Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shopping With Coupons, Part 1

A little while back I started posting some of my shopping triumphs on my status updates, seeing as how Mike is not easily impressed with my cash register victory dances. Since then a few people have asked me how I do my coupon shopping, and what the best way is to get good deals. I haven't been doing it very long, but I'll pass along the basics of what I've been doing. 

Step One: Know your local stores
Couponing is much easier in areas with lots of competitive local grocery and drug stores. Cincinnati is great for this, as it's one of the most competitive grocery markets in the nation, (oddly enough.) You can coupon shop anywhere, but if you have CVS, Walgreens, and/or Rite Aid in your drugstore market, and several chain grocery stores available, plus Wal-Mart or Target, that's a great spread. Look around at your local grocery store ads and call around, find out which stores price match (good), double manufacturers coupons (very good!) or accept competitor coupons (potentially REALLY good). Coupon policies can be confusing (I'm looking at you here, Target), so it can take a little trial and error to figure out what's going to fly at every store. If your local grocery store doubles coupons to $1.00, you're already on your way to saving quite a bit.

Step Two: Know how coupons work
There are basically two kinds of coupons. There are store coupons, which are the sort you can clip out of the Walgreens circular or get from the cash register when you check out at the grocery. These are discounts given by the chain itself on certain items. Store coupons typically do not double, and can only rarely be used at other stores. Store coupons will say things like "Meijer Coupon" or "Redeem Only At Kroger" or "Target Web Coupon." The other kind of coupons are manufacturers coupons, which are discounts given by the product manufacturer to get you to buy their product. These will always say "manufacturer's coupon" at the top, and typically give instructions to the store on how to redeem them. Manufacturer's coupons are the sort that doubling stores will double. You'll typically find them in coupon supplements in the paper, online at aggregator websites, or at a company's own website. 

The important thing about these two kinds of coupons is that they stack together. You can't just take a pile of different manufacturer's coupons and use them all together on one thing, the limit is typically one coupon per item. But you CAN stack one store coupon and one manufacturer's coupon together and get the discount for both. Target and Walgreens are both places to look for this. Once you start feeling comfortable with coupons, you can start adding in things like rolling catalinas, register rewards and Extra Care bucks, but there are better tutorials for that kind of advanced couponing. 

Step Three: Get help from experts
There are a lot of coupon-clipping websites out there, coupons in the paper, coupons you can send away for. Do not try couponing without some expert guidance, you will drown in paper and be sad. Luckily, there are many excellent websites that aggregate coupon deals and will teach you exactly how to collect and use coupons most effectively. Most of the sales that I have posted have come from using scenarios (lists of products on sale matched with coupons) Oftentimes the very best deals and freebies available are from drugstores like CVS and Walgreens, but they use a more complicated system of rolling rewards, and you'll want to read the tutorials these websites offer and get started out slow. 

Here are some of my favorite couponing websites: 

Money-Saving Mom: www.moneysavingmom.com Updates daily, searchable, also has giveaways and frugal ideas for recipes and gifts. 

My Litter of Six: www.mylitter.com Updates multiple times daily, covers lots of different stores. Has a good tutorial section for getting started with couponing, and I find her style easy to read and understand. 

Deal-Finding Chik: dealfindingchik.blogspot.com Updates daily, concentrates more on online shopping and website deals, but also does store coupons. Good for finding online freebies and free samples, as well as knowing what's super-cheap at Amazon.com.

Saving Cents with Sense: www.savingcentswithsense.net I don't use this one as often for everyday, but it has good tutorials on Walgreens and CVS shopping. 

Couponing blogs link to each other constantly, so once you start, you'll find lots of different sites of all types. Look for ones that are local/regional to you, though this isn't always necessary, or at least ones that tend to feature stores available in your area. 

That's probably enough for now.  When I come back, I will write about how to actually get coupons, and which ones are worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

March 31, the end of the month in food

Just an update from my last post, the blanket washed just fine, and the fabric softener made it smell great. I got the cheapest fabric softener whose smell didn't make me want to barf, and I figure I won't have to use it too often, anyway. I refrained from spending two extra dollars and getting the Downy Ball to go with it, so I just stood in the laundry room and knit on a new blanket until the final rinse cycle. I didn't even have to dry it in the dryer, it was practically dry after the spin cycle. And it's so pretty! I'm very pleased.

 Anyway, onto the food which is theoretically what I came to talk about. The end of March has been a pleasant embarrassment of riches, where the big difficulty has been deciding what, of many possible choices, we're going to eat. I haven't even made a food plan yet, because it's harder to wrap my mind around plenty than paucity. But hey, if I'm gonna have a problem, that's the one to have! A lot of what I've made this week has been using up stuff we already had, and snacking on new stuff. I haven't had this much fresh produce in many, many months. It's amazing to have berries and grapes and pineapples and apples all available. That's been a big part of breakfast and snacking for the past week, along with the Lean Pockets M picked up at Sam's. Those used to be a big part of our diet, but they're just too expensive for their size and nutritional value.  One is an okay breakfast, but it's certainly not a lunch or dinner. 

In playing catch-up in the last week of March, I used up cheese, chicken breasts, rice, and some other stuff I'd gotten replaced, but managed to make everything taste quite good. One big step was M's first pizza. I was going to make tomato-sauce chicken again (I know, repetetive, but I love it now), and he got the notion that what he really wanted was pizza. I told him that he should make a pizza. He said he didn't know how. I told him it was easy. He said he would mess it up. I told him not to. Finally I said I would help him, but by then he'd decided he was going to do it himself. Chicken bacon artichoke pizza is the pizza of choice around here, and it is not difficult. Somehow, though, M managed to add about twice as much water to the dough mix as was recommended, making a batter instead of a pizza dough. I was called in to consult. I ended up tossing in a lot more flour, some sugar, and some baking powder, then letting it rest awhile. M insisted on doing "the fun part" and made me grate cheese while he decorated the pizza. It turned out better than it had any right to. 

We did make one buying trip to fill out our food supply, picking up milk, cream cheese and a ham at Meijer. It may be hard to believe, but I did finally start running low on ham after freezing it all in portions and putting it into recipes and soups as needed.What's worse, though, is that I ran out of pork fat. I didn't even know how much I need pork fat until I had it available. This time I was much more careful in conserving and melting off the fat, and got a considerable amount of it to use in my cooking. It doesn't look appetizing, I know, but as Emeril says, it's the essence of pure flavor. Unless that's LSD, of course. 


I also made a good chicken fried rice and remembered to take a picture for once, so I'll toss that in here as well. This was an easy one, just plain cooked white rice, some chopped onion, frozen peas, fried rice seasoning, and a couple of leftover chicken breasts.I find that it is possible to cook everything in one pan, not counting the rice cooker, if you first heat the rice in the wok pan, then brown the chicken and remove it, then cook the onions and shove them to one side, then scramble the egg, then, when everything's getting hot enough to burn and the rice isn't quite ready, toss in the frozen peas. That cools it down just long enough. Then you toss in the rice, the chicken, the seasoning and the soy sauce, and mix it all up. Yum! 

March 31, an accomplishment

I'm very excited today, because I finished a major project, always a good feeling. Knitters have a term called "stash yarn," yarn that has sat around the house long enough to escape inclusion in any number of knitting projects, sometimes yarn that's never going to see the light of day. This is a stash yarn project, getting rid of a skein of plain white acrylic and purple vareigated mystery yarn (I think also acrylic) that I balled up in Champaign three years ago and promptly forgot about. I love, love, love the color of the purple, but I just wasn't wild about the texture or the way it would feel against skin. I made a funky scarf and hat for M's mom with a bit of it, but it was a very large skein. 


So I made a baby blanket with it, striping white and purple, and using a very simple pattern that's often used to make dishcloths. It's 32 inches on a side, knitted diagonally, and though I had to cheat my head off at the end to get the second white corner to match the first, it ended up really looking nice. Today I'll be putting it in the wash for the first time, to make sure it holds up. Acrylic is both good and bad for baby blankets, bad because it is not as flame retardant as wool and can have a texture that it a bit rough. I would not use it for, say, pajamas. But it can be machine washed, which is essential for a mostly-white baby blanket. I considered washing in a net bag or something like that, but when I am totally honest with myself, no person who actually needs a baby blanket (to wit: the parent of a small child) is going to have time to hunt out a net bag when the baby's just barfed. If the blanket can't take the heat, it needs to stay out of the layette. But I'm pretty confident it will do well. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 27, end of spring break

I haven't posted anything for ten days now, largely because I haven't been home and cooking, sort of the premise of this whole business. With M on spring break, we hit the road for the in-laws house, and then had my parents come and visit us. The taxes were completed and there was shopping, lots of shopping. Lots of shopping. 

I have no real illusions, except in my very darkest moments of depression, that we are not far better off than many people in this economy. Day to day living requires careful economy, and we certainly don't get to have everything we might like, or even some things we might once have considered essential. But we both have families who are in a position to help us out sometimes, and that means periods of sporadic affluence, where we escape the daily grind with a week of restaurant food, evenings out, and new clothes and shoes. And at the end of the week, we find ourselves with enough groceries to last quite a long time with careful management, and some luxuries to make life far more pleasant. A lot of people don't have any of that, and I tell myself again and again not to take it for granted. 

My folks and my sister just left this morning, after they came over from the hotel to share breakfast with us and help me finish the tax returns. (Spoiler alert: we get a refund! Yay!) I found a wonderful recipe for blueberry pancakes that were really light and cakey and wonderful, despite the fact that I needed to let the batter sit for an hour before I could use it. I also parboiled and grated some potatoes, then made homemade hashbrowns by heating up the last of my pork fat, then adding potatoes, cubed ham, diced onion, and garlic salt and pepper. Simple and wonderful. I figure they bought us a ton of groceries, including lots and lots of amazing fresh fruit, the least I could do was share some of it with them! 

Aside from food, we also got a bunch of other important items that tend to fall beyond our means. I got my favorite kind of name brand toilet paper, six months worth (with careful management) of dish-scrubbing sponges, new Dawn dish soap, plenty of trash bags, and a case of water bottles that will mean we don't have to buy new bottles for months. I also went out on separate occasions with my mom and mom-in-law and had what can only be described as a yarngasm. I have enough yarn in my stash now to keep me knitting till Christmas. In a few spare moments yesterday, I re-taught my mom how to knit, and got her started on a simple garter-stitch scarf. It's going to be pretty when she finishes it, and I know it will be nice when we go up there for Christmas and we can knit together. 

My other very exciting bit of business is that we are back on track with the container garden! We got a little bit of money along with everything else, and I found out that we only spent 30.00 on electricity this past month, so there was enough available to buy the plants to make my garden! My mom and I went out and bought soil and containers, and she even got me one of those baby-sized greenhouses that you can use to start seedlings. We went simple and cheap, plastic pots from Lowes to supplement the ones I gathered together and borrowed from my mother in law. I've got herbs sprouting by the sink now, and a big bowl to plant them into as soon as they are ready. My tomato, cucumber, onion, oregano and lavender seeds will all arrive next week. My fruits, the strawberries, blueberries, and the dwarf lemon and lime trees will arrive next month, but I have pots ready already. It's going to be amazing. The weather today is miserable, but I couldn't be more excited about gardening. 

The rest of today will involve sorting through food and making a plan for what we're going to do with all of it. I don't want any of the fresh fruit and veg to go bad, so I'll probably use a lot this week, then put the remainder in the freezer or in the dehydrator. It's going to take time to get everything organized, but I'll take a picture when it's done. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 16-18, going off the plan

Plans, especially food plans, are a great thing to have. Ours has worked out really well so far. But if there's one thing that's true about them, is that they "gang aft aglae," as the man said. Since we're going to be gone or with my folks for most of the last week of March, my plan was to simply do a one-week food plan instead of the typical two weeks, shop for it on Monday (Monday is when both Kroger and Meijer have their new sales posted), and go from there. I made up the plan and everything. 

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, stuff happened, Bella got sick, we took her to the vet first thing Monday morning, and the vet bill came to a heartstopping three hundred dollars. That's a lot of money at any time, and when you're only pulling down 1100 a month, well, you get the idea. We had just a little emergency money socked away, which is gone now, and we're not looking good for this month's budget. So the shopping trip was scotched, and the plan was necessarily scotched as well. Can't make spaghetti without tomato sauce, etc. 

That's not to say that we're going hungry, though. We have enough food, I just have to be a bit more creative. On Monday  for lunch, we had a boxed mix of cheesy broccoli rice, to which I added the remains of the ham chunk I used the night before in the soup. When fried up and stirred in, it added protein, a lot of flavor, and enough bulk to turn the side dish into a satisfying lunch. Monday afternoon brought another unpleasant shock when M realized he had lost all the work he'd done the day before on his paper. Forget Friday the 13th, we got all our bad luck three days late. He spent the afternoon and evening and much of the night at school to rewrite what was lost, and by the time he was ready to come home, we were both ravenous. I made tangy tomato soup chicken again, once again with roasted potatoes. Our potatoes are getting soft, so it's important to use them while the using's good. I didn't have the onion soup mix, so I used garlic salt, onion powder, pepper, and a little bit of the pork fat I rendered off the ham. That stuff is versatile and flavorful, if not exactly healthy. It turned out just fine, especially once I poured the sauce from the chicken over top my portion. As usual, I made two extra chicken breasts for lunch the next day. We ate and watched four episodes of Star Trek all in a row, M's reward for hard work. Thanks, public library! 

The next day I went back to the yarn shop and knitted again while M fooled around in the house. He's got one more paper to write and an exam to proctor, but other than that he's  done for the term. And I didn't think I could take any more Star Trek for a little while. Lunch was tangy chicken sandwiches, where we cubed up the chicken breasts and put the pieces in a bowl, grated mozzarella cheese on top, and then microwaved it and put the hot mess on toast. It's very good. Supper was a very simple Tuna Helper that I dressed up with a bit of shredded cheese and the last of the sour cream. It was okay, but I've been cooking such nice stuff lately, it was anticlimactic. All food is good, though! 

Today was a busy day for me. We're hoping to leave Saturday for M's parents, which means a week-plus of not having to cook, but also the house needing to be cleaned for the petsitter. I spent much of the day doing laundry, because there was a ton. It's been well over a month since we last went to the laundromat, and even with my handwashing, it's hard to keep up. I finally gave in and went to the laundry room in our building. I've discovered an interesting property of our dryers. To start a dryer and do its default 45 minute cycle is 1.25. Ouch. But if the dryer is going, you can add time to it, and fifteen extra minutes only costs one quarter. I realized I could save a lot of money by A) not drying all the way, and B) gaming the dryer. When I finished loads in the washer, I tossed the wet clothes into a plastic bin next to the dryer, and every twenty minutes, put a new quarter and a new batch of clothes into the dryer. The damp clothes got hung up to dry. Between the spin cycle and the dryer, there was far less water in the clothes than if I'd handwashed, and each load cost 1.50 instead of 2.50 or more. What full load of clothes dries fully in 45 minutes, after all? There are clean clothes hanging everywhere in my house, from the doorway to the bathtub, but it was worth it. 

While I was doing all this laundry, I was also cooking, through the magic of crock-pot! It took two days to thaw my turkey breast in the fridge, and it still had an ice cube in the middle today. But a turkey breast has enough meat on it to see us all the way through the weekend, so it's perfect for our needs. I put it in with a stick of butter in the cavity, poured two cups of white wine over the top, and sprinkled the whole thing with minced onion. I was supposed to use a real onion, but I didn't have any. The lid also wouldn't go down all the way with the turkey breast in there, so I piked a couple towels on top. It did the trick. Because it needed seven hours to cook, we had a late lunch/lupper of chicken-bacon-artichoke pizza, a family favorite. A packaged pizza crust, ranch dressing sauce, dressed with one cooked and cubed chicken breast, chopped artichoke quarters, bacon bits, and mozzarella cheese. It was very satisfying and I was totally going to take a picture but I forgot. 

The turkey ended up being  finished around 8pm, after making the house smell extraordinary all afternoon. I'm sure the neighbors were envious. It was so tender that the breastbone slid right out when I tried to use it to remove the turkey from the pot. We had simple sandwiches of turkey and buttered bread, and it was great. Tomorrow I'm going to have to bake some bread, because we are all out. But I have big plans for this turkey. The overall plan may have failed, but that doesn't mean I'm going to give up. Now, more than ever, I need to get creative! 






March 14-15, the belated weekend

So, looks like I've owed this blog a post for many days now, and I mean a real one, not just me railing about how I can't afford either McDonalds or organic free range arugula nuggets. So I'm going to do one better. Realizing that trying to talk about the whole week would make a post much longer than I'm comfortable with, I'm going to break it down. Here's the promised post about the food I made this weekend. 

Saturday, M had to go in and write a paper for his final project in one of his classes. Before he left, I wanted to give him a good lunch, so while he took Pookah to Petsmart for the adoption event (still no takers! Can you believe it?), I made tortillas. I've been wanting to do that for awhile. I like tacos and quesadillas, but the wraps are not cheap.  Homemade tortillas take more time, and they are not quite the same, but they are very enjoyable, and literally cost pennies. Flour, baking powder, salt, and vegetable oil, that's it! My first batch turned out pretty thick, but I think I can temper that with a little more rolling next time. We went simple with the toppings, folding each one in half and filling them with shredded cheese and fire sauce from Taco Bell. I dipped mine in salsa as well. They were delicious! 

Actually, the biggest cost associated with the tortillas was the rolling pin. After the fiasco with the pasties, where I was left trying to roll out dough with my fingers and the tube from a turkey baster, I decided it was time to finally add this basic utensil to my large collection of kitchen implements. My first thought, being thrifty and all, was that I could go for a French-style rolling pin and simply buy a piece of thick dowel rod at the hardware store. I bopped over to Lowe's to check it out. I spent much more time dreaming over container garden stuff than looking at dowels, but that's okay, I didn't buy anything. As it turns out, they only sell dowel in four-foot lengths, so I would've had either the world's largest rolling pin or three rolling pins, a bit more than I need. And they were 7.50. I thought maybe I could do better, so I headed to Target. I was tempted, oh so very tempted, by the KitchenAid and the Oxo GoodGrips ergonomic, acrylic, cool-colored rolling pins at twenty bucks a pop, but settled on the store-brand, wood, round-handled model for six dollars. I paid the price for being cheap by having to return the first one to the store after discovering a big chip in the handle, but the second one worked just fine. It's nice to have a rolling pin, and you can see it in the picture above. 

For supper on Saturday, I used the big pack of drumsticks I got at 89 cents a pound and made spicy chicken legs. Holy cow, were they good! Really easy, too. Defrosted the legs and put them in the crockpot, cubed butter and sprinkled it overtop, poured an entire bottle (got it on sale, too!) of Frank's Red Hot Sauce overtop, then shook on garlic salt, onion powder and pepper. I deviated from the recipe a bit, I crockpotted it for two hours, then put them all on a pan and oven-cooked them for 40 minutes at 350. While they were in the oven, I took the liquid from the crockpot and reduced it in a pan on the stove, then spooned it over top of the legs while they cooked. When they were done, we ate them with ranch dressing. Absolutely delicious, and enough for lunch the next day, too. I was very happy that they are even better when reheated. Drumsticks are always going on sale, but I've never had anything this wonderful to do with them before. 

On Sunday, we were scheduled for scrambled eggs but we skipped that because we were both more interested in eating spicy chicken brunch. I dropped M off at school to do more with his paper, and then went to a yarn store in the next town over, to check it out and see what it was like. I've been doing just tons of knitting lately, I have a gallon-sized Ziploc full of baby hats and mittens and booties by now. And this knitting store is the type that has classes and knitting circles, and is the sort that promises human interaction. I miss human interaction so much! I went over there, and it was great. I met some really nice people, got some tips on my knitting, and invested a small amount of money in needles that are actually the appropriate size for all the small things I've been doing. I've been back once already and plan to go again. I love M, and the cats and the birds, but if I don't get out a little more, I'll go crazy. 

After coming back and picking up M, I made up a Tuscan White Bean Soup from a mix we got in a care package from M's mom. I wasn't expecting much from it, it looked kind of watery and boring, a bean soup of meh. To kick it up a bit, I added a splash of basil-infused olive oil and half a chunk of ham from the freezer. Wow! It turned out to taste much better than I thought, and was actually very satisfying. And in case you're wondering, I haven't been taking many pictures because my computer has been gone, and it throws everything off. It's back now though, so I'll try and do better in the future. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16, a brief divergence

It's very early in the morning on Monday, March 16. I'm waiting for the vet's office to open at 8 because Bella is having a hard time passing an egg. A vet bill is going to cut hard into the finances this month, but it's the obligation you take on when you have pets. You do what you have to do. We used to have an emergency reserve for that sort of thing, but it was wiped out last year by a 1200 vet bill for avian gastric yeast in three of the birds.  The bill would've been much higher, but instead of boarding the birds, I drove them across town to the vet twice a day for their medicine. Two of them survived, one never recovered, and eventually we had her euthanized, because more medicine would only have prolonged the pain. You do what you have to do. 

That's not really what I got on to talk about, though. I owe the journal a post for this weekend, which was full of good food, and that will come later. While I've been waiting for the vet to open, I watched the documentary Super Size Me. I know it's old, but I never got around to seeing it till it showed up in the Watch Instantly queue in Netflix. It made me think a lot about how I eat and have eaten. I agree to a certain extent with the premise of the film, that fast food makes you fat. But I think they didn't go far enough. It's not just fast food. Cheap food makes you fat. The less money you spend on your menu, the further away you get from anything that could be considered healthy. I didn't just get off Weight Watchers because it cost forty dollars a month, though that was certainly one reason. I got off the program because I knew that I couldn't eat according to the healthy plan guidelines and still eat for cheap. 

I'm fairly proud of what I've done with the menu this past few months. I have drastically cut waste in the household, both in and out of the kitchen. We're eating a variety of foods, and we're spending a lot less money. But we are not really eating healthy. Most of our meals are one item. When I say we ate pulled pork, we ate pulled pork. I made a side dish once this past week, and it was potatoes to go with the chicken breasts, so that they would stretch into sandwiches for the next day. Side dishes drive up the cost of a meal. I buy apples almost every week, and we eat those, and sometimes bananas. Bananas go bad pretty fast, so sometimes they end up as banana bread. That's the fruit we get. I buy potatoes, onions, garlic, and sometimes baby carrots, and those are our fresh vegetables. I'm not entirely sure whether garlic is a vegetable, but it's not a fruit and it's in the produce section. We eat lots of pasta, lots of rice, lots of bread, and lots of poultry. Ham and pork make appearances when the price is low, though I do try and trim the fat. Beef has been on the menu twice in two months, once as pot roast and once as sausage. All of these things are versatile, and more importantly, all of them are cheap. 

I think that's the point that the documentary skated towards and missed in the end. At the end of the 30-day McDonald's diet, Morgan Spurlock's girlfriend puts him on a "detox diet" which she describes as being full of organic, nutritionally dense vegetables. That sounds great! I'd love to put more of that into my diet, lots of healthy greens, lots of squashes, plenty of fresh fruits. I can't afford it. I can buy one small acorn squash,or two full boxes of pasta. A pound of peaches, or two pounds of ground turkey. A bag of non-iceberg salad, or three bags of rice. When we went to the wellness movie night, I was far more excited to see veggie-packed taco dip and a fresh fruit  platter than I would've been to see a dozen pizzas. And you know, I couldn't afford to eat every meal at McDonalds, but I could come a lot closer than to affording to hit all the bars on the food pyramid every day. Last month we had fast food Chinese once, and Taco Bell once. No McDonalds. And yet I'm still having trouble holding my weight to where it was when I quit Weight Watchers. Shock! Surprise! 

But what does it mean? I know I need to find a way to get more fruits and vegetables into the next plan. I need to find a way to work in side dishes such that I can stretch one-meal entrees to two, and two-meal entrees to three. If I can do that, maybe the cost will balance out. And maybe with more veggies, even canned or frozen ones, I'll start having more energy. I had a lot of energy for awhile, but now even doing 15 minutes of exercise gets me down. It's worth a shot, certainly. And maybe when I get my container garden growing, that will help too. I'm really excited about that. I've even got my plants picked out, assuming that Bella is mostly okay. Cross fingers! 


Friday, March 13, 2009

March 12, the food

Yesterday was a good food day. Boring oatmeal for breakfast (though I do like the banana bread flavored stuff we got on sale at Meijer for this week). For lunch, we each had leftovers of our similar-yet-separate dinners from Wednesday night. I warmed up sauerkraut, sausage and dumplings and enjoyed myself very thoroughly. For M, I took his half of the leftover sausage and put it between sliced cheese biscuits so that he could warm it up for lunch. He pronounced the hot sausage biscuits "One of the best lunches he's had at school." Hurrah! 

For dinner, I went back to the tomato soup can label to try yet another recipe. I was attracted to Tangy Tomato Soup Chicken because it was ridiculously easy, so much so that they didn't give instructions in words so much as showing a tiny picture of all the ingredients you put in. I browned five chicken breasts (they were quite small, a regular feature of Meijer chicken breasts), and then added a sauce made of a can of tomato soup, a quarter-cup of water, a tablespoon of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and let it simmer with the lid on till the chicken was done all the way through. To extend it into a meal, I made roasted potato chunks with onion soup mix and flavored olive oil. My flavored olive oils are running very low. If I don't find a sale soon, I'm going to buy the least expensive plain stuff I can find and try my hand at infusing. 

Dinner turned out great. I was skeptical of tomato soup's ability to come through with the flavor, but even relatively small amounts of sugar and vinegar packed a big punch. I really enjoyed the chicken, so much that I poured the leftover sauce onto my potatoes. There were two chicken breasts left over, one of which I sliced up and put in a sandwich with mozzarella cheese for M, and one of which I shall eat in just a moment. After the great successes of dinner the past two nights, I fear tonight's offering of Tuna Helper is going to feel like a letdown. Tuna Helper was once a staple of our diet, but unless I get a job very soon, I don't think it's going to stay anywhere on the menu. 

In unrelated news, I finished another pair of booties and got halfway through another hat. M knows someone who has a little girl baby, so I sent him off with the first hat and the second booties. I need a baby guniea pig to test whether these things are actually turning out the right size, and what baby doesn't need hats and socks? 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March 10-11, getting very crafty

Yesterday was not a very exciting day for food, so I decided this was a good day for a double post. We did have cantaloupe for breakfast for the past three days, and that was really lovely. I got one for 98 cents at Meijer, a good deal for that much yummy fruit, even if you have to wait a few days for it. The internet tells me that cantaloupes in stores at this time of year are from Mexico, an area that has decreased in price and increased in quality over the past few years. I'm always curious when all the stores have the same fruit on sale when it doesn't seem like they'd be in season.

Lunch was leftover penne casserole, and dinner was grilled cheese and tomato rice soup. I don't know why, but I am no good at grilled cheese. Anyone should be able to make grilled cheese. It's everyman survival food, but I have never gotten the hang of it. I managed to burn two of them black and had to peel them apart, put on a new piece of bread, and try again. The tomato rice soup was good, though. Tomato rice soup is the only appropriate side dish for grilled cheese (and the only way to eat it is dipped), but this was the first time I tried doctoring the much-cheaper tomato soup into tomato rice soup. I had a third of a cup of rice left in my old bag, so I popped it in the cooker with two thirds cup plus a tablespoon of water. Let that cook up, dumped it in the diluted soup, and warmed it all up. Easy peasy. We ate out on the patio for the first time this year. I love when the weather gets nice, but before there are any bugs. It's just perfect.

Today, though, today was a very special food day. I barely ate anything all day (bad for the plan! Bad Cori!)because I was saving up for one of my all-time favorite meals, sauerkraut, sausage, and dumplings. This is another dish passed down through my grandmother through my mom, who I had to call for an emergency consultation during the preparation. I got a nice big rope of beef sausage for 1.50 on my last shopping trip, so this dinner was preordained. It's very cheap. I used two cans of Kroger sauerkraut because I couldn't find Frank's anywhere, and made my own faux Bisquick for the dumplings. The whole meal cost maybe three bucks. Unfortunately M hates sauerkraut and dumplings, so he would have been left with a meal of only sausages. Longtime readers may recall that in my very first daily food post, I wrote how I did not make cheesy biscuits from a mix for Valentines Day. That came in handy, as I made them up tonight for M, creating a tasty and filling dinner. We ate early and both had a late night snack of ramen and cream cheese, which is terrible for us, but oh-so-good. I did laundry today, heavy stuff like jeans, so I don't feel too bad. 
For the past few days, I've been learning a lot of new knitting techniques. I have several large balls of baby yarn leftover from some blankets I did in law school (the yarn is pink, the baby was a boy), so I decided to learn to knit baby stuff. Baby stuff is awesome becaue, except for blankets, it's all instant gratification. I mean in four days, I managed to learn and make two booties, two mitties, and a hat, all while learning things like crocheting chains, making eyelet rows, making and attaching pompoms, and "ribbing without screwing it all up." Since I don't know any babies right now, I think I'll donate these to a hospital or something like that, some place that has babies that need clothes. For the meantime, though, Mr. Woebear is looking mighty sharp! I'm sure I'll do more of these, they're simple and fast and I can do them while I watch my nightly news and humor roundup on the internet. What could be better? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 9, the food and the failures

There is no growth without failure, and today was a very growing sort of day. Last night I found that our old half-gallon of milk had spoiled. I accidentally bought two gallons two weeks ago in a moment of forgetfulness, and two gallons in two weeks for two people is just too much. I didn't want to waste it though, so I went online to see what I could do with it. Someone suggested paneer, a soft Indian cheese that's usually pan fried and put into curry-type dishes. I figured why not try it? I wasn't sure it would work at all because my milk is skim and the recipe called for full fat, but the curds did separate when I boiled it and added vinegar, so I thought maybe it would work after all. I poured the whole boiled mess into a cotton napkin and tied it to the sink to hang, then squeezed and pressed it. It took quite awhile! At the end, though, I had a few ounces of something that looked like a cross between firm tofu and soggy styrofoam. It had no taste, and a very meaty texture, like something that hadn't cooked in the crockpot long enough. 
I refrigerated it overnight and tried to fry it up for lunch with soy and teriyaki sauce. It was very dry and chewy, not like cheese at all. I got about halfway through it before the epiphany hit: this is gross. I tossed the remaining paneer into the trash. Next time the milk goes bad, I will take the other suggestion I found and use it to water the outdoor plants. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? 

Half a paneer was not a good enough lunch, so I decided to try another experiment. My sister K told me that she likes to eat peanut butter and jelly faux-quesadillas from the quesadilla maker. I thought that sounded just weird enough to work. I had two tortilla shells aging in the fridge and figured I could use them up. I spread peanut butter and jelly on a shell, put another on top, and cooked them in the quesadilla maker (five dollars from Craigslist last summer). It smelled pretty good, but the shells were big and unwieldy, and I was silly enough to set the plate on the stove to try and cut it. My hand slipped, the plate slipped, the PBJdilla went flying, and I was out both a lunch and a plate from my wedding present set. Not happy. At this point, I decided I was no longer hungry, so I just cleaned up the mess and deserted the kitchen. 

I did another load of bathtub laundry, make an unreturned phonecall about a job, and gathered my nerve for supper. Once back in the kitchen, things started looking up again. I made penne and hotdog casserole, a variant on penne pasta casserole  where instead of browning ground beef and putting it in the sauce, I diced four hot dogs and tossed them in with the onions and garlic, then made the sauce. It's actually really good. I used up my half-boxes of rotini and penne for the noodles, and have plenty left for lunch tomorrow. 

Flush with success, I also made another batch of granola, this time subbing in the pine nuts M's mom sent me instead of sunflower seeds. Wicked expensive, but very tasty. It's the sort of thing I don't buy, but use with the utmost gratefulness when I can. My granola hasn't been clumping too well lately and I'm not sure why. Maybe not enough honey? It makes a great cereal that way, but is tougher to snack on. Honestly, that is probably better, since I am already pretty much addicted to the stuff. Anything that slows down my consumption is good.

Later on, while I was fiddling with the camera in the kitchen, Pookah came in to bother me. She knows where the food comes from around here, and is often underfoot when I'm trying to cook. Her assiduous efforts to eat everything on the floor have led me to increase my vacuuming and actually scrub the kitchen floor. She needs a home with clean people. Anyway, while she was begging, I took her picture. It surprised her. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

March 5-8, the messy weekend

My computer is in the shop for repairs, which is why the last entry there is so backdated, and why I haven't posted any food minutae for so many days. I thought that I'd lost that entire post, but thank God for Blogger's autosave feature. I came back today, and there it was where I'd left it. Hurrah! I wish I could hope the same for the contents of my hard drive, but oh well, c'est la vie. At least it was still in warranty and doesn't cost anything to fix but time. Right now I'm using M's old workhorse of a laptop, which is a bit slow, but has a huge screen that is something of a novelty. It's the one we normally use for watching movies. 

There wasn't really much to report on the food front this weekend, except large deviations from the plan. Thursday M had chili for lunch and I had pork, and there was so very much pulled pork left over that we decided to have it again in the evening instead of tuna melts. Five pounds of pork is a lot, seriously. Thursday night, I made shortbread cookies. I loooove shortbread cookies, but they are five dollars for eight cookies, and that's just crazy. Butter was on sale at Aldi's, so this seemed a good week to give it a whirl. With a food processor, making shortbread cookies turns out to be a breeze. Pop in a quarter-cup of sugar and let it spin to fine down a bit, add three-quarters of a cup of flour (My sifter is messed up, so I spun that a bit too), and then chop in a whole stick of butter, pulsing it till it turns into a doughball. Refrigerate for an hour, then divide the ball in eight circles, smash them with a cup, poke them with a fork, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. They turned out wonderfully. I made two batches, which made sixteen good-sized cookies for basically a dollar's worth of butter and maybe fifty cents worth of flour and sugar. Not bad! Not good for me, but oh well. 

Thursday I also started a new experiment, washing clothes by hand. We've been doing a laundromat trip a month, which is a rather expensive proposition that takes hours out of one single day. What I've been doing is washing 5-10 pieces of clothes at once in the bathtub, rinsing them, then hanging them to dry on a tension rod with a plastic bin underneath it. It's really good exercise, so I don't feel quite as bad about the buttery cookies. If I keep this up, I'll have arms like Michelle Obama in no time! Well, as long as I don't go nuts with the butter, of course. 

Friday I went in to school with M, so a shortbread cookie on the way out the door was all I ate at home all day. Speaking of going crazy with cookies, sheesh! I hung out in the grad student lounge all day and finished another hat, my fourth in two weeks, and got a little much-needed human contact. I also got coffee and even more cookies, as well as a pulled pork sandwich from home for lunch. After M finished his classes, we went to a Friday evening program the UC Wellness Center was putting on. They showed a bunch of 80s cartoons, fed us healthy snacks, and had trivia raffles for fabulous prizes! I fell in love with the amazing taco dip they had there. Full of fresh veggies, guacamole and black beans, it filled a lot of cravings I haven't satisfied lately with the drive for thriftiness. Even better, there was a fresh fruit plate with pineapple, strawberries,  blueberries and muskmelon, all things that are out of our price range when out of season. I'm not ashamed to admit I made a bit of a pig of myself, but since it was lightly attended, there was plenty for all. M and I, being trivia buffs, also did quite well in the trivia raffle. I came home with a giant bouncy ball and a Fraggle Rock DVD, and he scored a set of Matchbox cars and a Barrel of Monkeys. (If you recognize the slap bracelets in the picture, then you know you are from the 80s.) It was a very fun evening, and all free! 
On Saturday, we slept shamelessly late, the last day before springing ahead made us wake up early, and took Pookah in once more to the adoption event at Petsmart. Once again, there were no takers, but she's showing better, without turning her back on anyone who might be the least bit interested. Adoptions have been slow these past few weeks, which worries me. We're going to hit kitten season soon, and fat, loveable five-year-old Pookah is not going to look good against a cage full of adorable, playful kittens. Fingers still crossed! While she was strutting her stuff, we took M to get a haircut. One of his Christmas presents was a card for a dozen haircuts, so he has no excuse to get a real grad-student scruffiness going on. I went over to Kroger and picked up the turkey breast I'd gotten a rain check for. A big six pound breast, originally twelve dollars, now six. That'll be several meals! 

Saturday night, there was a party at one of M's friends' apartment. It's graduate recruitment weekend, so there were new potential grad students who needed to be shown that the department is cool and fun and has parties. (This is in fact true, if you count very nerdy fun, which I do.) For the party, I bought a box of generic Ritz crackers (they actually taste very good) and made a cheese ball from one of the mixes M's mom sent us. A pack of cream cheese, half a stick of butter, once again with the food processer, and voila! White chocolate cherry almond cheese ball. We didn't eat supper that night because we went to the party, where we had nachos and veggie tray, cheeseball and potato chips. We did outlay some money, though. Last year when we were graduate candidates, some of the grad students took us to Graeters, a local institution and home of the Best Ice Cream Ever. They paid for our ice cream and told us that if M came to the school, he should pay it forward next year. So, as promised, we took one of the candidates and took him to Graeters, where we introduced him to the wonders of black raspberry chip ice cream. It was ten dollars for the three of us, but it was worth every penny, and fulfilling a verbal contract. 

Today I would've taken a stab at getting back on the plan, but I had leftovers that needed using up first. For lunch, I warmed up the last of last week's split pea soup, which was getting crowded out of the freezer, and paired it up with corn muffins. Corn muffins make soup a real meal, I think. For dinner, I used the last of the pulled pork and my carefully reserved pork liquid to make fried rice. The cold pork water was gross, with an inch of fat on the top of the lid, but when I removed that and microwaved the jellied juice, it was the perfect medium for cooking rice. I didn't have peas to add this week, but I tossed in two eggs, all the rest of the pork and a packet of seasoning mix, and we got a very good meal of pork fried rice. No picture this time, but you've seen it all before. 

Now, though, I have to totally rewrite the plan for the coming week. Not following the plan for three days means that there are perishables that need eating, and meals that need filling. I was supposed to make penne hot dog casserole tonight and send the leftovers to school tomorrow, so that meal needs filled, etc. It's not a big deal, and I'm still glad to have a plan. My mom tells me that she's been inspired enough to start making a plan, and I'm glad. They waste more food than we eat, I think! Besides, between working out with the Wii and washing clothes today, I'm ready to sit down and let my aching muscles and blistered foot relax. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March 4, the food

It has come to my attention that I have been ignoring my English muffins. English muffins must go on the menu for breakfast! This weekend is scrambled eggs for breakfast, perhaps I'll break out the English muffins and these leftover hot dogs and do hotdog mcmuffins. That was pretty good last time. It does remind me, though, that I need more A-1 sauce. I got addicted to A-1 on eggs during my misspent college days, and now the two are not the same apart. It's my biggest gripe against Waffle House, honestly. 

Anyway, for lunch yesterday M had about half of the rest of the chili. He reports that overnight refrigeration thickened it up and made it even better, so that's good to know. The other half is lunch for today, so that made things easier. I had turkey sandwiches for lunch, trying to eat up the open packet of turkey before it goes off, especially since they're getting bumped off the menu in favor of leftovers fairly often.
For dinner last night we had pulled pork, a project I started on early in the afternoon. I found a great recipe here: Southern Pulled Pork , and simply adjusted it for a five pound roast. I trimmed the fat off, chunked up the meat, browned it, put it in the cooker, and put the broth of onions, garlic and pork-flavored water over top, garnished with liquid smoke, and let it all cook till 8:30. (I would've started earlier, but after being up all night trying to fix my computer, I was running late on everything yesterday.) To eat this kind of pulled pork, you pull up a spoonful, drain it off, slap it on a bun, and squirt it with your favorite barbecue sauce. I use Sweet Baby Rays, which is my favorite and was 99 cents a bottle this week. Perfect! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March 2 and 3, new recipes

I'm rolling two days together here, which may become my new pattern. My six-month-old laptop has decided that working is bourgeoisie, and instead it will turn itself off at random intervals to keep me on my toes. So it's going back to Compaq Heaven to get a new set of fans and probably a complimentary hard drive wiping, while I make do with M's old five year old Gateway laptop, which is a fricking workhorse for all it has no battery. This is sad, because while I'm using the Gateway, we will have nothing to watch our Netflix on. We may have to finally dig up the actual discs we got about four months ago and send them back to continue on with our queue. At least those we can play on the actual television. 

Anyway, in the food department, yesterday was a day for an exciting new recipe, tomato soup lasagna bake. I found it on the label of the tomato soup can. Basically you brown and drain a pound of ground beef (I used turkey) and a diced up onion. Shake in a teaspoon of dried oregano, and if you're addicted to italian seasoning like me, throw some of that in. Over that you glop on a carton of ricotta cheese as evenly as you can. I was going to sub in cottage cheese, but was tickled pink to find ricotta on sale at Aldi's this week. It makes a difference! Over the cheese you put four cups of uncooked rigatoni, and then over that you pour two cans of tomato soup mixed with one cup of water. Squish it all down so it's all wet, then simmer it in the pan for 15 minutes, till the pasta is cooked, and then toss on a cup of grated mozzarella. 

I didn't take a picture, mainly because I was starving and worried that the burger bottom was going to burn even more than it already had if I didn't get it served up right away. If I make this recipe again, I will definitely half-cook the noodles ahead of time, because they simply took too long. By the time they were done, my ground turkey had burned black on the bottom. Other than that, though, it was a really good recipe. It wasn't hard, it didn't take a lot of attention, and the flavor was great. Excellent way to use two of my dozen free soups. There were plenty of leftovers for lunch today. 

For supper this evening, I wanted to give M a treat. A new favorite dish he's discovered since we moved to this area is Cincinnati chili, an odd dish that really isn't much like chili at all at least not to me. It's really hard to describe, watery and sweet beanless chili that's served over spaghetti. If you've ever had three-, four-, or five-way chili at a restaurant, you've probably had it. I'm not terribly fond of it, but it's okay. It's very expensive to buy at a fast food joint around here, five or six bucks for a one-person serving. This week at Meijer, though, they had seasoning packets on sale, and all they required was water, tomato paste, and ground meat. Score! I cooked up the chili for more than an hour in my six-quart pot, then boiled up some spaghetti noodles, then served it garnished liberally with low-fat cheddar and oyster crackers, very traditional. 

It turned out really well. I actually liked my homemade stuff better than the stuff from Skyline or Gold Star Chili, partially because it was less greasy and partially because the whole pot cost about 5 bucks. M was also a big fan. He had seconds, and there was plenty to pack up for his lunch tomorrow. There might even be two days of leftovers for him in there, since I think I'll stick to the turkey sandwich plan and leave the chili to someone who can really appreciate it. 

I've also been making granola this week. I got all the ingredients together and made a batch last night, which turned out delicious. I didn't put in sesame seeds, subbed in pecans for almonds and peanuts, and only used craisins for fruits, but it was snacking genius. I tried to make another batch today, while the chili was simmering, but M came home and I got distracted and left it in the oven way too long. It's not bad, a little carmelized, a little carbonized, but edible. I love making granola because it's the only way I can afford it, and it makes me feel handy and clever. 

I've been reading lately about container gardening online. We've got this nice patio here, and it gets good sun during parts of the day, so I think it could work. I need to get some containers and some dirt, but after that, smooth sailing, right? I'm thinking I could maybe decorate the outside of a plastic storage tub and plant into there, plus I have a kitty litter bucket and an empty hanging basket for tomatoes. A garden like that wouldn't have a big yield, but I think it would be satisfying to watch growing. And being able to grow some of my own herbs, garlic and green onion would be very handy, since I'm always running out. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sunday, March 1, not-cooking and shopping

With the way the sales went this two weeks and my own lackadaisical meal planning, I wound up not having a solid plan in place for this first day of the new plan. Luckily, I had some stuff in the freezer, between one thing and another, so we ate frozen processed Italian all day. Not that I'm exactly complaining. We had an On-Cor lasagna for lunch, a filling meal that at 2.29 for a family-sized pack was quite a good deal from Aldi. In fact, I picked another one up when I went shopping. Supper was those two personal pizzas lingering from my 10-for-10 binge of two weeks ago. They were okay, and M really liked his, but the brand we bought, something that starts with a J whose name I can't remember, didn't compare favorably with the Totinos Crisp Crust pizzas we used to get for a dollar when we lived in  Chicago. 

Interesting thing  about processed Italian food, once your body stops being used to it, it doesn't like being fed nothing but that. After some pretty severe gross-stomach-feelings late in the evening, I've decided that from now on, there will be only one processed food meal at a time, when there are any. Doing my own cooking is healthier than eating frozen if for no other reason than it has a lot fewer bizarre chemicals creeping into the mix. 

Sunday was also our big shopping day. I did better this time than last in the food sins department, though I did have M with me, who talked me into a couple of things, and in fairness, out of a couple of things. I picked up a lot of the same staples as last time, pastas, milk, eggs, cheese, margarine, oatmeal, spaghetti sauce, apples, onions, flour, ground turkey, rice, bananas, pretzels, and cereal. In the non-food department, I got cat food, a cuttlebone for the birds (Pigwideon has turned herself bright red on the artificially colored calcium treat I got last time, so I went with plain), and some toasted coconut-covered marshmallows that M wanted, but I am not sure actually count as food. I also went with the tea again, which was on sale for 1.90 a box, the lowest price we've seen. I stocked up, which pushed up the total bill, but should hopefully last us the whole month. 

In the end, with the tea but excluding the cat food and such, we spent almost exactly as much as we spent last month without thirty-five dollars worth of tea, so I think that's pretty good. It's also good because I found some really good deals on meat, so the food we're eating is getting better. In the first two weeks, we had spaghetti twice, tilapia twice, tuna three times, and chicken breasts twice. This time we'll have spaghetti, yes, but also chili, pizza, spicy chicken legs, pulled pork, turkey breast, and tuna helper in our menu. I feel like I'm getting better at looking for deals. This month I'm also going to try making my own granola again, with more ingredients, and also turn my hand to shortbread, which I love but hate the expense of. I think this is working. 

Also, those marshmallows? Not as vile as I thought, but still not exactly food. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Saturday, February 28, cooking, shopping, and a lesson learned.

This is a couple of days rolled into one post. Friday wasn't a very interesting food day, I made chicken artichoke spaghetti, which is tasty, but not something I haven't made many times before. I diced and cooked two chicken breasts in a little olive oil with some italian seasoning, then dumped a huge jar of spaghetti sauce over them, then added a drained and chopped up jar of marinated artichokes. Added yet more italian seasoning (I love it!), then simmered it for about 20 minutes, finally adding a whole bunch of shredded mozzarella cheese. I boiled up a pound of angel hair to serve it over, and it became Friday dinner, Saturday lunch, and part of Saturday dinner as well. It's really very delicious, and all the more so because I haven't made it in a few weeks. 

Saturday was the last day for last week's Meijer sales, so I went out just long enough to pick up the items I wanted from the circular. I did very well, picked up a five pound pork shoulder at 99 cents a pound, a dozen chicken drumsticks at 89 cents a pound, and a nice rope of beef sausage for 1.50. I did also buy another bunch of boxes of blueberry tea, still on clearance sale. It's pretty good, and I made four boxes last two weeks and a little more. I also got  another six pounds of apples for the dehydrator, some thin spaghetti noodles, and two packs of Cincinnati Chili mix. If you don't know Cincinnati Chili, it's very weird stuff, not really like chili at all, but very watery and sort of sweet, and served over spaghetti noodles and with lots of shredded cheddar. M is wild for the stuff, so I'm going to see how it tastes when made at home. I got some shredded cheddar and cream cheese on sale, and a bunch of canned mushrooms for my next few pot roasts, then finished it off with two family sized bags of sale tortilla chips, one for each of us. It came out to 44 dollars total, which is really not bad, especially with all that cheese and meat. I do have to economize and make sure that the rest of this period's shopping reflects the fact that I already spent so much.

Last night I tried something new, making jalepeno corn bread  by adding extra stuff to a Jiffy mix. The texture was really good, separating the eggs and whipping the whites to stiff peaks adds a huge amount of volume and lift to the bread, and I soured my milk with a little vinegar instead of buying buttermilk. Unfortunately, I forgot all the rules of not being a dumbass in the kitchen and didn't wear gloves when I was dicing the four jalepenos for the bread. Owie, owie, owie! By the time the bread was in the oven, my hands were in agony. Washing with Dawn didn't help, so I wound up going on the internet for more remedies. I ended up washing my hands in vegetable oil, peanut butter, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, apple cider vinegar, astringent, and some other things I can't even remember. In the end, I don't know what worked, but after an hour or so, it felt mostly better. I can still sort of feel it today, though. (That's one big reason I didn't post this last night!) Next time I make the bread, I think I'll skip the peppers and add parmesan cheese instead.With a texture like that, cheese would be awesome. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thursday, February 26, the food

Last night I went to put the split pea soup in the freezer for next week and realized that I am running severely short on room in there. To free up some space, I pulled out a container of peaches I'd put up months ago, when my mother in law bought us a bushel of peaches. That was fun, even though a lot of them turned out to have spoiled in the bushel basket. Teach me to look before I buy, I guess! Anyway, I'd chunked and frozen these old peaches months ago and they were still pretty good, though they looked kind of sad. I made midnight peach smoothies using frozen peaches, skim milk, a little Splenda, and some vanilla extract. They turned out great! I'm going to do the same thing, probably tomorrow night, with the rest of the peaches, plus the frozen blueberries and the last of our bananas. It will be a fruit bonanza, just in time for grocery day. 

This morning was oatmeal and sandwiches again, ho hum. I need to find some better options for weekday breakfasts and lunches. Leftovers help break the lunch monotony, but breakfasts are pretty blah. I often skip them or move them to the end of the day when I'm up late and hungry. For dinner tonight, though, I made ham fried rice, and that was pretty good. I used another chunk of the giant ham, diced it up, and put it into fried rice with egg, peas, rice, and a packet of fried rice seasoning, then added a liberal quantity of soy sauce. Gotta get my salt and MSG in while I'm young enough that my cholesterol is still good, doncha know. 

On a side note, taking pictures of all my food really shows me how often I use my big pasta bowls instead of regular plates. Got those as a wedding present and totally forgot them for a couple of years, but now they're my favorite dishes. I've got a huge matching one to serve pasta from, but it doesn't see much rotation at all. When you don't have a dishwasher, you serve from the pan! 

After supper I had all this fat that I trimmed off the ham, so I decided to see if I could render it down a little. Pork fat is no good for you at all, but it's a lot of pound weight to just let go to waste, and Emeril says it's like liquid gold for flavoring stuff. I took all the fat, including the stuff I'd cut off the big ham and tossed in the freezer, and put it all in the baking pan for awhile at 350. I got about 3/4 cup of clear liquid fat, and quite a bit of burnt pork rind. The smell was unpleasant. I think there must be a better way to do that, maybe next time I'll do something different. I like to think that when I experiment with leavings and leftovers, it teaches me things without me having to ruin a meal for the lesson.  After that, I made a dozen corn muffins, so we'll have some of those for breakfast tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, the food


There was not a great deal of excitement today on the food front, certainly nothing like yesterday's great effort. M refused to take split pea soup for lunch today and instead took a microwave meal, which generated some controversy. This means there is a lot of soup to freeze, but I'm not exactly happy that he rejected perishable food in favor of something that will theoretically last about fifty years if kept in a cool dark place. At home this evening he preferred a snack of plain white bread to the soup, still waiting for him in a tupperware, so I'm going to assume that he doesn't like the soup and isn't willing to admit it. More for me, I guess. 

Supper tonight was a box of Simply Asian Spicy Szechwan noodles with chicken. At this point in the cooking cycle I'm getting low on fresh veggies, so I didn't add anything but the chicken. It was tasty, but I was disappointed at the lack of promised "spicy." I didn't add my mushrooms because M doesn't like them, but later on I went back and cooked them with a little oil, a little teriyaki sauce, some soy sauce and minced garlic. They were extremely tasty. 

With the end of the month coming up, I'm making up new menus and grocery lists. I have quite a bit of stuff on hand, so I'm going to try and spend less than last month, using up things that I've already got. Pork shoulder is on sale again for 99 cents a pound, so I'm definitely going to make another batch of pulled pork. It was wonderful last time. I also have several recipes, like tomato soup lasagna and tangy tomato chicken that will let me use some of my tomato soup bonanza. Saturday will be shopping day, before all this week's sales turn over. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, soup is made!


The soup turned out amazingly well, though I'm not sure it's a recipe I can ever replicate. Basically I looked at about ten different recipes online, then just did my own thing. I soaked a whole bag, 2lbs, of dried split peas overnight in 2qts of water. After that, I drained and split the peas into two pots and poured two quarts of water over each batch. A third of a large sweet onion, sliced thin, went into each pot. I added a bay leaf to each pot, some minced garlic, and a piece of ham. One pot got the bone, one got the small chunk, and every ten minutes I swapped them off. As it simmered, I added garlic salt, celery salt, and pepper to the mix. After an hour or so, when the ham was getting soft, I cut off most of the meat, cut it into small chunks, and tossed it into the pots equally. Eventually, enough of the water had simmered off that I was able to combine the two pots into one six-quart stock pot. 

While the soup was having one last simmer, I made up some corn muffins to go with it, and dinner was served. It was delicious! Savory and filling, and there are certainly plenty of leftovers. I have more than a gallon of soup leftover now, and I have a feeling it may cool to a consistency where more water needs to be added just to eat it. I figure we'll have it for lunch tomorrow, maybe a snack tomorrow night, and whatever's left after that goes into the freezer. Not a bad way to use a hambone!

Tuesday, February 24, making soup!


Today is split pea soup day, and I am very excited. Ever since I got this honest-to-god ham bone, I've known what its destiny would be. Turns out, I left about twice as much ham on the bone as I needed, though, so I thought I'd make more soup than the recipe was slated to. Unfortunately, none of my big stockpots ended up making the move from our last house with us. They were cheap things, and towards the end, when the moving truck was stuffed to bursting, they got triaged out. I later learned that we had boxes full of things like old mail and canned goods that should've been donated to the homeless shelter, but c'est la vie. I was buried in finals and M was left with a totally disproportionate share of the packing, so I lost my right to bitch (very much) about how it all ended up. I rarely used the pots while I was in school anyway, so it didn't seem like a huge loss. 

Unfortunately, that means I've had to try and split my recipe into two pans. Stymied as to how one goes about splitting a hambone, I've resorted to soaking it for ten minutes in a pot, then switching it to the other. Just so both pots get some ham lovin, I found a gristly bit of ham I'd saved in the freezer and put it in the non-hambone pot, and switch it around too. I have no idea if this is going to turn out, but the house is starting to smell like split pea soup. I take it as an encouraging sign. Assuming this turns out, I'm going to have enough split pea soup to float a small, viscous battleship. 

Tuesday, February 24, the food

Today was a bit of an improvisational day, for all we stayed within the general idea of the food plan. M and I both had our breakfast cereal, though not till evening, what with snack fruit available and convenient in the morning. M had his pot roast leftovers for lunch today instead of PBJ, and I finally got around to mashing that half-rutabaga and eating it with leftover gravy. It was okay, though I wouldn't buy a rutabaga just to do it. Mashed potatoes and mashed cauliflower are both tastier. 

Dinner tonight was supposed to be a pasta with parmesan cheese and hot dogs, tossed with olive oil. But when I was grating cheese, I noticed that my mozzarella is starting to go moldy, so it needs to be used more quickly than I'd planned! This is no small matter, since we're talking half of a five pound block here. I decided to make a penne pasta casserole with hot dog instead, so I could use a lot of cheese, and maybe have leftovers to boot. All my jarred spaghetti sauce is already on the menu for later in the week, but I found a can of tomato paste and a packet of spaghetti sauce seasoning in the back of the cupboard. Perfect! I cooked up a sauce with that, added a half cup of chopped onion, four diced hot dogs, and some extra italian seasoning. I undercooked half a box of penne and grated about two cups of mozza. Ordinarily I wouldn't use so much, but it's better to eat it than to let it go to waste. I mixed the pasta and sauce in my baking pan, put the sauce over top, and cooked it at 350 for half an hour. My parmesan cheese is even older than the mozza, and though it certainly keeps better, I decided to use some of that too, tossing it on in the last five minutes. It was a good decision. 

The casserole turned out delicious, and the hot dogs were surprisingly really tasty in the recipe. There's enough left for M's lunch tomorrow as well. Later on, I sliced up a potato and tried potato chips again. Not totally crispy yet, but much closer this time. I think next time I will have it, and the oil is still good for another use. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, the food

Today M and I both slept in, so we didn't end up having our french toast after all. That's all right, the bread and eggs are in no danger of going to waste just yet, so they can be pushed forward. Lunch was pot roast leftovers, though for once M wasn't especially hungry. He was apparently saving himself for cookies and snacks at the party tonight. There is enough pot roast left over for him to take a very large lunch to school tomorrow. 

For the Oscar party, I made a nacho dip and took along a big bag of Meijer-brand tortilla chips. The nacho cheese dip is yet another family recipe, and was reasonably priced to make. It's much cheaper if you can find the cream cheese on sale, which I could not. But the shredded cheese was on sale, at least, which helped hold down the price. I love salsa enough to buy it by the gallon at Sam's, so there's never any lack of it around here. 

Nacho Cheese Dip (also Nacho Dip Pizza)
1 pound (2 blocks) of regular or low-fat but not fat-free cream cheese
1 packet taco seasoning, pick your favorite
Salsa
Shredded cheese
Green onions, black olives, sour cream, guacamole (if desired)

Soften the cream cheese and mix well with the entire packet of taco seasoning. This is easiest to do if you buy a carton of cream cheese instead of blocks, but it's considerably cheaper to buy blocks and use a hand mixer or even just a spatula and some elbow grease to mix and soften it up. When it's very well blended, spread it in an even layer over a platter. Cover it with a layer of salsa, chunky works much better, at whatever spiciness you prefer. Cover that with a layer of shredded cheese, Mexican blend if you can get it. Top it however you like to top your nachos, with green onion, olives, dollops of guacamole or sour cream, whatever. Refrigerate a little to stiffen it up, if you have time, otherwise serve immediately. 

This is a recipe that's great for parties, and also works well at pizza parties for a little variety. Just put it in a pizza pan so it sort of fits the theme and put the chips out next to it. A nacho dip pizza, a couple of regular homemade pizzas, and a dessert pizza, and you've got a heck of a party going. For the Oscar party, I left it plain, because M is a purist and because I didn't have any other ingredients today anyway. It was still a big hit, and the platter was clean by the time we came home. That was one nice thing, even if I am incensed that Wall-E was totally robbed in most of its categories. Stupid Slumdog Millionaire.

Anyway, the other good thing that happened was that our hostess, one of M's friends and classmates, gave us a 12-pack of Campbell's tomato soup! She said she got it from another friend who was pantry cleaning, but she didn't like tomato soup. Score! My first impulse is to combine some with rice next week, as tomato rice soup is the only appropriate accompaniment for a poverty staple: grilled cheese sandwiches. But I think 12  cans of tomato soup is an invitation to creativeness as well. I'm starting to look up recipes using tomato soup. The first one I've come across is for tomato soup cake, the idea of which makes me want to hurl, but I'll keep looking. 

Tonight I ate the last of the cheddar potato soup from Friday, it was very thick. To change it up a little, I added two packets of Fire Sauce from Taco Bell. Taco Bell is our laundry day treat, it's very cheap and right next to the laundromat, and neither of us want to cook after hours of washing and folding. (We do our laundry once every three weeks or so. We have a lot of clothes, especially since when I'm around the house, I don't really care whether my clothes fit or whether they're hanging on me like sails.) Every time we go, we ask for lots of Fire Sauce and save the extra. It comes in handy for seasoning lots of different things. The cheese soup was very good, and quite tasty when I ate it with some of the leftover tortilla chips. 

M got new movies from the library today. We're trying to use the library more often and more carefully, so we dont' get any fines. Star Trek and X-Files this week, could be entertaining. I also found that Harlequin is offering a passel of free e-books to celebrate its 60th anniversary. I like romance, though Harlequin is not generally my cup of tea. But hey, when the book is free, why not give it a try? I've read three of them already and none has been a wallbanger. Just as well, since my computer couldn't stand that nearly as well as a paperback. 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday, February 21, leftovers


The pot roast was wonderful, as usual. It cooked for six and a half hours to the sort of perfect consistency where it didn't quite fall apart but could be cut quite easily with a plastic spatula. We each had a big dish and M had seconds, and there's enough left for a big lunch tomorrow. Between that, the french toast I have  slotted in for breakfast (French toast is cheap! I don't know why I so rarely thought of it before this month), we shouldn't need to eat supper. We're going to the Oscar party, and there should be plenty of snacks. 

Afterwards, when the leftovers were put away and the crockpot was getting cool, I realized that the liquid in the bottom had thickened up, a sort of gravy of roast drippings, mashed up potato, mushroom soup, and onion bits. Normally I'd probably throw it away, but it occurred to me that I still have this half rutabaga from the pasties, and it would probably be quite nice to cook and mash it, then pour this gravy on top. So it went into the fridge as well. I'm getting into the habit of this using-everything business. 

That reminds me of the experiment I did last night. Meijer had a very good sale on potatoes this week, so I bought an extra bag, figuring they're always useful for fillers and snacks. Last night I tried my hand at homemade potato chips, actual fried chips, not oven-baked. It was a qualified success. I used one potato, cut very thin with the mandolin slicer, fried the pieces in vegetable oil, and salted them. First batch was very very soggy, second batch was soggy in the middles, and third batch was a little too done. But I'm fairly confident that now I know what a homemade potato chip is supposed to look like, and I anticipate success with my next venture. And I found a use for the peanut butter jar I saved and washed. Normally I throw those away, but I remember how my grandparents always used to save them, and figured I'd find a use for it. It makes a dandy container for used but still decent cooking oil, so that I don't waste all that I didn't use, or contaminate the bottle. It was a very thrifty day, all in all. No new home for Pookah though, she's back with us for another week. 

Saturday, February 21, Cooking and Shopping

This morning we got up to take our foster cat, Pookah, to the weekly Petsmart adoption event. She's a scaredy-cat, but we're hoping someone sees past that to the lovey kitty she is inside. Before we went out this morning, I whipped up some pancakes from a box of mix. One cup of mix makes enough pancakes for both of us, so a single box will go three or four breakfasts. Not too bad, especially since I only cook breakfast on weekends. 

After hitting up Petsmart, we stopped by Target. I'd forgotten to put canned mushrooms on my shopping list, so I had to get a can, thereby denting my twice-a-month resolution. Next month I will be better at reviewing my list of ingredients before I shop. We also looked at the Brita Filters. Yesterday after I made my wish list and decided what was actually important, I started looking around on Amazon.com for things to fit the bill. You can sometimes get really good deals that way. Amazon had a 5-pack of Brita filters for 25 dollars, free shipping. Not too bad. At Target today, though, they had a 3-pack for 14 dollars, and I didn't have to wait. Score! That three pack should last six months, though I know I'm using it heavily and our water is bad, so maybe not quite that long. 

This afternoon we're having leftover soup for lunch, but for dinner I'm going all out. I got a pot roast a few weeks ago at Kroger for half price, 2.5 pounds of meat for 4 dollars, no bones. I put it in the freezer to let it sit. It might just be my imagination, but I think a pot roast is actually better once it's frozen and thawed. I thawed it overnight and finished defrosting in the microwave, then got out my crock pot. I love my crock pot. It's huge, I think it's the biggest size they make. Got it for a wedding present. Got five crockpots, actually, but I only kept three, including one adorable baby-sized one for cheese dips. You can cook anything in a crockpot and it'll probably come out tasting good.

Anyway, I cut up three potatoes in chunks and put them on the bottom of the crock pot, then added about a pound of baby carrots on top of that. I love pot roast carrots, possibly more than the roast itself.I took the thawed meat and made shallow crosswise cuts across the whole surface, then seasoned it liberally with garlic salt and fresh ground pepper, flipped it over, and repeated it. The meat went on top of the carrots, and then I added the rest of my ingredients. Here's the recipe I got from my mom. It's wonderful, you just need to adjust your main ingredients to suit your needs and the size of your crockpot.

Best Pot Roast Ever
1 chunk of pot roast meat
Potatoes cut in chunks
Chunked and peeled or baby carrots
1 packet onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can mushrooms, pieces and stems
Splash of red wine, cooking wine is okay
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of minced garlic

Add main ingredients as described, then as follows, for best results: Shake onion soup mix over everything, then add cream of mushroom soup. Fill can half with water and stir to get the last of the soup out, dump it in. Open mushrooms and do not drain, dump it all in. Add wine and Worcestershire, then garlic. Put the lid on, set to cook six hours on high or 10 hours on low. Use your good judgment to decide when it's done. The meat will fall apart and your whole house will smell wonderful. 

There's a lot of ingredients here, but only the potatoes and carrots need to be bought close to prep time. You can trim a whole lot off the price by keeping an eye out and getting ingredients when they're on sale. Things like Worcestershire and wine will last you through many, many pot roasts. And, like most of what I cook, with two people in the house, this dish will easily last two meals. We're not at the smelling wonderful phase yet, but it's been cooking less than an hour. I will try to take a picture and add it when it's done, but I sometimes lose my head around a really good pot roast.