Food Bank

This blog started out intending to be more about cooking, couponing, and general thriftiness.  However, we've unfortunately hit a bit of rough situation financially.  So for the next few months or so there will be very little talk about coupons and amazing grocery sales (though some fantastic ones will be noted).  There will also be a hold on those drool-worthy Good Food Box posts. Instead, there will likely be a lot more references to donated food and visits to the food bank. I will still try to estimate prices for the recipes, however. 


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Cheaper Shepherd's Pie

Ah, no pictures! I apologize in advance.

Now, my ideal shepherd's pie starts with leftover roast beef mixed with hamburger and some gravy from the roast juices. This is rare for me to have, since we rarely have roast beef anymore.  So I've learned to settle for hamburger and a dash of gravy mix.  I usually use a whole pound of ground hamburger for this. Not bad, but I'm trying to stretch the meat even further. I've made a few batches with just 1/2lb beef, they were small and just barely enough for the three of us (nights when the husband wasn't home for dinner). This last time, however, I was very hungry and Mr. Thrifty was home.  I thought I'd try something different.

First layer:
Brown 1/2lb beef and chopped onions, drain fat, add gravy (or dry gravy mix, or add a small glob of concentrated beef bouillon with water and corn starch).  Now, here's the secret I discovered! Mix in cooked lentils! I mixed in about 1 cup of cooked lentils.  I made a little extra gravy to keep the layer tasting pretty beefy.

Layer 2:
Open 1 can corn niblets and 1 can creamed corn. Spread half of each on top of the beef (put remaining halves in a container and freeze for next time)!

Layer 3:
Mashed potatoes, top with some shredded cheese. I usually use moz, but cheddar (especially aged) is good, too.

I fit all this in a round pyrex dish (9-inches, I think).  The lentils add healthy fill and with all the beefy gravy, you'd hardly notice the difference.

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Weekend Wrap-Up

February 18 - February 24

Okay, so I forgot to keep track for awhile - we'll just skip over that last oneThis week was a bit tricky to balance. Our cupboards are getting a little low and we were extra short on cash at the beginning of the week.  Since I can only visit the food bank twice a month, I try to space it out at least two weeks apart. While I thought I would need to go earlier, I managed to put it off (I will definitely be going tomorrow, though).

Monday - Turkey Chili
Diced tomatoes, kidney beans, leftover frozen turkey, corn niblets, tomato sauce, garlic,

Tuesday - Hot Dogs "in a blanket"
Requested by my son! Hot dogs wrapped in pizza dough (with cheese). Baked. Dip in ketchup and/or mustard! 

Wednesday - Soup & ployes
Leftover soup - tossed in whatever. Homemade chicken stock, celery (getting wilty), onion, garlic, carrot, cabbage, lentils, etc... Served with ployes.

Thursday - Turkey Chilli casserole
Used leftovers from the turkey chili on Monday for a pasta bake. Mixed with extra sauce, green peppers, noodles, topped with cheese and baked. Deeeeelicious.

Friday - Cheeseburger Mac
Splurged on a brick of Velveeta this week.  Made a giant batch of my Cheeseburger Macaroni. Realized we were out of canned corn, so used a frozen combo of niblets & creamed corn. (I made shepherd's pie sometime last week. When I make shepherd's pie, if I can I prefer to use 50/50 niblets and creamed corn. I take the other half of each can and freeze it for the next shepherd's pie.)

Saturday -BBQ Pork & Rice

Sunday - Lentil Stew on Pasta
I found this recipe in a crockpot cookbook.  Diced tomatoes, lentils, onion, carrot, celery, green pepper, water, garlic, marjoram, chicken stock, stewed all day.  Recipe called for couscous, but since I'm out I thought rice or orzo would do.  I also didn't want to "waste" my last can of diced tomatoes on an experiment - fortunately I had a frozen container of them from some other dish.  I also added the rest of some red pepper pasta sauce (~1/4c) for a little extra tomato-flavor.

Extras this week:
  • Lots of pancakes!

Dinner ideas for next week:
         I will work this out after a visit to the food bank tomorrow. I do have the ingredients for chili, salmon cakes, more cheeseburger mac, more soups, more spaghetti...

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My Freezer, part 1

Well, I thought it's about time I get around to writing about what types of foods I find are necessary to keep in stock. I suppose a good start is my freezer.

Let's start with meat.

Meats I currently have in my freezer:
  • 3.5 lbs ground beef (in 1/2 lb portions)
  • 2 lbs ground pork (in 1/2 lb portions)
  • 4 pork chops
  • 2 whole chickens
  • 4 chicken legs
  • 2 slices of ham
  • small portion of sliced pepperoni
  • clams (from a can)
  • 1 lb sole fillets
  • 1 box breaded fish fillets
Now, let's go over these (and others I'm out of)

  • Ground beef is probably my number one frugal freezer filler.  There are so many things you can make with it and the only thing cheaper is pork (we'll get to that next).  I buy family-size packs when they are a good price (at $2/lb I will buy close to 10 lbs if possible)! We also occasionally purchase our ground beef from a local butcher. The meat is better, fresher, and still a good price (usually around $2.50/lb though last visit we got it for $2.10 when we mentioned local stores had it for $2/lb).
  • I occasionally splurge on a roast beef, but it rarely winds up in the freezer since it's so rare for us to have one nowadays. Usually we cook it up the day we bring it home.
  • Stew beef is also handy. Because it's often still too pricey for me, it's not exactly an essential lately. Though it is easy to freeze and I love to make a delicious beef stew. 

  • Pork is cheap. Very cheap.  Ground pork can be found for as low as $1/lb! When I spot this sale, I'll buy a big pack (usually about 6lbs) and freeze it in 1- or 1/2-lb portions like the beef. I don't often use the ground pork on it's own (except maybe for sloppy joes and yakisoba), but I often combine it with beef (meatballs, meatloaf) to stretch my dollar! 
  • Then you have roasts. Cheap, bone-in shoulder roasts can sometimes be found for $1/lb - they make for amazing pulled pork. Then there are the delicious tenderloins. If I can get pork tenderloin for $2/lb I'll stock up, though I won't mind spending $3/lb for a good one.  About once or twice a year our grocery store sells very large boneless pork tenderloin (around 7lbs) for just under $2/lb. I buy two, then cut them up into smaller roasts and pork chops.  So that leaves pork chops, if I can find those for around $2/lb I'm very happy.
  • Then there's ham. Occasionally I can get a nice little toupie ham for $5. They are probably 2.5lbs. I cut them into slices (ends are cut into cubes) and I freeze them in smaller portions.  If the slices are frozen seperately on a cookie sheet, then put into a freezer bag, they don't stick together.  I like to take a couple of slices out, defrost them, then fry them up with some pineapple for a quick dinner for the kids and I (the husband is NOT a fan of ham).  The diced pieces are great for pizzas or quiche or even omelettes perhaps.
  • I should also mention salt pork. I keep a small portion in my freezer for making delicious beans or pea soup.
  • Pepperoni. I buy a whole pepperoni (no name, about $3) and slice it myself. Lay out the slices on a cookie sheet and freeze them. When they're solid, dump them into a freezer bag and you're good to go! Great for pizzas, calzones/pockets, or to spice up a casserole.
  • Sausages. I love having sausages around. They make any pasta sauce amazing. They are also delicious in my stuffed green peppers, borscht, or good for a quick almost-jambalaya. I'm currently out, but I always stock up when I can get them for $2/lb. A family-sized package has 12 sausages, which I freeze in packs of 4, and costs about $6 or less at this price.
  • Finally, bacon. I am out of bacon. However, whenever we can scrape together the nearly $50 or so we buy a 10lb box from the local butcher. This is frozen into smaller portions and enjoyed for many many months.

  • I have a few basics with chicken. First, there's whole chicken. I grab them when they are 2/$10.  I freeze them separately and they can be easily thawed and roasted.  A roasted chicken is good for at least two, sometimes three meals.
  • Next, there's chicken breast. Boneless is becoming a bit of a luxury with us lately, as it is rarely below $3/lb.  However, when I can get some, I freeze them in 1-lb portions.  They are good for dozens of different recipes.  Of course, it is cheaper to get them with the back (this week, for example, I can get them for $1.76/lb - which is pretty amazing). 
  • Third, there are the bone-in chicken legs. I recently bought a large pack at $1/lb (got 8 legs for around $6).  They are very easily cooked in a crockpot and the meat can be used for a lot of different meals (you'd also end up with stock, but remember to skim off the extra fat). To save on freezer space it might be wise to cook the chicken legs, then freeze the meat.

  • We're trying to incorporate more fish into our diets.  Usually for fish we use canned tuna or salmon. However, last month I found plain fozen fillets for $2/lb.  
  • I also enjoy keeping fish sticks and assorted breaded fillets around for quick/lazy dinners.


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Weekend Wrap-Up

February 4 - February 10
Not an exciting week, really.

Monday - Pork Roast
BBQ pork tenderloin, rice, corn.

Tuesday - Borscht

Wednesday -Pizza

Thursday - Chicken Tacos
Well, soft tacos. Not exactly fajitas, though. Made with a mix of canned chicken and frozen cooked chicken, homemade taco seasoning, and homemade flour tortillas- plus toppings like cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream.

Friday - Spaghetti
With garlic bread!

Saturday - KD & Ham

Plus veggies & pineapple!

Sunday - Ham & Cheese "Hot Pockets"
Leftover ham, pineapple, and cheese stuffed inside homemade (whole wheat) pizza dough. Mixed veggies on the side!

Extras this week:
* Homemade doughnuts
* Blueberry muffins

Ideas for next week: 

* Bread pudding (with stale cinnamon-raisin bagels)
* Dinners: Turkey chili, shepherd's pie, salmon cakes, spaghetti, stuffed peppers, quiche, leftover soup


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Weekend Wrap-Up

January 27 - February 2
See, this is how my meal planning goes. Nothing like what I had suggested after last week's wrap-up. I only made two of my suggested meals, the two I knew I really wanted to make.  I did not have the option of hotdogs & potatoes because I did not pick up the large bags of potatoes on sale this week. Instead I found a better sale which began this Thursday. So I was out of potatoes until the weekend. I also went to the food bank on Monday which gave me some items I wanted to use up more quickly.

Also, probably once a week I wind up calling my Mom with a "dinner emergency" - either I'm out of time and I don't know what to do for dinner or I'm trying something new and not sure if I'm on the right track (last week it was about the lentil soup). This week it was Wednesday. I had no idea what to do and I was running out of time.  I usually have some backup meal ideas for nights like this, but this week my "backup" had been fried potatoes and hotdogs, which as I already explained I could not do. I also had the option of pasta or chop suey, but since I had just made cabbage rolls the night before it just seemed like too much tomato soup/sauce.  Tuna casserole is always a good backup, but it just doesn't seem to be enough for all four of us these days, and I knew the hubster would be home for dinner.  So, I called my "dinner doctor."  I named off some of the items I had around, some of my ideas and why they weren't working, and explained that everything (regarding meat) was still frozen.  Her genius idea: lo mein. She also makes a most delicious lo mein. I could never possibly make it as awesome as she does.  She really needs to be writing for us here. :)

Monday - Open-Face Chicken Sandwiches
Went to the food bank and (among many other things) got some delicious french bread and two legs and thighs of rotisserie chicken. Wanted to use them fast so I made open-faced sandwiches with chicken, tomatoes, and mozarella. Topped with a little fresh basil from my windowsill and put under the broiler to melt the cheese.  Served with the leftover mashed potatoes and peas from salmon night on Saturday. Finished off the rest of the pumpkin cake for desert.

Tuesday - Cabbage Rolls

Wednesday - Yakisoba
Now, I mentioned above that my dear mother recommended I make lo mein for dinner. Well, I was getting out all my ingredients and noticed right next to my chow mein noodles was a package of soba noodles! I picked them up awhile back and had forgotten all about them!  So I decided to make an old college favorite - yakisoba. Or, at least, my take on it.

Thursday - General Tao's Chicken & Eggrolls
Another recipe coming soon! (This is one of my favorite take-out meals. Since we can't afford take-out, I thought I should give it a try at home. Turns out really great! Better than some of our usual restaurants.)

Friday - Everything Soup
We were planning to do burgers & onion rings, but with all the fried food we had the night before we needed something not... greasy. So we made soup. My mother calls it "garbage soup" or "leftover soup."  It starts like my alphabet tomato soup but we add everything and anything that we might need to clear out of the fridge.  This time it included diced tomatoes, onions, carrot, celery, garlic (the base), then some frozen leftover turkey, chopped turnip, tiny leftover frozen spinach, frozen leek, leftover corn, and some other ingredients I can't remember at the moment. Also made cheddar biscuits.

Saturday - Mini Bagel Pizzas & KD

We got a bag of mini bagels from the food bank Monday. Sat. morning I met up with some couponing friends for a lovely morning. Among the conversation a friend pointed out that bagel bites were on sale - I love those! So I thought it'd be great to make mini pizzas with the mini bagels I had! Leftover tomato sauce, finely chopped pepperoni (I keep sliced pepperoni in the freezer for pizzas), and topped with mozarella. Baked until delicious!  Served it with KD and the rest of the leftover corn.

Sunday - Spaghetti & Sausage
It seems every week we do a spaghetti or pasta dish. Not a bad idea- it's cheap and I get plenty of pasta & sauce from the food bank.  Sometimes I'm lazy like last week and don't do anything special to it. Tonight I made my favorite - spaghetti & sausage. Chopped an onion, cooked with chopped sausage, added garlic, two cans of sauce, spices, simmer... Easy and delicious. Served with garlic bread (of course).

Extras this week:
* Made extra egg rolls to freeze
* Made my own bisquick mix
* Made flour tortillas
* Attempted corn tortillas
* Homemade chicken stock

Ideas for next week: turkey chili, hot dogs & potatoes (I WILL get those potatoes), chicken tacos (need lettuce), salmon cakes, borscht (maybe), pork chops, udon/ramen, stuffed peppers, pasta bake


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