Cheap meal plan August 2014

The time has come for me to put my best frugal foot forward. Thanks to higher taxes and insurance my husband’s much-needed pay raise disappeared. Thanks to higher prices on everydaggumthing under the sun, I think we have returned to financial bottom. The hubs and I are both working odd jobs now, he as a flight instructor and I as a freelance writer, just to try to keep food on the table.

I’ve never emptied my freezer and pantry before because I didn’t have enough money to buy any groceries. But there I was a couple of weeks ago. It would have been the same last payday, but we took the risk and delayed the mortgage payment again so we’d have some cash available. Then I, in all my glorious fuckupery, floated that late mortgage payment a day early so it cleared a day early. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Anyway, we’ve crunched and crunched the numbers and the fact is, if we want to pay all the bills–why would anyone want to do that, psht–then we have to have a very modest food budget. Like so modest, I need to find out when and where the food pantries are. So. Frustrating. And we are “middle class”. Yeah right.

Anyway, since most of the hits to my humble little blog come from people also trying to squeeze food out of miniscule budgets, I’m going to try again to document my meal plans and spending.  I think it’s so cute how some bloggers list “budget friendly” meals with ingredients like beef, lamb, and seafood. I’m sure they laugh all the way to the bank in their Audis.

Let’s get real all ye homemakers upon your crusty old minivans with broken handles that errbody thinks you should pay $600 to get fixed because ugly or whatever their justification for spending that many hunnies on a handle. Geez, you can still open it from the inside. You’ll find no judging eyes for your broken handles, scuffed sandals, or ratty tees here. I promise. Solidarity.

So, here’s what I plan to make for dinners:

If you didn’t know, we eat gluten-free and mostly dairy free, so I have to stretch a little bit harder than some folks. We can’t eat canned soups or store-bought bread. GF Bisquick is great and all, but at $5 for approximately two batches of pancakes, that is a big fat no-go. We’re mostly bread-free, because GF baking is difficult and expensive. For starches we eat rice and potatoes. My people decided they don’t like quinoa–turds–and we have had it up to here with the corn-based pastas, tortillas, and corn chips. Ugh.

Tacos. Self explanatory. There are a million and one ways to make these. I’ll be trying homemade crepes to maybe substitute for flour tortillas. We are really, really sick of corn tortillas. 😦

Lemon-pepper chicken thighs. Put your chicken thighs in the crock pot. Top with sliced onions. Sprinkle 1 tsp of lemon pepper per pound of chicken. When it’s cooked, separate the meat from the leftover juices. Stir yogurt into the juice to make a yummy sauce. You can serve with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, lettuce, and pita for yummy gyro-like goodness. Or with rice. But flatbread is better, just hard to make GF.

Meatloaf. Two pounds of ground meat, usually turkey. Traditionally it would be one of beef and one of pork. I don’t ever buy the season packets. I put in a handful of oatmeal, two eggs, and then I start throwing in spices or salt. I never make it the same way, which irritates my people because sometimes it turns out really good, and sometimes it’s just okay.

Pulled pork. Pork. Crockpot. Hours later it’s done. There are lots of ways you can spice this up. It’s nice to add a bay leaf, and you can mix up some sauce for Carolina barbeque for a sweet/tart/spicy treat on buns or by itself. Leftovers will make carnitas. I may make rolls, I may just serve it with buttered potatoes.

Three bean chili: I use 1/2 to 1 pound of ground meat, three cups of dry beans, soaked and precooked, and one 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes. I’m lazy, so I season with garlic and onion powder, chili powder, cumin, and chicken or beef base, depending on what I have on hand. Sometimes I’ll stir in cinnamon and cocoa powder or a square of baker’s chocolate. You can serve leftover chili over spaghetti noodles and make Spaghetti Red, as my dad used to call it.

Carnitas. True carnita meat is made by braising in broth for hours, then you cook off the fluid, then you continue cooking it in its own fat, sometimes adding lard, until the chunks of meat have fried to a delicious crisp. This is way too much work. They’re still good using pulled pork from the crock pot. If you want to fry the meat, oven frying seems to work best. Put some grease in a baking pan and put it in a hot oven. Add the meat when the fat is melted and hot, then bake until it’s crispy enough. Bacon grease works well for this. Carnitas should be served with guacamole, lettuce, and tomatoes and tortillas. Of course beans always go well with Mexican food and Spanish or Mexican rice.

Terriyaki chicken. I like to make my own terriyaki sauce. I find the store-bought stuff isn’t sweet enough and is way too salty. I’ll serve it with rice. If I’m especially motivated, I’ll make it fried rice.

Braised chicken I probably won’t add the wine or the fennel. More rice, or maybe I’ll make gnocchi.

Chicken stroganoff. I’ll use skinless and boneless thighs. Instead of canned soup I’ll use chicken base (worth the extra cost because bullion is disgusting and broth is expensive), milk, mushrooms, and I’ll thicken with cornstarch before I stir in yogurt.

Note on skipping the canned soup: If you do this, remember a can of soup is 12 oz, so just add 12 oz of milk instead. If the recipe calls for extra milk or water, just add milk. The can of soup would reconstitute to 24 oz, or three cups, so you need to add 3 tsp of base or bullion. You’ll want to thicken with about 3 Tbs of cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup of milk. That should do it. 🙂 There are other tutorials for homemade concentrated soup, but I found this method works well, even if it isn’t exact. And no MSG!

Pork chops and gravy. My mom likes to make this by putting the chops in a pan on the stove and covering with a can of cream of mushroom gravy. I’ll be using the same technique I will use for the stroganoff. Either way, simmer them for a couple of hours and they are fork tender and delicious. Serve over rice, pasta, or potatoes.

Tarragon chicken. So yummy. Cooked and cubed chicken, tarragon, brown or dijon mustard, capers (if you have them), onion, garlic, etc. Chicken broth made from chicken base. Then stir in a package (or so) of cream cheese or Neufatchel. Serve it over rice or pasta. So. Good.

Chicken fingers and fries. I’ll slice inexpensive chicken breast into strips, use corn meal and GF flour to bread it (egg wash) and bake them.

Whole roasted chicken (twice). At just over $1 a pound, I might cook two at a time so I have extra chicken to freeze. Leftover will make soup for lunches. Always make a broth with your carcass, otherwise it’s just money in the trash. You can freeze your broth and save money on bullion or base. I’ll make mashed taters and a veggie side.

Lunches will mostly be leftovers.

Breakfasts will alternate between eggs and turkey bacon, oatmeal, and pancakes. I only buy Log Cabin syrup brand because the others use HFCS and I like my liver. My people actually don’t care for real maple syrup, which is good because we can’t afford that anyway!

Awesome deal:

Walgreens has a dozen eggs on sale this week for 99 cents each (limit 4). My sweet little hens have just started laying so soon I won’t be buying any more eggs! Yay!



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