Sunday, September 28, 2008

New Baby Meal: Baked chicken, Spanish rice, Ramen slaw

No, not me, a friend. I have made quite a few meals for friends with new babies this year (lots of new babies around). I tend to make meat for them. Most of my friends are meat eaters, even though we aren't too big into the meat thing. Today I made baked chicken, rice, and cole slaw.

It's not too terribly hard as I just double the amount and we eat the same thing...

Herbed chicken breasts:
3 lb bone-in chicken breasts: $3.00 (on sale)
1/4 cup lemon juice: 0.30
3 cloves garlic: 0.30
marjoram, thyme, sage, rosemary, salt, pepper: 0.50
2 T olive oil: 0.20
Total: $4.30 (this amount of chicken will probably serve the family for 2-3 nights)

Preheat oven to 375F. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, and spices in a bowl. Pour over/rub into chicken. Bake in greased pan in a single layer. 30 min covered with foil, then 20-30 min uncovered, depending on the size of the parts. Mine took a little longer. They were one lb each.

Spanish-style rice:
1 basket cherry tomatoes: $2.00
1.5 cup (9 oz) brown rice: 0.50
2.75 cup water
1 small onion: 0.15
3 cloves garlic: 0.30
1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp dried parsley, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper: 0.25
2 T canola oil: 0.10
1/4 cup frozen peas: 0.12
Total: $3.42 for about 5 cups, or about 6 servings (3 meals).

Slice cherry tomatoes in half. Toss with 1T oil and peeled garlic cloves. Roast at 350F, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to carmelize. Slice garlic cloves.

Cook rice with 2.75 cup water in a rice cooker.

Saute onion in 1 T oil until soft. Add spices and saute 1 min. Add rice, tomatoes, roasted garlic slices, and stir-fry for 5 min until everything is warmed through. Add peas and cook until they are warm.

You can greatly decrease the cost of this dish by subbing 1 cup of canned diced tomatoes or a couple of Tbsp of paste for the roasted cherry tomatoes. We got tomatoes from the CSA this year. The diced tomatoes would decrease the total cost by about $1.80, to 1.62.

Ramen slaw: (recipe came from a friend's mom...I made it a bit healthier, but it still does use ramen!)
1 pkg coleslaw mix: $1.00
1/2 bunch green onions, sliced: 0.40
1 pkg chicken ramen: 0.20
1/2 c cashews, chopped (2 oz): 0.60
3 T. canola oil: 0.15
1/3 c. rice vinegar: 0.50
3 T sugar: 0.03
1/2 t. pepper
Total: $2.88 for about 6 servings.

Best when made several hours ahead.

Break up ramen noodles (uncooked) in the bottom of a bowl. Add cole slaw mix and green onions. Mix together.

Make dressing: mix sugar, vinegar, oil, and chicken seasoning packet in a bowl. Pour over salad and toss. Refrigerate.

Periodically stir the salad (will soften the noodles). Toss with chopped cashews before serving.

All told, this meal cost $10.60, and will probably feed my friends for three nights. That comes out to $3.53 per meal or about $1.77 per serving. It might not last long because the husband is tall, the wife is nursing, and they do have a toddler to share with.

Still, for less than the price of two burritos...dinner for a few days!

Turkey Chili

Welcome to my 100th post! For Saturday, I made turkey chili. Saturday tends to be the day when I make a big bean dish. I have time, usually, to soak and cook beans before dinner.

The chili tends to be a bit labor-intensive in a "do a little bit here and there all day" kind of way. But nothing too strenuous.

Turkey Chili:
1 lb ground turkey: $1.50 (on sale)
1 lb dried kidney beans: 0.80 (5 lb bag)
1/2 lb dried black beans: 0.32 (10 lb bag on sale for $6.39)
3/4 lb onion, diced: 0.45
2-3 roasted anaheim or poblano peppers: 0.20 (from the CSA)
3 cloves garlic, minced: 0.30
28 oz can diced or crushed tomoatoes: 0.70 (from the #10 can)
6 oz tomato paste: 0.33
spices: cumin, chili powder, cayenne, cinnamon, oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper: 0.30
Total: $4.90 for 12 cups, or $0.41 per cup

Soak beans for 6 hrs. Drain and rinse. Cook as directed (I use the pressure cook -black beans 7 mins at high pressure, kidney beans 11 min at high pressure. Yes I did them separately.) Drain off most of the cooking water, but save a cup or so for consistency of the chili.

Saute turkey and onion in a large stock pot until turkey is browned and onion is cooked. Break up turkey. Add peppers, garlic, and spices and saute 1-2 min. Add remaining ingredients, except reserved bean liquid. Add more bean liquid to obtain desired consistency.

I also added one bunch of steamed, pureed collard greens, because we got them from the CSA & I never know what to do with collards. That would add about 0.10 per cup.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Asian Dinner for a friend

We had our friend Maryanne over for dinner last night. It was a pretty simple meal, and cheap too. I made chicken with orange sauce (used jarred sauce), fried rice, and stir-fried veggies. I made enough to serve 3 adults and a toddler - said toddler only really ate a few bites of broccoli and some chicken. Maybe 3 bites of rice.

Chicken with Orange Sauce
1 lb chicken breast strips ($2)
1/4 small jar Trader Joe's Orange Sauce ($0.70)
2 T. canola oil ($0.10)
Total: $2.80

Season chicken with S&P to taste. Saute chicken in oil until browned. Add a few Tbsp of orange sauce at the end and stir well.

Fried Brown Rice
1.5 cup dry brown rice (0.50)
2.75 cup water
1/2 lb frozen peas and carrots (0.50)
1 ear corn, cooked (0.75) - we had a leftover ear from the CSA this week. You could use frozen, canned, or leave it out to lower the cost. This was the case of "I have it, I'm using it."
1 tsp dark sesame oil (0.07)
1 T canola oil (0.05)
2 T soy sauce (0.18)
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced (0.08)
1 large clove garlic, minced (0.20)
salt and pepper
Total: $2.33 (and this made enough for two meals)

Cook brown rice a day ahead of time (or at least a little bit ahead of time). Heat oil in large frying pan. Add ginger and garlic, stir-fry for one minute. You can add green onions here too, but my friend doesn't like onion. Add rice and saute for a few minutes to warm up. Add defrosted peas and carrots, and corn. Stir well and saute for a couple more minutes.

Add soy sauce, sesame oil, S&P to taste.

Mixed vegetables:
1 lb frozen broccoli, carrot, cauliflower mix from Costco (1.08)
1 T canola oil (0.05)
1 T soy sauce (0.09)
S&P to taste.
Total: $1.22

Steam veggies in microwave to cook. Saute for 3 mins on medium-high heat in oil (this deepens the flavor). Mix soy sauce and S&P at the end.

Total cost of meal for 3 adults:
$1.17 (half the rice)+2.80 (chicken) + 1.22 (vegetables) = $5.26, or $1.75 per serving.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I used to make pizza all the time. I love pizza. It's not a normal part of our repertoire anymore. Today, as I'm off and between jobs, I decided to make pizza.

I used the bread machine to make the dough. It's the first time I used the new machine. The dough is a little too "puffy". So next time I make pizza, I will have to roll the dough out thinner, and also pre-bake for 10-15 min instead of 8. I hope it bakes up more later. I don't have a pizza stone, and I'm not really interested in purchasing one. I'm interested in how to make decent pizza/dough with my baking pans.

I thought I'd do a cost comparison on pizza. So for two medium pizzas, here's what we've got for options:
1. Rusty's takeout. Best local pizza.
2. Dominos takeout. Cheaper
3. Trader Joe's dough and purchased sauce, my own toppings.
4. Homemade dough and sauce, my own toppings.

Here's the breakdown for dough:
TJ's (2 packages): $2.38

My own dough: $0.95
1.5 c whole wheat flour: 0.28
2 c. white flour: 0.31
3 T olive oil (one for dough, other for baking pans): 0.33
2 T sugar: 0.02
1 tsp yeast: 0.01

Breakdown for sauce:
1 c of TJ's spaghetti sauce: 0.55

My own sauce: 0.49
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes: 1.59
1/2 onion: 0.10
2 cloves garlic: 0.06
1 tsp italian spices: 0.10
1 T olive oil: 0.11
Makes 4 cups. Now, TJ's is almost the same price. I could make mine cheaper with the #10 can of crushed tomatoes, which decreases the tomato costs to $0.67, and the total recipe cost to $0.26

Toppings: $3.92
1 bell pepper: 0.50
1/4 c. sliced kalamatas: 0.57
1/2 onion: 0.10
4 T homemade pesto: 0.60
2 oz diced ham: 0.40
8 oz shredded mozzarella: 1.25
diced tomato: 0.50

So here's the pizza summary: (2 medium)
Rusty's: $36.53
Dominos: $25.12
TJ's dough, sauce: $6.85
My dough, sauce: $5.33

No matter how you slice it, compared to the premium pizza takeout, I am saving $30, for about an hour of work. Considering my income tax rate, I am "earning" $46 an hour by making my own pizza. (which is more than my hourly rate).

Of course those calcs don't include the calculation time...I just do that for fun!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Skillet Pasta

Skillet Pasta - aka, who knew? Last week I was perusing Cheap Healthy Good, and I saw a reference to The Best 30 minute Recipe from America's Test Kitchen. It got me thinking..."wait, don't I have that cookbook?" So one night, I sat down with the book and started reading it (like a regular book), and I got to the "skillet pasta" page.

Who knew that you could cook your pasta in a skillet with the sauce? I had no idea. My friend Maryanne, however, apparently was in her 20's before she knew people did it any differently. This skillet meal appeals to me for many reasons: 1. the 30 minute meal, 2. the one-pot meal, 3. the environmentally-friendly meal - you don't have two burners on, and you aren't trying to boil a gallon of water (thus wasting energy AND water- water is an issue in So. Cal.)

Never being one to actually follow a recipe the first time, I decided to make a skillet pasta with whatever I had on hand. It looks like 8 oz of pasta needs about 2-3 cups of liquid. I used canned diced tomatoes and water.

Skillet Pasta and Beans:
2 c. cooked kidney beans (cooked from dried) - 0.30
7 oz pasta (I had a cute 7 oz bag...from the Mexican grocery, the cheapest around) - 0.33
14 oz can diced tomatoes, and juice 0.60
1/2 onion, diced - 0.10
4 oz mozzarella, shredded - 0.50
1 oz parmesan, grated - 0.25
dried basil, garlic powder, oregano, marjoram, thyme - 0.20
fresh basil - 0.20
1 T oil - 0.10
2.5 c. water - 0
Total: $2.58 for about 5 servings, or $0.51 each

Saute the onions in oil until soft. Add diced tomatoes, kidney beans, dried herbs, and some salt and pepper. Add pasta and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and keep boiling at a medium boil for 15-20 min, until pasta is cooked. Stir in cheeses and chopped fresh basil if you've got it.

This was so tasty, my hubby demanded it for lunch the next day. I have a picture, but our home computer died two weeks ago, and my hubby has been trying to get it working again. It makes blogging, especially adding pictures, problematic - I'm using his work laptop.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

How to Make a Cheap Entertainment Day Expensive

Saturdays, ah, sweet Saturdays. In our household, these are filled with chores and a little bit of fun. Sometimes the park, sometimes the kiddie pool...whatever it takes to tire out a 2-year old really well.

This Saturday was special. A good friend was really trying to get back into Saturday volleyball. The problem was that he needed to take his 3-year old with him. How to manage that...playing at the beach, but relying on your son to keep himself busy. The answer? Invite your friend (my husband) to come play too, with our son, so that someone will be sitting out, and the kids can occupy themselves. His plan also included (possibly) lunch after.

I was not so excited about the lunch plan. #1 because it's expensive. #2 because I'd feel a little left out...I try to avoid eating out because it's expensive and not very healthy. While my husband can handle the extra calories easily, I cannot (sigh). And I've been back on Weight Watchers to lose a few pounds before squeezing into a bridesmaid's dress in a month.

The day turned out to be fine. Husband and son drove to the beach to play volleyball. I followed on foot - almost 5.5 miles, I ran there. I sat on the beach with the boys, and our friend's wife and daughter came too. The boys played nicely, we chatted, the bigger boys played. The wives wondered when it would be our turn (you know, we play volleyball too!) My wrist injury prevents it.

After the game, we all decided to go to the zoo. This is practically free, as we both have annual memberships (you go often seems free).

That's when the "how to make a free day expensive" comes in (thank you for sticking with me this long). #1, by now it's 11 am, and I'm starving. Even though I'd had breakfast and a snack, I did run 5.5 miles, burning more than 500 calories. #2, I haven't had any caffeine, and it turns out a soda at the zoo is $2. (I paid the $2.) Our male friend had this plan all along to tire out the boys at the zoo and then go out for lunch.

Ah, lunch out. My achilles heel. I love eating out. I just can't do it too often. I was trying to be strong. "We have sandwich makings at our house. How about the boys play & we all eat, then they'll sleep nicely." Then my husband does the unthinkable, and suggests my FAVORITE sandwich place for lunch. I will totally cave. Our friend has his eye on Vietnamese, however, so we part ways.

Whew. Lunch out, while fun, is generally $20 for the three of us, sometimes $30 (depends on how hungry our son is). The cost of sandwiches, pretzels, and some fruit for the three of us? $3.13, saving $16.87. And it would have blown my diet.

So that's how you can make a cheap, fun day expensive. To avoid it: plan ahead.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mostly Middle Eastern Feast

I love middle eastern food. We have a local restaurant which is fabulous. But with a 2-year old and my natural frugality, we don't go there very often (it's pricey, but what isn't?) Hummus is a pretty normal part of my repertoire, but I wanted to branch out. I have been eyeing a recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance for falafel. I had it on my calendar a few times, but it always fell off for some reason. This week, Cheap Healthy Good had a little ode to falafel, so I put it back on the schedule.

I served this with tabouli. I guess that falafel is normally served with tahini sauce. I felt more like trying my hand at tzatziki, since I had cucumbers and yogurt. I had also been wanting to make a loaf of no-knead bread with some we also have Greek (tzatziki) and Italian in there.
It was very delicious if a bit labor intensive. For the bread, there's mixing it one day, then a short amount of kneading, then rising and baking. For the falafel, there was cooking the dried beans, then making the mix and chilling it, then frying it. Tzatziki required draining the yogurt and salting and draining the cucumber before mixing. And the bruschetta and tabouli required a lot of chopping. It was a lot of short little bits of work, and we ate all the falafel, so no leftovers there.

2 c. cooked garbanzos, drained (0.42)
1/4 c. whole wheat breadcrumbs (free, we make our own from bread heels)
2 T. flour (0.01)
1 onion, chopped (0.20)
4 cloves garlic (0.12)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cumin (0.12)
1 tsp coriander (0.12)
1/4 tsp cayenne (0.03)
1/4 c chopped flat leaf parsley (0.12)
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil for pan-frying

Total: $1.39 for 16-18 pieces

Using a food processor, pulse the beans and the breadcrumbs until well chopped. Add the remaining ingredients through the black pepper. Continue to pulse for about 30 seconds, scraping the bowl as necessary. Move to the fridge for at least 1/2 hour.

Form into patties, about 1 T. Pan fry for 3-4 min per side until golden brown. Original recipe called for deep frying in 1/2 inch oil.

Tzatziki (adjusted from Barefoot Contessa)

2 c yogurt (1.50)
1 cucumber (0.50)
2 T lemon juicde (0.30)
1 T vinegar (0.08)
2 cloves garlic, minced (0.06)
salt and pepper
1 T olive oil (0.11)

Total: $2.55 for about 2.5-3 cups

Layer 2 pieces of paper towel in a sieve in a bowl. Put in yogurt, let drain 3 hours in the fridge.

Seed and dice or shred cucumber. Put 1 tsp salt on cucumber. Place salted cucumber in paper towel-lined sieve in fridge for 3 hours.

Squeeze liquid out of cucumber. Discard yogurt liquid - yogurt will have thickened nicely. Mix all ingredients, chill to let flavors mix.

Olive, parmesan, and rosemary almost no-knead bread (adjusted from Cook's Illustrated Magazine to decrease the cheese and sub some whole wheat flour)

1.5 c. whole wheat flour (0.33)
1.5 c. white flour (0.26)
1/4 tsp yeast
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 cup green olives, chopped (0.14)
1 cup shredded parmesan (0.82)
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 c. beer or non-alcoholic beer (0.15)
1 T vinegar (0.08)
3/4 c. plus 2 T water (room temp)

Total: $1.78 for 1.5 lb loaf.

Basic method: Mix yeast, salt, flours, parmesan, rosemary together. Add water, beer, vinegar, and olives and stir using a rubber spatula, scraping sides until a ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temp for 8 to 18 hours. I let mine sit for 19-20 hours, still worked great.

Place a piece of freezer paper in a 10-inch skillet. It should be large enough so that you can grip the edges to move the bread in and out of the pan.

On a clean, lightly floured surface, knead the dough 10-15 times. Shape into a ball. Move to the skillet on top of the parchment. Spray with cooking spray. Cover with plastic (I use the same piece that covered the bowl), and let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours. On a cool day, 2.5 to 3 works better for me. It is ready when it doesn't spring back when you poke it with a finger.

Adjust oven shelves to the bottom or second from bottom. 30 min before baking, put a dutch oven, or covered pyrex or corning ware casserole dish in the oven to heat. Heat oven to 475F. I use a large square corningware dish.

When ready to bake, remove dish. Take plastic off of dough, make one slice down the center with a sharp knife. Dust with flour or cornmeal (lightly). Move the parchment and bread into the HOT casserole. Replace the lid.
Put bread in oven. Reduce heat to 425F. Bake for 30 min. Remove lid, bake another 15 min. Be careful my oven, another 5 min burns the bottom.

Remove from oven to wire rack and cool 2 hours.