Friday, September 9, 2016

Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix

This summer while my sister was staying with us, she shared my grandma's ranch dressing recipe with me. It is a million times better than store-bought, but it calls for buttermilk. I have a couple of problems with that. First, I hardly ever have buttermilk on hand. Second, if I do happen to have it or remember to buy it, I can pretty much never use the whole carton before it goes bad. Enter one of my new favorite ingredients: BUTTERMILK POWDER!

This product is a revelation! Not too long ago, we got a new Safeway in our neighborhood. The old one stayed open for a few months and then eventually closed this summer. Before closing, the store needed to get rid of its inventory so all the pantry items went 50% off. By the time we made it over there to check out the deals, most of the good stuff was gone. But I did happen to notice the buttermilk powder in the baking section. I picked it up and then promptly forgot about it until the other day when I wanted to make dressing to eat with some veggies from our CSA. I didn't have buttermilk but remembered the powder languishing in the pantry. I mixed up the amount of buttermilk I needed then proceeded with the rest of the recipe. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it tasted just the same as using fresh buttermilk. 

That got me thinking that maybe I could use the buttermilk powder to mix up my own ranch seasoning mix. I see a lot of recipes that call for ranch mix but I'm not too crazy about all the preservatives hiding in those Hidden Valley packets. Not to mention how expensive they are! I decided to give it a try and it was so good I'll never go back. You can mix up just one recipe's worth or you can mix up a big batch to have on hand. Check out my video and the recipe below!

Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix
Prep: 5 minutes
Yield: 5 1/2 tablespoons = 1 storebought packet

1/4 cup buttermilk powder
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Accent (optional)

Combine ingredients and use immediately or store in the fridge.

To make ranch dressing: Combine seasoning mix with 1 cup milk or water and 1 cup mayonnaise. 

To make ranch dip: Combine with 2 cups sour cream or 1 cup sour cream and 1 cup mayonnaise.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Meal Plan: August 22 - 28

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Monday: King Ranch Chicken Casserole
Tuesday: Potato Soup
Wednesday: Sloppy Joes w/ corn on the cob
Thursday: Dinner Out
Friday: Leftover Sloppy Joes
Saturday Lunch: Potato Hash w/ Eggs
Saturday Dinner: Tomato, Broccoli, and Mozzarella Pasta Casserole
Sunday Lunch: Potato Hash w/ Eggs
Sunday Dinner: Leftover Tomato, Broccoli, and Mozzarella Pasta Casserole

Michael's Work Lunches: Chicken Caesar Wraps
Tracy's Work Lunches: Misc.

Nothing too exciting on the menu this week. I'm trying out something new for the Sloppy Joes. I am making a meat-free ground beef substitute to mix half and half with regular ground beef. Keep an eye out for that video and blog post in the coming weeks. I also made a quick video showing how I make ranch seasoning mix (which I used in the King Ranch Chicken Casserole) so keep an eye out for that too!

Grocery Haul: August 22 - 28

Safeway ($34.05)
Safeway Great Northern Beans 16 oz - $1.50 ($0.09/oz)
     Regular price: $1.99
Safeway Apple Cider Vinegar 1 gallon - $4.99 ($4.99/gal)
     Regular price: $5.59
Goya Long Grain Brown Rice 16 oz - $1.19 ($0.07/oz)
Mission Tortilla Chips 13 oz - $2.50 ($0.19/oz)
     Regular price: $3.19
Lucerne Half & Half 1 qt - $2.79 ($0.09/fl oz)
     Regular price: $2.99
Lucerne Cottage Cheese 16 oz - $1.99
     Regular price: $2.29
Safeway Organic Fresh Mozzarella 8 oz - $4.79 ($0.60/oz)
     Regular price: $5.00
~5 lb 80/20 Ground Beef - $9.89 ($1.99/lb)
     Regular price: $3.99/lb
3.62 lb Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast - $7.22 ($1.99/lb)
1 Bunch Italian Parsley - $1.29
1 Poblano Pepper - $0.75 ($2.99/lb)

We forgot to bring our bags so we also had a $0.15 bag charge and we also had a $5 off of $25 coupon.

Penzey's ($0)
1/2 cup jar of BBQ 3000 Seasoning - FREE

And here are the weights/amounts of everything we got from the CSA this week, I'm tracking this so I can do an analysis at the end of the season to see if it's worth it to sign up again next year or if we should just stick with the farmer's market.

6 necatrines - 1 lb, 14 oz
4 peaches - 1 lb, 10 oz
4 zucchini - 1 lb, 6 oz
6 Kirby cucumbers - 1 lb, 10 oz
6 ears sweet corn - 4 lbs, 3 oz
1 bag loose basil - 8 oz
3 yellow peppers - 1 lb
3 poblano peppers - 3 oz
1 watermelon - 4 lb
2 apples - 1 lb, 3 oz

Total: 17 lb, 9 oz. So that's about $1.71/lb on average.

That's it for this week's haul. Stay tuned for our meal plan for this week!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Grocery Haul: August 15 - 21

My grocery haul this week is on the larger side. Harris Teeter was having a triple coupon week, tripling all coupons up to $.99. I snagged some great deals on things to beef up our pantry. We wanted to have most of our budget to spend at Harris Teeter, so the only other place we went (besides our CSA) was Penzey's to take advantage of a great coupon offer they had. Check out what we got!

Harris Teeter ($50.79)
Kraft Caesar Dressing 16 oz - $1.98 ($0.12/oz)
(2) Arm & Hammer Baking Soda 8 oz ea - $0.14 ea ($0.02/oz)
          regular price: $0.89 ea
Skippy Peanut Butter 16 oz - $1.20
          regular price: $2.85
(5) Skippy Peanut Butter Singles 9oz - $0.35 ea ($0.04/oz)
         regular price: $2.89 ea
(2) Dole Mandarin Oranges in 100% Fruit Juice 23.5 oz ea - $1.64 ea ($0.07/oz)
          regular price: $3.89 ea
French's Spicy Brown Mustard 12 oz - $0.69 ($0.06/oz)
          regular price: $2.19
French's Worcestershire Sauce 10 oz - $0.69 ($0.07/oz)
          regular price: $1.59
(2) Harris Teeter Stewed Tomatoes - 14.5 oz - $0.60 ea ($0.04/oz)
          regular price: $0.79 ea
(2) Harris Teeter Diced Tomatoes w/ Green Chiles 14.5 oz - $0.60 ea ($0.04/oz)
          regular price: $0.79 ea
Harris Teeter Kidney Beans 15 oz - $0.60 ea ($0.04/oz)
          regular price: $0.79 ea
(3) Harris Teeter Canned Corn 14.5 oz - $0.60 ea ($0.04/oz)
          regular price: $0.79 ea
(2) Barilla Pasta Sauce 24 oz - $0.24 ($0.01/oz)
          regular price: $2.49 ea
Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips 10 oz - $3.79 ($0.38/oz)
Angus Stew Beef 1.08 lb - $4.53 ($4.16/lb)
          regular price: $5.99/lb
(2) Blackberries 6 oz - $1.97 ea ($0.33/oz)
(2) White Mushrooms 8 oz - $0.99 ea ($1.98/lb)
Harris Teeter Hot Dog Buns 8ct - $1.17
(4) Challenge European Style Butter 8 oz - $.74 ea ($1.48/lb)
          regular price: $2.99 ea
Harris Teeter Monterey Jack Cheese 16 oz - $4.49 ($4.49/lb)
Harris Teeter Lite Sour Cream 24 oz - $1.77 ($0.07/oz)
          regular price: $2.99
Harris Teeter 2% Milk 1 gallon - $3.89 ($3.89/gal)
(2) Butterball Turkey Bacon 12 oz - $1.32 ea ($0.11/oz)
         regular price: $3.29 ea
Harris Teeter Flour Tortillas 10ct - $1.99
Harris Teeter Corn Tortillas - $1.49

I saved a total of $39.72 this week at Harris Teeter!

Penzey's ($5.95)
A word on Penzey's: I don't remember how I first heard about this specialty spice store but it has been life changing! Their spices are extremely high quality and very fresh. They have a huge selection of products, including many that you can't find in the regular grocery store. They even have something like twelve different types of cinnamon! They have brick and mortar stores across the country and they are also online. We are lucky enough to live just a few minutes away from one of their stores and it is so much fun to just go in and browse. If you visit them in person, they have jars with every product so you can smell before you buy. But probably the best part about Penzey's is their amazing coupons! If you sign up for their email list, they will send you lots of coupons, sometimes one every week. Many of their coupons require you to spend a small amount (usually $3 or $5) to get a free product, but they also have lots of coupons for free jars of spices with no purchase required! This might not be as good a deal if you don't live near a brick and mortar location because you'd still have to pay shipping, but if you can get to a store in person you can really build up your spice collection without spending much! Here's what we got there this week:

1/4 cup jar of Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle - $5.95
1/4 cup jar of Cilantro - FREE
1/4 cup jar of Minced Garlic - FREE
1/2 cup jar of Salsa & Pico Seasoning - FREE (This is a really fun blend that you add to fresh or canned tomatoes for instant salsa! I also use this to season my taco pie.)

And here are the weights/amounts of everything we got from the CSA this week, I'm tracking this so I can do an analysis at the end of the season to see if it's worth it to sign up again next year or if we should just stick with the farmer's market.

4 Kirby cucumbers - 1 lb, 5 oz
4 Afghan eggplants - 13 oz
6 ears sweet corn - 5 lbs
1 green bell pepper - 7 oz
2 zucchini - 1 lb, 2 oz
5 necatrines - 1 lb, 12 oz
3 peaches - 1 lb, 2 oz
1 heirloom tomato - 1 lb
3 tomatoes - 1 lb, 11 oz
4 Zestar apples - 1 lb, 8 oz
1 pint blueberries - 12 oz
1 head romaine lettuce - 1 lb, 6 oz

Total: 17 lb, 4 oz. So that's about $1.68/lb on average.

That's it for this week's haul. Stay tuned for our meal plan for this week!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Meal Plan: August 8 - 14

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Monday: Frozen pizza
Tuesday: Zucchini Lasagna
Wednesday: BLT Salads
Thursday: Zucchini Lasagna
Friday: Caprese Panini
Saturday Lunch: Caprese Panini
Saturday Dinner: Shish Kabobs w/ Oriental Rice Pilaf
Sunday Lunch: BLTs
Sunday Dinner: Shish Kabobs w/Oriental Rice Pilaf

Michael's Work Lunches: Chicken Caesar Wraps
Tracy's Work Lunches: Chicken and Veggie Lo Mein

On Sunday, Michael and I both prepared our lunches for the week. I made my lo mein and portioned it out into 5 jars for a grab and go lunch. Michael mixed up the Caesar chicken filling for his wraps and will assemble them fresh with lettuce every morning so they don't get soggy. We really make it a goal to prep our lunches each Sunday so we don't have to waste money eating out at work. I think eating lunch out every day is a huge drain on a lot of people's budgets, so we really try to avoid that.

We had a late work night on Monday so we ended up stopping to pick up a frozen pizza for dinner, but we're back on track for the rest of the week! Hopefully I can get a video for you all of the Caprese panini. We made these a couple weeks ago and they were so easy and so delicious. And if you checked out our latest grocery haul you'll see that we splurged on some fancy mozarella that is going to make them even tastier! Til next time!

Grocery Haul - August 8 - 14

Check out the video of my latest grocery haul below!

Here's a breakdown of the prices for those of you who are interested:

Kirkland Organic Olive Oil 2L - $11.99 ($0.18/fl oz)
Kirkland Organic Tortilla Chips 40 oz - $4.99 ($0.12/oz)
Organic carrots 10lb - $6.99 ($0.70/lb)
Vidalia onions 10lb - $6.99 ($0.70/lb)
Garlic 2lb - $5.49 ($2.75/lb)
Kirkland Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts 7.54lb - $21.06 ($2.79/lb)

Harris Teeter
Green cabbage 2.03lb - $0.99 ($0.49/lb)
Pineapple - $2.99 each
Cheez-Its 12.4oz - $1.97 ($0.16/oz)
Green onions - $0.79 per bunch

MOM's Organic Market
Organic Valley Part-Skim Mozarella 0.42lb - $4.95 ($0.74/oz)
Natural by Nature Grass Fed Whole Milk Ricotta 15 oz - $6.49 ($0.43/oz)

And her are the weights/amounts of everything we got from the CSA this week, I'm tracking this so I can do an analysis at the end of the season to see if it's worth it to sign up again next year or if we should just stick with the farmer's market.

Cherry tomatoes 1 lb
2 green peppers - 1 lb
2 tomatoes - 1 lb, 5 oz
3 zucchini - 2 lb, 2 oz
1 head romaine lettuce 8 oz
Basil 8 oz
4 nectarines - 1 lb, 9 oz
7 peaches - 3 lb
3 donut peaches - 12 oz

So total this week, we had 11 lbs, 12 oz of fruits and vegetables which comes to around $2.55/lb.

That's it for this week's haul. My next post will give the details of our meal plan this week so be sure to check back!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Cooking Under Pressure: Pinto Beans

Today I'm sharing the pressure cooker recipe I make more than anything else: pinto beans! 

Beans are an amazing source of nutrients. They are high in fiber and low in fat, making them a great ingredient for more healthful cooking. Another bonus: they are crazy cheap! You can find dry beans for anywhere from $.50 to $1.50 a pound. And that's in their dry form! They'll about double their weight when you cook them making them $.25 to $.75 a pound! The cheapest meat I can buy is at least $2 a pound. Cooking with beans can save you a ton of money and do wonders for your health. 

Beans are great for your body and your budget, so what's the catch? Why isn't everyone on board the bean train? The main problem with beans is that they take a long time to cook and you have to remember to soak them first. You could buy canned beans but they are often loaded with sodium and it's much cheaper to cook with dry beans. The solution? A pressure cooker! I got an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker as a wedding gift and it has been a revelation for me in more ways than one. But the best thing about this appliance is that it cooks beans from dry to plump and delicious in no time flat. 

I grew up in Southern California so I LOVE Mexican food and cook it often. I used to buy canned beans for my recipes, but now with my pressure cooker I don't have to! Here is my recipe for super flavorful pressure cooker pinto beans. And be sure to check out the video above for my tip on freezing these beans for future fast meals.

Pressure Cooker Pinto Beans
Prep: 5 minutes     Cook: 65 minutes
Yield: 8 cups

2 tablespoons fat of your choice (I use vegetable shortening, but you can use lard, bacon fat, etc.)
1/2 cup onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon epazote (you can find thsi at Mexican markets or purchase from
2 4-oz cans diced green chiles, undrained
1 pound dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted
5 cups water

To the inner pot of your electric pressure cooker, add the fat and chopped onion. Press the sauté button and cook until the onion is slightly translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 30 seconds. Add the epazote and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Add the green chiles, pinto beans, and water. Be sure you are not overfilling your pressure cooker. Put the lid on. Cook on high pressure for 50 minutes. After 50 minutes has elapsed, allow the pressure to naturally release for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, quick-release the remaining pressure by switching the tab from the sealing position to the venting position. Once the pressure has released completely, remove the lid. At this point you can add salt to taste then serve or store the beans.

If you'd like to make refried beans, just use an immersion blender right in you pressure cooker pot to blend the beans to your desired consistency. They may seem soupy at first, but will thicken substantially if you let them sit a while. If they still seem too soupy, turn on the sauté button and cook them down to your desired consistency.