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Friday, February 12, 2016

Cheap & Cheerful menus for the week, trying to use things up

Fried corn tortilla, topped w/ refried beans, cheese, avocado, salsa and olives,
along with oven-roasted canned tomatoes and fiesta corn

for the one person at home that evening:
Fried rice, with spinach, mushrooms, peas, tofu and egg
Pumpkin-ham soup
Chocolate chip cookies

Black bean tacos
Tomato Florentine soup
Pumpkin pie

for the two people at home that evening (February is shaping up to be a busy month):
Black bean tacos
Pumpkin pie

Pork roast with garlic and rosemary
Rosemary potatoes
Spinach and onions sauteed with bacon bits
Pumpkin pie

Fried rice (with eggs, peas, peanuts, onions, garlic), topped with a garlic and peanut sauce
Tofu and orange salad in a ginger-soy vinaigrette

Fried corn tortillas, topped with
refried beans, cheese, avocado, salsa and black olives
fiesta corn (frozen corn sauteed with onion, green pepper and chili powder)
oven-roasted canned tomatoes

baked chicken leg quarters
canned tomato, onion, garlic, green pepper and herb sauce
brown rice
pumpkin pie (from freezer)

If I had to choose which meal was my favorite this week, I think it would have been Monday's pork roast. I took a 1-lb section of a pork loin out of the freezer, and chopped off about 3 ounces, to grind in my food processor for filling for wontons. We'll be having homemade wonton soup for dinner tonight, using the wontons I made on Monday (in the freezer right now), and homemade chicken stock with the bones from last night's dinner.

I was able to buy avocados for 53 cents each last week, and am now beginning to use them. For produce, I have some frozen plums, rhubarb, blackberries. strawberries, pumpkin, peas, corn, green beans, and spinach. I finished off the frozen green peppers last night. In fresh, I have 1 large pumpkin, 1 butternut squash, a drawer full of onions, 20 lbs of potatoes, a handful of oranges and about 10 avocados. I also have lots of canned tomatoes, whole and in paste. In the garden, I have kale, chard, radish greens, beet greens, sorrel and watercress, in small amounts, each. Its not a lot of fruits and vegetables, but it seems to be just enough.

My freezers still look rather full. Part of that is a frozen turkey and 2 hams, plus 20 lbs of chicken leg quarters, some pork and ground beef. I also have a couple of jugs of milk in the freezers. All of this takes up space. I imagine as spring unfolds, at least one freezer will begin to look more empty.

I have a strange aversion to using the last of anything up, it seems. I was down to just a small baggie of frozen green peppers, and had to practically force myself to just use it all. Strange, I know. But that is what my freezer tends to look like, lots of small bags of different things. But I do know that I will have to use it all up, or have it become so freezer burned, that it's inedible.

The other thing that stands out to me is that I really do just make-do, this time of year, especially in the produce department. Canned whole tomatoes may not sound like a side-dish to go with dinner, but they can be. Most of the time, I think of canned tomatoes as an ingredient in a soup or chili, but halved and oven-roasted, they become a side dish to go with some other entree. Or with the tofu and orange segment salad, on Tuesday. I don't have a recipe for tofu and orange salad. I just was looking around the kitchen for what could go into a "salad" for a fresher tasting side, paired with the heavier fried rice and peanut sauce. Tofu and oranges stood out as possibilities for something fresh-tasting.

Sometimes, I stretch the idea of what constitutes a serving of fruit or vegetables. Pumpkin pie frequents my list of vegetable-serving stand-ins. Or, as in Wednesday night's dinner, as I was heaping the sliced olives onto the Mexican-inspired dish, I proclaimed to one daughter, "olives are a fruit tonight". Would it be simpler to stop by the grocery store to buy more traditional pairings to go with entrees? Yes. but making do will save me money, and I think it makes the menus more interesting as a bonus.

Over to you. What was on your menu this week? Did you have a favorite meal?


  1. I think you are doing an outstanding job, Lili. I know what a challenge it can be juggling nourishment, taste, variety, time, health, convenience, cost, creativity, quantity, quality (not to mention sanity ;-) )....but you are doing so in spades, well done....!

    As for canned tomatoes, but yes, I was raised on my mother's "Breaded Tomatoes" (which in turn she was herself, having grown up the youngest of 10 kids on a depression-era farm ;-) ), so I definitely know how canned tomatoes can make a lovely and hearty, bona-fide side dish indeed ;-) ! ("Breaded Tomatoes": essentially canned stewed tomatoes with bread chunks mixed in as to soak up the juice, and all of it broiled in the oven a bit with a pat of butter (and maybe even a hint of sugar). So yum! (plus let's use up some of that stale bread while we're at it, heh)! )

    So here's what I ended up with this week...:

    Saturday: Homemade Pizza Night

    Sunday: Relative's Super Bowl Party. I cooked up a big batch of chickpeas for making hummus to bring, along with homemade bread (that had frozen garden zucchini in it ;-) )

    Monday: (after the overindulgence that was Sunday's party (so much rich food there, yikes), I really felt tbe need to keep things basic...!)
    ~Veggie Noodle Soup: (with garden carrots/cabbage/green beans/corn. Added some of the cooked chickpeas (with the base of the soup being thawed, leftover split-pea dal that I'd frozen some time ago and had sort of forgotten about (oops!) ;-) ))
    ~Savory Oat-Flax Muffins
    ~Leftover Hummus

    ~Slow Cooked Pinto Beans
    ~Spanish Rice
    ~Corn (frozen/garden, with frozen/garden chive mixed in)

    Wednesday: (had a large, unopened carton of almond milk from Aldi that I'd discovered was just past it's expiration, oops. Used it ALL up in the following):
    ~BIG casserole dish of Scalloped Potatoes (with onion, and topped with some stale cracker crumbs I had in the freezer and wanted(needed!) to get rid of already ;-) )
    ~Turnip Greens (frozen garden) Sauteed with Chickpeas (from Sunday's bulk cooking)
    ~Tapioca Pudding

    Baked Breaded Tofu Cutlets (blended the leftover corn from tuesday to dunk the tofu into for making the breading stick ;-) )
    ~Potato/Turnip Mash (garden turnips stored in sand)
    ~Gravy (from homemade veggie broth)
    ~Green Peas
    ~Leftover Tapioca

    Tonight: ????? But, I do know at least I will be making a Coco-Pumpkin Bread (frozen/garden pumpkin) for dessert

    Tomorrow: Homemade Lasagna (using frozen garden tomato sauce (this is reminding me to get it out to start thawing in the fridge NOW), tofu (for the ricotta layer) and garden greens.

    Thanks for inviting us to share here, Lili -- fun times indeed...! :-D

    1. (Hmmm, looking this over, I feel I should just mention my husband and I do eat fruit daily at breakfasts/lunches/snacks ;-) )...

    2. Hello, Patience--

      How does tapioca come out with almond milk? Sounds yummy. And do you use minute tapioca or pearl tapioca for that?

      Have a nice weekend. Sara :)

    3. Greetings, Sara -- thanks for the reply! Indeed, we really enjoyed the almond milk tapioca pudding. It was plain unsweetened almond milk, so I added some sugar and vanilla flavoring. And it was pearl tapioca (medium size) that I'd picked up bulk from the health food store some time ago, so it did require some pre-soaking before cooking. But it sure did the trick in using up that almond milk! :-D. And thanks again, Sara -- a lovely weekend to you too....! --Patience

    4. Greetings, Sara -- thanks for the reply! Indeed, we really enjoyed the almond milk tapioca pudding. It was plain unsweetened almond milk, so I added some sugar and vanilla flavoring. And it was pearl tapioca (medium size) that I'd picked up bulk from the health food store some time ago, so it did require some pre-soaking before cooking. But it sure did the trick in using up that almond milk! :-D. And thanks again, Sara -- a lovely weekend to you too....! --Patience

    5. Hello, again, Patience--

      Thanks for the details! This is so interesting! Two of us here LOVE tapioca (the ultimate "comfort" dessert, IMO), and I have both quick and pearl tapioca in the pantry at all times. We don't eat it often, but savor it when we do.

      A couple of years ago I found a very good baked custard (another favorite comfort food) recipe that uses coconut milk; but I'd not have thought to use almond milk for tapioca. I guess it makes sense, since the tapioca is doing some of the thickening; but a lot of things are hard to get right with substitutions. What a wonderful idea! I'm so glad that it turned out yummy, and that you shared the idea here!!!

      Thanks so much! Sara

    6. Hi Patience,
      That all sounds so delicious! I use the pearl tapioca, as well. I buy it at an Asian grocery store for much less than the American name-brand. It does take pre-soaking, but I don't mind that. I also prefer the texture of the larger tapioca bits.

      Your breaded tomatoes sounds delicious, and a lot like a casserole that I've made in the past. Time to dig that recipe out again!

      And another similarity in our cooking -- I use tofu for the ricotta layer, too, in lasgana. I do so because of the lactose. For anyone wanting to try tofu, in place of ricotta or cottage cheese, in lasagna, this is how I make it. I mash the tofu (medium firm works well, but I've also done it with firm and soft), and mix in a clove or two of minced garlic, some salt, lemon juice and add finely chopped veggies, like grated carrots and chopped kale or spinach. Tofu doesn't melt, as cheese does, but the texture and flavor is quite good. And I like the lightness of a tofu lasagna as compared to a meat and dairy one. Since I can have Parmesan cheese, I do sprinkle the top of the lasagna with a good amount of Parmesan, when I have it.

      Thanks for sharing, Patience!

  2. Hi, Lili--

    That photo of Wednesday night's meal has me drooling all over my keyboard! LOL Looks just delicious!

    Our meals this week were mostly frozen leftovers, and "breakfast" food for breakfast, dinner, or snacks. Nothing worth describing, though I could definitely relate to your stories of "making do" with the combination of ingredients on-hand. We're doing that a lot, and actually sort of geeking-out about the coolness and thrift of it. (giggle) Okay, we're easily amused!

    We were thinking of you a week or so ago, though, when we provisioned-up on some canned goods at the store. We needed some tomato products, and standing in that aisle we decided to buy some canned whole tomatoes (which we usually only have as a mistake, you may remember) on purpose to make your oven-roasted canned tomatoes. :)

    And in parting, it doesn't work quite the same for food, specifically, but I've always been a fan of the old Yankee saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

    Have a great weekend, Lili, and hope you get lots of love for Valentine's and enjoy your yummy brunch! Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      Funny you should say "geeking-out about the coolness and thrift" of making-do. My family tolerates my, um, enthusiasm for concocting my thrifty meals. It feels like a game, at times, trying to come up with great meals on a small budget.

      The oven-roasted tomatoes are a huge favorite of one daughter, so I try to make a batch often, to keep in the fridge for snacking.

      Wishing you a great Valentine's Day, as well, Sara! For the moment, i'd forgotten that was this Sunday! Ooops!

    2. Lili--

      I see making interesting meals out of miscellaneous ingredients as both a creative and a frugality challenge. And I admit, I get great satisfaction out of taking doss and ends and making something we'll enjoy. Makes me proud of my thrift, my resourcefulness, and my creativity -- three attributes I value in myself and others.

      And yes, I see the "game" elements of it, for sure! Every tasty meal is a "win"! :) Sara

    3. OH, and I also meant to mention, this week, like you, we used pumpkin pie (crustless around here, always) as a vegetable side dish or snack, too. We never make it too sweet, anyway, or top it with anything like we would for a holiday. Makes the house smell good when it's cooking, and is a yummy flavor. Sara

    4. Oh, yeah, a pumpkin pie baking is such a wonderful aroma for the house!

  3. I've made a roasted chicken with the last Farmer's Market squash. Chili was on the menu twice this week, once with baked potatoes, which were leftovers. We have little bits of quiche, meatloaf, applesauce and sloppy joe's for lunches. If it doesn't get eaten in the next day or two, it will be frozen for later. I plan on making mushroom/barley soup today. That will be my favorite meal this week! (And the fruit smoothie i'll have for lunch…)
    I need to keep better track of our meals; everyone here does such an awesome job! Our meals tend to be super easy.

    1. Hi momsav,
      super easy meals sound great to me!
      I haven't made sloppy joe's in a while. That sounds delicious and like a real family-pleaser. I'll have to add that to one of our weeks very soon. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Have a great weekend, and Valentine's day!

  4. How do you store that many avocados so they don't go bad. I'd buy more when I see them on sale, but I don't want them to go bad before I use them all.

    1. Hi, live and learn--

      I'll be curious about Lili's response to this; but I figured I'd just mention an experience we had, too, in case it's different than Lili's.

      We were given a big bag of big ripe avocados one year (how lucky were we!!!), and although we can go through avocados pretty fast, we figured we were going to lose some of these if we didn't take extra action.

      What we did was to cut them up in batches as they ripened, squash the "meat" and sprinkle it with lemon juice, and freeze them in 1-2 avocado portions in little plastic bags. When we wanted them, they didn't take too long to thaw, and we'd use them IMMEDIATELY upon thawing and opening for guacamole. All they needed, with the lemon in, was salt and pressed garlic. This worked out actually really well, much better than I had any hopes it would; and I'd definitely do it if I got a similar windfall (or a super-great sale price) again.

      Just as I'm writing this, it also occurs to me that this would probably work great for any of you who drink "green" smoothies. I've not used avocados in smoothies, because I want to savor them when I have them. But if I had them in the freezer again, with nothing but lemon juice mixed in, I think I'd definitely give them a try in a smoothie. :)

      Have a good weekend, l and l--

      Sara :)

    2. Hi live and learn,
      I keep them in the fridge (refrigerating immediately upon getting them home), and pull out only 3 at a time to ripen on the counter. They will keep for about 3-4 weeks this way. Any that are very ripe and need using immediately get frozen.

      You can puree, freeze in chunks, or cut them in half, remove the pit, leave the skin on,wrap in plastic wrap and a ziploc, then freeze. Best results are with pureeing first. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to every large avocado. Puree. Put in ziplocs or freezer containers, and keep up to 5 months in the freezer. To use, thaw overnight in the fridge, remash or stir hard for a bit, to reincorporate any water content.

      Frozen avocado puree is good for spreading on wrap sandwiches and burritos, making into guacamole, making a salad dressing or topping burgers, pocket and regular sandwiches. I like a veggie sandwich in mid-summer, with good whole wheat bread, the first of season fresh tomatoes, sliced, avocado puree, lettuce, red onion slices, and mayo. It's really fantastic and the avocado puree is creamy and smooth, very yummy! Also good with hummus on bread.

      This is the time of year to stock up on avocados with the intent for freezing. Last week I paid 53 cents/each, this week, they're on sale for 49 cents/each. I'll pick up another bag, so we have enough avocado puree in the freezer to get us through Cinco de Mayo.

      BTW, if you do freeze in chunks or halves, the texture changes and they're still best used as mashed or pureed. The freezing in halves just saves time on the front-end of things.

    3. Thanks, Sara and Lili. Sounds like you two have good experience in this area. Aldis had avocados on sale last week and I got three. I hope they're still on sale this week, but I'm afraid that just may have been a sale for the Super Bowl.
      Have a great weekend.

  5. This week sure went by fast....the only dishes that were made this week was another pot of miso soup laden with extra seaweed, somen, egg drop and cabbage. Added this time was some chunks of imitation crab. My husband made this pot early in the morning to warm us up since we've been having unseasonably cold mornings. The only other cooking this week was an almond float with canned fruit cocktail. We had a quart of clearance almond creamer to use up. We like our coffee black, the only reason I bought this (.19) was to experiment if I could add water to the creamer, extending it 1:4, and use for our morning cold cereal. I compared the ingredients to our almond milk, and pretty much the same ingredients, except extra cane sugar and what seems like some kind of thickener. We didn't quite like it with our cereal (too sweet), but since the taste reminded me of almond float, I decided that's how we'll use up the quart of creamer. For the almond float, all I did was add gelatin, no milk or almond extract. In my haste to prove this would work, I forgot to add vanilla extract. But all in all it was a good enough substitute for the recipe version which would have been more costly just with adding real milk. We enjoyed this light dessert for at least two days.

    We did get our two free burgers at Jack in the Box, ordered the DOUBLE cheeseburgers, and brought home an extra burger each. I immediately told husband upon ordering, that I know I can't finish my burger since we had curly fries and iced tea too. So I told him what I read on the internet, about pulling out the extra burger and saving it for home. He said, OK, might as well take mines too. So, for $2.29 (using another coupon for the free curly fries), we had lunch out plus two rather thick burger patties in the freezer for a pot of homemade chili or tacos. And I couldn't eat much more for the rest of that day, being how fatty and filling lunch was, so savings there too.

    Other than the miso, almond float, and JITB burgers....we just foraged the freezer for ourselves, and ate lots of green vegetables with another batch of "oriental dressing". We recently read how nutritious watercress is (ranked no. 1 of all leafy greens), so we've been buying bunch after bunch and eating it with cucumbers from last week's farmer's market and cabbage. I bought a package of mung beans to try sprouting (hopefully replace some of the cabbage in our diet), and I soaked the bottom stem of the watercress to root it. Hopefully the tiny watercress shoots will take root and we can successfully grow our own. At about $3 a small bunch at the local stores, and needing about two bunches a week, I really want to grow my own to save about $25/month (1/8 our food budget) on just that one salad green. I can do without watercress but my husband who doesn't like KangKong as much as I do, is eating it up like no tomorrow.

    OK...this is the meal that I love the most...bean patties with pesto and peas (must be canned) on hot rice, with fresh salad sides. I had this twice this week and bean burritos with cabbage and cucumber instead of lettuce. Yum!! Of course because it is so cheap....all the better.

    Have a nice weekend all!!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      can I ask, is somen like saimin? When I was a young girl, our family stayed in a friend's grandparents' house on Kauai, while they stayed in our house, for a week. Since we were not in a touristy spot, we shopped at all of the places that the locals shopped. And my mom found a noodle soup mix called saimin. My sister and I begged for more of that soup for the entire time that we were there, and were so disappointed that we couldn't find it again once home in Calif. It was light years better than Top Ramen type soups. I haven't checked to see if it can be found locally, here, but you just reminded me of how much we enjoyed that.

      That almond float sounds very delicious and light. And a good use of your almond creamer.

      My watercress was started from a package of watercress from the produce department. Mine still had some of the root structure on it, so I took 1/4 of the plants and just planted them in the garden. they have free-seeded all over the garden every year, since (this was about 15 years ago that I started). In your climate, you should be able to get it growing for you close to year-round. I get a couple of crops every year, in our relatively cooler climate.

      BTW, I made wontons, per your suggestions. I forgot to add salt or sugar to the meat, though. But they should be okay. I used ground pork, mushrooms, onion powder, garlic powder, ginger and soy sauce. I've got a crockpot of chicken bones going right now, making a chicken stock for the soup broth for the wonton soup tonight. Friends gave us a sweet rice cake too. I'll come up with some sort of salad, maybe fruit salad, to go with it all tonight. Looking forward to this! Thanks for the advice and encouragement last week!

      have a happy Valentine's Day!

    2. Hmmm lost my reply....glad you really enjoyed Hawaii's saimin (President Obama has to stop for Zip Min at Zippy's restaurant when he visits). It can be addicting...once tried, you are bound to remember it and want more. Yes, the noodles are different than Top Ramen style. And it is not somen either, which is a Japanese style noodle, great in soups and salads. Saimin noodle is more dense and chewy, but not as heavy as other pastas. We prefer a thin egg style Chinese noodle which we buy in dried form from our ethnic markets. Also, there may be frozen "S&S" or "Okuhara" brand saimin packages sold at supermarkets, where you can constitute the soup base using the packet and later add the frozen noodle, similar to making ramen from dried packages.

      I'm so excited reading about your watercress. Wow...15 years of self propagation from a single stem!! I hope we will have the same good fortune with our variety (which may be more water loving since it was grown in paddies at the local farm), and now we're planting it in the most arid, sandy soil this side of the island. My husband says he doesn't think we'll be able to grow it, but my thinking is to try it at least once...then we will know for sure.


    3. And Happy Valentine's Day to you too!! :) We're going to be spending our day with our grandsons, tonight we will pick them up and they go home on Monday. Since we're retired, we really look forward to their company. But in this day of tablet games, it is a battle keeping them away from their tablets to play some simple board games.


    4. Hmmm...I get side tracked so much, I can't seem to remember all that I want to say in one reply.

      Anyway, you're very welcome and hope you enjoy your won ton soup tonight!! It should be fine with just soy sauce added to the pork mixture, because you could make a dipping sauce for the noodles and wonton if additional saltiness is needed. We like "hot" so a dipping sauce works well for us.


  6. We had baked chicken Mon with pasta and potato salad and rolls. The rest of the week we had salads because it has been in the 90s here. We had chicken on greens and chick peas on greens and taco salad and tomato, basil, Mozarella
    salad.(I have a sad looking basil plant growing so used that) We also had smoothies I was just too hot to cook much. I was glad to find organic lettuce for 99 cents a bag. We also ate a lot of fruit and almond butter and cheese and yogurt. Today it is in the low 80s so I think
    I will make chimichangas sp? Laine(laines letters) has them on the way back machine.

    1. That all sounds good, Patti! I hope you are able to stay cool enough this week. It's so hard to believe that it could be in the 90s in February anywhere, right now!

  7. Lili,
    Your menus always inspire me.This a great place to come for ideas. Some creative women here.

  8. My big success this week was getting two big crockpots with chili going on Tuesday morning. We ate chili for dinner that night (my little boys had quesadillas instead), then again for lunch when my in-laws came the next day, then again for lunch yesterday when we visited my parents. I got a lot of milage out of that chili. Since we had a soup supper at church on Wednesday and my husband and I went out on a date last night, I've been off cooking duty for a few nights. Tonight I'll have a slightly reduced crowd to cook for. I'm planning on a one pot meal of some sort. I'm starting to get nervous about not having my meals planned for next week, so I'll try to get that done today, too. Melissa (PS--I made a comment on the gift post as well--just getting around to it. I'm glad you wrote that post, Lili. Gift giving is a struggle.)

    1. Oh, good job on the crockpot chili, Melissa! You got a lot of mileage from one cooking session!

  9. This week I'm in love with sauteed cabbage and onions. Not sure why, but I'm finding it to be delicious!

    1. Hi Cat,
      We have a friend from Germany who makes apples, cabbage and onions. It's really quite good. Sauteeing the cabbage with onions must bring out the natural sugars.

  10. Hi Lili,
    Your dinners sound delicious as always. I had to laugh when I saw how you hate to use the last of something up, I am the same way! I am funny about that when I bulk cook, I freeze it & then if I am thinking about having it in a week or so I think geez I just made that do I want to use it already.

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      It's one f those ways of thinking that I need to work on. I've done the exact same thing with making ahead meals and not wanting to use them right away. Silly, really!


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