Tag Archives: cooking

Kitchen Gadgets and the Money Saver I Never Saw Coming

I can’t help myself.  I love a good kitchen gadget.  If it’s supposed to make cooking easier, healthier, or more fun, I’ve got to have it.  So, on Black Friday when the shopping discounts were flying madly, I grabbed myself an Instant Pot.  Everybody seems to have one these days, so I had to have one too.  I laid out my money, hoping this wouldn’t turn into one of those gadgets sitting on top of my cabinets collecting dust and kitchen grease.

Now that the Instant Pot has been unboxed for a couple of weeks, I have my doubts about whether this thing will ever leave my kitchen counter.  I have long loved my slow cooker and my rice cooker.  And this can replace both of those and do so much more.  The first experiment was a batch of macaroni and cheese.  Way better than the box and in about ten minutes.  The Instant Pot had my attention.  My next go-round was Thai peanut chicken ramen.  And if someone had told me a month ago that I had the ability to make Thai food that good I would have laughed.  Yet here I am…somehow a master one-pot chef!

Since I now have the ability to cook a lot of food really quickly (this is where the Instant Pot really excels!), it dawned on me that I should join the meal prep movement.  I love the ability to just grab a dish from my fridge or freezer for the day’s lunch.  But Lean Cuisine has grown a bit tiresome and I can certainly do without the extra sodium that comes in those convenient plastic dishes.  So Sunday afternoon I grabbed a five-pack of those infamous meal prep containers from my local Wally World and got to cooking.  I started with a jumbo batch of brown rice, which the Instant Pot makes perfectly in about 30 minutes.  Then I whipped up a big batch of my Asian favorite, chicken and broccoli.  And just like that I had lunch for the week, with a few extra cups of cooked brown rice on reserve in my freezer.  I’m sure the total expense of the ingredients was significantly less than I would have paid for five Lean Cuisine entrees, and I feel like the food is better for me.

I’m a gadget girl.  But with this particular gadget I somehow fell backward into the money-saving world of bulk meal preparation.  Right now my plan is to continue that trend.  I’ll probably slip up at some point.  But this week I’m loving my own cooking for lunch!

My Old Friend Cooks Slowly

I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of my slow cooker.  There’s something magical about spending a few minutes in the morning throwing some food together in the pot, and then having dinner just be ready and delicious at the end of the day.  I don’t enjoy cooking.  But I do enjoy eating.  My slow cooker makes that easier for me.

I have a few slow cooker cookbooks that I’ve been hauling around with me since I had my first apartment in the 1990’s.  And I still use them.  All the time.  I know there are tons of recipes online now, but there’s something nostalgic about reading the ingredients and directions from an old-school book.  Sometimes I’ll crave something that isn’t in my books and I’ll turn to the internet for help.  But I usually print out the recipe and jam it between the pages of one of my books.  I’m just a print on paper girl when it comes to the kitchen, I guess.

One of the best parts of the slow cooker is that you can use the cheapest cuts of meat and they come out fork tender.   On any given weekend morning you might find me scouring the meat case at Walmart looking for the bright yellow labels.  Those are the labels of the meat that is getting ready to go out of code, so it’s reduced in price for quick sale.  I love to snatch up those bargains and freeze them for later slow cooker use.

I know that the slow cooker is old fashioned (and a sore point for fans of This Is Us), and that the Instant Pot is the way of the future.  And I sincerely hope that Santa Claus brings me an Instant Pot this year.  But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say goodbye to my old friend and its companion cookbooks.  Slow cooking (especially in the fall and winter) will always have a special place in my heart.  And my tummy.

Rotisserie Chicken: It’s What’s for Dinner!

Tomorrow night’s dinner is my favorite money-saving meal.  Yes….I know what I’m having for dinner tomorrow night.  Every Saturday I sit down and create a menu for the upcoming week.  I use that prepared menu to make my grocery shopping list for my weekly Sunday trip to the store.  Shopping from that list keeps me on point and helps me avoid a lot of impulse purchases and random buying of things I think I might need but it turns out I don’t.  But that’s not what this week’s tip is about.  This week’s tip is about tomorrow night’s dinner.  Rotisserie chicken!

Rotisserie chicken

My local warehouse club sells a three pound rotisserie chicken for $4.99.  This chicken is the best rotisserie bird I’ve ever found anywhere.  For the same price as I would pay for an unprepared chicken of the same size at my local supermarket.  And it’s already cooked!  Add some potatoes, gravy, and a vegetable, and we’ve got a feast for next to nothing.  But the true magic of the rotisserie chicken comes in the days that follow the original feast.

After rotisserie chicken dinner, I tear the carcass apart.  All of the meat goes in one zip top bag.  All of the skin and bones and wing tips and such go into a different zip top bag.  The meat becomes another meal for a later time.  Maybe a chicken tetrazzini casserole.  Maybe chicken divan.  Maybe chicken tacos or chicken enchiladas.  Perhaps chicken salad for my lunches.  The possibilities are endless.  No matter how you slice it (or carve it, as the case may be) a three pound chicken is enough meat for two people to eat at least two meals.  All for $5!

The bag of bones and skin is a whole different project.  This is future chicken stock.  Chicken stock and/or broth are staples in a lot of recipes.  And while containers of stock are readily available on the grocery store shelves, why not make it yourself?  All it takes is to throw some things in a pot of water and walk away while it simmers.  You can find a simple recipe here.  When the stock is complete, we like to freeze it in ice cube trays.  This gives us perfect one ounce measures of the homemade stock which will last for months in the freezer (though we always seem to use it MUCH faster than that).

So…tomorrow I go to the warehouse club and buy a chicken.  From that I get a wonderful roast chicken dinner, a future dinner made from the leftover chicken meat, and lots of homemade chicken stock for cooking.  In my opinion, that’s $5 very well spent!


Cooking in Advance: Saving Both Time and Money

I’ve been cooking a lot lately.  The normal division of labor in my home has my significant other doing most of the cooking.  He enjoys the task and he has free time before the dinner hour.  It just makes sense.  But he currently has his leg in a cast and cooking doesn’t mix well with his non-weight-bearing status.  So I have been appointed chief cook and bottle washer.

When I get home from work I’m generally both hungry and exhausted.  It would be really easy to slip into the pattern of buying takeout and convenience foods.  But that’s a path that is bad not only for the budget, but also for our health.  But I’ve learned that with some advance planning, I can keep our convenience foods to a minimum.

Crock potCasserole

I’ve taken to making my weekends (when I have a lot more free time) food-centric.  On Saturday I sit down and plan out the menu for the week.  I browse through cookbooks (Yes…I still enjoy using old fashioned cookbooks.  I’ve had them since before the internet became pervasive, and they’ve never steered me wrong.).  I pick out some things I’d like to eat.  And I make a shopping list for any ingredients I don’t have in the house.

On Sunday, I start the day at the grocery store.  I get the things on my list (which I’m sure is saving me money because I’m not just wandering around the store picking up things that I think might be good or that I think I might need).  And then the cooking adventure begins.  In addition to preparing dinner for Sunday night, I also put together meals for both Monday and Tuesday.  Monday’s dinner is always a slow cooker meal.  I assemble everything and put the crock into the fridge.  On Monday morning, I just have to plug it in, and a delicious meal will be ready for me when I get home from work.  Tuesday’s dinner is always a casserole.  I put it all together, cover it with foil, write the baking instructions right on the foil so I don’t have to look it up later, and set it in the fridge.  On Tuesday after work, I just have to heat up the oven, pop in the casserole, and an effortless dinner will be ready in half an hour.  As a bonus, these meals generally provide leftovers.  This means Wednesday’s dinner is the best of Monday and Tuesday, heated quickly in the microwave.  Throw in a night of soup and sandwiches and one pasta dinner, and I’ve made it through the work week with a minimum of effort and a minimum of processed foods.

Once my boyfriend is back on his feet, I’ll be happy to relinquish the kitchen to him.  But in the meantime, I feel like I’ve got a plan that saving me both time and money.

Corned Beef and Cabbage!

It’s St. Patrick’s Day!  And while I have no idea whether my mixed European ancestry includes any Irish, I like to cover my bases by celebrating ALL of the holidays.

corned beef

One of my favorite St. Patrick’s traditions is the corned beef and cabbage dinner.  Now corned beef is hardly Irish.  A real Irish family would likely be making this meal with some sort of pork product.  But Irish-American immigrants in New York City found themselves looking for a cheap cut of meat that would cook up nicely with very affordable cabbage and potatoes.  And so started the tradition of corned beef and cabbage.

What is it that makes this meal so magical for me?  For starters, it’s ridiculously easy.  Cut up some potatoes and a head of cabbage.  Put it in the bottom of a slow cooker.  Put a corned beef brisket on top of it.  Pour in some liquid (I use beer, but water or stock or juice would work well too).  Turn on the slow cooker and walk away for several hours.  When you come back to it, you’ve got dinner and a house that smells delicious.

But the real magic of the corned beef and cabbage dinner is how inexpensive it is.  Corned beef is cheap meat.  But if you cook it slowly all day, it becomes very tender and delicious.  The same idea can apply to other inexpensive cuts of meat.  Throw it into your slow cooker, walk away, and come home at the end of a busy day to a delicious dinner that required almost no effort.  And there’s likely enough that you’ll have leftovers for a few future meals.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, it’s likely worth the investment.  I always see several when I go to the Goodwill store, but even new ones are not very pricey.  And for the magic of turning cheap meat into a delicious meal (or three) with almost no effort….it’s a worthwhile purchase.