Healthy and TASTY meals from a can? A special post on affordable cooking

pot pie

Let me start by saying food banks are wonderful. They’re a lifeline to put food on otherwise empty kitchen shelves, and keep hunger at bay when the budget doesn’t support a trip to the grocery store. At one point in my life, a box of typical food bank canned and boxed food that appeared on my porch was a lifesaving gift, so I know what I’m talking about.

But one of the biggest challenges facing people trying to use a food bank to survive is how to build healthy, tasty meals from canned and packaged foods. Even after my own financial crisis had passed, my single mom days were often filled with trying to make healthy, tasty meals for my kids and I from the case-lot canned good section of the grocery store, or even what was on the shelves at Dollar Tree. If you’ve never experienced that, let me tell you, it’s hard!

The Capital Area Food Bank here in Austin understands that struggle. That’s why they’ve asked local Canned-Food-Month-Badge-Featuredbloggers in the Austin Food Blogger Alliance to come up with a family friendly, low cost dinner using canned goods  likely to be found in a food bank. I jumped at the challenge, because I understand the need!

(Before I share the recipe, I need to let you know that even a meal as simple as this one is hard to make when you’re counting pennies. Food banks seldom include spices or seasonings on their shelves, simply because people don’t think to donate them, so making food flavorful is hard.  I chose to include them here, because the availability of bulk spices in local grocery stores like HEB makes it more affordable to get a small amount for under a dollar, and make a big impact on flavor. ) 

I started with a selection of canned good typical for a food pantry. Selecting a variety of vegetables means you’ll end up with a meal that’s heavy on nutrition. If low sodium versions are available, do select those cans.

canned goods

Vegetable (or Chicken) Pot Pie
6-8 small pot pies or one large casserole

Ingredients

Crust:

packets of biscuit mix

  • 2 packets biscuit mix (available at many food banks, or for .50/packet at HEB
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)

Filling

  • 1 can peas, drained
  • 1 can carrots, drained
  • 1 can potatoes, drained (diced, if not already diced from the can)
  • 1 can corn, (do not drain)
  • 1 can green beans (do not drain)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped

whole onion

  • 1/2 can vegetable broth
  • 1/2 can condensed cream soup (mushroom, potato, chicken, etc.,), low fat if available
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can cooked chicken, tuna or turkey or one block tofu (optional)*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

poultry seasoning

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

  • In a bowl, combine biscuit mix with 1/2 can of evaporated milk (or 1/2 cup regular milk)
  • Mix and set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan, combine all the vegetables, broth, remaining 1/2 can of milk, 1/2 can of condensed soup and seasoning.
  • Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until onions start to soften

pot pie filling

  • Make an egg-sized ball of the dough and pat it into the bottom of a pot pie tin or small loaf pan (I bought a package of 5 mini-loaf pans at Target for $1.45)

OR

  • Pat one half of the dough into the bottom of a 9 x 9 baking pan
  • Fill pans to within 1/2 inch of top of the pan(s)

filled pot pie

  • Pat out remaining dough to cover each pot pie (or the large pot pie.)

unbaked pot pies

  • Make 3 -4 small slits in the top of the crust
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (or 45 minutes for a large pie)
  • Serve hot, in the pan or inverted onto a plate

Baked pot pieIf you have any leftover filling, as I did, mix the filling with the remaining broth mix and condensed soup. Add some extra milk, broth or water to make a nice cream soup to serve with another meal.

These pot pies freeze well. If you’re not planning on eating them immediately, assemble them, then freeze. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, or until hot in the center.

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* I don’t eat meat, so I used vegetarian protein sources. Tofu, at about a dollar a package is a great choice for vegetarians on a budget who want to make this dish.

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Cookies by Design: Find it in Austin Friday

Cookies by Design Austin cookie bouquetIt’s just a small shop, tucked into a strip mall in Northwest Austin. But there was something that drew me in as I walked by.

Cookies by Design Window

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Cookies by Design was the smell. It was a heavenly mix of cinnamon and chocolate and sugar cookie. When a cookie bakery smells this good, and tastes just as amazing, it should be enough.

But Cookies by Design takes it further. They use those mouth-watering cookies to make truly creative bouquets for all occasions.  Yes, I know there are any number of food gift companies. But when it comes to celebration, a food gift should shout fun. And that’s where so many gift companies miss the boat.

Maybe it’s just me, but cut up fruit on sticks just doesn’t do it for me. Nor does a basket of boxed candies, tinned cake and preserved cheeses.

Cookies by Design window display

This place does it right, with bouquets that shout “Have Fun!” “Smile” and above all, “Eat!”  They can even put photos right onto the cookies! And they’ve been doing it for over 30 years…in fact, founder Gwen Willhite is credited with coining the term “Cookie Bouquet.”

I love knowing I’ve found a place to go when I want to give someone a special birthday, graduation, new baby or congrats treat here in Austin, and have them hand-delivered. Or I can use their website to order fresh cookies from one of their other individually owned and operated locations.

The Austin shop I visited is located at 13343 Highway 183 North, Suite 250 in Austin. Their phone number is 512-257-8400, and the shop is open from 9:00-6:30 M-F and 10:00-3:30 Saturday, The shop is closed on Sunday.

Check them out Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, too!

Cookies by Design Austin TX

urban american grill: Who knew food like this existed in a chain hotel?

urban american grill in the Westin Domain

It was the Sunday morning after MomCom 2014, and I was exhausted. I had enjoyed the event, and my stay at the Austin Westin Hotel in the Domain –and I wasn’t quite ready to head back to the “real world.”  After sleeping in, and skipping breakfast, brunch was definitely on my mind. But where?

Walking across the parking lot to the Domain was an option, but I really wanted to stay put, so I headed for the hotel’s cafe, urban american grill. I didn’t have high hopes, but it was right there, and I was hungry.

As I walked in, I heard Bluegrass music, but I thought it was a recording. Nope. It was LIVE Bluegrass. In a hotel restaurant. In the morning. Awesome!

20140126_134142I sat down and took a look at the menu, expecting the typical boring selection of breakfast dishes for outrageous hotel prices. Wrong again!  There were all kinds of tempting choices, and the prices were less than some regular brunch haunts.

urban american grill menu

Instead of struggling to find something “okay,” I was torn among a whole bunch of delicious choices. This was getting better and better!

I finally settled on the Forager pizza, with pears, apples, gorgonzola cheese, pecans, and roasted tomato, topped with arugula. Again, I kept my expectations low…it sounded good, but…

urban american grill menuAnd then it arrived. It was large, and covered with deliciousness! I tend to be a light eater, and usually leave at least half an entrée. Not with this dish. I ate almost every bite, while sipping iced tea and enjoying the music.

urban american grill kitchenWhat had started out as an “it’ll be okay” turned out to be a great choice I’ll be happy to experience again.

The grill is located in the Westin Austin at the Domain at 11301 Domain Drive. There’s plenty of free parking, and there’s the added attraction of the Domain shops and the iPic movie theatre, too. Sunday brunch is served from 11 am to 3 pm, but there’s also a weekday breakfast buffet, and a lunch and dinner menu, too. It’s family friendly, too.

urban american is open from 6:30 am to 10 pm, making it perfect for lunch while shopping or dinner before or after a movie.

Urban an American grill on Urbanspoon

Wild Child Rocks it on Wordfree Wednesday

Wild Chld video set at The Boneyard in Austin

I think I heard Wild Child for the first time at a show in one of Austin’s clubs. I had no idea who they were when the show started…by the end, I had become a fan!

Since then, I have made it to several other shows, and they were all amazing.

But nothing was as incredible as being invited to participate in the filming of their new videos!  So off we headed to a place called The Boneyard (more about that place in another post!), and the fun began. Unfortunately, we left the good camera behind!  So please forgive us for these camera phone-quality shots. We promise to do better next time!

Wild Child video prep

Classic stage crew poseRehersalwarm up2014-02-01 17.11.042014-02-01 17.11.0020140201_17582320140201_18240420140201_182416-0012014-02-01 18.13.34We were so happy to be a part of Wild Child’s new video event!  Next time, though, we’ll remember the camera!

You can learn more about Wild Child and their upcoming performances on their Facebook page and website. Hope to see y’all at a show!

It’s a Mobile Food Throwdown on Taste of Austin Tuesday!

Austin Mobile Food Throwdown

You’ve watched them on the Food Channel. You’ve seen it on the Cooking Channel. Now it’s time for the gloves to come off here in Austin.

That’s right. We’re pitting food truck against food truck. Acknowledged food truck masters The Peached Tortilla and Chi’Lantro BBQ will go head to head in a no-holds-barred competition right here in Austin on February 22, 2014 at Draught House Pub & Brewery to determine the king of Asian fusion street food in Austin.

The event starts at 2 pm, and runs until 5. You’ll be able to watch the cookoff, and rock out to the sounds of Jambulance ERuptionAdvance tickets are available online, and include tasting and other goodies to make the event super-special. You can also check out the event Facebook page for more info.

Of course, you’ll have to be 21 plus to indulge in the beer offerings, and yes, they will be checking IDs.

This awesome foodie knockdown is a production of FoodTrailersAustin.com, a food trailer owners and food trailer fans group started back in 2010 to “provide a hub for Austin’s burgeoning mobile food scene.” The group is promising even more events for foodie fans in the coming year, so keep an eye out and I’ll share them as they’re announced.

See you at the Throwdown!

It’s Puppies! Austin Dog Rescue on Make a Difference Monday

Lindsay and a PuppyAustin Dog Rescue and a puppy to hug…gotta love it!

Over the past few days, Austin Dog Rescue has been offering a Puppy Kissing Booth in honor of Valentine’s Day. It’s a great way to celebrate the holiday (raise your hand if your pets give you more love than most people!), and a fun way to show off the puppies looking for their forever homes in Austin.

Mimi, one of the adorable dogs at Austin Dog Rescue

But as much as I loved the cuddles (as you can see in that first shot, where she snuggled up against my neck, and fell asleep!), I really enjoyed learning more about this wonderful group.

Austin is known for its focus on animal rescue and no-kill shelters, but that’s not an easy thing to pull off. Caring for dogs until the right home is found is expensive, and requires a committed group of volunteers who will work with the pups until they’re adopted.

Pile of Valentines puppies

And when it comes to Austin Dog Rescue, that also means finding the right foster home for each and every dog accepted into the group. Unlike rescues based in shelters, which are another essential piece of the animal rescue puzzle, these puppies and adult dogs are cared for in private homes where they can spend time socializing with people and other pets.

That home-based care was the goal when the group was founded in 2006. And since that start, it has worked to help them place over 1,000 homeless pups in loving homes in and around Austin. But they’re not done. Even after all those forever homes were found, there are still so many wonderful dogs waiting for their own home. And new homeless dogs appear every day.

Austin Dog Rescue event

The pups are great, but it all comes down to the volunteers

At Sunday’s event, I loved meeting the amazing rescue volunteers almost as much as playing with the dogs. There were teens and there were seniors, and all ages in between.  Some were foster moms and dads. Others were event volunteers. But you could see that each and every one of them loved these pups.

If you’re thinking about adding a pup to your family, please celebrate one of the best aspects of Austin and head to a rescue group like Austin Dog Rescue, Austin Pets Alive, Austin Cats’ Angels instead of a breeder or a pet shop. The love — and the chance to save a life —  is there waiting for you!

I found my Vietnamese food home at King Noodle!

King Noodle Austin on A is 4 Austin

When I lived in Salt Lake City, there were lots of great Vietnamese noodle houses…and trust me, I tried them all. But State Noodle House on State Street and Cafe Trang on Main Street were my weekly stops.  And then I moved to Lancaster, PA., an are known for lots of great food, but Vietnamese?  Not really. Another move took me back home to Florida. Again, wonderful food. But no good noodle houses.

And then we moved here.  And while searching for somewhere new to try, I searched for “noodle houses” and found King Noodle.  And now I have a new noodle bowl home.

This place is everything I had been missing for years.  Great big bowls of rice noodles and veggies, served with a huge plate of table salad (bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro and lime wedges) to top my noodles.  Bottle of “Rooster sauce” (officially, Sriracha) and chilli bean paste to kick up the heat.  And other choices with rice vermicelli and still more veggies with crispy fried chunks of tofu on top.cityguide_afba_badge (1)

For the meat-eaters among us, like my blog partner and hubby (Lance, the guy in the SCUBA gear on the sidebar), there were tons of choices, from chicken to beef to seafood.  And his contented expression told me that those dishes were just as tasty as my veggie versions.

Their menu also features a great assortment of sushi, plus appetizers and Bubble Teas (my daughter’s favorite part.)

Best of all, the prices are low enough to allow me to indulge almost as often as I did in Utah.  That’s a very good thing!  That also makes King Noodle a great choice for Date Night, when we want to go out without breaking the budget.

Yes, I know Austin is the home to Mexican food and bar-b-que.  But sometimes a girl just has to have a great big bowl of noodles!  Feeling the call right now…..

PS…Usually the photos on this blog are mine, but today’s post features photos by Rachel , a very talented photographer and life-long Vietnamese food fan.  Oh, and also my daughter! Way to go Rory! (Sorry, inside joke!)

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More information about King Noodle

500 Cypress Creek Rd.
Cedar Park, TX 78613
(512) 219-0006

Open daily 11:00a – 10:p
Reservations: No
WiFi: Yes
Dog-friendly: No
Website: King Noodle Cedar Park