Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recipe: Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Broccoli w/ Breadcrumbs

I was waiting to take pictures of one of my roast chickens, but that isn't happening any time soon, so I will just put up the recipe for now. 

Roast Chicken and Potatoes

1 roasting chicken (about 4lbs or so)
1 gallon water, cold but heat up 3 cups
3/4 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup brown sugar 

2 Tbls butter or margarine
2 tsp herbs of your choice, dry (I also sometimes use fresh when I have my garden, but only more sturdy herbs like thyme and rosemary)
Pepper to your taste

4 medium potatoes. If waxy with thin skin, just scrub and cut into 3/4 inch pieces. If russet (hey you get what is cheap!) peel and cut into similar sizes. 
mix of herbs that compliment what you are using with the chicken
two cloves garlic, minced
More oil

1. Mix salt and brown sugar in the warm water until dissolved. Pour the rest of the cold water in. If it is still warm, chill for a bit. 
You can do this as a whole chicken, but this way the brine works faster and it cooks more evenly. 
2. Butterfly the chicken by first cutting out the backbone, preferably with poultry shears. Then, run a sharp knife around the outside of a thigh and pop the joint out of place. It should come off easily. Repeat on other side. Turn the chicken around so that the breast if faced upward. Press on the middle of the breast until it snaps (you should hear it) and the breast flattens a bit. Remove wings if desired in a way similar to the legs. Here you can just leave as is, or cut it into smaller pieces. The giblets and wings (if removed) should go in a plastic freezer bag and frozen for the soup (recipe forthcoming). 

3. Place the chicken into a soup pot and cover with water. A large container which is narrow is a good choice. Refrigerate for a 1/2 hour to an hour. 

4. Mix together softened butter or margarine with the herbs and pepper. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Gently loosen the skin and with a small spoon deposit small amounts of the butter mix under the skin towards the center of piece of meat. With your fingers, smooth the butter mix until it is evenly spread. 

5. Toss potatoes with herbs, garlic, oil (use your judgement, just a light coating will do) and salt and pepper. 
6. Rub the skin with some olive oil, place in roasting pan with potatoes (put the potatoes under the bird for extra flavor or outside the bird for a crispy outside) and roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 minutes. Take its temperature after until the thermometer registers 165. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes or more.  Remove potatoes to a bowl and cover with foil.

If you wish, you can make a gravy. Skim the fat off of the drippings in the roasting pan. If the roasting pan can be used on the stove top, put it on a burner over medium heat. If not, you can deglaze the pan without the heat and pour it into a sauce pan. Deglaze with enough liquid to make 2 cups total, including drippings. Use almost anything. Apple juice makes a nice gravy as does wine if you happen to have some on hand. Don't worry if it is red or white, just steer clear of wine that is very sweet (a little sweet is fine) or has a very strong flavor as the wine does reduce and concentrate the flavors.
Bring to a light boil and whisk in flour. Heat until thickened and let simmer for a few minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Strain if desired and serve with chicken and potatoes.
Mix 3 Tablespoons of all purpose flour in a jar with a cover with 1/2 cup of water.

This can feed from 4 to 6 people. Save all the leftover meat and place in a container in the refrigerator for the soup. Save the bones in the freezer. 

The bird is moist and needs no basting because of the brine. If you are feeling creative, add other flavors to the brine. Oranges, lemons, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks etc. are all nice additions, just keep the salt to water ratio the same.

If you are not feeding a lot of people, there may even be enough meat leftover for sandwiches or another dish. If you are using smaller birds or have a larger family, brine two at a time, just make sure that the water (with the proper ratio of salt) covers the top of the chicken and of course, prepare more potatoes.

The broccoli is incredibly easy. If you are using fresh, steam it until crisp tender, otherwise just defrost. I use frozen, it is cheaper and already cut up. Saute some garlic in olive oil (or what you have on hand, margarine will do, but watch butter as it burns easily). Add in breadcrumbs and toast until the crumbs start to brown. Toss with broccoli and salt and pepper until warmed through. Do it last though as the breadcrumbs will get soggy if left to sit too long.

And there you have it. This meal is the most work intensive of all the meals, which is why I choose it for Sunday. If you work on Sunday, just make it on a day you have time, planning the soup for later on in the week. For our family, we tend to plan menus starting on a Friday or Saturday due to shopping and time. As such, the menu posted is very flexible, as long as you don't plan for the soup before the chicken because the chicken bits are needed for the soup.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dinner Menu For a Week (cheap)

There are a lot of menus out there that say they are cheap, and for some they might be. I know that when I am in a bind, they are too expensive. Maybe my plan is pricey for some too, but it is one that I know I can rely on in a pinch. For under 70 dollars with no sales or coupons, I can feed my family of four dinners. For me, I generally have oatmeal or something in the house for breakfasts and lunches are whatever we can scratch up, which may be a post for another time. For now, I am dealing with dinner as that seems to be the most expensive meal for most households, when everyone tends to eat together.

This menu does not include the old faithfuls of boxed mac and cheese or ramen, because everyone knows about these cheap meal substitutes. At another time there will be a post on creative ways to use these types of things, but today I am concentrating on a very basic dinner menu when the sales in your area are just terrible. This week there is a nice cut of steak on sale for 4.99 a pound, which is truly a good deal, but we can't afford meat at 4.99 a pound regardless of it being a good deal. This is not about finding deals, but about using what is typically available in the grocery on a bad sale and coupon week. 

Here is my quickie, go-to menu for lean weeks. Much of the ingredients are usually in my cupboard, so it doesn't cost as much. I make an assumption that there are some basics in the cabinet like spices and salt etc.. These recipes can be created differently, using what you already have, so don't panic! Just give it all a look and see what you can make do with.

See? Super easy. Generally those of us on a tight budget tend to have equally tight schedules, so ease was also a major consideration when making this menu.

Now, here is the grocery list. Again, make do with what is in your pantry! There are weeks when I have 1/2 or more of these things in my possession, and I almost always have some of these things from weeks when I had extra to stock up.

I will put up my own recipes in the next post. Same bat time, same bat channel.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How I save on groceries: Couponing

Don't touch that "back" button! Seriously.

A long time ago, more than 17 years past, I entered the world of couponing. The world was kind to couponers back then, with 2 for 1 sales and triple coupons galore. I could pick up 150.00 worth of groceries for a third of the cost. The problem was that the food was junk. Now, if you are in such a bad way that you can not afford healthy foods regardless, this was an okay strategy. We had shelves of cereals filled with HFC's and salty premade foods that we got for practically nothing.

Then I became more aware of how various additives in our foods affect our bodies. Grim realization that I was probably contributing my my child's weight problem, and even though we were pretty bad off financially, I did what I could to reverse the problem.

Fast forward to now. My husband's pay raises have not kept up with the cost of living for over a decade now. He does not make enough to keep a roof over our heads, never mind food in our bellies unless I do some major budget cutting.

Yes, our farm stand helps a great deal. We can get bulk foods and shave the costs off of the next couple of weeks food budget, relying on the foods we purchased cheaper. The foods are healthier and local for the most part, and if not their own, it is labelled. I have started canning to take advantage of these deals, but I know that I am still in a better position than many who simply do not have the cash all at once to take advantage of these types of deals.

In comes the coupon experience again. I have decided to jump back in, just more cautiously this time around. My savings are different because I only choose things we generally use, but I still can stock up on things without shattering my weekly/biweekly budget. This week I saved 51.00 dollars and spent a little over 80.00 dollars. Since I was able to take advantage of other sales, I didn't have to worry as much about some of the basics, but this works even if you are still dealing with buying the basics.

First up, join My Points. If you would like to help me out, just send me your email and I will send you a referral which will get me more points. Otherwise, just sign up straight on the site. This place will send you emails (I suggest making a folder and rule to send them to their own place to avoid clutter in your mailbox) that you can click on to earn points. There are also surveys and such. I mention this because they also have links to coupons. You receive points for clipping and using these coupons, so you are getting a double whammy. Points can be used for gift certificates at many different online and brick and mortar stores like Target and Amazon.

Once you are done there, go to SavingStar , sign up and enter your shopper cards for all of the places you shop. Once you do, you can load savings onto all of your cards for specific food items. For instance, this week I purchased Toaster Strudel (yes I know.. not good for you, but a nice treat) for 2 for 5.00 and had 3 75 cent off coupons plus a .75 cent credit for three at SavingStar. The math is:
6 @ 15.00
- coupons: .75 cents off 2 (had three)
-doubled coupons: .75 cents off 2 (for three coupons)

So, I spent  10.50 for six packages (usually 2.89 a package here). Now, Savings star is sending me .75 cents (after I have accumulated enough credits) so my total cost is now 9.50 meaning I spent 1.63 a piece.  I am now receiving over 5.00 in cash from SavingStar due to combining sales, coupons and the offers there.

Generally I don't like buying a lot of premade items, but with everyone working or going to school (or both), having a quick snack or even breakfast, is not a bad idea. Along with that, there were many other sales available, such as a whole roaster chicken for .99 cent a pound. Between the sales and coupons I have enough food for my family for some time.

There are many sites out there that will help you stretch a buck. The trick is to be sure that your family will actually use the products. I have said time and time again, it isn't a bargain if you never use it. I got a few quickie meals because my husband isn't very good at making things from scratch unless it is planned out for him, so having a couple meal helpers are a good idea. We aren't eating them regularly, but they are good to have in a pinch. Homemade bread is wonderful, but if you don't have time to make it (and yes, it can be very cheap), finding a good deal on whole wheat bread is important, but if you are making it all the time, then it isn't worth it for your family. (Personally I do both, depending on the time I have).

This takes time. You need a printer to use the paper online coupons, and that can be expensive depending on the quality of paper and how expensive your cartridges are. That needs to be taken into consideration too. I probably spent an hour yesterday clipping and planning the stores I would go to and what I would buy.

Another source of savings that are often overlooked are "Catalinas". These are the coupons on the bottom of your receipt. I get .20 cents off every gallon of gas for my purchases, plus over 10.00 in additional, in-store coupons for items that I either purchase or could fit into my weekly menu.

It takes creative meal planning and a willingness to try new things, but it is a system that works for many people. If you are even luckier and can pay off your credit bill immediately (like, as soon as you use it, just go online and pay right away), you can use reward credit cards for your purchases saving you even more money! I do not suggest doing this if you are not positive that you can pay it off as soon as you get home though. Even one months of interest could blow any rewards you receive away.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Organizing DVDs

Yesterday I decided to tackle our DVD collection. Over the years we have collected a number of DVDs, most from a place that sells second hand ones are really low prices. They had taken over the shelves I had built many years ago for my extensive collection of books. While I love books in all ways, we just didn't have the space for all of the ones I was collecting and I wasn't using them, so they were donated. Now I had a place for all those DVDs! Except, I didn't.

The collection was unwieldy and because the shelves were not made for DVDs they were not the most efficient use of space. I plan to replace the shelves, but in the mean time what to do? I wanted to do this as cheaply as possible but still have them look good. I checked out the usual places for decent looking plastic bins, but could not find anything that worked with the room and the disks.

Then, as I was looking up DVD cases on Amazon, on a whim, there they were. Perfect! And I didn't have to deal with black as they have brown also. They are heavy cardboard, have real snaps to put them together and are pretty sturdy. Each package of two costs a little over 10 dollars and each box holds approximately 13 DVDs in regular old fashioned sleeves. They would hold more if you are using them for slim sets.

I grouped them by type: Animated Disney, Action Adventure, etc.. You will have to make your own labels. Luckily, I had some heavy stock paper around, so I measured and cut out pieces double the length and folded them in half. When I put the labels in with the open side down, it parts slightly and keeps the label in and not falling through the bottom. This is not free however I decided to apply for the Amazon credit card for the 30 dollar bonus. The trick is to not use it of course, so if you don't think that you can restrain yourself, do not do it. It will not be worth it, even for that great deal on 100lbs of wheatberries.

Here it is all done except for the knick-knacks that I haven't found a place for yet. I can give away most of them, but some have strong emotional attachments to deal with.

Of course I still should redo the shelving, but that is for another day, as I have an interview for a temporary position in my field, so I won't have a lot of time for it hopefully. Fingers crossed!

Friday, August 31, 2012

New Pretty...Free!

Free is not always free. That is a golden rule of shopping. Sometimes though, things are actually free sometimes.

I have been looking off and on for a 1950's vintage (or even retro which is a new version of an old style) table and chairs set. I wanted it to have the chrome and ideally be red. I have seen them for sale and have seriously considered getting one, but I was either too late for the really inexpensive ones, or they turned out to be in bad condition.

Imagine my surprise when I was looking at Craigslist for my area in the "free" section on a lark and there, two entries down was a free genuine 1950's table. I called immediately and indeed it had just been posted and still available. It was about 20 minutes away (not highway), so there was the cost of gas, but that is it. I didn't even need a truck.

Even better, it was the color I wanted. My husband and I went right out and picked it up. At first I was a little disappointed because the chairs appeared to have a marble like texture.

This is what they looked like, except even worse. We had done some scrubbing before I thought to take the picture. When they were home, my husband started washing them and discovered immediately that this was all filth from many, many years of use. Still, the chrome is beautiful and there is nothing that a little elbow grease will not fix, so we went to work.

We did spend some money on cleaners. With antiques or vintage things, you have to be careful of how you restore them or they lose significant value. After a week of scrubbing and quite a lot of armor all, they are finished. I am incredibly pleased with the result!

I still have a lot of work to do in the kitchen (including repainting the walls), but this set makes me happy every time I look at it. There are four chairs, but for the sake of a decent picture I left one out.

The value? Well to me it is priceless. This is an almost mint condition vintage piece. Used and dirty they easily go for 400 or more dollars, and the chrome is not always in very good shape. A new retro set costs upwards of 1500 dollars!

So, if you have your heart set on something, go to the places that list freebies in your area. I look at Freecycle or Craigslist for the best finds. Just remember to figure in the cost of fixing or cleaning and how much it will take to get it home. For about 20 dollars I brought home a very desirable piece of furniture that is going to look great when I finally finish the kitchen in the style I like. It will take a while to get the things I need as I look for bargains, but it will be well worth it.

If you have found a great bargain like this and want to post it, please feel free! Happy freebie hunting!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cheap Cleaners

Homemade window cleaner:

You think I am going to say "vinegar" don't you? While it is a cheap cleaner and if you really work at it, doesn't leave streaks, I am here to say that you do not need a subscription to the newspaper so that you can wad it up and wash windows.

Vinegar was my go to for a while. It is cheap, especially at Costco, and doesn't hurt my skin. Thing is, it smells. I noticed it when I went to another person's house who using vinegar for everything. They had cleaned in the morning and by the afternoon I could still smell it and it did not smell clean to me.  Yes, it still has plenty of uses, there is no denying that, but for windows and general cleaning I use this mix, which is also cheap:

Window/All-Purpose Cleaner

2 2/3c. water
2/3 c rubbing alcohol
1 tsp dish detergent (or a little less like I do)
1 tsp ammonia

Mix it all in a clean spray bottle clearly marked for this cleaner and go to town. I use it on everything I would normally use a cleaner on. I find that my mirrors and windows are very streak free with little effort. Don't wash windows in the direct sunlight though, that will streak no matter what you are using.

For copper pans (or copper bottomed like a couple of mine) are taken care of with a mix of vinegar and some salt and baking soda to make a paste. Keep it in a container near the sink for easy access.

Burnt on gunk on the bottom of your pan? Throw some baking soda in there and simmer for a while. Check in here and there to see if it has loosened. The gunk will not just float away, but it will be considerable easier to remove.

Okay, off to the dentist with the child.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Farm Seconds

Here I am again talking about canning. With El Nino making an appearance in the Pacific we are having some crop failures in the basics across the United States and there is some concern about parts of Central and South America. That means that all corn, wheat and barely are expected to rise in price. Since we are pretty dependent on corn in this country, this is something that should be taken into consideration. That of course, brings us back to my canning adventures.

I realize that this blog tries to stay away from the rally cry of "stock up while on sale", but sometimes it is a terrific idea if at all possible. Hopefully these ideas will help make it a little more possible. Since the point to canning is to save money, buying things that are expensive makes no sense generally. I did splurge on some freshly squeezed lemon juice for a batch of Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate, although if you take into account the cost of lemons it wasn't really too out of reach if I would have made it anyway. Let me tell you, it is delicious and will be a lovely thing come winter when strawberries are imported and, let's face it, tasteless and pricey.

For this recipe I came across some farm stand seconds inside of the store. I picked up two quarts of local berries for two dollars less a quart than sold normally. You may be wondering about the quality of the goods. Normally seconds are simply those things that are not "fit to sell".  That means that they may have surface anomalies or possible a little more ripe than is usually sold.  These berries were a little ripe, but no where near overripe.

This is what was left after making the Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate. I didn't think to take a picture before, partially because I wanted to use them before my appointment yesterday. As you can see, they are really pretty, and this is from yesterday. They are much sweeter than you will find in a regular grocery store and are perfect for jam, if I had enough. Since the season for strawberries is definitely over, there won't be more this year, but next year I will be armed. I am going to call up the farm, Wilson Farm, and see if they offer other things than the berries and tomatoes.

Today I am making peach jam, as local peaches and sugar were on sale at the regular grocery market. Zucchini from the farm was .99 cents a pound, which is a little high for this time of year, but still .50 cents a pound cheaper for the very marred up squash at the grocery store. With those I will be making bread and butter pickles as well as zucchini bread for the freezer.

Keep an eye out for sales on staples and stock up the best you can when they are on sale. To avoid weevils, put things in the freezer in a sealed container or freezer bags. I found sugar on sale, but it wasn't the best sale so I just got two bags this time. Usually these things go on super sale over the holidays. I am not certain that this will happen this year due to drought, but if you can, do it. You do have a chest freezer, right?

A decent chest freezer can be found for free on Craig's List or Freecycle for your area. If not, try the items for sale as you can often get a good price. Just be careful as the older models use so much electricity it may not be worth it, so decide based on that.

I am also planning salsa today. I was hoping to get tomatillos yesterday, but alas, they had very little stock left.  Today I simply have to pick up ice, jalapenos and possible a dried chili pepper or two. Since we tend to eat a lot of salsa, and the jars are quite pricey for what they are, this is a very good investment. Here is a picture of the plum tomato seconds that I got for over a dollar less a pound:

Pretty huh? 

So, the lesson is to buy seconds from your local farmer if possible and can things that you use a lot or that you know you would use a lot if you could afford it. It is not hard, and if you are canning acidic foods (tomatoes need a little extra to be canned this way), all it takes is a large, deep pot with a cake rake on the bottom and some canning jars. Below is the recipe for the Lemonade I made. 

Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate (From the Ball Book of Preserving)

2 cups cleaned, hulled and mashed (this is a quart of fresh strawberries and maybe a little more for a full six quarts)
6 cups sugar
4 cups lemonade, fresh (if you can't find fresh or lemons are too expensive don't bother it won't taste very good due to there being very little, if any, actual lemons in the other stuff)

Put everything in a deep, stainless steel pot and cook over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved and the temperature is 190 degrees F. (88 degrees Celsius). Do NOT boil. Really.

Ladle hot mixture into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. I will post how to prepare jars below. Slide a none metallic spatula (or a long bamboo chops stick) around the edges to remove air bubbles. If necessary, add more mixture to top off. Wipe the edges of the jars, this is very important and easy to forget. Top with heated lids and screw bands on. Just twist until you feel it take hold and then just a little more. Finger tip tight.

Place in canner (the water should already be very hot/boiling). Bring back to a boil and time for 15 minutes for pint jars. Quart jars should go for 15 minutes also, although some sources say 20. I used the National Center for Home Food Preservation guidelines. I had to use general citrus guidelines (I used Grapefruit) because this is a pretty acidic product. 

Remove from canner with a jar lifter. This will save you much pain, buy this piece of equipment. You will thank me. Place on a baking rack that is covered with a kitchen towel. If the counter is slippery, put a towel or something grippy under the rack, like that rubbery shelf liner.

To prepare jars for canning: There are a couple schools of thought on this. Some people feel that you should boil the jars for 10 minutes before using to fully sterilize them. There are others who feel that they should just simmer and the wait in the water to be used is fine. I go with the boiling for safety sake. Leave the jars in the hot water on a simmer until ready to be filled, regardless.
Simmer the brand new lids. Do not reuse. The bands don't require anything but being clean and in good repair. Do not boil the lids as it will mess with the seal. While not necessary, a lid wand is of great use. The one I use is a magnet on one end for lifting the lids and a flat end for removing air bubbles.