Cabbage Rolls

   You need:
  • 1lb Ground beef (or pork, probably)
  • 2 cans tomato soup
  • 1 cabbage
  • 1 egg
  • cinnamon
  • (onion is optional, I did not use it this time)
  • tomato juice (or veg. juice like v8) - helpful
  • diced tomatoes optional

Weekend Wrap-Up

So, many blogs regarding budget cooking like to post weekly meal plans.
I'm not good at meal planning, really. I usually have a list of about 10 possible meals I can cook for the week - I pick 2 or 3 recipes I will definitely make, then I fill in the blanks with whatever I'm in the mood for.  So instead of sharing what I WILL do for the week, which I'm never entirely sure of, I will share what we DID do. (I also considered daily updates but since I'm not so good at the posting-everyday routine I thought this would be more convenient.)

Sunday - Butter Chicken
I had a 4-pk of bone-in chicken breast. I cut 3 breasts from the bone, put the remaining breast & all bones in a freezer bag (plan to use later for chicken stew).  Chopped the 3 into cubes, cooked in pan, added broccoli, added sauce, simmered... (all as per instructions on jar of butter chicken sauce). Served with jasmine rice and homemade naan.

Monday - Chili
Was planning to do turkey chili, but didn't get around to starting early. Turkey chili is better if it can sit all day in a crockpot. So instead I did my usual beef & kidney beans combo.  I also made my favorite cornbread - easy and delicious.

Tuesday - Cheeseburgers
Well, there's not much to this one. I made the buns, made some hamburger patties, put it all together. :) Served with a baked potato & a broccoli.

Wednesday - Sloppy Joes
Decided to spice up my usual sloppy joes with pepperoni. Served with green beans.

Thursday - Lentil Soup
My first attempt at lentil soup. It came out alright. I used lentils, canned diced tomato, onions, collard greens (got some in the good food box), cabbage, quinoa, chicken stock...  Served with ployes!

Friday - Spaghetti
Lazy night. I just heated a jar of pasta sauce with zucchini.

Saturday - Salmon Cakes

It's been a loooooooong time since I made these. I forgot how delicious they are!! I have a recipe posted here, but I had to do it a little different this time. I didn't have bread, so I used breadcrumbs (mostly from a very stale baguette). I also used one large (keta salmon) and one small can (sockeye) of salmon, and an entire small onion.  Also, instead of baking, I fried them in a little margarine on the stove. Served with mashed potatoes, peas, and white sauce!

Sunday - Pizza
Tonight we'll be making pizza. Just regular old pepperoni pizza. I don't have any regular pizza sauce left, so I will probably use the leftover pasta sauce from this week. (I opened the jar of zucchini sauce for spaghetti and a can of plain thick sauce for chili and sloppy joes. I mixed them together into the zucchini jar in the fridge.)

Looking back, I realize this was kind of a lazy week for me. The most work I did was making hamburger buns and lentil soup. Even the salmon cakes I had my husband helping in the kitchen. Maybe next week will get more complicated.

Ideas for next week include: taco soup (never tried this before!), cabbage rolls, borscht, fried hot dogs & potatoes, and general tao's chicken (and eggrolls?).  Other options include meatloaf, chicken stew, or pork roast.


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Ah, oatmeal. Such an economical and healthy food.  Go ahead, look up the nutrition facts. Low in fat, high in vitamins and minerals, good source of healthy carbs. Yes, it's all good for you. Now let's pile on the sugar and have some breakfast.

Oatmeal is cheaper than cereal. Far, far cheaper. It keeps us full longer, and even though I add lots of sugar, I'm sure it can't be worse than the typical cereals we eat. Well, even if it is - at least we stay full longer.

Oatmeal is cheaper if you don't fall for those pre-packaged instant packets. I know, they're easy and perfect and delicious. But they're not cheap.  A 1kg bag of oats costs $4 for a name-brand not on sale. I typically find the same size for $2 or less by waiting for sales, using coupons, or buying no-name.  The same brand oatmeal, but packaged as instant packets, costs $4.29 for a 10-pack box. While they do often go on sale for $2.50 (or did when I used to buy them), they still contain less than half the amount of oatmeal you can get from the larger bags. (The box contains about 15oz/430g - the bag contains 1kg which is more than twice as much - 2.3 to be more accurate.)

So, perhaps you're standing in the oatmeal aisle looking at these large bags of oats. Asking "can I eat all of that? Which kind should I get?" These are important questions.

First, yes you will eat all of that. You can use oats not only in oatmeal, but you can use them for great cookies, bread, homemade granola, and even my version of never-dry meatloaf. (Recipes coming... eventually.)

Second, let's talk about types of oatmeal. You will see labels like "rolled" "old-fashioned" or "large" oats - they're all the same. (Sometimes even called "regular.") They are steamed, flattened, large oats.  You can do anything with these.
You will also see "quick" - this one can also be used for most anything. "Quick" oats are just large oats that have been chopped smaller, which is something you can do yourself in a food processor.  However, if you aren't careful you may end up with oat flour (which is still useable for baking things like bread or thickening your oatmeal - don't toss it). "Regular" and "Quick" oats are pretty much interchangeable in recipes, too. 
Then there is "instant" - great if you only want to use it for breakfast.  If you chop your "regular" or "quick" oats even smaller, you can make your own "instant."
If you're really not sure what to choose, start with "quick." If you have a little confidence in your food-processor, go ahead and get the large.  I started out buying quick, it can be used for all five of my favorite uses. (Though large would make better granola and chewier cookies.)
(For info on different types of oats from Quaker Canada)

How much cheaper is oatmeal than cereal?

Well, for one, you can get 1kg for $2. Cereal costs nearly $4 for 500g - that would be 4x the cost of oatmeal!  Now, 1/3c dry oatmeal weighs around 38g (1.3oz) - 38g of cereal (I tested Cheerios) is about a cup. Both are the equivalent of 1 serving. Not considering milk, cereal costs .30/serving, one serving of oatmeal costs $.08. That's right, 8 cents. Sure, I haven't counted the cost of sugar - though I can't imagining that adding more than a couple cents unless you're a real sugar fiend. Still, 8 cents!! And this serving size is enough to fill me, an adult, for the morning. For me to feel the same way with cereal, I would need to eat at least two cups of cereal and I would STILL not be quite as full.  Also, buying the large bags of oatmeal is cheaper than the packets - which if bought on sale for $2.50 cost $.25/serving (still less than cereal)!

So, now you have a large bag of oats. Well, this seems like an inconvenient breakfast. Cooking on the stove-top is probably better, but I'm used to the easy microwaveable kind of oatmeal. I also want to be able to cook one serving at a time. This is why instant packets are so tempting (that and their delicious little dried apple bits....which is a DIY I'd like to try someday).

So here's what I do. I make a large batch of my own "instant mix."  I keep this mix in a canister above my microwave. I scoop 1/4 or 1/3 cup mix and two scoops  of water/milk to the bowl and microwave for 2 minutes. Then I check it, stir it, taste it, add stuff if it needs it, cook it another minute if needed. I like 2 parts liquid (milk/water) to 1 part oatmeal mix. However, some might like more or less thick.

Now the exact recipe itself is still something I'm working on. You can browse the web for other versions, but you still might find yourself tweaking them to your own taste.  

Here's my latest attempt:

I had 3 cups oats (large). I took one of those cups and put it in the magic bullet and pulsed it a bit to make some powder (good for getting a nice thick oatmeal).  Then I added about 3 tbsp sugar. I only had white, though brown would probably be better. (I could have MADE some brown but I was feeling a little lazy. I will share how to do this in another post.)  I also added about half a tbsp of cinnamon and about 1 tsp salt. After breakfast (this mix tasted fine, but I did add more sugar and a bit of syrup to my bowl) I found a nearly-empty bag of "quick oats." There was only 1 cup, so I added it to the mix. I also added another tbsp sugar, half a tbsp cinnamon, and a dash of salt.

(This version is a little on the chewy side because I used large oats. If I had processed them all a bit, it might have made it a little better. Or maybe I just need to cook it longer. It was still delicious, however. )

Anyway, once the mix is ready it's just as easy and fast as the instant oat packets and at a fraction of the price!


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Sloppy Joes

I've completely skipped my post on pulled pork sandwiches - but I will get to that soon. Instead, I will share tonight's magical creation - Pizza Joes!

Sloppy Joes are easy and cheap to make. All you need is some ground meat, tomato sauce, seasonings, and a bun/bread to put it on. You can use ground beef, ground pork, or any combination of the two (probably even ground chicken/turkey, though I haven't tried this).  You can use any kind of bread you think can hold it, but my favorite is my homemade hamburger buns. You can use any kind of tomato sauce and spice it up with whatever you have around. Tonight it was pizza-themed.

This is what I did tonight:

Step 1:  Defrost 1/2 lb ground pork in micro (well, it was actually 9oz), while this is defrosting finely chop half an onion, half a green pepper, and a few pepperonis (5 or 6 1-in rounds).
Step 2:  Brown meat, veggies, and pepperoni in a skillet on med/med-hi.  When everything's cooked, drain the grease/liquids.
Step 3:  Add tomato sauce to cover. I used plain, thick pasta sauce.  You just want enough to coat everything. If it's too runny you'll have quite a mess on your hands... in your hands... on your shirt... in your lap...
Step 4:  Let it simmer a little while - let it thicken a bit and let flavors distribute. You know... just a bit. Cover it if your sauce is thick enough, or leave it uncovered if you want to thicken it.
Step 5:  Put that stuff on a bun! I carefully placed a couple large spoonfuls onto a bun and topped it with a little mozarella. Deeeeelicious.

Of course, you don't need the cheese. You don't need the pepperoni. You don't even need the green pepper. You can use beef or pork. You can add basil/oregano or red chili flakes. Or your favorite hotsauce. You can do whatever you like to this, really. Whatever tastes good to you. And it's cheap, here's a breakdown:

Cost Breakdown (For a plain Sloppy Joe, not the pizza version)
Buns                               $1.25
Ground Pork  (1/2lb)      $0.50
Tomato Sauce                $0.60
Total:                   $2.35
(Made 5)

This price breakdown is based on using 5 buns purchased at $2 for 8 (though I used my homemade version, this is what I would pay at the store for buns), ground pork $1/lb using 1/2 lb, tomato sauce $1.25 for a can using 1/2 of a can at most.  
My pizza version also used cheese and pepperonis - a very small amount of each.  We bought a pepperoni for $3 which we sliced and froze - it filled a med. ziploc bag... I only used 5 slices.  Cheese was purchased at $4.25 for 900g and I used maybe 50g? So, maybe $.25 in cheese and $.15 for pepperoni (this is a wild guess). So, guessing about $.40-$.50 more for the pizza version. Still under $3 total.  Don't forget to serve with some veggies!

Hamburger Buns

Make your own hamburger buns!

Okay, so sometimes it might actually be cheaper to buy some buns from the store - but I guarantee these are better. And it only takes ingredients you (should) already have on hand. It also really doesn't take all that much time and effort.

I've been through a few different recipes, but I sort of fell in love with these 40-minute hamburger buns from Taste of Home.  However, I cringe at using so much yeast. Really, 2tbsp is a LOT! So, instead of 40-minute buns, I use less yeast and take my time. 

I simply put the following ingredients in my bread machine on the dough setting and let it do it's work: 
1 tablespoons yeast
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar 
1 egg 
1 teaspoon salt 
3 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Then, I follow the recipe's instructions - seperate dough into 12 equal sized balls, set on baking sheet, and I let them rise some more. Sometimes I'll brush the tops with oil or melted butter, it makes them a little prettier and keeps them from drying out on top.  Then I bake them at 425 for about 10 minutes.

And bam, you have 12 delicious hamburger buns. I *should* be able to get 3 meals out of this, but my husband and son both love snacking on them - plus, sometimes one delicious BBQ pork sandwich just isn't enough. 

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Zucchini Casserole

This is amazing. Really one of my number-one favorites ever. Even better as leftovers (if there's any left!!!).

What you need:
* Box of Stuffing
* Sour Cream  (one cup)
* Cream of chicken soup (or make your own - I did this time and it came out great)
* Zucchini (about 3 should do - chopped into bite-size chunks. As you see pictured I have frozen zucchini that I had blanched and frozen back in the fall.)
* Carrots (Shredded - Two is probably enough, three if they're smallish)
* Ground Beef (only need about a pound - obviously more is pictured)

Step 1: Brown beef. (You can add onions if you like. This time I did not.) Add to first layer of casserole dish. While beef is cooking you may want to boil water for your zucchini. In this case, my zucchini was already cooked, just frozen. So I rinsed it under some water to partially de-frost it and remove extra ice.

Step 2:
After zucchini is par-boiled use the hot water to mix stuffing in a seperate bowl using the box's instructions. (Or just make stuffing with hot water.) Mix about half the stuffing mix in with the beef in the dish.

Step 3: In another bowl, mix together zucchini, carrot, 1c sour cream and 1 can (or 1 cup homemade) cream of chicken soup. Add more sour cream if needed. (You want more than enough to cover all veggies - you want it goopy). Layer on top of beef/stuffing.

Step 4: Sprinkle remaining stuffing over the top! Bake until bubbly and stuffing looks browned/crispy. (350 for maybe 45 minutes. I really can't remember. All ingredients are cooked - you just want it nice and bubbly with a crispy top.)

Voila! The best yummiest delicious spectacular zucchini dish ever.

Price Breakdown:
Beef (1lb)                  $2
Stuffing                      $2
Cream of Chicken     $0.79
Sour Cream              $1.15
Zucchini                    $1.5
Carrot                       $0.18
Total:                        $7.62
(Could serve 6 - but 4 of us stuffed our faces.)

(This price breakdown is based on: $2/lb ground beef, stuffing was donated but I wouldn't normally spend more than $2, cream of chicken was homemade but I usually would spend .79/can, sour cream was 50%off but regular price is around $2.30 and I only used about half, zucchini I try to get for $.99/lb or less although this batch was in my csa box - I have no idea how much this would have weighed but definitely no more than 1.5lbs so we can safely assume $1.5 or less for zucchini, for carrots see borscht recipe for price. )

Homemade Laundry Detergent

DIY Laundry Detergent, everybody's doing it! Well, I'm seeing a lot of it on pinterest these days. We were down to our last jug of regular ol' liquid laundry soap and thought we'd give this a try instead. We bought borax (about $5 for 2kg), washing soda (about $7 for 3kg), and Jergens bar soap ($1.25 - okay, we actually already had this on hand), and I used a free sample of scent booster for, well, scent boosting.

Step 1: Grate a bar of soap. I just used the large cheese side of my cheese grater, I will process it further in my blender in step 3.
Step 2: Measure into a bowl/bucket 1 cup each borax and washing soda. Mix (stir, shake, whatever).
Step 3: Further grate the soap by blending in a blender. I put this as step 3 as I like to add some of the borax/soda mix to help with the blending process. Just blend until the soap is in little bits and it looks like, well, powdered laundry detergent.
Step 4 is optional! I realized the soap didn't smell like much. I found I had some free samples of this scent booster stuff - I added about half the sample (2tbsp). For the first batch I left the little bits whole. This second batch I put some back in the blender to help better distribute the scent. I think either way works fine. You can use more or less scent stuff, depending on what you like. You could also add essential oils instead, or so I've read. :)

Voila! You have laundry soap. First batch I kept in a giant empty ice cream tub, this time I found a nice jar that one batch fits nicely into.  I use about 1-2 tbsp per load, I got 37 tbsp from this batch (yes, I measured as I filled up my jar).

I've estimated at least 13c washing soda and at least 8c borax per box.  If this is true, then it would cost about $15 for 8 batches, or 296 loads. That's 5 cents a load. The last liquid detergent I bought was about $4 for 40 loads, which is 10 cents per load. So, this is saving at least half the cost!

Per batch break-down
1 bar of soap:             $0.42
1 cup borax:               $0..57
1 cup washing soda:    $0.55
Batch total:       $1.54 for 36 loads

Of course, keep in mind I know many people can find borax and washing soda and even the soap for less than I did. Especially any readers in the States. But still, the savings are clear. :)

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