November 25, 2012

Healthy Meals Recipe No. 1

I had a request to post some of the recipes for healthy meals in hurry that I received when I attended a seminar that our local extension office sponsored.  The idea behind this workshop was that we can put healthy meals on the table even when we have a lot to do in our schedule.  These meals can be prepared and cooked right away or frozen for later use.

Here is Recipe No. 1 and it is for Broccoli Chicken Rice Casserole.

3/4 cup instant brown rice
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon margarine
1/3 cup dry soup mix (see recipe that follows)
1 1/4 cups water
1 - 16 oz. pkg. frozen broccoli florets or chopped broccoli
2 cups chopped cooked chicken *
1 cup reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese

Prepare the rice according to package directions.  In a Dutch oven or deep pan, cook onion in margarine over medium to low heat until golden.  Add dry cream soup mix to pan, stirring to mix well.  Stir in water.  Heat to boiling.  Cook and stir until thick.

Add frozen broccoli, cooked chicken and cooked rice.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is nearly heated through.  Add cheese and heat until melted.  Internal temperature should register 165 degrees.

* 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts makes about 2 2/3 cups chopped cooked chicken.

You can freeze this recipe after you assemble it.  To serve, thaw and reheat in the oven or on the stove.

This casserole was served to us for lunch and it was in a casserole dish and they had sprinkled the cheese on top and heated it in the oven (350 degrees preheated oven) until the center of the casserole reached the desired temperature.  This was served with canned apricots, tossed salad and brownies.  

To make the brownies they took a dark chocolate brownie mix and added 1 can of pumpkin to the dry mix and mixed well.  Then bake per the package directions.  Yes, just 2 ingredients.  When they were cool they sprinkled the top of the brownies with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar.  

I have to tell you that this casserole was delicious and filling.  I am sure that you could easily substitute leftover turkey for the chicken.  The brownies were very good and it was nice to have a chocolate fix.

Here is the recipe for the dry soup mix.  I have always wanted to try this recipe ever since I saw it in one of my Tightwad Gazette books, but I always worried that it wouldn't taste as good and would be a waste of money.  Well, I can attest that it was delicious in the casserole.  I plan to use it instead of the canned version as it is definitely healthier and I know what the ingredients are that go into the soup mix.  Nothing hard to pronounce in the ingredient list.

Dry Soup Mix

2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sodium free dry chicken bouillon
2 tablespoon dried minced onion flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Place in a storage container and seal tightly.  Store in a cool dry place for up to six months.  Stir or shake well before each use.  To use as a substitute for 1 can of condensed soup, mix 1/3 cup dry mix with 1 1/4 cups of water.  Cook and stir on stove top until thickened.  This makes the soup in the condensed soup form as it would come out of the can.  

November 21, 2012

November is Stock Up Month

By this time most years I have stocked my pantry with enough baking supplies for an entire year.  This year has been pretty much the same except that I have had to be really savvy when it came to sales.  Over the past few years, beginning at the end of October and through the second week in December, we were flooded with all sorts of sales on chocolate chips and other types of baking chips.  This year there were two weeks of sales on these items and that was it.  I'm glad I went ahead and  bought plenty during that time frame.  

Not only have baking items been on sale but there have been the sales on canned and frozen vegetables, canned fruits, canned broths, soups and of course turkey.  I have also been fortunate to snag some good deals on beef roasts and hamburger.  My freezer is stocked, my pantry is stocked and I have plenty of paper products too.  I have enough laundry products to last a year.  I even have two hams in the freezer for Christmas.  

So what's the big deal?  In three weeks we will be "empty nesters."  In other words, it will be just me and my husband.  My goal is to buy very few groceries over the next 3 months.  The only groceries I will be purchasing will be perishables.  The rest I have on hand and will make meals from these ingredients.

I need to do a complete inventory of what is in my freezer and pantry and I will post that inventory.  Then I will post what we are eating and what groceries I purchase.  I'm excited about doing this because I have saved money on buying items on sale and stocking up, and I will be saving time by not having to buy a lot of groceries each week.  Planning and actually buying groceries can take up some time if you are using coupons, searching the ads and then planning a trip.  I'm also looking forward to the convenience of having the majority of what I need right here in my own home.

November 17, 2012

Where have I been ??

I have just completed two weeks of busyness that is finally over.  I had a women's group meeting that I planned and led.  We made Christmas tree ornaments and in order to save time I did all the prep work which took a few days.  I prepared a meal of homemade baked macaroni and cheese, salad and pumpkin streusel coffee cake to a group of around 25 people and then I took the remaining food to elderly members of our church.  There have been committee meetings at church to attend and plan.  I have filled in at the library when some employees had to be gone.  I'm trying to look back over the past two weeks and there were more activities that I took part in and it was two weeks of rushing and definitely over the top things to get done..

I attended a seminar at our local County Extension office on healthy meals in minutes and I am now attempting to cut the sodium in my diet and am going to make as many things as practical from scratch.  And then there was yesterday at noon when all my commitments ended and I got to go with my husband to Des Moines to Living History Farms for him to pick up his race packet for a cross country race that he is running right now.  A fun drive of 1 hour, just him and I, talking and enjoying each other's uninterrupted conversation and then a nice lunch in at the "Machine Shed" restaurant.  Then it was off to browse books at Barnes and Noble.  

Barnes and Noble is one of those places that have happy memories for our family.  About twice a year we would take a Saturday and drive to Des Moines to Barnes and Noble.  That was back when I was working and with two incomes it was nothing for us to spend at least $200 for our fill of books.  When we walked into Barnes and Noble yesterday I instantly was taken aback by the sudden happiness I was feeling.  It was the music, the displays of books and the smell of coffee and treats.  There is just something about it.  I looked at several books, making a list of several, so I could check and see if our library (yes the one that I now work at on Saturday afternoons) carries any of the titles.  It was an enjoyable hour of nostalgia and then it was time to get on the road and get home to feed our dogs.  

But wait, there's more.  My youngest son and I decided at 8:00 p.m. last night to drive around our community stopping at every convenience and grocery store looking for Twinkies.  With the Hostess company going bankrupt and with the good possibility that Twinkies will no longer be made, we decided that we needed one last Twinkie.  We were able to find two packages at our last stop.  Now, I haven't had a Twinkie in years because they are junk food and high in calories, but I just had to have one last one as a remembrance of my childhood.  So, we each had a package and we went home to eat them.  I have to say that they must have tasted better when I was a kid because I could have easily stopped after one bite.  Then I remembered that when I was a kid my mom couldn't afford the real Twinkies and we bought a cheaper competitor's brand that is still now being produced, which tastes better.  Oh well, it was fun to drive around in my husband's truck with my 19 year old son on a quest for Twinkies.

Now, it's over.  

I have the next 5 days to get ready for Thanksgiving and I have 5 weeks to prepare for Christmas.  I have already purchased 2 turkeys for the holidays.  A few good deals were to be found this week adn I have purchased nearly everything I need for baking goodies.  I need a sale on M & M's and then I am set to bake.  

I don't know how I did it, but I effectively got my schedule cleared in order to have time to prepare and celebrate the upcoming holidays AND BLOG!!!!!

November 09, 2012

When you're out of laundry detergent . . . .

. . . and you don't have the money to buy any.

Here is a tip for if you are out of laundry detergent and you need to do laundry but you don’t have the money to buy laundry detergent.  Find whatever soap you have on hand.  This could be bath bar soap, soft hand soap, shampoo or dish soap.  Many times just water will get your clothes clean unless you have been rolling around in mud and grease.  For an example let’s say you have soft soap hand soap on hand.  Gather your clothes and look them over for any possible stains or dirt.  Take a little soap and rub it into any stain.  For any shirts, blouses or tops, dab a little soap on the underarms as this will aid in stain removal and under arm odor.  Again use just a dab on the stains or underarms as soft soap will have a lot of suds when the water starts to agitate. 

Take about 1/8 cup of the soft soap (around 2 tablespoons) and mix it with some warm water to dissolve and pour this into your washing machine.  Start the water on the machine and add the clothes.  Then set your cycle so that it is on a longer timed wash.  Let the clothes wash and agitate for as long as possible.  It is the water and the agitation that will help to get the clothes clean. 

This is something that will work in a pinch BUT the next time you buy laundry detergent on sale, you may consider buying an extra bottle and set it aside for a rainy day when money is extremely tight.

photo credit: jim212jim via photopin cc

Preparing for the "Immediate" Future

The presidential election is over.  Thank God.  No matter if your candidate won or lost, it is at least over.  Enough said. 

I feel as if the last two weeks I have been caught up in so much activity and I am tired of it.  I’m tired of being pulled every which way, but it is only for a season.  Next week is busy, but then the busyness will settle down just in time for the holidays.

So what have I been up to beyond the busyness?  Stocking up.  I have been clipping coupons and searching for coupon on line to match up with grocery deals.  Last week I was able to get some really good buys on granulated sugar, brown sugar and confectioner sugar.  Chocolate chips were on sale and I know that this has nothing to do with baking, but so was toilet paper.  I always stock up on baking supplies at this time of year and I try to buy 6 months to a 1 year supply.  This year I have noticed a significant price increase in those items.  Let’s take chocolate chips for example.  Last year at this time I was able to get Hershey’s baking chips of nearly every flavor for only 98 cents a bag.  This year’s sale price is $1.48 which is good by this year’s prices.  (BTW – I never use a full bag to make chocolate chips – 1 cup of chocolate chips is enough as far as I am concerned for a recipe of cookies.)

The trick to my stocking up this year is that come January 1st my husband and I will be empty nesters.  Our college boarders will be moving back into the dorm and our youngest son has moved into his own apartment.  There is no need to stock up to the level that I did when there were a total of 5 of us living in our home.  So I am finding my way because if I stocked up on anything and didn’t use it or if the food expired or spoiled, that would be a great waste of money.

I have posted many different posts about being prepared for the future.  Now I don’t want to get into a political dialog as I try very hard to keep my political views out of this blog.  However, our country is on the brink of a second financial crisis in 4 years – the Fiscal Cliff.  Let’s not go into the details of what this means as let’s face it, what can you and I do about it anyway?  It is up to Congress and the President to get this resolved before January 1st.  But let’s not bury our heads in the sand either.  While we may not be able to make hands on decisions that affect our country, we can make hands on decisions that affect ourselves and our families.

Four years ago there were people who wished they would have been prepared for what was coming as they weren’t prepared for the economic crisis.  Here is what I recommend to be prepared now.

If you don’t have money in savings and if you don’t have extra food on hand such as in a pantry or freezer, you need to start today.  I don’t care if it is only a few dollars a week, set it aside and don’t touch it for any frivolous purchase.  Make a list of what basic foods you use and what foods you can us to make a lot of meals and stock up on those items.  You can eat cheap, nutritious meals – just take some time to plan.   

Rice, cornmeal, oatmeal, flour, sugar, yeast, baking powder, baking soda, salt, dried beans, canned vegetables, soups, broths are good places to begin.  These are the basis to many meals.  As to meat, you will be able to find turkey on sale at this time of year and other types of poultry.  Look for other possible sales on meat to see what value you can get for the protein that you will need. 

Now, I’m not saying that you need to go out and purchase 40 lbs. of meat as many people don’t have that extra money around nor am I saying you need to go out and purchase 50 lbs. of flour right now.  I’m saying that when you go to buy that 5 lb. bag of flour that is on sale, you may consider buying 1 or 2 extra bags to set aside.  The same is true with canned vegetables and soup.  At this time of year you will find these items on sale at good prices.  If you normally would buy 4 cans, buy 8 and set 4 aside. 

Make it a goal to, at a minimum, keep 2 to 4 weeks supply of food on hand for a “rainy day.” 

Don’t forget your pets.  If there is a sale on the pet food that you normally buy, pick up an extra bag to set aside (take note of the expiration date). 

Set aside a few dollars for gap food money.  Gap food money is money you have set aside to fill in the gaps for your emergency meals.  This money, for example, pays for the meat that you may need to make a meal out of what you have in your pantry.  

photo credit: la fattina via photopin cc