Monday, August 30, 2010

Deciding on A Grocery Budget: Step Two

Now that you have a list of meals and grocery items that you'd like to incorporate into your monthly menu, it's time to find out how much everything is going to cost. This is my list that I came up with a couple of years ago when I did this for myself. Some things are slightly out of date- but still shows a good representation of the cost of food. There are a lot of things on this list that are cheaper now, like grains. There are also several items that are more expensive, like canned goods. Overall, I've noticed that on average groceries are substantially cheaper right now than they were two years ago. Remember when wheat went up to $30 for a 45lb bucket?! You can now buy it for about $14/bucket. Phew! But keep in mind, food is definitely on the rise again, so now is a good time to stock up.
So on to Step Two:

Make a Master Price List

Food Prices 2

Just in case you've never made a price list for every little grocery item that you buy before. here are some pointers. First, gather all of your receipts. Anything at all that may have any type of grocery item on it. If you haven't been saving them then start now! By saving your receipts you will not only be able to keep track of food prices, but you'll be able to see just how much you are currently spending on groceries. I know I've asked a lot of people how much they spend each month and there are quite a few who didn't even know. Write down everything, even if it's not a regular purchase.
If you are one who normally writes out a shopping list already, then start saving those and fill in the prices of food as you cross them off your list. You could even just bring a pen and notepad with you to the store. When you see an item that you normally (or even occasionally) purchase, write down the price per ounce or pound or however you normally buy it.
Also make a notation whether the price is a "normal" price or not. Normal to me is always a sale because with some careful planning, you'll never have to buy anything that's not on sale. I can usually count on ground beef, for example, going on sale somewhere for aout $2/pound at least once per month, so that's the price I use on my list.
Once you've started keeping track of prices, make sure you have a way to organize your information that's easy for you. I just make a table on my word processor which makes it easy to delete and add rows as necessary. Excel would be easy too. I just don't have it, therefor I do not use it. I know... ridiculous...
In addition to my computer file, I print a copy to keep in my grocery folder. This way I can bring the list with me on grocery trips and update prices as I go. I can also use it to gauge the quality of a sale. Is it a deal or a steal? Nothing else will do!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Zucchini Lasagna

Wow, I'm just terrible sometimes at remembering to take a picture! This is an old standby recipe that I use at the end of every Summer to use up some zucchini. I also make it because it's delicious... (We LOVE zucchini around here!) In fact when I make this one, if I have enough squash, I make several to freeze so I can enjoy this yummy recipe even when zucchini is so expensive over the winter.

Zucchini Lasagna
2 large zucchini
1 tablespoon salt
1 pound ground beef
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
1 cup tomato paste
1 (16 ounce) can tomato sauce
1/4 cup Marsala cooking wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
hot water as needed
1 egg
1 (16 ounce) container low-fat cottage cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
10 ounces chopped greens (I use chard because that's what I have in my garden but you may also use frozen spinache, thawed and drained or any other green)
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (I substitute canned, drained, if fresh are too expensive)
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a deep 9x13 inch baking pan. Slice zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices. Sprinkle slices lightly with salt; set aside to drain in a colander. To prepare the meat sauce, cook and stir ground beef and black pepper in a large skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Add in green pepper and onion; cook and stir until meat is no longer pink. Stir in tomato sauce, wine, basil, and oregano. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer sauce for about 20 minutes or until desired consistency, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, stir egg, cottage cheese,  and parsley in a bowl until well combined.

To assemble lasagna: spread 1/2 of the meat sauce into the bottom of prepared pan. Then layer 1/2 the zucchini slices, 1/2 the ricotta mixture, all of the spinach, followed by all of the mushrooms, then 1/2 the mozzarella cheese. Repeat by layering the remaining meat sauce, zucchini slices, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella. Spread Parmesan cheese evenly over the top; cover with foil.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil; raise oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

To freeze: assemble as directed into a prepared foil pan or line a 9x13 pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. Allow to freeze solid then remove foil "pan" from 9x13 dish and cover completely with an airtight seal of heavy duty aluminum foil. If you are using a foil pan you may wrap the entire thing before freezing solid.
To reheat: Allow to thaw overnight in your refrigerator. Cook as directed above except increase initial baking time to 60 minutes. If you forget to thaw overnight, you can add it frozen to the oven, but then be sure to at least double baking time while lasagna is covered.

**If I'm short on time when I'm preparing this recipe, I use some of my pre-made sauce that I keep in the freezer.

Deciding on A Grocery Budget: Step One

A friend of mine recently commented to me that she's perused my blog, looked at tips and recipes and still couldn't figure out just how I make it all work for the budget amount I use (which is about $250/month for our family). So I decided to clear things up a little bit and give a step-by-step tutorial on just what I did to make things work for us.Who knows, maybe it will help you too! I've added a seperate label that should help to keep things in order, since I can't promise to make consecutive posts on this subject. I will try to finish them as soon as possible, but I'm sure I'll be adding recipes once in a while in between posts.

Step One: Make A List of Your Favorites

Before you decide on a budget amount, you need to stop and think about what's truly reasonable for your family at this point. You don't want to go from eating like a king to eating rice and beans. Your goal should be to eat like a king without having to pay a king's ransom!
So first you need to decide what's important to you in your menu. What do you love to eat? Make a list of your favorite meals including when you go out to eat. Does your family love snacks and dessert? Don't forget to add those to the list!
Here's a list that my family uses. Of course it's a work in progress. We add things all the time and even take things off the list as our tastes change.  As I try new recipes, my family votes on whether or not they make "the list." If it falls short, it is promptly discarded... unless of course I veto the vote, which is my right as a mother. Overall, this is a good guide and gives me great ideas when I'm planning my menu. This list is not all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be. But it is a good starting point and everybody needs to start somewhere, right?


Baked Spaghetti
Beef Stew
BBQ Pork
Chef Salad
Chicken and Broccoli
Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
Chicken Casserole
Chicken Enchiladas
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Parmesan
Chicken Pot Pie
Chicken Stir-fry
Chicken and Stuffing
Chili Verde
Cobb Salad
Company Casserole
Corned Beef & Cabbage
Eggs Fu-Yung
Egg Sandwiches
Egg Drop Soup
Enchilada Casserole
Flat Bread Sandwiches
Fried Rice
Golden Chicken
Ham & Beans
Lemon Pepper Chicken
Macaroni And Cheese
Mini Pizzas
Navajo Tacos
Pintos, Rice and Cheese
Red Beans and Rice
Sloppy Joes
Shepherd Pie
Stuffed Peppers
Sunday Dinners
Swedish Meatballs
Taco Casserole
Taco Pizza
Tortilla Soup
Vegetable Beef Soup
Vegetable Lasagna
Zucchini Bake

Notice "the list" consists only of dinners. Two reasons why.. One: Dinner is the most expensive meal. It's easy for me to add breakfasts as needed without a big upset to my budget so I don't do as much planning for them. Lunches are usually just leftovers from the previous night's dinner so nothing fancy needed there either. And Two: My family HATES having breakfast for dinner. I totally love it though, so should I ever find myself familyless in my days ahead I will have to have breakfast for dinner every night to make up for the past decade or so. So basically I plan my biggest expense first. Then I add in my "Extras" list. These are things that my family loves to have but can go without if necessary.


Ice Cream
Cheese Sticks
Other Desserts

Ok, so the extras list looks pretty short for us. Keep in mind, though, crackers means ALL crackers and so on. A good way to start making your list is to think back on what your family has eaten for the past few weeks. Also peruse your grocery receipts if you keep them (which you should) to see what other things you've been buying. If it's something that comes up often then it should probably be on the list. Now get busy with making your list while I work on my next post!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Banana Bread and Banana Bread Bites

When my sister came to town a couple of weeks ago she brought with her about 3 lbs of overripe bananas knowing I could (and would) turn them into something yummy. Naturally we chose banana bread. This is a recipe from my mother-in-law that I've adapted over the past several years to my own taste and, in my opinion at least, it is hands-down the best banana bread ever!

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup NF dry milk powder (If you like it sweeter, omit milk and use 3/4 cup sugar instead)
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 medium mashed bananas
1/2 cup LF plain yogurt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add bananas, yogurt, eggs and dry milk and blend well. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt and stir into banana mixture until moistened. Fold in nuts and chocolate chips. Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in the pan; remove and cool completely.

Of course having 3 lbs of bananas allowed me to do a double double batch of this recipe. Nobody complained about having so much banana bread around, but to make things interesting I turned 2 loaves worth of the mix into some yummy Banana Bread Bites by using my mini-muffin tins.

Banana Bread Bites

Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Grease 1 mini muffin tin (should make at least 24 mini muffins). Use the above recipe for mixture. Add about 1 teaspoonful mixture into each mini muffin cup filling it about 2/3 full. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before removing from pan or they will fall apart!

Cregg's BBQ Sauce, BBQ Pulled Pork

My sister's family came to visit us a couple of weeks ago and while they were here my brother-in-law shared his recipe for his BBQ sauce. This is some of the most delicious sauce you will ever have on your BBQ so it would be a crime not to share it! The night that he shared his sauce with us, I grilled some chicken and pork loin to go with it. That's right, we had some meat with our sauce. It's that good. You'll grill just so you can have something to go with your sauce! The rest of the sauce I used a few days later as BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches. YUM!

Cregg's Delicious BBQ Sauce (aka the best sauce ever)

1 1/2 cups tart berries (He usually uses blackberries, but we subbed in rasberries)
24 oz tomato paste
1 1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cayenne pepper
6 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp black pepper
1/4 cup vinegar
2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt

Puree berries in a food processor or blender. If you'd like, strain the berries through cheese cloth to remove seeds. We didn't do this, but I would suggest this step if you don't like the crunch of the seeds. In a large bowl, combine berries with remaining ingredients. Add more cayenne pepper if you like it HOT or less if you like it mild. Use this sauce over grilled meat, as a marinade or add 3-4 cups of it in your slow cooker with a 2-3 pound pork roast. This recipe makes about 8 cups.

Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork

4-5 cups Cregg's BBQ Sauce
2-3 lb pork loin roast

Add pork roast to a large slow-cooker. Pour BBQ sauce over top of the roast, filling slow-cooker at least half way up the side of the roast (about 4 cups). Cook on LOW 7 hours. Shred pork with a large fork and return to cooker. Cook an additional 1-2 hours on LOW. Serve on toasted buns with a slice of sharp provolone cheese.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Very Own Bountiful Basket

All Summer long I've been waiting for the week when I didn't have to actually buy produce and could just go pick it from my garden. For at least the last month I've kept saying, "Maybe next week.." And now the next week is finally here! My garden is finally starting to feed us. What a weird season we've had this year! I have to say, though, it was totally strange not to go online last night and order my basket from
So today in my "basket" I got

8 lb tomatoes
1 cantaloupe
1 lb tomatillos
1 lb anaheim peppers
6 large bell peppers
2 dozen jalapenos
1 dozen onions
1 lb carrots
3 lb potatoes
2 lb green beans
handful of rasberries
handful of strawberries
3 bulbs garlic
1/2 lb yellow pear tomatoes
3 zucchini
1 monster zucchini (whoops!)
3 white scallop squash
2 yellow scallop squash
2 pumpkins
1 lb chard

And don't worry, there's PLENTY more where that came from! So this week I will be making: Stuffed Zucchini, Fajitas, Zucchini Lasagna, tomatillo salsa, tomato salsa (for canning), Cuevish, Minestrone soup... and we'll see from there!

Soy beans.. not ready yet but I'm anxious to try them!
Whoops! Sometimes these guys are so perfectly camoflauged they get missed when I'm doing my daily garden pick. Oh well, this will still be great as a stuffed zucchini..
Later this week I also want to start adding some more budgeting tips. I have lots of really great charts and tables that are really helpful for planning your menu and your budget. I just need to figure out a pdf document and I'll be all set!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sugar Lime Cookies

My Mellissa is so cute (my 3 year old). Every morning she wakes up and as she is walking down the stairs with the cutest little smile on her face she says, "Hi mommy! What are we making today?" A few days ago the answer to that question was sugar cookies.

Sugar cookies have always been and will always be my favorite. But not just any sugar cookie. It needs to be soft and moist with just the right amount of frosting (the frosting also must be either sour cream or cream cheese frosting- nothing else will do). For this cookie I experimented a little with a couple limes I had hanging around in my refrigerator. 

Sugar Lime Cookie

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dry powdered NF milk
3 eggs
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
zest from two limes

Cream together butter, sugar and dry milk. Add eggs and mix until smooth. Grate the zest from the limes directly into the mixing bowl. Add salt and soda. Mix thoroughly. Add flour 1 cup at a time while slowly mixing until all the flour is incorporated. At this point you can cover bowl and refrigerate dough for about 2 hours so you can roll it out or do as I do and just drop dough by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your spoon or with a fork. Bake at 375 F for 8 minutes. Allow to cool and then frost if desired.
Sour Cream Lime Frosting

juice from 2 limes
1 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
3-5 cups powdered sugar
(I like my frosting more like a glaze so I use less sugar)

Combine lime juice, butter and sour cream in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until you reach desired consistency. Refrigerate leftover frosting for later use.

Friday, August 20, 2010

German Chocolate Cake Mix TIMES SIX!!!

Yes... what you heard about me is true. Sometimes I DO use a mix from a box...

So every Friday at Mike's work is treat day. They all take turns bringing enough treats for everybody and today is Mike's day. No problem, treats are my specialty! I asked him what he wanted to bring and he tells me: Cream Cheese Nut Cake. Ok... that means a trip to the store... in the pouring rain... No... problem.
So I get home and start working on putting everything together. I was working on the cream cheese mixture and my 15-year-old says he wants to mix the cake part. Awesome! Naturally I needed to make a double batch which requires two cake mixes so I reminded him a couple of times to double the ingredients as he's mixing the batter. Now time for the final stir to check his work... Wow! His cake batter was a bowl full of oily goop! So I ask him "How much oil did you put into this??" To which he replies: "3 cups. I doubled it just like you said."
The doubled amount of oil should have been 1 cup. He'd read it wrong and thought the box said 1 1/2 cups instead of 1/2 cup... So to fix the problem I had to haul up another FOUR cake mixes from downstairs, not to mention my GIANT mixing bowl. I then set out to bake for the rest of my day. Lucky me. Or more approprietly, lucky family! At first I had thought to try out a few different recipes with my gallons of cake batter... but after 4 cakes and a sheet of cupcakes I turned the rest into plain ol' cake to be frozen for later use.
Here's a run down of what I made:
Cake #1 (and #2)
It was on the back of the box, so of course I had to try it. They look really good, but I haven't actually tasted them yet. I'm trying to decide right now if I should just give them away instead of cutting into them. I mean, ugh, every bite of that monster equals about 2 dozen sit-ups and a 45 minute run. In fact, I didn't even dare take a picture of the beast! (Maybe I will before I give it away... we'll see what happens.)
In case you can't read my blurry picture, here's the recipe for the Better Than Almost Anything Cake:

1 German Chocolate Cake mix, with eggs, water and oil called for on box
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 16 oz jar caramel or butterscotch topping  (I didn't use this. I didn't have any and frankly I assumed I had enough sugar in this thing already)
1 container Fluffly White Frosting (I made my own) or
  1 8 oz tub of frozen whipped topping, thawed (3 cups)
1 cup toffee chips or bits

Heat oven to 350 F (325 for dark or nonstick pan). Bake cake as directed in a 13x9 inch pan. Cool 15 minutes. Poke cake every 1/2 inch with the top of a wooden spoon. Drizzle sweetened condensed milk evenly over top of cake. Let stand until milk has absorbed into cake. Drizzle with caramel topping. Refrigerate 2 hours until cake is chilled. Spread frosting over top of cake. Sprinkle with toffee chips. Store covered in refrigerator.

Cake # 3

Peanut Butter Cake

1 German Chocolate Cake mix with eggs, water, and oil called for on box
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup chopped peanuts

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare cake mix as directed on box. Grease and flour a 9x13 pan. Pour cake batter into pan. Now in a seperate bowl mix peanut butter, sugar, egg and 1 cup chocolate chips. Glob peanut butter mixture evenly over cake. Without touching the bottom of the pan, swirl a butter knife through each blob of peanut butter to distribute it throughout the cake. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips and nuts on top. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool completely and cut into squares.

Cake #4

Cream Cheese Cake

1 German Chocolate cake mix with eggs, water, and oil called for on box

1 egg
1 cup chocolate chips
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare cake mix as directed on box. Grease and flour a 9x13 pan. Pour cake batter into pan. Now in a seperate bowl mix cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, egg and 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Glob mixture evenly over cake. Without touching the bottom of the pan, swirl a butter knife through each glob to distribute it throughout the cake. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips and nuts on top. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool completely and cut into squares.

Cream Cheese Cupcakes Cupcakes

Meh, I'm tired of writing... read the above recipe. Grease a muffin tin. Fill each cup 1/3 full with cake mix. Drop cream cheese mixture by tablespoonful on top of cake mix. Sprinkle with nuts and chocolate chips.

The remaining cake batter turned into three 9 inch cake rounds and three 3 inch cake rounds. I let them cool, wrapped them in plastic wrap and slipped them into freezer bags then deposited them into the freezer for upcoming birthdays. The end... now to finish cleaning my kitchen....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chicken Zucchini Bake

Here we are, another month gone by. My bedroom is making progress, although it's been slow this past couple of weeks. I've finished my quilt (I'll never make a king-sized quilt again! Holy cow!) painted the nightstands, purchased a headboard, made a few decorative pillows, and rearranged furniture. Now all I need to do is paint and put it all together. The problem with painting is that I spent all the rest of my grocery money last month on... well, groceries! Since I've been trying to cut back and pay for all my improvements out of the grocery budget that means painting will have to wait until next pay day. Which is almost upon us, hooray!
Last night's dinner was a fun one for me to make. I just went into the kitchen and got creative! I started off making pizza crusts because my 5-year-old has been begging for pizza for the past week or so. But then, looking in the refrigerator and seeing all my eggs and zucchini staring back at me changed my mind about just a simple pizza. I was also feeling hot and icky yesterday so turning on the oven was the last thing I wanted to do. I made my dinner on the grill, but it would work in the oven as well. Here's what I made:

Chicken Zucchini Bake

1 prepared pizza crust recipe
1 Tbsp mustard powder
1 Tbsp honey
3/4 cup white sauce mix
3/4 cup water
4 cups sliced zucchini
1 large onion, sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast meat (I used a pint jar that I'd bottled)
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (175 degrees C) or preheat outdoor grill to 400 (med-high). Generously grease the inside of a large cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup course cornmeal all over skillet. Press the edges of the pizza dough into and up the sides of the pan to make a deep crust. Bake (or in my case, grill) for 12-15 minutes or until edges pull away cleanly from the sides. If you are grilling, the top will not fully brown so be sure not to overcook your crust. Meanwhile, chop and slice your vegetables.Place the zucchini and a few tablespoons of water into a saucepan over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook the zucchini until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set the zucchini aside. Place the onion and pepper in a large skillet with butter over medium heat, and cook and stir until the onion is translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir the cooked zucchini and chicken into the onion, and mix well. Let the mixture heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water, mustard powder, honey and white sauce mix. Allow mixture to boil and thicken. Spread the zucchini mixture in an even layer over the crust. In a bowl, beat the eggs with salt, black pepper, basil, oregano, and garlic powder; pour the egg mixture over the zucchini. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Turn oven to broil on HIGH. Place cast-iron pan into oven a couple inches from top broiler and allow to cook until eggs are set and cheese is browned. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before serving.

I know this recipe looks a little complicated and the ingredient list looks long but it really wasn't too bad. From start to finish (excluding making the pizza dough) this dinner took me less than 30 minutes.

Pizza Crust (made with zucchini of course)

I pack a lunch for my husband every day. He has a nifty little red cooler (I think it was meant for sodas, but a traditional lunch box is just too small for my 6'3" guy) that I fill to the brim with sandwiches and goodies every day. The only problem with our system is that we only have one ice pack and sometimes we forget to put it back in the freezer when he comes home from work. Then I get to rummage through our freezer the next day looking for something that will keep his lunch cold. Yesterday I chose a bag of frozen, shredded zucchini thinking I'd make zucchini bread with it that night. Meh, long story short my waist-line couldn't handle another treat so I added the zucchini into my pizza dough instead. Keep in mind, whenever I cook I always make a lot of food so I can have an easy day later on so this recipe makes a lot of dough. It was easily enough for me to make 5 large pizza crusts.

Green flecked Pizza Crust

3 tbsp Saf-instant yeast
1 Tbsp salt
6 cups whole wheat flour
6 cups Bread flour
2 cup hot water
1/2 cup honey
2 cups shredded zucchini (warm it up don't add it cold)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil

Combine whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add water, honey, zucchini, yogurt and olive oil. Mix thoroughly and allow to rest about 5 minutes. Stir in 4 cups of the remaining flour and mix until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It will still be sticky. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead in remaining 2 cups flour until dough is smooth and elastic. Be sure to knead about 8 minutes. Divide dough into 5 sections. Spray 5 pizza pans with oil and dust each with about 1/4 cup coarse corn meal. Roll each dough section a little larger than each pizza pan. Place dough onto pan and roll edges up slightly to form edge of crust. Cover and let rise 25 minutes. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 400 F for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This is definitely salsa season and I'm happy to say I've finally been able to make some fresh salsa from my own garden produce. MMMmmmm! I'm really terrible about measurements when it comes to salsa and sauces. This is normally how I make salsa:
Chop enough tomatoes to fill your bowl about half to 3/4 full.
Add a little less than half as many onions as tomatoes.
Chop enough peppers to thickly cover everything else in the bowl.
Add an entire bunch of cilantro finely chopped (I love cilantro!)
Sprinkle salt all over the top layer of veggies.
Squeeze a couple limes into the bowl
Add garlic a couple cloves at a time until it tastes right.
Add more salt if it needs it.
Add some ground cumin and chile powder if I feel like it.
Taste again.
Add more stuff if necessary.

Since that's not exactly a coherent recipe for most people I did try to keep track of exactly what I put into my salsa these last few times I've made it. Keep in mind this makes a large batch. If your family doesn't put salsa on everything like we do then you may want to halve everything. Enjoy!

Fresh Salsa

10 cups diced tomatoes (about 5 pounds)
1 1/2 cups finely diced mild peppers (like chiles, bell pepper, banana pepper)
1 cup finely diced jalapeno peppers, seeds removed (substitute for more mild peppers if you don't like spicy)
3 cups chopped onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 tbsp red chile powder, ground
1 tbsp ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp salt
1/2 cup lime juice (fresh squeezed it will be 2-3 limes)

Dice tomatoes and add to a large bowl. I always like to hand chop my tomatoes so they don't become frothy. I also like them to be pretty which is hard to do with a food processor. Remove stems and seeds from peppers. You should wear plastic gloves for this step... I never do, but almost always wish that I had... Coarsley chop onions, peppers, and cilantro. Add to food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add chile powder, ground cumin, garlic, salt and lime juice. Mix to combine everything. Use within 3-5 days.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Turkey Zucchini Meatballs and Swedish Meatballs

"Of course... you had to add zucchini" Betcha can't guess which of my little darlings said that? These are seriously so good, though. Don't trust me.. make them and see for yourself. They are moist and tender and so flavorful. When I make these meatballs, I usually use beef but Summer needs something a little lighter. At least for me... the guys at my house could eat a steak or a burger for dinner every night with no complaints.

For the following recipe feel free to use dried herbs in lieu of the fresh, just be sure to halve the amounts. Fresh herbs can get pricey which is why I love to grow my own!

Turkey Zucchini Meatballs

2 lbs 90% lean ground turkey
1 egg
1 cup zucchini, grated and liquid squeezed out
1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, grated
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped 
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Combine turkey, egg, zucchini, breadcrumbs, garlic, onion, and herbs.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Using a cookie baller (or your hands) form each meatball into a golf ball sized ball. If using your hands, try spraying a little Pam (or just rub some oil) onto your hands before handling the meat. Meat will be sticky. Line a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and arrange meatballs on top. You can place them close together if needed just so long as they aren't touching. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cooked through. Makes about 48 meatballs.

When I make this recipe I like to double, triple, or even quadruple it so I have meatballs available for easy meals later on. To freeze: Allow meatballs to cool completely. Freeze individually on a large cookie sheet and then transfer to zip-top freezer bags in meal-sized portions. To reheat: Reheat in the oven at 350 F for 15-20 minutes or in the microwave for about 3 minutes per dozen. You can also add them to soups, stews, crockpot meals, etc and allow them to re-heat while cooking the rest of your meal. Some of my favorite ways to use meatballs are: Spaghetti & Meatballs, Swedish Meatballs, Meatball Subs, Sliced and used as a pizza topping or Appetizers.

So after making my massive batch of meatballs, I wanted something quick and easy to serve for dinner. It doesn't get much easier than Swedish Meatballs. Especially when you already have all of the ingredients pre-cooked. On Sunday we had roast and mashed potatoes (big surprise for those of you who know me, right?) so I made extra potatoes knowing that I'd use them later in the week. I also had a quart of chicken gravy in my freezer from the last chicken dinner I made. (See! I tell you to save your gravy for a reason!)

Swedish Meatballs

30 meatballs
3-4 cups chicken gravy
2 quarts homestyle mashed potatoes (or you can use cooked egg noodles)
1/2- 1 cup berry preserves

Heat gravy in a 2 qt. sauce pan over medium heat. Add meatballs and allow to cook until heated through. (You can heat them in the microwave to speed things up if you'd like). Meanwhile warm your mashed potatoes. Serve gravy and meatballs over potatoes with a dollop of berry preserves on top if desired. (I always serve my jam on the side so I can mix it into each bite.) Serve with a fresh garden salad.
See how I tell you to serve with a fresh garden salad and then I don't do that? Unfortunately, salad becomes food fight fodder at my house.. which is why I try to sneak veggies into just about everything I cook!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Squash Crust Pizza

Not only does this recipe use a massive amount of Summer squash (Ok, maybe not massive.. but a lot for this year since my garden hasn't been producing zucchini up the wazoo like it normally does) but it tastes great, is a low-carb pizza option, and it is nice and savory for you sweetened squash haters.

Squash Crust Pizza

4 cups shredded Summer squash (like zucchini, yellow crookneck, scallop, etc)
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 large tomato, diced
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tsp basil (even if your Italian seasoning has it in there, I always like to add extra)
1 green bell pepper, chopped

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Place the squash in a colander and sprinkle with salt; let drain for 15 minutes then squeeze out the moisture. Combine the squash, eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1 1/2 cup mozzarella in a large bowl. Press the mixture into a greased 12 inch pizza pan. Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. I used a pizza pan with holes in it so my crust would be sure to get crispy all the way through. Knowing that the zucchini would continue to drain as it was being cooked, I placed a sheet of aluminum foil under the pan (on the next shelf down, not directly under) to catch the drippings.
While the crust is baking, combine the tomato sauce, basil and Italian seasoning. Spoon the sauce mixture over the baked crust. Top with the bell pepper, tomato, onion, crumbled bacon and the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Increase oven temperature to 425. At this point you should be safe to remove the foil from the oven (I did, and everything was fine). Return pizza to the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until heated through. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
I didn't clue my family in that this was a different kind of pizza. Of course they knew once they bit into it, but that way they didn't have any preconceptions. I was a little nervous about how this one would go over. But they all liked it! My husband had three helpings! And even my 14-year-old neice who is a self-proclaimed squash hater licked her plate clean.

Just a note about the crust: I made a few crusts, two for dinner and one to snack on. The snacking crust got cooked a little bit longer until it was nice and crispy. I then broke it up into "crackers" which were promptly devoured by my girls.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Peanut Butter Cookies

A friend of mine turned me onto this blog. I love it. It's going to make me fat. er...

I have a case of peanut butter that I've been rotating this week. Why am I rotating an entire case of peanut butter in a week? Well, we usually don't use very much of it. I'm not a big PB&J person therefor my kids don't get them very often either. However, I do keep my "year-supply" nice and stocked up. Soo... the reason I'm rotating?
1. I have a case of peanut butter on my shelf downstairs that is past it's use-by date.
2. Peanut butter is on sale this week.
3. I don't have enough room on my shelf for the new case plus the old case.

Hence the Peanut Butter Brownie Bites the other day.. (Which is a variation of a recipe from the evil "make-me-fat" blog..)

And for today I tried two different peanut butter recipes. Josh saw me looking at the above mentioned blog the other day and has been bugging me to make these cookies ever since.

5 Ingredient Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

by Leslie Sarna

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients except chocolate chips. When blended, mix in the chocolate chips. Using your fingers, form 1 1/2 inch balls (dough will be very wet and sticky) and place onto an un-greased parchment lined cookie sheet. You don't want to make them too big because they do spread. Bake for 9 minutes. Let the cookies sit on the cookies sheet for about 30 seconds to 1 minute before letting cool on a wire rack. Makes around a dozen small cookies.

Overall these cookies were good but tend to fall apart easily. As far as easy goes, though, these definitely take the cake. In about 10 minutes you can be pulling freshly baked cookies out of the oven... which can't be a bad thing. Well... maybe it is...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Zucchini Brownies

"Zucchini in brownies! Gross mom!"

The words of my 15-year old son when he saw me sneaking 2 cups of shredded zucchini into my brownie bowl. But I went ahead with my plan anyway. After they came out of the oven ...
"These are amazing!" (Ha! told ya so!)

Zucchini Brownies

1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 1/2 cups brownie mix
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

For the frosting:
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup margarine
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. In a large bowl, mix together the brownie mix, oil, eggs, baking soda and zucchini vanilla until well blended. Spread evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until brownies spring back when gently touched. My brownies were done in 28 minutes. To make the frosting, melt together the 6 tablespoons of cocoa and margarine; set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, blend together the confectioners' sugar, milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the cocoa mixture. Spread over cooled brownies before cutting into squares. I actually cut my brownies first so the frosting would goop over the sides when serving. Not as neat, but I love that effect!

Zucchini Cookies

These cookies are great for both rotating food storage and using up some of your surplus zucchini. They are light and sweet and delicious. And if your kids are like mine... when whole grains and vegetables are shaped like a cookie they don't ask questions... They just chow down! Mmmm

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup shredded zucchini, lightly drained
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dry powdered milk
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (to make your own, finely grind soft white wheat)
3/4 cup quick cooking oats
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine shortening, zucchini, sugar and dry milk. Mix until well combined and creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Add dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if desired). Drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. Allow to cool on cookie sheet about 1 minute then transfer to cooling rack.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites

Here's what I made for my sweet family last night. Who doesn't love peanut butter and chocolate, right? This recipe is adapted from BakeOrBreak

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites

1 recipe Brownie Mix
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare brownie mix as directed and pour into greased mini-muffin pan, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Bake about 10 minutes or until edges of brownies are set. Remove from oven. Center of brownies should fall slightly. If not, with a small spoon indent the center of each brownie.
Place peanut butter into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high about 30 seconds. Stir peanut butter. Use a small spoon to fill the indentation of each brownie bite. Top with semisweet chocolate. Allow to cool completely in the pan before removing. To speed this up a little, place the entire pan into the refrigerator if you have room. And trust me... you will want to speed this up!

Brownie Mix

Sunday after dinner Mike naturally wanted some dessert. Being the lovely wife that I am, I told him, "You make it!" (Keep in mind, I had just spent my afternoon in the kitchen making our Sunday dinner.) He's a good sport so he starts looking for ingredients. Mike can make 3 things: Nutty Putty, brownies (from a mix), and frozen pizzas. For the Nutty Putty he needed Karo Syrup.. we were out. For the brownies he of course needed a brownie mix... we didn't have any. Since he didn't want frozen pizzas for dessert, we went without. So yesterday I made my own brownie mix. Of course I doubled the recipe to avoid any future sorrows. And I even turned some of it into somethig delicious for him!

Chocolate Brownie Mix

5 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 3/4 cups cocoa
1 cup dry milk

Combine ingredients. Store in an airtight container. Keeps at least 12 months if kept in a cool, dry place. Makes 3 batches of brownies.

For Brownies combine:

3 eggs
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 1/2 cups brownie mix

Mix unil smooth. Stir in nuts or chocolate chips if desired. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes in a greased 9x13 inch pan. Allow to cool slightly before cutting. Serve warm.

Stuffed Peppers

We scored some delicious red bell peppers in our Bountiful Basket last Saturday plus that's one thing that I've actually been pulling out of my garden right now (finally!). So I've been loaded with peppers this week! I used some in my Mango salsa, I threw one in my pico de gallo and the rest I turned into stuffed peppers last night. They are quick and easy and they freeze very well for an easy lunch or dinner down the road. I doubled this recipe for that purpose.

Stuffed Peppers

6 large sweet bell peppers
1 lb ground turkey, cooked (may substitute ground beef, or leave out for vegetarian)
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tomato, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 F. Wash peppers and remove tops including stems and seeds. Combine cooked turkey, onion,  Seasoned Rice and Pasta, and tomato. Stuff each pepper with mixture. Place peppers in lightly greased large casserole dish. Sprinkle cheese all over each pepper. If lid doesnt fit snugly, cover tightly with aluminum foil. (If there is extra filling, you can add that to the bottom of the dish.) Bake covered for 40 minutes. Serve hot with a fresh garden salad.
To freeze: Cool. Wrap individually in heavy duty aluminum foil or place each one into a quart sized freezer bag; label and freeze.
To Serve: Unwrap stuffed peppers. Place in roasting pan. Heat at 350 for 25 minutes. Or unwrap and cook in microwave 3-5 minutes.


This is one of those things that I used to make a lot back in my single days. Tasty, simple & satisfying. For me anyway, I love rice... and I love pasta. So what could be better than a combination of the two, right? Here's a simple way to make your own. It ends up being much cheaper than the name-brand box (even when you get it on sale) and only slightly more work.

        Seasoned Rice And Pasta (similar to Rice-a-Roni)

1 cup thin spaghetti, broken into small pieces
(break it up in the bag by whacking it with a meat tenderizer)
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
3 tsp chicken soup base or 3 cubes chicken bouillon
4 1/2 cups water

Heat oil in large heavy skillet over med-high heat. Add rice and broken spaghetti.

Cook and stir until pasta is browned. Add white sauce mix, Italian seasoning, soup base and water. Stir until well combined.

Allow mixture to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 15 minutes or until liquid cooks away. Remove from heat. Allow to sit, covered, about 10 minutes.

Fluff with a fork before serving.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Mangoes! Mango Peach Salsa, Mango Smoothie

I don't like Mangoes... well... I used to not like mangoes. Turns out I've just been eating them wrong all these years. For example, I've just recently been using them in salsa... and smoothies! YUM! We had mangoes in our BB for a couple weeks in a row. The first week I made some pineapple mango salsa with one and froze the other. Last week I ended up with 3 mangoes in our basket. I turned two of them (plus the one I put into the freezer) into this delicious smoothie. Wow! yum, etc.. it's really good. Sorry no picture here.. I can never keep it in the glass long enough to snap one ;)

Pineapple Mango Smoothie

1 cup frozen mangoes
1 cup frozen pineapple
1 peach (not necessary to peel)
1 plum
1 banana
1 cup frozen cantaloupe
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
8 oz cold water

Place soft fruit on the bottom of the blender followed by frozen fruit. Add protein powder and water, blend and enjoy!

I like using about half frozen fruit and half fresh. This keeps me from having to add ice making the smoothie less potent (imo). It also makes it so I can use less liquid for it to blend properly. I've added other fruit to this also, like watermelon which was fantastic!

When I made my Pineapple Mango Salsa a little while back my dear husband told me "I think this needs more tomatoes" to which I responded, "That would make sense seeing as I didn't use any tomatoes in this!" So this one is for you Mike!

Peach Mango Salsa

1 mango
2 tomatoes
2 peaches
1/2 bunch cilantro (about 1 cup chopped)
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 large bell pepper
2 jalepenos (or banana peppers if you'd like to keep it mild)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Dice all vegetables and fruit. Add vinegar and salt if desired. Combine and enjoy!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Chili Verde (Not to be confused with green chili!)

In my bountiful basket last Saturday I got a whole bunch of yummy Chili peppers PLUS I finally have some tomatillos ready from the garden...

Of course this meant I had to make some of my world famous Chili Verde! (Okay, you got me.. it's not world famous, but it did win first prize in our neighborhood chili cookoff... so almost, right?) Most of my recipes are not this much trouble. This recipe is a bit of a process from start to finish, but there are some short cuts to quicken it up if necessary. For example, the first time I made this I used chilis from my freezer that I had already roasted and peeled. You can also used canned peppers and soup. It will still be good, but not as good. Overall, the work is worth it in my opinion. I usually make a HUGE batch so I have enough to enjoy for a few days. Last time I meant to put some in the freezer but we ate it all in just a few days. It's good on just about anything- Eggs for breakfast, nachos for lunch or smothered burritos for dinner.
Mike gets irritated when I call my Chili Verde recipe "green chili". I keep telling him that it means the same thing but the first time I made it, I called it Chili Verde- so..he insists I must always call it Chili Verde or I must be talking about a different recipe. I have another recipe that I dubbed "green chili" the first time I made it.

Chili Verde

2-3 lb pork loin roast cut into bite-sized chunks
1 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin, ground
1 tsp salt
1 bunch cilantro, washed & chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 large roasted jalepenos, chopped (you can use 2 [4 oz]cans instead)
8 med chili peppers- roasted, peeled and chopped (or 4-6 [4oz] cans)
5 cloves garlic UNpeeled
9 tomatillos, roasted
3 cups water
3 tsp chicken soup base or bouillon
2 tsp dried oregano
2 limes, juiced (or 1/4 cup lime juice)
2 cans cream of chicken soup
  or 1 1/2 cup white sauce mix

Cut pork into bite-sized chunks. Mix chili powder, cumin and salt in a small bowl. Coat pork pieces with seasoning mix then brown in a large heavy skillet. Do this in batches if necessary to be sure each piece browns well.
Add pork to large crockpot. Chop onion, cilantro and add to crockpot. Remove papery shell from tomatillos, wash and cut in half. Roast tomatillos with cut-side down. Roast peppers, tomatillos, and garlic by grilling at 500 F with the lid closed for 8-10 minutes or you can place them on a cookie sheet under a hot broiler for 8-10 minutes. (If grilling, place the smaller peppers, tomatillos and garlic in foil to prevent it from falling through the slats.) When peppers are done being roasted, place them in a plastic bag and seal to allow peppers to "sweat" for a few minutes.
Remove skins and seeds then place peppers, tomatillos, and peeled garlic into a food processor or blender. Pulse to chop finely or puree (whichever you prefer). Add pepper mixture to pork and onion.

Add water and chicken bouillon. Stir and cook on HIGH for 3 hours or LOW for 7 hours. Add white sauce mix or cream soup and oregano. Stir until creamy. Keep on LOW or Keep Warm until ready to serve.
Serve over warm tortillas, use as a soup garnished with fresh chopped lettuce and tomato, use it to smother burritos, serve over nachos, ENJOY!

I just had to show off my yummy tomatoes from the garden. Look how red they are- all the way through! You just can't buy that at the supermarket. And in case you are wondering... yes. They tasted as good as they look! :)