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Friday, November 18, 2016

Cheap & Cheerful Suppers -- or How to have a lazy cooking week

cheese dog taquitos

Although today was a holiday, I had a lot on my plate for the day. For a couple of weeks, I've been thinking about possible meals I could throw together in about 10 minutes. And what I had come up with was The Canned Food Buffet. It wasn't all canned food, but surprisingly enough, I was able to have everything on the counter and ready for self-serve in 10 minutes. It was quite enough food, and in an odd way, balanced.
  • microwaved, baked potatoes, with
  • shredded cheese and butter to top them
  • canned green beans
  • canned peas
  • canned olives
  • boiled eggs (I made these early in the day)
  • leftover chocolate chip cookies
  • turkey from the freezer, simmered with onions, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and chutney, for a sweet and spicy dish
  • pasta-vegetable salad, using last of the garden tomatoes, green peppers and parsley, plus some olives, garbanzo beans, garden herbs, oil and vinegar (I made enough for several lunches during the week, and still had some to add to a pot of soup, on Wednesday.)
  • carrot sticks
I need to prepare another large main dish. I had thought it would be a turkey-vegetable soup, only to discover that we'd eaten all of the frozen turkey in stock.

So, it's back to the drawing board. I micro-thawed 2 pounds of ground beef and opened a #10 can of tomato paste. I also used some of the canned, whole tomatoes and fresh beet greens from the garden, to make enough Bolognese for 4 nights. Here's night #1:
  • spaghetti with Bolognese sauce
  • canned green beans
  • rhubarb-blackberry sauce from the freezer
Night #2 on the Bolognese. I cooked a large pot of rice in the afternoon. In a medium casserole dish, I tossed together some of this rice with bolognese sauce, some very wilted, garden greens and a bunch of sliced olives. With a handful of shredded mozzarella on top, the casserole was ready for the oven. Throwing together this dish took about 7 or 8 minutes, once the rice was cooked.

With the bottom of the saucepan of rice, I made some more rice pudding, this time, for me, using vanilla almond milk. While the rice pudding was cooking on the stove, I baked 2 large acorn squash and 5 potatoes. I toasted a couple of cups of almonds for snacking, and some chopped almonds for mixing into my rice pudding. Once the squash and potatoes came out of the oven, the rice-bolognese dish went in for 30 minutes. I was able to take care of a surprising amount of cooking, in about 30 minutes of hands-on work.
  • rice, greens and Bolognese casserole
  • baked squash (an odd dish to go along with this casserole, but it is what I had, and made a substantial side dish)
I'm low on bread today, so I'll be serving today's Bolognese with a fresh bread product. I think I'll make a triple batch of French bread dough and use a third of it for a deep dish pizza, and the remaining two-thirds of dough for sandwich and toasting bread. Since I baked 2 large squash yesterday, our side dish tonight will be more squash, just heat and eat. Change of plans -- I opened a can of peas and heated them in the microwave.
  • deep dish pizza, using Bolognese sauce, French bread dough, mozzarella and sliced olives
  • canned peas
Last day of the Bolognese sauce. Today, it becomes soup, when thinned with various leftover liquids in the fridge plus some canned tomatoes.
  • tomato beef and vegetable soup (the Bolognese, with canned veggie liquid, black olive liquid, a can of peas plus its liquid, and the last of Saturday's pasta salad), all topped with cheese
  • acorn squash muffins
I have a busy day, topped off with a meeting tonight. Easy dinner in the plans.
  • cheese-dog taquitos
  • leftover baked squash
  • cole slaw made from some of the last of the garden cabbage

The most of this week's dinners, were made with one very large pot of spaghetti meat sauce, Bolognese. I was occupied with a lot of details and work for the week, and what I needed was something along the lines of easy. This worked. 

What were your meals like this past week? We're using a lot of canned vegetables, these days, primarily for cost, but also, ease. Do you usually use fresh, frozen or canned vegetables in winter?

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!


  1. Sounds yummy and practical this week, Lili. Glad you're paring down your prep for the time being.

    I was thinking about your comment re: the squash being a weird combination but what you had on hand. I wonder if a lot of people (who actually cook) actually do this, but maybe hesitate to mention it?

    Doesn't bother me what anyone thinks of what I serve my family, personally; and only on holidays does anyone ask about what we eat. But lots of times we have "odd" combinations of food, because we're using what we have, or what there is time/energy to cook.

    Unless you only bake cake and cookies :), I think that most people who cook (even from a lot of canned goods) provide their families with a better balance of nutrition than people who don't cook and eat out a lot or use a lot of prepared/processed foods. So, I think that even an "uneven" or "odd" mixture of home-cooked foods is never something to apologize for.

    My meals are simple right now, too, for a number of reasons; but I did a big shopping trip (last before the holiday) and got an average of 50 cent discounts on 38 of 49 items. I thought that was good for the pricier store where I was shopping.

    I was able to share some stew I made with neighbors who had a bad/long day at the doctor's office, too.

    Oh, and I like frozen veggies better than canned, except for cooking with canned corn sometimes. Fresh are great if you can get them and the quality/price is acceptable, which isn't always the case. When making an early Thanksgiving dinner last week, we couldn't find ANY celery that looked edible; so we were happy to have a can of dehydrated celery to use. So, another instance where our stored food was a real boon! :)

    Take good care!Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      I think you may be right, about how many folks eat odd combinations, simply because it's what they have or just what they want in the moment.

      I, too, prefer frozen veggies over canned. I'll be buying some frozen vegetables, like spinach and collards, later this fall. Fresh tastes best, when in season. But it's just not always an option, for budget or availability.

      How great to have the dehydrated celery on hand. The celery in the stores, here, is still expensive, for this time of year. I'll see what's available next week.

      Have a great weekend, Sara!

    2. I did forget, I do like green beans better when they're canned, for some reason. We use canned pumpkin alot, too, because we like pumpkin as a veggie and can find good quality real pumpkin fairly economically on the internet.

      Your cheese dog taquitos looked good, and have me craving bologna taquitos. :) You have a great weekend, too! Sara

    3. Too funny, Sara! I was thinking of you and our conversation about unusual taquitos, a while back, while I was making the cheese dog taquitos. Yum, so good!

  2. Sounds like a totally normal menu selection, even the squash with the bolognese-rice casserole. We eat seasonally here so if it's not canned or fzn, the fresh options limited, esp. now that gardens are over. Otherwise the cheaper fresh produce staples have to suffice: cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, celery. We also currently have beets, Butternut on hand. Salads can be interesting in Winter, we have one bowl full of organic green tomatoes that I bought green on purpose to ripen over time. They are now ready to eat and tastey. I'll switch to colorful shredded carrots, shredded purple cabbage, pickled peppers soon.

    1. Hi Carol,
      I suspect that eating seasonally may be better for our health, in addition to suiting a budget better. Not only that the produce is fresher and has retained more nutrients, but I also think that maybe there are specific nutrients in the seasons that the produce is produced, that our bodies need at that particular time. It's just a pet theory of mine.

      Our winter salads are like yours, using more carrots, cabbage, celery and canned/pickled items, in lieu of buying over-priced things like tomatoes, shipped in from someplace south, in the middle of February.

      Enjoy those last few tomatoes! We used the very last of ours this week.

      have a wonderful weekend, Carol!

  3. Dear Lili,

    I absolutely love your menus! I put together what I have on hand also and it might be odd to some is a homecooked and nutritious meal to us!

    We had a big pot of pork/veggie stir fry Sunday with enough for the kids to take leftovers home but also so that we would have leftovers for two days. I had fish Monday and Tuesday (hubby is allergic to fish so he gets stir fry), Then on Wed. I did a mini Thanksgiving dinner with turkey legs in the pressure cooker, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and applesauce. We had a tiny bit of turkey left last night for hubby and still quite a bit of sweet potatoes and mashed. I also made a small pot of potato ham soup using a canned ham we were nibbling off this week. Tonight I might make a small lasagna if there is any cottage cheese left in the fridge. I have some spinach to use up so I might put a handful in there also.

    I really call my cooking "depression era cooking" because I don't mind the combinations some would call strange is so very normal to me. Mom and Dad lived in the Netherlands during WWII and know how to make do with small amounts of food. I grew up that way and I'll never criticize how they made food for us and I am ever so frugal that way also. Fast food is not an option and we rarely do it. Pre-packaged is only for those days where it can't be helped. Yesterday, late afternoon I spent time with my elderly parents and mom is not well so making plans for her dr. appt. in Dec. happened but that made me late for my dinner. So a quick pot of potato/ham soup was made even though I drove by at least 4 fast food places on my way home.

    I have very little on my grocery list--milk only since we used all the frozen milk from about 3 weeks ago.

    I also want to try to make a cutlery fabric holder that you fold up and tie for my work cutlery. I want to rearrange my basement furniture and buy a space heater since that room is quite cold, I need to find a small cheap bookcase for the basement and maybe a small coffee table. Lots to do tomorrow if the weather holds out!


    1. Alice--

      Your comment about Depression era cooking reminded me of meals at my grandmother's house. She raised a big family on a small budget, so her whole life she could pull together a filling meal for any number of people who happened to show up at very short notice. Besides whatever was "new" for that meal, there were usually several leftovers, cottage cheese, sourdough bread and butter, etc., to make sure that everyone got filled up. I always loved those meals, even though they were pretty eclectic! :)


    2. Hi Alice,
      Your meals all sound wonderful. And good for you for passing up the fast food places, even when you knew you were short on time to make dinner! So much better for your health, as well as budget. Even the "healthy" options in many fast food places are not as healthy as you can make at home. I admit, some places have better healthy options than others, but the places that would be in my budget have little in the way of healthy.

      Very interesting about your parents, Alice, and their life in the Netherlands. Is that where they were born? I know you have probably heard their stories, over and over, but use this time while their minds are still keen, to hear it all again. I had a great aunt, who lived to be 96 or 97, and when she was about 85, I remember going over to her house with a bunch of cousins, one afternoon. She told us so much about her life. Many of us brought tape recorders, so we could record all of her thoughts about her childhood and young adult years.

      You have busy plans this weekend. It sounds fabulous. I hope you can fix up your basement to a cozy spot for evenings and weekends. Wishing you good weather!

      Have a great weekend, Alice!

    3. My parents and my in-laws were born and reaised in the Netherlands and neither set talk about it much because they were part of WWII which was a very disturbing time. My FIL has passed away but he was in Rotterdam when it was bombed and my mom's father was always being searched for by the Germans and many times they hid him. My couldn't live there anymore so she immigrated to the US. Dad came with his family after he had to serve in the Dutch army first and then his whole family came only to be drafted by the US army and off to Korea. They met and married here in the US. They don't talk much about those days and I've asked enough and they are too old to have to "live" it again.


    4. I understand, Alice. What a difficult time and place that they lived through.

  4. We mostly eat frozen veggies in the winter but sometimes when the days are dreary, I'll buy lettuce for a salad. Oh, and we eat a lot of potatoes/carrots and I put onion/celery in foods I am cooking, but somehow I don't think of those as "fresh" veggies. Silly, I know.

    My hubby and I both forgot about an appointment today at 4 p.m. so I'm scratching my original dinner plans for a crockpot hamburger/potato dish. Last night we were responsible for dinner for the middle school youth group--we had pancakes/sausage--it was about 1/2 the cost of the nacho dinner we did last year, and easy to pull off, so I'm holding on to that idea!!! We had tangy honey/basil chicken/baked potatoes one night, tacos another night, and sweet and sour sausage/rice for a meal.

    Your meals sound yummy. I'm smiling about your "odd combinations" conversation with Alice and Sara. We are also a family that serves odd combos, so maybe we are the normal ones!!!

    1. Hi Kris,
      Maybe when you think of fresh veggies, you're thinking about eating them raw, like a salad or crudites. Whereas, when you cook the celery, onions, potatoes and carrots, they no longer fit that particular definition of "fresh". I do crave a good salad from time to time in winter. If we eat in a restaurant in January or February, I'll usually order a salad as my entree, just to satisfy that craving.

      Good job on rethinking your dinner plans and coming up with something to make in your crockpot! You'll enjoy eating in the comfort of your own home. You can relax after a busy day. And you all can enjoy some family time, at home. It sounds like a win, all around, to me!

      I would think the breakfast, as dinner, would be a hit with the middles schoolers. Yep, keep that idea tucked away. Saves money, is easy, and enjoyed, a lot!

      Have a wonderful weekend, Kris!

  5. Seems like whenever I plan to cook big with the hopes of leftovers, my hopes are dashed. People around here are growing and eating:)

    I did manage to get 2 crockpots filled with ham & navy bean soup (frozen ham bones, frozen chicken stock & dried navy beans) going before the exterminators came on Tuesday (and we had the leftovers for lunch the next day). My 11 yr. old daughter made a giant sub sandwich out of a 50 cent loaf of day old French bread from Walmart so that the kids would have lunch while we were out of the house. I ate when we were able to come back (have to leave for 1 hr. while they spray). A huge fast food bill was averted. We'll do the last treatment next Tuesday. I'll be glad to be rid of those pesky bed bugs.

    Our local WinCo simply copied the turkey deals from the other stores this year instead of beating them. So I bought 1 turkey from WinCo for .48/ lb with $50 purchase & then did the same deal at Fred Meyer. I like to buy different things at those 2 stores.

    In other news, I won a $50 Fred Meyer gift card this week from a coupon blogger I follow. I was so excited because I never win anything! I'm trying to decide if I'll buy myself a nice new cutting board or whether I'll just be practical & buy groceries with it. My practical side usually wins out, but we'll see. Have a great before Thanksgiving weekend, Lili! Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa,
      I did the same turkey deal at WinCo and Fred Meyer. You're right, there are different good buys on the qualifying spend at each store. So, I was able to really stock up on canned goods at WinCo, but bought milk, coffee, tea, peanut butter and vitamins at Fred Meyer, to meet my $50.

      woo hoo on the $50 gift card! What about splitting the amount, and buy one thing you've really wanted, and then groceries with the rest of the gift card? Unless you really need to, I wouldn't buy all groceries with the windfall. If you can, buy at least something for yourself, even if a small thing. With frugal people, we tend to think of the tiniest of non-essential purchases as frivolous. I think it's important to maintain balance, and occasionally splurge a little on ourselves. And practically speaking, if its a cutting board you've got your hopes on, well a good cutting board will mean your chores will be easier, or you will have more cutting boards in the kitchen, so more of the family can help at any one time. It sounds practical, to me. Good tools are essential in the home, too. You wouldn't send your husband off to work without good tools for his job. Good luck with this decision.

      You did awesome with making lunch to take out of the house while the exterminator was there. I had an appt just before lunch today, then ran by WinCo, and then went to Kohl's to use a $10 coupon for a bday gift, and then finally met up with a daughter to give her a ride home. I was tempted to stop at Starbucks for coffee or a sandwich, but we didn't. Yay! But we came home and made more cheese dog taquitos and heated leftover veggies. It was good, quick, probably healthier than fast food, and it didn't cost anything extra!

      I can sympathize with trying to make a lot of any one meal for leftovers, but it all being eaten up. It's not nearly as hard in my family, with everyone grown and just the 5 of us. But I understand that struggle. It probably seems at times, like the only way to make enough for multiple meals is to make a complete Thanksgiving dinner on a weekly basis. You are doing great at keeping everyone fed and happy, so whatever you are doing, its working!

      Have a great weekend, Melissa!

  6. Hi Lili,
    We had chicken fajitas,Cheese quesadillas,Hamburgers,Enchiladas,baked chicken with veggies and potatoes. We ate out last night. We are still trying to get the cat meds figured out and we had to mail something priority after Kristi got off work. My car would not start yesterday, so errands had to be done at dinner time. We get hangery when we don't eat dinner. So we split a nice meal at Panda and there was enough left for Kristi to take for lunch. We eat a lot of strange combos of food too. We just like to use what we have and save money.
    Have a great weekend,

    1. Hi Patti,
      Your meals sound yummy and satisfying. I hope you've got your car running again. That is a pain, to have your car not start. And I sure hope your kitty is doing better. The poor dear.

      Have a great Thanksgiving week, Patti!

  7. Su-Burgers and chips after church for our main meal

    M-one child has violin at 4 and my clogging class is at 5, so we keep these nights simple--Huge cabbage, an onion, and beef smoked sausage made into a skillet meal using garlic powder and homemade chicken broth, served with leftover scalloped potatoes frozen from another night.

    T-cubed steaks, mashed potatoes, gravy, and fried summer squash (part from our garden, part from Aldi)

    W-family ate at church. I stayed home and had potato pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes along with some leftover chicken.

    H--leftover beans soup cooked with ham bone and with bits of ham added. This was too salty the first time (I had save the broth from cooking the ham and I think this is why) so I tried the trick of cooking with a potato which helped some but not quite enough. I also used the breadmaker (purchased secondhand) to make bread.

    F--we needed to be at our church at 5 for making Thanksgiving baskets and decorating a trolley for the Christmas parade and I knew I was hiking with friends, so I put a stew in the crockpot in the morning. Using some dried unsweetened coconut in the blender, I made coconut milk (to replace the expensive canned kind), mixed it with curry powder and salt and pepper, then tossed chunked peeled sweet potatoes (purchased 3 lbs for .69 at Aldi this past week), an onion, baby carrots, and a package of b/s chicken thighs (on sale). This cooked all day and made a delicious and satisfying stew.

    I enjoy reading your menus and how you make things stretch!

    As for veggies, we prefer frozen for most in winter, but I like the taste of canned peas and green beans better. We eat very few peas, though, just with a couple meals. I had home-canned my homegrown green beans this year but am about out already. Need to plant more next year!

    1. Oh, and my Thursdays need to be kept simple because two of my girls have dance, one at 5 and one at 7. I sometimes practice with them (clogging) but also take a book and read rather than running back and forth. So I try to have a crockpot meal that night, or something my husband and 16 YO can easily finish up.

    2. That should be one at 5 and one at 6 (finishing at 7).

    3. Hi Cat,
      I use your trick to make coconut milk (to add to a curried soup that I make) out of dried coconut. I put my coconut through the coffee/spice grinder, then add to hot water. Works really well. Just wanted to say thanks for that. I think you mentioned it about a year or so, ago.

      You do have a very busy schedule! But still, your home-cooked meals all sound delicious and satisfying.

      I've been surprised that I actually like the canned peas. I wasn't sure if I'd like them enough, except in soup. But they're fine as they are, too. I stocked up on canned yams this past week, so I'll be adding those to our rotation of veggies, for variety. I can hardly believe your Aldi price on yams. That in itself should make someone want to try shopping there.

      Have a great Thanksgiving week, Cat!

  8. Good use of leftover sauces and canned vegetables!! I had to search the word Bolognese, because I'm not familiar. I can see how it can be used from spaghetti, to casserole, pizza and a soup. Four dinners from two pounds of ground beef is very economical!!

    We've had our week of economy with meats too. My husband slow cooked garden collard greens with cooked pork (about a pound, frozen) and about 3 cups of pork broth (frozen). Had our miso soup with clams, konbu, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, somen, green onion knots and egg drop. I'd like to call that a Bolognese style miso soup lol We saved two hamburger patties from our lunch Ultimate Cheeseburgers at Jack in the Box (using BIGIF coupon and paid with a deeply discounted gift card purchased via SYWR site), and made a large pot of chili with that.

    For the next three weeks, our focus will be doing as much cooking ahead as we can, bean patties, pizzas, and whatever else we can think of. It is use it or lose it with our electric company, so far we have a $190 electric PV credit that will reset on 12/8. We don't have a lot of freezer space open so it will be a challenge to fit it all in.

    Have a great weekend!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      What a deal on the JINB burgers, and making it last for more than 1 meal. I'm not sure I could get my husband to "give up" one of the patties on his burger! Ha ha! Although, for the most part, we don't eat large quantities of meat, here. That 2 pounds for the Bolognese was really enough for us, for those meals.

      That is quite a challenge, to use as much electricity in advance as possible. Good luck with that!

      Have a great Thanksgiving week, YHF!

    2. Lol...I had to sell my husband to give up one of his offering half of my burger! I wanted just enough food to keep my hunger pangs from distracting me while shopping. We're still enjoying the pot of chili, so that bit of sacrifice has been worth it. We got into the habit after the double cheeseburger giveaway at JITB earlier this year. We try to not eat out as much as possible, but in worst case scenario we do the double burger extra patty take home thingy. Thinking of ways to save has become a fun game.


    3. It is a game, isn't it? Thinking of it as a game helps stave off feelings of deprivation.
      Have a great day!

  9. Since the oven was being used for pizza making, I decided to give baking the bean patty mixture another try. I used three 12 inch pizza pans, although a rectangle cookie sheet would have worked better. 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Then used a pizza cutter to cut the squares. This time, I oiled the top of the mixture as well as the pan, to help give it a slight brown crust. I'll call this a success, I think perhaps because I pressed the mixture with my hands (wearing a disposable glove) to less than 1/2" thickness, rather than going with a thicker, looser form.


    1. Hi, again, YHF,
      Thanks for letting me know about the baking bean patties. I will definitely give some version of making 1 large patty and dividing into portions. And good info on oiling the pan as well as the top surface. I'll do that.

    2. Worked like a charm the second time again. Freezes well. Especially now that it is in squares, I can fit it perfectly in ziplocs!!



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