Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Recipe: Easy Chicken Tenders

This recipe actually started out as a sesame chicken recipe gone a bit wonky. However, the recipe came out really well and these chicken tenders were much tastier than the kind you buy in frozen foods section.

- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into strips or small pieces (use your judgement)
- 3/4 cup bread crumbs
- 2 tbsp parmesan cheese
- 1/4 tsp ginger
- salt and pepper to taste
-1 egg beaten (recipe may also use 1/3 cup melted butter if baked instead of cooked in a skillet)
- a little bit of veggie or olive oil (if cooking in skillet)

1. Mix ginger, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese and bread crumbs together (I do this by throwing it all in a plastic baggie, sealing, and shaking)

2. Dip strips into egg then in breadcrumb mixture

3. Heat oil in skillet on med high heat and cook strips for about 5 minutes on each side (longer if needed depending on how thick your chicken is)

4. Serve with choice of sauce.

The variation on cooking this is to put on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

Estimated cost: about $2.00 per person per meal

Recipe: 20 Minute Chicken Parmesan

I have to credit this recipe to SparkPeople ( They have a daily recipe that they send in email and I found this one in my specified folder. It was from months ago, but could probably still be found on the 'net. For anyone looking for good, healthy recipes and a bunch of other healthy stuff, check this site out.

This was recipe was AWESOME! Very easy and the best chicken parm recipe we've made so far.

- 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
- 1 large egg, beaten lightly
- 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs (I only had regular breadcrumbs, so I mixed in some italian seasoning and garlic salt for the same effect)
- 2 tbs butter or margarine, melted
- 1 3/4 cups spaghett sauce (I didn't measure this, I just used a standard can of sauce)
- 1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Dip chicken in egg and dredge in breadcrumbs
2. Cook chicken in butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned on both sides
3. Spoon spaghetti sauce over chicken (I just poured the can over it carefully)
4. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, let simmer 10 minutes
5. Sprinkle with cheese and parsley; cover and simmer 5 minutes
6. Serve over spaghetti

This made two meals for two of us, even using the tiny 8 oz box of spaghetti from Wal-Mart. Best thing is that this can be thrown together quickly and is very flavorful and filling.

Estimated cost: about $1.50 per person per meal

Recipe: Pork Chops with Balsamic Vinegar

This recipe is technically a dinner for two, but we doubled the recipe to get two meals out of it. I'll post the original as it's made for two people or two meals for one person.

-2 boneless center pork loin chops, 1 1/2 inch thick
-1 1/2 tsps lemon pepper
-1 tsp vegetable oil
-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
-2 tbsp chicken broth
-2 tsps butter

1. Pat chops dry and coat with lemon pepper
2. Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat
3. Add chops. Brown 8 minutes, turn, and cook 7 more minutes or until done
4. Remove from pan and keep warm
5. Add vinegar and broth to skillet; cook and stir until syrupy (about 1-2 minutes. NOTE: I never did get to the syrupy stage, so either I did something wrong or it just takes longer than a couple of minutes)
6. Stir in butter until blended
7. Spoon sauce over chops

We served this with frozen vegetables as a side.

Estimated cost per person was a little higher as we had to buy lemon pepper. Lemon pepper is a great thing to have on hand though.

Estimated cost: about $1.50 per person per meal

The taste was really good though a little light on balsamic flavor. Add more to taste as needed. I had thought that the leftovers would be more flavorful as they had time to sit in the sauce, but they weren't as good as leftovers generally have seemed to be. Still good in a pinch however and good with any number of sides.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Recipe: Onion Baked Pork Chops

Another fairly cheap recipe and a tasty one!

4 bone-in pork chops (center cut) (bought on sale for about $1.00 each)
1 envelop Lipton Recipe Secrets Golden Onion soup (about $.65 as the whole box was only like $1.29 and you only need one envelope)
2/3 cup Breadcrumbs (already had stocked, but Wal-Mart sells big cans for less than a dollar)
1 egg well beaten (about $.15)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine soup mix and bread crumbs in plastic storage bag. Shake until well mixed then pour out on flat dish.
Dip chops in egg then coat with crumb mixture on both sides.
Grease baking pan and arrange chops
Bake uncovered 10 minutes, then turn and bake for another 10-15.

We served this with macaroni and cheese, which we bought for $.33 a box at Aldi. We had enough for two meals, so we had leftovers a couple days later. The leftover taste was fine, but the pork got a little bit tough when re-heated in the microwave.

The estimated cost per person per meal: less than $1.50.


I wasn't actually going to share this little piece of information. After all, I do have a rep to protect, and as someone who's been trying to be frugal and live cheaply, I had been hoping to stay on the wagon a little longer than I actually did.

I splurged. Hardcore. On Mary Kay. Funny thing is, I just wrote an article for Associated Content on how not to spend alot of money at at-home sales parties (not yet published but will be on here shortly). Does this make me a hypocrite? Not necessarily.

Being frugal means that you have the money for an occasional splurge. When I normally talk about splurges, I talk about lunch out with the BF, pizza for dinner, or a movie night with friends. But most people tend to find splurges to fall in the realm of vacations, expensive new wardrobes, a plasma TV, or even a new car.

My splurge could have easily been found at a lower cost. I could have done with about half of what I bought and yes, since I'm having to pay for my splurge in monthly payments, I'm going to have to give up some things. So while I did spend money I didn't need to, as part of trying to adapt to a life of better money management, I am definitely willing to give up some things.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Recipe: Garlic Mushroom Chicken Melt

This recipe was completely awesome and the BF loved it too. We actually had the leftovers tonight and even they were really good. It's a pretty cheap and easy meal too.

4 Boneless skinless chicken breasts ($.75 a piece per the bag we bought...that may vary)
1 envelope Lipton Recipe Golden Onion Soup (about $.65 as the whole box was only like $1.29 and you only need one envelope).
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained ($.48 Great Value brand)
1 tbsp olive oil (can also use veg. oil)
sprinkle of garlic salt (optional)
sprinkle of italian seasoning (optional)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (used the imitation Kroger brand for $1.50)

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-Arrange chicken in 13x9 baking or roasting pan
- Blend soup mix, tomatoes, and oil together (I didn't have a blender but stirring it worked just as well)
- Pour over chicken
- Bake uncovered for 25 minutes
- Remove and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese
- Bake for 2 more minutes or until cheese is melted

We served this with spaghetti noodles ($.48 for smallest GV box) coated in a little bit of margarine and parmesan cheese and got two meals out of it.

Total cost: approximately $1.25 per person per meal (if I figured that out right).

Note: The original recipe called for Lipton Secrets Savory Herb w/ Garlic Soup Mix, which is where I'm assuming the mushrooms came in. WalMart didn't have it so I grabbed the golden onion and substituted the garlic salt and italian seasoning.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Weekly Splurge at IHOP and Garage Sales

The BF and I decided this week we would do an early breakfast at IHOP for our weekly treat, followed by some garage sale shopping.

While I'm not upset that we did it because it was planned and budgeted for, IHOP is expensive and we ended up spending more than I'd planned for. I remember the days when coffee was $.89. Not so much anymore. My coffee cost $1.49 and his soda was $1.79. Our meals were good. My breakfast was just under $7.00 and his burger (he'd just gotten off work so it was dinner for him) was just under $8.00. Figure in the cost for tax and tip and we spent over $20 for just the two of us.

So big splurge, and one we're not likely to repeat again for a long while. It was good though and worth it. The garage sale shopping wasn't as intense. After working the graveyard shift, he was ready for a nap and after parting ways with a $20 bill, I just didn't want to spend anymore. We did however stop at two of them.

Our fun and awesome find: 15 books from The Enchanted World Time Life book series for $3.00.
Our practical but still awesome find: A pair of nice shoes for work for $3.00.

I love garage sales.

Taco Bell Value Menu

My previous experience with Burger King was less than good, so we've stricken that one off our list. But sometimes a person just wants some fast food. Taco Bell has always been a favorite of mine but it can get costly as most fast food does.

Recently, TB has released their new value menu which uses three different tiers of pricing: $.79, $.89, and $.99 items. Ever a fan, this past week gave me an opportunity to try them out with the BF on an errand busy lunch.

The verdict: this is a pretty good deal! While not as cheap as eating at home, you can get something to tide you over for less than $5.00 and if you like the taste of Taco Bell, the cheaper items are no less in quality. For lunch, I had a double beefy cheese and rice melt, a soft taco, and mango strawberry Frutista Freeze for $3.95. Not bad considering the drink was the most expensive thing I bought.

This shouldn't mean it's okay to go to TB everyday of the week. Four bucks a pop still comes to $28.00 if you ate it everyday, and that's only for one person, for one small meal. Plus it's fast food, so it's not really healthy. But for a treat or a grab on the go lunch, you could do much worse.

Menu Planning 6-7-08

Though it was never anything I found exciting before, since I've started cooking I've really enjoyed planning a weekly menu for the BF and I. Not only do I feel organized, but I consistently see how much money I'm saving by doing this.

This past week, I planned for six full meals rather than the three and leftovers I'd previously been doing. We're getting to the point where we have the money to spend on groceries, so while leftovers will definitely be eaten, we have more options and can start taking the second portion to work.

One thing that's helped my menu planning is to keep things varied. I planned one meal based each around a different meat (beef, pork, and chicken). I then picked a Mexican dish, a different kind of hamburger dish, and planned for a soup and sandwich night. While there are other categories I'll use in the future, this method allowed me to make sure I had a good variety. A couple of the dishes will still stretch for two meals and we won't get bored. I also made sure they would be easy to cook, so I planned for a crock pot recipe and a couple meals that I know will take only 15-20 minutes to prepare, like the soup and sandwich and a Helper night.

This weeks menu:
Garlic Mushroom Chicken (which incidentally does not have mushrooms; recipe will follow)
Cheesy Nacho Chicken on Corn Tortillas (crock pot)
Oven Baked Pork Chops (recipe will follow)
Hamburger Helper
Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese sandwiches
Cheesy Spinach Burgers

The most exciting part about the menu is the grocery cost. After making my grocery list based on my menu and any hard to ignore deals in the Dillons ad, I estimated about $60 for groceries. My actual total? $27.30. And that includes not only the main course, but applicable sides and drinks, as well as sandwich stuff for lunches.

The breakdown comes to an average of $2.50 per meal per person. Which means on the 7th day, if we can splurge, we're having Little Caesars!

Internet Issues and Tips

Once again, we went a few days without internet. There's been a lot of issues here since the apartment complex switched from everyone having individual 'net to offering it for the whole community. So once again, I was unable to get anything done in the way of blogging. However, I did have time to think about some things concerning money and internet.

First, ways to save on internet. You don't actually have to have home internet to survive. Most of us feel disconnected when we can't get online to chat, do email, or whatever it is we do. And admittedly, I'm one of those people. However, when you're forced to do without, you find ways around it. If internet is one of those costs that can be cut out to save money, here are some ideas for staying connected:

1. Utilize work internet - I'm lucky in that the company I'm currently working for has internet and allows us to use it on breaks for personal use. Check with your company's internet policies to find out if it can be used at designated times. If so, do email on your breaks and/or part of your lunch. Just make sure not to do anything that would violate company policy. Don't be a jerk and ruin the privelege for everyone else because you wanted to download porn.

2. Find a Wi-Fi spot - If you have a laptop, Wi-Fi hot spots are common and can be very helpful. Plan some time where you can find a local coffee shop, bookstore, or restaurant that offers it. If there's a cost associated with it, find out beforehand. And be careful, even though you might not be paying for the internet, you might get tempted into buying an expensive coffee drink or meal. In order to avoid this, try the.....

3. ...library. Not only does the library generally have wireless access to internet for laptop users, they usually have several desktop computers set aside for the general public to use and to access the internet with. And because most libraries are "No Food or Drink" places, you won't be incurring any extra costs except the gas to get there.

4. Ask a friend - If you have a close friend who's online, make plans to use their internet. Offer to pay part of the bill for the privelege of using it for periods of time throughout the week to do basic email, bill pay, account stuff. If you're in a financial bind, let them know about it. Who knows? You may have something they need in exchange. You can also use the time to hang out and catch up if you don't get to see each other often.

If after careful consideration you find that you truly, absolutely, no matter which way you look at it can NOT live without internet, there are a few options that will help cut costs.

1. Downgrade to dial-up - Not everyone uses the internet to download, upload, and play games. If you're a minimalist when it comes to the internet, meaning you pay bills, check email, and occasionally shop online, then you probably don't actually need a high speed connection. Find out how much local dial up costs. With DSL and cable connections, dial up prices have decreased immensely. Remember that you do have to have a land phone line and a degree of patience as it is slower and may not be as efficient.

2. Search around for package deals - Many big companies are now offering packages that include internet, phone service, and digital cable. If these are things you want anyway and can afford, try out a package deal to save money. However, make sure to read the small print. Alot of bundle deals start out at a low price and go higher after a month or so. Know exactly what you're getting into before signing on the dotted line.

Even though we've had problems, many apartment complexes are already set up with internet and have, for the most part, gotten all the bugs out of their system. So if you're looking for a new place to live, finding one that has on-site internet can be a money saver if the rent is already reasonable.

Last but not least, don't hesitate to call for a discount on your bill if your internet is out for an extended period of time. Most companies want to keep their customers and will do what they can to make them happy, especially if the problem was on their end. If they won't help you out, you have a good reason to file a complaint and go look elsewhere.