The cheapest meal I make: Black beans and tortillas

IMG_2034Ready for a recipe that’s not really a recipe? = )

I get to learn as a seminary wife to be very creative with our meal planning/grocery shopping. Meat can be expensive… but, I really love meat. My challenge is to find meals that are meatless that we I will still enjoy.

Here is an idea for one that I have come to love and even crave. My husband loves it (he’s much easier to please than me) and my girls eat it pretty well, too. I’ve included here the ingredients, long instructions, how much it costs, time sequence, and short instructions.


Instant tortilla mix

Bag of black beans

Can of diced tomatoes with green chiles

Salt, to taste

Long instructions:

It all started with an amazing discovery at Walmart: instant tortilla mix.

All you have to do is add water, knead for five minutes, let it rise for fifteen minutes, and roll out your tortillas to cook on a griddle. They are delicious.

Now for the black beans. I buy a bag of store brand dry black beans. On nights that we eat them for dinner, I start cooking them around lunch time because I cannot stand anything but soft beans. I follow the instructions on the bag for the quick soak (boil 1-2 minutes, then cover, remove from heat, and let stand about 1-1 1/2 hours).

After the beans have soaked, they will need drained and rinsed.

(I just realized that I’m giving you the directions from the back of the bag and acting like I came up with it. No credit here! Just lettin’ you know how easy it is. = )

Cover the beans again with water and bring to a boil; then reduce to a simmer and cover. From there, I let them cook as long as I can… at least an hour, but preferably two or three.

I wait to add the salt until the last twenty minutes or so.

Then I add a can of store brand diced tomatoes with green chiles and give it a few more minutes to heat through.

Serve with the tortillas and YUM!!

*Note: my girlies don’t care for the diced tomatoes and chiles, so I just dish theirs out before I add in the goodness. Someday they’re taste buds will grow up and then we’ll have to share. = (


If I did the math for one meal, I would guess it’s around $2.75? And that serves six (two adults and four kids) with a bowl leftover.

If you take into account how much you have to pay up front for all the ingredients (which does make a difference sometimes) I would look at it like this: $3.38 for the tortilla mix, $2 for the black beans, and $.77 for the tomatoes. Just over six dollars. If you bought another bag of beans and three more cans of tomatoes, this would make at least four meals (for a family our size), and bring the total cost to $10.50 which divided by 4 is approximately… somebody help me because I’m over my head in arithmetic now… $2.61?? (thanks for the help) Not too bad.

We eat this meal about every two weeks, and I actually look forward to it when I see it on the menu.

Time Sequence:

Here’s how the time sequence goes, at least in my house.

1:00 Boil beans for two minutes, cover, remove from heat and let soak

2:30 Rinse beans, boil again, reduce heat, cover and let simmer

@4:30 Begin making tortillas

5:00 Add salt to beans

5:20 Dish out girlies bowls (this helps them cool as well); Add diced tomatoes with chiles

5:30 Serve!

*Plan for a good 4-5 hours for the beans total, and 45 min. for the tortillas. This might sound long, but there is a lot of dead time in there where I can play with the girls, clean up the kitchen, fold laundry, etc. I love days when I make this meal; to me, it requires very little effort.

Short instructions:

-Prepare black beans and tortillas according to package directions.

-Add salt to beans during the last twenty minutes of cooking time.

-Add the can of diced tomatoes with green chiles and allow a few more minutes for them to heat through.

Let me know if you try it! What is the cheapest meal you make? Thanks, as always, for reading… have a lovely day.

A happy place

blogpics 006This kitchen will never be featured in a magazine. It will never receive enthusiastic compliments from friends and visitors. It’s only future is to observe my less-than-perfect cooking skills and to endure my fledgling attempts to keep it immaculate.

But this little room is a happy place for me. Want to know why?

I get to teach my little girls how to make macaroni and cheese here. (And hopefully insure that they will never try to make a homemade salad dressing out of a raspberry crystal light packet)

What could be more fun than sitting on a floor with a four, three, and two-year old making lunch while the one-year old sleeps?

blogpics 002I wish you could have seen their delight at all they got to do; unwrapping butter, shaking in salt and pepper, adding and stirring the cheese. Hope was cheddar, Gracie was mozzarella, and Sophia was parmesan.

The floor got a little messy; it took longer than if I had just done it myself, but that didn’t seem to matter.  

This little incident really impressed me, obviously enough to get a camera and take some rough home photos.

Why did something so insignificant fill me with this deep, abiding sense of happiness?

I think that true happiness always catches us off guard. How many times have I done things trying to manufacture happiness? But there was none of that on this particular Saturday; just got up, got the girls up, made breakfast, probably played or folded laundry, sent my sweet husband off to the library and hoped that the rest of the day wouldn’t be too difficult.

And for some reason decided to put the pot of noodles down on the floor so the girls could make macaroni and cheese with me. Weeks later, I’m writing about it and still trying to figure it out.

Happiness doesn’t depend on beautiful surroundings, ideal circumstances, or perfectly planned activities. It just happens; I think I would argue it happens when you’re thinking about yourself the least.  

blogpics 010Okay, I could easily make a long list of things that sound more fun than making macaroni and cheese with preschoolers. I’m a big girl; I have interests, desires, dreams; but for right now, teaching them and spending time with them are the steps I find myself taking. And the big picture truth I’m thinking about is that these small steps have right here, right now, brought me to a happy place.  

p.s. Thank you all so much for reading; you’re giving me unexpected encouragement.

Homemade salad dressing out of WHAT???

Let’s suffice it to say, this post will not be categorized in forgettable memories.

If only he knew
If only he knew

Just a couple of months after being married, we were invited to an older couple’s home for golf and dinner. Golf for the guys and hanging out in the kitchen for the girls. She prepared this fabulous meal as I watched and helped, trying to soak up everything I could learn. At one point she made this homemade salad dressing; just pulled a few things out of the cupboard and fridge and voila! a delicious dressing. I was amazed. Well, the meal was lovely, and I was inspired to become a culinary diva who could whip up my own salad dressing and make it look so easy. Because, honestly, you have to be a culinary diva to do that, right?

home sweet home
home sweet home

Fast forward a month or so. It was late morning and Paul was coming home soon for lunch. I had prepared some kind of sandwiches??? I think??? and had also decided to make a little salad in some bowls to go along with it and be kind of special. Aww…so sweet. Well, I realized that all I had was lettuce; and I was kind of suspicious whether it even was lettuce. I remember buying it at the store and thinking “is this really it?” Okay, I knew what lettuce was; we had plenty of that growing up; I just had never been the one to pick it out and yeah…I bought cabbage. So I’m ripping off these “lettuce” leaves into the bowls thinking…this is cabbageno, it’s lettuceuh, I don’t think sowell, it’s all I have so we’ll just go with it. ***Ninety-nine percent of the time a “just go with it” mindset is great(!), but not always.*** And definitely not when it comes to substituting raw cabbage in a salad for lettuce.

But, I stray from the real story: the salad dressing. Looking at my bowls filled only with some sort of green shredded something, I realized, this is pathetic! I don’t even have any salad dressing! Lightbulb!!! I could make one the way my friend did!

A quick glance through my cupboards and I knew I was going to have to get creative. Genius that I was, I dumped a raspberry crystal light packet it into a bowl, added some olive oil, salt and pepper, and stirred it around. (Yeah, the little packets that you mix with a whole gallon of water to make lemonade. Like I said, genius!) Hmm…it didn’t look as delicious as the one my friend made. Yikes, it didn’t taste like it either! But, sometimes, you just have to go with it. ***No you don’t!!!!*** So I drizzled it over our ridiculous bowls of “salad” and hoped for the best.

Do I have to write the rest of this? Well, the mix and olive oil separated and became all at once slimy and gritty. Our cabbage became a bright hot pink color. The taste was…atrocious, or was that the raw cabbage?

A failure in every sense of the word. My husband was actually really nice; I mean, he laughed at me, but who wouldn’t? That was probably one of the moments where he began to realize what he had gotten himself into.

We definitely bought a whopping bottle of amazing store-bought ranch on the next grocery run. And the cabbage ended up in the trash.

My superhero who has survived it all
My superhero who has survived it all

Since then, I’ve come a loooong way. It’s amazing what scrutinizing cookbooks, asking questions, experimenting and making mess after mess, and reading on the internet can do. Have I mentioned my husband is patient? There’s still a loooong way to go; I get nervous if other people are at my house watching me in the kitchen, but whatever, one of these days maybe I’ll get over it.

Want to make me feel better by sharing your first food flop?