Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Eat Groceries - More Meat : Hamming It Up

Here's another older article from past newsletters, but it too just fits right in with our current series so I thought I'd post it for you to read my ideas of using up Ham.  Though we no longer eat pork, I cannot deny that they are a bargain, especially this time of year, and boy can a ham stretch your food dollars by morphing into several other meals.
Kitchen Basics

Hams are often value priced this time of year. It isn't necessary to
buy a whole ham, but they can be a great purchase if you have
freezer room. Should you choose to buy the whole ham, have the
butcher cut out the center portion for a nice thick ham steak. I
like my ham steak to be really thick, a good two inches. You might prefer
to have yours sliced thinner(1/4-/1/2 inch for pan frying and you
should get 2-4 slices). Then you will have the slice(s), a butt
portion(not as large a bone in this portion) and a shank end. You
will of course, get more than one meal off each portion of the ham.

As a rule, I generally buy only the shank portion because it is the least
expensive.  The butt portion is meatier as said and usually is only
about 10 cents a pound higher in cost. 

I prepare my ham by removing the rind on the outside(the tough skin)
and exposing the soft fat underneath. This will also reduce the
overall saltiness of the ham. Then I place the ham in a foil lined
pan at 325°F and bake it for 20 minutes per pound. I have also
cooked smaller butt portions in the Crock pot on low for 8-10 hours with
great success. It has more a taste of boiled ham, but is delicious
and moist and will literally fall off the bone.

Now the ham portion is cooked, what to do with it? I don't usually
glaze my ham, because I do want to have planned overs, or
leftovers , and I don't want the flavor of the glaze to be
noticeable in other dishes.

Ham is wonderful to use in twice baked potatoes. This is one of my
family's favorite meals and has the further bonus of being a very
frugal dish. I need add only salad and a fruit dessert to complete
the meal. Potatoes Au gratin with a thin layer of ham between the
potatoes and onions and cheese is tops, too.

Mama makes a ham pot pie that is out of this world. She cooks
celery, carrots, onions, and potatoes together, adds chopped ham,
and tops with a cheese pastry. Another good recipe is ham and
steamed broccoli in a light lemon sauce, with pie crust latticed
across the top.

Yet another version of a ham pie, and one of my
favorites, is a Cornbread dish called Southern Spoonbread Supper.
Ham and green onion are lightly sauteed, then placed on the bottom
of a baking dish. Top with two packages of corn-muffin mix, mixed
according to directions and bake. Serve with a cheese sauce or with
thinned mushroom soup. I like to add asparagus as a side dish.

Of course, there should be enough meat for sandwiches.  The marinated
sandwich my family loves is one good use.  Don't forget that ham salad
may also be made to use as sandwich filling.

Don't forget those ham bones. They have far more meat on them than
you may realize. I boil these along with dried limas or black beans
to make soup. If using the limas, I add garlic, onion and
tomatoes. If making black beans, I cook the beans with the ham
bone, then remove about 2 cups of the black beans before proceeding
with my favorite black bean soup recipe. Those 2 cups of beans that
I set aside may be served over rice for a meal, or used in black
bean burritos.

Most good cookbooks will have a listing of recipes that might
contain cubed cooked ham. Other ideas I've seen are a ham loaf(made
with ground cooked ham, breadcrumbs, and spices), frittatas, or even
simple homemade macaroni and cheese with ham added.
When hams are value priced it's a great opportunity to stock up on a
meat that is as versatile as ground beef.

Menu Plan Monday - Spring? Is that you?

Going on our third week of incredibly mild weather and blooms are bursting everywhere.  The buds on the Sweet Gum are so fat and so about to burst into leaves.  The wild pear are blooming, the forsythia is a blob of golden yellow blooms and the Japanese Magnolia have gone and bloomed as well.  I even saw a Red bud tree so full of blooms that I was stunned to find it wasn't a Japanese Magnolia when I was closer to it.

It looks like warmer weather menus are in order.  And that means I have to think hard to remember what a Spring menu looks like, lol! It's been a whole year since Spring was here and I'm faltering a bit.  Thankfully Mama brought out a stack of magazines, the cookbook is nearby and I know what the market has been featuring: eggs, asparagus, and strawberries

Monday:  Kafka (Lamb Meatballs on skewers), Cucumber Salad with yogurt, Armenian Potatoes, Pita Breads
I've had a hard time figuring out how to use the ground lamb I bought, but came across this recipe from a 1979 issue of Family Circle.  The meatballs are seasoned with feta cheese and garlic and cilantro and shaped into a sort of oblong on a skewer then broiled.  The other two recipes are easy enough and simple to make.  I've used the Armenian Potatoes recipe for years on end.  Kay took that recipe and cooked a beef roast in with the potatoes.  She pronounced the dish "Awesome!"  I can well imagine it should be. 
Tuesday:   Curried Lentils, Rice, Green Salad with apples and walnuts, Flat breads
A friend brought this to synagogue and it was so very good that I went right out and bought lentils.   This week I received her recipe, which is simple, simple and a relatively low prep dish.  I'll double the rice and steam in microwave for a second meal.

Wednesday:  Migas, Whole Kernel Corn, Green Salad with Ranch dressing
Joy!  Mama stopped by to bring us lunch and then I busy with another project...Just about the time I was ready to begin typing out menus once more, the mail arrived.  I got two new cookbooks, The Pioneer Woman Cooks  and Cider Beans, Wild Greens and Dandelion Jelly, a Southern Appalachian cookbook. 

The Migas are from Pioneer Woman.  The dish is sort of a Southwestern all in one egg dish and it sounds good to me.

Thursday:  Pinto Beans, Cornbread, Coleslaw
A third meatless meal for the week, just in case you weren't counting.  I'm trying new recipes this week and they seem to be vegetarian for the most part.  I'll make this  because I can eat what I want and then put the leftovers in the freezer to heat and eat later with Chance.  I've been hearing for years about pinto beans and cornbread (it's a sort of comfort meal that seems to have a cult following) and remember a girl from Oklahoma making it for us once many years ago to show off what southwest home cooking tasted like.  I think it's about perfect for a busy day at home.  Not much trouble to cook and tasty enough to satisfy the hungriest hardworking woman.  Oddly this dish is featured as a recipe in both the cookbooks I received today.  I figure any recipe worth seeing three times (I saw it on a blog yesterday too) is worth trying at home at least once.

Friday:  Lemon Chicken, Rice, Steamed Broccoli, Sugar Cookies
A light lemon sauce over breaded chicken tenders sounds very good to me...I might even skip the lemon and do orange (using marmalade) but either will be fresh and tasty and make a nice Spring meal.  Nice too after the hearty beans dish of the day before.  Extra tenders will make an appearance in Chance's lunch, minus the lemon sauce.

Saturday:  Corned Beef and Swiss Sandwiches, Chips, Dill Pickles, Apples
Mama brought out the corned beef and I froze it after slicing thinly.  It should quickly for sandwiches and I can always toast the sandwiches if the meat remains a tiny bit frozen.  Easy meals are usually the order of the day in our home, as are paper plates for all meals as well.

Sunday:  Roast Chicken, Asparagus, Potatoes au Gratin, Strawberries and Cream
The potatoes can bake beside the chicken and then I can add the asparagus about 15 minutes before it's ready to come out of the oven.  One of the most memorable desserts I've ever been served: big bowls of washed strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream to one side.  Following the hostess' example we picked up the berries by the stem, dipped in whipped cream and took a bite.  It was so fresh, so delicious and so simple...Which just proves once more how delicious simple foods can be!

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Eat Groceries - More Meat: Here's the Beef

I had a good chuckle this week as I noted the local sales paper offers up shoulder roast this week as the roast bargain...and the photo indeed is the same as the one show last week for sirloin tip roast!  Just as predicted there's another disappointment coming for anyone unfamiliar with roasts who walks into the store looking for that lovely rolled roast.

Ah well.  Live and learn and let's just cook the thing and eat it!

Roasts may look pricey on the surface but I've found them to be very economical.  A nice four pound roast can easily make up four nice meals if not five or six.  It depends upon the cut and upon how you choose to use it.  So let's get down to how to use it, shall we?

There's an original Lil Rascals production that revolves around a family crisis.  Mother serves roast every Sunday and Hash every Monday.  Father is so upset over this arrangement of meals that the two begin to talk about divorce!  The Gang gets involved and it's settled by an older and wiser party how to use up the Sunday roast in a way that suits Father far better and restores Mother's economy all at once.

This little movie actually was to the point.  Laundry day was laundry day in most homes and with laundry being such a huge production back then, it was absolutely necessary to have an easy on the laundress/cook meal at day's end.  Hash suited perfectly and that indeed was the meal many a household ate on Monday.

I baked a roast this past weekend and unlike the old days I didn't divide it up for two or three meals.  Instead I simply sliced it super thin for sandwich meats.  But for the sake of this post, let's just back up and pretend for a moment that we're back at day one of the Rump Roast.  Meal #1:  Roast beef dinner with all the fixings.  Having long since learned that my family would eat every mouthful of a roast if it was in sight, I would have cut two nice pieces for each plate and immediately put away the remaining roast.

Meal #2:  Some type of hot roast beef sandwich.  Philly cheesesteak sandwich is just as good with thin slices of roast beef as with steak.  Hot Roast beef and gravy over toast makes a nice hot sandwich as well.  Since the cheesesteak would also be topped with onions and peppers and provolone cheese, not so much meat is needed to make up a sandwich.  I used Hoagie buns and a full sandwich is plenty for any adult or teen.  Younger children might easily half a sandwich. 

Meal #3:  Red, Black and Blue salad perhaps (roast beef, tomatoes and blue cheese over lettuce), or maybe a little Stroganoff (cooked onions and mushrooms and thin slices of roast beef in sour cream gravy, served over rice).   A stir fried vegetable dish with slivers of beef tossed in would be good as well and the vegetables would nicely stretch the meat to serve four. 

Meal #4: Likely at this point there are odd pieces of meat, too thin to slice nicely, too thick to be suitable fro anything much.  Dice the meat very fine and add that plus any juices from the roast into a soup pot and make vegetable beef soup.

If your roast cost $9, you have just made up four hearty meals for a family of four without batting an eye.  And the average cost of each meal is going to be around $2.25 or about $.60 per serving.  More than likely the pot of soup will do for two meals.

But just suppose you bought a chuck roast or sirloin tip?  These cuts require long slow cooking.  Meal #1 would be a pot roast dinner, but reserve any leftover vegetables and broth along with the meat.  I'd suggest you try to buy at least a three pound roast for a family of four.  Especially if you're buying chuck roast be careful to note how much fat is marbled into the meat.  You don't want a roast that is very fatty.  With a sirloin tip there should be little fat if any at all visible.

So you've had meal number one (pot roast) and likely you'll use half the roast for this meal.  The meat shrinks a bit in cooking, it's more difficult to slice, etc., so meal one will use a larger proportion of the roast.  Divide any remaining meat into two portions.  One portion may be mixed with leftover cooked carrots and onions and wrapped in corn tortillas and Enchilada sauce poured over top.  Top with some shredded Pepper Jack or Cheddar and bake until hot and bubbly.  Serve with yellow rice and refried beans (and if the meat is scant, add the refried beans right into the tortilla with the meat!).

The third portion of the roast, along with all broth will make a nice Roast Beef Hash.  Start with a cup of diced raw potatoes for every person you'll be serving.  Add in one large finely diced onion and cook in a little oil a few minutes over medium heat in a covered pan.  Now add in the broth, finely diced roast and salt and pepper.  Cover and cook until the broth is nearly all absorbed, the potatoes are soft and tender.  I've made this dish with leftover gravy, have added in a box of frozen peas or tossed in mushrooms just to stretch it a bit more.  I usually served with a big salad and a pan of hot biscuits.  My family loved hash and it was a very satisfying meal.

A couple of alternative meals from the leftover roast and broth or gravy are Shepherd's Pie or Beef Pot Pie.  Both are very hearty meals.  I admit a fondness for Shepherd's Pie but given a choice my family always wanted Hash instead.  Beef Pot Pie may be made much the way you prepare a chicken pot pie.  I like to use a variety of vegetables (carrot, potato, peas, onions, green beans).  

Now these are just a few examples of roast meals I make and only two or three of the cuts of beef available as roasts.  Gracious, don't limit yourself by anything except price.  The point isn't what cut of beef you choose but in how well you use the resource once it's in your kitchen.  Learn to make what is leftover look like a whole new meal and your family will never feel they are getting second best on these nights.
Now here again, you've likely paid about $8 for the roast

Frugal Friday - Living Well

We've had a glorious week of weather.  I've needed the heater only briefly to put the deep chill to rest, then no more each day.  We have, however, turned on the AC a day or two due to heat build-up indoors on days when smoke was blowing about from the many clearing fires that had been set.  The little jonquils Mama gave me last year have bloomed. I'd forgotten all about them until I looked out of the living room window and saw that tiny little patch of sunny yellow in the flower bed around the Faith Tree.  The forsythia is blooming as well and looks lovely. 

I've a full day of work behind me, and perhaps a bit more work ahead, but for now, I am going to sit down and write and read and REST, before I get up to do a thing more.

Frugal Friday

Saturday:  I was very undecided Saturday about what I'd do after synagogue.  I've made it a habit of late on these alone days to spend time doing something just for me.  My indecision was still ticking off options when my cell phone rang, as I sat at the red light...Chance was ill at work and needed some medicine pronto.  That settled the indecision! 

I went to the grocery store to get required medicine (we had none at home) and something lighter and more suitable to illness for him to eat, as well as few of the specials of the week for our home freezer.  Then I took the medicine  to Chance.  I drove home a different route than the one I'd taken down.  I was so hungry, not having eaten since 7:30a.m.  I contemplated various take outs but then it occurred to me that I had foodstuffs in the insulated bag next to me.  More indecision settled.  I came home and prepared a quick meal.

My purchases at the grocery on sale: Family pack of chicken breasts ($1.19/pound), 2 cans of Carnation evaporated milk (no more since the expiration dates on all the cans was July 2011), apple sauce ($1 a quart), and 2 cans of Spam.  The last three items were meant to 'deepen the pantry'.  I divided the chicken breasts into packages of 2 each, giving me four packages for the freezer and a breast over for my dinner that afternoon.

Sunday:  Chance missed a day of work due to this illness.  Glad I bought enough extra foodstuffs for illness.  Thankfully Chance began to feel better as the day went on.  Not a lot of work went on.  Best way to keep a sick husband quiet and resting is for this wife to sit quietly nearby reading.  I'm  not complaining.  I finished a book.  That's makes 2 in 2 months, lol.

Made out grocery lists, using online ads.  No buying the Sunday paper this day. 

Monday:  Perhaps something in the air...I decided to trim the grocery lists made the day before.  I think the electric bill is to blame.  The bill was lower than last month but the amount per day was slightly higher than month before as well.  Add to that just general talk of increased prices and I can't help but feel I want to cut back where we can.

I did nothing extra special this day.  Washed some delicate items on the delicate cycle of the washing machine, did some routine chores, but mostly I spent a lot of time thinking.  I made out a list of repairs and purchases that simply have to be done this year.  They aren't hard tasks but just odds and ends jobs that are part of good stewardship of a home. 

And I thought of ways I might save more money on groceries, hence the trimming of the grocery list.

Turkey sausage I didn't really like, grape tomatoes and green bell pepper that were on the verge of being tossed, an odd cheese from a gift assortment...doesn't sound like much does it?  Yet I promise you with the addition of balsamic vinegar, a bit of garlic and sweet onion, I had a very nice sauce to go over cheese tortellini.  Thank goodness I'm an imaginative cook, lol.

Put a second container of grape tomatoes in the freezer for future soup/sauce making. 

Harvest Night in our home.  We have typically set aside small amounts of each check towards annual bills.  This day we added an additional amount for routine car maintenance.   

Tuesday:  Grocery day.  I prayed for focus and then looked over my list yet again.  I decided to skip one store before I left home.  

I arrived at the first store and looked over my list yet again.  I decided to price comparison in the one store and perhaps cut two more stores from my list.  Shopping went well, prices compared well and I found only one item on sale at another store was indeed less expensive.  Trimming the number of stores visited, sticking to my list for the one item at the second store, meant I stayed within budget very nicely.

I meant to buy flowers and chose a lovely bunch for $12, but looking about I found a lovely bunch of African violets and hyacinths for $5.99 each.  I settled on an especially large African violet as my flowers for the pay period. 

With so much extra time on my hands, I thought of visiting the local thrift stores  but I decided against it.  I didn't have a list of needs with me, didn't want to just spend randomly.  Instead I headed to pick up my son's birthday gift and head home.

Putting away groceries pointed out even further the need of an auxiliary pantry.  The freezer and the cupboards are both very full.

Wednesday:  Chance made plans to run a few errands.  I had no particular plans for the day, other than making him the usual special breakfast.  We had pancakes and sausage with real maple syrup.  Though I've been making very good syrup, it is not real syrup and this Grade B syrup was less than $5 a bottle at the grocery.  Higher than fake maple syrup?  Yes.  But some things are worth paying a little more for and this is a very very good price for Maple syrup.  Yum!

We meant to combine errands and did up to a point.  I won't mention the poor memory of one female householder that prevented us taking care of at least two of those errands...However, we combined all the rest of our errands.  

Long discussion about money.  Not a bad thing though it didn't start out well.  It was more a matter of discovering just where we are, what we each expect and want to do to get there.  I think we both felt better once we shared our thoughts.  This was a frugal move, though you might well think, "Huh?  Discussing money matter if frugal?"  Yes, it is.  Because if we both aren't aware of the other's expectations savings and spending can be out of whack. 

Back home once again, I divided a family pack of ground chuck.  I put them in zippered bags and mashed them flat so they would fit in the freezer.

I took out the meat cutter and cut the last half of the roast beef into sandwich slices.  I put four packages of meat into the freezer.  I noted that the pre-sliced roast beef we like from the grocery deli was $4 a package.  My roast cost $8.  I put away only half the meat (we ate the rest).  Even so my savings comes up to about $16.

  Supper: cream cheese spread French bread with sliced tomatoes on top (tomatoes were a potential toss item), salt and pepper to taste.  Good eating.

Thursday:  Chance made breakfast: hash browns, fried eggs, toast from end of homemade loaf of bread.

Lunch: Tacos with homemade taco seasoning, cheese I shredded by hand, chopped tomatoes (last of the about to to be tossed) and the last leaves of a head of Boston lettuce.

Packed water bottles to go with us, instead of spending cash at the store for sodas.

After dinner coffee made at home saved the cost at the restaurant.

Friday:  Made bread.

Made yogurt.

Ran a full load of dishes.

Raided the shed for spring decor items.  Found a wreath for the door, some silk forsythia branches, a pretty creamware pitcher.  Centerpiece and front door decoration from those three items.

Used a portion of the abundance of produce in the refrigerator as sides for our dinner.

More thinking about how I can continue to save money both now and in the future...and calculating what savings would be the most beneficial.  A few of my ideas are looking very home canning my own homemade soups or chili.

Scraped last bit of peanut butter out of one jar and dolloped it into the recently opened jar. 

As I put away the peanut butter, I noted that was the last jar.  I need a good sale soon...Or do I?  At hand are two jars of unsalted roasted peanuts that no one will eat.  I could make my own peanut butter from them...more thinking ahead!

Plans for supper: Banana pancakes (using up last of pancake batter, 1 very ripe banana) and sausages (reheat leftovers from breakfast two mornings ago).  

Living Well

Lovely fields of green are showing up all over this month.  The winter crops of wheat will be ready to harvest in a few months time.  This is just the first of the many signs of the season to come.  This week I've seen the red headed woodpecker is back, and an Eastern blue bird was in the Faith Tree as I washed dishes this afternoon.  A crow large enough to pass for a chicken went about picking up bits of fluff scattered from Maddie's favorite rug.  Looks like nest building is underway.

Well it is certainly not just the birds who are busy thinking of nest building.  I'm definitely feeling the creative urges of homemaking myself.  Everything from cleaning, to decorating, to gardening, to saving money is on my mind of late.

In all this creativity and beauty of changing seasons, there's a nasty little pest in my sunny outlook, called pessimism.  It's very insidious and takes a lot of  work to ferret it out and cast it away.  There are so many dire economical reports on the news these days and warnings of rising costs in so many areas that my head swims wondering how we'll manage at all.  Pessimism isn't unhealthy, but it can be if we let it get out of hand.  I had to take deep breaths and get a grip on it. 

Do you know why Pessimism is so difficult?  It has tunnel vision.  It focuses only upon one narrow set of circumstances (i.e. rising costs, an income situation that is wobbly) and nothing else.  Often, the circumstances are perfectly factual and true.  There's no denying that facts are facts.  However, what pessimism doesn't allow for is ingenuity, talent, ability, the broader picture which includes lots of other facts that actually offset the limited vision.

So, prices rise.  Income doesn't.  I change my focus areas and work a bit harder to meet the things I can't change by doing what I can.  I remember that thus far we've managed rather nicely, despite rising costs and income that remains the same.  I recall that courtesy the rising costs we're taking more care in how we prepare for the future.  I get busy and roll up my sleeves and start DOING instead of sitting about moaning.  And before you know it, pessimism is replaced by optimism, a character I am far more fond of and welcome with open arms.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Menu Monday - Mystery Weather

The weather is a mystery to me.  It's  not yet Spring and there's absolutely no need of insisting to myself that it is.  On the other hand, it's entirely necessary to keep tabs on the weather reports because I've no desire to decide to serve a cold salad plate on a day that has suddenly been capricious and gone from warm and balmy morning to frigid mid afternoon.  Having looked at the forecast for this week, I think we'll be just fine planning warmer weather meals.

That said, there's a plethora of things on hand this week.  The bulk of my shopping shall be done at our local store because of the good sales on meat there and that's merely stocking the freezer, not meant for our daily needs right away.  Lovely to find myself in this position of plenty, especially when the budget this past month threatened to get out of hand.

I'm afraid my food budget, like our work schedule is a bit skewed.  The last pay period of a month is the BEGINNING of our monthly budget period and that just seems backwards somehow but it won't straighten out until we have three pay periods in a month again, sometime around May I think.

So a new budget month even if the calendar isn't showing a new month just yet, and fingers crossed we'll stay on target this month...

Monday:  Cheese Tortellini Bake,  Broccoli with Garlic,  Green Salad, Crusty Bread
I'll make a sort of casserole of the Tortellini, by layering with chunky tomato sauce and cheeses then baking.  Broccoli will be treated to a garlic butter sauce, and a plain green salad shall be a nice touch to finish the meal.

Tuesday:  Chicken Sandwiches, Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, Oven Fries
It may seem odd that I make a meal on the days when Chance is away from home but I do so for two reasons:  I get awfully tired of snacking a bit of this and a bit of that and overeating on it all.  I also find it's far less expensive to cook a full meal and store leftovers or use in work lunches than to buy take out for one person.  Chicken sandwiches will be homemade, I'll roast the beets while the oven fries are cooking.  Goat cheese is a creamy tangy cheese and I enjoy using it in small amounts in everything from salads to scrambled eggs.  I usually find some on sale in the clearance section of the grocery deli, so it's seldom expensive.

Wednesday:   Salisbury Steaks, Rice, Spring Salad, Yeast Rolls
Freshly ground sirloin will be used for the salisbury steaks.  A little mushroom sauce is a nice touch and tastes good over the rice.  Spring salad...One of my favorite salads to welcome a near end to winter: radishes, thawed frozen peas, green onions and tender lettuce, perhaps a bit of shredded carrot and ranch dressing over all.  So fresh and good!

Thursday:  Pasta Primavera, Green Salad, Garlic Toast, Tiramisu
With the green onions, asparagus, carrots and such in the grocer (and a planned meal out tonight) I thought this would make a light dinner for us. 

Friday:  Philly Cheese steak Sandwiches, Potato Chips, Red Cabbage Salad
Leftover Roast beef will be my filler, not steak as the name implies, but sliced thin, topped with caramelized onions and peppers and provolone cheese, no one will know the difference.  Nice use for the roast cooked over the previous weekend for work lunch sandwiches.

Saturday:  Take out Chicken Dinner
We usually get something to bring home after service and today will be no different.  Gone are the days when it cost a small fortune to pick up a meal for the entire family.  This is the luxury of merely feeding two...

Sunday:  Leftovers
Chance is working and I'm sure there will be leftovers to be had...And it will most certainly be helpful to use up some of them for my own meal today and Chance's work lunches as well.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How To Eat Groceries - More Meat : Take Two Whole Chickens...

The prices for whole chicken in the article below date it more, but the information otherwise fits right in with our "How To Eat Groceries" article, so I thought I'd add it in here. 

Kitchen Basics:

Two Whole Chickens

This week our local food store featured whole chickens for $.69 a
pound. This was a wonderful buy, and I planned to purchase two.
Then I planned my menus. How many meals for four can you squeeze
out of two whole chickens? Two? Three? Would you believe you can
stretch two chickens into five meals? Or six? Well you can!

Now my chickens weighed about 4 pounds each. When I got them home,
I divided them into meal sized packets. Cutting up a chicken is not
that difficult, but if you don't know how you can learn by visiting
this website:
or by asking someone who knows how to teach you. If you don't have
access to the internet(most libraries offer internet time for free),
or know anyone who knows how to do this, you may purchase a country
style cut  up chicken. Generally the price of these runs only
$.10/pound more than whole chickens.

Once the chickens were cut up, I halved two of the breast halves as
well. I now had :
6 pieces of breast (two breasts cut in half each)
2 whole pieces of breast
4 legs
4 thighs
4 wings
2 wishbones
2 backs
giblets from both chickens***

This is the way I divide the chicken up for meals: The four breast
quarters become meal number one: Baked or oven fried served with
side dishes. The third breast half becomes: Chicken lo mein(stir
fried breast meat and veggies and cooked spaghetti). My fourth
breast half is used to make stir fried rice. I have an old cookbook
that offers up the legs, wings, and backs of two chickens in a
special breadcrumb seasoning, called Deviled Chicken. You can make
a version of this great dish by coating your chicken pieces with
French dressing and sprinkling breadcrumbs over the top of the
pieces and baking. The four thighs may be boned and stuffed, or if
that seems to difficult, consider boiling them and making chicken
salad. The two pulley bones should be boiled at the same time, but
save the meat for Spaghetti Diable (Chicken Spaghetti). I've printed this recipe
before. It consists of a simple sauce(canned tomatoes, sliced
mushrooms, a little onion and garlic mixed with chunks of chicken
and cooked spaghetti, topped with cheese and baked).

You could save the backs and necks for making soup and just
devil the wings and legs.

Of course these are just a few ideas of how to use the chicken
pieces. Chicken is so versatile that you can serve it in many ways
that all lend themselves to using only a cup or two of cooked
chicken: Chicken a la King, Creamed Chicken, Chicken Tetrazzini,
Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken and Rice or Noodle Soup, etc.

Other possibilities: When you remove the wings, cut away the tips
and save with the necks in the freezer. Most recipes for Buffalo
wings call for 4 wing pieces per serving, so the wings of four
chickens would make a meal. Or fry the legs and wings and carry on
a picnic. These pieces are especially handy for finger foods. I
also like to BBQ these pieces. The sauce in the bottom of the pan
is wonderful on top of rice.

Remember too that boiling or baking a whole chicken is not limiting
the meal stretching possibilities. Slice the breast meat and serve
for one meal. Chop the remaining meat and divide it to use in any
two recipes calling for diced cooked chicken (look for turkey recipes
that call for the same. Most poultry is interchangeable!). Use the
bones to make broth and do pick them over again. You'll be
surprised how much meat remains behind. Boiling the bones for broth
will soften and loosen it. You may well find you have enough to
make a delicious pot of soup. If you can't use the broth right
away, freeze it. It's a bonus!

If you want to stretch your budget, consider buying two whole
chickens and making them work for more than one meal.

***NOTE: I keep an empty cottage cheese container handy . Herein I
deposit the livers and gizzards and freeze them until I have enough
for a meal. My son and I consider these a real treat when they are
battered and deep fried. Or you might consider keeping only the
livers. When poached lightly, then ground and mixed with a little
chopped onion, lemon juice and mayonnaise they make a wonderful
sandwich (I add a lettuce leaf to mine) or cracker spread. Another
good meal idea is to saute with a little onion and mushrooms and
make a light cream gravy over them. This is delicious (and elegant)
served over rice! You'll want to save about a pound of livers
though, so this meal would be a bonus meal only after you've
purchased several chickens. As well, deposit those necks into a
container. You can use these to make wonderful broth with later

Friday, February 18, 2011

Frugal Friday - Living Well

Good Morning!  It's a beautiful, B-eee-U-T-full, day outdoors.  I know it's still February.  I know there are still five weeks of winter. I know it will be cold in March and even in April and perhaps a bit nippy with frost in May.  I do know all this, but gracious goodness!  It's that lovely reprieve of winter in the midst of February that has me happy as can be.  The windows are open and it's not yet noon, the birds are singing, the sun shining.  I'm going to enjoy this lull as long as it lasts and I promise I will not complain when February returns to being, well, February-ish.

All this gorgeousness aside there's been plenty of reason to try and be mindful of the budget.  Routine things that occur periodically, like a birthday dinner out and Valentine's Day, tax preparation and oil changes.  Well they all come around in February, along with a bevy of family birthdays.  Two more to go...

Saturday:  Chance felt much better Saturday, so we were off to service.  A very pleasant day, and an unusual one, because of his illness, we worshipped with our other co-leader providing music.  Very nice for Chance to get the day 'off'.  We started an exciting new class on Old Testament nutrition which gave us food for thought about some of the food choices we make today.  After service, we discussed meal options.  We'd meant to go out to eat, but Chance didn't really feel up to that just yet.  He suggested take out pizza.  A reasonable option for us.  Vegetable pizza for $10.

We filled up with gasoline in that town, where it is less expensive than our home town station.

Sunday:    Chance had signed up to work an extra shift late last month and so he was off to work.  I made good use of the time at home and made bread and yogurt.  I used Rhonda's recipe once again, this time adding in 1 cup whole wheat flour and accidentally adding too much oil, but that is the easiest bread dough I've ever had the privilege of working with.  It doesn't seem to matter if you make a minor mistake here or there, it just goes right ahead and rises beautifully anyway.  2 loaves of bread...

Should have been two pints of yogurt as well, but alas, it was merely soured milk this time.  Oh it shall be used to make up biscuits, but it is not yogurt by any stretch of the imagination.  Sigh.

I bought an inexpensive bouquet on February 1...and on Sunday I decided it was time to trim the stems, cull the flowers that were looking worn.  I made a smaller bouquet.  To extend the life of the spider mums, I simply pulled away the brown looking petals on the bottom of the flour.  My bouquet looked very nice, almost as good as new.

I did laundry and took advantage of the sunny day and light breeze to hang the towels and sheets to dry.

I thought about going out to get a paper, or to do a little weekend grocery shopping, but you know, I just wanted to stay home.  Glad I did, too.  The house looked very nice at day's end and the checkbook balance was the same as it had been when the day started.

Monday:     Valentine's Day.  We are definitely not into BIG, high priced Valentine's Day gifts.  I like a card now and then, but I must say that the prices put me off.  I told Chance just what I wanted: a box of candy but not until Tuesday when it was 50% off!  He laughed and agreed.  Then my sweetie made me breakfast, a very nice breakfast.  Now there's real luxury in my opinion and a truer declaration of love than any silly card written by someone who doesn't even know me and merely signed.

Not a lot needed to be done in the house this day, so I decided to go through the February issues of the magazines Mama had given me.  Lots of information there about holistic cures for common ailments, ideas for decorating, recipes...I tore out a lot of pages this time.  I decided that I need to start a section in my Home Keeping Journal for natural remedies.  I'll organize them by ailments so that I might look up say "cough" and see that lemon and honey works well as does rosemary tea.

Coupons, and coupons and coupons.  I haven't noticed half so many grocery coupons in magazines in the longest time, other than All You magazine.  It seems many of the magazine publisher's advertisers figured out that tough economy plus coupon equals happy consumer. 

No need to cook dinner this day, except for boiling potatoes to mash.  I cooked on Friday, while Chance was not well and so I merely had to reheat the dish and make a second side.  Since it was a special day, I really wanted a dessert, something a little special.  What could be more special than chocolate?  In the freezer, I had dark chocolate cupcakes.  For frosting, I thought perhaps a semi-sweet chocolate ganache.  To make the ganache even richer, I stirred in a scant teaspoon of instant coffee then poured over the cupcakes.  Gracious it looked elegant and tasted very nice.  And it's so easy to make.  For four cupcakes, I used 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips melted in the microwave, 2 tbsps or so of half and half, stirred until thick and glossy, then spread over the cupcakes.  Nothing to it and hardly any extra cost at all.

The dreaded moment arrived just as I prepared to go organize the guest room closet...Chance announced that we might as well get busy and do our taxes.  Why the dread?  We decided this year to save money and do it ourselves online.  We used Turbo Tax and though it is free to figure your taxes it does cost to transmit them to state and federal revenue sources.  There is also a small fee if you choose direct deposit.  It took about three hours, was very user friendly, explaining each step that might be in the least confusing, telling you how and where to find information required.  Our end cost was just under $70.  The fees came from our house fund.  We saved about $100 over our former bookkeeper's fees.

Tuesday:  A day of errands...We were up and about early and ready to leave early as well.  Oil change and tire rotation was on the schedule.  We'd discussed this in early January and we'd meant to set money aside but didn't.  However, aware that we'd talked about doing this, I was careful to leave a little extra money in the account.  It was well worth it when my husband said "We'll need to move that from savings," and I could reply "Oh no, we've got it in the account."  He was so pleased.

We decided to go out to eat for a belated birthday dinner.  I'm not going to complain here but simply say that we had a coupon good for $5 off two dinners, plus a gift card that had been given to us.  We paid about $5 for our meals when all was said and done. 

Off to the drugstore where I found two wonderful little hearts of chocolates at 50% off.  Bargain and chocolate are two words that aren't often in a single sentence in a frugalista's life, lol, but when it is you can bet she's a very happy frugalista!

Home once more, and I found it was time to get busy with the household duties. Namely, making lunch for Chance's workday on Wednesday.  I follow a formula to help me insure I pack all that is required.  It's a little mantra I say to myself as I look over the basket I've packed: fruit, vegetable, sweet, salty, lunch, supper.  If I can nod yes to all six then I feel sure I've plenty of food to carry him through the day and variety enough to make it a pleasing meal.

Such a big meal midday warranted a light supper of cereal for me and toast and fruit for Chance.

Wednesday:  A planned day with Mama.  She had a new stack of magazines waiting for me, as well as a variety of crackers and granola bars.  I added the crackers and granola bars to our snack basket when I got home.

Mama wanted to go to Walmart.  Remember how I said I normally avoid Walmart when I feel spendy?  Well I didn't feel I needed to avoid it this day but instead I went in with a mental list of things I meant to get.  What were they?  Dog food for one.  I was out at home, and hadn't been near the grocery where I had the
rain check for the sale prices.  However, I'd brought along my coupon which made the Walmart bag cost roughly the same price as the grocery's rain check price.

Business card blanks.  It's happened time and again.  Someone asks for my blog address and there I am having to find a piece of paper and pen to write it down.  I'd checked online and found the cost and number of cards rather pricey.  100 blanks cost $3.  I can design my own card, which I love.  I'm not heavily invested and can easily change the design at any time if I so desire.

A new journal.  I am a serious journalist, but honestly I can't see paying a high price for a fancy journal.  They do look elegant and they are sturdy, but it may be that at some point in the future I decide to do away with  a few years worth of journals.  I've done it in the past and it would hurt me to spend lots of money on something that might well end up shredded!  A pretty composition book suits me just fine and if I happen to get list making happy and write out a shopping list or home making task list in my journal I don't mind in the least tearing it out.  $4 for a pretty new composition book.

A candy thermometer.  This was clearance priced at $3, which was an additional bonus.  Now I can not only attempt candy making, I can test the temperature of the milk when making yogurt and assure that I get solid yogurt and no more yogurt milk!

Replacement blind for the broken one in the dining room.  $6 for that item.

My bouquet at home needed an added boost.  1 bunch of white tulips for $2.50 (reduced price of course) seemed the very thing.

It's been a long time since I walked out with so much for so little money at Walmart!

I was very good at Walmart and didn't splurge on unnecessary items.  But I really wanted something pretty and just for me.  Satisfaction found in the form of a pretty mug at another store for just $6.  It's a beauty with a lovely bird and it looks like spring.  Far better than a glossy magazine I instantly regret buying when I sit down to read it (and yet, I look all too often at those magazines and contemplate spending my money upon them!).

Thursday:  Another day at home.  There seems to me an automatic savings in any day spent 'at home'.  My savings began early: boiling eggs for egg salad for work lunch. I added an extra one to the pot and had it for breakfast.

Used one portion of the egg salad to make tuna salad.

Packed Chance's work lunch.  Pantry came in handy with a fresh supply of chips, crackers and grahams to add to the snack cupboard and to boost his lunch.

My dinner: leftover mashed potatoes and short ribs from our dinner on Monday.  

Cleaned and organized the contents of the refrigerator.  Found a slice of pineapple which I used as a side salad for my dinner.  I tossed only two items.  Also noted that we have quite a large amount of produce on hand.  I don't think I'll be buying much more than fruit this next week.

Cleaned out the pasta and snack cupboards.  Found a hidden box of hot cocoa mix.  I just opened up the packets and added to my homemade mix which I use on a regular basis.  I think I'll like the store bought better now that it's mixed up with the homemade.

Organized the two cupboards and was happy to find I had a little leftover space that allowed me to add a few items from the overcrowded pantry.

Cleverness occurs now and then.  I'd complained of that overcrowded pantry and the unstable cans that cascade down each time I open the doors to a friend.  She directed me to this site:  I love this and will definitely be saving sturdy cardboard to make my own.  In the meantime, we emptied a large tissues box and inspiration drove me to the kitchen where I discovered it nicely fit my soup cans, tomato paste cans and a few others.  I've not yet decided which to put into my 'found' organizer but will be working on that early this next week.  I also have another box or two that I think might work well with very little assembly required on my part...  There's nothing I love better than organization tools that are low cost or FREE.

Baked a roast beef  in a slow oven for sandwich meats.  It smelled so good that I thought it would be nice to have some for my dinner.  What to have with it?  Well why not try to make Yorkshire Pudding.  Oh that was so good and the leftovers went out to the doggies to boost their dog food.  They loved it, too.

Warmer weather meant a warmer than usual home.  As it got warm and then almost hot indoors, I opened windows and turned on the whole house fan to keep temps more tolerable.  We didn't shut windows until bedtime last night.

Never dreamed watching an old movie could give me fashion hints for today, but it did.  A lovely brown ensemble with a gorgeous cobalt blue accent.

Had a very full dishwasher and so I did a load of dishes late last night, just before bed.

Friday:    Not especially hungry this morning, I made a fruit smoothie from juice, yogurt (used for starter for the last batch) and ice cubes.   A light breakfast for pennies.

Started bread dough early this morning.  Rolls and a loaf of bread were the order of the day.  The rolls were made for use as hamburger and sandwich buns.

Cut into an apple as I began to pack Chance's lunch.  It was a little bruised and so I tossed it into the freezer bag of apples I'm gathering to make jelly.

Made a pretty salad of red cabbage, yellow bell peppers, and orange carrots tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Using what produce I had on hand I had a lovely colorful salad to go with my dinner.

I've been wanting auxiliary pantry space.  Cleared the guest room closet, reorganized contents and discovered the room I need.  I have shelving in the shed that Alan has said I might use.  I will soon have the additional pantry space I want.

Found poster board at the back of the closet.  Whoo hoo!  Now I can start one of those inspiration boards I'd planned to hang in the craft space.

My legs have looked a bit dry lately. Remembered a hint from a former tip column to use hair conditioner to moisturize skin while in shower.  I happen to have lots of little tubes of conditioner on hand.  Legs are looking better already.

A problem pan had a stuck on mess.  I found patience, baking soda, and scrubbing has worked wonders.

I checked the temperature early this morning, hoping to avoid that overheated house syndrome from yesterday.  I opened windows about 10am this morning.  So far the temperature is at least 10 degrees cooler.  No need to turn on that whole house fan to cool things down.

While looking for components for the fresh table setting, I discovered a bag of  Hershey kisses.  I've put them in the candy bowl so Chance can help himself. 

Sorted coupons this morning and am ready to start my shopping lists using the pre-view feature of the store ads.

Living Well
Now....... wouldn't you just feel like Spring was very  nearly here if you had that pretty cup to drink from in the morning?  I most certainly do.  At Christmas this year I came across a seasonal mug that was just lovely.  It cost a whole $5 and I turned away from it.  Why?  The budget wasn't tight, I had money to spare, the cup was beautiful and useful and I'd have enjoyed it mightily.  Yet I turned away and regretted it every day thereafter. 

It was Chance who opened my eyes last week when HIS cups were in the dishwasher.  He has a favored few: one that has a polar bear drinking Coke, one of Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons, another that is cobalt blue glass and last, a mug that states his status as grandparent.  These are his favored mugs and he wanted to know just where they were?  "I like MY mugs," said the man of the house, " not all these matchy-matchy, no personality mugs." 

Later, as I put away the mugs and glasses, I could see what he meant.  MY row of mugs were matchy-matchy and I'd long ago tired of the mugs but they were still perfectly good.  His row truly did say a good deal about his personality and because his mugs were all gifts, they said something about what he cherishes in life as well.

So this week when Mama and I were in a gift shop and I spied that pretty mug above, I latched onto it and wouldn't let go.  It pleased me on many levels.  For one thing it's pretty and it looks fresh and clean.  It has one of my favorite spring flowers, Quince.  And inside where your eyes will see it each time you take a sip of warm coffee or hot cocoa, there's an inscription: "Our nest is blessed."   Cost: $6, but that's only the monetary cost.  The wonder of that pretty mug sitting at my right hand instead of one of those tiresome mugs I've had for years because they 'match'...  Well, words can't describe the utter bliss of it.  The old mugs?  I think it's time they went off to a new home, so they are in the thrift shop pile.  And there's a second lovely mug with a gold finch at the same store that I think I shall just have to go back and purchase, because a girl really should have an alternative pretty Spring mug!

Gratitudes this week:

Inspiration that flowed and the presence of mind to run and jot down the ideas while they were there where I could grab at them.

Looking around a store and realizing that my wants are few and my list of needs very short.

Red Satin Valentine of good chocolates.

A prayer rather quickly answered and a child who called to say, "I don't know what you pray for me, but I wanted to let you know that I FEEL it and I thank you."

Sunshine and open windows.

Reading once more, after months of barely getting through a book.

Enough and some left over.

Peepers and Geese.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to Eat Groceries - The Meat of the Matter

Of all the foods we are likely to serve our family, meat is the highest priced segment of the food categories and how we choose the cuts we eat, what cuts we choose and how we cook them can make a world of difference in our budgets, our reputations as cooks and our family's nutritional needs.

I mentioned earlier this week that my father was very adamant about what he considered a meal.  In his book, any meal that featured ground beef, hot dogs or casseroles was NOT a proper meal.  There were a few exceptions where ground beef was concerned but he was absolutely unswayed on the rest.  So although my mother worked hard to garden/can/freeze/preserve vegetables each year she had a fairly high grocery budget all my growing up years because the cuts of meat she was required to purchase to satisfy my dad's concept of a meal were not inexpensive.  However, Mama learned to buy while on sale and stocked her freezer and kept costs a little lower in that way.

I've shared a variety of meatless meals with you that I find satisfied my family over and over again.  Not just my family mind you for in the early days of our marriage Chance and I often had guests in our home, often last minute guests, who joined our family at our small dining table in the cramped dining area of our home.  So you see it was especially imperative that I learn how to keep the budget in alignment.

These days our budget is a little more lenient but I still choose to practice some care in serving meat and now that we're in the midst of this economic recession/depression/crisis/whatever, I'm glad that I did.  I have been able to fall back on some of my old budget tricks to keep our spending about the same, while continuing to serve tasty meals despite the increase of costs at the grocery and the lack of raises in our pay. 

One of the things I find most helpful: a cost per serving limit.  Of late, I'm finding that my high per pound cost for meats is about $3.25.  That is not to say that I spend that much per pound on every single cut.  Chicken may be had for less than that amount, even boneless skinless chicken breasts, if bought on sale.  Whole breasts often cost no more than $1.20 on sale these days, and a whole chicken can be as low as $1 per pound. 

Various cuts of beef roasts run anywhere from $3.09 to $3.59/pound, with the occasional dip below $3.    This week our local grocery has Sirloin tip roast for $2.99/pound. Unlike chicken parts, beef roasts can be downright confusing.  However, there are illustrations both online and in cookbooks to teach you where various cuts originate.  I will share my somewhat limited knowledge of beef cuts with you. 

First, do not look at the pictures in ads.  All too often, as in this week's local grocer's sales ad, the picture of sirloin tip is of a lovely big roast.  Next week when they advertise rump roast or shoulder roast or round roast it will all look exactly the same per the picture in the ad.  Each cut looks different than the picture!

Sirloin roast is going to typically be a flat cut of meat, not at all round and luscious looking.  It is a lean cut of meat and slightly darker in color in than say chuck roast.    In fact, a sirloin roast is best for slow cooking such as pot roast.  It may be cubed and used as stew beef (and for this week's price it is well worth buying one or two extra roasts to cube!).  It may also be ground for extra lean ground beef.  And again, for the cost of this week's roast, it is more than worthwhile to have the butcher grind a couple of them for me.  If I buy four roasts at this price and have one set aside for pot roast, I will save $.30/pound over the cost of chuck roast, $1.25 pound over the cost of stew beef and about the same again over the cost of ground sirloin.  If I had room in my freezer, I'd purchase another roast and ask the butcher to slice it into steaks and then cube it twice for cubed steaks (and save about $1.50 per pound).  And note that all these savings keep my per pound costs below the $3.25 limit while offering me a variety of usages far beyond merely eating a pot roast.

Any cut of meat that has the word 'loin' in it is going to be leaner and usually higher in cost.  Chuck is higher in fat.  Shoulder cuts generally require long slow roasting or simmering, while rump or butt cuts are larger cuts that may be roasted and slice nicely.

It's very difficult to offer general recipes for meats or meal ideas, because quite honestly different cuts and varieties of meats are popular in different parts of the country.  We see few briskets in the South, however these are hugely popular cuts in the Northern states.  Different cuts of meat go by different names in various regions of the nation as well.  It's only been in the past five years that we had a source for lamb in our area. 

Let me encourage you to experiment with cuts of meats, and varieties.  Use recipes you find in cookbooks or online.  Try herbs or sauces or rubs to season.  Take into account how you might use leftovers before seasoning meats.  The roast I cooked today was rubbed with a whole grain mustard and garlic which is well suited to hot or cold sandwiches, a roast dinner.  If you plan to use a chicken to make a chicken pot pie, you might not want the roasted chicken served the night before to be teriyaki flavored.  However if you did choose to use teriyaki sauce you might well use those leftovers in a meal of chicken fried rice or egg rolls which would compliment the flavor of both dishes.

In years past, I enjoyed cooking liver.  Chance isn't fond of it and while 3 of the six of the family do like liver, we tend to reserve that dish as a special meal just for ourselves.  Susan often used cuts of meat I'd never tried, including tripe because it was so well priced. 

Tuna and salmon are now popular as fresh fish in the market but the canned varieties were all I knew growing up.  While they are considerably higher in cost these days they are still good value for the money.  Tuna packed in oil works best in most casseroles, there is something about  mixing water packed tuna with hot pastas that makes the flavor incredibly bland, while tuna packed in water is better for cold dishes and tuna burgers.  Salmon has a strong enough flavor to carry well in most casseroles and is good as a salmon loaf.  And it may be served as a cold salad, as well.

Here's my rule of thumb when buying meat.  I go for an average cost per pound.  Skill in the meat department isn't just about the cost per pound however, it's really in lowering your cost per serving.

Let's look at the well known Rubber Chicken meal.  One whole chicken at a cost of $1.59 per pound, weighs in at an average of 3 pounds.  Total cost   $4.77.  If that one chicken is cut into pieces and served to your family of four (2 breasts, 2 legs), you save the 2 thighs to make a bowl of chicken salad for lunch sandwiches for four, and then toss the carcass and wings into the soup pot and make soup, you have managed 12 servings from that one chicken.  That is less than $.40 per serving. 

On the other hand, one pound of ground beef will serve four burgers.  At a cost of $3.50 per pound, the burgers will average about $.75 each.  On the other hand, take that same amount of meat, divide into two half pound portions and use one to make a big pot of chili with beans which will net you six-eight servings, and use the other half to make up a big batch of spaghetti sauce to serve six to eight.  The costs are lowered still further and if you happen to combine 2 cups leftover chili with a can of drained corn and top with cornbread batter for tamale pie and serve four, reserve 1 cup spaghetti sauce to top a homemade pizza you have lowered the costs dramatically, haven't you?

However, this is complicated math when I'm in the midst of grocery shopping.  I tend to buy meat on sale without a specific meal plan in mind at the time of purchase, and only a  sense of how I might use it based on experience.  Hence my determination to have a solid price point to base purchasing decisions upon.  It's up to me once I get that meat home to determine how I might best use it. 

A Woman At Home: A Cottage Industry

A Cottage Industry
A woman at home is, whether she knows it or not, running a small business.  It is her responsibility to see that the machine called Home is run smoothly and efficiently, within a budgeted amount of money, overseeing a multitude of areas, delegating responsibilities, meeting the welfare of those within.  In short, this task is not unlike any other business.
I learned as much about homemaking from the books on how to run a business as I did from the housekeeping manuals, cookbooks, and such that I chose at the library.  The Bible also refers to the Proverbs 31 woman as a woman with a head for business as well as homemaking.  "She makes linen garments and sells them."   "She considers a field and buys it....and plants a vineyard out of her earnings."  "She sees that her trading is profitable..."  I remember as well that S.H.E. was an acronym for Sidetracked Home Executives, a phrase coined by two women who turned their business acumen to their homes' organizational and cleaning needs.  This was the basis of Fly Lady's success!  Indeed, home is run as a business.

Inventory Control.  I began to grasp this when I worked in a position where it was necessary for me to order supplies for our company.  Past experience had taught me that we were going to use certain products time and time again, others only on an as needed basis.  I thought it far more economical to stock up on the always needed items when on sale, getting the best possible price for the most used items.  Using my method the company noticed a decrease in operational costs.  It occurred to me while I was doing this job that the same theory put into practice at home, could be a huge bonus.  Unfortunately while working I had little time to devote to the pursuit of the best sales for home goods.  Thankfully that all changed when I became a stay at home mom.

My family has grown accustomed to having a never ending supply of personal care products and foods on hands.  Granted sometimes the stock varies from brand to brand, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that each item is bought at the least cost to us, that we have an ample supply to last us several weeks, and sometimes months and we seldom experience an outage of any non-perishable product.

The same principle is applied to clothing and other items, such as school and office supplies.

Housekeeping, Maintenance and Repair.   A clean and neat home is important to the well being of those within.  Show me an ill kept home with clutter abounding and I'm willing to bet you'll find a home where the individuals within suffer from some neglect as well, if nothing more than a lack of discipline and a failure to learn responsibility.
No business worth it's salt can get by without a proper maintenance and repair man.  In my home, these tasks are delegated to those most suited to the task.  I am a whiz at repairing clothing and  certain small household appliances.  Chance is far better with some mechanized items and a variety of home and furniture repairs.  In the past, we found one son had a strong inclination for electronics and a daughter had a gentle but firm veterinary manner that the animals respected and trusted.  Our youngest son has a real love and knowledge of mechanics that has helped us do repairs on the vehicles while Kay excelled in computer and technological problem solving. 

Chance and I have picked up those skills we could learn on our own (or by watching the children as they worked) and we have no problem hiring out those tasks that are beyond our skill level.  Even if no particular skill is to be had in any of these areas, a maintenance manager would see that the proper agencies were called to make these repairs and do all within their ability to maintain each piece of clothing, equipment and furnishings in top condition.

Maintenance also speaks of being a good steward to things of the home.  Noticing that a hem is beginning to fray, keeping a record of service for the car or lawnmower, making note on the calendar to change a filter or clean a fan at the beginning of the month will insure trouble is prevented at a later time.

Essentially that is also what housekeeping is about: maintaining the items within the home.  Floors that are routinely vacuumed, swept or mopped are going to last far longer than those which never are cleaned.  Dust removed from surfaces will keep appliances (that means TVs and computers, too) from overheating.  A bit of baking soda and vinegar down the drains, followed by hot water is going to keep pipes clog free and restore the natural ph of a septic system.

Health, Nutrition, and Welfare.  A homemaker generally finds herself playing doctor, nurse, psychologist and social services director at some point in her homemaking life.  A homemaker begins her job by providing sound basic nutrition to maintain optimum health.  Experience eventually teaches her which ailments require the skill of a professional and which might be handled at home using natural or over the counter remedies.
She oversees the general good mental health of each family member and is cheerleader, motivational coach, disciplinarian or confidant as is needed.

Fiscal Management.  A  homemaker should know within a few dollars the amount of money required to run her 'industry' each month and be able to responsibly manage that budgeted amount.  The smaller the budget the more difficult the task...yet a homemaker with experience often can manage as well in times of too little money as she does in more prosperous times.  I've met few who even in the most difficult times didn't manage some small savings that counted as bonus amounts towards items the family might not have afforded otherwise.
Creativity Director.   A few women assure me they haven't a creative bone in their bodies...Let me assure you whether you have a knack for decorating or crafts or not, any woman who manages to put meals on the table 7 days a week while operating under a budget, who gets a family up, dressed and out the door on a daily basis, who manages to pull together a party or entertainment for a family member on next to no budget a day or two before the event...that woman is creative!     A few are even more blessed and able to furnish a home from milk crates and street side finds or make a gourmet meal from basic pantry ingredients or dress their entire family using an old blanket and three flat sheets.
It's amazing how creative any of us can be when necessity demands it!  Without a lot of money at our disposal in the early days of our newly formed large family, we still managed to do something special at least once a month and often twice a month when we had all the children together.  It cost little or nothing to make sugar cookies and let them decorate them at Christmas or for other holidays.  We often visited parks and museums that cost only a minor entrance fee and packed picnic lunches.  Those days are still recalled fondly by our children and did much to foster the feeling of being part of a family unit.

Continuing Education Department.  Some women are called to homeschool their children.  Some are content to rely on a standard school system, but provide additional opportunities for learning at home.  Most homemakers learn new skills all throughout their lives, so that a woman who didn't know how to sew or can or garden, may acquire those skills as she matures.  I've taught my own children how to cook, how to craft, how to shop for clothing on a budget, how to drive.  I've imparted a love of reading and writing to all of them, as well as a desire to create a peaceful and secure home life for their own families.

Allowing our children to take on part of homemaking (aka chores) or in caring for younger ones we also taught them the meaning of responsibility.  It was sometimes necessary, when a child showed an interest in a certain area, to learn the subject ourselves, or at least enough about it to be informed and aware of what that interest constituted.  Kay learned a good deal about camping courtesy the fun her brother made of a mock camp set up one year.  Granny taught me the names of various weeds and plants, birds, trees and crops that I had a working knowledge of these things to pass on to my children. 

Children are sponges and they learn all sorts of things.  Adults can adopt the childlike curiosity and wonder and learn many things themselves. And in continuing to show an interest in learning new skills or studying new subjects we instill that lifelong love of learning in our children.

All homemakers teach their families certain skills if by no other means than imitation.  It is wise to be aware of what we are providing in the way of continuing education opportunities as our children grow.

C.F.O:  This is a term Chance has taken to using of late when we're out in public stores making purchases.  He unloads the groceries and then steps aside.  "Let me introduce you to the CFO of our home," he'll say.  It never fails to earn him a smile from the clerk behind the counter, but it's certainly made me aware of the awesome responsibility of managing the household portion of our account. 

The Chief Financial Officer is the one who signs the checks, approves budgets and monitors spending...Sounds like a job that requires attention to detail, care, integrity and good common sense doesn't it?  Once upon a time I wasn't very good at this task and that wasn't such a very long time ago at all.  I routinely robbed Peter to pay Paul, hid spending, and avoided the obvious facts.  We were spending more than we made.  It was a real wake-up call to my husband the day he discovered my deceits.  It was a bigger wake up call to me when he looked me in the eye and said "Here's the checkbook.  Let's start again on this and you figure out how to make it work.  Ask me when you have a question, but learn to manage the money wisely!" 

Humbling?  Oh my gracious yes!  Was my husband dumping all the responsibility for our home finances into my lap?  He was not.  He handles a good portion of the responsibility himself, but he made me very aware that I couldn't bury my head in the sand either, nor could I do whatever I pleased as I pleased and hoped the piper didn't show up to play anytime soon.  And he did me a great deal of good in making me take responsibility for a portion of the money that comes into our home and use it to run our household.

Today I proudly accept the title of C.F.O. of Household accounts and I do the job rather well.  I still have a hiccup now and then, but when I see a problem arising I go straight to the Chief Executive Officer and let him know and we work out a solution together.  That's as it should be.

So you see...Home is indeed a cottage industry.  Perhaps some of us find a way to make a living from our home, and turn a profit.  Perhaps it's merely managing a bit of savings each month from the money required to run the home, but it's a business nonetheless. 

Coffee Chat - There's A Change Ahead

Hello there!  Gingersnaps and coffee...Sound a treat?  Help yourself and let's chat awhile.

I've been busy today, but then I am most days aren't I?  This past weekend  I noticed there was a container that looked suspiciously like hot cocoa mix at the back of an upper cabinet.  I haven't bought hot cocoa mix since last winter and of course, that led to looking a bit harder at other areas of the kitchen.  At least two areas certainly needed to be seen to this week: the suspect cupboard and the refrigerator.

So that was top of my list this morning.  In fact, I mapped out quite a long list of things to do but realized as I read through it again that I'd forgotten one simple little thing, called 'Time'.  I'm pretty sure the amount of work was two days worth easily, if not three, since I must also add in the need for the usual work as well.

My first big task this morning was to tackle the refrigerator.  I needed to reconfigure how I'd placed the shelves two cleanings ago.  It just hadn't worked well spatially for me.  I removed every thing inside and wiped down all the shelves and drawers.  I was so pleased to find only two items that needed to be tossed.  I put all the root and cruciferous vegetables in one crisper drawer and the lettuces and celery and herbs in the other drawer.  The cheeses are corralled in a basket, the dairy products altogether on one section of a shelf.  Now that fridge looks so neat and nice.  I love knowing that it is thoroughly clean and that everything is where it should be.

As I cleaned the refrigerator today, I couldn't help but think back to the 'old days' when my cleaning often netted me a garbage can full of expired bottles, rotting produce and science experiments.  I can't name the number of times I looked guiltily (and in days when every penny counted, wept a little too) over the amount of money I saw sitting in that trash can.  I've gotten better about not overbuying produce which is the number one reason so much ended up in the trash. 

I think I felt a deeper sense of satisfaction today looking at that clean fridge and that empty trash can.

We have quite a bit of fresh produce on hand this week. Chance's illness last week sort of threw off the menu plan and I have a surplus on hand.  I'll have to stay on top of using that produce these next two weeks. 
Otherwise, I might have a weeping session in front of the filled compost bucket!

I was on a roll at this point and felt I very much wanted to go right ahead and tackle that cabinet.  Yes, there was cocoa back there, a whole box of cocoa.  I had no idea I even had that on hand.  As it happened,  it hadn't expired.  I found the cabinet really needed to be rearranged in a more sensible fashion and now it too is neat and nice.  There's a lot of satisfaction in leaving things better than I found them.

I put a lovely rump roast in the oven as I did my kitchen work this morning.  I don't often have time to just slow roast meat, so this seemed a luxury today.  First I seasoned the meat by rubbing it all over with a good spicy whole grain mustard mixed with a bit of garlic, then I sprinkled it with coarse ground black pepper.  I don't as a rule salt meats, finding they are generally just fine without it.  I put the roast in at 325F for 3 hours.  A good rule of thumb for a rare roast beef is 30 minutes per pound.  My roast weighed in at 3 3/4 pounds and I wanted it more medium well done, hence the longer cooking time. 

When I took the roast from the oven the pan had a nice amount of drippings in it...and I was struck by the inspiration to make a Yorkshire pudding in the hot pan.  That is so simple: Beat three eggs until light colored, add in 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 tsp salt.  That will thicken and so you'll want to slowly add 1 cup milk beating the whole while.  In the meantime have the pan in the oven, which should be pre-heating to 400F.  Pour the batter into the hot pan, close the door and walk away for 30 minutes.  NO PEEKING!  Now here's my secret...Until today, I've NEVER made a Yorkshire pudding.  Yes, it turned out beautifully, all puffy and light and with a little of the juices from the roast spooned over it was out of this world good.    Of course, I couldn't eat all that pudding by myself, and there were no guests, but the doggies shall enjoy it and the ingredients aren't so expensive I mind sharing with them.

It seems that between piddling about the kitchen today, all I've done is rinse and load dishes, wash dishes and stack still more dishes.  I don't know where on earth I keep finding them all because honestly, I never cooked a thing beyond that roast and Yorkshire pudding.  I boiled eggs to make egg salad (and had a couple for my breakfast.  I do love a nice boiled egg with crispy toast and orange marmalade for breakfast).  I made the egg salad and the roast to go into Chance's lunch sandwiches really.  That I ate a portion of beef for my dinner today was sort of a bonus meal!

I've been thinking about so many things as I work.  For one thing, that whole matter of produce.  I was very ambitious this past week when shopping to buy as much produce as I did.  My intentions were good.  I had planned to serve an extra vegetable with our meals.  Then Chance got sick and didn't want anything at all to eat.  Though I'm careful to buy only what two might eat, when only one of those two is eating them it's too much.  I'd planned a fresh salsa for snacks one afternoon.  All those little tomatoes are still just sitting there and they don't look half so nice as they did.  I'll roast those tomorrow as a side dish and to toss in with a ravioli dish later in the weekend.

But my mind went back to those days of produce filled trash can.  My intentions were always good, but I tended to buy more than we could reasonably use in a week's time for our family.  I bought what was packaged by the grocer instead of taking into consideration how much a portion truly was and how well it might be used.  I've learned a few things over the years.  Chance and I are not going to eat a pound of Brussels Sprouts.  We can eat about six each.  We're not going to eat a huge portion of broccoli.  We'll eat about half a medium crown each and even that is pushing it a bit far.  Cabbages are far too large for our needs, so I look for the smallest cabbage I can find.  Five pounds of potatoes may be $.25/pound but they aren't worthwhile if we can't eat half of them due to spoilage.  It's a different life when you're no longer cooking for a family.

The weather today was quite warm, once the fog burned off.  I've opened windows and turned on the whole house fan and expect we'll keep the windows open until a little nearer bedtime tonight provided none of the neighbors start up a fireplace this early this evening.  I took a short nap this afternoon and woke to hear birds trilling long and loud.  I saw the first Rusty Towhee Tuesday.  Haven't seen one of those since last Fall.  After hearing the geese going over yesterday evening, I realize it won't be long now until we see a great number of birds once more.  That will be lovely.

And of course, that has me thinking of important little Spring jobs like washing windows and replacing screens.  I hate to wish away a season, or even plan it away thinking ahead of jobs that will soon require attention, but this winter is winding down rather quickly.  It does seem seasons fly past just as days and weeks do!

Well it's high time I stopped writing and went out to feed the doggies.  I think a nice cup of coffee will hit the spot while I visit with them as they eat.  Besides it's so lovely outdoors it's a shame not to enjoy it a bit.

Stop by and visit again next week!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's That Time of Year...

This morning while I stood on the back deck telling Chance goodbye and feeding Maddie doggy biscuits, I heard a little something that made me stand up and listen hard.  Peepers, chirping softly in the pond in the bottom at my brother's home.  Not so many yet, but they will only continue to multiply over the next few weeks until there is a symphony of baritones, tenors and bassos to hear each time we walk outdoors.

This evening I went out on the front porch with a cup of hot cocoa to enjoy while I fed the pets and then I heard another familiar sound of the season.  Honking.  A deep vee appeared in the sky and moved northward over the house.  Weezie, Tracey, the geese are on their way dears.  The long season is nearly over and done.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Eat Groceries - Pt III: Meatless Meals

Any cook knows that a balanced food budget is key to a balanced household budget.  I did not come by this knowledge through childhood experiences however.  In my childhood home, the food budget was unknown.  Key to every meal was that it had to be a production.  My dad was of the mind that chicken pot pie was a was a hot dog.  It was steak and chicken and pork chops and roast and ham every day of the week with a big seafood or huge roast over the weekend!  Casseroles were frowned upon and any meal that stretched meat was considered less than ideal as well.  Despite the fact that we canned/froze/perserved our own vegetables and fruits, and had chickens to provide eggs, I recall our grocery bill ran about what my own averages now some 40 years later! 

I came to a knowledge of how to stretch a food budget out of necessity during my first marriage.  No kidding, our first pantry freezer meals consisted largely of ten 1 pound packages of black eyed peas given to me by an older co-worker who asked for in exchange 1 package of the 35 pounds of mullet that were in my freezer...Lunches were made from a five pound bucket of peanut butter...  It took me twenty five years to even look at peanut butter and not feel ill.  I've never quite mustered the strength to look at mullet since then.

Once those rations were gone and I was allowed once again to have a food budget, I happily sought ways to stretch the few dollars allotted and honey did I ever learn how!  Meatless meals a couple of times a week, casserole or soup type meals that used scant amounts of meat twice a week and a few very modest meat meals rounded out the week.

The starting point of the meatless meals was to figure out how I could manage protein without using meat.  Eggs thankfully were inexpensive and a good source as it happened.  Quiche, omelets, stratas, souffles began to appear on our table.  They sound oh so fancy don't they?  Well they did to this novice homemaker at any rate and proud isn't the word for my first souffle.  It was gorgeous and so good!  Not nearly so difficult as I thought it might be to make either.  I also learned to make a variety of scrambled egg dishes.  I'd never have dreamed that cream cheese and chives could so enhance plain old scrambled eggs.  And let me assure you that Huevos Rancheros is a very good dish for any supper, that's just a fried or poached egg on a crisp tortilla with salsa and cheese.  Yum!

Boiled eggs too make a very good casserole.  I'd never have believed this had we not had a dozen or so eggs leftover one Easter.  Rather than let them go to waste sitting in the fridge, I sliced them into a mushroom sauce and topped with bread crumbs and a bit of cheese.  Everyone at the table was surprised to discover that indeed this casserole was tasty enough to ask for seconds.   

Welsh Rarebit (a melted cheese dish) over toast points was next on my list.  And why not try fondue as well?  Fun and easily prepared and requires only cheese.  Then I learned to make a very good cheese sauce which meant macaroni and cheese that was rich and tasty and flavorful and filled one up.

One of my favorite Elizabeth Goudge books, The Rosemary Tree,  includes the description of a first meal eaten together of broccoli au gratin.  Well why not?  Potatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, tomatoes are all excellent au gratin vegetables and well worth making into a main dish. 

Boston Baked Beans is another dish that is virtually meat free (salt pork is called for to season but not necessary).  Baked long and slow in a low oven in a real bean pot...Oh my!  You've no idea how you can hunger for a meal as you smell those beans cooking all day long. An added bonus is that the oven keeps the kitchen nice and toasty on wintry days.  And to finally dig into that pot of steaming beans, with a bowl of lovely coleslaw and a slice of homemade bread smeared with butter.  Well!  You could begin to see why a Saturday pot of beans was such a popular meal in old New England!

Leftovers will be had and are equally as good the next night for supper.  Older cookbooks include sandwich recipes: Baked beans spread on toast and topped with cheese then baked until the cheese melts.

Lentils are a tasty meat substitute.  I'll confess here that save one rather rotten recipe I've never made lentils in my own home, but I recently ate an outstanding curried lentil and rice dish that was brought to synagogue for our meal after service.  Outstanding!  There are many recipes for lentils, and I am deeply encouraged to try other recipes now instead of turning my head when I see them on the grocery shelf.  Lentils may be formed into burgers, eaten in casseroles or stews. 

Rice and beans form a perfect protein...And that's why  black beans and rice can be such a wonderful meal to serve.  My kids loved the nights when black beans and rice were on the menu because they loved the follow up meal I made from the leftovers: Black bean burritos. 

Chili is excellent when made with ground beef, but skip the beef one night and use a variety of beans.  I would mix up the beans: dark red and light kidney beans, big fordhook limas, black beans and season as usual for chili.  I'd serve over rice to cool the spiciness for the younger children and help fill up the big kids.  I've even been known to make a meatless tamale pie using leftover bean chili topped with cornbread.

My kids thought the seven layer bean dip was a treat at Christmastime.  Were they ever surprised the night I prepared that dip as our supper main dish.  Served with tortilla chips and a salad on the side they were happy as could be and felt they'd had a real treat.  I was just pleased to find a way to combine refried beans and cheese to make yet another meatless meal.

And while we're talking beans, let us not forget that mashed beans may be made into meatless burgers.  Yes, my children have eaten bean burgers.  We even tried our hand at grilling them outdoors and I must say that was a little messy but we managed to eat them all the same, lol.  Mashed beans, onion, bread crumbs, an egg to bind and mix as with seasonings of choice.  Form into a patty and pan fry in a non-stick skillet.  I usually left a few beans only slightly mashed, just for the extra texture they gave. 

And that brings us to pizza...Mexican pizza with refried beans over a cornmeal based crust and topped with black olives and jalapeno peppers and cheese and served with a salsa topping.  Why not vegetable pizza, because just about any vegetable goes on pizza crust.  Plain old cheese works well too if the pantry/fridge are low on other toppings. 

These are, of course, just a few suggestions for meatless meals but by no means the only ones.  I haven't even mentioned a number of pasta dishes, nor tofu dishes (though I have eaten a granular tofu lasagna that was very tasty).   I find reading through a good vegetarian cookbook can be very helpful for ideas and brainstorms.  I recommend Moosewood Lodge Cookbook for one.  Your local library and internet are also good sources of vegetarian meal ideas.

Consider adding at least one meatless meal a week to the menu and then build from there.  You may find your family are quite happy to go for two or three nights a week without meat.  I found it best to have two meatless, two casserole or pasta meals with scant amounts of meat liberally stretched, a single serving of meat two nights and a big but inexpensive meat meal (usually our grand Sunday dinner) such as ham, whole roast chicken, turkey, or roast beef.  This worked very well for our budget and that 'grand' meal often was the basis of the remaining nights we served meat, so we got good use from that large cut.