Friday, December 27, 2013

Lucky New Year's Foods and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas! I did. I spent it with my family – Mom, three brothers, and some sisters-in-law and nieces. It was great to see everyone.

There’s really not much going on this week in the way of bargains. At least not bargains in the kind of food I eat and that I talk about in this column.

As usual, Aldi’s best buys are on fresh produce. Avocados are 49 cents each, Cucumbers are three for 99 cents. Baby carrots are 69 cents for a one pound package. Two peppers, one red and one yellow, are $1.49 for the two of them. Grape tomatoes are 99 cents for a pint, and celery is 89 cents a head.

The folks at Kroger have apparently heard of lucky foods for the New Year. They have corned beef for $1.97 a pound, and cabbage 4 pounds for a dollar. (That’s a fabulous price on cabbage! Buy some extra if you can. It keeps a long time in the fridge.) Canned black-eyed peas are 79 cents a can.

IGA in Ellettsville and Bedford has ground beef for $1.99 a pound. Cabbage is 39 cents a pound, which is not a great buy, but is cheaper than usual. Premade meatballs are 99 cents for 14 ounces, with a coupon from their flier. Dips and sour cream are 99 cents a pint (16 ounces).

As I said, not much this week in the way of bargains.

We’ll do something a bit different this week. Instead of concentrating on what’s on sale, this week’s recipes will be for lucky foods to eat on New Year’s Day. You’ve probably heard that it’s lucky to eat Hoppin’ John (a black-eyed pea dish) on New Year’s Day. But did you know that there are lucky foods for the New Year in many cultures? And they’re remarkably consistent, too. Greens, because they look like folding money and because they symbolize life. Pork, because pigs root forward, symbolizing progress. Beans, lentils, and other legumes, because they look like coins and because they swell when cooked, symbolizing increasing abundance. Long noodles, to symbolize long life (but be sure not to break them when cooking!). Cornbread, because it looks like gold. Round fruit, especially grapes, because they look like coins. Fish, because the scales look like coins. And lots of others.

A good place to start is with Southern style HOPPIN’ JOHN, GREENS, and CORNBREAD. You’ll get four lucky foods in that way! The HOPPIN’ JOHN recipe originally called for chicken stock, but I changed it to water, because it’s unlucky to eat chicken on New Year’s Day. That’s because chicken’s scratch backwards, symbolizing lack of progress. The ham hock (pork) and the black eyed peas are both lucky foods. The recipe makes ten servings, which is a lot, but you’re supposed to eat the leftovers on the 2nd as Skippin’ Jenny, to symbolize frugality and even more prosperity in the New Year. A whole recipe of Hoppin’ John will cost between $4.00 and $5.00 and will make ten servings. Let’s call it 50 cents a serving, just to make the math easy.

Collards and kale are the traditional Southern greens to serve on New Year’s Day, but cabbage is the traditional lucky green in Germany and Sweden. And cabbage is on sale this week.  Cole slaw would go well with Hoppin’ John, and would be lucky. But I’ll give Paula Deen’s recipe for COLLARD GREENS, just to keep with the Southern theme. Her recipe calls for another tablespoon of seasoned salt, but that’s too salty for me, especially with the salt in the ham hocks. You can add it if you want to, though I’d wait and add it at the end, if you think it still needs it. 

I didn’t check the price on collards, but I’m guessing that this would cost about $3.00, or about 75 cents a serving. And finally, some cornbread. Just make your own favorite recipe, or use Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix. Add some canned corn if you like. The nuggets of corn look like nuggets of gold, for even more prosperity in 2014! The whole meal, then, of Hoppin’ John (half the recipe – don’t forget to save some for Skippin’ Jenny the day after New Year’s Day), Collard Greens, and cornbread, will cost right around $6.00, or about $1.50 per person. You can add some extra luck by having fruit for dessert. Something round, like an orange (which looks like gold!) or some grapes.

In Italy, the traditional lucky food for New Year’s Day is lentils and pork, as in this recipe for LENTIL-ESCAROLESOUP WITH SAUSAGE. The idea is the same as with Hoppin’ John – pork is lucky because pigs root forward, symbolizing progress, and the lentils look like coins and swell when cooked, symbolizing abundance and prosperity. This soup includes greens, too, for even more good luck! Again, I’ve substituted water for chicken broth, because it’s unlucky to eat chicken on New Year’s Day. A batch of this costs about $4.50. Cornbread would go well with this, too, and of course some round fruit.

Another meal with multiple lucky foods is FISH AND BOK CHOY NOODLE STIR FRY. It includes fish (lucky because the scales look like money and because fish swim around in schools, symbolizing abundance), greens (symbolizing money because they look like folded bills), and noodles (long noodles symbolizing long life). This one dish meal will cost about $5.00, leaving a dollar for some round fruit to finish off the meal.

Of course, you don’t have to eat meat to be lucky in 2014! SPAGHETTI WITH CREAMY SPINACH AND TARRAGON is vegetarian and includes long noodles (spaghetti) for long life and greens (spinach) for prosperity. This is one time when fresh spinach would be better than frozen. A batch of this costs about $4.00. You could add to your luck by also serving a lentil, black-eyed pea or bean salad, some corn bread, and some round fruit and keep the cost under $1.50 per person.

So there you have it. Lucky foods for a lucky start to a healthy and prosperous New Year. And even if you don’t believe that certain foods are lucky, these foods are also good for you and inexpensive, and a great and healthy way to start your New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy and save money in the New Year! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

You Mean There's Still More Ham Left?!

This week’s ads look an awful lot like last week’s. Ham is still king. I’ll give a run down on ham at the various stores first, and then move on to other things. It looks like a lot of the price differences are based on whether you’re getting a “name brand” or a “store brand,” as well as on how much water is added in the processing. I’ll let you know what I find about the type of ham (how much water is added), but be sure to check the packaging, too. I’m just relying on the little bit of information given in the ads.

Kroger has Kroger Spiral Sliced Ham for $1.27 a pound, limit of two with $25 in additional purchases. Cook’s Shank Portion Ham is 97 cents a pound, limit of 2 with $10 in additional purchases. Cumberland Gap Semi-Boneless Whole Ham is $1.99 a pound, and Hickory Hills Boneless Ham is $2.49 a pound. John Morrell Spiral Sliced Ham is $2.69 a pound and Private Selection Spiral Sliced Ham is $2.99. Whew! That’s anywhere from 97 cents to $2.99 per pound!

It’s a similar story at Marsh. Hormel Cure 81 Spiral Hams are $1.37 per pound, limit of one, with $25 of additional purchases. Sugardale Prestige Fully Cooked Shank Portion Hardwood Ham (water added) is 97 cents a pound, limit of one with $25 in additional purchases. Indiana Kitchen Heritage House Spiral Sliced Ham with Glaze Packet is $2.49 a pound. Alexander Hornung boneless hams and semi-boneless hams are $1.99 a pound. Marsh Honey Gold Spiral Sliced Glazed Ham is $10 off a half ham or $20 off a whole ham, but they don’t say how much the ham costs to begin with, so there’s no way to tell how much it ends up costing per pound. You’ll have to do the math when you get there.

Aldi has Appleton Farms hams on sale, $1.49 per pound for a spiral sliced half ham, 99 cents for a shank portion, or $1.19 for a butt portion.

IGA in Ellettsville has Best Choice Spiral Sliced Half Ham for $1.89 per pound, limit of one, with $15 in additional purchases, Field Kentucky Legend Boneless Whole Ham for $2.69 a pound, also with a limit of one and with $15 in additional purchases. Emge E-Z Carve Boneless Half Ham is $3.19 a pound and Boneless Whole Ham is $2.99 a pound. Carolina Pride Super Trim Half Ham is $1.39 per pound. Cumberland Gap Semi-Boneless Half Ham is $2.19 a pound, and Semi-Boneless Whole Ham is $1.89 a pound. Kretschmar Boneless Half Ham is $2.69 a pound, and Whole Boneless Ham is $2.49 a pound. Baking hens, roasters and whole fryers are all 99 cents a pound.

Other sales at Kroger include pints of sour cream or dip, 10 for $10, but it doesn’t look like you have to actually buy 10 items. Tennessee Pride breakfast sausage is 2 for $5, with packages ranging from 8 to 16 ounces. Various cheeses are $1.99 per 6 to 8 ounce package. Private Selection or Kroger turkeys are 99 cents a pound, and fresh Honeysuckle turkeys are $1.69 a pound. Cantaloupe are 2 for $3, or $1.50 each. That’s a great price, even for the summer. Fresh green beans are 99 cents a pound.

Marsh has fresh Florida strawberries, two pounds for $5, or $2.50 per pound. Various canned veggies are 49 cents a can. Thursday through Saturday only, whole pineapples are 99 cents each, limit of two with $30 in additional purchases. Indiana Kitchen bacon is $2.99 a pound. Zucchini is $1.29 a pound. Butterball Fresh All Natural turkeys are $1.99 a pound, and Norbest Fresh All Natural Family Tradition turkeys are $1.69 per pound.

Aldi’s vegetables are about the same as they have been. Potatoes are $1.89 for 10 pounds, sweet potatoes are $1.49 for 3 pounds. Oranges are $2.49 for a 4 pounds (but they were actually only $1.99 when I was there on Tuesday!), and mixed fruit (apples and oranges) are $2.49 for a 3 pound bag. Grapefruit are 49 cents each and pineapples are 99 cents each. Butter is $1.69 a pound and cream cheese is 89 cents for 8 ounces. If you’re interested in things like canned sweet potatoes, stuff to make green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc., you might want to take a look at Aldi. They have most of that stuff on sale, too.

IGA has turkeys for $1.19 a pound, while supplies last. Oranges are $3.99 for an 8 pound bag. Canned veggies are three for $1, limit of nine cans. Various Kraft cheeses are buy one, get one free, but it doesn’t say how much they cost. Sour cream and dips are 99 cents for 16 ounces (one pint). Best Choice Fresh Turkeys are $1.49 per pound. Cooked Perfect Meatballs are 99 cents for 14 ounces. Birds Eye frozen vegetables are 10 bags for $10, or $1 each, for 10 to 16 ounce bags, and so are Steamfresh frozen veggies. Red Delicious apples are $5.99 for 8 pounds.

Since ham is still on sale, I’ll do another column working with that. Again, I’ll be mostly talking about the leftover ham. There can be lots of leftovers and it can get pretty old! However, it does freeze well, and then you can use it later when you’re looking for a break from chicken or whatever. I’m figuring on 60 cents a cup again, like last week, when I cost out the recipes and menus.

This first recipe, HAMAND SPINACH CASSEROLE, does have grain in it, both in the white sauce and in the buttered crumbs on top. (As you may know by now, I don’t eat grains in any form.) I left them in the recipe in case you do eat them, which most people do. If you don’t want the wheat, you can substitute one can’s worth of the Campbell’s Soup Casserole Sauce Mix (I gave the recipe last week) for the white sauce, and add the cheese to it. As for the bread crumbs, you could use some slivered almonds if you wanted to, or more cheese, or just leave the topping off altogether, which is what I would do.

If you make this with half and half cream, the total cost will be about $4.50. With the soup mix or with milk it would be a bit less. Some CARROT SALAD would be good with this and would brighten up the plate. With the Carrot Salad, the meal would cost about $5.50, or a bit less than $1.50 per person. Or you could serve fruit and still keep it under $1.50 per person. Fresh fruit is best, of course, but canned without sugar is good, too. You’ll want something with it, anyway, because the servings are a bit smaller than I usually give.

Here’s a really easy way to use up some of that leftover ham. HAM AND BROCCOLI SAUTE is just ham and broccoli and cheese. You can’t get much simpler or quicker than that! Sometimes, especially in the middle of getting ready for the holidays, you just don’t want to spend much time or energy getting a meal on the table. Here’s the answer. This costs under $4.00, leaving a bit over $2.00 for things to go with it. How about some sweet potatoes, either baked or boiled, than whipped with some butter? You’d still be under $5.00 for four servings, or a bit under $1.25 per person.

And finally, BAKEDYAMS, APPLES AND CANADIAN BACON (OR HAM). As you might guess from the name, I took a recipe that calls for Canadian bacon and made it with leftover ham, instead. If you have sliced ham, go ahead and use it but follow the directions for Canadian bacon. This costs right about $4.00 and makes four generous servings. How about serving some coleslaw to go with it? I’ve given my recipe a few times (shredded or chopped cabbage, chopped onion, mayo, lemon juice, sweetener), but you’ve probably got your own favorite way of fixing it. However you do it, a basic coleslaw shouldn’t run more than $2.00 (mine would come out closer to $1.50), keeping the total cost of the meal for four people at less than $6.00, or  less than $1.50 per person.

Okay, so this next one is really the last one. HAM, POTATOES AND GREEN BEANS is a concoction that Mom used to make. And with ham, potatoes and green beans all on sale this week, I just have to include it! At this week’s prices, this would run about $3.60 and makes four generous servings. What would really go best with it would be corn bread (less than $1.00 for Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix and butter), but since I said I wouldn’t be including bread in my menus, let’s have some devilled eggs (eggs were $1.29 a dozen at Aldi on Tuesday) and carrot sticks, and a pineapple or cantaloupe for dessert.

If you have just a dab of ham left, you can add it to lots of other things as an accent. It goes great in potato soup, or in a salad. You can chop it up small and add it to corn bread before you bake it. Throw it in some eggs and either scramble them or make an omelet out of it. Put it in mashed potatoes or scalloped potatoes. Make fried rice with it. Fry it up with some cabbage or put it in green beans. Or just eat it!

And whatever you do, don’t throw out the ham bone! Use it to make bean soup. Or make HAM BROTH and freeze it to make soup with later.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hamming It Up


Marsh has some meat on sale. Fresh picnic roasts are $1.29 per pound. As I’ve said (probably several times!) this is absolutely my favorite cut of meat. Unfortunately, there’s a big bone running through it, which ups the effective price considerably. By “effective price” I mean the price per serving. I’ve never actually weighed it out and everything, but I’d guess that on a per serving basis, or on how many ounces of actual cooked meat you get, pork loin at $2.00 a pound would be cheaper than the picnic at $1.29. But oh, the picnic is so much better! I just now looked up how much meat is left after you take out the bone on a ham, and it said to allow three-quarters of a pound per person for a bone-in ham, and just one-quarter of a pound for a boneless ham. Which leads very nicely into the next things they have on sale, which is ham! Hormel Cure 81 Spiral Ham is $1.37 per pound, limit one, with additional $25 purchase. Sugardale Prestige fully cooked hams (water added) is 97 cents a pound for a shank portion, limit one with additional $25 purchase, or $1.29 per pound for the butt portion, with no limit and no additional purchase required.

Aldi also has ham on sale. Appleton Farms shank portion is 99 cents per pound, and the butt portion is $1.19 per pound. Spiral sliced is $1.49 per pound. Sweet potatoes are still $1.49 for a three pound bag, and russet potatoes are $1.89 for a ten pound bag. Navel oranges are $2.49 for a four pound bag, and pineapples are 99 cents each. “Mixed fruit,” which seems to be red and green apples and oranges, is $2.49 for a three pound bag. Eggs are $1.29 a dozen, with a limit of six dozen. 5-ounce cartons of feta or blue cheese crumbles are $1.89 each. Evaporated milk is 65 cents a can and pumpkin is 89 cents a can. Cream cheese is 89 cents for eight ounces and butter is $1.69 per pound.

Kroger has ham on sale, too. Kroger spiral sliced ham is $1.27 a pound. I’m getting the feeling that ham is what’s traditional for Christmas around here! Frozen veggies are 10 for $10, or $1 per bag, and the bags range from 8 to 16 ounces. Cumberland Gap Semi-boneless whole ham is $1.99 a pound. They also have Cook’s shank portion “ham and water product” for 97 cents a pound.

It's hard to figure out how much ham costs per serving, because of the bone and the skin and all. However, MY BEST GUESS is about 60 cents per cup of ham. That's figuring the cost for leftovers, of course, since you don't usually serve it the first time around by the cup. That's about 4.85 ounces of cooked meat, which is probably more helpful if you're serving it sliced. And it takes about 6.5 ounces of ham as you buy it with, with the bone and skin and all to get one cup or 4.85 ounces. At least that's the best I can figure based on information I've found online.

Trying to figure out the differences between "ham," "ham with natural juices," "ham, water added," and "ham and water product"? Or whether it's worth the extra cost to get a spiral sliced ham instead of one that's not sliced? Check HERE for some tips.

So now for some recipes. The problem is that when I think of things to do with leftover ham, it’s mostly things like Ham Fried Rice, Ham and Beans (or lentils or split peas) Soup, or Scalloped Potatoes and Ham. Something that’s mostly a starchy “filler” type dish, and I’m staying away from those. Which is another reason I haven’t given ham recipes before!

The first thing you might think to do with leftover ham (after the ham sandwiches, that is) is to put it in eggs. Just fry some diced ham in some butter to warm it, then add eggs and scramble it as usual, for SCRAMBLED EGGS AND HAM. Or add it to an omelet along with some chopped green onions and chopped bell pepper for a DENVER OMELET. Don’t add any extra salt, since the ham is salty. 

Or you could do a HAM AND WHATEVER ELSE IS HANDY QUICHE. I’ll give a recipe using ham and frozen broccoli, but you could use spinach without changing the price more than a few cents a serving. A whole quiche will cost just under $5.00, assuming you use half and half cream and two cups of ham. That would come to about $1.25 per serving if you make four servings or about 85 cents a serving if you make six servings. A fourth of a quiche this size is plenty for either lunch or supper for me, without anything else. Or you could add an eighth of a head of lettuce plus a tablespoon or two of dressing and still keep it under $1.50. If you use frozen chopped spinach instead of broccoli, it will add about 10 cents per serving.

Here’s an old-fashioned sort of recipe. QUICKCREAMED HAM is basically Ham a la King. It’s traditionally served over something starchy, like toast, muffins, biscuits, waffles, rice, etc., but I serve it over a vegetable, instead. Broccoli is good, or spinach. It would be good over a baked potato, too. The cost of a recipe of this would run about $1.50. Add two pounds of frozen broccoli at 99 cents a pound (Walmart), and you’re up to $3.50 for four servings. How about some fresh pineapple for dessert? That’s 99 cents at Aldi this week. That brings the total for the meal to about $4.50, or about $1.15 per person. If you make your own soup, you’ll save about 30 cents total, bringing the cost per person down to $1.05.

Let’s go to Germany next, for Blumenkohl und Schinkenpudding. That’s CAULIFLOWER AND HAM PUDDING, for us Americans. I was surprised to find it in a German cookbook. Those of us who don’t eat potatoes frequently use cauliflower as a substitute, but apparently it’s not just a faddish, low carb thing. It’s also a traditional German thing, at least as far as this recipe goes. It’s more or less Scalloped Potatoes and Ham, but with cauliflower.

HAM LOAF is another very old-fashioned dish. It’s sort of like meatloaf, except it’s made with leftover cooked ham instead of raw ground beef. MUSTARD SAUCE and HORSERADISH SAUCE would be good with  HAM LOAF or with plain ham or roast beef., or in ham or roast beef sandwiches instead of mayo.

If you like pineapple or other fruit with your ham try PINEAPPLEUPSIDE DOWN HAM LOAF. It starts with the basic HAM LOAF, but is baked like a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, then flipped over so the decorations show when it’s served.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nothing Warms You Up Like Chicken Soup

I’ve got specials from four stores today – Aldi, IGA, Kroger and Marsh. And the sales are for four different periods – Wednesday through Tuesday for Aldi, Monday through Sunday for IGA, Thursday through Wednesday for Kroger, and Thursday through Sunday for Marsh. Not that that’s anything new. I’m sure you’re already aware of it. Just thought I’d mention it.

Marsh has their pork combo packs again for 99 cents a pound. That’s about 10 -15 pounds of chops, roasts and ribs. It’s a great price, but you have to buy at least $25 of other stuff to get that price, and there’s a limit of two combo packs. It’s still a pretty good price, even if you do have to pay a bit more for the other things. But watch how much more you pay for the rest. Perdue boneless skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 a pound in the family pack. 28-ounce to 29-ounce cans of tomatoes are ten for $10, or $1 each. I didn’t see that you have to buy ten items to get the special price, but watch for it when you check out.

I got a flier from IGA this week, so I’ll include their sale prices, too. They have stores in Ellettsville and Bedford. Probably not worth a special trip out there, but if you happen to be out there anyway, you might want to check them out. First, they have some special deals that are only good on Friday, December 6. Large eggs are 99 cents a dozen, with a limit of four dozen eggs. Idaho potatoes are $1.99 for a ten pound bag, and I didn’t see anything about a limit on them. Bacon is $3.99 for a 24 ounce package. And finally, whole boneless center cut pork loin is $1.49 a pound, limit of two roasts. Again, the sale on the eggs, potatoes, bacon and pork loin is only on Friday, December 6. The rest of their sales are from Monday, December 2 through Sunday, December 8. Boneless, skinless chicken breast or chicken breast tenders are $1.99 a pound. Onions are 99 cents for a three pound bag. Some canned vegetables are 39 cents a can, with a limit of ten cans. Peas, corn and green beans were pictured. Shredded cheese is $1.47 for an 8 ounce bag.

Aldi has four pounds of oranges for $2.49, which is by far the best price I’ve seen so far this season. Eggs are $1.29 a dozen, limit of 6 dozen. Ham is still anywhere from 99 cents a pound to $1.49 a pound.

Kroger has boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs for $1.97 a pound and various cheeses – shredded, bars or singles – for $2.99 for 12 to 16 ounces. It’s a good price for 16 ounces, not so good for 12 ounces. Boneless pork loin is $1.99 a pound. Cream cheese is 10 for $10, or $1 each for 8 ounces. I checked to see if they still have the Swai nuggets I wrote about a few weeks ago, and they do. The regular price has come down, too, to $1.29 a pound.

As you know, I usually only talk about meats, eggs, veggies and dairy. In part that’s because that’s the way I eat, but mostly it’s because I have no idea what the regular price on most other things is, and what’s a good deal. I’m making a couple of exceptions this week on things that seem to be a better than usual price, but please use your own judgment on them. Don’t take my word that the prices are good. Marsh has four pound bags of sugar for 99 cents a bag, if you spend at least $30 on other stuff. There’s a limit of two bags. Sugar is $1.47 for a four pound bag at IGA, and flour is $1.59 for a four and a quarter to five pound bag. Flour at Aldi is $1.39 for a five pound bag and sugar is $1.49 for a four pound bag.

There really aren’t any great meat specials, but since Kroger, IGA and Marsh all have boneless skinless chicken breasts (and thighs, at Kroger) for $1.97 or $1.99 a pound, I was going to go with that. But then I was sitting here watching the rain turn to freezing rain, and listening to the forecast of 6 to 10 inches of snow, and thought soup sounded awfully good. I started changing recipes to use the boneless, skinless breasts, but the bony pieces are really lots better for soup making, because you can make the broth as you go. So I’m going to use the ten pound bags of chicken leg quarters from Walmart again. I didn’t check when I was in there on Thursday (it was a mad-house with everyone stocking up before the storm), but I’m assuming that they’re still $5.90, or 59 cents a pound. At least, that’s the price I’m going to use in costing out the recipes.

Half a bag of the leg quarters, roughly five pounds, should give you enough chicken and broth for at least two big batches of soup, maybe more. I'm going to assume that you're only cooking half the bag to use in these recipes, though you can always cook them all. The other half can be roasted or fried or cooked however you like, or you can make a double batch of chicken and broth, or you can freeze the other half to cook later. Whatever. A ten pound bag of chicken can be a bit intimidating, and I want you to be aware that it doesn't have to be.

Start by making STEWED CHICKEN WITH CHICKEN BROTH.  You'll want to take the skin off the chicken first and make GRIBENES, or CHICKEN CHIPS, with it. That's scrumptious bits of crispy baked chicken skin. Save the bones after you've cooked the chicken and taken the meat off of the bones for the soup, and use them to make BONE BROTH. You should end up with about five cups of meat that you've taken off of the bones, about two quarts of the Chicken Broth you made while cooking the chicken, and another quart or more of Bone Broth. Not bad for a $2.95 investment!

Seems like folks everywhere make chicken soup. As I look at the three recipes I have for you today, they seem sort of similar. The big difference is the seasonings. MEXICAN CHICKEN SOUP has Mexican-ish seasonings, with cumin, coriander and jalapenos. TURKEY CREOLE SOUP is Creole-ish, from around Louisiana, with green pepper and tomatoes, and parsley, thyme, bay leaf and basil. I know, it's turkey soup, but chicken will work just as well. The third recipe, MULLIGATAWNY SOUP is based an Indian-ish recipe, or at least a recipe that the British brought back from India after Anglicizing it.

This first recipe, MEXICAN CHICKEN SOUP, is really a chicken tortilla soup, without the tortillas. You could add them, if you wanted to. Cut a small package of small tortillas in half, then cut each half in thin strips. Add the tortilla strips with the broth and chicken. Or a generic chicken soup can be made by leaving out the jalapenos, cumin, and coriander, and using parsley instead of cilantro. I don’t know how much jalapenos run, but assuming they cost 25 cents and you’re using homemade CHICKEN BROTH, then a batch of this will cost about $3.75 and will make four servings of over 2 cups each at about 95 cents each. Add a wedge of lettuce with two tablespoons of dressing to each serving, and top each bowl of soup with 2 tablespoons of sour cream and a fourth of a cup (1 ounce) of shredded cheese and it comes to just a tad under $1.50 per serving. Avocados are 49 cents each at Aldi this week, so you could split one among the four servings for just twelve and a half cents per serving.

TURKEY CREOLE SOUP, or Chicken Creole Soup for our purposes, has the classic Creole seasonings of green pepper and tomatoes, and parsley, thyme, bay leaf and basil. A batch of this soup, which will make over eight cups and serve four generously, will cost about $4.50, depending mostly on how much you have to pay for the pepper. I figured a dollar, which may be high. That leaves $1.50 for something to go with the soup to round out the meal. You could do a salad and salad dressing, starting with half a head of lettuce (about 55 cents) and adding other ingredients like carrots and celery and onion until you reach the $1.50 limit. Not that you have to spend all of the $1.50 per person, of course! You could probably pick up a cucumber, and serve it either in ranch dressing, or sour cream, or vinegar. Some devilled eggs would be good with this, too, and would increase the protein considerably. There’s only two cups of meat for four people, which is a bit skimpy, though I increased it from the single cup that the original recipe called for. Eggs are $1.29 a dozen at Aldi, so you could have up to 3 whole eggs each if you wanted to. Or you could use a few eggs for garnish on the salad. Or you could serve some fruit for dessert. A two pound bag of pears is $1.49 at Aldi this week, oranges are $2.49 for four pounds, and apples are $1.99 for two pounds. You should be able to give each person a whole piece of fruit for dessert and still keep it under $1.50 per person, or if you bought a couple of different kinds, you could make a fruit salad for this meal and serve the rest of the fruit later.

The final soup today, MULLIGATAWNY SOUP, is an Anglicized (or Westernized) curry soup from India. The British brought it home with them when they returned from serving in India, back in the days when India was a British colony. It’s one of those basic recipes, like chili here in the States, that has lots and lots of variations. The main things seem to be chicken, apple, and curry powder. It’s traditionally served over rice, but I increased the chicken and vegetables instead. You could certainly serve it over rice if you wanted to. Like the Turkey Creole Soup, this should cost about $4.50, but it will make about twelve cups of soup. I’m still going to call it four servings, though you could get six out of it if you wanted to. A salad would go well with it, or fruit. See the Turkey Creole Soup recipe for suggestions. A dollop of yogurt would be good on it, too.

All of these recipes could be served over or with rice, but, as you know, I don’t eat the stuff and I don’t include it in my recipes. Instead, I’m going to give a recipe for CAULI-RICE, which is a rice substitute that is used a lot by folks who don’t eat grains. Now, don’t turn up your nose at it until you’ve tried it! Yes, it’s made out of cauliflower, but because it’s not overcooked it doesn’t taste like cauliflower. And because all of these soups are spicy (not necessarily hot, but with strong seasonings), even if it did taste a bit like cauliflower you wouldn’t know because the spices would cover the taste. Try it, and see for yourself. Don’t let the rest of the family know that it’s not really rice and, after they’ve eaten it and enjoyed it, ask them what it was. You know as well as I do that if you tell them ahead of time that it’s cauliflower they probably won’t eat it!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Happy Thanksgiving! We’re getting this out early this week because the Hub will be closed on Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving.

I’ll start with this week’s specials, and then give you some ideas of things to do with your Thanksgiving leftovers. By the way, did you hear that the average cost of a full Thanksgiving dinner for is under $50? And, according to the news story, that’s without using sales prices! I find that hard to believe. I had a hard time keeping my Thanksgiving dinner for 12 under $50 and I DID use sales prices.

But anyway, on to the sales. Watch the dates that the sales are good for. They’ve changed some because of Thanksgiving.

Marsh has “over 20 different varieties” of Washington or locally grown apples for 98 cents a pound in half peck bags. I’m not sure how big that is, but based on the size bags you usually see I’m assuming somewhere between 3 and 5 pounds. They have pork chops for $1.29 a pound and fresh ground beef (73% lean) for $1.99 a pound. Cucumbers and green peppers are 88 cents each. There are five $1 off “write your own coupons” that are good with a $10 purchase. I assume that requires at least $50 to use all five coupons. These prices are good Friday through Wednesday. They also have a deal on select gift cards – you get $20 off your next grocery purchase when you buy $100 or more in select gift cards. I don’t see any special dates for this, so it’s probably also good Friday through Wednesday.

Aldi still has 3 pounds of sweet potatoes for $1.49, a pound of baby carrots for 89 cents, 10 pounds of russet potatoes for $1.89 (Did you get a chance to try the roasted root veggies that were demoed last week? They were fantastic! Ask for the recipe the next time you go in.), a head of celery for 89 cents, and a 3 pound bag of onions for 99 cents. A 15 ounce can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling, just pumpkin) is 89 cents. Cans of cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soups are still 49 cents each. Aldi’s prices are good from last Sunday through next Wednesday. They’re closed on Thanksgiving Day. They had some beautiful poinsettias when I was there on Monday. I think they were $1.99 each, but maybe they were $3.99. I wasn’t really paying attention. Eggs had come up to $1.49 a dozen on Monday.

Kroger has boneless pork loin for $1.77 a pound. That’s all I saw in their ad (which was very small). Their prices are good from 7 a.m. Friday through next Wednesday. One thing that may be good for other shopping – they’re giving 4x fuel points for gift card purchases. This deal is good now through December 11. Don’t forget that fuel points usually expire at the end of the month, so unless you need gas between now and Saturday, you might want to wait until after the first of the month if you plan to buy gift cards there.

OK, so what do you do with your Thanksgiving dinner leftovers? As I said in my earlier THANKSGIVING column, I had eleven people for Thanksgiving dinner a couple of weeks ago. There were lots of leftovers. Dinner plus the leftovers cost $47.21. My goal was to make a total of at least thirty meals from the ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner. Eleven of those meals were Thanksgiving dinner itself, so I need to come up with another nineteen meals. I didn’t quite make it. Sixteen meals for sure, but you’d have to squeeze pretty hard to get the whole nineteen. Unlike my usual columns, my Thanksgiving menus do include bread (in the dressing) and potatoes.

Let’s start with what I have to work with. I had the following leftover ingredients:
A dab of whipping cream – about a fourth of a cup or so
Half a head of celery
6 pounds of potatoes
A cup of chopped walnuts
4 eggs
3 onions (a pound and a half)
4 ounces of cream cheese
More than half a liter each of diet and regular cranberry soda

That’s the leftover ingredients themselves. There were lots of leftovers, too. Things that had been cooked or otherwise prepared but not eaten:
About 12 cups of TURKEY (it’s hard to believe that there’s that much, but I measured it into freezer containers and that’s how much there is)
A couple cups of CREAMED SPINACH
Most of a pound of frozen peas (they weren’t very popular this year)
About 4 cups of MASHED POTATOES
A cup or so of SWEET POTATOES
About a cup of GRAVY
A couple of cups of drippings and broth
About 3 cups of CRANBERRY SAUCE (I forgot to put it on the table)
A couple of cups of STUFFING
About 2 cups of WHIPPED CREAM

The first thing to do is to make WALDORF TURKEY SALAD. This makes a good lunch dish. Make and eat this the day after Thanksgiving, because the apples don’t last very long once they’ve been cut.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with just plain leftovers. For four servings, reheat about 4 cups of leftover TURKEY and two cups each of MASHED POTATOES, STUFFING, and peas. If there’s not 2 cups, just use however much there is. Reheat the GRAVY, too. Each serving is 1 cup of turkey, and half a cup each of mashed potatoes, dressing, and peas, plus some gravy. Serve with the CRANBERRY SAUCE.

Next make TURKEY, BROCCOLI AND SPINACH CASSEROLE, using some of the turkey and the leftover creamed spinach, plus the last of the whipping cream and cream cheese.
The last thing to do with Thanksgiving leftovers is to make CARCASS STEW. It uses up the leftovers that you haven’t done something else with, so make it after you’ve made the other turkey leftovers meals. It's soup or stew made with broth from the turkey carcass and any leftovers you have left. A similar thing to do is to make TURKEY AND NOODLES. Like Chicken and Noodles, but with turkey instead of chicken. 

I just ran across this recipe for SHAKER CHICKEN PUDDING, which should work just as well with turkey instead of chicken. You do have to buy the mushrooms, but you should have everything else left from Thanksgiving. You’d have to make this instead of something else, of course. But it does sound good.

So there you have it. Sixteen or more servings made from just the leftovers plus a few carrots and a pound of frozen broccoli. The carrots cost about 35 cents ($1.39 for 2 pounds, or about 12 carrots, at Aldi) and the broccoli 99 cents (at Walmart). Which brings the total cost of Thanksgiving dinner for eleven plus sixteen more meals to $48.55. Twenty or more meals if you add a package or two of noodles. There’s still some leftover pumpkin pie and whipped cream, too, which you can add to any of these meals. And lots of potatoes that you can use to stretch any meal, and some eggs and celery and onions.

The only way I was able to stretch the holiday budget this far was because it did include a lot of carbs or “fillers” – especially the dressing and the potatoes. But then, they’re part of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, too, right?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and thanks to you for reading my columns!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Dinner for 12 (and Lots of Leftovers) for under $50

I’m going to do something a bit different this week and next. Since most of the ads are about Thanksgiving anyway, this week I’m going to tell you how I put together a Thanksgiving dinner for twelve last Saturday for under $50. And next week (watch for it early, since the Hub will be closed Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving) I’ll tell you how I can make four complete meals for four people each with the leftovers, a bag of broccoli and a few carrots. Altogether, that comes to 28 meals for under $50, and twelve of those meals are Thanksgiving dinner! Spoiler alert – because it’s Thanksgiving, I do include mashed potatoes and bread stuffing, which, as you know, I usually don’t.

But first, this week’s specials. Mostly Thanksgiving related, of course.

Aldi’s ad looks a lot like it has the past couple of weeks. Frozen Butterball turkeys for 99 cents a pound. Fresh Butterball turkeys for $1.29 a pound. Hams ranging from 99 cents a pound to $1.99 a pound. Three pounds of sweet potatoes for $1.49. Three pounds of onions for 99 cents. Ten pounds of russet potatoes for $1.89. Celery for 89 cents a head and cranberries 99 cents for twelve ounces. Baby carrots for 89 cents a pound. Butter $1.69 a pound and cream cheese 99 cents for 8 ounces. Stuffing mix for 69 cents a box, and instant mashed potatoes for 69 and 99 cents. (Though real mashed potatoes are so easy to make I don’t know why you’d want to get the fake kind in a box.) Canned gravy (in a jar) for 89 cents, though again, it’s so easy to make why get the fake stuff.

Marsh has frozen Butterball turkeys for 99 cents a pound and Norbest and Honeysuckle frozen turkeys for 69 cents a pound, but you have to buy $25 of other stuff to get them at that price. There’s a limit of one each. Fresh pork picnic roasts (the best tasting cut of meat as far as I’m concerned, though it’s got a big bone in it) are $1.29 a pound. “Jumbo” cauliflower is two heads for $5 or $2.50 a head, and bunch broccoli is 3 for $5 or $1.67 each. Frozen veggies are 4 for $5, or $1.25 each. Sour cream is $1.29 a pint (16 ounces) and heavy whipping cream is $1.39 a half-pint (8 ounces). Campbell’s cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soups are 5 for $5, or $1 each. I have no idea how good a price this is, but Maxwell House coffee is $3.99 for 29.3 to 31.5 ounce cans, if you buy $30 of other stuff. A 9.7 ounce bag of Splenda Granular (for baking) is the equivalent of 5 pounds of sugar and costs $5.99. (A lot more than sugar costs, but if you can’t eat sugar…)

Kroger has their store brand frozen turkeys for 77 cents a pound with $25 of other purchases. There’s a limit of two turkeys. Fresh Honeysuckle turkeys are $1.29 a pound with $25 of other purchases, again with a limit of two. Bob Evans breakfast sausage is two packages for $4, and the packages range from twelve to sixteen ounces (a pound). Various canned vegetables are two for $1, or 50 cents each. Fresh sweet potatoes are 59 cents a pound. Hams range from $1.29 to $1.99 a pound. Frozen vegetables are ten for $10, or $1 per bag, and the bags are 10 to 12 ounces each. Sour cream is ten pints for $10, or $1 per pint (16 ounces). Whipping cream is two pints for $4, or $2 per pint. Campbell’s cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups are ten cans for $10, or $1 per can. I think you can buy just a single item of any of these for the sale price; you don’t have to buy ten of them, or two, or whatever.
Thanksgiving dinner was last Saturday at my house. I had a bunch of guests, most of whom were associated in some way with IU, and many of whom will be out of town the week of Thanksgiving. So, since I like cooking special meals like Thanksgiving and I wanted to have them over, I decided to have it early.

Since I’ve been doing the Weekly Special blogs and a Food Stamp Challenge (I took a break on that for a couple of days while I had Thanksgiving dinner), food budgets and the cost of food have been on my mind a lot. So I decided to cost out my Thanksgiving dinner. There were eleven of us (there was supposed to have been twelve, but there was a last minute cancellation). Here’s what we had:

Mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Cranberry sauce
Creamed spinach
Apple/celery/grape/nut salad (aka Waldorf salad)
Pumpkin pies with whipped cream
Cranberry soda

It came to a grand total of $47.21. Whew! I was really trying to keep it under $50, and I just made it. In the interests of full disclosure, though, and just to keep things honest between us, this isn’t exactly what I had. If you’ve been reading my weekly columns, you know that I don’t eat grain of any kind, and that I’m diabetic and only use artificial sweeteners. So for my own dinner, I substituted sausage for the bread in the dressing, made the pie crusts out of nut flours instead of out of wheat flour, and used artificial sweetener instead of sugar. But other than that, this really was my menu.

Here’s what I bought (adjusted for the bread and sugar and such). As it happened, I had to buy almost everything specifically for Thanksgiving dinner, and I’m including the whole cost of what I bought, whether I actually used it all or not. The only exceptions were salt and pepper and some spices (estimated at 50 cents for all), half a cup of mayo, three and a half cups of sugar, and three cups of flour. I’m assuming that you have these on hand and won’t have to go out and buy them for this dinner.

From Walmart -
17 pound turkey - $15.04
1.5 pounds frozen spinach - $1.98
3 apples (1.58 pounds) - $1.58

From Aldi –
3 pounds sweet potatoes - $1.49
2 boxes stuffing mix - $1.32
1 head celery – 89 cents
12 ounces cranberries – 99 cents
10 pounds potatoes – $1.98 (I only needed 4 pounds, but the 10 pound bag was cheaper than buying 4 pounds)
1 pound butter - $1.69
8 ounces cream cheese - 99 cents
1 pound frozen peas 99 cents
8 ounces walnuts - $3.99
1 dozen eggs - $1.29
3 pounds of onions – 99 cents
2 cans of pumpkin - $1.78
3 pints whipping cream - $5.94 (I use whipping cream instead of evaporated milk in the pumpkin pies. Evaporated milk would be cheaper. You could get two cans of milk and a pint of whipping cream for about $4.00.)

From Marsh –
Half a of pound grapes – 65 cents (Actually, I don’t know if I could have gotten just half a pound. I got a few pounds to take to church and used some of them for dinner. But then, I could have included them under the section for things I had on hand, so I guess it all comes out the same in the end)
2 liters of cranberry soda – 98 cents (I bought these a few weeks ago)

All of this comes to $45.31. As I said, I’m assuming you have some mayo, salt and pepper and spices, flour and sugar on hand. I used the current prices on these, adjusted for the quantities used, and came up with a total cost of $47.21. To feed twelve people. With lots of leftovers. For less than $4 per person.

What leftovers did I have? Well, to begin with, I had some ingredients leftover.
A dab of whipping cream – about a fourth of a cup or so
Half a head of celery
6 pounds of potatoes
A cup of chopped walnuts
4 eggs
3 onions (a pound and a half)
4 ounces of cream cheese
More than half a liter each of the cranberry soda – one liter is diet and one isn’t

That’s the leftover ingredients themselves. There were lots of leftovers, too. Things that had been cooked or otherwise prepared but not eaten.
About 12 cups of turkey (I actually measured it out as I put it in freezer containers)
A couple of cups of creamed spinach
Most of the peas (they weren’t very popular this year)
About 4 cups of mashed potatoes
A cup or so of sweet potatoes
About half of the apple/celery/grape/nut salad
A couple cups of gravy
All of the cranberry sauce (I forgot to put it on the table)
A couple of cups of dressing
Most of a pie
About 2 cups of whipped cream

This is getting a bit lengthy (I know, I know – I’ve always been wordy!), so I’m just going to briefly tell you how I fixed things. The only thing that actually had a recipe was the pumpkin pie, so mostly it’s just going to be explaining what I did. Then I’m going to do another column next week telling you what I did with the leftovers, or what I could do with them. Mostly I put them in the freezer. I’m not quite ready to face them again just yet!

So there’s my Thanksgiving dinner. For twelve. For less than $50. With lots of leftovers. And mostly from scratch. And a delicious dinner it was, too.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cheap Fish and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

I found a great deal on fish at Kroger’s last week, and since I haven’t talked about fish before, I’ll give a few recipes using it. But first, on to this week’s specials, which are mostly geared to Thanksgiving.

Aldi has Butterball turkeys again for 99 cents a pound, and hams ranging from 99 cents to $1.99 per pound. Sweet potatoes are $1.49 for three pounds, and potatoes are $1.89 for a 10 pound bag. That’s a lot of potatoes for $1.89! Celery is 89 cents a head and onions are 99 cents for 3 pounds. Fresh cranberries are 99 cents for twelve ounces. Candied yams are 99 cents for sixteen ounces, and yams in syrup (not as much sugar) are $1.29 for 29 ounces. Cranberry sauces are 89 cents a can and pumpkin (just plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling) is 89 cents a can. French fried onions (like to put on top of a green bean casserole) are $1.99 a can. Six ounces of pecans (about a cup and a half) are $2.99. Stuffing mix is 69 cents a box, instant mashed potatoes are 99 cents a box, and condensed cream of various things soups are 49 cents a can. But I hope you’re not using any of these, but making your own, instead! Cream cheese is 99 cents for eight ounces and butter is $1.69 a pound. These are pretty much all the same as they were last week.

Kroger has their store brand turkeys for 77 cents a pound with $25 in additional purchases. Eggs are 4 for $5.00, or $1.25 a dozen. Sour cream and cottage cheese are both $1.00 for a pint, or 16 ounces. Hams range from $1.29 to $1.99 per pound and chicken drumsticks and thighs are 99 cents a pound. They have most of the same things on sale for 50 cents off if you buy at least ten of selected items, mix-or-match that they did last week. Various cheeses are $2.99 a pound. Frozen veggies are $1.00 each for 10 to 12 ounce bags.

Marsh has seedless red or black grapes for $1.28 a pound. Yum! Norbest and Honeysuckle turkeys are 69 cents a pound and Butterball turkeys are 99 cents a pound, if you buy at least $25.00 of other stuff there. Libby’s canned vegetables are 29 cents a can if you buy at least $30 of other stuff. You can get $10 off a half ham or $20 off a whole ham, but they don’t say how much the hams cost originally. That always makes me nervous, though sometimes they really are good deals.

And now, back to the fish. I accidentally stumbled across a great deal on Swai nuggets at Kroger. It’s 99 cents a pound on sale, and the regular price is $1.39 a pound. I asked if they would be having it on a regular basis and was told that they were just trying it out to see if there was any demand for it. So go demand it! If you can’t find it, ask for it. That is by far the lowest price I’ve seen on fish in a long time. In fact, the next cheapest has been about $2.50 a pound for quite a while, and $4 or $5 is more usual. And up. Way up!

But what is Swai? It's basically catfish that are farmed in the rivers in Vietnam. It can be substituted for several other kinds of fish. HERE'S a list of them. You can use catfish or Swai in any recipe that calls for any of the fish listed, though of course you need to consider the size of the pieces, too. Substituting Swai nuggets for a halibut steak, for example, wouldn’t work, though you could use the same seasonings and adjust the cooking time and method for the smaller pieces.

The traditional way to cook catfish is to roll it in cornmeal and fry it in bacon grease and serve it with hushpuppies or cornbread. It’s delicious that way, but cornmeal is out as far as I’m concerned. CRISPY BAKED CATFISH NUGGETS is a grain-free alternative. It’s probably gluten free, too, but check the ingredients for yourself if you’re sensitive to gluten. I know it shows up in the strangest places.

If you use olive oil and bottled lemon juice, this will cost you about $3.60 for four servings, or about 90 cents per serving. Serve the Crispy Baked Catfish Nuggets with TARTAR SAUCE and COLESLAW. A serving of catfish, plus a fourth of a cup of tartar sauce and a big serving of coleslaw will cost about $1.20. An unbelievably low cost for a fish dinner!

The next recipe is for ITALIAN FISH SOUP, which is kind of like a Manhattan (tomato based) clam chowder, except with fish instead of clams. The original recipe called for fish and scallops, but I always just use fish. It’s a lot cheaper that way, and the one time I did use scallops, I couldn’t tell the difference. This is a full meal in itself and makes four good servings. The total cost, if you use Swai nuggets, is about $4.75, or $1.20 per serving. If you happen to have a bit of extra room in your budget, COLESLAW would go well with it, and would bring it to about $1.45 per person. Some raw veggies and maybe some dip would be good with it, too.

The final recipe is for BROILED CATFISH WITH MUSTARD. You can use pretty much any kind of fish for this, but it’s especially good with catfish or Swai. And it’s really easy, too, which is another big bonus! There is basically no cost to this except for the fish, if you use the onion and bottled lemon juice alternatives. The whole recipe costs just a few cents over $2.35, or about 60 cents per serving. COLESLAW would go well with this (I think coleslaw goes well with just about all fish, except maybe salmon.) and would bring the cost to about 85 cents per serving. Add a couple of cans of green beans (half a can per person) and that brings it to $1.10 per person. Everything else is so cheap that you might as well splurge and get a real lemon or two. They generally run about 50 cents each. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

I Hate to Cook Chicken! and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Thanksgiving specials are starting to appear. The problem is, you never know whether they’ll get better as we get closer to the big day. My guess is that turkey and ham prices will go down, but that’s just a guess. Other things, maybe, maybe not.

Aldi has Butterball turkeys for 99 cents a pound, and hams ranging from 99 cents a pound to $1.99 cents a pound. Fresh sweet potatoes are $1.49 for a 3 pound package, or 50 cents a pound. Celery is 89 cents a head. Candied yams are 99 cents for a 16 ounce can, and yams in syrup (not as much sugar as the candied yams) are $1.29 for a 29 ounce can. Watch the blog and the Hub for a handout on fixing your own yams and sweet potatoes, that are cheaper and healthier and, if I do say so myself, better! A 14 ounce can of cranberry sauce is 89 cents, but, again, watch for my handout for how to fix your own. Canned pumpkin is 89 cents for 15 ounces, which is a good price, and cheaper than if you have to go out and buy a pumpkin to make your pie out of. Pie crusts are $1.49 for two, but they’re not hard to make yourself. All they take is butter (or lard or margarine) and flour.

Other advertised prices at Aldi - Red onions are 99 cents for a 2 pound bag, or 50 cents a pound. (Regular yellow onions were $1.99 for 3 pounds, or 67 cents a pound.) Baby carrots are 89 cents a pound. (Regular carrots, the kind you have to peel and cut yourself, are usually $1.39 for two pounds, or 70 cents a pound.) Cream cheese is 99 cents for 8 ounces, which they say is the new regular price. A pound of butter has come down from $2.49 two weeks ago to $1.99 last week and $1.69 this week! Their holiday catalog says that they have cream of mushroom and cream of celery soups for 49 cents each. (See last week’s blog for how to make your own from CREAM OF WHATEVER SOUP MIX.) Pineapples are 99 cents each.

This seems to be Aldi’s week for bargains. They still have eggs for $1.29 a dozen, and their 8 ounce blocks of cheese (Colby; Mozzarella; Cheddar in mild, medium, sharp or extra sharp; Swiss; and I think Jack) have come down from $1.79 each to $1.49. I got the impression from the signs that this is the new price for cheese, though I don’t know for sure.

For the holidays, Marsh has Norbest or Honeysuckle All Natural Turkeys for 99 cents a pound, and 40 ounce cans of yams for $2.50 each. They also have eggs this week, $1.99 for 18 eggs, or $1.33 per dozen. Butter is 2 pounds for $4.00. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 a pound for a “family pack.” One pound bags of frozen vegetables are 48 cents each if you buy $30 of other stuff.

Kroger has boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs for $1.97 a pound. There are several things that are a pretty good price if you buy at least ten mix-or-match. Mostly these are brand names, if that matters to you. It usually doesn’t matter to me. Among these are Hunt’s or Ro-tel tomatoes for 49 cents a can (watch the sizes as the cans vary from 10 to 15 ounces), Campbell’s Cream of Chicken or Cream of Mushroom Soup for 69 cents a can, Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce for 99 cents a can, Swanson broth for 49 cents a can (but it’s better if you make your own), and Green Giant green beans for 69 cents a can. They also have bags of various frozen vegetables for $1 each, but they’re only 10 to 12 ounces per bag.

There really isn’t much here to work with when it comes to planning inexpensive meals, unless you want to start eating turkey now. I was going to go ahead and do that, but I just can’t bring myself to talk about turkey and turkey leftovers this close to Thanksgiving! So I’ll go with the ten pound bags of chicken leg quarters that Walmart has for $5.90 a bag, or 59 cents a pound. This comes to about 59 cents (let’s call it 60 cents) a quarter, or about 60 cents per cup of cooked meat. I’ve talked about chicken several times already, here and here and here and about turkey breast, which can be used interchangeably with chicken in most recipes that call leftover or cooked chicken. I talk about chicken a lot because it’s about the cheapest meat there is, on a regular basis. (Though I just this morning realized that I got about two and a half cups of cooked hamburger per pound of 73% lean ground beef, which cost me $1.87 per pound, and that comes out to about 75 cents a cup, which isn’t all that much more than the chicken, and I think it has more calories (energy dense foods are good, as long as they are also nutritious) and nutrition than the chicken. I’m going to have to reconsider my idea that chicken is cheaper than ground beef! But that’s for another day.)

I don’t know if it was real or not, but they used to say that a lot of families had a pretty regular rotation of menus. Maybe a roast on Sunday, chicken on Monday, spaghetti on Tuesday, pork on Wednesday, meatloaf on Thursday, fish on Friday, and pizza on Saturday. Or whatever. We didn’t, when I was growing up, but I have seen cookbooks built around this theme. It wasn’t always exactly the same – there might be two or three different recipes for spaghetti or maybe it would be lasagna instead sometime – but “Mom” had a lot of the meal planning down pat. A similar type of arrangement that I’ve heard about more recently is to come up with 28 menus and then to rotate them. You’re eating each menu once a month. Or sometimes it’s only 14 menus, and then you’re eating each one every two weeks. Whichever way it goes, people have been eating the same thing over and over and over for a long, long time!

Anyway, here are some ways of cooking chicken that you probably never even thought of. The first couple are from Peg Bracken’s The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book. Most of her recipes are very easy and (almost, at least) fool-proof, even for you who don’t like to cook or don’t know how. The problem that I have with her recipes is that a lot of them use processed foods. Which makes sense, of course. If you hate to cook, you’re going to want to take shortcuts where you can. Unfortunately, those shortcuts usually involve processed foods with lots of unpronounceable ingredients and too much salt and sugar. For all of these recipes, you can pull the skin off before you cook the legs, if you don’t like flabby skin on your cooked chicken. Because all of these cook in sauce and/or are covered, you’re not going to get crispy skin. If you do pull of the skin, be sure to make GRIBENES out of it.

5 MINUTE CHILI CHICKEN calls for a fourth of a jar of Chili Seasoning. Or you can make your own CHILI SEASONINGReally, the only significant cost is the chicken, if you make your own seasoning mix. Those tiny dabs of herbs and spices will cost next to nothing, and the same with the vinegar. (Be sure to buy the herbs and spices at either Walmart or Aldi. You can get most of them at Walmart for 64 cents a jar, and the others you can get at Aldi for 99 cents a jar. And a jar will last a long long time.) Let’s say 65 cents for two pieces, a thigh and a drumstick. How about half a can of green beans (49 cents a can at Aldi, or 25 cents per serving for two servings) and some COLESLAW to go with it? The cost of the meal per person comes to about $1.20, and it’s a lot of food. Or use your own favorite coleslaw recipe, or just lettuce with some dressing. It should come to about the same cost per serving.

The next recipe, COCA-CHICKEN, also from Peg Bracken’s The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book, sounds even more unlikely. But we’re looking for something different, right? Anyway, it’s cheap and it’s easy and you probably have all the ingredients on hand, except for the chicken. Sorry, but I don’t know of any way to make the Coke or ketchup this one calls for! How much is a can of Coke these days? A lot, if you just buy a single can, not so much if you buy a case or a liter bottle. Let’s say 50 cents for the Coke, shall we? And about 20 cents for the ketchup ($1.29 for 40 ounces at Aldi, the last time I looked), plus 60 cents each for the leg quarters or $2.40 for the chicken. So that’s a total of about $3.10 for the whole thing, or just under 80 cents per serving. We’ll just call it 80 cents per person. And what do you serve with Coke and ketchup besides French fries, which we’re not doing? Darned if I know! How about green beans again, and lettuce with Thousand Island dressing? Or whatever kind of dressing you have on hand. 25 cents per person for the green beans, and another 30 cents each for a quarter of a head of lettuce, and another 10 cents for the dressing brings it to $1.45 per person, though you could probably get away with smaller servings of the lettuce. Depends on how big the heads are.

Why not go all the way with Peg Bracken? One more recipe from that same book. Which, incidentally, is really a conglomeration of The I Hate to Cook Book, Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book, and The I Hate to Cook Almanack. Hence, The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book.  SOUPERCHICKEN is a more conventional sort of recipe, calling for condensed soup. There are a lot of recipes like that out there. Her recipe calls for 2 to 3 pounds of chicken pieces, a can of condensed mushroom soup, a can of condensed onion soup, and 2/3 cup of dry white wine. I’ll give my own version of it, making my own condensed cream of mushroom and cream of onion soups.

The chicken comes to $2.40, plus another 50 cents or so for the sauce, assuming you use homemade chicken broth and use water instead of wine. Figure another 50 cents if you’re using canned chicken broth or wine. Say $3.40 for it all, or 85 cents a serving. You’re going to get a good 4 cups of sauce out of it, by the time the juices cook out of the chicken, so a thigh, a drumstick, plus the sauce will be a lot of food. You’ll want something to go with it, though. How about serving it over a bed of broccoli? Half a pound of broccoli per person is 50 cents (99 cents at Walmart for a pound of frozen broccoli cuts), which brings it to a total of $1.35 per person.

So there you have it. Three new ways to cook chicken legs, plus a recipe for Chili Seasoning (which you can make ahead and have on hand for making chili) and three menus for big, satisfying, healthy (mostly!) and nutritious meals for between $1.20 and $1.45 per person.

Happy cooking and eating!