What I love Wednesday: Potato Sausage Soup

As promised, my potato sausage soup recipe.  I LOVE this potato soup recipe (even more so because this is the ONLY recipe I can think of that I actually made up myself. I am not a creative cook).

I also love it because it can be modified to use up whatever veggies you have laying around as well as a bunch of different types of meat. This is a great, hearty soup and I love it with some nice, crusty bread or a salad on a cold fall day.

Potato Sausage Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 carton (32 oz) of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • Potatoes, cut into chunks (I usually use 3-4 large potatoes or 8-10 smaller potatoes. You want enough to pretty much fill the chicken broth in your pan)
  • 1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1-2 cups of whatever veggies you have on hand (Peas, carrots and corn are some of my favorites)
  • 1 lb of meat (I’ve used Italian sausage, pork sausage, ham, ground pork, bacon and turkey in different versions of this soup).
  • Optional: Milk or shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  • Combine broth and potatoes in large saucepan on medium high heat. Cover and cook until potatoes are able to be easily mashed with a fork. Using an immersion blender, blend potatoes in chicken broth until all chunks are smooth. At this point, your soup should have a fairly thick consistency.  If your soup is too thin, add some shredded cheddar (about 1/4 cup – this will make it taste amazing and thicken the soup).  If your soup is too thick (closer to mashed potatoes than soup), add a little milk or water (about 1/4 cup).
  • Meanwhile, if needed, cook whatever meat you’re using until done. For sausage, ground pork or bacon, brown in a skillet.  For ham or previously cooked turkey, no pre-cooking is needed.
  • Finally, combine all meat and veggies in potato/broth mixture.  Cover and cook on low medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

And that’s it! Fair warning if you have leftovers – this soup will get REALLY thick when it’s cold, but will become more liquid as it re-heats.  Happy cooking!

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Freezer Challenge Update

As many of you know, I’m currently working on emptying out my freezer (so I can replace with new food!)  My first week was a little rough, but the  last week and a half has been going much better. In fact, I think that after one more week, I’ll be done cleaning out the freezer!

Food I used up successfully

  • A pound of Italian sausage-  I made this into potato sausage soup, which was a double win because it used up some potatoes about to go bad as well as some Italian sausage that had been in my freezer forever.  Plus it was delicious.  I use my own made up recipe, which I will post tomorrow.  It’s dairy free, which is the best part of it since my body no longer tolerates high levels of dairy.
  • Pork…chops?- I received a random package of some cut of pork (from my dad) and had leftover chicken, peas and carrots laying around.  So I made a chicken/pork soup that I’ve been making into a pretty basic chicken/pork ramen bowl for lunch this week.  Super yummy and perfect for fall.
  • Baked pork chops- F. and I had some baked pork chops last week for dinner.  I liked the recipe, but F. was not a fan.  She’s been going through a “meat is gross” phase though, so I’ll probably try them again.
  • Chicken nuggets and tater tots- These aren’t gone yet, but we used some more of them up.
  • Frozen peas- F. really wanted some new veggies last week so I made her some peas out of the freezer.  Win-win! Also, apparently, my toddler thinks frozen peas are just as good as cooked peas…
  • Spaghetti- I used up our last pound of ground beef to make some spaghetti sauce, which we’ve been enjoying with spaghetti squash.  F. really loved the spaghetti squash- she thought it was cheese and was really disappointed when it wasn’t.
  • Two bags of bagels- I bought bagels for a work potluck about a month ago and then F. ended up being sick on the day of the potluck, leaving me with about two dozen bagels. I froze three of the four bags and have been slowly using them up. I’m down to one bag  left!

 

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Not my ramen, but similar.

Freezer food fails

  • I had frozen some BBQ chicken a few months ago, but I used regular Ziploc bags. Needless to say, the chicken was freezer burnt to the point of being wholly inedible.  I ended up having to throw it away.
  • I had a bag of random chicken parts and old veggie ends that I had frozen to make stock, which I put in the crockpot overnight on Friday.  However, something must have actually gone bad before getting frozen, because the broth smelled and tasted AWFUL! I ended up throwing the whole thing away.

Overall, I’m going to call this a big win. I’ve used up a lot of food, considering it’s just F. and I eating right now and I’m at a point now where I’m going to have to start buying meat again. F. will be happy- I think she’s tired of pork! How are all of you doing?

Money Monday: The stupid tax

On Mondays, I try to post about topics related to budgeting and money. Today’s installment talks about a topic that Dave Ramsey loves to harp on: the stupid tax.  He often talks about this in the context of the lottery (i.e. your odds of winning anything are so low that it’s stupid to think you’ll ever see a return on your investment. Therefore, buying lottery tickets is not a smart financial plan).

I think that stupid is a little harsh, but there are definitely times when we have paid  financially for less than ideal decisions.  Here are the most common reasons B. and I end up paying the “stupid tax” and how we try to guard against these in our budget.

Lack of pre-planning

This is, without a doubt, the largest reason we spend money we don’t need to. Going on a trip? Pack some snacks and extra water.  Running errands with a two year old? Make sure there is food in the car (and a change of clothing!) Birthdays/Holidays?  Keep an eye out for gifts year round, when prices are cheaper and used items are more plentiful. These days, we don’t go anywhere without an arsenal of snacks and food in the car.  Having a toddler has actually made this easier, because we tend to stop at rest ares more on road trips (since some have playgrounds)! Also, I keep a box of individually-sized goldfish packs in the car, for emergency snacks on-the-go (this has the added benefit of cutting down a little on grocery store whining).

This also applies to meal-planning.  When I put less effor tinto preping an dplanning meals, we almost always end up eating out at least once.  This is the “stupid tax” at work- avoiding work I didn’t want to do (meal-planning) led to more spending down the road.  Finance managment requries some a bit of a time invesetment, but putting in that time can save real dollars down the eroad.

Procrastination

I am a horrible procrastinator.  I was born to be a journalist (even though I’m not), because I can only work effectively under hard, close deadlines. Huge project due in two days? I am ALL OVER IT.  Huge project due in two months?  I have 58 days to start that!

However, procrastination can often end up costing you a lot more money than if you’d just done something originally.  Case in point- we’ve know for a while that our dog’s teeth could use a cleaning, but we’ve been putting it off.  Now, they need a cleaning and it’s at a much higher cost than if we’d just gotten them cleaned earlier and invested in a toothbrush and muzzle (or bite proof gloves).

Another example, from as recently as this morning. When we got our minivan, approximately two years ago, it came with one key.  Since we bought it,  I have been meaning to make key copies, but I keep putting it off. Well, this morning, I locked my keys in my car. If I had made copies and put one in my desk, as intended, I could have avoided a $50 charge to have a locksmith unlock my car.

Stress

Finally, for us, stressful situations often lead to paying the stupid task. These aren’t necessarily situations we didn’t plan for, but situations where we feel stressed and don’t make the optimal choice.

For example, when F. was sick a few weeks back, we had to pick up a prescription and I was NOT looking forward to taking a sick toddler to the pharmacy. We had already sat in urgent care for 2.5 hours, F. had been puking in the office, and I was definitely feeling stressed. I didn’t check which pharmacy Tricare uses and we ended up going to one that doesn’t accept Tricare.  Since I wasn’t about to drag my toddler to yet another pharmacy for amoxicillin, I ended up paying full price for it.

For me, this is the budget area that is hardest for me.  When I get stressed, I’m willing to spend almost any amount of money to make the stress go away.  Unfortunately, that rarely works, so then I’ve spent a lot of money and I”m still incredibly stressed.

Fortunately, as we continue to encounter new spending situations, we’re able to modify our behavior (and budget!) going forward, but even after so many years on Dave Ramsey, we still end up paying the “stupid tax.”  How about all of you?  When have you paid a “stupid” tax?

Some days are better than others- food edition!

So tonight’s post was supposed to be something completely different, but in the spirit of full transparency, I’m going to share my evening with all of you instead.

I was so excited about dinner tonight- I had found a recipe for homemade fish sticks, which F. would love and would use up some of the god-awful old fish in my freezer. Win-win.  I was already composing the blog post on using up fish in my head.

WELL. AHEM.

I asked our housekeeper to clean the stove yesterday when she was here (I know, first world problems, but bear with me). She (apparently?) pulled off all the knobs to clean under them and then put them back on upside down.

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These burners are all off.  But they look on.  I’m lucky I didn’t burn down the house…

Which, of course, I failed to notice until I was cooking dinner.  So my oil got hot (after sitting forever, because, oh wait, it was on LOW, not HIGH) and then I tried to turn it down but actually turned it off.  After I put the fish in. After which the fish soaked up all the oil in the pan. SO GROSS.

Enter the back-up meal. Scrambled eggs, banana and tomato slices.  You may remember that scrambled eggs was one of my easiest last minute meals. So that’s what we had tonight, because at 5:30 my toddler was sitting at the table screaming for food and I had absolutely nothing ready to go.

So…my freezer clean-out is not off to an auspicious start.  Hopefully the rest of the week goes better!

One Month Freezer Challenge

I was digging through my freezer, looking for steak the other day, and I realized that both of my freezers (upstairs and deep freeze) are very full of food. VERY full of food.  So, I’m going to challenge myself to use up all of the food in my freezer in the next month and not buy anything new for the freezer except chicken. Buying in bulk and freezing is only a cost-saving measure if the food actually gets eaten and I know that I am not the best at using up food in my freezer.

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So much food. 

I’m giving myself a month because it’s just F. and I eating right now, so it takes us awhile to get through food! Also, about 1/2 of what I have for meat in the deep freeze is pork and I just don’t like pork enough to eat it for every meal (or honestly, almost any meal. Note to self: stop buying pork).

Each week I’m going to post what I used up from my freezer, as a way to keep myself accountable. Anyone want to join me??

Here are some things that are currently in my freezer:

  • Pork chops
  • Boneless country pork ribs (I HATE ribs. Why did I buy these? What do I do with them??)
  • More pork chops
  • A box of ice cream bars (not part of the freezer challenge. Darn)
  • Popsicles (also not part of the freezer challenge)
  • 1/2 bag of chicken nuggets and tater tots (these should be easy to use up)
  • Some random frozen vegetables (mostly peas and corn, I think- neither of which I like. Maybe some soup…)
  • A bag of shrimp
  • A bag of frozen tilapia
  • Chili
  • Ground beef
  • BBQ pork and chicken (blech. I hate these. This was leftover from a baby shower I hosted. Maybe F. will like them and I can just feed them to her).
  • Ravioli (not part of the freezer challenge- one of my last minute meal items!)
  • Bagels
  • Hamburger buns (bet these will pair well with the bbq meat)
  • Bananas (I am not worried about using these up. Banana bread for the win!)

Some other things, I’m sure. I’m a little afraid to figure out what all is hiding in my freezer(s). I think a few things are probably beyond usable (like a casserole I froze over a year ago- no chance in hell we’re going to eat that), but hopefully I can do a good clean out of the freezer.  Maybe I’ll even  get lucky and meat will be on sale about the time I run out of food! Anyway, feel free to join me! Hopefully a month from now, I’ll be able to post a picture of a much cleaner freezer.

Last Minute Meals

When B. and I first started budgeting, one of our biggest areas of problem spending was eating out.  We were spending a LOT of money eating out and we weren’t even spending it on nice places or good meals- just on Taco Bell and McDonalds and other quick food that tasted ok but felt crummy.  Generally, we would get busy, or stressed, or tired or hungry and eat out instead of cooking. Or the chicken wouldn’t be defrosted and then we had no idea what to do for dinner. Or I would forget to pick something up at the store. Basically, anytime that the meal plan fell apart due to time or circumstances, we would turn to fast food.

Enter the last minute meal.  To those of you skilled at grocery shopping, cooking and meal planning, this post is going to seem like a “no duh” concept.  For me, the idea of keeping ingredients on hand for fast, easy meals was a revolutionary concept (my father is probably shaking his head at this point- I should have definitely learned this from him).

Take tonight, for example. Just as I was about to walk out the door at work, the phone rang.  It wasn’t a call I could ignore until tomorrow. By the time I got to daycare to pick up F., we were running twenty minutes behind. Dinner (grilled shrimp) was going to take at least 20-30 minutes to make and I wasn’t even sure the shrimp was actually defrosted (ha, it wasn’t). For those of you with toddlers, you’re probably wincing along with me.  Meltdowns were imminent.  I strongly considered just swinging by those happy golden arches. Enter the last minute meal.

Because my father is amazing, I have a shelf in my basement stocked with homemade, canned soup (pictured below- be jealous. Be very jealous).  So tonight, I pulled out a jar of homemade soup, toasted up some bagels and cut up some melon.  Was it the most nutritious dinner? Probably not. But it was ready in 10 minutes and I can guarantee that it was more nutritious and tasted better than McDonalds. And it didn’t cost me anything more than I’d already spent on the food we had on hand.

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Yummy soup, canned by my very awesome father. Thank you Dad!!

You need to have a stash of last minute meals.  We’ve had weeks that ended up being so crazy busy that all we ate all week was last minute meals.  There are three key characteristics to planning good last minute meals:

  1. They can’t be perishable– Last minute meals only work because you can keep the ingredients on hand somewhat indefinitely.  Some frozen foods work as last-minute meals (see below) but refrigerated foods almost never do, since there’s no way to know when a last minute meal is going to be needed.
  2. They should take no more than fifteen minutes to make– The definition of last minute meals means that you’re in a time crunch.  These meals should not include meat that needs defrosting or pretty much anything that needs to bake in the oven.  That doesn’t exclude all frozen food though.  For example, we keep a bag of frozen ravioli in the freezer on a regular basis, because it takes only five minutes to cook.  And of course, a bag of chicken nuggets, because toddler.
  3. They should be something you regularly want to eat- So I’ll be honest- our bag of chicken nuggets has been in the freezer for a long time. I just don’t really like frozen chicken nuggets, so I almost never make them. Last minute meals are only effective if they’re actually something you want to eat.

Still need some inspiration? Here’s are some of our common last minute meals.  All with things we usually have on hand that take less than 15 minutes to make.

6 Last Minute Meals 

  • Ravioli with Alfredo sauce– I prefer ravioli to straight pasta with sauce because ravioli has some protein (cheese or meat stuffed).  So you get your protein without having to defrost any ground turkey.  And I use doctored up store Alfredo sauce. It’s shelf stable and…not the worst?
  • Breakfast for dinner- I always have eggs on hand (F is an egg fiend!), so some nights, I’ll just make eggs, toast and fruit/cut up veggies for dinner.
  • Soup– Soup, toast and fruits is a fast and easy meal. If you buy it from the store, look for a low-sodium variety.  If you make it yourself, use a pressure canner! (regular water bath canners don’t get hot enough to kill all the bacteria, so you can give yourself botulism. Use a pressure canner.  PLEASE use a pressure canner).  I don’t recommend making and freezing soup for last minute meals because the thawing process often takes longer than fifteen minutes.
  • Chicken nuggets and tater tots– These take about 15 minutes in the oven to heat up.  The best I can say for this meal is that it’s food and my toddler will eat it.
  • Semi-homemade pizza– I usually have a store-bought pizza crust and the makings for pizza on hand.  The mozzarella cheese and pepperoni both have a pretty long life in the refrigerator, so it’s not hard to keep them on hand (plus I use shredded mozzarella in a LOT of other things, so ti’s pretty much a staple around here).  The store-bought crust I get from Wally World cooks in 8 minutes.
  • Quesadillas– These are great for using up any random vegetables you might have laying around.  I mix that with a can of black beans, a little shredded cheese (whatever you have on hand, I always seem to have two-three bags of shredded cheese laying around) and bam- quesadillas. Tortillas have a pretty long shelf life, so they generally last for awhile.

So there you have it. Like I said before- none of these meals are going to win any nutrition awards, but they’re definitely cheaper and probably healthier than eating out.  What are some of your favorite last minute meals?

 

Money Monday: Five Reasons You Need to Get Comfortable Talking About Money

The New York Times published an article on Sunday entitled “What the Rich Won’t Tell You,” in which a sociology professor at the New School documents conversations she had with New York’s working rich. Those families, currently wroth millions, who work. Though her article talks broadly about how the working rich don’t consider themselves to be rich, what stuck out most to me was the reluctance of people to talk to her about money at all.  Some women were afraid that if their husbands found out they had disclosed their salary, they would be mad.  Others confessed that they had never talked about money and spending before at all, even with their spouse.  Still others called the researcher, hours after their interviews, making certain that any published works would be completely anonymous.

Reading this article got me thinking about the most important foundation for winning with money- and that’s getting really comfortable talking about money. It’s shocking to me, sometimes, how uncomfortable our culture is not talking about money.  Sure, we talk about getting good deals and saving money and things we do that obviously cost money, but we never out and out say, yeah, I totally went to Disney and guess what, it was well over $1000 per person. But talking about money, comfortably, is the first step toward being able to control what your money does for you.

Anyway, here are five reasons (and I’m sure there are more) why getting comfortable talking about money is the most important thing you can do for your financial future.

1. Financial problems are a leading cause of relationship stress– 35% of respondents in research conducted by SunTrust Bank in 2015 said that finances were the primary source of stress in their relationship.   1 in 5 Americans have spent $500 without telling their partner and 6% have a secret credit card or bank account (study here).  If you and your partner are not on the same page financially, you cannot win with money. You know how you get on the same page? You talk about it.  It doesn’t have to be face to face.  One of the bloggers I admire, The Frugal Girl, has talked many times about the monthly finance e-mail she sends to her husband. But you have to talk about it. If you aren’t both on the same page about your financial priorities and where your money is going to get spent, neither of you will ever be able to agree to and stick with a budget.

2. Teaching kids about money means talking about money– Growing up, my parents never really talked about money.  My dad loved (and still loves) to get a good deal (and I never, to this day, buy anything full price), but money wasn’t a common discussion in my house growing up. When I went to college, I knew how to balance a checkbook and I knew not how to overdraw my checking out (through the school of hard knocks, mind you).  Things I have learned since then: how to make a budget, how to track your spending, how to invest for retirement, and most importantly, how interest works. The last one, I think B. and I unfortunately both learned a little later than we would have liked. But my point is that by talking about money constantly and consistently, our children will hopefully enter the world knowing a lot more about saving and budgeting and interest by the time they have to make those financial decisions.

3. Finding your tribe means talking about money– I started this blog with the intention of keeping myself accountable.  But what I discovered was that by breaking the ice and talking openly about finances, I’ve found other friends who want to talk about money with me! I’ve had numerous discussion about Dave Ramsey with an old friend from grad school and budget discussions (complete with numbers!) with one of my closest friends since middle school.  This was support I didn’t have before starting this blog. Talking openly about money will help you find your support network, your tribe, your people.

4. Talking about money reduces its stigma– This blog is simultaneously the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done. Before I started this blog, I would never have told anyone how much money we owed in student loan debt.  B. and I were, for a long time, so ashamed of the amount of debt we carried and I never, ever wanted to share with people just how much money we paid on our loans each month.  But now? I’ll tell any stranger on the street how much we owe.  The second I publicized just how much we owe, all that stigma went away.  I’m sure there are people out there reading this who look on us in judgement, but I wholly believe that they are the minority.  Instead, we’ve found support, understanding and some great money-saving tips from our friends and family.  Plus, now that ya’ll know how much we owe, we can’t hide it if we aren’t paying as much as we can!

5. Talking about finances and frugality keeps it top of mind– Ever since starting this blog, I find myself thinking through my spending more carefully.  Before, if I was over on groceries, oh well, no big deal. But now, since I’ve started openly declaring for all of the interwebs how much I’m going to spend in a month, I feel like I need to stick to that.  Writing about frugality and finances keeps me thinking about finances. It keeps me motivated to update the budget. It pushes me to try new things in an effort to save money.  Talking about money with ya’ll keeps me energized and motivated on this journey.

So there you have it.  Five reasons why you need to start talking about money.  What’s your biggest barrier to talking about money?