Cheap as free chicken stock

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this before. It’s such a part of my life that I suppose I just assumed that I must have written about it. It’s a recipe and it’s a way of life: making chicken broth from frozen accumulated chicken bones and veggie scraps.

Simply put, whenever we have chicken I save the bones in a zip-lock baggie in the freezer. I keep all the bones (including the ones off your plate if you ever come to my house for dinner), and the scraps including some skin. I also keep my veggie scraps, especially those from onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, shallots and garlic.

When I have enough, I stick everything in my crock pot overnight with a couple of bay leaves and some apple cider vinegar, and simmer until it’s time to make soup for dinner the next day. You can do this on the stove as well, with a pot on the lowest setting.

This stuff is delicious and wonderfully nutritious. The acid from the vinegar helps to break down the proteins, making home made broth a great source for dissolved minerals which are readily taken up by the body. I’ve also recently read that gelatin-rich broths actually help your body absorb protein from other sources, so you can get by with less meat. Just another reason why soups are so frugal.

I’ve got a pot simmering right now for tonight’s soup. We’ll have chicken soup and home made bread. Now that’s frugally delicious 🙂

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Iced Tea

If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself dealing with a daily afternoon craving for something sweet, caffienated, or both. For me, it’s both–and I don’t mean just sweetened coffee. No, I mean I want a coffee AND a sweet baked something, plus maybe a handful of chocolate chips for good measure.

Well, I’ve discovered a little solution to this problem quite by accident. It happened when instead of throwing out the half-pot of un-drunk tea, I stuck it in an empty yogurt container and squeezed in the juice from a leftover half a lemon. My husband scoffed. I shrugged my shoulders–waste not, want not I figured as I stuck it in the fridge, though I was a bit sceptical as to how this would turn out. It was chai tea after all–not a usual flavour for iced tea.

I was thirsty the next afternoon so I pulled out my tub-o-tea, spooned in some sugar and took a sip. Eureka! It was delicious–cold and sweet and lemony, blending perfectly with the chai spices. Plus I found it satisfying both my sugar craving and giving me my caffeine fix, but without any jittery feelings that sometimes accompany that afternoon extra cup.

So this is my new thing: never waste tea. Actually, it’s so good I’ve been making it intentionally. Brew tea, stick in fridge with lemon juice. Stir in sugar. And then grab a cookie.

You deserve it for being so damn clever.

Five Dollar Dinners?

I recently found a website that specializes in $5 dinners. Unfortunately, I can’t fix any of those dinners for the prices listed–mostly due to the price differences with meat, eggs and dairy items in the US. And vegetables. Sigh.

Not that I think all our food should be that cheap. In fact, most of the problems with our food system are due to the super-cheap prices we demand. North America spends less on food than anywhere else in the world, which leads to all sorts of problems like concentration of power, over-use of chemicals, mono-cropping, super-sizing animals with hormones, etc. etc. etc.

But. It is a challenge to feed a family of four healthy foods on a budget in downtown Ottawa. Yep, that’s 50% of my blog content summed up right there.

So I’m going to try producing some of my own $5 dinners. Not $5 per serving. Not $5 per night. $5 for the whole dang healthy pot of dinner. Now, I guarantee these won’t be anything fancy. You won’t find any arugula or pancetta or anything else in French or Italian. You might not even want to admit to eating this for “dinner”. But I will guarantee they will be healthy, balanced, and contain at least some fresh vegetables.

I’m going to try making this black bean casserole I saw online some place, and if it comes in under $5, I’ll blog the recipe. Until then, let me know your favourite cheap meals! If they’re under $5, I’ll add them to my list.

Work Lunches: a new strategy

Some times you have to spend money to save money. It’s a hard, cruel fact. One that I’ve ignored for far too long. Today I broke the bank with pyrex, but it should save us a bunch of money in the long run!

Now that we’re doing Your Money or Your Life step 2 (part 2)–which involves tracking every cent that comes into and goes out of our lives–I’ve realized just how much money is being spent on food outside the home. Lots! One area where we have fallen down is in organizing my partner’s lunches at work. When he doesn’t bring something from home, his lunches out can easily cost around $10 per day. And that doesn’t count the $5 afternoon Starbucks run. Fifteen bucks a day adds up quick, and my partner is the first to admit that the food is crappy and not worth it.

Now that the baby is eight and a half months, things are beginning to stabilize a bit in our household, and we can start building some systems again, start re-organizing. So we had a chat about the lunches, and came up with a strategy for reducing his food costs at work.

Basically, the plan is to have five lunches ready and waiting in the fridge or freezer at the beginning of each week so that there will always be something to grab each day and he won’t end up needing to buy lunches any more. The specific strategy points are as follows:

1. Try to do better with leftovers. I always “intend” to make sure there are leftovers to take, but too often I forget to actually allow for them in my cooking. Leftovers will be priority #1.

Spaghetti lunches, ready for the freezer

2. Make big-batch home-made “frozen” lunches. This is where the pyrex comes in. I finally broke down and bought five glass freezer containers suitable for a decent portion of food for my partner’s lunch. My idea is to do just like the frozen dinners do and have a bed of noodles or rice dumped over with a good helping of sauce. Only this version will be home made, and it will be super duper cheap!

So, today I did a big batch of spaghetti. We ate a good helping for dinner, and then I made more noodles and packed up five yummy portions for frozen lunches. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I’m planning to make big meaty saucy stewy meals every Sunday from now on to stock up the frozen lunches for the week. These home-made frozen dinners will be priority #2.

3. Buy enough frozen meals to last a week. My partner doesn’t mind the President’s Choice frozen Indian dishes, so I will try to make sure there are at least five in our freezer at the start of the week. That way, if we fall down on #1 and #2, at least he has those.

4. Make cookies. What can I say? My man likes my cookies. I figure for the cost of maybe two cookies at Starbucks, I could make a full batch of cookies at home. If I make them, he’ll eat them. And we all save money.

So there you have it: the new plan. It involves a lot of Sunday cooking and shopping, but I think we’re ready for it. There is a lot to be said for getting ready for the week on the weekend, instead of playing catch-up the rest of the days.

I also wanted to add that today I shopped at the Isabella Loblaws and found some great sales. First off, the PC frozen meals were on sale for $3 each, so I bought enough for two weeks. There were also all these bread products, reduced to 50% off. Due date: June 15! I don’t know who is getting fired over this, but I got a loaf of bread, a bag of english  muffins, and two bags of bagels, each for between $1 and $1.50.

So we are really really really well stocked at the moment. It feels good. But MAN my freezer is full!

“Chips”

A friend of mine has started taking me to Food Basics down at Herongate. It’s got some great deals, including large pita bread at $1.69 per package. That’s 6 very big pitas–about 12″ across–at about 30 cents each. I’ve been getting the whole wheat ones which are very tasty and also very filling, especially with hummus or refried beans. Yum!

Last time I went I stocked up and got about 4 bags and thew them in the freezer. Now when I want something to dip, roll or top, I pull out a pita.

But my favourite thing to do with them, especially if they sit around and get a little stale, is to tear them up into pieces and toast them in the oven to make “chips”. Super fast, healthy, substantial and delicious. Maybe next time I will try brushing them with butter or olive oil, plus some salt and/or spices for an even more delicious treat.

Other things I’ve been doing with the pitas include tearing away one half, folding it over with shredded cheese inside, and making a melt in my skillet. I’ve also used them as a wrap for scrambled eggs, but you could wrap anything inside really.

What do you do with your pita bread?

Home Made Peanut Butter

Making peanut butter
Making peanut butter

My favourite peanut butter is the freshly ground kind from the grinder at the health food store. But I recently read that conventional peanuts are usually grown as rotation crops with soy–one of the biggest pesticide loaded crops of all. That got me a bit paranoid about conventional peanuts. The only problem is that bulk organic peanut butter is $12 something per kilo–more than double the price of conventional.

Luckily the bulk organic roasted peanuts are only $8 something. While still expensive, it’s cheaper, but now I have to grind it myself.

My first attempt at making my own peanut butter, I just chucked the peanuts into my food processor and ground away until I thought it was done. Unfortunately I didn’t process long enough and the texture was gritty and wouldn’t spread on crackers or bread.

For my next attempt, after doing some reading on the internet, I tried adding 1 tsp of oil per cup of roasted peanuts. I used some olive oil and some coconut oil (which is a liquid now since it’s heated up here!). I also decided to process it longer.

And it worked! At first, the blades were clearly chopping the nuts into tiny pieces, and it sounded like it. Soon, however, it started sounding smoother, and a ball of stuff formed inside the machine. That was the point at which I stopped last time. This time I let it keep going. Soon, I could see a smooth creamy layer forming at the bottom of the food processor. I let it keep going and shortly the whole bowl was full of creamy peanut butter.

It’s pretty tasty, and certainly spreadable. While it’s a bit more work, I’m planning on sticking with the organic. And now that the peanut butter has worked, I might try my own almond butter too!

A Cheaper Way with Beans

Cans of beans were on for 99 cents for the last few weeks, and I stocked up on some of our favourites: black beans for soup, mixed beans for tabouli, kidney beans and white kidney beans for chili and other stuff, and our favourite: chick peas, for hummus, tabouli, and many other things. But darn, they take up a lot of room! And is 99 cents really a bargain?

Well, we ran out of chick peas, and I really want to make both hummus and tabouli this week, but the sale is over. So I finally pulled out the giant 2 kilo bag of dried chick peas from the back of the cupboard. I measured a cup of dried peas and almost 2 litres of water into a large bowl, and left them out to soak last night. This afternoon I’ll give them a good boil for about an hour, and I’ll be good to go with the equivalent of 2 cans of chick peas.

And is it cheaper? Well, if memory serves, my 2 kilo bag of chick peas cost about $3.99, or $2 per kilo. 1/2 cup dried peas (equivalent to one can) weighs about 110 grams–about 22 cents. Yes, it takes some energy to boil them afterwards, but it’s still about 1/4 the price.

The other benefit is how little space dried beans take up to store compared to cans. A great benefit in our teeny tiny kitchen.

Once I’m done this 2 kilo bag, I’ll head to the Sandy Hill People Food Co-op and pick up some organic beans for $3.85 per kilo–still around half the price of conventional canned! I’m all about bringing down the price of organics.

So, for beans, as with many other things, I can either spend money or time, and in the words of Erik Knutzen, “my time is cheap”! (And BPA free.)