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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cheap & Cheerful Suppers with an average cost of $3.00 to $3.50 to feed 5 of us

Inside-Out Chicken Cordon Bleu

BBQ pork sliders on leftover dinner rolls
frozen peas
*leftover gingered pear crisp

pork and beans (using leftover BBQ pork in the baked beans)
roasted squash (one of the squash from "decorating" a side table in family room for Sunday's gathering)
*tomato wedges with leftover bacon ranch dressing (from last Sunday's gathering)

slider burgers (using leftover sandwich buns from last weekend, and dividing the last 2 hamburger patties, to make 5 sliders)
*with homegrown lettuce, onion  and tomato
leftover pork and beans
*applesauce (from freezer)

Mexi black bean soup (with green pepper, frozen corn, canned tomatoes, leftover cooked rice, topped with corn tortilla strips made from the very last 2 corn tortillas bought in June)
leftover sandwich buns turned into garlic toast
*blackberry-rhubarb crisp (I'm cutting the last of the rhubarb this week. This crisp was made from fresh garden rhubarb and wild blackberries picked in August and frozen. I used the same basic crisp topping as was in Wednesday's post for the recipe -- Gingered Pear Crisp, reducing the ginger in the topping to 1/4 teaspoon. That topping is pretty yummy!)

leftover Mexi black bean soup
French bread
*cole slaw with cabbage from garden
*leftover blackberry-rhubarb crisp

black beans and rice, green pepper and canned tomatoes
*garden beans and last of summer squash sauteed in bacon fat
*fresh pear slices
*cole slaw with cabbage from garden
sugar cookies (from last weekend's gathering)

Inside-Out Chicken Cordon Bleu -- using an oven-roasted chicken leg quarter (1 leg quarter split between the 5 of us). Chicken meat wrapped in ham and Swiss cheese (ham and cheese leftover from gathering at our house, wrapped around serving portions of chopped, seasoned roasted chicken). Spooned some chicken stock over all, and covered with foil, heated in oven for 15 minutes.
*leftover rice, cooked with chicken fat, rosemary and garlic
*sauteed kale, mustard greens and cabbage
*tomato and cucumber salad
*rhubarb-blackberry cobbler

*ham-bean-veggie soup (I had the ham bone from September's baked ham in the freezer. I made stock with it, picked the last of the meat off the bone, and then added cooked beans, garden carrots, potatoes, and Swiss chard, along with seasonings)
*curried pea and peanut cole slaw (using Lisa's recipe -- thanks Lisa!)
*leftover rhubarb-blackberry cobbler

*turkey and dumplings with garden beet greens, Swiss chard, onion, potatoes and carrots (turkey in stock in freezer), plus frozen peas and barley, topped with biscuit dough
*marinated beet salad over garden greens
*Asian pear slices
*apple pie

*indicates part or all of this menu item came from the garden or orchard

This is frustrating me to no end -- I can't seem to clear space from the freezers. Every day, I take a couple of things out of the freezer, but then later in the day, I add more. It has gotten so bad that I can't find things in there. I'm sure I have one more loaf of bread in the freezers, but after several searches yesterday, I came up with nothing. I am going to really work at using up some of the freezer contents. I know, too much food should not be a problem. Rant over.

I was thrilled on Tuesday to realize that I had all of the ingredients (cabbage from garden, frozen peas, canned peanuts and dressing ingredients) to make Lisa's Curried Pea and Peanut slaw (from March of 2014 -- recipe here). I had chives from the garden to add to Tuesday's version. It was delicious. Whenever I taste this, I wonder to myself why I would ever want to buy a deli salad at the grocery store.

In estimating costs per meal, I come up with about half of our food costs cover dinner for all of us, and the other half is split between breakfast and lunch. We are currently averaging about $6 per day for 5 adults. So our Cheap & Cheerfuls are costing about $3 or just a bit more, for all 5 of us. When our oldest was a baby, we spent about $30 per week on groceries (and had no garden). We now spend about $50 per week, are feeding 5 instead of 3, and have a garden and orchard. If we didn't have the garden or fruit growing on our property, I imagine that I would be spending about $100 per week. Growing our own produce has a big impact on our grocery bill.

The other huge money saver is that we buy the cheapest cuts of meat that our family will actually eat. I buy whole turkeys, chicken leg quarters (cheaper than whole chickens for me), 10 or more lb pork loins to divide into meal-size chunks, bone-in half hams, bulk ground beef, ground beef patties from a wholesaler, and frozen cod pieces. We get a variety of animal protein for minimal cost. But there is often some work involved, such as cutting up a whole pork loin, or roasting whole turkeys, or breaking up a 10-lb package of chicken leg quarters. It's well-worth the work. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts sell for about $1.79 to $1.99/lb, on sale. By buying the leg quarters, I spend 49 cents/lb. There is the waste of bones and skin to take into account. I estimate those parts to be about half of the total weight of the chicken. So, even if I double my 49 cents/lb to 98 cents/lb as cost of actual meat, I'm still coming out way ahead on price per pound for meat only. Plus, I use the bones and skin to make stock, and I save any fat from the meat to use in cooking. I do the same with bone-in hams. I use the bones to make stock, and render and save the ham fat to use in cooking. I make use of every bit that I purchase.

Our meals are humble -- no fancy ingredients. Suppers are often as simple as beans and rice or homemade soups plus bread and salad, and a homemade dessert. But everything is always fresh-tasting and delicious. I make my own short-cuts, such as pie pastry, made in bulk, that I keep in the freezer. And I've memorized many basic recipes, such as biscuit dough, so I can make dumplings without having to look up a recipe. Or alter that same biscuit recipe to pop a batch of scones into the oven. Or make drop biscuits minutes before dinner is on the table.

To make scratch-baking as easy as possible, I do a few things. I keep all of my baking ingredients very handy to the kitchen work area (the pantry is right next to the prep area). And I keep the most often used measures in the ingredient containers, themselves. For instance, I have a 1 cup measure in each of the flour containers, as I use flour most often in increments of cups. And I keep a 1/2 teaspoon measure in the salt jar, so I can easily measure 1/2 teaspoon or "eyeball" measure 1/4 teaspoon. I keep a 1/4 cup scoop in the sugar, as I most often use sugar in increments of quarter cups - 1 scoop - 1/4 cup, 2 scoops - 1/2 cup, etc. It's faster and easier, for me, than getting out and washing the measuring scoops and spoons for each recipe. I also keep a set of cups and spoons at my prep center. And I have separated all of the measuring spoons, so I can grab the one I need, but still have the rest to use later in the day. I wash them in the dishwasher, usually at the end of the day. Dollar Tree is a great place to buy cheap measuring spoons and cups, so I have several sets of each.

I guess you could say that I'm one of those throw-everything-together-as-quickly-as-possible sort of cooks/bakers. I don't worry about perfection in daily meals, and everyone seems happy-enough with my humble meals.


  1. I really like the idea of inside out cordon bleu! Never would have thought of that!

    Yesterday, I came home from work and saw my college daughter had come home. What is she doing home? She had to get a few things for a retreat over the weekend and then needed some quiet time to study ahead for a major test next Monday. I convinced her to just stay home overnight.

    But I hadn't planned on her for dinner. I quickly thawed some steak from the freezer (not the best for grilling since it was some kind of round) but let it marinate in baking soda and red wine vinegar for a while. I grilled it and sliced it up thin. I then sauteed some red onions (fresh) and red pepper slices (frozen), chopped some old lettuce, sour cream, salsa, last of the cheese block and made copycat Qdoba steak burritos! She told me this was the best meal and that the dining halls don't make anything that tastes as amazing as that burrito did!

    She's off the school this morning again. I hope her short 17 hours were refreshing.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Oh yum! Those Qdoba steak burritos sound so delicious! Isn't that great when our family tells us our cooking is even better than a favorite restaurant?! Well done, Alice!

      That is wonderful that your daughter can use your home as a bit of a get-away from university when she needs to. Some home-cooking, some peace and quiet, and she was probably all refreshed for the rest of the week.

  2. Your suppers always sound so delicious! I'm hungry after reading this post. The cost per meal to feed 5 is very low. You do a wonderful job of feeding your family well on a small budget.

    I'm currently trying to cut back our grocery budget. My husband used to get 5 hours of overtime a week. His company cut most overtime a few weeks ago. Now, he might get an hour a week, if any. At his hourly rate, this is a fairly large income reduction. The overtime has been available for years, but we have always known it could become unavailable. So, we will be fine. However, to maintain our current level of 401K contributions, savings, and paying extra to our mortgage we will have to cut some extras.

    I have deemed the grocery budget to be an area I can cut. I haven't been buying a large amount of convenience foods, but I've cut those items for now. I'm trying to be even more vigilant about watching ads for loss leader sales and stocking up. We have 4 pounds of butter left, and I'm trying to stretch that until the pre-Thanksgiving sale.

    I made an especially good beef stew the other night, all with items I had on hand. We buy 1/2 a beef every year for our freezer, so I had the beef stew meat from that. I used 1 pound of stew beef, 4 large potatoes, 2 onions (from our garden...which is now done for the year), carrots, 4 cups of frozen diced Roma tomatoes (from our garden), 1 cup frozen diced jalapenos (from our garden), a package of frozen corn, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1 tbs worcestershire sauce, and black pepper. We like our beef stew with a little heat. I made homemade cornbread to go with it. On one of our first cold fall evenings, it was really good.

    Have you ever heard of Peanut Butter 'Depression' Cookies? When I was a pre-teen, Mom had a church cookbook that I would try recipes from. I can't remember who submitted the recipe but its:
    1 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
    1 cup sugar
    1 egg
    1/2 to 1 tsp vanilla
    Form into balls, flatten with fork dipped in sugar and bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes.

    I remember asking Mom if that recipe would work without flour and she said it would. I tried it and was pleasantly surprised. I used to make those cookies a lot.

    I hadn't thought about that recipe in years. The other day, my 13 year old son was asking about making cookies. We are down to less than a cup of flour and I wasn't making the 30 mile trip into town to buy any. I suddenly remembered that recipe. I'm probably slightly over stocked on peanut butter since the back to school sale price of $1.49/lb at the end of August. We had eggs, sugar and vanilla. My son and I whipped these up very quickly and they were delicious! We had them for dessert that night and then we all took them in lunches the next day. I'm going to start making them again.


    1. Hi Angie,
      I've never made those peanut butter cookies, but I've heard about them. Thank you for the recipe. It sounds so very simple and quick to mix up. And what a treat for when you are almost out of flour!

      Your beef stew sounds very tasty and warming for a fall evening. I especially like the idea of adding jalepenos. I never would have thought of that!

      I'm sorry to hear that your husband's extra hours were cut. I am hearing more and more of that these days. You are clever and smart, though, and will figure ways to manage the cut. I have confidence in that! It's very good planning, on your part, to have taken these extra hours as just a bonus, over these years, and not felt too dependent on the extra income. That in itself will make this easier for you.

      With the butter -- have you started making soft butter for spreading/table use? That is my go-to trick for stretching butter when we are very low and I'm waiting for a sale. Also, I have a list in my mind of baking recipes that don't call for much butter, or where I can substitute oil with little taste difference. When I need cookies for coffee hour at church, I often do gingerbread cut-out cookies, as they're egg-free and use only 1/4 cup of butter per large batch.

      My sincerest wishes are with you, going forward! You can do this!

    2. I have a similar peanut butter cookie recipe which uses brown sugar instead of white, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. It's really delicious and I have used it when I have needed to feed people on a gluten-free diet. Actually, I just made it earlier this week--great minds must think alike!

      Lili, I love your comment about having multiple sets of measuring cups/spoons. I read a "how to organize your life" article a couple of years ago and the author suggested getting rid of your "extra" sets. My thought? Sounds like someone who eats out more than she cooks ... I have 3 sets of each and I still run out of clean measuring items!

    3. Hi Kris,
      I think if you cook/bake a lot, you do need extras of things like the measuring cups/spoons, or casserole dishes. Otherwise, you have to stop what you're doing, frequently, to wash something to use it again. And in our house, the 1 tablespoon measuring spoon seems to vanish (into coffee cans and other things that I commonly measure 1 tablespoon at a time). And with the measuring cups, in addition to what I already mentioned, I keep a 1/3 cup scoop in the container of oats, because that's how much oats you use per serving, when making it. It just simplifies the making for me.

      Funny, your take on the writer of the article on organizing. You're likely right on that!!

    4. Kris and Lili--

      I've read a few "organization" articles, and I agree. A lot of the folks who write them seem not to have a lot of hobbies, home activities, heirlooms, etc. They're right, though... it's easier to be neat if you have less stuff.

      Looks like another yummy week, Lili!


    5. We must be hungrier when we eat oatmeal--I use 1/2 cup of oats ... hmmm. I have 3 different 1/8 cup measuring cups (one must have come in a coffee or hot chocolate container years ago) and I use all of them a lot! For me, it's the 1/4 cup measure that constantly disappears. One of them is permanently in the cat food bin since that's his recommended amount of food as per the vet. Maybe the reason I use the 1/8 cup measure is because I use it twice to make up for my 1/4 cup measure always being dirty.

    6. Oh, Sara--your comment made me think about this--I went into parenthood wanting to encourage creativity in my children. They are both really creative kids ... I just never stopped to think that with creativity comes messes!

    7. Sara, definitely easier to be neat when you have less stuff. I remember the pre-kid days!! Way less stuff. (But not nearly as fun!)

    8. Kris, we saved scoops from baby formula for years, and they have slowly disappeared. Those were very handy. And I did receive a scoop from Quaker Oats, as a promotional thing one year long ago, that I think is a 1/3-cup measure. I think it's in the barley bin now. There was a time when boxes of laundry detergent always came with scoops. Then I noticed that the cheap brands only included them occasionally, maybe to encourage customers to reuse old scoops. In my mom's day, laundry detergent never came with scoops. It was assumed you'd just use one of your own measuring cups or buy one to be dedicated to laundry use.

    9. Lili, thanks for the encouragement, and the reminder about the soft butter!


    10. You're welcome, Angie! :-)

    11. Kris and Lili--

      I'm the messiest one in the house, so can't blame it on anyone else! But I'm also the one with the most activities and hobbies around the house, and the most family heirlooms. I think that there's at least some correlation. (Or maybe it's just a creative mind that needs lots of input all the time?)


  3. Lili, again wonderful, healthy meals that cost so little, no one could have guessed. And noticed how leftovers played a big part in this week's menu planning. I love when leftovers can contribute as the base for another meal.

    I was wondering how you managed to use ingredients from awhile ago in the meal planning...the freezer!! so I understand how frustrating that could be. I am just starting to be more careful with using ingredients and now have bits and pieces of leftover this and that to cope the freezer. That is one are of the kitchen that can never be organized sufficiently it seems, as things get moved around too frequently. There was a time in our life (in our early married life) when a tiny freezer had only a few things in plain view.

    Thank you for the peanut curry slaw recipe from Lisa. I copied it and am anxious to try it since we love curry. Curry and peanuts go together so well. If we don't have plum chutney, do you have a suggestion of what can be substituted? Recently, my husband made a quick hamburger curry since we had an abundance of bargain bell pepper (came to 10c per pound). Most of the bell peppers were sliced thin and frozen in portions for pizza making, but I left a few peppers for a stew. We had leftover apple pie juice in the refrigerator (since I asked my husband not to throw away until I could figure out what to make with it), so he added a bit to the curry and it tasted pretty interesting. I'm thinking maybe something of that kind of substitution could work for the cabbage slaw?

    I have budget notes from 30 years ago, when our children were little, and today, we are spending less for our household of three (instead of the children, now includes my dad). That is pretty phenomenal...we waste less and because no children we don't eat three square meals a day, more like three snacks per day. My husband probably is eating less than thirty years ago. When we eat a full meal at a restaurant for example, we can't eat another meal that day, so I know our appetites are shirnking. I know I can save so much more if I learned half of what you're doing. Recently I'm thinking our new food budget goal will be $300 per month. I think we comfortably reached my initial goal of $450 easily, so I'm ratcheting this further. Next year, we're planning on expanding our garden further. Beans has made a tremendous impact on the food bill...especially that convenient bean patty lol

    I've been telling my husband that we need to buy more measuring cups and spoons to have around, so it's nice to hear others do the same!! Makes sense to leave the frequently used measuring sizes in the bins.


    1. Hi YHF,
      on the curried slaw -- if I were lacking chutney, I'd substitute any flavor jam or jelly and a pinch each of ginger and cloves, with a tiny dash of vinegar. Those are the primary flavors of my own chutney recipe. If I didn't have any jam or jelly, I'd substitute chopped dried fruit, or raisins, for the sweetness, and still add a pinch of cloves and ginger.

      I have a sort of rule with myself, and leftovers. If they don't get eaten within 2 days, then I put them in the freezer. Our fridge never looks very full, as a result. But our freezers are bursting. This week, I am trying to use up more from the freezer. In last night's dumpling dough, I used half saved bacon fat, half oil, for the fat called for.

      Best of wishes with you new grocery budget goal. I know you can make it happen! You study how to do things, then do it. And this will be no different!

    2. Thanks Lili, the only jelly we have at the moment is commercial grape, no dried fruit or raisins either. But I think I get the taste that needs to be added....a bit of sweetness, pinch of ginger and cloves and a dash of vinegar

      Thanks also for the encouragement...partly what motivates me is saying it here and having to keep my word :)


  4. I know that one of the reasons that you're so successful in keeping your grocery costs down is that you buy in bulk when the prices are good to tide you over until there's a sale again. However, what if you did minimal shopping for a month or so and really ate down your freezer? The money not spent that month could go towards spending a little more on things that you missed buying while you were eating down your freezer. Then you could move forward and really know what you had to work with in your freezer. (However, you are probably organized enough to know what you have and keep it rotated.)

    And as for your humble suppers. It's all from the perspective you come from. I would in no way call them humble. I would call them wonderful and elegant.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I'm actually quite close to being so well-stocked that all I could need for several months in a row would be milk and eggs. So, that should help me use what's in the freezers. I'm also just forcing myself to dig in there and find things to use each day. Part of this year's problem is opaque containers of odd shapes that don't use room efficiently.

      I'll keep working at reducing what's in the freezer and using what I have.

  5. I love the inside out Cordon You. What a great idea!

    I also keep measuring cups in my baking supplies. I have several sets of them and always pick up "loaners" where some are missing at yard sales.

    Great post about saving money in the kitchen.

    1. Hi Belinda,
      That is so great to know that others keep measuring scoops in the baking supplies! It feels like it goes completely against what I learned in Home Ec, all those years ago (having one set, washing after each use, keeping the spoons all attached).

  6. I really like the inside out cordon bleu too! I will have to try that soon. You always have such yummy sounding meals.


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