Because we don't have an oven or stove top where we are currently living and I don't want to have to constantly be running up to the kitchen in the main house every time I want to cook, I've been trying to make do as much as possible with the microwave and the slow cooker.
One of the benefits of crock pot cooking is of course that you can buy cheaper, tougher cuts of meat and cook them into succulent tenderness. Because our food budget is our biggest expense after our credit card payment, it is the place we are trying to cut back on the most to save money. We are limited in this by my son's food, food dye, additive, and preservative allergies and have to buy a lot of pure, unprocessed foods. This means no casual dumping of cream of something soup or most spice packets in the pot with the meat to make it all easier. Everything has to be from scratch or carefully perused for ingredients that could harm him.
So the last couple of days I have been doing some research into foil packet cooking and/or cooking in layers in the crock pot. There are a ton of foil packet recipes out there, most geared towards either cooking in the coals of a camp fire or on a barbecue grill, some towards cooking in the oven, and a very, very few towards cooking in the slow cooker.
I'm going to attempt to adapt these to use in the slow cooker. I can't imagine anything that could be easier than wrapping up packets of vegetables with some butter or olive oil and seasonings and dumping them in on top of the meat in the crockpot to slowly steam. My only problem is knowing how long to cook the veggies for. I know that root veggies will cook just as long as the meat but I'm more concerned with how things like zucchini, bell peppers, asparagus, green beans, and yellow summer squash would come out, if they'd end up complete piles of mush if I let them cook for the same amount of time as the meat. After all, I want to save money here, not waste it by making veggies inedible.
So I'm going to be doing a bit of experimenting over the next few weeks to see if I can't come up with something successful, where I maybe put the meat in for ten hours, but three hours from the end of the cooking time I add in the packet of veg. Or maybe just try cooking some different veg in the crock pot and checking it every so often.
Last night at midnight I put a beef chuck roast in the bottom of the crock pot, seasoned it with herbs and then put in enough pierced and foil wrapped potatoes to fill the rest of the pot. I set it for ten hours on low and at ten in the morning it switched over to the warming feature it has, and at noon they were all perfectly cooked. So in practice I can definitely cook meat and potatoes together without ending up with mushy juice covered potatoes. Now, I just need to figure out where I'm going from here. I'll be making my baked potato soup in the slow cooker with the leftover baked potatoes tomorrow. I think I'll attempt fajitas later this week. Sliced and seasoned meat in the bottom and one packet of sliced bell peppers and one packet of sliced onions and see how it works.
Archive for March, 2010
Because we don't have an oven or stove top where we are currently living and I don't want to have to constantly be running up to the kitchen in the main house every time I want to cook, I've been trying to make do as much as possible with the microwave and the slow cooker.
Well, I had written a big long entry and clicked when I shouldn't have and it disappeared into cyberspace so for tonight I'll just enter in my coin jar update and try to recreate it tomorrow. I have $6.02 in ones and coins plus a penny I found at the grocery store check out.
$67.29 starting balance
+ 6.03 amount added
$73.32 ending balance
I really ought to be making a deposit soon. Not much room left in the jar.
Yesterday was payday so I sent off $1200.00 to the credit card and the autopay for the car payment came out of 490.75 and we are down to having three years left until the car is paid for.
I did a bit of grocery shopping, not a lot, just for things like milk, tortillas, bananas, sour cream and scallions. They also had a special going where if you bought one beef roast you got the second one free along with a five pound bag of potatoes. Now, it wasn't really a great sale. You paid about as much for them as you would have if you'd bought two roasts on a regular sale, because they jacked up the price of the first roast you had to buy to get the rest of it free. It was still a good deal, but definitely not truly "free." But accepting that, the potatoes truly were free. Since I want to make baked potato soup tomorrow and we always are making pot roasts in the crockpot it felt like an acceptable sale for our needs.
When I got up this morning I assembled all the ingredients I would need to make dinner and put them in the crock pot. I've been devouring a blog on slow cooker cooking that Monkey Mama linked to a few days ago, and she had a recipe on there for orange chicken. Orange chicken or pineapple chicken is pretty much my all time favorite "fast" food from the polynesian takeaway place we have here in town. But we don't eat there anymore because of T's allergies. It's full of all kinds of chemical goodness so it's off the list of places we can go to and with us cutting back on going out anyway, we just haven't been there in ages.
I made a lot of changes to her original recipe for orange chicken: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2009/09/slow-cooker-orange-chicken-recipe.html
And basically ended making my own version with what I had on hand. It turned out perfectly and I was completely thrilled, because it tasted better than the takeaway place and cost about half as much to make from scratch.
I didn't have any frozen OJ in the house so I substituted frozen pineapple juice.
Here's my version of Pineapple Chicken. I doubled her recipe because I wanted to make some for the freezer as TV dinners.
3 pounds chicken wings
1 cup of flour for dredging
2 tsp kosher salt (her 1 T was too much for me to even think of putting in, especially considering I'd have had to double it)
1 12 ounce can pineapple juice concentrate, thawed
6 T brown sugar
6 T ketchup
2 tsp apple cider vinegar (I didn't have balsamic)
Dredge chicken in flour and brown in a bit of olive oil, just long enough to make sure the flour sticks to the chicken. Dump the chicken in the crock pot. Mix all remaining ingredients in a bowl and then pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. I pulled mine out at about 7 hours. I had a couple little containers of sesame seeds so I dumped some on my portion because I like them.
I had some frozen, cooked brown rice in the freezer so thawed that out and warmed it up and ate it mixed with the sauce and chicken. Added canned green beans for a veg. A good meal all around and there was enough left to package up 8 TV dinner meals for the freezer.
I really like cooking in the crock pot. It's nice to make something in the morning when you have energy and have it ready for you in the evening when you don't. Or even to do it before you go to bed and have it ready for you to deal with in the morning. I like cooking once and having enough leftovers for several meals down the road. It saves energy, it saves time, and it seems to save money as well.
Currently residing in one of the four bathtubs in this house are four newborn baby ducks. They are the cutest things ever. After three weeks they will be moved outside to the new chicken coop. They will be used for eggs and for free slug control in the garden. And fertilizer. The chicks should be hatching tomorrow. I hope I did the html coding right to post this photo.
The one in front and to the left is Sir Pecks-a-lot. The others don't have much personality yet so we're waiting on names for them.
On my quest to save money by eating more at home, using up what I have in the cupboard and freezer, and making as much as I can from scratch I tried a new recipe this week and an old favorite.
I made English Muffins from scratch on Wednesday and they were so easy. Ridiculously easy. I don't know why I never attempted this before. And I think it works out to about half the cost of buying them and I can be sure of the ingredients. I had to tweak the recipe I made to make it Feingold safe, but this is what I ended up with.
1 cup skim milk
2 tablespoons honey
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 pkt)
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup melted butter
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1. Warm the milk in a small pan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in the honey, stirring until combined. Let cool until lukewarm. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes. It should be bubbly.
2. In your bread machine add the milk, yeast mixture, butter, flour and salt. (I use this order because my machine says liquids go in the bottom). Start dough cycle.
3. When dough is done rising remove from bread pan and punch down. Roll out on a floured surface to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rounds with a biscuit cutter. I used an empty, clean tomato sauce can since I don't have a biscuit cutter. Sprinkle waxed paper with cornmeal and set the rounds on this to rise. Dust tops of muffins with cornmeal. Cover and let rise 1/2 hour.
4. Heat griddle. Brush a bit of butter on to season the griddle. Cook muffins on griddle about 10 minutes on each side over medium heat.
5. It said to keep the baked muffins in a warm oven until all had been cooked but I didn't see the point in this since we weren't eating all of them right then. Then it said to allow them to cool and place in plastic bags for storage. To use, split and toast.
It was pretty straight-forward. In the original recipe I changed the shortening out for butter and the sugar out for honey. I used equivalent amounts. They taste great, way better than anything I've ever purchased.
I have Canadian bacon and cheese and eggs on hand, so I think I'm going to make up some egg muffins like McDonald's has and wrap them in plastic wrap, put them in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer for fast breakfasts on mornings we just can't seem to get started properly. T is going to love this. He likes anything he can do independently foodwise.
Tonight before I came to bed (not to sleep, obviously), I put the ingredients for burritos in the crockpot. I don't follow a particular recipe for these, though it's basically the same every time.
In a blender whirl (umm...I think the technical term is puree) 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes, 1 4 ounce can green chile peppers, 1 TBSP chili powder, 3 heaping spoonfuls of chopped garlic, and 1/2 of the smallest size can of tomato paste until mostly smooth. In the crock pot place a 2 to 3 pound pork roast. Pour the sauce on top. Cook on low for 10 hours.
When it is done take two forks and shred the meat in the crockpot mixing with the sauce that has accumulated on the bottom.
We eat it on tortillas with shredded cheese, but you can add sour cream and guacamole if you want. My son puts plain vanilla yogurt on his. Another variation is to eat it on leftover hamburger or hotdog buns sloppy joe style.
I'll end up packaging up about 2/3 of the meat and freezing for future meals. A 2.5 to 3 pound pork roast usually produces enough for 3 full meals for a family of four around here. I spent about $10 on the ingredients originally (they were all on hand in the freezer or cupboard). So for $10 we get approximately 12 meals. And they are as good as the burritos from our favorite Mexican place where one burrito platter with the same amount of food would cost $8.
I was cleaning out the pockets of all the winter coats today so that I could wash them and put them away until next autumn and I found some money in two of mine, a grand total of $3.43, so it is going into the coin jar.
$63.86 beginning balance
+ 3.43 amount added
$67.29 ending balance
I haven't gone anywhere since...I'm not sure when. It's been a couple of days so no money has been spent. I'm still not feeling good, but I needed to bake today so I did. Today I made a loaf of bread and hamburger and hot dog buns, brownies, a batch of blueberry muffins and a batch of corn bread muffins. Muffins have been individually wrapped and frozen, bread has been cooled and sliced and buns have been split and put into air tight containers.
I think later in the week I am going to try my hand at making English muffins. The recipe I found doesn't look too hard and I have been sort of craving egg McMuffins lately, but not wanting to pay for them. It's easy enough to poach an egg in the micro, toast a muffin, add some ham and cheese and nuke again to warm them, and there you go. But English Muffins are something of a favorite of T's and most brands have ingredients he can't have.
The white ones have preservatives he's chemically sensitive to and the "healthy" brown ones have raisin juice and he's allergic to grapes and raisins. Bringing those into the house is hard on him. He's so good about avoiding foods he can't have anymore, but waving an old favorite in front of him is just mean. If I can make them myself with pure ingredients, we may have solved that problem altogether and he can have his beloved English muffins again. That would be nice.
My youngest turned ten today. I think that's way harder for me to grasp than the fact that I turned 40 in February. In less time than he's been alive so far, he'll be heading off to college or trade school. Wow. I hope he earns lots of scholarships.
My sister's kids descended en masse on us, presumably to celebrate my son's birthday and not to eat us out of house and home. I hadn't really planned on doing anything other than making T pizza for dinner because it was what he wanted. We already celebrated his birthday and gave him his presents last weekend when his dad was home. Today was just supposed to be a mellow day. T didn't want any more than that.
I wasn't feeling good. I'm still not, been fighting a sinus infection that's not responding to meds, and I just really wanted a quiet day. R made the from scratch chocolate cake batter while I sat curled up in a chair in a blanket in the kitchen and read out the ingredients to her from my laptop. Then we discovered that mom's one cake pan was flaking.
I haven't brought in my glass cake pans or my metal rounds yet and I really did not want to have to drive with my head this full of congestion and buy a cake pan when I had good ones at home. Didn't want to drive back to the house either. Fortunately I had bought baking cups for making muffins and had my muffin tin here so instead of a birthday cake he got birthday cupcakes. I did put together the from scratch butter cream frosting but R stayed with it in the kitchen while it blended for the ten minutes. I love having a child who is old enough to bake with minimal supervision.
I had started the dough in the bread machine as soon as the cupcakes went in to the oven. They were cooled and frosted by the time the dough was done rising and I had assembled the pizzas and they were ready to go into the oven. I had only intended on using part of the dough to make one pizza but with extra mouths I suddenly had to feed I ended up using it all. Fortunately Mom has one of those ovens that has two parts so you can cook two things at once. I was able to cook them evenly and not one after another and they came out perfectly.
T loved his birthday dinner. He said it was better than Round Table Pizza and a bakery cake. Which made me feel pretty good, considering that from making it all from scratch, I spent around $12 where all that pizza and cake bought elsewhere would have rounded out around $60. The boys loved the food too and wished that their mother would cook like that. They said it was the best pizza they'd ever had. That made me feel good even if I was kind of annoyed with the whole day's change of plans.
I think I probably would have taken it better if I wasn't so grumpy from being ill and tired and if it had been planned and not suddenly thrust upon me. *sighs*
I had to go buy a few gallons of organic milk yesterday so I ended up with $3.58 in ones and change out of a $20 to add to the coin jar.
$60.28 beginning balance
+ 3.58 amount added
$63.86 ending balance
Yesterday I also paid $1079 on the credit cards and $375.14 on the mortgage.
Today I was trying to think about all the things that I do to save money that require little to no effort on my part. Of course the things I do to actively save all quickly spring to mind, but what about the little things? What about the things that have become so automatic in me that I do them most of the time without thinking at all.
Well, since I was in the shower at the time, I started there. With hair as long and as thick as mine I can't exactly skimp on the shampoo or conditioner, but I know how much I need and I am very careful to not let it come pouring out at a fast rate of speed. Accidentally ending up with a huge handful of shampoo doesn't do my hair or my budget any good.
All of my bottles are kept upside down. Shampoo. Conditioner. Shower gel. Gravity is always right there, helping me get as much as possible out of the bottles. And when gravity is done doing it's part, of course I fill the bottles a quarter of the way full with water, swish them around, and use them once or twice more if the stuff clings to get out the final drops.
I go further with the shower gel, starting from the beginning of the bottle. For the price of a 50 cent shower pouf, I can make a dime size drop of gel lather into enough for a full body wash. Try doing that while putting the soap directly into your hand. Doesn't work, does it? A 16 ounce bottle of gel that could easily be gone through in a few weeks in a nondiscriminate manner, lasts me and my family of four (we all have our own poufs) a couple of months.
Gravity again does it's job in the kitchen. At any one time you can open up the fridge and find upside down bottles of mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, and chocolate sauce. Things that can't be put upside down without getting stuck in the lid get the spatula treatment. This generally falls into the category of round bottled condiments like mayo, salad dressings, jelly and peanut butter. The spatula also works well on scraping out the last bits of tomato sauce or paste, chili, stew, anything that sticks to the side of a tin can.
Probably the only thing that a spatula doesn't work well on is that poorly shaped mega bottle of Kraft Miracle Whip my husband insists on eating. Square containers with indentations? Really, Kraft? Who ever thought that was a good idea? I prefer to buy the larger product because at cost value it is cheaper, but at actual value when so much of it stuck in those stupid indentations? I'm not so sure. Really, Kraft, go back to the cylindrical containers. Your customers will appreciate it in this economy. (End mini-rant).
I'll let the last drops of olive oil in the bottle drip out onto a salad for ten minutes. I've contrived a contraption for holding the bottles up out of one of those aluminum can crushers mounted sideways. Just tie the thing shut and the bottle stays in place. Then you don't have to hold it, but you can be sure of getting it all out.
My thoughts moved on to wash cloths. I haven't bought wash cloths in years. We use towels to the point of making threadbare spots, so when the time comes that a good 1/4 of it is no longer effective, I simply cut them up, hem them quickly, and I've got a new supply ready to replace the ones that I've worn down.
I had to think about whether or not I consider composting to be a passive activity. On the one hand it involves the effort of taking the fruit and veggie scraps and egg shells out to the compost pile, but on the other hand my other two choices would be running the water and the electric to put them in a disposal or taking them out to the trash. And since I don't bother to turn my compost pile and just let time and the worms do all the work and maybe once a year fork off the top layer to start a new pile and get to the good stuff, I think I can pretty much consider the making of compost passive savings, especially when it is passed along to the garden later in the year.
I keep things unplugged that do not get active use, and if it's easy to get to the outlet, things that do get heavy use, like the toaster and the microwave. Most of our clocks are small battery operated wall clocks. The digital electric alarm clock only gets plugged in and set on the nights we have to wake up at a certain time the next morning. Computers, monitors, printers, and laptops are kept off when not in use and their power strips are turned off. Same with the TV. Since we no longer have a VCR we don't have to worry about resetting it every time it gets turned off.
I'm sure there are more things that I do passively that save me money but for the moment that's all I can think of. So I'm curious. What does everyone else do automatically and with minimal effort to save on the little things?
It's been a busy last few days. My husband and I spent a lot of time out at the house over the weekend packing, cleaning, and sorting. At least it's now starting to look like we're making a dent. I solemnly swear that I will never have so much stuff again in my life.
Downsizing is a very good thing. Stuff I cared about 10 to 20 years ago when I bought it, I pretty much don't give a hoot for now. Since a lot of it was bought on credit, that really makes me stop and think when I get it into my head that I want something new now. I ask myself will I care about this in a year, five years, ten years?
Really, the only things I want to keep anymore of my own stuff are books, DVDs and VHS tapes of movies, photographs, two boxes of old notebooks filled with fiction and poetry I wrote as a kid and young adult (and only until I can type it up and store it on a flash drive or two), my geology notes from college, my wedding dress, jewelry, my laptop, my DW action figures (yes, I'm a dork) and clothes (about half my current wardrobe). Which boils down to about a tenth of my stuff.
We've certainly downsized the kids' stuff. And just plain thrown out probably a full rubbish bin of happy meal toys. Geesh, that makes me sick thinking of how much we've spent on happy meals since our oldest daughter was old enough to start eating them. They've outgrown them now, and we rarely go there anymore, but when you look at all the evidence left over of going there from the past, yikes.
We also celebrated my son's tenth birthday with a meal out at Olive Garden. It's one of the few places he can eat and not have a bad reaction to what's put in the food. His real birthday isn't until the 13th, but since his dad left for Alaska yesterday we celebarted early. We spent $61.23 including the tip.
I found all kinds of coins when we were cleaning at the house. They were everywhere. On the bookcase outside the spare room, on the piano, on an old TV stand. I still can't believe there is that much change just laying around out there, and I still haven't remembered to nab the actual coin jar with change in it and bring it home. Between what I found and the six ones and change in my wallet I came up with $9.71. I did actually find a Canadian dime as well, but that's going in with the rest of the Canadian money kicking around for when we go back to Victoria again.
$50.57 beginning balance
+ 9.71 added amount
$60.28 ending balance
Once I remember to grab the coin jar from home which also has the coin wrappers in it, I'm going to roll up the change and make my first coin jar deposit of the year to the safety net account. Slowly but surely that is growing.
The new chicken coop is coming along nicely. The base and floor have been built and they are starting on the walls today. I still can't believe Mom actually is going to do this, but she is. It's not exactly something I would take on at 70. Heck, it's not even sometihng I would take on now at 40.
I think we did fairly well this week. We went to Trader Joe's and to the local grocery store that has the cheapest price on organic milk and potatoes. We spent $45.82 at TJ's and $15.95 at the other store.
I ended up with one loaf of bread, 2 heads of cabbage (one purple, one green), 3 pounds of broccoli, one pound of asparagus, one head of cauliflower, a head of lettuce, 2.17 pounds of roast beef, a 15 pound bag of potatoes, 1 bunch of radishes, 1 large family bag of plain potato chips, 2 gallons of milk, 2 pounds of carrots, 4 large onions, and a head of garlic for roasting.
We also went to Costco for the big monthly stock up. It came in at $140.92. There we got 3 18 packs of organic eggs, large tub of pre-minced garlic, a 3 pack of English cucumbers, 5 pounds of pork chops, 6 pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs, a case of oranges, a case of green beans, a case of pineapple, 4 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of unsalted butter for baking, 25 pound bag of flour (yay! I can make bread again), 10 pound bag of sugar, big package of all beef hot dogs, and a case of toilet paper.
We didn't buy any beef because I still have 8 pounds of hamburger and 2 large pot roasts in the freezer. Ditto canned salmon or tuna because we have a little over half a case of both. And I still have plenty of frozen salmon from that big fish I bought last month.
For the rest of the month I should only need to buy milk, fresh veggies, and possibly bananas if they start looking fit for human consumption again. I still have about 4 or 5 apples left from last month. They aren't really a favorite around here and Tobias is allergic to them so we don't go through a lot unless it's honeycrisp season.
Between the three stores we went to I ended up with some ones and some change to add to the coin jar.
$43.73 beginning balance
+ 6.84 amount added
$50.57 ending balance
Tasks for tonight are to sit down and balance the checkbook for the week and to make up the menu plan for the next week. Our menu planning runs Saturday through Friday, usually
I also need to bake tomorrow, hamburger and hot dog buns and cloverleaf rolls (recipe was posted earlier this week) and bread, and Rose wants to do a batch of her famous sugar cookies.
I might make brownies, too, since I have been craving chocolate this week, but none of us can have store bought because of the vanillin or yellow #5. Doesn't take all that long to make them from scratch and they always taste much better. Now I just need to decide if I want to use cocoa or baker's chocolate since I have both on hand for a change. And I need to make a cake and frosting from scratch for T's birthday. He turns 10 on the 13th (my baby is ten!), but his dad goes back to Alaska on the 9th so we are celebrating early.
Which reminds me we still have to go up to the used video game store and do his birthday present shopping. He prefers used games because he can get more games that way than if he got new. He's really starting to get it about value for money. It started with his own allowance that he would do it, but it's carried over now since he knows he only gets a limited dollar amount for his birthday, too. Now that his reading has started to take off we might just take him down to the used bookstore and let him get a few books from the children's room there.
We also paid the chiropractor today. $215. They've raised their rates from $195 for the one month plan. It's still a good deal (up to 3 visits a week per family member for the four of us), and he hasn't raised the rates in five years. The difference is, as he put it, one less meal out at McDonalds per month, which no one really needs to eat at anyway. Of course, we're not really going there that much anymore and when we do we order off the dollar menu so it's closer to two visits cost for us, but still, I like his thinking.
Okay, I think that about catches us up on the last few days.
Well, today I gave haircuts to the males in the family. I don't think my son has had one since the end of August and he was starting to really look like a ragamuffin. A cute ragamuffin, but a raggamuffin nonetheless. I think enough hair ended up on the floor to give an entire colony of birds nesting material. We'll put it out by the bird feeders tomorrow morning when it's light and then peek through the window to see what the birds are doing. It's always fun to watch them during nesting season. I also gave a touch up trim to my husband.
I invested in a good barber's razor kit a couple of years ago for $39.00 and I made the money back within three haircuts. It doesn't take long to get the hang of it at all. The first time I did it I practiced on my husband because he had no qualms about shaving his head bald if I happened to mess up. I didn't, though, and he ended up with a nice, professional looking cut. He gets the number 3 attachment because he prefers something close to but not as short as a buzz cut. And I use the number 4 for my son, which comes out short, but doesn't leave him feeling like he's been scalped. At this level he can go three months between haircuts before he starts looking like he needs one.
Included in the kit we bought was a cape that I use for both haircuts and when I color my hair or my daughter's hair. It came with a very sharp pair of hairdresser's scissors as well, which I use to cut my bangs. I used to do my daughter's bangs, too, but she's growing her hair long and doesn't want to have bangs anymore. My daughter and I do go get a professional cut twice a year and then I will occassionally trim her ends between visits.
In the past I have given my daughter both a bob and a pixie cut. They are both simple cuts for beginners, but you really must use sharp hairdressers scissors. I can't stress that enough. Dull scissors from the sewing basket or craft kit are not going to do the job right. Your bangs will look split-ended and the cut will definitely be jagged. I'd also recommend getting a book out from the library that tells how to cut hair.
We save a lot of money doing this ourselves because at the cheapest salon around here, it's $12.99 for a kids cut and $14.99 for an adult cut (no shampoo, no styling, no blow dry). The barber is $13. A bang trim is $6. It takes a bit of practice to trim bangs yourself but it really isn't all that hard after the first time or two. It helps to have a forgiving style and keep a longer bang until you get used to doing it yourself.
I reckon between the two cuts, my bang trim, sales tax, and tip, we saved about $40, so I transferred that amount into my safety net today, bringing the total to $340.48. Not a bad investment at all.