12 Tips For Eating Real Food On A REAL Budget

1. Maximize Less Expensive Foods
Part of this tip is getting into the habit of eating in season because in season veggies are typically much cheaper than out of season.  The other thing to consider is thinking about ingredients you and your family enjoy that are (either seasonally or year-round) cheaper and incorporating them more into your meals.  For instance, carrots are a pretty inexpensive veggie year-round.  If your family enjoys them, could you incorporate those into your weekly meal planning and even more so during weeks where other ingredients are higher costs?  Burger is certainly less expensive than many other cuts of beef.  Maybe burger is incorporated 2 times a week and another cut of beef is limited to once per week?

2. Buy In Bulk When It Makes Sense
If you don't have additional money to begin purchasing meat, veggies, canned or boxed items that are on sale and that you eat often, make deeper cuts to your food budget for 1 month to free up $20.00 or more per week to use specifically for bulk sale purchases.  (i.e. a couple of menu's of only less expensive ingredients; a couple of menus using only items currently in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer are 2 examples)  This will snowball into weekly savings.  Each week you'll be spending a bit less because you've already purchased some of the ingredients.  The weeks that you spend less because of your bulk stock, use that money to continue buying bulk sale items and stock up your pantry and freezer.

3. Eat From Your Pantry, Refrigerator & Freezer
Hand-in-hand with #2, once you've started accruing a stock you've got to remember to actually shop there first.  Not only shop there, but also plan meals around what you've previously purchased.  This will be a big savings in two ways: less money spent that week and you're ensuring you aren't throwing any of it out for going bad before you used it.

4. Right-Size Your Recipes
For 2 reasons:  to eliminate waste and, if overeating is a problem in your household, this will be the first step in fixing it.  If you right-size your recipes then there simply isn't enough left for seconds.  Many recipes are created to serve 4 and I've been bad in the past about not cutting them down for two.  This is fine when we eat the leftovers.  But not fine when I throw out the leftovers (the Coop girls usually get them but it's still throwing them out).

5. Eliminate Waste
If you don't believe you lose much money per week in food waste I would challenge you to keep a tally of what you throw away for a month.  At the end of each week tally up what you believe the ingredients cost.  It truly is amazing.  Two night's worth of leftovers, a couple of apples that went bad, 1 lemon that is a mound of mold, and a few veggies all add up.  And do you know what one of the best ways is to avoid waste............

6. Meal Plan
You knew this was going to end up on the list, didn't you????  What are you waiting for?  Meal planning is a HUGE time and money saver.  It allows me to figure out how to best utilize the ingredients I'm going to buy for the week, which in turn allows us to not overspend on ingredients we wouldn't use.  Look at your grocery store sale flyers (tip #7), look at what you currently have in your pantry/refrigerator/freezer, write out a meal plan, and create a shopping list.  Now your house will be stocked with everything you need for the next week and you won't have to try and plan meals on the fly before you get home each day.

Related: Meal Planning To Save Time & Money: A Beginners Guide
Related: Real Food - Making The Switch

7. Use Grocery Store Sale Flyers
You can certainly use coupons too if you find them for what you're purchasing, but I find store sale flyers even more valuable in saving money on real food ingredients.  And the good thing is the items on sale are cyclical so once you start watching them you'll start to understand when certain items will be on sale ahead of the sale flyer coming out.

8.  Try A CSA
What is a CSA you ask?  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is a system where farmers and the consumers (members) are in partnership of sharing both the benefits and risks of farming.  Members purchase a share at the start of growing season so the farmers receive up-front capital to grow and manage the farm. Members then receive an allotted amount (share) of vegetables each week.  Where the risk comes in is if the farmer has a crop that fails, that type of veggie or fruit won't be a part of the share.  This typically comes at a savings over purchasing the items themselves weekly.  We were members of a CSA a few years ago when we had a massive failure with our garden (namely, woodchuck destruction).  We joined the same CSA again this year due to lack of time to grow said garden.  I found myself shopping from them numerous times last year anyway, so it just made sense for us.

9. Find A PYO Field
Pick-your-own fields usually offer a decent savings over purchasing the vegetable or fruit off of the shelf.  We are blessed with wonderful fields of strawberries, blueberries, apples, raspberries, winter squash, tomatoes, & eggplant.  

10. Preserve In-Season Fruit & Veggies

Canning, freezing, dehydrating, etc. are all great ways to preserve in-season fruits and veggies for later use.  If you garden, this is a no-brainer.  You grow some excess, you preserve it, and you feed your family throughout winter.  If you don't garden, you can purchase fruits & veggies at pick-your-own fields, or in bulk at farm stands or farmers markets usually for quite a savings.  Use some of it now and preserve the remainder for later.

Related: Food Preservation - Freezing Veggies

11. Go Meatless One (or more) Days Per Week
Simply put, meat is expensive.  There's just no getting away from it.  If you can convert your family to a couple of meatless dishes it's a money saver in the long run.  My husband is not a fan of beans.  He's told me for years "I don't like beans".  So, I continued to try different types of beans and different recipes, thinking that he just hadn't had the right recipe.  And do you know what?  I was right!!  We found that he prefers great northern beans or refried beans and, in the right recipe, black beans.  I've now found a couple of recipes (woo hoo!) that he really likes.

So the next dilemma is finding time to make beans, right?  Problem solved again!  You can make them in the slow-cooker, instant pot or stove-top and they freeze beautifully!  Of course, canned beans are fine too (drain & rinse them because of the sodium).

12. Maximize Your Leftovers
Ahhh....leftovers.  It seems people either love them or hate them.  Although there's also the group that likes them but forgets about them (I'm raising my hand.....).  Leftovers are a great budget saver when used for lunches or dinners a couple of times a week.  Some leftovers can be turned into completely different meals (particularly roasted/grilled meats or beans) and others are perfect (or even better) as they are - especially lasagna and chili!

Do you have any tips on saving money in your grocery budget?

Change Your Life In 2018 - February Challenge: Figure Out What To Do With Your Life

If you’re just joining in, the “Change Your Life In 2018” series is my quest to make some small changes this year.  Rather than setting easily forgotten resolutions I wanted to focus on 12 changes that would help me learn and grow as a person.  I’ve chosen to focus on one change per month so that it could not only become a more manageable goal, but I have a better chance at making these new habits as well.  I hope you’ll join me in the challenge!

Do you find yourself asking the question "what do I want to do with my life"?  Maybe you're one of the millions of people working in careers that they just don't like.  Or maybe you feel like you've had a good amount of time in your current career but it's no longer satisfying.  Or maybe your career is just fine, it's the rest of your life you're confused about.  Many people appear outwardly successful, however, they aren't fulfilled.  No judgement here - I've been there myself.

I’ve always struggled with the question - what I want to do when I grow up.  I have such a variety of interests that committing to just one has never been easy.  In college I was a double major.  All of my life I’ve loved dance but once I began college I also became very passionate about biology and chemistry.  Two areas that didn't interest me at all throughout high school.  By my sophomore year I decided that I would double major in both dance and pre-med.  Partly because majoring in dance seemed irresponsible and partly because I couldn’t decide on just one…… (and I’m not currently using either)

I have enjoyed the path my life has taken, but I have been trying to figure out what’s next.  Again, the dilemma is my varied interests.  I’ve struggled with narrowing it down.  As you know, my husband and I started a business (Cobble Hill Farm Apothecary) 4 years ago.  We absolutely love it, and plan to continue it as long as we have customers interested in our products.  But I want more.  Again, I have other interests that haven’t been utilized through the business (I love writing, I love cooking.....).  So I continued to question if we are on the right path or if there's another piece that's missing.

Then I completed an exercise that seemed to really resonate with me.  I believe wholeheartedly in trusting my gut.  Sometimes I make very quick (and assumed rash) decisions because my gut says “yup – no need to ask any more questions, just do it”.  Other times I contemplate and go back and forth.  But once I hit on something that my gut reaction is “that is IT” or “that is definitely NOT it”, then I follow it.

It’s critical to figure out what you should be doing because we can be very unsettled if you're not on the right path.  Maybe it’s the next chapter in your life, or maybe it’s the start of your path, regardless, once you figure this out everything else seems to fall into place.

Before you conduct any of these exercises, you first must let go.


You cannot filter what you write based on what you believe you need to make for a salary, or what education or training it would take to have your dream career, or that you're too old to make the change, or that it's silly.  Nope, none of that.  Instead, truly allow yourself to write freely.  No restrictions, no editing, no negative thoughts. 

1. Write Your Dream Bio
I was perusing  Frugalwoods, (I highly recommend it) and came across Liz's article "How I Figured Out What I Want To Do With My Life And How You Can Too" and was hooked.  The first exercise she gave, which was this one, was SO easy.  I couldn't believe that it was this easy to really feel as though I'd hit it.

  • Take out a piece of paper and pen and write out, in present tense, what you would like your bio to read as.  Include your job, your community service, your hobbies, your financial state, etc.  Whatever you wish was your bio that someone was reading TODAY.  Remember the instructions above about letting go.....don't filter by thinking it's impossible, or stupid, or irresponsible, just write.
  • Don't write things you should write, instead, write what you really feel in your gut would be fulfilling.  What would bring even more happiness into your life.

For me it was a huge light bulb.  As I wrote my bio I really felt I was writing my dream life.  And the kicker was, much of it seems attainable.  Some of it is a stretch, for sure, but that's good.  First, you should always have stretch goals.  Second, what you actually write may not be attainable, but it may lead you to something that is.

For example: let's say you write that you want to be a famous singer.  The "famous" portion of it may or may not happen.  And the "singer portion of it can only happen if you can actually sing.  That being said, is there something in the music industry that would be a good fit?  Could you continue with your current career and pick up local singing gigs to help fulfill that passion?

Think outside of the box when you look at what you've written.

  • Now compare your newly written bio with where you are today.  What needs to happen in order for your true bio to change to your dream bio?  What types of goals must you set?  What needs to change in you (beliefs, drive, confidence, etc.) to make this work?  Are there things you do today that allow you to test the waters of some of your dreams?

2. Write Your Personal Manifesto
If the dream bio didn't work for you, what about a manifesto?  Write it in present tense ("I am" rather than "I would like to")Include things such as:

  • your job including specifics on what it would be and then further narrowed down by pay, hours you would like to work, location, etc.  If it's something along the line of freelance, get specific on who you would want to perform work for.
  • your lifestyle including where you would like to live, details about your home, are you living mortgage-free, hobbies and leisure activities, community service/volunteer details, what you have for money in the bank and investments, etc.
  • your principles - what are your beliefs or intentions?
The same as the exercise above, compare this to what is true of your life today.  What needs to happen in order for your true bio to change to what you've written?  What types of goals must you set?  What needs to change in you (beliefs, drive, confidence, etc.) to make this work?  Are there things you do today that allow you to test the waters of some of your dreams?

I will reiterate again, it doesn't matter your age, your income or how much time you've got on any given day to devote to changing the path of your life.  We can all make changes, large or small, to work toward living the life that makes us feel happy and content.  We've got one shot at this - don't you owe it to yourself to at least try?  It's not easy, and it doesn't happen overnight, but it's worth the work.  

You are worth the work.  😉

Next month’s topic is: Goal-Setting: Chunking Them Down Into Bite-Size Pieces

Find the introduction to the series here: 12 Things You Can Do To Change Your Life In 2018
Find January's challenge here:  Letting Go Of Regrets



$100.00/Week Real Food Meal Plan - Week 7

If you’re just tuning in, this is an ongoing series in which I share our weekly meal plan as I (attempt) to convert us to a Whole/Real Food lifestyle.  Our grocery budget is $100.00/week for 2 adults.  Often I make 2 different meals because I am primarily plant-based and my husband is not.  Most of what we eat is made from scratch and any boxed, canned and/or frozen products follow the Real Food guidelines.  Meal planning is my way of controlling the grocery budget (read as a LOT of dollars saved), ensuring there is no food waste for the week, as well as saving time.  You can read more about meal planning here.

Read the entire series here.

After a year of eating primarily plant-based meals and making the switch to real foods, I feel like I can try to wrangle our weekly grocery budget down to $100.00 a week (food only - does not include paper towels, cleaners, etc.).  I am using a few things to help trim it down which I'll share in a post later in the week.  I wanted to cut our grocery budget down so we can put additional money toward large projects on the farm.

Weekly Meal Plan:
Breakfast - (me) Veggies & HomeFries; (J) Eggs over Homefries
Lunch - French Bread Pizza (me - veg; J - burger)
Dinner - Slow-Cooker Whole Chicken, Twice Baked Potatoes, Spinach

Breakfast - Carrot Cake Oatmeal
Lunch - Kale & Vegetable Soup (J's version has mini meatballs)
Dinner - Shrimp Skillet Rice, Roasted Brussels sprouts

Breakfast - Carrot Cake Oatmeal
Lunch - Kale & Vegetable Soup (J's version has mini meatballs)
Dinner - (me) Beans & Greens with Pasta; (J) Chicken Skillet Lasagna (using leftover chicken)

Breakfast - Carrot Cake Oatmeal
Lunch - Leftovers
Dinner - (J) Smothered Pork Chops, Broccoli Rice with Beans, Roasted Carrots

Breakfast - Carrot Cake Oatmeal
Lunch - Kale & Vegetable Soup (J's version has mini meatballs)
Dinner - (me) Veggie & Dumplings; (J) Chicken & Dumplings (using leftover chicken)

Breakfast - Carrot Cake Oatmeal
Lunch - Leftovers
Dinner - Refried Bean Enchiladas, Mexican Rice, Spinach

Breakfast - Omelet & Home Fries
Lunch - Veggie Dumpling Soup
Dinner - (me) Roasted Vegetables & Rice; (J) Beef & Broccoli Stir-Fry with Rice

 Weekly Food Costs:
Commissary: $28.95
(I am not allowed to share individual product prices so I'm giving a list of what was purchased within the total)
Potatoes, Celery, Broccoli, Brown Rice, Tortilla Shells, Flour, Whole Wheat Pasta, Dry Beans, Tomato Sauce, Crushed Tomatoes, Non-GMO Organic Oats, Ricotta Cheese, Pepper jack Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese, and Frozen Spinach

Aldi's: $9.86
Blueberries - $1.79 x 2
Kale - $3.49
Mandarin Oranges - $2.79

BJ's: $21.49
Organic Whole Chicken - $14.51 ($2.49/lb)
Organic 1/2 & 1/2 - $2.99
Organic Whole Milk - $3.99

Farmer's Market: $26.00
Grass-Fed Pork Chops (I bought a pack of 4 thin cut for $10.00; we'll use 2 this week and 2 next week) - $5.00
Grass-Fed Beef Ground Burger (1.3 lbs) - $5.00
Grass-Fed Beef Flank Steak - $8.00
Apples - $4.00
Carrots - $4.00

Hannaford: $20.03
Cilantro - $1.29
Parsley - $1.29
Brussels Sprouts - $2.99
Peppers (3 pack) - $2.99
Salsa - $2.99
Refried Beans - $2.49
Shrimp - $5.99

Total Weekly Cost: $106.33

Weekly Food Notes:
I make our breads and baked goods almost always from scratch (from time-to-time we purchase whole grain bread by Dave's at the grocery store).  I am making the homemade dumplings with white flour, so I purchased a bag of that, because they just taste much better than whole wheat.

I cook a whole chicken either in the oven or slow-cooker and then use the meat throughout the week.  I cook the carcass in the slow-cooker the next day for homemade chicken stock.

I had raw walnuts, (from Trader Joe's), raisins, better half (my coffee creamer), homemade vegetable stock, butter and oil on hand so you do not see it listed in the food costs.

Any canned, boxed and/or frozen food I buy follows the real food guidelines so you will notice they are not the cheapest versions available.

We raise chickens for eggs so you will (hopefully) never see eggs on the grocery list.

I could have come in only $1.00 over budget if I made my refried beans and salsa.  The cost of convenience......

Slow Cooker Baked Apples

I typically associate baked apples with fall.  But they are much too delicious to only eat them for one season!  Besides, our farmer's market offers apples year-round thanks to the orchards large storage space.  So, baked apples in the heart of winter are just as delicious for dessert or a snack as they are in the fall.

I use a fairly small amount of maple syrup.  You can certainly drizzle more over the top once they've finished baking if your hungry group prefers them a bit sweeter.  Sometimes I add a handful of scrumptious homemade granola instead of the nuts and raisins.  That's equally delicious.

Throw these in the slow-cooker once dinner is up and running, and by the time your family is getting a sweet tooth, you'll be enjoying piping hot, freshly made dessert.  Now that's the perfect end to the day!

Slow-Cooker Baked Apples
serves 4

4 large baking apples
1/2 cup golden or regular raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups apple juice or apple cider

Wash the apples. Remove the tops by cutting straight across (see photo) and then remove the core.  ( I find using a small spoon or scoop is easiest to do this).  Discard the core but keep the top.  

Pour the juice or cider in the bottom of the slow-cooker and set the apple bottoms in the slow-cooker, scooped side up.  Fill the scooped out center with the raisins & walnuts, dividing them evenly.  Pour 1 Tablespoon of melted butter over the walnut-raisin mixture of each apple.  Pour 3/4 teaspoon of maple syrup over the walnut-raisin mixture of each apple.  Sprinkle the apple fillings with cinnamon.  Top each with their previously cut off tops.

Cover and cook 2 1/2 - 3 hours on low, until apples are tender.  Your house will smell ahh-mazing!!!

Remove the apples using a spatula. Serve.

Real Food Meal Plan - Week 6

If you’re just tuning in, this is an ongoing series in which I share our weekly meal plan as I (attempt) to convert us to a Whole/Real Foods lifestyle. I actually meal plan monthly but share it here weekly because it makes more sense to do so.  Meal planning is my way of controlling the grocery budget (read as a LOT of dollars saved), ensuring there is no food waste for the week, as well as saving time.  You can read more about meal planning here.

Weekly Meal Plan:
Breakfast - Freezer Breakfast Sandwich
Lunch - (me) No-Tuna Sandwich; (J) Chicken Sandwich
Dinner - Homemade Pizza & Salad

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) Kale Salad; (J) Leftover Pizza
Dinner - Scallop Gratin, Freezer Twice-Baked Potatoes & Steamed Broccoli

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) Kale Salad; (J) Leftover Pizza
Dinner - (me) Beans & Greens with Rice, (J) Slow-Cooker Honey Soy Chicken, Rice, & Veggie Stir Fry

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) Kale Salad; (J) Leftover Pizza
Dinner - (me) Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos, (J) BBQ Pork Tenderloin, Mac & Cheese, Buffalo Cauliflower

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) Kale Salad; (J) Ham & Cheese Sandwich
Dinner - (me) Vegan Ravioli; (J) Cheese Ravioli with Meat Sauce, Steamed Broccoli

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) Kale Salad; (J) Ham & Cheese Sandwich

Breakfast - Omelet & Hashbrowns
Lunch - French Bread Pizza
Dinner - Lasagna (veggie - me, beef - J), Kale & Beet Salad

This Month On The Farm: January 2018

If you’re just tuning in, this is a brand new ongoing series in which I document each month of our lives in our transition to a simple, homemade life on a modern homestead. We ditched town and moved to the country in 2008 and we blog about both our successful and not-so-successful ventures in homesteading, switching to natural products, and embracing a whole foods lifestyle. 

January 2018
I switched from the weekly (or bi-weekly.....or bi-monthly......or when I could remember) "weekend" posts to a more formal compilation of our homesteading goodness, all pulled together for you once a month.

For us, like many of you, January was mostly about the weather.  From the extreme (EXTREME I tell you) cold snaps that lasted weeks, to the snow and the ice.  Since I very much enjoy snow (not driving in it, rather, sitting at home with the pellet stove humming enjoying a nice hot cup of coffee while I watch it) this was a positive for January.

For me.

The animals, however, do not hold snow in such a high regard.

Coop Girls
Well, we receive 3-6 eggs per day.  That sounds great until I remind you that we have 27 chickens.....  Mind you, some of them are older, but the majority should be producing and that's just not happening.  We don't use lighting to force them to produce throughout winter but they usually do ok.  Like more than 3 eggs a day ok.  Apparently not this year.

The cold certainly causes some stress and we had single digit and negative numbers for a few weeks.  When it's that cold we just don't let them go out and that very much stresses them out.  They need to get away from each other (although they still tend to cluster while free ranging) and have some space.  Instead, they were stuck inside with the flat panel heaters keeping the coop just into double digits.  (Too much heat can make them sick so we heat it just enough that there's no risk of frostbite)

Interestingly, the newer girls are not much for veggies.  All of our flocks over the years have been ecstatic at the sight of greens.  These girls, well, not so much.  They look and go "meh...anything else?"  They do enjoy carbs - oatmeal, pancakes, rice, bread, pasta, and the like but are not so excited about the taste of greens, squash and beans.  And they prefer their carbs with a little sauce - milk, yogurt, broth.....whatever we've got that can be added.  Not too picky, are they?

Dogs + Jack
The boys are doing well.  Ollie is on to a new food.  This seems to be an annual thing with him.  I'm not sure why.  We are now on to Fresh Pet.  He seems to love it, although I'm not thrilled with how much space it takes up in the fridge.  We'll see if we can convert him back to the dehydrated food from Honest Kitchen.  Although J was right when he said - what's the difference?  They're both ridiculously expensive.  Oh well.

Oh, hey, they turned 8 this month!!  No longer "babies" although to me, they always will be.

And Jack is, well, Jack.  He's the same pain in the buns as he's been.  We love him, don't get me wrong, but the guy is something else, as you know.  Our newest ritual, it's been going on for about 3 months, is that he "picks me up" when it's time to go to bed.  Here's how it works:  he's upstairs sleeping in our walk-in closet (his little cat tent is in there).  About 9:45 he strolls downstairs, howling and crying - letting me know he's on his way.  He strolls into the living room, and hollers, until I get up to brush my teeth.  Once I'm in the bathroom, he insists on getting on the sink and smelling my toothpaste......while I brush, he brushes his entire body against me.  Over and over.  Once I'm done he is at my feet, again, brushing against me over and over until I head toward the stairs.  He gets so excited when we head up the stairs together and then he goes back in the closet and I go to bed.  I have no idea why in the world this seems to make him happy, but it does.  That's our Jack!

The rush of the holidays are over and the great news is that our online sales are remaining steady.  Typically, there's a dip in sales post holiday, but not this year.  Woot to that!  The farmer's market has slowed down, for the most part, but we still have some pretty good days.  We decided to pay for a double booth this year, like we do for summer, and it has made a world of difference!  It's so much nicer for our customers to shop and it's so much nicer for us!  I like to wrap soap while I'm there and it gives me the space to do so.

We started a new thing for 2018 where we are making one limited edition soap scent per month for the year.  I'm excited about that - we've found some of our best selling scents with limited editions.  We will also be adding a couple of products to the line-up as well as taking some away.  Our soap is by-and-far our most popular product so the more popular it becomes, the more time we've got to spend making it, which means we don't have time to make all of the other products.  As I've shared in the past, we are bound and determined to keep this a smaller company of just the two of us, but also keep it running successful.  This is what we continue to strive for.

Around The Farm
We are excited for spring when we can begin moving outbuildings around in order to renovate the new manufacturing space.  Unfortunately, not much we can do in the dead of winter.  So, no projects have been completed this month.  I'm hoping for a few loose ends to be tied up next month (bathroom floor replaced, bathroom cabinet replaced, office light installed, etc.).  We are replacing our stove.....again.  The oven just won't keep the temperature and they continue to replace parts but it does not fix it.  So, when your cookies get burnt-crispy on the outside and are raw in the middle, well, you know it's time to buy a new one.  I hate that we have to do this with big projects coming in the spring, but that's how things seem to go, isn't it?  But the new one has double ovens so I'm a bit ecstatic about that.  Simple things that make me happy.....

And I was one of the unfortunate ones to be stricken with the flu.  It was bound to happen, I suppose, with all of the people I come into contact with everyday.  I'm still dealing with the upper respiratory after effects, but I'm getting there.  So far, knock on wood, J has not come down with it.

And that, my friends, is January in a nutshell!!

How about you?  
I would love to hear how your first month of the year has gone.


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Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

This is one of our favorite soups and a fantastic way to use up leftover chicken (**there is a note at the bottom of the recipe for using raw chicken if you don't have leftover**).  Mind you, J is not a huge soup fan (I would eat it daily....), but this is one he actually requests.  Lucky for him, it's easy which means I make almost bi-weekly during the fall and winter.  If you don't have time to saute the veggies first, just add everything to the slow-cooker.  I think the sauteing adds a bit of flavor, but it isn't a deal-breaker.

Despite the lengthy list of ingredients, it really is easy to make and will have your home smelling comforting and delicious! It's easy to adjust too.  Make it with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, add sriracha sauce for a kick - it tastes great with all of these substitutions. Sometimes I get crazy and even add black beans!  Adjust it to your hearts content.  :)

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup
Serves 4-6

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and minced
1 medium sweet onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 - 14 to 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes (check labels for real food qualifying tomatoes)
1 cup corn, fresh, canned or frozen {thawed}
4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (check labels for real food qualifying broth)
3 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bunch cilantro, minced (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
optional garnish: tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, diced avocado

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the vegetable oil, the peppers and onion.  Sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.

Transfer the cooked vegetable/spice mixture to a slow-cooker and add the tomatoes, corn, chicken broth, and chicken.  Cover the slow-cooker and cook on high 3-4 hours or on low 7-8 hours.  Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Garnish individual bowls with crushed tortilla chips, shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

**you can use thawed, uncooked chicken breast.  Add to the slow-cooker the same time as the cooked chicken and cook the entire soup for 5 hours on low, or until cooked through.  Remove the chicken breasts, shred, and return to the soup.  Serve.**