Archive for October, 2008

Soup: A Quick and Inexpensive Meal

Soup makes an easy and inexpensive meal any time of the year.

Soup makes an easy and inexpensive meal any time of the year.

I like to save money, but with four kids I’m all about the quick and easy. Soup is a great way to fix a healthy, homemade meal for your family and save both time and money. Soup is easy to make. It can be made out of virtually anything in your refrigerator or pantry. It’s very forgiving. Out of parsnips? Throw in a potato. Have some celery going bad in the crisper? Throw it in! Have a two year-old that loves carrots? Throw some in! Best of all, you can easily make a larger batch of soup for only a little more money. Since soup is generally better the second day anyway, make a double batch and serve it for lunch through the week or even freeze some for a quick weeknight dinner when you aren’t up to cooking.

My favorite soup started out as a way to have the Olive Garden’s Zuppa Tuscana at home. As I played around with the recipe, it became less like the restaurant version and turned into a family favorite. Chock full of leafy, green kale and chunks of potatoes, this soup is inexpensive to make and to cut the cost even further you can use homemade broth and can cut back on the amount of sausage used in the soup. Don’t leave out the sausage though. The flavor of the soup depends mainly on the taste of the sausage so use sausage that you love. We find that the spicier, the better. You add just a touch of cream, just to give it a creamy look, not enough to add a lot of extra fat and calories. You can also use milk if you prefer.

Here are a few more delicious soup recipes to add to your repertoire:

  • Simple White Bean Soup from Simple Daily Recipes is quick, easy and filling.
  • Sopa Aguada (Mexican Pasta Soup) from What’s Cooking? is simple to make and can easily be adapted to the tastes of your family. Odds are, you have everything to make this one in your pantry right now!
  • Bean, Bacon and Chicken Soup from Karin Calloway is another one of our family favorites. I ofen use leftover chicken and whatever bacon I have on hand in this one. Feel free to play around with the proprtions to suit your budget.
  • Ecuadorian Locro from She’s Becoming Doughmesstic is a potato soup I made recently and I think it has to be my favorite potato soup recipe of all time. The recipe called for Muenster cheese (which I had in my fridge left over from another recipe.) It added a unique flavor to the soup though I think the recipe would hold up with any other cheese.
  • How about a hearty bowl of French Onion Soup? It always hits the spot and can easily be topped with leftover bread and whatever cheese you have on hand. I often use fewer onions than the recipe calls for, depending on how many I have on hand or if onions are on sale that week.

Teresa’s Toscana Soup

4 cups chicken stock or broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more, depending on your tastes)
1 medium russet potato, scrubbed
2-3 cups Kale, chopped
1/2 pound spicy Italian Sausage
1 tablespoon heavy cream (more or less)

Place stock in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add salt and pepper flakes, adjusting for your tastes. More pepper flakes if you prefer a spicier dish, fewer if you don’t.

Cut the un-peeled potato in half, then into 1/4 inch slices and then cut those slices in half and add them to the soup.

Add the kale.

Brown the sausage. Drain and add the sausage to the soup.

Let the soup simmer until the potatoes are soft. Stir occasionally.

Add cream, stir and remove from heat.

Serve immediately topped with Parmesan cheese.

October 29, 2008 at 8:15 am 2 comments

Sometimes All You Have to Do is Ask

Yes. We even got our cat Bella and our purebredd German Short-Haired Pointer Sophie for free!

Yes. We even got our cat, Bella and our purebred German Short-Haired Pointer, Sophie for free!

There’s something to be said for being open and honest. After all, what do you have to gain by pretending all is well in your financial world? These days, who isn’t struggling financially? I’m not suggesting that you go out begging for things, just that you open yourself up to taking advantage of happy opportunities. 😉

We spend a lot of time shopping at garage sales and thrift stores and often talk to friends and family about our adventures. We talk about bargains we’ve found and things we’re still looking for. Because people know what we are looking for and because they know we are open to previously-owned items, we’ve “lucked” into quite a few wonderful — and free — surprises:

  • Tons of hand-me-down clothes and toys from friends and family for the kids. Such a great help, especially when the kids were small.
  • A new (to me) computer desk given to me by our neighbor who was moving.
  • Loads of produce from a neighbors garden.
  • Several nice filing cabinets and a desk from a national politician’s local office after the last election.
  • A big mirror to go over the vanity in our bathroom (and one for the girl’s room too) when a local hotel was doing a big remodel.
  • A beautiful wooden king-sized headboard and frame.
  • A hot tub given to us by an acquaintance who was getting a new tub. The delivery people would haul away the old one when they brought the new one but if we’d take it out before they came, we could have it. It had been used in the house and was just like new.
  • A Ford Explorer! Yep. Free! My hubby’s boss had one about the same year as ours. He was looking to get rid of his and when he heard that ours needed a new transmission, he gave us his to use as parts. When it got here, it turned out his was in much better shape all around so we drove it and got rid of the original one!

Those are things we’ve gotten for free — just by opening ourselves up to the possibilities. Sure I could just run to the mall for the kid’s clothes or to the grocery store for produce but when you look at the money we’ve saved, you can see how the money we’ve saved by looking outside the box has improved our quality of life.

Put the word out. What do you need? Firewood? There’s probably someone out there willing to give you the wood if you chop it up and/or haul it away. Need new kitchen cabinets? Lots of people tear out perfectly good cabinets because they are tired of them or they don’t care for the style. A friend was able to carpet her (large) family room for free when she was able to find a carpet that had been incorrectly installed in someone’s house. The carpet store came back and replaced it and was just going to throw the brand new carpet away.

At the same time, what do you have laying around that you aren’t using? Is there someone out there who would be thrilled to have it? Wouldn’t you be thrilled to stop tripping over it?You know what they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! Let people know what you want. You never know, you may just get something you need! A good place to start looking is Freecycle. Freecycle is a great way to fid just what you were looking for (or to find a home for some of that clutter piling up around you!) Be sure to check out your local Freecycle group.

Have you ever gotten something really great for free? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

October 28, 2008 at 9:50 am Leave a comment

Breakfast Panini

A quick and easy way to turn a plain old bacon sandwich into a real meal.

A quick and easy way to turn a plain old bacon sandwich into a real meal.

Preparing an exciting meal for your family doesn’t have to be expensive. It just takes a little thought. You could throw a couple of slices of bacon on some bread and maybe even add a fried egg. That would be fine … but maybe a little boring. With a little more thought and not much more money, you can turn that ho-hum sandwich into something extraordinary.

This recipe that I found at a great blog called Inn Cuisine, starts out with a scrambled egg rather than fried. This is great for our family because I can control how much egg goes on each sandwich. It also allows you to stretch out the eggs if you need to make an extra sandwich or two. After scrambling the eggs, you layer the ingredients on some good bread. I am trying to save money but one area where I won’t scrimp is on good bread. I always try to find some good whole wheat bread for my family. Tomato, spinach leaves and cheese make this sandwich special. Any cheeses would work. I used Provolone because I had some left from the French Onion Soup I made last week. I didn’t have cheddar so I substituted some American cheese I had in the refrigerator. I left out the balsamic glaze because I was in a hurry and I forgot to add it. (Very sad because I love balsamic vinegar!) The sandwich had plenty of flavor without it though and brushing some olive oil flavored with dry herbs that you probably have in your spice rack already on the outside of the bread elevated this sandwich to the level of one I’d be willing to pay for!

For not much more money and not much more time, you have a filling and delicious meal that your family will request again and again!

Italian Breakfast Panini
Recipe courtesy Aska Lodge B&B, adapted from

3 eggs
1/8 tsp. salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
2 (3/4 oz.) slices sharp Cheddar cheese
1 small Roma tomato, thinly sliced
1 small handful baby spinach leaves
4 slices cooked bacon or Canadian bacon
2 (3/4 oz.) slices Provolone
4 slices oatmeal, sourdough, or any dense bread
Balsamic glaze
3 T Olive oil mixed with 1 tsp.Italian seasoning

Scramble eggs with salt & pepper. Brush one side of each bread slice with olive oil mixture (this side will be out). Layer cheddar cheese, tomato, spinach, bacon, eggs (drizzled with Balsamic glaze) and Provolone on 2 slices of bread, top with remaining bread. Cook 3-5 minutes on panini grill or in a grill pan. Slice diagonally in half.

Yield: 2 servings or 4 half servings.

October 26, 2008 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

Creamy Onion Soup: Inexpensive Dinner for a Cool, Fall Evening

This quick, easy and inexpensive Creamy Onion Soup had dh raving about how tasty it was … even after I told him that it was healthy too! This creamy soup doesn’t contain any dairy products. (The creamy consistency results from the use of a potato. Who knew? LOL!) And can be thrown together with items most people keep in their pantry. Add some warm bread and a simple green salad and we had a nice, satisfying, yet inexpensive meal.

This recipe is from a really great blog that I’ve only recently discovered: Dutch Girl Cooking. The blog is full of great ideas and amazing photos. Be sure to check it out for detailed step-by-step Creamy Onion Soup photos. And while you’re visiting Dutch Girl Cooking, be sure to check out her recipe for Stuffed Zucchini that I’m planning to make this weekend!

Creamy Onion Soup

Recipe from Dutch Girl Cooking

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups beef broth
1 potato

2 slices white bread (stale)
grated cheese
1 tbsp oil

Coarsely chop onions and potato. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil or 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large sauce pan. Add onions, potato and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Stir; lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Cut 2 stale slices of white bread (I used wheat) into cubes. Add some chopped fresh herbs. (I used basil and parsley.) Mix with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

Stir onion mixture. Add salt, pepper and a touch of nutmeg. Replace lid

Place bread crumb mixture into an oven safe baking dish and liberally sprinkle with grated cheese. (I used Parmesan.) Place in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Stir and return to oven until bread cubes are browned and crunchy. Remove from oven and crumble slightly.

Add beef broth to the onion mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup until smooth.

Serve in a bowl with croutons sprinkled on top.

October 24, 2008 at 1:35 pm Leave a comment

We’re the Lucky Ones

We aren’t in danger of losing our home.

Hubby’s job is secure (at least for now.)

We don’t have to go to bed hungry every night.

But we aren’t saving money the way we should. Hubby makes decent money but yet at the end of every week, there’s not as much money left as there should be. We have four kids that need to go to college and hopefully someday we’ll be able to enjoy hubby’s retirement. We need to get a grip on this whole financial thing. Now. Before it becomes an emergency.

We made some choices long ago that will help make this transition a little easier.

  • We drive older cars. The insurance is less and we don’t have to have a monthly car payment.
  • We bought “less” house than we could have. “Less”, according to the bank and the real estate agents must mean that a two-story house with 3 bedrooms and two baths, two+ acres, a two-car garage, a barn and a storage shed is not enough space for two parents and one young child. We bought based on what we could afford on hubby’s salary so that I wasn’t going to have to work simply to support the house.
  • I shop garage sales when I can. I worked in a good department store during college so I know good, quality brands when I see them. A good percentage of my daughters’ wardrobes comes from consignment stores and garage sales. Gap Kids, Limited Too, Abercrombie & Fitch, Tommy Hilfiger … all looking like new and picked up for pennies on the dollar.
  • We don’t use credit cards. At. All. If we can’t afford to pay cash for it, we don’t need it.
  • I enjoy cooking so I cook almost all of our meals at home. We rarely eat out and when we do it’s a special event, not something taken for granted and forgotten a few hours later.

We’re lucky. Very lucky. In December 2001,  hubby was diagnosed with Acute Mylogenous Leukemia (AML). AML is an aggressive form of leukemia that generally doesn’t offer a very good prognosis. Of all the other AML patients we met during the 18 months that hubby battled this horrible disease, Hubby is the only survivor. Right before hubby was diagnosed we discovered that I was pregnant with our fourth child. It was a pretty traumatic time for all of us. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours. At the end of my pregnancy, I developed my own life-threatening condition, Peripartum Cardiomyopathy. My heart became enlarged and was unable to pump, thrusting me into congestive heart failure and into a stay in the ICU.

I’ll say it again: We were lucky. Hubby went into remission and has reached the point where his doctors have used the “cured” word. It took awhile but my heart is back to normal size and function. Also lucky was the fact that we’d implemented these changes before we got sick. Hubby was unable to work for 18 months. I would have been physically unable to work for at least a year. Hubby had disability insurance that matched his paycheck and since we didn’t have car payments and a house that required my paycheck to maintain, we didn’t have to worry about losing our home. We didn’t have any credit card bills to worry about. At a time when I had plenty of things to worry about, at least money wasn’t one of those things.

This blog is going to be a way for me to document this journey to financial freedom. I plan to explore ways to cut the excess from our grocery budget (and maybe to make a budget while we’re at it!), to provide four kids with all the necessities and luxuries that they deserve, to make our home a beautiful and happy place and to show that you can live the Good Life without spending a lot of money.

October 23, 2008 at 5:09 pm Leave a comment

The Good Life!

There was a time, lots of years ago, when I first left my job to stay home with my son, that money was pretty tight. We’d been used to two salaries and it was a bit of an adjustment to live on one. I was a lot younger back than. (That “baby” is off at college now!) I didn’t mind living on boxed mac ‘n cheese or hamburger helper. I didn’t mind that our entire household was made up of mis-matched garage sale finds or hand-me-downs. I was young and skinny and looked good in jeans and cheap t-shirts.

Fast forward fifteen years. I’m 43 now. I have four kids: Jack is 18 and off at college; George is 13 and has lots of expensive hobbies; Kat is 10 and already wanting to keep up with the latest styles; and then there is 6 year old Lily, growing like a weed and needing new clothes every time I turn around. I’m tired of living in a mis-matched home. I’m not 28 anymore. Throwing on a t-shirt doesn’t get me out the door. I’ve learned how to cook and boxed, preservative-laden foods aren’t going to cut it anymore.

I shouldn’t have to give up the healthy lifestyle I want just to save money. Help me explore ways that I can keep my family — and myself — happy and healthy while staying on a budget!

October 23, 2008 at 11:35 am Leave a comment

About Me

I'm a stay-at-home mom with four great kids, three cats and two dogs. I want to live the good life but I want to save money too and I'm not willing to live on boxes of mac 'n cheese and hamburger helper to do it! I deserve to have a life ... a good life!

Like Great Food?

Check out my other blog, I'm Running to Eat! for more great recipe ideas.