Friday, September 18, 2009

Frugal 15 Bean Soup at Pinto Bean Prices

15 bean soup is one of my favorite dinner staples but 1 pound of the "15 Beans" is over $4.00! That price moves them out of "Frugal" and into "Extravagent in my book! I have figured out a way to get my multi-bean fix without that high price by mixing the beans myself.

I started with a 5 gallon bucket and 10 pounds of the cheapest beans I could find: pinto beans on sale for $4.99 for 10 pounds. As I see other beans on sale I add them to the bucket:

1 pound of Baby Lima Beans at $1.45

1 pound of Small Navy Beans at $1.28

1 pound of Black Beans at $0.99

2 pounds of Garbanzo Beans at $0.85 per pound

I just add what comes on sale and never buy anything over $1.50 a pound. To balance the price and add to the mix, I also added Pearl Barley at $0.66 a pound and Split Peas at $0.59 a pound. At first we were eating mainly pinto beans but as I have added more sale items the variety has grown

When I am ready to make some soup--I just stir the top of the bucket and scoop out a couple of cups of the mixed beans! I could also stir up the whole bucket at this point and scoop all the beans into quart containers and use the bucket for something else until I need to make more 15 Bean Soup Mix!

Crock Pot 15 Bean Soup
2 cups of Mixed Beans
2 Carrots, chopped
1/2 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 tablespoons of Ham-Base(Ham Bouillon)
Spices to taste.
up to 3 quarts of Water

Put everything in a 1 gallon crock pot, fill with the water. Turn on Low and cook 8-12 hours until the beans are done. Add a bit of meat if desired.

Makes about 16 servings of 15 bean soup for less than $0.25 per serving.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cook ahead staples save time and money.

Time is the number one reason cited by people to explain why they eat out instead of cooking at home. Healthy food takes a while to cook properly and the busier our lives get, the harder it is to find the time to cook. Rather than giving up on cooking, learn to cook smarter--convenience foods are convenient because they are precooked and we can use that simple concept to make our own food shortcuts.

Brown rice: I love brown rice and it is probably one of the healthiest things you can eat but let's face it--that stuff takes a minimum of 55 minutes to cook. If your tired and hungry, brown rice isn't going to be on the menu unless you plan ahead.

Brown Rice
Boil-In-Bags of rice are showing up in the market and these are a great idea but way too expensive for my kitchen so I make my own heat and eat rice. Scale up your favorite method for cooking the rice so that you have 4 cups or more of cooked rice. Let it cool and spread it out on a cookie sheet and put the whole thing in the freezer. After a couple of hours, the rice is frozen. Spray the frozen rice with non-stick spray like Pam, put it in a freezer container and keep it frozen for up to 6 months. To use it, scoop out the amount you need and microwave it or put the frozen rice in a colander and run hot water over it, drain and serve.

Standard Brown Rice Recipe
2 cups Brown Rice
5 cups water
Start by bringing the water to a boil. Add the rice, salt and butter, and give it ONE stir. Cover the pot.

Return the pot to a boil, then turn the stove down to simmer and set the timer. It can take 45-55 minutes to cook brown rice. When cooking any and all rice, never stir the rice while it is cooking or you will end up with very mushy rice!

Beans: Beans are another super-healthy food that takes way too long to cook on a daily basis. Frozen beans cooked ahead of time make it much quicker to use beans in hurry-up meals.

Basic Beans
2 cups of dry beans
6 cups of water
Bring the beans and water to a boil in a heavy pot. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak for at least an hour or overnight. Drain and rinse the soaked beans and put them back into the pan with enough fresh water or vegetable stock to cover them. Cook at a simmer for 1-2 hours until they taste almost "done" but still a little firm. Avoid stirring too much since that will break up the beans. Dip beans out of the cooking liquid and put them into a muffin or cupcake pan with just enough liquid to fill up the space between the beans. Freeze for a few hours, then pop the beans out of the pan and store in an airtight bag in the freezer. Don't make too many at once and try to use the frozen beans in 2-3 months.

Potato Short Cuts
Potatoes are fairly quick to cook so they do make it to the dinner table regularly as boiled, mashed or baked potatoes. Because of the starch content, potatoes change consistency and flavor if they have been cooked, cooled and then cooked again allowing for a much wider variety of potato dishes. When you do cook potatoes, always make a point of cooking twice as many as you need so that you have cooked and cooled taters on hand for the next recipe. Cooked potatoes can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days and can be frozen for 2-3 months.

Smashed Potatoes
This simple alternative to baked potatoes makes an excellent side dish. Take a cooked and cooled potato, place it in a baking pan and use a spatula or coffee mug to squash it to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle with a tiny amount of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and spices to taste. Brown under the broiler for 3-5 minutes until crusty brown.

Slice cooked and cooled into wedges. Toss in a bowl with a teaspoon of oil, salt and spices to taste. Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes until browned, turning at least once during the cooking.

Hash has an interesting history in the US including the fact that hash was so popular at times that restaurants, called Hash Houses, opened all over the country and served nothing but hash--not bad for a food that is basically leftovers and potatoes!

Breakfast Hash
Chop 1/2 of an onion and 2 slices of bacon. Start frying together and add a large cooked and cooled potato that has been diced. Cook everything together, add salt and pepper to taste, until the potatoes are browned nicely. Crack 2 eggs on the top and stir them in. Put a lid on the pan and cook the eggs for a few minutes. Eat as is with toast or roll up in a tortilla for hash to go!

Monday, September 14, 2009


The word soup comes from French soupe ("soup", "broth"), which comes through Vulgar Latin suppa ("bread soaked in broth") from a Germanic source, from which also comes the word "sop", a piece of bread used to soak up soup or a thick stew.

The word restaurant (meaning "[something] restoring") was first used in France in the 16th century, to describe a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup, sold by street vendors, that was advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion. In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such soups. This prompted the use of the modern word restaurant to describe the shops.

No matter what you call it, soup is a healthy and frugal alternative to Modern Western Foods. There are a million recipes for soup available on the internet but following a recipe defeats the frugality of traditional sop--which is made from items on hand. My usual method of making soup goes like this--

1) Notice a few veggies in the crisper that are past their prime-3 carrots, 1/2 onion, celery root end, 1/2 eggplant - Time to Make Soup!

2) Scavenge through the fridge and freezer for complementary meat-1 frozen chicken thigh, 3 strips of bacon, 1/2 package of ham lunch meat, 1/2 pound of frozen round steak. The ham lunch meat is the closest to its "Use By" date.

3) What starch goes good with ham? Split peas or lentils? Find 1/2 bag of Lima Beans in the pantry--Score!

4) Put Lima beans to cook in a pot. 2 cups of beans and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to low. 2 hours later, saute onion and chopped celery root with chopped bacon, chop carrots into fancy bias cuts about the same size as the Lima beans. There isn't a lot of fat in my ingredients so I don't drain the bacon grease--add sauteed veggies and bacon and carrots to pot. One hour before dinner, I will chop the eggplant into cubes and the ham into 1/4 inch wide strips and add them to the pot.

5) Do a quick look on the internet for spice and herb ideas--What would I add to ham? Salt, pepper and mustard, I add 2 tablespoon of mustard and a teaspoon of pepper to the soup for a little zing. When I do this last step, I taste the soup and look at it--Too thin? Add a handful of pasta or leave off the lid so that the steam escapes and thickens the soup. Not "rich" enough?, add a teaspoon of chicken or ham bouillon or a tablespoon of Kitchen Bouquet. Salt is only added at the table--too much salt is the worst mistake you can make in soup.

6) Serve soup for dinner with fresh bread and hear, "This is the best soup ever. Is there enough to take for lunch tomorrow?" Yes, there is! Serves 6 for about 50 cents each!

Basic Ingredients
All soups follow a pattern that is easily adapted to the Frugal Kitchen: Water + protein + fat + vegetables + starch. Only the differences in quantities account for the different varieties of soup. So we have a basic recipe that looks like this--

Chicken stock(water + protein + fat), vegetables, pasta = Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken stock(water + protein + fat), vegetables, biscuit dough = Chicken & Dumplings

Liquid starters
Chicken, Beef, Ham, or Vegetable Stock
Bouillon cubes & water

Protein Choices
Smoked Meats
Vegetarian Meat Substitutes
Bacon or Bacon Fat
Sour Cream or Heavy Cream

Starchy Additions
Pasta or noodles
Biscuit Dough
Grains(Barley, oats,
Legumes(Split peas, Orange, Yellow, or Tan Legumes)

Vegetables Mild or Strong
Mild veggies can be mixed and matched depending on what you have on hand: carrots, celery, onions, eggplant, squash, beets, okra, nettles, spinach, red or yellow bell peppers, etc.

Strong veggies are better for soups built around their flavor: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Spanish onions, green onions, garlic, lemon grass, green bell peppers(very strong when cooked for long periods of time), etc.

Ideas for soup on Wiki.

Tons of Retro Soup Recipes!