Sweet and Sour Popcorn Chicken

I can’t tell you how much I love this recipe. It cures my cravings for take out, plus it’s so easy. You need to try this one. I know some of the ingredients in the sauce look strange but I swear this looks and tastes just like sweet and sour chicken.

Sweet and Sour Popcorn Chicken

2 cups cubed veggies (I use green pepper, onions and carrots but
you can use anything you want)
20 oz can of pineapple chunks with juice
3 cups popcorn chicken
2 T brown sugar
1 cube chicken bullion
1 T white vinegar
2 T ketchup
1/2 t garlic powder or granulated garlic
1 T cornstarch
oil for cooking
hot cooked rice

If you have a rice cooker, start the rice first. It takes longer to make the rice than to cook the rest of the meal. Cook the popcorn chicken according to package directions. I like my chicken really crispy so I cook it at 425 for 15 minutes, flipping it midway, then cook at 450 for another few minutes till crispy. You can fry the chicken but it’s a pain and less healthy than baking it.

While the chicken is cooking, preheat a bit of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the veggies and cook till tender-crisp. You want the veggies to have a little bite left. Drain the pineapple juice into a measuring cup. Add enough water so you have a total of 1 and 1/4 cups of liquid. Add the brown sugar, bullion, vinegar, ketchup and garlic powder. Stir to combine and add to the skillet. Bring to a boil. Combine the cornstarch with 1/2 cup of cold water. Add to the skillet and simmer until thick. Add half the can of pineapple (save the rest for a snack) and the chicken. Stir to combine and serve over rice.

Swedish Meatballs

This is one of my husband’s favorites. There are two different ways to make this depending on how much time you have. You can make this in the crockpot or on the stove. It is so much better in the crockpot, if you have the time. It’s also much less work intensive if you make it in the crockpot.

Swedish Meatballs

1.5 to 2 lbs of swedish style meatballs.
2 cans of beef broth
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
hot cooked egg noodles

Add the meatballs, broth, salt, pepper and nutmeg to a crockpot or large skillet. In the crockpot, add cream of mushroom soup and cook on low for at least 4 hours, but you can cook it all day.

If using the skillet, simmer the meatballs, covered until about half the liquid has been absorbed by the meatballs, about 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure you watch it closely. Add the mushroom soup and cook until heated through.

Serve over noodles.

Spaetzle Noodles

I came up with this recipe after making spaetzle at home, which was a complete pain-in-the-skillet. This tastes just like spaetzle but is so much easier.

Spaetzle Noodles

1 bag of egg noodles (I use the widest ones I can find)
olive oil
butter
salt and pepper
nutmeg

Cook egg noodles according to package directions. Drain and place the empty pot back on the stove. With the heat on medium, add a bit of olive oil and a few tablespoons of butter. Once the butter is melted, add a pinch of salt, pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg. Stir together, then add the noodles. Mix everything together and cook for a few minutes. If the noodles look a little dry, add a bit more butter.

Shepard’s Pie

This is a modified family recipe. I’ve been eating shepard’s pie since I was itty-bitty. It’s one of my favorite comfort foods. The way I make it, it’s super quick. It takes a bit to bake but you can be off doing other things while baking. You can make this with instant potatoes, but it’s just not as good. You can also use leftover mashed potatoes, just add a bit of milk or water to thin them before baking. You can also assemble this the night before and bake it when you get home.

Shepard’s Pie

3 or 4 large potatoes or 6 or 7 smaller potatoes
1/4 cup dry milk powder (or about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of milk)
butter, salt and pepper to taste
1 lb ground beef
Worcester sauce
Dijon mustard
1 envelope of brown gravy mix
1/2 bottle of beer (Guinness is the best) or 3/4 cup of water
frozen corn

Peal and cut potatoes. Put in a pot with cold water and a bit of salt. Cook until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return potatoes to the stove, on medium heat to cook off any remaining water. I like to dry out my potatoes a bit which makes them fluffier.

Add the dry milk powder and a few tablespoons of butter. Mash with a potato masher or a hand mixer. Add some of the reserve cooking water until desired consistency. Remember that you are going to bake these so I usually add a bit more liquid that I would for normal mashed potatoes.

While the potatoes are boiling, cook the ground beef in a skillet. When no longer pink, add salt and pepper, a splash of Worcester and a squeeze of Dijon. Add the gravy mix. Stir the mixture together. Add the beer or water and stir again.

While the potatoes and beef are cooking, microwave the corn for 3 minutes.

Add the beef mixture to a casserole dish. I use a round or square casserole dish. Spread it out to make the layer level. Add corn on top of the beef mixture then top with potatoes. If your casserole is really full, you may want to put it on a sheet pan covered with foil so there are no messes in the oven. Bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes. I bake it for 45 because I like my potatoes a little crisp on top.

Easy Chicken Parm

This is one of my quick, go-to dinners when we are on the verge of going out for dinner after a long day. This recipe is super easy and if you time everything right, you can have it done in 30 minutes. Faster than take-out or delivery and so much better.

Easy Chicken Parm

2 small or 1 large breaded chicken breast per person (I use Perdue or Tyson which are not precooked)
a can or jar of spaghetti sauce
shredded or sliced mozzarella cheese
pasta (I like spaghetti or ziti)

Fill a large pot with water and get it covered and on the stove. Make sure you cover it; it’ll boil A LOT faster. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and grease it with oil, nonstick spray or shortening (whatever you have on hand really). Place chicken on the sheet and get it into the oven. If the oven isn’t exactly 450 yet, it’s okay. I cook my chicken for about 20 minutes, turning in the middle of baking. I like mine crispy though so I like the extra heat and time. You can bake it for as little as 12 minutes. Check the package directions.

When the water boils, add some kosher salt (it flavors the pasta nicely) and your pasta. When the chicken is done, spoon some of your sauce onto the chicken and top with cheese. Put it back into the oven until the cheese is melted. I’m not the biggest fan of red sauce so I just top mine with cheese and put a little sauce on at the end. My husband likes the sauce under the cheese and that’s the way it’s served at most restaurants. Drain the pasta when it’s finished. I serve my chicken on top of the serving of pasta and add more sauce.

Chicken Marsala

This is one of my favorite meals when I eat out. I have to say that now I prefer my recipe. This dish is so easy to make but has a huge wow factor, saving you a ton of money. Chicken Marsala will cost you at least $12 per person in a restaurant. You can make this dinner for two for about $6.

Chicken Marsala

Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons of butter
1lb Boneless skinless chicken breast
flour for dredging
salt and pepper
1 large clove of garlic
1 4oz can of sliced mushrooms or 1 cup of fresh mushrooms (the fresh mushrooms are so much better)
1 cup of chicken stock
1/2 cup of marsala wine*
fresh or dried parsley
1/4 water
1 teaspoon cornstarch

To prep your chicken breasts, cut them lengthwise to make thinner cutlets. This will greatly reduce the cooking time. Sometimes I cut mine into three cutlets because they are so thick. I want my chicken to be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Pat the chicken dry. Add salt and pepper to the flour and dredge your chicken. Cover it well but shake off the excess. Heat some oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and let it melt with the oil. Adding the butter will give it good flavor, but the oil will keep the butter from burning. Add the chicken. You may need to do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan. Cook the chicken until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the pan as finished. Add your mushrooms now and your garlic. I like to grate my garlic with a Microplane Grater so it blends nicely into the sauce. Cook this for a minute or two until your mushrooms are nice and browned. Add the chicken stock and the wine. Cook for another minute or two, turning up the heat a bit to bring it to a simmer. If you are using dried parsley, add it here. Mix the cornstarch and water. Add that to the sauce. If you are using fresh parsley, now is the time to add it. Stir your sauce to thicken it. Now add the chicken back to the pan to reheat. Serve with pasta, rice or potato.

* Don’t purchase cooking wine at the grocery store. Cooking wine tastes pretty terrible and has a ton of sodium. Always use wine you’d drink when cooking. It doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, I’ve found that per liter, the stuff at the grocery store is more expensive than buying an inexpensive table wine. Marsala wine can be found at most liquor stores and is pretty inexpensive. Trust me on this one.

Build-your-own-casserole

This is one of my favorite pantry clean out recipes. Whenever I have some scraps of meat or a bit of pasta left, I make one of these. Excellent with chicken or ground turkey. I like to use mushroom soup with a packet of onion soup mix and whatever frozen veggies I have left. Let your imagination run wild!

Build Your Own Casserole

1 cup sour cream or mayonnaise
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Choose one sauce maker:
10.75 oz tomato soup
10.75 oz Cream of Celery soup
10.75 oz Cream of Potato soup
10.75 oz Cream of Chicken soup
10.75 oz Cream of Mushroom soup
10.75 oz Cream of Broccoli soup
29 oz Italian-style diced tomatoes

Choose one frozen vegetable:
10 oz broccoli
10 oz corn
10 oz peas
10 oz beans
10 oz spinach
16 oz yellow squash
16 oz mixed veggie blend

Choose one pasta/rice:
4 cups egg noodles, uncooked
3 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
3 cups shells, uncooked
1 cup rice, uncooked

Choose one fish/meat/poultry:
2 cans tuna, drained & flaked
1 lb ground beef, browned & drained
1 lb bacon, cooked & crumbled
2 cups ham, cooked & chopped
2 cups chicken, cooked & chopped
2 cups turkey, cooked & chopped

Choose one or more extras:
1/4 cup bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup black olives, sliced & drained
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4-1/2 oz can green chilies, chopped
3 oz can mushrooms, drained
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 pkg taco seasoning mix or homemade version
1 pkg onion soup mix or homemade version

Choose one or more toppings:
1/2 cup bread crumbs (homemade are the best)
1/2 cup crushed cereal
1/2 cup French-fried onion rings
1/2 cup crushed buttery round crackers
1/2 cup cheddar, shredded
1/2 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 cup Swiss, shredded

Direction:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 13×9 baking dish.
Combine sour cream, milk, water, salt, and pepper with sauce maker
(omit sour cream and milk when using tomatoes).
Stir in frozen vegetable, pasta/rice, fish/meat/poultry, and extra(s).
Spoon into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with topping(s).
Bake, covered, for 45 minutes; uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Meal plan for the week of October 2

This week we start the SNAP challenge. My grocery budget is $232 for the month but I’ve already spent over $43 on staples. This week, I’ll be using a roast chicken for three meals plus leftovers for lunch on Tuesday. I’ve got to buy some spices or at least find out the prices so I can add them to my budget. The SNAP challenge rules state that you must include the cost of everything you use.

Jeff and I are not big breakfast eaters. I usually grab a banana on my way to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Jeff usually doesn’t do breakfast (other than his pot of coffee everyday) but eats lunch early. Lunches will be leftovers, except for Monday, which will probably be breakfast for lunch since we are both home on Mondays. For snacks, I’ll make apple sauce and snickerdoodles.

Some items will be used for multiple meals.

Dinner is as follows:

Monday – Roast Chicken, buttered noodles and green beans

Tuesday – Spaghetti and sauce, bread and salad

Wednesday – Tacos with homemade tortillas and all the fixings

Thursday – Build your own casserole with leftover chicken, bread and salad

Friday – Porterhouse Steak, mashed potatoes and corn

Saturday – Chicken soup with egg noodles and veggies, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, veggie sticks

Sunday – Pancakes, sausage and orange juice

I’ve mixed some inexpensive dinners, like spaghetti (the sauce is made with tomato paste! So easy and cheap) and pancakes, so we can have a few expensive dinners, like tacos and steak (which is $4.99 a lb this week and we share one steak).

I will have to go to a few stores this week to pick up things. I’m also going to buy some boneless chicken breasts for the next few weeks ($1.99 a lb for 3lbs or more). Luckily, the stores are either close to home or to work. My grocery list:

Stew Leonards:

  • butter (sale)
  • ham
  • cheese
  • steak (sale)
  • parmesan cheese

PriceRite:

  • egg noodles
  • canned green beans
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • chili powder
  • lettuce and salad fixings (tomatoes, carrots, etc)
  • Italian seasoning
  • onion
  • sour cream
  • concentrated orange juice
  • tea bags
  • sugar
  • bananas
  • cinnamon
  • peanut butter

Stop and Shop:

  • chicken breasts (sale – for next week)
  • roasting chicken (sale)
  • creamy Italian dressing (sale)
  • frozen peas and carrots (sale)
  • frozen corn (sale)
  • potatoes (sale)
  • cream of mushroom soup (sale)
  • English muffins (sale)
  • apples

If you are looking for more ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

The rules of the road….SNAP Challenge

Tomorrow we start the SNAP Challenge. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  (formerly known as food stamps). Many organizations, like Foodshare in Connecticut, are encouraging people to try to live on $4 a day, which is the average amount SNAP provides per person per day. Jeff and I have decided to take the challenge during the month of October.

We had to layout some ground rules before we started. First, since we had a wedding today, we are officially starting the challenge tomorrow (Monday). We’ve decided that we can use our BJ’s membership. The cost of the membership is about $4 per month and saves us a ton of money. Since we have some things stockpiled or already opened, like mustard, if I use the item during the month, I will include the replacement cost of that item. I didn’t want to waste a bunch of food, but I want to be fair also.

Since we start tomorrow, October 3, we have 29 days of benefits. If we were on SNAP, we would have received our monthly allotment at the beginning of the month. This is an advantage for the way we shop, since we usually pick up some supplies for the month and then do light shopping the rest of the month. My budget for the month is $232.

Today, I went to BJ’s and purchased a few things we needed: Coffee, eggs and sausage patties. I’ll have to make another trip there in a few days to pick up some more items but we were not really ready for a full trip. I forgot my coupons and I didn’t have a list.

We spent $26.47. The coffee should last the month, as will the sausage. A dozen and a half eggs will last most of the month. We also spent $2.59 for half a gallon of milk.

Some items I know I am going to need from my pantry:

  • I have a 10lb bag of King Arthur flour which I’ll open up this week: $5.49.
  • I purchase my yeast at BJ’s because it is so much cheaper. I usually purchase two pounds at a time and split it with a friend. A pound of yeast will last me about six months to a year. Cost: $2.25.
  • Baking powder: 1.79
  • Bottle of olive oil from Stew Leonard’s $4.49

I think that’s a good start. As I use more items, I’ll list them. The reason I’m thinking baking is because I’m going to make a big batch of dough tomorrow and use that throughout the week for bread and pizza. Homemade bread is really frugal and so delicious.

Total-to-date: $43.08

Amount remaining: $188.92

I know it looks like I’ve spent a lot, but all this stuff (other than the milk), will last us for the entire month. Tomorrow, I’ll post my meal plan and results from the shopping trip.

 

 

When’s the last time you made Roast Chicken?

If it’s been a while, it’s time to get cooking. Roast chicken is a great way to save a ton of money. I know what you are thinking. How is an $8 chicken going to save me money? Well, follow me down this culinary road.

Roasting chickens are generally about 99 cents a pound. An 8 lb chicken has 6-7 lbs of meat on it. That’s a lot of chicken.

Meal #1 – Roast chicken, a side dish and veggie. When finished take all the rest of the meat off the chicken

Meal #2 – Chicken casserole or stirfry

Meal #3 – Chicken tacos or BBQ chicken sandwiches

Meal #4 – Chicken soup (make stock from the carcass)

So we can get four meals out of one $8 chicken. In our house, since there are only two of us, we’ll probably get more than that. If you use every little bit of the chicken, we are talking a seriously good deal here.

There is a great guide to roasting chicken at Allrecipes. It’s a lot easier than you think. Try it.