Cheapskate Chicken: Every piece has a purpose

Every time I turn around, it seems like groceries get more expensive and I’m getting less ‘bang’ for my buck at checkout. I have a set grocery budget that must feed six people and I only shop once a month. I’m always trying to maximize the amount I can purchase within that and spread the love to all my families’ meals. I love finding ingredients that can cheaply be used to make multiple things, especially things that are key ingredients in multiple recipes. It makes me feel all giddy. Call it an obsession of mine. I know, I’m weird, and I’m totally OK with that.

One thing in particular I know has drastically gone up at the stores is meat, and I use A LOT of meats. Chicken, especially, has seen a price hike and I haven’t seen great sale prices in quite some time. I’ve always preferred boneless, skinless breasts, simply because I am also lazy, and try to find shortcuts in the kitchen so that making dinner from scratch every night isn’t always an entire evening affair. I do have kids I have to attend to after all.  In seeking out cheaper alternatives, on a whim, I decided to buy a $3.00 pack of two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts about a year ago. I kept them in the freezer for some time since the prospect of de-boning was rather daunting. Finally, I decided to try cooking them like I would a whole chicken, in the crockpot, and the results were life changing! Or at least revolutionary in my kitchen. Enter: Cheapskate Chicken!  Now, from only one $3.00 package of chicken, with minimal (and I mean bare-minimum) prep, and just a handful of other kitchen staples, I get enough chicken for 3 meals that will feed all 6 of us, am able to make about a gallon and a half of chicken stock/broth, two packages of carrots, celery, and onions infused with flavor and ready to throw in your homemade soups, and even have meat to add in with our dog’s dry food for 2 weeks at a time. Interested yet?! I’ve never encountered a simpler multi-step process. Here goes.

Cheapskate Chicken


  • one package bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  • salt
  • pepper
  • whatever other dry seasonings you prefer


  1. Rinse, and pat dry, both chicken breasts
  2. Place them into the crockpot, skin side up
  3. Liberally salt and pepper the tops of the chicken breasts
  4. Add whatever other dry seasonings you’d like to add a hint of flavor to the meat. I prefer Montreal Chicken seasoning from McCormick. Occasionally, I will add in some minced garlic.
  5. Cover, and cook on high for about 4 hours, on low about 6 hours, or until meat is cooked through
  6. For easier removal from the crockpot (it’s so tender it has a tendency to just fall off the bone) turn your crockpot off and let the breasts cool before taking them out.

Don’t worry about your chicken burning or sticking to the bottom since you haven’t added any liquid. As the chicken cooks, the moisture it expels will collect on the bottom of your crockpot and prevent it. Not to mention the ‘dry’ cooking leaves the skin incredibly crisp and delicious. My kids always argue over who gets to eat the skin when it’s done!

Step 2: Pickin’ your chicken


  1. Remove both breasts from your crock pot and place them on a clean surface, cutting board, plate, whatever you prefer.
  2. Pull all the meat you can find off your chicken, making sure to remove any bones that may come away with it. Place any bones in a bowl, along with the skin if you haven’t gobbled it up already like I do.
  3. Any meat you don’t want, whether it’s dark, fatty, whatever, either add to the bowl with your bones, or if you have a furry friend, place it in a zip lock bag to save for him/her, again being careful to remove any bones.
  4. Once you’ve picked your chicken clean, package up the meat you’ve kept, either in tupperware for the refrigerator or in freezer bags for the freezer in meal-size portions.
  5. If the chicken isn’t shredded enough for you, give it one quick spin in the food processor, or until your desired texture is reached.

Step 3: Homemade Chicken Stock


Your crockpot is really going to get a workout today. You’re all ready to use it again! For this step you will need a few additional ingredients which I’ve listed below.

  •  chicken bones, skin, fat
  • 3 cups of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • water


  1. Throw your discarded chicken bones, fat, and skin back in your crockpot.
  2. Add in the prepared vegetables.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste, and add in any other spices you think your stock might need.
  4. Pour enough water over the vegetables to fill your crockpot about 1/2 inch from the top.
  5. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.
  6. When cool, pour the contents of the crockpot into a strainer that has been placed inside of a large stew pot. Preferably, one that can rest on the edge of the pot so it’s sits up out of the liquid that separates from the solids.
  7. After draining, remove the strainer from over the pot and pick out all pieces of bones, skin, and fat and discard them.
  8. Package up the veggies to freeze to use as sides for meals, vegetables for soups, stews, and other recipes. Their juicy flavor is incredible, and will enhance any meal.
  9. Add enough water to fill the stock-pot until the desired consistency is reached. Thicker, darker broth is considered ‘stock’ and is typically a little more potent, the more watered-down is broth. Both are good and you will never want to buy the store-bought versions again.
  10. Refrigerate or freeze your broth and use as needed.


I typically keep some broth in the fridge and freeze the rest. I save any old plastic containers, such as yogurt, sour cream, ricotta cheese, etc, with their lids since plastic containers can be re-used, and also allow for the expansion of the liquid when it freezes without breaking, shattering, or cracking.

If you prefer a leaner broth, let the entire stockpot full of broth cool in the refrigerator before packaging until the fat has congealed, or hardened. Using a spoon, skim any fat off the top of the broth. Then package.

Now, sit back and give yourself a pat on the back. Your family will think you’ve slaved away in the kitchen all day and all night, and sing your praises, but (SHHH!) you, your crockpot, and your pocket book will know the satisfying truth.

Lasagna Soup

I love soup. I mean, I really love soup. Most people, I’ve found, prefer soup to warm them up on a cold winter night.  I don’t just relegate soup to only winter weather advisory days, but feel it is an all-encompassing  meal, even in Summer. I could eat soup 365 days a year and be a very happy camper. That being said, I do have four hungry boys, and a hungry husband who prefer their soups to be hearty so I’m always trying to find soups that can stand alone as a satisfying meal. I’m pretty sure, when I met my husband, he was convinced a soup could never be a ‘manly’ meal, and definitely never a meal he would feel ‘stuffed’ after. I’m pretty sure that unspoken ‘I told you so’ is the elephant in the room every time he naps after eating just ‘soup.’

Given my husband’s Italian heritage, and our love of all things pasta, I figured I would give  Paula Dean’s lasagna soup recipe a try. Naturally, my guys were skeptical about any recipes’ ability to make a soup, however hearty, truly taste like one of their all time favorite pasta bakes; however, they’re always up for trying anything new that I put out on our table. Boy, were they blown away by the finished product! It really did taste like, you guessed it, lasagna. I did make a few changes to suit my tastes and make it a little less soupy, but it only enhanced the flavors and left everyone feeling all warm, fuzzy, and full afterwards.

UPDATE: Wow. It’s been 2 years and I’m finally getting around to updating this recipe’s photos. Trust me, it needed to happen. I’ve left the original posted at the bottom for your viewing enjoyment. Or not. 😉 We don’t always go the crust bread loaf route when serving this. Another favorite is pairing it with slices of Texas toast that have been toasted and then slathered with our homemade Italian garlic butter. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Lasagna Soup

Tastes Like Lasagna Soup

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper; chopped (I omitted)
3 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp thyme
1 tablespoon brown sugar
6-8 cups chicken broth (depending on desired consistency)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups broken lasagna, pappardelle, or egg noodles
1 & 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 loaf of ‘crusty’ bread, optional


1. In a large skillet combine ground beef, ground sausage, onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beef and sausage are cooked through and crumbled. Drain.
2. Transfer meat mixture to a large stew pot and add in broth, tomatoes, sauce, thyme, Italian seasoning, brown sugar, and salt.
3. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat.
4. Reduce heat, and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add in noodles and continue simmering until noodles are tender.
6. Stir in the parmesan cheese.
7. Serve soup and garnish each bowl with shredded mozzarella and a piece of warm, crusty bread.

Aaaaaand, here’s the original photo:

Lasagna Soup

Pan Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

With football season, wrestling practice, homework, and Church activities during the week, some nights it’s really hard to find the time for dinners that require a lot of prep. My kids keep me on the go, and there’s never a dull moment. However, with so many activities crammed into just a few short hours, weeknights are when I try to use my ‘set it and forget it’ recipes. I’m always searching for ways to incorporate great taste and nutritious ingredients into my family’s  dinners, especially in my simple meal ideas. This recipe was suggested to me by a friend and I adapted it to my taste from‘s version. My boys aren’t picky eaters, but they still balk at the use of the word ‘spinach’ in combination with the dinner they’re anticipating. Something about those pretty, leafy greens makes kids nervous. I swear, it must be ingrained in their DNA. They just can’t ever seem to believe that it might taste good, delicious even. That being said, my kids have heartily approved of this meal and not one leaf was left. It was a struggle for them not to lick their plates clean. Even my husband was pleasantly surprised that just a few common ingredients could yield such a hearty, flavorful meal. Perfect for a chilly fall evening.

Pan Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, fat-trimmed and cut into chunks
  • 2 lbs. red potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, white or yellow, cut into wedges
  • 1 10 oz package fresh spinach, or frozen if thawed prior to use
  • 3 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • grated, or shredded Parmesan cheese, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl combine potatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Toss to coat.
  3. Pour the mixture into a large roasting pan.
  4. Roast vegetables for 25 minutes, stirring once.
  5. Add chicken, tossing once more to coat.
  6. Roast 15 minutes longer, or until chicken is cooked through.
  7. Evenly distribute spinach over the chicken and vegetables.
  8. Roast 5 more minutes, or until spinach is wilted.
  9. Toss before serving.
  10. Garnish with Parmesan cheese

Rainbow Pasta

As our 3 year old is getting older, we’re working much harder on things he should know for school, especially the basics, such as letters, numbers, colors. He also loves making things with his hands and craft time. I figured rainbow pasta would be fun to use for a wide variety of crafts: necklaces, picture frames, learning to use glue, and of course, reinforcing colors! His favorite color is ‘greem’ so, of course, we made green pasta and then the primary colors. Start to finish this took maybe 20 minutes and was incredibly easy. Since my 3 year old still thinks his middle name is ‘Hoover’ and tries to eat everything I didn’t want to use rubbing alcohol to set the dye, even though that seemed to be the most common method. Instead, I used white vinegar. Grayson picked out bow tie, elbow, penne, and radiatore pastas to color. He helped with the entire project and thought it was ‘wonder-bull.’ You can also substitute rice for the pasta with the same great results for sensory activities as well as crafts.

Rainbow Pasta

  •  gallon zip lock bag
  • 1 1/2 cups pasta (your choice)
  • 5 drops food coloring of your choice
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • wax paper


  1. Pour the vinegar into the zip lock bag and add the food coloring. Swish the mixture around to get the vinegar and food coloring combined
  2. Add the dried pasta and seal the bag
  3. Lay the bag down onto a flat surface, counter top or kitchen table, and smooth out the pasta so it’s spread out flat within the bag
  4. Flip the bag every 5 minutes for 20 minutes.
  5. After 20 minutes remove the pasta from the bag, I used a slotted spoon, but most of the moisture was absorbed already, and spread the pasta out onto wax paper
  6. Try to prevent noodles from touching each other or they will dry stuck together
  7. When it’s dry, you’re ready to create!

*If you wanted to dye pasta that is safe for consumption, just add a few drops of the food coloring of your choice to boiling water and cook the pasta per the packages instructions


Homemade Marinara Sauce

There are some things that just can’t be eaten without marinara. They just aren’t satisfying without the addition of its slightly sweet, robust flavor. Mozzarella sticks, toasted ravioli  and pizza quesadillas immediately come to mind. Toss it with some cooked pasta and you have an easy entree. However, not all marinara is made the same and those that are truly delicious and flavorful are often rather pricey, even on sale or in bulk. At one point, to save some extra money in my grocery budget, I tried not buying it, but tomato sauce and pasta sauce were poor substitutions. So I set about finding a recipe that I could make at home for minimal cost. Now, let me introduce you to my homemade marinara that will tantalize your taste buds while leaving your wallet pleasantly plump! The entire recipe, which made 3 batches for our family of 6, cost about $3-4 to make and used things I always keep stocked in my pantry. Oh, and last but not least: it cooks in your crock pot while you sleep. You just set it and forget it. Easy, right?

Homemade Marinara Sauce

  • 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, 28 oz ea
  • 1 can tomato paste, 6 0z
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar*
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper, to taste

*I make my own brown sugar. To make your own brown sugar simply combine 1 cup  granulated sugar with 1 1/2 tbsp molasses and stir until evenly mixed. I give mine a quick spin in my food processor.


  1. Add all ingredients to your crockpot and stir well.
  2. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or overnight. If your crockpot is not airtight or notoriously dries things out, you may want to add more water as a precaution.
  3. Remove the lid, stir well. Remove the bay leaves, and enjoy! Also, do not be alarmed when your sauce is done if it’s bright red color has become darker and browner. You want this. It lets your know that it’s cooked and that the sugars in the sauce have caramelized.

Making your own marinara sauce is that easy! You can enjoy immediately over your favorite pasta, as a dipping sauce, or store for later use. I canned two jars, and froze the rest. To unfreeze, put it in the refrigerator the night before you intend to use it. Then, when it’s defrosted, just heat and eat.

Buffalo Chicken Bake

Being that we have all these boys and seeing as how I am cheap, I try to buy in bulk whenever possible. Notice I said cheap. I’m not even going to try and dress it up and label myself as frugal, thrifty, etc. I’m just cheap. As part of my cost-cutting, we have a membership to Costco and that’s where the majority of our groceries come from. That being said, almost every trip to Costco my kids manage to convince me to buy them lunch, a snack, an ‘I’m going to die right this very minute if I don’t eat’ something from the food court. Their favorite thing to order is the Chicken Bake. So when I came across this recipe for Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread, I knew they would love it.

Buffalo Chicken Dump Bread

I altered the recipe to the satisfaction of my tastes and those of my cheese-aholics. Notice I also changed the name. I could just imagine if I answered their ‘what’s for dinner’ question with something that included ‘garbage’ in its name. So I didn’t.

Buffalo Chicken Bake

Buffalo Chicken Dump Bread 2

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pizza dough (we used homemade and let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight)
8 oz. of shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz. of shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce, divided
1/4 cup of ranch


1. Pre-heat oven to 425°F. Toss chicken with 1/4 cup of your wing sauce. You can add more or less depending on your desired spiciness. Stir to combine, the ranch dressing and remaining 1/4 cup wing sauce.
2. On a floured surface, or counter top, roll out dough into a long rectangular shape. Spread buffalo ranch sauce evenly across the dough. Add chicken and then top with both cheeses.
3. Pick a side and roll the dough up to form a log. Seal both ends (prevents ‘oozing’ while baking) and place seam side down on a non-stick or greased baking sheet.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Let sit and ‘rest’ for 5-10 minutes before cutting into slices, then serve!

Easy Homemade Pizza Dough

My entire childhood I remember looking forward to Wednesday nights because it was ‘pizza night’. We had Church every Wednesday evening so we needed a quick dinner, and Grandma would just whip up a crust and pop a pizza in the oven. Everything Grandma made was from scratch, so it was crusty, carbohydrate heaven! Now, years later, my kids look forward to our own pizza nights and we pay homage to Grandma every time by using her trusty recipe for easy homemade pizza dough. I’m not sure where this recipe originated from, other than it’s the one that my Grandma used and was written down on an old note card and tucked away in her recipe box. It bakes up into the perfect crust and freezes well. This version makes enough dough for two pizzas. I usually make one pizza for dinner the day I make my dough and then store the other dough ball in the freezer. When I’m ready to use it, I simply let it thaw in the fridge beforehand. WARNING: Baking pizza on your own crust will ruin store bought pizza for you and your kids will beg you for it constantly! Baker beware 😉

Easy Homemade Pizza Dough


  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 tsp. yeast, or 1 packet
  • 1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • olive oil or non-stick cooking spray for greasing the bowl


  1. Measure the warm water into a bowl. Add yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and bubbles up, about 5 minutes. Add the room temperature water and olive oil and stir to combine.
  2. Add flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until the dry ingredients are combined. Slowly add the liquid ingredients and stir until a cohesive mass forms. Using the dough hook, let the mixer knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Stop the mixer when the dough starts to pull away from the sides and form a cohesive ball. As best you can form the dough into a ball, put it in a deep, well oiled bowl, and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
  3. Press the dough to deflate it, remove from the bowl, and turn onto a lightly floured work surface or countertop. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
  4. Pre-eat oven to 400 degrees. Form pieces of dough into smooth, round balls and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for ten minutes.
  5. Working with one dough ball and keeping the other covered, shape the dough, and transfer to a non-stick pizza pan of your choice. Top as desired. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the crust edges are golden brown and the cheese is golden brown in spots. Repeat with remaining ball of dough or freeze* for later use.

*If freezing the dough make sure you wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap before putting it in a freezer bag. Before freezing stops the yeast process, the bread will continue to expand some. It WILL pop through the plastic wrap, but the extra layer will prevent it from busting the freezer bag and offer you an extra layer of protection to prevent freezer burn. This dough tastes just as good after freezing as it does fresh.