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Recipe: Vegetarian Chili over Roasted Potatoes

healthy chiliI love football. As in, I love watching others play football. (Boomer! Sooner!)

Watching football always makes me hungry for a few things: Diet Dr Pepper, junk food and chili. This is my first full football season without the first two.

But there is no reason why I can’t do chili.

Though generally, I want to eat my chili with Fritos and a lot of cheese and sour cream…that’s not happening these days.

So how do I make a tasty chili and fixings that also comes in at under 450 calories? Here’s how I did it:

Black Bean Chili

1.25 cups dried black beans (soaked in water overnight)
1 16 oz can of tomato sauce (hopefully homemade one day)
1 white onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
2 cups vegetable broth (I now make my own)
seasonings to taste (I used salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper…basically, chili powder)

To make the chili, dump all the ingredients in a small crock pot. This recipe makes 5 servings, but can be easily doubled for a big batch in a standard-size crockpot. Cook on high until the beans are soft when bitten (6-8 hours).

Roasted Potatoes

5 medium russet potatoes or 3 large ones
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
Seasonings to taste (I used garlic salt, onion powder and paprika)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Scrub and chop potatoes (with peels still on), in chunks smaller than 1″. Place potato pieces on greased tray or casserole dish. Drizzle with olive oil and add seasonings. Stir until evenly coated. Bake 30-40 minutes until potatoes are soft when pierced, stirring every 10 minutes. This recipe makes 5 servings.

Serve chili over potatoes and top with shredded cheddar cheese and plain Greek yogurt, if desired. I topped mine with 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 2/5 cup nonfat Greek yogurt.

This meal’s nutrition facts (topped as I did):

447 calories
27 grams protein
62 grams carbs
10 grams fiber
13 grams fat

Not bad for a filling football-watching meal that costs less than $2 a serving! And did I mention it’s delicious?

Practical Vegetarianism

I am not a vegetarian. I love bacon, burgers and pepperoni. While other people may crave meat, my cravings have always been more on the carbohydrate and dairy side: bread, cheese, and ice cream.

Since I started eating better, I just haven’t felt the need to spend some of my 1200 or so calories a day on something I don’t really even enjoy. While meat can provide good protein and nutrients, it doesn’t give me the best bang for my buck (calorie wise or budget wise). As such, I’ve almost entirely given it up.

Now, if it’s not a special occasion or a meal with others, I’m not eating meat. I get my protein mostly from dairy, whole grains and beans. I still enjoy the occasional burger, but I’m not missing meat.

Below is one of my recent recipes that I’ve concocted. I’m not sure if it is technically vegetarian since I added chicken bouillon, but I plan on making and freezing my own veggie stock soon. Just another step in making my food from scratch.

While it may seem like extra work to have to pre-cook the beans, veggies and rice, it really takes no more hands-on time than it would to brown meat.

creamy rice and bean bakeCreamy Rice and Bean Bake
Makes 5 servings

Nutritional info per serving:
411 calories, 26 g protein, 60 g carbs, 10 g fat, 7 g fiber

1.25 cups dry black beans, cooked (I add some onion, cumin, thyme and chicken bouillon while cooking) 
1 cup brown rice, cooked (I add chicken bouillon while cooking)
2 cups non-fat Greek yogurt
1 yellow squash
2 bell peppers
1/2 onion
1 2/3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
salt to taste

Pre-cheese and baking
Pre-cheese and baking

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut and grill or saute the squash, peppers and onion. I grill mine on a George Foreman. Cut them into bite-sized or smaller pieces before or after cooking.

3. Combine cooked veggies, beans and rice in a greased 9 x 13 casserole pan. Leaving shredded cheese to the side, add in remaining ingredients and mix.

4. Top with shredded cheese.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

I tried to keep track of the spices I used and in what quantities, but really, use what you like. The good thing about a recipe like this is that it’s very customizable…use what you like.

A Favorite Summer Recipe

51F9MMASVHL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_It’s hot here in Kansas.  Hot and humid.

That makes me far less inclined to spend time cooking over a hot stove with the oven on, so I rely pretty heavily on my slow cooker.

Here is one that has been on heavy rotation lately, courtesy of Crazy About Crockery, which has to be one of the best cookbooks EVER.  Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Chicken Tetrazzini

4 whole chicken breasts, split, skinless

2 cans cream of chicken soup (or use Ronnica’s recipe)

1 can cream of mushroom soup (Since we aren’t big mushroom fans, I usually omit this.)

1 cup milk

1 cup water

1 tablespoon dried minced onion

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 pkg (8 oz) spaghetti pasta or other shaped pasta (we like egg noodles)

2 teaspoons parsley flakes

2 teaspoons basil

1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce

1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper

Place chicken breasts in slow cooker.  Cover with cream of chicken soup and 1 cup water.  Cover with lid and cook on high for six hours  Remove chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces.  Return chicken to slow cooker.  Add all remaining ingredients except pasta and cheese.  Cover slow cooker and reduce heat to low.  Continue cooking for about 1-3 hours.  About 30 minutes prior to serving, stir in sour cream.  In separate saucepan, prepare pasta according to package directions.  Cook until tender, but firm.  Rinse and drain.  Serve slow cooker mixture over pasta.  Top with shredded cheese.

Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup

Now that it has started to get cooler here in Denver, I’ve been craving warm foods. I have enjoyed the ease of throwing a few things together in my slow cooker and make enough for my dinner-time meals at work while I’m busy completing other chores.

One of the most versatile ingredients when making a casserole or slow cooker dish is a can of good ol’ cream of ______ soup. I’ve never really questioned what was in it…I just stuck the gelatinous stuff right in.

Some time back, I read of someone who made their own cream of ______ soup. It got me thinking about this go-to ingredient: would it be possible to make it in bulk, saving money and knowing more about what I was eating?

So that’s exactly what I did.

I highly recommend freezable mason jars. These are 12-ounce jars and are perfect for so many things.
I highly recommend freezable mason jars. These 12-ounce jars and are perfect for so many things, and you’re not creating unnecessary waste by using Ziploc bags.

I followed this recipe for cream of chicken soup and quadrupled it (though I made it in 2 batches, to fit in my saucepan). I used white whole wheat flour and skim milk. It came out to 12 12-ounce jars of cream of chicken soup.

So is it really cheaper than store-bought cream of chicken soup?

To make 12 jars I used:

10 cups of chicken broth, $4.27
6 cups of skim milk, $1.11
3 cups of white whole wheat flour, $0.60
garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, salt and pepper, $0.20

Total: $6.18

That makes each jar (similar size as a small can) $0.52 each. The cheapest cans of cream of _______ soup I’ve bought in the last year were $0.99 after tax, so I’m saving $0.47 a jar. I am also avoiding unnecessary soy and corn additives, MSG (though check out the chicken broth you use to be sure) and am using less-processed flour.

What am I going to do with 12 jars of cream of chicken soup? Well, I already used 2 to make chicken and rice for meals at work. The other 10 jars I stuck in my freezer for later. I’ve been told that the texture can be different after freezing, but I don’t anticipate that being a problem as I only use them in things and not by themselves.

Hunting and Gathering

unnamed (3)Although I have gotten back on the grocery planning wagon, there are still many folks who are really, really passionate about grocery prep–even more so than I am.  Some of the ways some people prepare is by meal planning and/or freezer meals.

While I do try to have a good idea of what to make for meals in between grocery trips, I confess my planning is a bit more haphazard than I would like (for photographic evidence, one need look no further than the picture at left, depicting my “gathered recipes.”)  This is mostly due to the fact that I subscribe to a couple of cooking magazines courtesy of Recyclebank, and when those arrive each month, I manage to find some recipes that sound delicious that I must try as soon as possible.  (I am also a social media junkie, and when a great recipe comes up, I add it to the “to try” list.)

Another reason I may deviate from my meal planning is because I have too much (or too little) of a particular food or seasoning, or it needs to get used up quickly.  When that happens, I find myself searching online for a good way to use up that ingredient.  Many times, those recipes become new family favorites that enter the meal rotation!

One such recipe was for baked potato soup, courtesy of grit.com.  We had several pounds of potatoes that would be going bad soon, and it has been soup weather here in the Midwest, so cook soup I did.  It was fantastic!  Check out the recipe here.

We also had lots of carrots set to expire, and in true “Use it up” fashion, I put my love of baking to work and made carrot cake.  Maybe not the most nutritionally sound, but it was delicious.  It’s my grandmother’s recipe, but not a secret, so here it is for your culinary enjoyment.

Grandma’s Carrot Cake

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

3/4 cup oil

4 eggs

3 cups grated carrots (I grated in a food processor)

Mix all ingredients together, and spoon into a 9×13 greased pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Grandma’s Carrot Cake Frosting

1/4 cup butter

4 ounces cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla

1 3/4 cup powdered sugar

Mix all together and spread on cooled carrot cake.  (And this made me laugh–from my grandmother’s original recipe:  “[Papa] always liked a lot of frosting, so I doubled that recipe.” So I did too!)

Now to organize my cookbooks…

Sourdough Foray

I have mentioned before my desire to keep thing as simple and wholesome as possible when it comes to food and cooking.  Bread is one of the items that we try to keep as unprocessed as possible.

We have a breadmaker that has seen increasing use in recent years, and we buy sprouted grain breads to keep our sugar intake at a minimum and nutritional content at a maximum.

Since I love sourdough bread, I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at it.

It didn’t sound too complicated when I browsed various recipes online.  How hard could it be to set out flour and water and let the yeast in the air work its magic?

I ultimately decided to go with this one.

Through no fault of the aforementioned recipe, for various reasons (including one house occupant accidentally throwing one out), I had to go through five different sourdough starter attempts.  The last one seemed like it would be “the one”:  bubbly, yeasty-smelling…perfection!

unnamed (38)

But on Day 4 of starter prep, I started to notice a rancid odor coming from the top of the refrigerator (where the bowl was kept).  I didn’t think much of it–the instructions indicate the odor would get stronger as the prep progressed.

Then I looked in the bowl, and was greeted by this:

unnamed (39)

The picture really doesn’t do the contents justice.  I was torn between gagging and crying in frustration (I’m a pretty emotional person).

I don’t know what microbes and mutant yeast are growing in my kitchen, but clearly something went awry.

After more than a month attempting sourdough, I’m taking a break from it.  Living the simple life is supposed to be gratifying, not maddening, and this was a battle I was not up for fighting right now.

I hope to try sourdough again in the future–I maintain it can’t be that hard, so it must be user error–but in the meantime…add sourdough to my list of things I splurge on.

Bad Bananas

In the last post, I discussed my pursuit of a healthier diet and how pervasive sugar is nowadays.

Today, I share a recipe that involves sugar.  Go figure.

Hear me out though:  in addition to being passionate about healthy eating, I am equally passionate about preventing food waste.  Oftentimes, even with a grocery list, impulse purchases find their way on the list, or a recipe seems like a good idea but never comes to fruition.

Fresh produce, in particular, always seems to fall victim  to the best of intentions.  “Use it or lose it” comes to mind–and usually it is the latter when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies.  As great as composting is, it is best to use food for its original purpose whenever possible, plus the environmental and financial toll of food waste are significant.

So when some bananas were starting to go bad, I immediately considered what delicious creation I could make from them, before they would have to be tossed:

unnamed (35)

…and I came up with banana bread.

Having never attempted banana bread before, I needed it to be easy.  A quick online search did not leave me disappointed, and it was such a hit, the loaf didn’t stick around long enough for a picture.  (Next time, I’d like to try this one–and it’s sugar-free!)

What ways do you prevent food waste?

Sweets for Sweeties

I like to bake. 599268_10101535147424219_966745200_n (2)

This has been problematic at times–as this picture implies, I baked a lot during pregnancy, which resulted in some not-so-nice consequences.  And it’s something of a challenge now, due to our newer approach to our diet, diet restrictions, and lifestyle choices.  Unless we want to fully embrace going vegan or buying expensive, obscure ingredients, I can’t just go out and buy a box of brownie mix and bake away.

But with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we are living dangerously (insert sarcasm here).  Deprivation never did anyone any favors!  With that in mind, the kids and I are going to bake Riley some cookies for the holiday (Shh!  It’s a surprise!), and will throw in a few homemade dog biscuits to boot.  Even though the ingredients may not be the healthiest, I like the fact that I have control over what goes in the goodies, and can make substitutions as necessary.

Here’s how we roll on baking day.  Be sure to come back Thursday for insight into how the Frugals celebrate a not-so-frugal holiday!

Sugar Cookies

Mix together: 

¾ C margarine
1 C sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla

Stir in:

2 ½ C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Chill dough (overnight, if possible).  Roll out 1/8” thick on floured surface.  Cut into shapes.  Bake on ungreased sheet 400 degrees 6-8 minutes.  Frost cookies with powdered sugar frosting.  Add sugar to soft margarine.  Add vanilla, milk, and whatever color you want.  When cookies are frosted, let dry for several hours before packing away.

Wally and Hank’s Dog Biscuits

1 C uncooked oatmeal
1 Tblsp bouillon granules (beef/chicken)
¾ cup powdered milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 C unsalted butter
1 ½ C hot water
¾ C cornmeal
3 C whole wheat flour (or plain flour)
1/3 C nutritional yeast (full of protein and B vitamins which reduce stress)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a large bowl, pour hot water over oatmeal, bouillon granules, and butter, and allow to stand for about five minutes.  Mix in beaten egg, powdered milk and cornmeal. Combine well.  Add flour a little at a time while mixing.  Continue to stir thoroughly.  Add more flour if necessary to make the dough very stiff.  Roll dough into a ½ inch thickness to cut into shapes (our dogs love dog bones!) and place on lightly greased baking sheet (lightly grease the sheet with butter wrapper).  Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.  Turn off oven and crack oven door, but leave biscuits in to slowly cool and thoroughly dry out.

Be sure to check with your pet’s veterinarian to ensure that these biscuits are a good treat for your dog.  Ours certainly love them!

On Healthy, Budget-Friendly Eating

39336_849706160049_7766175_nAs a stay-at-home mom, I am privileged to have the time and resources to develop healthy, tasty, and budget-friendly food options for my family.

This was not always a priority for us, however.

In April of this year, my husband was diagnosed with a blood clot.  Although related more to the fracture in his ankle, this experience absolutely gave me pause.  If such a serious health issue could happen to a man not yet thirty, who could say what other maladies could come up?  How could our weight and other health issues negatively impact the work we were called to do?  Were we really being good stewards of our bodies?

The answers to these questions made all of us think.

Enter healthy eating.  Sometimes I feel like a short-order cook:  Bean has diet restrictions and is one of the pickiest eaters I know, Riley has diet restrictions (and is also very picky), even the dogs have diet restrictions; while Peanut and I have no restrictions (yet), I figured a truly healthy diet wouldn’t harm anyone, so we may as well go all-in.  Thus we embarked on our healthy eating journey–five months in, and still going (pretty) strong!

The parameters:

Less than 25 grams of sugar a day.   Year of No Sugar: A Memoir got me thinking about how many empty calories and health issues stem from refined sugar.  Once I started reading the labels of foods, I was shocked at where sugar was and how much was in our food.  Peanut butter?  Check.  Crackers?  Check.  Bread?  Check and check–high fructose corn syrup was present in high quantities in the brand of bread we usually got.  At least with fruits you got good nutrition and fiber; it seemed that the processed foods were unnecessarily loaded with the yucky stuff.  We had a head-start on this one–none of us drink soda or juice, and candy is a rare treat in our house.

Less meat in our diet.  On average, we eat meat 3-4 times a week.  We implement a lot of salmon, lentils, eggs, and the like to ensure we get our protein and other beneficial nutrients.  Beef is served a couple of times a month now, instead of almost daily.  Chicken and turkey have been in heavy rotation for our meat meals.  Bonus:  a vegetarian/flexitarian approach to eating is also good for the environment!

Cheap.  Our grocery budget is approximately $400 a month for a family of six.  Just because we added a couple high-end “hippie” stores to our bi-monthly grocery trek didn’t mean I wanted to break the bank, especially with only one income.  This was a challenge initially–healthy, quality food that also matches our values (organic, non-GMO, etc.) does not come cheaply.  We have to prioritize what organic goods we purchase, for instance; the  “Dirty Dozen” is top of the list.  Growing our own food helps too!

After only six weeks on this “Common Sense Diet”, I was down to pre-Bean weight, Riley was nearly to his goal weight, and our various “numbers” (blood pressure, etc.) were down as well.

I am sold–it does take more time to plan and prepare these meals as opposed to processed, pre-packaged foods, requires budgeting and shopping around, and we do still binge splurge from time to time–deprivation benefits no one!  But our energy levels, moods, positive example for our kids, and the enormous health benefits outweigh any potential drawbacks.

I will write more about this lifestyle change in the future, but in the meantime, enjoy a favorite lunch recipe, a la Ronnica, courtesy of Whole Foods.

Simply Delicious Homemade Hummus

2 cloves garlic

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste–can be found near the peanut butter in health food stores)

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon reduced-sodium tamari (I substitute liquid aminos–can be found near the soy sauce in health food stores)

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

Cayenne pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Put garlic in a food processor and pulse to roughly cop.  Add garbanzos, tahini, 1/4 cup water, lemon juice, tamari, cumin, coriander and a pinch of cayenne (you may add more later to increase the heat), and process until creamy and smooth.  Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill for at least one hour.

We love to spread this on Food for Life pitas!

Breakfasts to Go

I work full-time, and I have an hour-long commute each way (sometimes longer). This schedule does not leave much time for meal prep during the week, so I’ve worked out some short cuts to keep my budget in check.

When I lived in North Carolina, I found it easy to grab fast food for breakfast or lunch, but now that I primarily commute by bus and light rail, that’s not a convenient option. This is one of the unexpected benefits of switching to public transit.

I prepare all my meals and snacks over the weekend as I find that easier. I bring my breakfast to eat at work as I start my day so early. I’ve found two options that especially work for me: muffins and oatmeal.

My favorite is blueberry muffins. I’ve adapted a healthy recipe I found to make hearty, moist muffins in the quantity I need. I’ve shared my recipe below. I find them filling enough to get me through a busy morning. Each serving (2 muffins) has 10 grams of protein.

IMG_1356Hearty Blueberry Muffins
(makes 10 muffins)

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup quick oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries (I usually have frozen)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup buttermilk (or sour your own milk by adding a 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar, left sitting for 5 minutes)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients and fill muffin tin cups to the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

I make these at high-altitude now, but made them closer to sea level in North Carolina, and this recipe works for both.

If you try them, I hope you enjoy!