Posts tagged ‘recession cooking’

Orange chicken, on a budget

So this meal isn’t as much of a bargain meal as my other recession cooking posts (it’s hard to make every meal for less than $1 a serving). However, this still fits with the theme for the following reasons:

– Orange Chicken with fried rice from Panda Express is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
– We went to Panda Express at least twice a month, at $15 or so per visit.
– With the ban on dining out, there has been no Orange Chicken in our lives, nor any Chinese.
– This is a lot cheaper than going to Panda.

What you need for 8 servings:

1 bottle of Orange Chicken sauce from Panda Express (they sell this at HyVee and WalMart and inside of Panda Express). Someday I will figure out how to make this sauce and it will be even cheaper. One bottle is enough to make about 8 servings of a meal.

1 bag of frozen popcorn chicken (or you can use cooked chicken breasts if you want to be healthy – but that’s not what orange chicken is about :)) – should be enough to make 8 servings

1 onion, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

2 green, red, or yellow peppers chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

1 can pineapple, drained, 1/2 of liquid reserved

4 tablespoons sesame oil, divided

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tsp Sriracha

2 cups uncooked white instant rice

3 eggs

1/2 cup frozen peas

For meat and veggie mixture:

Heat pan to medium high heat. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of sesame oil on the bottom. Throw in peppers and onions, cook for about 2 minutes. Then add pineapple and 1/2 can of pineapple juice, bottle of Orange Chicken sauce from Panda, sriracha and soy sauce. Stir until well blended. Throw in popcorn chicken and cook a couple of minutes until chicken is warm, stirring constantly to ensure chicken is coated. Turn burner to low and set aside while you prepare your fried rice.

Prepare instant rice per package instructions. (To make 8 servings, you want at least 4 cups prepared rice at the end)

In large wok, pour remaining 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, and grease wok. Heat wok until almost sizzling. Dump in rice and peas. Gently push rice around, ensuring all sides get ‘fried’. Drizzle with soy sauce and additional sesame oil to taste. Push rice to one side of wok. Crack three eggs in walk and scramble, cutting into smaller pieces to incorporate into the rice. Mix altogether for one more minute of frying.

Serve in bowl with rice on bottom and mixture on top. Not quite as good as takeout (partially because you have to do the dishes after), but delicious and cheap!

Here’s the breakdown:

1 bottle Orange Chicken sauce: About $5.00, depending on your store.
1 bag of popcorn chicken: About $5, depending on your store/brand
1 onion: About 25 cents (when purchased as part of a 2 pound bag from Aldi. I ❤ Aldi)
2 peppers: $1 (when purchased as part of a 3 pack from Aldi)
1 can of pineapple chunks: 80 cents
Rice: $1
3 eggs: 25 cents
Peas: 40 cents
Sesame oil: 20 cents
Soy sauce: 10 cents
Sriracha: 5 cents

Total: $14.05 for 8 servings, or about $1.75 per serving. Not a bargain but compared to the about $45 it would cost for 8 bowls of orange chicken from Panda Express, a damn good deal.

Some day, I will figure out how to make my own sauce and shave another $4 or so off of this, but for now, I am thankful to have a reasonable answer to my Chinese takeout cravings.


November 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm Leave a comment

Recession cooking part 7, the potato edition

Here’s another easy potato recipe that takes advantage of leftover bacon, sour cream and green onions from the previous recipe, as well as potatoes, and the cheapest protein: eggs.

Potato egg casserole:

The night before, chop 6 large potatoes into small chunks (home style hashbrown size or a bit larger)
Place in large bag with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and the following seasonings to taste: coarse salt, black pepper, garlic powder, rosemary. Toss potatoes in bag until coated, put in refrigerator overnight.

The next day, roast potatoes at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until cooked all the way through, and slightly crunchy.

While potatoes are cooking, fry remaining package of bacon (about 12-16 pieces) and chop into bite-sized pieces. Chop remaining package of green onions thinly. In separate bowl, mix 10 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup sour cream and salt, black pepper and rosemary until eggs are separated in mixture.

In greased 9X13 pan, layer potatoes, bacon and green onions.  Pour egg mixture over top, covering all potatoes. Top with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Serve alongside some fresh fruit, for this equation we’ll use apples.

Total ingredients, cost:
6 large potatoes: 75 cents
Olive oil: 10 cents
Seasonings: 10 cents
Bacon: $2
3/4 package green onions: 75 cents
10 eggs: $1
1 cup of milk: 30 cents
1/2 cup sour cream: 40 cents
1 cup cheddar cheese: 75 cents

6 apples, halved: $3

Total: $9.15 for 12 servings, or 76 cents a serving.

October 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm Leave a comment

Recession cooking part 6, the potato edition

Maybe it’s the Irish side of me, but when times are tough I always turn to potato dishes as a grocery cost saver. On a regular basis, a 5 pound bag of potatoes will be on sale for $2 or less, and for a family of 2 provide enough for several meals. Here is one example, stay tuned this week for more examples to use the rest of your potatoes:

1. Twice baked potatoes


6 large baking potatoes
1/8 cup olive oil
Coarse sea salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons melted margarine
3 sprigs green onions, finely chopped
4 pieces of bacon, cooked and chopped
1/4 cup precooked chicken (see previous posts)
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper

Wash potatoes, pat dry. Rub skin of potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt. Place potatoes on greased baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes.
Remove potatoes from oven, cut each in half down the long way. Scoop out inner potato into bowl, leaving skin in tact. Mix 1/4 cup cheddar cheese, melted butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon, green onions and chicken in bowl, season to taste.
Place mixture inside potato skins, and top with remaining cheddar cheese. Return to oven at 400 degrees until cheddar is melted and potatoes start to turn golden (about 10-15 minutes).

Makes 12 potato skin halves, or 6 servings. Serve alongside a small side salad. (Divide 1 bag baby spinach leaves 6 ways, top with dressing)

6 large baking potatoes: 75 cents
Olive oil: 10 cents
Cheddar cheese: 50 cents
Sour cream: 20 cents
Margarine: 10 cents
Green onions: 15 cents
Bacon: 50 cents
Chicken: 50 cents
Spices: 5 cents
Bag of spinach: $2.50
Dressing: 50 cents
Total: $5.85 for 6 servings, or 98 cents a serving

October 26, 2010 at 6:46 pm 2 comments

Recession cooking, part 5

In my last post, I wrote about a cheap way to have some precooked chicken on hand that’s much cheaper than buying the prebagged stuff. And the best news? You now have fodder for having several cheap, easy to prepare meals throughout the week.

Here’s a few ideas to use up your supply:

1. Serves 2-4: Chicken and noodles: Pour mason jar of chicken stock into pot on medium. Add 1 cup of chicken, 1/4 cup frozen corn, 1/4 cup carrots, 1/4 cup peas, and 1/2 a bag of egg noodles. Cook until noodles and vegetables are tender = yummy chicken noodle soup. Total cost: Stock: 25 cents, 50 cents for chicken, $1 for 1/2 bag egg noodles, frozen vegetables total: about 50 cents. Total: $2.25, or about 56 cents a serving.

2. (Serves 2) Asian Chicken salad: 2 heaping cups of spinach, 1 cup of chicken, 1 small can of mandarin oranges, 1/2 a package of uncooked Oriental flavored ramen noodles, crushed, 2 stalks of celery, chopped, and 2 sprigs green onion, chopped. Dressing: Flavor packet from ramen noodles, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/8 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 tablespoons white rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons sugar, whipped. Toss with salad. Total: Spinach: $1, chicken 50 cents, 50 cents mandarin oranges, 15 cents ramen noodles, 20 cents celery, 10 cents green onions, 20 cents vegetable oil, 20 cents olive oil, 10 cents sesame oil, 5 cents soy sauce, 10 cents vinegar, 5 cents sugar. Total: $3.15, or about $1.58 per serving.

3. Serves 6-8: Chicken mushroom pasta: Mix off-brand mushroom marinara sauce, and off-brand mushroom Alfredo sauce in sauce pan. Mix in 1 cup of chicken, chopped into small pieces. Mix in 1 cup frozen peas. Mix in 3 slices of bacon, chopped. In separate pot, cook one box of whole wheat pasta of your choice. Drain water off pasta, return to noodle pot, and stir in sauce mixture. Ladle into bowls, and top with a sprinkle of parmesean or shredded mozzarella cheese. Cost: $1 for marinara, $2 for Alfredo, 50 cents for chicken, 50 cents for frozen peas, 20 cents for bacon, $1.20 for past, 75 cents for cheese. Total: $6.15, or 77 cents – $1.02 per serving.

4. Serves 2: Barbecue chicken sandwiches: 1 cup shredded chicken, mixed with 1/4 cup sweet barbecue sauce (my favorite is Honey KC Masterpiece). Coleslaw: 1 cup cabbage mixed with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp white vinegar, 1 tsp sugar. Serve on sandwich bread topped with bread and butter pickles, cheddar cheese and cabbage. Serve with sliced apples. Total cost: 50 cents chicken, 30 cents barbecue sauce, 25 cents for cabbage, 15 cents for oils/vinegars, 20 cents for pickles, 40 cents for cheese, 30 cents bread, $1 for 2 apples. Total: $3.10 for 2, or $1.55 per person.

October 18, 2010 at 7:59 pm 1 comment

Recession cooking, part 4

This isn’t so much a recipe as a suggestion on how to stock your fridge for a week’s worth of recipes at a bargain price.

First of all, this starts with anytime you have pieces of vegetables that would otherwise go down the garbage disposal. The tops of carrots, carrot peels, the bottom end of celery, the last few remaining mushrooms, spinach leaves, part of an onion, etc., that you have when cooking are the perfect flavoring for cooking broth. Fill a ziplock bag with these odds and ends throughout your cooking and keep in a freezer for later use.

Secondly, we used to buy precooked chicken on a regular basis to have on hand for a few meals. (Salad toppers, quesadilla fillers, etc.) While super easy, it was very pricy. At $2.50 – $3 for 6 ounces of cubed meat (that let’s be honest, looked pretty suspect), this was no longer in our budget. For just a little more money, you can quadruple the amount of meat and also create enough stock to make soup 2-3 times or flavor things like rice, mashed potatoes, and more.

Here’s all you do: Buy a whole, uncooked chicken. Hy-Vee here regularly runs them on sale for 89 cents a pound, and we will buy 2 or 3 then and stick in the freezer. A whole chicken runs about $4 when on sale.

Put a large strainer inside a large stock pot. Place uncooked chicken in strainer, and place frozen vegetables from your freezer bag around the chicken. Fill with water until water covers chicken by an inch or two. (If pot isn’t large enough for this to happen, you will just have to continually rotate your chicken while cooking) Season water with a tablespoon of salt, 1/2 tablespoon of black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder. Place stock pot on high heat until water begins to boil, then reduce to medium heat to keep water from boiling over. Continue to cook at  medium heat, slow boil, for 2 hours.

Lift chicken out of water and place on large platter. DO NOT DISCARD WATER OR REMOVE STRAINER/VEGETABLES, leave on stove top on medium heat.

Let chicken cool for 10 minutes or until cool enough to touch without burning your fingers. Pick chicken off bone (should come off easily. If not, place back in water and boil longer), place in containers to place in fridge. Depending on the size of the chicken, for our family of 2, this usually creates enough chicken to make 3-4 meals (barbecue chicken sandwiches, chicken to top salads, chicken in baked pasta, etc.), or about 6-8 total servings. Place bones, chicken skin in separate bowl.

Discard 1/2 of chicken skin, put remaining 1/2 back in strainer, along with all bones from the chicken. Add water until large stock pot is approximately 3/4 full. Reseason with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder to taste. (Also paprika or any other tasty items you have)

Boil until liquid reduces in pot by half, usually about 4 hours. At this point, remove strainer from stock pot (with all of the bones, skin and vegetable peels still in it), leaving you only broth in stock pot. Remove broth from heat and let cool for 15-20 minutes until stock is no longer boiling. Pour into glass mason jars or some other type of container. This usually makes enough for us to have 3 32 ounce jars of stock, the equivalent of about 8 normal cans of chicken stock.

Let stock sit in fridge overnight. Skim off any fat that solidifies on the surface in the morning. (If you had a fatty chicken, your broth might have a little ‘wiggle’ to it instead of being crystal clear like store bought. Don’t worry, it just means it’s extra tasty. When heated, the consistency is the same)  If you leave enough room at the top of the mason jar, you can store in the freezer for up to 4 months, or you can store containers in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

So to recap, for a $4 investment in one whole chicken you will yield:

6-8 servings of protein

The equivalent of 8 cans of chicken broth


That’s like paying 25 cents per serving of protein and 25 cents per can of chicken broth. So as you can see, for a little extra work, you can save a bundle of money! Not to mention, this chicken broth will make you never go back to store bought again.

October 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm Leave a comment

Recession cooking, part 3

One of our favorite meals to go out for in St. Joe is the buffalo chicken wrap at Cheddar’s. It’s huge, and one order feeds both of us for two meals. (At $8, that’s not a bad price) However, the catch is the soda, the tips, etc. We still walk out spending $15 or so. Needless to say, that’s out of the picture now.

So it was up to me to figure out how to recreate it. And, unlike some of our favorite Chinese dishes, this was a cinch to figure out, cheap, and best yet – takes only 15 minutes or less to create.

We got a huge bag of buffalo chicken tenders on sale at Target one day. There’s enough in the bag for about 10 wrap meals, and it only cost $6.

Here’s all you need to serve 2:

2 large buffalo chicken tenders (Or use leftover shredded chicken, or regular chicken tenders, plus a drizzle of hot sauce. Same same)
2 large tortillas (cheddar-flavored wrap tortillas if you can find them, if not, regular burrito tortillas will do)
1 cup shredded cabbage (coleslaw mix is fine)
1/3 cup shredded cheddar
About 8-10 bread and butter pickles (I prefer my homemade pickles, which are crunchy and thicker than store bought. But store bought is fine, too.)
4 tbsp low or no fat ranch dressing

Lay out tortillas. Cut chicken tenders in half, lay lengthwise down tortilla length. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup cabbage on each tortilla, and 1/6 cup cheddar cheese on each. Layer pickles down on top of chicken tenders for the length of the wrap. Add extra hot sauce if desired (not necessary if you bought buffalo chicken strips). Roll tightly, like a burrito. Serve with a ramekin of 1-2 tbsp ranch for dipping.

Total cost for the meal:
33 cents for 2 large tortillas
60 cents for chicken
25 cents for coleslaw mix
15 cents for ranch dressing
33 cents for cheddar cheese
25 cents for pickles

Total cost: $1.91 for 2 wraps

Serve with chips, or potato salad, or some fresh fruit. We served with sliced apples the other day, which put the total cost for two people to about $3, or $1.50 a piece.

October 14, 2010 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

Recession cooking, part 2

Everyone knows soup is a cheap way to make a meal that can feed lots of people. The catch is coming up with a filling soup that also meets your budget requirements. The following recipe is very filling, and is large enough to serve a crowd of 8-12 (or two people multiple times). Plus, it’s the perfect way to use up leftovers in your freezer (we used leftover chicken plucked off a rotisserie chicken, the remnants of bags of frozen vegetables, chicken stock made from leftover chicken bones, 1/2 of an onion that remained and the last of a bag of baby carrots)


4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
4 cups milk
3 cups homemade chicken broth (or, lacking that, 3 cups ultra-low sodium chicken broth)
1 cup uncooked white minute rice
1.5 cups precooked chicken cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup onions
1/2 cup celery, optional
3 cups frozen diced hashbrowns
Salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powder to taste


In large stock pot, heat butter until melted. Slowly stir in flour one tablespoon at a time and mix, until all flour has been added. Cook on medium while constantly stirring for 3-4 minutes – this will create your roux, which will give your soup an amazing texture.
Reduce heat to low, and add in carrots, celery and onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the vegetables start to sweat.
At this point, slowly add in milk, stirring constantly and cook until milk begins to become a smooth, thick mixture  (the consistency of latex paint). Turn heat to medium. Add chicken broth, remaining vegetables and meat. Stir well. Season to taste with seasonings (we used about 1.5 tbsp salt, if you use canned broth you may use considerably less, 1 tbsp pepper, and 1/2 tbsp garlic and onion powder). Once seasoned to your liking, add cup of rice, and continue stirring occasionally until rice has reached desired tenderness (approximately 15 minutes).

This makes a very thick and filling stew. We served with corn muffins made from Jiffy corn muffin mix, which is a bargain and tasty.

Total cost:
4 tbsp margarine/butter – about 10 cents
4 tbsp flour – about 5 cents
4 cups milk – 1.50
3 cups chicken broth – free! (Made from bones that would have otherwise been thrown away)
1 cup minute rice – 25 cents
1.5 cups cooked chicken, or about 1/3 of a chicken – $1
1 cup frozen peas – 25 cents
1 cup frozen carrots – 25 cents
1 cup frozen corn – 25 cents
1/2 onion – 5o cents
1/2 cup celery – 20 cents
3 cups hashbrowns – 75 cents

One box Jiffy corn muffin mix – 40 cents
2 eggs – 20 cents
Small amount of oil – 25 cents

Total: $5.95 for 9 servings, or 66 cents a serving



October 10, 2010 at 5:37 pm 2 comments

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About me

My name is Mallory Murray and I have a love of all things oldfashioned. I'm a modern day feminist who also adores Martha Stewart. Read on for my sewing, crochet, cooking, gardening, quilting and crafting projects. I am the chief officer of marketing and design at Northwest Missouri State University, so expect the occasional random post about marketing/universities/design. I dream of a hobby farm with baby doll sheep, a sheep dog, a small flock of chickens, and other animals to be announced. I'm also a Pitt State grad, football lover, HGTV addict and obsessed with the color aqua.

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