Friday, March 28, 2014

Where's the Budget Ground Beef? and Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

This is a horrible week for specials! Or maybe it’s just the price increases that they’ve been talking about so much and I don’t recognize good prices. Here are the few things that seem like good deals to me.

Marsh has family pack chicken leg quarters for 79 cents a pound. Three one-pound packs of strawberries are $5.00, or $1.67 per pound. Frozen vegetables are $5.00 for two 32-ounce (two pound) bags. That’s $2.50 per bag, or $1.25 per pound. When comparing this to the price for other vegetables, be sure to check the size of the packages. A lot of them are 10 ounces these days, or maybe 12 ounces. These two-pound bags come out to 78 cents for 10 ounces or 94 cents for 12 ounces. The picture shows corn and broccoli; other vegetables may be on sale, too. These prices are good through next Wednesday, April 2.

IGA has “bunched broccoli” two for $3.00, or $1.50 each. It may be a good price, depending on how big the “bunches” are. Don’t forget that the stalk is good eating, too. It needs to be peeled, though. I use a knife to cut back the thick peel, then pull it off. Most of it comes off that way. “Tomatoes on the Vine” are 99 cents a pound. Frozen vegetables are ten 1-pound bags for $10.00, or $1.00 a pound. “Selected varieties” are at this price; the picture shows a bag of mixed vegetables. “Selected varieties” of canned vegetables are two for $1.00, or 50 cents each. Three 8-ounce packages of chunk cheese are $5.00, or $1.67 each, or $3.33 per pound. Shredded cheese is the same price. These prices are good through Sunday, March 30.

Aldi has fresh broccoli for 99 cents for a 1-pound package. If you shop there, you know that their produce is all prepackaged. I’ve noticed that some vegetables are a lot bigger than they say. You might be able to get a better deal if you can find a big package. Strawberries are $1.49 a pound. These prices are good through Tuesday, April 1.

Kroger has Anjou pears and Asian pears for 99 cents a pound. Are you familiar with Asian pears? They look more like apples, have brown skin and very crisp slightly grainy flesh. Ground turkey is $2.50 a pound.

It seems like all I ever talk about is chicken and pork, chicken and pork, with an occasion foray into fish or hamburger. I’m tired of chicken and pork! But then again, what else is there besides chicken, pork, beef and fish? OK, there’s also lamb (too expensive), turkey (done that one, too), duck and goose (also too expensive), venison (if you happen to hunt), and beef other than hamburger (too expensive). But from a practical standpoint, there’s not much except chicken, pork, beef and fish. The thing to do is to find different ways of fixing them.

Do you realize I’ve been doing this column just over six months now? The first column came out on September 3, 2013. I went back and did some checking and, if I’ve counted correctly (always a questionable assumption), I’ve given 166 recipes so far! A few of them are duplicates, but not many. Probably 150 is more like it. That includes 11 recipes for beef (6 corned beef and 5 hamburger – I thought there were a lot more for hamburger), 40 recipes for chicken (no wonder I’m tired of talking about chicken!) and 10 for turkey, 4 for eggs, 11 for fish, 40 for pork (17 for pork chops and roasts, 11 for ham, and 12 for sausage), 29 for miscellaneous things like tortilla chips and pumpkin pie, 13 for salads, 15 for soups, and 51 for vegetables! Yes, I know that comes to a lot more than 150, but some things fall into more than one category. Like chicken soup is both chicken and soup. Based on this informal and probably inaccurate analysis, it looks like I should see what I can do with hamburger, if it ever goes on sale again. Even at sales prices, though, it’s still too expensive to be much of a “budget” meat.

Hamburger isn’t on sale this week, but IGA has ground chuck for $2.99 a pound in the three pound or bigger packages. I guess that is on sale; I just tend to think that a sale price on hamburger should be under $2.00 a pound. Let’s go with the ground chuck. I’m going to try to keep my dinners to $1.50 per person, but I’m allowing myself some leeway here. I’m willing to go as high as $2.00 per person. That means cutting back on breakfast or lunch to keep the day’s meals at $4.00 per person or less, so I’ll throw in a couple of menus for them, too.

First, BREAKFAST. My breakfasts tend to be pretty boring; how about yours? Especially since I don't eat grains of any type, so no cereal, pancakes or waffles, toast, etc. I don't know how much cereal costs these days, but I'd guess that my eggs are probably cheaper than most name brand sugary cereals.

What’s a cheap LUNCH? How about a big bowl of soup or salad? Not just a bowl of lettuce, but lots of protein, too. And definitely not just a can of soup!

Back to the hamburger recipes. Cabbage rolls are very tedious to make. Or at least it seems to me that they would be. I’ve never actually made them because they sound so finicky. CABBAGE ROLL CASSEROLE gives you the flavor of traditional cabbage rolls without all the blanching and rolling and filling and so forth. A batch of this will cost about $5.00 and will make four big servings. If you want to serve something with it, how about some carrot sticks. A good dollop of sour cream on each serving would be good, too. These will keep it to $6.00 total, or $1.50 per person.

KANSAS CITY BEEF SOUP is full of ground beef and vegetables in a rich butter-and-flour gravy. 
It costs about $9.20 for eight servings, or $1.15 per serving. How about some carrot and celery sticks to go with. Or some wedges of iceberg lettuce with dressing. You can stay under $1.50 per serving either way. Using a can of vegetables instead of the frozen would save 50 for the batch. Or you could use two cans of vegetables instead of the frozen vegetables, which would make it even chunkier and would make the servings a little bit bigger and it would still cost about $9.20.

The final recipe, CHEESY BEEF AND GREEN BEANS, is super quick. The cheese makes it a little more expensive than the other recipes. It comes to $5.80 for four servings. They’re big servings, but you’ll still probably want something to go with it. Some iceberg lettuce with dressing would be good, or a simple cabbage salad or coleslaw. Or some fresh fruit. You could slice up a couple of pounds of the Anjou pears or the Asian pears. They would probably have to be sliced and shared because they will probably be too big for everyone to have a whole pear. Or some canned fruit would be good. Just be sure to get some that’s canned in juice and not in a sugary syrup. It should come to under $8.00, or under $2.00 per person, with any of these additions.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Grilled and Roasted Chicken Breasts and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Kroger has several things that are a good price if you buy “any five.” It’s really easy with a deal like that to buy something you don’t need to get in your five items. Don’t do it! You usually end up paying more than you would if you just bought the items you do need without the discount. At least that’s the way it works for me. Saving money can be really expensive! But on to their sales… Kraft salad dressings are 99 cents for a 16 ounce bottle. Kraft cheese is $1.99 for 5 – 8 ounce packages, which is a good price for 8 ounces but not for 5 ounces. Oscar Meyer lunchmeat is $1.99 for a 1 pound package. It’s going to be heavily processed, but it is convenient. All of these prices are assuming you buy “any 5” of the various sale items. They’re all $1.00 more if you don’t buy 5. There are also a few things that are on sale even if you don’t buy 5 items. Split chicken breast, drumsticks or thighs are 99 cents a pound. Cottage cheese and sour cream are $1.99 for 24 ounces. Butter is two pounds for $5.00, or $2.50 a pound, and you don’t have to buy two to get that price. These prices are good through Wednesday, March 26. There is also a four-day-only sale, with prices good only through Sunday, March 23. Among these sales items are five half gallons of milk for $5.00, or $1.00 each, or $2.00 per gallon. You don’t have to buy five gallons, and there is a limit of five gallons. Asparagus is 88 cents a pound.

Marsh has pork chops in the family pack for 99 cents a pound. Grapes – red, white or black seedless or red with seeds – are $1.48 a pound. Anjou and Bosc pears are $1.49 a pound. Jumbo cantaloupes are 3 for $5.00, or $1.67 each. These prices are good through Wednesday, March 26.

IGA has split fryer breasts for 99 cents a pound. Turkey sausage is $1.99 for a one pound package. “Jumbo size” lemons are two for $1.00, or 50 cents each. Ambrosia apples are $1.49 a pound. “Red ripe tomatoes on the vine” are $1.49 a pound. Some Kraft products are buy-one-get-one-free. Some cheeses $2.99 for two 5 to 8 ounce packages. That’s a good price for the 8 ounce packages, at $2.99 a pound, not good for the 5 ounce packages. Planters peanuts are $3.49 for two 1-pound jars, or $1.75 per jar, and peanut butter is $2.79 for two 15 – 16.3 ounce jars, or $1.40 each, also on the buy-on-get-one-free sale. These prices are good through Sunday, March 23.

We’re back to chicken breasts this week. IGA and Marsh both have split fryer breasts for 99 cents a pound. They’re bone-in and skin-on, so that’s something to consider when you see the price. By the way, I’ve been wondering how the price of split fryer breasts and boneless, skinless fryer breasts compare. The result of my little experiment was that it really is cheaper to buy the split fryer breasts and do the work yourself. Of course, the ones that are already boned and skinned are quicker and easier to use. I use both.

Figure that about half the weight of the split chicken breasts will be in the boneless, skinless portions, so if you need a pound of boneless skinless chicken, you’ll need to start with two pounds of split chicken breasts. Between 8 and 9 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast will yield a cup of diced, cooked meat. Let’s call it 8 ounces, so 1 pound of split chicken breast will yield about 1 cup of diced, cooked meat. More or less. That’s about 99 cents per cup of cooked meat this week, plus you get the bones, the skin, and some meat that’s left on the bones after you cut off the big chunks.

Twice as Nice: 25 Chicken Breast Recipes for Today and Later, by Sandra Liu, is one of the free books I found for the Kindle. (If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download Kindle for PC onto your computer. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t have Kindles and doesn’t have the Kindle software on their computers.) The idea behind the book is that you can buy chicken breasts when they’re on sale, grill or bake them, then cut them up and freeze them to have COOKED CHICKEN STRIPS available whenever you need them. They’re a lot cheaper that way than buying the precooked strips of chicken breasts. The book tells how to grill or roast them, how to cut them up, how to freeze them, and then gives 25 recipes using the cooked meat. 

To find recipes for the cooked chicken breast strips, I did a google search for “grilled chicken breast recipes.” One site that came up was the Tyson website, which included almost 90 recipes using their precooked chicken breast strips. I’ve included one of them. Of course, I adapted it to use your own home-cooked chicken breast strips instead of Tyson’s!

Let’s go back and start with the raw chicken breasts. Let’s start with six pounds of them, since you frequently have to buy them in the family packs to get the best price. First, cook them with the bone in and the skin on. (You could cut the meat off the bone before we cook it, in which case you’d pull the skin off, too. It comes out pretty much the same either way, and some people don’t like handling raw chicken.) Then you pull the nice crisp skin off of the meat and save it for a treat. Next, you cut the meat off the bones, trying to get it off in one big chunk, but not scraping the bones to get every bit of meat off of them. You put the bones in a pot of water with some vegetables and seasonings and make some soup for four people. And then use the meat you cut off in two main dish recipes for four people each. That’s twelve servings from $6.00 of split chicken breasts.

Let’s start with SIMPLE CHICKEN VEGETABLE SOUP, and its cousins, CREAM OF CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE SOUP, CHICKEN VEGETABLE EGG DROP SOUPHow much will this soup cost? It depends, of course, on what you end up putting in it. I figure that the broth and the meat and free, because I include the entire cost of the split fryer breasts in the cost of the chunks of meat that I cut off for other things. Let’s say 2 onions, 4 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 8 ounces of frozen peas, and 8 eggs. That’s going to be about $2.85 for four big servings of soup. Let’s call it $3.00, or 75 cents per serving, just because I like things that come out nice and even. You’d want to add a salad or something if you were having this for supper, but for lunch I just have a big bowl of this type of soup and call it good.

I figure $1.00 for breakfast and $1.50 each for lunch and supper, or $4.00 a day to keep my costs down to the average food stamp benefit per person received in Indiana. I don’t have the exact figure, but the latest I’ve seen is just under $1.40 per person per meal, or just under $4.20 per day per person. Since this soup is only about 75 cents per person for lunch, that leaves an extra 75 cents for other meals that might go a bit over $1.50 per person, or for special meals where you want to splurge a bit.

Now to a few recipes using those chunks of meat you cut off the bones in big chunks, and then sliced. I didn’t really intend to when I started today’s column, but I seem to have ended with Southwestern or Tex-Mex recipes. The cooked chicken breast doesn’t have to be used only in Tex-Mex recipes; it can be used plain, or in Italian dishes, or Thai dishes, or curries, or just about anything else. The recipes that I ended up using today just happen to be more or less Southwestern. 

Like SOUTHWESTERN FRITTATAThe frittata will cost about $4.00. Add half a cup each of sour cream and salsa to top it off (two tablespoons of each per serving) for another 60 cents. Serve it with a quick fruit salad of one cup of halved grapes and half a cantaloupe for $1.25 and you’ve got a good brunch or lunch or even a light supper for just under $6.00, or $1.50 per person. Or sauté a couple pounds of asparagus in butter with some garlic and serve that instead. Or serve salad. Or a salad and a pound of asparagus. There are lots of ways you can use that other $2.00 on side dishes to accompany the frittata.

LEFTOVER CHICKEN SANTA FE is different than I usually .give, with corn, beans and tortilla strips. The mixture of chicken, black beans, corn and cheese can be used in many ways. Add it to a salad, or to a wrap, or a burrito, or rice, or you could even make soup out of it. As a salad, it comes to about $5.50, not counting the tortilla strips. I have no idea how much they cost, though I do remember when I bought a big bag of plain corn tortillas for Mom they didn’t cost very much. You should be able to make plenty of TORTILLA STRIPS for the salad and stay under $6.00 for the meal, if you make your own. Making your own ITALIAN DRESSING helps keep the cost down, too. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Corned Beef (but no green beer) and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, and you know what that means! Besides green beer, that is. That’s right – corned beef. I thought I’d throw out some different ways of using it. Remember that I’m not including potatoes in my recipes or menus, which is why you won’t see them here.

But first, the specials. I was surprised to find that only Kroger has corned beef on sale. The veggies that traditionally go with it – carrots, onions, potatoes, and cabbage – are on sale some places, but not the corned beef itself. Or, at least, not at what I consider a real sale price. Marsh and Aldi both had it for $1.99 last week, but their “sale” prices are higher this week.

Kroger has corned beef points for $1.99 a pound, or flat cut for $2.99 a pound. Boneless chicken breasts are $1.89 a pound. Large eggs are $1.50 a dozen, which, I’m very sorry to say, seems to be a good price these days. I keep waiting for them to go down now that it’s almost Spring. Sour cream and cottage cheese are both three 16-ounce cartons for $4.00, or $1.33 each. Roma tomatoes are 99 cents a pound and whole cantaloupe are two for $3.00, or $1.50 each. These prices are good through next Wednesday, March 19.

As usual, Aldi has some great deals on produce. Baby carrots are 69 cents a pound. Mushrooms are 99 cents for an 8-ounce box. Red potatoes are 99 cents for a 5-pound bag, or 20 cents a pound. Onions are 79 cents for a 3-pound bag, or 27 cents a pound. (That’s the lowest price I can remember seeing in a long time.) Cabbage is 79 cents a head, which probably comes out to around 40 cents a pound, depending on the size of the heads. Could be 50 cents a pound, could be 20 cents. Salad mixes are 69 cents for a 12-ounce bag. Corned beef is $3.49 a pound for flat cut brisket. These prices are good through next Tuesday, March 18.

IGA has corned beef for $3.47 a pound. Idaho potatoes (russets, not red potatoes) are $1.47 for a 5-pound bag, or 30 cents a pound. Ham sausage is $2.77 for a 1-pound roll. Roma tomatoes are 97 cents a pound. Sirloin pork chops are 97 cents a pound in family packs. (See my column from a couple of weeks ago for ways to cook pork chops.) A lot of other pork cuts are on sale, too.

Marsh has corned beef rounds for $2.99 a pound or corned beef briskets for $3.49 a pound. Cabbage is 19 cents a pound.

In case you’re wondering about all the different kinds of corned beef this week, here’s a quick run-down on them.  Figure on about half as much cooked as you started with raw. So to get a pound of cooked corned beef, you’ll have to buy two pounds raw. To get twelve ounces cooked, you’ll need a pound and a half (24 ounces) raw.

Both red potatoes and Idaho potatoes are on sale this week. Either one can be used when making a corned beef dinner, though the red ones are more traditional.

Here are some things to do with corned beef, in addition to the traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage (or, more accurately, Corned Beef and Vegetables, since other vegetables are almost always included). You can use leftover corned beef in them, or you can cook up a chunk of corned beef special to use in these recipes. And don’t forget corned beef sandwiches. Corned beef on rye, with Swiss cheese and mustard. Or a Rueben sandwich, with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. If you’re planning on leftovers, remember that there’s a lot of shrinkage. You’ll need to start with twice as much as you need cooked.

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE SAUTE is sort of a corned beef and cabbage stir-fry. Sort of. With the larger quantities of vegetables, a batch of this will cost about $4.95 for the meat and veggies, and probably another 25 cents or so for the other ingredients, or about $5.30 total. I just make a meal of it, but you could add some of the cantaloupe that’s on sale if you wanted to, and still keep it to $6.00 for four people, or $1.50 per person.

I didn’t realize until I started working on this column that I don’t really use recipes when it comes to corned beef. I get ideas for things to do with the corned beef, but then I just go my merry way. Corned Beef and Cabbage Saute, above, is one example. CORNED BEEF OMELET is another one. For that matter, so is cooking the corned beef to begin with. Think of the following recipe as just a basic idea, and then use whatever you have on hand and like. I’ve never tried it, but sautéing some leftover Brussels sprouts with the corned beef and onions sounds pretty good to me. So does adding a good squirt or spoonful of spicy mustard. Or maybe some Thousand Island salad dressing, like in Reuben sandwich. Or whatever. Use your imagination.

When I make “omelets” I usually either make a scramble or I pour the eggs on top of the filling and cook it that way. Sort of like a frittata except I don’t broil it. I’m too lazy to bother with cooking the filling, then setting it aside while I cook the eggs, then putting the filling on the omelet and folding it. Suit yourself. It tastes the same either way. Making it into a scramble (cooking the filling, then adding the eggs and scrambling it all together) or making it into a frittata sort of thing (I need to come up with a name for this – how about a flat omelet) works better when you’re cooking for more than one or two people, because you’re not supposed to make an omelet for more than two people; you’re supposed to make separate omelets and that’s a hassle for everyone. So I’m going to skip the omelet bit and give directions for making a scramble or a flat omelet. Turning it all into a quiche would work, too, come to think of it. I’ll give directions for that, too. It’s all pretty much the same.

The CORNED BEEF SCRAMBLE and the FLAT CORNED BEEF OMELET both run about $3.90 if you use half and half, less if you use milk and more if you use heavy cream. It makes enough to serve four people for breakfast and maybe for lunch, but you’ll want to have something else to go with it if you’re having it for supper. Or at least I would. Coleslaw would go well with it, and with the cabbage and onions on sale you could make a big bowl of it for under a dollar. You’d still be able to get in some cantaloupe to go with it and keep it under $6.00 for four people, or $1.50 per person. With the extra cream and cheese, a CORNED BEEF QUICHE will cost about $6.00, but will make six generous servings, so it still comes out to about $1.00 per person.

I’ve never made CREAM OF REUBEN SOUP, but if I were to make it I would change the recipe quite a bit. I hesitate to give you my version, though, when I’ve never tried it. So I’m giving you both recipes. I can hardly believe I’m saying this, since I basically believe you can never have too much cream or butter, but it sounds too rich for me.

My version of the recipe, using cabbage instead of sauerkraut (just because cabbage is on sale and I don’t know how much sauerkraut costs), comes to about $3.65 and makes about eight cups. A pound of baby carrots and a pound of sliced Roma tomatoes, with some Thousand Island dressing for dipping them in, would go well with the soup and would keep the total cost under $6.00, or $1.50 per person.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Something Fishy, and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Kroger has meat on sale this week. Bumble Bee Tuna is 59 cents for a 5 ounce can. Boneless pork loin is $1.89 a pound. Don’t forget you can slice it into boneless pork chops if you want to. Ground beef (73% lean, in three pound chubs for $5.97) is $1.99 a pound. They also have celery for 99 cents a head and Roma tomatoes for 99 cents a pound.

Marsh has iceberg lettuce for 99 cents a head and frozen whole bone-in turkey breasts for 99 cents a pound.

Aldi has four-pound bags of oranges for $1.99. Strawberries are $1.49 for a one-pound box. Grapefruit are 39 cents each. Pineapples are $1.49 each. Bananas are 44 cents a pound. Cantaloupe are $1.89 each. Nonfat plain or vanilla yogurt is $1.79 a quart (32 ounces).

IGA has Roma tomatoes for 99 cents a pound.

I expected corned beef and cabbage to be on sale this week, but they’re not. Well, Aldi and Marsh both have corned beef for $1.99 a pound, but there should be better prices next week for St. Patrick’s Day.

The best deal this week is probably the hamburger, but it’s still pretty expensive when you consider how much shrinkage there is. Besides which, I can’t think of anything special to do with it and didn’t find any recipes that looked enticing. Anyway, you probably have lots of hamburger recipes of your own.

So it looks like we’re back to the Swai (catfish) fillets at Kroger. They still had them for $1.29 a pound when I was there about a week ago. That’s their regular price, and it’s about half the cost of the next cheapest fish anywhere in town. It’s easier to use fish fillets or steaks unless you’re making fish soup, but for the difference in price, I’m willing to fiddle with the nuggets.

When I lived in Northern California, I lived right on the coast. I could see the tops of the fishing boats from my office windows. Salmon was big around there, both with sports fishermen and commercial fishermen. I was fortunate to have some friends who were avid (and successful!) salmon fishermen, and I ate a lot more of it than I would have if I had had to buy it. My favorite way of cooking the salmon was my friend’s method of marinating it in soy sauce, brown sugar and fresh ginger. I suppose it’s sort of a teriyaki treatment. It works for other fish, too, as in this recipe for SWAI NUGGETS A LA HILDA AND HOWARD. I’m not sure how much the soy sauce, brown sugar or ginger cost, but I’m guessing that the total cost of this is about $3.40.

Something that Hilda used to serve with the fish was STIR-FRIED CARROTS, BROCCOLI AND MUSHROOMS. Unfortunately, none of them are on sale this week, but maybe you have some left from when they were? Anyway, the fish is cheap enough that we can have the veggies even though they’re not on sale. At non-sale prices, the vegetables will run about $2.50, for a total cost of about $5.90, or just under $1.50 per person for four people. 

If you’ve ever watched Chopped on the Food Network, or other shows of that type, you’ve probably heard that fish and cheese just don’t go together. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Scott Conant criticize a contestant for using fish and cheese in the same dish. Fortunately, we’re not on competing for $10,000 so we can do whatever we want! BAKED COD WITH BOURSIN HERB CHEESE calls for both Boursin (an expensive herbed cheese – see the copycat recipe to make your own) and Parmesan. If you make your own Boursin herbed cheese, this will cost about $4.50. Half a head of lettuce is about 50 cents, and say another 25 cents for some dressing. Half a pineapple would be another 75 cents, bringing the total to $6.00, or $1.50 per person for four people. Half a cantaloupe instead of the pineapple would be 95 cents, bringing the total to $6.20, or $1.55 per person.

As far as I can tell, I haven’t talked about one of my favorite ways to fix fish. Don’t know why I haven’t. It’s good and easy and cheap. It’s sort of like Fish Florentine, which is a fancy name for fish with spinach. There are two steps to it. Well, three, I guess. You make CREAMED SPINACH and you make TILAPIA WITH GARLIC BUTTER (except at my house it’s more likely to be Swai nuggets than tilapia fillets) and then you combine them to make GARLIC BUTTER FISH WITH CREAMED SPINACH. The fish will cost about $3.10 and the creamed spinach will cost about $3.00, so it will come to about $6.10 for four servings, which is just barely over my goal of $6.00, or $1.50 per person. Oh, well. If you use just 1 pound 15 ounces of fish, you’ll come in under $6.00. Chances are the packages of fish won’t come in at exactly two pounds anyway. The servings are big, and you don’t need anything to go with it. That’s the way I eat it anyway. Just a big serving of fish with creamed spinach.