A few of our favorite frugal, family friendly recipes

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Say that 5 times, fast! ha!

Eating good quality, tasty, healthyish and budget friendly food is such an important part of our lifestyle here at This Tiny Blue House. Mer has a big appetite – he’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy while although I enjoy my meat and potatoes I tend to prefer more savory combinations of protein and vegetables. Our meal plans are often a mix of both and after some trial and error we’ve settled on a few recipes that satisfy both our palettes and make repeat appearances week after week.

I don’t create recipes – I modify them. So, I take absolutely zero credit for the base recipes I’m providing below. What I am offering is a few frugal hacks to reduce the cost of each dish without sacrificing the quality and taste.

I generally prepare and cook all these dishes on Sundays. I then store them in our fridge and pop them into the oven to reheat as we need them throughout the week. I cannot tell you how much easier this makes life – not only is dinner prepared but there is virtually no clean up.

Mediterranean Chicken from The Clever Carrot

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[Source: 1]

First, we omit the bocconcini altogether. I’m not a fan of melted bocconcini and quite honestly this dish is incredibly tasty and satisfying without it. We then substitute 1 can of artichokes for a can of marinated artichokes (price difference is roughly 2$), using our own oil and spices to marinate the chicken. Chicken thighs are weirdly more expensive than chicken breast in this area so to save a couple of bucks we use breast. Finally, we use frozen herbs from our summer garden instead of fresh.

It produces approx 6 servings so plenty for dinner and leftovers for lunches. It’s Margs approved too. Frugal math tells me that it comes our to roughly 3$ per serving.

Cottage Pie from BBC Good Food

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[Source 2]

This is probably our current favorite since it’s so savory and has such great depth of flavor. I actually found this recipe by accident, decided to give it a try and have continued to make it ever since. To save a a couple of bucks I buy the economy size container of ground beef so I can make two pies at the same time. I also use frozen mixed veggies instead of fresh and sometimes omit the cheese in the potato mash altogether. Frugal math tells me this runs about 2.20$ per serving.

Unstuffed Cabbage Role Casserole from Give Recipe

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[Source: 3]

This is a great recipe that can be eaten as a side dish with a meat protein or by itself. I usually make this once a week and we use it many different ways during the week. It’s great for a quick lunch or to go along side roast chicken for dinner. To frugalize the recipe we often omit the beef altogether and add frozen white beans from our garden instead. Frugal math tells me this runs around 1.00 per serving. Also, we omit the mint because we just don’t do mint in this house.

Pasta e fagioli con Proscuito– due amiche in cucina

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[Source:4]

I actually grew up eating this at least once per week and until very recently I hated it. With the cold weather and lack of time to prepare more complex meals during the week Mer and I have really started to appreciate a hearty bowl of pasta and bean soup. To save some cash we use bacon instead of prosciutto – honestly, prosciutto just tastes funky when cooked so we prefer the bacon. We use frozen garden beans and our own homemade tomato sauce. This recipe essentially costs us a half bag of pasta and a few strips of bacon. Frugal math tells me this sets us back roughly 0.60 cents per serving.

What are some of your go to favorite meals? I love trying new recipes so I would greatly appreciate any that you have to share!


Giving credit where credit is due
[1] http://www.theclevercarrot.com/2013/05/dinner-tonight-mediterranean-baked-chicken/
[2] http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/775643/cottage-pie
[3] http://www.giverecipe.com/unstuffed-cabbage-casserole
[4] http://www.dueamicheincucina.ifood.it/2015/04/pasta-e-fagioli-con-prosciutto-di-parma-e-croste-di-parmigiano-reggiano.html

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What we’ve been up to around these parts & getting more dough from your bread machine

First, I’d like to say a big thank you for all your kind words about how we got our butts out of credit card debt. I was a little hesitant to write that post and actually asked Mer if he thought it was a bad idea at one point. He told me to go with it because when we were looking for advice on how to handle our debt we weren’t really able to find any concrete answers because more often than not the true numbers were never discussed.

I guess I didn’t want to be judged for our repeat bad financial choices (I know I shouldn’t care but I do to a certain extent) but more importantly I was a little scared to talk about the numbers because I’ve always been told that it’s in bad taste to talk about your income. But, I value transparency so I felt it was only right to put all the information out there.

So, dear internet reader you now know the intimate details of my financial past!

So back to what’s been going on around here. Bad weather is what’s up!

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View from my living room. We’re getting an unusual amount of precipitation this winter.

Winter has been hitting us exceptionally hard this year. It started to really cool off in early November and by the first days of December we were already seeing significant amounts of snow. The weather has been hovering well below freezing for weeks and we’re getting treated to a good amount of snow and ice on a daily basis. Although beautiful- the icy and snowy conditions make it really difficult to head out with a baby in tow and get stuff done. When we first bought this house we never considered what the winter situation would be since we visited in the spring time and winter weather was the furthest thing from our minds.

Living in this roundabout is awesome because it’s super quiet but on the flip side snow removal and street salting is basically non-existent here which was really common and effective when we lived in the city. Clearly, there’s a reason why all our current neighbors have snow removal contracts with companies (evidenced by the sticks plunged into the ground at the top of each driveway). Basically, you’ve either got a company coming to dig you out or you’re shoveling it yourself (which is what we’re doing because we’re too cheap to pay someone to move our snow).

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Free art from my mother. There are 3 paintings in this collection and they date back to 73′.

Since we’ve basically been housebound since Tuesday I’ve used up my time working on re-framing these awesome paintings my mother kindly gifted me. She knows I wont spend money on art and when she found them laying around she figured she’d check with me to see if I could give them a new home. Done!

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Hung! Crappy photography though.

There are 3 paintings in the collection – each one represents a different season in the Canadian north east and I love how they add a little character to our living room.

I’ve also been baking.  I pulled out our bread machine and got going on a few loaves.

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Freshly baked bread!

Oh bread machine, you’re so sneaky!

This time, I decided to bake the loaves myself because we needed bread and the roads were awful so heading out to the grocer was out of the question (I walk everywhere because we’re a one car family – total distance to the grocer is probably a little over 2 miles). I guess I could have hauled Margs in her sled but after watching 3 neighbors wipe out I decided to keep my clumsy butt home. Mer doesn’t really enjoy bread machine bread – he complains that the crust is too thin so after my friends Mum suggested I bake it myself I figured I’d give it a go. I’m not really a big fan either because I always thought that the cost involved in making it would actually be higher than buying once you factor in the flour, yeast, oil and salt required to make one tiny loaf.

Well, folks, our bread machines are lying to us.

After using the machine on a dough cycle and allowing the dough to rise once I split it in 2 and allowed it to rise for another 2 hours on an oiled pan in my oven with the warmer on. What I found waiting for me in blew my mind.

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Part way through the second rising process! 2 loaves!!

The one tiny loaf I used to get by using the bread machine start to finish was now replaced with two larger loaves. Stretching my use of 4 cups of flour to make 2 loaves instead of 1.

With that in mind I got working on crunching some numbers because 2 loaves is a game changer when you’re talking about cost efficiency of making your bread versus buying it.

Geek alert,  frugal math coming up.

10 kg bag of bread flour – $17.99

10 kg = 80 cups of flour (1 kg ~ 8 cups)

80 cups of flour/4 cups = 20 batches of 2 loafs of bread = 40 loaves.

40 loaves of bread at $2.99 (what we approximately pay at the grocer) = $119.60

Potential Savings $119.60 – $17.99 = $101.61 (minus a couple of bucks for dry yeast, oil, sugar and salt which I didn’t bother calculating when I saw how impressive the savings were)

So tell me, do you use a bread machine? If so, do you let it run a full cycle or bake it yourself?

Also, because I’m curious how much is bread flour in your neck of the woods?

Reducing food waste in This Tiny Blue House

Let me preface this post by telling you quite honestly that Mer and I were the biggest food wasters ever. It’s shameful really. We’d buy so much food unnecessarily because we were awful about eating leftovers, cooking our food wisely and being frugal.  I cannot even tell you how many times I threw perfectly good food in the trash because I was too lazy to cook it and it expired. Like I said, we were just awful.

Then, when we decided to really focus on paying down our debt (post about that coming Wednesday so stay tuned) we gave ourselves a 75.00$ grocery budget each week. Beforehand, we’d spend at least 100$ weekly and then also spend over 100$ on take out because we were big food wasters and constantly felt we had nothing to eat. Absolutely ridiculous and so incredibly wasteful.

So back to the grocery budget thing. By lowering our grocery budget we had to become far more savvy about what we bought. Not only did we slash our grocery budget but we also cut out restaurant food so that 75 bucks had to feed us 3 meals a day – 7 days a week with NO exceptions.

What worked for us was meal planning every meal and snack we’d eat so we knew exactly what we needed to buy. We’d also look at our weekly grocery store flyers to see what was on sale  before we sat down to discuss what we’d be eating that week because 75$ doesn’t get very far around here unless you buy things on sale (We live in a high COL area and food prices  often reflect it). We never did without fresh produce, fresh meat or dairy. We simply bought those items on sale and made meals around them. We tried new vegetables because they were on sale and fell in love with things like Okra and Yuca which was something neither of us had ever eaten before. Moral of the story, it is possible to slash your grocery costs if you’re okay with experimenting with cooking and eating new and delicious foods.

Reducing our food waste happened by consequence. With less food in the house we had to get creative and not waste anything because wasting just wasn’t an option anymore. We were very much aware of how much individual items cost and we became far more vigilant about how we treated food. Respect all the food!

Here are a few techniques we use to keep our food waste to a minimum. The biggies in TTBH  are bread and vegetables and these are a few things we came up with that prevent us from wasting and also provide us with extra meals at no cost. Win win situation.

Bagging up vegetable “scraps” to make soup stock and then make delicious soup

This is amazing because it makes a delicious and FREE soup stock from vegetable “scraps” you’d otherwise throw in the trash.  I have a freezer bag in my fridge at all times and every time I have uncooked veggie scraps (peels, stems, tough outer leaves) I put them in the bag to make soup. On Sunday nights  I put all my veggies in a large stock pot, cover them with water and let them boil for an hour or until tender. Strain out the veggies and you’re left with a delicious and healthy stock that you can use fresh or freeze.

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This batch had garlic, onions, carrot  ends, carrot peels, potato peels, broccoli rab stems and the other leaves of the broccoli rab that were too tough to cook.

I’ve also made stock with eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, corn, green beans. Almost all veggies work really well.

The batch I made yesterday will be used to make a minestrone this week with minestrone veggies I harvested and froze from our garden over the summer, frozen garden beans and frozen tomatoes. The entire meal is FREE.

Using Stale Bread Two Ways

Bread is the second biggest potential form of food waste  here in TTBH. We’ve always got chunks of hardened stale bread laying around. In the olden days  (ha! only 7 years ago) I’d just put it in the trash without much thought – now, I use it up in two different ways.

Sliced bread and hard crust baguettes get stored in a zip lock in my freezer. Every Friday night I pop them out of the freezer and let them thaw, chop them into chunks and prepare an amazingly delicious French toast bake to eat on Saturday morning.

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I follow this recipe, except I use old bread and I sometimes double the egg mixture depending on how much bread I have to use.  Also, I always soak it over night to sort of rehydrate the bread. It never fails and it’s always really delicious and such a treat on Saturday mornings. Margs loves it too. You can also add dried fruits like raisons, plums or apricots.

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With softer breads with less crust we make bread crumbs. Have you seen the price of bread crumbs or panko lately? Absolutely crazy considering you can make it yourself for free at home. The thing with breadcrumbs is that you need softer bread with less crust so loaves and Italian breads are perfect options. Leftover breads from dinners and such are stored on top of my fridge in a plastic tray where they dry out. Once the tray is full and the chunks are sufficiently dry I grind them up in my food processor and pass them through a colander to remove any larger pieces. I then store them in an air tight container in my pantry and season them as needed. (Salt, pepper, dried parsley & dried oregano are our go-to favorite seasonings).

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After midnight on NYE as we were walking/sleding home from a friends house!

I suppose that continuing on with our efforts to reduce food waste is one of my new years resolutions. I know I said I wasn’t setting any mostly because when I set goals I tend to fail miserably but I think we’ve really found our groove with handling food in this house so I want to keep on keeping on.

I hope you had an amazing New Year and that you’re creating awesome plans to reach your goals, resolutions and intentions for 2017. (Thank you for sharing them with me by the way, I seriously enjoyed reading them).  We were over at a friends place until far too late but we had an amazing time, were treated to a delicious meal and got to tow our kiddo in her sled because we opted to walk. Can I just tell you how peaceful the streets are at roughly 1am when you’re hauling a tiny kid in your sled? It was an exhausting but perfect night.

Now tell me, what hacks do you use to reduce your food waste?

Our Holiday Food Traditions–La Vigilia

Holiday preparations are in full swing in around here. Weeks ago, I wrote about our holiday traditions and how we’re choosing to keep things simple this Christmas. What I didn’t discuss though is our holiday food traditions which are a huge part of our celebrations. Our food choices during Christmas are probably the most important part of our holidays- even more important than presents and the menu has been the same for the last 30-something years of my life.

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We refer to Christmas Eve as La Vigilia – the night before Christmas. On that night we eat the seven fishes. This tradition was brought over by my grandparents from Italy some 60 years ago. They’ve both passed now but our family continues to honour the age old tradition of eating only fish on La Vigilia.

Traditionally, we eat cured salted cod both bone-in and boneless, octopus, smelts, shrimp, eel, scampi, lobster and mussels. Different families have different preferences but we usually tend to keep our meal the same year after year. In addition to a large spread of various fish dishes we eat a pasta made with breadcrumbs and walnuts which is native to my mothers home town in Italy.

My contribution this year are vegetarian arancini (rice balls) which are basically rice balls stuffed with a peas, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Each ball is then coated in egg and breadcrumbs and deep fried until crispy. A spicy marinara sauce on the side for dipping.

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In addition to the arancini, I’m responsible for desert this year and so I’ve prepared a hefty amount of lemon drops, zeppole and chocolate crinkle cookies to munch on. Additionally, we prepared a homemade Tiramisu cake which is a family favorite.

On Christmas day we try to keep our food choices simple. Had we opted to visit family we would have likely been served delicious lasagna, roasted lamb and spiedini but since we’re staying home we’ve decided to celebrate Christmas with a large brunch. On the menu, eggs, pancakes, French toast and ham.

What are your food traditions? I’m always curious to see what other people are eating during the holidays.

Meal Plan and Grocery Spending Week of October 14th

The weekend is just flying by. Yesterday I spent the day catching up on housework, meal planning and grocery shopping and snuggling and loving on Margs.

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Meal planning is something very new to me. I’m no expert- at all. However, it is something that I’m trying to make a regular part of our lives because it saves us money and minimizes food waste. Prior to the move and the baby I’d head to the grocery store hungry, unsure of what we were going to eat for the the week and basically spent over an hour walking through the store dumping anything and everything I thought might be useful into our cart. This led to an enormous waste of food (often things would get thrown away because we’d never get around to eating it) because I was really overbuying, a crazy high grocery bill and mismatched food items that didn’t go together making breakfasts, lunches and dinners far more complicated than they really needed to be.

I don’t tend to stress myself out with planning exactly what we’ll eat and when. That’s far too constrictive for our family. Instead, I come up with7 dinner meals that I plan to make each week based on what I have left in my freezer and pantry and then build meals we enjoy around it by buying any missing items I need to prepare each meal. Most days,  Mer and I discuss dinner over our morning coffees and choose something off the weekly meal plan that we feel is a good fit for that day.

Here’s a list of what’s on our menu this week.

1/ Baked chicken breasts with rice and broccoli

2/ Chili and garden salad

3/ Breakfast for dinner – scrambled eggs, ham and pancakes

4/ Pasta with meat sauce

5/ Swedish meatballs, fries and garden salad

6/ Roast beef, roast potatoes and green beans

7/ Wing it/ leftovers

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Total spent on food : 62$ including staples like eggs, milk, bread