Frugal Tips


Having a fussy eater can be challenging at times. Which is not to say that my little guy is one of those “will only eat chicken nuggets” types. I have seen him cheerfully tuck into a bowl of smoked salmon chirashi because he knew that he liked all of the components (smoked salmon, julienne carrots, sesame seeds, rice, soy sauce), but for some reason we have been having difficulties with lunch. He just doesn’t want to eat it unless it involves getting in the car and driving through someplace. I think it might be less about the eating and more about the going (I cannot play with him non-stop and he takes it personally).

But obviously we cannot go out every, single day so I really needed to come up with a solution. After multiple rejections of food items I decided to take a radical approach and ask him what he would eat every day for lunch. He pondered this and said “Squishy bean quesadilla.”

This kid is a bean maniac. He has not met a bean that he did not like. It started off with black beans but we then went to a Mexican place that did not have black beans but instead served him the more traditional refried pinto beans. These have been officially dubbed “squishy beans” and are now in the rotation as well as being his preferred filling for quesadillas.

The internet seems to think that it is perfectly fine to freeze quesadillas so I figured I would do a bit of batch cooking to save some time and money. The money part comes in not throwing away a partial can of refried beans. Historically we have cracked open a can and kept it in the ‘fridge to use as we went; but it has consistently gone bad before we manage to use the whole can. It gets shoved around and hides behind the mango juice and then we have this crusty mess that goes directly into the gar-bahge. By making as many quesadillas as the can can handle (heh, can can) we will be avoiding that waste.

Large batch quesadilla making for the freezer

Cooling their heels

Refried Bean Quesadillas

The Hardware: sauce pan, griddle or large frying pan, offset spatula or butter knife, cooling rack

The Software:
1 can Refried Beans
8 Whole Wheat tortillas (soft taco size)
1 8 oz bag Quesadilla Cheese
Cumin and garlic powders
Oil or butter for browning

Set up both a staging area and a cooling area to make assembly line production easy.

Crack open the can of beans and scrape them into your sauce pan, they will fight you but you must be strong. Marvel at their ability to maintain a can shape and then stir them up on medium low heat. Add cumin and garlic powder to taste and stir until they are heated up and easy to spread. Remove from heat and place at the beginning of your assembly line along with your cheese and tortillas.

Now, I love my electric griddle and when it dies it will receive  a proper sending off just before we get a new one. It is perfect for making pancakes, french toast, grilled peanut butter & cheese sandwiches (separately, not peanut butter & cheese in the same sandwich shudder), hamburgers … you get the picture. And I cannot imagine tackling batch cooking like this using only a single skillet. But if that is what you have then go for it.

Heat up your cooking implement of choice and grease it up with a bit of oil. I used a folded paper towel with oil to re-oil between quesadillas. Take each tortilla and spread 1/8th of the beans on 1/2 of the tortilla. We are making folded quesadillas and this will make things easier. Place as many 1/2 beaned tortillas on your cooking surface as possible and then sprinkle your cheese on the non-beaned half of the tortilla. Allow to cook until the cheese starts to melt a bit and then fold in half.

Arrange the folded quesadillas so that they are taking up less space and add another 1/2 beaned tortilla to the griddle. Put cheese on it and check the folded ones. As they become brown on one side, flip them to the other. When both sides are well browned, remove them to a cooling rack. Continue folding, rearranging and removing quesadillas until you have added cheese and cooked all of them.

Once fully cooled, place in freezer and freeze until solid. Transfer to a big ziplock bag or something like that. I bet you could wrap them individually in foil too. I haven’t reheated any yet but there are various reheating options. I plan on reheating from frozen in the oven, probably for about 20 minutes at 350F.

The Results:

I will report back after I have served one from frozen. I am pretty confident that it will be quite tasty. If you want you could totally add some other ingredients. I bet sauteed onions would be awesome, or perhaps chicken or another meat. I would add them at the same time I added the cheese.

What do you like in your quesadillas?

 

You know how when you need to juice citrus it is recommended that you microwave it briefly so that you can extract more juice?

When utilizing this technique on Limes, 45 seconds is too long.

Just a little tip I learned today, don’t ask me how.

Considering that the sponsor herself at thursday night smackdown was unable to keep her deadline (for good reasons) I am hoping that my tardiness will not eliminate me from participation. And since I am relying on her good nature (HAHAHA) I am going to confess that not only did I not make this on Tuesday for Hobo Tuesday; I did not even make it for dinner! It was my lunch, today, Thursday.

Whew, I feel better now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest.

Actually, I don’t know if I would let myself participate, because I didn’t even follow the theme. I don’t do spicy, but I do do things that could be spicy if you wanted them to be. Take this:

Heuvos Rancheros en Cocotte

You got your Mexican in my French! No you got your French in my Mexican!

In a fit of literalness I have decided to call this exactly what it is:

Huevos Rancheros en cocotte from my own demented little mind

Hardware: a cute oven safe ramekin and an oven.

Software:
1/3 C doctored up canned black beans
2 eggs
2 T milk
2 big pinches of shredded cheddar cheese
1/8 C salsa (I use Pace, so sue me)

My beans were left over from burritos a few days ago, I start with a can of black beans and add a bunch of garlic, cumin, oregano and Liazano Salsa until they taste good; hence doctored up. Take your cutsey little ramekin and lube it up with butter (hey, this dish is 1/2 French – gotta work butter in somewhere) and pre-heat the oven to 375 or so.

Put the beans into the ramekin and make two beds for your eggs by pushing things around with a spoon and then carefully crack the eggs into their little troughs. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on them and then drizzle the 2 T of milk over top. Put in oven for about 8 minutes (or until things start to bubble and the whites look opaque) and then pull out and sprinkle the cheese around the bubbling edges and slide it back into the oven for a few more minutes. Take the eggs out when they still look underdone and let it rest for a couple of minutes. Spoon salsa over top and you are done.

Talk about a protein bomb! I guess you could work in some veggies with the beans if you are so inclined – but I thought it was great as is. Now, there are several locations where one could make this spicy. Jalapenos in the beans would be an obvious choice, but more sneaky would be sprinkling some cayenne over the eggs so that it looks like paprika. The hotter the salsa, the hotter the entire dish. I am a wuss, so mild all the way baby!

The Damage:
1/3 can black beans = .30
2 eggs = .42
Milk = .05
Cheese = .15

Everything else is pantry. I feel comfortable including Salsa as a pantry item considering it outstripped Ketchup as the most purchased condiment in the US.

The total comes to .92. I only cooked for one, but my hubby would have loved this had he been here – doubling the cost comes to $1.84 to serve 2 people, actually, to fill my husband we probably would have had to use more beans so lets call it an even $2.00.

summerfest-badge

What I should be posting right now is an entry for thursday night smackdown’s Hobo Tuesday. But I am a slacker, and a chicken. Specifically the theme for this month is super spicy food, and my idea of pretty darn spicy is the regular stuff at Taco Bell. When they ask me if I want some of the Medium sauce I am all like Whoaaaa there Nelly, let’s not get too crazy.

So I found another event to participate in – it is the Summer Fest! Apparently the whole shindig started last month with Herbs, but I always tend to be a little slow on the uptake. The theme of this month is tree fruits – and well, I live in Georgia and I really do not have any choice in the fruit I will be using. I mean really, could there be any other option?

So for this soiree I am getting back to one of the core values of this blog (since I have such a long and illustrious history, snort) and that is using one of my most precious commodities – time – to compensate for one of my more unsavory character traits – cheapness.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

One of the best cheap tips I can give you is to cut out the middle-man. If you can, buy your produce straight from the Farmer/Grower. Luckily I live in a State that believes in that very principle and sponsors the Atlanta State Farmer’s Market, a place where you can go year ’round and purchase produce directly from the Farmers that pulled it out of the ground, or off of the tree, or plant, or … you get the picture. There is even a meat market there that has three butchers there every week day – prices & sizes like a warehouse club without any taxes.

My mother and I toodled down there a couple of weeks ago and picked up a 1/2 bushel of peaches. Glorious peaches that smelled like … peaches, not those rock hard impostors you find at the grocery. Those, the best thing you can do with them is hot-glue on some googley eyes and try to recreate the ’70 pet rock craze only fuzzier. And the best thing, for our 22 lbs of peaches we paid $11. That’s right, .50 per lb. Does little cheap-ass happy dance.

And Here is Where you start Robbing Peter

We have beautifully high quality peaches at rock bottom prices, but we also have 22 lbs of highly perishable fruit that has to have something done with it NOW! So we pay for it with time. An entire day of canning with my Mother to be precise. But ooooh, the rewards.

Angelic & Delicious

Angelic & Delicious

The Yield:

6 Quarts of Peach Pie Filling
6 1/2 Half-pints of Peach Preserves
6 1/2 Half-pints of Ginger Peach Preserves
8 Quarts of Frozen Sliced Peaches

All total 20 quarts + 1 pint of peachy perfection to last us for the coming year. Trying to calculate how much money we saved would be difficult. Figure that each 1/2 pint of “gourmet” peach preserves that you buy at the grocery would run you at least $3 x 13 half-pints and you get $39. Already $28 more than we spent on the fruit. Of course you have to factor in the cost of the canning supplies – but those are re-usable and I really do not want to get into amortizing the crap. A quart sized bag of frozen peaches is going to run you at least $2.50 x 8 =  $20. The peach pie filling, and let me tell you this isn’t anything like the stuff that comes out of the can, you would pay at least $5 a jar for this x 6 = $30.

So, for our $11 basket of peaches and lets say and additional $15 in supplies (including sugar, spices etc…) we yielded $89 worth of the good stuff. $89 – $26 = $63, obviously not enough to compensate two such talented ladies for an entire day’s work (or at least one talented lady and one who can almost stir without drooling into the pot) but that is where the love comes in to play.

I think we might need to go buy more peaches before the season is over.

p.s. I haven’t included any recipes because they all came from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I usually avoid posting recipes if I haven’t made some changes to them because that would run afoul of copyright issues. And anyone reading about home preserving will know full well that if you change anything then OH MY GOD YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE AND YOU WILL KILL YOUR FRIENDS WITH YOUR CANNED GOODS!!!!!!!!
I may exaggerate slightly.

As an homage to the originator of this challenge at thursday night smackdown I am going to “Live Blog” my contribution to this months competition. Except for the fact that there is no way anyone would possibly be reading this real time. So in actuality it will be in “Live Blogging” format without the fun of it actually being, you know, live.

Step One:

The theme is picnic foods so what the heck can I make – hows about a “Hand Pie”? They have sufficient picnic type cred to qualify right? I hope? And the first thing a hand pie needs is a crust. For a hand pie, or pasty if you will (and considering the connotations that you dirty birds might apply to that I think pasty is much more fun), you need a crust that will stand up to some abuse. My go to for this, and actually most pie type applications, is a hot water dough. I like them because they are not even remotely fussy and are pretty much idiot proof. Say what you will about the idiots. And I know you are going to read it and be in total disbelief that it could be a decent pie/tart dough.

3:45 pm – Try it. I DARE you.

1 1/2 C Flour
1/2 t Kosher Salt
1 egg, well beaten
2T + 2 t Water
1/3 C Vegetable Shortening

Combine flour and salt in a heat proof bowl, whisk lightly to get major lumps out. Put a small saucepan on the heat and combine water and shortening over low. Make a well in the flour and add the beaten egg, cut egg in with a knife. This process will seem similar but nowheres near as hard as the whole cutting butter in. As with the pain in the a$$ butter version you are looking to end up with something that is homogeneous and with clumps the size of peas or a little smaller.

3:51 – By this time the mixture on the heat should be close to boiling, and that is just where you want it. Once it has come to a boil and is trying to spit little blobs of molten fat at you – turn off the heat and pour directly into the bowl of flour. Did I mention that the bowl needs to be heatproof? I really wouldn’t use plastic. Stir everything together until it cools enough to mush it around with your hands. Make sure everything is combined and then pat into a disc shape (or 2, I did one but in retrospect 2 would have been better) and wrap in plastic wrap. Park them in the ‘fridge for about an hour.

4:00 Now – aren’t you glad that this is only faux live-blogging. If it were real you would be all like, crap, now I have to wait an hour and I would be all like HAHA I’m gonna go play Bejeweled Blitz …

4:30 – For the Filling: things I had laying around the kitchen

If this Pasty had a size it would be DD

If this Pasty had a size it would be DD

1/2 lb ground Pork
1 small apple, grated
1/2 C Cheddar Cheese, grated
1 med onion, chopped (1 C)
1/2 t Salt
1/4 t each Pepper, Cinnamon and Ground Ginger

Put some olive oil in a pan and cook your ground pork adding the spices at the end of the cooking time. Remove to a holding bowl. Add more oil and toss in the onions, saute until you think that all the gunk on the bottom of the pan is going to burn and say “OH CRAP” and add a little bit of water to “deglaze” the pan like you are all professional and stuff. Cook it until just before the “OH CRAP” point again and then add the grated apple. Go to directly to “OH CRAP” and pull the water stunt again. Add a pinch of each of the above seasonings for good measure. When most of the water has cooked off, but before everything starts sticking to the bottom of the pan again – dump it all into the bowl with the pork. Allow to cool. Preheat your oven to 375.

5:00 – When your pie dough is ready you need to make it into 2 roughly dinner plate sized discs. If you are a good little reader you have 2 discs to work with and voila! If you are like me and didn’t think of it, you will have to divide the dough into 2 before you roll. Mix the cheese into the other glop and divide evenly between the two discs. Stick your finger into a little bit of water and run it along the bottom 1/2 edge of the discs and fold the suckers into 1/2 moons. Get all fancy pants with a fork and crimp the edges. Put on a sprayed baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes.

The Rest of the Story:

I also made a roasted potato salad to go with this, but this has already gotten way longer than I would want to read – so why should I inflict it upon y’all? I’ll do that at a later date. Also on the menu was a garden fresh sliced tomato – a perfect southern picnic food if there ever was one. What I will let you know is that the “dinner plate” sized pasties are much too large if you have a normal appetite. What should have happened was to divide the dough and fillings into quarters and make 4 of the puppies. With 1 1/2 lbs of potatoes you have enough ‘tater salad for 4 and a single sliced tomato can feed 4. So realistically this was a meal for 4 instead of 2. In actuality my husband ate his whole pasty and so will go hungry for lunch tomorrow when I am eating my leftovers.

Not really, but it is fun to imagine.

The Low Down:

Pork: reality – I bought a 2 pack Boston Butt from the warehouse store and butchered it up into roasts, cutlets, stew chunks and ground meat and put it into the freezer. Did the math and it came out to $1.40 per pound. But that isn’t realistic for most people. Lets say I got a good deal @ $1.99/lb and count this as $1 for the meat.
Apple: ~ 8 oz bought @ .99/lb = .50
Cheese: again the reality is that I bought it in a 5 lb bag and froze in 8 oz portions and it comes out to about .90 for a 1/2 lb. So my half cup cost about .23. On normal sale @ Kroger they run $1.60 per bag so that call it .40.
Onion: .25
Flour: I know you are gonna kill me, but I buy this in 25 lb bags and keep it in my freezer. Lets just skip the math and say .15.
Egg: 2.50/12 = .21
Shortening: no clue, lets say .10
Potatoes: were given to me free by my neighbor but lets say 1 1/2 lbs @ 5 lbs for 2.50 = .75
Tomato: also a freebie from my neighbor.  Lets say I bought it for .40.

Pantry Items: Spices, Olive Oil, Mustard, Garlic, AC Vinegar = .25

Total which I submit to Hobo Tuesday: 1+.50+.40+.25+.15+.21+.10+.75+.40+.25 = $4.01 (picnic for 4 unless you have a hungry man and then for 3)

Actual Total if you are an obsessive compuslive shopper like me who has a big chest freezer and a generous neighbor with a 1 1/2 acre “garden”: .70+.50+.23+.25+.08+.21+.10+.25 = $2.32

It has been a crazy week, and it only promises to get crazier. But hey, who wants a boring life? I have been cooking, just nothing exceptionally interesting, or photogenic. We hosted a play-date and I made a big batch of French Dressing in anticipation of having salad for lunch. When I pulled out the lettuce it had gone to meet it’s vegetable maker- so I had to punt. Luckily I had made rice the day before and had plenty of leftovers. That might be considered a frugal tip. Whenever you cook rice make at least 2 cups (dry, which yields 6 cups cooked). Even if you do not need that much, it comes in exceptionally handy for quick meals. And you must, must, must use leftover rice to make Fried Rice.

Which is what I whipped up for the play-date mommy. Not that I took a picture of it, because that is pretty boring. But it was tasty. When I had a latecomer walk in the door starving I used the rest of the rice to make what I call “Mexican Fried Rice”. The same cooking technique as with fried rice – but instead of using soy, ginger, garlic and sesame oil I use Lizano salsa. I could also see tossing in some beans, chopped onions, corn – whatever you have. Not particularly authentic, but again very tasty. And again, not particularly photogenic.

That’s been the theme of the past week – non-photogenic foods. I tried, I really did. Here is a picture of the Stromboli I made a few nights ago:

Much tastier than it looks.

Much tastier than it looks.

Homemade pizza is one of those things that is worth the time, especially when your dough recipe makes enough dough for a pizza and then another pizza or pizza like application. We usually eat pizza one night and then I put together something else a couple of nights later. Usually it is a calzone, but the ‘fridge was devoid of the requisite ricotta – so I made a Stromboli. Which is rolled instead of folded and does not usually contain ricotta.

I think that Stromboli is going to be the default for the foreseeable future. Waaaaaay easier than a calzone. And for the life of me, I cannot seem to keep ricotta in the house.

This particular bad boy involved a thin layer of pizza sauce topped with layers of bacon, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and thinly sliced onion. Normally I would have put some caramelized onions in there, but I didn’t think of it until too late. I was afraid that the onions wouldn’t cook enough so I sliced them super thin with my Most Excellent Knife of Sharpness (all kitchens should have one). In the future I will not bother with the thin slicing or the caramelizing. They stayed in the oven long enough to get nicely cooked/steamed inside the dough.

Lack of Recipe

I am afraid that is what we have today. I am not happy enough with my pizza dough recipe to share it yet. It was delicious for the Stromboli, after sitting in the ‘fridge for several days. But  the pizza I made with the fresh dough did not do it for me. It lacked that certain “chewiness” that is needed in good pizza dough. This version was much too bread like, but it lost that characteristic in the ‘fridge.

But I will leave you with one last tip – always bake bacon in the oven, do not bother with the stove-top. By using the oven you avoid 3/4 of the mess and get much better bacon (less of the fat cooks away before the lean is done). Use jellyroll/edged cookie-sheets lined with aluminum foil and clean-up is as simple as draining the fat and tossing the foil. The bacon keeps well in the ‘fridge and even longer in the freezer. And hey, bacon fat! Wonderful stuff for cooking pretty much anything. I used it to saute some mushrooms for spaghetti.

What do you use bacon fat for?

One of the blogs that I read regularly is Thursday Night Smackdown. I find it hilarious, but a warning to people who read this blog, TNS is rated “R”. As in Mature Audiences Only, so if you do not find that humor, well, humorous then I would advise against checking it out. I won’t hold it against you, I personally do not find humor focusing on bodily functions and other things best relegated to the bathroom to be entertaining in the least. But somehow Rob Schnieder et al continue to be employed – so obviously there are people out there who disagree with me.

But this particular blog post is part of TNS’s blog event Hobo Monday if you clicky that link you will read the rules. When I discovered this blog event I felt it meshed nicely with my own Raison d’être on this blog so this is my first attempt. It figures that the first time I decided to play the monthly theme would be “Super Cheap A$$” and entries are supposed to feed 2 people for $3.

Pshaw, I taunt your silly $3.  I shall make it as cheap as I can.

Dinner or UFO?

Dinner or UFO?

The truly frustrating part of this endeavor came when I was working on the pricing. I decided to go through the past Hobo Monday challenges to see what the standard going rate for onions seemed to be. Please note that I did not do this until after I had prepared, photographed and consumed my Hobo Monday Meal. And what did I find? The very first winner of Hobo Monday was a Lentil and Rice dish. Mighty-mo-finky-stinky-son-of-a-biscuit-eater, now it looks like I cheated. Rat Farts.

from The Best Recipes in the World – Mark Bittman (go buy this book, you must have it)

Red Lentils with Rice

2 T Canola Oil
1 lg Onion, chopped
1 T Garam Masala
3 C Water (he didn’t have this in the list, but I like all of the ingredients to be in the list, nyah)
3/4 C dried red lentils (rinsed & picked)
1 C long-grain rice (I used Jasmine)
2 T Butter (Bittman says optional, I say essential)
Salt & Pepper to taste (the Ba$t4rd – I ended up putting well over a teaspoon of salt and multiple grinds of pepper)

1) Heat oil over medium high heat, add onions and stir frequently until they start to get brown around the edges. Add garam masala and stir for another minute or so. Dump in 3 cups of water carefully (water & hot oil you know – spatter city) and bring to a boil.

2) Add rice & lentils and return to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. I pulled mine with about 3 minutes to spare and it was still overcooked. But then again I cook on a gas range and managing a simmer on a gas range is as about as easy as juggling rabbits.

3) Stir in butter (you have no option, I don’t care what Mr. Bittman says about the subject) and add salt & pepper in increments until it tastes good to you.

The Damage:

And now for the cost breakdown, technically if something is what you consider to be a pantry item then you don’t have to price it in the total. I made this entire meal out of my pantry – but I am not a cheater so I will count everything.

Lentils- .89 per lb
.89 / 16 = .055 per oz
.055 x 5.75 = .32

Rice – 25 lb bag for $17 at local Asian market (it is where I get all of my Asians)
25 x 16 = 400 oz
17.00 / 400 =.0425 per oz
.0425 x 8 = .34

Fixinsreally and truly pantry items, but I am counting them
Onion = .25
Butter= .10
Oil = .05
Spices = .10
Water = free

Because I am apparently incapable for cooking for a small number (1 or 2) of people this dish will feed 6. Really, have you ever attempted to cook a small amount of rice or lentils? Do it, I dare you, you will be cursing my name as you are scraping the charred remains of your dinner off the bottom of the pot.

I drink water with all of my meals, which falls into the free category. So the final damage is $1.16 to feed 6 people. Which comes out to $.193 per person. If you felt you needed more veggies you could put together a quick side salad which might run you about .25 per person. That could be added to the total if the queen of Hobo’s feels this isn’t a complete meal. But it was all I ate for dinner.

Hoboness*:

Lentils revisited - rejected by the Eman

Lentils revisited - rejected by the Eman

Unfortunately I still feel a pain in my heart that the Lentil and Rice thing has been done. It wounds me –  c’est la vie. So I thought I would bust out a bonus which I feel is in keeping with my thematic genre – leftover usage. For lunch the next day I pulled the 5 peoples worth of food out of the ‘fridge and decided the consistency would lend itself well to shaping. I shaped some little balls and some big patties. Put some canola oil in a non-stick pan and heated it up good. Tossed those little puppies in and fried them so that they were GBD on both sides. Crunchy, savory, verrah tasty. With a salad it made a lovely lunch. I believe it would also be delicious treated as a veggie burger.

ps: for those of you who regularly read my blog, I hope that you will pardon my french. I felt it was in keeping with the soiree. As they say: Le singe est sur la branche.

*Pronounce this out loud a couple of times, see if you find the joke.

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