Braid-String Budget: 2nd Edition

Nearly two months ago I began a new venture, which I am bitterly fondly calling “The Braid-String Budget.” So far, I’ve been doing a pretty good job of sticking to it, though the last couple of weeks have been more challenging, what with travel and a horse show. I am extremely proud to say, in the first month, I stayed within $1 of my set grocery budget. I also found that cooking simple, healthy and flavorful meals gives me a feeling of great satisfaction an accomplishment.

Some new faves from the awesome website, $5 Dinners, so far:

  • Avocado and Black Bean Quesadillas. OMG, guys, these are so delicious, fast to make and filling. I added some southwestern-seasoned chicken from the deli section to the recipe. I think I ate this for dinner for almost two weeks straight. (Which reminds me…I should make these for dinner again soon…)
  • Slow-Cooker Mango Chicken. This was also really yummy, and it was my first attempt at a crock-pot meal. This is how easy it is: I got home at nearly 10pm one night and realized I did not have anything for lunch the next day. Not wanting to buy an expensive take-out meal, I decided to make this recipe. It took about 10 minutes to chop up the mango and the zucchini, turn on the crock-pot and go to bed. Win-win.
  • Pineapple Chicken Curry. Nom nom nom. I’ve made this a couple of times. It’s a bit more involved, but not difficult by any means. I love coconut, I love curry, I love pineapple. Really, what’s not to love? If you’re not convinced, my then-20-month-old nephew ate it right up, and then asked for more.
Pineapple Chicken Curry with a side of naan.
Pineapple Chicken Curry with a side of naan.

As the fall weather has cooled here in Wisconsin, I’ve been getting the urge to cook soup. I really like Skinnytaste’s Pasta Fagioli, especially with some good warm bread. This weekend I made my favorite chili recipe, which happens to be from Weight Watchers. It calls for turkey sausage and lots of veggies, which makes it really hearty and filling while still healthy. Plus the spices are just hot enough for my taste. I like it so much, I’m including the recipe here:

Turkey, Bean & Veggie Chili (from Weight Watchers)

1 pound 93% lean ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium garlic cloves (or equivalent from a jar of minced garlic)
2 large carrots, sliced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium yellow bell pepper*
1 medium orange bell pepper*
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
29 ounces fat-free reduced sodium chicken broth
29 ounces canned diced tomatoes with mild green chiles
15 ounce can kidney beans
15 ounce can fat-free refried beans

Brown the turkey, breaking it up as it cooks to crumble it, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Coat a large pot with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add carrots, celery and peppers, then cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Add the chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir for one minute. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, both types of beans and the turkey; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring every five minutes for about 35 minutes.

*I had in my fridge a green pepper and a red pepper that I wasn’t planning on using for another recipe; instead of letting those go to waste to buy two new (and more expensive) peppers, I just used the red and green ones in my chili this time, and it’s absolutely delicious. I also had celery, garlic, and turkey, as well as the spices, so this was a very inexpensive recipe to make. It makes a huge batch, too – at least eight very generous servings. I also made cornbread from a mix, which was the perfect complement to the meal.

An old photo from a past batch of chili. I just love those colors!
An old photo from making a past batch of chili. I just love those colors!

Speaking of braid strings…

On the Sunday of the show about a week ago, I braided Twinkle’s mane in the morning, knowing we wouldn’t be showing until later in the day. I’ve gotten to the point where it takes me about 45 minutes to braid and bump from a completely dry, un-braided mane, which I think is pretty good. Anyway. I took Twinkle out of the stall to walk and graze a bit. The flies were kind of bad and the ground soft from rain the day before.

Do you see where this is going yet?

As she grazed, Twinkle decided it would be nice to roll. Of course, since her head was already down, I was caught unaware and she simply buckled her knees and went down as I stood there. I was helpless as she rolled and rolled…and rolled. And rolled some more. She made good and sure to scrub her neck really good where those itchy braids were. And then she’d take a little break – still laying down – to nibble some grass before rolling around again.

She’s lucky she’s cute.

A blurry iPhone photo taken withe one hand to prove that my second round of braids looked pretty nice...you know, just in case
A blurry iPhone photo taken withe one hand to prove that my second round of braids looked pretty nice…you know, just in case

I brought her back to her stall, thinking I could salvage at least some of the braids…but no. They were totally past the point of fixing. Most of them actually had clumps of mud ground into them. So I took them all out, brushed out her mane, and braided her all over again. I think the second round looked even better than the first.

And then we decided that we weren’t even going to show that day after all. The show was taking a long time, and by 2:30 it was clear that our divisions weren’t going to start until 6:30 at the earliest. That’s right: I braided a mane, twice, and didn’t even show. Such is horse show life, I guess.

That’s why, despite living comfortably and happy on my “Braid-String Budget,” I’m feeling rather cranky about braid strings in general at the moment.

What are your favorite budget-friendly meals to make at home?

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