Monday, 30 January 2012

What We Spent, January 2 - January 29

The challenge was well timed for us.  Our tight January budget necessitated “shopping at home.”  Working from our pantry and deep freeze before purchasing from the store helped us to get through the month without exceeding our budget.

We ran out of coffee early in the month and debated going without it but, in the end, decided that coffee is too important a pleasure for us to be willing to forgo it entirely.  We bought coffee and, instead, did without some other things.

We also bought frozen vegetables this month, because we were completely out of them.  With many of the items in the produce aisle being out of our price range at this time of year, frozen vegetables provided the most affordable option.

I was fortunate to get some good prices on cheese at the end of last month, and stocked our freezer with Brie, Cheddar, and a bag of shredded Mozzarella and Edam.  Because we had these cheeses on hand, we were able to limit our dairy purchases this month to yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk.

By the last week of the month we were both getting a little cranky about the limited vegetable options on our menu but, other than that, we did just fine.  I’m glad to be able to say that because our budget will be just as limited in February.

We’re both very grateful that our freezer is well stocked with meat and fish.  I have canned fish and canned turkey in the pantry too, so we’re not lacking for protein.  I am, however, going to have to find some way to expand the grocery budget soon or, once we’ve worked our way through what we have on hand, meat will no longer be an affordable option for us.  That would make my husband very unhappy.  I wouldn’t be thrilled about it either.

In order to provide myself with incentive to continue on with our "shop what we have" agenda, I’ll be participating in another pantry challenge for the month of February, this one hosted by Coping With Frugality.  I’ll also be looking hard at our budget and at my earning options this month, with the goal of expanding our grocery budget by at least $50/month by the beginning of March.

Here’s a breakdown of our grocery spending in January.  What are your goals for February?

Yogurt (2 x 675 grams/23.8 ounces)
      $  4.94
Cottage cheese (750 grams/26.5 ounces)
3  x 796 ml/27 ounce tins crushed tomatoes
Frozen peas (750 grams/26.5 ounces)
Frozen green beans (1 kg/2.2 pounds)
Frozen corn (1 kg/2.2 pounds)
Frozen spinach (500 grams/1.1 pounds)
2 English cucumbers
Cabbage (1.13 kg/2.49 pounds)
Chicken stock in a box (4 x 900 ml/30.4 ounce)
Coffee (2 x 1.36 kg/3 pounds)
2 x 2 litres/2.11 quarts 2% milk
Bananas (1.25 kg/2.76punds)
4.54 kg/10 pounds navel oranges
Yogurt (750 grams/26.5 ounces)
Cottage cheese (2 x 1 Kg/2,2 pounds)
10 kg/22 pounds sugar
300 grams/10.7 ounces tomatoes
4 packages (6 each pkt) English muffins
Kraft dinner

 Total Expenditures


Peach Spice Muffins

I put by a lot of fruit every summer.  Seeing all those rows of beautiful jars lined up in my pantry gives me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, and a sense of security. In the wintertime, opening those pantry doors is an almost daily affair.  We rely heavily on those summer fruits in the cold months, when produce selection is limited and prices are high.

There are times when you just don’t want to run to the grocery store in search of ingredients and, at our house, there are days when you just can’t afford to.  This muffin recipe is perfect for those days:  It’s based upon canned fruit and other pantry ingredients, it’s easy and inexpensive to make, it tastes great, and—when paired with a creamy cheese like Brie—it makes an excellent breakfast.

Winter mornings are so much more pleasant when you can start your day with something warm from the oven!

To make Peach Spice Muffins, you’ll need:

  • 1 quart of canned fruit (peaches, pears, or crushed pineapple all work well in this recipe)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-3/4 cup reserved fruit juice (if you don't have enough, top it up with water or milk)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of canola or other neutral flavoured vegetable oil
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

Drain the liquid from the canned fruit and reserve it.  Pulse the drained fruit in a food processor.  You don’t want a puree.  There should be distinct pieces of fruit in your finished muffin.

Measure out 1-1/2 cups of the chopped fruit into a large bowl.  Reserve any leftovers for another use.  (I stir them into yogurt or cottage cheese.)  Beat the eggs and add them to the fruit, together with the reserved juice, the sugar, and the oil.  Mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger.

Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.

Spoon the muffins into buttered muffin pans.  You'll probably have about 18 muffins.

Bake the muffins at 350˚F for about 25 minutes, until the tops of the muffins spring back when lightly touched. 

Serve the muffins warm or cold.  Allow them to cool completely before storing them in an airtight container.  They freeze well.
This recipe is linked to Gallery of Favorites hosted by Premeditated Leftovers and The 21st Century Housewife

Gallery of Favorites

What We Ate, January 23 - January 29

I learned this week that Kraft Dinner is a vegetable. 

I planned to make burgers for supper on Wednesday and asked him what vegetables he’d like with his supper. 

His reply? “ Kraft Dinner.” 

My response?  “But what vegetables?”

He snapped.  In a tone curiously reminiscent of Darren McGavin’s “Not a finga!” exclamation after the infamous lamp incident in “A Christmas Story,” he shouted “Kraft Dinner! ” and stomped out the door, returning a short while later with a familiar blue box in hand.

It was not our finest moment but, truth be told, we’ve both been kind of grumpy this week.  We’ve been good about using what we have on hand but even I'd reached a point where I just had to eat something different.  I just had to. 

So, even though our vegetable crisper is full of stuff from our Good Food Boxes, and even though we have corn, peas, and green beans in the freezer, I bought broccoli and beets on Tuesday.  We had the broccoli that very day.  It was wonderful. 

I have yet to use the beets but I’m sure they’ll find their way into our menu this week.

Our only other grocery purchase this week came in the form of four packages of English muffins.  The Superstore had packages of six on sale for a dollar a piece.  They’re usually $2.50 or more for a single package so it was worth picking some up.  We used a couple of them for breakfast one day this week.  The rest are in the freezer.

Since there’s more February than January in this week, yesterday marked the end of our January food budget.   I’ll be posting a recap of our spending later today.  All in all, I think we did quite well this month.  Despite our complaints about the lack of variety in our vegetable crisper, we both know that we’re fortunate to have so much good, nutritious food on hand. 

Here’s what we ate this week:

  • Breakfast – Orange pancakes
  • Supper – Potato and cauliflower soup, toasted tomato and lettuce sandwiches on multigrain bread, apple pie

  • Breakfast –  Apples, toast with peanut butter
  • Supper –  Potato and onion frittata, steamed broccoli, leftover pie


  • Breakfast – Burger and egg breakfast sandwiches.  (We had one burger patty left so I split it horizontally and heated the two halves in the microwave.  I put them on toasted English muffins and topped them with tomatoes, onions, fried eggs and cheese.)
  • Supper – Vegetable ramen made as described here, veggie gyoza from the freezer, oranges

  • Breakfast – Oatmeal and applesauce
  • Supper – Boiled ham, scalloped vegetables, peas, canned cherries

  • Breakfast – Baked eggs, cooked on top of leftover scalloped veggies, oranges
  • Supper – Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, coleslaw made with cabbage, carrots, apples, and sunflower seeds, pears in brown sugar syrup with ginger.


This post is linked to Good (cheap) Eats' Pantry Challenge Finale

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Scalloped Vegetables

Every now and again our local Superstore puts Toupee style (whole, boneless, cooked) hams on sale for less than $2.00/pound.  When they do, I try to make room in our food budget to purchase one. 

On average, these hams cost me between $26.00 and $30.00.  I cut them into six portions, wrap each portion separately and put them in the freezer.  Each portion provides three to four meals for the two of us, making them a very good value indeed.

I thought at first that I would be able to just thaw my portions of ham and use them immediately but, when I did so, the results were disappointing.  The meat had an unpleasant texture and was watery.  Now, I reheat the ham portions from frozen. 

When I remove the ham from the freezer, I put it straight into a pot and cover it with cold water.  I add onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and bay leaves.  I bring the whole thing to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer.  Once the ham has been heated through, I remove it from the water, transfer it to a cutting board and cover it with a large heatproof bowl.  After it’s rested for 10 minutes, I slice it and serve it.  I save the cooking water to use as a base for stock or for soup.

My husband associates ham with special occasion dinners.  He grew up on a farm, where having ham meant raising the pig, butchering it, and then curing it.  Once all of that was done, his mom would roast the cured ham in the oven and glaze it.  Such a labour intesive dish merited a celebration.

Like our Thanksgiving dinners now, the ham dinners of my husband’s childhood had a very specific menu.  Ham was always served with scalloped potatoes and boiled cabbage.  

He’ll be glad to forgo the boiled cabbage but, to this day, when I serve ham (even my very simple reheated version) my guy wants his scalloped potatoes.  If I have the time, I don’t mind making them.  They’re simple, inexpensive, and tasty, but I’m constantly challenged to get enough vegetables into my husband's diet.  A dinner of only meat and potatoes just doesn't make the mark.

In pursuit of my “more vegetables” goal, I decided to try adding some other veggies to our scalloped potatoes.  As long as I left potatoes as the top and bottom layers of the dish, the change was well received. 

Over the years, I’ve made this dish with virtually every winter vegetable.  It always works well and always tastes good...although I will admit that beets can give it a rather unusual colour!

We had ham last night and I made a very simple version of my scalloped vegetable dish.  I used:
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 1/4 of a large head of cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
  • All purpose flour
  • About a quarter pound of butter
  • Salt and salt
  • Milk

I started by thinly slicing two of the potatoes and  spreading them in an even layer on the bottom of a loaf pan.

I sprinkled a thin layer of flour over the potatoes, dotted some butter here and there over the flour.  Then I seasoned the layer with salt and pepper. 

I made another layer, this time of sliced cabbage.

I dressed the cabbage layer with flour, butter, salt and pepper, just as I had done with the potatoes.

Next, I made a layer of sliced onions.

I dressed the onion layer with flour, butter, salt and pepper, just as I had done with the potatoes and cabbage.

I layered in the last two potatoes

and one more sprinkling of flour, butter, salt and pepper.  I finished assembling the dish by pouring in enough milk to come just even with the top layer of potatoes.

I put the loaf pan into a 350˚F oven with a pan underneath to catch any drips caused by the milk boiling over.  (Be sure to line your drip pan with foil.  The first time I made this, I didn’t do that.  The milk burned and seemed to fuse with the pan on a molecular level.  It was absolutely impossible to remove.  The pan was ruined.)

Bake the vegetables until a knife inserted into the center of the pan easily pierces them.  The top layer of potatoes will be browned and the milk may be very dark near the edges.

Let the dish rest for a few minutes to settle, but serve it while the vegetables are still hot.

This dish reheats well but doesn’t freeze well.  You can use leftovers just as they are or incorporate them into a soup.

This post was linked to Think Pink Sundays, hosted by Flamingo Toes

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Cream of Vegetable Soup

Soup is a form of refrigerator Velcro at our house.  I use it as a means of using up whatever leftovers I happen to have in the fridge.  It’s rarely made from a recipe.

This soup is an exception to that rule. I make it from whatever vegetables I have on hand but there is a basic formula behind it, and I use that formula for virtually every cream soup I make.  The proportions and method remain the same from soup to soup, the flavour determined by the stock, seasonings, and ingredients.  Thus, the same basic recipe that makes this cream of vegetable soup can be used to make clam chowder or even a cheese soup.

The basic proportions for the soup are 1 Tablespoon each of butter and flour for every cup of liquid.  To make this pot of soup I used 4 cups of liquid and 1/4 cup each of butter and flour. 

If you would like to make cream of vegetable soup, you’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 2 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 cups of milk (I didn’t have fresh milk in the house so I used 1 cup of low fat evaporated milk and 1 cup of water)
  • Seasonings
  • Assorted cooked vegetables (I used corn, carrots, green beans and cauliflower)

Begin by melting the butter in a large pot over medium high heat.  When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook it until it’s translucent.

Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the flour.  Cook the flour /onion/butter mixture for 5 minutes.  It won’t take on any colour but will cook the raw flavour out of the flour.

Add the stock a bit at a time, stirring after each addition, until the liquid and roux have been completely blended.

Add in the milk.  Stir until well mixed.

Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the soup comes to a boil and thickens slightly. 

Taste the soup at this point and add seasonings.  I used salt, white pepper, and a little thyme. 

Once the soup is seasoned to your taste, reduce the heat to medium low and stir in the vegetables. (Use your judgment about amounts.  I like a soup with lots of “stuff” in it.) Continue cooking the soup until the vegetables are heated through.

To make this soup a complete meal, just serve some bread on the side, or stir in some cooked brown rice, barley, or whole grain pasta. If you want to go old-school, you can always do as I did in this photo and just crumble in some saltines.  ;) 

If you have leftover cream soup, it can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days and reheated as you need it.  Don’t put it in the freezer.  It doesn't freeze well.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Twice Baked Tuna Melt Potatoes

I enjoy a good potato dish.  Most are comforting and inexpensive to make. 

Potatoes are versatile and nutritious too. so I’m grateful that each Good Food Box contains five pounds of them.  We purchase two or three Good Food Boxes each month which means I end up with ten to fifteen pounds of potatoes to work with.  I’m happy to have them.

Last week I used some of our spuds to make Twice Baked Tuna Melt Potatoes.  Twice baked potatoes are a budget conscious cook’s good friends.  They’re easy to make and can serve as either a side dish or (depending on the ingredients added) a main course.  They’re an excellent vehicle for stretching a small amount of protein over several servings. 

I’m participating in a Pantry Challenge this month, so I’m “shopping” my pantry and freezer before I head to the store.  I had tins of tuna in the cupboard, some plain yogurt left over from another meal, and potatoes in the vegetable bin.  Tuna melts came to mind because they were a childhood favourite and I could see no reason not to combine those flavours in a twice baked potato.

Here’s how I made them:

I gathered together

  • 2 baked potatoes
  • 1 can of tuna, drained, rinsed, and flaked
  • 1-1/2 cups of grated cheddar
  • 5 green onions (scallions), chopped
  • Some plain yogurt

I didn’t have any baked potatoes in the fridge so I “baked” my potatoes in the microwave.  I do this often.  Cooking them in the microwave saves time but doesn’t yield the crispy skin we love in a jacket potato.  It’s okay that the potatoes for this recipe aren’t crispy because they’ll be going back into the oven but, if you want to hurry up the process of making baked potatoes to serve as a side dish, you may want to cook them half way in the microwave and then finish them in the oven.  Doing so reduces the total cooking time by 20 to 30 minutes and produces a near-perfect spud.

Once the potatoes were cooled, I cut them in half and scooped out most of the flesh, leaving thick enough walls to support the stuffing when it’s returned to the potato “shells.”  I placed the shells on a parchment lined baking pan.  (The parchment's not essential but easy clean up is important to me.)

I set aside some of the darker green parts of the onions for garnish, then mashed the potato flesh with a fork, added the tuna, some of the cheese and the rest of the green onions.  I mixed in enough plain yogurt to bind the ingredients together, tasted the mixture and adjusted the seasoning.

When the filling tasted good to me, I packed it into the potato skin shells.

I topped each spud with some more grated cheddar.

If you want to, you can stop at this point and put the baking sheet into the freezer.  Once the potatoes are frozen through, transfer them to an airtight container.  They freeze well, provided they’re reheated straight from frozen.

Whether you are reheating them from frozen or using them immediately, you should bake the potatoes at 350˚F until they’re heated through and the cheese is melted.   

Garnish the cooked potatoes with the reserved, chopped green onions and serve them immediately.

Mmmmmm!  Tuna melt!  It’s like revisiting childhood. 

If you have a microwave at work, you can pack the cooled potatoes for lunch.  They’ll travel well and stand up to reheating.  


Monday, 23 January 2012

What We Ate, January 16 - January 22

It’s been an interesting week in our little corner of the world.  We had colder temperatures than we’ve had yet this winter and, in our temperate climate, that poses some interesting challenges.  The snow melted enough during the afternoons to refreeze in the nights into sheets of solid black ice.  Drivers here are unaccustomed to driving on slippery roads and many cars are not equipped with snow tires.  It’s a good time to stay off the roads but, as I learned the hard way, you need to step carefully on the sidewalks too.

Last weekend I rounded the corner at the end of our street, hit some black ice and  my feet went out from under me.  It was one of those cartoon pratfalls where your whole body is actually up in the air.  You have enough time to think “This is going to hurt!” before you come crashing to the ground. 

I don’t bounce as well as I used to and I have the deep bruises, twisted ankle, and cracked ribs to prove it.  My menus reflected this.  There were lots of simple, easy to prepare dishes on our table this week.

Monday was Good Food Box day so we didn’t need to buy produce, but I bought oranges anyway.  Sunkist navel oranges were on sale for a very good price (10 pounds for $4.99).  They’ll carry us through until next month's Good Food Box day. 

Every Good Food Box comes with some produce that needs to be dealt with almost immediately.  It’s the stuff I first build meals around.  We used the romaine lettuce for lunches and one dinner salad.  I cooked all of the spinach, and all of the cauliflower.  I used the cauliflower for four meals:  a vegetable curry, a vegetable stir-fry with orange ginger sauce, a cream of vegetable soup, and roasted along with potatoes.  Some of the spinach went into the freezer.

I bought some dairy products.  I was craving cottage cheese and it was on sale so I bought two tubs.  They’ll carry us to the end of the month.  I also bought a tub of plain yogurt to use for Monday’s orange lassis.  I used it again in my Twice Baked Tuna Melt potatoes.

Our dark weather prevented me from taking many photos for my blog this week.  The weatherman tells us we’re to expect brighter skies in the days to come, so look for more links to this post as the week progresses.

Here’s what we ate this week:


  • Breakfast – Went out to a restaurant with a visiting family member. 
  • Supper – Grilled keilbasa, boiled potatoes, steamed carrots and corn, cherry crisp

  • Breakfast – Applesauce bran muffins, oranges
  • Supper – Oven baked chicken strips with plum sauce for dipping, fried rice made with leftover veggies and some brown rice from the freezer, vegetable stir fry with orange ginger sauce, ginger crinkle cookies from the freezer.




  • Breakfast – Oatmeal, bananas
  • Supper – Spinach and cheddar omelettes, salad of romaine lettuce with shredded carrots, and pickled beets with homemade Thousand Island dressing, leftover apple cinnamon cake.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Looking for Breakfast Inspiration

*sigh*  Breakfast has been pretty routine at our house lately.  I

t's hard to get enthused about preparing breakfast when your special someone is not a morning person.  And my guy definitely is not.

The big guy is not a predictable riser, getting up some days before 7:00 and other days nearer 11:00.  He rarely wants to eat during the first hour or two after he wakes.

Breakfast is, on the other hand, one of my favourite meals.  Okay, okay:  Every meal is one of my favourite meals!   ;)   But I do like to have a good breakfast.

Somehow, I've fallen into a breakfast rut.  In part it's happened because of our very limited budget. A budget as limited as ours means a more limited choice of fresh fruits and vegetables with which to work.

That's not really the whole reason though.  I do have plenty in my pantry and a good selection of spices and seasonings.

Perhaps it's the winter blues.  Dark skies and short days sap even my enthusiasm for getting up in the morning.

Whatever the reasons for the rut, I'm busy working on some new recipes to move me forward. You'll see them in my posts in the near future.  In the meantime, here are some links to breakfast recipes I've posted already.  Maybe they'll inspire you to try something new this week too.  :)

Friday, 20 January 2012

Baked Boneless Pork Loin Chops

I have a Costco membership because of printer ink.  True story.  I use a lot of printer ink and, although I try hard to support local businesses, I can’t afford not to buy my ink at Costco.  A double package of printer ink at Costco costs the same or less than a single ink package from the local stationer. 

There is no Costco in our town (The nearest one is about 30 kilometers away) so I try to limit our trips there to three or four a year.  When I go, I do a thorough shop, looking for bulk items I can stock up on until my next visit.

Not everything at Costco is a bargain.  I take a price list with me and shop carefully, but some items are consistently less expensive there than they are at our local stores.  I buy one kilo bags of active dry yeast at Costco, I buy Parmesan cheese, and I buy boneless pork loins; usually two of them.

Even at Costco a boneless pork loin is more expensive than a bone-in pork shoulder on sale locally, but I buy them anyway.  There’s virtually no waste from a boneless pork loin.  Every single ounce is useable.  I usually cut one loin into chops and stir fry meat and the other into two or three small roasts.  It’s nice to have these cuts on hand when I’m looking to make a simple meal.

Boneless pork loin chops do present a cooking challenge.  They’re so lean that, if not cooked carefully, they can be quite dry.  The slow cooker is a moist cooking environment and works very well for this lean meat (my husband is particularly fond of boneless pork loin slow cooked with sauerkraut) but you know those days when you forget to take something out for supper?  Or time gets away from you and all of a sudden it’s too late to go to the store?  Or those days when you get unexpected company?  On those days I want to have something on hand that I can thaw in the microwave and easily cook in the oven.  You can do that with boneless pork loin chops, if you brown them and then bake them in sauce.

Tonight I baked our pork chops in applesauce.  I wish I could post some better pictures of them but it was very dark here today.  There was so little natural light that I had to shoot with a flash.  I really don't like the way the photos turned out.  The chops were delicious but the pictures don't do them justice.

Don't limit yourself to applesauce.  I’ve also cooked boneless pork loin chops in the oven with gravy, mushroom sauce, cheese sauce, and even creamed corn.  I'm providing you with a technique, not a recipe, so just use whatever you have on hand as long as it appeals to you.

To make my pork chops, I used:
  • Two boneless, pork loin chops, approximately 1-1/2 inches thick
  • Homemade applesauce (Mine is dark in colour because I cook the apples with the skin on, purée them, and then cook the purée down like apple butter.)
  • Canola oil
  • Salt and pepper

Use a skillet with a tight fitting lid.  If the handle of the skillet is not ovenproof, wrap it in foil.  Preheat your oven to 350˚F.

Get the skillet hot enough to sear the meat, then add a small amount of Canola oil; just enough to keep the meat from sticking.  Brown the pork on both sides.

Once the pork is browned, cover the top of each chop with a generous amount of sauce.

Put the lid on the pan and bake the chops in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve the chops piping hot.  If you can, it's nice to serve these with a little extra sauce or gravy on the side.  Leftovers can be sliced thinly, reheated in the sauce, and then served over rice.