A frugal weekend

We are finally getting some sun here in Connecticut after a cold, rainy spring. This weekend, I had a lot to do. Now that tax season and the spring semester are over and my summer class is running, I’ve got some time to get some things done around the house.

Homemade pastaFriday and Saturday, I did some cooking and prep for the week. I made a double batch of enchiladas. We had some for dinner on Friday night and I’ve got another pan for dinner tonight or tomorrow night. I also made some spaghetti, with my KitchenAid Mixer and pasta attachment. This pasta is half whole wheat. My husband is not a fan of whole wheat pasta but when I make pasta with whole wheat flour in it, he will eat it. I also made fresh tomato sauce, which I’ve found my husband will eat pretty much anything if I cover it in tomato sauce. salad

I also had a ton of lettuce in the fridge so I decided to make a big salad for the week. If I have salad in the fridge, I’ll eat it for lunch and with dinner but if I don’t prep it, my lettuce will go bad before I find time to eat it. I add shredded carrot and celery to the salad plus I cut up a red pepper so I can have salad very quickly. Salad makes me happy. I even made Russian dressing. Making the salad and pasta took about 2 hours on Saturday. I made the pasta first and while it was drying, I made the salad, the tomato sauce and cleaned up the kitchen a bit.

Saturday, I also planted my garden. I plant a tomato sauce garden (I’m a bit focused on Italian food). We planted four types of tomatoes, two types of peppers, four types of herbs and cucumbers. I promised my husband that I would not put cucumbers in the sauce. The cucumbers are for my salads which make me feel better about all the Italian food we eat. garden

I’m not the greatest gardener in the world but I do okay. We should have enough tomatoes to make sauce that will last about a year. We paid $24 for the plants which should save us a few hundred dollars that we would have spent on produce and sauce. With the rising price of groceries, I think it’s a decent investment and it gives me something to do outside in the summer to get me away from the computer.

helicopters

Speaking of outside, am I the only one who goes insane when the helicopter seeds start falling from the trees? They are everywhere! On the ground, on the deck, the lawn and all over my floors in the house. Sunday, I decided I should probably vacuum the hundreds of helicopters that have infiltrated my house.

I HATE cleaning. It is probably my least favorite thing in the entire world. To keep myself going, I decided to see if Pandora had some music to keep me distracted. I found an awesome channel called 80’s Cardio in the workout section. That channel got me through four hours of cleaning and laundry. FOUR HOURS! I don’t know that I’ve ever spent four hours cleaning in a single day. I must say that cleaning is much more fun dancing out to Young MC.

My husband let me know that while I was jamming out with my headphones on, two of our neighbors were talking to him in the driveway and heard me singing Bon Jovi while dancing like a crazy crazy. Hey, at least I was productive even if the neighbors do think I’m nuts.

2014-06-01 13.05.55

I did so much laundry yesterday that I had to make more laundry detergent. Yeah, I make that, too. I told you it was a frugal weekend. I love how the soap curls when you shred it. Hey, after cleaning for four hours, soap curls would amuse you too!

By Sunday night, I was sore from all the dancing, gardening and cleaning. I was pretty pleased with all the progress I had made. The house was relatively clean, a lot of the laundry was done, food was prepped for the week and I even had a few dinners in the fridge for the week. I went to bed feeling very pleased.

I woke up this morning and the first thing I saw when I entered the kitchen: more helicopters.

more vacuuming in my future!

I see a lot more vacuuming in my future!

Did you do anything frugal this weekend? Do you listen to music when you clean? What keeps you going when working on a task you hate?

Meal Plan for the week of July 23

It’s been warm outside recently and heat makes me act like our cat Thor. I just want to flop on the couch and not do much of anything. This week’s meal plan will be simple. We have central A/C but going out in the heat zaps my energy. Some of these recipes might not be exactly heat friendly but they are quick.

Sunday: Homemade Pizza

Monday: Dinner out with a friend

Tuesday: Hot Dogs with carrot sticks

Wednesday: Pasta Chu Chu (FYI- if you make this one, it makes a ton of food. Could feed three or four with this recipe)

Thursday: Steaks with salad and homemade bread

Friday: Pork enchiladas

Saturday: Peanut Butter Chicken

Corn Chowder

picture of corn chowder

It’s cold, it’s snowy and I didn’t have anything defrosted for dinner. I wanted something warm and comforting for dinner.

This is when my brain starts going to work. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could make some chowder. I’ve never made chowder but how hard could it be? I knew that I could figure it out. So, down to the kitchen I went.

I start to take stock of what I have. I’ve got some half-and-half in the fridge from the chicken, mushroom and roasted red pepper alfredo I made earlier in the week. I’ve got potatoes, carrots and celery. I don’t have any onions but I do have shallots. I also have some bacon in the freezer and we all know everything is better with bacon.

I grabbed a big stock pot and turn the stove to medium high. I started by chopping six slices of bacon. The bacon went into pot on medium high for 5-7 minutes until the bacon is crisp. Using a slotted spoon, I removed the bacon, leaving the drippings behind.

While the bacon was cooking, I chopped a shallot, two carrots and two pieces of celery. When I chopped the carrots, I quartered them the long way and then chopped them. I sliced the celery lengthwise and chopped it. I also chopped three potatoes in small 1/2 cubes. Once the bacon was out of the pot, I turned the heat to medium and added all of the veggies to the pot. The veggies cooked for about four minutes to get that nice bacon flavor cooked in. To thicken the soup, I added 1/3 of a cup of flour. You have to stir everything around and cook it for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour flavor. At this point, I added salt, pepper and a teaspoon of dried thyme.

Now I have to start thinking about soup base. All milk would be way too heavy. So, I decided that the base should be mostly chicken broth. I added a large can (49.5 oz) of chicken broth and turned the heat to high. Once the soup came to a boil, I turned it down and let it simmer for 8-10 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. At this point, I added a few dashes of hot sauce. I know it’s not traditional chowder but just a bit really brought the flavor up a notch. Don’t add too much, just a bit so there is a tiny bit of heat.

I went to the freezer and realized that I didn’t have as much corn as I thought I did. I would have liked to add about two cups of corn but I only had about a cup. Oh well! When you are cooking from the pantry and fridge, sometimes things don’t work out exactly as you planned. So in went the corn as my soup continued to simmer.

After a few minutes, I turned the heat to low and started looking for something to turn my soup into chowder. I pulled a cup of half-and-half out of the fridge and added it to the pot. It was starting to look like chowder, but it wasn’t quite there. Back to the fridge! I found some sour cream. I add 1 and 1/2 cups of sour cream. The flavor is good but it is not thick enough. I take some of the liquid from the pot and add a heaping teaspoon of cornstarch. I mixed my slurry and add it to the pot.

I have two thickeners in my kitchen: flour and cornstarch. Flour is for making rues before adding liquid. Cornstarch with liquid added is for thickening liquids after they have been added to a dish.

After a few minutes, my chowder is thickening up. Jeff decides that it needs some cheese. I added about 1/2 a cup of shredded cheese. It was a good addition and it finished up the package of cheese. Lastly, I added the crumbled bacon back to the pot and stirred everything together.

I was a bit worried as we were putting this together but I have to say this is the best corn chowder I have ever had. It was amazing. For me, the best part of cooking is having no plan at all and coming up with an amazing meal to put on the table. I find the more I cook, the more I learn what favors work. Experiment. Try new things. Try this chowder.

Corn Chowder (makes 6-8 servings)

  • 6 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 medium or 2 large potatoes, diced into half inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • a few dashes of hot sauce
  • 6 cups of chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cups of corn
  • 1 cup of half and half
  • 1 and a 1/2 cups of sour cream
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of corn starch
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

Cook bacon in a stock pot over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon leaving behind the drippings. Add onion, carrots, celery and potatoes to drippings. Turn down the heat to medium and add 1/3 cup of flour. Stir to incorporate the flour and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add salt, pepper, thyme and chicken broth. Turn heat to high and boil until potatoes are soft but not mushy, about 8 minutes.

Turn heat to medium-low. Add a few dashes of hot sauce and the half-and-half. Stir to incorporate then add sour cream. Keep stirring until the sour cream is fully incorporated. Remove some of the liquid to a small up and combine with the cornstarch to create a slurry. Add the slurry to the soup and heat until thickened. Add the cheese and bacon. Stir and taste. Add salt and pepper if needed.

Menu Plan Monday

Now that tax season is over and the semester is winding down, I’m getting back into meal planning mode. I’ve gone through the freezer and pantry to see what I have on hand. I really don’t need to buy much to make this menu, so it should be a small grocery trip.

Today: Sloppy joes and carrot sticks

Tuesday: Chicken parm, pasta and salad

Wednesday: Pork tenderloin, stuffing and corn

Thursday: Baked pasta with salad

Friday: Chili and cornbread

Saturday: Build your own casserole

Sunday: Sweet and sour popcorn chicken with rice

This is the layout I have now, but I might end up moving some things around. One of the things that I try to do with my meal plan is have a few things in there that are really easy to make since there are some days you just don’t feel like cooking. I also put a few things in there that don’t require me to prepare ahead of time. I’m sure I’ll forget to take the pork tenderloin out of the freezer and I’ll have to sub in the baked pasta instead. Having already cooked hamburger in the freezer is a life saver for nights like that since I can just defrost the hamburger in the microwave and dinner will be ready in a flash.

Recipes? Pfff… I don’t need no stinking recipes

I hate following recipes. That’s probably part of the reason that I’m not a huge fan of baking. I have to follow a recipe when baking. It’s annoying how chemistry works and I can’t just put in things as I see fit!

This is why I like to cook. I find it challenging to create good meals when I don’t have a plan and I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I did this twice this week. I made beef stew and something I like to call chicken goop.

The beef stew went well. I browned the beef in batches which left lovely browned bits on the bottom of my Le Creuset 7 1/4-Quart Dutch Oven. I then added onions, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms. A splash of wine (I don’t measure when I’m cooking), a good bit of Worcestershire sauce and a couple good squeezes of Dijon mustard. I didn’t have any beef broth, so I used water and beef base. I didn’t cover everything entirely, which was a good thing because everything sunk down into the liquid and it wasn’t too much. I added bay leaves, granulated garlic and ground thyme. It was covered and simmered for 4 hours. I then cracked the cover and cooked it for another hour to let some of the liquid evaporate. Added some pepper and a cornstarch slurry and a few minutes later, we had stew. I had to hunt down all of the bay leaves (don’t eat those, not good eats), but it was great stew. I just threw in what I had and made due for things I didn’t.

The chicken goop has become one of my favorite recipes. It’s easy, it’s hearty and it’s different every time. I know the name doesn’t sound very appealing but I don’t know what else to call it. I throw some chicken breasts into a small crock pot. I take a can of cream of mushroom soup and some chicken broth, about equal parts I think (again, remember that I measure nothing). This time I added some chicken grill seasoning. I actually added a lot of grill seasoning, but I figured in the crock pot, it was probably needed. I even added a bunch of Parmesan cheese. Once that was all mixed together, I poured it over the chicken. Cook for about 5 hours on low (my crock pot cooks hot I think), until the chicken starts to fall apart if you try to pick it up with a fork. You can serve this over rice, mashed potatoes or noodles. It’s warm and hearty. If you wish you can even add veggies toward the end of cooking. I imagine broccoli would be good. Mixed veggies, too. I’m not allowed to put veggies in the chicken goop or there might be a husband revolt. I just serve green beans or corn on the side. This is also a good meal to serve with a salad.

I’m at the point in my cooking life where I know what flavors appear to work together and which ones do not. I’ve played around with spices enough to know that rosemary has no place in lasagna (trust me). I have made some errors in judgement before but for the most part, things turn out well. I encourage you to try different flavors and see what works for you.

This week’s meal plan

There are a few things from last week’s meal plan that we didn’t eat and a few things we did make this week that I have leftovers from that I want to incorporate this week. Last night, my husband made a roast chicken so I’ll incorporate the leftover meat and then make some stock later in the week.

Monday – Peanut chicken stirfry (w/ leftover chicken from Sunday)
Tuesday – Hamburger skillet
Wednesday – Stew w/ garlic breadsticks
Thursday – Chicken parm (see recipe page)
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Build your own casserole (see recipe page)
Sunday – Pork chops

I’ll make the stew either in the crockpot or in my dutch oven. I like using the dutch oven because the stew always seems to come out thicker.

I don’t have much shopping to do this week. Just some milk and yogurt. I have everything else on hand from last week or from the freezer.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Last night, I made Chicken Cordon Bleu for the first time. I have to say I was very pleased with the results. I changed a few things from the recipe and I think it came out  great.

Instead of pounding out the chicken, I just cut the chicken breasts lengthwise to make them thinner. I didn’t cut them all the way through so I’d have a large thin piece of chicken. I used store baked ham instead of the boiled ham. This gave it a really good flavor.I rolled up the chicken with the ham and cheese and then cooked it in the skillet. I was able to roll up the chicken earlier in the day and put it in the fridge until I was ready to make dinner. I browned the chicken in the pan and then transferred it to the oven.

I also used panko bread crumbs which gave a nice crunch on top of the chicken.

When making the sauce, I added a bit of white wine and used about 50% chicken broth/50% milk. I was very pleased with the flavor. I did not add salt to the sauce because of the cheese.

My husband is not generally a fan of new recipes but he really liked this one. I’ll be making it again.

I wish I would have taken pictures because the dish looked really pretty. I served it with carrots and penne pasta I had leftover from dinner on Monday. The sauce was also very good on the pasta.

Menu plan August 2-August 8

I’m finally getting back into the grove of making a menu plan. I’ve just been going with the flow and cooking out of the freezer but there are some things I want to use up and I need to make sure I have enough leftovers for lunches for Jeff.

I did a ton of baking today. I made chocolate chip cookie bars and some sandwich bread. I have an extra loaf’s worth of dough so I can make another loaf later in the week if we need it. It’s in the freezer.

I got a great deal on flour this week. A while back I had called Betty Crocker to complain about the new Suddenly Salad recipe. I got  a coupon for up to $6 off any Betty Crocker product so I took that coupon to BJ’s. They sell a two pack of 10lb bags of flour for $8.49. Deduct my coupon and I just got 20lbs of flour for 2.49. I was just thrilled. I see lots of baking in our future.

I’m not really sure if this is the order things are going to stay in for the week, but this is the plan for now. Remember with menu planning, you don’t have to eat things on the nights you plan to make them unless you are planning for leftovers for lunches.

Sunday – Hot dogs and baked beans.

Monday – Baked Rigatoni

Tuesday – Grilled cheese and tomato soup

Wednesday – Chicken parm with pasta

Thursday – Pork chops, stuffing and corn

Friday -Sloppy joes, corn chips (must have corn chips with sloppy joes) and carrot sticks

Saturday – Pizza

When dinner doesn’t work out as planned

When my husband asked what was for dinner tonight, I told him we were trying a new recipe. When I said Pierogi beef skillet, he made a face. I showed him the recipe. He said it was “mahnush” (pronounced ma-nush, I have no idea how to spell it because it’s  a word he has made up). Don’t ask me what mahnush is. After 10 years together, I’m still not sure what makes something mahnush. I’ll try to get him to clarify that for me. It’s been impossible so far.

I knew that recipe was dead-on-arrival. So I had to improvise. I was already set on the fact that I was going to use the ground turkey, so I decided to use my old standby: The build-your-own casserole (posted to the recipe page of the site). I love this one because I can almost always make it with what I have on hand and it’s a great way to use up stuff in the pantry. You can use any combination of meat, veggies, toppings and whatever else you have in the house. I used cream of mushroom soup, frozen corn, pasta shells, ground turkey, a can of sliced mushrooms, a package of cream of mushroom soup and topped it with crushed Ritz crackers and some leftover shredded cheese. It’s quick to whip up and always turns out good.

The recipe is from a great group over on Yahoo Groups called Pantry Challenge. I used to be very active over there but then life got crazy. I do still go over there every now and then to check out what’s shaking. You might want to go check it out yourself if you are looking for new dinner ideas. They even have a folder full of cheap eats dinners. This is where this recipe came from.

Jeff’s view: Feeding yourself when your wife is not home

When in the course of family events, it becomes necessary for one husband to feed himself and risk dissolving the bands that connect his stomach and currency, and to assume among the powers of Earth the ability to create a dinner that is not an abomination to the laws of Nature, with a decent respect to the wife’s laws of living frugal.

As a husband, the prospect of caring for yourself should not really rise to the level of a declaration of independence.  However, if you choose, with your wife, to live frugally it ruins many of the tried and true methods that men should use to feed themselves (a.k.a. pizza delivery).  Like my wife, I have come up with some important recipes that can help any man survive without resorting to breaking the budget. It is very important to understand that if this is going to work, you need drinks.  I recommend beer and soda; have her buy them to maximize savings. Let’s be honest if we go to the store it will be the first found, not the best deal.

Deluxe Popcorn

1 package Boy Scout popcorn, 1 bag price ??? (it doesn’t matter; it needs to be boy scout popcorn because it is the best)
1 pinch of salt, price ??? (who cares it is only a pinch)

First, you place the popcorn in the microwave (NOTE FROM WIFE: make sure to remove the plastic wrapper from the microwave popcorn before placing in said microwave) then press the popcorn button on the microwave.  You must remember that the door must be closed for the microwave to work due to oppressive government regulations.

Open bag of popcorn and slowly pour popcorn into plastic bowl.  I believe you can throw these away since they are not glass. IF YOU USE A GLASS BOWL NEVER THROW IT AWAY; WIVES DO NOT CONSIDER THESE DISPOSABLE.

This dish is best served with a glass of clear soda on a movie or tv watching evening.  You can also consider serving the popcorn on a bed of T-Bone steak if there is one in the freezer.

Special note: Also if your microwave does not have a popcorn button you will need to call you wife to ask how to set the microwave.  You do not want guess.  However, as you know, the microwave must be broken due to the lack of popcorn button.  You will have to work into your budget to replace the broken device ASAP)

Deluxe Bologna Sandwich

2 slices of Wonder bread
2 slices of yellow American Cheese (yellow American Cheese not valid in New England so you will have to use White)
2 slices of Oscar Meyer Beef Bologna
1 teaspoon of Yellow Mustard

First you will open the two slices of bread and place one piece of American cheese on each piece of bread.  Then on one side place two slices of bologna.  Dab the yellow mustard on the meat.  Finally place two sides together on paper plate with a side of chips.

This dish is best served with a lovely red soda.  You might also look to spice it up a bit by placing chips directly on the sandwich.  Once you are done make sure to eat the paper plate so you are not force to waste time going back to the kitchen to throw it away.

(This is the point if we had a lawyer they would force me to retract the last statement or point out it is a joke.  Well, it is a joke, DO NOT EAT THE PLATE JUST LEAVE IT ON THE TABLE)

I would like to wish everyone good luck when they are left alone.  I will follow up at times with more helpful recipes to allow you to keep your budget lean and your belly full.  Good luck and eat the plate. I was just joking about the warning.  It is really good fiber so eat it.  😀