Friday, September 30, 2011

An Easy Recipe

Last night for dinner, I made pulled chicken sandwiches with french fries. The chicken is very easy, though it does take some time. I buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts in bulk and then freeze them in single meal sizes (which for us is 2 in a freezer bag). I let it defrost overnight in the fridge. This recipe takes about 45 minutes to make, but the prep work is minimal.

In a frying pan, heat some olive oil, then add the chicken breasts. Sear until brown on both sides. Add chicken broth until it's half way up the side of the chicken. Bring to a boil and let simmer, in a covered pan for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, I just warmed up the oven and took a bag of french fries out of the freezer. The fries were on sale a couple of weeks ago at Safeway. Make the fries according to direction.

After 20 minutes, turn the breasts over. Uncover for the last 5 minutes to let the broth reduce a bit. Then I removed the chicken and used 2 forks to pull the meat apart. Lastly, I returned the chicken to the pan and dumped half a jar of salsa on it. That's it. Then I spooned chicken onto hamburger buns (which I got a few weeks ago on sale for 99 cents a bag and froze).

The finished result: It got thumbs up all around the table!

I served it with a salad of hearts of romain (COSTCO, 6 for $2.99), a bit of chopped cilantro and diced yellow and red peppers (on sale last week at Safeway for $1 each).

What's needed to make this dinner:

Boneless skinless chicken breast

Chicken broth

Half a can of salsa

Hamburger buns

French fries

For the salad:

Hearts of Romain lettuce

Bit of chopped cilantro

Red and yellow bell peppers

I would imagine you could make this same sandwich using a slow cooker. Just sear the chicken, throw it in the crock pot with the chicken broth, cook low for 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours, then pull apart and dump the salsa on it. I haven't tried it, but I bet it would work.

Side note: The hearts of romain at COSTCO is a great'll get 6 hearts of romain for $2.99. Most stores will sell 2-3 at the same price. I don't make special trips to COSTCO for the romain, but if I'm there, I always pick up a package. Six romain may sound like a lot, but it does stay good for over a week, so in our family we can use it up before it spoils.

So, a very tasty dinner and not a lot of money. This is one I'll make again...everyone loved it!

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I can't stress this enough. The bottom line, in providing good, wholesome meals for your family is to know when the price on an item is a good price and when it's a great price and you should stock up.

A carton of eggs, is a carton of eggs, you can easily tell if a dozen eggs is on sale at a good price. (I find them for 99 cents on sale.) But what about cheese? What about a jar of peanut butter? What is a great price on those items?

My first piece of advice is take a calculator with you shopping. You can find them on sale for a dollar at Target when they have the school supplies on sale. It's the best dollar investment you'll make. You need to know the per item price...per ounce, per pound, per serving. And for that you need a calculator.

See, most manufacturers know that most folks are grabbed by the overall price of the item....hey, rice on sale for $1.99 a package, what a great deal! But it may not be a great deal. What is the total weight of the package and what is the per ounce price? You may find that you are paying more to buy that "sale item" than if you bought another brand at regular price. But you can't know unless you can compare per ounce prices, and for that you need a calculator.

One of the tricks that many manufacturers have been using since the recession started, is to make packages smaller, but leave the price the same, thus driving up the per ounce price. Most people won't notice that the "new and improved" packaging also comes with 4 ounces less orange juice than it did before.

Have you noticed this? Sugar used to be sold in 5 lb packages, but now, almost all the packages are 4lb packages. So, even if the price remained the same for a package of sugar, you are paying more, per ounce.

Really, really pay attention to the staple items your family uses on a regular basis. We all don't eat the same things, so the price of a bottle of hot sauce may not be important to me, but if you use it on almost all your food, it's important to you. Really get to know the prices on the foods that your family uses most.

Look at the per pound price for meat, chicken and fish. Try using a cheaper cut of meat and cooking it differently to save money. I'll be posting some recipes in the future that can be used to make "cheap meat" taste great.

Lastly, be open to what are called "Manager Specials". These are items in the store that are on sale but not advertised. They can be produce, milk, meat and chicken, frozen foods or bakery items. There is usually one place in the store that has each of these items on "Manager's Special". Get to know your store and find this place.

These are often:

Meat: Meat that has an expiration date that is one or 2 days away. It's still perfectly fine. It's often anywhere from 30% to 50% off. Buy it. Freeze it. You can use it to make a meal and save money.

Dairy: This might be overstock or again, things with quick expiration dates. Know your family and if you can use it before the date. Milk will stay good, if kept refridgerated, for at least 7 days from the "sell by" date. If you have kids like mine, you won't have to worry about the milk going bad, it'll be gone in a couple of days.

Freezer: These are often products that the store may no longer be selling or that will soon change packaging. So, if a manufacturer is going to roll out a new look, they'll put the remaining stock of the old look on sale, often up to 50% off. I don't often use frozen meals, but it is a good way to have a couple of super quick, no cook meals around.

There is usually one area (sometimes 2) that have seasonal items that are on sale because they are past the season (like Easter items or Christmas items) as well as other canned or boxed items on sale. Check this area out, every time you shop. You never know what you might find and if it's a good price, buy it.

An example of this: Last week, I found about 40 different spices on sale 50% off. This was an unadvertised manager special. I use spices in my cooking and bought 4 spices at a great price! It also gave me the chance to try a spice I've been wanting to mix into my cooking but just couldn't bring myself to buy...garam masala. But at 50% off, it was worth it to buy it and try it in a couple of new recipes.

One note on the manager specials......Is this really something you will use? Really? If so, buy it. If not, well, you are just spending money you don't need to spend. Use that as your guide.

Cooking and Recipes

I think it's really important, if you want to save money, to have some fast, easy, weeknight dinner recipes. Some good places I've found these, are with those Food Network folks, Rachel Ray and Melissa D'Arabian. They both often have quick, easy meals. Melissa's show is 10 Dollar Dinners and well worth DVRing and watching.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few of my "go to" meals, for a fast, easy, hectic weeknight dinner. Disclaimer: I cook by sight and don't really measure, so my measurements are not exact. Play around with the recipe, if you like it, add more, take out some...

Polenta with Chili and Cheese

This one is super simple and tastes good.

Make polenta according to directions on label. (Now I do change this up a bit. If it says to make it with water, I'll delete the salt and throw a couple of bullion cubes in the water while boiling, before adding the polenta. Then I use 1/2 cup less water and add 1/2 cup of milk instead, to make the polenta creamier). A lot of folks think polenta is hard to make. It isn't. It's just ground corn meal and it only takes minutes.

When the polenta is cooked, pour it into a casserole pan.

Open a can of chili. Any type, whatever you like and spoon that on top of the polenta.

Get some grated cheese and sprinkle liberally on top. Sometimes I'll grate the cheese, sometimes I'll buy it pre-grated...doesn't matter. I'd say I use about half a cup, but I never measure.

Pop it into a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Serve.

I add a side of veggies (like the canned peas) or a fresh salad and that's dinner.


Pasta with Whatever and bacon or sausage (like that name?)

Pasta is can get it on sale for 88 cents a package and it's easy to make, just throw it in boiling water. But what to do with it, after it's cooked????

Be creative and use what you have in the house. One of my favorite ways to serve it is with bacon or sausage and tomatoes, olives and onions.

Here's what I do:

In a pan, pour about a tablespoon of olive oil and heat up....add half a chopped onion and let it sweat for a minute or 2. Add sausage at this point, if you are using it and cook through. If I use bacon, I'll pre-cook the bacon in the microwave for 3-4 minutes then dice it up and throw it in to finish in the pan. Then I chop up a couple of fresh tomatoes (we grow these so often have them in the house), I chop up cilantro or parseley (whatever you have that's a fresh herb) and open a can of sliced olives. All of these I throw in. Then I add some salad dressing. I'll add what I'm in the mood for....italian dressing tastes good, but so does greek or honey mustard. I'll add about 1/4 cup of the dressing and turn off the heat. Pour all of that over the pasta and serve. That's it. That's dinner. It's fast, inexpensive and tastes good.

You can serve it with fresh fruit, if you like, or some bread on the side but you don't have to.

Both of these recipes are so much cheaper than stopping for fast food and I have the ingredients in the house. It's ok to be creative, too. Don't have tomatoes? No problem...add half a can of diced tomatoes. Don't like olives? No problem, leave them out or use some capers to add flavor.

Build up your pantry, so you have items you can use for quick, easy meals. Watch for the bacon to go on sale, buy it and freeze it, it does fine. Watch for canned, diced tomatoes to go on sale ( you can get them for less than a dollar a can), same with olives.

Side note: You can easily cook with frozen bacon. Just open the package and cut 1/4 inch all the way across the end of the bacon...there you go, bacon bits. Throw those right into the pan and cook them up. They add great flavor. Put the rest of the frozen bacon in a freezer bag, pop back into the freezer and use the next time you need to add quick flavor to a meal.

You can do a similar type of thing with breakfast type sausage. Just pull out 1 or 2 frozen sausages, cut them frozen and throw them into the pan. Put the rest back into the freezer in a freezer bag for future use.

I find bacon on sale for $2.99 a pound and buy 2. Then I keep it frozen and cut off bits as I need it. NO WASTE!!!!

I use salad dressing to add flavor to meals often. The premade kind, you can find on sale and often add a coupon on top of it, getting a good deal. For example, about a month ago, Ken's Steakhouse brand salad dressing was on sale for $2.00 a bottle and I had a save $1 off 1 I paid $1 for each bottle of dressing. I bought Honey Mustard and Greek dressing and both add good flavor to a dish like this. It also keeps it from getting boring...changing the flavor of the dressing changes the flavor of the whole dish.

Blogging Again

Ok, so it's been a long time since I've blogged, mostly because I couldn't figure out exactly what to write about. I had a hip replacement and a knee replacement and those just aren't fun things to write about.

But, I keep getting asked by friends about money saving shopping tips. Since I've been asked over and over again, I thought I'd write about that and maybe just things that are happening in our lives at the same time.

I didn't just decide out of the blue to start saving money when grocery (and other) shopping. My husband was laid off and out of work for 16 months. In between those 16 months, he did work 2 temp jobs, both up in Alaska, once for 3 months and once for 5 months. He finally landed a full time, permanent gig, but alas, in a state 2500 miles away from us. So, now he's working full time, but until he can find something close to home, we are supporting 2 households on one income. Yes, it's a juggling act. So, I had to batten down the hatches and try and save money where ever I could.

The most obvious was our food bill. Now, let me start by saying that we aren't a junk food junkie type of family. Yeah, sure, like everyone, I'll make a frozen pizza now and then to just get the kids fed, but most of the time, I put wholesome, good tasting food on the table. I try to keep the grocery bill down and this is where I'll post my thoughts on how to do it.

Yes, I do coupon...but only for things I use anyway. I might try something new, if there's a good price and a good coupon, but if you are going to coupon, stay away from processed foods. They are more expensive, no matter how you cut it. Even if you can get that granola bar for a dollar off, it's not nearly as good for you or the kids as eggs for breakfast, which cost a heck of a lot less.

Yes, I'm a stay at home mom and not all the suggestions I have will work, especially if you are a work away from home mom. Here's my's my JOB, as a stay at home mom, to do all those things that work away from home moms don't have time for. I get it. I used to work full time and I know that some of the things I write about just aren't possible if you are working away from home. But some will work, too.

So, the first few tips...

Number one is know your prices. What is a good price to pay for chicken? What's a great sale price? It's really important to know if a sale price is 2 cents off or 80 cents off per pound. So, start by knowing your prices. It may sound daunting, but it really isn't.

If you get a newspaper, check the sale ads. If you do nothing else, watch the prices over a period of time. That same cheese that's "on sale" this week for $2.49 a package was just on sale last week for $1.89 a package. I would highly recommend subscribing to your local newspaper, if for nothing else, the sale pages from the local stores. You'll make your money back, in the long run.

Now, some people run store to store, but I don't for the most part. I like to do most all my shopping in one place and get it over with. Sometimes I'll run to a different store, if there is something outstanding and if I'm going to be nearby anyway. But most of the time, it's once a week and out.

For staples, like milk, eggs, butter, bread, etc., it's really important to know when a price is good and when it's great. When it's good, buy one, if you need to, to tide you over. When it's great, stock up. Eggs last a long time, so does bread, if you freeze it. Just put the whole loaf in a freezer bag before you put it in the freezer to keep it fresh. When the bread goes on sale for 99 cents a loaf, I buy 3-4 loaves and use one and freeze the others.

When canned veggies go on sale for 88 cents a can, I'm that crazy lady, loading 10 cans of peas and 10 cans of corn and 10 cans of green beans into the cart. Why not? That means I'm paying pennies a serving and serving healthy stuff. Now, here's another tip....when serving canned veggies...add a tablespoon of butter, then microwave, then chop up some fresh herbs and throw them in. So, for example, if you are making a can of peas, add butter, nuke and then chop up some fresh parseley and throw it in. It will freshen up the dish and make the presentation better, too. Takes only a minute, but makes a big difference. plan and make a list. This is really important. You don't want to go into the store and wander the'll grab this and that and spend too much. Take out the sale ad and see what's on sale and use the sale things to make menu decisions. It's not as hard as you think.

So, say that a store has grapes and apples on sale this week, at a good price, then that means that my kids will have grapes and apples in their lunches. See, it's simple.

Start with the simple stuff and go from there. Even if you shave $10 off your bill, buying only fruit that is on sale, well, you've saved $10.!

Watch for the super sales....plan your menu around them. So, if pork tenderloin is a $5 Friday special, pick up pork tenderlion, better yet, pick up 4, use one and freeze 3. Pork tenderloin is usually around $10-11 a piece, so you are saving 50% and you want to stock up.

A caution....when you first begin, you might actually not save that much money, as you build your pantry and freezer. But, you'll soon see that using those items from your pantry and freezer and just buying a few, fresh things will save you a ton of money!