Monday, June 22, 2009

Super Easy Beef Chow Mein

Ramen: it's not just for starving college kids!

I'm pretty sure ramen seasoning packets contain similar ingredients as embalming fluid, but darn its tasty! And its easy. Of course, by itself, it has the nutritional value of cardboard (and cheap cardboard at that). But, if you throw in some leftover meat and frozen veggies, you've got a quick and easy dish you can call "chow mein" and people will think its real food :)

Start by preparing 2 packs of ramen noodles according to the directions on the package, but don't mix in the seasoning packets (henceforth referred to as "Magical Ramen Powder"). Just boil some water, cook the noodles until they're soft, then drain them completely.

Next, chop 1/2 an onion. Heat about 3-4 Tbs of oil in a skillet, and saute your onion until they start turning transluscent. While they're cooking, you can start chopping your meat. I usually use leftover roast (sometimes steak) - just cut off a hunk, remove any fat, and then chop it into bite size pieces:

Throw this in the pan with your onion and let it all simmer for a couple of minutes and get yummy. If you don't have leftover roast, you can use any kind of beef - steak or london broil would work ok, slice it small and cook it with the onions.

Next, add some veggies. I usually just use about 1/3 bag of frozen mixed veggies, and/or anything hiding in the fridge that needs to get used. Carrots, celery, peppers, peas, pea pods... whatever you've got. I forgot I had green onions in the fridge until I sat down to eat, but I think those would have been delicious! If using frozen, I usually throw them in the microwave for about 1 minute to thaw them a little and make things go faster.

Throw your veggies in the pan with the meat and onions. This time I had frozen peas, carrots, corn and green beans from a bag, plus some extra carrot coins I froze a while back when I had an overabundance of carrots. Mix everything and let it cook until the veggies are warm and tender, but still have a little crispiness to them.

Now, add in your cooked noodles and Magical Ramen Powder:

Mix it all up to evenly distribute the Magical Ramen Powder, and make sure everything gets coated in the oil (it adds to the yumminess). Once everything's mixed and heated through, you are ready to chow (mein) down! Sorry, I couldn't help it :)

Since going frugal, we hardly ever eat out or get take out anymore, but sometimes I get an absolute craving for greasy Chinese food (I am a Ninja). This dish hits the spot everytime!

This works well with chicken too, just use chicken flavored ramen instead of beef.

Easy Beef Chow Mein
  • 2 packages beef ramen noodles with seasoning
  • 3-4 Tbs cooking oil
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cups (approximate) leftover roast beef or steak, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
  1. Prepare ramen noodles according to package, reserving seasoning packets
  2. Drain noodles completely and set aside
  3. Heat oil in skillet
  4. Saute onions in oil until transluscent
  5. Add meat to pan, heat through
  6. Add vegetables to pan, cook until vegetables reach desired tenderness
  7. Add noodles and contents of seasoning packets to pan
  8. Mix thoroughly and heat through

Makes 2-3 servings

Want more great frugal meal ideas? Check out the $5 Dinner Challenge!

    Itch to Pitch - Week 2

    The Happy Housewife is hosting an "Itch to Pitch" challenge all summer long. I am WAY overdue for some pitching so here goes!

    Practially my entire house needs to get "pitched", but I'm trying to keep each individual project small so its manageable and I don't get overwhelmed. I've been putting off cleaning up for so long because it seemed like such an impossible task, but its amazing how much can be accomplished with an hour here and an hour there!

    My office has been our "dumping ground" for... well, forever! Whenever we're straightening up the house and run across something we're not quite sure to do with, I always say "put it on my desk and I'll figure out what to do with it later". Later never came, my desk got full. So stuff ended up on Ninja Hubz' desk. Then the floor... ug, you get the idea. I have a room FULL of junk. Tackling the whole room at once is just too much, so "Phase I" was to de-clutter Ninja Hubz' desk.

    So without further ado, may I present the horror of the "before pictures":

    We don't even use that computer anymore. And I'm pretty sure that wall calendar is from 2006. Sheesh! After I cleaned everything up I decided to set up my old laptop on the desk (I still use it sometimes). And check it out! There's a floor under there!

    All the paper stuff went to the recycle bin (a couple things were shredded first). The computer and monitor are temporarily in my dump heap on the other side of the room. I have a lot of old computer gear to get rid of, so I plan to gather it all together and find a local electronics recycling place and make one big trip (ok maybe two).

    And guess what else? I have PROOF that clutter is the enemy of frugality! It has been MONTHS since we last saw the Ninja Kitty's brush, we ended up having to buy another one (which is too big and none of the Ninja kitties like). Guess what was buried under all that STUFF??

    (The brush, not the cat!) Ninja kitties approve of the Itch to Pitch challenge!

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Weekly Grocery Shopping (6/17 - 6/23)

    Food 4 Less
    Well I looked through the Ralphs and Vons ads for the week, and really didn't see anything that excited me. When this happens, I often take the opportunity to head to Food 4 Less instead. They don't double coupons so I rarely get "smokin'' deals there, but its the best place to stock up on staple type items that don't seem to get coupons very often or I go through a lot of.

    Langers Apple Juice 2/$3 x2 - $1/2 MFC = 2.00
    Canned diced tomatoes .68 x2 = 1.36
    16oz Lasagna noodles =1.28
    Cream of chicken soup x2 = 1.56
    Soy Sauce = 1.38
    Saltine crackers = .88
    Parmesan Cheese = 2.98
    10 pack flour tortillas x2 = 1.96
    Pretzels = 1.67
    Beef top ramen x2 = .40
    .50 lbs nectarines = .29
    3.91 lbs chicken breast = 6.92 (1.77 per lb!! awesome price)
    Whole wheat bread = 1.98
    6 bakery sandwich rolls = .98

    Total: 25.64

    Henry's had an AWESOME deal on blueberries and rasberries so I stocked up. There are still some strawberries from last week in my freezer, looks like it is time to bake some Triple Berry Muffins!

    10 lbs russet potatoes = 1.97
    Green onions 3/$1 x3 = 1.00
    Celery = .50
    Blueberries (pint) .88 x4 = 3.52
    Rasberries(pint) .88 x4 = 3.52
    2.36 lbs Bulk Rolled Oats = 1.39
    Zucchini = 1.12
    Reusable bag credit = -.10

    Total: 12.92

    Quilted Northern TP 9 pack x2 = 8.00
    8 oz Deerfield Farms Shredded Italian Cheese x2 = 3.00
    Aquafresh Toothpaste $3 - $1 MFC = 2.00
    Oreo Cakester 2/$5 x2 - 2x $1/1 = 3.00
    RR from last week = -11.00

    Total: 5.96
    Received $6 in RR for next week ($3 on Aquafresh and $3 on oreos)

    Grand Total: 44.52

    Easily under my $50 week goal - hooray!

    More awesome shopping trips:
    Super Savings Saturday
    The Grocery Cart Challenge

    Menu Plan Monday - 6/21/09

    This is a short week since we'll be heading out of town on Wednesday. I intend to employ one of my favorite Ninja food tactics and cook one big meal and eat it for several days. I'm planning on 3 meals from 1 roast. Yay leftovers!
    • Sunday: Roast Beef and Roasted Vegetables
    • Monday: Steak sandwiches (using leftover roast beef), baked sweet potato fries, leftover roasted vegetables
    • Tuesday: Beef and vegetable chow mein (using leftover roast beef)
    • Wednesday - Saturday: Out of town

    I knew I had a roast somewhere in my chest freezer, and had to dig out about half the freezer's contents to find it. It's soooo time to get that thing organized!

    Check out more menu plans at Menu Plan Monday

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    The Itch to Pitch Challenge - Week 1

    The Happy Housewife is hosting an "Itch to Pitch" challenge all summer long. I am WAY overdue for some pitching so I'm jumping right in.

    I don't have a lot of time for cleaning and organizing (hence the problem), but if I keep my projects small I know I can stick with it and eventually regain control over my home :) My first project was to clean up the top of my fridge:

    We keep most of our pet food and a lot of accessories up there. That's ok, but I do NOT need a thousand unused poop bags strewn about and other bits and pieces falling on my head everytime I open the freezer or need an onion out of the bin.

    Um no, nothing disgusting to see here, move along.

    Scrubbed and dusted:

    I even cleaned the freezer door seal!

    It's still a little crowded up there, but much improved. With all the junk disposed of, a couple half empty treat bags consolidated into a single gladware container, and a few other items moved to more appropriate homes we can easily get to what we need, and NOT get a kibble shower in the process.

    I have been complaining about the top of the fridge for months but kept procrastinating on dealing with the problem. This took me about 40 minutes start to finish, and it didn't even kill me. I'm SO MUCH happier now that its done. I need to quit whining and just get stuff done. Thanks to the Happy Housewife for helping me get my butt in gear!

    Triple Berry Muffins

    This recipe is from an old edition of Taste of Home's Quick Cooking magazine. I haven't made them in several years, but I just stocked up on berries and these are at the top of my list. They are all kinds of cinnamon and berry awesomeness. YUM.

    Triple Berry Muffins
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    4 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    3 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    2 eggs
    1 1/4 cup milk
    1 cup butter or margarine, melted
    1 cup blueberries
    1/2 cup rasberries
    1/2 cup chopped strawberries

    In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In another bowl, beat the eggs, milk and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in berries. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full.

    Bake at 375 for 16-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

    Yields about 1 1/2 dozen.

    Find more great recipes at:
    Tasty Tuesday
    Tempt My Tummy Tuesday

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Homemade Dog Treats - Liver Brownies

    Here at the Ninja household, we are pretty insistent that our pets get healthy, high-quality food and treats. Feeding your pets cheap food can save money in the short run, but end up costing you in the long run with higher vet bills, shorter life spans, and lower quality of life. Unfortunately, buying high-end "gourmet" prepackaged dog treats can be insanely expensive.

    In order to provide our animals with healthy treats that aren't laden with chemicals and preservatives and not go bankrupt in the process, I started making homemade dog treats. Just like cooking for your human family allows you to save money and increase quality, cooking for your fur family is a win-win as well. One of the ninja pups' favorite treats is Liver Brownies!

    Warning: This recipe involves raw liver. And cooking liver. It smells pretty gross, but your dogs will LOVE you for it.

    • 1 lb. (approximate) Beef or Chicken Liver (I used 3/4 lb beef liver because that's what I had)
    • 2 cups flour
    • 3 eggs

    Dump everything into your food processor:

    Process for a minute or two until well-blended. You may need to add a little bit of water (1/4 to 1/2 cup) if it is too thick for your food processor. The batter will be rather thick and gooey:

    Dump the liver goo into a greased 9x13 pan:

    Use a rubber spatula to spread the goo evenly in your pan. Did I mention it is thick and gooey? Spread it as evenly as you can, but don't worry if its not pretty. It's liver, I don't think pretty is an option.

    Bake at 350° for 20 - 25 minutes. Caution: Wild ninja pups will begin to circle the kitchen during the cooking process as the aroma of baking liver treats begins to permeate the air:

    The brownies are done when they appear dry on the surface - they may puff up some. Remove from oven and let cool

    Once they're cool enough to handle, cut into small ninja pup sized bites:

    Since these have no preservatives, they will probably only be good for a couple of days unfrozen. I usually package mine in plastic gladware containers and put them straight in the freezer.

    OK, so they don't all get put in the freezer... the vicious Ninja pups must be appeased!

    Cost breakdown for these treats:
    .75 lbs beef liver: $1.49
    2 cups flour: ~$.25
    3 eggs: ~$.25

    Total: $1.99

    I could easily pay over $10 for similar quality treats at the store - and I still wouldn't know for sure what was in them!

    Liver Brownie Dog Treats

    1 lb. (approximate) Beef or Chicken Liver
    2 cups flour
    3 eggs
    1. Preheat oven to 350°
    2. Grease a 9x13 pan
    3. Place all ingredients into food processor, blend until a smooth paste (a few liver chunks are ok) is formed
    4. Spread paste evenly in pan
    5. Bake for 20-25 minutes
    6. Allow to cool, then cut into bite-size pieces
    7. Store in airtight container for 1-2 days, freeze for up to several weeks.
    This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday.

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Eggplant Parmesan

    I've never eaten eggplant before. Honestly, its always creeped me out a little. I mean, its big and its purple... its like the Barney of vegetables. Who the heck wants to eat a Barney pod? But I am on a quest to eat more vegetables, and it was on sale for .88 this week. Clearly, the universe and eggplants were conspiring against me. I bought the eggplant.

    I brought it home along with my other veggies, and carefully placed it on the counter. It sat there for a day or two while I contemplated what to do with it. I kept a close eye on it, lest it hatch and unleash a mini Barney upon my home. (A ninja could totally take out a mini Barney, by the way, its just that it would probably make a big mess in the process and I already have enough to clean up with the Ninja pups and Ninja Hubz). Anyway, I finally decided that just about anything tastes good fried, so I'd go with a classic eggplant parmesan.

    After a little research, here's what I ended up doing:

    I peeled and sliced the eggplant into about 3/8 inch slices. I salted each slice heavily, and let it sit for 30 minutes.

    While they were resting, I mixed up about 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 3 Tbs parmesan/romano cheese, and 1 Tbs Italian seasoning. In another bowl, I beat 2 eggs. I put about 4 Tbs of olive oil in a frying pan and heated it up.

    At the end of 30 minutes, I thoroughly rinsed each slice to remove all the salt. Then I dipped each slice in the egg, then the bread crumb mixture to coat both sides, and put it into hot oil. Fried them for a couple of minutes on each side until they were golden brown, drained them on a paper towel for a few minutes, and put them into a 9x13 baking dish. I put a couple spoonfuls of jarred spaghetti sauce and a sprinkle of mozzerella cheese on each slice, and baked at 350 for about 10-15 minutes (just long enough to heat the sauce and melt the cheese).

    You know what? Eggplant doesn't have a lot flavor. Really, it was actually pretty good, but it tasted pretty much like spaghetti sauce on fried breadcrumbs. Nothing wrong with that. I kind of expected a little something more, but I'm not overly disappointed. I doubt this will make it into my normal meal rotation as it was actually a little more work than I prefer, but I will probably make it again.

    The REALLY good part about this dish is the cost. It definitely scores high on the frugal scale when you can get everything on sale:
    • Eggplant: .88
    • 1/2 jar spaghetti sauce: .25
    • 2 oz. Mozzerella cheese: .35
    • Breadcrumbs, spices, oil: pennies
    • 2 eggs: .17
    I served it with an inexpensive garden salad, and .35 worth of french bread.

    Eggplant Parmesan
    • 1 eggplant
    • salt
    • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
    • 3 Tbs parmesan cheese
    • 1 Tbs italian seasoning
    • 4 Tbs cooking oil
    • 1/2 jar spaghetti sauce
    • 2 oz. Mozzerella cheese
    1. Peel and slice the eggplant into about 3/8 inch slices.
    2. Salt each slice heavily, and let it sit for 30 minutes.
    3. Preheat oven to 350
    4. Rinse each eggplant slice in cold water, removing ALL the salt.
    5. In a bowl, beat the two eggs.
    6. In a separate bowl, combine breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and italian seasoning.
    7. Heat the oil in a skillet.
    8. Dip each eggplant slice in the egg, then the breadcrumb mixture, then place in the skillet.
    9. Fry the eggplant on each side until crispy and golden.
    10. Drain eggplant on paper towel for a few minutes.
    11. Place eggplant slices in a 9x13 baking dish.
    12. Top each slice with a couple of spoonfuls of spaghetti sauce and sprinkle with mozzerella.
    13. Bake until sauce is warm and cheese is melted (10-15 minutes).
    Makes 2 servings

    Check out all kinds of great and frugal recipes at:
    The $5 Dinner Challenge
    Tasty Tuesday
    Tempt My Tummy Tuesday

    Sunday, June 14, 2009

    Menu Plan Monday - Repurposing Leftovers

    • Sunday: Crockpot Mongolian Beef, brown rice with veggies
    • Monday: Eggplant Parmesan, french bread that needs to get used, garden salad
    • Tuesday: Spaghetti, garden salad
    • Wednesday: Fend for Yourself
    • Thursday: Bubble Pizza
    • Friday: Crockpot Chicken Tacos (recipe below), Mexican Rice
    • Saturday: Chicken Tortilla Soup (made from leftover chicken taco stuff - recipe below)

    I try to designate at least one night a week as "Fend for Yourself" where everyone is in charge of feeding themselves. Ninjas need to learn self-reliance. They also need to use up leftovers. FFY nights accomplish both.

    Chicken Tacos and Chicken Tortilla Soup
    Two things that make me very happy are my crockpot, and repurposing leftovers. The following recipe for crockpot chicken tacos is in itself cheap, easy, and yummy. The first time I made this, for some reason I used a giant package of chicken breasts and made a ridiculous amount. We ate tacos for two nights in a row, and still had a TON of leftovers. As delicious as they were, I just couldn't face them for a third straight night, and thus this chicken tortilla soup recipe was born.

    The soup is VERY flexible. The recipe below should be considered a guideline. Use this opportunity to use up any leftover veggies hiding in your fridge, and don't worry if your amounts are a little off. You may wish to add some additional cooked chicken if there isn't much left from the tacos... but it is also quite good with just a little bit of meat. Just use what you've got, soup is very forgiving.

    Crockpot Chicken Tacos
    • 1-2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
    • 1 pkg taco seasoning
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 can diced tomatoes and chiles (undrained)
    Put all ingredients in crockpot. Cook on low 8-10 hours. Shred chicken and remove from crockpot using a slotted spoon. Serve on corn tortillas with standard taco toppings (cheese, lettuce, avocado, sour cream, etc).

    Save all the juices and veggies that are left in the crockpot, as well as any leftover chicken, for making chicken tortilla soup.

    Chicken Tortilla Soup
    • 2 Tbs cooking oil
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 2-3 cloves garlic, diced
    • 6 cups chicken broth
    • 1 can diced tomatoes and chiles (undrained)
    • 2 cups diced or shredded cooked chicken (leftover from tacos)
    • Seasoning to taste: salt, pepper, chili powder, coriander, cumin
    • Optional: 1-2 cups cooked rice (plain or Mexican)
    • 6 corn tortillas plus 1/4 cup oil for frying them, or equivalent amount of lame store-bought tortilla chips
    In a large soup pot, heat the oil. Saute onions and garlic until transluscent. Add broth, tomatoes, seasoning and whatever was left of your taco meat/juices (or a couple cups of cooked chicken if you don't have leftovers). Start with about 1/2 tsp of each spice and adjust to your desired level of spiciness. Ninjas like it hot, so we end up with at least 2-3 tsp of chili powder. Add in rice (if using), simmer for about 30 minutes.

    While the soup is cooking, take the corn tortillas, cut them into bite size pieces, and fry them in hot oil until they are crispy (about 1-2 minutes - flip half way through cooking time using tongs). You may need to do them in batches depending on how big your pan is. Salt them as soon as they are done frying, and allow to drain on a paper towel. Try not to eat them all before the soup is ready.

    Serve soup in bowls topped with your fried tortillas (or lame store-bought chips), cheddar cheese, avocados, sour cream... whatever you had with tacos the day before that you have leftovers of.

    Check out more Menu Plan Monday.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009

    Weekly Grocery Shopping (6/10 - 6/16)

    My weekly goal is $50, here's how it went:

    8oz Tomato Sauce .25 x4 = 1.00
    Ocean Spray Juice 1.88 - .55/1 MFC (doubled up to $1) = .88
    2 doz corn tortillas = 1.79
    Bean sprouts = .25 (Manager's Special)
    Cucumber = .89
    Red Onion = .82
    .75 lbs beef liver = 1.49
    2.49 lbs Top Sirloin steak = 6.90
    Oscar Mayer Lunch Meat 1.99 x4 - 2x $1/2 MFC = 5.96
    Lloyd's Beef BBQ meat 2.99 - .75/1 MFC (doubled up to $1) = 1.99
    Flipz Chocolate/PB Pretzels 1.00 - .50/1 MFC (doubled) = free

    Total: 22.07

    Henry's Market
    Tomatoes = .51
    Red Potatoes = .75
    Eggplant = .88
    Yams = 2.17
    Garlic = .67
    Zucchini = .50
    Avocado = 1.38
    Yellow Onions = .79
    Yellow Squash = .49
    Whole Cashews 3.77
    Strawberries = 1.76
    Reusable bag credit = -.05

    Total: 13.62


    Ragu Pasta Sauce 2.00 x4 - 2x $1/2 MFC = 6.00
    Skippy PB 2.00 x4 - 2x $1/2 MFC = 6.00
    Maxwell House coffee 2.50 x2 - $2/2 MFC = 3.00
    St. Ives Body Wash 2.99 - $1.50/1 MFC = 1.49
    Walgreens reusable shopping bags 3/$1 x2 = .67
    RR from last week = -2.00

    Total: 15.48
    Received $11 in RR for next trip! ($8 on Ragu/Skippy PB and $3 on St. Ives)

    Grand Total: $51.17

    I'm happy with how I did, especially since I went a little crazy on produce this week. I'm trying very hard to incorporate more vegetables into our meals, and Henry's had a lot of things I've been wanting to try on sale. Usually I only spend $6 or $7 there if I'm not stocking up on meat or cheese. Now I just need to stick to the plan and make sure we actually prepare and eat all this great produce I got. I've never had eggplant so it will be interesting to try.

    Check out more awesome shopping trips at: