Tiny Spicy Chicken is great over rice, with a little fruit to help balance out the heat.   Bok choy is great on the side.

Do you have children or grandchildren who are afraid of what’s lurking under their beds?  Here’s the perfect solution, found on Meridian magazine online a couple months ago:

The Monster Under the Bed
"I overheard my two young adult sons talking.  One asked, “Do kids really think there are monsters under their beds?”  The other one answered: 'I never did.  There was always so much food storage under there that I knew there was no room for a monster.'”

 So let's all chase out those monsters!  For a lot of suggestions on storing food when you have little space, see the Food Storage Made Easy page.


This recipe came from a class at the Macey’s in Logan, back when I lived there.  “Tiny Spicy Chicken” was one of the entrees at Mandarin Gardens, a local Chinese restaurant.  Maybe it’s a Cache Valley specialty, because I haven’t run into anyone not  from there who has had this dish. 


Tiny Spicy Chicken

3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 1 ½ “ cubes
garlic salt
2 beaten eggs
1 cup cornstarch
¼ c. oil

            Sprinkle chicken with garlic salt, let sit for 1 hour in the fridge.  Heat oil in a large frying pan.  Dip chicken into eggs, then roll or shake in a bag with cornstarch.  Brown chicken pieces in the oil, until golden brown.  Put in a greased 9x13 pan.

Shortcut method: use 1- 1 ½ lbs. fully cooked chicken nuggets, frozen is OK.  (Don't use 3 lbs nuggets; they have too much breading that soaks up this sauce.)

½ -1  tsp. chili paste*

1 c. sugar
½  c. ketchup
2 tsp. soy sauce
Dash of salt
½  c. chicken broth
¼  c. brown sugar
½ c. vinegar

 Sauce will be very runny.  Pour over chicken (if using chicken nuggets, mix the sauce in the 9x13 pan, then add the chicken) and stir to coat.  Bake at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes, stirring once or twice during that time.  Serve over rice.

Alternate cooking methods: bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, stirring a couple times, or put in a crockpot and cook on low for 5-8 hours.

*Sambal chili paste can be found in the Asian section at Macey's grocery store, it probably can be found at most other grocery stores.  If you don't have it, or can't find it, substitute red pepper flakes.  Start with 1/4 tsp., put it in the sauce, then taste to see if it's as hot/mild as you like.
Chili paste is made from whole, hot chilies, ground up, and mixed with a little vinegar.  It includes the seeds, so it packs a punch.

If you use raw chicken breasts, the recipe takes about 1 1/2 hours to make.  If you start with these, you can have it done in 20 minutes.

Aren't cans and oxygen packets great?  I opened this can just yesterday.  And yes, 6-21-93 was when it was sealed.

The chicken, coated with sauce, ready to bake.

Baking it condenses the sauce and helps it soak into the coating on the chicken.  It's a little sweet, and a little zippy. 

To make a heart-shaped cupcake or muffin, fill cupcake liners with batter, then put a marble on one side, between the liner and the pan.  This makes the top of the heart.  These muffins are made with frozen cranberries, to up the 'Valentines' factor.

The baked muffin.  It will look even more like a heart it you strategically put on a drizzle of glaze, or frosting, for a cupcake.

I love making people smile by cooking them something they like, and I love the peace of mind I get from 'shopping' for the ingredients in my own pantry.

My family’s Valentine’s tradition, as a child, was that my mom would make us each a big heart-shaped sugar cookie, frost it red or pink, then decorate it with our name and a pretty border.  We got those every year (often for breakfast!), and loved them.  For most of my growing-up years, our heart-shaped cookie cutter was formed out of an empty tuna can.  I remember being fascinated as I watched her shape a replacement cutter one year, amazed that this thing we’d normally throw away could turn into a useful item.  Especially something that would create our much-anticipated heart cookie!

If you’re looking for something new to do for Valentine’s this year, here are some ideas (I borrowed heavily from Living On a Dime, links below):

-For any food, ask yourself, “could I cut/shape it into a heart or make it red?” You can use food coloring, or if you like the natural route, use beet puree or beet juice, raspberry, strawberry, or cherry juice to color things.  They each give a different version of red.

-Make heart-shaped food:  pizza (crust recipe here), muffins or cupcakes (use the marble trick), biscuits (recipe here, use hands or a cookie cutter), heart-shaped cinnamon rolls (individual or cooked in a heart pan), Rice Krispie treats, cookies, toast, brownies, red Jello cut with cookie cutters or set up in a heart-shaped cake pan, slices of cheese, pancakes.  If you want, write their name on these with frosting, whipped cream, chocolate, or chocolate chips.

-If you don’t have a heart cookie cutter for the ideas above, trace a heart onto cardstock, cardboard, or a whipped topping lid.  Cut out, then  use that as a guide for your knife.  Or cut off the top and bottom from a tuna fish can, then use pliers to shape it into a heart.  

-Use pretty place settings.  Or decorate paper plates using red and pink markers.  Use little paper doilies under fancy glasses, or use bigger ones under a plate.

-Serve foods that are red, maybe even a whole meal’s worth! – enchiladas, red Jello, strawberries, beets, maraschino cherries, cherry cobbler or pie, red juice, toast with strawberry jam, tomato soup, apple slices, watermelon, cranberries, spaghetti and meatballs 

-Decorate with a little construction-paper hearts- stack pages so you can cut out multiples.

-A kiss on their pillow- cut out a paper heart, glue a kiss to it, and leave it on your kids’ or sweetie’s pillow.  Simple but effective!

-Buy a candy bar  or make and wrap bar cookies, then make your own label for it.  You could just draw hearts on it, or you could write a personalized message or a cute little poem. 

-Try making just one part of the meal special- their favorite main dish, dessert, OR side dish.

-Make some homemade candy, instead of purchasing it.

-If you want to make a cake or cupcakes, try my favorite chocolate frosting, or the any-flavor basic frosting.

-Send your hubby or kids on a Valentine’s Treasure Hunt: http://www.livingonadime.com/valentines-on-a-dime/

For more ideas, also see:
Valentine’s dessert recipes http://www.livingonadime.com/valentines-day-recipes/

photo courtesy of photos8.com

Hi everyone,

Does it always seem like too much of your budget goes to food?  Do you wonder what amount of money is 'normal'?  If so, go to the Official USDA Food Plans pdf.

This page will give you the 2010 averages, based on nutritionally balanced diets cooked at home.  Now that you see how frugal you really are, here are some tips to help even more; pick just one or two to try so it's not overwhelming. Then all that's left is deciding how that new-found money is going to better use!

Ways to eat well on less money:

*Buy on sale and get extras so you never pay full price.

*Buy the fresh fruits/veggies that are $1/lb or less.

*Find ways to throw away less- only serve up what you will eat, save wilted veggies in the freezer for soup later, re-purpose leftovers.

*Use meat mostly as a flavoring (mixed in with other ingredients), not as its own dish.

*Buy meats that you can get for $2/lb or less, or whatever is bargain-price for your area.

*When you buy meat, get a bunch on sale, then cook it all at once.  Package and freeze most of it for future, faster, meals.

*Buy flour, sugar in bulk, make more things from scratch.

*Keep your kitchen clean so you like being there!  (You don't need to do it all yourself!  Doing dishes 'all the time' causes depression for me- once I added that to my kids' job charts, I felt much better!)

*Grow a garden where you used to have some lawn- you get the same water bill, more food.  Packets of seeds can last 4-5 years if kept cool and dark.   Or split packets with a friend.  

*Make your own bread instead of buying it.

How much can you save on bread?  Cost varies by recipe, but mine comes out to less than $ .50 per loaf ($. 42), including the electricity for baking, for top-quality whole-wheat bread.  (Well, frankly, the quality varies by week....)   If you eat two loaves a week, that saves you $200/year when compared to $2.50/loaf of bread.   We go through 6 loaves a week, so we’re saving over $600 per year.  Yes, a stand mixer and grain mill  definitely pay for themselves!  For the recipe I use, see Basic Bread on my website.
Yesterday the Teachers' Quorum (14-15 yr. old boys) came to my house for their weekly activity.  They've been learning about nutrition and safe food handling, so they all pitched in and cooked a meal.    Their handout included budget-friendly, adaptable, and fairly fast recipes; the kind that would be especially valuable when in college or on missions.  For these recipes, click on Quick & Cheap Meals.  The boys did great with them, I think you'll like them, too.   

Happy cooking and budgeting!