Friday, August 29, 2014

Labor Day, and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Aldi has “vine tomatoes” for 99 cents for 24 ounces, or 66 cents a pound. Whole seedless watermelons are $1.99 each. Strawberries are $1.49 a pound and blueberries are $1.49 a pint. 85% lean ground beef is $2.99 a pound. Prices good through Tuesday, September 2.

Marsh has peaches for 99 cents a pound and corn on the cob ten ears for $3.00, or 30 cents an ear. Prices good through Wednesday, September 3.

Kroger has sour cream for $1.25 a pint. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 a pound. Green beans, peaches, zucchini, yellow (summer) squash and hot house tomatoes are 99 cents a pound. Iceberg lettuce is 99 cents a head. Sweet corn is ten ears for $3.00. Asparagus is $1.99 a pound. Prices good through Wednesday, September 3.

IGA has cucumbers and green peppers for 79 cents each. Prices good through Sunday, August 31.

And, in honor of Labor Day, I’m taking the week off! Hope you have a great, and safe, holiday weekend.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cheap, Quick and Easy Cooking for Those Without Much in the Way of Cooking Equipment, Ingredients, Time or Knowhow, and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Aldi has avocados for 49 cents each. Seedless watermelons are $1.99 each and cantaloupe are $1.49 each. Strawberries are $1.49 per pound and blueberries are $1.49 per pint (about 12 ounces).

Kroger has boneless pork loin for $1.99 per pound. Milk is $2.69 per gallon. Indiana sweet corn is ten ears for $3.00, or 30 cents an ear. Bartlett pears, Gala apples, red and black plums, black seedless grapes, and Roma tomatoes are all 99 cents a pound.

Marsh has red, white and black seedless grapes and red grapes with seeds for 99 cents a pound. Large seedless cucumbers are ten for $10.00, or $1.00 each.

IGA in Ellettsville and Bedford has several things for 88 cents each – 24 ounce cans of pasta sauce, 12 ounce bags of frozen vegetables, 20 ounce bottles of mustard, 24 ounce bottles of ketchup, 12 ounce bottles of hot sauce, 18 ounce bottles of barbecue sauce. Cabbage is 59 cents a pound. Cucumbers and green peppers are 79 cents each. Zucchini and yellow squash are 99 cents a pound.

Did you know that you can exchange food stamps for twice as many Market Bucks to use at the Farmers Market? You can get exchange up to 18 dollars of food stamps for up to 36 dollars of Market Bucks, and then you can spend the Market Bucks like cash at the Market. That’s like getting the food from the Market at half price! And speaking of the Farmers Market, here are some prices. They vary from week to week, of course, and from vendor to vendor, but cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash are about 75 cents each or three for $2.00. Peppers are about the same. Tomatoes start at about $2.49 per pound, though you may be able to find “seconds” or “ugly tomatoes” or “canning tomatoes” for less, sometimes for half price. Green beans are about $3.50 per box, or two for $6.00. These are all guesstimates, as I haven’t been there for a couple of weeks.  

Lots of sales on produce, but not protein, so I can’t build my post around a sale item. I could do the chicken leg quarters for 69 cents a pound in a ten pound bag at Walmart again. I haven’t done that for a long time. Or I could build my post around something that’s happening now. Labor Day is coming up, and picnics, or just people wanting to get in picnics while they still can. And then there’s IU students moving back into town this week and classes starting next week. I’ve already given menus and recipes for picnics, so I think I’ll go with IU students coming back. Now to figure out what there is about that to talk about. Hmmmm.

What do college students lack? Time and money. And usually anything more than just the most basic ingredients and cooking equipment. And frequently culinary knowhow. That’s it! Let’s see what I can come up with that’s cheap, quick, easy, and doesn’t require much in the way of cooking equipment or knowhow or very many ingredients. Should be a snap, right?

There are a lot of cookbooks that deal with each of these constraints. Eating on a budget. Quick and easy recipes. 15 minute (or 20 minute or 30 minute or…) recipes. Cooking for dummies and/or idiots. 4 or 5 ingredient recipes. I think I even remember a cookbook along the lines of cooking when all you have is one saucepan. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book of cheap, quick, and easy recipes for dummies and idiots who don’t have anything but the very most basic of ingredients and cooking equipment and appliances. Maybe I should write a book? Or maybe I should start with a few menus and see how far I get before I get too carried away.

I figure that to really qualify as a “meal” you need about three parts. Almost always a protein (meat, chicken, fish or eggs), and two of the following three – salad, vegetable, or fruit. Sometimes you can get by with two or three of them in the same dish – a casserole, for example, that has protein and vegetables in it, or a big salad with protein. And sometimes you can get by with just a protein and vegetable or salad, if the portions are big enough. But I usually aim for three parts to the meal. So I’m going to give some ideas for all three, give you the costs of the different meal parts (using this week’s prices, so the costs may not be valid any other time) and then some ideas for how to put them together into meals.

Pork loin is on sale this week. It’s not a great price, but because there is practically no waste on it you can start with a smaller piece than you would with, for example, bone-in and skin-on chicken legs, which is the other protein I’m going to talk about. The pork loin (a lean, boneless strip of meat from the back) is $1.99 a pound at Kroger this week, and I figure that one serving is about 6 ounces. That’s about 75 cents per serving. The chicken leg quarters are 69 cents a pound for a ten pound bag, or $6.90 a pound, at Walmart. I figure that a leg quarter, or at least the drumstick and thigh together, is one serving, for about 69 cents. That’s the usual price there, and I rely on chicken legs a lot. Higher price per pound for the pork, but the price per serving is almost the same.

 At $6.90 cents for a ten pound bag of chicken leg quarters, they’re a great deal. There are usually about 10 leg quarters per bag. A leg quarter is a thigh, a drumstick, and a piece of the back where the thigh and the back intersect. You can cut the leg quarters into the three pieces, but I’m going to assume you don’t have the interest and/or energy and/or time and/or knowhow to do that. No problem. I figure that a whole chicken leg quarter is one serving. I’ve found that if I take the meat off of the bones and measure it, it comes out to about one cup of meat.

Chicken legs are very easy, versatile, and forgiving. Because there is more fat in the legs, they aren’t as likely to turn out dry as chicken breasts are. I’ll start with some very easy, two ingredient recipes.

1.    BASIC ROASTED CHICKEN LEG QUARTERS. Just salt and pepper them, put them in a single layer in something that can go in the oven and that has sides at least an inch high (there will be some juices, and you don’t want them to spill in the oven or on the floor or on you), and bake them at 375 for about 45 minutes.

2.    BARBECUED CHICKEN LEG QUARTERS. That’s oven barbecued, not grilled. As in pour some commercial barbecue sauce over them after you’ve put them in that baking dish with sides, then bake them at 375 for about 45 minutes.

3.    TERIYAKI CHICKEN LEG QUARTERS. Same as barbecued, but with commercial teriyaki sauce instead of barbecue sauce. You could put the teriyaki sauce in a plastic bag, add the chicken, and smush it around so the chicken has sauce all over it, or you can just put the chicken in the pan and pour the sauce on the top.

4.    ITALIAN CHICKEN LEG QUARTERS. Use Italian dressing (the kind that’s based on oil and vinegar and is sort of clear, not the kind that’s thick like ranch or blue cheese or that orange French dressing) instead of the barbecue or teriyaki sauce. Again, you could do the plastic bag thing to get the dressing all over the chicken or you can just pour it on top.

5.    CHICKEN LEG QUARTERS MARINARA. At its simplest, it’s just chicken baked with pasta sauce instead of barbecue or teriyaki sauce or salad dressing. You can sprinkle it with some parmesan cheese if you want to, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

So there are five quick and easy ways to fix chicken leg quarters, and you only need one ingredient in addition to the chicken. (I’m not counting salt and pepper as ingredients. I figure that everyone has those. Don’t they?) Actually, it’s more than just four, because there are so many different kinds of barbecue sauce and teriyaki sauce, or you can use a commercial marinade or sauce. There’s lots of scope there.

Assuming that you really don’t know what you’re doing, figure that it will take you about 10 to 15 minutes to prepare the chicken and get it in the oven, and then about 45 minutes for it to cook, while you don’t have to do anything. Be sure to turn on a timer, though, so you don’t forget to take it out. I’ve done that with more things than you can imagine, and it is really annoying for everyone who’s planning to eat whatever it is I just burned.

All of these recipes meet the quick-and-easy-recipes-for-dummies-and-idiots-who-don’t- have-much-cooking-equipment-or-many-ingredients test. But what about the cheap part? Well, a chicken leg quarter (a thigh and a drumstick plus a little bit more) will run you about 69 cents. A jar of barbecue sauce or teriyaki sauce or Italian dressing or pasta sauce will run you 88 cents this week at IGA and is enough for all ten of the leg quarters. (I’d suggest getting two or three different kinds, though, unless you’re feeding more than just yourself. They’ll keep in the fridge and you’ll be glad of the variety.) So that’s 78 cents for a leg quarter plus sauce, but let’s call it 80 cents. I like round numbers. They’re easier to work with and think about.

And now for what to do with a pork loin. It should run about 4 or 5 pounds and you’ll probably want to have the butcher cut it up for you. I’d suggest that you get half of it cut into pork chops and the leave the other half as a pork roast. Ask to have the pork chops cut about ½” thick. That way, one pork chop should be a serving.

The pork roast can be cooked pretty much the same way the basic chicken legs are cooked. Just rub salt and pepper all over it, put it in a baking dish with sides about one to two inches high, and bake it in a preheated oven at 350 for about an hour. Let it “rest” for about 10 minutes after you take it out of the oven. That means that you drape some foil over it and let it sit before cutting it so the juices get reabsorbed. It makes for a juicier roast. You can put some peeled carrots and onions around it while it roasts, and that takes care of your side dishes. Some potatoes, too, if you eat potatoes. Just don’t crowd the veggies.

As for the pork chops, you’ll want a heavy skillet. Turn the heat on under the skillet and let it get hot while you salt and pepper the chops, then put them in the skillet in a single layer. Let them cook for about 5 minutes, or until they’re nice and brown on the bottom, then turn them over and brown the other side. Turn the heat down to low and add about a fourth of a cup of water (you can use part orange juice if you want to), cover and cook them for about 30 minutes. The first time you cook pork chops you might want to check them after about 15 minutes and make sure there’s still some liquid in the pan. Now you have two choices. You can take the lid off and turn the heat up and boil off the liquid in the pan, which will make a nice finish on the chops, or you can take the chops out of the pan and cover them to keep them warm while you make gravy out of the drippings. To make gravy, put a tablespoon of flour in a small jar with a tight lid and add a cup of water. Shake it up really well so there are no lumps, then add it to the skillet. Stir it constantly as it thickens, and when it gets as thick as you like it, pour it into a bowl and serve it with the chops. An easier but more expensive way to make the gravy is to use condensed cream of mushroom soup. Carefully pour the juices from the skillet into a measuring cup and add enough water to make one cup. Pour it back into the skillet and add a can of mushroom soup. Stir it well so it doesn’t get lumpy and heat it until it just starts to simmer. Remove it from the pan and serve it as gravy.

If you’re trying to control your costs, you need to be aware of how big a serving is. A six ounce serving of pork will cost about 75 cents this week if you buy the pork loin at Kroger. That’s six ounces raw, not cooked. Weigh your roast and figure out how many servings you need to get from it, and then cut it into that many pieces. You should get five or six servings from a two pound roast, for example. The pork chops will probably be about 6 ounces each if you have them cut 1/2" thick, but weigh a couple of them to make sure. You may need to adjust the cost if they’re more or less than six ounces. There really isn’t any other cost to the pork, so just figure 75 cents per serving.

I had planned to talk about side dishes, but this is getting awfully long already, so I’ll do that another time. Just a few quick comments here.

First, plain lettuce makes a good salad. It’s usually 99 cents a head at Aldi and you should be able to get four to eight servings of lettuce from a head, depending on how big they are. (They vary a lot, so try to get big, heavy heads.) That’s about 15 to 25 cents per serving. Aldi has salad dressings for $1.29 for 16 ounces, and there are two tablespoons per ounce. A 16 ounce bottle of salad dressing is 16 servings of two tablespoons each, which is a reasonable size. That’s about 8 cents per serving. A simple salad of lettuce and dressing will run about 20 to 35 cents.

Roma tomatoes are 99 cents a pound at Kroger this week. There are usually four to five Roma tomatoes to a pound. Let’s say four of them, which means they cost 25 cents each. Tomato adds a lot to a salad. Figure on one Roma tomato, sliced or chopped, for two to three people.

Corn on the cob is ten ears for $3.00 this week at Kroger, or 30 cents an ear. If you have a microwave, pull off the silk that sticks out from the husks but leave the husks on. Set the ears of corn on a plate or a paper towel and nuke on high for about 4 to 6 minutes for two ears. Cook them one or two at a time. If you’re cooking very many, you might want to boil them instead of nuking them, but that takes a pretty big pot. Put enough water in the pot to cover the ears and bring it to a boil. Don’t add the corn until the water is boiling. Add about a tablespoon each of salt and sugar to the water and be sure it dissolves, then add the corn. Cook it for about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove it carefully, using tongs if you have them. Actually, if you don’t have tongs, you probably shouldn’t boil the corn because you won’t be able to get it out of the pan. You could get to the corn by pouring out the water, but you’re likely to (or I would be likely to) scald yourself with the steam and/or pour out the corn, too. I guess pouring the corn out too wouldn’t be too bad, as long as your sink is clean and you don’t splash yourself with the boiling water.

And finally, since I said I wasn’t going to talk about side dishes today, don’t forget fresh fruit. Whole seedless watermelons are $1.99 each at Aldi and cantaloupe are $1.49 each. You should be able to get a minimum eight servings from a watermelon and six servings from a cantaloupe, either of which would be 25 cents per serving. You may be able to get a lot more than that, depending on how big the melons are. You know how to fix watermelon, I’m sure. To fix cantaloupe, start by cutting it in half, then scoop out the seeds from the half you’re going to eat first. Cut that half into serving pieces. Cover the rest with plastic wrap. Frozen green grapes are a special treat. I don’t know why it’s just green grapes, but that’s what I’ve heard about. Just wash them and lay them out in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet, preferably without touching. Freeze them for at least an hour and serve frozen.

So there you have it. You now know how to make Plain Roasted Chicken, Barbecue Chicken, Teriyaki Chicken, Italian Chicken, Chicken Marinara, Pork Roast, and Pork Chops. And know how to make a simple salad and corn on the cob, and how to fix watermelon and cantaloupe and frozen grapes. You can put together any number of three part suppers for under $1.50 per person by combining different meat dishes with salad and corn, or salad and watermelon, or corn and grapes, or whatever. You’re well on your way to becoming a chef!

Bon Appetit!

Mary Anne

PS – Wondering where the cheapest place to get groceries is? For general non-sale prices, I find that Aldi is usually cheapest. They’re across from Sam’s, just past the Steak ‘n’ Shake. Turn at the stoplight between Sam’s and Walmart. They don’t have a lot of variety – usually no more than one brand or size, and mostly just the basics. I do most of my shopping there. Walmart is usually next cheapest, and is usually cheapest for anything that Aldi doesn’t carry. For meat, I usually wait until Kroger or Marsh has it on sale. They sometimes have really good prices on fruit, too.

Check out the weekly specials online, and be sure to check the dates. Aldi’s sales run Wednesday through Tuesday, and Marsh and Kroger run Thursday through Wednesday. IGA (Bedford and Ellettsville) sales run Monday through Sunday.

Aldi – – the sales are posted shortly after midnight Wednesday morning.
Kroger – – the sales are posted early Thursday morning.
Marsh – – previews are posted about 8 Wednesday morning for the following week, starting Thursday. I’ve gotten burned by this when I wasn’t paying attention to what was the current week’s ad and what was the preview. – ads are posted Monday, but not sure when.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Know Any Good Green Bean Jokes?

Green Beans, or string beans as they are usually called, must be done [boiled] till very tender -- it takes nearly an hour and a half.”

Sarah Josepha Hale, 'The Good Housekeeper' (1839)

Neither do I. And I couldn't think of any cute, catchy titles for this post, either, even after I googled green bean jokes and green bean quips and green bean quotes and a couple more things along those lines. But I do know some good green bean recipes!

I grew up eating canned green beans, just plain from the can. Heated, of course, but plain. Not at all fancy or exciting, but not bad, either. Just sort of there. And that’s pretty much how I’ve always thought about canned green beans. Fresh green beans are better, though. There’s more scope, more things you can do to them to fancy them up while retaining the green beaniness. Here are a few of my favorite ways to fix them.

First, of course, is green beans with bacon or ham. Southern Style cooks the beans to death – at least one or two hours, maybe more – with a ham hock and some extra lard or butter or something like that. The idea is that the beans absorb all that delicious flavor. Maybe they do, but they also end up way too mushy for my taste. I prefer the beans fully cooked – tender, but not tender-crisp and not mushy. And with a few slices of bacon or some ham. I don’t know that there’s a name for beans cooked this way. Maybe Northern Style Green Beans? You can add some potatoes to either version and kill two sides with one dish, or even have just the beans and potatoes for supper.

Something that I just learned about a couple of years ago is fried green beans. The recipe I’ve been using calls for frying them on top of the stove, but I just found a recipe for ROASTED GREEN BEANS, and I’m going to give you that recipe instead, just because it’s easier. And cheaper and healthier because it uses less fat. But still good.

I belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) when I lived in California, and we used to get lots of green beans. I don’t remember where I got the tomatoes, but I made GREEN BEANS HELLENIKA a lot with the CSA beans. I’d still make it today if I had lots of green beans and tomatoes, because it’s really good. Since I have to buy them, though, and they’re both pricey at the Farmers Market, I’d rather eat my green beans and tomatoes separately, so I can concentrate on how good they are individually. If you have a garden and lots of beans and tomatoes, give this a try.

I always thought that succotash was corn and lima beans, and since I don’t like lima beans, I didn’t like succotash. Turns out that it can be made with green beans instead of or in addition to the lima beans. Like in this recipe for GREEN BEAN SUCCOTASH. The Joy of Cooking is a classic cookbook. Pick one up if you happen to run across one. Mine is one I inherited from my grandfather’s sister. I like old cookbooks.

One final dish that combines fresh green beans with another summer vegetable, GREEN BEANS WITH ZUCCHINI. An added bonus is that the cost of the green beans offset by the much cheaper, at least this time of year, zucchini.

I just looked through my oldest cookbooks – going back as far as 1815! – and most of them said to cook the beans to death, though that may have been because the varieties of beans that they had back then weren’t as tender as the ones we have today and they had to be cooked longer. Most of them called for cooking the beans for an hour or more, draining them, then adding salt and pepper, butter, and cream. Some of the recipes called for adding a bit of flour to make a thin white sauce, but most of them just called for cream. I think I’ll give it a try the next time I have some fresh green beans.

What’s your favorite way to cook green beans?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Steak on a Budget? Why Not? and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

London Broil, on the grill - and on a budget!
Some bad news to start things off. (If you receive food stamps, you’re already been dealing with this.) I’ve been working with the average benefit of $4.40 received per person per day in 2012 in Indiana, adjusted by the 5.5% reduction that went into effect a year ago, to come up with an estimated benefit received this year of about $4.15 per person per day. Today I looked online to see if I could find any actual figures, and I did. According to the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA, the average benefit received per person in Indiana in May of this year was $122.48, or $3.95 per day. In April of this year it was $121.01, or $4.03 per day. Let’s call it an average of $4.00 per day.

I’ve been allowing $1.00 for breakfast, $1.25 for lunch, and $1.50 for supper, or $3.75 per day. I’ve been figuring that the extra 40 cents per day or $12.00 per month was available for things like buying a big jar or box of something when you only needed to use part of it during the month. Or maybe being able to stock up a little bit when there was a really good sale. In order to keep that 40 cents per day buffer, I’m going to have to reduce the meal allowance somewhere by 15 cents. I’m going to take it off of breakfast. I’m going to allow an average of 85 cents a day for breakfast. After all, breakfast tends to be pretty basic anyway, at least in my family. So from now on, it’s 85 cents a day for breakfast, $1.25 a day for lunch, $1.50 a day for supper, and a buffer of $12.00 a month for buying in bulk and things like that. Feeding a family on a budget gets more challenging all the time, doesn’t it?

But now to some better news. The sales. Mostly produce again, but some buys there. Here’s what I found.

Aldi has cantaloupe for 99 cents each and honeydew melons for $1.99 each. Red and green grapes are 99 cents a pound, or $1.98 for a two-pound bag. Eggs were still $1.19 a dozen when I was there earlier this week, but don’t know if they’re still that price or how long they’ll stay there.

Kroger has ten ears of corn for $3.00, or 30 cents each. Bartlett pears and Hatch chili peppers are both 99 cents a pound. Peaches, plums and nectarines are still 99 cents a pound. Roma tomatoes are 99 cents a pound, iceberg lettuce is 99 cents a head, and organic kale is 99 cents a bunch.

Marsh has boneless skinless chicken breasts in the family packs for $1.96 a pound. Boneless top round steak, roast or London broil is $2.99 a pound.

When I was at Walmart last week, chicken leg quarters were still 69 cents a pound, or $6.90 for a ten-pound bag. That has been their regular price for some time now, and I assume it still is.

I have wanted to do something with roast beef for a long time now, but it’s so expensive. And it’s not like you can do much with a casserole, like you can with ground beef. Anyway, the reason I wanted to do something with roast beef was because it’s nice to have a hunk of meat sometimes, instead of meat that’s been stretched with other stuff.

My plan for this week was to allow up to $2.00 per person for supper by including cheaper lunches and breakfasts, while still keeping the day’s meals to $3.75 per person. I’m going to go ahead and do it that way, even though I only have $3.60 per person to work with. I assume a family of four, so that’s $14.40 for the family for the day. Fruit will be an important part of my budget breakfasts and lunches.

The nutrition folks say that a serving of cooked meat should be 3 ounces, which would mean starting with about 4 ounces, before it cooks down. I think that’s pretty skimpy, especially if I’m having roast beef as a special meal. I’m going to go with 6 ounces per person of raw meat, which will yield about a little over 4 ounces cooked. Six ounces of the top round roast, top round steak or London broil will cost $1.12.

London broil is almost always marinated, which both adds flavor and also helps to tenderize the meat. LONDON BROIL has a typical soy sauce and garlic based marinade. It calls for a three pound steak. Eat half of it as steak the first night, and then the other half on a steak salad a day or two later. The marinade costs next to nothing. Let’s call it 33 cents, which is probably high. The three pound steak, then, will cost $9.30, and each half will cost $4.65.

The first day’s menu will be cantaloupe and cottage cheese for breakfast; tuna salad for lunch; and 
London Broil, zucchini and carrots, and tomato and cucumber salad for supper.

Breakfast for four – 1/2 cantaloupe (50 cents), 2 cups cottage cheese ($1.53), total $2.02.
Lunch for four – 3 cans tuna ($2.04), 2 eggs (20 cents), 1 head lettuce (99 cents), 12 ounces (four) Roma tomatoes (80 cents), 1 cup Thousand Island dressing (65 cents), total $4.68.
Supper for four – half recipe (1-1/2 pounds) London Broil ($4.65), 1 medium/large zucchini (67 cents), 2 carrots (25 cents), 1 pound Roma tomatoes (99 cents), 1 cucumber (67 cents), 1/2 cup sour cream (33 cents), vinegar/salt/pepper (5 cents), total $7.61.
Total cost for four - $14.31.
Cost per person - $3.58.

The second day’s menu will be Peach Smoothies for breakfast; Zucchini and Egg Casserole with cantaloupe and grapes for lunch; and STEAK SALAD with SIMPLE VINAIGRETTE for supper.

Breakfast for four – 6 cups milk ($1.05), 1 pound peaches (99 cents), sugar (.10), total $2.14.
Lunch for four – Zucchini and Egg Casserole ($3.75), 1/2 cantaloupe (50 cents), 1/4 pound red grapes (25 cents), 1/4 pound green grapes (25 cents), total $4.75.
Supper for four – half recipe (1-1/2 pounds) London Broil ($4.65), 1 head lettuce (99 cents), 1 pound Roma tomatoes (99 cents), Simple Vinaigrette (75 cents), total $7.38.
Total cost for four - $14.27.
Cost per person - $3.57.

I wish I could get the produce at the Farmers Market, but it just doesn’t fit in the budget. Other than the zucchini and cucumber, that is. If you get Food Stamps, though, you should be able to get more of the produce there, by exchanging some of your food stamps for Market Bucks and essentially getting the produce for half price. Ask around, too, and see if you can get “seconds” on the tomatoes for a discount. Seconds are tomatoes (or other produce) that isn’t quite perfect enough to sell for full price. Sometimes I’ve been able to get them for as much as half off. If you exchange Food Stamps for Market Bucks, that’s the same as getting 75% off! If they have canning tomatoes, ask if you can have just a few of them. They’re basically seconds, too, though the vendors would probably rather sell you a big box of them instead of just a few.

I hope you’re enjoying this lovely cool weather as much as I am!

---Mary Anne---

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Plethora, a Sufficiency, an Abundance, a Plentitude - Just Plain Oodles and Scads of Zucchini!

You know all those stories and jokes about people who grow zucchini and end up with enough to feed half the world with their one or two plants? Well, I don’t believe them. I’ve tried to grow zucchini for three or four years and I get maybe one or two zucchinis per plant. And it’s not just me, either. Some friends are growing zucchini plants in my garden this summer, and they’re having the same luck. Which, actually, makes me feel a lot better. I thought there must be something wrong with me and instead there must be something wrong with my garden.

Anyway, just in case you happen to be one of the lucky people who have zucchini coming out your ears, or you’re picking it up at the Hub or the Farmers Market, here are some ways to fix it that you might not have thought of.

The first recipe, ZUCCHINI PIE, must be something dreamed up by a gardener one year when the apple crop was bad. Who else would think to make an apple pie out of zucchini? Or something similar, anyway. According to the headnote on the recipe, this is “A scrumptious dessert that will please even the most avid apple-pie lovers.”

OK, so that one’s pretty far out. Let’s try something a little bit more familiar. Have you ever had fried zucchini? You know, the kind that’s breaded and then deep-fried and served with ketchup-y type dipping sauces? Good, isn’t it? Or maybe you tried my OVEN FRIED ZUCCHINI at the Hub last Tuesday. It’s a lot easier to bake it than to fry it. And while I don’t think it’s quite as good as the deep fat fried kind, it turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself, and I do.

Speaking of being at the Hub on Tuesday, several people asked me about some big white round "flying saucer shaped" scalloped things on the produce table. They were patty pan squash. Similar to zucchini, just a very different shape. You can use them in most any zucchini recipe, though you’ll have to cut them into the right size pieces. The shape usually doesn’t matter, but some of those things were huge! The way I usually cook patty pans is to cut them in half so I have two “rounds,” and then cut each half into wedges, and then proceed from there more or less like zucchini. As big as the ones at the Hub were, I’d probably have to cut them into three or four “rounds.” Or you can scoop out the middle and stuff them like you would zucchini or green peppers. Or cook them up with some onions and tomatoes. Again, pretty much however you would cook zucchini.

But back to recipes. Another unlikely sounding but actually very good dish is ZUCCHINI WITH PINENUTS. I’m not positive, but it may have been the first zucchini dish that I tried that I actually liked. And probably the first one where the zucchini wasn't mushy and watery, too! It calls for a simple buttermilk dressing, and you may be tempted to make your own BUTTERMILK SUBSTITUTE to use, instead. Don’t. It won’t be the same. The Buttermilk Substitute works great in things like chocolate cake or pancakes, where its purpose is just to add a bit of acidity and make the end product light and fluffy. The buttermilk in this recipe is too important, and you’ll want to get “real” buttermilk instead. Not that it comes from making butter anymore (that’s what buttermilk used to be, you know – the milk that was left after churning cream into butter), but the cultured kind that they sell in the stores is fine.

And finally, here’s an alternative to salsa for something to scoop up with chips the next time you’re having a barbecue. Or a picnic. Or watching TV. Or anytime you feel like noshing. ZUCCHINI WITH CORN AND CILANTRO calls for frozen corn, and I almost changed it to fresh corn, in keeping with the Hub’s emphasis on fresh veggies. But then I thought, “Why waste perfectly good corn on the cob in a recipe when it’s so good as and frozen works just as well?” and I decided to just say corn. Feel free to use fresh corn, if you happen to have more fresh corn on the cob than you know what to do with, or use frozen. Or canned, if that’s what you have.

Enjoy your zucchini while you can! As crazy as the weather has been this year, there’s no telling how much longer it will last.

---Mary Anne---

Friday, August 8, 2014

What Do You Eat When Nothing's on Sale? and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Boy! The sales are really bad this week! I mean, really bad! I am so tempted to do something different this week, though I don’t know just what that would be. Something that doesn’t require me to come up with food stamp budget meals. It’s one thing, though, for me to ignore the fact that there are no good sales for purposes of this blog, and another thing entirely for you, when you have to put three meals a day on the table with no good sales.

Here’s what I found in the way of sales:

Kroger has 10 ears of corn for $3.00, or 30 cents an ear. Cherry tomatoes are 10 for $10.00, or $1.00 each for 10.5 ounces. Green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, broccoli crowns, Roma tomatoes, leaf lettuce, peaches, plums and nectarines are all 99 cents a pound. Iceberg lettuce is 99 cents a head. Four half gallons of milk are $5.00, which is $1.25 per half gallon or $2.50 per gallon.

Marsh has bacon for $2.99 a pound. Locally grown whole seedless watermelons (10 – 12 pound average) are $1.99. Locally grown sweet corn is 10 ears for $3.00, or 30 cents an ear. Cabbage is 49 cents a pound.

Walmart has ground chuck for $2.99, or 4.5 pound chubs for $13.45. Whiting (a mild white fish) fillets are $2.50 a pound, or $10.00 for 4 pounds.

Aldi has blueberries for 99 cents a pint and mangoes for 49 cents each. Green and red grapes are 99 cents a pound. Strawberries are $1.49 a pound. Organic baby carrots are 99 cents a pound. Eggs were still $1.19 a dozen when I was there on Tuesday, but milk went from $1.69 a gallon to $2.79 a gallon in a week.

See what I mean about the sales? Some good prices on produce (though I hate to buy produce at the store when it’s available at the Farmers Market), but nothing much on meat.

Speaking of the Farmers Market, don’t forget that you can still exchange up to $16 of food stamps each week for up to $32 dollars of Market Bucks, which means you can get meat, eggs, dairy and produce there for half price. And that includes plants to grow your own food, too.

Okay, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to come up with menus for the whole week – breakfast, lunch and supper. And I’m going to keep it to an average of $4.15 per person per day, or $29.05 per person for the whole month. And since I’m assuming a household of four people, that comes to $116.20 for the family. That sure sounds like a lot, but I’m sure it’s going to go very fast.

Here are the rules. I’m going to assume that I have a few things on hand – a little bit of ketchup or mustard, some spices, things like that. But most things I’ll have to buy. And I’ll buy them at this week’s real prices. I didn’t get a chance to check all of the prices, but most things are on sale so I know those prices for sure, and I checked on the prices for chicken legs, milk and eggs, and those are the biggest things. I’ll give menus for three meals a day, and the meals will be of reasonable size. I won’t use potatoes or pasta or rice or bread or beans or things like that. And I’m going to spend no more than $116.20 for four people for one week. (For those of you who may have missed it in my previous posts, the average food stamp benefit per person actually received in Indiana is about $116.20 per month. That’s where I’m getting my numbers from.) The meals won’t be exciting, but they will be filling and reasonably nutritious. And they will definitely take advantage of the summer produce!

I know that when money is in short supply (and when money isn't in short supply, too, if that ever happens!) time is likely to be in short supply, too. Some of the recipes and menus are quick and easy to throw together. Others not so much. One of these days I'm going to do a whole week's worth of menus and recipes that are quick as well as cheap, but, unfortunately, that's not this week. Most of them aren't too, bad, though. They probably don't take much more time than piling everyone in the car and going out for fast food, and they're a lot healthier and cheaper.

It took a lot longer this time than it did in April when I presented a week’s worth of menus on a food stamp budget, but I was able to make it work. On paper only. I’m not doing an actual Food Stamp Challenge this week. I’ve done them several times before, usually for a whole month rather than just a week, and I’m sure I’ll do them again. Just not this week. I’ll present my menus first (quantities are given per person), then my shopping list, and finally the recipes. Spoiler alert – I came in at $112.19!

By the way, for a different approach to eating on a Food Stamp Budget, check out Leanne Brown's Good and Cheap: A Snap Cookbook

---Mary Anne---


B – eggs scrambled in butter
L – tuna salad (lettuce, tuna, cucumber, grape tomatoes, ranch dressing), grapes
S – roasted chicken leg quarter, OVEN FRIED ZUCCHINI

B – HOMEMADE YOGURT, blueberries
L – chicken salad (chicken, celery, mayo, teriyaki sauce, lemon juice)

B – eggs scrambled in butter
L - CABBAGE SALAD, watermelon
S - ZUCCHINI SKILLET SUPPER, carrots, a peach

B – HOMEMADE YOGURT, blueberries
L - SLICED FRITTATA WITH TOMATO SAUCE, cucumber in sour cream and vinegar

B – eggs scrambled in butter
L – tuna salad (lettuce, tuna, cucumber, grape tomatoes, ranch dressing), grapes
S - BZM-MHC MEATLOAF, fresh broccoli, salad (lettuce, cherry tomatoes, ranch dressing)

B - HOMEMADE YOGURT, blueberries
L - BAKED PEACH PANCAKE, salad (lettuce, cherry tomatoes, ranch dressing)

B – eggs scrambled in butter
L – chicken salad (lettuce, chicken, cucumber, grape tomatoes, ranch dressing), grapes


7 dozen eggs @ $1.19 per dozen
2 pounds butter @ $2.79 per pound
1 pint sour cream @ $1.29 per pint
5 ounces grated Parmesan cheese @ $1.99 for 5 ounces
8 ounce block cheddar cheese @ $1.99 per block
8 5-ounce cans tuna @ 68 cents per can
3 pints blueberries @ 99 cents per pint
4 pounds grapes @ 99 cents per pound
5 heads lettuce @ 99 cents per head
1 bunch celery @ $1.49 per bunch
1 2-pound bag carrots @ $1.49 per bag
2 3-pound bags onions @ $1.49 per bag
2 16-ounce bottles ranch dressing @ $1.49 per bottle
1 30-ounce jar mayo @ $1.99 per jar
1 16-ounce bottle teriyaki sauce @ $1.99 per bottle
1 25-ounce bottle olive oil @ $3.85 per bottle
3 14.5-ounce cans tomatoes @ 69 cents per can
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce @ 29 cents per can

2 half gallons milk @ $1.25 each
1 pound hot dogs @ $1.00 each
1 loaf bread @ 99 cents each
3 10.5-ounce packs cherry tomatoes @ $1.00 each
2.5 pounds peaches at @ 99 cents per pound
2 pounds green beans @ 99 cents per pound
2 pounds broccoli crowns @ 99 cents per pound

1 watermelon @ $1.99 each
1 2-pound head cabbage @ 49 cents per pound

1 4.5-pound chub ground beef @ $13.45
2 10-pound bags chicken leg quarters @ $6.90 each
1 1-pound jar sunflower seed kernels @ $2.50 each
1 head garlic @ 40 cents each

Farmers Market:
6 cucumbers @ 3 for $2.00
5 large zucchini and 1 huge zucchini @ 3 for $2.00
1 huge zucchini @ 75 cents each
1 eggplant @ $1.00 each
1 green pepper @ 50 cents each

Monday, August 4, 2014

It's That Peachy Time of Year

Peaches, plums and nectarines have been on sale for 99 cents a pound somewhere for weeks. There must have been good crops somewhere, even if not around here. I miss seeing the tables full of ripe peaches at the Farmers Market.

I didn’t like fresh peaches until I was in my late 20s. I was visiting a friend near Sacramento and we stopped at a peach farm and bought some huge, sweet, fully ripe peaches. The kind that drips juice down your face. They were wonderful! And I’ve been hooked ever since.

The best way to eat really truly tree-ripened peaches is to just dig in and eat them out of hand, juice and all. With lots of napkins. The ones we get at the store aren’t that good, but there are things you can do with them. Slice them up and serve them over ice cream or in yogurt. Make ice pops. Add them to a fruit salad. After that, you usually end up with the heavily sugared peach pies or cobblers or crisps or jam or things like that. Which are good, but I figured there had to be ways to fix them that didn’t involve so much sugar. And so my search began.

Looking online, I found the usual pies, crisps, cobblers, and so forth. Lots of sugar. (I found several recipes that said to weigh the peaches and then add an equal weight of sugar!) So I looked in my cookbooks. I had the best luck in old cookbooks, 40 or 50 years old, or even older. I guess people ate healthier back then. And did a lot more cooking, too. Here are a smattering of the recipes I found that looked especially good. But first, Peach Shortcake the way my grandfather’s sister taught me to make it. She’d be over 100 now, if she were still alive. She said that they had Peach Shortcake sometimes for supper in the summer. Just Peach Shortcake. Dinner, of course, was at noon in those days.

PEACH SHORTCAKE starts with a rich biscuit dough, with extra sugar and butter and an egg. It’s baked in a single big round “cake,” then cut in half (in two layers) and buttered. It’s topped with sliced and sweetened fresh peaches, then the other half, and more fresh peaches. Fresh cream is served to pour over it all. Or you can use whipped cream, but Aunt Kay preferred the liquid cream and I agree. Not the healthiest of meals (though it has three of the five major food groups – fruit, grains and dairy!) but oh, so good! You can use the same biscuit/shortcake recipe for Strawberry Shortcake, Blueberry Shortcake and so on.

But back to easier and healthier recipes. BROILED PEACHES OR APRICOTS is simply broiled halved peaches with just a touch of butter and brown sugar. Add a few blueberries and you’ve got BROILEDPEACHES AND BLUEBERRIES. Similar, except that it’s cooked on top of the stove instead of being broiled, is SAUTEDPEACHES OR APRICOTS. The peaches or apricots are dredged in flour and then sauted in butter. Salsa is big during the summer. PEACH AND PEPPER SALSA is great with grilled fish. Or fish that’s cooked on the stove, if you don’t want to grill. Or with chicken. Maybe not with chips, though. If you’re looking for something very elegant, try CHILLED PEACH AND NECTARINE SOUP.

By the way, do you know how to peel peaches? Just dip them in some boiling water for about a minute, then immediately into a bowl of cold water. The peel will slip right off. You can use the same technique for peeling tomatoes, too.

Enjoy the peaches during their short season this summer, and let’s hope for a better local harvest next year.

---Mary Anne---

Friday, August 1, 2014

Hatching Eggplants and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Yikes! It’s August already! Where has the summer gone?

It’s been a strange summer, hasn’t it? It started late and has been unseasonably cool. Not that I’m complaining, mind you! I don’t like heat and I especially don’t like heat and humidity. I can’t help but wonder, though, how the farmers like this weather. I am reassured, though, by the wonderful produce at the Farmers Market.

The grocery ads feature some great deals on produce, but not meat. Again. I keep hearing contradictory news – world food prices are coming down but our food prices are going up. The U.S. is supposed to have a bumper corn crop this year and eventually it’s supposed to be reflected in our meat prices. I sure hope so! It can’t happen too soon, as far as I’m concerned.

With no meat specials to talk about, I’m going to focus on eggplant this week. It’s plentiful at the Farmers Market, and Kayte expects the Hub to have lots of it soon, when the Hoosier Hills’ crop comes in. She says they planted lots of it this year. Don’t forget you can exchange up to $18 of food stamps for up to $36 of Market Bucks, so you basically get stuff half off at the Farmers Market. I’m going to assume you’re paying full price, though, when I cost out the meals.
Just a reminder, before I get on to the sales. The average food stamp benefit actually received per person is about $4.15 per day. I figure that that breaks down to about $1.50 for supper, $1.25 for lunch and $1.00 for breakfast, plus about $12.00 or so for things like buying more of something than you’re actually going to use this month. Like buying a big jar of mayo because it’s cheaper than buying a little jar, or taking advantage of a sale on something. My goal is to come up with at least three supper menus that come in at or under $1.50 per person for the whole meal. That means at least three main dishes plus sides. I also usually give at least one menu for either lunch or breakfast that costs less than average - $1.00 or less for lunch or 50 cents or less for breakfast. That’s to give you a little extra wiggle room for supper or stocking up on something or just because sometimes (usually?) you need a bit of help with the budget. Or at least I do.

But first, the sales.

Kroger has pork spare ribs for $1.77 per pound. It’s not a bad price per pound, but remember that there’s an awful lot of bone there. You’re paying a lot for the pleasure (and I do agree that it’s a pleasure!) of gnawing on the bones. Seedless red, white or black grapes are 99 cents a pound. Eggs are four dozen for $5.00, or $1.25 per dozen. Boneless (and presumably skinless) chicken breast is $1.99 per pound. It’s not a great price – you can find it somewhere at that price most weeks – but it’s lower than the regular price anywhere. Smoked sausage is two packages (13 -14 ounces each) for $5.00, or $2.50 each. That’s about $3.00 per pound, and, like the chicken breast, is a normal sales price. Ground chuck is $2.99 per pound in three-pound packages ($8.97 per three-pound package.) Cheese is $2.99 for twelve to sixteen ounce packages. Again, a normal sales price, and a good price for sixteen ounces but not for twelve. “Local” cabbage is 39 cents a pound, which is a great price. “Local” cucumbers are 50 cents each. Red and black plums are 99 cents per pound.

Marsh has Georgia peaches for 98 cents a pound. Perdue boneless skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 per pound in the family pack. Family packs of ground chuck are $2.99 per pound.

Aldi has red and green grapes, peaches, plums and nectarines, all 99 cents a pound in two-pound packages, or $1.98 per package. Blueberries are 99 cents, too, but per pint instead of per pound. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 in family packs. One pound rolls of pork sausage are $2.89. Heat-n-serve sausage links are $1.09 for 6.4 ounces, which may come out about the same, since some of the shrinkage should be gone from the pre-cooked links. Baby carrots are 69 cents per pound. Peanut butter prices have come down. It’s now $1.49 for eighteen ounces of regular peanut butter or sixteen ounces of “natural” peanut butter (just peanuts and salt), or $2.99 for forty ounces of regular peanut butter.

Some prices off the top of my head from the Farmers Market last week. Don’t forget that they vary by vendor and also by week, depending on how the crops is doing. Zucchini and summer squash were usually 75 cents each or three for $2.00. Eggplants were 75 cents or $1.00 each. Tomato prices varied from about $2.50 per pound to about $4.00 per pound. Heirloom tomatoes were more, standard tomatoes were less. Cucumbers were 50 to 75 cents each. Sweet “Candy” onions were about $1.00 each for big onions. Green beans were about $3.50 per box but the size of boxes varied. That’s about all I remember. Again, if you have food stamps, you can get stuff “half price” by exchanging your food stamps for Market Bucks.

And now on to the recipes and menus, featuring eggplants. I’m going to assume that you’re getting big eggplants for $1.00 each.

EASIEST EGGPLANT AND SAUSAGE CASSEROLE is easiest because the original recipe was called Easy Eggplant and Sausage Casserole and I made it easier by peeling the eggplant and mixing up COLESLAW for another 80 cents and serve peaches and blueberries for dessert – a pound of peaches, sliced, and half a pint of blueberries. The whole meal comes to $6.15, but you can keep it down to $6.00 if your peaches are a bit small or by using not quite half a pint of blueberries. By the way, you can save the peach skins and pits and, when you get enough of them and other fruit scraps, make FRUIT SCRAP JUICE or FRUIT SCRAP VINEGAR. I’m giving links rather than recipes because that’s the way the online posts come and there’s a lot of explanation. They both look easy enough, just time consuming.

all the ingredients instead of cutting the eggplant out of the shell and then stuffing the shells with the eggplant and sausage mixture. I usually go for the easy way. A batch will cost about $3.85. Serve it with

Most eggplant recipes include tomatoes and peppers. Frequently zucchini, too, but almost always tomatoes and peppers. Like EGGPLANT CASSEROLE, for example. It makes a lot – a 9x13 panful, so figure on eight servings. You could bake it in two 8x8 baking dishes instead of a 9x13 pan. That way you know you’ll get eight servings. A recipe will cost about $7.10, but let’s call it $7.20 so it divides nicely by eight. That’s $3.60 for four servings, or 90 cents each. Serve it with a salad of half a head of lettuce, half a cucumber, and four ounces of baby carrots (sliced), plus some Italian dressing, for about $1.20. Add some fresh fruit for dessert.

Eggplant can be part of the main dish (or, for a vegetarian meal, can be the main dish itself) or it can be served as a vegetable side dish. EGGPLANT WITH YOGURT SAUCE can be served either way. I’m going to use it as a side dish, with ROASTED CHICKEN LEGS. The eggplant dish costs about $1.60, assuming you use HOMEMADE YOGURT. It will cost about 35 cents more if you buy commercial yogurt by the quart. (It’s usually cheapest at Aldi.) The chicken will cost about $2.40 for a leg quarter per person. That’s a drumstick and a thigh, and don’t forget to save the piece of back to make CHICKEN STOCK. How about splurging and having ice cream with sliced peaches over it? 

Last week I forgot to give a budget breakfast or lunch, so I’ll give two of them today. First, a simple lunch dish of SLICED FRITATTA WITH TOMATO SAUCE. It will cost about $2.35, which leaves room for a salad. There are lots of possibilities there – lettuce and a few other veggies, or cucumber and onion in sour cream or vinegar, or, better yet, a nice fruit salad. I know I’m using fresh fruit a lot these days, but it has such a short season that it’s a shame not to.

A Dutch Baby is a baked German pancake. At least, they say that’s where the name comes from. At its simplest, it’s nothing more than eggs, flour and milk baked in one piece in butter in a big skillet. From there, the sky’s the limit! They’re usually served with fruit, or at least lemon juice and powdered sugar, though I used to make them with hamburger and cheddar cheese. Here’s the basic recipe for GERMAN PANCAKES, that I got from my German uncle almost 50 years ago, and a more recent version with fresh peaches, BAKED PEACH PANCAKE. The basic German Pancakes should cost about 55 cents, plus whatever you add, and will serve four generously. A Pancake with powdered sugar and a pint of blueberries would be about $1.75. Serve either one for breakfast, for less than 50 cents per serving, or with a big salad for lunch for less than $1.00 per serving. It sounds sort of strange, now that I think about it, but I used to have coleslaw with it.

And don’t forget that with HOMEMADE YOGURT and the fresh fruit that’s on sale, you should be able to serve smoothies for about 50 cents, too.

Enjoy this delightful weather, and take advantage of the summer produce while we can!

---Mary Anne---