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Cheap Summer Recipes

Summer is just around the corner, yay! On the upside, fresh produce is abundant and lower in price. On the downside, it gets too hot to cook! So today I’m bringing you a few of my favorite summer-friendly cheap recipes.

Alternative pizza nights
Grabbing a pizza is a reasonably-priced way to feed a family or group of friends, but it’s hard to accommodate everyone’s tastes, and you pay a delivery fee to wait 45 minutes for a pie! We have two alternatives to pizza night that are fun for the family and pretty economical. The first is a simple idea called “pizzadillas,” and the second is a make-your-own pizza night on the grill. All it takes is a pizza stone or one of those grill mats so your pizza won’t fall through.

Pizzadillas:
Shredded mozzarella
Pizza sauce
Tortillas
Pizza toppings of your choice

Put a little mozzarella and the toppings of your choice between two tortillas, and heat on the stovetop until the cheese melts and the outside is browned. Cut the pizzadilla with a pizza cutter and dip into pizza sauce.

Make-Your-Own Pizza Night: Crust recipe originally found on Food.com

2 1⁄4 teaspoons yeast
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
3⁄4 cup hot water
1 3⁄4 cups flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Pizza sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water. Let sit 5-10 minutes until the yeast mixture becomes frothy. Add the flour and salt, and mix well. This makes one pizza for 2-4 people, or you can divide the dough in half (or thirds – I have a teenager and a husband who runs distances, so they eat bigger than your young kids will) and let each person make their own. I usually double the recipe and make four individual pizzas. Roll out the dough and top with sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice. Cook on a hot grill until the cheese is melted and the crust begins to brown.

Quiche
Eggs are an economical source of protein, and quiche is a great way to turn leftover meat, cheeses, and veggies into a brunch or dinner for the whole family. Quiche consists of two parts: the crust and the egg filling. You can buy a pie crust to save time and effort, but making pie crust is really not that hard. Here is my go-to pie crust recipe; I got it years ago from my friend’s aunt who is a terrific cook!

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup cold butter (cut in small chunks)
1 egg
1 tsp. vinegar
cold water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter chunks and mix until it resembles pea-sized chunks. Add the egg and vinegar and mix. Add the cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together. Remove from the mixer and divide in two. Roll out the dough and place in pie pan. (makes 2 pie crusts or one double crust for fruit pies)

Filling:
5 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup of cream or milk
cheeses, meats, and veggies of your choice

Mix the eggs and milk. Pour into pie crust. Add cheeses, meats, and veggies of your choice. I’m a big fan of cheddar, onion, and leftover ham. Sometimes I throw in some spinach if I have it on hand. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Top with cheese and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Quiche is done when the filling is firm and the top starts to brown.

Stretching seasonal produce
Summer is the ideal time for the freshest produce at the best prices. And if you’re gardening or subscribing to a CSA box, you might have produce coming out of your ears! Don’t let it go to waste, learn some basics of freezing and preserving produce.

My excess usually comes in the form of raspberries and zucchini, which both freeze well (shred the zucchini, squeeze out some of the liquid, and put in a plastic freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible and freeze). There’s nothing like fresh sweet corn in season, and it’s possible to preserve that flavor for winter too.

Summer Sweet Corn: From on a post on Little Dairy on the Prairie
15 cups raw corn kernels (shuck the corn and cut off the kernels. I like to use a Bundt pan. The little center part makes a great stand for the corn, and the kernels can fall into the round pan in any direction)
1/8 cup salt (I know. 1/8 of a cup. I just half fill a ¼ cup measuring cup. It works out)
½ cup sugar
4 cups hot water
¼ cup butter

Put all ingredients in a large pot. Heat slowly to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle into freezer bags and seal. Lay bags flat and freeze.

 

I hope this gives you some new ideas for affordable, summer-friendly recipes. Share some of your favorites in the comments!

 

6 Cheap CROCKPOT Meals Your Family Will Love

cheap crockpot meals

When it comes to making affordable, nutritious meals on a tight schedule and/or budget, the crockpot is a girl’s REAL best friend! Slow cooking allows you to come home at the end of a long day and not have to spend a lot of time cooking, and it keeps you from giving in and ordering out when you’re exhausted. It also allows you to make tender, delicious meals with cheaper or leaner cuts of meat. So here’s a roundup of 6 cheap crockpot meals that each serve four people.

  1. Taco Chicken – I got this recipe years ago from a friend, and it has become a regular staple at my house.2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
    16 oz chicken stock (remember, I make mine for FREE using chicken bones! Click HERE for that recipe)
    1 packet of taco seasoning
    optional: sliced white onion and/or peppers

    It’s really that easy, three ingredients tossed in the crockpot and cooked all day (4-6 hours) on low heat. When you’re ready to eat, shred the chicken with two forks, and you’re all set for quesadillas, chicken nachos, tacos, or healthy taco salads.

  2. Basic Rice & Beans – My friend Heidi, whom you know from her guest post a while back, kicks off every week with a basic rice & beans dinner. Like our Food Shelf Friday meals, her rice & beans Mondays are a cost-saving measure that allows her family to support kids through Compassion International. It also reminds them that this is reality for much of the world. You can read Heidi’s inspiration – We Are That Family’s blog about rice & beans Mondays HERE.bag dry black beans
    rice

    Put dry black beans in the crockpot, and fill the pot with water. Let it soak overnight without turning on the crockpot. The next morning, rinse the beans, add fresh water just to cover the beans, and a sprinkle of salt. Cook on low until dinner. Make plain rice according to package directions right before you eat.

    Heidi and her family eat the rice and beans plain, because most of the world does, but if you want to take this basic recipe to a new level, try adding some cumin, salsa, or diced onion and peppers to the beans, add lime juice to the rice, or top the dish with salsa, cheese, avocado, or cilantro.

  3. Crockpot Bean with Bacon Soup (from Money Saving Mom)– I know, ham and bacon are not exactly cheap. But if you buy a ham for a holiday dinner, the leftovers can go a long way. This soup is warm, filling, and uses the ham bone – stretching the value of that holiday ham and turning leftovers into a new meal.Ham bone
    6-8 cups of water
    1 (1 lb.) bag of navy beans (2 cups)
    2-3 bay leaves, depending on size
    salt and pepper, to taste
    4-5 pieces of bacon
    Small amount of chopped ham (optional, the bone will probably have a good amount still on it, so it’s not necessary to add more unless you have some more leftovers to use up)
    1 small onion
    3 stalks celery (optional)
    1/2 cup heavy cream, (optional, I usually use whole milk that I keep on hand for cooking)

    Bring ham bone to boil in water. Add salt, pepper, celery and bay leaves, reduce and simmer for 1-2 hours. (You can use plain water, but the bone gives it some more flavor, and bone broth is super good for you) Strain broth, add to crockpot.

    To prepare beans, soak overnight or for a quick soak, bring 6-8 cups water to boil, add beans and boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse, add the crockpot.

    Cook bacon for a few minutes, then add chopped onion, sauté until golden brown and bacon is done, but not crisp. Remove from pan and chop, add to crockpot. Add ham to crockpot, if desired.

    Cook on low in the crockpot for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-6 hours. Add heavy cream, and continue to cook about 15 minutes more. Remove bay leaves.

  4. Crockpot Baked Potatoes – this is another terrific way to make leftovers feel like a fresh new meal.Potatoes
    Aluminum foil

    in the crockpot on low heat for about 8 hours, and that’s it! Let everyone top them with leftovers, canned stew or chili, or just cheese for a quick, warm, personalized meal everyone will enjoy.

  5. Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches – I love the Six Sisters Stuff They have lots of great freezer meals that you can make up on your day off and throw in the crockpot when you need it. That’s where I found this beef sandwich recipe. While beef roast doesn’t exactly equal “cheap,” a little research on Grocery 411 taught me about the most affordable cut of beef for this recipe – a skill that will help you cut down on grocery spending. Check out the link to learn more about saving money by buying the right grade and cut of beef.2-3 lb select grade beef chuck roast
    2 cans (14.5 oz each) beef consommé (it is right next to the soups and beef broth)
    6-8 buns (croissants are delicious with French dip, but can be overpriced)

    Place roast in the crockpot and pour beef consommé on top. Cook on low for 8-11 hours, or on high for 5-7 hours. With 2 forks, shred roast and serve meat on buns. Top with Provolone or Swiss cheese (optional), and serve the juice from the crockpot on the side.

  6. Crockpot Roast Chicken – Lately I have found whole chickens at the grocery store for $5-7. That’s not a bad price for feeding a family of four. In contrast, a rotisserie chicken at the same grocery store is $9 now. Prepare ahead and get the same roast chicken dinner for almost half the price!1 whole chicken, baggie of neck, giblets, etc. removed. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels
    1 lemon
    salt, pepper, and seasonings to taste

    Slice the lemon and place the slices on the bottom of the crockpot. This adds a little flavor, but more importantly it keeps the chicken from sticking to the bottom of the crockpot. Place the chicken breast side up in the pot, sprinkle with seasonings, and cook on high for about 4 hours or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees.

    You can shake this up a bit by changing out the seasonings. You could cut a garlic clove in half and stuff it into the chicken before cooking, add sprigs of fresh rosemary, or place additional lemon slices under the breast skin or on top of the chicken.

 

So there you have it, a hot, tasty, easy roundup of slow cooker recipes that are, or can be, affordable. Do you have a favorite crockpot recipe? Share it in the comments!

The Precious Burden: My Struggle to go ‘all in’ for the Hungry

Precious Burden

There is no denying that kids, even the smart, well-behaved, happy ones, are challenging. Some years back my son decided that he didn’t like caramel. My guess is that he tried a candy bar he didn’t like and threw that baby out with the bath water. About that time I re-discovered a childhood favorite recipe, monkey bread. If you don’t know monkey bread, it is refrigerated biscuit dough cut up into small pieces, tossed in cinnamon sugar, and baked in a Bundt pan with a delightful brown sugar and butter combo that becomes ooey gooey caramel.  When you invert the pan, the caramel fills the cracks between the soft pull-apart biscuit pieces. It’s delightful.

So the first time I made monkey bread for my little family, J turned a wary eye on its perfection and said, “Is that caramel?  I don’t like caramel.” In that moment I had a choice; I could admit that it was in fact caramel, keep the monkey bread for just the adults and rarely make it again (with just three of us in the house, if one doesn’t like something it goes on the more seldom rotation because we generate too much waste when things don’t get eaten), or I could find out in an I’m not lying, per se, I prefer to think of it as a psychological experiment kind of way if he did, in fact, dislike caramel. “No,” I replied, “it’s a brown sugar sauce.” The kid ate half the pan and asked me to make it again the next day.

At this point I had another choice to make. I could pounce on him with the revelation that he did like caramel, or I could keep it to myself. There was a lot at stake. If I revealed the truth he would probably stubbornly refuse to eat the monkey bread again. And I admit that I don’t mind being given the caramel portion of his Halloween candy. So I let it ride.

I love being a mom. My son is a definite highlight of my life. But sometimes he is a challenge. Kids whine, they talk back, and they cost a fortune to feed (Mine is 14 now. If yours are still little, just wait, soon they’ll obliterate your grocery budget). Kids make you worry like nothing else can. They are a burden, but a precious burden that is worth every minute of lost sleep and every dollar of expense.

That is the best metaphor I can come up with to describe my burden to feed the hungry. Every book I read, every website I research, every news report I see is a burden. My heart breaks a hundred times a day. I want to gather up all the hungry kids in the world and make them cookies. Or monkey bread. Now that I thought about that again I’m going to crave it for a week… I want to open my home, my pantry, my wallet. I know that the poor and the hungry are important to God and I want to show His love by serving them.

This burden is so heavy, but it is so precious. It gives me right perspective and adds a sense of value and purpose to my life. Like parenting, my burden for the hungry keeps me up at night and messes with my financial accounting. And I love it.

But I have only begun the journey of carrying this burden for the hungry and living a lifestyle of intention and focus on others. It’s a process. I can’t tell you how often I dream of putting more time and energy into feeding the hungry only to push aside God’s prompting with promises about getting to it after I finish grad school, or once this or that is paid off. I’m inching into the kiddie pool when I should cannon ball into the deep end. According to the UN, 21,000 precious people die of hunger and hunger-related illness EVERY DAY. They can’t wait for me to finish being entertained; I need to act on their behalf NOW.

That’s easier said than done, I know. Like you I have a mortgage, school debt, a car payment, etc. My home needs to be maintained, and I appreciate the importance of down time in a person’s life and date nights in a marriage. There are a lot of things to juggle. But a lot of them aren’t as important as I make them. I know I have a long way to go. I don’t want to wait and lug around this precious burden for no reason. I want to jump into the deep end and live a life that makes people a priority. I hope that, whatever your burden, you feel the same way.Thank you for caring for the hungry.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Bonus: Monkey Bread

2 cans refrigerated biscuit dough
Cinnamon-sugar
1 Stick of Butter (1/2 cup)
1 Cup of Brown Sugar

Open the tube of biscuits and cut each individual biscuit into 3-4 pieces. Drop the biscuit pieces in a baggie, add some cinnamon-sugar, and shake to coat. Put the cinnamon-sugar coated biscuit pieces into a Bundt pan (non-stick or greased). In the microwave or on the stove top, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar to the melted butter and stir until combined. Pour the melted butter-brown sugar mixture evenly over the biscuit pieces. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown. Let the monkey bread sit for about ten minutes, then invert the pan onto a plate (not plastic or styrofoam, those monkeys are hot, and you only make that melting mistake once…).

Double Bonus: Tonight’s FSF dinner, Cheesy Rice and Beans. My local food shelf gets a bag of rice, can of beans, can of tomatoes, and can of corn, and my family gets this tasty dish. Since I make my chicken stock from the bones of the chicken we eat (FREE, less wasteful, low sodium, no preservatives or mystery ingredients, I know the quality of chicken that went into it, and delicious flavor), the grand total for this meal and the matching food shelf donation is around $10

I got this recipe from the Cheese Pusher, and made a few alterations/corrections. See her original HERE.

1 Cup White Rice (or 2 cups Minute rice)
2 Cups Chicken Stock
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Chopped Onion
1 Clove of Garlic
1 Tbsp. Cumin
1 Can Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
1 Can Whole Kernel Corn, Drained
1 Can Diced Tomatoes with Chilies (I prefer the tomatoes petite diced)

Toppings:
Cheddar or Mexican Cheese Blend
Sour Cream (or plain Greek yogurt)
Cilantro
Hot Sauce

Prepare the rice like normal, using the chicken stock in place of water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onions. Cook onions until translucent, then add the garlic for one minute more. Add the cumin to the onion mixture, stir gently. Add the drained beans and corn, and the undrained tomatoes to the mixture. When the rice is done, add the bean and veggie mixture to the rice and stir until combined. Serve with a generous amount of cheese, sour cream, and cilantro. For those who prefer more spice, add hot sauce to taste.

Meal Ministry: How to BLESS not STRESS

Meal Ministry

Food doesn’t just meet our physical need for energy and nutrients; it’s also a source of comfort. That’s why there is something so powerful and community-building about meal ministry. When someone is ill, has a new baby, or experiences a loss, friends who show up to nurture and comfort the family with wholesome and delicious meals go a long way toward reducing stress. On the flip side, a friend who shows up unexpectedly with mystery foods the family can’t eat and who expects her dishes to be washed and returned right away actually increase stress! Keeping your friend’s needs in mind and having a humble attitude of service will steer you clear of most blunders. Here are a few simple things to avoid.

  1. Don’t Go At It Alone: Chances are if a friend is in a situation where meals would be a blessing, you’re not the only one who is bringing in food. Find out if a friend, family member, or someone at church is coordinating the meal ministry and get in contact with that person to sign up for a day when food is needed, get the info on any food preferences or allergies, get the address and directions, etc. That way your friend can relax and recover without the phone ringing off the hook, and she doesn’t have to worry about duplicate meals, giving directions, or getting conflicting information from different sources.
  2. Know Your Audience: When you get in touch with the person coordinating meals, or if you are the one doing the coordinating, find out what the family’s food preferences and food allergies are. If someone is vegetarian, gluten intolerant, or allergic to something, you need to provide a meal that won’t increase the suffering! Likewise, be sensitive to the issues created by the condition that drove the meal ministry. A new mom trying to nurse can’t eat a lot of garlic or gas-inducing veggies like broccoli. Someone dealing with stomach problems won’t be able to eat spicy or acidic things. If you know what your friend is dealing with, a quick internet search will give you advice on foods to avoid for her condition. Also, know what time your friend serves dinner. A family used to eating at 5:00 will not be very relaxed trying to placate fussy kids until dinner shows up at 8:00. You eat dinner whenever you like, but meal ministry is about blessing someone else, not about putting them on your schedule.
  3. No Surprises: I love sneaking extra veggies into my son’s food, and my own for that matter. Tiny cubes of squash soften beautifully in chili and no one knows the difference. It’s the only way I can get my husband or son to eat the stuff. But a meal ministry meal is not the place for sneaky veggies, mystery ingredients, and family secret recipes. Provide the recipe with each item you bring, and stick to what you put on the card. Your friend and her family will know exactly what they’re getting, and they can make it again another day. Obviously they’re going to love it and want the recipe anyway, right? I still make homemade chicken potpie from the recipe a friend brought for dinner when our son was born fourteen years ago.
  4. Keep It Simple: Elaborate dishes don’t travel well, and when you’re not feeling well, you just want the familiar and comfortable anyway. I had a friend thoughtfully bring me a casserole once that was a new recipe she was trying on us for the first time. Unfortunately she thought the word “clove” meant the entire head of garlic. I couldn’t eat garlic, so I couldn’t have any, and my house stunk for a week. Stick to things you know you make well. Someone coming home from hospitalization won’t care that it’s simple; she is just going to be thrilled to eat something that isn’t hospital food… Save your tricky, fancy dishes for when your friend is feeling better, then have her over for a celebration dinner! Likewise, while disposable bakeware isn’t the best for the environment, it is the best for ministry meals. Your friend can wash and reuse it herself or she can toss it. It’s a lot less work than scrubbing all the pans and keeping track of who to return them to. Remember that your goal is to help your friend relax and recover, not to give her more chores!
  5. If All Else Fails: Pizza delivery and restaurant gift cards are perfectly valid ways to bless a friend in need. This is especially true if you live too far away to deliver a homemade meal, when your schedule doesn’t match up to the meal delivery rotation, or in situations where a family member is hospitalized for a while. When my nephew was born prematurely and 300 miles away, I used Google Maps to find out what restaurants were near the hospital where he spent his first weeks. My sister and her husband were back and forth between home and the hospital, spending as much time as possible with their tiny baby, not eating at home. The gift cards we sent helped keep their costs down during that crazy and expensive time, and I felt good because it allowed me to bless them when I couldn’t be there in person.

Here is one of my favorite meal ministry recipes.  It’s vegetarian, mild, forgiving, easy, and generally pleases even kids and picky eaters.

Three Cheese Stuffed Shells:

12 jumbo pasta shells, boiled until tender
1 16 oz. package cottage cheese, drain off some of the liquid
½ cup shredded mozzarella
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
Garlic salt to taste

Combine the egg, salt, and cheeses in a large bowl and fill each softened shell with the mixture. Arrange shells in a baking dish and pour a jar of pasta sauce over them. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

That’s it!  Super simple, warm, and comforting.  The recipe serves 4, and can easily be doubled for larger families. I deliver it (in a disposable aluminum pan, of course) with some bread, a fruit or veggie, and a treat like cookies for dessert.

At the bottom of this post is a free printable – some cute Meal Ministry labels and matching recipe cards. Feel free to print and share (they’ll work best on medium weight white cardstock).  I pinned a bunch of blog posts and recipes about Meal Ministry to the Food Shelf Friday Pinterest account.  Click HERE for those links, including more printable labels.

Above all an attitude of service and sensitivity are the keys to successfully blessing others with meal ministry. Now go out there and be a blessing! Remember if you have other ideas to add to this topic, or a great meal ministry recipe, share it in the comments!

printables for meal ministryprintables for meal ministry