Thursday, July 18, 2019

Seasonal Produce: Feeding My Family for A Week for $50!

It's one of my life's missions to convince people that eating healthy does not have to cost a lot of money! So, this week I'm going to show you how I use all the items from my CSA box to form the basis of an entire weekly menu. 

The cost of our CSA membership is $600 a year. This equates to just $25 per box throughout the season. 

I'll tell you what ingredients I had to pull out of my fridge, freezer, and pantry. I listed those ingredients, to the best of my ability, in parenthesis under each recipe photo and description. 

If those additional ingredients add up to a total of $25 or less, then I just fed my family for an entire week for $50! 

Let me show you what I served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I'm super excited! So, let's go!

(My posts contain affiliate links. When you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you.) 

What did I get in my CSA box? 

  • Carrots with the tops
  • Summer squash
  • White onions
  • Red onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Beets
  • Red and white potatoes
  • Sweet corn
  • Black apricots
  • Cabbage
  • Green beans


This is a black apricot. I had never heard of it, but the 14 year old sous chef bit into it about five minutes after we picked up the CSA box. He declared it to be,  "a sweet, juicy, delight with more of an apricot flavor and a hint of pluminess."

Steel Cut Oats or Cream of Wheat with Fresh Fruit

(Additional Ingredients: Oatmeal - $2.00, Cream of Wheat - $1.50, Fruit: $2.50) 

This week, we also used the items in my CSA box to add a couple of other dishes, that you may not associate with breakfast.

Fresh Corn and Zucchini Frittata

(Additional ingredients: Corn Meal, corn starch, almond milk, spices - $.50)

This is where I admit to you that I messed up! I asked the sous chef to bring me some corn meal. I was paying absolutely NO attention and added 3 Tbsp of corn starch, instead of corn meal. So, I did what any chef does. I punted. I went ahead and added the prescribed 3 Tbsp of corn meal and then about 1 cup of almond milk to the batter. I knew that the corn starch would slowly thicken the dish as it cooked. The finished consistency was amazingly like a soft boiled egg, without having added any eggs, of course. 

Whew! My blunder was erased, except, of course, admitting to my entire readership that I messed up. But, then again, if you've followed me for any length of time at all, you know that I often mess up - and often admit it publicly. Humanity is a good thing! ☺

Tex Mex Breakfast Bowl

(Additional ingredients: Corn meal, applesauce, almond coconut milk, salsa, black beans: $2..50)

This was another winner! We don't often think of vegetables for breakfast. But, we should more often. Veggies will fill you up and add fiber, which will stick with you for longer than any off-the-shelf breakfast cereal ever would!

This dish will certainly perk up your morning! Prepare your favorite cornbread. No boxed mixes, please! They are full of a lot of unpronounceable ingredients, preservatives, oil, salt, and sugar. Pick a recipe which doesn't contain a lot of sugar in it. This is a savory dish and you don't want the sweetness vying with the toppings.

Speaking of toppings, slice some cornbread. Put it on a plate and the top it with curry potatoes, salsa, a spoonful of black beans, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley if you have it! Divine! The kids begged for more!

Curry potatoes are both easy and delicious! It combines cooked red potatoes with curry powder, nutritional yeast, and non-dairy milk. See what I mean? Easy! The recipe comes from The China Study All Star Cookbook. 

Lunch and Dinner: 

Mix and match the following dishes to serve for lunches and dinners. 

Minestrone Soup

(Additional ingredients: tomato paste, herbs, spices, red lentils, split peas - 40¢)

The 14 year old sous chef whipped this up for supper one night when I was busy and asked for help. He used basically every vegetable he could from the CSA box and then added a can of diced tomatoes, 3 Tbsp of tomato paste, spices, and about 1/2 a cup of red lentils and 1/2 a cup of split peas. Although those are not the usual beans for minestrone soup, the chef thought they would work well. They did!

Burgundy Stew

(Additional ingredients: fruit juice, mushrooms, herbs, spices, vegan veggie broth- $1.75)

French in origin, this hearty stew usually contains beef, braised in red wine. Our version features mushrooms (I used white mushrooms) and fresh veggies in veggie broth with either red wine or grape juice. Your choice. Either is delicious! Garnish with fresh herbs and serve with some of that cornbread that you made for the breakfast bowl! 

Carrot and Walnut Salad 

(Additional ingredients: walnuts, maple syrup, raisins - $1.00)

This salad is so easy and yet, so delicious! It's simply grated carrots with a sprinkling of walnuts, raisins, and real maple syrup. That's it! It tastes both fresh and amazing! No need for fat laden mayonaise. It would detract from the simple beauty of this salad. 

Farmers' Market Ceviche

(Additional ingredients: cucumber, green onion, lemon juice, lime juice, peaches - $1.00)

Traditional ceviche is made from raw seafood marinated in lemon and lime juice as a preservative. In our case, this ceviche follows the same principle, only we are marinating lots and lots of fresh veggies in the lemon and lime juice. 

This dish is SO amazing that it immediately went to the top of my "make again" list! I diced as many veggies from the box as I could in nice, even pieces. Then, I added green onion, cucumber, and a couple of fresh nectarines. Finally, I poured on 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and 2 Tbsp of lime juice. Mix. Let marinate. And eat by the bowlful. It's that easy! 

Cabbage Slaw with Oil Free Lemon Ginger Dressing

(Additional ingredients: lime juice, vinegar, maple syrup, spices, low-sodium soy sauce, walnuts, raisins - $2.00)

I know I've posted this recipe before, but we love it so much that we eat it all summer long! Simply grate caggage, add some grated carrot if you'd like, tomato, walnuts, raisins, and our Under the Median oil-free lemon-ginger dressing. The dressing is one of our popular Under the Median Cheap Eats featured recipes. You can find the recipe for our oil-free lemon ginger dressing here..

Air FriedVeggie Platter: Beet chips, quinoa balls, stuffed squash blossoms, zucchini rounds

(Additional ingredients: squash blossoms, almond flour, aquafaba, quinoa, homemade hummus, fresh herbs: $4.50) 

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Our newest Under the Median Cheap Eats recipe, I am absolutely in love with this one. The only downside is that squash blossom season is really short. But, that gives us something to look forward to for next year. 

Quinoa Balls

These were a last minute inspiration after I had some filling left over from the stuffed squash blossoms. All I did was make balls (about the size of walnuts) and roll them in a little additional almond flour. It lined the air fryer basket with parchment paper so that they wouldn't stick to the fryer. Air fry at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes, turning half way through. Remove when they are lightly browned. You'll need the squash blossom filling recipe and you can find it here

Beet Chips

The beet chips were literally beets sliced very thin and allowed to sit out for about 30 minutes to dry out a bit. Add them to the air fryer and fry at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes. Stop the fryer every 5-6 minutes to turn the beets over and watch them to be sure that they don't burn! They will crisp up and the natural sugars will taste like candy! 

Mexican Cabbage

(Additional ingredients: hot pepper, herbs, spices, tomato paste - 25¢)

Cabbage, sauteed with onion, garlic, a hot pepper, corn, and tomato paste? Yes, thank you! This recipe, from the Happy Herbivore, made a huge pot. We ate it the first night as a topping over baked potatoes, and the rest will last us another two nights! This is one of those recipes that gets better as it sits, too! 

Pasta Primavera

(Additional ingredients: lemon juice, whole wheat pasta - 60¢)

Easy peasy! Just saute veggies in some water. Add onion and garlic powder and lemon juice. Serve over 8 oz. of whole wheat pasta. I didn't follow a recipe. I just made it up as I want along. Want a recipe to follow? Here's one that I found that is closest to what I did. 

Carrot top pesto over pasta

(Additional ingredients: raw sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, whole wheat pasta -  90¢ยบ

I based this carrot top pesto on my recipe for oil-free radish leaf pesto. It was very tasty atop a bed of 8 oz. of whole wheat pasta. 

Potatoes and Green Beans with Carrot Top Pesto

(Additional ingredients: raw sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, lemon juice - 40¢)

This recipe was devised because I remembered the potato and green bean dish that my mother made all the time when I was growing up. She added bacon or ham for flavor. As a vegan, I use liquid smoke, instead. 

DIRECTIONS: Cook some diced onion and garlic in a pan with a little water until the veggies are softened. Add diced red potato and green beans. Add about a cup of water to the bottom of the pan so that the potatoes and beans don't stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook on medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through. Add onion powder, garlic powder, and salt free seasoning (your choice). About 1 tsp. of liquid smoke will give it a "meaty" feel with no added fat or cholesterol. Stir in about 1/4-1/2 cup of carrot top pesto. Serve warm. 

Additional sides: 

  • Crackers from Aldi - $.75
  • Salad mix - markdown at Kroger - $3.00
  • Homemade salad dressing - $1.00
  • Baked Potatoes - $0.00 (Already in CSA Box)
  • Sauteed beet greens - $0.00 (Already in CSA Box)

Total cost of all additional ingredients: $26.55

Drum roll, please! The total cost of our entire weekly menu is: 


The best part is: I had quite a few ingredients left over from the CSA box. So, I didn't even use up every single item. That means I still have more base ingredients that I can add to the brand new box that I pick up on Saturday morning.

So, here's a shout out to the hard-working farmers of our nation! I so appreciate all the amazing, nutritious, fresh food that they bring my way every week.


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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Vegan Stuffed Squash Blossoms in the Air Fryer

The 14 year old sous chef and I created this recipe after we bought a dozen squash blossoms at our local farmers' market on Saturday. Neither of us had ever tried them, but I had been getting reader comments asking what to do with them.

A quick Google search revealed that one generally stuffs them with a cream cheese mixture and then fries them in oil. Being a whole foods vegan, both the cheese and the excess oil were problematic for me. However, never one to back down from a challenge, we bought the blossoms and decided to figure out how we could use them to create a visually appealing, special dish, without any added oil or fat.

Their stunning colors are opulent. Each blossom is a perfectly formed, delicate flower. It almost seems a shame to cook them. But, believe me, the taste is so amazing, you will be hooked in an instant and wait with bated breath until they show up again at market next year.

The season for squash blossoms is very limited, as you might imagine, given the fact that if farmers do not pick them, the blossoms soon dry up and in their place you find a baby squash growing.

As the sous chef and I researched and discussed options, it was he who first suggested using hummus as a filling. It has that mouth-round creaminess that you want from a good cream cheese, without all the fat. As I pondered that, it occurred to me that I had a bag of cooked, mixed quinoa in the freezer.

Putting both items together, we wound up mixing together homemade hummus, quinoa, and fresh parsley to create a filling with the perfect texture and flavor.

I quickly abandoned the idea of holding the delicate blossoms open with one hand, while trying to spoon the filling in with the other hand, There was no way that this was going to work. I settled on the God-given cook's tool - my fingers! I was able to pinch a couple of teaspoons of filling between my fingers and gently insert it into the open blossom and then twisting the top shut to hold in the filling.

The final step was to roll each blossom packet in aquafaba and then into almond flour.  Pop them in the air fryer at 400 degrees for 16 minutes, turning half way through. You may need to use a spatula to gently pry them off the bottom of the pan. If you want, you could briefly apply a little olive oil or non-stick spray to insure that they don't stick. But, I don't cook with any added oil and was able to manage getting them from the pan.

Serve them with your choice of sauce. We chose dijon mustard with a touch of honey added for sweetness. They were divine! Best served piping hot from the air fryer.

Don't have an air fryer? You could bake them at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, gently turning half way through the cooking time.

What in the world is aquafaba?

For those who don't know, aquafaba is the vegan solution to avoiding the use of egg whites when getting things like flour or breading to stick to items that you want to bake. It works exceedingly well, too! To get some either, buy a can of garbanzo beans and drain the liquid into a bowl (this is aquafaba) or do what I do. Cook a large batch of garbanzo beans in the pressure cooker. Drain off the liquid and keep the aquafaba. It will thicken as it cools into a consistency that is nearly identical to egg whites. Keep in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.

PRO TIP! If you won't use all of your aquafaba within two weeks, simply freeze it in ice cube trays. Pop the aquafaba cubes into a freezer bag and label. It will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months. One cube is 2 Tbsp.

Recipe: Vegan Stuffed Squash Blossoms in the Air Fryer


12 nice sized fresh squash blossoms


1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (I used a mixture of red and white)
1 cup no-oil hummus (I used my favorite hummus recipe from
1/4 cup finely minced fresh parsley


1/2 cup aquafaba
1 cup almond flour

Optional Seasonings for breading: 

1 tsp.onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Suggested Dipping Sauces: 

Honey mustard (we made our own by mixing a little honey into dijon mustard) 
Barbecue sauce (We make our own, called Kickin' Tomato sauce, from
Salsa (We like fruit-based salsas for this dish) 
Teriyaki Sauce (Be careful with this one if you are watching sodium.) 


If you are using refrigerated or frozen aquafaba, place it in a bowl and let it come to room temperature, so that it isn't too thick to use. 

Mix filling ingredients together in a bowl. Beginning with the hummus, add the quinoa a little at a time until a cream cheese like consistency is gained. Gently stir in the finely minced fresh parsley. 

Assemble the breading supplies in TWO separate bowls. The aquafaba should be in one bowl and the almond flour in a second bowl. If you'd like to season the almond flour, add the suggested seasonings and stir. We liked it better plain so that we could use the dipping sauce of our choice to create different tastes.  

Prepare your work surface like an assembly line. Stuff each blossoms with about a teaspoon of filling, gently packing it so as to not damage the flour. Twist the top of the blossom to close, Coat each by dipping it first into the aquafaba and then roll in the almond flour. Finally, place them in a single layer in the air fryer insert. 

Turn the air fryer on to 400 degrees for 16 minutes. After 10 minutes, using a spatula, gently turn each blossom packet over so the other side will brown. Return the air fryer basket and continue cooking for the remainder of the time, checking to insure that they are not over-browning. 

Serve with the sauce of your choice. These disappeared like magic from my table! Everyone wanted to know if there was any chance of getting more squash blossoms at market next week. 

Hey! Do you want this recipe in a handy, downloadable PDF? No problem! Here you go! Enjoy!

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

Big Lots 20% Off Healthy Food Haul

Today was that magical day - Big Lots Friends and Family Weekend. I look forward to this quarterly event like a kid in a candy shop. I deliberately use this opportunity for additional savings to restock my pantry with healthy food.

Now some may not see the words: Big Lots and healthy food as being synonymous. But, that is not so! You can find healthy options at Big Lots for tremendous prices, especially at 20% off. Let's take a look at what I got today and then I'll reveal the total at the end of the post.

(Please note: My posts contain affiliate links. When you make a purchase through my links, I will receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. Thank you.) 

Flax Seeds

So, what's so healthy about flax seed? Plenty! 

The Ancient civilizations of the Fertile Crescent were the first to cultivate flax, using it to make linen. It wasn't until many centuries later that the benefits of flax became widely known. By the 1940s, after being replaced by cotton as the choice of clothiers far and wide, this wonderful plant fell out of fashion. 

Here's why flax is a powerhouse in the arena of health. 

  • Like fish oil, it contains omega-3 fatty acids. This means you can get the benefits of fish oil, without the added cholesterol. 
  • Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, keeps your food moving through your system and your colon clean and happy. 

  • It's chock full of lignans, which are powerful plant estrogens, protecting our body from the effects of aging. Similar to the estrogen our body naturally produces, the plant-based version helps prevent certain cancers, relieves hot flashes, reduces bone loss, lowers your blood pressure, and gives you a happier outlook on life.  

How do you use flax?

Although many people ingest flax in the form of flax oil, there are a couple of problems with this approach. Flax oil goes rancid very quickly when exposed to light and heat. Additionally, flax oil is the most expensive variety of all flax products. 

I prefer to purchase the whole seeds and grind them daily in an inexpensive coffee mill, which I bought years ago for under $20.  

I like this one. I've used a Mr. Coffee coffee grinder for years now. I have one grinder for coffee and one grinder that I reserve for grinding small amounts of herbs, spices, and flax seeds. 

I sprinkle a Tablespoon each day on my breakfast cereal, salad, or soup. It has a pleasant, nutty flavor. After you grind it, keep the excess in the fridge, so that the oils don't degrade. Use it up within a couple of days. CAUTION: Experts advise against consuming more than a quarter of a cup each day. 

Coconut Flakes

Coconut is pretty high in fat. So, I don't use it a lot. But, sometime your summer muffins or fruit salads just scream out for the fresh taste of a little coconut. Heck, I think we can all admit that a sprinkle of coconut on top of your breakfast oatmeal can just spell nirvana! 

If you are going to indulge, Bob's Red Mill is always a safe way to go. This package has all the words that I am looking for! Unsulfured! Unsweetened! No preservatives!

What does all this mean?

  • Unsulfured - sulfur dioxide is a preservative, added to lengthen the shelf life. Although GRAS (Generally regarded as safe) by the USDA, you don't need it in your diet and it can make some chemically sensitive people quite ill. Finding unsulfured fruit can be a challenge, however, because this chemical is quite ubiquitous in the preparation of dried fruits.  
  • Unsweetened - The easiest way to control the amount of sugar in your diet is to look for ingredients that are labeled as unsweetened. 
  • No preservatives - Okay, this covers everything in addition to sulfur dioxide. Bob's Red Mill doesn't add anything to your food that doesn't need to be in there! I love this company and look for and purchase their products on a regular basis. 
  • One last note: Bob's Red Mill products are regularly carried by all Big Lots locations and they are available at terrifically low prices! Yes!! You can only imagine how happy this makes me! 

Diced Green Chiles

I love green chiles and use them in a lot of recipes. In the summer, I purchase fresh peppers. I even freeze them in small bags to use in the winter. But, I always try to keep a can or two of fire roasted chiles on the shelf as a "back up" for when I run out. 

Tomato Products

I use a ton of tomato products! But, I label read like a crazy lady. I don't buy any canned goods unless they contain very little sodium. So, when I find items that are labeled as salt free, no salt added, or are just naturally low in sodium, I buy them in bulk. 

Today, I spent: 

$3.60 for 10 - 6 oz. tomato paste - 36¢ each. 
$4.32 for 6 - 12 oz. tomato paste - 72¢ each. 
$4.48 for 12 - 8oz. tomato sauce - 32¢ each.

That's a LOT of tomatoes! This haul will last us about three months, until the next Big Lots Friends and Family Weekend. Clearly, I use a lot of tomatoes. 

But what's so great about tomatoes? Plenty!

  • Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
  • Tomatoes prevent damage to your eyes and skin. 
  • Tomatoes reduce your chances of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. 
  • Tomatoes lower your blood pressure, 
  • Tomatoes increase your fiber intake and reduce constipation. 
In addition to all that, they are incredibly versatile and taste great! The heat used in the canning process actually increases the bio-availability of the lycopene!  The only drawback is the sodium content of most cans of processed vegetables. However, salt free versions are not only becoming easier to find, they are also coming down in price. So, there's no reason to not enjoy using canned tomatoes, as long as you look for the varieties which contain no added salt.


This is an example of how thinking ahead will save you money. These will sit on my pantry shelf for a little while, because it's July and sweet corn season is just beginning! We'll eat Illinois sweet corn fresh from the farmer's market every night that we can for the next six weeks, until the season begins to wane to an end. 

But, in winter, when I run out of my stash of corn that I have taken off the cob and frozen, I like to have a few cans of corn waiting in the wings to use for family meals. There is seriously nothing better than a good bowl of potato corn soup when the weather is cold outside! 

Once again, check out that beautiful label!  "No salt or sugar added". It's magic to my ears! If there's one thing I want you to learn from this post, it's that you must label read if you want to eat healthy! 


Okay, this is one product that I brought home which could be argued as unhealthy. I actually agree. It has far more than my "gold standard" of five ingredients or less on the label. It is made of white flour and has preservatives. 

Having admitted all that, I don't eat them. But, my boys do. They use them to wrap up leftover stir fries, bean burgers, casseroles, and a whole host of other unclaimed food, mainly to take to work. There are some battles that I fight. This is not one of them. Plus, for 80¢ for 10 of them, it's a cheap lunch. 

Herbs and Spices

These are not organic. But, if that's important to you, Big Lots has a very nice organic selection of their name brand spices. Today, I shopped from the regular spice selection. I've actually been stocking up on herbs and spices. So, I didn't need much. I opted for a large container of minced onion (this size is a new offering for Big Lots) and two smaller Italian seasoning containers. The large container was $3.96 and the smaller ones just 80¢ each. Both are frequent additions to my weekly cooking.

Vinegars and Sauces

This is one area of the store in which it is absolutely critical that you label read! If you don't, you will wind up filling your body with a whole lot of sugar, oil, salt, additives, and preservatives. But, if you are careful, you can find some items, which will add depth of flavor and interest to your daily meals. 

Lime Juice - $1.20 - Although I'm a fan of reaming fresh lemons and limes, sometimes you just can't swing the extra price. So, the bottled varieties are great in a pinch. I would have gotten the twin lemon juice of this variety, but when I got to the store, they were all out. So, I bought just lime juice. Once again, label read to be sure that the variety you buy has no added sugar, salt, preservatives, or food coloring. 

Rice Vinegar - $2.00 - This vinegar has actually gone up $.50 in price from the last time I bought it. I use it in homemade no-oil salad dressings. It has a light flavor and blends really well with citrus juices. CAUTION! They also sell a version with added salt and spices. Don't get this one! The sodium level is astronomical and it limits you in what kinds of additional flavors you can add to it. 

Mustard - $.80 - Yep. It's got some added salt and I think it's actually a little less at Aldi. But, I wasn't going to Aldi today and the price was close enough. I use plain yellow mustard a lot in cooking. It pretty much meets my label reading rule of 5 ingredients or less and all ingredients in plain English. 

Apple Cider Vinegar - $3.16 - We use this medicinally more than anything else. It's great for reducing inflammation. But, it also comes in handy for great marinated summer salads. CAUTION: Look for a brand which is unfiltered and contains the Mother (that's the sort of filmy whitish stuff in the bottom of the bottle). The Mother feeds the vinegar and gives it the associated health benefits. 

Balsamic Vinegar - $2.32 - It's not Grand Reserve, which is aged for 12 years and as thick as syrup, but this is a great everyday vinegar. I make dressings out of it every week. 

Let's see how much I spent and then I'll give you a special bonus idea for the balsamic vinegar: My everyday oil free dressing. It's called "3-2-1 Dressing".  I can't take credit for it. But, I'll give credit where credit it due. 

Total Spent: $47.35

That's a lot of stuff for under $50! I was very, very pleased with not only my savings, but also with the quality of the merchandise that I found today at Big Lots. 


 3-2-1- Balsamic Dressing Recipe

My everyday dressing recipe is simple. It's called 3-2-1 Dressing and I give credit to Jane Essylsten

1 part real maple syrup
2 parts mustard (your choice. I like dijon) 
3 parts balsamic vinegar. 

Stir, shake, mix (however you want to combine the ingredients) and serve. Easy peasy and so good! 

Your Turn!

What are you favorite real food items to get at Big Lots? How do you use Big Lot's great prices to stretch your food dollars? Leave your advice in the comments section. 

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