Monday, January 25, 2016

Humble Food for Humble Times

I am very aware of how much I spend at the grocery store, and what I end up with at home to put in the fridge or on the shelves. $100 used to fill the shopping cart and my fridge and shelves as well. Not so anymore. I can spend $100 and get home and wonder what we are going to eat for the next week. Have you noticed the price of meat? Especially the "cheap" cuts? $4.99 and up for hamburger or chuck roast? Forget about buying fresh produce in winter or summer for that manner. The prices are about the same. And considering that most of our grocery story food is shipped from great distances  to our stores, they contain very little nutrition, as well as GMO's. Well, I have some very delicious and inexpensive meals that your family will love and will stretch that food budget.

Bean and Hamburger Casserole

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

Saute in a large skillet:

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup chopped vegetable of your choice
 1/4 to 1/2 lb. cooked hamburger (or ½ pint jar hamburger or other meat)
When the meat is brown, stir in:

1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 1/2 cups cooked beans, or one 15 oz. can beans of your choice
1 1/4 cups (about 1 can) tomato soup, tomato sauce or diced  tomatoes
1 beef bouillon cube, dissolved in 1 cup hot water
2 cups cooked rice

Heat and simmer a few minutes.  Place in a greased casserole and bake 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with 1/2 cup grated or sliced cheese, if desired.  Return to the oven just until cheese melts. This is tasty and filling and you can add to it to your desire.

Lentil Soup

2 C. lentils
2-3 qts. water
2 slices uncooked bacon, cut into pieces
1/2 med. onion chopped or sliced
1/4 C chopped carrots
1/2 C chopped celery
3 TB chopped parsley, or 1 1/2 TB dried parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1- 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes, or whole tomates
2 TB wine vinegar

Wash lentils and place them in the pot with 2 qts. water, and the rest of the ingredients except the tomatoes and vinegar. Cover and simmer for 1 & 1/2 hours. Add tomatoes breaking up if whole, add vinegar and simmer 30 min. longer. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. If you prefer thinner soup, as I do, add up to another Qt. of water. 

Variation: to make this meal a complete protein, add 1/2 C of rice during the last 30 min. of cooking, adding more water if needed.

Shrimp Casserole Supreme
 - Salad shrimp are inexpensive where I live, about $4.99/lb., so you can even use 3/4 lb. or canned salad shrimp to help cut costs.

1 lb. cooked salad shrimp
1 TB lemon juice
3 TB salad oil
¾ C uncooked rice
¾ - 1 C  half and half (whole milk of non-fat will produce a watery casserole, so if using, use less)
1/3 C slivered almonds (or sliced), if desired
1/2 Tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp pepper
Dash each cayenne and paprika
1 10 oz. can condensed tomato soup
1/3 C dry sherry or other white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook rice in about 1 1/3-1 ½  C water (add a pat of butter to the water) for about 18 min. or until water is absorbed. I like to keep the rice on the drier side since it will absorb some of the liquid while cooking in the oven. Meanwhile, place shrimp in a large (2 qt.) casserole dish and stir in lemon juice and oil and allow to rest for 10 min. Add the rest of the ingredients, along with the cooked rice, starting with about ¾ cup of the half and half. We like our casserole a little drier, so I use the lesser amount. If you want it a little soupier, use more of the half and half. I have used milk instead of half and half and it is just not the same. The original recipe calls for heavy cream, but we like it with half and half. I like to top off the casserole with a sprinkling of almonds and a dash or two of paprika before putting it in the oven. Bake for 50-55 min. This freezes very well and is easily doubled. With a salad and hot rolls or garlic bread, this makes a hearty meal.
 Serves 6.

Crock Pot Ranch Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (purchased on sale)
couple dashes paprika
2 tablespoons butter, melted 
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can cream of chicken soup 
8 ounces cream cheese, cubed
1/4 C chicken broth or water  
 1 (1 ounce) package Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix, or 1/4 C your favorite homemade Ranch Mix (see mine below)
bacon, optional

Wash and dry chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks and place them in crock pot. Sprinkle with paprika, if desired. Drizzle melted butter of chicken. Add Cream of Chicken soup, cubed cream cheese, 1/4 C chicken broth or water, Ranch Dressing Mix, and gently fold to combine. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Stir to blend ingredients. Serve over warm buttered noodles. Top with crumbled bacon, if desired. This recipe easily doubles and freezes well.

Rose's Ranch Dressing Mix (adapted from The AntiHousewife

1/2 C dried parsley
2 Tb dried minced garlic
2 TB dried minced onion
1 TB dried dillweed
1/4 C onion powder
1/4 C garlic powder
1 TB salt or season salt (less to taste)
1 TB ground black pepper (or less to taste)
1/2 tsp red chili flakes

Combine all and keep in a tightly closed jar. 

To use:
1 generous TB Ranch Dressing Mix 
1 & 1/2 C mayonaise
1/2- 3/4 C  buttermilk or regular milk (more or less to consistency you like)
Let sit in fridge for at least 30 min. for flavors to combine and to soften dried ingredients. 

We also have some favorite dried food recipes that are tasty and economical. You can find the freeze dried and dry ingredients on my Thrive Life website  Back Country Cook. Here are a couple.

Beefy Cheese Taco (adapted from Rainy Day Food Storage)

In a one quart wide mouth Jar layer,.
½ Cup Powder Cheese Blend
3-4 Tablespoon Taco Seasoning (depending on how strong a flavor you want)
1 C freeze dried hamburger
¼ Cup Dehydrated Onions
2 Tablespoon Powderd Milk
Fill the rest of the Jar with Egg Noodles.

To store: Add oxygen absorber  or vacuum seal.

To Cook, bring 3 C water to a boil. Add jar ingredients, and simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 min. Add water if necessary so ingredients don't' become too dry and rehydrate properly. Serves 4.

Ground Beef Stroganoff (jar meal)

In a baggie combine:
3 TB sour cream powder
1/2 c dry milk
3 TB cornstarch
1 TB chicken or beef bouillon
1 1/2 tsp dried minced onion
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp pepper
1 1/2 tsp parsley
3/4 tsp garlic powder

In another baggie add:
1/2 C dried or freeze dried mushrooms

1 C freeze dried hamburger (or if making fresh-1/2 pint canned burger, or 1/2 lb. hamburger, cooked)
 1 1/3 C macaroni

To make jar meal: add macaroni to jar, layer ground beef on top, then add mushroom and seasoning baggie.

To make: soak mushrooms in hot water, cook macaroni and drain. Drain mushrooms, saving water and add enough water to equal 1 C. Put water and sauce mix in pot, simmer until thick, add water if too thick. Add meat, mushrooms and cooked macaroni, heat through. Garnish with parsley.

If you are interested in learning more about or purchasing Thrive Life foods, please let me know. You can save time, and yes, MONEY, with Thrive Life. See my blog here about freeze dried foods.  If you purchase through my website, I can save you money over the retail prices. Ask me about the unadvertised specials, and you'll save even more. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cleaning Calendar


It was a great loss to lose Ernie, and we mourned over him. But we knew we wanted to get another puppy. We searched and were able to find a local litter that was due in October. On Dec. 5th we were able to take our new little Golden Retriever home.

Meet Jack.


In September we had a tragic accident. Our beloved 11 month old Golden retriever, Ernie, was backed over by a semi. He was able to drag himself with his front legs out from under the front tire. I rushed him to the vet and xrays showed he had a broken pelvis, broken rear leg, and a broken  or cracked sacrum. Our vet gave us hope if we took him to Washington State University Veterinary School where a team of orthopedic experts could mend him back together. The next day we had a very long drive to get there. Unfortunately, Ernie had more than just broken bones. He was not putting any weight on his good rear leg, and was not responding favorably to various pain tests. In other words, he had nerve damage. We made the painful decision to put him down. We brought him home and buried him on our property next to another Golden we had, Jake. Jake died at age 8 from bone cancer. We got Cooper about 2 weeks before Jake died.

Cooper knew immediately when we brought him home as he sniffed with great care at the box that Ernie was in. Cooper barely ate for 2 weeks and had little energy. Bubbles, our 16 year old cat, cried out mournfully with long, agonizing yowls.  Ernie used to play ball with her. He would drop the tennis ball in front of her as she lay or sat, and she would bat the ball away with her paw. He would jump to get it and bring it back to her to drop in front of her again, which she would then swat with her paw, and this would repeat over and over again. It was comical to watch.

We love you and miss you Ernie, Rest in Peace.

Thrive Cost Comparison

See my post ...

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are You Familiar with Thrive Life Foods?

I have discovered great tasting, healthy, long term freeze dried food and I didn't break the bank. I started a new blog with some information about Thrive foods. If you're interested, have a look.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Frozen Meal Day

School is just around the corner and every August I create delicious meals for my family to have in the freezer. I first came upon this idea from my Women's Day Cookbook. Over the years our family has some definite favorites and I have tweaked them to make them my own. Now that my daughters are out of the house and in college, I will be portioning these meals for the 2 of us. I now have in the freezer, 2 lasagnes, 3 meatloaves, 8 dinners of salisbury steak for 2 with gravy, spaghetti sauce, and 4 meals of chili. Just thaw and reheat. What could be simpler? One bonus is that every recipe incorporates vegetables. You will need 11 pounds of ground beef for this.

 I started out by chopping up in my food processor (fairly small, some pieces are tiny bits) 2 pounds each of onions, carrots, and zucchini. I cooked these in 1/4 C of oil for about 15 min.These cooked vegetables will be used in every recipe.

In another pot, I then made a plain meat sauce with 3 pounds ground beef ( I used 90% lean Angus because it was on sale), 1 Tb garlic and some salt and pepper. I browned this up and then added 6 C. of the cooked vegetables, 4- 28 oz. cans of tomato sauce (you could use crushed), 1- 15 oz can of tomato sauce and some salt. I brought it to a boil and simmered on low for about 20 min. This will be your meat sauce for your  chili, lasagne, and spaghetti sauce.

I seasoned 4 C. of this sauce with 1 TB minced garlic, Italian seasoning, basil and oregeno and made two, 8x8 pans of lasagne. I used 1 lb. of mozzarella cheese, 2 C ricotta mixed with 2 C cottage cheese, 1 egg, some parsley and a pinch of nutmeg. I boiled 12 lasagne noodles and then cut each in half. I used 4 halves per layer. I layered noodles, meat sauce, ricotta sauce, and shredded mozzarella for 3 layers, ending with mozzarella on top. Oh, I sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on each ricotta layer, too. Here they are assembled and ready for the freezer. Cover with plastic wrap, then foil. I always put a reminder on my label to remove the plastic wrap because I'm afraid I'll end up cooking it onto the lasagne! Oh my gosh, I can't wait to bake these. Don't they look delish? I can hardly wait for lasagne night with a small salad and some crusty garlic bread, Mmmm.

Then,  I used 6 C. of the meat sauce to make chili. I added 2 C of the cooked vegetables along with 3 cans of beans (2 kidney, 1 black bean), 1 1/2 C frozen corn, 1/3 C chili powder, 1 1/2 TB cumin, a few dashes of hot sauce ( I use Tapatio), and salt. I simmered it for about 1 hour, then cooled and put in freezer containers.This will be great with cornbread, or to top off baked potatoes. This actually turned out better tasting than I thought - it is quite tasty. It is one of those dishes that is better the next day after all the flavors have blended.

Next, I made meatloaf with 4 lbs. of ground beef, 2 C. of the cooked  vegetables, 4 eggs, 1/2 C ketchup, 2 envelopes of dry onion soup mix, 1/4 c milk, and 1 1/3 C oatmeal. I used oatmeal because I didn't have any bread crumbs on hand. The mixture filled 3- 8x4 foil pans. I baked them for 1 hour at 350 degrees. You can certainly use your own family favorite meatloaf recipe. This is just what I did. Here they are before the oven and after.

Meanwhile, I made salisbury steak with 4 lbs. of ground beef, 2 C oatmeal ( again, no bread crumbs on hand, and oatmeal is healthy), 1 box (2 oz.)dry onion soup mix, 2 egss, 1 TB garlic and 1/2 C water. Mix by hand and press into 2- 12x8 " foil pans. Put in oven with meatloaf and bake 25 min. Drain and let cool. Here they are cooling. Cut each into 8 pieces and layer with wax paper in a freezer bag. Label and freeze.

While those are in the oven, make the gravy for the salibury steak by either making 24 oz. gravy from a dry mix, or with 2-12 oz cans of gravy. To the gravy add 2 C. water and 2 C of the cooked vegetables. Don't worry, for some reason adding the extra water doesn't thin it out too much. Bring to a simmer for 5 min. Put in 1 or 2 C freezer containers (uh, where are those?), label and freeze. I will serve this gravy with the salisbury steaks and some mashed potatoes. This is definitely comfort food!
I have made these salisbury steaks and gravy many times just because it is sooo good!

To the leftover meat sauce, I made it into spaghetti sauce by adding Italian seasoning, oregeno, basil and some minced garlic. Put this in freezer containers to suit your needs. Except I don't have any!

I found out that I had almost 2 C of vegetables left over. Next time, I will use 1 1/2 pounds of each to make my cooked vegetables. Also, I forgot to get freezer containers in 1 C portions for the gravy, and I don't have enough containers for the chili and spaghetti sauce. So off to the store tomorrow to purchase those items. They will just have to chill in the fridge overnight in their pans.

While I was cooking everything, yes, right while everything is in the oven, my youngest daughter calls from Alaska to tell me that my oldest daughter was just in an accident with a semi truck. Are you kidding me? Their car was making a left hand turn and the truck driver goes to pass them and T-bones their car. She was a passenger with her roommate and her roommates younger brother. they are all OK and are being checked out at the hospital. No broken bones I don't think, but a couple of concussions, severe bruising and I don't know what else. They have not made it back home from the hospital yet, so I don't know everything. Sheesh, I was ready to throw everything in the fridge and drive the hour to where she lives, but looks like they are all OK. Oh, the truck driver got a ticket. Ok, back to my post.

Last week, I made enchiladas and made an extra pan for the freezer. Basically, anything I used to make in a 13x9" pan, I now make in 2- 8x8" pans and freeze one. Next week, I will make a chicken trio for the freezer. Now I won't have to cook until Christmas!

Here are a couple of sockeye salmon that I caught last week with my daughter and then smoked. Looks like the top one got a way from a hungry sea lion on her journey up the river and to the lake.