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?

Weekend Cook-Ahead: Comfort Food Edition

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I love the weekend! It’s time to relax, kick back, breathe a little, reconnect with my dear ones. For me, the weekend’s also the best time to cook ahead so that I have plenty of good food in the house during the busy week. This week I’ll have two days where I’ll be out of the house from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. I need something on hand for my husband to eat and something that I can take along to work and school for lunches and dinners on those days.

This week’s cook-ahead fits the bill nicely. We made slow cooker chicken soup and cold salads for sandwiches. Our cooking also used up lots of leftovers and some pantry supplies.

Here’s how we did it:

Slow Cooker Chicken Soup

3 ribs celery

1 small or medium onion OR 1 cup diced onions

1 clove garlic, chopped and minced

3 carrots, chopped OR 1 can carrots

1 chicken bouillon cube

1 tsp sage

Chicken pieces (we used the leftover frame from a baked chicken earlier in the week)

5 cups water (Your mileage may vary—this is what fit into the slow cooker so that the chicken pieces were covered.)

Put the vegetables and the bouillon cube into the slow cooker first, then add the chicken pieces and other ingredients. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Strain the broth into a big pot using a colander to catch the bones and vegetables. Cut or tear the meat from the bones. This is a little tricky—you will need to be careful to cut off gristle and fat as well. When you have the meat cut off,  discard the bones and add the meat and vegetables back into the soup. You can eat the soup as is or add noodles or rice to it.

 

Tom’s Chicken or the Egg Salad 

8 eggs (Maisie and Maggie, our hens, keep us amply supplied!)

1 scallion, chopped, including the greens

¾ cup mayonnaise

½ tsp. mustard

Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Hard boil the eggs, peel off the shell, and chop them into small pieces. Dice the scallion, including the greens. Add the sliced scallion, mayonnaise, and mustard to the eggs and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Use half the egg salad for egg salad sandwiches. Add 8 ounces of cooked, chopped chicken to the other half to make killer chicken salad.

 

How We’ll Use It This Week 

Dinner tonight will be homemade chicken soup and a tossed green salad. For the rest of the week, we’ll have lunch by combining homemade soup with either an egg salad or a chicken salad sandwich.

 

Frugal Toolbox: Refrigerator Review

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Eating frugally means you’re going to be eating something you cooked before (I just hate the word leftovers…but yeah, that’s where I’m going here.)

Enter, Refrigerator Review.

To cook frugally, you generally need to buy bigger packages of meat or to cook a fairly hefty batch of some kind of Food That’s Filling (chili, pasta sauce, homemade soup for example). What do you do with the part you couldn’t eat up in one meal? In a small household, like mine, that’s always an issue.

Your first line of defense: lunch.

I used to buy those frozen entrees by Stouffer’s or Lean Cuisine or Marie Callender’s or whoever was on sale any given week. I figured, I’m spending $2.50 a day for lunch, that’s pretty frugal, right? But when I did the math and realized that using leftovers saved me money (I made a big pot of spaghetti with meat sauce the other day and each serving costs me about 74 cents…well, that’s a no-brainer…) I made some changes. There’s also the fact that I was ingesting an awful lot of sodium with my convenience food.

Your second line of defense: Refrigerator Review.

Every few days I practice Refrigerator Review. What’s in the fridge? Do I want to eat it as it is? (After dinner, followed by a few lunches, I get a little tired of my culinary masterpieces.) How can I change it up a little? I’ve got that spaghetti, and, well OK, it’s not a HUGE difference but I could bake up what’s left with some mozzarella on top for a little variety—and serve it with some basil carrots using the canned carrots I bought for 60 cents a can.

I have some white meat chicken left over from baking a chicken on Sunday (79 cents a pound, y’all, yes yes yes!) I could make chicken salad out of it or I could make chicken croquettes and serve a nice little salad on the side. I could get creative with some chicken alfredo using the chicken. I could make fried rice with it. A nice idea: keep spices and noodles on hand and make a stir-fry with whatever you’ve got on hand.  Love Cajun? You know what to do—lay in a stock of file gumbo and some rice and you’re in business.

And soups are always your friend. I have the bones left from my baked chicken—with plenty of meat still attached—and some chicken breast bones from buying cheap chicken breasts and boning them myself. This weekend I’ll make a batch of chicken soup or maybe chicken tortilla soup—I’ve got beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and an awesome homemade Tex-Mex seasoning mix I could use.

What’s your favorite strategy for Refrigerator Review?