Sunday, March 15, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

One last week until Spring Break! I'm so excited. Since I work for a school, I get a whole week off, too. I'm looking forward to getting some projects done, going out to lunch with my sister, and sleeping!

During Spring Break I'm going to do some Mega Cooking, too. So this week I'll be planning what I want to cook, making lists, etc.

I also got a new cook book. Well, it is not new, I've checked it out of the library several times. Enough times that it was time to buy it. So I strolled myself over to and bought myself one for $4.89. It arrived yesterday and I'm so excited. The book is Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely. I have reviewed the book before but I'll tell you again - this book is great. Now, it isn't gourmet by any means (well, a several of the recipes flirt with the gourmet label), but if you have a household with kids in it, (and you want no complaints at dinner time) this is the book for you. I'm trying two new recipes (and making one tried and true one from the book) this week. Yum!

  • Navajo tacos (left over from last week, seems like there's always at least one recipe left over!)
  • Chicken and dumplings
  • Lime Garlic Chicken (from Saving Dinner - this is SO good!)
  • Polenta Pie (from Saving Dinner)
  • Pasta with Garlicky Greens and Beans (from Saving Dinner)
You'll notice that I do not have lunches listed. Here's the real reason. We don't actually plan lunches. Hubby and I grab leftovers and the kids do bits and pieces (ie, a yogurt, some carrots, a muffin, a cheese stick, whatever). So I'm not going to list lunches anymore. Now, for Spring Break, I might actually plan lunches because there will be five of us here to feed and it might be worth making something. But most of the time lunch is just whatever.

Hope you all have a great week. Check out Menu Plan Monday over at $5 Dinners for more menu ideas. While you are over at $5 Dinners, poke around her site - she's got some great ideas and recipes!!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bread to Go With Your Soup

When I am serving soup for dinner I have to make sure that we have good stuff to go with it. My husband doesn't really consider soup a "meal," it's just a starter. I have had to work hard to convince him otherwise. I try to make sure that my soups are hearty and I always have good sides to go with it. Especially some yummy bread.

Homemade yeast bread is the best accompaniment to soup, especially my pan rolls. These big giant part-wheat rolls are perfect along side a big bowl of soup.

Slices of either white bread or honey whole-wheat bread are also great along side. And the leftovers can be used for toast or sandwiches later in the week. I just love planned leftovers.

Sometimes I just don't have time (or the energy) to make yeast bread. Yeast bread isn't hard, it just takes a long time to rise. Sometimes I don't think about it far enough in advance. In those instances I love my quickie biscuit recipe or the soft breadsticks.

Some days I can't even think that far in advance (or I just can't bring myself to turn on the oven). On those days, we have Parmesan cheese toast. Just take whatever bread you have around and spread it with butter or margarine. Top it with a good shake of Parmesan cheese (I usually use the canned stuff but if you have food-snob issues, you can use the real stuff and just grate it finely) and then toast it. That is it. I know it's not rocket science and probably lots of people do this.

If my life settles down a little bit tomorrow, I'll post my recipe for Papa Murphy's Style Bread Sticks. This is one of my families favorite recipes. It is really easy and really does taste a lot like those cheesy bread sticks you can get at Papa Murphy's.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Soup and Bread are Frugal!

One of the easiest and yummiest ways I save money is to serve soup and bread once a week. Broth based soups are relatively low-fat and can be incredibly cheap. I especially like bean and/or lentil soups so that we get our protein and the beans and lentils fill us up.

I especially like to pair our soup with some kind of homemade bread. It could be actual yeast bread (whole-wheat bread, French bread, pan rolls) or a quick bread (biscuits, soft bread sticks). Either way, what can be better than warm soup and fresh homemade bread?

Wise Bread recently featured an article entitled Seven Money Saving Menu Strategies for Every Day of the Week. The idea for Sundays? Soup for Sunday! They focused on the idea that Sunday is a day where everyone wants to slow down and spend more time with their families. Soup is so easy (especially if you use your crock pot!)

There are tons of recipes for soup on the internet. You can also get soup cookbooks (I actually own one called Soup and Bread by Crescent Dragonwagon). I do have a few recipes that I really like, but most of the time I just make "soup." You know, "What are we having for dinner tonight?" "Oh, we're having soup."

There are some basic rules for making "soup" but it lends itself to infinite variations. You can make this as exciting or boring as you want. Here's how you do it:


Start by sautéing some chopped veggies. I always use onion and carrots and usually celery. After the onions are soft and wilty I usually add some garlic - have I mentioned that my family likes garlic?

Next you add your liquid. You can of course use plain old water but you soup will be plain and old. I add water and bouillon cubes or soup base. You can use canned broth or stock too. Depending on what you are adding later you can use veggie broth, chicken or beef broth or whatever you desire. I used half veggie and half miso the other night and it was fabulous. I try to add about a cup and a half per person. So for my family of 6 I use about 8 cups of stock or so, but I want to make sure I have leftovers.

After that, add a grain. If you are making a taco soup add some rice. A chicken soup? You could add noodles or rice. A beef soup is great with barley. I try to add something "whole" to the soup - brown rice, barley, or quinoa. Of course, if I'm making chicken noodle soup, I just use regular old noodles. Don't add too much of any of these as they soak up the liquid. A half a cup of rice or barley for 4 c. of stock is about right. Noodles for chicken noodle soup can be much more generous.

Add some veggies next. I usually add a can of tomatoes. I usually blend it so there aren't any chunks of tomato - my son wouldn't eat it otherwise. Then, depending on what I want the end to be I add peas or corn or green beans, mushrooms, cabbage, or chopped kale. You can add what your family likes. You just want to make sure you don't add something that will get super mushy too early in the cooking. You don't want broccoli mush in your vegetable beef soup. (Well, maybe you do but I don't!)

Then add a protein. You can add cooked beans, lentils, chopped chicken, cooked sausage, chopped ham, leftover roast beef, cooked ground beef or a combination of any of the above.
The lentils need to cook for 40 minutes but everything else is very flexible.

The last thing you want to add is a seasoning. You can add salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme. You can also add worchestershire sauce or anything else you want.

Then just let it simmer. Your crockpot is perfect for this. But you can do this on the stove if you forget in the morning. Just let it simmer until the grains and/or lentils are tender and the flavors have blended.

The best thing about soup is it is almost always better the next day. Make extra and save some for lunch the next day.

So there it is,

Sautéd aromatic veggies (onions, carrots, celery, garlic)
Liquid (stock, broth, miso)
Grain (rice, pasta, barley, quinoa)
Vegetables (tomatoes, peas, corn, etc)
Protein (chicken, beef, ham, beans, lentils, sausage)
Seasoning (salt, pepper, basil, thyme, etc)

So easy and so open to variations. Plus, soup is perfect when you don't have anything to make. Just scrounge around in the cupboards and you can find enough to make soup, I promise. And with grains, protein, vegetables, it is a complete meal in a bowl!

Schedule yourself a soup and bread night this week!

Tomorrow I'll share some bread ideas.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Mar 8 - 14

It snowed here last night. I love snow. But I am sick of winter. Can spring please, please, please hurry up? I'm tired of being cold. I'm tired of being stuck inside. I'm tired of my chickens being up to their ankles in mud!

Sunny skies, warm breezes, the smell of flowers and fresh cut grass. These are the things I long for. I know that it is just a few weeks away - but I want it NOW!

This week on Frugal Feasting I'm going to be talking about Soup and Bread. We have a soup and bread meal at least once a week. Soup is (usually) so cheap and filling and good for you. Add a homemade bread of some kind and there you have it - comfort food for cheap! I'll post some recipes for bread and soup and talk about why having soup and bread once a week is such an easy way to watch your wallet.

I'm doing some baking today with the intention of having some leftovers for snacks. Yeah, we'll see how that works. Seems like whenever I bake with the intention of leftovers, the family is famished and eats it all up. Maybe if I hide it?

  • Oatmeal muffins with blackberries
  • homemade oatmeal
  • cereal (great sale at Safeway!)
  • toast with jam or cinnamon sugar
  • leftover waffles from lunch today
  • leftovers
  • pasta salad with veggies and feta cheese
  • whatever else we come up with
That's all for me, I'm going to go back to lamenting my lack of spring. Guess what? It's supposed to snow again tonight. ARRRGGHH!! Make it stop!!

Check out more menu plan options over at Organizing Junkie! Lots of really organized women over there!


Friday, March 6, 2009

Homemade Refried Beans

One of my cheapest meals is my Navajo Tacos. You make some fry-bread, top it with refried beans, some cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. And then anything else you normally put on tacos (guacamole, salsa, sour cream, etc). Everything is pretty cheap, especially if you make the refried beans at home!

I was very intimidated by making refried beans at home. It seemed complex and mysterious. Until I was talking to a friend who said, "I used to buy canned beans until I became friends with a hispanic woman. She and her friends looked down on 'those crazy Americans' who bought canned beans. I decided to try it and was surprised how easy it is!"

I sat her down and forced her to tell me how to do it! Boy, was I feeling silly when I realized just how easy it really is! And something about making this recipe makes me feel so domestic.

Here's how you do it.

Soak some pinto beans over night. The next morning, pour out the soaking water and put the beans in a crockpot. Add a quartered onion and some garlic cloves that you have peeled and very roughly chopped. Cover with water - not too much, just enough to cover the beans.

Cook the beans all day long. They should be very, very soft and the onions should be almost melty. Ok, melty isn't a word, but you know what I mean.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat, add some fat of some kind. Either some oil, butter, bacon fat, or (traditionally) lard. If your skillet is non-stick enough and you are trying to watch your fat intake, you can do it without the fat. I usually use a TBS or so of margarine/butter. The flavor is good and the little bit of fat helps the beans to be smoother and creamier.

Put the beans in the skillet - but don't add the liquid yet. Here's what I do: I put the crockpot next to the skillet and transfer the beans with a slotted spoon. It drains off most of the liquid but saves it so I can use it later. Mash the beans with the back of the spoon or with a potato masher (I use my pastry cutter!). You of course want to be careful not to scratch your non-stick pan. I use my cast-iron skillet so I can be a little reckless. You can mash them extremely smooth or leave them a little chunky, your choice. You want to add the onions and the garlic, too, just mash them into the beans. They'll disappear into the beans but add tons of flavor.

If your beans are too dry, add a little of the cooking liquid, until you get the consistency you want. If the beans sit for awhile while you are getting other things ready, they will dry out a bit, just add some more liquid and stir.

To flavor the beans, I add cumin and salt. I usually add some garlic powder, too. We like garlic at our house. A lot! You could add cumin, chili powder, taco seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, whatever floats your boat. I like cumin because it is a very taco-type flavor. And you need salt, trust me. I can't tell you amounts because it really depends on how many beans you cooked, and what flavors you like. Add a little and if it is not enough, add some more!

That is is! Then you eat them. How easy is that? I usually make a big batch and freeze the leftovers. Thawing leftovers is even easier.

How much does it cost? Let's see: one pound pinto beans? About a dollar. One onion? About 30 cents (depending on how big it is), some garlic cloves are about 25 cents. Then some cumin and salt and maybe some butter or oil? Fifty cents, max. So you have $2 for about four meals worth of refried beans. That's fifty cents a meal for your protein. Plus, you know that there aren't any partially hydrogenated anything or artificial flavors or colors or added chemicals or preservatives.

This took longer to write than it does to cook! It takes about 5 minutes in the morning and and about 10 minutes in the evening when you are ready to eat. Really easy and so cheap!

This is my cheap recipe for the day. To check out more cheap, family favorites, check out the Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap.



Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Basic Baked Beans

This is my 200th post on my blog! So in honor of that I'll be posting 200 things you didn't know about Jill!

Just kidding!

It really is my 200th post but even I don't know 200 things about me. Instead I'm going to post one of my favorite bean recipes, baked beans.

Baked beans are so versatile. You can use them as a side dish for all sorts of things. We like them as a main dish, either with chopped ham stirred in or served over a bed of rice. Add some cornbread and a crunchy salad and you have a fabulous, healthful, cheap dinner.

I have heard of using baked beans as a bottom layer in a shepherd's pie like dish, or top with cornbread batter and bake and make a tamale pie type of thing. I also read a tip in my More With Less Cookbook that suggests spreading leftover baked beans on bread and toasting with cheese or a strip of bacon on the top.

This recipe comes from the More With Less Cookbook (have I mentioned that this in one of my favorite cookbooks?). It is a nice basic recipe that is fabulous by itself but allows itself to a lot of tweaking if you feel like it. It works great in the crock pot (I never make it in the oven, I only make it in the crockpot).

Basic Baked Beans

Soak overnight or by quick method:

1 lb navy beans (about two cups or so)
2 qts water

Drain the water and add fresh. The bring the beans to a boil and simmer until tender, about 1 1/2 hrs. Drain, reserving liquid

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine in a 2 qt. casserole:

cooked beans
1/2 c. molasses
1/4 c. ketchup (optional)
1 tsp mustard
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 slices bacon, chopped or 1/4 lb salt pork (optional)
bean liquid to cover

Bake 4-8 hours, adding liquid occasionally if necessary. Cover during first half of baking time then uncover.

  • I almost never use the bacon/salt pork. I usually leave it "vegetarian" until I stir in big chunks of ham (which my veggie kids can pick out). It does need some kind of fat though, so I add a Tb. of so of oil or butter/margarine. It just gives it a smoother, richer mouth-feel.
  • You do need to simmer the beans ahead of time. I learned this the hard way when I served my husband's family crunchy baked beans one summer at a bbq. I think it is the salt you are adding to the cooking liquid, it didn't allow the beans to get soft. I usually just soak the beans overnight then simmer them in the morning while I'm getting ready then stick it all in the crockpot and let it cook all day.
  • I sometimes use prepared mustard and sometimes I use dry mustard, doesn't make a huge difference.
  • I sometimes use dried onion flakes instead of a chopped onion.
  • I almost always use the ketchup, but that's me.
  • You can add a couple of TBs. of brown sugar for a different taste.
  • You can add some "heat" ingredients if you like that kind of stuff - I don't. I'm a total "spice wimp."
  • If you cook it in the Crockpot, you won't need to add additional liquid, just cook it on low for 6-8 hours and you'll be fine.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Using Beans to Save Money

I did not grow up eating beans. Oh sure, occasionally my mom would open a can of pork and beans. And for summer pot lucks my grandma made a mean pot of baked beans (well, she opened a can of baked beans and doctored them, but they were really good!). But generally, we got our protein from meat and our sides were salad and fruit.

My kids will grow up telling their children, "Your Grandma Jill, she made beans all the time!" Hopefully, they won't finish that statement with "and we hated it!" But I don't think so.

One of the ways I keep my grocery budget low is to use beans. I try to serve a bean based meal at least once a week. I like to have beans replace the meat, but every once and awhile the bean and meat combine. For instance, I serve baked beans and ham. In stead of serving ham steaks with baked beans as a side dish, I make baked beans from scratch and then stir in some chopped ham and serve it as the main dish. I'm using much less ham (which equals much less cost) but I'm still getting the ham flavor which most of us like.

Beans are incredibly economical! For about a dollar you can get 2 lbs of dry beans, 2 cans of ready-to-use beans, or about a third of a pound of really cheap meat. With my 1/3 lb of meat I can make about a half a meal, with my two cans of beans I can make two meals, with my 2 lbs of dry beans I can make three, four or maybe five meals!! Which makes more sense economically?

And nutrition? Beans are tops! Why? Well, just look. Beans are:

+ High in complex carbohydrates

+ High in protein

+ High in dietary fiber

+ High in Folate

+ Low in fat, especially saturated types

+ No cholesterol

+ Low in sodium

Where else can you get all of that for less than a dollar a pound?

Plus, they taste good. We love the taste of black beans, pinto beans, white beans, garbanzos and of course lentils. Lentils have a bad rap. I've had several comments on my blog from people saying that they can't bring themselves to try lentils. However, I've gotten just as many saying they did try them and were surprised how good they were! Seriously, give them a try!

Dry beans do require a little forethought. You need to soak most of them overnight. However, there are ways to get around this. You can do a quick soak (bring beans and water to a boil then let sit for one hour off the heat). My favorite way is to soak a huge batch over night, cook them in my crockpot while I'm off doing other things and then freeze them in 2 c. portions. Then you can use them just like you would the canned ones (well, except you have to thaw them in the microwave a little!). Lentils do not need to be soaked over night.

In addition to dry beans (which I buy in bulk), I also keep some canned beans on hand (when I can get them on sale). Canned beans are still relatively cheap and are fabulous for a quick meal.

Now I know some of you are thinking, what about the, um, unpleasant side-effects? It is true that they earned their name of the musical fruit! However, if you throw away the soaking water and use fresh water to cook them in, it helps. Also, if your body is used to eating them (ie, you don't eat them twice a year) you don't have any problems. Once your body adjusts, it really isn't an issue. And I'm willing to adjust if it saves me money and improves my health!

This week I'm going to be posting lots of recipes using beans. Try to find a couple to try. You will probably be glad you did.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - March 1 - 7

I'm having so much fun doing this "Frugal Feasting" series! I've posted some yummy recipes and I've gotten great feedback from everyone. The whole idea of the Frugal Feasting series is to help people eat great while not spending a ton of money.

So far I've posted about Mega Cooking and posted one of my favorite mega-cooking recipes, Cincinnati Chili.

I've posted about baking at home and posted recipes for Soft Breadsticks and Artisan bread at home.

I've posted about vegetarian cooking and recipes for Broccoli Cottage Cheese Casserole and Cheese and Bread Soufflé.

I've talked about buying things on sale and recipes to use up your sale items like Italian Chicken.

This week we are going to be talking about using beans in your cooking to save money. Everyone always talks about cheap eating as being "beans and rice." And they can be right, but "beans and rice" don't have to be "boring and flavorless." Come with me while I share some of my favorite bean meals and ideas.

For meals this week we are having some beans and we are having cheese! My local Winco had 2 lb blocks of cheese on sale for $3.98. That is very cheap for cheese! So I bought lots, cheese lasts a long time if you keep it well packaged. So this week, we are eating some cheesy meals!

  • Cereal and milk
  • Bread and jam
  • yogurt, granola and fruit parfaits
  • pumpkin bread from the freezer
  • Spanish Tortilla
  • Quesadillas
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Homemade Mac and Cheese
  • Toasted Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup
  • Bean soup and bread
If you need even more ideas for meal time, go check out Menu Plan Monday on Organizing Junkie!