Friday, January 31, 2014

Herbs and Spices and Fish Stew

Remember last week, when I gave you a couple of recipes for Chicken Wings? Well, wings are on sale this week at IGA in Ellettsville and Bedford - $1.29 a pound. 14-ounce bags of frozen meatballs are 99 cents each. Eckrich Cotto Salami, Sliced Bologna, and Franks are $1.00 for a 16-ounce (1 pound) package. (Some of the franks are in 12-ounce packages.) Broccoli and cauliflower are both two for $4.00, or $2.00 each. How good a price this is depends on how big the heads are. Both make great dippers instead of chips. “Jumbo” lemons and limes are two for $1.00, or 50 cents each. 5-pound bags of red potatoes are two for $5.00, or $2.50 each, or 50 cents a pound. Friday and Saturday (January 31 and February 1) only, 1-pound bags of baby peeled carrots and pints of grape tomatoes are 99 cents each.

Kroger has asparagus for $1.49 a pound and sour cream for $1.00 a pint. Pears are 99 cents a pound, as are Roma tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.

Aldi has organic baby carrots for $1.29 a pound and organic grape tomatoes for $1.49 a pint. Those aren’t bad prices even for regular unorganic baby carrots and grape tomatoes. Cucumbers are 99 cents for a three pack, mushrooms are 99 cents for 8 ounces, and broccoli crowns are 99 cents for a one pound package. Celery is 89 cents a head. All of these make good dippers, too. Avocados are 49 cents each. Avocados are really good for you and go great in a lot of Mexican dishes.

It’s not a very inspiring bunch of specials this week. Seems like a lot of the “specials” are prepared and processed foods and drinks for watching the Super Bowl. Check last week’s column about how to keep the cost of your Super Bowl down to a reasonable level. Of course, the actual prices will be different this week, but most of what I said still applies.

Since the specials didn’t give me any ideas for what to talk about, I’m going to talk about seasonings (herbs and spices, mostly) and three recipes for fish soup. Kroger still has Swai (catfish) nuggets for either $1.29 or $1.39 a pound, or at least the store near Seminary Park did when I checked there about a week ago. Or you could use the catfish fillets that the HUB has had recently instead of the nuggets.

The three fish soups are very similar, although they come from all across the globe. All are made with Swai (catfish) nuggets (though that’s not the fish in the original recipe – I substituted Swai for the more expensive types of fish called for) and all have onion, tomatoes, pepper and garlic. They’re very similar – but they’re also very different! The difference is in the seasonings. I hope it will inspire you to vary your menus with different herbs and spices.

I’ll get to the recipes in a minute, but first I want to talk about herbs and spices. They can be hideously expensive, especially if you have to buy a whole jar and only need a tiny bit. However, BUYING IN BULK can bring the cost way down.

The first recipe, BRAZILIAN SEAFOOD STEW, originally called for shrimp in addition to cod, striped bass, or snapper. What makes it different from the others is coconut milk and lime juice. I come up with a cost of about $4.00 for this, depending mostly on how much the green onions and cilantro cost. You’d lose the visual effect, but you could substitute a fourth of a cup of chopped onion for the green onion. If you don’t want to spring for fresh cilantro, you could use Italian parsley instead, though I’m not sure it’s any cheaper. Or you could use a couple of tablespoons of dried cilantro. Be sure it’s the leaf, not the seeds. Just be aware that you’re losing some of the ethnic flavor of Brazil by not using fresh cilantro. However, it should make a good fish stew anyway, even if it’s not very Brazilian. This looks like it should make about six cups, or four servings of about a cup and a half each. That seems a bit skimpy for a main dish soup, without something to go with it. You could add another pound of Swai nuggets, bringing the cost up to about $5.40 and the servings up to about two cups each. How about some cucumbers in sour cream to go with it? Or leave the fish at one pound, and have devilled eggs and carrots and celery (or maybe some broccoli or cauliflower) with ranch dressing. Either way, the total cost of the meal would be around $6.00, or $1.50 per person.

The second recipe is for CARIBBEAN FISH CHOWDER. The original recipe called for shrimp and clams in addition too generic “fish fillets.” What makes it different is the burgundy wine (a red wine, and usually white wines go with fish) and all of the herbs and spices. Don’t be put off by all the ingredients; most of them are just dabs of seasonings. This one is definitely the soupiest of the three.

If you don’t have burgundy wine, or you don’t have wine at all in your home, there are some substitutions you can make. Any wine made with Pinot Noir grapes will be similar to burgundy. Examples are Merlot and Cabernet or Pinot Noir. If you want to avoid the wine altogether, you can use a non-alcoholic wine, or a combination of rice wine vinegar and grape juice. Try about 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 6 tablespoons of grape juice in place of the half cup of burgundy. If you only have white vinegar, just use a tablespoon of it. You could also use half a cup of red wine vinegar.

This will come to about $6.00 by itself, but should make about ten cups, or two and a half cups per serving. That doesn’t leave any room for something to go with it, but the servings are big enough that they should be enough on their own. Or call it six servings of a little over a cup and a half each, and add some salad as I suggested for the Brazilian Seafood Stew.

The final recipe, FISH STEW, isn’t identified as to country but looks like it may be Mediterranean. Not that either of the others is necessarily at all authentic, either, especially after substituting Swai nuggets for the fish and shellfish in the original recipe! It has the more usual white wine to go with the fish. The original recipe calls for fillets of “sole, halibut or other firm white fish.” Unlike the other recipes, the original recipe does not call for shellfish in addition to the fish. It’s interesting that it says to serve it on a platter and not in a bowl. The almonds are another unusual touch. This should make about eight cups, or two cups per serving, which is a reasonable size for a main dish soup. It comes to a little over $4.00, which leaves about $2.00 for something extra to go with it. Again, the salad suggestions from the Brazilian Seafood Stew would be good. Or Marsh has jumbo cantaloupe for $2.99 each (not a great price – they were $1.50 each a couple of weeks ago), and you could have four nice wedges for $1.50.

You didn’t hear it from me, but GARLIC BREAD would go well with any of these soups. Or hard rolls. You can buy pre-made garlic bread, but you might as well make you own. It's cheaper and better and better for you, too. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Baked Kale Chips

1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.
  3. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Super Bowl Snacks on a Budget

Did you know that Americans spent over $1 billion on snacks for the Super Bowl in 2012? Over a billion dollars! On snacks! For one afternoon! Yes, it’s fun to have special snacks while you watch the game, but it doesn’t have to be that expensive.

The specials on groceries aren’t great this week (except for the ham and I’m tired of it!), so I’m going to do something different. Instead of presenting recipes and menus for inexpensive dinners using meats that are on sale, I’m going to give some ideas for making less expensive Super Bowl snacks.

But first, this week’s specials.

IGA has ground chuck for $2.69 a pound in 3-pound packages. 8-ounce packages of shredded cheese are 3 for $5.00, or $1.67 each. That’s $3.33 per pound. Canned tomatoes are three 14.5-ounce cans for $2.00, or 67 cents each. 28-ounce cans are 99 cents each. Tomato juice is 10 for $10.00, or $1.00 per can. These prices are good through Sunday, January 26.

Marsh has regular ground beef for $2.49 a pound in the family packs. Hormel Cure 81 Spiral Sliced Hams are $1.27 a pound, which I think is even better than it was around the holidays. Turkey thighs are $1.79 a pound. I don’t know if that’s a good price, but it should be mostly meat with little bone, so I’m guessing it’s not bad. Prices should be good through Wednesday, January 29.

I don’t know what it is with Aldi and pineapples, but they’re still 99 cents each. Cantaloupe are $1.89 each this week, and avocados are still 49 cents each. Cherry tomatoes are 99 cents a pint, celery is 89 cents a head, and baby carrots are 69 cents a pound. Prices are good through Tuesday, January 28.

Kroger has split chicken breasts for 99 cents a pound (that’s bone-in and skin-on). Eggplant is 10 for $10.00, or $1.00 each, which is probably a good deal, depending on the size. Select varieties of cheese are $3.29 each, for 12 to 16 ounces. 24 ounces of cottage cheese is $1.79.

I don’t know what you traditionally eat while you watch the game, but sandwiches, Buffalo wings (or wings of other flavors), chili, nachos, and chips and dips seem to be pretty standard. I’ll work with those. And I know you don’t want to be stuck out in the kitchen while the game is on (on the other hand, maybe you do!), so I’ll keep things simple and with as little last minute work as possible.

Let's start with sandwiches. Ham and cheese are both on sale, which is handy since HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICHES are usually popular with everyone. You can easily make a few without the ham for any vegetarians who may be watching with you. In fact, you might want to leave a few without the meat just in case.

Wings used to be practically given away, until someone came up with the idea of marketing them as special snack food. Now they’re often more expensive than boneless, skinless chicken breast! But they are traditional for a lot of Super Bowl parties, so let’s see what we can do with them. It’s going to be cheaper to make your own than to buy them ready made. I’m sure that doesn’t come as any surprise to you. Here are a couple of fairly easy recipes that don’t require a lot of last minute work. FYI, you should figure on about 15 raw wings per pound, or about 30 wing segments, plus the wing tips you should save to make CHICKEN STOCK or BONE BROTH. And another FYI – you can do something fairly similar with drumsticks or with strips of chicken breasts (99 cents a pound for bone-in, skin-on breasts, and don’t forget to make GRIBENES (baked Chicken Crisps) with the skin and to save the bones to make CHICKEN STOCK or BONE BROTH).

I think Buffalo Wings pretty much started the wings craze, but they're usually fried which is messy and time consuming. UNBELIEVABLE BAKED BUFFALO WINGS are baked (duh!) instead of fried but still come out nice and crispy. Much easier and tidier!

Another kind of baked wings is SWEET HOT MUSTARD CHICKEN WINGS. They're not particularly messy to make but, because the sauce is added at the last minute, they are messy to eat. And the sauce may get flung around the room with an exciting play! They are, however, very good.

I’m not going to give you a recipe for Chili. I assume you have your own favorite recipe. Instead, I’ll tell you where to get some of the ingredients on sale. IGA has ground chuck for $2.69 a pound, and regular ground beef is $2.49 a pound at Marsh. IGA has tomato juice, canned tomatoes, and tomatoes sauce on sale. Avocados are 49 cents each at Aldi. Three 8-ounce bags of shredded cheese are $5.00 at IGA, and 12 to 16 ounce blocks of cheese are $3.29 at Kroger. Sour cream isn’t on sale this week, but it’s usually cheapest at Aldi. These same ingredients are used in making Nachos, too. Add the COPY CAT FRITO LAY BEAN DIP to your Nachos.

Chips and dips are popular, too. Chips of all sorts, and dips of all sorts. I’ll give you recipes for SPINACH ARTICHOKE DIP and COPY CAT FRITO LAY BEAN DIP. They’re both ridiculously expensive if you buy them pre-made. Or try one of the other dips posted here, like PESTO, HUMMUS, or CREAMY WHITE BEAN DIP. Don’t forget raw veggies as alternatives to chips. Aldi has 1-pound bags of baby carrots for 69 cents, celery for 89 cents a head, and grape tomatoes for 99 cents a pint.

You can make your own chips, too, if you want. They’ll probably be cheaper and will definitely be healthier. (I know – “healthy” isn’t necessarily a priority for watching the Super Bowl.) PITA CHIPS, TORTILLA CHIPS,  and FRENCH BREAD CHIPS are all super easy to make. Or, for a change of pace, how about serving GARLIC BREAD as a base for the dips, and spread it on the bread instead of dunking it?

So there you have it – a plentiful spread for Super Bowl Sunday, and for way less than a billion dollars!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pork Chops and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

IGA has iceberg lettuce for 99 cents a head. Honeysuckle 93% lean fresh ground turkey is $2.99 for a 1.2 pound package, or $2.50 a pound. Country style spare ribs are $1.99 a pound. The ad says that Pilgrim’s whole cut-up fryers are $1.59 each, which would be a fabulous price! Unfortunately, the ad is wrong – it should be $1.59 per pound, which isn’t a good deal at all. Canned beans (the picture shows chili beans) and black-eyed peas are 79 cents a can. “Slicing tomatoes” are $1.59 a pound.

Marsh has family pack “assorted pork chops” for $1.29 a pound, or smaller packs for $1.69 a pound. Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts are $1.29 a pound in the family pack or $1.49 in smaller size packs. Brown mustard is 10 for $10, or $1.00 each for 10 ounces. Red, orange and yellow bell peppers are also 10 for $10, or $1.00 each. Cukes and green peppers are 88 cents each, and iceberg lettuce is 99 cents a head. Sweet potatoes are 79 cents a pound. Country style spare ribs are $1.99 a pound and pork sirloin roast is $1.69 a pound.

At Aldi, a 2-pound bag of carrots is just 89 cents. Mushrooms are 99 cents for an 8 ounce package. Pineapple are still 99 cents each, and grapefruit are 39 cents each. Frozen peas and corn are both 95 cents for a 1-pound bag. A heads up about Aldi – they had great prices on dairy (butter, eggs and cheese in particular) during November and December, but the prices have shot back up to where they were before the holiday season sales. Still ok prices, just not nearly as good as they had been.

Kroger has large eggs 4 dozen for $5.00, or $1.25 per dozen. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 a pound. And sour cream is 10 for $10.00, or $1.00 a pint.

Not a very inspiring bunch of specials, is it? Actually, $1.29 a pound for pork chops is a pretty good price, so I’ll go with that. By the way, I haven’t been to the stores to check on prices since early December, so my costs may not be current. I had planned to go Thursday, but after slipping and sliding on the roads in the morning, and hearing that there would be more snow, I decided against it. The sale prices are from the ads, so they should be right, and the other costs should be close, at least.

I like cookbooks. I like reading them and using them and collecting them. I almost always go to the last day of the public library’s book sales and the last day of the Red Cross book sales. Books are free those days. In fact, they want people to take them so they don’t have to get rid of them. I usually bring home several boxes of cookbooks. All kinds of cookbooks. I copy out the recipes that look good, and then take them to the next book sale in hopes that someone will buy them. I don’t keep very many of the cookbooks I find anymore, but then I’ve got over 20 linear feet of them already. And that’s after I gave away several boxes of them! And I’ve got close to 300 cookbooks saved to my Kindle. Did I say that I like cookbooks? 

Anyway, this first recipe is from a tiny little cookbook that I got at one of those book sales. Probably the Red Cross sale last fall. I don’t know why I picked it up, but I did. There’s only one recipe in it that sounded good to me, for STEAMED PORK CHOPS, and here it is. It’s A Little Bahamian Cookbook, by Rosamund Lambert, by the way, published in 1990 in the Bahamas. Assuming that the pork chops weigh about half a pound each, this should cost about $4.20 for four servings, or $1.05 per serving. I think I would get a box of the mushrooms from Aldi, slice them up, and add them along with the other vegetables. That would bring the cost to about $5.20 and you wouldn’t need to add another vegetable. Half a head of lettuce, for 50 cents, and some salad dressing, would round out the meal and keep it to a bit less than $6.00 for four servings, or about $1.50 per serving.

This next recipe, PORK CHOPS BAKES WITH CABBAGE AND CREAM (and yes, I think that’s really the name of the dish, though it doesn’t sound right), calls for boneless pork chops that are 3/4” thick. The ones that are on sale aren’t boneless and are probably going to be closer to 1/2 thick. I wouldn’t worry about either one. The bones won’t hurt anything, and other than maybe cooking a bit quicker, the fact that they’re thinner won’t hurt, either. This is a full meal in itself, so you could just call it good at $4.40 for four servings, or $1.10 per serving. It’s going to be pretty blah looking, though, so you might want to cook up some carrots to serve with it. A pound of carrots, for 45 cents, and a whole pineapple for dessert at 99 cents, and you’ve got a huge meal for less than $1.50 per serving.

This next recipe, MAPLE MUSTARD BAKED CHICKEN THIGHS, is, obviously, a recipe for chicken rather than pork chops. But it’s very good and both maple syrup and mustard go well with pork, so I’m going to include it. Just substitute four pork chops for the chicken. You could brown the pork chops first, if you wanted, but I probably wouldn’t. The sauce is flavorful enough that you shouldn’t even notice that the chops weren’t browned. I don’t know where I got the recipe, but maple mustard chicken recipes are all over the internet.

Assuming that you’re using two pounds of pork chops instead of the chicken, this will cost less than $4.00. How much less, I don’t know, because I don’t know how much the maple syrup will cost. The sauce is really good over broccoli, and you can add two pounds of frozen broccoli from Walmart and keep it right about $6.00 total, or about $1.50 per serving. At least you could the last time I checked. The price of broccoli may have gone up since then.

Did you know that you can make your own MAPLE SYRUP? That's what I grew up with. Just combine twice as much sugar as water (so maybe two cups of sugar and one cup of water) in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, and boil it until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is clear. Then add half a teaspoon or so of Mapleine (an imitation maple extract – you should be able to find it with the vanilla and other extracts and flavorings) and stir it well. It tastes very much like maple syrup for a fraction of the cost. You can use brown sugar instead, without the Mapleine, which I think I liked better. Or sometimes we made it with white sugar and no Mapleine, and it was still good over pancakes and French toast and so forth.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Chicken Breast and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

The sale dates are still messed up from the holidays. I’ll try to include them here, but be sure to check them before you shop.

Aldi has started to carry more organic produce. I have friends in other parts of the country who say that their stores have lots of organic produce, but I haven’t seen much here. You might want to check the store to see what’s available if you want to get organic. This week, though, for conventional produce, fruit seems to be the thing. Pineapples are 99 cents each, cantaloupe are $1.49 each, and blackberries 99 cents for 6 ounces, or about $2.50 per pound. These prices are good through Tuesday, January 7.

Marsh has strawberries $5.00 for two 1-pound boxes, or $2.50 per box. Canned vegetables are 49 cents each, but you have to buy at least ten “participating items” to get that price. Western style ribs, which come from the shoulder, are $1.99 a pound. Some of them will have bones, but you may be able to find some that are boneless, or nearly so. Pork sirloin roast is $1.69 a pound. It comes from the loin but it does have a bone. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 in the family packs. These prices are good through Sunday, January 5.

Kroger has 5 cans of tomatoes for $3.00, or 60 cents a can. Cottage cheese is $1.25 a pint. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $1.97 a pound. Two 1-pound boxes of strawberries are $5.00, or $2.50 each. And iceberg lettuce is 99 cents a head. These prices are good through Wednesday, January 8.

IGA has sirloin pork chops for 99 cents a pound in the family pack, and boneless, skinless chicken breasts and tenders for $1.99 a pound. Cabbage is 33 cents a pound. These prices are good through Sunday, January 5.

Looks like just about everyone has boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale this week. Maybe because they figure everyone made New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier this year, and they figure that chicken breasts fit right in there? Whatever the reason, let’s talk about them again this week. Be sure to check the older posts for recipes, too, including the ones for turkey breast.

I spent the holidays in Idaho with Mom, and we had chicken breasts a couple of nights. Mom usually slices, breads and fries them, but since I don’t eat grains we had to improvise. We came up with PARMESAN ALMOND CHICKEN BREASTS. It was a matter of dumping in some of this and some of that, but I think this is pretty close to what we had. It turned out really good, too – especially the crispy coating. In fact, we talked about maybe just frying the coating next time! We got two meals for two people each out of this, plus one slice left over, but the portions were a bit on the skimpy side. Let’s say four servings, because there is the extra protein from the cheese and the almonds. The total cost should be about $3.40, or 85 cents per serving. The first night we had a salad and buttered carrots with it, and the second night we had CREAMED SPINACH and buttered carrots. A pound of carrots would be 70 cents, plus a tablespoon or so of butter would bring it to about 75 cents. A head of the iceberg lettuce that’s on sale plus some ranch dressing would bring the total for the meal to about $5.50. You could add some extra veggies to the salad if you wanted and still keep it under $6.00 for the meal ($1.50 per person), or you could have half a pineapple for dessert. The Creamed Spinach runs about $2.25 for the batch, so that, plus the carrots and the chicken comes to about $6.40, or $1.60 per person, which is just over my goal of $1.50 per person.

I wrote this column while I was still at Mom’s house, so I looked through her cookbooks for recipes. She doesn’t have a lot, but she has some good ones. Mom grew up in near Des Moines, where Better Homes and Gardens had their headquarters (they may still be there, for all I know), and her sister still lives there. Mom has lots of their cookbooks. ORANGE CHICKEN comes from a 1969 cookbook. A batch will cost about $3.40 (I’m guessing on the cost of the orange juice concentrate), or about 85 cents a serving. With the orange juice and ginger, it would be great over broccoli. A pound of frozen broccoli was 98 cents at Walmart the last time I checked, but I’d use two pounds. That would bring the total to about $5.40. The culinary etiquette gurus say you shouldn’t have fruit in more than one course of a meal, but I’d have fruit for dessert anyway, since it’s on sale this week. You could have half a pineapple for a total cost of about $5.90, or you could have half a cantaloupe and bring the total to $6.15. Or you could have just a pound and a half of broccoli and keep the cost under $6.00 (under $1.50 per serving) with either kind of fruit. Or, if you wanted to be really fancy, you could combine a 6 ounce box of blackberries with some cantaloupe. It would bring the total cost to a bit over $6.00, but blackberries and cantaloupe go so well together. You could skimp a bit on another meal to make up for it.

The next recipe, EASY CHICKEN DIVAN, is one of my favorites. It uses cream of chicken soup, though, and I try to avoid processed foods like that. You could substitute homemade CREAM OF WHATEVER SOUP MIX if you wanted. This costs about $6.50 if you use the canned soup, or about $6.00 if you make your own. It makes six to eight servings. At six servings, it would be $1.00 per serving, which would bring it to $4.00 for four servings. (I’ll tell you what to do with the other two servings in a minute.) You could add some buttered carrots for another 75 cents and a big lettuce salad with a grated carrot and some dressing for less than a dollar more. Or skip the skip either the salad or the carrots and have fruit for dessert. It will still cost under $1.50 per person.

As for the extra two servings of the Chicken Divan, add it to a cup of milk and a pint or so of chicken broth, heat it, and use a blender to make Cream of Chicken and Broccoli Soup out of it.

I hope you have a fabulous New Year, and I hope to see you at the HUB sometime! Check out their schedule of cooking demos and tastings. The last time I talked to Kayte, she said they hope to have something going on every day. And don’t forget the cooking and gardening classes. I know it’s still January, but it won’t be long before it will be time to start your seedlings inside!