Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Mixing Things Up" a Little

Daughter and I eat a lot of soups with beans and meat mixed for protein.  I need the higher protein diet and she happens to really like bean soups so it works out well for us.  They're also frugal meals overall which helps my budget.  Daughter is kind of picky about what seasonings she likes.  Her favorite is "taco" and since it is just the two of us, I'm happy to oblige her wants.  However, those little packets of seasoning get expensive.  For a while I thought the alternative was to buy it in bulk from Sam's Club, which is still cheaper than the packets, but I ran into a problem with that as well.  The last bottle we bought wasn't as spicy as the other and I found myself having to doctor it anyway. I found myself back to buying the small packets when we moved back to town and I realized I had to put a stop to that when the packets were upping the cost of a meal by $4 just for seasoning. 
So this week one of the frugal things we did was make a jar of taco seasoning mix.
Homemade Taco Seasoning
(Yields 24 tbsp. with 2 tbsp. equaling roughly enough for 1 lb. of meat)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. chili powder
2 1/2 tsps. garlic powder
2 1/2 tsps. onion powder
2 1/2 tsps. red pepper flakes
2 1/2 tsps. oregano
2 1/2 tsps. paprika
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp. cumin
1/4 cup of salt (I use 3/4 of a 1/4
1/4 cup ground black pepper
2 tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cocoa powder
Mix well and put in a jar.
Use just like you would the little packets.
(In our next batch I will make be adding some cayenne pepper to spice it up a little.)

Of course we had to try it out immediately.
1 cup of soaked white beans (GN Beans in this case)
2 boneless skinless thighs chopped in small bite sized pieces
a few chicken bouillon cubes
2 tbsp. of taco seasoning
some chopped bell pepper
Sauté chicken and bell pepper.
Toss it all in and cook on high pressure for about 30 minutes.
Let the pressure drop for 15 and then quick release.

Daughter had hers with just cheese.
I doctored mine up a little.
A crumbled taco shell,
spinach, tomato dices, sour cream and a tiny bit of cheese.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Busy Week

It's been a busy week.

Monday we had a meeting with the psychologist who is helping us get daughter ready for college. Long story short daughter has a learning disability (two actually) that affect her writing skills even though she scores gifted in a lot of areas.  She's actually recommended we wait at least one more semester to start college, possibly two.  We'll be working with some tutors and various groups to make sure that she has and is comfortable with the technology that will help her.

We left straight after that meeting to head to an out of town conference for hubby's work. I spent Tuesday with him and we were back late evening Wednesday.

Wednesday we spent all day getting ready for our trip to DC and today we're off for our last hurrah before school takes back in.

We'll be doing some touring and attending Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions.
The young adults of the group also want to attend a bit of the championship tournament that is going on this weekend.  Us "older" adults are looking forward to some museum time and a good restaurant or how life changes!
So I've been doing the usual.  The housework is done, the fridge is cleaned out and everything that needed to be frozen or used up has been taken care of.  In the name of both frugality and health we've packed up several different kinds of goodies and double batch of brownies (not quite as oh so good) for the road trip.  As usual our biggest expenses are accommodations and for this trip because daughter is bringing a friend along we have actually rented a van.  Even with the cost of the rental given the cost of parking, gas, and the general hassle it will be better than trying to take two vehicles.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mac and Cheese (Pressure Cooker Style)

One dish my family loves is macaroni and cheese.  However, it takes close to an hour to prepare it normally and I don't make it as often as they'd like.  We decided to try a recipe for pressure cooker macaroni and cheese as an alternative...not to replace our usual baked mac and cheese, but more as a stand in if life was super busy.  In part because we don't use Velveeta type cheese very often.  After looking at store prices for it, I decided to still try the recipe, but use Aldi brand processed cheese.
This is the recipe with the changes I made.

The ingredients are pretty straight forward.
3 cups of macaroni noodles
3 cups of water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
(confession time -- I used the powdered stuff with  no ill effects)
Put all of this in the pressure cooker.
Cook on high pressure for 6 minutes.
(This didn't seem to take long to come up to pressure.)
Use quick release.
Stir in 1/8 cup of powdered milk.
(My addition but not necessary for the original recipe.)
Stir in 4 to 6 ounces of processed cheese and 2 cups of shredded cheddar.
The original recipe said to let it sit to thicken, but I didn't find it necessary.
However, you will find this amusing...
We were so excited to try it that I forgot to take a picture of the original amount.
All I have is a photo of what was leftover.

This was actually pretty good.
If I try to compare it to baked, I feel like it is comparing apples to oranges.
This is meant to be a quick side dish.
I think we will definitely keep it in our rotation.
It is a great food storage food, too.
Each item has a food storage equivalent
and could easily be converted to all food storage ingredients.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Spinach and Sausage Soup (Recipe)

Over the last two years I've lost a lot of weight and one of the things I do to help maintain that is eat a lot of soups.  While they are filling, more importantly they satisfy my desire for flavor and variety.  Even the most complex soups I make are also frugal and that is a big plus.

For years we reserved Friday night for pizza night.  We'd make homemade pizzas and usually have sodas for the kids and wine for the adults.  While I still enjoy the occasional piece of pizza I try to not eat it very often.  However, I can honestly admit I don't want to just eat a salad on pizza night either.

So in my search I found a recipe for Spinach and Sausage Soup (from this book) and a small slice of cheese pizza is the perfect accompaniment.

I actually came very near to following this recipe as written.  Much closer than I normally do anyway.

1 lb. of bulk Italian sausage
(I was surprised to find bulk and usually just buy links and "skin" them when I need bulk sausage.)
1 red onion, chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
Sauté in the pressure cooker until the sausage and onion are pretty much cooked.
6 bouillon cubes and 6 cups of water (or equivalent homemade broth)
1 tbsp. of minced garlic
1/4 tsp. of red pepper flakes
1 tsp. Italian seasoningss
5 red potatoes, diced in bite sized chunks
10 ounces of fresh spinach
(I chopped and added a few fresh basil leaves since they're growing on the patio anyway.)
Bring to pressure and cook on high for 3 minutes.
Yep, 3 minutes!
Reduce pressure quickly.
Stir in
1/2 cup of heavy cream.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
I personally found it didn't need any more salt and pepper.
Man oh man, is this stuff good!
A slice of fresh bread or a grilled cheese sandwich would be great with it
or maybe a handful of diced tomato pieces added a the end. Or croutons...or crackers...or get the picture.  Just use your imagination.

I apologize that the photos aren't better.  This is what it was and by the time I checked them we
had finished eating.
The soup was a big hit and even my grandson loved it.
We all ate and ended up with leftovers for tomorrow....
even though the recipe says it makes six servings.
Oh for the record --
it really cooks quickly.
It seemed as if we barely had time to set the table and make the drinks
before the soup was ready.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Butternut Squash Muffins

We had a butternut squash lingering on the counter.
While I love it baked, daughter won't touch it cooked that way.
Muffins seemed to be the perfect compromise.
I seeded, peeled and chopped a small butternut squash.
High pressure with a cup or so of water for 12 minutes.
Let pressure drop naturally and then drain and mash the squash.
Use this recipe as your jumping off point and you'll end up with something like this.
These are great.  My grandson loves the muffins, which aren't too sweet.
The small loaves of bread will go in the freezer to pull out for quick sweets for tea.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

One of the things I've decided to invest in this month is a select few cookbooks with pressure cooker recipes.  I have utilized the library in my search and then Amazon's used book selection to shop around for the best prices.  One of the books I've bought is called Great Food Fast by Bob Warden.

I have to say that every recipe in this book seems reasonable.
Today we tried the Broccoli and Cheese Soup.
Of course, as usual I made a few changes, but really very little.
So this is my version -- made in the Instant Pot.
2 tbsp. butter
1 quart water
4 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 large bunch of broccoli florets, chopped
1 cup of shredded carrots
Place all in the pressure cooker.
On manual and high pressure, cook for 5 minutes.
Drop the pressure quickly.
Shred one 8 ounce block of cheese.
Add cheese and
1 cup of heavy cream to the pot.
Stir well.
Salt and pepper to taste.
The recipe should serve 6, but we served 4 using it as a main dish.
If you were using it as a starter I think you could easily get six servings.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014