Making Great Meals on a Tight Budget

Cooking for your family definitely presents a number of unique challenges, and if you are on a tight budget you will most certainly find that choosing the right foods is much more difficult. Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways that you can keep to your budget while providing your family with a great meal, and we’re going to cover them right now.

Making Great Meals on a Tight Budget

Your First Tip: Choose the Right Meat

Most meals involve meat, but if you have children you can’t go all out and purchase steak for every single dinner. Once in a while it might be okay, but for the most part, you need to choose the meats that come at a slightly lower price point. The two most inexpensive meats on the market right now are pork and poultry, with poultry being the lowest. If you want to save even more money, consider purchasing dark meat, such as chicken thighs, rather than going with white meat as this is much cheaper.

You can use meat to create several different meals, and it doesn’t always have to be the most obvious. In the net few paragraphs we are going to discuss methods by which you can create entire meals using some of the most unlikely and inexpensive ingredients.

Your Second Tip: Use Rice

Rice can be a very important building block in any meal, and as you probably know, it’s very cheap. The most amazing thing about it however is that it is capable of taking on virtually any flavor so long as you are able to mix it with broth, condensed soups, grease, etc. The one thing you must be careful of when doing this however, is that you do not mix it with something unhealthy, even though it might be tempting!

Rice can be mixed with all kinds of meats and turned into an amazing dish. Give it a try and see what you can come up with in your kitchen.

Your Third Tip: Pasta is your Friend

Great meals don’t always have to be creative. One of the best things that you can do is create pasta dinners for your family, and you will find that some of the available pasta is actually quite cheap. In addition to that, you can alter the flavor of your pasta sauce in many different ways to change it up. One of our favorites for example is to combine tomato pasta sauce with cream cheese and ground beef, it sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty intricate when you think about it.

Cooking doesn’t have to be expensive; of course you might want to spring for something a bit more costly now and again, but you must always remember that just because you are on a bit of a budget doesn’t mean you have to starve. Consider these tips, create your own, and have a great dinner.

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How Many Times Can You Re-Freeze that Steak?

Nothing is more frustrating than when good meat goes bad. You drop a pretty penny on some finely cut steaks, only to throw it in the freezer when you don't use it on time. You thaw it the night before you feel sure you'll use it, and get an invitation to get dine with some friends. Can you throw it back in, or is it too late? Many people just don't know the rules and boundaries with freezing steaks, so we'll enlighten you.

Is Re-Freezing Unsafe?        

Theoretically, refreezing that steak a few times is completely safe. In the best of circumstances, throwing it right back in the freezer won't affect the beef health-wise, although there are certain things to consider before you toss it back in. We'll go into the circumstantial things to consider for safety in just a bit, but first – we'll fill you in on what you can expect when you re-freeze the meat, and why many people just don't do it.

How Many Times Can You Re-Freeze that Steak?

Re-Freezing Steak Will Alter Taste and Texture

Re-freezing steak is more of a question of taste and texture than anything else. Simply stated, the drastic change in temperature in going from frozen to thawed is always going to alter the quality of the meat as far as consumption. It'll become tough, chewy, and a little more bland, so you'll want to consider what you're using it for before you toss it back in the freezer. If you're planning on grilling it and eating it with a side of potatoes, it's probably best just to eat when it's been fresh or thawed once. If you're planning on tossing it in with a pot of soup, or cutting it up and adding to some eggs or a salad... toss it back in, you won't really notice enough of a difference for it to matter.

When You Shouldn't Do it

Getting back to what you should consider in order to determine if re-freezing the meat is safe: how long (total) has it been sitting in temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit? This total hour count is from the time the meat is butchered to the time it's sitting on your countertop thawed, even if there's been some freezing in between. In other words, if the butcher wraps it up after an hour and sticks it in the freezer, you'll count that hour; if you buy it and take it home to freeze it, you'll count the time it was in transit. If you let it sit at room temperature to thaw for a few hours, you'll count that time as well.

Anything over 4-5 hours at the aforementioned temperature is a risk for health and safety, so should always be considered before re-freezing. In other words, refreezing thawed meat that has been exposed to warmer temperatures for a longer period of time won't help the meat recover from any sort of potential dangerous bacteria. Bear that in mind when you continue to thaw and re-freeze your meat!

All in all – it's probably not a huge deal as far as health goes to throw the beef back in the freezer, but you will notice a huge difference taste-wise.

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Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

A New Take on a Classic:

There's no doubt that beef stroganoff is a well-loved classic that can be prepared in a multitude of different ways.  This creamy tangy favorite used to be a weekend only option due to the amount of time it can potentially take to prepare.  With the prevalence of slow cookers in kitchens across America, you can now make delicious beef stroganoff any night of the week with your favorite ingredients an put your own twist on a classic beef stroganoff.

Ingredients:

You'll need 2 pounds of beef stew meat cut into one inch cube or smaller, 10 ounces of sliced fresh mushrooms, one can of cream of mushroom soup, one can of golden mushroom soup, 1 8 ounce container of sour cream, 1 cup of shredded Swiss cheese, and 1 8 ounce package of cubed cream cheese, and about half a teaspoon of ground white pepper.  Some people prefer garlic and/or onion in their beef stroganoff.  If you want to add these, use anywhere between 1 and 3 cloves of minced garlic, and ½ to 1 & ½ cups of chopped onion to taste.  You can also elect to use garlic or onion powders instead of the fresh ingredients.  This will yield 8 servings, adjust the quantities as needed for the number of servings you need.

Preparation:

Combine everything except the dairy products into a slow cooker and cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 hours, or until the beef is very tender.  Once this is done, stir in the sour cream, cream cheese, and Swiss cheese.  Mix until the cheeses are melted and everything is well combined into a sauce.  Serve immediately over cooked egg noodles.

Beef Stroganoff

Alternative Preparations:

For the beef, if you prefer, you can use short, thin strips of beef instead of cubes.  A boneless top round steak is a good cut to use, or, you can look for pre-cut beef strips that are ready to be cooked.  You can create a more gourmet stroganoff by substituting 1 & ½ pounds veal cut into 1 inch pieces and instead of a can of golden mushroom soup, use a can of cream of potato soup.  You can also add to the mixture 1 teaspoon of crushed dried thyme leaves if you wish.  If you are preparing the stroganoff with veal, you might want to consider using a more gourmet cheese selection than using basic Swiss cheese, such as Jarlsberg or gruyere.  Feel free to mix cheeses based on your own tastes.

Mixing Mushrooms:

Please don't think that you have to stick with traditional white mushrooms when making stroganoff.  To enhance flavor, mix in a variety of mushrooms, such as portabellas, creminis, shitakes, or even oyster mushrooms.  These will add a wonderful array of texture and rich flavors and aromas to the sauce.

Conclusion:

If you don't already have one, slow cookers can be found on sale at national retailers for a very low price.  Why not pick on up and try this classic dish soon.

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Curried Lentil -Tomato Soup

Curried Lentil -Tomato SoupAs a kid, tomato soup and fall seemed to go hand and hand. As the weather cools off and ushers in all the festivities of the fall, a warm bowl of tomato soup with fresh cornbread or crackers sounds pretty good. With some easy adds and a little time, you can ramp up your tomato soup to a full on adult version while still appealing to the kids as well. Our recipe for curried lentil-tomato soup will feed a large family or leave you plenty of leftovers for quick brown bag lunches. This soup keeps extremely well in the refrigerator for several days. Make ahead and have a quick go-to soup all week during the cooler weather.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large sweet onions – about two cups chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 2 – 15 ounce cans diced or stewed tomatoes
  • 6 – 8 cups chicken broth (you can use vegetable stock if preferred)
  • One cup chopped carrots
  • 2 cups diced russet potatoes
  • ½ cup chopped celery (optional)
  • ¾ cup half and half
  • Sour cream and dried parsley for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium/high. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté for between three and four minutes.
  2. Heat the chicken broth in a saucepan until simmering.
  3. Add the sautéed mixture to a large slow cooker.
  4. Add the curry, ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Stir.
  5. Add the chopped carrots, potatoes and celery.
  6. Add the tomatoes, and stir the mixture to incorporate all the ingredients.
  7. Add the lentils.
  8. Slowly pour in the chicken broth while stirring the mixture.
  9. Cook on low for six hours.
  10. Stir the curried lentil-tomato soup and add the half and half. Stir and let cook for another 30 minutes.

Serve this yummy curried lentil-tomato soup in shallow bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dried parsley leaves.

Cornbread is a perfect match for this delicious soup. Here is a quick recipe for cornbread that will match up perfectly with your curried lentil-tomato soup.

  • Mix 1 cup of self-rising buttermilk cornmeal and ¼ cup sugar together in a mixing bowl.
  • Add two beaten eggs and ½ cup of milk to the cornmeal mixture and blend with a fork.
  • Add a small amount of water and blend again. Continue until you have a soupy mush consistency.
  • Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into an oven safe skillet and heat on the top of the stove.
  • Pour in the cornbread batter.
  • Heat on the stove until small bubbles start to appear.
  • Immediately remove from the stove top and place in an oven preheated to 350 degrees.
  • Bake for about forty minutes or until the cornbread is golden brown on top.

Soup and cornbread are a huge hit on chilly fall afternoons! This curried lentil-tomato soup and cornbread will be an immediate hit with friends and family.

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Salmon, Asparagus and Orzo Salad with Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette

Salmon & Vegetables

Salmon, asparagus and orzo salad with lemon-dill vinaigrette is an easy to make, hearty and filling dish that highlights the best of fresh and healthy food. To learn how to make it, these are the requirements:

Ingredients:

When preparing a meal for six, you'll need:

  1.  Six cups of water
  2.  One and quarter pounds of fresh, omega-rich and skinless salmon fillet
  3.  One pound of trimmed and well cut spring asparagus
  4.  A cup of uncooked orzo/rice-shaped pasta
  5.  A quarter teaspoon of salt
  6.  A quarter teaspoon of freshly grounded black pepper
  7.  A quarter cup of red onion (thinly sliced)
  8.  Lemon-dill vinaigrette
  9.  Cooking spray

Directions:

Preheat the broiler.

Use a large enough saucepan to boil six cups of water. Once the water is boiled, add in asparagus and let them cook till crisp-tender or for about three minutes. Use a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs to remove them from the water and plunge them into ice cold water before draining and setting them aside.

Once again, bring the water (reserved water) to boil and add in orzo. Cook them in accordance to their package instructions. However, don't add fat or salt. While your orzo continues to cook, have the salmon fillet seasoned with ground pepper and salt. Then, place it on a boiler (foil lined boiler) and cooking spray coated pan. Broil till the fish starts to flake easily (when you test it using a fork), till it attains your desired doneness expectations or, for five minutes.

Making Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette:

To make this, you'll need:

  1.  Three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  2.  Two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  3.  One tablespoon of chopped fresh dill
  4.  A third cup of crumbled feta cheese
  5.  A quarter teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  6.  A quarter teaspoon of salt

Once you have all the ingredients, use a whisk to combine them in a small bowl.

(If you choose to use bottled dressing instead, it's highly recommended that you add a little of dill as it helps in enhancing the salmon's flavor).

Serving:

When everything is ready, use two forks to break the salmon into mid-sized chunks and then, proceed to combine it with asparagus, orzo and lemon-dill vinaigrette. You should use a large enough bowl to combine them so that you have enough space to toss the pieces gently and have them coated with these three other ingredients.

You can then proceed to serve it as a snack, a side dish or even an entrée.

- It's worth noting that this amazing dish contains high amounts of nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, iron, calcium and sodium.

Summary:

What makes this dish salmon dish exceptional is the fact that it's made using ingredients that are high in flavor such as the refreshing lemon juice and dill and crisp tender asparagus and raw onion. Most importantly though is that it's so easy to make (can be made in less than 10 minutes).

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