Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cheesy Salsa Burgers

You might notice the absence of my Little Red Plate. It's been lost for several days. :(

Since most members of my family have been such good sports when it comes to all of the veggie-heavy recipes I have been coming up with lately, tonight I am switching things up a little bit, and it's all about the beef! I even made these super juicy burgers with a little surprise inside--ooey gooey molten cheese! Not necessarily good for the waistline, but since we don't eat like this regularly, I'm not going to fret. ;) And besides, there is still a fair amount of vegetables in the burger recipe thanks to salsa, and I will serve them with baked sweet potato fries and fresh fruit.

I kept this recipe fairly easy as far as ingredients are concerned, so even with the added step of forming twice as many burgers as you normally would, putting the cheese in the middle and pressing two burgers together, it's still something you can throw together quickly. You  can customize the "heat" to your liking by choosing the appropriate salsa--I use a medium. There are many varieties of salsa to try as far as flavors too--pineapple salsa is particularly delicious in this recipe. You could use any cheese you like of course, though I love how smooth and creamy Monterey jack melts, and it is one of just a few varieties available to me in the organic section. There are many, many ways in which to change this recipe up!



Cheesy Salsa Burgers

1 1/2 lbs ground beef/chicken/turkey
4 oz shredded Monterrey jack cheese
1 cup salsa
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro or parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste

Directions: Combine all ingredients except cheese in a large mixing bowl and mix with your hands, being careful not to overwork. Form six patties with half the meat mixture, place cheese in the middle of each patty (I personally find the cheese easier to work with when I grate it), form six more patties, place each one on top of one with cheese on it, press seams together and cook as desired.



Cost:

Beef (grass fed): $3.79/lb, 1 1/2 lbs = $5.69
Salsa (organic): On sale for $2.50/16 oz jar, used 1/2 of jar = $1.25
Monterey jack cheese (organic): On sale for $3.49/8 oz, used 1/2 = $1.75

Total Cost: $8.69
Six Servings: $1.45 per serving

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Very Veggie Creamy Summer Pasta



In trying to dream up new ways to use up some plain, unsweetened yogurt plus make use of the summery veggies I found on sale, a creamy tomato-based pasta dish popped into my head, and this is the result. It's fairly light for a pasta with sauce, as I try to go heavy on the vegetables and a bit lighter on the pasta.

As usual, it's a recipe with options for your tastes and budget. If you don't/can't do dairy, leave out the yogurt, and you will still have an amazing dish. If you don't care for the vegetables I used or find different ones on sale, use what you like--carrots, broccoli, asparagus, etc. The pasta can be a big variable here--I am slowly switching my pasta stash over to mostly quinoa pasta (which is gluten-free), but you could use brown rice pasta (also gluten-free) or whole wheat pasta, organic or non-organic. I used whole wheat tonight since I have a few boxes left. I prefer a penne pasta for this recipe, but you can use any variety/shape. I hadn't realized the crushed tomatoes I grabbed already contained basil, so I didn't need to add the basil this time. The tomatoes are organic and were on sale for the same price as the non-organic. As in my previous post, my real splurge here was an organic red bell pepper, which I had to buy in a package of two for $5.00. The non-organic variety were on sale for the lowest I had ever seen them, $.77 each, so that would have really dropped my bottom line, though I am content where I'm at. I only used garlic from the garden today, but when my tomatoes, bell pepper, eggplant, yellow squash, onion and zucchini are ready to harvest, this will be a ridiculously cheap recipe for me!


Very Veggie Creamy Summer Pasta

4 - 6 oz dry pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups eggplant, peeled and diced (about 8 oz by weight)
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small yellow squash, diced
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced/diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 - 16 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt
4 - 6 fresh basil leaves, torn (or 1 tsp dried)
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Optional: red pepper flakes to taste


Step 1: Place diced eggplant in a colander, place colander over a large bowl or in the sink, and sprinkle eggplant generously with salt. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. This will draw out a brownish liquid and get rid of the bitter taste eggplant can have. Rinse very thoroughly to remove salt and pat dry.

Step 2: Begin preparing pasta according to package directions. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, mushrooms and salt and pepper. Saute for 5-7 minutes. Add eggplant, zucchini and squash. Saute for 3-5 minutes.

Step 3: Add pasta, basil and crushed tomatoes to vegetable mixture in the skillet. Heat through, remove from heat, stir in yogurt, do a quick taste for seasoning and serve.




Cost:

Whole Wheat Penne: $1.22/box, used 1/3 box = $.41
Eggplant: On sale for $.88/lb, used 8 oz = $.44
Zucchini: On sale for $1.19/lb, used a 5 oz zucchini = $.37
Yellow squash: On sale for $1.19/lb, used a 7 oz squash = $.52
Red bell pepper (organic) = $2.50
Mushrooms: 8 oz package white buttons on sale = $1.00
Red onion: $.75/lb, used a 5 oz onion = $.23
Crushed tomatoes w/ basil (organic): On sale for $1.99/28 oz can, used 1/2 =$1.00

Total Cost: $6.47
Six Servings: $1.08 per serving

Light and Easy Ranch Dressing

I came up with this recipe while I was looking for a dressing for my Fiesta Black Bean Salad. I added chili powder and lime zest/juice as an afterthought to go with the flavors of the salad, but this one is a traditional ranch flavor great for dipping or dressing. I always have plain, unsweetened yogurt on hand, so I tried that instead of the more traditional buttermilk/sour cream/mayonnaise combinations, and I was very pleased with the results and will always make it this way in the future. I do also have Greek yogurt on hand, but the consistency is so mush thicker and the taste so much tangier, I opted for the regular stuff so as not to overpower the fresh herb flavors I really enjoy.

The salt and pepper are always "freebies", so the only thing I spent money on was organic yogurt--the other items were picked fresh from the backyard/garden.


Light and Easy Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt
1 Tbsp fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh dill (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh chives (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Kosher salt to taste (go very easy on this!)
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Optional: splash of lemon or lime juice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and refrigerate at least half an hour before using to let flavors meld.

Cost:
Yogurt (organic): $4.69/32 oz tub, used 1/8 = $.59

Total Cost: $.59

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Very Veggie Black Bean Salad with Chili Lime Ranch Dressing

Note: I had forgotten to add the avocado before setting up the photo!

This is my new favorite meal. It's light and refreshing yet very flavorful and plenty filling. There is much opportunity for variation. I enjoy it as a meatless recipe, but you absolutely could replace some or all of the beans with cooked chicken, beef or pork. Even tofu, meatless crumbles, quinoa or brown rice would mesh well. If you search for ranch dressing recipes, you will find various combinations of buttermilk, sour cream and mayonnaise used. I was looking for something lighter, and since I always have plain yogurt on hand, it was an obvious choice for me in this recipe. The consistency is perfect, and the yogurt adds just a very slight tang, much like sour cream. I also have plain Greek yogurt on hand, but the consistency is much thicker and the flavor much tangier, so I opted for the regular stuff. You could even skip the dressing. As for the vegetables, if I have used something you don't like, don't use it and add more of something else.

I find this to be a very economical recipe. I used dried beans, which are dirt cheap, but even canned beans are a fairly economical choice. I used romaine lettuce, garlic and parsley straight out of my garden, and it will make it even cheaper yet when we start being able to pick tomatoes, onions and bell pepper too. Again, I use organic dairy products, and the $4.69 for a tub of organic yogurt is not hard to swallow when you break it down to only $.59 worth in a recipe. My big splurge was organic red bell peppers. They are only available in a package of two for $5.00, and I will readily admit to looking longingly at the non-organic ones that were on sale for $.77 each, the lowest I have ever seen red bell peppers selling for in a grocery store, but my overall cost for this recipe is still very low, and they were worth it. Avocados are running 2/$5.00 at my usual grocery store. They are one of my favorite foods, but I have such a hard time spending money on them when they are that high. I happened to stop it at a different grocery store across town, and they were 4/$5.00. I stocked up and got plenty to mash and freeze in cubes for the baby too!



Very Veggie Black Bean Salad with Chili Lime Ranch Dressing

6 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
1 cup dried black beans, cooked according to package directions (or 1 15 oz can, drained and rinsed)
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 avocado, diced
juice from 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp fresh parsley or cilantro (or 1 tsp dried)
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper
Optional: diced jalapeno to taste


Dressing:

1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt
1 Tbsp fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh dill (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1 small clove garlic, finely minced (or 1/4 tsp garlic powder)
1 tsp lime zest
Splash of lime juice to taste (start out with a very small amount and taste as you go)
1/2 tsp chili powder
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Step 1: Place all ingredients for dressing in a small mixing bowl, mix well and refrigerate until ready to use.

Step 2: Place all ingredients for the salad except romaine lettuce in a mixing bowl and gently toss. Refrigerate before serving if desired (can refrigerate up to a couple days before serving).

Step 3: Place a bed of romaine lettuce on each serving plate (about 1 cup), top with a very generous scoop of black bean and vegetable mixture and then garnish with chili lime ranch dressing.


Hint: Omit the chili powder and lime zest/juice from the dressing recipe, and you have a delicious traditional-tasting ranch dressing great for salads or dipping!


Cost:

(Remember the lettuce was a freebie from my garden, as was the garlic, parsley and dill)
Black beans (dried): $1.99/1 lb bag, used 1/3 = $.66
Avocado: On sale 4/$5 ($1.25 each), used 1/2 of one = $.63
Red bell pepper (organic) = $2.50
Roma tomatoes: On sale for $1.49/lb, three tomatoes weighed 8 oz =$.75
Red onion: $.75/lb, used 6 oz onion = $.28
Lime: $.69, used 1/2 = $ .35
Yogurt (organic) $4.69/32 oz container, used 1/8 = $.59

Total Cost: $5.76
Six Servings: $.96 per serving

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

GIVEAWAY Winner!

The winner of the $25 grocery gift card is KARA, the 19th person to follow via Google Friend Connect! Congratulations Kara! I will be sending you a message here very shortly. :)

Thank you all so much for your support. I am just getting going, but I have another new recipe to share with you tomorrow and will try hard to stay creative and keep them coming!

AND STAY TUNED FOR ANOTHER GIVEAWAY REALLY SOON!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Roasted Chickpeas



It seems I am always looking for new ways to disappoint my family by coming up with snacks that do not include overly-processed foods. Luckily that disappointment usually doesn't last long, and we've found some common ground in that area. Not only do these make a great snack, I like to use them as a substitute for croutons on my salads too. I can't vouch for keeping them in a covered container, because I only make one can at a time, and we eat every last one. I always have chickpeas in the pantry, so you will see more recipes using them, including another of my favorite snacks, hummus!

This is one of those recipes that is really more of a suggestion, and you can find what methods work for you. I usually keep my seasoning simple with just Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, but you could add chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, even your favorite herbs. I find 30 minutes to be the perfect cooking time for me and my oven, the chickpeas are crispy on the outside but still creamy on the inside. You can taste them along the way and find a cooking time you prefer.


You probably know that chickpeas are also called garbanzo beans, but I find chickpeas to be the more appetizing of the two monikers when trying to convince someone they should eat them. They are great sources of fiber and protein, and 1/2 cup contains 8% of the standard daily recommendation of iron.


Roasted Chickpeas

1 15 oz can chickpeas
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Optional: other seasonings/herbs

Directions: Drain and rinse chickpeas and pat as dry as possible. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and any other seasonings, place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, shaking pan or stirring beans around at least once.


Cost:

Chickpeas (organic): $1.39
Total Cost: $1.39
Four Servings: $.35 per serving

Give Gardening a Chance!

I told myself I would focus on recipes and not turn this into a "preachy" blog about why you should eat healthfully and try to eat organic/natural/locally grown when possible, but I would like to share with you what I find to be the merits of growing my own food.

First, let's address the "but I don't have room for a garden" argument. You can start with just one or two items in a small area of your yard or even in a pot--container gardening is a great solution. I don't have near enough room as I would like for my garden, so for now, I have pots of chives, parsley, strawberries, habaneros and jalapenos. Last year I didn't have a garden at all and grew three different types of tomatoes in pots on our deck along with the habaneros my husband insisted on planting (he doesn't eat them). Even a couple of small herb pots on your windowsill is a great start. Another great option if you don't have the room you would like is looking into community gardens. My city has two community gardens (one happens to be right near my home) with 10' x 10' or 20' x 20' plots available for members of the community to reserve each growing season, and for only a $15-$20 fee.

For me, the biggest benefit of growing my own food is knowing exactly where it comes from and that it isn't drenched in pesticides or genetically modified (select your seeds/plants carefully). It doesn't have to be trucked or otherwise shipped here to be available to me, I simply walk outside and pick what I need. There is also a tremendous sense of accomplishment that comes from tending to the garden and the results being beautiful, healthful food to put on the table for my family. While this has really been my pet project because it involved the back-breaking work of tearing out the existing professional landscaping, the whole family is excited and getting involved in one way or another.  I will also decrease my trips to the grocery store, which has many benefits that include spending less money on food and gas.

Even though the only things I have harvested so far are five strawberries and several sprigs of parsley, I love to stand outside and just admire the beautiful green plants, many of which are starting to blossom. In the garden this year, I planted spinach, kale, broccoli, radishes, bell peppers, six varieties of tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, butternut squash, cucumbers, peas, snap peas, green beans, lima beans, celery, white onions, red onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts and romaine lettuce. Using what we can't eat right away and filling in where necessary with a bit of organic and locally grown produce from my farmers market, I am also going to give canning a try this year. I hope to can and freeze enough to get us through several months after our garden has stopped producing and the farmers market closes down.

These are some pictures I took just a few days ago. I will be picking some of the romaine lettuce tomorrow for a salad recipe I'm working on--it's so full and such a beautiful shade of green! Please ignore the obvious fact that my weeder desperately needs to get out there and finish working off the $50 she "accidentally" spent on game credits while using the iPod Touch. ;)

Broccoli

Butternut Squash

Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Parsley
Habaneros
Kale
Strawberries

Romaine Lettuce






Saturday, June 18, 2011

Very Veggie Black Bean Enchiladas



We love Mexican-inspired dishes, and I am always looking for ways to make them a little more healthful. I have written this as a vegetarian recipe, but you could easily add some shredded chicken or beef if you have meat-eaters in the house to appease. Whenever I am trying out newfangled recipes on my family, I try to combine the new/different ingredients with flavors that are familiar to them. Carrots, zucchini and broccoli aren't usually found in this type of dish, but I think the sauce, cheese, beans and tortillas are enough to distract everyone!

I am trying to cut down even further on the gluten in our diets, so I am choosing to use brown rice tortillas tonight. They are $2.00 more per package than the whole wheat tortillas at my favorite grocery store (they sell whole wheat tortillas under their own label pretty inexpensively), but this is such an economical recipe overall, the added cost doesn't bother me, nor does it really add up to much when you break it down to the cost per serving. I'll run the numbers for you though with the whole wheat tortillas too. I don't use corn tortillas since I can't find organic ones, but they would work as well. Again, I am using organic cheese, you use what you like or even skip it. Fresh parsley and cilantro are very inexpensive at the grocery store, though the parsley I used came from my backyard. I am serving the enchiladas tonight with fresh peaches and pineapple, both grilled (on the charcoal grill). The peaches were on sale, and after a great sale and an elusive manufacturer's coupon (yes, for fresh fruit!), I paid only $1.38 for a huge pineapple--delicious, easy and cheap sides!


Very Veggie Black Bean Enchiladas

6  brown rice or whole wheat tortillas (8-10")
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 med zucchini, diced
2 carrots, diced small
1 cup broccoli, chopped
1 15 oz can black beans (or 1 cup dry, cooked according to pkg directions)
1 8 oz can no salt added tomato sauce
1/2 tomato sauce can of water
2 tsp chili powder (divided)
1 tsp cumin (divided)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup grated Monterey jack cheese
2 Tbsp fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt to taste (optional)


Step 1: In a mixing bowl, combine tomato sauce, water, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, garlic powder and salt to taste.

Step 2: Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, garlic, bell pepper, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, parsley/cilantro and a little sprinkle of salt. Saute for 5 minutes, add zucchini and broccoli, saute for another 3 minutes, stir in beans and remove from heat.



Step 3: Spray sides of 9 x 11 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and then spoon about 1/4 cup of sauce into bottom and spread out.

Step 4: Warming tortillas in the microwave or oven will make them more pliable if necessary. Spread each tortilla with one tablespoon of sauce, spoon 1/6 of the vegetable/bean mixture on each tortilla, sprinkle with one tablespoon of cheese, roll up and place seam side down in the baking dish. When all of them are rolled up and in the dish, top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.




Cost:

Brown rice tortillas (pkg of 6) = $3.67
Can black beans (organic) =  $1.39
Zucchini: On sale for $.99/lb, used a 5 oz zucchini = $.31
Tomato Sauce (on sale) = $.25
Montery jack cheese (organic): On sale for $3.49/8 oz pkg, used 1/2 = $1.75
Onion: $.75/lb, used 6 oz onion = $.28
Garlic: $.25/ head, 2 cloves is 1/12 of head = $.02
Carrots (organic): $1.98/2 lb pkg, 2 carrots is 1/9 of pkg = $.22
Red Bell Pepper (on sale): $1.50
Broccoli (cut and bagged): $2.99/lb, used 2 oz =  $.37

Total Cost: $9.76
Six Servings: $1.63 per serving


Using Whole Wheat Tortillas:

Whole wheat tortillas: $1.67/pkg of 8, 6 tortillas is 3/4 of pkg = $1.25

Total Cost: $7.76
Six Servings: $1.29 per serving

Berry Chocolatey Summertime Parfaits



Yes, we do actually eat desserts in this house, though it may come as no surprise that I do try to make them somewhat healthful (we won't talk about my famous double chocolate cupcakes). This recipe is nice and light, a perfect summertime dessert. It serves four as I have written it. I figure one cup of berries per person, and one pint of whipped cream per four to six people. Any more than that, and I double the amount of whipped cream.

Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries (especially the latter two) are some of the produce items I buy almost only when they are on sale, which luckily seems to be often lately. I do have two giant pots of strawberry plants in my backyard, but they are new and so far they have yielded five strawberries. The kids bring me fresh-picked berries when they come home from my in-laws' cabin, but that will not be for at least another month or two. Today I hit the berry jackpot though, as fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries were all on sale for really great prices. I have mentioned that I buy organic dairy products whenever possible, and since I got such a great deal on everything else, I did not mind paying more for the organic whipping cream.

All that said, this is another recipe you can adjust to fit your tastes and your budget. If you don't care for a certain berry or don't want to pay the outrageous prices they are often marked with, use more of another variety. Replacing some of the berries with sliced bananas is also a money-saver. If you don't care for the chocolate flavor in your whipping cream, omit the cocoa powder. You can use granulated sugar instead of a stevia-derived sweetener. Skip the almonds on top or use graham crackers, granola, chocolate or vanilla wafers, grated chocolate, etc. You can certainly use a non-organic whipping cream, or you can use the dairy or non-dairy already-prepared options that are out there.

Blueberries provide fiber and Vitamin C, raspberries have even more fiber and Vitamin C than blueberries, and strawberries have less fiber than both but more vitamin C--just one cup of strawberry halves gives you 149% of the standard daily recommendation for Vitamin C. All three contain antioxidants, and that brings us to a subject that surpasses my limited knowledge, though I do know that Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Let's just say that all three are good for you!



Berry Chocolatey Summertime Parfaits

4 cups berries
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 packet of stevia sweetener (or equivalent 2 tsp granulated sugar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Step 1: Make sure your cream is nice and chilled, pour it into a bowl that is not too small but not so large that the cream is too spread out--you need to be able to whip air into it well. Chilling your bowl and whisk/attachment can help the process as well. Whip on medium speed (or by hand). When cream has thickened slightly and has just started to get foamy, add the vanilla, sweetener and cocoa powder and continue to whip. Most directions for whipping cream will tell you to stop when it forms soft peaks--when you pull the whisk out, the dollop of cream on it should bend over at the top. I personally like to take it a little further, but you have to reduce the speed and watch it closely, as you can have yourself a bowl of butter very quickly.

Step 2: Spoon 1/2 cup berries in the bottom of each serving glass/dish. Top with a layer of whipped cream, another 1/2 cup of berries, another layer of whipped cream and then garnish each with 1 Tablespoon of slivered almonds.

Warning: I like to keep the whipped cream VERY lightly sweetened and let the deep chocolatey taste bring out the sweetness in the berries. If your berries aren't sweet enough, or you prefer it sweeter, you may want to adjust the sweetener/sugar, starting by doubling it and adjusting from there.


Cost:

Strawberries: $1.50/lb pkg, used 1/2 = $.75
Blueberries: $2.50/pint pkg, used 1/2 = $1.25
Red Raspberries: $1.99/6 oz pkg, used 1/2 = $1.00
Heavy Whipping cream, pint (organic): $1.89
Almonds: $1.49/pkg, used 1/2 = $.75

Total Cost: $5.64
Four Servings: $1.41 per serving

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Little Nutty, A Little Fruity Chicken Salad



I don't eat a lot of meat and poultry, but this one chicken recipe I really enjoy. It's so flavorful but light and refreshing at the same time. I am all about texture and crunch in my food, and while my husband is at the opposite end of the spectrum, he loves this chicken salad with all of the crunchy veggies I load it with. I like to eat this as is or over organic baby spinach, and it is wonderful as a sandwich as well. It makes 4 adult-size servings, about 6 servings in our house with the kids.

I prefer the lightness of the plain yogurt, but you could certainly use mayonnaise or the whipped salad dressing stuff if you prefer. You could also substitute chopped pecans, pistachios or walnuts for the almonds. I buy organic grapes, which are very comparable in price to the non-organic at my favorite grocery store. I also use organic yogurt, and at only $.59 cents worth in this recipe, the higher initial cost over the non-organic doesn't phase me. I also used organic chicken, which ups my cost considerably over non-organic, but again, the cost is worth it for me, especially when spread out over more than one meal.



A Little Nutty, A Little Fruity Chicken Salad

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded/diced/cubed
1 cup red grapes, halved
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt
1 Tbsp prepared mustard (brown, whole grain or Dijon impart the best flavor)
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Directions: Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir until just combined. Serve immediately or chill if desired.


Cost:
Chicken (organic): Used 1/3 of  Stretched Out Slow Cooker Whole Chicken = $3.94
Grapes (organic): $2.89/lb, used 4 oz = $.72
Carrots (organic): $1.98/2 lb bag, 2 carrots is 1/9 of bag =  $.22
Celery: $1.18 per head, 2 stalks is 1/12 = $.10
Red onion: $.75/lb, small onion was 6 ounces ($.28), used 1/2 = $.14
Yogurt (organic): $4.69/32 oz container, used 1/8 =$.59
Almonds: $1.49 per package, used 1/2 of pkg = $.75

Total Cost: $6.46
Four Servings: $1.62 per serving
Six Servings: $1.08 per serving

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stretched Out Slow Cooker Whole Chicken



Say that five times fast! I call this chicken "Stretched Out" because I use the meat from one chicken in three different recipes/meals. Because the three recipes will have very different flavors, I have made the seasoning very simple and rather neutral. If you do plan on eating the chicken as part of a roasted chicken dinner instead, you can get creative with different herbs such as rosemary, tarragon, etc. I take the chicken off the bone and separate it into three containers, freezing one or two if it might be more than a few days before I use them. From a 4 pound chicken, I yield 2+ cups per container. You could even save the bones and use them along with your vegetable trimmings for a batch of stock.

There are a few variables when it comes to the cost of this recipe--how many meals you use it for, what type of chicken you buy, etc. As I have said, I buy organic chicken because the higher cost is more than worth it to me, and when I can stretch one chicken into three healthful meals for my family, the cost isn't even an issue. My grocery store often has non-organic whole chickens on sale for $.79 to $.99 per pound, which is considerably cheaper than the $3.00-$6.00 per pound I pay for organic and would bring your total amount for chicken per recipe, for three recipes, to under $2.00. You could nix the vegetables since they are just discarded after the chicken is cooked, but the cost is very minimal, and I like having a flavorful "rack" for the chicken to sit on.


Stretched Out Slow Cooker Whole Chicken

1 4 lb whole chicken
2 stalks celery, cut in 1" chunks
3 carrots, cut in 1" chunks
1 small onion, cut in chunks
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 sprigs fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper

Directions: Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry (make sure you check for the giblets/neck and remove them). Place vegetables, bay leaf and one sprig of parsley on the bottom of slow cooker. Place chicken on top of vegetables, tuck the wings under, sprinkle it with salt and pepper on the outside, getting up under the skin where you can, as well as inside the cavity. Place the remaining sprig of parsley in the cavity. Cook on low for 8 hours.



Cost:

Chicken (organic): On sale for $2.75/lb, 4 lbs = $11
Red onion: $.75/lb, small onion was 6 ounces = $.28
Garlic: $.25/head, 1 clove is 1/12 = $.02
Celery: $1.18 per head, 2 stalks is 1/6 = $.20
Carrots: $1.98/2 lb bag, 3 carrots is 1/6 of bag =  $.32

Total Cost: $11.82
Three meal portions: $3.94 per meal

Monday, June 13, 2011

Great Northern Green and White Chili



This is another one of our favorite chili recipes (my oldest son has already claimed the leftovers for breakfast). It's much lighter than a traditional beef/tomato chili, and we enjoy it all year long. We eat it alone or with some fresh fruit on the side. It's very easy to make this a vegetarian recipe as well--I just omit the chicken, but you can certainly add some extra beans or veggies if you need to stretch it further.

I find this to be a very economical recipe. You probably know dried beans are dirt cheap. I used my homemade vegetable stock that costs literally pennies for a big pot full, so that's a freebie for me. The parsley came from my backyard. I found great deals at the grocery store on all of the vegetables I used in this recipe today. I did spend extra money on organic chicken with no reservations. I fully realize I am paying $10 for a 3 1/2 pound whole chicken when my grocery store puts ones of the same size on sale for $3, but the price difference is more than worth it to me. I will save you a sermon on why organic is the only label on chicken that matters when you are looking for the most healthful option, but I will tell you that Dr. Oz had a great episode about it and let you do your own research. One whole chicken will get us through three meals though, so when I break it down to only $3.33 per meal, it looks even better. Again, I buy organic dairy products whenever possible, and with the cheese as almost just a tasty garnish in this recipe, my bottom line is less than a dollars' worth of organic cheese. Same with the yogurt--I bought organic yogurt and paid considerably more than I would have for the non-organic, but when you break it down to the cost per serving and take the benefits of using organic into consideration, it's more than worth it to me. But of course you will decide what ingredients are right for you, your family and your budget.



Great Northern Green and White Chili

1 cup dry Great Northern beans, cooked according to pkg directions or 1 15 oz can
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
6 tomatillos, chopped
1 small to medium zucchini, chopped (about 1 1/2 - 2 cups)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt (use Greek yogurt if you like a little more "tang")
4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock
1/2 cup (2 oz) grated Monterey jack cheese
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
2 sprigs Fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Optional: diced jalapeno, red pepper flakes, cayenne to taste

Slow Cooker Directions: Place all ingredients except cheese and yogurt in slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours. Add yogurt to slow cooker right before serving and sprinkle 1-2 Tablespoons of cheese on each serving.

Alternate (Stove top) Directions: Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot/Dutch oven. Add onion, green pepper, salt, black pepper, cumin and garlic. Saute just until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatillo and zucchini and saute for another 3 minutes. Add beans, chicken and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until vegetables are cooked as desired. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt. Sprinkle each serving with 1-2 Tbsp of cheese.



Cost:

Great northern beans: $1.29/1 lb pkg, used 1/3 of pkg = $.43
Chicken: $10 for one 3 1/2 lb whole chicken, used 1/3 = $3.33
Tomatillos: $1.99/lb, 6 tomatillos weighed 7 oz =$.87
Green bell pepper = $.59
Zucchini: On sale for $.99/lb, used one 6 oz zucchini = $.59
Red onion: $.75/lb, used 8 oz onion = $.38
Garlic: $.25/head, used 2 cloves (1/6) = $.04
Yogurt (organic): $4.69/32 oz container, used 1/8 =$.59
Monterey jack cheese (organic): On sale for $3.49/8 oz pkg, used 2 oz (1/4)  =$.87

Total Cost: $7.69
Six Servings: $1.28 per serving

Vegetarian Cost (subtract chicken): $4.36
Six Servings: $.73 per serving

Friday, June 10, 2011

There ARE Coupons for Healthful Foods: Part 2



In honor of today being Coupon Inserts in Your Newspaper Day (barring any extreme-couponing thieves, of course), I give you another serving of SAVINGS! I am constantly on the lookout for printable coupons for healthful foods. They can be hard to find, but they are out there. As I mentioned in the first coupon post, before you shop, be sure to visit the websites and Facebook pages of the companies whose products you purchase to check for coupons, and if you don't see any, ASK! Sign up for their newsletters, rewards programs and mailing lists to be notified of future savings as well.

Also keep in mind that "healthful" means different things to different people. I am just relaying information on where to find savings on products that are marketed as healthful/natural/organic, and you of course will decide for yourself what you deem healthful and what you will or will not purchase. :)


Newman's Own Organics: Three coupons, $.50 off any dressing, marinade, pasta sauce, salsa, popcorn or drink, $1.00 off and Thin & Crispy pizza, $1.00 off any Sweet Enough cereal. Newman's Own was started by actor Paul Newman and author A.E. Hotchner. Newman donated all of the profits from product sales to various charities/causes (over $300 million through 2010). His daughter Nell Newman started Newman's Own Organics as a division of Newman's Own, and it later became its own company. They produce a variety of organic foods such as chocolate bars, popcorn, cookies, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Food Should Taste Good: $1.00 off any 5.5 oz or larger bag of chips. Food Should Taste Good makes a line of all natural tortilla chips in a long list of flavors. The company also has a program called Food Should Do Good through which they donate to various charities. 

Kalona SuperNatural (aka Kalona Organics): $.25 off any 6oz yogurt product and $.50 off any product including milk (buttermilk and chocolate milk too), sour cream, cottage cheese, half 'n half and whipping cream. Kalona Organics produces minimally processed dairy products and eggs that come from family farms, mainly in the Midwest. They also produce under the Hy-Vee HealthMarket label.

Gluten Free Sensations: Collect 10 UPC codes and send in completed form, get a free product.

Udi's Gluten Free Foods: $1.00 off any product. Udi's produces gluten-free breads/buns, bagels, pizza crust, granola and muffins.

LIGHTLIFE: No active coupons when I checked, but join here for access to coupons when they are issued. LIGHTLIFE produces a wide variety of non-meat, vegetable protein-based foods such as frozen entrees, hot dogs and sausages and lunch meats. Since the company started 30 years ago, 5% of their net profits have been donated to organizations that protect children, human rights and the environment.


Printable Coupon Sites:

Mambo Sprouts: Powered by coupons.com, Mambo Sprouts features printable coupons for natural/healthful products as well as other information/activities. A few current coupons include Earth Balance Soymilk, Organic Valley original or soy creamer and MI-DEL organic and natural cookies.

Smartsource.com: Currently there coupons for Pompeian Olive Oil, Truvia natural sweetener, Florida Crystals organic agave nectar product, C&H organic agave nectar product, Country Hearth bread and Gold'n Plump All Natural chicken.

Swagbucks.com: an online rewards program in which you earn "Swagbucks" for doing things such as searching the internet, shopping online and redeeming "Swag codes."  You can redeem your Swagbucks for merchandise, drawings and gift cards, probably the most popular of which is a $5 Amazon.com gift card. I have earned over $300 in Amazon gift cards in the year and a half I have been a Swagbucks member, and this is with very little effort, absolutely no strings attached. So what does this have to do with coupons? You can now log into your Swagbucks account, and from the Earn menu, select Coupons. For every coupon you print and redeem, you will earn 10 Swagbucks. It's powered by coupons.com, so always check Swagbucks' coupons first before going to Mambo Sprouts or coupons.com itself so you can print your limit of a certain item while also accruing Swagbucks after you redeem them.

A Little Nutty, A Little Fruity Stir Fry



Nuts and fruit are important staples in our house. They are the most-consumed snack around here, and they show up at many mealtimes as well. I always have almonds, cashews, various nut mixes and pistachios on hand. Peanuts too, though I know they are not a nut (you probably know they are a legume). As for fruit, there are some we always have no matter what (strawberries, blueberries, apples, pineapple), and we also enjoy different varieties depending on what I find on sale each week. That said, I have quite a few "A Little Nutty, A Little Fruity ..." recipes in the works that you will be seeing!

This recipe is my oldest daughter's favorite meal, and she often takes it in her lunch to school. There are many things you can swap out and/or add to make this exactly to your liking. You can completely take out the meat, use beef, pork or shrimp, try different vegetable combinations, use almonds or cashews instead of peanuts, etc. Today I served it over organic quinoa for my family and ate it as is myself, but you could serve it over/alongside brown rice, whole wheat spaghetti/fettuccine or anything similar. Cut the meat, and it makes a great side dish alongside some grilled fish or meat. I minimize the cooking time of the vegetables so they retain as much crispness as possible, but that is something you can adjust to your liking as well. This makes 4-6 servings as I have written it, and it is very easy to divide or multiply depending on your needs.

This is one of my recipes in which I really stretch the meat if I use it. One large chicken breast (no skin or bone, 10-12 ounces) does just fine for all of us. I would not miss the meat one bit if I cut it out, and to be honest, I give most of it to my husband and then to the kids so they are not purely focused on the mountain of vegetables on their plates (though I have to say they are very good sports when it comes to vegetables). I used fresh broccoli today because it was on sale for a great deal, but you could use frozen as well. Once I tried a really good fresh pineapple, I vowed never to eat it canned again, and I got really lucky today with a store sale and a coupon I printed. You rarely find coupons for fresh fruit, and at the risk of revealing that I lead quite a dull life, I have to tell you I was excited when a friend pointed me in the direction of that coupon (it's no longer available). Peanuts are a more economical choice than are almonds or cashews, and I got these on clearance at Walgreen's when they were revamping their nut display. It can be a meal all by itself, but tonight I served it with fresh strawberries that were on sale for $1.50 per pound.

Pineapple is a good source of Vitamin C and manganese. Broccoli contains Vitamins C and A and folate and also a bit of calcium. Since I use them in so many recipes, you might be tired of hearing that red bell peppers are great sources of Vitamins A and C. I try to keep the sodium low by using low or no salt peanuts/nuts and low sodium soy sauce, and I use the Kosher salt very sparingly on the chicken. I prefer to use the quinoa over rice or pasta because it has more protein and fiber, and one serving (1/4 cup dry) also contains a whopping 20% of the standard daily recommendation of iron.


A Little Nutty, A Little Fruity Stir Fry

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
1 head fresh broccoli, about 3 cups
1 cup pineapple, cut in chunks
1/2 cup peanuts/cashews/almonds, low or no salt
2 med to large carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 red bell pepper, sliced in strips
1/2 small to medium onion, sliced thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
3 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
Fresh cracked black pepper
Kosher salt
Optional: red pepper flakes

Step 1: Heat olive oil in large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Meanwhile, cut chicken into chunks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet/wok, and stirring often, cook just until it's no longer pink.

Step 2: Add garlic, onion, bell pepper, carrots and red pepper flakes if using. If you are using frozen broccoli, add that now as well, wait if you are using fresh. Stir often and cook 3-4 minutes.

Step 3: Add pineapple, broccoli (if using fresh) and scallions. Stir often and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Step 4: Add soy sauce and peanuts, stir to combine and remove from heat.




Cost:

Chicken breast: On sale for $9/pkg of five, used one = $1.80
Pineapple: $2.24 each after sale and coupon, used 1/3 = $.75
Broccoli (one head) = $1.50
Peanuts: $.99 per 16 oz jar,1/2 cup is 2.5 oz (.16) = $.15
Carrots (organic): $1.98/ 2 lb bag, 2 carrots is 1/10 of bag = $.20
Bell pepper (red) =  $1.50
Onion (red): $.75/lb, used 1/2 a 10 oz onion = $.47
Scallion (organic): $1.39/pkg, 3 scallions is apprx 1/5 of pkg = $.28
Garlic: $.25/head, 2 cloves is 1/6 of head = $.04

Total Cost: $6.69
Four Servings: $1.67 per serving
Six Servings: $1.12 per serving

Add quinoa:

Quinoa (organic): $9.99/pkg, used apprx 1/6 of pkg = $1.67

Total Cost: $8.36
Four Servings: $2.09
Six Servings: $1.39

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

There ARE Coupons for Healthful Foods!



Today on The Little Red Plate, I am serving up SAVINGS! Since some organic/natural/healthful foods can be a bit heavy on the pocketbook, and I have mentioned the printable coupons I have found for some of them in my recipes, I am dedicating this blog post to sharing them with you. Now, you know I am not a dietitian or any sort of food scientist/expert, so I cannot vouch for the true healthfulness of any of these items or the practices of any of the companies, but I am sharing them because they are typically marketed as healthful.

Whenever I come across a brand I am interested in purchasing, I check out both their website and their Facebook page to search for coupons and do a Google search as well. If you don't see anything, ASK! Be sure to follow these companies on Facebook so you will be kept informed of new savings and promotions. Don't forget to keep an eye out for coupons in the inserts that come in your Sunday paper as well--you might be pleasantly surprised to find coupons for nuts, dairy products, whole wheat pastas, cereals and breads, etc.

For some of these, you will have to sign up to receive the coupon(s), but that will ensure you are alerted to any future savings as well.

Organic Valley: Four coupons, $.50 off omega 3 milk/half & half/soy creamer/yogurt. There was also a coupon for $1.00 off any Organic Valley flavored or regular half & half and soy creamer in the coupon inserts that came with the Sunday paper this past week (June 5th). Organic Valley produces organic dairy products, juice, eggs, produce and meat. Their CEO is actually an organic farmer who was one of seven Wisconsin farmers who started a local organic crop share program that grew into Organic Valley.

Muir Glen: $1.00 off any tomato product. Muir Glen produces organic tomato products (salsa, canned tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, etc.) and soups. Their tomatoes are grown and vine-ripened using certified organic practices, and all of their products are certified organic by the USDA.

Smart Chicken: $1.00 off any product. Smart Chicken chickens are raised without the use antibiotics, animal by-products or hormones (hormone use in chickens is banned by the USDA). They are Certified Organic (check labels on individual products) and Certified Humane. They have a large variety of organic and veg-fed chicken cuts as well as sausage products.

Mom's Best Naturals: $.75 off any product. Mom's Best Naturals uses high quality ingredients in their line of breakfast cereals and oatmeal. No artificial ingredients, no saturated fats, no hydrogenated oils and no high fructose corn syrup. They also keep costs low, and I can buy a box of cereal for well below the price of the sugary stuff. With this coupon, I also got a canister of their oatmeal for $.25!

Horizon: Choose $1.00 off of 2 half gallons organic milk with DHA or $.75 off three 8 oz single serve milk boxes. Horizon produces organic dairy products and eggs and strives to be a socially and environmentally conscious company.

Smart Balance: Two coupons, $.75 off Smart Balance Milk or $.75 off any Smart Balance grocery item. Your choice of coupons may depend on your zip code. Smart Balance produces a wide variety of products, a few of which are buttery spreads, milk, microwave popcorn and peanut butter. Their products are made with no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, so they contain no trans fat. They also add calcium, protein, plant sterols, vitamins, calcium and Omega 3s to their products.

Garden of Eatin': $1.00 off one bag of Garedn of Eatin' chips. Garden of Eatin' produces many products including tortilla, veggie and pita chips, backed snacks and taco shells. Their products are made with organic and natural ingredients, and some are certified organic.

Stonyfield Farm/Oikos: Several coupons offered. I can no longer view them since you had to sign up to get them, but there were quite a few offered for YoBabby/YoToddler/YoKids in different individual sizes plus the multi-packs as well as some for their Oikos Greek yogurt. Stonyfield Farm uses organic ingredients in their yogurts and takes pride in being a socially and environmentally responsible company. Join their myStonfield Rewards to enter codes from specially marked products and earn points toward free Stonyfied products as well as products from several other companies.

Chobani: $.30 off one 6 oz Chobani Greek Yogurt and $.50 off one 32 oz Chobani Greek Yogurt. Chobani produces low fat and no fat Greek yogurt made with all natural ingredients. It's available in several flavors and sizes. They make their yogurt with real fruit, five live and active cultures, including three probiotics, and there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. It has twice the protein of regular yogurts and is a good source of calcium. It is also gluten-free and Kosher.

Kashi (and many others): Okay, this one gets a little more complicated. Kashi does have a link to coupons on their page, and I did print some out a couple of weeks ago, but now there are no coupons listed. I will keep checking here though. I am a member of Recyclebank, a website at which you can earn points for completing quizzes and tasks related to recycling, going green, environmentally-friendly products, etc. In the first two days I was a member, I put in very minimal effort and earned enough points for two printable coupons for $2.00 off any Kashi product (there is a limit of one per month). The great news is that you can also redeem your points for coupons for other products from companies like Earth Bound Organic, Back to Nature, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Green Mountain Coffee and Happy Family.


I am still constantly on the lookout for new savings opportunities and will hopefully be doing many of these types of posts in the future!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

GIVEAWAY! Win a $25 Gift Card to Your Favorite Grocery Retailer!

While I greatly and sincerely appreciate each and every one of you, I honestly am not at all concerned with the number of public followers my blog accrues. This is something I love to do, and if just a few of my friends enjoy it too, that's great. However, I would really love to start doing reviews, giveaways and mass discount codes involving organic/natural/fair trade grocery products, and upping my following is a great way to get these companies excited and involved!

So with that said, and in the spirit of cooking healthfully but economically, I want to give one lucky follower of my blog a little help with the grocery bill while I work on the aforementioned project. To be entered into the drawing for a $25 gift card to your favorite grocery retailer, all you have to do is follow my blog via Google Friend Connect (see the right hand side of the page). If you do, you are automatically entered, and there is no need to comment below. You can also earn extra entries by referring your friends--if they follow my blog via Google Friend Connect and then comment below that "Jane Doe sent me," each comment will get you an extra entry, and there is no limit to the extra entries you can earn!


Giveaway ends on June 21st, 2011 at 9:00 pm central, and a winner will be chosen (via random.org) and announced shortly thereafter! :)

French Onion (Soup) Burgers



In the spirit of BBQ Season, I am working on some more burger recipes. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this burger came while I was thinking about how unfortunate it was that I severely disliked the French onion soup I tried (for the first time ever) at a chain restaurant because it was so incredibly salty. I do plan to make the soup myself with a highly rated recipe from a Food Network chef, but for now, I am working on the burger.

I do have to tell you that there is a fair amount of prep work involved in this recipe, as just like with French onion soup, the onions are caramelized and the wine is cooked down. You could actually do that part of the recipe, or even up to forming the patties, ahead of time though. Don't be alarmed at what might seem like a lot of onion when you start out. It will cook down considerably, and caramelizing them brings out an amazingly rich and sweet flavor--that raw onion "bite" will absolutely disappear. While we are talking about caramelizing the onions, a few things to keep in mind: resist the urge to stir too frequently, add more oil or turn the heat way down, and do not worry about burning--you want those yummy bits of brown goodness stuck to the bottom of your pan!

This is a very large frying pan, but you will see later how much the onions cook down.


If you look up French onion soup recipes, you will see sherry (a fortified wine), white wine, red wine, cognac and some other spirits used. Use what you like and/or what you have on hand. Just promise me you will steer clear of the cooking wines and use something you would also drink. It's not necessary to spend a lot of money on a bottle of wine. My favorite red wine (a Merlot) is right around $8 a bottle, and as far as complexity and depth of flavor, it blows all of the expensive wines I have tried well away. And bonus, even if you purchase a bottle just for this recipe, you will still have 5/6 of it left to drink later! And if you absolutely want to skip the wine, just double the stock.

I use an organic Swiss cheese (usually, what we call Swiss cheese is Emmental/Emmentaler), but you could use non-organic, which is significantly cheaper, or get a little fancier (and traditional) and use Gruyere, or even a Fontina or Beaufort.

Now, I wouldn't exactly call this health food, and it's a bit of a splurge in the pocketbook department compared to some of my usual meals. I use extra lean ground beef that is either organic or locally raised, I use olive oil instead of butter or margarine, and I serve them on 100% whole wheat (and high fructose corn syrup-free) sandwich thins. I choose those foods purposefully, there are certainly cheaper options if you prefer. Today I will serve the burgers with grilled asparagus and fresh pineapple, which will help to up the overall healthful-factor of the entire meal a bit, plus both were on sale, and I had a coupon for the fresh pineapple from coupons.com, so it keeps the overall meal cost under $15. There are many nutritional benefits to be reaped from beef--iron, Vitamins B-6 and B-12 and high amounts of many minerals/nutrients such as zinc, selenium, niacin and several others. There is saturated fat (bad) in beef, but there is also monounsaturated fat (good). Again, I am no dietitian, but I doubt that the good fat in the beef cancels out the bad, and so it is something we enjoy in moderation. You could absolutely use ground chicken or turkey, but I wanted to stick true to the flavors of French onion soup and go with the beef in this one.

French Onion (Soup) Burgers

1 1/2 lbs lean or extra lean ground beef
1/2 Tbsp olive oil plus some for drizzling
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup (4 fluid oz) dry white or red wine,
1/2 cup beef stock or homemade vegetable stock
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
6 slices Swiss or Gruyere cheese


Step 1: Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium (ish) heat. Add onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Stirring only occasionally, cook until onions are soft and brown, around 25-35 minutes, depending on your stove top.

I cooked them for approximately another 5-10 minutes beyond this point.

Step 2: Add wine and stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until only half of the liquid remains, about 5 minutes, again, depending on your stove top. Discard bay leaves, remove from heat and let cool.

Step 3: Place ground beef in a large mixing bowl. Add Worcestershire sauce, a little salt and pepper and cooled onion mixture. Mix with your hands until just combined, do not overwork. Form into 6 patties and cook as desired. You know my order of preference is charcoal grill, gas grill and then broiler, but you could also use the stove top.



Step 4: Right before burgers are done and removed from cooking surface, top each with a slice of cheese and let it melt.



Step 5: Separate the tops and bottoms of your buns, drizzle all with a little olive oil, sprinkle with just a little salt and fresh cracked black pepper if desired, then place on the grill/under the broiler until they are toasted to a nice golden brown color. To really get the full effect of the French onion soup flavors in this burger, do not top with anything, just put it on the bun and enjoy!

Cost:

Local Ground beef: $2.68/lb, used 1 1/2 lbs = $4.02
Red onion: $.75/lb, one medium-sized was 7 oz = $.33
Red wine: $8/750-ml bottle (25.36 oz), used just under 1/6 of the bottle = $1.33
Garlic: One head is $.25, 3 cloves is 1/4 of the head = $.06
Swiss Cheese (organic): $3.99/8 oz pkg, used 4.5 oz (.56 of pkg) = $2.23

Total Cost: $7.97
Six Servings: $1.33 per serving


Add Buns:

Arnold 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Thins: $2.28/pkg of 8, used 6 = $1.71

Total Cost: $9.68
Six Servings: $1.61

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Very Veggie Slow Cooker Lasagna



This recipe is a very good example of what I was referring to in my welcome post when I said that many of my "recipes" will be more like "suggestions." There are many ways to change this one up and to cut costs on certain ingredients if you wish to. We don't care for meat in our lasagna, so mine's loaded with vegetables, usually whatever I find on sale for the week along with a few usual staples. You could certainly add ground chicken/beef/turkey/pork, Italian sausage or even pepperoni. Because we limit our dairy intake, and because I try to keep this a somewhat healthful recipe, the only cheese I use in it is a fairly modest amount of organic mozzarella, but you can up the cheese and even add cottage cheese or ricotta to your layers too. I used organic spaghetti sauce today, you can use a homemade sauce, non-organic, etc. I don't like my lasagna too "saucy", but you can adjust the amount if you like more. I have a hard time finding organic lasagna, but I use a good whole wheat brand. If you have issues with gluten/wheat, you can use a brown rice or quinoa lasagna. Even if you decide to use meat (browned and drained first), tons of cheese and no vegetables, and/or a different variety of lasagna, the process is still the same.

This recipe is also easy to divide or multiply--just figure approximately 2 cups of vegetables per layer (if you're going with this Very Veggie version), and adjust the amounts of your sauce and water as necessary. If you are only cooking for a few, it freezes very well for future supper or quick lunches.

I serve it with a mixed greens salad dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar and sprinkled generously with fresh cracked black pepper and sparingly with Kosher salt. Despite not being your typical lasagna that's dripping with cheese and stuffed with meat, my kids eat it up, and my husband declares it "Filling. Stick-to-your-ribs filling." So there you go!

As I have covered previously, whole wheat pasta is a good source of fiber and protein. We all know that we should choose whole grains over their white/bleached/overly-processed counterparts. Of course the nutrients will vary depending on the vegetables you use--I used red bell pepper, carrots, spinach, broccoli and mushrooms. Red bell peppers are great sources of Vitamin C and also contain fair amounts of many other vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin B-6 and folate. Spinach is a good source of Vitamin A and also contains other nutrients such as Vitamin C, calcium and iron. Broccoli is a great source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and folate, and it contains fair amounts of calcium, iron and Vitamin B-6. Carrots have high amounts of Vitamin A and fair amounts of calcium, folate, Vitamin C and Vitamin B-6. And let's not forget the protein and calcium in the cheese. The nutritional benefits you reap from the aforementioned foods of course depends on your serving size.


Very Veggie Slow Cooker Lasagna

1 box lasagna
1 jar spaghetti sauce or equivalent amount of homemade sauce
6 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup water
1 small-medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups additional vegetables, chopped, such as spinach (make sure you pack it when measuring), carrots (sliced thin), bell pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, yellow/summer squash, eggplant, black olives, etc.

Step 1: Mix water, sauce, garlic, onion and vegetables in a large bowl and place 1/3 of the mixture into the bottom of your slow cooker. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella. Depending on the size and shape of your slow cooker, you may have to break up some or all of your lasagna to get complete coverage. Place lasagna in a single layer, covering vegetable/sauce layer completely. Repeat with 1/3 of vegetable/sauce mixture, 1/3 of mozzarella and another layer of noodles. Top with remaining 1/3 of vegetable/sauce mixture and reserve the remaining 1/3 of the mozzarella.

Step 2: Cover and cook on low for about 5-6 hours, until lasagna (the pasta) is tender. If you have to leave it a bit longer or set it to switch to a warm setting after the initial cooking period, it should fare just fine, your noodles may just get extra soft.

Step 3: Before serving, sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the mozzarella over the top and put the cover back on for just a few minutes, until cheese melts.




Cost:

Whole wheat lasagna noodles: $2.39
Organic Mozzarella:$3.99/8 oz package, used 6 oz (3/4) = $2.99
Organic spaghetti sauce: $2.79
Organic baby spinach: $2.88/container, used 1/2 = $1.44
Mushrooms (white button): $1.76/8 oz package, used half = $.88
Red bell pepper = $.99
Organic carrots: $.98/1-lb bag, 4 carrots is 2/5 of bag = $.39
Broccoli: $2.98/lb for washed & cut broccoli, .5 lb bag = $1.49

Total Cost: $13.36
Six servings: $2.23 per serving
Eight servings: $1.67 per serving

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Gourmet" Thin Crust Veggie Pizza



This is one of those recipes I love because it's so simple and cheap, yet it tastes like something you would pay much more for if you were eating out. I often enjoy this for a quick lunch or even for a light supper. There are many ways to mix it up--use a variety of vegetables, try different cheeses, or even bake it outside on the grill instead of in the oven. As I have said, I really try to watch my sodium intake, but in this recipe, the sprinkle of Kosher salt along with the olive oil and fresh cracked black pepper is a MUST for optimal flavor!

I am usually only making one of these for myself since the kids like theirs with organic pizza sauce and mini turkey pepperoni, so that is how I'm writing the recipe. Very easy to make as many as you need! I either eat the whole thing as a meal on its own or just half of it with a spinach and kale salad and some fresh fruit.

My grocery store sells their own brand of whole wheat tortillas that are very reasonably priced compared to the big name brands. They also sell their own organic cheese, which is still more costly than a regular cheese, but a little goes a long way in this recipe, and I use organic dairy products whenever possible. I enjoy the other flavors in this pizza so much that the cheese is really just there to act as a glue (albeit a tasty glue)!

Whole wheat tortillas are a good source of dietary fiber and protein, and of course we all know we should be choosing whole grain foods over their refined counterparts. There's calcium and protein in the cheese, good fats in the olive oil and a lot of Vitamin C even in just 1/4 cup of bell pepper.


"Gourmet" Thin Crust Veggie Pizza

1 whole wheat tortilla
1/4 cup organic part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup bell pepper, chopped
3 mushrooms (white button, crimini, etc.), sliced
6 grape tomatoes, halved
1 tsp olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Directions: Drizzle olive oil on tortilla and sprinkle with Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Add veggies, top with cheese and bake in a 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.



Confession: I LOVE mushrooms, but only if they are well cooked, so I saute my mushrooms in a little olive oil before putting them on my pizza.

Cost:

Whole wheat tortilla: $1.66/pkg of 8, used 1 = $.21
Mozzarella cheese (organic): $3.99/8 oz pkg, used 1/8 of pkg = $.50
Mushrooms (white button): $1.76/8 oz pkg, used 1/5 of pkg by weight = $.35
Red onion: $.75/lb, used 1/4 of a 6 oz onion = $.07
Red bell pepper: on sale for $.99 each, used about 1/4 = $.25
Grape tomatoes: on sale for $2.99/pint, 6 tomatoes was 1/6 of the pkg = $.50

Total Cost: $1.88 (1 serving)
2 servings: $.94 per serving