Family of N

The Bean Project

Posted in Food, Frugality by Laura on February 18, 2010

When the Professor and I were first married, we thought we were doing the frugal thing by bringing leftovers when we ate lunches at school and work. After all, buying food at the cafeteria would cost some $5.00 when our meals typically came out to $1.00-$1.50 per serving. We were saving up to $4.00!

I imagine we could slim down our dinner costs by using less meat or by making our cheaper meals more often, but we are going to pick the low-hanging fruit first: we can do much better for lunches — as in, a quarter per serving or less. The Professor is happy to eat sandwiches, so he can easily switch to grilled cheese when he is home at lunchtime and peanut butter when he is out. But I get tired of meatless sandwiches quickly, and I do tend to snack more in the afternoon when that is my lunch.

At this point, my mom and dad have license to point out how spoiled I am. My mom’s lunch is usually little more than a hard-boiled egg, and my dad’s is typically based around yogurt. My dad survived almost exclusively on peanut butter sandwiches in college. (I think my mom survived on ice cream for lunch in high school…)

So yes, I am spoiled, but I do rather prefer a hot lunch, even in the summertime. So to curb my expensive tastes, I am learning to cook beans for my lunches. The Professor, poor soul, doesn’t really like beans, so I have never bothered to learn how to cook them. But now I have a reason to, and in the coming weeks I am purposing to build a repertoire of bean (and lentil!) recipes, with Alton Brown, Debora Madison, and America’s Test Kitchen as my advisors. I expect that this will bring the cost of my lunches down closer to $0.15 per serving, saving us around $30 a month.

As I find recipes I like, I will be sharing them here for you to enjoy as well. So far, I have made chilli lentils and curried lentils. (Must. remember. to. soak. beans. next. time.) Served over rice, these have been every bit as filling as my dinner leftovers were, and I still get to enjoy my meaty, cheesy meals with the Professor and Savannah when I get home. In the coming weeks, I plan to make vegetarian gumbo, basic black beans, and baked beans.

What are your favorite bean dishes?


5 Reasons to Keep Chicken Stock Stocked

Posted in Food, Frugality by Laura on January 11, 2010

The Professor and I roast whole chickens regularly, more as an excuse to make mashed potatoes than for the sake of the meat. After one of these meals, no mater how exhausted I am, I always force myself to stick the carcass in our slow cooker to make stock.* This means we always have homemade stock on hand.

Now, I’m not going to spend this post telling you why you should make your own stock. (Although, did you catch that this stock was made from chicken bones I was going to throw away anyway — as in, virtually free? At the grocery store, that much stock would cost you around $7!)

But, ahem, I’m not going to tell you that in this post. This post is an ode to chicken stock in any form, and a reminder to me that our freezer (or pantry, if necessary) should never be lacking this staple.

    1. Together with a frozen package of cooked, shredded chicken, it makes Chicken n’ Dumplings a weeknight meal.
    2. Together with a frozen package of cooked, shredded chicken, makes chicken vegetable soup** as sophisticated a culinary endeavour as a dump cake.
    3. Makes egg-drop soup*** the go-to elixir for anyone in the house who gets sick.
    4. You can have gravy**** with those mashed potatoes.
    5. You can use some of the stock in a yummy dressing to go with the roast chicken. I use Harmony’s recipe.

Below are my recipes from the easy dishes made with chicken stock:

*Overnight Chicken Stock
To a chicken carcass, add 8 cups of water, a couple bay leaves, some peppercorns, and remnants of onion, celery, or carrot if you have any. I like to cut up the bones some and add vinegar if I remember — this helps the bones release all those healthy nutrients. Then set the pot to low and forget about it till morning. (At which point, the overpowering smell of rich chicken stock will remind you again.) Strain and freeze.
**Might-As-Well-Be-Dump-Cake Chicken Vegetable Soup
Combine chicken, 6 cups stock, 6 cups tomato juice, and frozen soup veggies in stockpot or slow cooker. Salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Cook for 2-10 hours.
***Egg-Drop Soup
Heat 6 cups chicken stock; season with salt, pepper, soy sauce, ginger, garlic powder, onion powder, and sesame oil if you have it. Beat 4 or 5 eggs in a separate bowl. When the stock reaches a boil, stir in eggs using swift strokes.
****Rich Chicken Gravy
If you scatter onion slices around your roast chicken before putting it in the oven, the roast chicken drippings make it a rich gravy. Remove all but a 2 Tablespoons of drippings from the roasting pan. Over high heat, mix 2 Tablespoons flour into the drippings in the roasting pan. Cook for a few minutes; you want the flour to brown some. Add 1 cup chicken stock, stirring over high heat till smooth and thick. Season to taste and strain.


Frugal Friday: Homemade Spice Mixes

Posted in Food, Frugality by Laura on January 15, 2009


Many of us aren’t getting the full value out of our spice collections. Our pantries have everything we need to season our foods, but we instead opt to buy spice packets every week so we can just dump the spices in the pan and be done with it. After all, who has time to get out the measuring spoons on Taco night?

Okay, well, the Professor and I usually do get out the measuring spoons on Taco night, but I’m not here to tell you that you have to. What I’d like to suggest instead is that you make your own “spice mixes” — homemade versions of things like seasoned salt, taco seasoning, steak seasoning, and stew seasoning. Given how slowly most of us go through those herbs and spices, making homemade mixes will save money otherwise spent on storebought mixes while allowing us to use something that we already own.

Plus, you can cut back on salt if your family needs to, kick the heat up or down in your taco mix depending on tastes, grind whole spices for fresher flavor, and most important to me, leave out anything that contains MSG.

Here are a few that the Family of N enjoys:

Taco Seasoning
1 Tbsp. chili powder
scant 1½ tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. dried oregano
scant ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper

For Tacos: Brown 1 pound ground beef or turkey. Drain. Add seasoning to taste and 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2/3 cup water. Simmer until thickened.

For Chili: Add seasoning as beef is browning.

Beef Stew Seasoning
½ part oregano
1 part basil
2 parts salt
2 parts pepper
2 parts garlic powder
2 parts paprika
1 part celery seed
2 parts onion powder
2 pinches rosemary

We use 1 Tablespoon of this to season a pot of stew.

Seasoning Salt

3 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. celery seed
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. pepper
dash dill

And a new one we tried last night — we sprinkled it on chicken breasts and sauteed them in canola oil. So yummy! I got the recipe for the spice mix from Chef Michele.

Adobo Seasoning (makes 1/2 c.)
3 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin

Use to season your favorite Latin American dishes.

What spice mixes do you use to save time in the kitchen? Try a homemade version and let us know how it goes!

Frugal Friday: DIY Christmas Photo Cards

Posted in Frugality by Laura on December 12, 2008


I didn’t realize until this year what a rip-off “photo cards” are. We decided that since many of our friends hadn’t seen a picture of Baby Savannah, we would include a picture of her with our usual letter and card. I thought it would be festive to use one of those holiday designs on this year’s picture.

But what I want to know is why the photo companies charge $1.00 or more for a “photo card” — which is no different from an ordinary print in their eyes — when a print costs a few cents. That’s some serious markup.

So what do I do? Open my favorite graphics editor (if you don’t have a favorite, try Gimp — it’s free!) and make a simple card myself.

The basic steps I use are:

    1. Create a 4″x6″ image (or 6″x4″ if you prefer landscape), using at least 300 dpi resolution.
    2. Copy and paste your digital photograph into the image. Resize it if necessary.
    3. Now you have a bunch of white space around your photo. Use a flood fill tool to fill it in with pretty solid colors or patterns. Gimp and other image editors have some default patterns, but you can download more for free at places like Deviant Art. (I’m still trying to figure out how to import Photoshop patterns into Gimp… if anyone figures this out, please let me know!) Or you can create your own by drawing dots or lines or whatever in another image that you leave open; usually you can tell your graphics editor to use that image as a pattern when you flood fill.
    4. Add your finishing touches, including some text wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
    5. Send the completed image to your favorite online photo developer.
    • Check before ordering to make sure you don’t miss a coupon code.
    • If you’re going to order a large number of photo cards, you may want to start with one test print before ordering the whole lot.

I got 40 picture cards printed on high-quality photo paper for $8 instead of $40 by doing this. I did the same for my mom and got her 200 for $22 (with a coupon code). Read that again: I could buy 200 for just about half what I would have paid for 40. And I like mine better than the premade ones they offer.

Christmas 2008 Card
Image by Laura