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Here’s another of the meals that I featured on my Frugal Cooking Carnival

Beef Dumpling Stew

Beef stew with dumplings

Serves 8

Stew

2 lbs hamburger or sausage
2 T. oil (olive or vegetable)
2 c. sliced carrots
2 c. minced onion
4 T. flour
8 c. beef broth (make this with beef bouillon if you don’t have beef broth on hand)
4 c. pureed tomatoes (or 3 c. tomato sauce and 1 c. water)
1/2 c. milk
1 c. corn
1 c. slivered cabbage
3 c. potatoes, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste

Dumplings
3 c. flour
2 T. baking powder
1-1/2 t. salt
1 T. paprika
1-1/2 c. milk
2 T. butter

Soup: Sautee hamburger or sausage in a deep heavy pot until browned. Remove from pan and pour rendered fat in a small bowl. Sautee carrots and onion in olive oil in same pot. Once the onion is translucent, mix in flour. Cook for a few minutes, then add beef broth. Scrape the pan to get any bits off the bottom of the pan. Add milk, water, tomato, cubed potatoes, cabbage, and meat. Let come to a simmer and cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Dumplings:
Mix flour, baking powder, paprika, and salt. Warm milk and butter in microwave. Pour the warm mixture over the flour and stir together.

Taste the soup and add salt and pepper to taste. Now spoon the dumpling mixture on top of the soup in little blobs (about 2 T. per dumpling). Cover with a lid, and let the dumplings simmer on medium-low for 7-8 minutes. Break a dumpling apart with a fork to make sure dumplings are cooked through. Serve.

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120 tomato plants, being transplanted by my hubby from seed packs into yogurt containers.

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I’m still trying to get over the whole CNN interview thing. It was surreal to be sitting there in the van at a soccer game clutching my cell phone to my hot cheek answering questions live on CNN. I was prepared for the time to be brief– I think it was all over in 4 or 5 minutes. But when the anchor lady wrapped it up and said goodbye, I still was left with my mouth open, clutching a page containing some key points that I had REALLY labored over. I thought I might as well put them up here. Many people are sure to already know this stuff. But when I was early on my journey towards frugal living, I appreciated hints from more experienced folks. So, for those of you who are new to frugal shopping, I offer:

3 First Steps Towards Saving Money on Food

1.) Clarify your own ‘big picture’. What are your goals? If you had $100 or $200 or $400 more each month, what would you do with it?
–Pay down the credit card?
–Sign your daughter up for music lessons?
–Save for a family vacation?
–Buy a new minivan?
–Save money towards becoming a one-income family?
If you have your goals clearly in mind, it is so much easier to avoid the ‘poor me’ feeling when it is time to skip pizza delivery and instead crank up your oven and pull out your own flour, yeast, and pepperoni. It’s about much more than an easy meal– it’s about giving yourself the ability to reach long term goals that are more important.

2.) Tally your actual food expenses. Most people have a general idea, but the exact figures may surprise you. Don’t forget to add in your restaurant meals. Even if you can look at your previous month’s records, I’d encourage you to save your receipts for the coming month as well. It will make step 3 easier.

3.) Chop at your top 10 list. Obviously it would be ideal if you could buy everything at the lowest possible price. But when you are just beginning to try to save money, keeping track of a million prices can be overwhelming. It is much more doable to begin by picking the 10 categories on which you personally spend the most money. Common ‘big’ categories include meals out, convenience food, snacks, meat, milk, cheese, fruit, and diapers. Whatever your Top 10’s happen to be, add up those totals for a month or two. (Look at last month’s receipts if you can.) Then focus on those ten areas. There are two ways that you can save money. Either you can buy less of the item, or you can spend less per piece ON the item.

Use Less
For example, in the restaurant category you could decide to go out to eat once a week instead of three times. In the snack category you could limit your family to a bag of chips a week and cut your cola consumption in half. If disposable diapers are draining your budget, you may decide it is worthwhile to invest in cloth diapers, which will pay for themselves in just a few months.

Spend Less
Obviously there are some categories that you don’t want to cut back on, such as the food your family needs to stay healthy. To save money on fruit, good options include limiting your purchases only to in-season fruit, which is more affordable. You can also aim to buy fruit where it is cheapest.

Currently we are eating lots of oranges, because one store in town is selling them for $0.48/lb. Yesterday I found Braeburn apples for $0.98/lb and bought a bunch. On the other hand, most likely we won’t buy watermelon til June, and it has been awhile since I’ve seen grapes at a low enough price that I’ll buy them.

In some cases you can use both these strategies. To save money on meat, serve smaller portions and incorporate a vegetarian meal into your rotation each week. Also make sure to buy the meat for as low a price as possible. Currently I have about 15 lbs of hamburger and 25 lbs of chicken in my freezer, all bought on sale for less than $1/lb.

Once you have gotten your personal top-10’s chopped down to size, pick another 10, check prices, and start chopping away on those.

Chances are, doing only these first three steps will allow you to save some money, which will give you the momentum and encouragement you’ll need to gradually make even more changes in your budget.

Click here for the Frugal Cookin’ Carnival.

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Welcome to the Frugal Cooking Carnival! I hope you’re all set to share three days worth of menus, costs, pictures, and recipes. Guidelines can be found here. But even the recipes from one or two meals will be helpful, so please participate at whatever level you feel able. Before I share my own three days worth of food, I want to get Mr. Linky up so that those of you who are raring to share can get your own link posted first. Once you’ve signed in with the EXACT link to your post, you can scroll on down and see how the three days of cooking went at my house.  And just a note– you have to actually CLICK on the Mr. Linky to see the links that people have posted.  

(Update: Here are the actual links of the people who participated, since it seems Mr. Linkie is not showing up in some browsers)

1. Keren ($20 Menu, Shopping List, and Recipes)
2. Untraditional home
3. Linds
4. Anne (vegetarian)
5. Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home
6. daycare girl
7. Amy@Experience Imagination
8. Joanne
9. Tina
10. Carrien@She Laughs at the Days
11. Melissa Darling (A Darling Life)
12. Shana
13. Sonya
14. Another Oatmeal Idea
15. Ali BG (vegetarian)

(Lynn, diane, and Suzyq: Please resubmit your links– they didn’t show up on Mr. Linkie)

3 Days of Food
This first picture shows most of what I bought to use over the three days. A few odds and ends are missing, and there are a few things there that I didn’t end up using. But the picture gives you a pretty decent idea of what I used over those days. I will be adding recipes in the next day or two. This post has taken a ridiculous amount of time to write– I want to thank all of you who decided to join me in this effort, because it really has been a lot of work.

migas and toast

Breakfast on day one was migas, toast, orange juice and coffee. I used 18 eggs, but since I found eggs for $1.50 a dozen, it wasn’t too expensive. I only give the kids coffee once a week or so, in tiny Ethiopian cups, and when I do, they really enjoy the treat. The whole meal with juice and toast cost about $6.50, which came out to about $0.65/person. This is a favorite breakfast at our house.

Beef stew with dumplings
Tuesday for lunch we had a nice vegetable beef stew with dumplings. The stew was very hearty– I could have used a bit more liquid, I think. It contained hamburger, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onions, and canned tomatoes. The thing the kids liked best was the big dumplings on top.Next time I’ll make more stew, since the stew ran out while there were still plenty of dumplings. I served this with orange halves and a slice of banana bread for dessert. This meal came out to about $6.00 or $0.55 per person.

Peanut chicken and rice

Tuesday’s dinner was another favorite. West African Peanut Chicken is a dish that we discovered a year or so ago, and now make a couple times a month. I used the meat from 3 chicken breasts that I’d bought for $0.98/lb, so this also was a fairly affordable dish. I made the sauce with plenty of homegrown pureed tomato and pureed onion (the kids like onions just fine when I puree them) and served it over rice with fresh broccoli and orange slices. Total cost for the meal was $6.25, which came to about $0.57/person.

cold cereal
Wednesday’s breakfast was as easy as you can get– cereal, milk, juice and fruit. I generally don’t pay more than $1.50 a box for cereal, but Albertsons had a great deal a few weeks ago. A sale combined with ‘preferred customer rewards’, store coupons and manufacturers coupons brought the cereal down to $0.60 a box. I bought 10 boxes. With half a gallon of milk, half a gallon of juice, and a couple pounds of bananas, the total cost of the breakfast was about $4.60, which is about $0.42/person.

Fried rice and egg rolls
This lunch was particularly yummy: fried rice, egg rolls, apples, and peanut butter cookies for dessert. I made the fried rice using leftover rice from yesterday’s dinner and leftover migas from yesterday’s breakfast. I also added a bit of chopped-up pepperoni, onion, garlic and carrot. I fried it all in a few tablespoons of sesame/canola oil. Near the end of cooking, I added about 1/4 cup of soy sauce. The egg rolls were filled with cabbage, grated carrot, fresh ginger, minced onion and garlic, then fried in oil– ya know, you can’t beat deep fried food for taste! With that fat content it was a good thing the meal was practically vegetarian! We rounded out the meal with apple slices and homemade peanut butter cookies for dessert. Total estimated cost for this meal was $7.50, or about $0.68/person.

Beef Stroganoff
Wednesday’s dinner was an old standby at our house: beef stroganoff. Usually I make it with egg noodles, but tonight I just had macaroni and that was fine. I served it with mushrooms on the side since many of the kids aren’t thrilled with mushrooms. For side dishes we did some frozen corn from last year’s garden, fresh broccoli with salad dressing, and a cookie for dessert. (Cookies don’t last long at our house!) This meal cost about $7.50, which was about $0.68/person.

Oatmeal and ice cream
Thursday morning’s breakfast idea came from some friends of ours. Oatmeal is the ultimate in affordable breakfasts, but it can be a little dull taste-wise. Unless you top it with ice cream, that is. Even kids who aren’t in love with oatmeal will eat it happily if you top it with a scoop of strawberry ripple ice cream. One other tip: we cook our oatmeal in our rice cooker, which totally avoids the ol’ boil-over problem we always used to have with oatmeal. It requires absolutely no watching, which is a plus on busy mornings. Just pop in your regular amount of oats along with twice that amount of water, turn the cooker on, and walk away. The rice cooker turns off automatically, and keeps it warm til you get to the table. We served this breakfast with a link of sausage, toast, and orange juice, for a cost of about $6.00 altogether, or $0.55/person.

Our third lunch was another easy meal: leftovers from previous days. At least once a week we have a leftovers meal at our house, which consists of pulling everything from the last few days out of the fridge and letting kids go through picking what they want then microwaving it. This time around we have leftover peanut chicken, dumplings from the beef stew, and fried rice. Since I already added the costs of those items into the previous meals, the only ‘new’ costs were for the oranges and carrot sticks we served on the side, which cost about $1.25.

Chicken enchiladasOur final meal for the three days was chicken enchilada casserole. While I was making one casserole, I went ahead and doubled the amounts so I could have another casserole to stick in the freezer for a different day. Along with the enchiladas, we had a green salad made with swiss chard from my husband’s greenhouse, and the last bit of cabbage. The younger kids turned their noses up at the chard– it does have a slightly sharp taste– but I really liked it, and so did most of the bigger kids. The enchiladas turned out great and were met with rave reviews. I’m really glad I made two! For dessert we had more cookies– I’m afraid this batch is almost gone. The total on this meal was a little higher than some: meat AND cheese, you know! It was around $11.50 for everything, which comes out to about $1.05/person, and we even had some leftovers for my husband to pack next time he goes to work.

The grand total, for 9 meals for 11 people? $57.10. That’s 99 meals for about 58 cents a meal.

I am so glad I’m done with this post. I am now going to bed as my hubby is literally tugging me by the hand. I’ll be back with more recipes tomorrow, people! So come back, OK? Welcome to the people visiting after seeing the mention here and then on CNN this morning. If you look in my sidebar under ‘Techie Stuff’ you’ll see several different ways to subscribe to this blog. I hope you’ll all be back and please feel free to leave a comment!

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( This is just one recipe in my Frugal Cookin’ Carnival
Click on the above link to see what else I cooked during my three days.)

Chicken Enchiladas

This recipe is a favorite at our house. It is sooooo easy to make a second one to freeze while you are at it that I went ahead and listed amounts for two 9×12 casseroles. This freezes beautifully and is also great as leftovers. Even if your family will only eat half a 9×12 dish at a meal, remember that you can serve it again in a day or two.

4 lbs boneless chicken
2 T. vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
3 cups corn
1 minced onion
4 c. pureed tomato
2 packets of taco seasoning
20 flour tortillas
5 cups grated cheddar

Directions
Start by chopping 4 lbs of chicken. I used boneless thighs that cost $1.19/lb. Cook that in a large skillet on medium high with a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil. Don’t stir the meat until it gets a nice lovely brown color on one side. Then stir and cook the rest of the way. Once the meat is mostly cooked, add 4 cloves of garlic, 3 cups of corn, and one minced onion. Continue to cook a few minutes til onions are soft.

Now you are going to need about 4 cups of pureed tomato. You can puree fresh whole tomatoes in the blender, or if you’d rather just use regular tomato sauce, you’ll need about 3 cups of tomato sauce mixed with a cup of water. Once you’ve done that, pour 1/2 cup of sauce into each of two casserole pans and spread it around to coat the whole bottom of each pan. At that point you should still have three cups of sauce remaining.

Dump the rest of the tomatoes into your skillet full of cooking chicken (I told you that skillet needed to be large, right? Add 2 packets of taco seasoning and let it simmer for a few minutes.

While that mixture simmers, put a double layer of flour tortilla into the bottom of each of your casserole pans. Tear the tortillas as needed to make them fully cover the bottom of each pan. Once your chicken has simmered for a few minutes, layer 1/4 of the mixture into each of the two casserole dishes. Sprinkle each dish with about a cup of grated cheddar cheese, then put on another layer of flour tortillas. (20 tortillas should be plenty for two casserole dishes.) Divide the remaining chicken mix between the two dishes, and top each dish with 1 or 1-1/2 more cups of cheese.

You’ve just made two meals and spent probably only five extra minutes for that second meal. Cover one casserole tightly with foil and freeze for up to 6 months. Cook the other casserole at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and the cheese on top is nicely browned. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream and more salsa if you wish.

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Don’t forget!

The Frugal Cooking Carnival is coming Friday, April 25th! I may be wrong, but I am guessing that more people will be READING this carnival than will be participating. So that means that those of you who contribute a link will probably get a good bit of traffic from this carnival. (And yes, that is my sneaky attempt to encourage YOU to participate!) I am really hoping a lot of people will prove my hunch wrong and share their ideas, so tell people, OK??? And get cooking!

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Over the years it has been a rare time indeed when we haven’t had a little one either sleeping with us all night or climbing in for a cuddle in the wee hours of the morning. Fairly early on, we sprang for the cheapest king-sized bed we could find. I think it was $500 back in 1990. It hung in there for 15 years or so, but a couple years ago we decided it was time for a new bed. We were appalled to realize that we’d now be looking at $1000 or more just for a ‘budget’ mattress. Plus we’d be forced to buy the mattress in a set with new box springs, which we really didn’t need.

After hemming and hawing over the purchase for quite awhile, we went non-traditional. We bought two nice quality SINGLE mattresses (no box springs) at Costco for $120 each. We then bought a good king-sized foam topper for $180, also from Costco, for a total cost of $420. We put the whole shebang onto our old king-sized box springs, with the memory foam thingie on top, and made up the bed in the normal way. The mattress pad, fitted sheet and foam topper do a great job of keeping the two single mattresses from drifting apart and the seam can barely be felt in the night. It might not work for the girl in :The Princess and the Pea” but it works just fine for me!

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Meredith over at Like Merchant Ships is asking people to share stories of purchases they regretted. Sadly, I have no trouble thinking of a few. In the kitchen dept, it would be the juicer and the bread machine, neither of which I have used in the last year or so. Hubby advised strongly against the juicer, but I was bent on it. I did use it some when my son broke his jaw, but mostly we eat our fruit whole instead of squeezing the life out of it and sticking the drippings into a glass.

In the ‘bigger items’ department, I’d have to mention our horses. My husband wasn’t thrilled about that purchase either– guess I really ought to listen to the man– he’s got good instincts! We just got rid of the last horse last month, after having 1-2 at a time around for nearly a decade. For a very brief time, one of my daughters actually used the horses (after begging non-stop for 3 years to have one!). But most of the time they were just ‘pasture ornaments’ as my husband says — AND money pits, of course. I don’t think we’ll be talked into horses again. If our younger girls show an interest, we’ll tell them to save their money til they have their own place.

Currently we are trying to decide about a swimming pool. Last year we had a 10 ft by 30 inch pool with an inflatable upper ring. It was awesome and the kids enjoyed it so much, but it has now died. (I think it lasted 2 summers– not bad for $40.) We are toying with the idea of getting something big– above-ground, but in the range of 18 feet across and 4 feet deep. That would be more like $500, besides the cost of fencing, since we’d need to make it 3-year-old-proof. Oh, and we would probably want a little deck along one side of it. At least another $500. Pretty expensive, but from our experience last year, I KNOW the kids would be in it every day, probably a couple times a day. We live a bit out of town, so it would be really nice to have a really fun thing to do right here at home. And what a fun thing to invite friends to do. It’s just hard to know if it is too extravagant a purchase, esp given the added hazard for the 3 year old. We’d really have to watch her like hawks, and if soomething ever happened. ….I can’t go there. On the plus side of the pool, my husband is leaning towards getting one. And we should be getting that tax incentive soon…but wouldn’t it be better to pay down our mortgage? Decisions, decision…..

How about you? Have you made any purchases you regret? Have any you’re waffling over right now?

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(Pssst: don’t miss the book giveaway in the post below!)
Ok, I have an unusual tip this week. We actually learned this one from our veterinarian. When you want to safely transport a cat to or from the vet’s office, but don’t have one of those cool cat crates, try a pillowcase.

Seriously.

Set your cat (gently!) into a pillowcase. Knot off the top. Carry your cat in your arms out to the car. (Hold it like you would a swaddled baby, not as if you’re swinging a sack by the handle). Set your cat carefully down on the floor of the car or even on your lap. The cat will not be able to run all over the car. He’ll be able to breathe through a light weight pillow case just fine– I promise. Obviously you won’t want to leave your cat in the sack for hours on end, but on a 20 minute trip to the vet a cat will be just fine. And if he’s like our cats, he’ll stay much calmer in a sack than in a cardboard box. Something about the sack is very calming to most cats. And you won’t have to buy (and store) an expensive cat carrier.

I understand that this tip might sound outrageous to some die-hard cat lovers. But if you’ve ever had a cat JUMP OUT of a cardboard box on the way to the vet, you might just be game to try the pillowcase. Because even more exciting than a cat in a sack is a cat doing laps around the inside of your car running THROUGH the steering wheel every time he passes the front seat– all while you’re trying to drive.

More Works for me tips.

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