Apr 16

My $85 chicken dinner: a delicious recipe

photo 2(5)The first time I made this dish I jokingly called it, “my $85 chicken” because I didn’t own a Dutch oven and I ended up having to purchase one at my local HomeGoods store. I knew that Le Creuset cookware was expensive, but I had no idea that a non-name brand Dutch oven would be so expensive ($65). Thankfully the one I bought was really sturdy, cooks evenly and should last me the rest of my life. Add in the cost of the ingredients (that first time) and you’ve got one expensive chicken dinner!

If you’re a fan of tasty chicken dishes then this is a killer recipe. I’ve made it a few times, but this is the best version I’ve come up with so far. Even Mr. “all you cook is chicken” enjoyed the dish and ate it for several days. I know It looks like a lot of ingredients and work, but once everything is chopped you just toss it in the pot and wait for the delicious aroma to fill your kitchen.

chickenIngredients:

1 package of organic chicken pieces (I used 2 breasts and 4 drumsticks from a “grilling pack”)
3 large yellow onions chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (about 2 cups)
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 small package of organic celery, diced (about 3 cups)
1 package of organic baby carrots cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 3 cups)
3 large parsnips peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
2 (14.5 oz) cans of organic whole tomatoes
1 cup of organic chicken stock
3/4 cup dry white wine (you can omit this if you want, and add more stock, but I’m not sure why you’d want to?)
3 bay leaves
1 package of fresh poultry spice (mine was thyme, rosemary & tarragon)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter

Prep:

Sometimes when I’m cooking I like to pretend I’m a famous chef on the food network. Because I’m not, and I don’t have a sous chef or a production team, I prep all of my ingredients before I start cooking. That way you don’t overheat your kitchen and waste your gas when the oven has been pre-heating for 35 minutes as you chop the veggies (OK I’m talking about me-sad I know!).

Pre-Cook it:

Now, preheat the oven to 300 degrees

Heat the olive oil and butter together in your Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic in the oil/butter until they are soft and becoming translucent. Add the carrots, parsnips, celery and spices and cook for 6 minutes. Stir gently to make sure nothing sticks or burns. Add the chicken pieces, stock, wine and canned tomatoes. I like to use whole tomatoes and then mash them slightly with the spoon while I’m mixing everything together. You could use diced tomatoes if you prefer smaller bites of tomato. I like everything chunky.

Cook it:

Season with salt and pepper, put the lid on the dish and stick it in the oven for 90 minutes. You’ll know it’s done if the chicken pulls off the bone easily and the veggies are soft.

Serve it:

Make sure to pull out the spices and bay leaves before serving. I recommend serving the chicken hot over rice, white beans, potatoes or noodles. You could also serve it plain like a soup (just take the chicken off the bones, chop it into pieces and stick them back in the liquid). What I love about this dish is you can make it a million ways. You could use red wine, or add potatoes or beans. You can use whatever veggies and spices you have on hand.

An added bonus? The longer the dish sits in the fridge the better it tastes.

Have you ever made a recipe that turned out way more expensive then you anticipated?

Apr 14

20 Treats Under $20

macaroonThe world we live in is crazy and life can get really hectic sometimes. With all the, “go, go, go.” I try to find little moments to indulge in simple pleasures. Basically, to keep myself motivated I give myself “treats”. Yes I realize it sounds a little bit like your first grade teacher giving you a star at the end of the day, but I swear it’s something that’s been really effective for me.

Personally, I think we work too hard not to have treats. Not big or expensive treats, but fun little things that keep us going and make us feel good.

To keep my, treat spending in check, (a “rule” I put in place during my student debt payoff days), I keep the cost of my treats under $20 or so. When I was in, “hardcore” debt paydown mode, I found that bigger treats didn’t necessarily mean bigger satisfaction. That’s right, it really is the small things in life that really matter–cliche, but it’s totally true! To me at least.

Here are 20 of my favorite “treats” under $20:

  1. Burt’s Bees lip balm. I’m a die hard Burt’s lip balm user. I have a tube in every bag I own and at least two in my desk at work at any given time. If I can’t find one, I panic! It’s that serious!
  2. Macaroons and/or Macarons. I love both the French variety Macarons and the chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons.
  3. Hot chocolate. Or my summertime favorite, frozen hot chocolate, yum!
  4. Bigelow “I love lemon” tea. One of my favorite daily indulges. I have a cup every morning when I get to work.
  5. Essie nail polish. Taking the time to paint my nails is totally an indulgence. With sandal season upon us i need to find a new shade for my toes, any suggestions?
  6. Yarn. Alpaca is so soft and luxurious. One of my favorite producers is Good Karma Farm in Belfast, Maine.
  7. Flannel PJ pants. I buy them at target and wear them until they are holey and I have to buy a new pair. I hate being cold and wear them year round (Eric likes the house cold in the summer).
  8. Caramel popcorn. My local TJ Maxx/Homegoods often has Harry & David’s “moose munch” in the specialty food section. But I’m not picky, I eat Fiddle Faddle (who named that product?) or crunch and munch just the same.
  9. Bottle (or box) of wine. Trader Joe’s 5-buck chuck opened my mind to wine when I was in college. 10 years later I’m still enjoying their inexpensive prices and good variety.
  10. Lindemans Framboise (Raspberry Beer). This was one of the first beers I ever drank and enjoyed. I used to think beer was gross (imagine!). The raspberry Lambic is so fruity and delicious I could drink the whole 750ml bottle by myself.
  11. Cupcakes. If you have a Crumbs nearby you might want to see if they participate in “Throw Back Thursdays” You get whatever the weekly special cupcake is for just $2.99!
  12. Cheese. Brie, blue, cheddar, if it’s cheese I love it. Add some crackers, grapes and strawberries and I’ve got a meal.
  13. Photo books. I get deals in my inbox to make inexpensive photo books all the time. I recently made one for my grandmother with photos from our trip to Cancun. She loved it and so did I. It’s fun to look back at the photos and remember how much fun we had.
  14. Journals. Dear diary, journaling is so relaxing. It’s even more fun when you have a dedicated journal in a paperback book. Paper Source makes some really pretty ones for less than $15.00
  15. Seltzer water. I have a seltzer obsession. Plain seltzer with a lemon slice is my favorite. Sometimes I get sassy and add a splash of cranberry juice and a lime. Depends on the day.
  16. Cotton T-shirts. V-neck, scoop neck, boat neck. Lands End has a bunch of nice ones and they go on sale all the time (watch for discounts and coupons). I dress them up with necklaces and scarves and wear then year round in layers.
  17. Flip flops. LL Bean’s Maine Isle Flip-flops are my absolutely favorite. They are lightweight and comfortable and the last forever (I have one pair I’ve been wearing for 3 summers now!). The are $24.99 at the retail store, but I buy them at the outlet for less than $20.
  18. Cold Stone’s Strawberry Blonde “creation”. Cake is already on the list, and you can’t have cake without ice cream right?
  19. Massages. If you have a sig. other maybe you can manage this one for free? If not, you can get a quick 10-15 chair massage for less than $20.
  20. Music & Books. After so many years of downloading free music, it’s sometimes hard for me to “justify” paying for music, but when I do I’m always happy that I did. Downloading a new album always brightens my day. Ditto for downloading a new e-book.

Tell me your favorite treats under $20.00

**Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, thanks for clicking!

Image: Louis Beche

Apr 11

TGIF-Cruising into the weekend

mexico beach

Wishing I was here!

This week has been a kick in the pants for me. On Wednesday I was already hoping it was Friday. Today is my social worker’s last day and next month and a half are going to be pretty rough at work because my new social worker is still in school and won’t be able to start the position until June 2nd.

To top this week off with a cherry, right now (Friday morning) I’m writing this post from home because the per diem social worker who works this weekend called out and couldn’t find a replacement. So today I’ll be working 12-8. I’m not even going to comment on her work attendance because my mother always said, “If you have nothing nice to say…”

But a few productive things have happened this week and I’m going to focus on that:

  • I submitted and paid my taxes (I received a small federal refund which was nice, but unexpected-I thought I’d owe).
  • I called my insurance company and figured out why I’m getting billed for routine blood work at a preventative exam (service was coded wrong).
  • I made a delicious new chicken recipe that I’ve been eating all week (I’ll share next week).
  • My NYS licensing board website now lists me as an LCSW, which means my pay increase can be processed.

How was your week? What’s on tap for the weekend? Have you submitted your taxes?

Apr 09

Is Your Debt, Your Fault?

debtThe other day I overheard two women talking about debt on the train. Because I’m ridiculously nosy acutely attuned to conversations about money and debt, I couldn’t help but listen in on their conversation. The women appeared to be in their mid to late-twenties and were talking about student loan debt (something I knew all too well until recently). The basic complaint of both women was how, “crazy” it is that lenders, “give” so much money to students.

One woman confided to the other (and anyone who happened to be listening-ahem) that she owed over $100k in student loan debt and was paying the minimum payment each month. She said she couldn’t afford to pay more than the minimum payment and as a result the total amount owed was going up each month.

She also stated that she refuses to cut her lifestyle, because she already lives like a “pauper” and went on to say that, she would continue paying the minimum payments because “they” (lenders) chose to lend her money knowing that she’d be working in a non-lucrative field, which wasn’t her “fault”. Lastly, she stated that she’s frustrated because she doesn’t have the things that her peers have, because “after so many years of school” she “deserves” to live a “decent” lifestyle.

Interesting right?…

My First Reaction
Hmm I wonder if she realizes that the lenders don’t give a crap if she pays the minimum payment? It’s not like she’s “giving it to the man” by paying the minimum payments. In fact, I’m sure the lender prefers she pays the minimum payment because that will keep her in debt longer and result in more interest paid.

My Second Reaction
What does a “decent” standard of living mean? and is anyone really “entitled’ to a certain standard of living? I did observe that the “debtor” in question had an iphone and a luxury handbag. I’m not saying that she’s living beyond her means (I have idea what her “means” are) or overindulging instead of paying down her loans (for all I know the iphone and purse might have been gifts). But I would say that iphones and luxury handbags aren’t necessities and if she IS buying those because she thinks that she “deserves” them, that might be part of her debt problem. Don’t get me wrong, I have my fair share of “luxury” goods and I like them quite a bit. But I don’t think that I’m “entitled” to them, nor would I continue buying them while I was paying the minimum payments on my student loans.

My Third Reaction
I agree that tuition costs in this country are completely out of control, but you knew what you were “signing up” for. If you chose to attend a university with an extremely high cost of attendance, that’s nobody’s fault but your own. Nobody had a gun to your head and told you you had to attend an expensive private school. There are plenty of great public universities and community colleges that are affordable. Furthermore, lenders aren’t “giving” away money, you are borrowing it. If you decided to “take” the money, then you’re responsible for paying it back.

My Fourth Reaction
Yes I had four separate reactions to a 3-minute conversation between two women I don’t know. What can I say? I get worked up about student debt! Wouldn’t it be nice if salary was directly proportionate to the number of years in school you completed? Attend high school  make $30k, attend two years of college make $40k, attend graduate school make $100k. I don’t know what that woman does for work, but she did admit that she chose a field that isn’t “lucrative” (whatever that means). Personally, I went $30k in debt to obtain a social work degree. Did I obtain a graduate degree thinking I’d make millions? No! Do I think I should make more money? Yes! Do I think I should make more money solely based on the fact I went to grad school? No.

**Disclaimer, I don’t personally know either of the women I was ease-dropping on. My reactions are based on my own personal experiences and assumptions that I’m making based on my own opinions and biases.

Weigh in please. If “you” have debt is the debt “your” fault?

Apr 07

Food Storage: Why I’m Paying More

I’ve been considering this set. Do you use glass storage? Is this a good set to buy?

I have to admit that until recently I was pretty cheap frugal when it came to purchasing food storage. I have a ton of Ziploc and Glad plastic storage containers and I use them for just about everything. From storage of leftovers in the fridge and freezing sauces, to impromptu soap holders in the tub.

Plastic storage is cheap, readily available and really convenient. But is is safe?

There’s been a bunch of news coverage lately about plastic food storage containers leaking chemicals into food. I’m not a scientist and I’m not even going to attempt to understand how plastics are made, but even before all the talk about plastics and chemicals, I’d been considering switching to all glass storage containers.

Glass vs. Plastic food Storage, which is better?

Why chose glass food storage containers?

1. Glass storage containers are safer than plastic
Many plastics (even those labeled BPA-free) can leach chemicals into your food, especially when they are heated up. I’ll be honest, I use the microwave a lot. Far more than I probably should, but that’s a post for another time. So if I continue to microwave, I’d like to do so safely in glass.

2. Glass storage containers don’t stink.
Have you ever had an onion flavored strawberry? I have and it was disgusting. Plastic containers retain odors and can alter the taste of the food you store in them. I don’t know about you, but I like my strawberries to taste like strawberries. Random trivia, as I was typing that last sentence, I thought of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when “Willy” says, “The snozberries taste like snozberries”. Thanks to Urban Dictionary I now know that a “snozberry” is not what I thought…

3. Glass storage containers are more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Glass can be recycled indefinitely and each time it’s just as good as structurally sound. Plastic breaks down each time it’s recycled and eventually isn’t useable anymore.

4. Glass storage containers are sturdy and stain-proof.
Glass doesn’t warp out of shape when you fill it with hot foods or liquids. It also doesn’t stain when you store pasta sauce in it (my plastic containers stain horribly).

What about plastic storage containers?

1. Plastic storage containers don’t break.
If you’re clumsy like me, you don’t have to worry about breaking your foot when you drop a plastic storage container on it (you do have to worry about the hot food that was in it!). There’s also no risk of plastic storage shattering, the way that glass can if you poor cold liquid into a hot dish.

2. Plastic storage is inexpensive.
You can buy plastic food storage containers at most of the “big box” stores very inexpensively. You can buy a package of 2-4 containers for less than $5.00 at my local target.

3. You can toss plastic storage if it gets gross.
If
you’re lazy or forgetful and only clean the fridge once a month (guilty!) this is key. I know I can’t be the only one who finds leftovers in the back of the fridge, moldy and unidentifiable.

4. Your friends won’t “steal” it.
Seriously! There’s no incentive to keep a cheap piece of plastic food storage. Feel free to bake a casserole and stick it in a plastic container. If your friends are cool they’ll wash and return it. If not, you’re out $5.00 and there are no hurt feelings or weirdness, the same way there would be if they “lost” your, “fancy” RE: expensive glass storage container.

Why I’m I choosing glass…

Glass storage containers will last forever, which I think, makes up for the added upfront cost. I also like knowing that there won’t be any weird chemicals leaching into our food. With all the chemicals we come in contact with in our day-to-day lives, I don’t think that glass containers will make or break us, but I am trying to control the things I can control; like avoiding processed food, eating natural/organic when possible and cleaning our house with eco-friendly cleaners. Maybe those things make a difference and maybe they don’t, but if we can afford glass containers and natural foods, without breaking the budget, I’ll gladly pay a little more to have that control and peace of mind.

What do you think? Am I a crazy Hippie? Do you use glass or plastic storage?

**Links in this post are affiliate links, if you click and buy something I get a small commission, thank you!

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