Posts Tagged ‘Iron Chef Moms’

Iron Chef Moms Challenge: The Final Results

Friday, March 16th, 2007


Meredith has posted her last meal of the contest, a Cheese & Spinach pie that she found in an old cookbook. Be sure to check her post to get her recipe and more creative ways that she is able to stretch her grocery dollars.

She also compiled all of the meals and the total amounts spent so that you can easily reference all of our dinners and the cost breakdowns. Included in this post is also the final results for the contest, and I am shocked to say that I beat her by a dollar. One mere dollar! This means that my Aldi shopping and her sales flier shopping are pretty much on equal ground. For those of you who do not have an Aldi near you, this is great news! You can shop anywhere if you take advantage of all of those great loss leaders and still be under budget.

This was such a fun week and I have enjoyed all of your comments more than you can imagine. I know that many people read my blog, but I have to be honest and say that the comments are what fuel me creatively. Your ideas and cheerleading through the comments is what keeps me motivated on this site! Thank you all for your invaluable feedback.

Much thanks to Meredith for challenging me this week and for being such a wonderful friend! Her blog has provided much inspiration to me and challenged me in my daily life. She is resourceful, thoughtful, and kind. I know her readers would agree!

Iron Chef Moms Challenge: Day Five- Mini-Meatloaves & a Great Conclusion

Friday, March 16th, 2007

This is the final day of the Iron Chef Moms Challenge and I have been both challenged & inspired by the dishes that Meredith & I have put together. I hope that you walk away with a sense of what we were both trying to accomplish. Meredith has proven that it is possible to eat very inexpensively by just going to your local supermarket and picking up the items that are on special at the stores. I was trying to prove that Aldi offers many affordable choices for your dinner hour.

I think more than that, at least for me, I wanted to prove how you can eat well and not spend a lot of money. I think a lot of times people walk away with the impression that if they go to a discount store, that they are reduced to eating processed meats and chips. I know about this impression, because that is how I had thought of it a few years ago. The food, at that time, looked like a bunch of junk food to me and I didn’t see anything there that would be worth serving to my family.

When we moved here though and my husband’s salary drastically decreased, we had no choice but to cut corners. I did not know a lot about cooking and never had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom before.

Aldi Supermarket does offer good food for low prices. I do miss the frills of the other supermarkets- a bagger, picking my groceries up at the door, and the thousands of choices of each product. I don’t miss the price tag though, which keeps me shopping there.

Despite Aldi being my favorite store, I do love to shop the other grocery stores for the exact reason that Meredith has pointed out. Shopping loss leaders in the fliers can be a huge savings to your family. My well-stocked freezers prove that theory! I have tons of meat and cheese that I have purchased at greatly reduced prices and I enjoy shopping the end of the day when the manager’s special tags are calling my name. I have gotten great deals from the supermarket and do feel that shopping the fliers can save you a lot of money. Imagine combining the Aldi shopping with one extra trip to a supermarket to pick up the very best deals of the week.

Setting aside ten dollars even, to shop the loss leaders at the other stores, can be beneficial in the long run to your grocery budget. Coupon cutters can get even more savings by bringing their tote of coupons with them. I know many people, with proper planning, that get food for free or even get money back on their purchases! That is amazing and a tribute to what good shoppers we all could be if we invested a little time into it.

I hope you see through my meals, the desire to provide good food that looks like restaurant-quality eating, but costs you only three or four dollars compared to the twenty or thirty dollar tab you would run if you went out to dinner.

I am anxious to hear all your thoughts and what you have gained from this challenge. What meal was your favorite? What has changed about the way you want to shop? Are you able to eat less expensively than you thought?

For our final day, I made one of my favorite foods for the kids…meatloaf. For some reason, my children are not big meatloaf fans, but make meatloaf muffins? Well, now that is a different story entirely! The best part about preparing meatloaf in your muffin tins, in my opinion, is how much quicker it is to do these versus in the loaf pan. Smaller portions cook up in thirty to thirty-five minutes instead of an hour like the larger loaf. They also transport well for lunches. This recipe tastes like meatballs to me and it is so yummy.

Please ignore the fact that we are eating instant mashed potatoes. Those are my husband’s favorite kind and they are much easier for me to make, so how can I argue with that request?

I served these with a side of steamed broccoli. I love the fresh broccoli hearts because I get the part of the broccoli that I really want. The frozen variety carries more stems than anything else, but mixed in a casserole or dip, they are just fine. If you want to save a little money though, prepare the frozen variety using the microwave instructions, but cook them just a hair under then what it says on the bag. Then take a handful of parmesan cheese a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle it on top with a little salt and pepper. Give it a light toss and the kids will love it more because it has a little cheese on top.

I can make just about anyone a lover out of broccoli. My only trick is I cook them just until they are done so that the broccoli still has a bite to it and it is still that pretty bright green. My kids will even eat it this way. I just cook the broccoli in an inch of boiling water. Put the broccoli heads in and let them cook four minutes. Drain them and let them sit in the hot pan until the rest of the dinner is ready (about five to ten minutes). They will be perfect!

Meatloaf Muffins
Yields Four Servings

1 pound ground turkey (purchased in the frozen section)
1/3 cup breadcrumbs (the Italian variety work well or fresh breadcrumbs)

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

1 egg

1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, but only use about ¼ of the tomato sauce in the meat mixture. Press the meat into the muffin cups (you should be able to get eight out of this amount of meat). Top with a dollop of tomato sauce on each one. Cook for 30-35 minutes. Serve two per person.

This was served with freshly steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes (we like the butter-flavored variety).

Cost Breakdown:

1 pound ground turkey for $0.89
1 egg for $0.07
1 can tomato sauce for $0.19
I package of broccoli hearts for $1.29
1 package of mashed potato mix for $0.40

Total Cost For a Family of Four: $2.84
Total Cost Per Person: $0.71

My overall total for five meals, feeding a family of four, was $15.38. This means that my average cost per person for an entire week of dinners was $3.85!

I am feeling pretty pumped about this! This is how we eat every week so this has helped justify all the time and effort I put into our dinners. What a savings for our family! We could not eat out once for that amount of money unless we dined on nasty fast food.

This also demonstrates how our $50 a week budget works. I still end up with about thirty-five dollars leftover for the other stuff. We also keep an extra ten out each week for maybe a little splurge here and there. This is usually reserved for those little social engagements like coffee with a good friend or those unexpected events where I have to pitch in a little money at a playgroup. There are
weeks that go by where I never even spend this money. If I can go under the fifty dollar amount and still provide great food for my family, I have a little extra for a special treat for myself or for the kids.

Please share with me your thoughts. Was the Iron Chef Moms Challenge worth it? Would you like to see another face-off with a different type of shopper? Share away!

Please check Meredith’s blog for her final tally and her last meal. I am sure she has something wonderful going in her kitchen and I will be anxious to see the final totals!


Note: This recipe will be added to
“the Aldi Queen” and all ingredients listed will be added to my weekly menu planner. My planners are posted every Friday so you can get a week’s worth of ideas and a grocery list in one stop! I am running a little behind today so the planner will be up by this evening.

Iron Chef Moms Challenge: Day Four- Breakfast for Dinner

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Today’s Featured Cookbook: The Joy of Cooking. This is a great reference book that I refer to often when cooking new dishes. There are lots of frugal recipes and great tips on cooking techniques for the novice or the expert.

Pantry Items of the Day (according to Martha): Today’s pantry item is vegetables. Store only hardy vegetables such as potatoes, onions, garlic, and dried wild mushrooms in your pantry. Potatoes should not be refrigerated; keep up to two weeks’ worth in baskets or bins in a cool dry, dark, well-ventilated spot. Do not store them in plastic, which can encourage mold, Keep onions, shallots, and garlic in the pantry (do not refrigerate) up to one month, and dried mushrooms for several months. Store each vegetable in a separate basket or bin. It is especially important to keep potatoes and onions apart since they can cause each other to spoil.

Is it just me or is this Iron Chef Moms Challenge going by so quick? I have been having a blast planning these meals and Meredith has so many great dishes cooking in her kitchen. My guess is that she is going to beat me with her shopping. There is just no denying Meredith’s shopping skills…as if I could anyway?

One of the ways we save money on our grocery budget is by doing breakfast once a week. My kids will eat anything with syrup on it and I have never had anyone once say, “Delicious pancakes AGAIN?” Breakfast foods are so inexpensive to make and it is a breeze for me to clean up and to prepare.
In my opinion, a griddle is a must in our house because I can prepare dinner in about ten minutes flat. Throw six pieces of French toast on at the same time and we have three people served and happy. You just can’t beat it!
On my Aldi blog I am incorporating a “Fast Food” night. This night isn’t a rush out to Wendy’s night, but maybe just a quick and simple dish that you can get on the table when there are no dinner plans or you have had a rough day with the kids.

I was having one of those kinds of days yesterday, so I prepared my French toast. I do love to make this in mass quantities, for breakfasts for the kids or for my hubby to take for lunch the next day. The funny thing is that he took this one week to work and got tons of comments on how good his lunch looked. If only they knew how little it cost to throw a meal like that together!

If you have a large family, preheat your oven to 200 degrees and put a cookie sheet inside of it. As you do batches of the French toast, transfer them to the cookie sheet to keep warm. Our family is small, but sometimes I do this and cook up the whole loaf. This is also one of the best ways to keep all the food warm when you serve dinner to guests. We did this as a birthday brunch for my mother-in-law and it was a hit. I just served coffee, orange juice, and a roll of cinnamon rolls. It was easy and inexpensive, but a great way to celebrate her day!

Here is my recipe for French toast- I hope that you thoroughly enjoy it!
Amy’s French Toast
Scaled to serve four

½ loaf of white bread (can substitute with whole wheat)
3 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 cup milk (just a splash to thin out the egg coating)

Beat together the eggs, milk, vanilla extract, sugar, & cinnamon. Turn your griddle to 350 degrees or put your skillet on medium-low heat. Dip bread in the egg mixture (on both sides) and drop the bread into the skillet or onto the griddle. Cook until golden brown on each side.

I served this with turkey bacon. I use the Joy of Cooking cookbook’s recommendation and actually put all the bacon on a cookie sheet. Turn your broiler on high and cook for ten to fifteen minutes. The bacon took about twelve minutes and it was crispy. Make a little extra for a BLT for your lunch!

Cost Breakdown:
White bread- $.45 a loaf, used half for $0.23
3 eggs- $.89 a dozen, used three for $.21
Syrup- $.89, used a third of the bottle for $.30
Turkey Bacon- $1.69, used half for $.85

Total Cost To Feed Four- $1.59
Cost Per Person- $.40

Note: This recipe will be added to “the Aldi Queen” and all ingredients listed will be added to my weekly menu planner. My planners are posted every Friday so you can get a week’s worth of ideas and a grocery list in one stop!

Iron Chef Moms Challenge: Day Three- Caesar Chicken Pasta Salad

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Today’s Featured Cookbook: Cooking Light Magazine. This is a great one to pick up from your library or pick up their books chock full of dinner ideas!

Pantry Items of the Day (according to Martha): Today I am sharing her excerpt on spices. “Most spices will lose their potency after about a year, but their flavor will deteriorate faster if stored improperly. Keep them in airtight, light-proof containers, away from the heat. Choose an accessible drawer or cabinet or a wall-mounted rack. Do not hang your spices above the cooktop.”

Welcome to day three of the Iron Chef Moms Challenge. I hope that you are getting some great ideas for your dinner hour between our dishes and Meredith’s tasty fare. It has been a lot of fun to see how this is all playing out. Meredith is an excellent shopper and I admire her knack for finding the best deals and finding ways to utilize those ingredients. She is certainly making me a believer that it is possible to eat very inexpensively by planning your meals around the fliers. Her meal today is a mere $.59 per person! That is pretty darn incredible! Great job, Meredith!

I choose to shop Aldi Supermarket for a number of reasons, but the main reason has always been the savings to our family. There are savings to be had, not only because the food is so cheap, but because you are not tempted by all of the other goodies available in the store.
For example, when I would go to Wal-Mart, I would go with a list in hand and plan to get those items only. That was it. Nada. Nothing else. Then I would be lured to other areas of the store or I would find myself putting items in my cart that I could have done without. Maybe it is lack of discipline, but shopping at a superstore is a super drain on our budget. With Aldi, I walk in and out with exactly what is on my list. On occasion they will have a special purchase available that is worth going a dollar or two over, otherwise I stay on the straight and narrow. I also enjoy the convenience of going to only one store to do my shopping. It is so nice to be able to walk in and out of the store and have everything I need. The only disadvantage is that you have to plan properly before entering the store for your meals that week. Aldi has select ingredients so it can be difficult to plan sometimes. Thank goodness for “the Aldi Queen” blog though, because you will never have to worry about that again!

For our family’s grocery budget, we budget fifty dollars a week. This includes all of our toiletries, paper products, and cleaners. I don’t find it a challenge to stay within our budget because I enjoy planning menus and I consider sticking to my budget almost a game. I love to go under budget and my husband always gets a kick out of my cost breakdowns for the things we eat. “Oh, you love this dish? Guess how much it cost…go ahead, guess! Two cents and not a penny more- can you believe it?”

I think what has always been important to me is no matter where I shop, that I make really good food for my family. We eat very well and I am proud of what I am able to make and to make it so inexpensively is just the icing on that cheap cake we are eating!

Let’s begin talking about today’s menu. Yes, I do realize that I have done three chicken dishes in a row. We eat a lot of chicken in our house, but I promise to do better the rest of the week. I have some other meats unthawing for our next meal, so be sure to check back for a non-chicken dish.

It was very warm yesterday (I am posting these a day ahead so you can view this in the morning) and the last thing I felt like eating was a hot dish. I made a Caesar Pasta Salad dish because it was a nice cold dish and it makes for really great lunches for the week. In the original recipe, I use feta cheese instead of the parmesan, but feta is not available at Aldi…just yet! This dish was taken from Cooking Light Magazine. Enjoy!

Caesar Chicken Pasta Salad

1 pound chicken (about three small breasts)
½ pound penne pasta (This ingredient is available this week at Aldi. If it isn’t at your store, you can substitute with elbow macaroni)
1 romaine heart, chopped
½ pint cherry or grape tomatoes
1/3 cup Caesar dressing
A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top

Bake chicken breasts as directed on package on a cookie sheet. While the chicken is baking, chop the romaine heart and halve the tomatoes. Cook pasta until al dente, as directed on package. Drain and rinse pasta with cold water. Dice the cooked chicken and put this in a bowl. Toss in pasta, tomatoes, lettuce, and the dressing. Mix until all the ingredients are incorporated. This can be served with a little sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Amy’s Notes- Because I wanted plenty of food for leftovers, I actually cooked the entire box of pasta and kept all the other ingredients the same. This stretched the dish further and we have enough for four more lunches. Additional dressing can be added to leftovers to keep pasta from tasting dried out. Basically, for forty more cents you can feed another four people! That makes this a great dish to entertain with!

Cost Breakdown:

Chicken breasts- $5.99 a bag, used one pound for $1.71
Penne Pasta- $.79 a box, used half the box for $.40
Romaine heart- $1.59 for three, used one for $.53
Cherry tomatoes- $1.79 for a container, used half for $.90
Total Cost To Feed Four- $3.54
Cost Per Person- $.89

Note: This recipe will be added to “the Aldi Queen” and all ingredients listed will be added to my weekly menu planner. My planners are posted every Friday so you can get a week’s worth of ideas and a grocery list in one stop!

Iron Chef Moms Challenge: Day Two- Parmesan Chicken Drumsticks

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007
Today’s Featured Cookbook: The Complete Tightwad Gazette- it is full of cheap & thrifty recipes that a frugal cook just can’t do without!

Pantry Items of the Day (according to Martha): Here are the canned and bottled items you need for a well-stocked pantry. Italian plum tomatoes, tomato paste, green & black olives, olive paste, anchovies, anchovy paste, capers, chickpeas, black beans, hot sauce, mustards, Italian oil-packed tuna, low-sodium chicken broth, canned fruits, chutneys, fruit jam. Heed expiration dates; otherwise, most canned and bottled goods, such as preserves, pickles, and relishes can be kept unopened, for up to one year. Once opened, glass bottles should be refrigerated; transfer unused canned goods to airtight containers and refrigerate for three or four days. This is especially important for canned acidic foods such as tomatoes or pineapples; once the interior of the can is exposed to air, the acidity is likely to cause rust. If you do see rust on an opened can of food, the can & food should be discarded.
Welcome to day two of the Iron Chef Moms Challenge. Please be sure to visit Meredith’s blog where she will be sharing ways that you can stay within your budget just by utilizing the sales flier. Yesterday she shared tips for cooking with loss leaders and the fabulous Southern-style birthday dinner she was able to make out of ingredients she purchased on sale. Her total beat me by $1.65! Great job, Meredith!
Meredith has already posted her day two results, as she has thrown a dinner together in the slow cooker (I love those kind of recipes!) using cabbage that she found on sale at her local supermarket. Her daily total came to $4.55 or $1.13 per person. I am excited to say that my total today was $3.14 or $.79 per person, which seemed more reflective of Meredith’s total yesterday. This puts me at $1.41 ahead today, but still $.24 behind, overall.
I have a little confession to make that might surprise you…I actually have never in my life cooked chicken drumsticks so last night’s dinner was a bit of an experiment in our house. If I purchase chicken, I tend to go for the white meat because it is the healthiest option. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive option so I have been trying other cuts of meat to keep our expenses down.

When I happened upon these two recipes, I was very excited to try something a little different. When I put it together, I realized it will be a perfect meal for us to take on our next picnic and it was a cinch to put together.

Here is a one little tip for today that I would like to share. This might be common knowledge, but it is a little trick that I use when I am cooking chicken with a coating or breading on the outside. I take a jelly roll pan and then rest our cooling rack on top of that and spray it lightly with cooking spray. I then bread the meat and rest it on top of the cooling rack. The reason I do this is because I absolutely hate it when you have a nice crisp side on one side and then a soggy mess on the flip-side. By using the cooling rack, I am able to get the heat to circulate on the bottoms, which help keep that crispy coating on all the sides of the meat.
Although the chicken was divine, I have to admit that I was most surprised by the simple side dish and how tasty it actually turned out to be. Potatoes prepared in the microwave? Covered in only a tablespoon of butter? Could Cooking Light Magazine have been mistaken when putting this dish together? I was wrong though- the amount of butter and the swiftness of the microwave made for some very tasty taters. My husband, who will only eat the fry variety of these, actually gobbled them up and asked if we could have them again.
Best of all, you just can’t beat the price tag on the meal itself!

Parmesan Chicken

4 drumsticks (the Aldi’s bag contains five drumsticks, but there will still be plenty of coating)
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese (in the dairy section, not in the shaker)
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I make my own and store them in the freezer)

In a shallow bowl, mix together cheese and breadcrumbs. In a separate bowl, beat egg until lemon colored. Dip chicken in egg, coating well. Roll in cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 45-60 minutes.

Amy’s Notes: I removed the skin on the chicken drumsticks. Simply slip your fingers under the skin and pull to remove. I then proceeded with the coating. My drumsticks took 50 minutes to bake.

Microwave Taters

1.5 pounds potatoes- red or Russet. 1.5 pounds of potatoes equals about four cups of diced potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
Any seasoning of your choice- I used a teaspoon of Italian seasoning & salt and pepper

In a shallow baking dish, place a tablespoon of butter in the dish and microwave for fifteen seconds (or until the butter is melted). Dice the potatoes and put them on top of the butter. Top the potatoes with any seasonings of your choice. With a spoon, lightly toss the potatoes until they are all coated in the butter. Pop the bowl in the microwave and microwave for fifteen minutes. Every five minutes, just give them a little stir to make sure all of the potatoes get heated evenly.

Cost Breakdown:

Chicken Drumsticks- $1.89
¾ cup Parmesan Cheese- $1.89 for the container, $.95 is amount used
1 egg- $.89 for a dozen, $.07 for one egg
1.5 pounds potatoes- $1.49 for 10#, $.23

Total Cost To Feed Four- $3.14
Cost Per Person- $.79

Note: This recipe will be added to
“the Aldi Queen” and all ingredients listed will be added to my weekly menu planner. My planners are posted every Friday so you can get a week’s worth of ideas and a grocery list in one stop!

Iron Chef Moms Challenge: Day One- Chicken Broccoli Lo Mein

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Today’s Featured Cookbook: Cheap, Fast, Good by Beverly Mills & Alicia Ross

Pantry Items of the Day (according to Martha): Here are the basic baking staples you need for a well-stocked pantry. Pure vanilla extract and other extracts, vanilla beans, baking soda, baking powder, unsweetened and semisweet dark chocolate, Dutch- process cocoa powder, unflavored gelatin, dry yeast, cornstarch- store ingredients in airtight containers, away from heat and light sources. Extracts will last several years; leavenings lose their potency after about one year, and should be discarded on their expiration dates.

I had anticipated on spending a bit more time in my cookbooks this weekend, but my daughter & I both came down with a nasty strep infection and my time has been spent trying to sleep it off and care for Emily.

Despite the setback, I am excited to begin sharing with you some of the meals that our family enjoys, utilizing ingredients purchased from Aldi. I hope that this week’s menu plan provides you some new ideas for your dinner hour, as well as providing you a very budget-friendly dinner.

One of my favorite take-out foods is Chinese food. I love a good Chicken Lo Mein and was so excited when I happened upon this excellent recipe to make this dish at home. With some of my own modifications, I was able to make this dish with ingredients purchased at our local Aldi.

This dish is a hit with our entire family, even the broccoli & mushroom haters in the bunch. This dish just has something for everyone in the family. Because it is a pasta dish, the chicken and vegetables are easily stretched, keeping you well under budget.

To be honest, we do not normally serve a side with this dish, but we were to include a side with this dish so I will add a side of applesauce for the kids.

I love to double the recipe to eat it for lunch or a yummy late night snack!

Please check Meredith’s blog for her breakdown and meal plan for the evening. It sounds like she has something very yummy going in her kitchen. I think I would like to eat over there!

Chicken Broccoli Lo Mein
Adapted from Cheap, Fast, Good!

8 ounces thin spaghetti (if linguine is available, I prefer this over the spaghetti)
2/3 pound skinless, boneless chicken (3 chicken breasts, dethawed overnnight)
1 cup fresh button mushrooms
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 bag frozen broccoli pieces
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon ketchup

Cook pasta as directed. Clean & chop mushrooms. Heat oil. Cut chicken in bite size pieces. When all the chicken is cut, add it to the skillet. Add mushrooms and broccoli to the skillet. Cook for five to six minutes or until mushrooms have released their liquid and chicken is cooked through. Add soy sauce, vinegar, and ketchup. Stir to combine. Add cooked pasta and serve immediately.

Serve with ramekins of applesauce.

Cost Breakdown:

8 ounces thin spaghetti- .25
2/3# chicken breasts (approximately 1/4 of a bag)- $1.75
1 cup fresh mushrooms- .79
1 bag frozen broccoli- .79
1 jar applesauce- .69
(Other ingredients listed are considered staple items according to Iron Chef Mom guidelines)

Total Cost To Feed Four: $4.27
Cost Per Person: $1.07

Note: This recipe will be added to “the Aldi Queen” and all ingredients listed will be added to my weekly menu planner. My planners are posted every Friday so you can get a week’s worth of ideas and a grocery list in one stop!