Planning During Shortages

Limits, shortages, certain ingredients impossible to find.  This has been our new normal since the pandemic set in.  It may discourage most from huge batch cooking, but I embraced the new challenge.  I’m as determined as ever to continue my annual soup making with 12 soups this year.  However, the old plan didn’t exactly work the same so here are some things to keep in mind if you are planning on batch cooking with this year’s produce:

  • Plan way ahead.  I selected my recipes and made my list in May so that I could be ready for August.
  • When selecting recipes make sure they don’t require a lot of items that are difficult to find or in short supply.  With a potential meat shortage in our area I added additional vegetarian soup options this year and stuck with classic ingredients.
  • Buy the non perishable items as you go to the store regularly.  Typically I plan one big shopping trip, but this year requires me to grab items as they are available.  Luckily I use more fresh produce so limits on can items are not an issue.
  • Watch for sales and adjust as needed.  With meat prices skyrocketing I found myself substituting to save on cost.
  • Find out information about local growers.  Most of the growers in our area typically have tables at the farmer’s market.  This year the main one I use is doing a curbside model with online ordering and you can go out to the farm to pick up your items.  Another great reason to plan ahead and have a list ready!
  • Take an inventory of what you have on hand.  Since prices have gone up it’s good to save money where you can.  Buying unnecessary items can add to your cost, sometimes significantly.
  • Remember that you’ll still save money and time in the long run!  This year I expect costs to be more and I’ve planned for that.  However, I know in the coming months my food expense will be significantly lower due to having so many meals on hand.  I’ve planned accordingly for the increase in cost.  It’s worth it to have soup on hand when it starts getting cold again.
  • Take advantage of fresh produce and add extra to your recipes!  Our local growers need our support and they are offering something that we need.  No harm at all in purchasing and using some extra.  Adding extra veggies is also an inexpensive way to get more meals out of a batch and make them more filling.

So far I’m on track for August, it should be another great year of soup!

5 Easy Ways to Save Money

Saving money is hard work and requires sacrifice and self discipline.  However, there are some ways this daunting task can be made easier by taking some simple steps.

  1. Write down everything that you spend money on and how much you spend.  It’s amazing to see on paper how much you are spending on those little things here and there.  Find alternatives for those large expenses that aren’t necessities or cut them completely.
  2. Make a list and lessen trips to the store.  I’m a huge impulse buyer when I go to the store.  It’s typically little things here and there, but they add up.  Having a list helps me to stay focused and not wander around so much wondering what I might need at home.  Making less trips to the store also saves on gas, time, and the temptation to impulse buy.
  3. Organize your stuff.  There are so many unnecessary purchases that occur when you don’t realize you already have something at home.  Keeping your household items neat and easy to find will alleviate purchasing double of something.
  4. Pay more than your minimum payments on all loans.  It’s amazing how much money you can save on interest when you pay more than your minimum payment.
  5. Live within your means.  Contrary to what our culture believes you don’t need that brand new vehicle every few years, a house you can’t afford, or to follow any and all trends.  These things cost you more than money, they can lead to you compromising your integrity and values.

Freezer Meals: Soup Round 3

After making my third round of nothing but soup I can safely say that I still need to work on smoothing out the process.  I’m still working on nailing the right amount of cups that a batch of soup makes.  However, I say it’s better to end up with too much than too little!

Here are the recipes from this round:

White Chicken Lasagna

Shrimp and Corn Chowder

Chicken Fajita

Chicken Detox

Chicken Couscous

Italian Spinach Orzo

Couscous Meatball

Meatball Veggie

Mushroom and Wild Rice

Zuppa Toscana

I also made a Beef Veggie with Cabbage and Pot Roast Mushroom.  Due to copyright I am unable to post the recipes for these (but there are several variations available).

Roasted Tomato-Each year I make up my own version of this.  This year included  3 pounds tomatoes, 2 red peppers, and a jalepeno drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic and pepper.  I roasted the pan of veggies in the oven until tender.  I added in 2 cans of tomatoes because we are having a late tomato season this year.  I blended all of these with some cooked onion and four cups of veggie broth and seasoned with basil.  Once everything was good and blended smooth I added in about a cup of heavy whipping cream.

tomato soup

Making all of these plus homemade veggie broth took me about four days.  This round had more fresh veggies than anything else so it took quite a bit of time to cut everything.  I would get one soup simmering and then cut and start preparing the next.  I typically had three going at once since it takes a minimum of 30 minutes for one to simmer.  All of the veggies below were just for one batch!

soup 2019

This was for the meatball veggie soup.  I had to use the large stock pot because the veggies take up a lot of space until they cook down.

soup 2019 2

I also had to smash the kale and greens down in the pan for the meatball couscous.  I typically season and cook these before adding to the soup since the recipe calls for 16 cups total.

kale and greens

Other than calculating the amount more accurately I believe I have the rhythm down for making this much soup in a few days.  Most of these are hearty and full of veggies so they will make a meal all on their own.  All of these recipes only cost me $114.  I planned ahead and was able to save money by purchasing meat on sale and buying a lot of the produce at our farmer’s market.  Our local market is actually cheaper than the grocery stores and it’s fresh picked!

If anyone else out there is doing mass batches of soup please reach out and let’s share processes!

 

 

Paying Off Student Loans

Disclaimer: The advice provided may not work with your lender.

Student loans are overwhelming.  The interest rates are frequently higher than a mortgage rate and the amount owed is sometimes equal to or more than a mortgage.  Rather than give up, here are some things you can do to help the balance decrease.

  1. Figure out how much interest is accumulating each month.  If you select one of the lower amount payment plans they typically only pay off the interest and you don’t even hit the principal amount.  Look at options that your lender has to calculating the interest earned per month so that you know exactly what you’re paying on.
  2. Try to put one larger amount down so that you can get a month or two ahead of their calculated due date.  I’ve had two of the lenders that take on the federal student loans.  Both of these have given me a longer period before the next payment when I pay a month or more in an extra payment.  This will be useful to get you to the next step.
  3. Make payments more than once per month.  It’s a trick that works well with a mortgage as well.  Interest on student loans accumulates more than once per month.  By dividing up your payment into one or more per month it can cut down on the interest that’s adding up.  If your lender won’t allow you to split payments you will need to be at least one month ahead so that you avoid their late fees.
  4. Pay slightly more than your payment each month.  Even if it’s only $20 it will help to pay off the loan.
  5. Remember that interest.  When you first start paying loans you are only paying on the accumulated interest.  This is one of the ways that makes it difficult to pay off loans.  Most people don’t start paying off their principal until years after they’ve begun payments.
  6. If you’re still in school try to pay on the interest.  You may not be required to make payments, but in most cases the interest keeps adding up.  Knowing how much interest is adding up each month can help you determine what you would need to pay to keep it from growing too rapidly.
  7. Don’t spend that tax refund.  The refund should either go towards tuition if you are currently in school or towards your student loan.  Unless you have circumstances that can’t be avoided, this is a great way to get ahead in their calculated payment schedule.
  8. Get a side gig if necessary.  There are tons of ways to earn extra money, especially in the growing field of e-commerce.  Even if you’re only earning an extra $50 here and there it can help pay down your loan.
  9. Examine other debt that you may have.  If you are focused on student loans and ignore other debt these tips won’t help.  Make sure you note interest rates and how much of the principal you are paying on other debts before fully focusing on student loans.
  10. Keep debt to a minimum.  Avoid purchasing items that will add to more debt unless absolutely necessary.  Make sure you pay off your credit card and carefully examine loans or deals that seem too good to be true.

These are just some things that I’ve followed.  Feel free to chime in with other useful tips and tricks to reduce debt, especially student loans.

Souper Prep!: Making a Schedule

I’m about 3 weeks away from my next major soup round.  It sounds a bit weird since it’s so hot out, but now is the best time to stock up on produce to make some extra healthy soups so they’re ready for fall.  By doing some of the organizing ahead of time it makes the prep time that much easier.

If you’ve read any of my other prepping techniques you know that by now I have all of my recipes selected and I’m purchasing non perishables as they go on sale.  To prep for my next round of 13 soups I’ve found it’s easiest to create a plan for the week so I know what to make when.  It sounds a bit daunting so here is how I make a plan for week long cooking:

Shopping: The majority of what I need will be fresh produce, so I can’t buy this too far in advance.  I know I can get the best prices on fresh produce at our farmer’s market on Saturday mornings so I begin with that since the hours aren’t as flexible as the stores.  I know I should be able to get almost everything I need there and then just a few items at a grocery store.  I also know that I’ll need to run the items home and place in the refrigerator since it is so hot out before running to the grocery store for the rest of the list.  One of our grocery stores is closed on Sundays so Saturday makes the most sense for me to get all of my ingredients.  Previous experience is that I plan a solid 3-4 hours for getting supplies, hauling inside, and putting things away.

Prep:  I know I’ll need to make veggie broth and clean and prep my kitchen the day before.  Once the broth is going on the stove I can prep my kitchen for the week.  Usually I clean and sanitize everything and then get out measuring cups, prep bowls, etc. so they are ready to go.  I also organize all of my recipes in the order that I need to make them and group the dry ingredients with the recipe so I don’t have to hunt for the ingredient I need. This round also calls for a lot of chicken so I’ll stick that in the slow cooker so it’s ready to go the first morning of cooking.  If there’s time I’ll start prepping some of the veggies as well.

Order of Recipes: This is the part that everyone always asks me how I determine so I’ve included my steps below:

  1. Group recipes by meat.  I have more recipes that need chicken so I know I’ll need to have the chicken ready to go.  It’s easiest to stick all of it in the slow cooker and then portion it out.
  2. Next I look at my recipes that call for chicken and figure out which pot I’ll need for which soup.  Some recipes make a smaller batch where I can use a 3 qt pot, some require a 6 qt pot, and others require my giant 12 qt stockpot.  I only have one of each of these so I choose three recipes for the first day that require one of each pot.  The same process is used if I had any for the slow cooker or if I was borrowing pots from friends.
  3. Day two will be the remainder of the recipes with chicken.  I know that I will have more recipes coming up that require a roast, so that will be put in the slow cooker for day three.  Again I look at pot size.  If I have two that require the 6 qt pot I typically make one and prep for the other while it’s on the stove.  I let it cool while I do up any dishes and then portion the first soup out and clean the pot and make the second soup.
  4. Days three through five follow the same method of determining which pot size each soup needs.  Each day the more complicated soup is done first and the easier ones are done while the first is simmering.  The process works much better if you have a friend helping!

Helpful hint:

soup prep

I use a notebook to write out which soup needs which pot before I begin.  I’ve also written down how many cups the recipe makes and if the recipe needs a particular type of storage container.  I use a sticky note on top of the recipes with the day and title of the recipe to use for putting things in order the day before I begin preparing.  If using recipes out of a cookbook I write the page number down as well.