SoBo Mama's Tips & Tricks

Flickr cmartin82 3177455386--BBQ bacon cheddar...

Flickr cmartin82 3177455386–BBQ bacon cheddar burger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Avoiding the grocery as I’ve been lately, I’ve not really stuck with my menu plan.  WHich stinks, because my menu plan works really well when properly implemented.  And it totally messed me up on Wednesday at dinner time.

Once upon a time, I’d have just ordered pizza.

Instead, I started scrounging through cabinets and freezers, trying to come up with something for dinner before the boys got home from karate.  Out of milk meant no Hamburger Helper.  We’d already done a taco-type dish on Tuesday, and spaghetti Monday.  What else is quick and easy?

This is what I ended up with:

Bacon Cheeseburger Macaroni (aka The Cheaptitude Pantry is Bare)

When I browned my ground beef, I added a little Tony Chachere’s seasoning.  I could probably eat Tony’s on my cereal!  Love it.  I also used some Chicago-style steak seasoning.  Once the meat was almost completely browned, I added the package of bacon pieces.

I prepared the macaroni by the directions on the box with a few exceptions.  I add garlic salt to my water to bring it to a boil more quickly.  I also add a touch of olive oil so my pasta doesn’t stick together.

When all of that was done, I combined the meat and pasta in a pot with the butter and sour cream.  Then I stirred in the cheese.

It’s not Grandma Betty’s Mac & Cheese, but it will sustain life.  Grizzly had seconds, and I don’t think it was because he was totally starving.

Necessity is the mother of invention!  What is your favorite throw-it-together meal?

~ Katie



No lie, I’m craving comfort foods these days.  If I don’t watch it, my clothes will fit again!  Last weekend, my DH invited friends over to grill, but being a manly man, didn’t think twice about a side dish, so I decided I would indulge in some comfort food.  So Monkey 2 and I got out the computer, dug through some recipes, and got out the handy-dandy crockpot.

I’ve been googling recipes for potato soups a lot lately, particularly crockpot ones using hashbrowns.  Well, the recipe we came up with took some bits from here, dabs from there, and turned out a delicious concoction!  And I think it cost less than $5 to make, served 6 people  and there were leftovers!

1 – 26 – 32 ounce bag frozen southern style hash browns (I used cubed)
1 – cup unflavored yogurt
1 – 10.5 oz can cream of chicken soup
1/4 – cup onion, chopped fine
2 – cups shredded cheddar cheese (it was one package from my grocery!)
1/2 – cup butter, melted
salt and pepper, to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon each)

In a large bowl stir together the spices, yogurt, onion, shredded cheese and melted butter. Mix to combine. Spray your slow cooker with nonstick spray.  Open your hashbrowns and empty into the crockpot.  Spoon the combined ingredients into the crock on top of the potatoes and combine.  Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or until done. On the sides, you may find it crispy and the casserole will bubble – YUM!

I also had a slice of bacon that I cut up and put in the casserole.  The only problem is that it was maple-flavored and sweetened my casserole dramatically.

Do you have a comfort food that’s particularly appealing right now?

~ Katie

{January 2, 2013}   I Can….
Under Pressure

Under Pressure (Photo credit: Sharon Drummond)

Over the past few years, I have worked on becoming more self-sufficient.  It is often cheaper and healthier to do things “the old-fashioned way.”  In my mind’s eye, I am in Grandma Betty’s “fruit room,” grabbing jars of fresh water salmon and homemade applesauce for dinner.  I don’t think I had store-bought jelly till I was in Middle School.  At the time, these were reminders that we didn’t have as much money as the Westscott’s or Hurley’s.  I didn’t appreciate all of the work that went into picking and prepping and canning.  I dreaded the summer days picking green beans and berries.  Now I know that each of those jars was seasoned with love.

I love opening the door to my pantry and seeing all of the jars of sauce and jelly lining the shelves.  Very rarely do I share any of the things I make.  At Christmas this year, I did give away a couple of jars and at New Year’s I opened a jar of Blueberry Blush to share with the girls.  The problem for me was vegetables.  Chili.  Green beans.  Corn.  Potatoes.  My grocery would run great sales, and I couldn’t take advantage.  All of those low-acid foods you cannot can in a water bath canner.

Last Christmas, knowing I was in such a pickle with my canning journey, Dad and Jobeth bought me a pressure canner.  It’s the coolest thing, and I can cook dry beans and make huge batches of foods.

And it sat on top of the freezer for a year.

Because I’ve not been making time to can.

And I don’t know what I’d like to can.

And I know that it is time-consuming.

And I’ve not made the time.  Until today.

New Year’s Eve I made eight quarts of Magical Mystery Beans (and no, I won’t share the complete recipe).  I filled my biggest Pampered Chef pot to the brim.  And since it was a small gathering this year, we had plenty left over. And while I am all about leftovers, Grizzly and the Monkeys burn out really quickly.

“We sure have plenty of beans, Babe,” he tells me yesterday, with a not-so-excited look on his unshaven face as he examined the contents (lack of contents) in the fridge.  I could see his brain rewinding to the last time he made a brisket and nobody showed up.  How many ways can you use leftover brisket?  I came up with about seven before Grizzly started running to Little Caesar’s on his way home in the evenings.

No fear, Big Guy!  I’m getting adventurous and playing with the pressure canner today!

I ran several quart jars through the dishwasher as I read the instruction book for the canner. I filled and cleaned rims and all that jazz till I had 6 jars in the canner.

And we’re down to 19 minutes still on the timer.

"Home Canning Vegetables Out Of The Press...

I’m excited because I love to make chili and some different convenience foods like that and don’t necessarily like freezing everything.  So if this works well, there will be more pressure canning in my future. It’s more time-consuming than I’d like but I think it is worth it in the end to have those jars full of love in my pantry.

~ Katie

{December 12, 2012}   Getting Sauced (Reprint)

Last summer,  I discovered the Shreveport Farmers’ Market.  There is nothing like sampling blueberries and local wines by the river at 7 on a Saturday morning.

My major investment last summer was bag after bag of tomatoes.  I had seen @Teresa_Giudice’s family making red sauce on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I knew I couldn’t do anything on that scale, but didn’t see why I couldn’t make sauce from scratch.

I googled for a basic recipe.  The kids and I blanched, peeled, cored, and seeded a bazillion tomatoes. Yield: 2 gallons of sauce in my freezer.

For Christmas this year, my stepmom got me a boiling water canning kit. So as soon as the market opened,  I was there with my reusable shopping tote!

My first batch took all day and produced 4 quart jars of sauce. I spent $13 on tomatoes,  not to mention whatever else went in there, so it probably wasn’t too cost effective.

Since then, I’ve begged everyone with a garden for tomatoes! I have 12 quarts canned in the pantry and would like to do a bunch more. The actual canning is under an hour. I’m getting really good at peeling tomatoes and it’s pretty much a morning project.

Apples are really expensive still, so I may try my hand at jelly next. Who knew getting sauced would be such fun?


I was browsing some old posts I’d made on a blog I’d started about organizing and came across this one.  I can’t help but think how far I’ve come since that first canning attempt (Thank you for your invaluable knowledge and guidance, Mother Earth!)  my pantry is full of jellies, long emptied of apple sauce, and I (Stingily) have only one jar of red sauce left.  And I’m still willing to share the recipe.

I really think that canning kit and trip to the Farmer’s Market helped start me on my search for ultimate cheaptitude.  I figured out that I could make things instead of buying them.  I won’t lie, sometimes the up front cost has been higher than just purchasing a can of Hy-Top 4-cheese pasta sauce.  But when you really start crunching the numbers and consider the peace of mind, knowing what went into those jars in the pantry?  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

When I share my stories with Rhonda-Belle (because I talk to her pretty much at least once a day without fail!), she tells me what valuable lessons I’m teaching my kids.  Of course, hearing the eight year old monkey say, “No, The Dora cereal is not on sale and we don’t have a coupon so we are not buying it” just makes me laugh.  But maybe the monkeys will be better with money earlier than Grizzly and I were.  Maybe they’d prefer to make their own jelly and sauce than spend ridiculous money for chemicals at the grocery.  Time will tell.

~ Katie

Last night while DH and our friends watched the Notre Dame game, I cuddled up in my favorite chair with a blank calendar.  After all, how can I suggest menu-planning as a money-saving tip if I don’t practice it myself?  I filled in the calendar (in pencil) with family favorites and some great recipes from a wonderful website I’ve pinned (4 weeks of freezer-to-crock pot recipes and grocery lists – FREE!)  In no time, I had built a menu plan.

After planning my menu, I started putting together my grocery list.  Looking at the list, I figured it would be about $200, which is approximately what I budget, but I had no room left for cleaning supplies or toilet paper.  I justified it by telling myself 1. Most of my cleaning supplies are recipes that don’t cost much, except my Soft Scrub, to which I’m addicted, and 2. some things would last more than the month I’ve planned.

This morning, while DH and the monkeys were in the woods, I perused my Brookshire’s and CVS SmartPhone apps.  CVS has some decent deals, and I missed the good deals at Brookshire’s.  But for my groceries, I would have to go to the grocery store and save CVS (TOILET PAPER) for another day.  I cleaned out my coupon binder, as some coupons are close to expiration and some expired yesterday, and started matching coupons to my list.

Please note – If I find a better deal without the coupon, the coupon gets put away!

My original plan had been to go to the grocery when I first got up this morning, but there was frost on my car and I was feeling lazy, so I watched a movie while I double checked recipes and made breakfast for the hungry hunters.

I finally went to the store at 10:45.  And spent about and hour and a half shopping.  Partly because I love grocery shopping, and partly because I was making such a haul.  By the time it was said and done, I spent $156.21, had $7.65 in coupon savings (bought lots of off-brand today), and $33.61 in store card savings for a total of 23% savings. I did not purchase a pork roast (needed for pulled pork sandwiches) or a ham, both of which were on my list.  This was not a shining coupon day for me.


I bought a lot of things that were not on the list.  DH’s friend Jamie asked me last night to make chili today, and I had nothing but some ground antelope – no beans or seasoning.  There was a sale on yogurt that I had coupons for and the monkeys love.  We didn’t have to have blueberry pancakes, but it gives everyone a change from cereal.  I bought 7 boxes of cereal today, one off-brand, but 6 of them were 3/$6 AND I had a coupon for $1.50 off four.  My Chef Michael’s dog food coupon had expired and the canine kid loves poultry, so I used a good coupon on some canned food that was on sale.  All in all, I had 117 items on my receipt.

The way couponing works best is to match your coupons to your sales and STICK TO THE LIST.  My menu plan is only dinners, and I probably could have done the grocery trip for $60.  But it’s been a while since I’ve been to the store, so I felt like we needed the extras.  And my cereal comfort zone is 12 boxes, which I’m in the process of rebuilding…

After putting up the groceries, I started the chili.I started out with the two alarm kit from the store, but didn’t exactly follow the directions.  This is the way I made it:

  • 1 lb browned ground beef
  • 1 lb ground browned antelope
  • Two Alarm chili kit – follow the directions to begin
  • 2 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce – usually I use my homemade red sauce, but didn’t can any this summer 😦
  • 4 cans chili beans
  • 3 cans kidney beans

I use the biggest pot I have and let it simmer all afternoon.  After DH, Jamie, and Danna all had healthy servings, I filled 3 quart-sized freezer bags.  When I use them later on, I will add some more beans, and maybe some rice.  I can also use one of the packages for chili dogs on a Monday night!

While the chili was cooking, I also made quart packages of chicken and dumplings (2 quarts) and chicken rice casserole (3 quarts) for the crock pot.  I’ll have to add cheese to the chicken and rice when I cook it, and I’ve learned to cook the rice separately or it has the texture of grits.  The quart packages may not work really well in my crock pot, but it’s worth a try.  The recipes I started with from are just too much for my family.  They fill gallon bags to the brim and I end up with leftovers for days upon days.  Of course, she feeds a family of eight, not four.  So I’ve modified her recipes a little to suit my family.  And her recipes are terribly inexpensive to make, especially if you happen to have plenty of deer, antelope, wild hog, etc. in the freezer.  They take no time to throw together and you just dump them in the crock pot in the morning.  Easy peasy.

Another mess in the kitchen means it was another productive day.  Right?

Do you have any good freezer to crock pot recipes?  We’re having taco soup tomorrow.  And probably Tuesday. And Wednesday….darned gallon bags!

~ Katie


{November 24, 2012}   An Explosion of Flavor

Growing up in Michigan, my great-grandmother had a farm with berries, beans, and I don’t even know what all else.  Summertime meant trips to Grandma Z’s to pick whatever was in season.  And pick.  And pick.  Tipping and tailing green beans is not the way a pre-teen wants to spend her free time, but I realize now those were invaluable lessons.  I’m not going to jump up and down in excitement over a day in the summer sun in someone’s garden, but I can do it.  I’m not afraid of hard work.

The monkeys have not had this experience.  Berries and popcorn come from the grocery, not from Grandma Z’s acreage.  Tomatoes are picked by someone else and bought at the Farmer’s Market.  They live in a world of instant gratification.  And I think it’s time to change that.

My cheertastic friend Peggy and I took the monkeys to a Pick-Your-Own farm back in June.  Blueberries ripen early in Louisiana and I wanted them to have a taste of my childhood.

Not the greatest plan ever.

We got a later start than I had wanted and it was hot as Hades.  After barely covering the bottom of a berry bucket, Monkey 1 decided it was time for a break.  Monkey 2 kept telling me how hot and tired she was.  I had sweat in crevices I didn’t know existed, but I was going to tough it out and show them.

We ended up with about 5 pounds of blueberries by the time we gave up for the afternoon.  Blueberries and three lemonades cost me about $7 and lunch at Pepe’s.  I consoled myself with the idea that it would have been so much more expensive at the grocery.

That weekend, my little family would be heading to Michigan, so I stuck the bag of berries in the freezer, with the idea I’d use them for something later in the summer.

Fast forward 5 months.

I’ve been doing some cleaning and reorganizing and those blueberries are taking up real estate.  Yesterday I had made some jelly and I started thinking – why couldn’t I use the blueberries for jelly?  My canning cookbook did not have a very doable blueberry recipe, so I’d have to get creative.

Have you ever heard of Champagne Blush jelly?  Here is a link if you’re interested: Yum.  It calls for bottle raspberry juice, but why couldn’t I use blueberry juice?

Um, how do you get blueberry juice?

My five pounds of blue yummy came out of the freezer to thaw.  I dumped the entire mess into a colander in a big mixing bowl and started sorting.

Instead of using a potato masher, why not process in a blender?

I understand that you can squish the heck out of berries with a potato masher.  I’m a little lazier than that so I busted out the blender.  Then I cut a pair of panty hose and pulled them across a mixing bowl to strain the pretty purple juice for the jelly.

Except the hose had a hole in the toe.

So my smushed berries mixed back in with the juice.

And I decided it would be ok.

This is the modified recipe I used:

  • 3 cups blueberry juice – or, if your straining backfires, mush
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pectin
  • 1 1/4 cup champagneEnglish: Making blueberry jam. Blueberries (wi...

I combined my mush, lemon juice, and pectin, stirring constantly, and bringing to a boil.  After it reached a hard boil, I added the sugar.  Return to a boil.  After the concoction has been at a hard boil for one minute, remove from heat and stir in the champagne.  Skim any foam – the air bubbles are bacteria magnets.  Fill your jars and process in a Waterbath canner for 10 minutes.

The original recipe says it will make 6 half-pint jars, but with my mush, I ended up with 7.  Also, when blueberry mush starts to boil, it spatters.  Everywhere.  My kitchen currently resembles a crime scene.

Blueberry spatter is all over my stove, microwave, and walls – but boy, does this mess taste good!

And when DH came in from the woods, he asked me “Did you have some trouble with the blueberries?”


I’m a rule-follower from way back, so modifying a jelly recipe is a little out of the norm for me.  I’m excited about the outcome, though!  The berries were not super-sweet Michigan berries, but the champagne really brings the flavor out.  I already have visions of serving this with cream cheese and crackers at my next Bunco.

Again, I had all of the stuff I needed on-hand so no extra out-of-pocket expense – yay, me!  And I’m using up stuff that has been taking up space.  With these 7 jars, I’m thinking it was under $1/jar, but there is a reason I teach ELA and not math!

Do you ever experiment with jelly recipes?

~ Katie

{November 23, 2012}   Meal Planning
A delicious-looking meal

A delicious-looking meal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My best friend of about 30 years has massive OCD.  She calls it something else.  Her doctor calls it something else.  I call it OCD.

I like to organize, and I know that disorganization is costly, but I’m not obsessed to the point my BFF is.

Her to-do lists have to-do lists.

At one point when she and I were attempting to get on track, she told me about her family’s meal planning adventures.  I remember she had themes each night – “Toothpick Tuesday” scared me.  I had visions of one of the monkeys being stabbed.

I do not sit down with a calendar and plan out our meals.  My kids (the monkeys) are 8 and 12 and can fix toast or cereal for breakfast.  They eat school lunches, I pack  a PB sandwich each day, and I honestly have no clue what my DH (dear husband) does for lunch.  I believe he eats a lot of convenience store cuisine….Not healthy, but I can’t really fix it if he won’t meet me halfway.

Dinner is a different story.  I could sit down and plan it out, but I really don’t.  I have a general idea of what we’ll do each night and it’s based on our crazy schedules.

  • Monday – either the crock pot or something super quick and easy.  I have faculty and department meetings on Monday afternoons.  DH has pool Monday evenings.  Dinner has to be ready almost as soon as we walk in.
  • Tuesday – tacos, spaghetti, etc.  I have a little more time Tuesdays.  Monkey 1 goes to the math tutor while Monkey 2 is at Running Club, so it’s close to 4 when we get home.
  • Wednesday – if DH is home, it’s usually a grill night.  I’ve had monster hot dog cravings lately, but the only way I’ll eat them is off the grill or from a New Orleans street vendor.  Monkey 1 has our church’s version of Sunday School on Wednesdays and he eats there, so it’s just the three of us.  If we’re not grilling, it’s a frozen pizza night.
  • Thursday – Monkey 1 is again at tutoring and at this point in the week, we’re definitely on a crock pot meal.  I’m exhausted by Thursday.  But I try to keep freezer-to-crockpot meals on hand so I can throw something in the crock pot on my way out the door and it’s ready when we get home.
  • Friday – DH has pool again, so we usually go eat somewhere.
  • Saturday – we grill or I cook.  Many times, our friends down the street are grilling and we go eat with them.
  • Sunday – the monkeys are with my mother-in-law most Sundays.  DH is usually with his friends watching football or he’s hunting in the woods, so Sunday is a grab and go kind of day filled with leftovers.

Would it make more sense to actually plan meals ahead?  Of course it would.  Would it save me a bunch of money?  Of course it would.  Have I gotten to that point yet?  Maybe.

If you google Once A Month Cooking, Freezer Cooking, and Meal Planning, you’ll find all kinds of websites trying to sell you memberships for their meal-planning services.  It’s up to you how you spend your money, but I’m not buying a service when I have the resources I need in my kitchen.  Except an operational oven, which is a whole other blog post.

If I were scheduling meals out, I would start by taking inventory of my pantry and cold storage.  I could probably do a lot with what I already have.  Then I would go through my recipes, pull a few favorites, and build a list based on what I need to make those things.  I’d double my batches so I can freeze some meals.  And while I poke fun at Beca’s theme night meal planning, she always knew what they’d be having.  Just like every Wednesday I could plug-in frozen pizza.  Thursday is a crock pot meal.  Monday probably is , too.

Meal planning is a lot less intimidating now that I look at it in black and white.  I can combine my menu plan with my coupons.  And planning ahead saves money, so why not try it?

So maybe meal planning is the next step in my pursuit of ultimate cheaptitude.  Pinterest and Google are fabulous resources for this type of things – be sure to check them out.  I’ll let you know how my meal planning goes.  You let me know what you find!
~ Katie

{November 23, 2012}   Making Do With What You Have

a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, top slice ...

I don’t know too many kids who don’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  With droughts, salmonella outbreaks, flooding, freezes, etc., the price of peanut butter in my local grocery has gone up almost two dollars a jar in the past year, and jelly is steadily increasing.

Thankfully, my Rhonda Belle thinks ahead.  2 years ago for Christmas, she and Papa Mac gave me a Ball Canning Starter Kit.  She wants me to be more self-sufficient.  I started out with red sauce and moved on to a variety of apple products.  Rhonda Belle’s friend “Mother Earth” has been an invaluable resource as I’ve been learning to can.  Not only does canning save me money, but this way I know what is in the products in my pantry.  I definitely prefer chemical-free, preservative-free foods in my pantry.

Part of being self-sufficient is making do with what you’ve got.  And I am running low on jelly.  Thankfully, one of my sweet 8th graders and his mama gave me a pretty container full of Satsumas (thank you, Jamie, for the identification!) and I realized there was a good chance they’d spoil before the monkeys ate them all.

Using my handy-dandy Pampered Chef citrus juicer (not the best option, as much as I love a Pampered Chef gadget!), I spent over an hour on Monday juicing and straining my little orangey friends.  They are chock-full of seeds, which I have saved to replant at some point.  And I put the juice in the fridge till I knew what I’d do with it.

Motivation visited me today.  I ran jelly jars through the dishwasher and got myself together.  I found a recipe online, got my supplies situated, and got to work.  This is the recipe I used:

Easy Satsuma Jelly

  • 4 cups Satsuma juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 5 cups sugar – I’m going to try to decrease the sugar next time
  • 1 package Sure Jell

Combine your juices in a pot.  Slowly add the Sure Jell, stirring constantly.  Bring it to a rolling boil.  Boil for one minute, continuing to stir.  After one minute, add the sugar and bring it back to a boil.  Again, boil one minute and then remove from the heat.  Fill your jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Easy peasy!  I already had most products on hand, so I spent no extra money on this project.  The jars I use again and again.  The orangey things were a gift.   The pectin I purchase by the jar, and actually got it free at Kroger with a coupon.  Sugar was under $2 for a 4 pound bag.  I’m not a math person, but I think I’m under $1/jar.

And I love all of those pretty jars lined up in my pantry.

I still have blueberries in the freezer from a berry picking trip in June.  I’m thinking blueberry champagne (still got a bottle from New Year‘s!) jelly.  What do you think?

If you’re new to canning, I highly recommend the Ball Canning Discovery kit, or the Ball Fresh Preserving Kit.  Also, The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is great for beginners.  Follow the recipes or you’ll have a bit of a mess on your hands.  I’ve had to remake a few batches of jelly because I used recipes that looked great online but didn’t work out.

I’d love to hear your experiences!

~ Katie

et cetera
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