Frugal Meals

So I was hoping to be able to do a post of what my shopping trip was like and what we ate this past week. That is just not going to happen. The fruits have been sick, so Mr Vine and I have been dashing to the store when we can, but not any real formal shopping trip.

I thought that I would share some of the ideas that we typically use.

Breakfast: Oatmeal (made fresh that morning or overnight in the crock pot), homemade granola (lightly doused with milk or a dollop of yogurt), pancakes, dutch oven pancakes, coffee cake, toast, or french toast (on rare occasions).

Lunches: Leftovers, soups, pasta, loaded baked potatoes, pbj, hummus sandwiches, quesadillas w/ re-fried beans and rice, grilled cheese, homemade pizzas, breakfast for lunch, hot dogs, dal and rice, and lunch meat sandwiches (rare occasions)

Dinners: pasta, tacos, fajitas, chili. chicken and rice casserole, bean/ sausage/ spinach soup, lasagna soup, taco soup, white chicken chili, 2 meal roast (split into 2 meals 1 pot roast other bbq beef, or Asian beef w/ noodles), chicken Caesar salad sandwiches, Egyptian Lentil Soup, Sausage w/ peppers & onions (served w/ rice or couscous),Swedish meatballs, risotto, gnocchi, philly steak sandwiches, beef stroganoff, and blts.

Snacks: fruit, yogurt, veggies & dip, cheese, bread w/ butter, popcorn, and homemade cookies

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Meal Planning

I’m going to be up front and honest, I hate meal planning. It is so laborious. I am not the type A person, I can be to some extent, but I love to have the freedom to go with the flow. The freedom to give in to the whims of my cravings. When those cravings come a knockin’ it’s hard for me to ignore. This has been one of those weeks, nothing has sounded good. I’ve slugged my way through the week, and to be honest I have slipped up big time this week. Oh well, today is a new day to start fresh.

So when I do meal plan I give myself grace, I think that is where I failed this week. Having a few ready to go meals (preferably homemade, so much cheaper!) stocked in the freezer or pantry help when the day gets away from you or your original meal no longer sounds tasty.

I use a method which is referred to as reverse meal planning, when I am not on a kick to clean out the freezer and pantry (more on how I adjust for that). I use to meal plan by picking all these fabulous meals, that would call for gobs of ingredients I didn’t have on hand (thanks pinterest!). I would dutifully write out my grocery list, filled with items that I would only use a fraction of (spices, exotic veggies/ fruits anyone?) Then after a week or so these moldy odds and ends would get pitched or the spices shoved in the back of my spice drawer to be forgotten. My grocery bill was crazy! So I tried a new plan.

On Sundays I get the circulars of the local grocery stores delivered (free!) to my house. After church I take a few quiet minutes to peruse them. I jot down all the food that we like that is on sale and at what store. Now for those of you that hate shopping at multiple stores, I don’t blame you, but sometimes (when your budget is tight) you have to. Thankfully I can typically go to 1 store and get everything I need. Once I find the sales, I look at what I currently have to see what I can make based on what I have and what is on sale. I make a meal plan based on this. I do take to pinterest if my creative juices get clogged (I guess you redeemed yourself here pinterest!)

That is it! So basically unless an item is an absolute staple (i.e. milk, butter, eggs, etc.) I will not purchase it if it isn’t on sale. For example: I hardly ever pay more than $1.99/ lb for chicken breasts. In fact I know that if I am patient enough I can get chicken breasts at my favorite store for $1.77/lb. When they run that sale, I stock up baby! I love grassfed beef, but it is so EXPENSIVE! Again at the same store they will run it on sale for $3.99/lb (everywhere else sells it for $6/lb), I even was able to get it for $2.99/lb once ūüėÄ I won’t pay more than $2.99/lb for roasts (beef), but I live for when they put it on sale for $1.99/lb.

This is where knowing what items typically cost when not on sale, and what the typical sales are, comes in handy. Again I am not a type A personality. I love lists, lists do not love me. In fact they typically run away from me….er get lost…or thrown away or destroyed by the fruits. So if you are like me and you are blessed to have a smart phone, take a picture. Sounds nerdy I know, but it works. Someone recently asked me if the organic maple syrup at Costco was cheaper than the regular maple syrup at Trader Joe’s. I didn’t know! I hadn’t looked at their maple syrup in a while, in fact I hadn’t been to Trader Joe’s in a few months. As fate would have it I need to go to TJ’s a few weeks later. I took a picture of the maple syrup with the price listed below. Then on my next trip to Costco I compared the price. Costco was $2-$3 cheaper! I was so glad that I took that picture because I had run out of maple syrup that week.

So what do you do when your money is really strained or you just need to come up with a little extra cash? Cut the groceries of course! Typically you have to cut money some where (or make more income) and groceries (when you are already on a bare necessities budget) is what gets cut. I sat down and meal planned 4 weeks worth of meals based on my freezer and pantry, then allotted myself $50/ week. It is similar to the above, but the emphasis is on using what you have 1st before buying the sale items. Typically I have my meal plan already written out based on what I have before I even look at the sales. So my grocery list is mainly staples (milk, eggs, etc.) and then only fruits and veggies that are on a great sale. As a sample here is what I purchased this past week:

12 lbs chicken breasts ($1.77/lb!), asparagus, peppers, lettuce, peaches, 2 pineapples, bananas, onions,  3 boxes of pasta, 1 rotisserie chicken, soda (yeah bad habit that needs kicking), and baby food.

My total was $60 for this week, I allowed myself to go over because of the sale on chicken breasts. I only had enough food to get through the 4 weeks on $50, but I really needed to get through 6 weeks. Purchasing the extra chicken will allow me to do that, thankfully my wallet also had the room to allow it. Wait! No milk?  I have cut down on the amount of milk that I serve my children per day, so now I can make a gallon of milk last longer than a week. They each get one small cup a day and we might have to skip a day of milk, but they will live! They still get plenty of calcium from cheese and yogurt that they eat throughout the week. Again cheese is bought in bulk from Costco, so I only need to purchase 1x a month and the yogurt is every other week deal.

I think that about covers it! How do you do grocery budgeting? Do you meal plan?

Hungry, Hunrgry Sourdough Tutorial

Yesterday I raved about my new New England Sourdough. I also shared how I am terrible with following written instructions, so I thought to share a tutorial. Now your sourdough starter will undoubtedly come with instructions of it’s own. Please read them carefully incase they are different than the ones from Cultures for Health. Here is a basic tutorial on how to feed your baby sourdough starter. Like all babies they are hungry, hungry, hungry!

For this tutorial we will stick with a 1/2 cup of sourdough starter.

For this tutorial we will stick with a 1/2 cup of sourdough starter.

Place your starter in a non-reactive bowl.

Place your starter in a non-reactive bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup of room temperature water. The water can be slightly warm, but not hot or cold. The extremes can kill your starter.

Pour in 1/2 cup of room temperature water. The water can be slightly warm, but not hot or cold. The extremes can kill your starter.

Stir the starter to incorporate the water. It will look like a sloppy, cloudy mess.

Stir the starter to incorporate the water. It will look like a sloppy, cloudy mess.

Add a scant cup of flour to the water sourdough starter.

Add a scant cup of flour to the water sourdough starter.

Stir again to incorporate all the flour.

Stir again to incorporate all the flour.

Now the starter will look wet and lumpy.

Now the starter will look wet and lumpy.

Cover with a paper towel or a tea towel and place in a warm area. It should be at least 70 F, but no more than 85F . Trying to save money on heating? Place the bowl in a cold oven and turn on the light. The light from the oven should keep it sufficiently warm.

Cover with a paper towel or a tea towel and place in a warm area. It should be at least 70 F, but no more than 85F . Trying to save money on heating? Place the bowl in a cold oven and turn on the light. The light from the oven should keep it sufficiently warm.

New England Sourdough

After my last post, I received my New England Sourdough Starter from

Cultures for Health. Now I’ve tried sourdough a few times before without success. I researched trying to find the easiest, most forgiving sourdough, because face it I had all but thrown in the towel. Finally I found this starter and was encouraged by the reviews. I have found it to be everything that the reviewers claimed. Now on a side note, I did manage to kill this sourdough, through no fault of it’s own. Thankfully I had some starter saved back in the fridge and was able to make a new batch.

So my starter arrived in the mail in this cute little box with instructions. I have to admit, I was hooked. Unfortunately I am not one for following directions, somehow something always seems to get lost in the translation. I did great the first couple of days. I discarded everything but 1/2 cup of starter 3 times before I realized I didn’t have to do that every. single. time…..see lost in the translation! Thankfully I had set the excess aside in the fridge. My goal was to use the excess to make sourdough pancakes and sourdough crepes . However my plans were for naught.

The night before I was going to make the pancakes, I started hemorrhaging from my miscarriage (it wasn’t complete at that point) and had to be rushed to the hospital. Thankfully after almost 24 hours, a procedure in the ER, followed by a surgery, I was allowed to go home. Unfortunately I lost a lot of blood and was suffering from acute blood loss anemia. So I spent the rest of the week in bed. Finally on Friday I felt strong enough to venture into the kitchen and much to my dismay the starter was dead. Now before you judge me, I had at that point known we lost our baby 4 weeks prior. I had time to adjust and mourn our loss, and at that point needed some normalcy for my own sanity. I wasn’t very hopeful that anything could be salvaged. I scooped out some of the reserved starter and fed it. Much to my amazement it grew!

Refrigerated sourdough starter

Refrigerated sourdough starter

Now I know everyone deals with grief differently, but for me the sourdough has been very therapeutic. I have to nurture the starter for it to grow, and experiment with it to produce anything worthwhile. In turn it allows me to nourish my family, which somehow produces a sense of satisfaction. It is something that I can control, when so much in my life has been beyond my control lately. The children have also really gotten into it and love helping me feed the starter or bake with it. Sourdough has become a family affair!

Into the oven (no heat, but oven light is kept on)!

Into the oven (no heat, but oven light is kept on) we go!

While I have yet to try the pancakes or crepes, I have tried other delicious recipes with success. I can’t wait to share them with you! I hope that you enjoy them as much as we have. Do you like sourdough? Have you ever tried growing your own starter or baking with one? I would love to hear your experiences or try your recipes!

6 hours later we have a beautifully fed sourdough, ready to be used!

6 hours later we have a beautifully fed sourdough, ready to be used!

Sweet and Spicy Irish Sauce

My husband and I love going to this Irish (chain) restaurant near us. The food is fantastic!

However the price, not so much in our budget. When

you are trying to save money it’s important to make it as painless as possible.

One of my favorite tips is to find/ create copy cat recipes, serve them on our best dishes or outside for an al fresco meal.

Small touches like that, flowers (that you’ve picked!), or candles can make a huge difference!

So here’s is a favorite of ours, serve over grilled, baked, or fried chicken.

Sweet and Spicy Irish Sauce

1 stick of butter

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

2.5 Tb honey

.5- 1 Tb green Tabasco sauce * the amount depends on how spicy you want it!

juice of 1/2 a lemon

1. Melt the butter on medium heat. When completely melted add the rest of ingredients. Whisk to incorporate. Turn on low and simmer until ready to pour on cooked chicken.

Enjoy!

This post participates in:

Prairie Homestead Barn Hop
Morristribe Blog Hop
Hearth and Soul Blog Hop
Pennywise Platter

Apple-Cranberry Walnut Salad

This almost didn’t make the post as my son kept trying to steal it off the plate ūüôā

Last year a friend came over with this salad.

It was wonderfully simple and I had to re-create it! Then one day I

was completely out of an ingredient, so I made a substitution. My family loved

it even more! And so I continue to make it this way. As always, I am itching to

revamp it again, but here is take 1 ūüôā

Apple-Cranberry Walnut Salad

3– 4 large apples

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 Tb honey

1. Remove core of the apples and then slice them up.

2. Place apple, cranberries, walnuts in a bowl. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the mixture and toss.

3. Add cinnamon and toss again.¬†Finally add the honey and toss 1 last time¬†ūüôā

See, Easy Peasy! You want to make sure to add the lemon, cinnamon, and honey

in the order. That allows the lemon juice to adhere to the apples to prevent browning.

If you add the honey before the cinnamon, then the cinnamon tends to get clumpy.

By any chance you have leftovers of this wonderful dish (which unless I hoard it, never happens)

it is wonderful served in oatmeal the next morning for breakfast! I have also been

tinkering with the idea of serving it warm over pancakes (yum!)

This post participates in the following:

 Morristribe-Homesteader-Blog-Carnival
Prairie Homestead Barn Hop
The Nourishing Gourmet Pennywise Platter

Cucumber Salad with Dilly Ranch Dressing

Please forgive my pictures. Sometimes in life you just have to go with what you’ve got!

I love cucumbers, which is a good thing since I have an over-abundance of them in my garden ūüôā

This is a little somethin’ somethin’ that I threw together at the last-minute, and it was a hit!

My dd who claims she hates cucumbers, couldn’t get enough!

Cucumber Salad 

2 4 in cucumbers peeled

1 Tb red onion diced

2 Tb (approx.) Dilly Ranch Dressing- recipe below

1. Roughly chop the cucumbers in a medium dice. Place the onion and cucumber in a bowl and toss.

2. Add enough dressing to coat cucumber/ onion mixture. Serve immediately or chill covered in the fridge until ready to eat.

I hope you enjoy this simple creamy goodness!

Dilly Ranch Dressing

1.5 Tb of mayonnaise (preferably homemade)

4 Tb of  creme fraiche

juice of 1/2 a lemon

1/2 tsp of dried dill weed

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp salt

fresh cracked pepper

1/8 tsp of cumin

1. Combine all ingredients, taste and adjust salt/ pepper to your preference. Use right away or chill in the fridge (covered) until ready to use.

Ginger Tea

Warm, soothing, immune boosting ginger tea!

Ginger is an amazing ingredient! Whether you have a cold or an upset stomach, ginger can help! When you aren’t feeling well, what better than a warm soothing drink? Combined with cinnamon and honey, ginger becomes a power house! Here’s my recipe for Ginger Tea:

1/2 inch ginger root,  peeled

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp honey (preferably local and raw)

boiling water

1. In a mug place ginger, cinnamon, and honey. Pour boiling water over it until mug is full.

2. Allow the mixture to steep for about 5 minutes or until the liquid has cooled off enough to drink safely.

3. Remove the ginger and stir the tea to make sure the honey has dissolved. Enjoy!

Do you drink ginger tea? How do you make it? What else do you do to help yourself fight illness?

This post is part of:

The Pennywise Platter http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2012/08/pennywise-platter-thursday-816.html,

The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/08/homestead-barn-hop-75.html,

Hearth and Soul Blog Hop http://www.pennilessparenting.com/2012/08/hearth-and-soul-blog-hop_21.html

Bacon, Tomato…..and Kale!

Bacon, Tomato, and Kale

Kale is something that grows in abundance in my garden. Unfortunately I have a hard time getting my daughter and husband to eat this nutritionally dense green. My son will eat kale chips by the fist full, but the rest turn up their noses ūüė¶ Yesterday I tinkered with a new recipe which has been hubby approved!¬† If you prefer your green only slightly wilted then add the liquid first to de-glaze the pan and then reduce down before adding the kale.

Bacon, Tomato….and Kale

12 ozs bacon, chopped

2 garlic cloves finely minced

1/2 medium onion finely diced

1.5 cups of chicken stock

1/4 cup dry white wine*

4 cups of kale, chopped and firmly packed

20 cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried rosemary

salt & pepper to taste

1. Wash and dry the kale. Then using a sharp knife, remove the stems and the center vein. After removing the stem and vein, stack the kale and chop it. If you are buying your kale from the store you will need about 2 good size bunches. Set kale aside.

2. In a skillet over medium heat cook the chopped bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a small plate.

3. Add the onion and garlic to the bacon grease, stirring until golden brown (about 2-3 minutes)

4. Add the DRY chopped kale (make sure that the kale is very dry, water hitting the bacon grease will cause the HOT grease to splash out!) Turn the kale in the grease until it is coated.

5. Add the chicken stock and white wine* into the skillet, scraping up the tiny bits stuck to the bottom. Bring liquid up to a boil for about 10 minutes.

6. Add halved cherry tomatoes, thyme and rosemary. Continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes until the liquid is almost gone and tomatoes have started to soften.

7. Add salt & pepper, taste to adjust seasonings. Serve & Enjoy!

I show the Bacon, Tomato, & Kale served alongside oven roasted potatoes. It would also be great served over rice.

* If you object to using wine in cooking, just add extra stock.

Also if you don’t use pork or beef bacon, you may need to add butter or oil to the skillet before adding the onions and garlic.

This post is apart of the Pennywise Platter http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2012/08/pennywise-platter-thursday-89.html, The Morristribe’s Homesteader Blog Carnival http://www.themorristribe.com/2012/08/12/welcome-to-the-morristribes-homesteader-blog-carnival-20/¬†, and The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/08/homestead-barn-hop-74.html

Sneaky Pasta Sauce

Do you have picky eaters? I know I do! I’ve been trying to find ways to not only stretch our budget, but increase the nutrition in our meals. One inexpensive meal that I can always fall back on is pasta & sauce. Prior to having the baby I made huge batches of homemade marinara¬†sauce (following the recipe of Giada¬†DiLaurentis) and then froze it in pre-portioned containers. I can grab it out of the freezer in the afternoon, run it under hot water to loosen it from the sides, and then pop it out into the crock pot. Which I have to admit, makes the whole house smell yummy leading up to dinner!

My first attempt to make a sneaky sauce I added finely diced peppers (my daughter dislikes peppers) and finely diced zucchini (I’m the only one who likes them). Not one family member mentioned the veggies and everyone¬†enjoyed it¬†(well almost everyone, I do have 1 kiddo that dislikes all things tomato except ketchup).

The second attempt I took 1/4 cup of red lentils (rinsed and picked through) and soaked in in¬†1/2 cup of water*. Once the lentils completely absorbed the water I added it to the pasta sauce and simmered for 2 hours in the crock pot. Then just before serving I used my stick blender to puree it (my hubby can’t stand the texture of legumes). Again, other than the¬†anti-¬†tomato kiddo, everyone loved it! I like the lentils as it adds great nutrients and protein to the dish. I also found that it was much more filling by adding the lentils in as well.

So next time I will combine the two attempts, and possibly add more veggies! Do you have picky eaters? How do you handle it? Have you ever tried to be sneaky in your cooking?

*If you or any of your loved ones have a hard time digesting legumes add a TB of apple cider vinegar when soaking to help neutralize the phytic acid.