Saturday, August 9, 2008

Recipe: Pork and Rice

If you've been keeping up, you've seen the lists of stuff you can do.
Here's how to implement it.
Should be service for 5 or 6, depending on the size of your servings.

1.5-2 lbs Pork Loin end cuts (roast or chops that didn't turn out perfect)
Italian dressing
2 stalks of celery
1/2 medium onion
3 fresh carrots or 1 can of carrots
1 can of peas
1/2 tsp saffron
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 cube chicken & tomato bullion
2 Tbsp margarine
2 Tsp Green Olive juice
Spray Grease
3 cups of minute rice

Marinate the pork in just enough italian dressing to coat it really well for at least 30 minutes. I didn't say "let the pork swim in marinade". Err on the side of caution. The longer it soaks, the better it is. Spray baking dish with grease and throw in pork and marinade. Cover with foil and cook at 350 until pork is cooked through. Pink pork is bad. Depending on the thickness of the cuts, it may be from 30 minutes to an hour. When pork is done, pull the meat out of the juice and let it cool for 10 minutes.

While your meat is cooking, dice the celery, onion and carrots. Throw it in a pot with the margarine and cook this until the veggies are softened. Once it's finished, add the garlic, peas, saffron and boullion. Turn the pot off and cover it.

Once you have removed the meat from the baking dish, pour the juice into a 4 cup cupmeasure.
Add water until you get to 3 cups of liquid. Pour into your pot of veggies and stuff and re-cover the pot.

Dice your cooked pork. I cut out any fat or gristle and feed it to our "felines in residence, who own the planet and just barely allow us to live here".

Once the meat is diced into 1/2 inch chunks, put the pot of veggies and water on to boil.
Stir the pot well and make sure that boullion cube melts down or somebody's gonna get a mouthful of salt lick. When it's boiling rapidly, add the pork and stir, then add the minute rice , stir again and take it off the hot eye. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

Add pepper to taste and stir before serving.

Veggie additions:
Diced squash or zucchini
Diced tomatoes
Diced mushrooms

Rice can be nice or it can ROCK!

Rice is stupid cheap. For some reason, I can't get normal rice to work in my new house. Fine. I've switched to minute rice (or the store brand equivalent). The cool thing about minute rice is that it takes 10 minutes to make and as long as you keep it covered, it turns out perfect every time.
I'd rather spend a little more and not wait 30 minutes to find out I ruined dinner and it's going to have to wait another 30 to be served. That is, if I have enough for a do-over.

There are a few staples that make rice a really cool side dish and not just cheap salted starch.

Flavorful Rice Additions:
Chicken and Tomato Boullion
Chicken Boullion
Beef Boullion
Vegetable Boullion
Chicken broth
Beef broth
Vegetable Broth
Green olive juice (and the olives, too... unless the picky eaters strike you down)
Sazon by Goya (It's a spanish seasoning packet)

Rice needs salt to taste decent at all. You can trade the salt for any of the flavor additions in the list. When you cook a meat, after it's done you may want to drain and/or strain the juice, measure it and use it in your rice (with some extra water to make enough liquid for your serving needs)

Veggie and Spice Additions:
Saffron (can be found in the spanish aisle on a little hook, it looks like dark orange hair)
Carrots -diced or grated
Chopped Celery
Chopped Onion
Canned Tomatoes (use the juice as part of your liquid measurement)

If you can add a brightly colored veggie or something to your rice, it makes it a little prettier than a pile of white things on your plate. Not to mention, adds something healthy to your meal.

Be adventurous. It's rice, not particle physics.

Squeaky clean for dirt cheap

Once again, let me mention that we have 5 kids and 3 adults.
That's a whole lot of butt scrubbing and hair washing.

I tried bar soap. Kids being kids, they melted a bar every two to three days.
I looked at the prices of body wash and was amazed that 12oz of liquid body soap was running about $3 or more.

It's not antibacterial, it's not magical. It's just soap that smells pretty.

Think, think, think.

V05 shampoo is 88 cents to a dollar at most stores. It comes in a dazzling array of scents.
I bought Aussie shampoo and saved the pump bottle. Once it was empty, I started filling it with V05 Tangerine Splash Shampoo and gave the kids a 3 pump limit. I have no idea if they hold to that, but I'm only refilling the bottle once a month and it costs me under $2 to do so.

I moved their Shampoo and Conditioner into pump bottles as well. Using the pump makes the stuff last longer than hoping a kid can squeeze out a small amount and not a handful of soap.

I had to explain to the boys why conditioner is important. Shampoo opens the hair shaft to get all the dirt and extra oil out. Conditioner closes the hair shaft back down to make hair smooth and not suck dirt up like a sponge. (Ah, the joys of oversimplification!)

Those little poofy sponge things are fine, but they don't feel to me like they exfoliate enough. We live in a hot climate and sweat like pigs most of the time. I found scrubby gloves for a dollar a glove. These things ROCK! I try to replace them every 6 months or so. They don't fall out of your hands and into the water, needing to be resoaped. You can use one finger to scrub well behind your ears and not accidentally get a whole pouf stuck to an earring. Children under 5 don't fit the gloves too well, but they don't need to be on perfectly to work.

How to navigate a dollar store.

There are a few different versions of "dollar store".

  1. The Dollar Store where everything really is a dollar.
  2. The Dollar Store where everything really is a dollar but really was made in another country for less than 12 cents and usually isn't worth the effort of opening the front door.
  3. The Dollar Store where everything isn't a dollar but most of it is discount.

Go into each dollar store in your area and take a wander around. Try to figure out which version you're in. Make mental notes of the types of items they stock and if it really is #2. (Yeah, did that on purpose)

Items I'm happy with and have found for a dollar:

Baby socks, travel wipe containers, small bags, garbage bags, ziplock bags, lip balm, pregnancy tests, orajel, italian dressing (for marinades), foam stickers for crafts, deodorant (read the active ingredient percentages on the back) coloring books, baby books, headphones, mp3 speakers, kid sunglasses, baskets and containers for an amazing array of uses, hairbrushes, party supplies, helium balloons, odd kid toys.

Things I'm not at all happy to have bought for a dollar:

Aluminum foil, spray oil for cooking, floor cleanser (due to oz amount) , off brand shampoo or body wash.

Remember: Even tho stuff is a dollar you still have to use your brain. Some things are a dollar at the dollar store and 88 cents at walmart or big lots. You can buy some things for 1.50 and get twice the amount at another store or spend $1 for a little bit at the dollar store.

At the "not everything is a dollar" store you can get boxed oatmeal for a great price. It's as good as the generic anywhere else. You know what you eat and what you need. Do your research.

It's all about research and common sense.

Recipe: Grandma's Coleslaw

This is a sweet and tangy coleslaw. Some people don't like the sweet coleslaw thing, so this recipe isn't for you. Or you can adjust it to taste.

One small head of cabbage
2 tbsp vinegar
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c Mayonaise
salt and pepper to taste

Cut cabbage in half and remove the core in triangles. Cut notched halves into half. Sliver cabbage as thin as you can get it. Toss it in a bowl with the vinegar and stir. The vinegar will break down the cabbage, so let that sit for about 5 minutes. Add a bit of salt and pepper and the sugar. Stir again. Let sit another 5 minutes. Add mayo. You may need more or less mayo to make it creamy. Taste it. Too sour? Add more sugar. Too sweet, add more vinegar ( a little dab will do you) Let it sit in the refrigerator for another 5 minutes. Stir and taste again.
As with any of my recipes, feel free to adjust a little here and a little there until it becomes your own uberyummylicious version that makes your tribe happy to see it on a plate.
Coleslaw is wonderful on hot dogs or hamburgers or as a side with BBQ. It's a decent cheap veggie that you can utilize on many a dinner plate. I send this to potlucks and the bowl comes back clean.

Recipe: Fried Cabbage

Cabbage is the cheapest veggie on the planet. When I have to get big cheap, I usually do one or two meals with cabbage. The kids didn't get into cabbage when our tribe began, because our Lady didn't do cabbage. Now, they all eat it happily.

Small-Medium head of Cabbage
Seasoning salt
3 tbsp Bacon grease or 1/4 c butter (margarine)

Yeah, I said bacon grease. Grandma lived past 100 and ate all kinds of things that make the health-crazed have spastic episodes. As with all things, in moderation. We do enough salad nights and fruit salad nights to make up for the occasional fried something.

Cut cabbage in half, then cut triangles to remove all the core.
Cut the notched halves into halves.
Sliver the cabbage as thin as you can get it.
Toss the bacon grease or butter into a large pot. Add slivered cabbage and some seasoning salt.
Cook covered on med-high, stirring every 4-5 minutes. Cook until cabbage is limp. My kids don't like it crunchy. If it starts to turn brown, turn your pot down and stir more often. Once the cabbage is tender, taste it. Add more salt to taste. If you like a really buttery flavor, add more butter.

I generally serve this with rice and chops. I'm happy just eating cabbage and rice. The rest of the family are hard core carnivores, so I can't get away with that for the whole family.

Stupid cheap and yummy.

MP3 players on the mad cheap.

I've learned that with electronics, you get what you pay for. Know your product.

Whenever I decide to buy something, I research it through websites that have ratings and reviews. It's all well and good to buy an mp3 player for $10, but if it has an internal battery that can't be changed out and tends to die, you just wasted your cash, buddy. If it runs on aaa batteries and sucks em dry every 6 hours, you'll spend your life recharging batteries or buying cheap batteries that don't even last THAT long. Know your product.

I'm a big fan of Creative Labs MP3 players. Yeah, ipod this and zune that. Uh-huh, if I wasn't poor, sure! *ahem* I mean "thrifty".

I'm not above snaking something on ebay in the last 20 seconds. Done it, had it done to me.
Being able to deal with returns.... not a big thing when you buy from ebay. It's easy to get hung out to dry.

I'm all about the factory refurbished. They made it, they oughta know how to fix it and shine it up real pretty....

Or go to shop, go to savings center

If you're considering a purchase, get on their mailing list and bide your time until they have a free shipping event or a way to get free shipping.

Right now they have a 20GB Dell DJ for $35. That's mad cheap.

They also have their 2gb Stone Plus for $25. Still mad cheap.

They have other models of the Stone, but unless it has a digital readout, you're wasting your money and won't be happy with your purchase. I'm not into the one with the speaker. Useless piece of swank, says I. One more thing to break or worry about. Pbbth! If I wanted to hear my kid's music, I'd be buying them stereos, not MP3 players.

The Stone Plus is light enough that I bought a lighter leash for $4 and attached the MP3 player to it by removing the lighter holder thing and attaching the MP3 player (with a little elastic band that came off some sneakers) to the bottom of the pulley. My kids can now clip their MP3 player to their belt loop and pull it up to their face so they can read the screen. Keeps it from dropping on the floor or getting set down and lost. For less than $5.

Personally, I think the video option for mp4's is a laugh. Raise your hand if you wanna go blind trying to watch crap on a 3 inch screen. It may have been ok for Dick Tracy's watch, but I've got other priorities than developing a "sexy" squint. (Crow's feet are HOT!) I'd rather spend the money on having more GB for music on my mp3 player than eating space with music videos.

If you can find a better 2gb MP3 player for $25, let me know.

The 20gb Dell DJ is one screaming heck of a deal. I bought one for our Lady when they were $50 at the site. She's a music buff and has a sick amount of music on her hard drive. She was sporting a 128MB MP3 player that she bought for $20 three years ago. She freaked out when she actually got it in her hot little hands. She loves it. It's got some heft to it, but it's not overly large. Go ahead, search Ebay for something with that many GB and see how much it's going for. Try an electronics superstore. Once you stop gaping at the screen and your heart rate returns to normal, you'll fall all over yourself trying to get to the Creative website. I promise.

Quantities are limited. They won't last forever. If you're going to hang onto it and give it as a Christmas present make sure to test it out first. That way if anything is wrong with it, you can have it replaced before the 90 day warranty gives out.

Recipe: Sausage and stuff

My goddess-mother made this for us while we were living with her. It rocked. (if you like sausage)

1lb sausage or kielbasa
1 med-large potato per person
1 medium onion
1 bag of decent frozen broccoli florets. (I will only buy pictsweet, the others taste like tree chunks to me)
1 cup of shredded cheddar (total) or one slice of cheese per person.
Two tablespoons butter or margarine.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Slice sausage on an angle into 1/4 to 1/2 inch ovals. Cut onion into decent sized chunks. Cube potatoes and leave the skin on.

In a large pot melt the butter on medium high heat. Add the sausage and onions and let them cook a bit. Add potatoes and cover. The potatoes will steam. Stir every 10 minutes to keep the potatoes from sticking. Add some salt and pepper. When the potatoes are almost done, add the frozen broccoli and stir. Cook until the broccoli is hot and the potatoes are done. Take off the eye and add the cheese and stir. Keep it covered. Let it sit for 10 minutes and taste it. What does it need? More salt? More pepper?

Serve in bowls.

I can't do a cost analysis on this one because it would vary way to much. You can get potatoes on bogo, sausage on bogo and onions on bogo. This meal can be done for the price of cheese and broccoli if you shop it right. (That's not totally true, because I always consider a bogo at half the standard price, but you get my meaning...)

Recipe: Sausage and Sweet Potatoes

The Family really dug this the last time I made it.
I'll do the recipe as service for 5 since our tribe is so large.

One pound of sausage or kielbasa
Four medium-large (not gigantic) sweet potatoes
Two tablespoons butter or margarine
Two tablespoons pancake syrup or brown sugar
One chopped onion (or 1/2 tsp onion powder)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Slice sausage at an angle into 1/4 to 1/2 inch ovals.
Cube sweet potatoes into medium-large squares. Generally it's a half inch slice that I cut into 4 or 6 pieces depending on the diameter of the potato. Don't bother peeling them.
Cut onion into decent sized chunks or if the family is anti-onion sneak in some onion powder.

Melt butter in a medium sized pot, add sausage then add potatoes and onion. Drizzle syrup or brown sugar over everything. Cook covered on medium setting, stirring every 5 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender. Keeping it covered helps steam the potatoes, the more you stir it the longer it takes to cook, but the more the flavors merge. Add a little salt and pepper when it's near done. Once the potatoes are done, give it a taste. What does it need? More sweet? More salt? Make it yummy.

Choose a side vegetable or two. I like green beans and diced tomatoes with a touch of onion powder. Carrots aren't a best choice because they taste similar to sweet potatoes and it's too much root food.

Can't do sausage? Personally, I hate the stuff. I appreciate the savory nature of it, but my tongue says Nope. Try tossing in a cubed chicken breast. Use a little chicken boullion instead of salt. Have some of that pork loin end sitting there? Use that instead.

It makes a really pretty plate and sweet potatoes have so many fab vitamins it's totally worth a try.

Cost analysis:
Sweet potatoes: $4
Sausage : $2.50
Onion : .50
Green beans can x2: $1.00
Tomatoes can: .50
Seasonings : negligible
Total: $1.75 per serving

Cheap Meat not Scary Meat

I live in Florida and in the circulars, Beef and Chicken usually runs over $3 a pound currently.

Unless you're me.

Cheap Chicken:

Albertson's consistently has boneless skinless chicken breast on sale at under $2 per pound. If you're buying buy one get one chicken, do the math. It's simple, divide by two. Chicken breast at 4.99 per pound -bogo is $2.50 a pound. If it's in another circular at $1.79/lb, then your better deal is the straight buy, not the bogo.

Set yourself a limit. I won't buy meat at more than $2.50 per pound and my goal is $2/lb or less.
Know how much you need for your recipes. Watch and wait for the sales and freeze like mad.

Example: I'm serving 8-9 people and can make leftover lunches for 2 people. My service goal is 10 servings. My entire family except Steele only likes white meat. Since he's also my gluten-free kid, and loooooves chicken legs when I do chicken I can cook dark separately for him. Most of my chicken breast recipes involve 3lbs of skinless breast. Normal price : 3.99/lb for the tits, 2.69 for the legs. Watch and wait. I won't buy legs unless they are under $1 per pound. I get him the family package of legs and separate that into freezer bags of 2 legs each. One family pack generally yields 4 bags. Count how many is in the flat when you're at the store. Make sure it's an even number unless you're buying two packages. They run about $3.50 per flat. Which is like 88 cents per serving. I wait until I can get boneless skinless breasts for under $2/lb. That's $6 per service for tits. Which is like 70 cents a serving since I'm serving 9 or 86 cents if I'm serving 7. I also have picky eaters, so it's usually a good idea to have a few breasts frozen separately for those who won't eat my main course because of the meat. If your family doesn't care so much about the white/dark issue, keep your eye out for whole fryers. They pop up in sales for under a dollar pretty frequently.

Leg/thigh quarters in a bag:
I've found that in these the leg bones are usually broken. If you can deal, get the deal. I've seen these bags for 50 cents a pound. Don't spend over $1/lb for them. You can get thighs and legs separately for $1/lb without the broken leg issue. Cut them to separate the legs from the thighs or not as you choose, dependent on what your family likes.

Cheap Pork:
Roasts - these are great in a crock pot to make BBQ out of. Or just a pork roast. Since we have a whole lot of people, I rarely do roasts. You have to calculate an extra pound per 5 people due to the fat content and possibly a bone, unless it's a loin roast. Be aware you may need a backup plan in case you don't like any of the cuts. My standard pre cooked weight is 1/3lb per person. If it's heavy, I have spare for work lunches, if it's a little under, I add an extra veggie to the dish to make up for the mini-meat. You can find these for under $2/lb pretty frequently. I see them at least once a month in the circulars.

Pork loin roast:
This is what they make boneless pork chops out of. If you see pork loin roast at 2.19/lb and boneless chops at 3.69/lb start laughing. You can go to the meat-man at any store and have them cut a pork loin roast into pork chops, and you can even request the thickness you desire.
Which means you get boneless chops at 2.19/lb that other fools are buying for a dollar plus more per pound. When you get home, count out how many chops you need per serving and bag & tag those suckers. Again I say : count em in the store. Know how many service packs you will have for meals. Stash a service pack away every once in a while, it will save you when the meat sales suck.

Sometimes the pork loin roast you saw in the circular is the end cuts of a loin roast and not useful for boneless chops. These can be cooked and then chunked and tossed into a salad or rice and veggies or slivered for chinese cooking. I won't pay more than $2 per lb for end cuts.

Economy chops or bone-in chops:
These pop up on buy-one-get-one sales regularly. Remember to adjust your poundage because this cut has a bone in it. Use the same ratio: add a pound for every 5 servings. I'd suggest washing these chops before you freeze them because they tend to have lots of bone meal on them due to the cutting.

These will eat your lunch. When I buy them, I super cheap two other meals that week to absorb the cost. It's due to the bone and gorge issues. They have lots of bone in them and my family tends to want more than the standard 1/3lb pre cooked weight. You can find them in the under $2/lb price every so often. There's no real reason to deny yourself. Just steal from this to do that. Use backup meat for one meal and do a super cheap meal. Plan ahead.

Country ribs:
If you have picky eaters who complain about fat in their meat, this one can be tricky. They have more meat than regular ribs and can be cooked in the same fashion, but they have a high fat content. When I cook these, I have to spend time removing the fat after they're cooked to stop the bitching at the table.

This is a great bogo item. You can find it on sale -non bogo from time to time as well. When you see it, if you can do it, get some. Freeze it and use it when you want to. Make breakfast for dinner. Throw on top of some burgers and look like the coolest mom ever. Toss it on top of a salad and have the kids grin when they find large chunks of bacon in there. Watch the weights. Bacon comes in 12oz packages as well as 16oz packages. If one store has bacon on bogo at 5.00 for 12oz packages and another has 16oz packages for 2.50 each, get the larger package.

It's pretty easy to find sausage or kielbasa at a 2 for $5 rate. It's 2.50/lb but I slice it thin-ish and go under my 1/3lb per person average, but I add extra veggies to make up for the lack.
It's savory and can do lots of stuff, so it's a good fast go-to if you're low on time. It can be found at a 2 for $4 rate, but check the weight. Store brands are usually the same price as name brand on sale, but of heavier weight.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tools of the Ubercheap

Food tools:
Weekly circulars
Meal plans
Discount cards

Clothing tools:
Clearance racks
Discount stores

Everything else:

The Rule of Three

Everything costs. Either time, money or work. Usually a blend of all three. You can get away with two of the three, but almost never one. Something costs time and work, but saves money. Or it costs money and time, but no work. It's the rule of three.

With the economy floating in the toilet. It's always a good thing to know ways to live cheap.
I don't mean, we bought the rib-eye because the prime rib was way overpriced. I mean how to maximize your money so you can have shrimp on occasion (without it being a special occasion!)

When you're in college, living on ramen is a standard. When you have kids or a mate, that gets tired fast. It's all about the planning. Have the joy of the hunt and save! It will take some time and some thought, but it's totally worth doing if you need to economize.

I like healthy food. I am serious about eating balanced meals. With 5 kids and 2 mates, my list of likes and dislikes is frightening. I've started taking meals to my father, since Mom isn't around anymore to cook for him. Add another plate to the stack and more likes and dislikes to the list.
One of our sons is wheat intolerant. It makes it even tougher. And it's not just about food.

My 14 year old daughter wants name brand clothing. My second son can kill a cheap sneaker in 2 months with ease. My 3 year old creates stains in her clothing that take mild explosives to remove. My 16 year old son gets ink on everything he owns and is happy to wear clothes with large stains, holes and other unacceptable defects. Our man wears his jeans until prayer is the only thing holding them together and is amazingly specific about their cut, style and hang.

We're all technophiles with lobster tastes and hot dog budgets.

What do you do? Research, research and more research. Know your humans, know your products and know your abilities.

It's possible to live well on little cash. It just takes some know how and some effort.