Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Bare Essentials Challenge: Weekly Recap

You know I have to say that I'm really pleased with how this is going so far.  I never expected that I would be able to buy meat on a grocery budget reduced by 2/3, but it's worked out that I could get a few things on so little money.  So far stores are still holding up okay, although I grated the last little chunk of cheese up tonight for dinner, so I'm, once again, going to be using about 10.00 out of my 50.00 for groceries to get more cheese in the next week or so.

Anyway, here's how the stores held up this week.

For breakfast lately the kids have been pretty set on eating toast for breakfast (their choice, honestly as I'd love it if they ate like oatmeal or something to mix things up) and with the home made bread that has been pretty cost effective to do.  I've been using margarine for baking period and saving the butter for the toast as my son won't do margarine on his toast.  So far I still have four pounds of butter left.  I managed to find one pound of butter I still had in the fridge, which lasted us a while, so I'm going to be pulling the last four pounds out of the freezer here soon.

With lunches the kids have been taking a lot of pasta to school (in the case of my daughter it's definitely her choice there), so that has helped to stretch the grocery budget too.  I mean one pound of pasta goes a long way for lunches with the kids, so that's been really nice.  My husband has been taking lunches on and off, which has helped to cut costs somewhat and he's been working local sometimes so he has been able to come home for lunch too, which has also helped to reduce spending.

Now onto the dinners for the week.

The menu plan went kind of awry a couple of times this last week.  My husband wasn't feeling good one night and wanted to just eat pasta and the kids will eat pasta for dinner as well so I just did a noodle bowl night instead of corn beef hash (hash will be moved to next week's menu).

1.  Shrimp Cocktail Night

I was going through the freezer to do my menu plan for the week and ran across a bag of shrimp I'd gotten on 5.00 Fridays at Carrs about a month ago and was kind of shocked to find it was pretty badly freezer burned.  I turned the bag around to find that a box from a mini-pizza had managed to punch the bottom in such a way that it separated the bag's seam, so it'd just been open to the freezer for goodness knows how long.

I tried to think of something I could do with the shrimp to use it up quickly and decided to do shrimp cocktail.

I make shrimp cocktail KIND OF like Alton Brown, but with some tweaks.  I take a pan of water and add 1/2 cup of salt (about) and 1/2 cup of sugar (about) and a couple tablespoons of some acid (in this case some white wine vinegar), mix it up well and then put the shrimp in.  I then boil the shrimp till just done in this mixture.  The shrimp come out perfectly seasoned every time when I do it this way.  It seems like a lot of salt and sugar, but trust me, only a small portion actually absorbs into the shrimp, but it's enough to help make them good!

I then took some Emeril's Baby Bam Seasoning and mixed it up well with the shrimp once I had drained them well, making sure to rub the seasoning into the shrimp with my fingers so that it got into the meat.

I served the shrimp with cocktail sauce (from the fridge) and used that up and then I used up all the little amounts of leftover fries from the freezer so those were taken care of too.

It turned out well.  I only had a couple of shrimp that tasted mildly of freezer funk, so I was grateful for that.

2.  A lot of my accomplishments for the week came from desserts, actually.  I was trying to think of different ways to make jello more exciting, so I made a three color jello in a mold (thanks to the reader who suggested that mix up :).  It was fun and unmolded like a champ (woot!), although I was the only one who liked the mango and lime jello flavors (they didn't really go together well, but I ate them separately alright...I didn't have any lemon jello or I would have used that for the top layer).  My daughter liked the strawberry jello on the bottom anyway *laugh*.

3.  I convinced my daughter (actually all I had to do was suggest it) to bring chocolate chip cookies into her class for her birthday treat.  I just used the good old Nestle Tollhouse recipe (found it online) and used that to make the cookies (which following the whole "1 rounded tablespoon" direction actually only gave me 3 dozen cookies, but it was enough for her class anyway) and when I was on the site I saw they had directions to make cookie bars.

My husband isn't a big cookie person, but I remembered that he actually LIKES cookie bars, so I made some.  I then convinced my doubtful daughter to try them, which of course she loved, so now I have a great way to go forward with cookies for dessert.  Make them into bars!

4.   My biggest accomplishment for the week was definitely that chicken from 2013.  When it defrosted I rinsed it REALLY well to try and remove any surface freezer funk (I removed the giblets and neck first, of course) and then I jammed it into my crock pot (I have a smaller crock pot).  I then took taco seasoning and just went to town coating the chicken with it, I think I probably used about 1/3 of a cup of taco seasoning on the chicken.  I then added enough water on the bottom of the pot to avoid any scorching or anything (somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of a cup) and then I cooked the chicken on high for about five hours.  I then took the chicken carefully out of the crock pot and shredded the meat that I knew would be okay (like I skipped the wings as they were really freezer burned) and placed it back into the crock pot (I left the liquid from the chicken when it cooked).  I then added yet MORE taco seasoning to the shredded meat, sprinkling it liberally over it and cooked it on low for an additional 3 1/2 hours (I did end up adding salt and pepper and a bit of chicken bullion powder to season it at that point as it was kind of bland, believe it or not).  I then removed the meat to a bowl via slotted spoon and let it sit overnight int he fridge before serving.

Final verdict?  The chicken came out tasting a-okay!  No freezer funk to be had and nice and heavily seasoned for tacos.  I call it a victory!

I now have a huge bowl of taco meat, but I'm thinking I'm going to take some of the leftovers and make taco soup out of it for next week.  Sounds good to me!
5.  I had the container of boxed milk in the fridge and I had some left that had been sitting in the fridge for a week and was tasting a bit sour.  Instead of throwing it away, I added some lemon juice to it, to sour it fully, and made Irish soda bread.  My oven has been having temperature issues (I'm REALLY hoping it just needs to be cleaned as I don't want to have to replace a thermostat right now), so the bread didn't rise very well and we ended up with a kind of doughy tasting small loaf, but we ate it for breakfast toast and it turned out alright for that.  The loaf was so small that once we all had toast that pretty much wiped the loaf out *laugh*.

So there you are folks.  My frugal adventures for the week.  You do anything interesting on the food front this week?


  1. That taco chicken sounds really good. I'm thinking I may have to try it really soon. Hoping that my daughter will eat it. My husband loves tacos but my daughter refuses to eat ground beef now. May be this is the solution! The Irish soda bread sounds good too. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Your desserts look amazing, especially the jello mold. I'm surprised you didn't use your fish mold though. *wink, wink* As for the cookie bars, those would be perfect for bagged lunches too. I make up squares like that sometimes, cut them up, wrap the individual squares in plastic wrap, then place them in a container in the freezer (so they keep well and to stop family from eating them). Each morning I just pull what I need for each lunch. They will be thawed by lunch time. It helps add to the appeal of bagged lunches by keeping things interesting and a nice alternative to store bought cookies or granola bars.

    This week I pulled some frozen pumpkin puree from the freezer and made a loaf of pumpkin chocolate chip bread. I then wrapped it up and put it back in the freezer for later use. I have a lot of pumpkin puree and grated zucchini in the freezer that needs to be used up, so I'm hoping to do more baking over the next little while.

    1. Well, the fish mold holds a LOT, which doesn't help *laugh*, it's like 8 cups or something like that. I don't make that much Jello at one time too often ;).

      Thanks for the suggestion on putting the bars into the freezer. That's a good idea as I could make a couple of different types and change them out in lunches from day to day so the monotony doesn't get to the family too much.

      Right now my main goal, aside from saving money of course, is to clean enough out of the freezers that I can rearrange things. I want to put things we use every day in the fridge freezer for lunches and such (chicken nuggets and such) and also for things like ice cream and then use my standing freezer just for things like meat and veggies. I find myself always pulling meat from the standing freezer and then the next thing I know I have freezer burned meat in the fridge freezer that I forgot about, so I might as well go with how I naturally do things and make things easier in the long run.

    2. I do the same as Rhonda with cookie bars. I personally prefer the bars over cookies and do them that way a lot. I individually wrap quite a few things for the freezer. I just finished lunch that included a slice of cornbread that I made at least a couple of months ago. There are things we just don't eat quickly enough - even cookies, and when I wrap them individually, they stay good. I found a pack of pork chops and some bone-in chicken breasts in my freezers - both things that I thought we had eaten all of, and neither thing looks like they have any freezer burn, so bonus! I had to have an MRI Wednesday and took some Xanax to get me through (claustrophobia). I wanted something easy for dinner that night and found some spaghetti sauce my older daughter had frozen, along with a loaf of French bread from Sam's, so it was a good week of freezer finds for me.

    3. Oh man, I feel for you on the MRI with claustrophobia. I had to have an MRI in college and never considered myself claustrophobic and it made ME antsy. I can imagine what it is like for people who are scared of closed in spaces naturally. Glad you had Xanax to get you through that! Hope everything comes out okay on the diagnosis end too.

      I'm going to wrap individual cookie bars per yours and Rhonda's recommend and put them in the freezer. Between leftover birthday cake, leftover cookies that my daughter's class didn't eat and then the cookie bars, we are officially drowning in sweets right now *laugh*.

    4. The left over cookies can also be packaged up and put in the freezer. If you want to make life easier for later, you can portion them in baggies, or just package them up in a container to pull as needed later. On those days when your son doesn't sleep or you're sick, it will really help to have something easy to pull from the freezer for desert or bagged lunches!

  2. I'm so glad your chicken experiment turned out so well! I have been trying to eat down our freezer stores as well. I think I mentioned my big plan for tacos this week using random beef and turkey patties that have been lingering. I also have some chicken thighs in the freezer that have been around for quite some time and I am going to cook those, shred them and make chicken and biscuits (so good). This week I used up some cube steaks that I'd bought last fall and made them smothered-style, with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes. I also had some sweet potatoes sitting around that I bought over the holidays. I made a new-to-us recipe for sweet potato and red bean chili. It's from a vegetarian slow cooker cookbook and it turned out to be so yummy! I love it when new recipes aren't just good, they totally knock your socks off. :) I've been meaning to make that chocolate rice pudding you mentioned a couple of weeks ago, just haven't gotten around to it yet.

    Great job on sticking to your grocery budget!! I'm pushing myself to do the same, as January was a high spending month just because I didn't pay attention.

    1. It is amazing how quickly things go awry when you don't keep track isn't it? It happens to everyone.

      I am impressed with your ability to keep sweet potatoes for so long! I buy a sweet potato, look at it sideways and it's developing bad spots on me *laugh*. I always just buy exactly how much I need for a particular recipe or something as a result.

      That rice pudding is SO good. I am avoiding making it too often as I eat way too much of it *laugh*.

  3. I can't wait to try your Irish Soda Bread recipe. I'm not sure how well it will work with my gluten free flour mix, but I'm going to try. I found out last week that I'm also allergic to bakers yeast, among others. Really messing up our grocery budget as there is so much I can no longer eat.

    1. You could also try bannock as an alternative. It is a traditional bread that has been around for hundreds of years and does not use yeast. I did a quick check on Pinterest for a gluten free and found this link for you:

      Hope this might be helpful to you!

  4. Thank you so much Rhonda!! I've been overwhelmed to say the least. I've had the gluten free part down for years now, but when they added potatoes, tomatoes, pepper, garlic, Baker's yeast and cocoa, it's been bad.

    1. Your quite welcome. Bannock tastes more like a tea biscuit than a yeast type bread. But when you have grown up eating bread and suddenly that is taken away, anything that tastes similar is a welcome addition to the diet!

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  6. We have eaten quite a bit of meat, fruit and veggies from the freezer this week. I think I've now finished up all the white fish I own. We had fish nuggets last night, with a cornflake coating. They were good, and the cornflakes were needing to go as well.

    I've been transferring items into the cleaned freezer and hope to defrost another one this weekend.
    I want to keep doing that until they are all cleaned and I can leave the last one empty and turn it off.