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Tips for Saving Money on Food

No matter what our budget looks like, food is always a part of it. You have to eat, right? There are many thoughts on the best way to save on food. These are the things that work for me.

Eat at home

This one is probably the most important. If you eat out, regardless of whether it’s a dine-in or fast food restaurant, you are going to spend more than if you cook and eat at home. It’s fine to splurge once in a while, but if you’re looking to save, eating at home gives you the most bang for your buck.

Buy mostly ingredients

Prepackaged foods are sometimes quicker, but they are usually more expensive per serving. If it’s a choice between eating out and eating convenience foods from the grocery, it’s still usually cheaper than eating out, so if it’s a choice between KFC or a deli rotisserie chicken, bagged salad and prepackaged dinner rolls, the deli chicken is probably the cheaper and healthier option.

There are some convenience items that I find helpful, especially when life gets hectic. Jarred sauces, bouillon and frozen potatoes in various forms are things that I like to have on hand to help me get a meal on the table quickly. When there’s not time to make the sauce from scratch or I don’t have homemade broth on hand those can make it easy to still throw something together. They’re also usually fairly inexpensive, so I feel they are budget friendly convenience choices.

Buy in bulk where it makes sense

Don’t buy a ton of perishables like fresh fruit just because it’s on sale. If you have time to prep and freeze or can the fruit, then go for it. Things like canned goods, freezer staples and shelf stable items are great for buying in bulk, if you have the room. We have a small chest freezer, so I’m able to buy fruit on sale to freeze for smoothies or desserts and an extra ham or turkey when they are on sale for under $1 per pound around the holidays.

I also buy basmati rice in 20 lb bags because we prefer it over other types of rice and it is so much cheaper that way. To keep it fresh and manageable, I keep a small container of it in the cupboard and the rest goes into the freezer.

Shop creatively

It’s easy to have one or two grocery stores or box stores where you do all of your shopping. If you have farmer’s markets, discount groceries or ethnic groceries in your area, you may find better deals on some items.

For starters, if you have an Aldi nearby and haven’t given them a try, please do. I’ve found them to have a good selection of staples and they have a good guarantee on everything they sell. You won’t find many name-brands at Aldi, but with their guarantee, it’s worth trying and seeing if you like their store brands. They also carry a lot of gluten-free options, as well as dairy-free milk alternatives and a dairy-free mozarella cheese.

I also frequently shop a local Vietnamese grocery store. They have tons of fresh greens and other produce at really good prices. I also get a lot of specialty items, like things for making pho or sushi for sometimes half the cost or less of what I would pay at Kroger or Walmart. Bulk spices and rice are also cheaper there. For gluten-free pasta, rice noodles from there are cheaper than gluten-free options from Kroger and Walmart.

Find a method of meal planning that works for you.

Some people do really well with having every meal, every day planned out to every last detail. I prefer something more flexible that allows for changes based on last minute plans or whatever is on sale that week or whatever leftovers we need to eat. Regardless of the type of meal planner you are, have some sort of game plan in place.

Meal planning is one area where I need to improve, but I do have a basic game plan for meals that I’ll post on at a later date.

While you’re planning, don’t forget lunch. Leftovers are quick and easy lunches, so if you’re planning a dinner that reheats well, make enough for lunch the next day.

Keep staples for one or two quick meals on hand always

This is important in case you forget to plan, or something doesn’t work out with your plan. Whether it’s spaghetti and premade sauce, eggs, fruit and toast or some other meal you can throw together in under thirty minutes, keep the ingredients on hand for one or two backups that you like. Having a backup option makes it easier to eat at home when you might otherwise be tempted to eat out.

Eat real food

If you have to change your eating habits due to health or personal beliefs, it’s easy to try to substitute faux or “free” foods tailored to that diet. Price-wise though, it’s better to adapt your diet with real foods. Rather than faux meat burgers, try grilling portobello mushrooms or making your own patties with chickpeas. Instead of gluten free pasta, substitute rice or potatoes. Instead of diet drinks, flavor water, tea or soda water with fruit.

If you’re really craving cheese and you’re dairy free or bread and you’re gluten free, go ahead and splurge on the dairy or gluten free options. If you’re on a plant-based diet but desperately want something like a real burger, go for one of the faux meat patties. Just try to keep those splurges to a minimum and you’ll save money.

Find recipes for soups, stews and beans that you like

Soups, stews and beans are usually cheap, filling and can be a one pot meal. Having a few recipes you like and keeping the ingredients on hand can really help save money on food. They also are easy to make in bulk and usually freeze well, so making a bunch and having it for lunch or in the freezer for nights that dinner plans don’t work out helps prevent eating out. I love crock pots or pressure cookers for making soups and stews. It’s absolutely not necessary to run out and buy a slow cooker or pressure cooker, but if it’s something you’ve been considering, I love my electric pressure cooker for so many things.

Saving money on food.
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Grocery Staples for Easy Last Minute Meals

Even the best meal planners have days where things don’t go according to plan. Fast food is convenient, but usually more expensive and less healthy than what you can make at home. If you have any dietary restrictions, eating out safely can be extra challenging. For those nights, I like to keep a few staples on hand that make it easy to make a last minute meal that’s healthy and frugal.

Here’s my list of grocery staples I like to keep on hand for last minute meals, along with ideas for how to use them. Depending on your tastes, you may not find everything I use helpful. Since we eat gluten and dairy free, my list doesn’t include common staples like bread or cheese.

Grocery Staples for Last Minute Meals

Proteins

  • Flash Frozen Boneless, Skinless Chicken – I always have one or two bags of frozen chicken. Because they are individually frozen, it’s easy to separate out just what I need. The pieces don’t have to be thawed before cooking, so it’s perfect for a quick meal. I alternate between breasts, thighs and tenderloins.
  • Eggs – Eggs cook in minutes for when time is short.
  • Ground Beef – It’s easier to cook ground beef if it’s thawed, but it’s not impossible to cook it from frozen. I like using my electric pressure cooker if I need to cook it from frozen. Place it on a trivet, add about half of a cup of water to the pot and cook under high pressure for about 20 minutes. When it’s done, drain the water, remove the trivet and cook with the saute function with seasonings to remove excess moisture and finish it if it’s still a little pink in the middle.
  • Canned Beans – Dried beans are cheaper and don’t take that long with a pressure cooker, but sometimes you need something fast. Canned beans are a great plant-based protein for quick meals or for stretching left over meat in stews and chili.
  • Lentils – Dry lentils don’t have to be soaked and cook in about 20 minutes. I love this Coconut Lentil Curry from A Couple Cooks for a fast meal.

Vegetables

  • Frozen mixed vegetables – Perfect on their own as a side, or add to soups, rice dishes, scrambled eggs, curries, etc.
  • Onion – Sauteed onion adds lots of flavor to just about any meal.
  • Potatoes – Potatoes are great as an ingredient, a side or bake them and add toppings for a meal on their own.
  • Frozen greens – I like freezing chopped kale to add to soups and curries because it’s hardy and freezes well. Spinach or other greens work, too.

Grains

  • Rice – Nice to have as a side, with curry or stir-fry or to make a quick jambalaya or similar dish.
  • Quinoa – Cooks quickly in the pressure cooker and high in protein. Easy Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa is a quick quinoa based meal that is easy to customize and a great way to use up leftover meats and vegetables. You can also make it with rice with adjustments to the cooking time.
  • Pasta (I buy Aldi’s gluten free or Skinner brand gf at Kroger. ) – Cooks quickly and can be topped with a variety of sauces, tossed with sauteed vegetables and drizzled with olive oil or added to soups.
  • Tortillas or Taco Shells – These are especially handy because my kids love tacos. Putting anything in a taco shell increases the chances that they’ll eat it. Corn tortillas are also a cheap gluten free bread substitute.

Sauces and Seasonings

  • Simmer Sauces – These are the closest thing I use to hamburger helper. All you need is the sauce, a protein, a vegetable and rice for delicious last minute meals. Find a variety you like and turn it into an all in one meal if you have an electric pressure cooker if you’re super busy. This is one of my favorite places to use the frozen chicken. I cook it all together and cut up the chicken into bite sized pieces before serving. While it’s cooking in the pressure cooker, I’m free to catch up on housework or whatever else needs done.
  • Curry Paste – I love the flavor of curry, and adding curry paste to a dish is a way to add a ton of flavor.
  • Bouillon – Bouillon is another way to add flavor with little effort, or use it to make broth in a pinch.
  • Canned Coconut Milk – I can usually work around this ingredient with whatever milk or broth I have on hand, but I prefer it for curry.
  • Tomato Sauce and/or paste – Add to soup, stew or chili, or make a marinara sauce for pasta.
  • Salsa – serve as a condiment or add to chicken, ground beef or beans during cooking for flavor.
  • Commonly Used Herbs and Spices – My staples are salt, black pepper, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and poultry seasoning. There’s plenty of others I keep around as well, but those are the ones that I use almost daily.

Last Minute Meal Ideas

I’ve provided a few specific recipes above. Really, though, as long as I have one or two things from each category handy, I can combine them to come up with delicious last minute meals. Here’s a few more of my go-to combinations:

  • Season and oven bake the chicken. Serve with vegetables and rice.
  • Saute onion using whatever oil or butter I have available until translucent, then add chicken and a little broth. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Cut into bite sized pieces and add a spoonful of curry paste, vegetables and a can of coconut milk. Heat until the vegetables are done, being careful not to boil. Serve over rice.
  • Saute onion in a skillet and toss in a handful of frozen greens. Once the greens are thawed, add whisked eggs and scramble.
  • Brown ground beef (or pressure cook) add onion and cook until the onion is translucent. Add tomato sauce, basil, oregano, garlic and a little salt. If you like your sauce thicker, add some tomato paste. To cut the acidity, add a spoonful of brown sugar. Serve over pasta. You can also make it with chicken, canned white beans, or skip it and just have the sauce and pasta.
  • Pressure cook ground beef and season with salt, garlic powder, chili, cumin and cayenne. Make Mexican rice ( I use this recipe). Serve with canned black beans or refried beans and salsa. You can make tacos with the meat if you have tortillas or taco shells, or just have the meat on the side or atop the rice. Shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and diced onion all make it even yummier, but if you’re limited to what’s on hand, it’s still yummy without.

What are some of your favorite last minute meals? I’d love for you to share them in the comments.

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Gluten Free Biscuits (Dairy Free, Too!)

Biscuits are one of the hardest things to make gluten free. Most of my gluten free biscuit attempts turn out flat, hard and dry. After much searching, I finally found a recipe that yielded something like the fluffy biscuits we’ve craved since eliminating gluten.

You can find the recipe at Mama Knows Gluten Free here. Audrey at Mama Knows Gluten Free suggests using Pilsbury gluten free flour. I haven’t found it nearby, so I used my preferred Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 flour. It does result in a wetter dough, so I use a little different technique for shaping the biscuits. She also gives some info on different gluten free flours and how to make ahead and freeze.

Recipe adjustments for gluten free biscuits

Single biscuit

Xanthan gum

In the original recipe, it says to only add xanthan gum if your flour doesn’t already have it. Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 flour does have xanthan gum. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that for fluffier types of breads, it doesn’t seem to be enough. I want light, fluffy biscuits, so I added the full amount of xanthan gum anyway.

Dairy free

The original recipe gives instructions on how to make it dairy free, so I didn’t have to make my own adjustments. I used unsweetened almond milk and vinegar in place of the buttermilk as suggested. For the butter, I used vegetable shortening. If you have a kitchen scale, one trick to making shortening easier to measure is to use weight instead of measuring and scraping out one tablespoon of shortening at a time. One tablespoon of shortening is equal to 0.42 ounces or 11.94 grams. Multiply that number by the number of tablespoons you need to get the weight amount.

Shaping the dough

In order to limit handling the dough and overworking it, I shaped my dough on the parchment paper. Since my dough was pretty wet, I generously dusted the paper and my hands with flour. Like the original directions state, I patted and folded rather than rolled out the dough.

Instead of cutting with a biscuit cutter, I just cut straight lines with a sharp knife to form square biscuits. That way, I wouldn’t have to reshape the dough to cut more biscuits. Less handling is better. I also trimmed a tiny amount from the edges so that all the edges were cut like they would be with a biscuit cutter. This allows the biscuits to rise evenly. If you do it this way, the trick is to cut with a straight up and down motion, not a sliding motion. Sliding the knife would seal the edges and prevent them from rising.

Gluten free biscuits in a big block
Double batch of gluten free biscuits before I separated them.

Baking

Rather than move the biscuits by hand to a greased pan, I slid the whole parchment paper with the biscuits onto a baking sheet. The parchment provides a nonstick surface. If you’ve cut through the dough completely, they will bake perfectly like that. I had a little healper this morning, so I can tell that we didn’t quite cut all the way through in some areas and the biscuits stayed a little doughier in those areas. To help with that, I separated them when they were almost done and baked them for a few minutes longer.

My biscuits did take a about 25 minutes to bake, so just a bit longer than the original. I’m not sure if that is because of how close together they were or just my oven. I usually set my oven a notch lower than the suggested temperature because it bakes hotter than it says. Sometimes I overcompensate, though.

All in all, these biscuits satisfy our biscuit cravings and are good enough to serve to my non-gluten free friends and family. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Recipe Roundup

My electric pressure cooker is such a lifesaver when it comes to getting fast, healthy meals ready. It’s almost like having someone else do the cooking. With so many working from home with kids right now, those minutes saved in the kitchen are valuable. Here’s five of my favorite electric pressure cooker dinner recipes.

Honey Glazed Chicken for Electric Pressure Cookers like the Instant Pot
This honey glazed chicken is made in an electric pressure cooker with just minutes of prep. Sweet and juicy, it will satisfy even picky eaters.
Check out this recipe
honey glazed chicken and peppers
Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots or other Electric Pressure Cookers
Rich, earthy mushrooms in nutty brown rice make this work as a side dish or, serve with a salad to make it a meatless main course. Makes 6-8 servings.
Check out this recipe
Mushroom Brown Rice
Electric Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot) Whole Chicken and Potatoes
This is my method for cooking a flavorful whole chicken and potatoes in an electric pressure cooker. After a little prep work, you can walk away and let the pressure cooker do it's job without having to check on it or worry about overcooking. I'm using an 8 quart electric pressure cooker. If yours is smaller, you may need to adjust the size of the chicken and other ingredients accordingly.
Check out this recipe
Instant pot whole chicken
Sausage Potato Soup
Dairy and gluten free sausage potato soup inspired by Olive Garden's zuppa toscana. I prefer making it in my electric pressure cooker but it could easily be done in a slow cooker or on the stove top.
Check out this recipe
Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa
Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa is a quick, last minute dish that is great hot or cold. Customize it by swapping out the protein or vegetables depending on what you have on hand.
Check out this recipe
Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa

Shop update: Freebies and a sale

Knowing that so many are stuck at home right now needing distractions, I’ve decided to make all of my machine embroidery design files free until April 30. That’s the day my area’s shelter in place order expires. If it is extended, I’ll extend the embroidery design freebies, too. If you make something with one of my designs, I would love to see it.

My full shop is still open, and will be as long as everyone in my household is healthy. I’m using extra care with handwashing and using hand sanitizer before coming into contact with products and packaging as well.

All of my handmade soaps are currently on sale for 20% off. You can find them here.

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Dangerously Easy Chocolate Syrup Recipe

Chocolate syrup is deliciously versatile. Stir it in hot or cold milk or coffee for a treat or pour over ice cream to make it even more decadent. Then there’s old fashioned sodas and baked goods made with chocolate syrup. With this chocolate syrup recipe, you can make delicious chocolate syrup with just a few basic pantry staples whenever you need it.

Sure, it’s easy to pick up a bottle from the supermarket, but with this easy chocolate syrup recipe, you can make it for a fraction of the cost and without a trip to the store. By making it, you also have control over the ingredients. Use your favorite cocoa powder, experiment with the type and amount of sugar or swap out the vanilla extract for something a little more creative to make it your own. I can totally see using peppermint extract to mimic the flavor of Andes mints. Or, if you’re a fan of Terry’s Chocolate Orange chocolates, add orange extract.

Like most of my recipes, this chocolate syrup is gluten free and dairy free.

Dangerously Easy Chocolate Syrup Recipe

This chocolate syrup recipe is so easy and delicious. With only a few pantry-staple ingredients needed, you'll never have an excuse not to make it. Should be good for at least a month when stored properly. I usually find plenty of ways to use it up before then.
Prep Time2 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or to taste

Instructions

  • Mix the sugar and cocoa together in a saucepan until thoroughly combined.
  • Add the water and half of the salt (1/4 teaspoon). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  • Continue to boil while constantly stirring until the mixture thickens a little. (It will thicken more as it cools) This should take around 3 or 4 minutes.
  • Carefully taste and add the rest of the salt, if desired.
  • Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.
  • Cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. I like using a glass jar.

Notes

The vanilla extract and salt amount can be adjusted according to taste. I can also see swapping out the vanilla for peppermint or orange extract.

While I try to write recipes as clearly as possible, it’s easy to miss a step or make assumptions. If anything is confusing, please don’t hesitate to comment with your questions. If you make this recipe, please let me know what you think.

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chocolate syrup recipe
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Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots

Mushrooms are one of those foods that you either love or hate. I love them and try to incorporate them into once in awhile in hopes of swaying my kids to the “love” side. Finn is already there and Thadd is interested but skeptical that something with that texture can be delicious. I’m not giving up on Beckett, but I think he may have inherited his dad’s and grandma’s mushroom dislike. 

This mushroom brown rice dish is rich but mild, with the brown rice adding a little nutty flavor. Because the mushrooms are sliced and not chopped, they are large enough for little mushroom skeptics to remove them and eat the rice.

Not a fan of brown rice?

The brown rice adds to the flavor, but takes a lot longer to cook than white rice. With an electric pressure cooker, it’s only about 15 minutes of active prep time. After that, the pressure cooker does all the work. If you’re in a hurry to eat, though, swap it out in favor of a long grain white rice. I like basmati and jasmine rice the best for white rice. 

Dietary Restrictions?

As written, this recipe is plant-based, gluten free and dairy free. If you choose to use broth instead of water, that could change depending on the type of broth you use.

One thing I like to keep on hand is a broth base called “Better than Bouillon“.  It’s a paste that comes in a small jar. You mix a bit of the paste into water to make broth like you would with bouillon. To me, it really does have a better flavor, and a little goes a long way. I usually have the vegetable version on hand and would have added a bit to this recipe, but I used my last bit up yesterday. They also have a mushroom version that would compliment this recipe as well. Between the onion, garlic, mushrooms and brown rice, though, it’s really not necessary. 

All electric pressure cookers welcome.

I’ve titled this post “Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots” because Instant Pot has become the most popular brand and is now synonymous with electric pressure cooker. The recipe should work in any similar electric pressure cooker. Personally, I use a GoWise brand 8 quart electric pressure cooker.

Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots or other Electric Pressure Cookers

Rich, earthy mushrooms in nutty brown rice make this work as a side dish or, serve with a salad to make it a meatless main course. Makes 6-8 servings.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time22 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Keyword: gluten free, mushroom, rice, vegan
Servings: 8 people

Equipment

  • Electric pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • 1 T coconut or other oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups mushrooms, sliced White, bella or similar.
  • 1.5 tsp salt Can use less if preferred.
  • 3 cups water or broth
  • 2 cups long grain brown rice
  • 1 squeeze lemon juice optional
  • 1 dash black pepper Adjust to taste.

Instructions

  • Select "Saute" on the pressure cooker and add the coconut oil.
  • Add the diced onion and saute until translucent.
  • Add the minced garlic and saute for about a minute more.
  • Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper. Continue to saute until onions are lightly browned and mushrooms begin to get some color.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of water or preferred broth and stir up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the rice, remaining 2 1/2 cups of water, lemon juice and pepper.
  • Turn off the "Saute" function and set the pressure cooker manually to 22 minutes or follow your pressure cooker's instructions for brown rice. Most require longer than the "Rice" setting allows.
  • Allow the pressure to release naturally for at least 10 minutes before doing a quick release. I think it's best to let it naturally release completely if you have the time.
  • Fluff rice and serve.

Notes

This recipe has tons of flavor with just water, but you can use broth (vegetable broth to keep it vegan) if you prefer. Unless the broth is low sodium, you probably want to reduce the amount of salt.
I like coconut oil, but feel free to use olive or your preferred cooking oil.
Brown rice adds an earthy, nutty flavor, but it takes a long time to cook compared to white rice. If you’re in a hurry, substitute a long grain white rice and reduce the cooking time to 8 minutes or use the “Rice” setting. Basmati is my favorite long grain white rice.

While I try to write recipes as clearly as possible, it’s easy to miss a step or make assumptions. If anything is confusing, please don’t hesitate to comment with your questions. If you make this recipe, please let me know what you think.

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This post contains affiliate links. If you click through any of the Amazon links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. There is no added cost to you.

Mushroom brown rice
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Potato Ham Soup for EPCs Dairy and Gluten Free

In my Tips to Save Money on Food post, I mention buying ham on sale after the holidays. I love cooking a ham at the beginning of the week. It provides sliced ham for a few meals. Then I cook a pot of red beans or pinto beans with what’s left of the meat and the ham bone for lots of flavor and richness.

Sometimes that gets boring, though. After cooking a ham on Sunday, I wanted something to use some of the ham that was different but easy. I also needed something that used ingredients I already had on hand. A quick internet search found this delicious Potato Ham Soup shared by Sandy at Simply Happy Foodie. It’s written for one of my favorite appliances, the electric pressure cooker, and uses basic ingredients that are common kitchen staples.

Since this isn’t my recipe, I’m linking to the original at Simply Happy Foodie. I made a few changes to the original to make it gluten and dairy free. I also had to make a few adjustments to make it work with what I had on hand. Those I will share here.

Potato Ham Soup hacks

  • In place of milk or cream, I used coconut milk to make it dairy free. Almond or cashew would probably work well, too.
  • For the flour, I subbed an all-purpose gluten free flour blend. Cornstarch also works well as a gluten free thickener. I would recommend reducing the amount of cornstarch to 1-1.5 tablespoons, though, because, to me, cornstarch gives things a different flavor.
  • I had russet potatoes on hand, so that’s what I used.
  • The recipe called for thyme. I’m out, so I added poultry seasoning instead.
  • The original recipe suggested cheese as an add-in. To add a little cheesy flavor without dairy, I sprinkled in about a tablespoon of nutritional yeast.

That’s it. This soup is a great way to use up leftover ham. With an electric pressure cooker it’s done in under an hour, start to finish. Check it out at Simply Happy Foodie, and if you need a gluten-free or dairy-free option, use the adjustments I’ve shared here.

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Potato Ham Soup