Our Summer Food Challenge

Wow, it’s been forever since I’ve written anything here.  I guess life has just been so busy.  But now Jacob is done with his school year, we are both done with the regular school year schedule at church, and I only have 3 weeks until my summer vacation starts.

Since the weather has been so nice (I’m already on my 3rd sunburn of the year), we’ve been doing a lot of grilling.  We’ve also been stretching our groceries and going without for 3-4 weeks at a time.  We decided to give ourselves a little challenge.  Instead of planning meals like I normally do, we bought a whole bunch of groceries, filled our freezer and pantry, and we’re going to see how long we will be able to go before getting groceries again. We also decided to eat sandwiches for lunch instead of leftovers, then eat the leftovers for supper the next day.  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Obviously we will need to go to the grocery store for things such as milk, eggs, and other perishables.  With only 2 of us in the house, that will probably only be every 1 1/2 to 2 weeks.  We shopped at both Aldi and Meijer using coupons, MPerks, and finding things on sale. Overall, we spent around $150 and our house is completely stocked with…

  • 4 lbs of chicken drumsticks
  • 5 lbs of hamburger patties
  • 6 lbs of ground turkey
  • 2 lbs of bacon
  • 2 packages of johnsonville brats
  • 2 loaves of bread
  • 2 packages sliced turkey lunch meat
  • 2 packages sliced pepperoni
  • hot dog and hamburger buns
  • blueberry bagels
  • Tortillas
  • Variety Box of Crackers
  • 2 lbs Elbow Macaroni Noodles
  • 1 lb Tri-Color Rotini
  • 2 boxes of Chef Boyardee Pizza Kidts
  • Italian Dressing
  • Hot Wing Sauce
  • 5 – 8 oz cans of tomato sauce
  • 10 cans of vegetables – corn, peas, green beans
  • 7 cans of beans – refried, black, and chili
  • 2 cans of spaghetti sauce
  • 2 cans of enchilada sauce
  • Sliced Cheese – Colby Jack, Pepper Jack, and Provolone
  • 3 bags of shredded cheese – mozzarella, italian blend, and taco blend
  • 2 bags of frozen california blend veggies
  • bell peppers
  • 10 lbs of potatoes.

Some of the stuff was on my list, some were on sale so we decided to stock up.  We also got milk and eggs, just to have them in the house.  Some things we already had in the house, but will definitely be used in the next few months are…

  • onions
  • frozen meatballs
  • 1 package of johnsonville brats
  • 5 pounds of ground beef
  • frozen ravioli
  • spaghetti noodles
  • lasagna noodles
  • fettuccine noodles
  • Various Vegetables (frozen and canned)

I plan to blog about the meals that we’re able to make with all our groceries.  And don’t worry, I’ll let you know when we need to stock up again!  Jacob already made one meal for us for lunch today.  He grilled burgers – enough for us to have them again for supper tomorrow.  We used some of the buns and slices of cheese.  Since it was Sunday and I was feeling lazy, I didn’t make any side dishes to go along with it, which I guess saved the potatoes and vegetables.  We’ll eat the burgers again for supper tomorrow, and maybe I’ll make some potatoes or something then.  I’ll keep you posted!

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Black Bean Burgers

Black Bean Burgers.  I’ve always liked alliteration.  I’ve never liked things that involved beans.  Until the last few years at least.  I’ve realized that beans make the chili that much better, that refried beans are almost a must when eating mexican food, and that maybe, just maybe, my mom and sister were right all along.  Maybe.

Even with this new appreciation for beans in various forms and recipes, I’ve never been able to convince myself to eat them as a main part of my meal.  My sister, Sarah, fed me black bean burgers several years ago.  I convinced myself they were gross because they were beans.  I’ve spent the past 2(ish) months trying to convince myself to actually attempt to make them.

I’ve learned something about myself.  I like black bean burgers… my husband doesn’t really know what to think.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 cans of drained, rinsed black beansIMG_0388
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • a dash of hot sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup Onion, grated
  • hamburger buns
  • some sort of cheese
  • whatever condiments you want!

To start off, make sure your black beans are drained and rinsed.  After that, dump them into a bowl and mash them really well with a fork.

IMG_0390Add in the bread crumbs, egg, grated onion, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.  Mix it with the fork so that it’s all blended together really well.  This will take a little bit of time, but it will happen, promise!

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Now, divide the mixture and start forming it into patties.  They don’t have to huge, we found that ours were really filling.

IMG_0393Once you have them into nice patties, grab a griddle or a frying pan and melt in some butter.  Put the burgers into the pan for about 5 minutes on each side, until heated through.

IMG_0396Now, we melted some cheese on the tops of ours.  Provolone for Jacob.  Some mexican mix of shredded cheese for me.  I sprinkled some mesquite seasoning over the top right before I put the cheese on, then I put a lid on to make it melt really well.

IMG_0397Once the cheese is melted, transfer the patties onto your bun and add whatever condiments you want!  We just used regular ketchup, mustard, and mayo.  I made potatoes to eat along with them, and altogether it made a great meal!

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Crock Pot Turkey Chili

Anyone who has ever shared a kitchen with me knows that I’m the messiest cook ever. Even if I’ve only used one burner on the stove to make a box of mac and cheese the whole stovetop will probably need to be wiped down, along with at least half the counter.

This weekend, I’ve been very domestic.  If that’s a thing.  I cleaned my kitchen really well, I pulled out my sewing machine, which has been in a box in the closet since we moved 2 months ago, and worked on 2 different projects.  I started to knit a scarf.   All the laundry is folded (thanks to Jacob).    I even washed the sheets.  I always say that I should wash them, then promptly forget.

After all of those very domestic activities, I decided to top it off with a big old pot of homemade chili.

Something about chili just warms me down to the soul.  A good, thick chili is the perfect thing to eat on a brisk, fall day… and winter days… and we eat it in spring and summer too.  Chili is a definite favorite here in the VS household.

Since the price of ground beef has gone up so much lately, we’ve been using ground turkey instead.  In casseroles, chili, and various other mixed together dishes, you can’t even tell the difference.  I’m still not convinced to eat turkey burgers instead of hamburgers though.  Sometimes you have to work towards things.

You don’t need a whole lot of ingredients for a quick, simple chili.

  • 1.5 pounds of ground turkey or beefIMG_0352
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 (15 oz) can of chili beans
  • 1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 packet chili seasoning
  • water
  • shredded mexican blend of cheeses

To start off, put that ground turkey (or beef) into a skillet and cook it through, stirring regularly.  My turkey was frozen, so it took longer than it should have.  I always forget to thaw my meat ahead of time.  Be smarter than me, people.

IMG_0353While your turkey or beef is cooking, chop up the onion and put it into the crock pot.  Drain the beans and then dump them into the crock pot too.

IMG_0356About a year ago, Jacob’s aunt was visiting here in Holland.  She made chili and it was so smooth and wonderful.  She told me that she mashes the beans and that her grandkids loved it that way.  I love it that way now too.  So, if you (or someone in your family) is not huge on beans because of the texture, just take a potato masher or fork, and mash away.  There will still be some whole beans in there, but overall, the texture is way better.

IMG_0358Just a reminder, make sure that you’re stirring your turkey/beef.    After you’ve stirred it, put your minced garlic into the crock pot.  I also ended up adding in some chopped up jalapeños.  Because I love my husband.

IMG_0360Once your turkey/beef is done, you’ll want to add it into the crock pot.  Then put your seasoning in and the tomato paste.  Mix it all together really well.  I added in about 1/4 cup of water to make it a little tiny bit more soupy, but don’t add too much.  We’re not actually making soup!

IMG_0363You can see the steam from my ground turkey in the picture… whoops.

After you mix it all together, turn the crock pot on low and cover that chili up.  Jacob and I went about doing various things for the rest of the day.  We went to Kohls, JC Penny, Dunham Sports, and Bed Bath and Beyond.  When we came home, the house smelled incredible.

I just thought of that potion in Harry Potter… Amortentia.  When you smell it you smell things that you love.  I think chili might be on that list for me.  Now I wonder how many different things you can possibly smell in that potion.  Hermione smelled 3…

After several hours, we made some biscuits and and dished up the chili.  It ended up being pretty  spicy (probably from the jalapeños).  We sprinkled on some taco cheese and it was delicious.

IMG_0366Leftover chili is one of my favorite things.  It’s so easy and yummy.  It’s definitely something I would put in my school lunch on Monday!

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Creamy Tomato & Tortellini Soup

I do not love tomato soup.  I’ve never really even liked it.  But when it comes to grilled cheese, having tomato soup kind of seemed like a classic idea.  Plus, Jacob loves tomato soup and grilled cheese.  So, with this in mind, I set out to find a tomato soup recipe that wasn’t just a can of condensed soup and water.  I succeeded.  My only advice for this recipe is not to substitute ravioli like we did.  The raviolis are just a little to big for a soup.  Tortellinis would be nice and bit sized.

You won’t even need that many ingredients!

So good, but you can see how the raviolis are just a little big.

So good, but you can see how the raviolis are just a little big.

  • 2 (10 oz) cans of condensed tomato soup
  • 4 cups of heavy cream
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bag of frozen tortellini
  • salt & pepper to taste

Mix your cans of tomato soup, heavy cream, and minced garlic together in a big pot.  Stir it while it heats up so that you get it nice and smooth.  Once you bring it to a boil, turn down the temperature and add the tortellini.  Cook the tortellini according to package directions.  While the tortellini was cooking I made our grilled cheese sandwiches, but since there is pasta in this soup, you really could eat it without the sandwich.  I got full before I finished my whole bowl!

So, I found a tomato soup that I actually like.  I’m definitely going to make this again.  It was great for a dreary and chilly fall day.

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Southwest Ranch Pasta Salad

I have a love/hate relationship with potluck situations.  I love to cook for people, I get really nervous that they might not like my food.  I could easily spend hours looking for and debating the right recipe.  I like to have some direction – hot vs. cold… salad vs. dessert… really I should just not worry about it.

Tomorrow, we are going to have dinner with some people from our church.  We are supposed to bring something to pass.  My dear husband had no ideas or suggestions.  He said he didn’t care.  So, I sat on pinterest for a few minutes after school.  I was intent on finding and picking out a recipe before I went home so that I could hit up the grocery store before getting all comfy and lazy at home.  I came up with nothing.  I went to the high school to meet with one of the other teachers.  We ended up going to a coffee shop with a few of the other teachers.  They offered a few suggestions (very, very good suggestions), but nothing really stuck out to me.  I ended up going home before the grocery store.

In the long run, going home first was probably a good idea.  I ate before I left.  Who knows what crazy thing I might have bought out of hunger while shopping otherwise. Actually, I do know.  I probably would have convinced myself that I needed frozen taquitos or frozen pizza.  My binge food choices may be slightly predictable.  Anyway, as I ate my leftover Chicken Lo Mein, I chatted with my best friend. She lives in Colorado.  She always has good food suggestions for me.  We both searched pinterest and google and sent each other links.  I decided to make a version of this Betty Crocker recipe.  Everyone loves cold pasta salad, right?  Well… my sisters, parents, and I do!

Here’s what you’ll needIMG_0274

  • 1 box of Suddenly Salad Classic Pasta Mix**
  • 1 cup of corn
  • 1/2 cup of creamy ranch dressing
  • 1 splash of lime juice
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped raw broccoli
  • 1 cup (ish) of grape tomatoes
  • Green Onion
  • Fresh Cilantro

To start off, boil some lightly salted water and cook the pasta from the Suddenly Salad mix according to package directions.  When the noodles are almost done (1-2 minutes left), put in the corn and let it boil along with it.  When the pasta is done, drain the water out and rinse with cold water.

In a large bowl, mix the seasoning from the Suddenly Salad box, ranch dressing, and lime juice well.  Set aside.  Chop up the broccoli, slice the grape tomatoes in half and toss them into the bowl with the sauce.  Chop up some green onion (I used about 4 stalks) and a little cilantro.  Cilantro is a strong flavor, so you don’t need more than 2 Tablespoons at most, but add it according to your taste!  Toss the green onion and the cilantro into the bowl as well.  Add the pasta and corn mixture into it and mix it well.  You want to make sure that the sauce coats everything pretty well.  It might seem like a lot, but according to the recipe it should soak in after a few hours.

I’m letting mine sit overnight since I’ll be at school all day tomorrow.  When the time comes to head out, I’ll just have to grab it from my refrigerator.  I hope it tastes as good as it sounds!IMG_0275

**  You don’t have to use a box of Suddenly Salad.  You could make it yourself.  Just boil 2-3 cups of a small noodle (macaroni, penne, spirals, bowties, etc.) and then use 1/4ish cup of italian dressing for the sauce.

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Basic Chicken Lo Mein

I don’t eat chinese food very often.  I love it, but I don’t eat it.  First, I don’t like getting takeout chinese food (though it is a favorite of mine).  I always feel like it’s all fried and terrible for me.  Which is probably very true.  I was on pinterest and found a recipe for Chicken Lo Mein.  I was intrigued.  I thought about how I love chinese food.  I thought about how I love to cook.  I thought about how I love vegetables.  Like I said, I was intrigued.

I made it last night.  It was great.  I have leftovers in my lunch today and I’ll probably eat more tonight.  I’ve made so many new things in the past few days that we have to have a leftovers day.

To start off, I gathered my ingredients.  I cheated because I didn’t chop all my own vegetables this time, but you totally could if you wanted to. You need:

  • some chicken – we used 3 tenderloins because I didn’t realize that Jacob had gotten tenderloins instead of chicken breasts.  So when I texted him to tell him to take out 2-3 to thaw, that’s what he did… whoops 🙂
  • 1/2 pound of angel hair pasta
  • an onion
  • 2 cloves or garlic or 2 Tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 1 bag of california blend veggies (or any stir fry veggies… or you can chop them yourself)
  • 1/2 cup of chicken broth
  • 6 Tablespoons of hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
  • 4 Tablespoons of soy sauce
  • a splash of rice vinegar
  • 1 (15 oz) can of baby corn
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil

First things first, boil some water and get those noodles going.  While you’re waiting for the water to boil, chop up the onion and cut the chicken into strips (and chop up any other non-frozen vegetables you might be using).

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Our onions are pretty roughly chopped… I hate chopping onions, so this has to do most times.

If your water is boiling, put those noodles in and cook them according to package directions.  Put your sliced up onions in the pan with some olive oil and start them frying.  They should fry for 5-7 minutes on medium low so that they don’t burn.  Once they’re done, put them in a bowl and set them aside.

Now put your frozen (or freshly chopped) veggies into the pan with just a little bit of water – just enough to steam them.  It shouldn’t take to terribly long, I don’t like mushy vegetables – maybe 5-7 minutes.  Then move them into the same bowl as the onions.  Your noodles are probably done by now.  Drain them and set them aside until you need them.

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My frozen veggies… They just needed to be heated through. Make sure the bottom of your pan doesn’t get dry though, or you may burn some of the veggies.

Put the chicken into the same frying pan.  Sprinkle it with a little bit of salt and pepper.  Depending on how small you cut the chicken, it should take 3-5 minutes per side to cook through.  Make sure there isn’t any pink left in it!  While the chicken is cooking, make the sauce.

Mix together the chicken stock, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, corn starch, and just a splash of rice vinegar.  It should mix together fairly well, but don’t be too worried if it doesn’t.   Once you put it in the hot pan and mix it all together with the rest of the ingredients it should be fine.

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Stir Fry sauce is really oh-so-simple. And oh-so-delicious. (notice my Edmonton mug in the background? Thanks to my sister, Sarah)

Once your chicken is cooked through and your sauce is made, put the veggies back into the pan with the chicken and mix it well.  If you want, sprinkle in some red pepper flakes.  It will add a little bite.  I also put in a teeny bit more minced garlic, cause why not?  Put your cooked noodles into the pan and mix it the best you can.  This works better with a utensil that has some sort of tine or rough edges, not a regular serving spoon.  I used my spaghetti serving spoon.  It helped mix the noodles in better.  Dump in the sauce and mix and mix.  Your goal should be to coat everything in the sauce.  If you need to, you can add a little more soy sauce or hoisin sauce.  Don’t make it too saucy, though, or the sauce flavor will overwhelm the veggies and noodles.

I forgot an after picture!! Whoops.  Please forgive me.

I don’t have a wok, this may be something I need to add to my kitchen.  I made 3 pans dirty because I didn’t estimate correctly.  I had to keep going up to the next size!  Whoops.  This is a pretty basic recipe for Lo Mein.  You could add in whatever veggies or meat to make something to exactly fit your tastes.  I’m sorry I didn’t take very many pictures.  I promise to get better at that.  Enjoy your lo mein!

Posted in Chicken, Pasta | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Bacon Cauliflower Chowder

I love soup.  My husband loves soup.  We love to take whatever random vegetables and leftovers that we can find in our fridge and freezer and throw it all together into a pot, let it simmer for awhile, and let the delicious aromas work their way through the house.  It’s great.

This week, I actually found a recipe on a blog called Damn Delicious for Cauliflower Chowder.  I was intrigued.  I like cauliflower.  Really I like anything with vegetables in it.  I messed around with the recipe a little bit, making small changes to fit my picky(ish) palette.  I added a whole pound of bacon rather than 4 strips.  My philosophy on bacon is that if you’re gonna have it, you might as well have a lot of it.  Otherwise what’s the point?  I left out the celery because I knew it would go bad in my fridge.  I never use up the whole pack of celery.  What a waste. I used slightly different spices because I like to play with spices.  Altogether it only took about 45 minutes to put it all together.  We do not have much in terms of leftovers.  It will probably be gone by the time I get home from work today 🙂

To start out, you should make sure you have all your ingredients.  You need:

  • 1 pound of bacon
  • 3 carrotsIMG_0233
  • an onion (use half if you’re not a big onion lover)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a head of cauliflower
  • 4 cups of chicken broth (I used water and bouillon cubes)
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/4 cup of flower
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • mesquite seasoning (or whatever seasoning you like, really)

To start off, fry up your bacon.  I like to cut mine into little bite-sized pieces before I fry it.  That way, when I take it out of the pan, I’m not as tempted to eat pieces.  The temptation is still very real, but I don’t have to handle it.  I can just leave it on the plate and try my hardest not to mess with it.  While your bacon is frying, peel and chop up your carrots and toss them into a stockpot with about 2 tablespoons of butter.  But don’t turn on the stove quite yet!  Chop up your onion first.  Since my husband and I both like onion, I don’t try to get the pieces too small.  I hate chopping onions, so the faster I can do it, the better.  This onion was particularly awful.  I barely broke the surface before my eyes started watering.  My husband smelled it from the other room and opened all the windows.  It took me far to long to chop this particular onion simply because I had to keep stopping to wipe tears from my eyes.  Ridiculous.  Once your onion is chopped, put it in the pot with the carrots and butter.  If you chop your own garlic, add that too.  Otherwise, put 2 tablespoons(ish) of minced garlic in.  Turn on the stove and start the simmering process.

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See that nice small bacon?  So much easier to mix and deal with afterwards.

While your bacon continues to fry and your onions/carrots/garlic are cooking, chop up your cauliflower.  I hate chopping cauliflower.  It’s messy.  If anyone has a good way to chop it where it doesn’t end up over half my counter with random pieces on the floor, please let me know and save me a lot of frustration.  When it’s all chopped, mix it in with the carrots and onions.  Saute it for 3-4 minutes… or as long as you want really.  Just don’t let it get too mushy.  After 3-4 minutes, add 1/4 of a cup of flour and mix it well, so it coats all the vegetables.  Keep mixing it for 2-3 minutes or until the flour starts browning

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See this picture? With the flour? This was just about when my kitchen is starting to smell.

Something I did not consider when choosing this recipe – cauliflower does not have a good smell.  Onions don’t have a good smell.  If you want your house to smell good.  This recipe is not for you.  On the other hand, the taste is awesome, so don’t give up yet!

So now, your bacon should be done.  Take it out of the pan and put it on a paper towel on a plate to drain.  This will help get rid of the grease.  It will sit there long enough that really it shouldn’t be greasy at all by the time you get it into your soup.  Add the chicken broth and milk slowly, mixing as you go.

IMG_0242IMG_0246See that nice crispy bacon?

And the soup is just waiting to boil.

Keep stirring your soup and bring it to a boil.  Once it reaches a boil, put a lid on the pot and set the timer for 15 or so minutes.  You want to let it boil until the cauliflower is cooked through.  I stirred it every few minutes to make sure nothing was burning on the bottom of the pan or anything.  This is also the time you can take to add in salt, pepper, and mesquite seasoning to your taste.  I tasted my soup 4 or 5 times until I was happy with it.

Once your soup is done you can let it simmer for awhile or serve it right away.  Mix the bacon in 1-2 minutes before you serve it, but it really doesn’t need to be heated at all.  I let it simmer for a few minutes while my biscuits finished baking.  I didn’t think it smelled good, but it tasted great!

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The finished product! I love veggies in my soup!

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Don’t I have the most adorable timer? I love penguins. I got engaged in the penguin house at the Omaha Zoo. This was a wedding gift. I might be a little bit ridiculous…

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