Friday, January 24, 2014

Our favorite chili

After years of trying different chili recipes I have finally found one that everybody can agree on.  It's good and filling and pretty inexpensive.  I usually buy ground beef when it's marked down and I can always find ground pork marked down to less than $2 a pound.  I use a mixture of beef and pork but you can use any kind of ground meat you'd like. This chili recipe makes a large amount.  It seems like a large amount to me anyway because there is only 4 of us.  We each eat a bowl for supper.  The boy will probably eat a bowl for breakfast. Yeah, don't ask, he's weird. And I'm taking a bowl to work with me for lunch.  The rest is going to be paired with macaroni for supper on Monday night. So it feeds us for a few days.

What I like about this chili is you can do what you want with it.  If you like peppers, throw 'em in there.  You like it hot?  Add some jalapenos and hot sauce.  Add more chili powder if you want.  Add less.  Add more beans.  Add less beans.  I have used less meat when I didn't have enough or a different combination of tomatoes like a big can of whole and a small can of diced.  Add some corn...well you get the idea. Do whatever you like to this chili.  It's still good.  My other favorite thing about this chili??  I cook it in the crock pot.  Walk away and forget it.  But you don't have to.  You can cook it on the stove
 too...but really, why would you!?!

Carol's Favorite Chili

1 lb ground chuck
1 lb ground pork
1/2 cp. onion, chopped
1/2 cp celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14 1/2 oz) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14 1/2 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14 1/2 oz) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can mild chili beans
1 sm. can tomato sauce
1 (14 1/2 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 (28 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1 pkg mild chili seasoning mix
2 tsp granulated sugar
chili powder - to taste
cumin - to taste
salt & pepper - to taste
Shredded cheddar, sour cream, chopped green onions - for garnish

In a large skillet, brown the ground meat with the chopped celery, onion, and minced garlic.  Drain the grease from the cooked meat and add to a large crock pot. (Or kettle if you're cooking it on the stove).  Stir in the beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili seasoning mix, sugar, and the seasoning.  I don't usually measure, I just dump and taste it a couple of hours later and adjust them as needed.  Break up the whole tomatoes if you'd like with the back of a spoon. Put the lid on the crock pot and cook on high for about 4 hours. If you're cooking it on the stove bring it to a boil then cover and simmer it for 4 hours.  Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese and chopped green onions if desired. 

That's it!  Perfect for cold snowy nights like we have here tonight.  Sometimes I make a big pan of cornbread to go with it but tonight we just used oyster crackers.  It is delicious!  Hope you enjoy it too.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

It's a new year!

Happy New Year!  Hope the holidays were good to you.  We had a good Christmas here.  Until Christmas night when we were having supper at a Chinese restaurant and the 12 year old had an allergic reaction to crab!  Fun times! She had cracked some crab legs and gotten that juice all over her hands.  Then she got tired on the way home and was lying in the back seat rubbing her eyes and BOOM! We already knew she was allergic to shrimp, as am I, but she had no trouble eating crab or clams or fish.  But the doctor wants her to stay away from all seafood now and maybe give it a try in a couple of months.  And yes, she is wearing One Direction pajamas. If only they'd had Donny Osmond pajamas when I was 12.

Anyway, the holidays are over and our houseguests have moved on so life is getting back to normal, which for us is one problem after another.  Currently we are having car problems and also it's been so insanely cold.  The kids are home from school today because of the weather.  At this rate they will be in school until the 4th of July!

So we are back to our old way of cooking and doing things.  I usually buy a chicken marked down or at Aldis so it's around $4. I boil the chicken at the beginning of the week and we have enough meat for 2 meals and also about 8 cups of broth.  One of our favorite easy chicken recipes is Chicken Croquettes.  I try to make these when we've got leftover mashed potatoes so we can make potato patties to go with them.

Here is the recipe!

Chicken Croquettes

2 cps leftover chicken, chopped in the food processor
1  cp seasoned bread crumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cp chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Saute the chopped onion and garlic in a skillet sprayed with Pam until soft.  Mix the chicken, bread crumbs, eggs, and onion mixture together in a bowl.  If it seems really dry, just add another egg. Add the seasonings and mix well.  Shape into patties.  I make mine kind of small so we get about 8 patties out of this.  Heat some oil in a large skillet and fry the patties until they are golden brown.   

I also like to press my patties into some Panko crumbs before I fry them because it gives them a nice crispy coating.  I also just use the heels of my loaves of bread to make bread crumbs if I don't have any of the other kind.  You can change up the seasoning if you'd like, or add hot sauce, or whatever.  But this is a really inexpensive dish to make and the kids love it.   Stay warm out there!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's almost Christmas and life is crazy as usual...even a little crazier.  We have 3 extra in our house for a little while so it's a challenge to get everybody fed.  We've been managing by eating a lot of pasta, rice, soups, and casseroles though we did splurge on 6 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts to make chicken nuggets one night!

We are still doing our normal things that we do at the holidays while trying to incorporate the other family's traditions as well as give them space to do their own thing but it's not easy!  We have 2 Christmas trees, 1 in the living room and another in the other family's bedroom so they feel festive too.  Decorations are up inside and out!  Presents are purchased and waiting to be wrapped and I think I've convinced the kids that they are getting one tiny present.  We managed to get them several nice gifts so I think it'll be a good Christmas.

Today I am baking the last of my Christmas cookies.  These are my favorite and I came up with the recipe myself after trying many different ones. It's certainly not thrifty but it's not Christmas without cut out sugar cookies.

Carol's Christmas Cut Out Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cps butter, softened (I used 1 stick of butter & 2 of margarine this year & it worked fine)
1 cp white granulated sugar
1 cp powdered sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp lemon zest
5 cps flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt

Cream together butter & sugars until smooth.  Beat in eggs, vanilla, & lemon zest. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover & chill.

Preheat oven to 400. Roll out sugar cookie dough 1/2" thick.  Cut into shapes.  Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 6 - 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely. Decorate with frosting and sprinkles.

I also made the children's favorite cookie, Chocolate Cherry Kisses.  They are easy and pretty and you can get the recipe here.  And my budget breaker, my fruit cakes, are currently soaking in Captain Morgan Spiced Rum just waiting for Christmas.
  Hey, you gotta have priorities!

Whatever holiday you celebrate, my family and I wish you a season filled with happiness!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Homemade laundry soap

One of my favorite ways to save money is to make my own laundry soap.  It is so easy to do and it seems to work good.  Mac, who is 12, is an ice skater and a cheerleader, so lots of dirt there and Michael is 17 and, well, a boy and you know what teenage boys smell like.  We have been using this laundry soap for about 9 months with no problems at all.  It costs less than $9 initially to make and it tends to last us around 5-6 months.  Not too bad since just looking at the price under a container of Tide almost caused me to have a stroke.  I will never again pay that much for laundry soap.

All you need is a box of Borax, which is also good for killing fleas in your carpet by the way, a box of washing soda, and a bar of soap such as Fels Naptha, Zote, or Kirk's Castile. In my area, the Castile soap is hard to find.  I bought some at Meijer and it worked fine but the Walmart by me has both the Fels Naptha and the Zote so I buy a bar of each.  They cost $1 and the Borax and Washing Soda are each less than $4.

You are supposed to use 1 cup of Borax, 1 cup of washing soda, and 1 bar of the soap grated.  You can also add some drops of essential oils if you'd like but I like the smell of the soap so I don't. They aren't that expensive since you'd only use a few drops but I prefer not to use them.  To each his own. Anyway,  Zote soap is BIG so I count that as 2 bars and I grate it and the Fels Naptha on my big cheese grater.  My hand gets tired after a while but it probably only takes me about 10 minutes to do it.  Word of caution..DO NOT get the bright idea that your food processor would be perfect for this step.  It's not pretty.  Since I grate the 2 bars, I count that as 3 since the Zote seems like a double bar to me.  So for 3 bars I mix the grated soap with 3 cups of the Borax and 3 cups of the washing soda.  I put mine in a big ice cream bucket and keep it by the washer.  You just need 2 Tablespoons per load.  I keep a little 1/8 cup scoop in my bucket with the soap.

It will dissolve in cold water, eventually, but I start it on hot and swish it around then switch it to cold.  Oh -  the repairman told me once that you shouldn't just change from hot to cold without pulling the knob on the machine first and stopping it because that will ruin your washer!  He said it's like shifting your car into gear without coming to a stop first and we all know how expensive transmissions are. I don't know if that's true or not but I do it and my old washer is still going strong!

So that's it!  Homemade cheap laundry soap that works!  For me anyway!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Scrimp Now, Feast Later

Thanksgiving is almost upon us.  And even though I have to work at 5:30 p.m. that night I'm still cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us.  So in order to be able to afford the turkey and all the fixins, we have to scrape the bottom of the barrel this week.  For dinner, I had 1 pound of ground beef to work with.  I never make burgers because a pound of ground doesn't make a very filling burger for 4 people in my opinion.  They shrink and then you eat it and boom, done.  So I decided to make a meatball stew.

No recipe for the meatballs.  I just took the ground beef and threw it in a bowl.  I put the end slices of my loaf of bread in the food processor and added the crumbs, an egg, some grated parmesan cheese, and my "seasoning".  I keep a little bowl next to my stove with a mixture of 3/4 cp of coarse kosher salt, 1/8 cp of black pepper, 1/8 cp of seasoned salt, and 1/8 cp of garlic powder and I use it to season everything..well almost everything.  Anyway, I mixed it all together with my hands and made about 32 meatballs using a little 1-inch scoop and baked them for 15 minutes.

Because it was a busy day of going to the neurologist and also because I happen to be sicker than a dog with bronchitis, I pulled out the crock pot.  Peeled 4 potatoes and cut them into chunks, then 4 carrots, then about 1/2 cup of onion chopped and 2 cloves of garlic minced.  All of that went into the crock pot followed by the cooked meatballs.  Then I added a cup of ketchup, 3 cups of beef broth, and a teaspoon of sugar (we don't like the tartness of the tomato stuff so I always add a bit of sugar).  Gave it a little stir and I flipped it on low and we headed out the door.  Easy peasy.

As soon as we got home 6 hours later I thickened the liquid in the crock pot while we made a batch of biscuits and supper was done.  We each had a good size bowl and there was one bowl leftover so it made 5 servings instead of 4 sad lonely little burgers.  We all thought it was pretty tasty..a nice warm stew on a cold night.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I have a confession....

I don't use coupons.  It's out..I've said it.  I've watched TV shows about extreme couponing and I'm impressed that they can get so much for so little.  But they spend a LOT of time doing that.  Also I just don't see it working out for me and I'll tell  you why.  Living in a small rural area, we don't have Jewel, Kroger, and all of those big national chain grocery stores.  We have the Walmart, an Aldi, and a couple other little grocery stores and then in my tiny town, we have a little bitty 4 aisle supermarket.  We don't have double coupon days or rewards cards or anything like that.  When I worked in a large city, I adored shopping at Kroger.  I could spend hours traipsing up and down the aisles, looking at all the cool stuff.  I am a grocery store geek!

Another reason I don't use coupons is that I rarely buy name brand items.  I see people in the store who have Campbell's soup, and Tostitos tortilla chips, and Starkist tuna and things like that and I watch their total go sky high.  I was a brand name snob once but tough times call for tough measures and generic is my go-to brand now. Buying generic is usually, but not always, cheaper than buying name brand, even with a coupon. My final hold out was on things like shortening and flour but I've broken down and now buy generic or get it at Aldi's.  I bake a mean pie and it's just as mean with generic flour and shortening as it is with Crisco and Pillsbury.  No complaints here!  

Another trick that I use in the grocery store is that I buy mark downs.  I work at Walmart and usually I work until 10 p.m.  I get my groceries after work and their meat is just being marked down at that time of the night.  What is marked down is generally what makes the menu for the next week.  The other night I bought a 6 1/2 pound chicken for $4.31.  I buy a whole chicken every week and I boil it then shred the meat.  That gives us 2 chicken meals and a potful of chicken stock.  It also gives the outside stray cats a plateful of warm chicken stuff and bones which they love.  You can get 20-30% off meat by buying mark downs and they go straight to my freezer.  I have never had a problem with spoiled meat by buying mark downs. 

Sometimes you can even get boneless skinless chicken breast or tenderloins for pretty cheap.  Which leads me to my most requested recipe from the children....Hot Wings! I sometimes use actual chicken wings for my Hot Wings but more often than not I use boneless breast cut into strips or chunks.  I played around with my recipe quite a bit before settling on it and we think these taste very much like the wings you get from Hooters.  You can adjust the amount of hot sauce to your liking.  This isn't necessarily an inexpensive dish to make..that's why marked down chicken and butter from Aldi's helps!  And yes it has to be Crystal Hot Sauce!

Carol's Chicken Hot Wings

3 pounds chicken wings or BSCB cut into chunks
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s®Creole seasoning (can be ordered here!)
3 eggs
 ½ cup milk
1 teaspoon Crystal® hot sauce (can be ordered here!)
Enough canola oil to fill a dutch oven 2/3 full (approximately 1 ½ quarts)
1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
½ cup Crystal® hot sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Pour the oil into a deep kettle or dutch oven and start heating it over medium-high heat.  Cut the wing tips off the chicken wing and discard.Cut the remaining wing into 2 pieces, the drummette and the wingette using a kitchen shears or knife.  Here's a handy picture so you know what I'm talking about. 


In a large bowl mix the flour, salt, pepper, and Creole seasoning. Set aside.  In a medium bowl mix the milk, eggs, and  teaspoon of hot sauce.  Put the butter, 1/2 cup of hot sauce, and garlic powder in a 2 qt saucepan and heat it gently, whisking occasionally, for 20 - 30 minutes.  Dip the chicken pieces into the flour mixture, then into the egg mixture, then back into the flour mixture.

When your oil mixture reaches 360° and it MUST be that temperature to cook the chicken properly, you can begin frying the chicken.  I cook 4 - 6 pieces at a time, depending on how big the chicken is. Cook until the internal temperature of the chicken is at 165° F.  The temperature of the chicken can be checked by putting the cooking thermometer probe into the meaty part of the chicken making sure it is not touching the bone.  The chicken will have a golden brown color.  The frying process takes approximately 8 to 10 minutes.

      Remove the chicken from the hot oil with a tongs and drain well on paper towels. When you've fried all the chicken, put them into a serving bowl. By this time your wing sauce will be piping hot and yummy so just pour it over the chicken pieces and stir them around a bit so the sauce hits all of them.  This is what mine look like in my extra fancy green plastic bowl. 

You can serve them with Bleu Cheese or Ranch dressing but the kids just like them plain.  This may not be the most budget friendly meal but it's definitely cheaper than eating them at the actual restaurant.  And if you wear your tightest shirt and tiniest shorts while cooking them, the atmosphere is the same too!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Plan Plan Plan

I think the biggest money saving thing I do is plan our menus!  If I don't, things go to pot in a hurry.  When I don't have a menu in place, I'm stopping at the store every couple of days and trying to find something to cook for supper or searching through the freezer trying to find something  and hoping that we have other ingredients that might also work with it.  I plan at least a week at a time...only dinner though.  The kids are at school for lunch and I don't eat lunch and breakfast is a do your own thing.  The 12 year old girl usually has eggs or waffles and the 17 year old boy will eat whatever meat we had the night before or a frozen burger or breakfast sandwich.  He pretty much eats nothing but meat.  Vegetables do not willingly pass his lips.  I have become pretty good at sneaking them into our meals lately.

Yesterday I was stressed about a sick pet so I was in cooking mode. (Update: Sick pet was cat, Rocky and he was put to sleep earlier today. RIP Rocky)  We did stick to the menu which was Chicken Divan (very tasty..borrowed the recipe from Paula Deen! Food Network Paula Deen's Chicken Divan ) But I also made pasta salad with some tuna, orange jello with carrots and mandarin oranges, Brussels sprouts, and because I'd bought some whole mushrooms that were on sale for .99 and I had too many soft bread crumbs I made stuffed mushrooms.  I didn't have a recipe so I pulled the stems off of about a dozen mushrooms and chopped them with 1/4 cup onion and 2 cloves of garlic, minced.  Then I cooked two pieces of bacon and sauteed the stems, onion, and garlic in the bacon grease.  I added in my excess 1/2 cup of fresh soft bread crumbs, the 2 pieces of bacon, chopped, 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper, and about 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese and stuffed it into the mushroom caps then added a few pieces of shredded cheddar and shoved them in the oven for 20 minutes on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Wonder of wonders, the boy decided to try them.  He HATES mushrooms..not the flavor, just the texture...he's an Aspy so textures bother him.  He ended up liking them.  I almost fell off my chair when he had another!  I didn't blow our budget and there was enough for lunch today and there is still more pasta salad for lunch tomorrow!

I just use a notebook to plan my menu and I pull out all my recipes that I'll be using (if I use them!) and keep them all together so I can make my grocery list.  There's a lot of free menu planners here if you would rather have one printed out.  But the important thing is make a plan and stick to it.  I have a list of everything the kid's like so if I'm stuck on a day, I can just pull out my list and pick something that I know will be pleasing to everybody.   Happy budget cooking!