First, a note: This will be my final post, for several reasons. First, because I have said repeatedly that I'm running out of affordable, yet different dinner ideas. I've done over 50 dinners for under $10 each. Second, because the purpose of this blog (for me anyway) was to keep me writing during a slump. I'd written a book under a pseudonym, published it two years ago, and hadn't written anything worth reading since then. So, a fellow writer suggested keeping a blog just to keep me busy until I DID have a new idea. Well, the slump is over, folks. I've been working on a novel since August, am really excited about it, but haven't really had the time to write much (28 pages done in nearly 3 months is NOT good) and have been considering, for several weeks, ditching this project altogether so I'd have more time to work on my novel. Lastly, and probably most importantly, google's "free" photo hosting service says I've reached my limit, and it won't allow me to upload any more photos without paying a service fee. Ironically, I haven't used about 1/10th of the photos I've uploaded, and if I could "delete" them from the hosting service to make more room, I would, but I can't seem to figure out how...
So in a nutshell: 1) out of affordable dinner ideas, 2) writer's slump is over, and 3) no more (free) photo space.
So without any of the photos I took of tonight's dinner, here's the recipe and costs: (but it's much less fun this way)
First, I made the biscuits: 2 and 1/4 cups bisquick mixed with 2/3 cup milk, roll out on a floured board (I just use more bisquick) cut into circles, and bake at 450 for 8 minutes or so.
Second, cook chicken (I did a little more than a pound) in a frying pan. I thawed the frozen chicken in the microwave, sliced the raw chicken into small chunks on a plate, and cooked them in a frying pan with just a little water to help them stay juicy.
Third, add gravy (I just bought a small can of chicken gravy for 88 cents when it was on sale a few weeks ago) to the pan of cooked chicken.
Pull the biscuits out of the oven, and cook a side dish of vegetables (I did a half a bag of frozen peas, purchased for $1.33, in the microwave with a Tbsp of butter for 4 minutes, stirring at 2)
For dessert, we had store-bought fudge-pops (generic, box of 12 for $3.29)
The prices were: $2.53 for the chicken: 1.16 lbs of boneless, skinless breast meat at $2.18/lb, 88 cents gravy, $1.05 worth of bisquick powder (I rounded up to 2.5 cups since I used bisquick instead of flour) and 16 cents for 2/3 cup of milk, plus 4 fudge pops (1/3 of the box of 12 = $1.10) brings our total to: $5.72
Again, sorry about the lack of photos. I may or may not fiddle with this more and try to upload them. Probably not.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Monday, November 19, 2012
So my ex is in town. Again. And he likes Italian food. A lot. So, tonight I made one of his favorites: stuffed shells. Now, I actually made two pans (one a 13x9, shown here, and another 8x8, not pictured.) We ate about 1/3 of the shells that I cooked, so that will show in my cost calculations. The remainder was boxed up and frozen for future "easy" meals. And just in case you're wondering "does she ever actually pull those leftovers out and re-heat them?" the answer is yes. Quite often, actually.
I started by boiling a whole box of jumbo shells and cooking a whole family pack of hamburger (shells $1.39, on sale, hamburger $5.68). The shells I boiled, as I always do, with a little bit (prob 2 Tbsp) of vegetable oil in the pot, to keep them from sticking to the pan or eachother. The hamburger was pan-fried with half a large diced onion, about 1 Tbsp "Italian seasonings" and 1 tsp garlic. Oh, and I also set the oven for 400 degrees. Don't forget that part.
|The lump in the middle of the pan is the frozen mozzarella|
It was here that I ran into my first real snag of the evening: no spaghetti sauce. I found this hard to believe, since just a few weeks ago my favorite brand, Francesco Rinaldi, was on sale for $1 a jar at Costas, and I could have sworn I bought a bunch of it. But either that was longer ago than I thought, or we've been eating a lot more pasta than I thought. Either way, the only jar I had was an already-opened jar, in my fridge. It was nearly full, so that's a plus. I briefly pondered going to the grocery store, but dinner was already running a little bit later than usual, and I didn't want to prolong deliciousness. So, I added some ketchup to the jar, a little bit of water, and shook it up. It actually worked fairly well. I was surprised.
When the shells were done cooking, I drained out the hot water and poured in cold, and let it sit a moment. I repeated that process, and the second time around, the shells were cool enough to hold in my hand. So, I stuffed them with the good stuff and put them in the pan. Hint: if using a coated cake pan, instead of glass, you might end up with cheese stuck to the bottom if it drizzles out, so pour about 2 Tbsp of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of the pan, smear it around with your fingers, and then stuff the shells.
A gentle reminder: this family, including my ex, ate 1/3 of the meal prepared, so if you DON'T have a deep freezer, or a husband or teenager to eat a mountain of stuffed shells, only use 1/3 of what I've used. I put the two pans of shells in the oven for 15 minutes with just a sprinkling of mozzarella on top. (maybe another 1/4 lb on BOTH pans) For a side dish, we had bread and [fake] butter. As a family, we ate 7 slices. I had my youngest set the table.
So our totals for tonight are... shells (of which we ate a third): $1.39 + $5.68 burger + 8 cents for 1/2 onion + $1 jar of sauce + $2.44 bulk cheese (3/4 lb mozzarella at $3.25/lb) + $2.99 cottage cheese + 36 cents bread in shells ($1.99 loaf of generic wheat divided by 22 slices is 9 cents a slice) = 13.94, divided by 3 = $4.65 for the shells. The extra 7 slices of bread would be 63 cents, and the misc. butter and italian seasonings MIGHT be another 10 cents, so $5.38 so far, then dessert was leftover birthday cupcakes (daughter's birthday was yesterday), which was a $1 mix with maybe 50 cents homemade frosting, made 24 cupcakes ate 6 tonight, so cost of dessert was 38 cents, making tonight's GRAND TOTAL
(and I am so ready for bed).... $5.76
|Birthday princess with a meal fit for a Queen|
Friday, November 16, 2012
So I had said in a previous post that I didn't like to make lasagna anymore because it was one of my ex's favorites, and cooking it just reminded me that he was gone. And yet, it IS delicious. In fact, white lasagna was part of our wedding feast. So here's how I make mine: First, I pulled out some crazy cheap chicken, purchased this week.
This pack contained 3 breasts, and I only needed 2, but I boiled all 3, plus the one left over from another night, because I wanted some pre-cooked chicken for Sunday, when I will be making more chicken romaine wheat wraps for my daughter's seventh birthday party. I then shredded it, first by dicing it with a steak knife, then by tearing it with my fingers (don't get all huffy; I washed my hands). I put it in a bowl with 4 eggs, a handful (probably 1/2 cup) of frozen spinach, about 1/3 of a large onion, diced, and another 2 handfuls of frozen broccoli, diced.
While the chicken was cooking, I put a package of lasagna noodles in my jumbo cooking pot, covered them with water, added about 2 Tbsp (just eyeballed it) of vegetable oil to keep them from sticking together, and set them on the stove to boil. They only take 7 minutes but I had to allow time for the water to heat up so I set the timer for 10. I also turned on the oven to 400 degrees.
So I pulled out some more expensive cheese: a finely shredded blend of mozzarella provolone, Parmesan Romano fontine, and asiago. In other words, 'fancy cheese'. It was on sale for $3 a bag last week, but even so, I hated to use it on this when "regular mozzerella" would do.
The last layer was just noodles, then the remaining sauce, and the remaining cheese.
To make the salad, I just pulled out some more romaine lettuce, added some bacon bits, and started looking for my ceasar salad dressing. I couldn't find it, though I searched high and low. Literally. So I finally pulled out this Sweet Vidalia Onion dressing I bought on sale for $2 a few weeks ago. I used a little less than half a bottle, so I'm calling it 80 cents instead of a dollar. It tasted good without any croutons, and I don't like them very much myself, so I didn't bother making any.
When dinner was served, it looked like this:
Dessert was some Halloween candy, superbly discounted. Original label: $7.99, then marked at half off for $3.99, then marked at 75% off at $1.99, which is what I bought them for. These jellybeans came in individual packets of 5 or 6 each. We just opened them all up and put them in a candy dish, then took "a handful" each for dessert. I'm going to REALLY overestimate and say we ate half the bag, or $1 worth. Even though I know we did not.
If you were slicing this pan into all-adult portions, a whole pan is cut into 12 pieces. I know, because I've worked in Italian restaurants. So 4 adult portions would be 1/3 of a pan. Since my youngest is not quite five, we only ate 1/4 of the pan as a family, but for the purposes of calculations, I will consider "a family of four" to eat 1/3 of the pan...
Time for totals: chicken was 2/3 of a pack that cost $3.92, one jar of Ragu alfredo at $2.50, one box of lasagna noodles, which vary in cost from week to week but usually cost between 1 and 3 dollars, and I probably bought for $2 or less, and since I tend to overestimate to stay on the safe side, we're going to call $2, four raw eggs (which are usually $1.90 a dozen, so this is 1/3 of that, or 63 cents), spinach and broccoli, which even combined wouldn't be 1/2 of a bag, which normally costs $2 or so, but the broccoli was on sale for $1 a bag last week (huzzah!), so to call it 50 cents would be over-estimating the amount used, but slightly under-estimating the cost of a whole bag. The salad used about 1/4 of a head of romaine lettuce, which cost 98 cents this week (sale price still current at Costas, folks), and about 1/3 of a container of generic bacon bits ($1.20 at best buys across from Charles Cole), which brings our total to: One-third of the pan of lasagna, which contained: $2.61 (chicken) + $2.50 (Ragu) + $2 (noodles) + 63 cents (raw egg) + 50 cents spinach and broccoli combined + 10 cents (a few tsps seasonings) = 1/3 of $8.34 = $2.78 (lasagna) + 25 cents (lettuce) + 40 cents (bacon bits) + 80 cents (salad dressing) + $1 dessert
Since I over-estimated in a lot of spots tonight, I'm going to call this an 'under $5 meal'. In case you were wondering, the remaining lasagna will be packaged in tupperware and frozen for a quick meal another day.
A good time was had by all, especially my youngest:
Monday, November 12, 2012
So finger sandwiches are one of my daughter's favorite snacks. In order to consider it a "meal", I added the stew, and made sure the wraps had protein and vegetable. That, I feel, elevated this from "appetizers" to "dinner".
There was some beef left over from last week's beef roast. I had frozen it, and with this meal in mind I pulled it out last night. Then, because I knew I needed some wheat tortillas to make the wraps, I went to the grocery store with the kids right after work.
We found some crazy cheap chicken, coincidentally on sale; this pack was $3.34. We also got this can of mixed veggies for 69 cents, this "romaine lettuce head" for 98 cents (yeah!) 2 lbs of onions for 88 cents (yeah!) and the tortillas for $2 (not so yeah...) Salad dressing is $2 a bottle this week - not a fantastic price, but not bad.)
I put two pots of water on the stove. In one, for the stew, I put 3 bullion cubes, about 2/3 of the beef, the can of veggies (which was almost ALL carrots, so I added these peas. Then, because I couldn't leave well enough alone, I added onions (diced the smallest one out of the bag) and corn.)
In the other pot, I put 2 of the 3 chicken breasts (third in the freezer) and set the timer so they could boil. Then I diced the onion, mentioned above, and put half of it in the stew, saving the other half for the wraps.
To make the wraps, I put down a tortilla, some dressing, a single leaf (they were big), more dressing, and some meat, mixed with dressing and diced onions.
Then, I wrapped it up and sliced it into "snails",
turning them on their side and "displaying" them. I made four wraps: One beef and honey mustard, one chicken and ranch, one chicken and thousand island, and one chicken and ranch with no onion, for my youngest.
Instead of putting each wrap on a plate for each one of us, because I knew that was too big of a serving for my kids, I put some of each wrap on a serving platter and had each kid pick 3 "snails" to go with their soup. (It might not seem like much, but each full sized wrap made 6 snails, so 3 was half of a wrap, or a kids' serving). Emily took four, "because they're delicious."
And she's right.
|The soup was good but my oldest just does not photograph well.|
Dessert was full-sized candy bars, purchased on sale (50 cents each) the day after Halloween and masterfully hidden for a full week, but eventually discovered when I pulled them out to get one for myself.
Our total for tonight is: 2/3 of $3.34 chicken, or $2.23. 4 leaves off a 98 cent head of lettuce, lets call it 10 cents, a few Tbsp of different salad dressings, which cost $2 a bottle, so 50 cents, max, 1 onion out of an 88 cent bag (of six) = 15 cents, 69 cent can veggies, a little bit of frozen peas/corn to fill out the stew, call it 50 cents max, 3 out of 25 boullion cubes, which cost $1.59 a container, or 19 cents, and 50 cent candy bars x family of 4 = $2 dessert, bringing our total to: $6.36
This is good mom! Bunnies LOVE carrots!
Friday, November 9, 2012
First, I pulled out this crazy cheap chicken: 4 split breasts (translation: LOTS of white meat, a little bone and skin. Made MORE than enough to feed us all.) for $5.03. I thawed it in the microwave, and seasoned it.
Because I knew my ex would prefer bbq sauce to butter and seasonings, I did it in two separate dishes.
I then cooked it in the oven at 375 for an hour. While it was cooking, I got out the rest of these carrots (roughly 65 cents worth) and washed, peeled, and sliced them, then put them in the pot. Since dessert that night was store-bought cookies (on sale, the large, soft cookies were 8 for $1) I didn't need to do anything else, so I just relaxed for half an hour. When there was 20 minutes left on the chicken, I turned the heat on the carrots: to make "candied" carrots, all you really need to add is a little bit of butter and a lot of sugar to the water that you boil the carrots in.
So, first, add just enough water to your pot to boil the carrots and turn the heat on high. Once boiling, lower the heat to medium, add about 1 Tbsp butter or margarine (guess which one I use) and about a cup of sugar. I add 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup sugar (eyeballing and spooning, not actually measuring, folks), stir well, and set your timer for about ten minutes. If you get a rolling boil on medium heat, lower it to medium-low. It should be bubbling slowly, like a fetid swamp. You can leave them simmering at this level indefinitely, as long as they don't dry out and burn to the pan.
Although the kids were a little suspicious of carrots being passed off as "candied", they believed it when they tasted it.
Our totals for this meal, then, were: $5.03 chicken, $1 for half a bottle of BBQ sauce, 65 cents for the carrots, and each cup of sugar was previously calculated at 25 cents. Since this was for granulated sugar, not brown, let's call it 50 cents worth of "mixed sugars" to be on the safe side. There was $1 for the pack of dessert cookies, and maybe 25 cents for the Pam and "Italian seasonings", bringing the total to
And that fed an extra person.
The best part about this meal: The kids discovered that carrots can be yummy.
Monday, November 5, 2012
Editor's note: Ok, so one of the reasons I was hesitant about this project (crazy cheap dinner, that is) is because I knew that, eventually, I would run out of recipes. But (shock and awe!) I haven't yet made goulash. My daughter pulled out my copy of Rachel Ray's Family cookbook, Yum-O! a few days ago, and opened it up to the garlic-filled Ghoul-ash, and asked if we could please please please make this? I said sure, (love the pun!) but we'd wait until tonight and use my mother's recipe, not Rachel Ray's. Just the same, I read hers and it sounds... um...very different from every other goulash ever made. Right down to the dill and pimentos. So I got out all the ingredients for my mother's super-delicious goulash:
Yep, that's it. Top-cut hamburger made from locally grown beef, probably $5 a pound in a store, so that's what I'll call it. For me it was free. Have I said I LOVE my hometown? The rotini was $1 a box and I only used about 2/3 of the box. The onions were previously calculated at 14 cents each, and the can of tomatoes was $1.49 but I ended up not using it. Which is why I can't really call this goulash, since to me, goulash always includes diced tomatoes.
So, I started by putting on some water to boil the rotini, thawing out the burger in the microwave, and then putting it in my large skillet to cook. I diced half the onion (other half in the fridge) and put that in with the burger. I expected to have lots of drippings to brown the onion, but this was apparently top-TOP-cut burger, because there was none. I mean, maybe an eighth of a teaspoon of grease from the whole pound but basically, NONE. I didn't want it to dry out so I added 1/2 cup or so of water. Without really knowing why, I added a bullion cube. ??? Who knows ??? I added the rotini to the water and turned down the heat on the burger meat to medium, and set the timer for 6 minutes (I like my pasta medium-well). I couldn't get the idea of dill out of my head, so after some (very) quick decision-making, I sprinkled on 1/2 teaspoon of dill before any other spices. So all that was in the pan was burger, 1 bullion cube, some water (mostly evaporated already) onion, and dill. And at this point, it smelled delcious. I mean, so, sooooooo good. And I just couldn't dump tomatoes on top of that delciousness. It would be culinary murder. So even though I've already done beef bechamel, I did it again. I scooped out the burger meat (and onions) and set it on a plate, added a cup of milk, another bullion cube and another half-teaspoon or so of dill, let it reach a boil, and mixed in some flour to thicken it up. Then I put the burger and pasta in the sauce, and mixed it all up. Mmmmmmm....
The kids were fairly skeptical about the pumpkin meat. My oldest said straight up that he would not eat it. I insisted that everyone try some. They all ate their pasta first. In case you forgot, it was the opposite the first time I served this: everyone ate their vegetables first, because they didn't want to try this strange pasta concoction...
And my youngest drowned his pumpkin in salt and pepper before he'd even touch it.
In the end, everyone ate what was on their plates, but they requested that I only put pumpkin in desserts from now on, and never, never cook it this way again.
But we all LOVED the non-goulash.
Dessert was halloween candy, and the calculation here is easy: The most expensive candy is the mini-bars, and at DG, they're 8 for $1. So I told the kids to take 2 pieces each, and I knew that it would be at most a dollar. My oldest actually declined dessert. He wanted to leave the table and go build with legos. I took 2 mini candy bars, and my other 2 kids gladly ate their brother's share.
So, our total for tonight is: $5 top-notch burger (Free for me, but I'm special) + 67 cents rotini (2/3 of a $1 box) + 7 cents onion (half of 14 cents) + $1 dessert + 23 cents (1 cup milk) + 50 cents (2 bullion cubes and 1 teaspoon of dill) + 80 cents that I would pay for 1 can of canned vegetables, even though my kids didn't like the pumpkin meat anyway...
So, again, sorry I didn't make the tomato-y goulash. But this was friggin delicious.
Actually, I am not sorry at all.
Friday, November 2, 2012
So tonight's dinner was one of my many crockpot recipes: roast beef sandwiches, served with corn chowder on the side. I wanted to serve Beef on Weck and when I searched the internet, I learned that it's a roast beef sandwich - what makes it "on Weck" is that it's served on a kaiser roll with toasted caraway seeds - known as a kummelweck roll. It is also traditionally served medium-rare, but I cooked mine thoroughly. (I, like many people, thought it was beef on wick, but the internet is never wrong.)
Since these were Pepperidge Farm seeded sandwich rolls, purchased crazy cheap ($1.00 for a bag of 8 rolls) at Best Buy Foods (across from CCMH) this was technically "roast beef sandwiches" rather than "beef on weck".
Doesn't matter. Had meat.
So, since the last few weeks I've made more than enough for two families, I invited some family to join us. At the other end of the table tonight was my grandmother, uncle, and cousin, so tonight's meal was a dinner for seven, rather than four.
When we got about 45 minutes from dinner, I started the corn chowder. I modified this recipe, cutting out the bacon (as my relatives don't eat pork) and using vegetable oil to cook the onions instead of bacon grease. So here's the recipe, repeated: In a pot (not a pan) cook 1 small diced onion in 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil. Dice 2 large potatoes and add to the pot with 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Then, add 1 cup of milk (original recipe called for 2 but I found that I prefer a "thicker" chowder), 2 cans of creamed corn, and 1 can of "regular" corn. Heat through and serve.
For dessert I made pumpkin muffins (not cupcakes - muffins) using the pumpkin meat from our jack-o-lanterns, which most people would just throw out. Truth be told, you can't use carving pumpkins for pies, (well, you can, but I wouldn't recommend it) but you can use them for muffins or bread.
We get about 2-3 cups of goop per pumpkin, and we carved four this year. I freeze the extra in Ziploc baggies for easy access. To make pumpkin bread (or muffins) in the fastest, easiest way ever, mix one spice cake mix (no eggs, water, or oil, just the powdered mix) with 2 cups of fresh pumpkin puree. (You can also use 1 can of pumpkin puree, or thaw frozen in a glass dish in the microwave) . Cook the bread or muffins in the oven at 350F for 20 to 25 minutes, until a fork poked in comes out clean. I got 17 muffins out of this mix. We ate 7 for dessert tonight, leaving 10 for breakfast the next few days...
So despite the fact that 1.74 pounds of meat divided among 7 people is only 4 ounces each, the sandwiches were still filling.
Which was good, because none of my kids wanted the chowder (although we somehow managed to polish off the entire pot)
Before I calculate the total, I'd like to reiterate that we fed 7 people tonight instead of 4, so my budget becomes $17.50. Totals for tonight were: $6.06 beef roast, $1 for 8 rolls, 1 small diced onion (14 cents) 2 large potatoes (10 cents) 1 cup of milk (23 cents), 2 cans of creamed corn (on sale a few weeks ago for 39 cents each), 1 can of "regular" corn (not part of the sale, 89 cents), 1 cake mix ($1.33) and 2 cups pumpkin (calling it "free" but if you want to get picky you could say $2 since that's the price of one "pie pumpkin" at Jones' produce stand) making our total either $10.53 or $12.53, depending on how picky you're being.
|And there's leftover muffins. Yay!|