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Published: Tuesday, 9/25/2012

Sale-savvy mom cooks up low-cost, low-maintenance dishes

BY JESSICA ELIZARRARAS
SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
Erin Chase Erin Chase
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SAN ANTONIO -- Author Erin Chase is used to the skepticism.

Known as the $5 Mom, the San Antonio-based Chase has written two books on how to feed your family while staying under that elusive $5 per meal mark. Chase keeps her receipts for a reason.

"Everything I paid for, that's accurate," Chase says.

Indeed, every recipe ingredient in Chase's books has a price tag -- the not-so-grand totals are also included at the bottom of each recipe.

Some might argue that the prices are too good to be true, but Chase doesn't hesitate to share her secrets to low-budget meal planning.

"Once people see the light, once that clicks for people, they're usually like 'Whoa, I had no clue how much money I was wasting at the store,'" Chase says, which means paying attention to sale prices, using coupons and being creative with your low-cost bounty.

For her third book, The $5 Dinner Mom One-Dish Dinners Cookbook (St. Martin's Press, $17.99), she combines low-budget cooking with easy clean-up; something Chase says gives cooks a hand in the kitchen.

The mom of three, soon to be four, has been frugal for a while. Her attention to cost and creativity in the kitchen led to her starting a $5 dinner blog, 5dollardinners.com, and later to her being selected as one of 10 national winners for a money-saving tip contest sponsored by Wal-Mart.

But the Houston native first learned how to budget and cook while living in the Dominican Republic. There, as a teacher and house mom to 10 boys at a small Christian school, Chase had a crash course in cooking.

"The food down there is very different," Chase says. "The processed food I was comfortable with, like Hamburger Helper and granola, cost four or five times as much. I had to learn how to cook from scratch."

Learning to cook included making her own bread, cooking batches of rice and stretching chicken as far as possible. This process helped shape Chase's cooking philosophies after moving back to the States.

"You learn to choose the bag of beans over the can of beans," she says. "Opening the can is easier, but so is cooking the beans in the slow cooker. There's money to be saved there."

And where there's money to be saved, there are moms trying to meet budgets. For novices to sale shopping, Chase suggests baby steps: spending 30 to 45 minutes a week figuring out what's on sale and looking for coupons through several budgeting Web sites. She also recommends waiting to find a sale cycle.

"Sales usually work in six or eight or 12 week cycles," Chase says. "You'll figure out when to buy meat, or pasta, after you've seen all the same prices at some point."

The fun part is being creative with the items on sale.

"Once you find a great price on meat, you can plan a menu of taco meat or spaghetti and get the most for your dollar," Chase says.

In The $5 Dinner Mom One-Dish Dinners Cookbook" Chase lists freezer-friendly dishes, as well as meals that can be adapted to slow cookers.

Her book's recipes also focus on easy, one-pan preparation that create little to no mess.

She hopes to keep educating, inspiring and empowering people to be smarter in the kitchen. The recipes in the book are easy enough to become what Chase calls mindless, something that won't add stress to your life and can be added to your repertoire.

"These are real recipes for real-life kitchens that are feeding real people," Chase says.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 small boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound total weight), cut into bite-size pieces

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen stir-fry vegetables blend

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons lime juice

2 teaspoons curry powder

8 ounces thin spaghetti noodles, cooked

Cook's note: The recipe's total cost of $3.15 is calculated by Chase after using coupons and buying ingredients on sale.

In a large skillet or wok, add olive oil and saute chicken pieces for 7-9 minutes, or until they are cooked through. Add the frozen stir-fry vegetables, garlic cloves, lime juice, and curry powder and saute until vegetables are thawed and cooked through.

Toss in the cooked thin spaghetti noodles and let cook together for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm from the skillet.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 280 calories (20.3 percent calories from fat), 6 g fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 90 mg sodium, 24 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 31 g protein.

Source: The $5 Dinner Mom One Dish Dinners Cookbook, by Erin Chase

1 pound ground beef

1 (15-ounce) can corn kernels

1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chiles

2 tablespoons taco seasoning

5 ounces tortilla chips, crushed

1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese

1 avocado, sliced

Cook's note: The recipe's total cost of $4.86 is calculated by Chase after using coupons and buying ingredients on sale. Frugal Fact: Because there are rarely good coupons for tortilla chips, expect the generic brand to have the better price.

In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, brown the ground beef. Drain off grease and return meat to skillet.

Reduce heat to medium and add the drained can of corn and the drained can of diced tomatoes with green chiles. Mix in taco seasoning and let simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Take several handfuls of corn tortilla chips and crush them over top of the beef mixture in the skillet. Crush enough to make a thin layer all over the mixture in the skillet.

Then sprinkle the shredded Mexican blend cheese over the top of the crushed tortilla chips. Reduce heat to low and let cheese melt. If necessary, cover with a lid, or baking sheet if you don't have a tight fitting lid, for a few minutes, allowing the cheese to melt evenly.

Serve with avocado slices on top.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 730 calories (56.4 percent calories from fat), 47 g fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 1,160 mg sodium, 49 g carbohydrates, 8 g dietary fiber, 32 g protein.

Source: The $5 Dinner Mom One Dish Dinners Cookbook, by Erin Chase

1 pound stew beef

2 cups fresh broccoli florets

1 1/2 cups uncooked brown rice

⅓ cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon ground ginger

⅓ teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Cook's note: The recipe's total cost of $4.35 is calculated by Chase after using coupons and buying ingredients on sale. Frugal Fact: Look for marked down packages of stew beef, as it can often be found for less than $2.49 per pound, as part of a reduced for quick sale promotion.

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

To the prepared baking dish, add the stew beef, fresh broccoli florets, and brown rice, and toss together. Pour the soy sauce plus 4 cups of hot water over the stew beef, broccoli and rice. Sprinkle the ground ginger, garlic salt and pepper over the mixture.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. If using white rice, decrease cooking time to 50-55 minutes. Toss with a fork before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 430 calories (14.1 percent calories from fat), 7 g fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 1,750 mg sodium, 57 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 33 g protein.

Source: The $5 Dinner Mom One-Dish Dinners Cookbook, by Erin Chase



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