Category Archives: Comfort food

Easy Spinach & Mushroom Pasta Sauce

Sometimes, when you just need a quick dinner and don’t feel adventurous, it is easy to discount pasta as “too easy”, or feel guilty about all those carbs. But the good news is, pasta is a great blank canvas on which you can paint all sorts of tasty, healthy flavors.

You can use generous amounts of pesto, which can be made in a blender and contains easily 2 servings of vegetables per plate. You could also whip up a white bean alfredo sauce, which is essentially watered down hummus, and is super healthy and filling.

Or you could make my favorite veggie-packed sneaky healthy red sauce of all time: spinach and mushroom sauce.

mushrooms and spinach

The beauty of this is its simplicity. You only need spinach, mushrooms, some spices, and a giant can of crushed tomatoes.

You can easily substitute in a jar of pre-made sauce, and add the veggies; or use diced or even whole tomatoes, just whir them in a blender before simmering. Canned or dried mushrooms would work just fine as well. You can also use frozen or canned spinach, but it will make the sauce much waterier and it would be best to simmer the sauce for an hour or more to thicken.

homemade pasta sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pint of any type of mushrooms
  • 2 heaping cups fresh spinach
  • 1 tbsp dried onion/onion powder
  • 2 tbsp Italian spice mix
  • Garlic salt, pepper, to taste

spinach and mushroom pasta sauce ingredients

Step 1: In a pan, add the mushrooms and a bit of water, wine, or stock. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Cook 5-7 minutes, and then add the spinach. Cook another 3-5 minutes until wilted.

simmer tomato sauce for pasta

Step 2: Add in all the spices, and the tomato. Bring to a gentle simmer, and place the lid on, slightly askew so that the steam can escape and your stovetop isn’t covered in sauce bubbles. Simmer until thickened to your liking, usually about 15 minutes for me.

spinach mushroom pasta sauce

Serve with or without meatballs, sausage, or any other sauce additions you like. The flavors all work together beautifully, and most people won’t even notice there are extra veggies! If you want to really fool them, you can puree the sauce with a blender or immersion blender before serving.

 

What’s your favorite way(s) to sneak more vegetables into your diet?

Weekly Eating – 1/15/18

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Well, turns out we got iced in on our trip to Texas! With freezing rain that turned into snow, followed by days of below-freezing temps, flights were grounded and hills were un-navigable. Just walking out onto the porch was a bit of an ice skating adventure. The dogs did not want to leave the house. We saw several cars in ditches in the following days because they didn’t think it was “that bad”.

And then the following day, our destination city gets hit with a foot of snow! I thought we moved south to get away from this winter crap? Several people who have lived in NC a long time say it’s been the coldest winter in memory. And we usually get a few snow days, but a foot in one day is kind of ridiculous. It meant extra time with family though, so overall it was kind of nice. 🙂

Monday:

Breakfast – I had the honor of hanging out with Kara from BravelyGo this morning at Summer Moon! I happened to be in town and she agreed to stop by and chat about all things Austin, business, and food with me. I really enjoyed getting to know this spunky, driven woman, and hope we stay in touch in the future.

Also, Summer Moon moon milk is magical, and their breakfast tacos are really dang tasty.

Lunch – Leftover chicken and dumplings soup from the weekend

Dinner – Chicken tortilla soup – it was served with crushed up tortilla chips, and it was like a piece of the puzzle of the universe aligned inside my head. Ahhhh, that’s why it’s called tortilla soup!

Snack – I had brought along some Miracle berries, so we had a fun experiment night! Miracle berries come from West Africa, and they have a compound in them that binds to your taste receptors.

Anything bitter, and especially sour, starts to taste sweet. Limes and grapefruits become absolute candy. The effect takes a few minutes to kick in, and lasts about 30 minutes to an hour. It’s very fun to watch people’s reactions to drinking pure vinegar!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I was inspired by yesterday to make breakfast tacos

Lunch – turkey sandwich, just because there was lunchmeat in the fridge and we had eaten all leftovers already

Snack – Pecan pie! We were snowed in today, with just about everything in the state cancelled. So we took stock of the pantry, to make sure we could survive. Mom in law found all the makings of pecan pie, so how could we not?

And if you’ve never had warm pecan pie just out of the oven and covered in caramel ice cream, don’t wait for the next blizzard, go make that happen!

Dinner – Pasta with meat sauce. Because no matter the weather or what else is happening, a big plate of carbs covered in sauce always sounds good. We did sneak quite a bit of veggies in though, there is bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, and tons of spinach in there!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries

Lunch – BBQ brisket sandwich and mac-n-cheese. We took a friend out for an early birthday lunch at a local BBQ place. The brisket was fatty, but I know what I’m getting into when I order brisket. The mac n cheese was phenomenal though, so creamy.

Dinner – Tex Mex. We were in Texas, after all, how could we leave without some enchiladas?

Thursday:

Breakfast – blueberry smoothie

Lunch – Our flight was delayed an hour, which was fine because I was starving. So I got a (way overpriced) beer, burger & fries.

And then, just as I’d paid the bill, some guy runs in and yells “if you’re on the flight to Raleigh Durham, chug your beers and pay your bills, the flight is back on time!” And so we ran…

Dinner – We finally made it home, and basically collapsed into bed. Oh, and this is what we came home to…

car covered in snow

Friday:

Breakfast – I made toast with peanut butter on one piece and jelly on the other. So naturally I was like…now it’s a sandwich. Not a song.

Lunch –I was not feeling great, apparently traveling just inevitably makes me sick for a few days. I heated some minestrone soup from the freezer.

Then I passed out for a 2 1/2 hour nap. The good news is, I felt so much better afterwards.

Dinner –Ribs (also from the freezer), potato wedges and edamame. Again, a very nice one-pan dinner.

The Weekend

This weekend is for resting and recovering, I’m feeling better but now it’s hubs’ turn. No more travel for a while, which is good. We have to unpack, do laundry, and restock the refrigerator eventually. Someone needs to remove the foot of snow in the driveway, and if we feel up to it there’s a post-holiday party at a friends’ house. I also got the “How Not To Die Cookbook” from the library, so I plan to spend some quality time with it and get some new ideas!

how not to die book and cookbook

Food Total: $72.43

I did a grocery run one day while in Texas to help re-stock. They were very generous with buying all the food, but I felt bad about drinking all the green tea and eating all the flip yogurts. (Y’all know that choco coco loco is my weakness.) This also includes the Summer Moon run, and the lunch we bought for our friend. And the silly expensive airport lunch. (Seriously, $7.50 for 10 oz of Bud Light?)

Lessons Learned

You just gotta roll with it, because life will throw you all kinds of crazy curves. From sickness to weddings, traveling is bound to happen. And you can pack all the granola bars and trail mix you want, but you will probably want real food and have to pay for it at some point. Just accept that. And having meals in the freezer is such a life saver. You can get home, just pull out a few bags or jars, put it in the fridge, and know that tomorrow you can eat real food.

And you never know what mother nature has in store. It is far better to be safe, than sorry and in a ditch. Always pack layers, lots of layers, no matter how warm you think the place you’re going will be. And take the dang vitamin C like your mom said. Who cares if it’s real or placebo effect, if you think you’re gonna get sick it’s better to be over-ready. On the same note, bring Claritin! Because cedars, yo.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Weekly Eating – Jan 8

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

So remember the part where we are eating 80% vegetarian this year? I’d say we have totally nailed it so far! We had some great successes this week, and a few fails too. The week did include an impromptu cross country trip, for a family emergency situation, so that sort of threw the meal plan off the rails a bit. However, it was for good reason, and didn’t damage the budget too badly.

Monday:

Breakfast – Banana berry smoothie

Lunch – Beet & Sweet Potato veggie burger wrap with sprouts, red sauerkraut, tomatoes, spinach, & Green Goddess.

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Patties

I just adore the bright pink colors going on here! Imagine all those lovely flavonoids running around my bloodstream detoxing and getting rid of free radicals… no, just me? #sciencenerd

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Wrap

Dinner –Homemade pizzas. I whipped up overnight refrigerator pizza dough on Sunday so these were easy breezy. The boy had pineapple, ham and mozzarella on his, while I added handfuls of veggies to mine.

Homemade Veggie Pizza With Pork

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Banana & Cardamom Pancakes

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Dudes, I had never had cardamom before (I think) but it’s one of the highest antioxidant spices so I’m trying to incorporate it into my cooking more. This pancake recipe was so simple, I whipped up the batter in a blender and poured it right onto the griddle. Easy peasy, and they came out fluffy and perfect. #winning

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Lunch – Big salad with sprouts, walnuts, cranberries, quinoa, and my amazing Green Goddess dressing.

quinoa and greens sprout salad

Dinner –Tempeh Teriyaki Stir Fry.

Teriyaki Tempeh Stir Fry

Guys. Guys, I made a vegan meal that the boy said he loved and would eat again! That’s a huge win! TBH it was super tasty, I would eat it again, and also I nailed the plating. (Pats self on the back)

Wednesday:

Breakfast – mixed berry smoothie

Lunch – leftover mushroom risotto from last week. There was a lot left and we were leaving town, so I wanted to eat it up. However, after sitting for a few days, it became thicker and… blah. I forced down a few forkfulls, but couldn’t come close to eating it all. That led to a starving afternoon of snacking…

Mushroom Risotto

Snacks – first up was a handful of dark chocolate with almond kisses that someone at work brought in. I figured, dark chocolate has good flavonoid & antioxidants, and you can’t go wrong with almonds right?

dark chocolate with almond kisses

Well apparently 3 almonds isn’t enough protein to satisfy, so I was rooting through my desk drawers about a half hour later. I did bring this vegan banana bread that I swapped at last month’s Bull City Food Swap… sad to say, it also was “meh”. But when I found a tiny peanut butter packet, and was also getting hangry, it was like sweet mana from heaven, and I ate half the loaf.

vegan banana bread

Dinner – Lemon Garlic Parmesan Pasta with a salad. I needed to use up several lemons, so I whipped up a super simple pasta dish.

Lemon Garlic Pasta with Kale and Sausage

Thursday:

Breakfast – stressful morning getting to the airport and literally making our flight by ONE minute… so, breakfast was coffee and airplane snacks.

Lunch – stopped by a BBQ place, and they had a Thursday Special: $2 pulled pork sandwich! We were totally in, and they were delicious. The pork was so moist, and the BBQ sauce flavorful.

Stubb's BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Dinner – a local pizza joint is a favorite here, so we had to indulge when in town. I got the Brussels sprouts one, which had sweet hot pepper jelly on it and was super tasty, while the boy got a meaty spicy one and compromised with a bacon jam covered in arugula as well. They were all amazing, and we ate nearly the whole thing!

Three whole Pieous pizzas

Friday:

Breakfast – Pineapple jalapeno smoothie and toast.

green smoothie and toast

Mom in law is obsessed with this smoothie which includes pineapple, spinach, coconut water, and jalapeno. It is fruity with a hint of spice, which is strange but definitely tasty.

Pineapple Jalapeno Smoothie

Lunch – Leftover pizza, which I threw a handful of salad greens on top of to make myself feel better about eating pizza for at least 4 meals this week…

leftover pizza with greens on top

Dinner – Korean tacos. It is super simple, a crock-pot beef roast with sweet sauce, a fresh crunchy slaw, and a peanutty dressing. They were really tasty, and I need to get the recipe.

Korean beef tacos

Snack – Chips & salsa. I cut up half an avocado, and mixed it with a half cup of salsa for a satisfying snack.

blue chips and avocado salsa

The Weekend

This weekend will be spent relaxing and spending time with family. We may get to go out and explore a little, and perhaps see some of hubby’s friends. The in-laws are great and are covering most of the groceries, so for food we will only spend on anything we go out for.

Food Total: $72.86

This week was just stocking up on frozen berries because we were out, and some other staples like soymilk, produce, and boxed wine. Don’t judge me, tons of people love boxed wine, even frugal folks and hard core wine lovers!

Thanks to last week’s big stock up, and tons of food still hanging out in the freezer and pantry, we should be set for at least another week (with the exception of a produce run). Maybe I need to do another of my own January Pantry Clean-Out challenges.

 

How was your week? Are you flexible with meal plans, or how do you deal with surprise travel?

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ravioli is a nearly universally loved food, and yet I’ve only met one person who has made it from scratch. Because sadly, the time and knowledge and desire to spend hours making and rolling and cutting your own dough has been essentially lost to today’s fast-paced and convenience-based lifestyle.

Well I have good news!

You can have your ravioli and eat it too. With one easy trick, you can make fresh, ‘homemade’ ravioli in minutes. Honest.

The trick? Wonton wrappers.

The wrappers are basically very thin dough, and they are perfect for stuffing with a delicious autumn spiced filling. Whereas making your own noodles requires hours of work, tedious rolling, or having a fancy pasta machine, these ravioli take only about 10 minutes total once you have your filling ready!

This recipe makes about 25 ravioli, or half the number of won ton wrappers in your package (’cause you need 2 per ravioli).

Ingredients:

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts

Sage Brown Butter**:

  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Optional: sea salt, cracked black pepper

Step 1: Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl.

If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts. I just left my filling as butternut squash because I love the flavor.

Step 2: Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.

I recommend doing these just 3-4 at a time, you don’t want your egg sealant to dry up before you press the top layer on.

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.

Step 4: While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.

“Browned” butter and “burnt” butter are only a few seconds apart.

Step 5: Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don’t let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you’re ready to roll!

Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.

This is a perfect, satisfying fall or winter recipe to use up seasonal, affordable squash, get some needed vitamins and fiber into your diet, and impress your dining companions. Once boiled, you can store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months.

 

 

*Butternut is not the only squash that works in this recipe. You can also use acorn squash, delicata squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, or really any firm-fleshed autumn or winter gourd here.

**Sage brown butter is not the only sauce, either. It complements the flavor of squash well and is seasonal at the same time. However, the ravioli would be equally delicious with an Alfredo or marinara.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Yield: 25

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ingredients

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Sea salt, cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl. If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts.
  2. Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.
  4. While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.
  5. Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don't let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you're ready to roll!
  6. Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/less-than-5/butternut-squash-ravioli-with-sage-brown-butter/

 

What are your favorite squash recipes?

Best Black Bean Soup

My whole life up to this point, I have thought “Bean soup? Why would anyone just eat pureed beans?” I’ve read dozens of black bean soup recipes and thought either that it sounded way too simple, so how could it possibly be tasty, or that it was too complex because “toast your cumin seeds lightly  until fragrant and then grind in a spice grinder”; ain’t nobody got time for that.

But then one day, I had a big batch of fresh slow cooker black beans and several jars of slow cooker chicken stock in the refrigerator at the same time. And I thought to myself, self, broth based soups are very good for you and low in calories, and so are black beans.

Why not give it a try?

Lo and behold, with some very simple staple spices, I put together a black bean soup that was out-of-this-world tasty. You can probably pull this together in minutes at any time with what you already have in your home. It would also be very easy to adapt to a slow cooker, just add everything and cook on low for a few hours. Additionally, it would freeze beautifully to be enjoyed at a later date.

I wolfed down half a batch, felt guilty, checked the calorie count, and felt guilty no more, because the whole thing will cost you less than 1000 calories total. And it’s super filling because of all the fiber from the black beans, so you can easily get 3-4 bowls from this recipe.

I used chicken stock that I made in the slow cooker from a whole chicken carcass. I recommend using homemade because you can control the amount of sodium, or add extra flavors you like such as bay leaves, lemon juice, or jalapenos to the broth while it cooks. If you want to keep it vegetarian, just make vegetable broth by putting a bunch of veggies in a slow cooker with some water for hours, and then strain it.

I also usually add a can of stewed whole tomatoes to my broth, and I loved that one tomato got added into this broth. I think it adds a nice layer of flavor, but your black bean soup won’t suffer without it. Feel free to leave that part out, or add more based on your taste buds.

This recipe makes a little more than a liter of soup, enough for 3-4 good sized bowls with some chunky bread and/or a salad on the side, or two really hearty meals. It takes approximately 10 minutes total, which does not include cooking time for the beans themselves or the chicken stock if you make that as well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cooked black beans^
  • 2 cups chicken stock*
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
  • Optional: 1 whole tomato, quartered
  • Optional: 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Step 1: If cooking your own beans, soak them at least 8 hours, then cook them on low overnight or over 6-8 hours, and drain. If using canned beans, drain 2 cans but don’t rinse. Add the vegetable or chicken stock and the spices to your beans in a large bowl.

Step 2: Use an immersion blender or an upright blender to blend the soup to your desired thickness. I enjoy a few beans left whole, so I just pulsed it several times, but you can also blend the crap out of it until totally homogenized.

And that’s all there is to it! Since I regularly cook up large batches of dried beans on the weekend, I think this will become a standby recipe in my repertoire. It is super healthy, low calorie, very filling and crazy cheap.

Price Breakdown

Black beans: $8.84 for 12 lbs
2 cups dried = ~.66lb = 4 cups cooked
$8.82/lb /12 lb * 0.66 lb = $0.48

Chicken stock: I consider it free because most people throw away the carcass after eating the meat. But if we consider the cost of the whole chicken just to make stock: $3.61 + maybe $2 of other ingredients (1 jalapeno, 1 can tomatoes, 1 onion, spices) = $5.61
This makes approximately 1 gallon stock, 1 cup = $5.61/16 = $0.35

Onion: $5.98 for about 96 tbsp
1 tbsp = $5.98/96 = $0.06

Garlic powder: $8.94 for about 96 tbsp
1 tbsp = $8.94/96 = $0.09

Whole chicken 5.47 lb 3.61
12lb Black beans 8.84
Minced onion 5.98
Garlic powder 8.94

 

Total: 0.48 + 0.35 + 0.06 + 0.09 = $0.98! Total!

Therefore, even if you only get 2 bowls, that’s $0.49 per serving. Not too shabby at all.

^You can use 2 cans of black beans, drained but not rinsed, if you don’t want to make them from dried.

*You can also used canned or boxes of chicken stock if you don’t want to make your own, or use vegetable stock, to keep it vegetarian/vegan.

 

Best Black Bean Soup

Yield: 4

Best Black Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked black beans
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 whole roma tomato, quartered
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
  • Optional: 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. If cooking your own beans, soak them at least 8 hours, then cook them on low overnight or over 6-8 hours, and drain. If using canned beans, drain 2 cans but don't rinse. Add the chicken stock and the spices to your beans in a large bowl.
  2. Use an immersion blender or an upright blender to blend the soup to your desired thickness. I enjoy a few beans left whole, so I just pulsed it several times, but you can also blend the crap out of it until totally homogenized. 
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegan/best-black-bean-soup/

 

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

 

There are certain things about your childhood that you will never forget, and experiencing or thinking of these things just takes you back. Maybe you had a particular place you always vacationed (oh hey, Conneaut Lake Park), or a song that every time you hear it you are transported to a certain place and time, or a specific smell or meal that always reminds you of happiness.

For me, it is cracker cookies.

They are called many things, from wafer cookies to sandwich cookies, but I have always known them as Cracker Cookies. Cracker cookies have always been my favorite Christmas cookie. Those light, buttery, sugar bombs were so dang addictive, I couldn’t trust myself around them.

We used to spend hours in the kitchen together, my mom and I, and usually my sister or grandmother. Mom would be rolling the dough, lovingly trying to get it to just the right thickness to be crispy and wafer thin but not crack in half under minimal pressure. I’d have a bowl full of sugar and a fork, and mom would toss the little rounds of dough at me as they came off the shot glass.

I’d wriggle the dough around until nicely covered in grains of sugar, and line them up in neat rows on the baking pan. Then I’d stab-stab-stab-stab, exactly 4 times, to make holes with the fork. I never did know why… maybe to bake evenly, maybe it just made them look pretty, maybe mom just needed to keep me busy until the first batch was done and could come out of the oven.

Regardless, we would then have dozens of little dough circles, piled on the cooling racks and waiting to be filled with yet more butter and sugar, to create a cavity causing sandwich of happiness.

The dough recipe is the original recipe my family has been using for decades, whereas I tried a new filling recipe this year. You can find infinite icing recipes online using regular sugar, powdered sugar, cream cheese, and all sorts of what-have-you. The beauty is that you can change your filling at any time, you could even go super crazy and try something fruit-focused like jam.

Another fun fact of these is that they are not just Christmas cookies.

Oh no. These little minxes can be changed up with the drop of a dye, to become wedding colors, or graduation centered, or a pastel array for a baby shower. The dough can be dyed as well as the frosting, for infinite variations. If you are super ballsy, you could even dip the finished sandwiches in chocolate! Whoa, nelly, make sure you have an appointment with your dentist lined up soon 😉

Recipe makes approximately 36 cookies, or 18 sandwiches. Can easily be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled for your cookie swap. If you’d rather watch me make these in Virtual Reality, simply Click Here or scroll to the bottom of the post!

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick room temperature butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp half and half or milk
  • Extra sugar for coating
  • Plastic wrap
  • Rolling pin
  • Baking sheets
  • Stand or hand mixer

Directions:

  1. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream your butter well for about 5 minutes. You want it to be very soft and light, almost liquid.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, and vanilla. Let it mix for 7-9 minutes; it will become quite dry and crumbly. At this point you may lose faith, but trust me, this will become dough very soon.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of milk or half and half. You can also use heavy whipping cream for richer flavor, or almond or coconut milk. The dough should begin coming together and smoothing out. If it remains a little too crumbly, you can add one more tbsp slowly.
  4. Once the dough has become smooth and sticky, scrape it out onto some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to a week. You could also freeze it for up to 6 months at this point.
  5. After 2 hours or 2 days, take the dough back out and flour a large surface. You can use your counter, tabletop, or a large cutting board or silicone baking mat.
  6. Place the dough on the flour with the plastic wrap on top. Begin rolling out the dough, pressing down firmly and evenly. Flip the dough, replace plastic wrap, and roll some more on the other side. You want to roll until it becomes about 1/4-1/8 inch thick.
  7. Once the dough is rolled out, cut circles with a 1-2 inch cutter, or use a plain shot glass. This is the easiest method I’ve found.
  8. Put the circles into the sugar, and mix it around to coat well on both sides. Place on an unsprayed cookie sheet.
  9. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, turning once. You want them to be just barely beginning to brown on the bottoms.
  10. Take them out and let sit for 3-5 minutes on the pan. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Once cool enough to handle, you can begin filling them!

 

Filling ingredients:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well. Add in the vanilla as well.
  3. As it comes together it will thicken and become smooth. If not, you can slowly add a tiny splash of milk.
  4. Color it however you like, and spread a teaspoon onto one cooled cookie. Gently press another on top to complete your sandwich.

 

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

Yield: 18

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick room temperature butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp half and half or milk
  • Extra sugar for coating
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Instructions

  1. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream your butter well for about 5 minutes. You want it to be very soft and light, almost liquid.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, and vanilla. Let it mix for 7-9 minutes; it will become quite dry and crumbly. At this point you may lose faith, but trust me, this will become dough very soon.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of milk or half and half. You can also use heavy whipping cream for richer flavor, or almond or coconut milk. The dough should begin coming together and smoothing out. If it remains a little too crumbly, you can add one more tbsp slowly.
  4. Once the dough has become smooth and sticky, scrape it out onto some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to a week. You could also freeze it for up to 6 months at this point.
  5. After 2 hours or 2 days, take the dough back out and flour a large surface. You can use your counter, tabletop, or a large cutting board or silicone baking mat.
  6. Place the dough on the flour with the plastic wrap on top. Begin rolling out the dough, pressing down firmly and evenly. Flip the dough, replace plastic wrap, and roll some more on the other side. You want to roll until it becomes about 1/4-1/8 inch thick.
  7. Once the dough is rolled out, cut circles with a 1-2 inch cutter, or use a plain shot glass. This is the easiest method I've found.
  8. Put the circles into the sugar, and mix it around to coat well on both sides. Place on an unsprayed cookie sheet.
  9. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, turning once. You want them to be just barely beginning to brown on the bottoms.
  10. Take them out and let sit for 3-5 minutes on the pan. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Once cool enough to handle, you can begin filling them!
  11. In a large bowl, cream the butter for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  12. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well. Add in the vanilla as well.
  13. As it comes together it will thicken and become smooth. If not, you can slowly add a tiny splash of milk.
  14. Color it however you like, and spread a teaspoon onto one cooled cookie. Gently press another on top to complete your sandwich.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/comfort-food/cracker-cookies/

 

 

It’s the world’s first Virtual Reality Cooking Show!

Want to watch me make these cookies start to finish, real time, in Virtual Reality?! You know you do. While watching, simply click and drag the screen to get a full 180 degree experience. Or if you have a VR head set, you can watch it in VR and feel like you’re right there in my kitchen with me.

Let me know what you think, and we may bring you more delicious content soon.

 

 

This post contains some affiliate links to Amazon products. They are the exact products I have and use, and if you purchase through these links this site receives a small commission. Thanks for stopping by!

Hosting a Cookie Swap Party

Disclaimer: Some of the links take you to a product, which if you buy, will give this blog a tiny commission, so I can eat more cookies. Thanks!

 

With the winter holidays just around the corner, you may be feeling stressed already, sad and anxious, dreading travel and spending time with crazy aunt Millie… or you might be filled with the holly jollies, stringing lights everywhere, humming Christmas tunes to yourself, and dreaming of all the seasonal things you plan to do.

Hopefully, you have several things to look forward to this holiday season. Regardless of if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Quanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or anything else, the winter holiday season is always a season of joy, love, tradition, and generosity. And food. Lots and lots of food. Especially desserts.

If you don’t have holiday traditions already in your own family or friends group, might I recommend starting one?

There are a million and one ways to enjoy the winter, regardless of what you believe, what the weather is like, and where you live. But one of my all-time favorite traditions that I hope to start myself in my new home state is a Cookie Swap.

There are basically two ways to do a Cookie Swap.

  1. Everyone brings already-made cookies, in an agreed-upon amount, and each person goes home with some number of each kind of cookie
  2. Everyone brings a recipe and ingredients, and then you bake them all together; each person still goes home with some number of each kind of cookie

Obviously, the kind of party you could or should host depends upon who has the facilities. If you are all in college or graduate school or tiny one bedroom apartments, then baking six dozen of five kinds of cookies might be a stretch. But if you have a decent sized kitchen with lots of counter space, I’d recommend that route!

A cookie swap is an awesome holiday tradition for several reasons.

Saves Time

If your family is at all like mine, you used to spend a LOT of time making cookies. Like, weeks upon end of flour, butter, sugar, mix it all together. Add the eggs, add the milk. Roll, make sure they are all the same size, dust with flour, roll some more, preheat to 350. Set the timer, whip the filling, thaw the dough, chill the icing.

The time it takes to make each kind of cookie is quite nearly inversely related to how delicious it is. Sure, there are some exceptions (really outstanding sugar cookies? sure) but that’s pretty much how it goes. You know that those cookies only Nana knows the full recipe for and take 18 hours in total are damn delicious.

My very scientifically accurate cookie vs time graph

So imagine you wanted to have all those tasty cookies, which on your own would take about 96 hours of work to create. But then you get to have them all, after only one day. Magic and sorcery you say?

Nay. Only the magic of teamwork.

Saves Money

In a similar way that you can use the magic of scale to save yourself time making lots of kinds of cookies in one go, you can also use the magic of economy by purchasing ingredients in bulk. You can probably find a cheaper price per pound on sugar if you know you will need 30 pounds of it versus 3.

You can agree to buy all ingredients at once and then split it all ways, or assign specific ingredients to certain people. It helps to have at least one very organized person in the group to organize the little details like this.

It is also very likely that you will save money versus buying holiday cookies at the store. Sure, if you buy generic crap off the day-old bakery shelves, you definitely will find better deals. But for a homemade, unique, made with love dozen cookies? Those things sell for easily $5-$20 per dozen, depending on the intricacy of recipe.

Recipes to try:

Bonding

Along with saving money on the actual cookies themselves, you are saving yourself some money by enjoying some frugal entertainment. Instead of going out to a movie and spending $15 on tickets plus $10 on concessions, a happy hour with $8 drinks, or dinner and maxing out your credit card, you can make new friends, and get closer to friends you already have in the comfort of someone’s home for almost free.

You can start many more traditions inside this tradition as well. Maybe make up your own words for traditional Christmas songs. Or have a theme, like a type of nut, a color, or “frosted” each year. One of the best ideas I’ve seen is to have everyone write down their recipe in a journal. Then each person gets to take home a copy, that will have all the cookie recipes each year.

Imagine a few decades from now, passing those books on to family or loved ones, and telling stories of holidays past. That time you spilled the flour all over the floor, the time your friend set off the smoke alarm because she got drunk and forgot to set the timer, or that time your cute neighbor came over to crash the party because it smelled so good.

If you think this sounds great, then now is your moment! Here is how to set up your very own cookie swap:

  1. Decide if you want everyone to bake at home, then just bring cookies and hang out, or if you will all bake together.
  2. Determine who would be interested in coming, and from there who could host the party and when.
  3. Invite a group of about three to seven people. That would be enough variety but not overwhelm most kitchens.
  4. Choose your cookie recipes. It could be a family recipe handed down for generations, or a new one you’ve always wanted to try. I wouldn’t recommend going too crazy your first year, unless you are already a pretty accomplished baker.
  5. Compile all the recipes and figure out your shopping list. Obtain all the ingredients. (And maybe a gallon or two of eggnog, wine, or whatever holiday beverage tickles your fancy)
  6. Show up! Make sure to have plenty of baking sheets, cooking spray, tin foil, wax paper, hand towels, a mixer, whether a hand mixer or standing like a KitchenAid, and plastic ware or tins for everyone to take home their bounty.

That’s all there is to it! If you are the host, be considerate of guests with little touches like holiday music, holiday scents, and having plenty of drinks and snacking foods. If you are attending, be considerate of your host and make sure you help clean up afterwards! Cookie baking does turn your kitchen into a flour-and-egg warzone.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a friends’ family cookie swap, and it was SO MUCH FUN! We drank wine, mixed, tasted, and talked about life. Grandma shared her wisdom, Grandpa was shocked that I could do shots of whiskey with him, we told stories and laughed a lot. I got to go home with a box full of 7 different kinds of cookies, but more importantly a bunch of fond memories, and the anticipation of doing it again next year!

 

Do you have any fun holiday traditions? Have you ever hosted or attended a cookie swap?

Weekly Eating – 10/23

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Monday:

Breakfast – I had a few applesauce muffins still left from making friends with the neighbors, and half a raspberry NOOSA yogurt

Lunch – the rest of a pasta salad I made from last weekend’s Triangle on FIRE Meetup, and a mason jar salad

Dinner – Minestrone Soup. I had this bag in the freezer from my batch freezer meal prep session a long time ago.  I defrosted it overnight, and then tonight just put it in a pot with the broth from the rib bones last week until boiling.

I was a little worried that the noodles would be mushy and gross from being frozen and then thawed, but it actually turned out to be the perfect consistency. This was a really tasty batch, I would use this recipe again.

Snack – I had a little packet of a nut butter sample in my desk drawer, combined with some pretzel crisps I keep as well it made a perfect little afternoon pick me up snack

Tuesday:

Breakfast – applesauce muffins 

Lunch – the last of the Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake leftovers

Dinner – I had a quick burrito before running off to the October Bull City Food Swap. This month’s swap was awesome, there were some really outstanding goodies. Especially the homemade smoked sausage made by my new best friend!  😉

I had brought several items for trade, including some marigold seeds from my yard, hickory nuts (we have 3 trees, and more nuts than we know what to do with) and some homemade garlic rosemary bread. The bread was a hit, as baked goods usually are. I think I found my niche, as you can trade for really good items with homemade bread.

I got lots of caramel corn, jerky, baked goods, fresh pasta, and some pesto. Luckily, pesto was already on the menu for tomorrow! I had also taken out a giant pack of chicken quarters I got on crazy clearance a few weeks ago.

It was $4.44 for 6 leg quarters! That is a lot of chicken for less than a buck a piece. I roasted them up on a sheet pan to keep in the fridge for the boy to snack on whenever he’s hungry this week.

Snack – blender hummus and veggies

Wednesday:

Breakfast – peanut butter granola bar

Lunch – leftover minestrone soup

Dinner – Pesto pasta, using up the fresh pasta from the Food Swap and the rest of some frozen blender pesto I’d made when the basil was done for the season. So garlicy and delicious!

Snack – a mini snicker bar at work

Thursday:

Breakfast – egg sandwich with 2 slices of my garlic rosemary bread

Lunch – a chicken quarter with some brown rice and edamame

Dinner – Beef roast in the slow cooker. I just chopped up some carrots, celery, and potatoes and tossed them in with a beef roast from the freezer. I paid about $10 for a ~3 lb roast, which is not bad

Luckily I have a programmable slow cooker, so I could set it on high for 4 hours, and then it automatically switches to “keep warm” setting so it doesn’t burn. It was a perfect meal for a chilly fall evening. I love that it is just starting to turn kind-of-cold now.

Friday:

Breakfast – I bought a pack of white corn tortillas with the idea to make quick breakfast burritos this week. They were delicious, but the tortillas fall apart and are way too flaky to eat in a car. Flour tortillas from now on.

Lunch – Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with a coworker. I did spend about $7, but this is my first lunch out all month, and the salad was really delicious. No regrets.

Dinner – Burritos, because there is never a bad day for a burrito.

Snack – chocolate peanut butter granola bar

The Weekend

This weekend is pretty exciting, we have a housewarming for a neighbor on Friday and will take a bottle of red wine over to say welcome to the ‘hood. They are about our age, so I’m hoping for a future friendship there. We got invited because I am the only one who has come to say hi since they moved in! It pays to be friendly.

Saturday is the NC Wine Festival in Raleigh! There will be 36 wineries, all from North Carolina, and all tasting is included. There will be food places too I believe, but you probably have to pay. We plan to have a big lunch, and hydrate well prior to going. The tickets were my 1-year ‘paper anniversary’ gift.  🙂

And then Sunday will be recovery and chores. Sleeping in, raking leaves, doing dishes and laundry. You know, all the fun adulting things you have to do. But probably a healthy dose of video games thrown in too.

Food Total: $63.85

This week I am quite pleased with groceries, especially since I was going for super healthy and lots of produce. Most people see winter as the time to gain a little “insulation”, but since we have plans for the holidays which may involve a swimsuit, I’m actually cracking down on my diet, meaning even more produce than normal, and hopefully lower volumes of carbs and dairy. We will see how the next few months go.

I did find some great deals, for example grass fed free range bison, which is absurdly expensive, was marked down nearly half off. It is still shockingly expensive to me, but we do love the flavor and so since I was far within my budget I picked it up to have as a treat at some point. Eggs were on super sale, at 79 cents per dozen, so that will likely be my go-to snack this month. And I found marked down crab meat for 0.99, so I’m going to try some new recipes.

Lessons Learned

This week really reinforced the benefits to eating leftovers. Every dollar spent on food is a sunk cost, so not eating leftovers and throwing away food is like throwing dollars in your trash can. I’m so glad hubs and I both don’t mind, and in some cases prefer, leftovers. I even plan many meals to make more than we can eat in one day, so that we have easily reheatable meals and snacks around.

I also am finding that I have way more food than I think we do! Just pulling most of our meals from the freezer this week, has helped tremendously in keeping overall cost down. And those stocked freezers come from picking up things on sale as I see them, then putting them away for future meals. The flexibility of being able to put together a meal from pieces picked up over time is a skill which can be developed by practicing over time. I’d highly encourage it!

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Weekly Eating – 10/16

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Hey y’all, for those who don’t know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (along with a whole host of other causes I’m sure). Though I agree with BitchesGetRiches on how empty the promises of “raising awareness” I do want y’all to be aware that:

  • It is estimated that in 2017, there will be at least 252,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women
  • 40,610 deaths will be caused by breast cancer
  • A self-exam is the best preventative thing you can do
  • Men can also get breast cancer
  • Mammograms aren’t always the best idea before 40
  • About 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their life
  • Costs of cancer care can easily be in the hundreds of thousands, even with great insurance
  • Diet and exercise can lower your risk of developing cancer

(Sources: Susan G Komen.org, breastcancer.org, cancer.org, MayoClinic.org, The CDC, USNews.com, Washington Post)

Ways you can help:

Save the boobies!

Monday:

Breakfast – I had made another big batch of smoothie in jars for this week, so I had a strawberry banana smoothie. It was also nice and pink!

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad: I brought enough for 3 days lunches

Dinner – Ham & Bean soup. I had some veggie soup leftover, plus some of a pork loin from the weekend. To use them both up and make it into something new I just chopped the pork, added a can of white beans, and simmered it together for about 20 minutes. With the rest of the leftover rolls, it was delicious and perfect!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Smoothie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad

Dinner – White cheddar shells with pork. I just could not even, Tues was a stressful day. So I said F it, I’m making boxed mac n cheese. Hubs was sweet and took over, and decided to tear up the remaining piece of pork loin and add it to the mac n cheese.

It turned out really really good actually! Since the mac n cheese was a Friday Freebie at Kroger and the pork was leftovers, this was basically a free meal. Not bad for not wanting to cook.

Snack – 2 Cookies & Green tea

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smootie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon couscous salad

Dinner – Ribs with potato wedges & roasted cabbage. I had planned to make stuffed cabbage casserole, but the face hubs made when he saw that on the meal plan board was so sad… since I was grocery shopping today, I decided I’d pick up whatever was on sale and surprise him. And boy, when I saw organic grass-fed ribs on sale for $5, you better believe I snatched that right up!

Even better, when I got to the checkout, the sale price rang up wrong, about $2 more than it should have been. I politely pointed it out to the lady, who checked the sticker and saw I was right. Turns out, if something rings up incorrectly and you catch it, you get that item for free! So we had FREE ORGANIC RIBS! Best day ever.

Of course, having ribs meant having bones leftover. And I’m not one to waste an opportunity, so of course I tossed the bones into the small crock pot overnight with some spices and odd and ends, so now I also have a quart of organic beef broth!

Snack – a coworker brought in pumpkin oatmeal bars, so I had one of those with some green tea. Delightful. I’m trying to cut back from 2 cups of coffee a day to only one, plus it is finally getting chilly around here, hence all the green tea this week.

Thursday:

Breakfast – (free) Raspberry Noosa & my homemade tropical granola. Noosa was another Kroger Friday Freebie, and I already know I love this brand, so I was pretty excited about it. I used half the container and added about 1/2 cup of granola for a perfect and tasty breakfast.

Lunch – Peanut butter and banana sandwich, (free) peach cottage cheese, mason jar salad. The cottage cheese was another Kroger Friday freebie (I really love these things) and it sounded interesting. I love cottage cheese, and I love peach yogurt. but I gotta say, not a fan of them mixed together. I could only handle about half, and then I threw the rest in the trash. I know, I’m sorry!

Dinner – Spaghetti with meatballs, garlic bread, and zucchini. I had a half loaf of garlic bread in the freezer, so I pulled that out and roasted it on a pan with some meatballs and zucchini while we went for a nice walk. When we got back I just boiled up some pasta, added sauce, and pulled the pan out of the oven.

Snack – granola bar

Friday:

Breakfast – mason jar smoothie

Lunch – Employee Appreciation Day picnic! We got free lunch of bbq pulled pork, baked beans, chicken tenders, pasta salad, and coleslaw. I haven’t had chicken tenders in ages, so that was delightful. There was live music and games and tons of free swag too! You know my favorite price is “free”.

They were pretty good gifts as well, multiple travel sized toiletries which will be perfect for upcoming trips, a full sized bottle of ibuprofen, a tshirt which will probably see many yoga workouts, a nice divided lunch box, and several nice pens. All in all a very good day, I felt quite appreciated.

Dinner – Stir Friday! I found 2 pork chops in the freezer, which I took out and thawed. I also got a marked down bag of chopped cauliflower rice for myself, and made regular brown rice in the rice cooker for hubs. With a cup of frozen mixed veggies, some garlic and soy sauce, it was a perfect simple meal.

The Weekend

This weekend I am super excited to have found a Triangle FIRE Meetup group! So I’ll be making some pasta salad to take to that, and hopefully learn a lot and make some new friends. We are also contemplating going to the NC State Fair, since Sunday is the last day to do so.

I need to make another batch of peanut butter granola bars since I’m running low, and maybe a few more mason jar salads for next week. If we find the energy, we might find a pumpkin patch or go apple picking. I also acquired a Singer sewing machine, which I need to look up the manual for and try to get it working.

Food Total: $55.13

I was very pleased with this week’s food shopping. I had an offer from Kroger where you get 200 bonus fuel points if you spend at least $50, but I didn’t want to go very far over that. Especially since last week I inventoried the freezers and have the rest of October already planned out. So hitting just over $50 was perfect, I got the bonus fuel points which will help keep gas costs down, but didn’t over-spend on my food budget.

Lessons Learned

It is SO GOOD to have a flexible meal plan, backup meals in the pantry, and knwo how to cook several simple meals. On days where work is stressful or you’re upset or whatever and you just cannot think about cooking something, having a pantry with options you can just make happen in 20 minutes or less is so critical. It saves us from the expense of ordering delivery or going out to get food, food that is probably not very healthy (because it would be either pizza or Firehouse brisket and cheddar subs, I guarantee).

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

The Perfect Breakfast: Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal

 

As we all well know, the way to lose weight is to make the amount taken in (calories you eat) less than the amount taken out (exercise). In a similar way, the way to save money is to make the amount taken in (job, passive income, business) MORE than the amount taken out (expenses like house, utilities, clothes, car, and food).

While there are many ways to increase the amount of money you bring in, like negotiating you salary, job hopping for a higher salary, or creating a side business, there are also many ways to reduce the amount of money you spend. Like realizing you need less house than you thought, driving older used cars or forgoing cars entirely, cutting or negotiating your utility bills, or other weird things that work for your lifestyle.

A big expense that literally everyone has control over and could bring down is one which we also require to keep living: food.

Food is a broad category, which could include eating out, happy hours, lunch with coworkers, home cooked meals, potlucks, delivery and take out, or monthly cooking subscription boxes like Blue Apron, Plated, or Hello Fresh. Everyone has different ways of managing these expenses, from whipping out the credit card and never thinking about it, to detailed line items in a budget spreadsheet.

Now, as the Budget Epicurean, I obviously will never advocate for eating only cardboard-flavored clearance items for the rest of your life. I LOVE FOOD. This entire website is proof of that fact.

However.

We also don’t eat like kings every single day. In fact, we very rarely eat outside the house at all. Luckily, I naturally enjoy cooking, the hubs also likes (most of) what I cook, and we both love leftovers. So our food spending is pretty low compared to most people’s. But even we have some room to “cut the fat”.

One of the best ways to decrease overall spending is to find staple meals that both are cheap, and you actually enjoy. If the thought of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich makes you nauseated (or you’re allergic to peanuts…) then that is probably not a good choice for your frugal food budget arsenal. There are literally infinite articles in the world on frugal/cheap meal ideas. Google a bit, and note down a few that sound good. Then make them, and see how you like it.

This recipe has become my absolute favorite breakfast go-to meal: Cinnamon Sugar Raisin Oatmeal.

Oatmeal is very filling, due to its high level of soluble fiber. It is fantastic for your heart and digestion, and contains many minerals needed for overall health. It is a blank canvas on which you can paint a rainbow of textures and mix-ins. From seeds and nuts to dried and frozen fruits, white sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup, oatmeal variations are endless.

It is also dirt cheap.

Bought in bulk, online, or in canisters from the store, oats are one of the cheapest per-calorie whole grain options out there. If you can handle the flavor of plain cooked oats, man, your heart and wallet will thank you!

But I have to have at least a little flavor. My “fancy-pants” oatmeal involves raisins, cinnamon, salt and sugar and tastes divine. It also costs two quarters per serving!

Every day I choose to eat this rather than buy a breakfast sandwich, bagel, or any other kind of fast food alternative, I’m saving more quarters to add to my investment accounts or put towards big life goals.

Here’s how the costs break down:

  • Oats: 2.39 for 42 oz
    • Per serving: 8 oz = 0.45
  • Raisins: 1.49 for 16 oz
    • Per serving: 1 oz = 0.09
  • Cinnamon: $1 for 2.5 oz
    • Per serving: 0.25 oz = 0.10
  • White sugar: $1.89 for 4 pounds
    • Per serving: .5 oz = 0.01
  • Salt: 0.54 for 26 oz
    • Per serving: .25 oz = 0.005

Total per serving = $0.56

The easiest way to prep this is to make a big batch every other week in a mason jar. I fill it 3/4 of the way with oats, pour in some raisins, cinnamon, sugar and salt. I put the cap on, and shake-shake-shake!

Then I take it to work, stick it in my desk drawer, and it is waiting for me every morning. Sometimes I do make breakfast at home, like a smoothie or a granola bar or some microwave eggs benedict. But when I don’t have the time or energy, I know I will still have a nice warm bowl of oatmeal just the press of a “hot water” button away.

 

How about you guys, any good low-cost-per-serving recipes you want to share??