Category Archives: Cooking

Pandemic Cooking: Lentils, Rice & Onions, Apple Pudding

A website where I’m a member has a thread about meals for $1 a plate. Possible because these folks have gardens, raise meat, etc.

The cheapest dish I’ve made lately was lentils, rice and onions. This one. I liked it but we both considered it boring, despite all the onions. I had everything in the pantry and the onions are starting to sprout, so needed to be used  up ASAP, why I picked this recipe. It’s improved, in our opinion, with garlic salt or sausage (if you have it). It’s perfectly edible as written, but as I said, we wanted it with more intense flavor.

I have no idea how much it cost? The onions are the last of the bulk onions I bought from the farm last fall. The lentils came from a bulk bin buy, somewhere, sometime ago. The rice? I have no idea.

We had it on its own, with sauteed spinach as a side on Monday, and then last night with the last of the already cooked spinach added to it and the end of a package of sausage. We’ll have the end of it for lunch sometime this week.

It struck me that it might be a good start for a veggie burger recipe? I sure don’t expect to be able to get meat anytime soon!

I also made, or tried to make, a Danish bread crumb “pudding” from WWII. I found a link to 10 bread crumb and left over bread recipes, here. But I only had 2 apples and I needed one more to halve the recipe, I got one from a neighbor. I didn’t peel the apples but sliced them very thinly. When they started to get soft, I used a potato masher to push them down to cook more.

I thought that was all the adjustments I needed to make. However, in my last kitchen purge, one of the things I got rid of was the pie pans, so I used a loaf pan, and WAY too many breadcrumbs. Yes, I’ll make this again, when I have more apples, but I’ll use a square baker and make the full recipe, which will no doubt fill the pan with thin layers of apple and crumbs, as intended.

The recipe I made is here.

 

 

One Pound of Chicken Thighs…

I usually buy organic chicken thighs, bulk pack, in 5 lb packages. I split this into packages of 3 each, about 1 lb.

I just used the last 1 lb package. I thought I’d use this to figure out how well I did with  the meat cost per meal. I did pretty well, but not what I need to!

Day 1: Lemon chicken 3 thighs, all cooked (part of the oven meal). We ate 2. I put aside the drippings and 3rd thigh.

Day 2: I made a burrito bowl (this one). Except I never use instant rice, I just cook rice separately. I also can’t eat roma tomatoes, so I pay for heirloom non-red tomatoes and use about 1/2-1 tomato’s worth. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s better than having an upset stomach for hours!

Day 3: Picked the meat off the last thigh. Made gravy from the drippings. We had left over rice (the burrito bowl)  with a little of the chicken/gravy on it and sauteed greens on the side.

Day 4: Chicken and rice soup. Took the remaining gravy with chicken, added water, the last of the tomato, and chicken bullion to taste. Added the remaining rice. Made up a condiment plate with cooked greens and minced jalapeno.

Into the freezer: 1 serving of the soup. I added the last 2-3 tablespoons of cooked greens and the minced jalapeno.

The chicken costs $2.49/lb. How much did I spend per meal for the meat?*

I put it in 6 meals. If we eat the last serving in the freezer? The price is .36/meal.  If we don’t eat it, but toss it? The price per meal goes up to about .42!

How could I have done better? I could have saved the bones, skins and scraps to add flavor to another soup or stew or just make broth. If you add just one more meal that way, the cost per meal for the meat goes down to .31!

As a list:

  • 3 meals if we’d eaten all of it as one-piece of meat per serving: .83/meal. (We didn’t do this.)
  • 6 meals, cost per meal =.42, (We’ve did this.)
  • If we eat the last meal in the freezer, the cost per meal is reduced to .36 (We’ve done this.)
  • If we eat the freezer meal and I’d used the scraps? price per meal = .31

Obviously, I need to start a container for soup scraps! Otherwise, I’m never going to get even close to my desired .25 cost/meat per meal.


*These numbers are rounded. $2.49 just doesn’t divide evenly!


To get to my target price, I’d have to make approx. 11 portions from my 1 lb of meat. I don’t think that’s very likely, do you? And, since I know the $2.49/lb price is a real bargain, I think this means I need a reality check! As it is, we ate, on average about 2.29 oz of meat in each of the 7 meals.

So, unless we start raising our own chickens or something similar, I think that the best I can realistically expect is the price for the 6 meals above, or .42 per portion.

My idea was that the meat would probably be the single most expensive piece of a meal, budget that hard and the rest of it’s not so bad.


Eggs are one of the cheapest sources of protein around. If we eat them, we sometimes have 3 or sometimes 4 omlette, for a single meal, which feeds both of us. I buy eggs from a neighbor for $3/dozen these days. A four-egg omlette costs .50/person. A three-egg omlette .38/person.


Organic ground beef from the local market costs $8.99/lb. I’d have to make > 20 meals to get that down to .40 or less per person. Again, not realistic. Even if I allow myself $1/lb, it’s 9 meals from a single pound of ground beef — really? One meatball, right?


My menu plan only has meat in it two days a week. The plan is:

      • Monday Double Veg meal
      • Tuesday Leftovers
      • Wednesday Double Veg meal
      • Thursday Eggs
      • Friday Double Meat meal
      • Saturday Sandwiches
      • Sunday Double Meat meal

When I came up with this, I was trying for a few things: less meat, less cost, less cholesterol, more veggies, less work on the days I’m really busy (Weds, Sat, Sun).

My week hasn’t followed the pattern this week because we were eating the 2nd meat/leftovers, until Tuesday. Ate veggies Weds. and will tonight, Thursday, too.

The double veggies I made are some of the end of last year’s farm crops (root veggies), some I bought at the market when we ran out (cilantro, potatoes & parsnips), and rice (when I made the burrito bowl last week, I made a double batch of plain rice and froze the extra).

I have no idea how to figure, with any kind of accuracy, the six month’s worth of veggies we got from the farm and how many meals it went into! Some of it is in 1/2 made dishes in the freezer, some of it is in the pantry, but most of it was eaten fresh.

 

 

The 400 Degree Oven Meal Experiment

I wrote about this idea here.

What I made: oven-fried lemon chicken and jacketed potatoes (400)  for dinner with a vanilla/apple dump cake (375) for dessert. I didn’t  make the Mexican peppers. I decided to only do the 3 recipes: oven-fried lemon chicken, jacketed potatoes, and apple dump cake.

What worked: Chicken and potatoes were done cooking at the same time and were as good as expected. Both recipes I’ve made before. The apple cake recipe was rather made up as I went. I had no presugared fruit like last time.  But it too was good.

What didn’t work or didn’t work as expected: This required a prep marathon, something I usually avoid.  I was very busy for a while!

  1. Because they cook the longest and take the least prep, I got the potatoes cleaned, cut and in the oven first. Set the timer for 1 hour.
  2. The chicken needs fats added to its cooking pan.
  3. Seasoned flour needs to be mixed up.
  4. The chicken is dredged and put in the fridge.
  5. I made up the lemon sauce for the chicken.
  6. When the potatoes had been in the oven 45 minutes or so, I rotated them.
  7. Then I added the pan with the fat for the chicken (the chicken crisps in the hot fat) on a second rack. This requires complete concentration so the fat gets hot but doesn’t catch fire. (It only takes a minute or so.)
  8. Put the chicken in pan with hot fat, re-set timer for 30 minutes.
  9. Wash apples. Butter cake pan. Chunk apples.
  10. Start water and sugar cooking for sauce. Make “pudding”. * Let cool slightly. Add butter and vanilla. Pour over apples to coat evenly.
  11. Put sauced apples in buttered cake pan.
  12. When timer goes, pull out chicken, turn it over, pour on lemon sauce. Reset timer for 15 minutes.
  13. Sprinkle cake mix on top of sauced apples. Push down to dampen most of the cake mix. Dot with butter.
  14. When timer goes off again, pull out rack– check potatoes and make sure chicken is 165 degrees or more. Turn off oven. Plate dinner. Turn oven back on to 375.
  15. Oven was hot just before I was ready to sit, of course. Put apple cake in oven. Set timer again for 30 minutes. (Cake actually took about 40 minutes to bake. )

Everything was yummy!

*The original dessert sauce recipe had it cooked in a double boiler. For a few years, I made cornstarch pudding 1 or 2 times a week. I don’t need to cook such things in a double boiler any more! That said? If you’ve never made cornstarch pudding or do so rarely, mix the cornstarch with some of the water in a small bowl beforehand to a smooth slurry, (If it becomes “concrete” keep stirring!) then add the slurry slowly to the rest of the hot water in a double boiler!


Takeaway:

I was surprised how long it took to get the oven back to 375. Next time I won’t turn it off, just reset the temperature!

I will do the static prep way in advance —

  • Wash the apples and potatoes, but not cut them.
  • Make up the seasoned flour and the lemon sauce.
  • Butter the cake pan.
  • Measure the fats into the chicken pan.
  • Pre-measure ingredients for the dessert.

I will do this again, even though it takes more planning than my usual, “toss everything together”.

.

Oven Meals — 400 Degree then 350 Degree — Menu Plan (and reality)

Not sure why I’d do this? See here for an explanation.

400:

  • Jacketed potatoes, for up to 2 hours.
  • Oven fried chicken, 400 for up to 1 hour.
  • Mexican Green peppers, 400 for 45 minutes.

350 for 30 minutes:

  • Ham slice, 25 minutes
  • Candied sweet potatoes, 30 minutes
  • spinach tart or tomato flan, 30 minutes

The 400 meal: The chicken usually works for 2 meals. The pepper recipe is for 5 peppers, although you could no doubt do 2 or 4 or 6 for that matter….

The 350 meal: The spinach tart uses a pie shell, the tomato flan does not. Also, spinach is available (here) first thing in the spring and in fall, the tomatoes are only available in summer, so that could easily affect why I’d choose one or the other.

Note:

I’d love to try doing this as an experiment!

However, I do NOT have the peppers, corn to stuff them with, the ham, cottage cheese (for the spinach tart), spinach or tomatoes. Given the current state of things, due to Corona, I have no idea when I will be able to just buy those again! When I can? I’ll be happy to do this as an experiment. If I do?

I’ll post a link to the write up here.


I’m going to do the 400 degree meal tonight. However, I didn’t find a ham slice yesterday at the market. The only sliced ham was sliced for sandwiches, not something I’d want to put in a 350 oven for 30 minutes!

I’ll have to modify the recipes to suit what I have, but I think I can manage! This is Friday, so my meal is supposed to be a double meat dish, that feeds us tonight and Sunday night too. I have 3 thighs in a freezer container, thawing. We’ll eat 2 tonight.

We’ll have dirty rice for lunch, it’s left over from earlier this week.

And I might make a burrito bowl from the last thigh on Sunday.


I tried this! I wrote about what worked and didn’t here.

Retirement Planning: Frugality/Oven Meals

Potatoes have the highest “satiety” value of any veggie. That is, they make you feel full and satisfied faster than other veggies — they’re cheap! More, I can grow them here with a little work.

So, potatoes are part of the retirement food plan. Researching new ways to cook them yielded a recipe for British “jacketed” potatoes. We both liked them a lot!  I used this recipe.

What I didn’t like? Baking in a 400 degree oven for up to 2 hours??? Okay. If I’m going to do that, then I need to find other recipes which cook at 400 to go with the potatoes.

I went through 2 of my all purpose cookbooks. Today I went through and marked the oven meals in cooking pamphlets.

The oven-fried chicken I make (with lemon or plain) cooks at 400, which will no doubt become one of our “set” meals. But there are also these other things I may add:

Mexican stuffed green peppers (peppers stuffed with other veggies).

fruit cobblers, etc.

Baked Tomatoes

Cornbread

Baked Pears

At least 2 eggplant dishes

I will find others but this was much harder than I expected!


It also occurred to me that I could cook ahead, a meal that uses 375 for say 30 minutes,  while we’re eating the 400 degree meal and take advantage of my already hot oven.

Oven  meals cooked at 375 or 350 would be a lot easier to put together! Most oven meal recipes I’ve found are cooked at 325, 350, or 375.

I need to find a few bread recipes to go along with this too.


So, no “meal plan” per se, but an oven plan?

Turn oven on to 400. Prep/start potatoes. Prep/cook other items which cook at 400 to eat with the potatoes (the oven fried chicken takes about 45 minutes).  Prep a second meal, which cooks at lower temp for approx. 30 minutes.* Remove 400 degree cooked food when done. Turn down oven.

Wait a few minutes for oven to cool. Plate 400 degree cooked food. When oven is the correct temp, insert new oven meal. Cook the second meal while eating potatoes and other 400 degree food.

*The 30 minutes is arbitrary. It’s about how long it takes us to eat a meal. YMMV!


I don’t know that I’d want to do this in the middle of summer, but otherwise it would be fine!


I  made up a potential menu to try. You can read about that here.

Modified Peach Cobbler Dump Cake

I made a peach cobbler today or  rather a dump cake, modified. I don’t have cake mix in the house, or didn’t, so I had to make one. I used this one, modified, I used 1/2 as much sugar as specified (1C).

I used this recipe for the dump cake/cobbler. But I modified that too. I took about 1/2 the butter and mixed it with 1 teaspoon vanilla paste and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, to compensate for the “missing” sugar in the mix.

I only used 1/2 the cake mix because I had 1 pint of frozen/sugared peaches, not two 15 oz cans called for in the dump cake recipe. It was baked in a square pan, for the same amount of time and temp as in the dump cake recipe. It’s good!

I knew if I told DH the cake mix had 2.5C flour and 2C of sugar he’d ask me why I didn’t use about 1/2 the sugar?

So, here’s my modifications in a list:

Cake Mix Recipe: 1C sugar in cake mix recipe, instead of 2 cups.

Dump Cake/Cobbler Recipe: I also halved the recipe for the dump cake, (used 1/2 the mix I’d made).

I added 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and the last of my vanilla paste (about 1 teaspoon) with about 3 tablespoons of the butter. I did NOT increase the amount of butter. Soft butter is easier to do this with than when it’s rock hard!

I cooked it in a square pan, not a rectangular one.

Frugal Eating? Sat. & Sun. 2/29-3/1/20

Saturday we went to the natural food market. I bought a pound of their natural ground beef for $8.99/lb. I used 1/4 lb in a pot of chili, along with part of a pint of dry kidney beans I’d soaked and cooked. Also, 1/2 an onion, a pint container of HM tomato sauce, the last of the bell pepper I’d bought last week, cayenne, cilantro, cumin, broth, and chili powder. We had it with cornbread and cheese.

We’ll have cornbread and chili/cheese omlettes for dinner tonight. That will probably use up the end of the chili, the end of a block of cheddar, and the cornbread — or I hope so! If not, I’ll crumble the cornbread and freeze it to use on some future veggie. The chili if there’s a full serving left, will also get frozen, or I’ll have it for lunch tomorrow.

We have various older odds and ends to deal with too. The biggest is the other beans which need to be cooked (Cooked Sunday night.) and used. If I don’t have a whole serving of chili left? (I do.) I’ll probably buzz it and add it to the cooked beans — and we’ll have that, somehow.

Still to deal with? The rest of the left overs AND the other beans and meat. The beans I have plans for (see above), but the meat I do NOT.

Hmm.

btw, the cost of the meat in the chili is approx. $2.25. So far we’ve had 2 meals with it, or $1.12 each.  If we finish up the prepped chili tonight (We didn’t.) the cost will go down to .56 a meal. I’ll have to come up with 2 more portions if I’m going to get close to the .25 a meal for protein I talked about before! That will be difficult, I think. The only reason I didn’t “notice” how little meat was in the chili was that I used beef demiglace (what I use instead of bullion cubes) to flavor the broth. And, no I have no idea how much the chili I made actually cost!

The beans came from a bulk bin, somewhere. They had their bulk label on the jar, but no date or source or price. The tomato sauce I froze last summer. It had tomatoes, onion and bell pepper in it from the farm. I buy demiglace on sale or with a coupon. I have no idea when I bought the bottle I’m using. The onion came from extras I bought from the farm last fall. I don’t remember the price, I could figure it out, but haven’t. The spices were items I already had: the farm has cilantro and I dry some every year, cumin I bought a large bottle some time ago, exactly when or what I paid I don’t know, the chili powder came from the market, don’t know when/price, the peppers were the last 3 of a bag of mini peppers I bought last week. They were about $4.99 for 9 baby colored bell peppers, expensive but yummy, that makes them .54 each or $1.62 worth in the chili. Each portion already eaten is .81

.81+1.12 = 1.93

peppers + meat

If I assume that there’s at least $1 more worth of food in each meal, that makes it $2.93 each. Not outrageously expensive, but sure not all that cheap!

1.93+1.00= 2.93 each

peppers/meat + everything else (per person)

Well, I said I had a lot of work to do, right? I do! I thought this would be much better than it is, because I used 1/2 the meat I normally would. Obviously, I need to do more.


So, we didn’t use up the chili and there’s 1 portion or more remaining. The beans got cooked but not used otherwise. The obvious thing to do is to combine those two for a new batch of chili and put it in the freezer for future use! (Exactly what I did!)

This will successfully drive the price down to roughly $1.50 a meal per person. (half of the $2.93 above). I would like, as a target, to actually use about  .50 a meal, per person as my long-range goal.

And of course? If the (now frozen) food doesn’t get used, that is it gets wasted? Then the price per meal goes back up to the $2.93 per portion, as above! Wasting food has real costs!