Free Stuff! Your Favorite!

Hey, you guys! I know that you’re starting to wonder if I’m just a funny smell in the basement, but I swear I’m alive and kicking.  Well, alive at least.  Maybe not ‘kicking’ so much as half-heartedly flexing a foot and whinging about wrinkles and sleep deprivation.  That said, I set my heart on writing something for you today and I was flipping through pictures trying to decide between vegan stuffed eggplants and an Asian noodle bowl with steamed halibut, when I realized that I just didn’t have it in me.   Sometimes the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and other times the spirit and the flesh just eye each other warily and then both slump down on the carpet and start to snore.  That would be me right now.

I don’t want to leave you hanging though, so I thought that if I was unwilling to offer up some food for thought the least that I could do is bring you someone who can.  Meet Erin Chase, author of “The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook”.

When we were first contacted and asked if we wanted a copy of this book for a giveaway, I shrugged and said “Sure!”  After all, I like free stuff.  You like free stuff.  This could totally work for all of us.  But then I remembered the Minute Rice Fiasco and I still feel rather awful for disappointing that utterly charming PR lady with such a weak-sauce review.  When this book arrived in the mail I gritted my teeth, gulped down my vodka, and steeled myself to look inside….and was pleasantly surprised.

This book actually delivers.  I started flipping through, possibly pausing to do a quiz (and found out that despite my best intentions I’m still an indiscriminate shopper) and was delighted to see time and money saving tips that made sense, meal plans that were healthy and laden with fiber and vegetables, and time saving tips for Moms on the run.  The recipes are easy to follow, use common ingredients that are easily found in your local grocery store, and look incredibly family friendly.  For example, we have these recipes:

  • Chili Cornbread Cups
  • Meat and Potato Lasagna
  • Taco Macaroni and Cheese
  • Shepherd’s Pie

But we also have:

  • Kusherie (Egyptian lentils)
  • Beef Curry with Raisins
  • Thai Garlic Pork Chops
  • Baked Lime Tilapia

This is 304 pages of soft cover family friendly food at it’s best.  It almost makes me wish that I had kids of my own to experiment on.  Almost, but not quite.  I’m terrified that if I ever start to spawn I’ll end up with little kiddie dictators (“I ONLY EAT THINGS THAT ARE PURPLE!!!”) just to spite me, or out of some sort of karmic intervention for Tina During Adolescence.

But now then, back to the book:

We have tips and tricks for everything from grocery shopping to meal planning, and they’re the kind of straightforward and honest advice that you can actually use.  The recipes are diverse, varied, and I there’s something in there to serve every taste….even for the little people that only eat purple.

The only egregious gripe that I had with this book was the food costing on each recipe.  Look, I understand that I over spend on groceries even though I truck my way through discount grocery stores and hunt down dented cans in the clearance section.  However, in my world, the thought of buying 3 chicken breasts for $2.42 is almost comical.  Just this week I spent $7.64 buying two plump boneless skinless poultry mams, and…those weren’t free range birds, if you know what I mean.    That’s just what they cost. If I was a smarter shopper or privy to some serious rebates, I can possibly see how one could buy groceries for this price, but in the mean time I’m still the $15 Dinner Non-Mom.

Alright, so I’ll stop whining about the price of milk and get back to all that’s good in this world.  Namely, free stuff and cookbooks.

Contest Rules:

We all have some version of an inner cheapskate, or secretly harbor fond memories of that time in University where we were so broke that ketchup soup and stale saltines tasted like manna from the gods.  But now that we’re older and our tastes have matured we have paying jobs, we sometimes lose track of those gloriously frugal dinners we used to feast on and adore.  All that we’re asking you to do is:

Leave us a comment detailing YOUR favorite $5 dinner before February 1, 2010.

Yup.  Seriously, that’s it.  You could own a $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook just in time for Family Day!  The winner will be selected based purely on favoritism and appetite.  Comment away!

  • Pat

    Peanut butter, pickle, and jalapeno sandwich…with a side of garlic crutons.

  • April G.

    It’s not very healthy, but spaghetti with olive oil and red pepper flakes. Nom. Or spaghetti with browned butter and parmesan.

  • Umme Kulsum

    problem is what might cost $5 here might be expensive there! Either way I think beans are the only few things that ARE CHEAP. Chole masala? ( chickpeas, red onion, tomato, spices) or Chana batata?
    Or Hummus (with spicy green chilly sauce) with pita bread ? I know that might not qualify as dinner but hey we do eat it for dinner. So better count it in!!

    MY head seems to revovle only around beans and lentils. Indian Lentils ( I really can’t name all) are are shamelessly cheap too. Once you have the spices, I think the ingredients are rather cheap.

    I don’t know the norm up there, but I think chicken on bone is not so common is it? Whole chicken and boneless chicken is what I hear all the time. Fresh on bone chicken is much cheaper than skinless, boneless breasts or thighs. And then again all you need is the spices, and you will be rolling.

    I again think this doesn’t qualify as dinner, but we have it so count it in! Pita bread with homemade tomato sauce, red onions, green chilly, olives and tomatoes, topped with as little of mozeralla as you can.I Failed the $5 mark here I guess.

    May be we can forget Mozeralla and come back to India to Paneer. Shahi Paneer? Mattar Paneer? Aloo matar Paneer?

  • Jan

    I don’t think I should be in the running for the prize (spread the winning luck around!), but my favourite cheap meal is french lentils simmered with garlic, thyme and a glug of cheap red, with a link of good sausage. If you use leftover red from another night, you can for sure skim in under $5 (and have leftovers!).

    For my more weird cheap meal, I’d have to say congee with pork floss (kind of like shredded Chinese pork jerky). Balanced meal? No! But oh, the comfort…

    That being said, had I known about everything Umme just listed…damn!

  • Vickylee

    Peas, macaroni, and bacon with fresh ground pepper. Because they are all pantry staples,
    I wouldn’t even be able to price it out. I would look at my plate after eating and think, “I didn’t
    even have to buy ingredients… that was free!”

    Mmmm. macaroni.

  • Christa

    Macaroni, diced tomatoes, spices, cheese. Mix until cheese is melty and tomatoes and spices coat everything. Leftover meat or veggies can easily be added as well. This meal is fast, cheap, and easy!

  • Tara

    I’m so ashamed to say it, but my favourite cheap meal is KD with cut-up hot dogs in it.

  • Roger A. Blizzard

    I’ll give you two fast, easy and cheap recipes.

    Chicken Casserole

    Chicken breasts (frozen, boneless, skinless works fine)
    Dried beef
    1/4 cup sour cream
    1 can Cream of Mushroom soup

    Soak the dried beef in water and drain to get some of the salt out. Line a casserole with the dried beef. Place chicken on top. Cover with soup/ sour cream mixture. Bake for an hour at 350 degrees. Serve over rice.

    NOTE: No need for seasoning; the dried beef shuold still be salty enough to season the dish.

    The nice thing about this one is you can multiply it depending on how much chicken you use. You just want enough soup/ sour cream to cover the chicken and enough dried beef to cover the bottom of the dish you use.

    Beef Stroganoff

    1 lb. of the cheapest beef you get get, cut into 1″ squares (the cut/ quality doesn’t matter because after 15 mins. in the pressure cooker it will be tender; I still make this recipe and like London Broil, but back in the day I used to be able to buy ‘stew beef’ and it was cheaper than ground beef)
    3 pieces bacon, diced
    1 onion, diced

    Combine in a pressure cooker and cook for 15 mins. Drain.

    Add 8 oz. sour cream, 1 can of Cream of Mushroom Soup, 1 can of mushrooms (pieces and stems) and salt, pepper and paprika (I like a ton) to taste. Heat through.

    Serve over packaged egg noodles.

    Typically I’m a food snob, i.e. I like Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, Daisy Sour Cream, etc. The nice thing about these is they are two of the few recipes I’ve ever made where you can buy all of the store-brand items to save money and you can’t taste the difference. And normally I *hate* frozen chicken.

  • Julie

    It’s all about the pasta with the cheap meals, isn’t it? Here’s what my mom calls “depression food:”

    1 can tuna
    1 can cream of mushroom soup
    1 can peas
    1 bag egg noodles

    Cook & drain the noodles, add the rest & warm through. Strangely enough, it works.

  • Jen

    A large pepperoni pizza from Little Ceasar’s. It’s $5 and feeds all 4 of us. 😉

  • Marcel

    Quiche is a family favourite for us.
    4 eggs
    1 cup of grated cheese
    chopped up slices of ham, tomatoes and green peppers
    pour it all in a Tenderflake crust.
    Takes about 5 mins to prep and even the youngest dictator will eat it with minimal protest.

    Based on this week groceries bill if every meal cost $5 we shouldn’t need to go back to Sobeys until June.

  • Umme Kulsum

    @ Jan
    You counted me out even before Tina does 😀
    Paneer- Indian Cottage cheese
    Mattar Paneer – Peas with Indian Cottage Cheese
    Aloo Mattar Paneer- Potatoes and Peas with cheese
    Chole Masala – Spicy Chickpeas
    Chana batata- Black chickpeas with potatoes
    Indian Lentils well trust me you don’t want to hear 10 different lentil names.
    I hope that makes some sense. How dumb of me to not write that along the first comment . Born

  • Jacquie

    For us, eating cheap really can only happen if we don’t buy any fresh produce. (I just went to outfit our house after a 3 week vacation and the tomatoes made me angry. $3/lb for pink “hot house” tomatoes.) Our favorite cheap/quick dinner is Salmon and Peas and Rice. I may switch up the style of salmon but usually it’s Teriyaki. It’s not extravagant or even interesting but it costs less than $1 and I can have it on the table in about 25 minutes.

    During the summer, the salmon is fresh and broiled/grilled with lemons and onions and served with a special sauce that is nothing but mayo, sugar, and jalapenos. (This sauce has no business being as good as it is.)

  • jen

    French onion soup pasta. This recipe is stolen from Serious Eats but it is so delicious and cheap I am amazed every time.

    Carmelize a bunch of onions then deglaze with a few cups of beef stock, Add tiny pasta balls (acini di pepe) and cook until stock is absorbed. Add parmesan. Delicious!

  • Ivy

    Well it depends where you live. Olive oil may be very expensive in other countries but a simple Greek salad is my perfect $5 meal and it costs even less.

  • Angelina

    Baked crispy chicken strips ( I usually buy a pound for around $2 dollars) served with corn and mashed potatoes – never fails!

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