Friday, January 30, 2009

Cincinnati Chili

I got this recipe from a friend of mine. She and I do mega-cooking together. Her family loved this recipe but it is a lot of work to make so she wanted to do it once and get four or five meals out of it. We had never tried it but I agreed to add it to our list - she could do x4 the recipe and I would do x2 (and if my family hated it, I'd give the extra to her for her family).

When I first served this to my family, they said, "This isn't chili." And they are right, it isn't exactly like what you think of when you say "chili." But it is still really good, and now I make x4 the recipe, too.

One note about this recipe: If you aren't a hard core baker/cook, you might not have all these spices in your cupboard. Don't stress. As long as you have most of them, it will still be good. It is better, and more complexly flavored, if you have all of them, but if you don't have cardamom in your cupboard, make the recipe anyway.

Cincinnati Chili
(the amounts given here are for one batch - do the math if you want to make more)

In a pan, brown:

1 lb ground beef
2 medium onions, chopped

When it is just about done, add:

2 cloves minced garlic (don't let the garlic burn)

Add to the pan:

1 cup thick barbeque sauce
1/2 c. water
1 Tbs chili powder
1 tsp pepper
1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, grated (I've used cocoa powder before with good results)
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt

Mix all these together and add:

tomato juice, enough that it you create a mixture that ladles easy, you know, it's "pourable." Don't worry about getting it exact, just add enough but not too much.

Stir and simmer for awhile to allow the flavors to blend. Then cool and spoon into ziploc bags and freeze.

To serve:

Reheat the meat mixture, boil some spaghetti noodles, grate some cheddar cheese, and open a can of kidney beans. You can also serve it with chopped onions and oyster crackers. To serve "Cincinnati Five-Way Chili" you serve it with all five: noodles, cheese, beans, crackers and onions. We don't like the chopped onions and I almost always forget the crackers. It is better with the crackers, I think, but I just always forget.

Everyone puts a pile of noodles on their plate, tops it with some meat mixture and then adds the toppings of their choice.



Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mega-Cooking Tips and Tricks

For this post I'm going to assume that you have decided to do a full-on, full-scale mega-cooking day. These instructions are for a big day, but you can use all these ideas no matter what level of multiple meal cooking you plan to do.

One thing that applies to all freezer cooking is this rule: Always test your recipes out on your family before you make more than one! More on this later, but always, always, always follow this rule.

Consider getting a friend to do it with you. I have two friends that I usually do mega-cooking with. One friend has a huge kitchen and doesn't mind the clean up. I do all the planning in exchange for not having to clean up. It is fun to have friends to talk to and keep each other motivated.

So, ready to do a mega-session? Here we go!

Before you begin:
  • Make sure you plan everything you want to make. Make a list of the recipes and then make a list of all the ingredients in those recipes. Do the math! If you want to make 4 batches of Sloppy Joe meat, make sure you times the ingredients by 4. Do everything - even the staples like salt, flour, butter, milk - you may think you "always have enough" but when you are mega cooking, stuff goes fast. There is nothing worse than running out of ketchup half-way through the day and having to stop and run to the store to get ketchup!
  • Make sure that when you plan, you also plan for storage. Are you going to do the Ziploc bag method? Do you have enough bags? In all the sizes? Are you going to do disposable aluminum pans? How many will you need? Eight inch square pans or 9x13 pans? You don't want 6 lbs of Taco meat and nowhere to put it!
  • Make sure you plan a "treat." I always make sure I have my Diet Dr. Pepper and my potato chips on hand. I very rarely get potato chips because I cannot control myself around chips. But for baking day it is nice to have a treat.
  • Do not try to shop and cook on the same day. It will kill you. Literally. Unless you are doing a really small batch of cooking, shop the day before. Make sure you go shopping with a really, really detailed list (see point one above!).
  • The night before you cook, do some prep work. If you didn't buy already grated cheese, grate your cheese. Chop onions and celery and peppers and put them in a ziploc bag or tightly sealed container. Cook and chop your chicken. Most chicken recipes I do need to have cooked chopped chicken added. Thaw anything that needs to be thawed.
  • Before you go to bed, run the dishwasher and clean the kitchen. It works so much better if you start with a clean kitchen. If you have time, unload the dishwasher before you go to bed. You will be filling it up all day long!
  • Get some sleep! Make sure you get a good nights sleep. Foggy brain + multiple recipes = disaster.
The Day Of:

  • Take a shower and get dressed, down to the shoes (Fly Lady anyone?). Put on really comfortable shoes, you will be standing a long time and your feet will hurt, trust me.
  • Put on some upbeat music that gets you going. You are going to need to motivation in a couple of hours. I like Broadway show tunes (Wicked is my current favorite!), I sing out loud, much to the dismay of my children.
  • I like to group my meals. By this I mean, I do all the chicken recipes, then switch to hamburger recipes. That way I've only got one type of meat out and cooking at a time. If I cook some hamburger and add it to Cincinnati Chili, I don't have to do a scrupulously good job of washing before I start the taco meat.
  • Have a garbage bag out in the open. I use paper grocery sacks on a pile of newspapers. You don't want to open a cupboard or lift a lid with goop covered hands. Just make it really accessible.
  • Fill the sink (or half the sink if you have that option) with hot soapy water. Put things in there to soak. I would, however, recommend doing the dishes periodically. It keeps things from getting out of hand, plus you will need certain things again and again. Measuring cups and spoons get used all day long, your skillet or frying pan gets used over and over, your mixing bowls will need to be washed many times.
  • Have something easy ready for lunch. You don't want to stop and make sandwiches for everyone. Lunchables are a great option for the kids, especially if you don't normally get them (which we don't). I usually plan to take a small break and run through the TacoBell drive-through, but that's just me.
  • Plan to go out to dinner. I know this is counter-intuitive but trust me. You will not want to cook, and you won't be thrilled about eating anything you just cooked, either. Sometimes we just do a take-and-bake pizza.
  • Freeze as you go but try not to overload the freezer. I will freeze some and refrigerate some (and freeze after it gets cold). If you put too much in the freezer at once, it raises the temp of the freezer and can ruin some food. Just be careful.
  • Keep going. At some point you are going to want to just give up. Don't do it! Keep going til the end, you'll be so glad you did.
  • When you get to the end of the day, open your freezer door and admire your work.
    Tomorrow I will post the Cincinnati Chili recipe, I promise!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Sorry for the delay in posting this. It is finals week for my teenagers and my computer keeps getting stolen for paper-writing and researching.

My favorite way to keep my food budget low and keep myself sane, is mega-cooking. You've heard this referred to as Once-a-Month cooking, Freezer cooking, batch cooking, or probably other things. I'm pretty sure I started calling it Mega-Cooking after reading the book Mega-Cooking by Jill Bond. If you ever want to read a book that tells you everything you ever wanted to know (and some things you probably never thought to ask) read this book. Bond is a woman who cooks six months worth of food at once - yes, SIX MONTHS! I don't go to quite this extreme, but when I mega-cook, I really cook. The last full session I did, I made 54 main dishes. I was exhausted but it was worth it.

The reason that mega-cooking helps me save money is two-fold. First, it allows me to buy in bulk, which in certain circumstances, can be cheaper. Also, mega-cooking (and having all those quick ready meals in the freezer) keeps us from going out to eat! That saves us tons.

You can do freezer cooking in any level you are comfortable with. Perhaps you find chicken on sale for an unbelievable price. Buy 10 lbs and cook it up and make chicken tetrazini, chicken pot pies, and chicken soup base. Hamburger really cheap? Buy a bunch and make up taco meat, sloppy joe meat and meatballs.

If you can't tackle that (and sometimes we can't!), just double that lasagna you are making and put one in the freezer. Or make extra taco meat and freeze some.

Or you can take three days to plan, shop and cook 54 meals! Ugh!

Whatever way you can get those meals in the freezer, just do it!

How do you find the recipes? There are lots of great sites that have freezer recipes:

Organized Home
30 Day Gourmet
Frugal Mom

You can also look no further than your own recipe box. Many recipes lend themselves to be freezer meals. If you can't freeze the whole meal, can you freeze part of it? For instance, tacos. You can't freeze tacos, it just doesn't work. But the time consuming part of tacos is thawing, cooking and seasoning the meat. Do that ahead of time and then all you have to do is microwave the meat and you are set to go!

PLEASE! If you get nothing else out of this post, please remember this: Always try out your recipes on your family before you mega-cook them! You don't want to have three pans of Southwest Bean Bake in your freezer only to find out your family HATES Southwest Bean Bake. Please, ask me how I know this. sigh. Try a single batch of the recipe and if everyone likes it, then make more!

Tomorrow I'm going to post about do's and don'ts of mega-cooking day. I'll show you some of my planning sheets, and post a recipe or two. I'll post the Cincinnati Chili recipe, too.

So, provided the children don't have some huge paper to write for finals, I'll see you tomorrow!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Mega Cooking Edition

This week on Frugal Feasting we are going to be talking about Mega Cooking. Some people call this form of cooking Once a Month Cooking or Freezer Cooking or Batch Cooking. I call it Save My Bacon cooking!

I love having a ton of stuff in my freezer to pull out at the last minute. This week we will talk about how to do it, some great recipes, and things to think about before you start.

This week we are going to eat some freezer meals and some other really quick meals. I have a busy week ahead of me and need to not spend time in the kitchen.


Broccoli Cheese Soup (from the freezer), bread (made with my new KitchenAid stand mixer)
Cincinnati Chili (from the freezer), steamed veggies
Chicken Crockpot Thing, rice, veggies and ranch, fruit
Burrito Bowls
Homemade Mac and Cheese,
Broccoli Cottage Cheese Casserole (left over from last week)

For Breakfasts and Lunches I'm winging it. Maybe I should go to Organizing Junkie to get more ideas, huh?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lentil Rice Casserole

Two of the things that I have "stockpiled" in my basement are lentils and rice. Rice is so versatile - you can use it in a million things. And lentils are a big hit in my house. I know not everyone is familiar with lentils and might not know what to do with them other than in a lentil soup. One of our favorite recipes (my daughter Jana has requested this for her birthday dinner before) is Lentil Rice Casserole.

The thing I love about this recipe is that it is super simple, uses ingredients I almost always have on hand (making it a perfect "oh my gosh, what's for dinner" recipe), and is pretty darn healthy. I use white rice in this because I've never been able to make brown rice work. You would think it would be simple - brown rice and lentils cook in the same amount of time. However, whenever I try to make it with brown rice something goes wrong. Either the lentils are still crunchy or the rice is gummy. Have a try and let me know if you can make it work. Even with white rice it still has a bunch of nutrition in it, so I'm not stressing out about it too much.

Lentil Rice Casserole

Saute in a large skillet:

1 chopped onion
several chopped carrots (I use lots because it ups the nutritional value)
1 -2 Tbs olive oil (or other good oil)

When the onions are starting to wilt, add:

1/2 c. brown lentils

Stir and cook for a few more minutes. You don't need to fully cook the carrots or onion, you just want to start them. It will look like this:

Add to the pan;

2 c. broth (we use chicken broth but you could use vegetable broth or beef, your choice)

Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes. Set a timer for this one, you really want it to be pretty close to exactly 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, stir in:

1/2 c. white rice

Cover again and set the timer for 20 more minutes. During this time make a salad or slice some bread or slice some fruit. Or paint your nails or check your email or whatever.

Uncover and test to make sure the rice and lentils are tender. You may need to stir in a little more water and let simmer for 5 more minutes or so. When everything is good to go, sprinkle on top:

grated cheese (we like cheddar but have used mozzarella or colby jack in a pinch)

Cover for a minute or so to let the cheese melt. Then serve!

That's it. So easy and I almost always have rice, lentils, boullion cubes, onions, carrots and cheese. Try it, you'll like it!

This recipe is adaptable, also. You can add more lentils and rice if your family is bigger. Just make sure you have twice as much stock as you do total rice plus lentils. For example if you do one cup of lentils and one cup of rice (2 cups total), then you need 4 cups of stock/broth. Make sense? I try to keep the lentils and rice even but if your family loves lentils and isn't as keen on rice, then play with the proportions. Have fun.



Thursday, January 22, 2009

Apple Berry Bars

I got a new cookbook for Christmas. I got the Taste of Home Baking Book. I really, really like this cookbook. I love to bake and I love Taste of Home so it is a perfect pair. I have made several recipe and not one of them has flopped. As soon as my KitchenAid stand mixer gets fixed, I'm going to try even more. I love my KitchenAid stand mixer.

I also love my apple-oatmeal bar recipe. As I was going through my new cookbook, I found a recipe for Apple Berry Streusel Bars. It was very similar to the apple-oatmeal bars but with raspberries in the middle with the apple. I made the recipe in the book and it wasn't just right (but still really good), so I tweaked my original recipe and made it tonight. Can you say, YUM?

This recipe is a great way to get oatmeal into my family and one of the recipes that I use my 25 lb bag of oatmeal in. The filling calls for 12 oz of raspberry jam. Since I made tons of raspberry jam this summer, it is pretty cheap. If you had to go out and buy a jar of jam it would raise the price but it's worth it. This would be good with just about any kind of jam, and you could probably just toss some berries (frozen or otherwise) with the apples, too. Blueberry would be good.

Apple Berry Bars
(makes a 9x13 pan, about 4 cookies for me!)

In a bowl, combine:

2 c. flour (I almost always use half whole wheat flour)
2 c. oatmeal (I use the old fashioned kind)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 c. sugar

Cut in (like you would for a pie crust):

1 cup butter or margarine

It should resemble really coarse crumbs when you are done.
Press half (or a little more) of the mixture into a greased 9x13 pan.

In a separate bowl, combine:

4 c. chopped, peeled apple (or whatever you have - just make sure you have at least 4 c.)
12 oz (about 1 1/2 c.) raspberry jam

Spread the apple mixture over the crust in the pan. Sprinkle the other half of the oatmeal mixture over the apple/raspberry mixture. Press lightly.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. Let cool and cut into bars. While it is warm it is really good but you'll need to use a fork. After it cools, you can pick them up and eat them with your hands. I think they are better cool, but my family likes them warm. You decide!



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We Interrupt This Broadcast . . .

I'm not posting a recipe today because I have a sick kid to deal with. Family has to come first, ya know.

I should be back tomorrow with a great new recipe for Apple-Berry Bars. Sorry for the delay and I'll see you tomorrow!


Monday, January 19, 2009

Celebration Chocolate Revel Bars!

I'm keeping my kids home from school Tuesday for the first two and a half hours. Why, you ask? Because I wanted them to see the historic inauguration of Barack Obama. Our schools waited until the last minute to decide if they were going to show it or not. I think they are going to, but I didn't want to chance my kids missing it. Plus, I have to admit, I wanted to watch it with them. They are almost as excited as I am - well, maybe they are more excited.

So, in honor of a festive occasion, I'm posting a recipe for one of our favorite cookies. In addition, it uses up three of my bulk buying items: flour, oatmeal and chocolate chips!

Chocolate Revel Bars
(originally from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book)

Cream together in a bowl:

1 c. minus 2 Tbls butter (save the 2 Tbs for later)
2 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda

When well combined, add:

2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

Beat well and add:

2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
3 c. quick cooking rolled oats

If you are using a stand mixer, you can add it all the flour at once and then add the oats. If you are using a hand mixer, you may need to add the oats with a wooden spoon. It gets fairly stiff. Press two-thirds of the mixture in the bottom of a 15x10x1 inch pan. Set the other one-third aside and make the filling.

For the filling, in a medium saucepan combine:

2 Tbs butter (the stuff you set aside before)
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat over low heat until the chocolate chips are melted and everything is combined. Remove from heat and stir in:

2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c. chopped walnuts of pecans (I never add these because several children have nut issues - they just really don't like them!)

Spread the warm filling over the dough in the pan. Take the other 1/3 dough and dot it over the surface. I take small pieces and flatten them out in my hands and place them all over the filling. It won't cover everything and that is ok.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the top is light brown. The filling will still look "unset" but it will set up as it cools.

Let cool then slice into bars. Try not to eat every single one yourself. It will be tough, but try to save some for the other members of your family.
Just look at that fudgy goodness! These are better when they are cool. And even better the next day - if there are any left. Yeah, right.



Sunday, January 18, 2009

Buying in Bulk - should we or shouldn't we?

I love going to Costco. I like to idea of getting things cheap and I'm also deeply committed to having a well stocked pantry. I really have to hold myself back when I'm in there! I really like it for getting certain things, but I have learned that somethings are better bought at the regular grocery store.

So how do we decide what things are worth buying in bulk? I have four deciding factors: price per unit, how long the item will keep, do I have space to store it, will my family eat it up?

Price per Unit
This one is pretty elementary but even the best of us sometimes forget. When you are making the decision to buy in bulk, it is really important to do like comparisons. When buying rice you need to make a per pound comparison, not a per package comparison.

Sometimes it is hard to decide what the comparison should be. For instance, when buying granola bars. Do you compare the price per bar? Or do you compare the price per ounce. I was comparing two different brands of granola bars and couldn't decide. One had more bars, but the other bars were bigger so the whole package had more total weight. Since I was buying bars designed to send with my kids as snacks, I decided the small bars with more total bars was the better way to go. We bought a box with 60 bars. If I was buying bars to tide my husband over (who needs to eat more to be "tided") I would have bought the bigger bars. The boxes were approximately the same price, so I got more bars to send with kids with the smaller bars.

(I just re-read that last paragraph and it didn't make all that much sense, even to me! It's late and I'm tired, sorry.)

Shelf-Life of the Item

Certain things just don't store well. Know what I mean? Unless you have some fabulous way of storing them, that is. I used to try to buy a whole ham and store it in meal-sized packages. The ham always tasted funny after a few weeks in the freezer. So I quit buying it. That is, until I got a Food-Saver. Now I vacuum seal the ham and it tastes just fine. Until I got the Food-Saver, it wasn't worth buying ham in bulk - now it is.

Some things that I routinely buy in bulk are: white rice, oatmeal, dry beans, lentils, honey, powdered milk(I buy it sealed in #10 sized cans), Italian sausage (Food-Saver), bacon (Food-Saver), berries (I buy, or pick, them in bulk in the summer and freeze them so we have them all winter), hot chocolate mix (no little envelopes for us!) and pasta. All of these things store for a really, really long time as long as they are kept cool and dry. There are other things that I sometimes buy if there is a good sale.

There are a couple of things that I buy in bulk, but only for a specific purpose. For instance, the hamburger at Costco is fairly cheap and of good quality. But you have to buy it in 6 lb packages! We can't use up 6 lbs before it goes bad so I only buy it when I am going to do some mega-cooking (our subject for next week's Frugal Feasting). When it is cooked and in the freezer it keeps long enough for my family to eat it up.

I love having all these staples on hand. I especially when I know I got them for cheap. I also like knowing that if something happens I can feed my family. A couple of weeks ago, we got hit with a horrible snow storm. Because we aren't used to snow of any kind, the whole city stopped for a few days. We couldn't get out of our house for days. Some people in my neighborhood worked really, really hard to shovel themselves out so they could get to the store. We were quite content, thank you. Years ago my husband was laid off, we used our food storage to keep our food budget rock bottom until he found a new job. This well stocked pantry is my security blanket.

Do I Have the Room to Store It?

I store a lot of my bulk purchases in big 5 gallon buckets. Rice, oatmeal, beans and lentils all live in the big buckets.
Yes, that does say "Chocolate Chips" I forgot to mention that I buy big bags of chocolate chips from Costco. If I get stranded in my house for weeks, I want my chocolate. I mean seriously, get our priorities straight!

I transfer them to Tupperware/Rubbermade containers in my pantry upstairs, as I need them. You could put them in under-the-bed boxes, too.

Somethings might be cheaper in bulk but for me are worth buying in the smaller containers. Flour is cheaper (buy a few pennies a pound) in the 25 lb packages. I buy them in the 10 lb bags because it is easier to store and use. It is worth it to pay the extra few pennies a pound to avoid the hassle of scooping flour from one container to another.

Will My Family Eat it Up?
The final thing to consider when buying in bulk is whether you family will eat it. I never buy something in a bulk container that I haven't tried before. I want to make sure my family will actually like it. I buy it in the smaller containers first and try it out. If it is only available in bulk (like some Costco products) I arrange to split it with someone the first time. It doesn't save me any money if it sits on my shelf forever, or gets thrown out.

Someone I know, who shall remain nameless because she reads this blog, is forever giving my family packages of stuff that she bought for her family that they won't eat. Didn't save her any money if she ends up giving it to me. Saves me money, but I don't think that was the point.

Don't buy 25 lbs of anything or a box of 100 somethings until you know your family will eat it. 'Nuff said.

This week I'm going to be posting recipes for the things that I use my bulk food purchases on. It's going to be great - some really cheap, really yummy recipes. You won't want to miss it!


Menu Plan Monday - Buying in Bulk Edition

This week on Frugal Feasting we are going to be talking about "Buying in Bulk." This can be a great way to save money on groceries and develop a great pantry. But not everything is great in mega-sized packages! We'll talk about what I buy in bulk and what I don't. I'll be posting lots of recipes using my bulk purchases - including "Apple Berry Bars" a delicious new cookie recipe I found!

As for dinners this week? I'm playing the "use what you have" game because I have a LOT of eggs to use up. Having chickens is great. I love watching them and mostly I love the fresh eggs I get everyday. Right now I'm averaging four eggs a day - that makes two plus dozen a week! Needless to say, right now I have an abundance of eggs and will be using some up this week in my dinner menus.


  • lunch meat sandwiches
  • yogurt with granola
  • Campbell's soup that I got on sale
  • leftovers
  • Bread and cheese souffle (using eggs), salad
  • croquettes (recipe posted this week), steamed broccoli and cauliflower
  • Taco stuffed shells, mexican rice (recipe this week), salad
  • Broccoli Cottage Cheese Casserole, fruit, bread
  • Homemade egg noodles with butter sauce, veggies with ranch, fruit
  • Soup and bread - bean soup in the crockpot
Make sure you come back tomorrow to check out the latest installment of Frugal Feasting. If you need more menu inspirations, go check out Organizing Junkie!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Buying Cereal on Sale

I never pay full price for cereal - NEVER! I mean really, $4.69 for a box of cereal that will feed my family 5 servings? Six servings if we are really lucky.

Nope. Never.

My personal rule is I won't spend more than $2.oo a box for cereal. And it has to contain more than 12 oz. I saw a box on sale the other day for $1.98 and thought I'd get some. Until I realized that there was 9 oz in the box! Seriously, nine ounces? Who are we feeding, anorexic supermodels?

When I can get cereal for $1.50 or $1.25, I'll buy a bunch. Last fall both Albertson's and Safeway had cereal for $1 a box! I bought almost 80 boxes. But we are almost out of our one dollar cereal (ok, we have about 10 boxes left, but whatever) and I've been looking for a good sale.

This week Albertson's has several Quaker cereals (as well as Breakfast Cookies, Chewy Granola Bars, Instant Oatmeal, and Quaker oats) on sale for $1.50 a box when you buy four boxes in a single transaction. I bought 36. My family LOVES Life cereal (and cinnamon Life) so I bought lots of boxes of those. I also bought some Breakfast Cookies - my teenagers don't always take time for breakfast and these are great for eating on the way to school, or after school before track practice or play rehearsal. I bought a one box of instant oatmeal because it had a $1.00 off sticker on it so I got it for 50 cents. I usually do "homemade instant" oatmeal (I'm posting the recipe and directions next week).

Also at Albertson's is a sale of Kelloggs cereals. Four different kinds (Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, Froot Loops, and I think Frosted Flakes) are on sale for $1.25 a box when you buy four. Hubby loves Raisin Bran so I bought a bunch of boxes of those.

The other thing on sale is Campbell's soups. Most varieties are $1 a can. Chicken Noodle and Tomato are 50 cents a can. I bought bunches. I can usually get lunch for two or three of us out of one can of soup so $1 is a good price. I bought bunches. We use the tomato soup for Toasted Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato soup, so having them for 50 cents makes a cheap dinner.

QUESTION!!! My daughter was having a discussion with her friends the other day over the proper way to label a cheese sandwich that is hot. We have always said "Toasted Cheese" but her friends say it is "Grilled Cheese." While I agree that "Grilled Cheese" is, of course, correct, we have always said toasted cheese -her friends insisted that "Toasted Cheese" was an "Oregon thing."

So which do you say? Toasted Cheese or Grilled cheese. The debate is on!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chinese Chicken Salad - redux!

In honor of "Buy stuff Cheap Week" I'm reposting the recipe for Chinese Chicken Salad. When I can get chicken for really cheap, this is a good way to stretch a couple of breasts to feed your whole family. This is my theory about meat: I very rarely serve meat as a "dish," I almost always serve it as an "ingredient." What I mean is, I stretch the chicken by adding it to cabbage to make a salad, I stretch the ham by adding it to rice to make fried rice, I add the sausage to bean and rice to make Red Beans and Rice. This way I can buy a lot less meat but still make my family feel satisfied. When I do serve it as a "dish" (such as the Italian Chicken I posted yesterday), I make sure I have lots of yummy side dishes like potatoes, steamed veggies, a rice pilaf, homemade bread or rolls or biscuits, or jars of home canned fruit. That way I can stretch my food dollar and no one cries, "Where's the beef?"

Another way we like to eat our really cheap chicken is in Chinese Chicken Salad. My kids eat this like crazy! I'm pretty sure everyone has had some version of this salad at a potluck at some time in their lives, but this is my version, and it is the best. No really, my version is the best version, ever. Really. And it is relatively healthy, too. (Just close your eyes and imagine that those ramen noodles are, um, thin sliced celery, ok? Besides, all that cabbage cancels out the ramen, right?)

Here is what you need to make Chinese Chicken Salad:
Some cooked, chopped chicken (about 2 cups or so, but this recipe is very forgiving)
One head of green cabbage
Some slivered almonds (about a half cup or more if you like them and can get them cheap)
2 packages of chicken flavored ramen noodles
Vegetable oil, lemon juice, seasoned rice wine vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar

First, chop the cabbage - please remember to remove the core, it is not tasty. I chop my cabbage by putting it through the slicing attachment of my food processor. You are looking for something between salad-green-size pieces and coleslaw-size pieces. Throw all the chopped cabbage into a big bowl. Throw in the chopped chicken (throw carefully, you don't want to take out someone's eye!)

Next, put the ramen packages on the counter and smash them. Just whack 'em good. You are breaking up the noodles into bite size pieces not dust! Now add the noodles to the cabbage/chicken (remove them from the package, duh.). Save the flavoring packets, you will be adding these to the dressing.

Next add the almonds. I always toast them slightly in my toaster oven, I think it brings out the flavor. You could toast them in a dry skillet on the stove also. Or you can just add them raw. I usually add some sesame seeds (2 Tbs or so) when I toast the almonds, but you don't have to.

Now make your dressing. Combine in a container:

1/2 c. oil (use a good quality vegetable oil or olive oil)
2 TBS lemon juice
2 TBS seasoned rice wine vinegar (you find this with all the other vinegars)
1 tsp sugar
2 seasoning packets from the ramen noodles
salt and pepper to taste

Shake, stir or otherwise combine the dressing ingredients until the sugar and ramen seasoning is dissolved. Pour this over the cabbage/chicken/almonds/ramen and mix everything together well. Serve soon, this doesn't taste quite as good after it has sat awhile, the noodles get mushy. We do however, finish off all leftovers (if there are any, which there very rarely are). You can serve this with soy sauce but we prefer it plain. Prepare to fight for your fair share - my fair share is at least half. Hey, I made it, it's only fair I get half, right?


Italian Chicken

This recipe is one of my favorite ways to serve chicken to my family. It isn't the most low-fat way, but it is one of our favorites. I think it is because it is so tender because it is pounded thin. And flavorful because of all the seasoning on it.

When you get your chicken for $1.49 a pound, it is also very cheap! I think my family is a low meat kind of family, it only takes two large chicken breasts to feed us (and we had leftovers for lunch tomorrow!). But even if you need more, if you can get them cheap, it isn't to expensive. Then if you serve it with Crashed Potatoes and some steamed veggies, it is a really cheap meal.

Here's how you do it:

First take you chicken breasts (boneless, skinless, please!). Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of waxed paper (back when I was really, really frugal, I would save the bags from inside the cereal boxes and use those for waxed paper in this recipe). Then pound it with something heavy and hard. I use my wooden rolling pin:Smash it pretty good, don't be afraid of hurting its feelings or anything. Really mush it flat. When you get done it will look like this compared to its un-mushed counterpart:
Then you are going to want to do the other one, too. When they are done, cut them into serving size pieces. I cut them into, more or less, three pieces each. Then I bread them. To bread them you will need three things:

a bowl of seasoned flour (stir salt and pepper into plain white flour), a bowl of milk, and a bowl of seasoned breadcrumbs. I use plain breadcrumbs and then stir in basil, garlic powder, salt, oregano, pepper and whatever else sounds good. Sometimes I add parmesan cheese. I usually make my own breadcrumbs. I save the ends of the bread, and that last piece that is threatening to go bad. I pop them in the freezer and when I have enough I place them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 300 degrees for 45 minutes of so (turning once) until they are really dry and hard. Then I put them into the food processor until it is breadcrumbs. I use 100% whole wheat bread so my breadcrumbs are "healthy." Yeah, right.

First dip a piece into the flour, then the milk then the breadcrumbs. Pat those breadcrumbs on there good - you want them to stay there while you are frying them. When you have them all done, put them in a pan with some hot oil in it.

Olive oil is good for this but, let's face it, it is expensive. You can use canola oil or vegetable oil with good results. Just make sure the oil is hot before you add the chicken or it will get really greasy.

When they are brown underneath, turn them over and let them brown on the other side. As they get done (check to make sure they are cooked all the way through, but they should be because they are really thin), remove them and keep them warm until the all the pieces are done.

That's it! Sometimes I serve this with gravy over mashed potatoes, sometimes with sauted peppers and onions, and sometimes (like last night), with Crashed Potatoes on the side.

If you have cheap chicken in the freezer, a good, satisfying, cheap meal is always handy!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pasta Bake

I love this recipe because it is super easy, super cheap (if you buy stuff on sale) and everyone in my family loves it. Can't beat that!

A few years ago one of the spaghetti sauce makers started marketing a "pasta bake" sauce. You put pasta in a pan, added the jar of sauce and one jar of water, covered the pan and baked it. I thought, you should be able to do that with just sauce, shouldn't you? I tried it and it worked like a charm.

Get out a 9 x 13 pan and put some pasta in it. You don't want to use spaghetti noodles here, you want something sturdy. I like penne (a tube shape with angled ends) but you could use rotini or rigatoni or even macaroni noodles. I can't give you an exact amount but it should roughly be two layers of pasta. It will look like this:(these are really bad pictures today. I apologize and wish I could do better. It has to do with the light in my kitchen. Well, and my my horrid picture taking skills!)

Once you get the pasta in there, add one jar (or can) of spaghetti sauce. Preferably the sauce you got on sale for 79 cents a can. Then fill that same jar (or can) with water and pour that in, too. Stir it up so the spaghetti sauce is mixed well with the water. Then cover with tin foil and bake at 350 til the sauce is almost absorbed and the pasta is tender. This took about 45 minutes tonight but you just have to keep an eye on it. When it is just about done, uncover it and sprinkle it with shredded mozzarella cheese. Take it out when the cheese is melted and bubbly.

This is really good reheated the next day, too. (Guess what I'm having for lunch tomorrow?)
You could, of course, add cooked ground beef, or italian sausage or cooked, chopped chicken. I don't because of my vegetarians. But if your family likes it - go for it. If you get your meat on sale, it will only add a couple of dollars to the total cost.

I figure I used about $1 worth of pasta, the sauce was 79 cents or so, and about $1 or $1.25 of cheese. That means that this meal, which feeds all six of us (everyone had seconds) with leftovers, costs around $3.00! I served it tonight with cheese biscuits and home canned applesauce. My whole meal was probably $5.00. Yeah! And took me about 10 minutes worth of work.

Best part? No one whined!


Crazyville Zoo

(A brief break from Frugal Feasting. I'll post
Last Thursday was not a good day. I was in a great mood until I got a call from my daughter.

"Mom, can you think of any other reason for a bunny to pull her fur?" Rabbit's pull their fur out to create a nest when they are about to give birth. That is how we knew our bunny, Thumper, was going to have babies four weeks ago. But pulling fur again? No way, I kept them separated! There was no way she was having more babies - her other babies were only 4 weeks old!

"No, I don't. But I take a look at her when I get home. I'm sure it's nothing." Please let it be nothing.
I arrive home an hour or so later to a crazy house. Did you know that four children can make a lot of noise when they all work together? I went down to check on the bunnies.

"Oh crud!" It was obvious she was preparing a nest. And she was frantic - the "big" babies were all over her (she was snapping at them to get them to leave her alone), the daddy bunny, RCookie was, ahem, all over her also (he was "fixed" two weeks earlier, but still, give the woman a break!!). I put the "big" babies and RCookie on one side and put the wall in to give Thumper her own side. What was I going to do with even MORE baby bunnies??

I came back upstairs. Same daughter greets me with, "Mom, what is all this stuff all over the couch and windowsill and floor?"

Sigh. "Looks like someone has let the bunnies play here a little too long." Droppings were everywhere.

"No one had the bunnies up here. Plus, that doesn't look like bunny stuff." She was right. It was different.

"Oh great! There is something living in my couch!"

At this point, I went to bed. Really. I just went to my bed and shut the door and turned on the TV. Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away. Besides, I suddenly had a raging headache.

Hubby came home a little while later to find me still on the bed. "What's wrong?"

"I have a headache. Thumper is going to give birth again, and there is some critter living in my couch!"

"What do you mean, 'critter in our couch'?"

"Go ask you daughter." He did and she showed him, and he said, "oh." and went on with his night. I got up to fix dinner.

After dinner I went to check on the bunnies. Sure enough, she had given birth to five more baby bunnies. Now I have eight. Eight baby bunnies that I have to try to find homes for. Sigh.

I call my sister to complain. While I'm on the phone with her I decide to pull the couch out and check behind it.

A SQUIRREL! "Oh great, there's a squirrel behind my couch!" Hanging upside down from the windowsill. How do they do that?

"Hang up and call me back when you deal with it." My sister doesn't even want to listen about squirrels in the house, let alone see them.

Now, I have to explain that we live near a green space and we have lots of squirrels around. We've even had them in our house before so this wasn't earth-shattering news. But still, Hubby had left again by then and I was all alone to deal with it. Would this day ever end?

I got the squirrel out by building a "path" to the open sliding glass door. We pulled the other couches out and then "swept" the squirrel out with a broom. He or she was not very happy with me and let me know it! Squirrels are almost as loud as four kids.

By night's end things had calmed down. The squirrel was gone, babies were born. I would have a great story to tell at work the next day.

Then I came home from work the next day.

The squirrel was back! Build a path again, sweep it out with the broom, again. I really need to steam clean my couch.

We think we've fixed the problem. They were coming down the chimney. We put wire mesh over the top of it. But if I find another squirrel in my house today . . . . !

Anyone want a baby bunny?


Monday, January 12, 2009

Tip One: Buying Things on Sale

Every tightwad book or book on cheap eating will tell you that you should fill out a price-book. By having a price-book, you know what the lowest price is for anything and then you can only buy things at the lowest price. I totally agree that you should never pay full price for things - especially some things, however I have never had a price book.

I tried several times to start a price-book but have failed every time. I know that they work, I just can't make them work for me! I don't remember to bring them with me, I don't go to enough stores, the thing I really need isn't in the price book, or whatever. I finally gave up and just set some "won't go over" prices for certain items.

There are certain things that I never pay full price for: boneless skinless chicken breasts, boxed cereal, pop (Diet Dr. Pepper is my friend), cheese, canned chili, canned/jarred spaghetti sauce, boxed mixes (ie, rice-a-roni, stuffing mix, etc), ketchup, salad dressing, salad oil (vegetable or canola oil), canned fruit, and barbeque sauce. I'm sure there are a couple of others but I've forgotten them right now. When I find these things on sale for less than my "never more than" price, I buy lots!

Most of the things on that list are "extravagances" meaning they are things that we don't need, could use a substitute or could make ourselves. I could make chili instead of buying canned, but canned chili is great for those quick meals - as long as I don't spend more than 80 cents a can. I could stop drinking Diet Dr. Pepper and start drinking water (which I have vowed to do this year, just not now!), but I really enjoy it and I won't spend more than $2.75 a 12/pk.

Boneless skinless chicken breast are another example. I'm very squeamish about my meat - I like it as far away from its original state as possible. I don't want to work around bones and stuff, so I buy only boneless skinless chicken breasts. More expensive, you say? I could buy a whole chicken and cut it up, you insist? Yeah, well, it ain't gonna happen in Crazyville. I'm willing to buy the boneless skinless kind - but I won't spend over $1.89 a pound for them. When I find them for less than that I buy a bunch and Foodsaver them and throw them in the freezer. How much is "a lot?" Well the last time they went on sale for $1.49 a lb at Albertsons I bought 15 lbs worth. Yes, I could get whole chickens for cheaper, but I wouldnt use them and they would go to waste so it would NOT save me money.

That is the whole trick about buying on sale and stocking up. If you buy something just because it is a "great deal" and then let it sit on your shelf for years collecting dust or throw half of it away because your family won't eat it, it isn't that great of a deal. I only buy this stuff in multiples when I know we will use it up. I know which brand of chili we like - and only buy that one - and I have 9 cans of it in my Crazyville Food Shoppe right now!

I won't drive all around town to get these deal, either. I shop at one store, it happens to be the cheapest in town for everyday prices. I will go to the two stores nearest me if they have some crazy loss leader sale (like the $1.49 chicken breasts, or $1 boxes of cereal). But I don't end up going anywhere else very often. I just watch for stuff to go on sale and stock up when it does. Then I WON'T BUY IT AGAIN UNTIL IT GOES ON SALE! I'll do without it until I can get it under my "never more than" price. So when I find it, I usually buy a lot.

Which brings me to my next point. Where do I keep all this stuff??

Try to find somewhere in your house that you can keep an expanded pantry. Some people are lucky enough to have a good sized pantry in their kitchen. Some people have shelves in the basement,

some have shelves or cupboards in an attached garage. Some people put them in under the bed bins under the beds. Wherever you find space and it works, go for it. It will save you so much money! This system allows you to always use 79 cents a can spaghetti sauce or $1.49/lb chicken breasts. Way better than $1.99 spaghetti sauce or $3.99 chicken breasts.

This coming week, I will be posting recipes that use some of my "never more than" price items. Tomorrow it will be pasta bake using canned spaghetti sauce (that I never pay more than 89 cents a can for!). See you then!


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Frugal Feasting Kick-Off

I'm starting my "Frugal Feasting" series this week. I'm really excited to be doing this series. My favorite topic is food and the cheaper the better! This is going to be a great excuse for me to find some new cheap recipes.

This week my focus is on the most basic part of cheap eating - buying stuff on sale! There are certain things I will never pay full price for. I'm going to go over these things and how buying things on sale help. Then I'm going to make some meals this week using those on sale items.

This week my meals will be:



  • lunch meat and cheese sticks
  • leftovers
  • yogurt and granola
  • sandwiches
Tomorrow I will post on the theory of buying on sale, tips and tricks, where to store it all, and what it makes sense to stock up on. Then for the rest of the week the dinner recipes will be the stars! In the coming weeks, we will will talk about other frugal eating ideas: mega cooking, meat "less" cooking, bulk buying, cooking from scratch, cooking with beans, and more!

Join me for my Frugal Feasting series!

If you need more menu ideas, jump on over to Organizing Junkie!


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Coming Sunday!

I have been rather amiss at keeping my blog updated lately. Partly that was because of the holidays and I was busy and spending time with my kids over Christmas break. However, part of the problem was I just wasn't very focused on what I wanted to be doing here. I've been doing some thinking and I've come up with an idea! After much thought and brainstorming with Hubby and others, I've decided to do . . .

Cheap Meals - the Series!

We eat pretty cheap here in Crazyville. I have learned over my almost (ahem!) 20 years of marriage some tricks and tips for how to do it and still feel like your feasting. I'm going to share some of that with all of you.

I will focus on one theme a week. I will introduce the theme on Monday and then the posts (and meals) that week will be related to that theme. Themes will include: buying in bulk (how to do it and when, how to use all that bulk food, when not to buy in bulk), cooking with beans (some really good recipes!), cooking from scratch and baking from scratch. There will be many more - I hope to do a 12 week series.

So, starting Monday (probably late Sunday night!) I will have the first weeks "lesson" ready. Pardon me now, I've got to do start typing!!!