concerned about the commission overhead.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Simple Freeze-Ahead Pesto



Invariably, my basil plants will grow faster than I pull leaves for pizza and salads, so eventually its time to make a big batch of pesto.  I always start with the Pesto recipe from the Betty Crockers New Cookbook (8th Edition) and then make a few mods.  Here's my modified version

Simple Pesto
  • 2 Cups washed and dried basil leaves (packed down)
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 Cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 fresh Parmesan or similar cheese
  • ~3/4 cup olive oil

  (I've switched to using the Grana Padano cheese sold a Costco for this in place of Parmesan.  I think it has a similar taste, and with either the basil is the strongest taste here, the cheese is a second stringer and therefore the savings in cost is worth the substitution)

To make the Pesto, simply put all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until everything is well mixed together and minced to tiny bits.  Then add half of the oil and start blending.  Add additional oil until you like the consistency.  I like to leave mine a bit on the lumpier side if I'm going to freeze it for future use.  I can add oil later, but removing oil is harder.

Speaking of freezing, I got these Ball Silicon Ice Cube Trays and they work great.  A cube of pesto is good for about two people's worth of pasta.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Investing with Loyal3





As I'm getting smarter about investing (with a focus on long term), I keep circling back to how much I like Loyal3. Its dirt simple, allows for automated investing, and fee free.

For those who are looking to start putting away money, and are thinking about getting in "the market" (whatever that means to most people), there is usually a barrier.  For most investing is confusing. They don't know what to buy, what to sell, the fee structure can seem confusing ("what's an option?"), and of course there's the money. If you're like me, the concept of "invest over $100,000" is so foreign, they might as well be asking for a million.

With a regular stock brokerage you pay a commission when you buy or sell stocks.  For most online brokerages, this is a flat fee (ranging from $4 to $12).  Doesn't seem like much, but it can really eat into your investments.  As an example, if you want to buy just $300 of a stock, that $12 commission is a 4% hit.  You're stock will need to go up 4% just to break even.  Then when you sell you'll owe another $12.  So you started out with $300 in your pocket, bought $288 worth of stock, it rose 8.3% (good return it would seem), you sold and wound up with $300.  Well damn. You picked the right horse, put your money on it, and still made no money.

If you're going to buy and hold this may not matter as much, except that most buy and hold investments are looking at a 4-6% return every year.  So that $300 example, you lost a year's worth of growth just to get in the game.

If you have a few thousand dollars, this matters much less. a $12 fee on $1,000 is much easier to make up, and on $5,000 its in the noise of daily movement. But I don't usually have that kind of money lying around.  Further I don't want to wait until I have it to make some returns.

Loyal3 lets you buy stocks without paying a fee.  Further you can buy as little as $10 worth of stock and charge it to a credit card.  They let you automate this so you're card gets hit every month for that $10 and just buys stock for you.  They do this by bunching up all the orders and making one buy every day and then dividing up the stock shares to the users.  The fees they do pay are covered by the companies who are interested in bringing in more investors (the theory is that if you own Walmart stock, your more likely to shop at Walmart.  I can't argue this logic)

So lets break this down into Pros  and Cons

Pros:
  • You can buy fractions of shares. You don't need to have the full purchase price of a stock, which in some cases can be hundreds of dollars
  • There is no fee to buy or sell, so gains on your stock are yours from day one.
  • You can put small amounts (up to $50) on your credit card.  If you have a cash back card that means you make money (or points, airline miles, etc) on the purchase. (See edit)
  • You can automate this for every month.  Automation is one of the keys to building wealth because you stick to a plan, set aside cash, and it grow without your involvement.
  • They allow you to buy stock in many companies you've heard of, who have been around for a long time, who pay dividends, and who will conceivably be around for a while. Think about Coca-Cola, Mcdonald's, Walmart, Kraft, Target; companies you know of and use on a daily or weekly basis.
Cons:
  • Loyal3 is not a full service brokerage, and you can only invest in companies they have made deals with to cover their expenses.
  • They only make one transaction per stock, per day. Usually around 2 PM. So you may not always buy at the best price of the day, nor sell at the highest.  For most long term investors this doesn't matter, but you CAN NOT day trade here. That's not the point of the program.
  • Loyal3 takes some time to transfer money to.  They only buy when they have the money in hand.  So it you want to make a purchase using your checking account, it will take 3+ days.
  • If you use a credit card you are not paying off each month, you're a fool.  You are borrowing money at very high rates in the hopes of modest returns.  Don't do that! I use a credit card that I pay off every month like clockwork. I get my cash back and pay it off.
I've been using this for about two months.  My transactions were smooth (if a bit slow, certainly compared to Tradeking), but I've bought my stocks on down days. and have since made a few bucks.  I have not sold anything yet, but will update when I do.

So in short, if you are new to investing, have only a little extra cash, and want to buy some stocks for medium and long term growth, I think Loyal3 is an excellent option.


---------------------------------------------------------------


10 November Edit: I received this email from Loyal3:


"Through the success, we've also learned a lot about how people use LOYAL3. Credit cards have become a common method for people "gaming" LOYAL3 to gain credit card points and not for the purpose of investing. This increases our costs and subtracts from our mission of making it easy, affordable and fee-free for people to invest in the brands they love.

In order to put an end to the "gaming" of LOYAL3, and to maintain fee-free investing, on Tuesday, 11/18/2014, we will be removing credit and debit cards from the LOYAL3 platform. Automatic Monthly Plans (monthly recurring investments) using credit and debit cards will continue to be active until Thursday, 12/11/2014, to allow time to switch over to ACH (checking account transfers).               
So it seems the Credit card thing was to god to be true.  Sadly some bad apples have used it to game the system and therefore ruined what I thought was an excellent option for new investors.  I still think this is a valuable company to trade through, and I value the free trading more than the credit card use.


(Disclosure: While I have an account at Loyal3, I have not been paid for this review, nor do they have an affiliate program, so I gain nothing from this review.  I just wanted to share.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

How-To: Cook with Dried Beans


Dried beans are awesome. You need to use dried beans instead of canned.  Here's why:
  1. Dried beans are much cheaper. Switching from canned to dried beans will reduce your costs by 75% on average. You can buy in bulk and store for years.
  2. Dried beans take up less space.  Because 1 cup of dried beans turns into 3 cups of cooked beans, those with limited shelf space should stock up on dried beans in those convenient 1 lb bags rather than bulky cans.
  3. Dried beans have better texture and flavor.  The canning process just destroys beans, making them rather mushy, and they can take on the flavor of the can if you buy discount brand beans.  You're also limited to the types of beans you can buy, with the varieties usually chosen for high yield and cost instead of flavor.
  4. Dried beans are easily scaled with recipes. When you cook with canned beans, you're usually cook in 14.5 oz intervals.  When you use dried beans you can scale up or down.  You can also blend types of beans to add better color or complexity to your dishes.
  5. Properly cooked dried beans avoid gassy aftermath. Beans have natural toxins to protect themselves from animals and incests.  Properly cooking the beans can deactivate and destroy these toxins.  The canning process in general leaves from of these toxins in place, which is why people complain about being gassy after eating beans. I've written up how to properly soak beans to avoid this problem below.
Conversions to know:
  • 1 lb bag of dried beans is equal to
    • 4 standard 14.5 oz cans of beans
    • 2 cups of dried beans
    • 6 cups of cooked beans
  • 1 can of beans can be replaced with 1/2 cup of dried beans
How to properly cook dried beans:

Most dried beans need to be re-hydrated first (the exception here is lentils).  The two most recommended methods are
    1. Soak overnight (12 hours before you need to cook them), drain, rinse, drain, cook
    2. Bring to a boil, boil for two minutes, remove from heat, cover and let sit for an hour.  Drain, rinse, drain, cook.
Once beans have been soaked, they can be cooked according to recipe.  One note though is that beans should be brought to a boil at some point for at least five minutes.  Standard crock pot can do this on the High setting.

For red kidney beans, where there are higher levels of toxins present, I play it safe
    1. Bring kidney beans to a boil
    2. Let boil for ten minutes
    3. Pour out water and replace with cold water
    4. Soak overnight
    5. Drain, rinse, drain, cook
Once I've done this I can say I've deactivated the toxins, and drained the water to clear them. 

Final notes:

Always check your dried beans before cooking and serving them.  Because of automation, you will still occasionally find "foreign matter" in your bag of beans.  What I'm saying here is that rocks tend to show up on occasion because the machines have trouble distinguishing.  the minute you take combing through your beans is much better than an emergency trip to the dentist for a cracked tooth.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Apple Slaw

One of the downsides of picking fresh apples is that you always over pick.  You can't help it.  Once you start a bag you want to stuff it.  So even after making 8 Qts of apple pie filling, 8 Qts. of apple sauce, 9 Qts of apple butter, we still had apples left.  What to do?

Luckily a neighbor of mine backs great BBQ pork and invited us to dinner.  So we decided to whip up some cole slaw, but with a twist.  This recipe was SUPER easy and very tasty.  I may not make regular cole slaw again.

Apple Slaw
  • 1 bag of shredded cabbage
  • 1 tart apple (Jonagold, Granny Smith, etc)
  • 1 sweet apple (Gala, Red delicious, etc)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1/2 bell pepper
  • 1/3 Cup mayonaise
  • 1/3 Cup greek yogurt
  • 1/4 Cup brown sugar (loose pack)
  • 3 Tbsp cider vinegar
Using your grater, shred the apples and carrots.  Dice up the bell pepper.  Combine all cabbage, apples, carrot, and bell pepper ina  large bowl and toss together. In a seperate bowl mix all of the wet ingrediants to make the dressing.  Pour dressing over dry slaw, and mix well.

Best if you let sit in the fridge for a few hours.

The Results
 
I thought this was way better than regular cole slaw.  And it complimented the dry rub pulled pork very well. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DIY Magic Bullet

Last year my wife and I started making smoothies a bit more often.  And I considered getting one of those Magic Bullet systems but they're rather expensive, even for the base model.  We've actually had one, and the blades started to wear, and the 250W motor just wasn't always up to the task of grinding through lots of frozen fruits.

I had read online somewhere that you could use a blender base and rig up something, so I did some research.  Here's the results.

Take any reasonably priced Oster Blender. You're looking for the models that have the narrow base with the screw off blade assembly.  Here's one I picked up at Walmart for under $20


Lets try the blender cap on a Ball Mason Jar.



 
Like a Glove!


Before we go any further, please note that we are not following the recommended usage of this device.


"Use of this appliance for its intended use as described in this manual. The use of attachments not made by the manufacturer, including canning or orginary jar and processing assembly parts, is not recommended by Sunbeam Products, INC. and may cause injury."
If you chose to proceed you do so at your own risk.  I have no had any problems after a year of use, but some people have.  I think most from usuing old, weak, cracked jars, or those not meant for canning foods. Further I only do cold foods to avoid any pressure build up.

So lets try and make a smoothies



 
All thats left is cleanup


 
Oh and those Mason jars can go in the dish washer when you're done.

The best news here is that mason jars are sold by the dozen. A pint is perfect for a breakfast smoothie, and you can pre-load them in the freezer for the week. In the morning just come downstairs, take out a mason jar with frozen fruits and veggies, add some water, screw on the blade and you're off to the races.

Basic Canning

When Beth and I were still living in a small townhouse, and I was cooking more, I saw rather quickly that freezer space was at a premium.  I didn’t have room for a second freezer (although there was space in the bedroom, beth said that was not going to happen), but I enjoyed making larger batches of recipes and saving some of the results in the freezer.  Look ing over other solutions, the ability to can (to preserve food in jars, properly treated to stop bacterial growth) seemed the best option.
I strongly recommend you visit this site to learn more about canning methods: Selecting a Canning Method
There are two kinds of canning.  This guide focuses on the most basic kind, and kind used by most canners, a Boiling Water Bath. The process is dead simple if you follow directions and dont’ stray from the path until you know what you’re doing
First and foremost, you will need some basic supplies.  I keep things simple and avoid any fancy tools. I’ve provided links to some items on Amazon, just because I think these are some of the best prices around and I take full and complete advantage of my Amazon Prime membership.
  1. Ball Blue Book - The Blue Blue is the critical item to own if you are going to can.  It is not only full of recipes, but explains the process for canning and provides a deeper understanding thn anything i can give you.  It is owned by every person i know who cans.  I had two at one time just in case i couldn't find mine.
  2. Norpro 6 Piece Canning Set - There are some tools you simply won't own unless you can. This is the easiest way to get them. Most critical are the funnel, the magnetic lid grabber, and the jar lifter. you can buy tehse all seperate, but its cheaper just to buy a kit.
  3. A Large Pot - I use a Pressure Canner without the lid for water bath canning, but you can use any large pot.  Make sure it is tall enough to fit your jars, with plenty of head space, so nothing boils over.
  4. Canning jars and lids - You'll need different sizes depending on what you're doing.  And there are two mouth sizes, regular and wide.  For most of my canning a pint size with regular mouth is perfect.  For pickles I like large wide mouth jars.  For jams and jellies, I like smaller jars.  I recommend you buy your jars at Walmart of the like, or ask people if they have old canning (mason) jars around.  Many people do.  Lids are one time use, so those you can buy on-line in bulk.  the rings for jars can be used over and over and usually come with the jars when you buy new.
Some Option items:
  1. Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving - I've switched to using this book.  Its like the Blue Book, but with way more recipes, and also includes stuff on dehydration and freezing.  You could pobably just get this and skip the Blue Book, but I wouldn't.
  2. Canning labels - These are nice to use, but usually I just sharpie on the lid. lids are one time use anyway and permanenet marker saves you from mystery meat.
Basic Process
So lets discuss the basic canning process.
  1. First all of your jars, and tools need to be clean and sterile. The whole point of this exercise is to make food last a long time, and dirty jars and dirty tools make that impossible.  I usually run everything through the dishwasher, then boil my jars for at least ten minutes.  The good thing about this is that I leave them in the hot water until ready to fil them so they are squeaky clean and if I'm putting hot food in them, I'm less concerned about thermal shock.
  2. Warm your lids in hot (but not boiling water) The lids have a soft rubber seal that becomes pliable when hot.  This will help make that air tight seal we're going for.
  3. Follow your recipe.  For this type of canning you'll be focusing on higher acidity items.  So tomatoe sauces and soups, fruit based jellies, pickles, etc.  Most (but not all) items you simply make ahead of time and then can when you're happy with the product.
  4. Get organized.  Make sure all your tools are on hands and ready to go.
  5. Lift, drain, fill, stir, wipe, top, seal.
  • When you're ready, use your jar lifter and pull a jar from the hot water, pour out the boiling water (most of this can either go into the pot or down the drain, just make sure the jars will be covered by at least an inche of water when everything is place back in.
  • Fill the jar with your product using the canning funnel.  The funnel sticks down into the jar one ich, so do not fill above the bottom of the funnel.  You need to leave room for a vacuum to form.  This is also important to reduce the risk of foam breaking through the lid during the canning process
  • Run a thin rubber spatula or similar item around the product to make sure that there are no air bubbles along the walls of the jar.
  • Wipe the top of the jar with a damp clothe (or paper towel)
  • Use your magnet tipped rod to pull a lid from the hot water and place it on your jar.
  • Put on the sealing ring and hand tighten.  Don't go full force here, because we want some small amount of air to escape during the canning process
  • Put the jar back into the canner.  Wash rinse repeat.
That's all there is to it.  Let the jars come back ot a boil and cook for the proper amount of time.  In most cases you can't really over boil them and I always err on the side of caution.  Pull the jars as soon as water cools below a simmer na dplace on a wooden cutting board or towel to cool overnight.
You should hear a popping noice a the jars cool.  This means a vacuum has been drawn and the jar is sealed.  If the lid doesn't get sucked down, you messed something up and need to do it over again.