admin / October 26, 2009

The Blog-Coupons at the Library

On my way out of the library I always stop to check out the free magazines they keep in the foyer. One thing that caught my eye last week was the book of coupons they were giving away. The local county is offering Choose to Reuse Today coupons. The front of the book says Save Cash, Save the Planet. Get Great Stuff. Most of the coupons are for discounts on items you can buy if you take something old to be recycled or refurbished. I’m not sure how many I’ll be using but it’s a great way to get rid of unwanted items and save some money.

Almost Halloween and I can’t believe it’s November on Sunday. All the supermarkets are gearing up for baking season. Sales on everything from sugar, flour, chocolate chips, even canned fruit. My usual ritual is each time I go to the store I’ll buy a few items to store in the pantry or even the freezer.

Word is Halloween sales are down this year. Bad news for retailers but good news for us. Next week watch out for some major discounts on everything from candy…which can be used in holiday baking or stocking stuffers to costumes. If you have some extra cash why not buy next year’s costume or party favors now.

And speaking of Halloween, I’ve been thinking about what treat I’ll be baking this Saturday. I don’t know why but pizza has become our Halloween meal. I always like to follow it up with a Halloween (or at least pumpkin) themed dessert. While I was checking recipe sites for some ideas and I found one for pumpkin chocolate bars at www.meals.com which is the site of the Nestle company. They have lots of other goodies on the site too.

This week on Budget Smart Girl…the end of another month means the Budget Smart Girl newsletter. There’ll be news about a recipe Web site with links to free samples and coupons. Beauty products that are good for you and your budget. Plus, a cereal giveaway.

Have a good week and a safe and fun Halloween.

admin / October 23, 2009

Sensible Fashion Buys for Fall/Winter

I’ve always been sensible when it comes time to stocking my wardrobe, nothing that’s too much of a fad that I can’t wear it for more than one season. However, I have had a few slips in sanity and ending up donating clothes after just a year after their purchase. Now I have five rules to keeping my clothing budget under control.

1.Stick with basics like pants, shirt, skirt in colors like black and brown.

2.Pick items you can mix and match that will take you from day to night. Maybe the white dress shirt and black pants you wear during the day can be paired with a fancy necklace or wrap for evening.

3.Shoes. Yes, I’ve had moments of insanity with these too. Pick ones that are comfortable. I use to go for price, thinking I could have more shoes, but now I’d rather pay more for one pair that are going to last longer and not cause me foot problems years from now.

4.If you need to go with a fad, make sure it’s a cheaper item like a scarf, necklace etc. and not something like a coat.

5.Look at what you already have. My husband often laughs at me because I still have some clothing from years gone by but it’s me who does the smiling when I see that particular fashion back in the stores.

If you’re looking for some trends for fall/winter, the folks at Kohl’s www.kohls.com say the hot items this year are-

1. Plaids…yeepee, I still have some of those, see how some fashions recycle?

2. Cardigans…always have loved those, especially when the weather turns chilly.

3. Animal prints…okay, these are probably not something you want to buy a lot of. Stick with my rule number 4, buy a scarf or bracelet in animal print.

4. Anything with feminine details. Now that sounds like something that can last from year to year.

Thanks to the folks at Kohl’s for some photos of three buys I think are worth checking out this year.
Apt. 9 Crop Jacket

Candie's Plaid Pencil Skirt

LC Lauren Conrad Boyfriend Cardigan

admin / October 19, 2009

The Blog-You Learn By Experience

Fall means vaccination time for my cat. Last year you might remember I switched vets. Last week we took a trip there to get his rabies shot and annual check-up. I always make sure he gets the yearly and not three year rabies vaccination because at the previous vet clinic they mentioned those type of shots were giving some pets cancer. When I arrived at the new vet clinic I discovered they only give the 3 year shot. So my cat ended up just having his annual check-up. But now I had to find somewhere to get his rabies shot. On my trips to Petsmart, I remembered seeing an onsite vet clinic called Banfield. I called them and found out on Tuesday and Thursdays from 2.30-4.30 p.m. they offer their vaccination clinic which saves pet owners money by not charging for office visits. Perfect, he’d already been checked out so all he needed was a shot.
Well, it seems they also give them a physical too and the whole thing cost just $20.99. When I drove home I realized I could have saved myself $47 and by heading to Banfield in the first place. Plus, the poor cat had two visits to the vet clinic in one day. I guess you live and learn!
So if you’re looking for low cost vaccinations for your pet, check your local Petsmart.

This week on Budget Smart Girl…pasta makes the perfect meal and what clothes to buy this season.

Have a good week.

admin / October 15, 2009

Some Convenience Foods Are Worth The Price

It’s that time of year again when the days start to get shorter. I don’t know about you, but during the summer I always feel like I have plenty of time to tackle everything on my to do list, but once fall rolls around I start wishing some days had an extra hour or so.

For us budget conscious cooks we’re often torn between purchasing more convenience type foods that will give us some extra time, or making everything from scratch.

But do you have to feel guilty if you spend a few extra dollars heading to the salad bar at the supermarket rather than putting together your own at home? I think you have to look at each situation as it arises. And now and then we all have emergency situations.

Here are a few other foods I’ve found ideal for those days when nothing goes right but dinner still needs to be made.

Coleslaw
A bag of shredded coleslaw, especially the type with shredded carrots. A quick and easy side dish. If I have some in the fridge, I’ll put a homemade peanut and soy dressing with it. I also like the broccoli slaw that goes great with blue cheesing dressing and chopped roasted walnuts. It pairs ideally with chops, burgers or veggie burgers.

Frozen Burgers and Meatballs
Speaking of burgers, I always make sure I have a packet of turkey burgers and veggie burgers or meatballs stored in the freezer, plus some hamburger buns.

Mixed Veggies
A couple of bags of mixed vegetables, like baby corn, broccoli, sliced red pepper, perfect for a quick stir-fry

Frozen Pastry
Phyllo and puff pastry dough. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a recipe for Phyllo dough and I can’t imagine spending an hour or so making puff pastry when you can get a package of both these items for less than $4. Perfect for a speedy pot pie.

Pizza Crust
I always have every good intention of making my own, but whenever I pass the pasta aisle I see the prepackaged ones on the top shelf and can’t seem to leave the store without one.

Salad Dressings
I’m switching over to making my own, but I do keep one or two on hand for those just in case days. Not so much for salads, but types like Italian or vinaigrette dressings are great for a quick marinade for chicken or fish. The taste will make everyone think you spent hours on the recipe.

Frozen Potatoes
I usually make my own oven fries, but once again, keep prepackaged ones on hand for those just in case days.

Chicken Breasts
Look for the type that doesn’t have to be defrosted before you put them in the oven. They can be pulled out of the freezer and on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Frozen Fish
Some type of packaged frozen fish, quick to defrost and cook and really versatile. One of my favorites is fish tacos.

admin / October 12, 2009

The Blog-Another Way to Buy Something

When the budget gets tight you often have to look for creative ways to make ends meet. I’ve been noticing more people and yes, businesses too are willing to trade and barter their products/services. I’ve seen lots of nonprofits and businesses looking for volunteers for a few hours a week in exchange for things like free products, museum passes etc. It might not be money, but one, it’s work experience you can put on your resume. Two, if it’s something you’ve been putting off buying or doing, like going to a show or museum, this might be the perfect solution. And yes, volunteer work sometimes leads to a paying position with the company.

Every week I’ve forgotten to post this on the blog. One reader asked me about a recipe for green beans that are dehydrated and can be used as a low fat, inexpensive snack. I couldn’t find the recipe but if anyone has one; e-mail me or leave a comment.

If you love to cook or have a recipe using one of French’s products, you could win $25,000 www.frenchs.com Contest ends October 31st, 2009. Readers get to vote on their favorite recipe. Even if you’re not entering, it’s fun to check out some of the recipes and give one or two a try.

This week on Budget Smart Girl…it’s snowing where I am so it’s time to make some chili. Great items to have on hand that won’t break the budget.

Have a good week and happy Thanksgiving Day to everyone in Canada.

admin / October 8, 2009

Why A Budget Smart Cook Loves Stews

When the temperature dips there’s nothing better to eat than a bowl of hearty stew. It’s comfort food at its very best. Meat, vegetables and a savory liquid that are simmered together for hours on top of the stove to create a meal to take away the chill of a fall or winter day. It’s not too surprising that just about every cuisine in the world has its own version. But the best thing about a stew is, apart from the fact it tastes so good, it’s the budget smart cook’s best friend and here’s why.

Great Cooking Skills Not Required
Stews are one of the easiest of dishes to prepare and there are just a few simple rules to follow. I know lots of people say you can skip browning the meat before you add it to the saucepan, but I’ve always got the best results by doing just that. I take a freezer bag and add flour, some salt and pepper and mix everything together. I then add the cubes of meat to the bag and shake until everything’s coated well. Next I heat oil in a skillet over a fairly high heat and add about five cubes of meat at a time. Don’t rush this part and be tempted to add all the meat at the same time because if you overcrowd the pan the meat doesn’t brown as well and that’s the whole point of going to all this trouble. Turn the meat until it’s browned on each side, remove and put in the saucepan and continue with the rest of the meat.

They’re Made with Low Cost Ingredients
Here’s one of the best things about stew, you can make it with cheaper cuts of meat. In fact, less expensive cuts of meat work the best with this slow cooking process. Plus, while the stew simmers the meat soaks up the liquid, making it even more tender.
And as most people make stews during the colder months, root vegetables, which make ideal partners for the meat, are usually at their cheapest during fall and winter. And if you use your own homemade stock, that’s basically free, but even if you resort to store bought ones, it’s not going to put a too big a dent in your budget.

They Can be Made in One Pot
I can’t think of an easier meal than a stew, everything cooking together in one pot. Apart from preparing the meat and chopping the vegetables, and of course checking everything now and then, it’s a snap to put together. I almost feel lazy on the days I make a stew. Although my preference is to serve a stew with mashed potatoes, I sometimes add the potatoes or dumplings to the stew for the ultimate one pot meal. And if you want to cheat even further or you want a ready cooked meal when you come home from work, opt for cooking your stew in a slow cooker.

Stews Freeze Really Well
Soups and stews are some of the best dishes to put in the freezer. You can make up two batches, eat one and freeze the other. Or, and I know leftovers aren’t a common thing when stew is served, but you can easily freeze what’s left. Talk about the ultimate cook once, eat twice dish.

You Can Give Them Your Own Unique Spin
Even if you’ve got a favorite recipe for stew you can add your own touches and family favorites to a stew. Nothing can basically go wrong with adding a bit more of this or that. If you want to stretch your budget even further you get add more vegetables and cut down on the meat, or you can add things like pulses. My grandmother always added pearl barley to beef stew. And when it comes to seasonings once again you’re in charge. One thing I never leave out of a stew is a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
And don’t think you have to use only red meat because I only used it as an illustration for this article. Other meats like pork, poultry and fish can be used, just remember they don’t need to cook so long. And if you what to go meatless, vegetables and beans like garbanzos make a really inexpensive but great tasting stew.

Recipe

Italian Fall Vegetable Stew
This is a great recipe for the slow cooker. It’s one of my favorites when the weather turns cold. And a special treat when you’ve been outside raking leaves.

(Serves 4 as a Main Dish or 6 as a Side Dish)

•1 ½ cups dried lentils
•3 cups of water
•2 cups chopped butternut squash
•1 cup chopped sweet potato
•1 26 oz. jar of Classico Fire Roasted Tomato and Garlic pasta sauce
•1 small onion, chopped
•1 cup chopped zucchini
•1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
•½ teaspoon dried basil
•½ teaspoon dried thyme

1.Rinse lentils and place in at least a 3-quart slow cooker with the three cups of water. Add the squash, sweet potato, onion, pasta sauce, basil and thyme and stir together.
2.Cover and cook either 8-10 hours on high, or 4-6 hours on low. About an hour before serving stir in the chopped zucchini and just before serving stir in the garbanzo beans. Fresh chopped basil is a nice addition sprinkled on top when the dish has finished cooking.

You can serve this as a vegetarian dish with crusty Italian bread, or as a side dish with a grilled chicken breast or pork chop.

admin / October 8, 2009

October, That Means Pizza

October isn’t just for Halloween. Did you know it’s also National Pizza Month? If you’ve only thought of pizza as a high fat fast food, you’ve been overlooking a great ally of the budget cook. Here are some reasons to include pizza in your menu line up.

Coupons
My father used to say if you don’t mind eating pizza every single day, you can eat fairly cheaply. While pizza tastes great, eating it every day isn’t something most of us want to do. But as most pizza chains send out coupons just about every week, using them to buy a meal for your family when you’re too tired to cook doesn’t necessarily exhaust the food budget.

Kids Love Them Too
There aren’t too many foods that kids and adults both like to eat. If you’ve got a fussy eater in your household, pizza is a great way to get them to eat all the food groups. And most children will even eat their veggies when they’re served on a pizza.

Entertaining
Pizza isn’t the most expensive food to serve to a crowd. And a ‘make your own pizza’ party enables you to serve a crowd for just a couple of dollars per person. And the guests get to eat exactly what they want.

The Leftovers
Pizza is a great way to use leftovers…cheese, meat, veggies, sauces, you name it. Someone told me their aunt would cook a pizza every Sunday night and use whatever was sitting in the fridge as the toppings.

A Great Make A Head Meal
Pizza freezes perfectly and therefore is the ideal meal to make ahead of time. You can even make them in batches and store them in the freezer.

They’re Quick and Easy
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be much of a cook, just about anyone can make a pizza if you use a pizza crust mix.

They Make Great Desserts
Don’t always think savory when you think of pizza. You can top them with chocolate, peanut butter, fresh fruit…so just about anything goes.

They Don’t Have to be Italian
You don’t always have to make pizza using a red sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella. I often use different pasta sauces, even an Alfredo sauce. You can even substitute the pizza crust with pita bread, English muffins or bagels. And how about a Tex Mex pizza with salsa as the sauce?

admin / October 1, 2009

The Budget Smart Girl Newsletter-September 2009

I know it’s already October, but here is the September newsletter. It’s food focused and has some great recipes to try. However, first up, non food stuff…

Make Me an Offer
Someone told me about this site you might want to check out www.offers.com

Budget Smart Knitters
Once the first cold snap hits the air, I always think about knitting. Here’s a site I stumbled upon.
www.yarn.com, check out their ‘closeout sale’

Coupon Codes
I received an e-mail from Kathryn Finney, AKA The Budget Fashionsita www.budgetfashionista.com who by the way has a great book that’s a must on every Budget Smart Girl’s bookshelf. She told me about a new site, check it out at www.rollback.com It has coupon codes for all online stores. Ideal for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

It’s Almost Halloween
Seems like it’s not just me who’s having a tough time dealing with the fact it’s already October and Halloween’s just 30 days away. Just today I read that most of us will be cutting back on our Halloween purchases this year. I did stumble upon a money saving idea while I was grocery shopping this morning…bulk bins. My local store has bins filled with Halloween candy. Yes, it’s all wrapped and budget priced. Everything from PB chocolate cups wrapped in orange paper to chocolates wrapped in paper that looks just like an eyeball. Buy a few pounds of these and make up your own treats for goblins who stop by the house.

And if you’re throwing a party but short on pennies, once again Penny Warner from Balloon Time Helium Balloon Kits www.balloontime.com offers us these clever ideas.

It’s the Great Pumpkin Party!
When we think of Halloween, images of ghosts, goblins and other scary spirits come to mind. But what would Halloween be without our favorite orange symbol – the pumpkin! This year, host a Great Pumpkin Party at your very own Pumpkin Patch!

Invitations
Buy mini pumpkins at the grocery store and write the party details on them with black permanent marker. Hand deliver or mail to guests in small, sturdy boxes. Or inflate orange helium balloons, draw jack-o-’lantern faces on them, deflate them, and mail in envelopes with instructions for recipients to blow them up. Attach a stem cut from green construction paper with the party details.

Decorations– Use a Balloon Time Helium Balloon Kit to inflate orange balloons with helium, tie them off with green ribbon, and draw funny faces on them with permanent markers. Let them float around the party room.
– Carve out pumpkins and fill them with dry ice for a spooky atmosphere.
– Paint funny faces on pumpkins with acrylic paints and set them around the room.
– Create a pumpkin patch in the front and/or back yard using bales of hay. Set pumpkins around and on top of the hay. In between bales, lay out fake leaves and nestle the pumpkins inside them.
– Make a sign that reads “The Great Pumpkin Patch” and stick it in your yard. Create a scarecrow, using a pumpkin as its head.
– Cover the party table with an orange tablecloth, scatter fall leaves and hay on the cloth, and place mini pumpkins and orange candles down the middle.

Games and Activities
Keep the costumed guests busy with lots of pumpkin fun!

The Pumpkin and the Pins
Set up a game of bowling using pumpkins as bowling balls. Place plastic pins or empty plastic soda bottles at one side of the room or yard. Let the guests decorate their pumpkins with permanent markers to personalize them. Then have them roll the pumpkins and try to knock down the pins.

Pumpkin Pitch
Cut the top off several pumpkins, carve out the insides, and save the seeds. Line the inside with foil. Have the players try to toss the seeds into the pumpkin. If the seeds are still wet, the game is even more challenging!

Pumpkin Punch
Inflate orange helium balloons and have the players draw faces on them. Have them try to keep their own balloons up in the air as long as possible, first using their hands, then only their feet, then only their heads!

Primp your Pumpkin
For adults, have a pumpkin carving contest. Provide carving materials and let them race to carve out the best pumpkin design in a limited period of time. Award prizes for strangest, funniest, most realistic and so on.

For kids, have a pumpkin craft activity. Set out craft materials, such as markers, glue, sequins, glitter, pipe cleaners, fake blood and glow-in-the-dark paint, and let the kids create a pumpkin masterpiece.

Pumpkin Hunt
Hide a bunch of small pumpkins around the yard or party room and have the guests try to find them. When everyone has found a pumpkin, have them “primp” it.
Refreshments
– Salt and bake pumpkin seeds and serve them to the guests.
– Serve hot cider or pumpkin soup in mugs.
– Cut out pumpkin-shaped cookies and let the kids decorate them before they eat them.
– Make a pumpkin cake as a centerpiece. Bake two spice Bundt cakes. Place one cake upside down on a platter and frost the flat top. Place the other cake right side up on top of the other cake, so the flat sides are facing each other. Frost the outside of the cake with orange-tinted icing. Use a chocolate frosting tube to draw eyes, nose, mouth, and stem.
Favors
– Give the guests Halloween candy in small, pumpkin-themed bags.
– Make popcorn balls, tinted orange and shaped like pumpkins, covered up with plastic wrap.
– Pass out small decorative pumpkins, painted pumpkins and orange balloon bouquets.

The Coupon Craze Continues
www.tinyurl.com/y8hjf7t

Okay and now to the food…

Little Debbie Chocolate Cupcakes
And I was sent this e-mail. And yes, anything with the word chocolate in it always catches my eye!
Little Debbie has come out with something totally new, Chocolate Cupcakes, their first snack cake with crème filling inserted in the center (first time in the 50-year history of the brand).

They’re marked $3.09 a box nationwide starting this month at grocery stores and discount centers, and they include a peel-off 45-cent coupon. (Some retailers are selling them for less than $3.09 to start with – so they end up being around $2 at some locations with the coupon.)
The website is www.littledebbie.com.

Short on Time?
Remember Heather, The Mogul Mom, if you haven’t signed up to receive her blog updates, this should give you a reason to do so. A couple of weeks ago she had this great article called 7 Ways For Mom Entrepreneurs to Save Time, Money and Sanity. As I’ve been short on time recently, this was a lifesaver. Check it out at www.tinyurl.com/q32wny And while you’re there check out her other articles, and yes, sign up for the newsletter.

A Must Have Pantry Item
And speaking of being short on time, I discovered a new must have pantry item…a package of frozen meatballs. Actually, the ones that came to my rescue were Quorn, meatfree ones that were on sale at the co-op. It was close to dinnertime, I stood in the kitchen thinking what am I going to cook, when the package of meatballs gave me an idea. Meatball stroganoff with Minute Rice. I sauté chopped onions, added about ½ cups of stock, some paprika, a can of mushrooms and reduced it down until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You can also speed the process up by adding cornstarch mixed with water. Then add the meatballs while the Minute Rice cooks in the microwave.

Another Item for the Pantry
Another handy pantry item is frozen shrimp, just today I bought a 2 pound bag for $3.99 at the supermarket. I’ll be trying out this recipe from Thai Kitchen www.thaikitchen.com

Thai Red Curry Shrimp and Vegetables
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

1 can (14 oz.) Thai Kitchen® Coconut Milk
2 tbsp. Thai Kitchen® Red Curry Paste
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup assorted vegetables, such as snap peas, bamboo shoots and sliced red bell pepper
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil (optional)
2 tbsp. Thai Kitchen® Premium Fish Sauce
Fresh red chiles, thinly sliced (optional)

• BRING coconut milk to simmer in large skillet on medium heat. Stir in curry paste and sugar until well blended; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes.
• STIR in shrimp and vegetables. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink and vegetables are tender-crisp. Stir in basil and fish sauce.
• SERVE with cooked Thai Kitchen® Jasmine Rice. Garnish with additional basil and red chile slices, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Test Kitchen Tip: Thai basil has dark green leaves with purple stems and has a licorice flavor. It can be found in most Asian groceries. If unavailable, substitute Italian basil.

Green Curry Shrimp: Prepare as directed, using 1 tablespoon Thai Kitchen® Green Curry Paste in place of the Red Curry Paste. For added heat, use 2 tablespoons Green Curry Paste.

I always love the recipes sent from the Spice Hunter www.spicehunter.com and this next one is no exception. Here’s a photo of the spread I made last Saturday. It was almost all gone by Sunday evening. I tried it with sliced apples and it’s delicious. I’m thinking it would also make a great frosting for chocolate cupcakes too!

pumpkin  spread 003

Pumpkin Spread

Ingredients

1-8oz pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. Spice Hunter Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1-15 oz. can solid pack pumpkin
Preparation
BLEND cream cheese and sugar until smooth in a food processor. Add pumpkin and Pumpkin Pie Spice and then blend thoroughly. Chill until serving. Serve with sliced apples, sliced pears, graham crackers, Gingersnaps or sugar cookies. Spread on toast or bagels. Makes about 4 cups.

And another recipe from The Spice Hunter

The Best Rice Side Dish

Ingredients:
2 cups Basmati rice
4 cups water
2 Tbsp. oil
1 large onion
2 tsp. decorticated cardamom (seeds removed from pods)
8 The Spice Hunter Whole Penang Cloves
1 The Spice Hunter Indonesian Cinnamon Stick
12 The Spice Hunter 100% Organic Whole Black Peppercorns
1 tsp. The Spice Hunter Turkish Cumin Seeds
2 tsp. salt (optional)

Preparation:
Rinse rice and soak in water 30 minutes. Sauté onion in oil in a medium saucepan until golden. Bruise cardamoms and add with cloves, cinnamon, cumin and black peppercorns to onions. Sauté briefly until aroma is released (about 30 seconds). Strain rice, reserving water, and sauté with onions and spices for 3 minutes, until the rice becomes translucent. Add water and salt (optional) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook gently until water is fully absorbed, about 20 minutes.

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