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Menu Plan Monday ~ Jan 25, 2010

by Shawanda Greene

Post image for Menu Plan Monday ~ Jan 25, 2010

There are two things I’m loving right now: my slow cooker and beans. Both make the frugal life worth living.

A few years ago, I tried to save money by substituting T-bone steak with chuck steak. At the time, I thought you cooked both cuts of beef the same. So, I seasoned the chuck steak and fried it on the stove. What a mistake. There was no salvaging that disaster. Not even the powerful jaws of a pit bull could break that meat down it was so tough.

A couple years passed before I decided to try my hand at preparing chuck beef again. My past failure served as a learning experience. It wasn’t until recently I realized tough cuts are no match for the tenderizing, deliciofying slow cooker. No words in the English language can adequately describe the emotions that welled up inside of me when I discovered I wasn’t relegated to eating $5 per pound beef for the rest of my life. God bless you inventor of the slow cooker.

In case you’re wondering, I still haven’t cooked any beans from scratch. The canned varieties are so convenient, nutritious and delicious. I even managed to snag a few cans of white beans from Harris Teeter for $0.67 each.

Earlier today, I pulled everything out of my pantry in preparation for an organization voyage I’m about to embark on. As a result, I noticed my bean collection is piling up. I’m going to do something about that this week.

Monday/Tuesday – Beef Stew with Carrots & Mushrooms

Wednesday/Thursday – Oven-Fried Chicken Chimichangas

Friday/Saturday – Chili with Black, Pinto & Kidney Beans

Sunday – Red Baron Pepperoni Pizza (Bought for $1.75 per box after discount and coupon. Hehehe.)

Check out other options on Menu Plan Monday at I’m an Organizing Junkie.

Is there a particular kitchen gadget or food you’d recommend to someone who’s new to frugal cooking?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Noelle January 25, 2010 at 4:20 AM

I love my slow cooker for beef, too!
I was buying london broil at the market and an older woman asked me how I prepare it. She was eyeing the great sale, but wasn't sure what to do with the meat. I confessed, I just put it in my slow cooker! She was so excited and grabbed a package at the great price!

I buy canned beans when they are on sale, but every so often we run out and if there's no great sale, I'll buy the dry beans. I then make a huge batch of them (aka – all I've purchased) and freeze them in portions for later use.

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Shawanda January 28, 2010 at 4:32 AM

My reply is a little late, but thanks for suggesting freezing beans. I think you're about the third or fourth person to say that. I figured there must be something to it.

So, I made Pinto beans in my slow cooker for the first time yesterday. It was my second time ever trying to cook dry beans. I soaked them for at least 6 hours, then cooked them on low for 8.5 hours. I let them cool to room temperature, then I froze them. A friend asked me why I cooked beans just to freeze them. You don't wait until you get off work to prepare a dish that takes over 14 hours to prep and cook. Not if you want to eat that day anyway. Next time, I'll reduce the cook time to 7.5 or 8 hours. I kinda want a firmer bean.

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Money Funk January 25, 2010 at 4:26 AM

Let me know how those chimichangas come out! I've been wanting to try making some. However, I am trying a chicken tamale casserole this week – sounds super yummy!

New to frugal cooking – means probably buying/cooking a lot of whole foods – legumes, veggies, cuts of meat… My advice – buy a really good knife. My husband and I spent about $50 to buy a 7" Santuko Knife with the 4 1/2" pairing knife. And I use it quite frequently. Not frugal at first, but really pays off.

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Shawanda January 28, 2010 at 4:23 AM

They turned out great, but I modified the recipe. Here's a brief recap of what I did.

I used yellow onions instead of green onions. Added about a clove or two of garlic. Fried them in a pan with a bit of olive oil. Added raw salted and peppered chicken, then cumin, then oregano. The Pace Picante sauce was not on sale and I wasn't about to spend $4 on an entire jar so I used Tostitos medium salsa instead. Transfered ingredients to the slow cooker and cooked on low for two hours.

What's interesting is that I don't think I made chimichangas as much as I made burritos. I took a tortilla to work, with some shredded cheese,and the chicken mixture I'd prepared, and assemble what was basically a burrito at lunch.

Maybe I can add some of those pinto beans I made in the slow cooker yesterday. Hmm.

I'll try my hand at oven-fried chimichangas this week. There's a lot of chicken left.

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Lora January 25, 2010 at 5:48 AM

Having canned beans on hand is great and I always try to have a few, but dried beans are so easy. Don't be intimidated by them. And they're incredibly cheap! My family loves a good ol' pot of pinto beans with cornbread. I put them in the slow cooker the night before (after rinsing them well) with the pot about 3/4 full of water and turn it on low. The next day I might add in some ham or bacon or just a tbls. of bacon grease and let them cook on low till dinner time. Don't add salt until the last 1/2 hour or so of cooking~it supposedly makes the beans tough. Bake up some cornbread and you've got yourself one easy meal. You didn't have to do anything all day long! You can use this same method for lots of other dried beans or peas.

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Shawanda January 26, 2010 at 5:41 AM

Pinto beans are great. I always get two spoonfuls with my Chipotle barbacoa bowl. About a week or so ago, I cooked an entire pack of bacon and saved the grease. I'd seen a few recipes I wanted to try call for it and didn't have any on hand. Now, I have it to put in pinto beans.

I also found this article from the slow cooker lady: Cooking Dried Beans in the Slow Cooker I'm feeling braver already. I'll soak them tonight, then put them in the slow cooker before heading off to work tomorrow.

Thanks for the tips!

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FinEngr January 25, 2010 at 6:03 PM

I wanted to mostly focus my attention on the PF articles, but I had to comment on this.

FOOD PROCESSOR. I make my own hummus, and it is unbelievably cheaper than buying it in the store.

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Shawanda January 28, 2010 at 4:13 AM

This is a personal finance article. I started menu planning to reduce my food budget. Poor meal planning is bad for your wallet and your waistline.

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bloominglater January 25, 2010 at 10:47 PM

OMG! i used my slow cooker for the first time yesterday and made the most YUMMIEST roast beef ever! so, okay – it wasn't it a roast – it was a few slices of tenderloin that i cooked for four hours with onions – but it was soooo GOOD! i love, love the crockpot!

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Shawanda January 26, 2010 at 5:45 AM

Isn't the slow cooker wonderful? I got it at the right time in my life. Before, I would've been all excited about my new kitchen gadget and then I would've proceeded to not use it. You can cook stews on the stove, but for some reason I just feel like stuff cooked on the stove shouldn't take hours. With "slow" directly in the name, expectations for a quick meal are effectively managed.

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Vikki January 25, 2010 at 8:08 PM

I too love to toss a cheap roast into the crock and have it falling apart in a few hours!

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Shawanda January 26, 2010 at 5:48 AM

I haven't tried a roast. I'm not ready for a big hunk of meat just yet. Stew beef is like my introduction to roasts. Although stew beef is nothing but a roast cut into pieces. Go figure.

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Tracy January 26, 2010 at 8:30 PM

Okay, you got my attention. I just got a slow cooker last month and haven't explored all it's uses yet, but I am excited about the possibilities. I hadn't thought of using it for beef at all. Hmmmm

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Shawanda January 28, 2010 at 4:08 AM

I'd highly recommend it. I was sold after I discovered it could tenderize cheap, tough cuts of beef.

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Stephanie January 27, 2010 at 6:29 PM

Would list my slow cooker on the must haves for being stranded on a desserted island! I try to use mine 2 or more times a week. Whole chickens do really well in them, and you have leftovers for casseroles, enchiladas, or whatever. Welcome to the club!

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Shawanda January 28, 2010 at 4:11 AM

Thank you! I modified the Chimichanga recipe to cook the chicken in the slow cooker. I think I'm going to ask myself before I cook any meal, "how can I use my slow cooker to make this."

I must be becoming a better cook as a result of it because my coworkers are always commenting on how good my food smells.

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Anonymous D. January 28, 2010 at 8:13 AM
Anonymous D. January 28, 2010 at 8:11 AM

Another recommendation is to purchase a rice cooker. You can get a relatively small cheap one at Target or Walmart from less than $20. My husband and I eat rice virtually everyday and I've used rice to stretch meals. If I'm sort on eggs, I'll toss half a cup or more of cooked rice to stretch scrambled eggs. If I have some ground beef, onions and bell peppers, I'll saute and brown the peppers, onions and beef (then drain) and "stir-fry" in some rice and season to taste.

With my slow-cooker, I often make beef brisket with cabbage. Get a piece of brisket (some come with seasoning packs), a head of cabbage, some onions, carrots. Add a little water and seasoning (if it doesn't come with a seasoning packet). Cook low for 8 to 10 hours.

Another thing I do is bulk cook my lunches. Instead of paying $3-$4 per frozen meal, I spend the day Sunday cooking and freezer the meals in a generic Gladware container. I made some mushroom-onion pork chops last week in my slow cooker. Took a can of cream of mushroom soup, sliced onion, bell peppers, pork chops and salt and pepper. Slow cook for 4 to 6 hours. Made a batch of brown rice. In each container, I put one chop, 1 cup of rice and 1 cup of frozen (not cooked) vegetables with a pat of margarine. At work, heat the meal up for 3-5 minutes in the microwave. The steam from the container cooks the vegetables and heats the entree. Takes me all of 5 minutes to put everything in the slow cooker and another 15-20 minutes to cook a batch of rice. To make a week's worth of this meal, I spent about $8 on a bulk pack of pork chops, $1.50 on a can of soup, $1-2 on onions and bell peppers and $1.50 on a 4 pack of generic Gladware containers (had a store coupon).

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TheyCallMeCheap January 29, 2010 at 1:08 AM

That's great information. Oddly enough, I just learned how to cook rice about 2 years ago. It may not have even been that long ago. I had a rice cooker too. I might have tried using it once, then gave up. The rice was still crunchy. Not sure what went wrong, but it was probably the rice cooker.

I've heard of beef brisket, but I've never cooked it. I just did a quick Google search to see what it is. Sounds perfect for the slow cooker since it's one of the toughest cuts of beef.

I recently purchased a bunch of storage containers in anticipation of cooking more at home as well as freezing meals. My food budget still isn't where I want it to be, but I'm learning. Toy Lady at Dark Side of the Fridge has a blog post on preparing and freezing burritos:
http://darksideofthefridge.wordpress.com/2010/01/

Can't wait to try them with some refried beans.

I hadn't really thought of it, but pork chops sound good in the slow cooker. I think I tried to cook some on the stove a few months ago using a recipe from Real Simple magazine and they were not delicious. I'm sure they'll turn out better in the slow cooker.

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Shawanda January 29, 2010 at 1:10 AM

That's great information. Oddly enough, I just learned how to cook rice about 2 years ago. It may not have even been that long ago. I had a rice cooker too. I might have tried using it once, then gave up. The rice was still crunchy. Not sure what went wrong, but it was probably the rice cooker.

I've heard of beef brisket, but I've never cooked it. I just did a quick Google search to see what it is. Sounds perfect for the slow cooker since it's one of the toughest cuts of beef.

I recently purchased a bunch of storage containers in anticipation of cooking more at home as well as freezing meals. My food budget still isn't where I want it to be, but I'm learning. Toy Lady at Dark Side of the Fridge has a blog post on preparing and freezing burritos:
http://darksideofthefridge.wordpress.com/2010/01/

Can't wait to try them with some refried beans.

I hadn't really thought of it, but pork chops sound good in the slow cooker. I think I tried to cook some on the stove a few months ago using a recipe from Real Simple magazine and they were not delicious. I'm sure they'll turn out better in the slow cooker.

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Anne February 7, 2010 at 3:27 AM

I also suggest a pressure cooker. I have an old one that my mom used to use and it makes stew or a pot roast in an hour, and its quite tender. Its nice for when I get home from work and have forgotten to plan anything. I also agree with the poster who suggested good knives. A good saute or frying pan is essential as well. Oh, and a good stock pot. I love to buy chickens when they're on sale, cook them up and save the meat for recipes, and the broth for soups or cooking. All of it freezes very well. Love your blog! Keep up the good work!

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Shawanda February 7, 2010 at 4:16 AM

Thanks, Anne. I have a brand new pressure cooker that's been sitting in my trunk for I don't know how long. I keep forgetting to drop it off at the thrift store. I bought it over two years ago after a friend kept raving about how great her pressure cooker was. I felt the instructions were too complicated so I just let it sit and sit. My friend later told me I should've bought an electric one like hers.

I'll keep a look out for an inexpensive electric one. I love the slow cooker for tenderizing tougher cuts, but it does cook – you know – slow.

I've been looking for some good pots and pans. I don't have a large frying pan. I'm thinking I should check out the thrift store for an inexpensive, seasoned, cast iron skillet. That's probably the most economical option. Plus, cast iron pans are durable. My mom has been using the same set since I was born.

Love the tip on buying inexpensive chickens. I never know what to do with all the meat that goes on sale. I think learning how to cook different varieties of food can save a ton of money. You're not just limited to the same thing.

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