Category Archives: Frugal Dinners

Frugal Dinner: Romantic Seafood Dinner Date for Under $20

One of my big time and money saving tips for food is batch cooking ahead of time.  I usually cook a big, huge meal once a week for the rest of the weekdays.   Then I package them in tupperware (freeze the extra’s, if any), and eat the portions through out the week for lunch and dinners.  This works if you don’t mind eating the same thing the entire week.  If not, then try freezing some portions for next time.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that eating out is a weakness for BF and I.  This dinner is not as frugal as my other meals.  I think it’s a bit of a splurge for making my own food, and much less than dining out.

Candles

One time when BF and I were having dinner on his patio, he lit some candles and this completely changed the mood of our dinner.  It made it special and romantic.  This weekend, tried to put a romantic spin on our dinner, and what is more romantic than wine and seafood?

I grabbed some fresh clams and mussels from our local fish market, some fresh fruits & veggies, a bottle of white wine, some linguini and the old candle from lathe previous weekend.

I made a simple linguini in seafood and wine sauce, lit some candles, and we had a romantic dinner on his patio.  I know not everyone had their own patio, and I think a dinner inside would be just as sweet.

Wine

Alcohol always kills the bill.  I can’t believe BF and I used to order wine by the bottles when we first dated.  We still get the occasional glass or 0.5L, but much less now.

This is one of my favourite wines.  It tastes great – not too sweet or too dry, and it’s only $7.75 for 750mL. Perfect.  If we ordered this at a restaurant, we’d be paying at least $30 – $40 (+tax + tip) for the bottle of wine.

Seafood

For some reason, I associate seafood with romance.  Maybe it’s because oysters are an aphrodisiac… Or maybe because it’s always so expensive at restaurants.

I used to be intimidated by clams and mussels, but now that I’ve cooked it once, it’s super easy.  Always get your shellfish at a good fish market – make sure it’s fresh, it shouldn’t smell super fishy.

Put your clams and mussels in a pail of water with salt.  Let it sit for 10 – 20 minutes.  You should see sand at the bottom of your container.  Rinse and it’s ready to use.

If your shells do not open after they are cooked, discard them.  Also remember, clams take longer to open than mussels.

Total cost of ingredients: $9
Cost of Wine: $7.75
Total Servings: 2
Cost per serving: $8.38

  • 1 lb of mussels and clams (clams weight a lot more than mussels)
  • 1 dry pint of grape tomatoes (halved)
  • 1 clove of garlic (minced)
  • 1 shallot (chopped)
  • few leaves of fresh cilatro (torn)
  • 2 tbs of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • 2 servings of linguini pasta
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring water in a big pot to boil for pasta.  Cook pasta to al dente.
  2. Place mussels and clams in basin of water with salt.  Leave for 10 – 20 minutes, then rinse.
  3. Over medium heat, add olive oil, garlic, shallots and tomatoes.
  4. Cook until tomatoes are soft.
  5. Add wine.
  6. Add mussels and clams.
  7. Close lid for 3 – 5 minutes until shells have opened up.
  8. Discard unopened shells.
  9. Turn off heat, add linguini and toss together.
  10. Garnish with cilantro and serve with wine.

Enjoy with your significant other with some candles and jazz music.

Cheers,

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Frugal Dinners: Butter Chicken

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One of my big time and money saving tips for food is batch cooking ahead of time.  I usually cook a big, huge meal once a week for the rest of the weekdays.   Then I package them in tupperware (freeze the extra’s, if any), and eat the portions through out the week for lunch and dinners.  This works if you don’t mind eating the same thing the entire week.  If not, then try freezing some portions for next time.

In my last post, I talked about all my crazy concoctions :).  This is my story of how I got a bit of “spa” and dinner from my little container of sour cream.

When I got my little container of 14% sour cream for my lactic acid mask, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to use all my sour cream on my face before it went bad.  I didn’t want my sour cream to go to waste, so I dug around for some recipes.

My go-to butter chicken recipe used yogurt, but I tried substituted sour cream and crossed my fingers.  It turned out creamier than the yogurt version, but still yummy.

I used drumsticks because they were on sale, and I grabbed a bunch of tomatoes off the clearance rack, so this was a really cheap and yummy dinner :)

Total cost of ingredients: $7
Total servings: 7
Cost per serving: $1.08

I just serve my curry over a bed of rice and voila~ I am not a huge fan of basmati rice and would rather have my Jasmine rice, anyway.  Feel free to substitute rice with any grain of your choosing.

  • 7 chicken drumsticks
  • 8 Roma tomatoes (chopped)
  • 3 medium onions (chopped)
  • 5 tablespoons of sour cream
  • 3 cloves of garlic (diced)
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • 1 tbsp of tomatoes paste
  • 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp of ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of chili powder
  1. Wash the drumsticks and set aside.
  2. Add half the oil in a dutch over (or put) and sear drumsticks, and remove.
  3. Add in onions and cook until softened.
  4. Add in garlic and spices and cook together for a few minutes.
  5. Add in tomatoes and tomato paste and cover.
  6. Add in chicken and cook covered for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
  7. Mix a bit of cooked sauce with the sour cream in a separate bowl.
  8. Turn off heat and slowly incorporate sour cream into pot of curry.
  9. Spoon over rice and enjoy!

If you want to be really efficient, you can apply the sour cream and honey mask and then make the butter chicken ;)

Cheers,

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Frugal Dinners: Thoughts on Meal Planning

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I’ve been reading quite a few finance /frugal blogs which post their meal plan for the week.

The idea of a meal plan is quite foreign to me.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I live on my own (sharing basement with a room mate), and I usually batch cook for most of the week.  So my “menu plan” usually consists only one or two dishes on repeat.

Of course, most of the bloggers who do post their menu plan may live with a partner, or family, and I can understand how cooking for more than one person (and more than once a week), a plan can come in handy – or indispensable.

After cleaning out and re-organizing my pantry (later post to come), I realized that I could definitely benefit from a menu plan.  I probably have quite a few meals that I can make from my pantry and freezer combined.  And so, I created a nifty little spreadsheet with all my pantry items – categorized and tallied with pretty colours, and then I also made a tab for menu planning.

I really like spreadsheets with pretty colours and nicely organized :).  It’s like it’s calling me to use it!  (Click on the images to enlarge.)

The spreadsheet is still in the works, but I’d like to also add a line item if a certain ingredient needs to be used up so it doesn’t go bad (i.e., my yogurt expires next week), and a quickie grocery list.

I am going to try making and using a menu plan for the next few weeks, and see how it goes.  What I’d like to accomplish from this exercise is better utilization of my pantry items,  being more organized and also eating more healthy.  I would really like to incorporate more legumes into my diet, and as we know, cooking legumes (from dried beans) takes preparation.

Wish me luck!

Readers, do you have any tips for making or using a menu plan?  For readers who don’t currently use a menu plan, what helps you plan your meals?

Cheers,

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Frugal Dinners: Last Minute Noodles

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One of my big time and money saving tips for food is batch cooking ahead of time.  I usually cook a big, huge meal once a week for the rest of the weekdays.   Then I package them in tupperware (freeze the extra’s, if any), and eat the portions through out the week for lunch and dinners.  This works if you don’t mind eating the same thing the entire week.  If not, then try freezing some portions for next time.

I’ve shared some meal ideas about making dumplings, roasting a chicken, saute carrotsspinach lasagna, and potatoe & leek soup.  Planning ahead has saved my wallet so many times, and is much healthier than buying lunches and fast food.  But what I don’t talk about is that I never make just the right amount of food.  It’s hard to figure out exactly how much rice I need, or how many servings each dish will turn out to be.  I may just be short by a little bit, but enough that the meal is no longer complete.

In most cases for me, to make another dish might be too much, and I will end up wasting food instead (since I am usually not home on weekends).  So instead, I stretch my food by having some handy items ready.  And even though a stocked pantry helps, my secret is having some Udon (Japanese) noodles on hand.  I buy the pre-packaged ones from Asian super markets, and I just cook them for a quick side (with whatever is left from my meals), or cook it with some veggies (fresh or frozen) with some broth for a whole meal.

Here are two of my favourite ways to have Udon:

Udon Noodle Soup

  • 1 package of udon noodles
  • 1 cup of chicken broth (or whatever broth you like)
  • 1 fried egg (optional)
  • some cooked meat (optional)
  • veggies you have on hand (I like mushrooms and baby bok choy)
  • seasonings

Bring the broth to a boil, and add in meats, veggies and udon noodles.  Fry the egg in a skillet and place on top of noodle soup.

Dry Mix Udon Noodle

  • 1 package of udon noodles
  • 1/4 tsp of bbq sauce
  • 1 tsp of olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp of sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp of soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp of “Tian Jin” preserved vegetable
  • 1/4 tsp of oyster sauce
  • salt and pepper

Feel free to substitute any of the above seasonings as you wish.  It is very flexible.  I just use whatever I have on hand.

First boil water and cook udon noodles.  Drain.  First mix with olive oil to prevent sticking, then add remaining seasonings to taste.

You can have this noodle as-is, or you may have it as a side.

What are some last minute ideas you have when your meal planning doesn’t quite stretch it?

Cheers,


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Frugal Dinners: Making Dumplings

One of my big time and money saving tips for food is batch cooking ahead of time.  I usually cook a big, huge meal once a week for the rest of the weekdays.   Then I package them in tupperware (freeze the extra’s, if any), and eat the portions through out the week for lunch and dinners.  This works if you don’t mind eating the same thing the entire week.  If not, then try freezing some portions for next time.

Since my college days, I’ve been a huge fan of dumplings.  Some of my friends’ parents would bring them packages upon packages of the frozen ones from Chinese supermarkets, and I would drool a little inside.

Now that I’ve been working full-time, I find that having these frozen dumplings are a huge time and money saver.  I’ve gone through enough brands to know which ones are the “good” ones.  That is, they have actual meat and are not packed with fat. Yuck.

Usually, when I get them on sale they are 5 packages for $10.  Each package contains 10 dumplings (sometimes, 11).  And one package is usually enough for one meal.  After a long day at work, I just take them out of the freezer and half sear and half steam them.  Then, I dunk them into my home-made sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and hot sauce.

One time, while grocery shopping with my dad, he noticed how much I was stocking up on these frozen dumplings.  (They were on sale!)  He had valid point, which was it was processed and I had no idea what they really put in it.  Good meat, bad meat, rubbish filler, etc.  So, I put back the 10 packages I grabbed and just got enough to split the deal with my sister.

I didn’t buy any more frozen dumplings after that.  I didn’t want to think about what kind of ingredients the makes might have used – it could be bad stuff.  But since I loved dumplings so much, I decided to try making my own frozen dumplings.  It was easy and fun.

The first time I made the dumplings, I used only ground pork, chives and mushrooms.  This resulted in a slightly dry center.  The second time I made the dumplings, I revised the centers to include more moisture and also mixed in an egg and corn starch (upon recommendations of dumpling making family and friends).  This second time turned out much better and the centers were moist and yummier.

Total cost of ingredients: $8.50
Total dumplings made: 150
Cost per serving (assuming 10 dumplings): $0.57

Much cheaper, and I know exactly what went into these dumplings.  I also don’t measure my ingredients very well, so feel free to adjust accordingly.  I suggest getting just the “normal” ground pork and not the lean option since I like the extra fat for moisture.

Pork and Chives Dumplings

    • 2lb of ground pork
    • Chives finely chopped
    • Napa cabbage finely sliced
    • 2 packages of dumpling wrappers
    • 1 egg
    • 4 cloves chopped garlic
    • 1 tbsp corn starch
    • light soy sauce
    • fish sauce
    • salt & pepper
    • water
  1. Break up raw ground pork with fork.  Add garlic.  Add chives.  Season with soy sauce, fish sauce, salt and pepper.
  2. Mix corn starch with a bit of water.  Beat egg.  Incorporate starch and egg into pork mixture.
  3. In a separate bowl, season napa cabbage with similar seasonings.
  4. Let napa cabbage mixture sit for 10 – 15 minutes and squeeze out excess water by hand.
  5. Mix napa cabbage and pork together.
  6. Use a teaspoon to place pork mixture into the center of dumpling wrapper.
  7. Dab the edge of half the wrapper with water.
  8. Fold wrapper over meat, and voila!  (You may need to experiment a few tries before you get the hang of how much meat mixture you want/need.)
  9. Line the completed dumplings flat on a cookies sheet or tray.  Make sure they don’t stick to one another.
  10. Pop tray into freezer for about 30 – 45 minutes until dumplings have hardened enough that they may be packed away in Ziploc bags (without becoming one big lump).
  11. Repeat until done.

Note: I only have a stainless steel skillet, and I find the easiest way to cook them is to sear them with oil to get the wrappers browned.  Then add water and cover to steam cook until finished.

Update:  A reader asked for clarifications if the meat was raw in the dumplings.  I’ve updated the directions to include that raw meat should be used.  The only time the meat is cooked is when you cook the dumpling to eat.  Or else, it would be too dry.  Hope this helps!

Enjoy!  What are some of your favourite frozen dinners that you’ve attempted?

Cheers,

photo source: http://www.asian-central.com/stuffasianpeoplelike/2008/05/19/75-dumplings/

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Frugal Dinner: Roasted Chicken & Sautè Carrots

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One of my big time and money saving tips for food is batch cooking ahead of time.  I usually cook a big, huge meal once a week for the rest of the weekdays.   Then I package them in tupperware (freeze the extra’s, if any), and eat the portions through out the week for lunch and dinners.  This works if you don’t mind eating the same thing the entire week.  If not, then try freezing some portions for next time.

This week’s dinner is roasted chicken with saute carrots and onions.

The supermarket had chicken on sale this week.  $1.49/lb, and so I bought 2 chickens and they are roasting in the oven as I type.

Total cost for ingredients $10.08
Number of servings: 10 (ish)
Cost per serving: $1.08

The roasted chicken recipe is pretty basic, so I just improvised.  Though I did over cook my chicken, so I suggest you adjust accordingly.

Roasted Chicken Recipe

    • 1lb whole chicken
    • 1 medium onion (sliced in half)
    • 1 handful of dried herbs (I used Herbs en Provence)
    • Olive oil drizzled to coat
    • Salt and pepper
  1. Pre-heat oven to 450F.
  2. Rinse out chicken and pat skin dry – this ensures a nice crispy skin (my favourite).
  3. Stuff onion halves in chicken.  Season with herbs, salt and pepper.
  4. Insert chicken into oven at 450F for about 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 375F.
  5. Cook for 30 – 45 minutes.

Note: I suggest using a meat thermometer to check for “done-ness”, though I don’t have one at the moment.

The inspiration for the carrot recipe is from one of my favourite food bloggers, Orangette.  As mentioned in my last Frugal Dinner Post, I don’t follow recipes, well.  So here is my version.

Carrot and Onions Saute Recipe

    • 1 lb of carrots peeled and sliced (on a diagonal)
    • 2 medium onions (halved and sliced from root to stem)
    • 3 cloves of garlic (coarsely chopped)
    • 1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
    • Olive oil
    • Herbs en Provence
    • Salt and Pepper
  1. Set your skillet on medium heat.  Coat the bottom of your pan with olive oil.
  2. Add onions and cook until soft, but not browned.
  3. Add garlic and carrots.
  4. Add more olive oil if carrots seem dry.
  5. Season with herbs, salt and pepper.
  6. Adjust heat to medium low, if too high.
  7. Cover and cook until carrots are soft.
  8. Turn off heat, and add balsamic vinegar.
  9. Mix.  Serve.

Do you like to improvise when you cook?  What’s your favourite improvised recipe?

Cheers,

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Frugal Dinners: Spinach Lasagna with Potato & Leek Soup

One of my big time and money saving tips for food is batch cooking ahead of time.

I usually cook a big, huge meal once a week for the rest of the weekdays.   Then I package them in tupperware (freeze the extra’s, if any), and eat the portions through out the week for lunch and dinners.  This works if you don’t mind eating the same thing the entire week.  If not, then try freezing some portions for next time.

Tip: I highly recommend packaging the portions individually, as opposed to scooping out what you eat from a big dish.  The reason for this is because you can portion the servings.  I find that when scoop out left overs from a big dish for dinner, I usually take too much and end up either over eating or wasting food.  Not to mention it’s way easier in the morning to just grab and go.

This week, I made Spinach Lasagna and Potato & Leek Soup.

Total cost for ingredients: $22.35
Number of servings: 10
Cost per serving: $2.24

I adopted a recipe from Plant Organic Cook book for the Spinach Lasagna but I never really follow recipes (which explains why I suck at baking!).  Feel free to use this as a guide and substitute to your heart’s content.

Spinach Lasagna Recipe

    • 2- 200g packages of chopped frozen spinach
    • 2 lb fresh white button mushrooms sliced
    • 1 medium onion chopped
    • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
    • 2 cups of ricotta cheese
    • 2 cups of mozzarella cheese
    • 1 cup of Parmesan cheese
    • 2 cups of marinara sauce (or pasta sauce)
    • Lasagna pasta sheet
    • 2 tbsp of olive oil
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • Left over chicken (Optional)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F.  Cook lasagna sheets.  Thaw and drain frozen spinach.  Mix mozzarella cheese with Parmesan.
  2. Saute garlic, onions and mushrooms with olive oil until mushrooms are soft.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cool.
  3. Mix spinach, chicken and ricotta cheese into mushroom.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Divide marinara sauce into 4 portions (roughly) and reserve 1 portion. Divide mozzarella cheese into 3 portions and reserve 1 portion.  Set reserved portions aside.
  5. Make 2 layers of the lasagna.  1 portion of marina sauce, 1 layer of lasagna sheets, mushroom & spinach mixture, 1 portion of mozzarella, press down firmly and repeat.  For the last layer, add 1 portion of marina sauce, 1 layer of lasagna sheets, reserved marinara sauce and reserved mozzarella cheese.
  6. Cover with aluminum sheet and bake for 40 minutes.  Then uncover and bake until cheese is golden brown.  Cool.  Eat.

I love soups in the cold weather and I had a craving for Leeks.  Below is an original Fru-girl recipe:

Potato & Leek Soup

    • 2 leeks rinsed and chopped
    • 2 medium onions chopped
    • 2 large potatoes chopped
    • 2 medium carrots chopped
    • 6 – 8 cups of water or stock
    • Bread
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • salt and pepper
    • Dried seasonings
  1. Saute onion until soft, set aside.
  2. Bring water or stock to a boil.  Add carrots and potatoes.  Cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until carrots are fork tender.
  3. Add leeks, onions and chicken.  Season with salt and pepper.  I also like adding in dried spices, I used herbs en provence but you can use whatever you have onhand.
  4. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for about 10 – 15 minutes.
  5. Serve with crunchy bread or baguette.

What are you having this week for lunch & dinner?

Cheers,


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