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Freezer Meals: Soup Round 4

I’m still fine tuning the process!  This round I had to plan during a pandemic where there are some shortages.  To minimize my trips to the store (typically I hit three in one day) and to account for some items being high in demand right now I first checked what I had on hand.  Seems basic, but I actually don’t do that very often.  Meat prices were starting to even out at the time of making, but with the spike in prices a couple of months prior I decided to go with a few more vegetarian options just in case.

I was a bit smarter this round and put some of the thicker soups into quart freezer bags to allow for more space in the freezer.  This is the first round of soup that I didn’t run out of space, so I’m guessing that’s the magical answer 🙂

Here’s the list:

Winter Country

Italian Lentil

Lentil Tortilla

Zuppa

Chicken Detox (pictured at the top of this post)

Couscous Chicken

Italian Sausage Tortellini

Pasta e Fagoli

Chicken Fajita

Stuffed Green Pepper

I also made a sausage lentil soup that I found in a cookbook.  I wasn’t able to find a duplicate recipe online for a link, but there are plenty of similar soups out there that resemble this recipe.  I discovered this past year that I like lentils if they are cooked right and that they go well in soup.  They were easy to find a more affordable than some of the meat options.  One small bag made three different soups!  It’s something I recommend as a cost saving option.  Lentils are full of protein and fill you up.  One cup of lentils will make 8-12 cups of soup, or 4-6 meals.  This lentil tortilla was easy to make in the crockpot and will be a great compliment to Mexican inspired meals or on its own.  It tastes better than it looks, trust me.

2020 lentil tortilla

This year I had about 2 pounds of deer summer sausage that my brother had given me.  I sliced it up and cooked it in a frying pan to get out some of the fat and used that in the winter country and sausage lentil soups.  The flavor was amazing!  The majority of the soups I make are hearty enough to eat as a meal and this one is no exception.  It’s packed with protein and the greens give it a healthy touch.

2020 taste of home winter country

Trying to plan during shortages and left me making a few substitutions and a bit of a different planning process for getting ingredients, but I was still able to make everything and since I used more vegetarian recipes and meat I already had on hand I spent less than $100 for this round!  The local farm didn’t have the greens I needed, so I substituted dinosaur kale.  I cooked it with some garlic and olive oil and it added a good flavor to the soup.  It’s not as bitter as regular kale and has just a hint of sweetness to it.  It makes a great substitute for spinach, greens, or regular curly kale.

2020 ingredients

I frequently get asked what my favorite soup is.  It’s difficult to pick one favorite, but the Italian sausage tortellini with kale is definitely in my top five picks.  It’s amazing in the fall when the weather starts getting crisp and warms you up on those cold winter nights.  I make mine pretty thick and there isn’t a lot of tortellini in the recipe so I typically pair it with garlic bread.

2020 italian sausage tortellini

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.