Thursday, October 30, 2014

Make it yourself - granola

I've had a few requests for a good granola recipe. Honestly, granola is way easier than it should be for how good it tastes! I like that my family isn't eating all of the junk in boxed cereals. I can tweak it to our tastes. We all love to eat it as a snack, as well! I just have to ignore its association with the word "crunchy" as a description of neo-hippies.

Here is the basic recipe:
4 ½c rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 cup chopped nuts
1/3c melted fat or oil
1/3c honey
¼c light brown sugar
½tsp salt
1-3tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon or other spice
½c dried fruit

Mix all ingredients, except fruit, together. Spread on a lined jelly roll pan or baking sheet. Bake at 325° for 15 minutes; stir; bake for 10-15 minutes more. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

My favorite variation on this recipe uses slivered almonds, and lots of cinnamon & vanilla. For my fat, I use melted coconut oil. I don't use fruit in this one.

Now, if you want my indulgent variation, hold onto your hats and try the following variation. Add ½ cup of cocoa powder, ¼ cup of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips, and dried cranberries or raspberries. Yum!

Seriously, you could make granola a thousand different ways! It's healthy, inexpensive, and tasty - a great combination!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pinto beans and rice

This is our "how low can you go?" meal. It is the cheapest meal we eat here at our house and we try to make it a few times a month. I try to intersperse it with more expensive meals throughout the month, rather than having beans three times the last week of the month - that's when morale heads south! This recipe really is tasty. Each of my kids mentioned it in our "what I was thankful for today" rounds tonight at bedtime!


1 lb dried pinto beans, soaked
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp ground cumin
2 cups white rice
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Cheese, avocado, tomatoes, onion to serve

  • Place the beans and garlic in a large pot, cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about an hour.
I save time on this step by making double batches (2lbs) of dried beans a couple of times a month. We eat one batch for dinner and I freeze the other. When I make this recipe, I simply place the frozen beans in the pot, cover with water and boil around 20 minutes

  • As the beans begin to soften, mash them with a potato masher or the back of a spatula until desired consistency is reached
  • Set a pot of water to boil and cook rice according to package directions
I often save myself time here, as well by planning two meals a few days apart that require rice. I put half of the rice in a large zip top bag in the fridge for the next meal
  • Heat the olive oil in a small skillet, add onion, cooking over medium high heat, until onions soften and have brown, crisp edges. Add to the pot of rice. Stir to combine.
  • Serve beans over rice, and with toppings, if desired

Beans $1
Garlic 20¢
Rice 50¢
Onion 35¢
Spices 10¢
TOTAL - $2.15

Price per serving (6 servings) 36¢

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I'm not sure if I've ever recommended a blog here on mine. If not, here's a first! Go over and check out all that Tiffany has to say on her blog dontwastethecrumbs
She has some great tips on budgeting & grocery shopping (her budget for a family of four, including toiletries and paper products, is $330/month), recipes, eating real food, making things yourself (Apple cider vinegar from cores & peels?! Yes, please!) and healthy living.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Eat What You Have - days 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10

I feel like I have been cheating on this challenge. I certainly didn't take into account how many days I wouldn't even be home to cook! That's ok, though, those days will just be tacked onto the end of the challenge and the whole thing will last longer than I expected.

So, coming off of a dinner out for my mother-in-law's birthday and a lovely meal with friends on days 4 & 5, I went to Georgetown on Saturday to watch the game (they won 42-13!). We took our hungry college lineman out for Mexican food. A good break for him from cafeteria food! 

The younger boys and I headed out to Great Wolf Lodge on Sunday. Of course we had pizza. After a hard day at the water park on Monday, we picked up sandwiches and fries on our way back to Georgetown again to watch Big Brother play football (won again!). Seriously, I promise I usually cook at home most nights!

So, we got back to some normalcy on Tuesday, day 9. I made roasted acorn squash with brown sugar and house made pork brats from Lucky's. If you haven't tried the sausages from Lucky's, you need to! Delicious! I always buy enough for a couple of meals when they go on sale for $2.49/lb.

Tonight we went with our cheap-o meal of pinto beans and rice. It's one of my favorites, not only because it is so cheap that it keeps the budget in check, but because it is tasty. I'll share the recipe soon enough.

How's your challenge going?

Task #6 - Buy in Bulk

We have made our way up to task six in saving money on groceries - buying in bulk. This one can be a bit tricky, but, hopefully, I can clear a few concerns here.

I recommend that you only buy items in bulk that you will be able to completely use before the expiration or 'use by' date. I do lots of baking, cook lots of international dishes, and am feeding four males and myself, so this isn't usually an issue for us, though I think you'll be surprised at how long many items last when stored properly. You may need to track what quantities you use of certain items before buying, say, a 25 pound bag of it!

Here are the items I buy in bulk: Flour, sugar, rice, paper products, meat, oil, pasta, dry beans, and spices. I store many of the items like flour, sugar, and rice in food grade 5 gallon buckets with lids in the basement. The meat is bought in large packages and split into individual freezer bags in quantities I usually use for our recipes. Spices are poured into small airtight jars. Any that won't fit, I store in zip top bags.

Here is a list of how long each of these items should be expected to last.

All Purpose Flour - up to one year
Granulated Sugar - indefinitely
White Rice - indefinitely
Meats (frozen) - 6-9 months
Oils - 1 year+
Pasta - 3 years
Dried beans - 1 year
Spices - 3-4 years

When in doubt check this website.

Around the holidays are a great time to stock up on many of these items, so keep your eyes peeled for great sales and buy as much as you will use in the year if you have a place to properly store it. This can save you lots of money on your monthly budget.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Eat What You Have - days 3, 4, & 5

Y'all, there gonna get spoiled over here! It is a rare day that we have what most Americans picture as a "square meal" - piece of meat, vegetable, and starch. We just don't tend to eat that way, because, frankly meat is too expensive. I try to cook in ways that minimize our meat purchases. Tonight was an exception for us. I found center cut pork chops for $1.99 a pound a couple of weeks ago. I also had a cabbage from a month or so ago (cabbages keep for a LONG time in proper conditions) that I picked up for 39¢/lb., pair that with some garlic mashed potatoes and you've got quite the hearty meal. It cost about $7 for 5 servings.

I also went ahead a splurged. I bought the Provential Belgian-style ale from Trader Joe's to go with this one. Did you know that Unibroue makes some beers for Trader Joe's? This happens to be one of them and it is delicious! Beer lovers, try it out!

Now, I will go ahead and let you know what will be on our menu for the next two days. We will be going out to celebrate my mother-in-law's 70th birthday tomorrow. On Friday, we have been invited to have a meal with some dear friends. This will just extend my challenge for two more days!

How is your challenge going?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Eat What You Have days 1 & 2

We had sort of a lackluster start over here with Eat What You Have. I was making pear butter, which took way longer than it should have. The boys had Tae Kwon Do. Everything on the menu required baking and it was in the upper 70s. We ended up having a big salad. I had leaf lettuce, bought from Lucky's for 99¢. I topped it with some chicken, some of our hen' s eggs and a bit of cheese.
Tonight, we are having honey mustard chicken drumsticks with sweet potatoes from our garden. And since it's National Dessert Day(aren't you so glad I told you?), I'll be making brownies and topping them with vanilla ice cream.
What are you having tonight?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Let the fun begin!

Anyone who has known me any length of time knows that November is like a game for me. It is the month I set aside to eat only what I have in the house. With all of the stocking up I do throughout the year, I have found that I usually have enough to last us about 6 weeks without doing a major grocery trip. My only exceptions are to buy two turkeys around Thanksgiving when they can be had for around 50 to 60 cents per pound. I also usually head back one time for milk and possibly fresh fruit.

I started taking stock of our fridge, freezer, pantry, and deep freeze last week and realized that we have enough to start tomorrow, so that's what I'll be doing. I'm amped!
I would also like to challenge you guys to do the same. It takes some planning, though. Take these next few weeks to first, take stock of what foods you have in your house. The next thing you'll need to do is to plan a menu. Think of meals you can make with what you have and make a list of these meals. If you need to make a small trip to the store for a couple of key ingredients, that's ok, but doing a full-blown monthly shopping trip just before next month is cheating.

This next step is totally optional, but I find that it saves my neck toward the end of our 'Eat From Your Pantry' month. Put the list into some sort of order. What I mean is this - if you have enough chicken to make 6 meals, plan a meal with chicken about every 5 days. Plan in a vegetarian meal about every 5-6 days. Plan in a leftover day around every 5 days. I list these out on a menu board in order, so I know what we will be having every day. If I skip this step, I tend to skip over the meals of say, beans more often than beef. In doing so, I doom my family to rice and beans for 5 days straight at the end of the month, because that is what we have left on the menu. That, my friends, is a recipe for mutiny!

This really can be fun. It is also a great way to clear out some older items in your stock. And it allows the monthly grocery budget to be $0. I usually use the  money for Christmas gifts. I would suggest that if you have any debt, you apply this "bonus" money straight toward that. You could also divide it by 11 (since you'll be eating from your pantry one month a year) and apply that to your monthly grocery budget to further reduce your food costs for next year. Keep me posted from time to time on how you're doing with the challenge.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Confession time: I was a terrible cook when I first got married. I could bake. I could cook breakfast and that's about the extent of it. My poor husband did a lot of the cooking and tried to be kind when I cooked. Then I decided to try my hand at chili.
Growing up, the chili in our house was more of a soup. We crunched saltines into it to thicken it a bit. It was never really my favorite. I decided I would try to make a chili like I would prefer it. I traded in the tomato juice for tomato sauce & diced tomatoes. I used more beef and beans. I added fresh bell peppers and onions.
However, I kept the Brooks chili beans. I have tried others. They just aren't the same. I also kept the Bloemer's chili powder and the pasta. As an aside, there are 50 different ways to cook chili and everyone has an opinion on which one is the best. This just happens to be the one I prefer. But seriously, it's the best. Serve it over cooked spaghetti. Top it with cheese and sour cream. Perfect for a Fall meal!

Here's the super secret recipe:

1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp Olive oil
2 lbs ground beef
Salt & pepper to taste
1 Large can Brooks chili hot beans
1 26oz can diced tomatoes
1 26oz can tomato sauce
3 packs Bloemer's chili powder

Sautee the onion and bell pepper in olive oil until soft. Add ground beef. Cook, breaking apart until no longer pink. Drain off excess fat. Add beans, tomatoes, and chili powder. Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Serve over cooked spaghetti (if you want to do it right). Top with shredded cheddar and sour cream.

Price breakdown:
Bell pepper 50¢ or free from your garden
Onion - 25¢
Olive oil - 25¢
Ground beef - $5
Beans - $2.25
Tomatoes - 50¢
Tomato sauce - 50¢
Chili powder - $1
TOTAL - $10.25

Price per serving (10 servings) - $1.03

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Make it yourself - hummus

For taste, cost, and nutrition, you can't beat beans. I am a big fan of chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. I am especially fond of hummus. It is wonderful with pita chips, vegetables, or as a wrap spread. Now, if you've only ever eaten store bought hummus, you are missing out! Try this homemade hummus and you'll never look back!
Now, I will admit that #1 - I totally eyeball this when I make it, so , again, play around with this recipe to suit your tastes; #2 - We LOVE garlic around here, like the white hot love of a thousand suns love, adjust the garlic as needed!

1/2 lb chickpeas, soaked and cooked according to package directions.
1/4-1/2c olive oil
1/4c lemon juice
3 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp tahini (sour cream is an acceptable substitute)
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
Salt to taste

Place half of the beans, and all of the oil and lemon juice into a blender.(A food processor would work better here, bit I don't have one, so blender it is!) Process on the 'chop' setting until smooth. Add the rest of the beans and the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. (You may need to add a little water to truly get it smooth) Enjoy!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Individual meatloaves

This is a huge family favorite in our house. Now, admittedly, it's probably partially due to the fact that getting your own piece of meat is a rarity around here, but it also doesn't hurt that it's delicious! It's a variation on a Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe. I highly recommend looking on the site. The Everyday Food recipes are great for weeknight meals. We just happen to really like garlic and prefer a traditional sauce.
The easiest way to make at least one side for this meal is to roast it alongside the meat, especially potatoes. You have the oven on anyway! Since the meat costs close to my upper limit on a meal, I tend to chose less expensive sides - pasta, potatoes, or grits with canned or homegrown vegetables.


1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 c bread crumbs
1 egg
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack & Cheddar, divided
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 c ketchup
2 Tbsp prepared mustard

  • Heat oven to 450°. In a small bowl, combine sugar, ketchup, and mustard and set aside.
  • Place beef, garlic, bread crumbs, egg, 1/2 cup shredded cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and combine until consistent throughout; Place in a lined baking dish.
  • Top each meatloaf with a tablespoon of the ketchup mixture, top with remaining cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes.


Ground beef - $3.70
Garlic - 5¢
Bread crumbs - 5¢
Egg - 10¢
Cheese - $1.00
Sauce - 20¢
TOTAL - $5.10
Price per serving (6 servings) - 85¢

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Task #5 - Buy a freezer

This task is a pretty big one. It is also pretty expensive. However, if you've followed the other tasks, your freezer is probably filling up pretty quickly. This becomes very important around holidays, when you'll be buying extra meat and once you've put in and are harvesting a steady amount of produce from a garden.
We have a 5.2 cubic foot freezer for the 6 of us and it meets our needs. This size runs around $150, however new models for freezers come out in September and October,and last year's models need to be cleared out, so now is the optimal time to invest in one at a deeply discounted price. While the selection may be a bit slim, the end of the month is the best time to go, as salespeople will be scrambling to meet their commission quotas and are much more likely to cut you a deal. Don't forget to look at your local warehouse club, as well.
You may also be able to find free or cheap freezers on Craigslist or you may know someone who owns a freezer that they rarely use and they are willing to allow you to use it. You never know until you ask!
Having a freezer will make it more feasible to truly stock up when prices are at their lowest and use that buy ahead principle. What you've bought this month below cost, makes each subsequent month's grocery bill cheaper.