Saturday, July 26, 2014

Old Mother Hubbard

Actually, the cupboard isn't totally bare, which was a very good thing this week. We'd have been in much worse shape if it had been.

Frugal living bloggers often will write about their "eat from the pantry" challenges. For a specified period of time, one is only allowed to buy fresh produce and possibly dairy. Everything else must come from what you already have. For those with a good stockpile, the challenge is made much easier. They can use up their excess, make room for more stuff, save the money they would have spent grocery shopping for some goal, and so forth. 

I don't have a great stockpile. I'm not particularly good at that whole stockpiling thing anyway, but we had a power outage a couple of weeks ago that took out a good portion of our fridge. Thankfully, the chicken in the freezer came through unscathed. 

Several major bills came due this week. When all was said and done, I had $25 to spend on groceries for the week. 

Yep, eat from the pantry challenge time. 

So what did we eat this week?

1. Lentil and rice tacos 
2. Curry chicken pot pie
3. Macaroni and cheese (from the box--don't judge. Two boxes are under a dollar, and I had a headache that night anyway, so Nelson was cooking.) 
4. Cincinnati chili (to come--part of the $25 went to buying ground beef, a can of tomato sauce, and a can of kidney beans. I have all the other ingredients on hand.) 

Most of these meals yield leftovers for at least one more meal (well, all of them do for us--your mileage may vary). 

Breakfast most mornings has been pancakes--cheap and easy, and I always have flour and baking powder. For lunch, it's been mostly sandwiches or tortilla wraps. The girls like peanut butter, and another part of the $25 went to sandwich meat and cheese. 

I also made two gallons of chicken stock from the chicken bones, and that is now in the freezer. Some of it may be used to make potato soup later--I still have a few potatoes. And my last batch of potato soup never got eaten because of the power outage killing it. :-p 

Not a gourmet menu, but it keeps us all fed and happy. And I was pleasantly surprised that Nelson was able to get everything we absolutely needed for under $24--plus a bag of potato chips for a fun treat. (Yes, we made the "all that and a bag of chips!" joke. Who could resist?)

In order to keep this post from just being me all pleased with myself, I'll share a couple of recipes. Maybe that will help someone else in the future if they hit a tight week (although I know tastes vary widely, so maybe everyone else will hate all of these recipes!).

However, with my picky crew, Cincinnati chili is one of the few dishes that everyone loves and eats without complaint. I got the recipe I used from one of the few cookbooks I actually like called I'll Have What They're Having. It's all about regional cuisine from around the country. It gives stories behind the food as well as a recipe, and it makes for a fabulous, fun read. I've read through it several times, but it falls open to the Cincinnati chili recipe automatically now. ;)

Cincinnati chili
1 large onion, chopped (I can't eat onions and Nelson won't, so I sub onion powder)
1.5 lbs. ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin (I have been known to add a bit more--I love cumin)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce (unfortunately, I have to skip this. I miss it)
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 lb. dried spaghetti

Note: Don't go into it thinking it's going to taste like your normal Southwestern chili. With its spices, it's quite a different flavor. But it's delicious.

Saute onion, garlic, ground beef, and chili powder until meat is no longer pink. Add all other ingredients (except spaghetti), reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered for 1.5 hours. Remove from heat. Cook spaghetti according to package directions.

Here's where this dish is perfect for my family: it's completely customizable when it comes to serving!

Two-way chili: chili over spaghetti noodles (how Natalie often eats hers)
Three-way chili: chili over spaghetti noodles, topped with shredded cheddar (this is Nelson's)
Four-way chili: chili over noodles, topped with shredded cheese and chopped onions (no one here does this)
Five-way chili: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and kidney beans.

The book says that spaghetti topped with chili, cheese, and kidney beans cannot legitimately be called four-way in Cincinnati itself, but that's how Sarah and I like ours. We're just rebels. Or maybe some Cincinnati natives can tell us that the book is wrong. ;)

Curry chicken pot pie (this recipe started life as an Alton Brown recipe, but I've modified it for my crew)
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
1.5 cups chicken stock (can use packaged broth if you don't have homemade stock)
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups cooked chicken (shredded, chopped, whatever)
3-4 cups mixed vegetables (whatever blend your family likes. The recipe calls for 4 cups, but I just use 3, sometimes 2. Can't get away with too many veggies around here)
1 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
onion and garlic powder to taste (I never measure)
1 batch Alton's biscuit recipe (I use coconut oil instead of shortening)

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in flour to make a roux. Add milk and stock to pan and let cook a couple of minutes to thicken.

Combine chicken, veggies, and spices in a baking dish (recipe recommends 9 x 13, but I've messed with the recipe enough that I've gotten away with slightly smaller sizes. I have these weird rectangular pans that I'm not really sure what size they are, but they're not quite 9 x 13). Pour sauce evenly over over all. Top with spoonfuls of biscuit dough. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes.

Obviously, you have to like curry for this recipe to be a hit with your family. For us, it's a different flavor from most things we eat, and it makes a nice change.

Once I accidentally used just turmeric instead of curry. It made the casserole very pretty. :) And we still liked it.

If you would like the original recipe, you can find it here.

Sorry this post is so long!!

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