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. 


  1. Sounds delish!

    A good variation on the lentil soup is to leave out the tomatoes and reduce the liquid so that you end up with something a little thicker, and serve it with thick slices of toasted bread and plain yogurt. I found it in The More With Less Cookbook (a great book that can be picked up cheaply used, BTW) and it's one of those cheap meals that my whole family will eat without complaint.

    We're among the fortunate few who can still afford fresh fruit and vegetables and meat with every meal if we want it, but the ability to be foolish is no excuse for choosing to eat like a fool. Simple, humble meals (like a simple, humble life) are good for the body and the soul as well as the budget.

  2. Your variation sounds very good and this lentil soup is one that my whole family loves to eat as well. This is my mother's recipe from when I was young. I don't know where she got it, or if she made it up, but we love it.

  3. I made your lentil soup with a little extra bacon to please the menfolk. Wow was it good! Best lentil soup I've ever made. Can't wait to try the other recipes. Thanks. Dee/NY

    1. I'm so glad you liked it. I've been eating this since I was a young girl. My mother always served them with croissants, and I like to as well. I hope you enjoy the other recipes.


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