Category Archives: learning

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.

Just Right? Not Enough? Too Much? a/k/a The Goldilocks Dilemma

If you’ve followed along here for any period of time, you’d notice that I keep trying to find “rules.” That is, I keep trying to find set answers to recurring problems.

  • Can I cook in such a way that the kitchen cleans itself while I’m doing it? (See self-cleaning tab above.)
  • The three ways to save $ is another.

Here’s my latest:

I’m trying to figure out exactly what to keep, toss, or buy, and have been for a long time. I decided to try and “formalize” the decision-making process because I keep revisiting the issue.

I posed the problem in a forum where I participate. The answers I got and my reactions to them got me to create a spreadsheet.

From an hour’s worth of work, I came to these conclusions: storage limits are a major determinate for me — every item I considered it was a potential issue.

  • So, imposing a SPACE BUDGET should always be my first step when considering an item to keep, cull or purchase. The next consideration is whether or not what I’m considering is a durable item or a supply item?

(A SPACE BUDGET is a given amount of space allocated for a certain item.)


I discovered that I need to treat supplies differently than durable goods. Supplies tend to be things that are not used all at once. And they are things which are meant to be consumed entirely. So, for a bag of cat litter, space allocation needs to be big enough to hold the full bag, even when it isn’t.


So, this can be approached in two ways, from either the amount desired or the space needed.

  • How much of a given supply do I want to have on hand at the most? — How much space would it need?
  • Or, How much space do I have to allocate for this supply? — How much of the supply can be stored in the available space?

Some supplies require specialized storage, which of course makes it even more complicated.

 

Frugality: Why Food? Money-Saving Food Ideas

The three strategies I use to save money are:

  1. Finding a cheaper substitute.
  2. Paying less for the same product.
  3. Doing without.

Any or all of these will save you $. Frequently, when faced with economic stress, people do what I’ve been doing: concentrate on their food expense.

It’s one of the few areas left where the consumer controls everything they spend. You can’t suddenly decide to pay less for your mortgage, you can decide to give the bank less, but the amount you owe hasn’t changed. Also fuel for heat/cooking, insurance and most other regular expenses have costs set by others. But you CAN decide you’ll have mac & cheese for dinner, or soup, instead of going out or eating steak.

The only real problem is that food is 10% of an average American’s paycheck. If you cut it in 1/2, no mean feat, you’re still only saving 5%. The trick is to use that small saving to pay down debt or other set expenses, so the available cash/savings grows. That isn’t easy to do when it feels like you’re saving pennies instead of dollars!

The easiest way to reduce that 10%? Stop wasting food. Americans, on average, waste 40% of their food dollar. If you spend $10 a week and want to spend $5 instead? Stop throwing out food and you’ll save $4!

To this end, for some time, I’ve had a “flow” when I cook. Most of it is dealing with left over food in a way that resembles but is not exactly the same as the original. Also, much of it adds other foods for the second meal.

  • Cut bigger pieces down: cut meat from a cooked roast/bird and use it in another meal. Same with rough cut veggies: carrots, parsnips, onion, celery, etc.
  • Put previously cooked food in a thick sauce. This is what stew is, right? Also anything served with gravy over it. Make this a fairly bland dish. Make crepes and use this as a filling.
  • Dilute a thick sauce/gravy with water or stock — make soup or ? Transform whatever with gravy into something with a thin sauce  or soup. Make this more pungent.
  • The old trick of serving whatever with a starch: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, grains or bread. Things with gravy can be served atop a starch or with the starch in them (like stew with potatoes).
  • Use the bits & pieces to make soup or stock: this reduces waste and the cost, while it increases nutritional value.

Using these ideas, I turn 1 lb of chicken thighs into 4 meals. The protein costs $2.49/lb. That’s about .62 per meal! I have a great source for chicken. I buy it in bulk and freeze it in 1 lb containers. Depending on what I’m cooking I may or may not serve 2 thighs as dinner, then salvage the scraps/bones and make stock with the 3rd thigh for the next meal.

The last time I did this, I made oven-roasted chicken: we ate 2 thighs, the next day I made stir fry, heavy on the garlic. One portion is left over, it’s in the freezer; someone will eat it for lunch, or it will get added to soup. That’s 5 meals from $2.49 worth of meat, or .50 each meal for the protein.

If you do the math, the extreme frugality menus I linked to last time are about .25 per meal, protein and all. I thought what I was doing was pretty extreme, obviously, I still need to work on it!

So, how much should you spend? Figure 6% of your take home pay, if you aren’t wasting food or 10% when you do. If you’re spending more than that? You’re probably stuck in a rut of making the same things over and over and at least when I do that, I throw out a lot!

I’ll have to see what I can do to cut my costs!

What comes to mind —

  • Making schmaltz and using it instead of bottled cooking oils, (Using less, #2 above).
  • Making yogurt. (Finding a cheaper substitute, #1 above).
  • Baking bread. (Also #1.) We’d found a cheap, acceptable bread, $2.99 a loaf, so we’ve been buying bread rather than baking. The market has hiked this brand up to $3.99 a loaf again. DH still makes biscuits and pancakes when needed. I make crepes.
  • Stop having dessert. (Doing without, #3.) We will have a piece of fruit or maybe ice cream, but we haven’t had dessert as a planned part of a meal for some time.
  • Get rid of more junk food. We don’t eat these all the time, but yes, we do eat some: crackers and chips mostly. (Do without #3.)
  • Find high-priced items we still use and use any of the three strategies to reduce costs!

The best other discussion I’ve found about how to save money on groceries is this one.

Long-Term Storage Foods, Food Frugality, & Food Security

For a long while now, I’ve planned to make menus using more long-term storage foods. For one thing, long-term storage foods are usually available in bulk, or I can buy them in bulk, and the prices  aren’t as seasonally variable. I’m not talking about the canned goods available for preppers and Mormons. I’m talking about regular food available at the supermarket, although I may buy a caselot or large quantity! (Eventually, I might just buy those prepper or Mormon foods, although I never have.)

I’ve researched how long foods last and in what conditions. My plan has always been to take foods which are the most shelf-stable and incorporate those into our diet.

Very long-term storage foods, 2 years or more,  which don’t require any extra equipment to store include mostly unopened packages of: sugar,white rice, canned ham, canned coffee, chocolate syrup, instant tea,vanilla, vinegar, unpopped popcorn, condiment sauces: hot sauce, worcestershire, salsa, and hard liquor, according to one list.

Aside from the canned ham and possibly the popcorn, if you could grind it into cornmeal, there’s not much there that will sustain life.

Another list adds ground herbs & spices, whole spices, bottled water, bullion, canned meat & vegetables, and wheat berries to the long-term storage list.

Foods which can be stored for up to a year are more plentiful. Add corn meal, grits, whole grain pasta, nonfat dry milk, vegetable oil, dry soup mixes, canned fruits,  canned juices & tomatoes, dried peas and beans, unshelled nuts, canned coffee, and tea.

Various sources disagree about how long foods can be stored, so do your own research. The disagreements are why I haven’t included links.

However, with the wheat, rice, beans, and herbs, ah now I can make more than just canned ham. Off the top of my head you can make rice & beans, bean burgers,  wheatberry salad, etc.

Part of this is retirement planning too. I figure we won’t be able to afford premium foods, unless we buy and use them only as condiments. Using meats that way is something we’ve already changed. When the price of ground beef got over $4 a pound, I stopped buying meat at full price. We’ve been eating only what I can find on sale, about 1/2 off in most cases since. Sometimes that’s sausage, sometimes it’s steak, sometimes, we just eat salad. We’re not feeling deprived and we have sufficient calories and nutrients, I think, so I’m not worried about not having meat every day. If you were raised in the era I was, meat was something you were taught you had to have every night for dinner.

Also, we’ve been baking bread, eating oatmeal for breakfast instead of cold cereal, and we keep talking about learning to make our own crackers and such, as the price per pound for snackfood makes it almost obscene to buy anything, and we like munching just like everyone!

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

This post was started some time ago, as was the post “Life with Sugar” which I also published today. However, I haven’t changed my ideas. What has changed is that these days I would include more home-frozen foods.

Also, a neighbor has a successful root cellar. On my list today is to call her to see if I can go over and talk to her about how she stores veggies through winter. I can store beans, peas, flour, etc. but the veggies are more difficult!

Philosophy of Stuff: Keep, Cull, Replace?

For a long, long time I’ve been removing excess from here and elsewhere in my life. Fine.

This morning I read/heard these things:

  • A discussion about the realities associated with prepping. What are you prepping for? How much reliance on the grid/info structure do you include? How much food, etc. do you plan to raise? To store?
  • Do you have the skills and knowledge to do those things?
  • The only way to successfully survive, SHTF or not, is to plan on having less, being able to do less, buy less, be less healthy, over time. There’s planning and there’s reality. We all get older. We all eat the food. Buildings degrade. Income becomes less with retirement. Inflation happens.
  • What happens after SHTF?
  • An article on NPR about robots planting/harvesting/packaging “organic” food.

And I thought, again. I’m probably doing this wrong, or, more accurately, I’m not doing it right often enough.

I have ideas I try and use:

  1. “Plan for the worst. The best will take care of itself.”* The problem here is to do it reasonably. Saving food is fine, but you need to also use it. You need to know how to cook those dried hotdogs so you will eat them, before you need to. How much does that can hold? Will I actually eat it? How long will it keep?
  2. “Keep the best, pitch the rest.”* I  use this when culling books or other things where I have duplicates. But I also use it as a guiding principal when I don’t. If the function is duplicated, if its purpose is a needless “convenience.” A crepe pan, for example. If you know how to make crepes, a crepe pan is unneeded, a regular skillet works. I don’t have a sifter, for this reason, or buy brown sugar. A sieve works fine to sift flour and I make up brown sugar as needed. That said? I only do those things probably 6x a year or less. If I made cookies for resale or in bulk, regularly, I’d probably have a sifter and perhaps an electric one!
  3. Do I use it? Expect to use it? Have I used it in the past? It’s a wonderful framistat. I’ve never used it. Will I? Not likely — out it goes!
  4. With fewer, better things, you’ll have time to do something other than stuff maintenance. This is the main reason I’m moving towards minimalism. Has nothing to do with embracing Marie Kondo or Henry David Thoreau.
  5. Use lower-tech, lower-cost alternatives, when practical. Open the blinds first, rather than turning on the light — if all I want is a little more light in the room. Need to see much better so I don’t run into something? So I can work on a project? Turn on the light. With big backlit screens, I’ve found I don’t need a “reading” light to use a computer these days. Previously, that wasn’t true. Older flickering monitors were really hard on the eyes in a dark room!
  6. Only replace it when the replacement is guaranteed to be better. Of course, this is hard to know! But what I do is replace older, worn items with copies of the same thing, in better shape. My childhood home had 2 strainers, made to be used together. I loved them as a kid. When my dad died, it became mine. I use it all the time. The smaller sieve had been rusting through and degrading for a while. I finally found another copy, on Ebay last year and bought it. The old one got taken to the dump, immediately. I don’t know if someone grabbed it or not.

I’m really offended by the idea of a robot planting, maintaining, harvesting and packaging my food. Not sure why!


*(c) Judith K. Dial, 2005, unpublished manuscript.