Score du Jour: 99-Cent Chicken Breast (A Love Story)

I love loss leaders, and this week’s 99-cent chicken breast couldn’t be beat (Winn Dixie was the benefactor, but I’ve seen it at other stores). I picked up two big packages. These chicken breasts were from a national brand name which advertises no hormones.

Here’s how I plan to use my chicken-breast bounty:

*I made a comfort food favorite, chicken cheese chowder, to carry in my thermos for class tomorrow night. This used up one of the massive chicken breasts, with three servings left for lunches or for a repeat on Thursday night, when I have my second class. (1 chicken breast, four servings).

*I’ll make chicken parmesan later this week. Each breast will easily make two servings, so we’ll have dinner plus lunch the next day. I have some leftover spaghetti for a nice side dish when the times comes.

*I’m going to broil one of the chicken breasts and use the meat for a chicken pot-pie (four servings total.) I have some frozen pie shells from a buy-one-get-one deal last Christmas and some mixed veggies to throw in. This qualifies as Eating Ourselves Out of House and Home.

*Two more chicken breasts will go nicely on the grill, with leftover meat to make chicken salad. I may get all fancy and make chicken kebabs with onions, green peppers, and tomato. There will be plenty of chicken. I anticipate using about half of it for the meal–one breast will be enough for two people if I make the kebabs or if I have some hearty side dishes. (Three total servings. Let’s be conservative here.)

The final chicken breast will make a lovely chicken and rice casserole. Four servings, one chicken breast, what is not to like?

So there you have it. 19 servings for $9.03. Of course, chicken’s not the only ingredient. Most of the stuff needed for my meals is in the pantry as a result of prior stockpiling shopping trips, and it’s pretty cheap. Noodles for a stir fry, rice for chicken and rice casserole, eggs for the chicken salad, these things are pretty economical if you’re on a budget. My big splurge? Mozzarella cheese for the chicken parm was a store brand plus it was on sale, so I spent a whole $2 on it.

For less than a dollar a pound, I’m good with boning these breasts and using the bones to make chicken stock. I’m experimenting with all the good pan sauces I can do using stock, and this will come in handy.

I’m looking forward to getting tired of eating chicken.

Chicken Cheese Chowder

1 chicken breast (boneless or bone-in, either will work)

1 teaspoon oil

1 can condensed cream of chicken soup

1/3 cup onions

1/3 cup chopped celery

2/3 cup water

1 1/4 cup milk

1 can corn or creamed corn

8 oz mild cheese (American, mild cheddar, whatever you like).

Heat the oil in a skillet or a large saucepan and add the celery and the onion, cooking until the veggies are soft and tender. Add the chicken and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes (for boneless breast) or 15-20 minutes (bone-in breast) or until the chicken is no longer pink. Cut the chicken into small-bite pieces and return it to the pan with the soup mix, corn, and milk. Stir it all together until it’s heated through and add the cheese, stirring until it melts. Cook it over medium heat for ten minutes, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking.

Enjoy it with cornbread, a salad, or a crusty French loaf.

 

 

 

 

 

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Living Room Refresh: Under $100

 

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Just because I’m a grad student–although I’m pretty old–  doesn’t mean I have to live like one. Unfortunately, my living room looked like, well, pretty much like the living room I had when I was in my early 20’s and working at an entry level job. No milk crates, but lots of thrown-together stuff. With a visit from my dad in the offing, it’s time for a change.

But…but…but…money! Tuition for next semester looms. Low on cash, high on hopes, I did some hard thinking.

I started by giving the space a good cleaning and looking at it with fresh eyes. I thought about the positives and the negatives of my circa 1980 home’s living room.

Positive aspects: a tile floor in a nice neutral color, we painted the walls a soft buttery yellow that  I adore. I have a cool wooden bench I love, but I wasn’t quite sure how to use it. We have a big picture over the couch of a tranquil seascape in blues and grays. It looks fantastic against the yellow walls and it calms me just to look at it. It’s beautifully framed with dusky blue-green wood trim. We cashed out the piggy bank and bought this picture two years ago from Goodwill for $15. When I walk into the room, my eyes go right to the seascape and I feel instant peace.

Negatives: It’s a small space, overall. My house has the bane of the circa-1980 design, a living room/dining area combination, and there’s just not much room in the living area. We have a couch and a big-screen tv, which is mounted on the wall. We have seating for two on the couch, but desperately need more chairs…except we just don’t have much room for chairs.

We also have a mishmash of stuff in this room, including a weird faux bamboo floor lamp on my side of the couch with a teeny tiny glass shelf. The teeny tiny shelf just didn’t hold my books, my magazines, my notebooks, my ever-present iced coffee.  On my husband’s side of the couch: a horrific gray plastic shelf, waist-high and covered with all manner of STUFF. Bamboo Thing and Awful Shelf had to go.

We live in Florida and I like the whole coastal ambiance thing, but I’m not into it enough to actually pursue it as a decorating choice. It’s awfully easy to go overboard (at least, if you’re me) and cover every surface in shell-crusted crap.

Instead of hitting the shell-crusted crap aisle at my local HomeGoods, I found myself thinking about the colors in that picture. Ordinarily I’m into very bright colors–I could (and usually do) wear something red on any given day. But that picture speaks to something deeper inside, a desire for a living room area that would be calm and soothing. We spend a lot of time in the living room, and I wanted it to be relaxing.

I became obsessed with side-tables. I wanted to get rid of the Bamboo Thing and Awful Shelf tout suite. With that nice chunky tuition payment due in a few weeks, money was the issue. I did some shopping for new side tables and found that with my budget ($125 to cover the cost of 2 tables) I could buy some wood-veneer tables at WalMart. Ick. Over the years I’ve found that when I buy furniture, I prefer to buy used. I can afford actual real-live wood rather than wood veneer or plastic. So I hit Craigslist.

Ah!

I found some end tables I liked very much. Real wood–the frame painted a dusky blue-green that matches the frame of our favorite picture. The seller wanted $50 for the two tables. I wanted the tables, but a series of unfortunate events made it impossible for me to get over to her place to pick them up. After emailing a few days later and not hearing back, I figured she’d sold them. But no! I heard from her two days ago: If we could pick them up that day, she’d sell us both for $30. When my husband and son arrived home with them, I was delighted. Perfect!

Meanwhile, we needed an extra chair for the living room.  I have a beloved old rocking chair that belonged to my mom and has a nice forest-green cushion on it. That was one possibility.

My $30 tables answered the question for me. The pattern on the tops of the tables matched my bench beautifully. What if we used the bench for extra seating? I needed a cushion for that bench, though, and the bench is kind of a weird size: 38 inches long, 16 inches wide. Hmm. Having a custom-made cushion would be way more than I wanted to pay. Couldn’t find that size exactly, so I decided to go with something 36 inches long and hope for the best.

I found my cushion on the JC Penney website. It’s 36″ x 14″, green (ok, not an exact match for the dusky blue-green theme I’ve got going, but I’m okay with not being completely matchy-matchy) and it was marked down to $48 from $80. It has little grippers on the bottom of the cushion to keep it from sliding around when someone sits on it, so the wood will be visible around it and that will like nice. Even better…a 25% discount using the convenient savings code in the ad. $36 was far better than anything else I’d seen by about $20. Shipping, however, would set me back another $9. Driving three miles to the store to pick it up would eliminate that shipping charge. Voila!

So I’ve spent a grand total of $71 on refreshing my living room ($30 end tables, a cool glass lamp my husband bought with the end tables for $3 which I plan to paint with stencils–that will set me back a few more bucks, but not much–and $38 including tax for my bench cushion.) I don’t plan to get an area rug, although I think it would bring the living area together even more, because I have an elderly dog with occasional bladder issues and I don’t want to spend her golden years feeling frustrated with her.

I still have some cash to spend if I find something else I want for the space, but I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve got. I want to live with it for awhile before considering any changes.

Next step: tuition. Somehow I don’t think I’ll enjoy that nearly as much as I did shopping and saving for my living room!

Pan Sauce Gravy Basics–YUM!

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You’ve got meat—beef, chicken, maybe a nice pork chop. You want it to go beyond Good into Delicious territory. Congratulations—you’re ready to make a pan sauce!

Pan sauces are an art, not a science. You can vary the ingredients, play around with them, innovate. Here are the basics, though.

Fat from meat. Sear the meat you’re going to use. Perhaps you’ll sear the meat with a little olive oil, or some canola oil, or clarified butter, or a combination of butter and oil. Sear the meat and pour off the excess fat from the pan. You want about 2 tablespoons of fat. Cook the meat to your desired doneness and remove from heat.

Liquid. You want to add some liquid to the remaining fat in the pan. This could be wine, broth, bouillon, you name it. For beef or pork, use beef broth or bouillon or red wine. For poultry, use chicken broth or bouillon and red wine or light red wine (maybe a nice rose?)

Aromatics.  You don’t want a boring sauce! Add something to kick it up a notch—fresh herbs, dried herbs, garlic, mustard, you decide. The Stinking Rose (aka garlic) is the house brand around here, but I keep spices handy. If I want a Tex-Mex flair, I might use chili power or cumin. If I want a nice Italian flavor, I have Italian seasoning herbs at hand.

Thickening. Who wants a runny sauce? You can thicken it two ways—by reducing it with heat or by using a roux. To thicken it using heat, just mix together the ingredients above, turn up the heat, stir frequently and monitor carefully. The sauce will eventually thicken, but there will not be as much of it. Still, it’s delicious!

Thickening with a roux. For a long time I was intimidated when cookbooks mentioned a “roux”. I shouldn’t have been, though. A roux is just flour and butter mixed together and plunked into the sauce. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 2 tablespoons flour to it. Stir it till the texture is uniform. Plunk the mixture into the sauce, stir well, keep stirring, and watch it thicken. Trust the chemistry—it works

Final touches. Melt a tablespoon of butter into the sauce for a decadent taste and texture. Another option: Flavored oil. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately.

Add it back. Either pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately, or add the meat to the sauce, stir to coat, and then serve.

Bon Appetit, chef!

Friday Frugal Challenge: The Laundry Edition

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Unless you’re padding around the house naked (and make a daily practice of doing so) you probably need to do a load of laundry. Today’s Friday Frugal Challenge: Save money on laundry.

Here are some options:

*Wash your clothes in cold water this week. Using hot water costs more—plus the colors in your clothes won’t run with cold water.

*Make your own laundry detergent. Check out the tutorial at  Houselogic.

*Ditch the dryer. For this week, hang your clothes up to dry rather than using the dryer.

What options work for you? We’ll be washing in cold water and I may experiment with homemade laundry detergent if I’m feeling ambitious. How about you?

 

Friday Frugal Challenge Update: Last week’s challenge was to either resell something you own or to buy something gently used. We sold two used books and made $7.83 with minimal effort. Did you buy or sell something?

Money Saver: Whipped Butter

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I enjoy whipped butter–the spreadable stuff, with the rich butter taste but without the cold hard butter un-spreadability.

Here’s my recipe for whipped butter at home:

2 sticks butter

6 TBS canola oil

Soften the butter and then, in a bowl, add the four TBS of canola oil to the butter. Whip until it is well combined, then turn into a refrigerator-proof container.

At the store, this whipped butter costs $3.32. At home it costs $1.58.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Frugal Toolbox: Freezer Inventory

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I buy lots of loss leader meats. When it’s on sale, I buy it–usually in the large “family pack” serving, although there are only two of us at home. Most of the time I bring it home, plan weekly meals around it, and freeze the excess. What happens when the freezer’s full?

I took inventory today. Long overdue…I should be doing this monthly, but the last few months of full-time work and evening graduate school kept me way too busy. But I’m not busy now, and here’s what I found in my freezers…(we have a fridge with a freezer compartment, but we also have a chest freezer which saves us a lot of money on good meat deals.)

When I took inventory today, I found some things I’d forgotten: some frozen meatballs I bought buy-one-get-one-free. I love to make my own pasta sauce, but sitting on my pantry shelf I have some ludicrously cheap spaghetti sauce I picked up on sale. Voila! Spaghetti and meatballs, and the pasta jars can be repurposed to hold my future batches of homemade pasta sauce.  I also have a 10 pound bag of chicken leg quarters. We will barbecue, have friends over for dinner, and do all kinds of cooking with those chicken leg quarters. Some steaks I bought on sale which will be wonderful for Father’s Day and for those days when we feel deprived and want a treat but don’t want to blow the budget by going out to dinner. We’re stocked!

My inventory isn’t at all complicated. I just list the item and the serving size. I like to update it once a month or so.

The good news? I won’t have to shop for about a month–and when I do shop, it’ll be for add-ons to my main dishes. Some rice, maybe some beans, refill my cumin stash, some buy-one-get-one-free pasta. I have plenty of food to last us for a good long time.

How about you? What’s in your freezer?

Score du Jour for Tomorrow: Half-Price Cheeseburger from Sonic Drive In

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June 6–one day only!–Score your half-price cheeseburger at Sonic Drive-In!

Check out  Sonic’s Facebook Page for details. Here’s your Locator to find a Sonic near you.

Bon appetit!