I love the slightly spicy, creamy Zuppa Toscana soup from Olive Garden. Since going gluten-free and dairy-free, Zuppa Toscana and pretty much anything Olive Garden are out of the question. With the cold weather, though, I really crave soups. I made some potato soup a few days ago that was yummy, but just not the same. Today I realized I happened to have everything I needed to attempt a sausage and potato soup very much like Zuppa Toscana.
It doesn’t have quite the same creaminess due to substituting almond milk. Cashew milk is a creamier substitute, but I didn’t have any on hand. For a first dairy-free attempt, it turned out pretty darn close.
I made my sausage potato soup in my electric pressure cooker. You could easily make it in a slow cooker or on the stove top, but I like how the pressure cooker really develops the flavors, similar to cooking in a slow cooker but without the long cook time. I also love that I can use the saute function on my pressure cooker to brown the sausage. This prevents having to dirty a skillet, like I would if I used a slow cooker.
Electric Pressure Cooker, unless cooking on stove top or slow cooker.
1lb Ground Sausage
3-4 Largish potatoes, sliced
1medium Onion, dicedWhite or yellow.
2-3 cups Kale, torn or chopped.Could substitute spinach or other greens.
6-8 cups Chicken broth (gluten-free if desired)You want enough to cover the rest of the ingredients in the pot without too much over.
2cups Almond or Cashew milk
Salt to taste
Crushed red pepper to taste
Select the "Saute" function on the pressure cooker.
Add the olive oil and brown the sausage.
Add the onion a few minutes before the sausage finishes browning to soften.
When the sausage is browned, turn off the "Saute" function.
Add the potatoes, kale, broth and seasonings. Do not add the almond or cashew milk yet.
Lock the pressure cooker's lid in place and select the "Soup" function. I used the 30 minute function.
After the cooking is complete, either wait for pressure to naturally release or CAREFULLY do a manual release. Soups spray and spatter if you immediately try to release the pressure, so I recommend waiting at least ten minutes if you are going to manually release the pressure.
Add the almond/cashew milk and stir. The soup should be hot enough to heat the milk addition without additional cooking.
I don’t really measure recipes like this, so most measurements are approximate.The stove top instructions are basically the same. Brown the sausage in a big soup pot, add the ingredients except the milk and simmer for around thirty minutes. Add the milk and serve. For the slow cooker, brown the meat on the stove, add everything but the milk to the slow cooker and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Add the milk and serve.
Please leave a comment if you try this and let me know how it turns out. If any of my instructions need clarification, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, too.
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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Clearing out to make room for new products. Everything listed here is at least 50% off the original price. If you see something you like, get it now before it sells out.
A few days ago, I thought it would be fun to make Christmas cookies. Then I remembered that my Christmas cookie cutters had disappeared, we were out of any sort of sprinkles for the cookies and I really didn’t want to make decorator frosting or go to the store for supplies. My solution? DIY sugar sprinkles!
Jars, plastic containers or sandwich bags, one per color. (Ideally something with a shaker top, which I didn’t have)
Spoons or shakers
How to make the sugar sprinkles
Measure about 1/4 cup of sugar into each container.
Add 2-3 drops of food coloring to the sugar.
Shake or stir until the color is evenly distributed.
Let air dry. I just left the lids off the jars and set them on the stove while the cookies baked, stirring occasionally. If you use bags or plan to store it for a longer period of time, you may want to spread it on parchment or a cookie sheet to make sure it is super dry.
The recipe I used for the cookies was the sugar cookie cutout recipe from my trusty red and white Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. To make them gluten free, I substituted Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. If you are new to gluten free baking, it is a great flour to start with. I have had lots of success making all my old recipes gluten free with just that simple substitution.
My solution for not having cookie cutters was to use a round glass to cut out “ornaments”. We dusted some of the cookies with the sprinkles prior to baking. For the rest, I made a simple icing that got dusted or caked with sprinkles, depending on who was doing the decorating.
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.
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.
Many people eat gluten free (g-free), either by choice or need. For those with celiac, eliminating gluten is an absolute necessity. Others find that, for one reason or another, they feel better when they avoid it. In my case, I kind of accidentally discovered that joint pain in my hands and feet go away and I’m less brain foggy when I avoid gluten. Other family members suffer from breakouts and rashes that flare whenever they eat something with gluten. I strongly believe that if you feel bad after eating something, you should probably stop eating it, so we do our best to avoid gluten all together.
Eliminating something that is such a big part of your diet is daunting at first, but there are a few things that can make the transition easier and less expensive. These tips focus on gluten, but many will also help if you need to eliminate other foods.
Start with real foods
Processed foods often have hidden fillers and ingredients, and specialty gluten free foods are expensive. In contrast, fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, beans, eggs and dairy are naturally gluten free in their pure forms. Rice is a grain that does not contain gluten. Starting from scratch with real food ingredients that you know naturally don’t have gluten is often easier and definitely cheaper than scrutinizing food labels and buying special gluten free versions of normally wheat based foods.
Go simple with seasonings
For the most part, single herbs and spices are gluten free. Certain spice blends may have gluten, though. Making your own blends is the safest bet, but if you have a spice blend you love, most manufacturer websites list whether their products contain gluten.
While not technically an herb or spice, most soy sauce contains gluten. La Choy is a major brand that is made without gluten. Bragg’s liquid aminos are another form of g-free soy sauce.
Most vinegar is g-free. Malt vinegar is not. You’ll also want to check the label on flavored vinegar to be sure.
Cooking oils don’t have gluten unless seasoned with something containing gluten.
Find your current gluten free staples
Look at the foods that currently stock your pantry. What things that you buy are already gluten free? For us, we usually keep a box or two of cereal around for snacking or a quick breakfast. Most cereals are made with wheat and therefore have gluten, but some that we already bought, like Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Rice Chex are gluten free. Knowing that, I can continue to keep a box or two of cereal we already liked on hand.
Likewise, we keep tortilla chips on hand for snacking or nachos. Most tortilla chips don’t have gluten and inexpensive. Since gluten free crackers are both hard to find and usually expensive, tortilla chips are an easy cracker substitute as well.
Look for the easy substitute
Like substituting tortilla chips for crackers, there are other easy swaps. Corn tortillas usually don’t have gluten and can be substituted for flour tortillas. Rice is often a good substitute for pasta, or substitute rice noodles. If you have an Asian grocery nearby, you can usually find rice noodles there for cheaper than a mainstream supermarket, as well as leafy greens and spices for cheap.
Make it yourself
It’s fairly easy to find gluten-free flour now, so making your own gluten free cookies, pizza crusts, pancakes, breads, etc. is a good option. I love Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. With it, I can continue to make my favorite deserts just by substituting it for wheat flour. There are other good gluten free flours on the market, too. The most important thing is to know if it is blended to be an exact 1 to 1 substitute or if you need to add something like xanthan gum to give it the stretchiness and rise that you usually get from gluten. For example, Bob’s Red Mill has an All Purpose Gluten Free Flour that is not the 1 to 1 blend. It is a little denser and does not have xanthan gum already blended. I like blending it with tapioca flour, which adds some stretchiness. That works well for things like gluten free flour tortillas. For things that need to rise, though, like cakes or breads, I also add xanthan gum if I’m using the all purpose and not the 1 to 1 blend.
When buying gluten free, shop around
Sometimes you really just want to get some gluten free penne pasta or a g-free bagel. More and more grocery stores regularly stock g-free pastas, breads and desserts, but they can be pricey. If you find them on sale, stock up and freeze the extras. Alternative grocery stores sometimes offer better prices, too. Aldi has a decent selection of g-free breads, pastas, and baking mixes at a lower price than most other stores. I even found some gluten free donuts there recently.
Locally, we have a surplus/discount/closeout grocery store called Town Talk. They frequently have udi’s bread in the range of two loaves for $3.00. I periodically stop in and stock up when I can.
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Just because you might be at home more doesn’t mean you have more time to cook. Whether you’re working from home, helping virtual learners or homeschooling, it’s likely you’re just as busy as ever. I love using my electric pressure cooker for busy days. It’s like having someone cooking in the kitchen while I work on the million of other things needing done.
One of my favorite fast recipes is chicken and vegetable quinoa. It takes minutes to prepare, is super healthy and cooks fast, so it’s perfect for busy days. The basic recipe is really easy to customize, so it’s a good meal to use up odds and ends from the fridge.
Customizing your quinoa
Try it with beef, sausage, tofu, beans, eggs or skip the protein and add more vegetables. If you have leftover chicken, shred it and use it instead of raw chicken breasts.
If you have time to chop vegetables, clean out the produce drawer and use whatever you have on hand. Use up those veggies before they go bad!
Kale is another nice addition. Throw it on top before pressure cooking and stir it in at the end. Since it’s a hardier green, it holds up well to pressure cooking.
Change up the flavor by adding soy sauce, hot sauce or your favorite seasonings. For a mild dish, I like using poultry seasoning.
Don’t like quinoa? Use rice and adjust the cooking time based on your pressure cooker’s recommendations.
It’s easy to pack for lunches or take on picnics, too.
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.
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Electric pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot
1tbspoilolive oil, coconut oil or preferred cooking oil
1 medium onion, diced
1cup chicken breast, cut into bite sized piecesCould also use pre-cooked, shredded chicken
1 cupfrozen mixed vegetables
2cupschicken broth or water
salt and pepper to taste
Turn the pressure cooker to "Saute" and add oil.
Add the onion and chicken if you are not using pre-cooked chicken.
Saute until the onion is translucent and chicken is browned.
Press "Cancel" to stop sauteing.
Add broth, quinoa and vegetables to pot and stir.
Add salt and pepper, if desired.
Lock the lid and set cooker to two minutes on high pressure.
Allow pressure to release naturally when done.
Fluff with fork and serve.
The great thing about this recipe is it is easy to customize. Try it with beef, sausage, tofu, or skip the protein and add more vegetables. If you have leftover chicken, shred it and use it instead of raw chicken breasts.Clean out the veggie drawer and use whatever you have on hand.Change up the flavor by adding soy sauce, hot sauce or your favorite seasonings.It’s easy to pack for lunches or take on picnics, too.
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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
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.
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.
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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