Easy Cheesy Soup (In a Wonderbag)

easycheesysoupHaving worked late last night, I wasn’t much in the mood for a heavy day of cooking. Dinner had to be easy and simple, especially since I would be working shifts throughout the day as well.

Luckily, my husband had stocked up on Progresso Recipe Starters awhile back when our local grocery store had run a sale on them. We always stock up on sale goods, especially when they’re canned and shelf-stable items. And who doesn’t like to save money? Anyway, he chose a selection of the various flavors, and luckily we had one of the Creamy Three Cheese starters left in our pantry.

Although the old brain cells take a bit longer to come up with something at my age, I was able to put together an idea fairly quickly. Easy Cheesy Soup! Improvising my own recipe from an established one would have to be the way to go in this case as I definitely wouldn’t be running to the grocery store for a few items. I found a good basic recipe online and began from there.

Here’s what I put in the pot:

  1. 2 links of hot Italian sausage
  2. 1 can of Creamy Three Cheese recipe starter
  3. About 1/3 bag of frozen Mirepoix vegetable mix
  4. Couple of handfuls dehydrated green and red peppers
  5. Ghost pepper infused sea salt from The Spice Lab
  6. Habanero infused sea salt from The Spice Lab
  7. Assorted spices (chipotle, roasted herb mix, garlic powder, etc)

I first browned the sausage in a bit of coconut oil, adding the Mirepoix veggies after a bit. Spices went in next; I then threw in the peppers and soup. I returned everything to boiling and put the steaming pot in the Wonderbag. It sat on my counter for an hour or so until we were ready to eat.

The result? Yummy! We chopped up some cheese in our soup for a garnish, and it turned out cheesy and wonderful. I’ll definitely try this again. And the Wonderbag made it all easy and convenient even for my work schedule.

Cooking Lunch in a Solar Oven

solar lunch finishedWhen I first purchased our solar oven, my husband was a tad frustrated. “What will you cook in it?” he asked. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it at the time. I just knew I had to try solar cooking for myself.

We started slowly, cooking single items, such as rice or eggs. Gradually as we became more comfortable with the solar oven, we relaxed and just started cooking. Although cooking in a solar oven does take a bit of adjustment and more watching than a regular oven, it’s not difficult to do. And once you get comfy-cozy with solar, then the sky’s the limit!

This morning I decided to go ahead and put us some lunch in the solar cooker. One nice thing is that you can use a solar oven pretty much like a slow cooker, allowing you to “set it and forget it.” I put our lunch in this morning, turning the oven once or twice during cooking time, and our lunch was hot and ready for us by noon.

solar oven SaturdaySo what did I put in the pot? All leftover stuff that we needed to use up! It was a frugal meal that didn’t heat up the house. Here are the ingredients:

  1. Progresso Fire-Roasted Tomato Recipe Starter
  2. Simply Balanced Sausage (2 hot dogs)
  3. 1/2 Bag of Fingerling Potatoes
  4. 1 can of black beans

I first poured a bit of olive oil in the pot and then came the tomato soup. We like things spicy, and so I next added assorted spices. Everything else got thrown in the pot and stirred around. And that’s it!

Keep in mind that cooking times will vary, and so I can’t give you an exact time for cooking. However, we allowed it to cook several hours, which resulted in a nice, thick chili. Also, don’t feel confined by my ingredient list. If you’ve got something else on hand, then that’s fine! This is more to give you an idea of what’s possible than a strict guideline.

Do you solar cook or want to learn more about solar cooking? Let me know! And feel free to share your own tips and tricks for cooking in a solar oven.

Easy Tomato Soup

easytomatosoupI suppose this post could be subtitled, “The Continuing Adventures of Using Up Old Tomato Soup.” Although I have already used one can of soup, I still have more cans in the pantry. Making soup out of soup might seem kind of silly, but it is an easy way to make something not-so-appetizing, e.g., the cans of old soup, into a dinner that will satisfy. Frugal dinners don’t have to be unappealing.

In need of a dinner for my family, I decided to use another can of soup. Below are the ingredients that initially went in the crockpot:

  • One can of tomato soup
  • One can of chicken stock
  • One can of fire-roasted tomatoes
  • One can of chickpeas
  • Garlic salt and pepper
  • One onion, diced

Once it had cooked for a bit, I realized that it would be a quite bland soup. I therefore added a few more ingredients:

  • One chipotle
  • Beef bouillon, about two tablespoons
  • Chili powder
  • Cayenne
  • More garlic salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Remains of a stick of summer sausage, diced
  • One can of chicken

And the result? A soup with great flavor and still frugal. I managed to use up another can of tomato soup, along with some other ingredients that needed to be utilized. And my family ate dinner without complaints. A win, win for me!

What about for you? Making something similar—I call it “dump soup”–is an easy way to make a frugal meal for your family and use up pantry ingredients that might be close to expiration. By following the general formula of this soup, you can make substitutions that are appropriate for your family and your “use it up” needs. Cooking “outside of the recipe” can be a bit intimidating at first, but it will liberate your dinners and make them truly frugal.

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Spicy Pasta Elbows

Spicy Pasta Elbows

Dinner at our home doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be frugal and use up leftover ingredients. Here was a dinner that I prepared that used up the last bit of Progresso soup that we had in our refrigerator. I was pleasantly surprised at the tasty result of this latest improvisation. Click on the link above to find out more.


Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

spicybutternutsquashsoupThis morning I decided to bake a huge butternut squash that we purchased last weekend. As it was a rather large squash, I knew that we would be able to use it for multiple recipes. And what would be the first dish to utilize the cooked squash? I decided that it would be a spicy butternut squash soup, just the thing to warm us up in the cooler weather.

I began with the basic recipe for Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup Recipe. This seemed like a great beginning for our own soup, but with some alterations that fit our pantry—as well as my energy level. The result? It turned out to be a hearty, spicy soup that brings out the best of the squash.

Changes I Made to the Recipe

As I had already cooked the squash itself, I spooned the flesh of ½ of it into a crockpot. I then sauteed the carrot, ½ of an onion, 2 chipotle peppers in sauce, and garlic until tender. That was put in the crockpot as well.

I didn’t want to bother with a blender, so I knew it would be more of a stew than the creamy soup pictured in the recipe. I therefore added to the crockpot the following ingredients: 1 can fire roasted tomatoes (undrained), 1 can kidney beans, and broth. I also added some additional seasonings, such as garlic pepper, salt, and mixed herbs. All of that combined will cook in the slow cooker until we’re ready to eat.

Perhaps I’ll find one of those handy submersion blenders at the thrift store one of these days. Until then, I probably won’t bother putting soup in the blender just to make it creamy. To be honest, it’s just not worth the cleanup.

So is this frugal? You betcha. The only fresh ingredients—butternut squash, onion, and carrot—were all very cheap in the grocery store. Taking advantage of vegetables and fruits that are in season is certainly a great way to celebrate the cooler weather as we approach fall. And with some homemade bread, this soup will make a great dinner.

Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Soup

slowcookercheeseburgersoupIn my house, I try to make food that will satisfy a few criteria:

  • It must be frugal.
  • It must be filling.
  • It must be appetizing.

I would add “healthy” to that list, but that can be an iffy thing at times. When I saw the recipe for Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Soup, I thought I’d give it a try. It seemed to fit my family’s tastes but also required ingredients that we generally had on hand. I did, however, make a few adjustments to make it a bit more frugal and make up for those ingredients that we didn’t have in our pantry.

Here are the changes that I made:

  • 1/2 pound of breakfast sausage instead of the ground beef
  • Omitted potatoes
  • Added 1/2 box of small shell pasta
  • Added remainder of bag of frozen broccoli and cauliflower
  • Powdered beef base with water instead of canned chicken broth

This produced a rich soup that didn’t require spices added at the end. Too, it was readily eaten by even my husband’s daughter, who is an extremely picky eater. Unlike many soups that are not so good the next day, this soup actually retained its appeal, and so everyone enjoyed the leftovers with no complaints.

The changes that I made followed some rules of frugal cooking:

  • Use a small amount of expensive ingredients, such as the breakfast sausage.
  • Fill out the meal by using less expensive ingredients, such as the pasta.
  • Use up what you have on hand, making adjustments in a recipe if necessary.

All in all, this was a great soup, with just some changes to make it more frugal. Once you learn the basics of improvising in your cooking, it’s relatively easy. And with cool weather coming our way, who doesn’t like a nice, hot soup for dinner?