Easy slow-cooker ham and lentil soup

10 Apr

lentil soup kid

This is a great way to do a little bit of work early in the day for a stress-free and healthy dinner. It also is great to portion for lunches. A huge bonus for me is that my preschooler absolutely loves it, so it is my favorite thing to have on hand for her when we are not all eating together. You just need lentils, some leftover ham, ubiquitous vegetables, and pantry staples. Read more, including recipe and cost details.

Hearty kale soup with sausage, black beans, and hominy

20 Mar

soup bowled with bread

I made a vegetarian version of this soup when I cooked for a friend’s weekend yoga retreat. Everyone loved that version, but I was even more excited to make it for my greens-loving husband. Alas, he is also a meat-loving husband. Luckily, sausage is a natural compliment to kale. It is also something that I often have more of than I know what to do with, so finding new uses for it is always welcome. Read more, including recipe and cost details.

Strawberry (or any berry) banana smoothie

6 Mar


I am not a juicer, nor have I typically been a “smoothie person.” I prefer to chew my food and will choose savory over sweet in most cases. But, I also am no fan of cereal. The everything bagel with veggie cream cheese that I really want isn’t really the most wholesome thing to eat daily, not to mention I live in Chicagoland where the term “bagel” is used loosely, at best. I do find myself hungry in the morning, and I probably don’t eat as much fruit as I should, so I decided to try the smoothie. As it turns out, as long as it is kept simple, I am a fan. Read more, including recipe and cost details.

Freeze those bananas

6 Mar

overripe bananas

We have all ended up with this, right? This is actually an entire bunch that has been sitting on my counter, untouched, since it was purchased. I know we don’t go through them but I like to have them around for baking, smoothies, etc. So I happily let them get like this, perfectly sweet, but not the greatest texture to just eat as is. They apparently last a little longer if you separate them, but I actually wanted this bunch to ripen quickly as I was out of frozen bananas I like to have for smoothies.

Most of us know we can use them after this point, but making that practical isn’t so obvious. You could just throw them in the freezer in the peel. That isn’t terrible if you are going to bake with them and let them thaw before peeling, but if you want to use them frozen, it won’t work as well.

The solution: peel and freeze! That way you can use them as they are for a smoothie or let them thaw and make banana muffins or whatever is on your menu. They also still break apart easily in their frozen state so you can use partial bananas with no trouble if that is what you need.

bagged bananas

I could fit the last two in here, but I let the first four freeze completely first before I added them on top. That way, I still got away with using one freezer bag, but they didn’t freeze in a big mass and were still easily separated. As you can see below, I removed one from the top layer without any trouble:

second layer

Roasted asparagus

27 Feb

plated asparagus

Roasting is a great way to bring out the lovely nuttiness of asparagus. It is also very easy in that it doesn’t require you to do anything once it is in the oven other than take it out at the correct time. The flavor is neutral so you can serve it on the side of pretty much anything. Read more, including recipe and cost details.

The process: Shopping, making stock

24 Feb


A few more days of my “process”

Saturday, 2/22:

  1. I made huevos rancheros for breakfast with the sauce I had in the freezer, tortillas I picked up at Meijer on Thursday for 34 cents, part of a block of Monterey Jack that cost me $1.25 at Ultra not long ago, eggs I also had from a good sale at Ultra, and refried beans I got long ago for 50 cents or less.
  2. We went out to dinner, because even I need a break sometimes!

Sunday, 2/23:

  1. I had 4 lbs of boneless skinless chicken thighs in the fridge that I picked up at Aldi a few days ago for $1.49/lb. I didn’t come up with anything to do with them so I portioned them into one 2 lb and two 1 lb packages and sealed them up for the freezer with my Foodsaver.
  2. For my lunch, I made a some number of layers dip with the refried beans that were left from Saturday’s breakfast, avocado, tomato, cheese, sour cream, etc.
  3. Dinner was penne pasta with a tomato short rib sauce I had in the freezer. I remembered it being a bit one-dimensional, so I sauteed some mushrooms in red wine to add to it. I picked up a bag of baby spinach and arugula at Jewel for $1.25/bag after coupons, so we had a salad of that plus some other produce, etc. to start. The pasta also yielded two lunches worth of leftovers.

Monday, 2/24:

  1. I got this in the mail:
    penzeysWe don’t eat much frozen pizza, but I am sure it will have other applications. I love that I live as close as I do to Penzey’s, mostly for the reasonably-priced, excellent quality spices, but the freebies are always fun. Last time it was a free mug, which I am very much enjoying:
    penzeys mug
  2. As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, I did a little shopping. I spent $41.46 on:
    1. 4 – 28 oz cans of Tuttoroso tomatoes, $.50 each after $1.00/2 blinkie coupons. Tomatoes are good for all sorts of things (pizza sauce and marinara sauce are just the beginning) and last a really long time. 50 cents is a definite buy price for me.
    2. 3 – Fratelli coffee beans, $4.99 each. We love our coffee and this is locally roasted a few towns over. I have been wanting to try it for a while and was excited to see it on sale this week. We’ll try these three different kinds and wait for the next sale if we want to stock up.
    3. Treasure Cave feta cheese, $1.17 each after $1.00/2 coupon from a previous package. This is a good price, and I use feta regularly enough that having two to use up in the next few months makes sense, but I don’t have a specific plan yet.
    4. 2 – Goya 1 lb dry lentils, $.99 each. My daughter has been asking for lentil soup, so how can I say no to that. I like this brand and the price is about as good as it gets. I didn’t get more because there isn’t a ton of variation in this type of item so there is no real need to stock up.
    5. 2 – Caputo gnocchi, $.99 each. Again, something my daughter has been requesting. I am such a sucker. I have no idea if these are any good, but for $.99 it is worth a try.
    6. Butterball deli turkey, about $3.60/lb after $1.00/1 lb coupon. Again with the requests from the kiddo. I am not in love with the stuff they put in most deli meat, but we don’t eat a ton of it, so it is okay with me. I will sacrifice a bit of food integrity for a quick way to get a happy child. I also quite enjoyed a turkey sandwich with avocado, tomato, cheese, and some of that spinach and arugula!
    7. 5 – navel oranges, $.79/lb.
    8. 4 – organic Bosc pears, $.79/lb. The ad did not specify organic, but this sort of nice bonus often happens at Caputo’s.
    9. 2 avocados, $.79 each. No specific plan, but I have lots of other things that go with them, so they will easily be put to good use.
    10. 2 lemons, $.79/lb. I don’t have a plan for them but they are good to have on hand and last quite a while in the fridge.
    11. Asparagus, $.99/lb. Again, no plan but something we like at a great price, so I will work it in to a dinner soon.
    12. Garlic, $.26. I ran out!
    13. Cucumber, $.50. For salad, snack, etc.
    14. Pint organic grape tomatoes, $.99.
    15. Cilantro, $.29.
    16. Strawberries, $1.50.
    17. Blackberries, $.99.
    18. 5 – Michigan Golden Delicious apples, $.56/lb.
    19. Romaine lettuce, $.79/lb. Again, with the things I have on hand, avocado, cilantro, tomatoes, etc., it seems like tacos, taco, salad, or something of the sort might be happening as the week progresses, so I want to be prepared. Going to the store for just lettuce is really annoying!
  3. I am also making chicken stock. This is long overdue for me, so I will be very happy to have this on hand soon.
    stock cookingI saved the bones from 3 chickens. Two were in the freezer and one was from Friday’s dinner. I’ll post more about that once it is done and stored.
  4. Tonight’s dinner will be chicken corn chowder. I have some actual meat also left over from Friday, some potatoes that should be used up soon, and the rest of the ingredients on hand. It will give us a simple dinner tonight and a few more lunches for the week.

I just heard my grocery ads hit my front door, so hopefully they will give me some inspiration for the rest of the week!

The process: Introduction, plus defrosting some stuff

21 Feb


I have been thinking a lot lately about what I want to share here, what is most useful to others, and what is most motivating to me. While I do love to cook and fiddle with recipes and do have moments where I feel I have perfected a recipe in my own way, I am starting to realize that the thing I am most proud of concerning the food related goings-on in this house is that it works as well as it does.

How do we become skilled at planning what we eat and executing the plan efficiently?

The concept that I am attempting to capture has proved somewhat elusive. This is probably because much of it has become habit, which I believe it part of what makes it work. But I didn’t always have these habits! Not terribly long ago, my grocery expenditures were significantly more, I felt like I was starting from scratch each time I needed to decide what to make, and I was constantly at the store buying ingredients for a particular recipe. And the food I was eating was not better that what I am eating now. So many people tell me that they wish they were better at meal planning, not throwing away perishable foods that weren’t used in time, and not having to run to the store constantly. I remember feeling that way! But I no longer do, so what changed?

I have decided to spend a week discussing what I do each day that makes it all work. Of course I intend to share some tips that will simply be useful, but I am also hoping that what I think I do well will shake out in some way that will allow me to show others how to become more frugal, less wasteful, more efficient, and more satisfied with their own food situations. See? I don’t really even know what to call that, but I mean the food you plan, make, and eat at home.

A snapshot of my “process”

So I am just going to start with yesterday, because: 1) there doesn’t seem to be a place to start that is better than any other; and 2) I can remember that far back. So here are my relevant food-related activities.

Thursday, 2/20:

  1. My daughter and I ate some banana muffins for breakfast. They were frozen from the last time I made them.
  2. My husband took a portion of enchiladas to work for lunch. These enchiladas are a wonderful example of it all coming together. I made a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner, which yielded some leftover steak. Our favorite thing to do with this tricky leftover is make these enchiladas.
  3. I went to Meijer to pick up bacon, a loaf of French bread, and some avocados for the BLTs the husband requested for dinner. I haven’t seen a great deal on bacon in a while, so I ran out. It still happens, but so much less frequently that I don’t mind. Plus it gives me an opportunity to be at the store for surprise deals!
    • Avocados were $.69.
    • I also found ground chuck on clearance. I don’t have any beef in the freezer at the moment, so I picked up 7 lbs. I loaded a $5 reward with a $30 meat purchase to my mperks account. Between the beef and the bacon, I am $10 away from earning the reward, so as long as there is a decent deal next week on which to spend the remainder, it will be like I got the beef for $1.66/lb.
    • Finally, I picked up a 34 cent pack of corn tortillas so we can have huevos rancheros for breakfast tomorrow. I have some ranchero sauce in the freezer, plenty of eggs and refried beans, and I picked up some Monterey Jack cheese at Ultra a couple of weeks ago for $1.25. I try to pay $1.00 per 8 oz block of cheese, but I ran out of jack and like to have it since it is a versatile cheese that melts well, works for latin dishes, and plays an important role in baked macaroni and cheese.
  4. I portioned the beef into 1 lb packages, sealed them with my Foodsaver, and they went in the freezer.
  5. I had veggie quiche for lunch, also from the freezer. The little one was not interested, so she had a sandwich. Nothing earth-shattering there.
  6. I took a whole chicken and a portion of soup out of the freezer. The chicken is for tonight’s dinner and the soup was lunch for me and the kiddo today.

Friday, 2/21 (slightly less action-packed):

  1. For lunch, my daughter and I had the vegetable beef barley soup that I had defrosted, accompanied by the rest of the bread left over from last night’s BLTs.
  2. I will roast the chicken for dinner, and save the bones to make chicken stock with the two other chicken carcasses currently hanging out in my freezer
  3. To go with the chicken, I am making creamed spinach with the spinach I picked up cheap at Jewel last week and roasted red potatoes because the potatoes should be consumed sooner, rather than later.

It seems like a lot when I write it out like this, but honestly it wasn’t. None of these things, other than eating, is an event in itself. I packed up the beef while keeping my daughter company as she ate dinner. We stopped at the store when we were out anyway to for gymnastics. Everything else is just about thinking it through and remembering to defrost, etc.

Now, to get that chicken into the oven….


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