Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Broiled Tuna-Noodle Casserole

Make one of these for dinner, and one for a friend or to put into your freezer for later. This is our go-to meal when the hubby's out of town. He's not a big fan of Tuna Casserole, but me and the kiddos LOVE it!

Broiled Tuna-Noodle Casserole
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pounds wide egg noodles or bowtie pasta
2 red bell peppers (ribs and seeds removed), thinly sliced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups skim milk
4 cans (6 ounces each) tuna in olive oil, drained
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1 lb broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly oil two 8-inch square (or other shallow 2-quart) baking dishes. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles until 2 minutes short of al dente; drain, and return to pot. Meanwhile, in a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium. Add bell peppers, broccoli and zucchini; season with salt and pepper. Cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Gradually add milk, stirring until smooth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer.Remove from heat; add mixture to noodles in pot, along with tuna, and green onions. Season with salt and pepper, and toss. Divide between prepared baking dishes, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 20 minutes or place under a HOT broiler for 5-7 minutes.

To freeze: Prepare above recipe with the exception of baking; cool to room temperature. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and freeze up to three months.

To bake from frozen: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake, covered with foil, until center is warm, about 2 hours. Uncover, and bake until top is browned, about 20 minutes more.

To bake from thawed:Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake, covered with foil, until center is warm, about 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake until top is browned, about 20 minutes more.
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for baking dishes

Spaghetti Sauce

This recipe uses a pressure canner and a Vita-mix. If you don't have a canner, you can freeze this recipe in quart-sized freezer bags for up to 6 months with good success. If you don't have a Vita-mix, shucks for you. hehe, seriously.. you can just dice your veggies, simmer until soft and then puree in your blender until smooth.

Spaghetti Sauce
(makes about 3 quarts, or 6 pints)
4 quarts tomatoes (about 24 large)
2 medium carrots (or 1 large carrot), cut into chunks
3 stalks celery with leaves, cut into chunks  
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
1 medium green pepper, cut into chunks
1 Tbsp basil
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp marjoram
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp sea salt

Wash vegetables, remove stems and blossom end from tomatoes. You can peel your tomatoes as well if you desire. I never do. I have a Vita-mix. That I got for free. (Are you good and jealous now? ok, moving on..) Fill Vita-mix container about halfway with tomatoes. Start on Variable speed 2, gradually increasing to speed 6 until all tomatoes have been sucked into the blades. Remove plug from lid and, one at a time, drop in chunks of your other vegetables until container is about 3/4 full. Turn speed up to high and process 2-3 minutes until you see no trace of any chunks through the container. This high speed will pulverize any peels and seeds from your vegetables. Pour contents of container into a large stockpot (If you don't have a very large one, you can use 2 5-qt pots). Repeat process until all vegetables have been pureed. Heat stockpot to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Once mixture is boiling, reduce heat to medium to keep a low boil until mixture thickens to desired consistency. This usually takes me about an hour. Again, be sure to stir occasionally to prevent sticking. When you've reached your desired consistency, add seasonings and simmer another 10 minutes.

If you are pressure canning: Ladle hot sauce into hot jars leaving 1-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints 35 minutes, at 15 pounds pressure in a steam-pressure canner.

If you are freezing: Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool for about 30 minutes. Ladel sauce into labeled freezer jars or bags leaving 1-inch headspace. Allow to cool completely in the refrigerator before freezing. Keeps up to 6 months.

Use this sauce in lasagna, pizza, or over any noodle!
Enjoying some home-made pizza on the lawn. Yum!

Enjoy on some home-made gnocci. 

Apple Pie Filling

Thanksgiving ... It's full of family gatherings-which means family photos, shopping and food. Lots of home-made, fattening and delicious food... Ugh! I'll admit it, I always eat way too much, spend way too much and then look back bitterly at my "fat" Thanksgiving pictures. But, that said... I still love it. However, I do enjoy it a lot more when I'm able to free myself from the kitchen for a few hours at least and enjoy some family time instead of a grueling baking marathon. This apple pie filling really helps out in that department. I can whip out an apple pie in a mere 20 minutes with this stuff! (To my detriment...)

Apple Pie Filling
(yields about 3 quarts)
6 pounds apples
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp lemon juice

Wash, peel, core and slice apples. Treat to prevent darkening if desired. (Personally, I don't bother- I'm smothering these babies in sugar and cinnamon anyway... they're going to darken!) Combine sugar, flour and spices. Rinse and drain apples; stir into sugar mixture. Let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 minutes. Stir in lemon juice.
 At this point if you are freezing the pie filling: Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken. Ladle pie filling into plastic freezer jars or plastic freezer containers, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Cool at room temperature, not to exceed 2 hours. Seal, label and freeze.
To bottle pie filling: Cook over medium heat just until mixture begins to thicken. Ladle filling into hot quart size jars leaving 1-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 35 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Each quart jar will fill a 9-inch pie shell.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eggs in a Basket

This is a fun thing that my dad used to make a lot when I was a kid. He would cut a hole out of a piece of bread with a biscuit cutter and crack an egg into the center while the bread was toasting on a griddle. My brother-in-law uses this method:

Eggs in a Basket

   2 cups All-Purpose Baking Mix
   1 egg
   1 1/4 cup milk or water

12 eggs
Pam Cooking Spray

Heat griddle to medium-hot (about 350). Combine all ingredients for pancakes; stirring just enough to moisten dry ingredients. Spray griddle with non-stick cooking spray and crack egg onto griddle. Ladel pancake mix all around outside of egg. Turn when bubbles appear on the surface of the cakes, taking care when flipping not to break the egg. Cook until well-browned. Makes 12-16 "baskets". Serve with warm maple syrup. (The real stuff, not the maple flavored sugar...)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Egg Sandwiches

This is the only way my family will accept "Breakfast for Dinner" around my house. It is a super-simple idea and cooks up in a hurry when we've had a busy day. These are the BEST on home-made bread!

Toasted Egg Sandwiches

2 thick slices bread
1 egg
1 slice cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup fresh spinach (optional)
1 tsp hot sauce

Butter the backsides of each slice of bread as you would for a grilled cheese sandwich. Place cheese between slices (make sure buttered side of bread is out) and cook on a medium-hot, pre-heated griddle for about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Meanwhile, fry egg. Open cheese sandwich and add cooked egg and spinach. Drizzle egg with hot sauce, replace bread and eat!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spinach and Feta Omelet

A few weeks ago eggs went on sale for $.50 per dozen around here. I bought 10 dozen eggs. We don't normally go through that many eggs, but I figured I could cook some things for the freezer. It is that time of year, afterall, when I hardly have any time to spare during the week.
Here is a quick and simple omelet recipe. The key to this way of cooking an omelet is the small cast-iron griddle. If you don't have one, you are missing out! It's a necessary "ingredient" for all the best tortillas, grilled sandwiches, pancakes and omelets. By the way, omelets freeze great! Just re-heat on high in the microwave for about 60 seconds and you've got a tasty and filling breakfast when you need something quick.

Spinach and Feta Omelet

3 eggs
1 Tbsp water
1 small tomato, diced
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
2 Tbsp feta cheese
1/2 small zucchini, chopped
Non-stick cooking spray
Salt & Pepper to taste

In a 2 cup liquid measuring cup whip eggs, water, and a dash of salt and pepper. (The water helps the eggs to be fluffy.) Pour onto a pre-heated cast-iron griddle (about 350 F) sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Allow eggs to cook about 30 seconds or until slightly set. Sprinkle vegetables and feta all over eggs. Set oven to broil on High. Move griddle to oven about two inches from heat and cook 1-2 minutes more or until eggs are firm. Loosen from griddle, roll omelet and serve with fresh salsa if desired.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tortilla Soup

My mother-in-law recently gave me a treasure that has been sitting un-used in her basement for the past several years. A Vita-mix! I have been using this gem every single day (sometimes multiple times!) for everything from making smoothies, to making lunch, to even grinding meat! Here's a yummy garden soup that I put together last week when I needed something quick and easy for lunch. Mmmm!

Tortilla Soup

1 large carrot
4 large tomatoes
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 small onion
2 large green chile peppers
2 cloves garlic
2 cups water
1 Tbsp chicken soup base
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 ear corn, removed from cob
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast- cooked and cut into quarters
tortilla chips

Place tomatoes, onion, green chiles, carrot, cilantro, and garlic into Vita-mix. Pour in water, chicken soup base, and seasonings. Start Vita-mix on speed #2, gradually turn dial to #10 then switch to high. Process 4-5 minutes until soup is hot. Add chicken, corn and a handful of tortilla chips. Cover, and process on speed #2 for about 30 seconds. Pour into bowls and serve with cheese and chips if you desire.

*To make this recipe without a Vita-mix: Coarsely shred carrots and finely chop remaining vegetables and chicken. Add all to a 3 qt. saucepan and cook until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until soup is desired consistency.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Salsa (for canning)

This recipe was given to me by a good friend and neighbor and I've been making it every year since. No more Pace in this house! Around here, we call this "the good stuff".

Salsa (for canning)

7 quarts peeled, cored, chopped tomatoes
4 cups seeded, chopped long green chiles
5 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup seeded, finely chopped jalapeno peppers
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups bottled lemon juice
2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp black pepper
2 Tbsp ground cumin
3 Tbsp oregano leaves
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro

Procedure (as written): Wash and rinse canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare lids according to manufacturers directions. Wash and dry peppers. Discard seeds and chop. If you choose to peel chiles, peel using this method to blister skins:

Place chiles in a hot oven (400 F) or broiler for 6-8 minutes until skins blister. (I've also used a medium-hot grill.) After blistering skins, place peppers in a pan and cover with a damp cloth or you may put the still hot peppers in a closed zip-top bag. Cool several minutes then slip off skins.
Hot pack: Combine all ingredients except cumin, oregano and cilantro in a large pan and heat, stirring frequently until mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spices and simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (mixture should be thick- if not, cook a little longer). Ladle into hot, clean jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wikpe rims of jars with a clean paper towel. Apply canning lids. Put in canner and let water come to a boil in canner. Process for 35 minutes.

**When I make this salsa I make these changes**
I usually leave out the oregano and add an entire bunch of cilantro instead.
I also use lime juice instead of lemon juice
My family likes things spicy so I usually use 3 cups chopped jalapenos (sometimes I throw in a couple habaneros) and 1 1/2 cups chopped chili peppers or bell peppers or any other mild pepper.
Also, I don't peel my tomatoes or peppers. I chop them with my Vita-mix and it gets the pieces small enough that the peels really don't matter. The peels don't change the taste of the salsa anyway, only the looks- which I don't really care about. Feel free to peel if you like spending the extra time!

And a side note... In case you inadvertantly burn your hands with the peppers, use this trick to help ease the pain: Mix 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup COLD water to make a thick paste. You can spread this on your hands, or do like I do and just stick your entire hand in the bowl. Ahhhhh!

My family (and my neighbors) laugh at me every year because at least once a year I end up carrying a bowl of baking soda around with me ALL day! Last year I was slicing habaneros and those little beasts burned RIGHT THROUGH MY GLOVES! (It was very traumatic. I now pick habaneros with tongs and throw them straight into the food processor!) This year I chopped about 2 dozen mild chile peppers thinking 'hey, they're mild... I don't need gloves.' FYI... even mild chile peppers BURN if you cut enough of them!

Where have I been?!

I think this has been the longest time between posts since I've started this blog! Don't worry, though, I haven't been slacking. I've been CANNING. Seriously... For an entire week... Feels good to sit down for a minute! Here's what I've been up to:

I've also been bottling:

Tomatillo Salsa
More Peaches
Jalapeno Jelly
Apple Pie Filling
More Pears

I just counted everything up and I've done about 130 jars (and by jars I mean quarts- with the exception of the jelly and the chicken) this last week. I wish I could say I were done... but my garden is still going so I'm sure there will be at the very least a few more batches of tomatoes and maybe some zucchini relish.

The awesome thing? The only thing that I had to purchase for all this bottling were some lids for the jars, chicken (which I got at about $1/lb), and pectin. Everything else came from my garden and my friends. Thanks!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Deciding on A Grocery Budget: Step Four

Once the recipe pricing is finished, you can easily put it all together into a menu that will fit your budget. If you need to buy extras one month (like this month's caselot sale) plan for more green meals. It's worth it to be able to stock up on sale prices. Just be sure that you are actually getting a good deal. Just because something comes in bulk doesn't necessarily mean that it's a deal.

Below is our menu for this month. Notice how cheap some of these meals are? That is because of all the planned leftovers and my awesome garden! I'm glad things will be cheap this month because I plan on spending the bulk of my budget stocking up with case-lot sales.

According to the per meal price, my total dinner cost is $103.51. In reality I'm going to be spending less than that, but I like to add the cost of each item that I pull from my food storage. In a sense, I "buy" from my own food storage and set that money aside to stock up later when those items go on sale.

Anyway, this should leave me plenty to buy diapers, re-stock some of my staples and buy a few extras that my family enjoys. Although, I still have to plan carefully for all my purchases if I want to stay under budget
By the way, if you're trying to decipher my code on my menu... LO= leftover

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Zucchini Bread

It really is getting close to the end of gardening season. Usually this time of year people are trying to ditch their surplus garden produce left and right especially zucchini. I'm usually a taker though. I love, love, love the stuff. I eat it raw in salads, steamed with some basil for a quick and easy side dish, grilled, grated, diced, stuffed. MMmm! So for you who are a little less enthusiastic about your mounds of zucchini, I put together a few zucchini recipes- check the labels on the right, scroll down and enjoy!

Another one of those recipes that I've been working on to get the best tasting bread possible. Unfortunately this one was made when my camera was on the charger and it didn't last until the battery was full. Whoops! This bread is great for an afterschool snack, for breakfast or for dessert. Sometimes I add a thin sugar glaze on top when I really have a sweet tooth (which is often). I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Zucchini Bread

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mashed banana or applesauce
1 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl. Beat eggs, oil, applesauce/banana, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool. (If you try to slice this before it's completely cool it will fall apart. I know this from experience- I don't think I've ever been able to let it cool completely before diving in!)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Deciding on A Grocery Budget: Step Three

Have you had a chance to make your own price list? You're welcome to copy mine, but it isn't completely up to date. It still gives you a good idea of food prices, though, so it's a good place to start. So now that you've got a price list on hand, what to do with it? Of course it will help you in your monthly shopping, but it is also a great help for when you are planning your menu! I went through all of my family's favorite recipes and figured out how much each one cost. This helped me to plan a menu within our means.

Meal Prices 010001

Notice the red, blue and green? My target grocery amount is $250 so the most I figured each dinner should cost would be around $7 keeping in mind I still have to provide breakfasts and lunches. So my color code is as follows $5 or less = green; $5-6 = blue; and anything above $6 = red. There are some exceptions.. some meals are priced below $5 and I colored them blue because the recipe usually doesn't make enough for a leftover lunch the next day. Also there are some pricier meals, like my chili, that I colored blue instead of red because it makes enough for TWO meals. Also, depending on the season prices may change per recipe. Stir-fry, for example, would actually be very cheap for me to cook right now because of all the vegetables I have growing in my garden.

The more you plan on spending on your groceries, the less you have to worry about planning. But if you are seriously trying to find ways to stretch your dollars the extra effort is worth it. Sure it's a lot of effort up front, but if you just keep working at it, soon it will be a breeze!

P.S. Several of these recipes are already on my blog, but if you'd like any others on this list, just send me an email at

Friday, September 03, 2010

Peanut Butter-Filled Chocolate Cookies

I actually made these cookies a few weeks ago when I was rotating out my peanut-butter. Remember the "Outside-In" burgers I made? These are built about the same way. Except instead of ground beef, sub in chocolate cookie mix. And instead of cheese, sub in sweetened peanut butter. Oh! And instead of grilling, you bake them... ok, so they don't have a lot in common except that for both you put the yummy stuff in the middle and form the cookie/burger around it.

1 batch chocolate cookie mix, with ingredients called for in recipe
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Prepare chocolate cookie mix as directed. In a seperate, smaller bowl combine peanut butter and sugar. To make each cookie: Drop a heaping teaspoonful of cookie mix onto an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten with the back of a spoon or your hand. Drop about 3/4 teaspoon of peanut butter mixture onto center of each cookie. Fold edges of cookie up over the peanut butter and seal with your fingers. Bake for about 9 minutes or until edges are set and slightly dried. Don't overbake! The cookies will firm up as they cool. Allow to cool on pan for a couple minutes before moving them to cooling racks.

Chocolate Cookie Mix

Mikes' favorite cookie is of the chocolate variety. So to simplify things and make it easier to bake cookies on demand for my man, I always like to keep this mix on hand:

Chocolate Cookie Mix

12 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cup cocoa
2 tbsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
12 cups sugar

Combine all ingredients in an extra large mixing bowl. Store in an airtight container or heavy duty plastic zip-top bags. Makes 12 batches of cookies. To use:

2 1/3 cup cookie mix
1 egg
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
1 cup chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, walnuts, white chocolate chips, crushed toffee, crushed peppermint candies, mini marshmallows or anything you like.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients until dry ingredients are completely moistened. Drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Allow to cool on pan for a couple of minutes before moving to a cooling rack. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

My Brand New Room

This is a little bit overdue- I finally "finished" my bedroom last week! Mr. Sheryl was not super excited as he really truly does love plain ol' white and boring but we made a deal that if he still doesn't like our room in eight years, he can change it back. It's only fair, right? You remember my before picture?
My brother-in-law saw this picture and says: "Sure, you make the 'before' picture as awful as possible." But seriously... This picture had no prepping. I simply took a picture of my bedroom...

Ok, so it's not a luxury suite by any means but I'm happy with how it turned out. And to think I was able to get all of this done without an impact to our monthly budget. I siphoned money from our grocery envelope and fed us with cheaper meals and food storage for a month and viola! Well, that and spent HOURS putting it all together but that's not the point...
Here's a rundown of what I added and spent:

King-sized rag quilt: $6 for thread and some random fabric remnants,
a couple of old sheets that didn't fit my bed anyway,
an old blanket for "batting",
generous donation of fabric scrap remnants from my friend,
half a set of drapes that were too heavy for my window,
and countless hours cutting, sewing, seam-ripping, swearing, sewing, etc...

King-sized matching bedskirt: an old bottom sheet that didn't fit my super thick mattress,
half a set of drapes that were too heavy for my window,
about 45 minutes cutting, sewing

2 matching nightstands: 2 used nightstands $25/each,
partial quart black paint that my brother-in-law let me use for free

Decorative Throw Pillows (only 1 pictured): About 20 minutes total, the rest of the drapes, 2 old flattened king-sized pillows

King-sized Shams: About 2 hours, more fabric remnants from the quilt

Rocking Chair: moved from a different part of the house where it wasn't being used

Headboard: $30 for used headboard, $.66 for nuts to attach to our frame

Paint: $30 Wal-mart paint. I know it's not the best quality,
 but I'm really banking on kids not going into my oasis anymore... so far so good!

Lamp: $1 from Walmart with a K-mart a coupon, score!

Total spent: $117.66

And the best part is that my family didn't even notice that I was spending less on groceries last month so no complaints! I still have a few finishing touches to put together.. like art on the walls and some picture frames, etc, but for now I can relax just a little bit.
Well, that is if I didn't have kids. I thought just for kicks I'd add a picture of what happens to the rest of the house while you are painting... fun stuff. This was my 2-year-old's (well almost 2) attempt at getting herself a "snack". Pretty ambitious. Note to self: Put away the cereal after breakfast and move the milk to a higher shelf in the refrigerator!