Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to Tuesday: Soaking and Cooking Beans

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If your family eats a lot of beans, it can get pretty expensive to purchase them in the can. Yes the can of beans is super easy and convenient, however the salt content is out of this world and per unit is much more expensive than soaking and cooking them yourself.
Cost Comparison: Cans of beans typically come in a 15oz. size. A can of beans runs between $0.79-$1.00, sometimes less if you can match it with a coupon. A 2 pound bag of dried beans at my Aldi runs about $1.99-$2.49 depending on the type of bean.You can make the equivalent of 8 cans of beans out of 2 pounds of dried beans. That means that soaking and cooking your own beans will cost you between $0.25-$0.31 per can vs. $0.79 for the store canned beans. If you replace just one can of beans per week you can save your family $24.96-$28.08 per year. We usually use about 3 or 4 cans of beans so the savings really start to add up. Every little bit of savings adds up to a big difference in your bottom line.

How to make the beans:

There are two ways to cook dried beans ~ an easy way, and an even easier way. :)

On the stovetop:
  • Pour the bag of beans in a stockpot.
  • Cover the beans completely with water and put a lid on the pot. Let it sit to soak for 6-8 hours. 
  • Dump the beans into a colander or fine mesh strainer and give them a rinse. Also do a quick rinse of your pot to ensure that any dirt or grit is removed.
  • Put the beans back into the pot. Cover the beans with enough water to be about 2" above the level of the beans.
  • Put the lid back on and turn your burner on high.
  • Bring the beans to a rolling boil, and then turn them down to medium.
  • Let them cook until the beans are tender (at least 1 hour).
  • You may add salt at this point. DO NOT add salt before this point or it will keep the beans rock hard. I learned the hard way. ;) I typically don't add salt because I'm adding them to soup or another dish that has salt in it already.
  • Drain the beans. Let them cool completely in the strainer.
  • Scoop 1 1/2 c. of the cooked beans into a zip top baggie. Squeeze all the air out before sealing, seal it and then lay it flat. Store them stacked in your freezer.
Slow cooker method:
  • Pour the bag of beans into a large colander or fine mesh strainer. Give the beans a good rinse and do a quick sort to make sure no rocks or other large debris are present.
  • Put the rinsed beans into your slow cooker and fill to the top with water. I have a 6 qt. slow cooker and 2 pounds fits just perfectly.
  • Put the lid on and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 7-8 hours, depending on how hot your slow cooker gets.
  • Once cooked, you may add salt if desired.
  • Drain the beans and let them cook completely.
  • Scoop 1 1/2 c. of the cooked beans into a zip top baggie. Squeeze all the air out before sealing, seal it and then lay it flat. Store them stacked in your freezer.
It is really that easy! Give it a try and enjoy the savings in your grocery budget.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 10/28-11/3/13

Wondering how to or why you should meal plan? Read this first.

Here is what we will be eating for dinner this week:

Monday: Taco Salad with Spanish rice, salsa, black beans, corn salsa

Tuesday: Sweet and Spicy Stir-fry (We had this last week but my husband loved it so much he requested to have it again this week. Just a note, this is SUPER spicy, so if you don't like spice, be sure to tune the sriracha WAY DOWN or omit it all together. We love spice, and thought it was hot.)

Wednesday: Minestrone Soup with rolls (These rolls are AMAZING!!! This recipe makes a lot, so if you have a smaller family, cut the recipe in half or freeze some for later)

Thursday: Lasagna with salad and leftover rolls from Wednesday

Friday: Homemade Pizza with fresh veggies

Saturday: Dinner with friends while we watch the UofM/MSU game! I'm just bringing drinks.

Sunday: Appetizer night at small group and I'm bringing bean dip and chips. I'll be using the leftover salsa from Monday, and making refried beans to use in the dip.

Happy eating and have a great week everyone!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Frugal Friday: Make Your Own Seasonings

One way to save a bit of money on your grocery bill each week is to make things from scratch that you would normally buy prepackaged. Not only will you be saving money, but you'll also be serving your family healthier items by cutting out all the preservatives and additives that are in prepackaged food. It's kind of frightening all the junk they put in there.

One of the easiest things you can make is your own seasoning blends. Typically you already have most, if not all of the spices in your cabinet, you just need to mix them yourself.

My favorite seasoning mix to make at home is taco seasoning. Here is an easy, inexpensive recipe.

Taco Seasoning
  • 1/2 c. chili powder
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 T. garlic powder
  • 1 T. cumin
  • 1 T. oregano
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 t. pepper
Mix all ingredients in an air tight container. Use 2 tablespoons as substitute for 1 packet of taco seasoning. This makes the equivalent of 6 taco seasoning packets. Stays good for up to 6 months stored at room temperature. I purchase all my spices (well the ones that I can) at Aldi.

Savings Break Down:
  • Chili Powder - $.48
  • Onion Powder - $.06
  • Garlic Powder - $.06
  • Cumin - $.06
  • Oregano - $.06
  • Paprika - $.02
  • Salt - $.02
  • Pepper - $.04
  • Total - $.80 vs. $4.74  ($.79 each) for 6 Store Bought Packets
This breaks down to be $.13 per serving by making it yourself. That is a savings of $.56 per packet. Now I know that doesn't sound like a ton of money but if you make tacos just once a week for a year that adds up to be a savings of $29.12! All the little ways of saving add up. Plus you'll be saving your family from having to eat the nasty additives and chemicals that are in the prepackaged packs.

Here are some more seasonings you can make at home.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kitchen Tip: Don't throw away those peels!

Citrus season is coming! I for one am very excited because I LOVE grapefruit and oranges. The winter is typically the time you can find citrus produce at it's cheapest and tastiest.

About nine months ago I came across an article that told how to make a household disinfectant cleaner using citrus peels (any variety you choose) and white vinegar. Super cheap and super easy! I gave it a try and I'm never going back to conventional cleaners. Now for those of you who are wondering if vinegar actually kills germs, yes it does. It's been used for years and years as a natural disinfectant.

What you will need:
  • 16 oz. spray bottle
  • 2 citrus fruits if they are larger, 3 if the fruit are smaller such as lemons
  • White Distilled Vinegar
  • Quart size canning jar, or a similar size container with a lid
  • A funnel (not entirely necessary, just makes it easier)

To make the cleaner:
  • Select which type of citrus to use. I typically use grapefruit, but have used orange too and loved that.
  • Peel the fruit and put it in the bottom of the canning jar.
  • Pour white distilled vinegar over top until the container is full.
  • Put the lid on it and leave it sitting on your counter for 2 weeks. You don't have to do a thing, just let it marinate together.
  • Once your 2 weeks is up, remove the lid and pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer (colander) into a mixing bowl.
  • Grab the funnel and pour the liquid into the 16 oz. spray bottle.
  • Voila, your cleaner is complete!
Note: DO NOT use this cleaner if you have a stone surface counter such as granite, etc... However you can use it on other hard surfaces.

Price Breakdown:
  • 2 Grapefruit - $1.25
  • 16 oz. bottle - FREE (I waited until one of my other cleaning bottles were empty)
  • White Distilled Vinegar - $.23 for 16 oz.
  • TOTAL - $1.48 for an all natural cleaner (plus you got to enjoy the fruit too!)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to Tuesday: Meal Planning

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I know meal planning can seem very overwhelming and honestly it can be if you let it, but it doesn't have to be. I've been meal planning consistently for about 5 years and let me tell you it has made a difference in my grocery budget, my time and my sanity.

So why meal plan?
  • It quells the "Mom (or Babe) what's for dinner tonight?" chorus that you hear each day. I finally got sick of saying "I have no idea". This gives them a definitive answer and they don't need to ask again. Check one for my sanity. :)
  • You no longer have the "5pm panic" of what's for dinner. We've all been there...the kids are whining, your stomach is growling, nothing sounds good and your husband is headed home from work and you don't have a flipping clue what you're going to make for dinner. Meal plan to the rescue!
  • By having a plan and sticking to it (sometimes that's the hardest part, can I get an amen?) your need to eat out or order takeout will lessen. Now don't get me wrong, I love to eat out as much as the next girl but it is so dang expensive!! Eating at home is so much cheaper, and typically healthier too.
So how do I meal plan?
  • Make a list of your family's favorite 25 meals. If you're struggling with that many, try 15. If you can't find that many, then you need a date with Pinterest. :)
  • Grab your calendar and see what's happening that week. Take into account what activities you have going that week. For example, if you know that you won't have much time to cook a dinner one night, utilize the Crockpot that night.
  • Decide what day you're going to grocery shop. I always grocery shop on Sunday. I love to grocery shop, but I loathe grocery shopping on Sunday because everyone and their dog is at the store, but it's the only day I can go without my kids, so I'll take it! I start my meal plan for the day after I go shopping, so my plans run Monday-Sunday.
  • Take a quick inventory of what you already have in your cupboards, fridge and freezer. By utilizing what you already have on hand you're going to save yourself money and time at the grocery store. You can shape at least a few meals based on what you already have.
  • If you're on a budget, which a lot of us are, pull out your sales flyer or look online at the ad. Get a feel for what is on sale that week, then look back at your list of meals and see if there are a couple that you can pair with items on sale. Obviously, you can't buy everything on sale, but every bit helps. If this step overwhelms you skip this step for now and just get planning meals consistently under your belt.
  • Decide what you want to eat this week. Just start by planning 5 dinners and work your way into 7. We usually eat out one night a week and sometimes end up eating leftovers another, so plan accordingly if you do too. And also, consider the season of life you're in. If you have a bunch of little ones or teenagers in a bunch of activities, don't plan elaborate dinners that will take all afternoon to cook. Once you get the hang of it, and if needed, plan breakfast and lunches too.
  • STICK TO YOUR MEAL PLAN!!! I can't emphasize this enough. Also, be thinking about if you need to pull meat out of the freezer, etc... When I first started I would put a note next to the meal on the previous night to pull out ground beef (or whatever it is) for tomorrow. That way you're ready to go and don't have to bail on your plan.
  • Give yourself grace. Remember it is going to take time to get the hang of things. Life happens, kids get sick, unexpected company comes to town, etc... Even if you only stick to your plan 3 days a week, that's progress. Just by having a plan you'll be leaps and bounds ahead of where you were before.
Okay, so that was a lot to digest, but just take it one step at a time. Just do it, your stomach and sanity will thank you! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 10/21-10/27/13

Here is a list of this week's meals. I don't really plan for breakfast or lunch but these are a sampling of what we do for those two meals.

Breakfasts: cereal, oatmeal, toast, scrambled eggs, yogurt, pancakes
Lunches: sandwiches, quesadillas, salad, cut up fruits and veggies, leftovers
Snacks: cut up fruits and veggies, Wasa Rye Crackers with Laughing Cow cheese, popcorn, nuts, Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffin

Monday: Burritos - Spanish rice, chicken breast flavored with taco seasoning, green peppers and onions, refried beans, salsa

Tuesday: Sweet & Sour Chicken with broccoli and brown rice

Wednesday: White Bean and Quinoa Soup

Thursday: Creamy Kale Spaghetti Squash (I will be substituting spinach for kale, and artichokes for sun-dried tomatoes because that's what I have on hand)

Friday: Crockpot Chicken Taco Chili

Saturday: Homemade pizza with fresh veggies (this is the BEST dough E.V.E.R.!) We literally eat this every week!

Sunday: We have small group at church this night and I signed up to bring a pasta dish. I will be bringing Baked Parmesan Spaghetti.


Hi and welcome!! I hope this blog will help you not only plan your meals more effectively, but also help you learn some tips and techniques that will help you around the kitchen. If you have a question about something in the kitchen, let me know and I'll do my best to answer. I am by NO MEANS a chef, just a homemaker who loves to cook, provide healthy meals for my family and learn new things. Come along as we learn together....