Copycat Wendy’s Chili Recipe

In Mendota, we didn’t think winter would ever arrive when we were lounging around in 70 degree temperatures in December.  Whoops!  Were we wrong!   It’s here!

We had a weird little snow last night that left things very slick so I took a serendipitous holiday/vacation day from work.   I was about to change my mind and go in around 9 am when WCYB TV came on with a report about all of the wrecks–one near where I work which, apparently, downed two power poles.  My driver said he wasn’t taking me and I wasn’t going to drive my Prius, so it was a day at home!!

So…it was a good day for chili and I’d been looking at a  Wendy’s chili recipe that I found on a website called    I followed the recipe closely with the exception of medium tomatoes, chopped.   Instead,  I used the southern woman’s secret weapon for any recipe — our home canned tomatoes and then I reduced the amount of water that the recipe called for.    There are few things as good.

Canned Tomatoes

I can open the jar and just eat the tomatoes.  I only used the quart jar of tomatoes.

At any rate, I used a quart jar of tomatoes and just reduced the water in the recipe to 1 and 1/2 cups vs. 2 cups.

Here’s the recipe:

2 pounds of ground beef

one 29 oz. can tomato sauce

one 29 oz. can kidney beans (including liquid)

one 29 oz. can pinto beans (including liquid)

1 cup diced onion (1 medium onion)

1/2 cup sliced green chilies (2 chilies)

1/4 cup diced celery (1 stalk)

3 medium tomatoes, chopped (I used 1 quart of home canned tomatoes)

2 teaspoons cumin powder

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

2 teaspoons sale

2 cups water (I used 1 and 1/2 because of the water in the home canned tomatoes)

Brown the beef in a skillet over medium heat and drain the fat.   Using a fork, crumble the cooked beef into pea-size pieces.  (I mashed the heck out of the beef with a potato masher).  In a large pot, combine everything and cook about 2 to 3 hours, stirring every 15 minutes.

Here’s what it looked like.  I didn’t have any cheddar cheese to put in it so I used what I had…mozzarella cheese.    Yeah…I eat all my chili out on the porch in the snow.   It’s just our way around here.

Chile 2

This made a ton of chili, and it does taste like Wendy’s chili.    However, I miss those yellow cardboard bowls.

Have any of you heard about a large snow headed for southwest Virginia on February 16?  If you want that snow, you know what you need to do:

  • Wear your pajamas wrong side out
  • Sleep with a spoon under your pillow
  • Flush six ice cubes down the commode
  • Brush your teeth with the wrong hand

It works.   This is science.  You can make it happen.



Plan Your Garden in the Kitchen

Looking at any seed catalogs or starting to drive a little slower past garden centers?   Are you thinking of planting a garden?  Of course you are.   Don’t wait until you’re walking around your yard thinking about where you’ll plant things to start planning your garden.  Start in the kitchen with the foods that you eat.  Here’s the perfect setting for planning your garden.

Counter Top Cookie Scene

I started thinking seriously about the garden Sunday while I prepared 11 freezer meals.   If you work full-time, you know how wonderful it is to come home and not have to cook.   Mike and I split the cooking.   I cook three nights.  He cooks three nights.  We go out one night.  I didn’t go back to work to eat up all of my hard-earned money!! He’s good at grilling and making salads.  I’m a soup, stew and casserole kind of gal.   Soups, stews and casseroles all do well in the freezer.   They make great freezer meals; and on Sunday afternoon I was an onion-chopping, tater-chopping, soup-slopping fool resulting in 11 meals that stacked so sweetly into the freezer.   I made vegetable beef soup in the crockpot, ziti casserole and lasagna rollups.

Freezer meals make you feel good.  You’re ahead of the curve.  On your game.   You’re Martha!  Takin’ butt and kickin’ names.   Or something like that.    Organize your ingredients and get to work chopping and stirring!     You can see from what I’ve got laid out on the counter, I lean toward tomato-based soups and pasta frozen dinners.  I love lining my ingredients up before I start.  It makes me feel organized.


If you’ve ever grown any food, you know why I am so proud of that picture.   I grew those potatoes and grew and canned those tomatoes.  Too mah toes!!  I like saying that.   If you’re thinking…even thinking a little about a garden…even though it’s January– now is the time to plan what goes in that garden.     Even a little garden is so rewarding, and preserving the food that comes from that garden is just as rewarding.   Please make a garden!

Canned Tomatoes

So pretty!!   I eat those tomatoes right out of the jar.   And look what we have below…how gorgeous is that?

Lsagna Sauce

$1 per seed pack results in fresh basil all summer

Basil from seed

And dried basil in the winter (which I’m running out of so I bought fresh basil for Sunday’s freezathon.)

Basil Dried

So…if you’re even thinking about a garden whether it’s raised beds, a few pots here and there, or a traditional garden, add #1 “buy basil seeds” to your list.   No….make that “buy basil and parsley seeds”.  I threw parsley in, too.  Anyone can grow those two things–even if they’re on a pot in a windowsill.

I put onions in everything Mike and I eat.  We never raise enough, but we always try.     This year, in addition to hanging them up to cure and using them that way, I dried onions.

Onions on Dehydrator

#2   Put out onions…you’ll cry if you don’t!  Hang them up and use them later, and if they look like they are starting to rot, they are just telling you that it’s time to dry yourself some onions.    Root crops such as onions and potatoes can be high in pesticides when commercially grown.  Grow your own and you’ll know that there’s nothing but water, compost, sunshine and your amazing green thumb in those onions.

Onions look so pretty and curly when they’re dried!

Onion Flakes

#3 Don’t be a a tater hater!   Potatoes are super easy to grow.  Plant them on Good Friday and watch them grow!!    These are a little dirty.   I swear I scrubbed these before I put them in the soup. 


I want to show you the lasagna rollups.    I’m sure they are low calorie.   Right.  Here’s how they look when they’re nested in their pan lying on a bed of sauce.  I found the recipe from the Pioneer Woman’s site, so I know this is good.    Okay…I licked the spoon a little, too; that’s another reason I know they’re good.     Here’s the link. 

Lasagna Rollups Without Sauce

The picture above was when I was using a wider aluminum pan.  I quickly discovered that these little loaf pans work better.   I loaded on the Parmesean and mozzarella cheese.  This is a perfect meal size for two.

Lasagna Rollups

And the true secret to freezer meal success?   Wrap your creations like crazy so that your creation doesn’t get freezer burn.   Swaddle them!  I wrapped these in foil and also shrink wrapped them in the vacuum sealer.   It pulled so hard that it pulled the center of the pan in.    I got better at this by the 6th one.  This was the first.

Sealed Lasagna

I realized from looking at my recipes and thinking about my garden that I will need to grow some garlic this fall.   I’m excited!

I have about $40 in my 11 meals.   The stew meat, Italian sausage, and ground round were about $18.    I also bought the pasta, the cheeses,  tomato paste, frozen vegetables, etc.  I could reduce that by making vegetarian lasagna, and I think Mike and I would be fine with that, too.

$40 seemed like a lot until I realized that it’s less than $4 for the entree in 11 meals for two people.   Plus, I made four lunch-size portions of the above that I didn’t mention.     I’m actually starting to feel like a genius.   

Do you have any great freezer recipes?   Please send one to me!!

Pssst….if you have a second…hop over to Adventure Mendota and say hi.  Our marketing expert, Ms. Kitty Barker, said a blog really helps search engine optimization with websites, so…heck I can do that.       Here’s the  River Blog. 




Easy Strawberry Lavender Jam

Strawberry Lavender Jam Lid

If you’ve have not yet tried home canning, you are missing out. It’s both rewarding and satisfying to preserve food. I think many of us have an instinct to gather, prepare and store for winter.

Strawberries Talking

Yep–I do wanna jam with you!    I made Strawberry-Lavender Jam over the weekend.    The lavender added an extra dimension to the taste, and it was very easy to do.   I followed the recipe on Ball Real Fruit Pectin (liquid) with the added ingredient of lavender. You need canning supplies and a basic knowledge of home canning to be successful with this recipe. The Ball Blue Book is the very best place to start.  You can get all your home canning knowledge right there, and this would be a good first project.


3 and 3/4 cups of crushed strawberries.  I crushed them with a potato masher.   

1/4 lemon juice

7 cups sugar

1 Tablespoon of culinary grade lavender

Prepare your waterbath canner, jars and lids.   Prepare and measure the above ingredients.  Combine crushed strawberries, lemon juice and sugar in an 8 quart saucepan. The  depth of saucepan is necessary to keep the mixture from splattering and making a mess or making nasty red polka dots on your stirring arm.  Ouch.  I used the wrong size in the picture below, but on my next batch, I had corrected this mistake.  Aren’t these pretty?


After you’ve got the crushed strawberries, lemon juice and sugar mixed, place the lavender in a tea infuser and drop it into your strawberry mix.    If you don’t know what a tea infuser  is, I’ve got one pictured below.  I’ve been calling it a metal acorn all these years.  

Tea Strainer Infuser

Bring your strawberry mixture with the lavender in the tea infuser to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down over high heat.   Stir frequently (like all the time).  


Add the Ball RealFruit Liquid Pectin.  Return to boil for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and skim foam, if necessary.   (You may also put 1/2 teaspoon of butter or margarine  to reduce foaming.)      I recommend using a wooden spoon…I can’t prove this but it is so hot that I’m fearful a plastic spoon would melt.  

Remove from heat, remove the tea infuser, and ladle hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe rims.  Center lids on jars.  Apply bands and adjust to fingertip tight.

Place filled jars in canner covered by 1 to 2 inches of water.  Place lid on canner, and bring water to a gentle boil.  Process ten minutes (some may have to adjust for altitude).   Following ten minutes, turn heat off and let stand for five minutes.

Remove jars and cool.  Check lids for seals after 24 hours.  Mine sealed within five minutes.   Each mix made about 14 of these 4 oz. jars of Strawberry Lavender Jam.

My Army

Once I observed my jams had sealed and set properly, I began thinking about what I wanted to do with them.   Perhaps I should have thought of this first?   There’s no way Mike and I will eat 40+ jars of Strawberry Lavender Jam….so   I’ll use them as gifts, so I decided to make the jars a little fancier..

After a few minutes searching Pinterest for ideas, I went to the website  to see what was new,  and I found round labels to fit my lids using Kraft paper.   I ordered them from Amazon and this morning they arrived.  While I’m supposed to be painting the bedroom, I’ve interrupted myself to make labels.   Here’s the labels.

Avery Round Kraft Labels

I followed the online design on, selected  Martha Stewart as my style  (She is not my style but that was the name of the design –I think she’s an odd bird but in this case, I liked the embellishment) and within about 60 seconds, I had nine labels.    Since they are adhesive, I then just stuck them on my jar lids.   There is a pucker on the sides which I later learned I can rub out, but I’d already taken this picture.  Sorry.  

Strawberry Lavender Jam Lid

Don’t they look pretty all in a row?

Three Strawberry Lavender Jams


Clean the tea infuser fairly quickly after you’ve used it. It’s metal, and there is so much sugar in this mix that it will set up and be very difficult to open. I had to open it while running cold water over it.

Don’t be tempted to double the recipe. Your jam may not set properly.


How About Them Apples?

What if for some reason we had to revert back to a very simple life? Would we survive? In the country, we talk about these things…we like feeling secure.  If that awful thing ever happened, I hope it’s a year like this past for our orchard.   Pear, peach and apple trees performed spectacularly.

The trees are heavy with apples even after our deer friend, Suzie Q, has done her share of picking.   She stands on her hind legs and whacks at the apples — I pretty much do the same, except in my case, the apples falll  and hit me on the head.   Suzie Q never seems to have this problem…what is your secret Suzie Q?     We have three types of apples in the orchard, but today I picked Red Delicious.   A week ago they looked ripe, but they had no flavor.  That’s changed now.  Very sweet and crunchy.    We’ve not treated these trees in two years, so they are pretty much a la natural!!   They are a very dark red.

Apples on Tree

I believe we can get at least two bushel baskets full of apples.  Here’s a “peck”…at least that is what I think is a peck.  I’ll have to ask Polly, since didn’t she pick a peck of pickled peppers?   Maybe she knows something about apples as well as peppers.

Apple Basket

I’m taking inspiration from these apples. I want to be like them. They are strong and determined. In spite of all the disease and bad things that can happen to fruit, they are happy, healthy apples! Their colors are also nice. They have deep reds, a tiny speck of gold here and there, black and then really green leaves and woody gray/brown stems. Benjamin Moore should be taking notes!

Apples on the Post

Now…on another note. Did I tell you I washed our granddaughter’s iphone? Yep. I’m so proud. It’s spotless. Grabbed the sheets off the bed and tossed them right in. With the phone bundled up inside. I should learn. Last year, I washed a suede boot which was mixed in with my jeans. The funny thing about the boot is that it looked better after the wash. The iphone? Not so sure on that one!



How About Them Tomatoes?

We finished up the garage sale today. I learned a lot. I had advertised the sale in the newspaper which was $40, but that was a waste. By the time people from Bristol got here, the good stuff was gone. By putting pictures on Facebook as well as advertising on Facebook, I was able to connect with enough people around Mendota to sell everything. The added fun was seeing my neighbors…where else would Trish AND Rico be able to shop together?

Riko and Trish

So a bit after Rico and Trish came by, Mike returned to the house to wash the truck. He was bending here and there, and all of a sudden, his pants fell down. Talk about tomatoes that aren’t ripe!!!

But these tomatoes ARE ripe. BIll Jones of Hiltons grows these pretty tomatoes.

Basil Tomatoes Up Close

I added basil from my patio…and them some cheese…are you hungry yet?…

Tomatoes with Mozzo

Sprinkled a little of this on the whole thing…I also added some sea salt.

Balsamic Vinegar


Balsamic Vinegar on Tomatoes

Even if you don’t think it is beautiful, it sure is a lot prettier than those two white tomatoes I saw when Mike was washing his truck. Scary.


Garden Plans

It’s supposed to snow tonight!   It makes it seem that we are premature in getting our raised beds ready.  Adding compost each year to these beds is a lot of work. 

Raised Beds in March

And then we pulled out some of this for dinner…

Corn Frozen

As well as these little strange looking packs of chopped bell peppers…

Green Peppers Frozen

I added the frozen green peppers to onions and seasoned chicken in a few tablespoons of olive oil…


Made really tasty fahitas.    I should have put some of the frozen red bell peppers in for color.   

And then I decided that having a garden is so worth it.   It’s a good thing, too, as we Mike has purchased enough seeds for four families.



Making the Money Stretch – Homemade Cookie Dough

Have you ever heard of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace financial management programs? I haven’t taken a class, but I’ve read about the process and like what I’ve read. For Mike and me, it has never been about debt. It’s been about spending–so I developed my own little financial peace plan for us. We each get a certain amount of dollars per week, and when we are out of those dollars, we are done. So far, it’s working fairly well. Of course, it’s just week two.

Since my bucket of dollars has to buy most of the groceries, I’m trying to be careful and creative with our meals. I don’t want to just throw money away, and since most things that are “pre-made” are more expensive–and not as healthy as made from scratch–I’m trying to make a few more things at home.

I decided to make frozen cookie dough so we could easily have homemade cookies. Here’s how I made it. I’ll put the recipe at the end of the post along with the place I found it on the internet.

I assembled all of the ingredients for a chocolate chip cookie dough recipe. Usually my chocolate chip cookies are flat, so I thought this one would be better since it has oatmeal. The recipe called for peanut butter which was a surprise to me.

Ingredients for Frozen Cookie Dough

It actually had 1/3 cup of peanut butter, and I was dreading trying to get the measuring cup clean. Peanut butter likes to hug little crevices in dishes. Fortunately, I had some help. Warning…if you don’t have pets living in the house and you don’t let them lick your plates, you won’t be impressed.

Peanut Butter Cleaner

Look what a great job Luckie did! Just one tiny bit of peanut butter left, and I’ll bet my new Bosch dishwasher will finish that off. Did I tell you that the new dishwasher is up and working? So grateful!

Measuring Cup After Luckie Treatment

Here’s another special ingredient in my cookie dough. Eggs from just down the road at Margie’s “Camp Cluck.” Those ladies know how to lay some pretty Mendota eggs…free ranged so they are not only pretty, they are good for you.

Margie's Eggs

So I assembled all of the ingredients and made them into balls and placed them on cookies trays loosely lined with wax paper. Then, I sat them in the freezer for about three hours.

Dropped Cookie Dough

Tonight, I took them out of the freezer and just dropped them into a gallon freezer bag and stash them back in the freezer. They are there when you have a sweet craving.

Frozen Cookie Dough Balls

This should be followed by cleanup if your kitchen looks similar to mine…see that new dishwasher?? Love.

Counter Top Cookie Scene

But I just let mine wait for a while and took a nap!

Here’s the recipe from a really nice site called Money Saving Mom. The specific link to the recipe is here.

Freezer-Friendly Chocloate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup shortening or butter (softened)
1/3 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup brown sugar (or raw sugar)
3/4 cup sugar (or raw sugar)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I ended up using white because it was what I had)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sale
2 cups oats (rolled or quick oats)
1 12-oz. package of chocolate chips

Combine first six ingredients. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and oats. Mix well. Add chocolate chips. Roll into balls.

To freeze: Place cookie balls on a cookie sheet and freeze for up to two hours. Remove from cookie sheet and place in an airtight freezer bag. Note — I lined the cookie sheet with wax paper which was really helpful since I didn’t have to bother washing the cookie sheet! Yeah!

To bake: Pull out the desired number of balls and place on a greased cookie sheet for 30-45 minutes to thaw. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until done.


Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

Last week’s rainy…then snowy…weather made me want soup in the crock pot. Is it more classy to say “slow cooker?” Anyway, I found a recipe which used the following ingredients.

Minestrone Ingredients

And here’s how you assemble the ingredients…I got this from my Rival Crock Pot Cookbook that came when I bought the crockpot ages ago.

1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1 zucchini, diced
1 cup cabbage, shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 15 oz. cans kidney beans, drained
2 14 1/2 oz. cans beef broth
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I used home canned)
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 cups cooked elbow macaroni
1/4 cup Parmeasean cheese, grated (Of course it’s grates as I use the big green can!! So NOT classy!)

Combine all of the ingredients in the crockpot except the macaroni and Parmesan cheese. Cover. Cook on low for 7 to 9 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours. Stir in the macaroni and Parmesan cheese.

It’s good! We had homemade bread (someone else’s homemade..not mine) and this soup last Thursday when it was snowing outside.

Very cozy.


Freezer Meal – Cupcake Size Meat Loaf

Hi there…I’ve been blog surfing prior to “posting” my own blogpost. Sometimes I wonder why I’m not more successful, and then I realized…everyone is talking about Christmas and, well, I’m posting about meat loaf! Oh well…I’ll think on that later. In the interim…it’s meat loaf!!

While I’m semi-retired, I work three days per week. Loving it!…But it still means I must manage my time. And money.

I’m always looking for ways to ensure it is as easy to eat at home as it is to eat out. When I used to make meat loaf, I made two small loaves and froze one. However, because portion control gets really important as you get older (I’m speaking for Michael..not me. Ha!), this cupcake size meat loaf recipe works even better. Aren’t they cute?
Cupcake Size Meatloves

I know…red meat is bad — but grass fed red meat is not so bad 🙂

Here’s the ingredients…

1 cup ketchup
4 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground mustard
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
3 cups Italian breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 pounds lean ground beef (90% lean)

Combine the ketchup, brown sugar and mustard. Set 1/2 of this aside to “ice” your cupcakes.

With the remaining ketchup, brown sugar and mustard mixture, add eggs, Worcestershire sauce, breadcrumbs, onion and garlic powders, and pepper. Stir this up very well and add the ground beef. Mix and mix and mix.

Preheat oven 375 degrees and fill muffin pans about 1/2 full. Bake 18-20 minutes and then drizzle the reserved ketchup mixture and cook another 10 minutes. Cool and freeze.

I am transitioning to using glass freezer/oven safe bowls vs. plasticware. Here’s the entree portion for a dinner for two ready to pop in the freezer. I have about four of these in the freezer right now.

Cupcake Size Meat Loaves for the Freezer

To thaw and use:
Traditional: Completely thaw in the refrigerator. Place loaves in a lightly greased baking dish and bake at 350 degrees or until heated through.

Microwave: Completely thaw in the regrigerator and cover and microwave for one minute.

Ho Ho Ho! This is a Christmas post after all!!


Yummy Crock Pot Potato Soup

Why did I even mention recipes on this blog?  I am a very lame cook.   Left to me, I’d eat at Wendy’s all the time.  I love their chili.

However, I must soldier on.    Last week I showed you a picture of this…

Here’s the recipe.   If I can make it, anyone can!

Six potatoes, peeled and cubed

Two onions, chopped

One rib celery, sliced

Two carrots, sliced

One teaspoon dried parsley

Five cups chicken stock (I normally Swanson’s chicken broth)

One teaspoon salt

One fourth teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)

One third cup butter

One 13-oz can evaporated milk

Chopped chives

Two cups cheddar cheese (use for heavy garnish once the soup is made)

Combine all ingredients except milk and chives in crockpot.  Cover and cook on low 10-12 hours or high 4 hours.  Add milk and chives.

Add a couple of tablespoons of cheddar cheese to each bowl served.

I’ve made this several times and always like it.  However, last Tuesday, I was in a hurry and I did not peel the potatoes, as the recipe instructs.   This didn’t work as well as when I follow the directions.  The other thing I did which I wish I had not done was replace the chicken stock with water and four chicken boullions.  It wasn’t as good. 

I’m not a good improviser.

Does anyone have any recipes for meals that can be frozen ahead of time?  Especially soups?





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