Bean Salad for Days!

I have been eating bean salad every day for 2 weeks straight. I'm not kidding. Every day. I make a big batch to have in the fridge, and then it is SO easy to throw together a quick and healthy lunch or snack each day. This bean salad is an example of something very easy to play with and serve in many different ways, and it is SO inexpensive! Having delicious and healthy options ready in the fridge makes it a lot easier to eat a proper meal when the days are busy.

1 can chickpeas
1 can white kidney beans
1 can lentils
1 1/2 C hot salsa (I use Pioneer Woman's recipe)
Chopped peppers and/or green onion (optional)

Drain and rinse all canned beans. Stir all ingredients to combine in a large food storage container. Store in the fridge.

Alter this recipe to suit your tastes or what you have in the pantry. Add more vegetables or change the type of beans as desired. If you add an additional can of beans, add an additional 1/2 C of salsa. (I occasionally add a can of black beans to stretch this salad a little further)

This bean salad can be used in so any ways! Here's how I've enjoyed it this week:

Bean Salad

Twice Baked Bean-y Sweet Potato 

Piece sweet potato all over with a knife. Microwave on high for 6 minutes, turn over, and mircrowave 6 minutes more. Once cool enough to touch, cut in half  and scoop out the flesh. Mash flesh and mix with some bean salad. Refill the potato skins. Top with shredded cheese, if desired. Bake at 375` for 15 minutes or until hot.

Speedy Bean Soup

Combine 3/4 C stock or broth with some bean salad to make a super quick and hearty soup. Season as desired.

Three-Bean Quesadilla

Spoon some bean salad on one half of a tortilla. Top with shredded cheese. Fold over tortilla and place in a hot frying pan for several minutes until browned, turning to brown both sides.

Spinach and Bean Pizza

Using naan or pita bread as your crust, top with bean salad, baby spinach, and cheese. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Turn on the broiler for 1 minute to cause the cheese to bubble.

Three-Bean Nachos

Place tortilla chips on a single layer on a baking sheet. Top with bean salad and shredded cheese. Bake at 3751 for 10 minutes. Turn on broiler for 1 minute to bubble cheese and brown a few chips.

What are your favourite tricks to renew your leftovers? What do you keep prepared or on-hand to  help meals come together in a hurry? I'd love to hear your favourite strategies, or your feedback if you try this bean salad!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Squares

This recipe is so nostalgic for me. These squares were a regular recipe for my Nana, and we had them at just about every party growing up. When I posted on my Facebook page asking for suggestions using peanut butter, some of my cousins brought up the idea of this recipe. Once the seed was planted in my mind, I absolutely had to have them!

1/2 C margarine (not the spreadable kind)
1 1/2 C peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 C icing sugar
2 C Rice Krispies
1 bag (approx 2 cups) chocolate chips
2 Tblsp shortening

Melt margarine. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla until well mixed. Add icing sugar and stir until evenly combined. Fold in Rice Krispies until distributed. Press mixture into a 8X8 pan, lined with greased foil. Press very firmly.

Melt chocolate chips and shortening and stir until smooth. (I find this easiest to do in the microwave. Heat for 30 seconds. Stir, then heat at 15 second intervals, stirring after each, until fully melted.) Spread melted chocolate over peanut butter mixture. Chill until set. Cut into squares and store in the fridge, fighting the urge to eat a cold one each time you open the fridge.

Budgeting for Better Life

I interrupt all the recipe sharing to post about budgeting. I have shared before how I keep our grocery budget on track, but grocery spending is only a small piece of the pie (and because of this spreadsheet I know our groceries are 12.27% of the pie). After some prompting from friends, I'm sharing how I budget for our family.

Let me begin by saying that budget isn't a bad word! Having a budget (or a spending plan) can actually be very liberating! When you have planned to spend and you have the money in hand, spending is so much more enjoyable. Budgeting doesn't mean you don't take means you pay for vacations with cash. Budgeting doesn't mean that you can't go out for dinner, it just means you are a little more selective of when you go out. Our lives have absolutely changed for the better since we started budgeting. Who knew we could actually live a more comfortable and fulfilling lifestyle on one income? I am a firm believer than you can have it all, you just can't have it all at once

We are a single-income family. After my second maternity leave, I didn't return to work. Being a stay-at-home mom is something we always had in mind as part of my role in our family, but the timing wasn't carved in stone. We worked hard to pay off my student loan and our consumer debt before reducing our income. We also took a long hard look at what we were spending. For example, we drove an older vehicle at the time. It was paid for, but we weren't aware of how much we had been spending on maintenance & mileage. Once we added up 6 months of repairs, maintenance, and gas, we realized that we could be driving a new and more fuel-efficient vehicle for the same monthly costs! Our housing situation was similar. We lived in a home on the outskirts of the city, which meant our mileage was higher and our sense of community was lacking. The home itself also had significant costs in maintenance and repairs. We ended up building an efficient home in our ideal neighbourhood, close to friends, family, and Josh's workplace. Our daily life improved, and money was saved. We never would have made those big changes if we hadn't taken a good look at the numbers. 

The first page is the overall budget or master plan. 

This budget is based on 2 biweekly paycheques a month, even though there are 26 biweeklies in a year. We put those extra 2 payments directly into savings. It helps boost our savings, and it is easier to budget based on a regular income every month. Similarly, we don't include overtime, commissions, or incentives in our budget. Those incomes can also boost savings or be used for "extra" spending.

  • Step 1: Fill in your income. 
  • Step 2: Fill in your fixed expenses.  It automatically will calculate what percentage of your income is being spent on each category. 
  • Step 3: Note the "difference" (under net income). That's how much money you have left after your fixed expenses to fill in your variable expenses. 
  • Step 4: To begin figuring where you want to set those variable budgets, you should go back through the past several months to figure out what you have been spending. If you don't have the receipts, check your credit card or banks statements and look at your transactions in different categories. Once you add up these totals, ask yourself how often you think you've used cash at those stores and add a guesstimate of that amount. Likely, this total will scare you. That's okay - things will get better! And if you didn't know where you were coming from, how could you look back pleased with how far you have come? 
  • Step 5: If you want to have a real TV/Gail Vaz-Oxlade moment, put the amounts you have been spending into your budget sheet temporarily. Does it balance? Are you shocked by the percentage of your income that you spend in some categories?
  • Step 6: As you look at the figures from past months, decide if you are comfortable putting those numbers in your budget or if you want to reduce some categories. Again, as you fill in your budgeted amounts,  it will calculate what percentage of your income is being spent on each category.  Keep watching the "difference"...your budget has to balance!

Note: There is only so much you can do to cut back your fixed expenses, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how much we have been able to trim down our variable expenses just by putting it all on paper and being conscious of it.

The second page is where I track our variable spending. 

We bring home all of our receipts and every day or two I put the amounts in the tracker, so any given time we know month-to-date where we stand (groceries, entertainment, etc). This also allows us to know how much money we have left in categories that we budget for monthly, but only pay for a few times a year (hobbies/membership, Christmas, etc). For instance, when Josh goes to his basketball provincials, that expense will come out of hobbies/memberships. Most months we don't spend anything in that category, but the money sits in our account earmarked for those expenses when they come up, and that variable tracking sheet shows us how much we are supposed to be spending on it. If there are multiple receipts in a week to track in one category (and there always is with groceries), I just open a comment to list the totals, then add them up and put them in the cell.

The third page is net worth. 

This sheet is pretty self-explanatory. Fill in the amounts of what you own and what you owe. It is easy to feel like you are ahead of the game if you aren't living paycheque to paycheque or if you are looking at a pile of cash in the bank...but if you owe a lot of money, things aren't as great as they appear. Being realistic and looking at the cold hard facts is important if you want to live the good life and plan for your future.

This all may sound more complicated than it really is. Don't get overwhelmed! Once your sheets are set up, if doesn't take more than a couple of minutes here and there to input expenses on the receipt tracker. All you have to do is begin, and take one little step at a time. I started doing this practice out of necessity, but it has become a way of life that I really enjoy. I hope you find the same thing. I welcome any of your questions or comments below or via Email. Bring it on! :)

Italian Wedding Soup

I scored a great deal on lean ground pork the day before it expired ($0.99/Lb!). I put a few pounds in the freezer, but I wanted to use one my meal plan right away. A bit of searching on Pinterest lead me to this recipe from She's Cookin'. I adapted the recipe for both the meatballs and the soup to use what I had in the house, and the results were fantastic. I will be repeating the meatball recipe again as a stand-alone recipe  They were excellent!

1 Lb ground beef
1 Lb ground pork
1/2 C parmesan cheese
1/2 C dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced

Place Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, parsley and paprika in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Add ground beef and ground pork to the bowl. Beat egg with minced garlic, and pour over meat. Combine all ingredients until well mixed. (Working with your hands is easiest for this.) Form into balls (using a cookie scoop makes for even sizes) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350' for about 30 minutes.

1 Tblsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp thyme
8 cups chicken stock
1 bunch kale, torn into pieces
2 cups egg noodles (or other quick cooking pasta)
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions and celery in olive oil until softened. Add carrots and cook for approximately 3-5 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, and thyme and stir until fragrant. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and  simmer for 15 minutes. Add cooked meatballs.  Add kale and pasta, and cook until they are tender (approximately 6-7 minutes).

**To save time, you can prepare the meatballs in advance and freeze cooked meatballs. To use frozen meatballs in this soup, add when the stock comes to a boil and allow them too warm in the sauce while it simmers for 15 minutes before adding the kale and pasta.**


Popcorn Indiana Review and Giveaway

Peanut Butter. Chocolate. Sweet. Salty. 
If you are anything like me, you don't need to hear any more than than that. But for anyone who needs a little bit more information, let me tell you about this great new product I had the chance to sample... 

This indulgent popcorn is the ultimate choice for those who, like me, love a sweet and salty combination. The large puffy popcorn pieces are generously drizzled with peanut butter and chocolate, and are unbelievably delicious. Having a child with a peanut allergy means that my husband and I had to devour the whole bag in one evening while the kids were sleeping...It was the only responsible thing to do, right?! Or maybe we couldn't stop ourselves!

Unlike many popcorn products, it uses Non-GMO corn. And unlike so many of the most popular treats, it contains no artificial flavours, no artificial preservatives, no artificial colours, no high-fructose corn syrup, and zero grams of trans fats. I challenge to to show you me another decadent, affordable goodie that can compare! You know what else? This treat is kosher and gluten-free!  

I would love to give you the chance to try it too! Enter below to win 6 bags of Popcorn Indiana's Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzlecorn. How popular would you be if you brought it to a holiday party?!

*This is a sponsored posts. I have received free product and/or compensation for this post. The opinions featured here are always honest and my own.*

Pear Bread

For the second year in a row, I hit Country Harvest (a local produce stand) on the day they were closing for the season. Once again, I bought an obscene amount of pears. Like, 44 Lbs worth. And in case you are wondering what 44 Lbs of pears looks like...

Do you want to know how much I paid? $15! $15 for 44 Lbs of pears...$0.34 per pound for fresh local pears! Since pears are my kids' favourite fruit, this deal was extra exciting for me.

Like last year, I canned most of them (as described here) and froze some slices for snacks, smoothies, and baking. Of course, I have been stocking up on new pear recipes to try. Out of all the new recipes I tried this fall, I think this one (which I've adapted slightly) was our favourite. It makes two loaves, which is great for our hungry family, but you could always freeze one or share with a neighbour. This bread has a lovely crust, a subtly sweet flavour, and a a perfect texture. If you don't have an abundance of pears or if they aren't your personal favourite, simply make this an apple bread using apple sauce and chopped apples in lieu of the pear.

1/2 C oil
1/2 C pureed pear 
3 eggs
1 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 C chopped pears
1 Tblsp sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Mix oil, pureed pear, eggs, sugar, and vanilla until smooth and uniform. In a separate bowl, whisk all dry ingredients to combine. Stir dry ingredients into wet mixture until just combined. Gently fold in chopped pears. Spread into two greased loaf pans and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Bake at 325' for 55-65 minutes, or until tests done. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

Looking for some more great pear recipes? Try this Vanilla Pear Coffee Cake or these Chicken, Pear, and Baby Kale Quesedillas

Caprese Breakfast Bake

This post is part of the and Kraft Cheesefest #KraftComfortCheese sponsored program. I received compensation as a thank you for my participation. This post reflects my personal opinion about the information provided by the sponsors. 

My brother in law is a great cook. No one ever expects the handsome mechanic to show up to a dinner party with a cheesecake he made for the host, or to steal the show at a potluck with something he whipped up....but I love watching people's surprise when it happens!

This easy dish is my take on one of my brother-in-law's standards, which makes an appearance on Christmas morning and lazy long weekends. You really can't go wrong with a dish of comfort food that uses three cheeses. And a leisurely pyjama-clad family breakfast on a lazy holiday morning? Can't beat it! What's your comfort cheese? Find some great recipes and inspiration at the Kraft Cheesefest Comfort Zone!

6 eggs
1/2 C flour
1 C milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 C cottage cheese
2 C Kraft Creamy Mozza Shredded Cheese with a Touch-of-Philadelphia
3 oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese, cubed
1/2 C sliced grape tomatoes
1/4 C julienned basil

Combine eggs, milk, baking powder, and cottage cheese. Beat very well. Stir in Kraft Creamy Mozza Shredded Cheese with a Touch-of-Philadelphia. Pour mixture into greased 9X13 pan. Drop cubed cream cheese, grape tomatoes, and basil on top. Bake at 350` for 45 minutes or until set and lightly golden around the edges.

**If you have kids who will turn up their noses at tomato and basil, omit them for a simple Cheesy Egg Bake that pleases anyone.

If you love cheese, join us for the @KraftCanada #KraftComfortCheese Twitter Party on September 29th where we’ll be giving away ten $50 President’s Choice gift cards! Get all the details here.

Then you can use your gift card to get the ingredients needed to create the mouth-watering, cheese-inspired dishes at Kraft Comfort Zone. It’s a page filled with ooey gooey goodness.  

Frosted Coffee Squares

Monday September 29th is International Coffee Day. For a coffee lover like me, that sounds like a great excuse to pour an extra cup! Are you a coffee lover too? Do you like free stuff? (Who doesn't love free stuff?!) Staples Canada is hosting "Pick Me Up Hours" throughout the day, and will be giving away different coffee kits. Just follow @StaplesCanada and #CoffeeBuzz to get in on the action!

What better recipe to post on International Coffee Day than one containing coffee that also pairs well with coffee! Look no further than this adaptation of my Nan's coffee squares. This light cake cuts very cleanly and offers a sweet coffee flavour, but the icing...oh the icing! This icing is like coffee ice cream that doesn't melt. It's sweet, smooth, creamy, and just the perfect coffee flavour!

1/2 C strong coffee, cooled
1/2 C butter, melted
1 C white sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 Tblsp melted butter
1 1/2 C icing sugar
1 Tblsp (+/-) hot coffee

Combine coffee, melted, butter, and sugars until smooth. Add eggs and mix until well incorporated. Combine dry ingredients, and add to wet. Beat until smooth. Pour into greased or parchment-lined 8X8 pan. Bake at 350' for about 20-30 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

To make icing, beat butter and icing sugar until butter is distributed in coarse crumbs. Add coffee gradually and beat until smooth. Add more or less coffee to reach your desired consistency. Frost cake and allow to set before slicing. (I prefer 1 Tblsp to yield a thick icing that sets nicely on the cake and cuts cleanly). 

Don't forget to check out @StaplesCanada and #CoffeeBuzz 
to get in on the "Pick Me Up Hours" Giveaways!

*This is a sponsored post. I have received free products and/or compensation for this post. The opinions featured here are always honest and my own*

Peanut Butter Granola Bars

Although this recipe has some common ingredients with my granola bars, these are much more of a dessert or a treat than a healthy snack. But hey! We all need treats once in a while, right? Especially yummy peanut buttery ones! 

I saw this recipe from Mom on Timeout  shared on Facebook, and I knew I had to make them for Josh. He is a huge Reese's fan and has been working lots of overtime lately, so  I figured he could use a little treat. Since Isaac is allergic to peanuts, we have to keep these treats hidden away in a high cupboard, which means they are reserved for adults. Score one for the parents!

1/3 C brown sugar
1/4 C peanut butter
1/4 C honey
1/4 C butter
2 C quick oats
2/3 C Rice Krispies
3/4 C Reese's Peanut Butter Chips
1/2 C Reese's Pieces

Combine oats and Rice Krispies in a large bowl, and set aside. In a small pot, combine brown sugar, peanut butter, honey, and butter. Stir to combine as things melt. Bring to a boil, then continue to boil for 2 minutes while stirring regularly. Pour peanut butter mixture over oats and Rice Krisipies, and stir until well coated. Allow to cool for several minutes before adding the peanut butter chips (to avoid melting). Fold in peanut butter chips, and press into a parchment-line 8X8 pan. Top with Reese's Pieces and additional peanut butter chips, if desired. Press mixture firmly and allow to cool and set completely before slicing.

Cucumber Watermelon Popsicles

I posted a photo on Instagram recently, saying that the kids and I were making our favourite Cucumber Watermelon Popsicles. Someone asked for the recipe and when I came to look it up, I realized I had gone all summer without sharing it! I think I neglected to post the recipe because I actually started making them in the winter, when it was a lot less fitting to post popsicle recipes. Before Ruthie had her tonsils and adenoids removed this past March, I made a bunch of different healthy popsicles for her to eat while she recovered. We tried a lot of different combinations, but this one was far and away the family favourite. I originally found this recipe on Wholefoods Market Cooking, but the recipe does't seem to be published there any longer.

2 C watermelon, chopped*
2 C cucumber (If English cucumber, peeled and chopped. If field cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped)
1 Tblsp lime juice
2 tsp (+/-) honey

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor until as smooth as possible. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until solid.

*Note: The original recipe called for 3C watermelon and 1 C cucumber, and I've gradually changed the recipe to use equal parts of each. If you are unsure if your family will go for these, you may want to start with the original ratio.

Ruth LOVES having ring-popsicles. My sister got us the mold at The Christmas Tree Shoppe (love that place) for $1.99!
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