admin / May 26, 2010

The Budget Smart Girl Newsletter for May 2010

This month’s newsletter is once again food focused so I hope you’ll give some of the recipes a try over the upcoming holiday weekend.

The New Dirty Dozen
If you remember my article about ways you can buy organic produce on a budget, you’ll know about the Dirty Dozen…produce that contains the most pesticides. The Environmental Working Group just released their new Dirty Dozen list. Check it out at www.foodnews.org/fulllist.php Remember don’t waste your money on buying produce with the least amount of pesticides.

Putting on a Party or a Crafter?
After visiting the local Dollar Tree store and picking up a flyer, I checked out their Web site and discovered two things. One, you can buy items online and two you can buy things by the case. A great idea if you need lots of one item for say a party and perfect if you’re a crafter. www.dollartree.com

Love the Garden
I’ve always wanted to go to the Chelsea Flower Show in England, but never got around to it. I found this site that’s connected with the event and has some gardening tips from amateurs to professionals. www.lovethegarden.com

Buy Some Plants in Distress
And speaking of gardening…I was working in the front yard last week when someone walked by, admired the garden and we got talking about how expensive plants can be year after year. This person mentioned a great way to get a discount is to look for plants that look distressed with wilting leaves and drying flower buds. Stores will often sell them to you for a deep discount but if the root is healthy…and that’s what you need to check before you hand over the money, with some TLC and grooming they’re as good as new again.

Ideas for a Memorial Day Feast
I always think of Memorial Day as the first of many days of eating outside, firing up the grill, or even putting together a picnic to take to the park or beach. Here are some ideas and recipes to use on either Memorial Day or all summer long.

Hamburgers with a Twist
Everyone loves hamburgers and they’re easy on the budget, but once in a while it’s nice to give them a little twist or two. There’s the cheeseburger, but how about forgoing the regular slice of cheese. Switch to something with a little more kick, like blue cheese, and placing it inside the burger, so it melts into the meat while it’s on the grill.

Not Just any Salad
How many picnics and get togethers have you either been invited to, or thrown yourself, where the same recipe for coleslaw or potato salad is rolled out? Over the years I’ve been adding different items to potato salads, like chopped eggs, roasted red peppers, chopped celery, sun-dried tomatoes. So experiment and see what works best for you. I also like leaving the skin on the potatoes, and also using a combination of white and sweet potatoes.
As for coleslaw, I’ve been using the broccoli slaw you can find it just about any produce department, and adding blue cheese dressing instead of mayonnaise.

Potatoes
I never think any meal is complete without the potato, but just throwing one on the grill can be a bit bland. Here’s an herb butter I’ve been using .Add some to the potato as soon as it comes off the grill, everyone says it compliments just about any type of dish.

Fresh Herb Butter
½ cup trans fat free spread or if you’re not watching the cholesterol, butter
1 cup of fresh herbs, I like a combination of thyme and basil, sometimes dill if you’re serving fish
1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

Place the butter into a bowl, and add the rest of the ingredients and mix until everything’s blended. Cover and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

Another tip is to wash and scrub the potato, rub it with oil and then sprinkle with salt. It flavors the potato from the outside in.
And sometimes I’ll cook the potatoes indoors. I love homemade seasoned fries. Cut the potatoes into wedges, toss in oil and add salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and I’ve even had success adding soy sauce for a really savory taste.

Quick Picnic Fare
I’ve always been a big fan of picnics and here’s something that is so simple and easy to put together. It’s best made the day before the picnic. I like to use bread like a foccacia, or you can use French loaf, Italian bread, anything that’s not pre-sliced. You want to slice it in half horizontally. On both halves spread either some olive oil, or pesto sauce. Then just start laying it with whatever you like. My favorites are cheese, roasted red peppers, artichokes and olives. You can use sliced ham, turkey. When you’re done layering, place the other top on the sandwich and wrap the whole thing tightly in cling wrap. Put it on a plate and then place it in the refrigerator. Next put something heavy like a large can of tomatoes or a gallon jug of milk, and leave it overnight. In the morning just put it into your picnic basket and when you’re ready to eat, cut it into wedges.

The Best Time of the Year For…This week’s a great time to stock up on grilling and picnic fare. Stores have sales on ketchup, hamburger and hot dog buns, hot dogs, canned baked beans. And if you can freeze them, stock up on corn on the cob and green beans.

Quick and Easy Summer Recipes
The great thing about running a site like Budget Smart Girl is companies send recipes for me to try. Here are two I received this month from La Tortilla Factory. www.latortillafactory.com They seem perfect for summer dinning.

Cheeseburger Quesadilla
Serves 1
Ingredients:
1 large La Tortilla Factory Smart & Delicious Low Carb/High Fiber tortilla
1 Boca Original Meatless Burger, thawed
1 slice fat-free American cheese, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped pickles
Optional ingredients: salt, black pepper, garlic powder
Optional topping: ketchup

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut burger into small bite-sized pieces. Bring a pan sprayed with nonstick spray to medium heat on the stove. Add onion and burger pieces. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until onion is soft. Season mixture to taste with optional ingredients, if you like.

Spray a medium-large baking sheet lightly with nonstick spray. Lay tortilla flat on the sheet and evenly top with the cheese pieces. Bake in the oven for about 2 minutes, until cheese has melted slightly. Leave oven on. Spread burger mixture over one half of the tortilla. Top with pickles and fold tortilla in half, pressing down lightly with a spatula to seal.

Bake in the oven for another 3 to 5 minutes, until tortilla edges are slightly brown. Remove from the oven and cut into triangles. Top or serve with ketchup, if you like. Yum!

Asian Rotisserie Chicken Salad Wrap
Serves 2

2 La Tortilla Factory 100 Calorie Tortillas
3 ½ oz shredded Rotisserie Chicken, breast meat only
¼ c shredded cabbage
¼ c shredded carrots
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped green onion
2 ½ Tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro
4 Tbsp Reduced Fat Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing (or any other favorite Asian dressing)

1. In a bowl, combine the chicken, cabbage, carrot, green onion and cilantro and toss with dressing to mix well.
2. Place half of the chicken salad on a tortilla and roll away from you into a wrap.
3. Place the remaining mixture in the second tortilla and roll into a wrap.

Two Sites of Interest
I have to give credit to my husband for finding these two sites

Free Fax
I can’t remember the last time I faxed anything but if you ever need to this site lets you do it for free www.faxfree.com

What To Do
And if you’re wondering what’s happening in your neck of the woods, check out www.eventful.com

Summer Reading
I do most of my reading in the winter but one of my favorite guilty pleasures is sitting on the deck soaking up the sun and enjoying a good book. I had a stack of novels I’d finished reading and planned to donate them but then decided I’d swap or trade them for new ones for the upcoming summer reading season. Two sites I’ve been using are www.titletrader.com and www.swaptree.com All you do is pay for the postage to send the other member the book they request. And you can also trade and swap things like CDs and DVDs on these sites too.

Articles I found on the Web-
And finally, here are the best articles I found on the Internet this month.

What to know what it takes to be a millionaire, check out-www.tinyurl.com/27cp6jy

Are there any foods you should never buy-www.tinyurl.com/2a9mzet

Think you’re getting ripped off www.tinyurl.com/29rta9z

Learn how not to make budget planning mistakes www.tinyurl.com/28qk655

Next month, ways to stay cool this summer.

Have a great month and a relaxing holiday weekend.

admin / May 24, 2010

The Blog-Grocery Challenge

Each time I get asked what are my favorite money saving tips, one thing that always makes it to the list is a subscription to All You magazine. The June issue arrived in my mailbox last week with more great coupons and tips. I was going to put this in the newsletter but thought I’d tell you about it here The Second Annual All You Grocery Challenge Contest. You signup at www.allyou.com/grocerychallenge. The contest runs from June 20-July 17th. The goal is to spend $25 or less per family member per week on groceries during this four week period. Winner gets $1,000. They’ll also have a blog with money saving tips and ideas from the editors. I’d love to see a reader of Budget Smart Girl win this contest. Leave a comment if you’re thinking about entering and we’ll be sure to cheer you on.

This whole grocery challenge thing got me thinking about next week’s feature on BSG. Yes, you guessed it, ways to cut down on your grocery bill. Hope all the contestants get some good ideas they can use.

This week on Budget Smart Girl-Newsletter time again, this month lots of recipes and other good stuff. Plus, as it’s an upcoming holiday weekend, I’ve decided to merge this week’s feature into the newsletter with some tips on Memorial Day entertaining.

Have a good week and a save Memorial Day.

admin / May 21, 2010

Cooking Shortcuts

I ask myself the same question every week, how can it be Friday already? If you’re on a budget and/or hate relying on convenience foods, you have to think of cooking shortcuts, ways to prepare meals and sneaky little tricks that can get you in and out of the kitchen when time’s not your friend.

Here are some tips I’ve found to help me make it through the week-

Prepare Ahead of Time
I’ve recently gotten into the habit of preparing vegetables and salads on the weekends. Most of the recipes I use call for onions, carrots and celery. Now I chop and slice extra, put them in zip lock bags and store in the fridge. It’s really cut down on meal prep time. I also wash extra salad and fixings. I was putting everything together in one large bowl but found that if just one thing spoiled or lettuce started to brown, it ruined everything. Now I put the lettuce in one bowl and everything else in separate containers, things like radishes and shredded carrots.

Give Vegetables a Head Start
I love roasted vegetables but sometimes they (seem) to take forever to cook in the oven. My tip is to parboil them for about five to ten minutes while you warm the oven and then add them to the pan.

Have Ingredients Ready and Waiting
Another trick I’ve found to make meal preparation that much easier is to put everything out on the countertop along with the recipe. Anything that doesn’t spoil like canned vegetables and spices can even be sitting there ready for when you get home at night.

Smelly Foods
I love to use garlic in just about everything but I hate chopping it and I really dislike the smell that lingers on my hands. One local supermarket sells chopped garlic in jars for just a dollar and now I wouldn’t be without it.

Make Clean Up a Breeze
I always think that aluminum foil is the best thing to happen to a cook. When I’m cooking dishes I know are going to stick to pans or maybe even drip in the oven, I use foil. Easy clean up and once again it’s an item you can find at the dollar store.

The Microwave Comes to the Rescue
One appliance that does so many jobs is the microwave oven. Not only for heating foods, but also for melting things like butter and chocolate. And yes, even softening things like squash for easy cutting. I microwave it for about a minute and it makes the job so much easier and no more cut fingers.

Budget Gourmet
And yes, we all have to cheat now and then. I buy the packages of fried rice made my Michelina’s. They’re the Budget Gourmet line and cost just a dollar a piece. I keep these in the freezer all the time. I used a couple of them the other night to accompany some grilled salmon and for a quick vegetable side dish, edamames. And do check out the company’s Web site. They have lots of great articles on budgeting. www.michelinas.com

When All Else Fails
My favorite I’ve got no time to cook, or what’s for dinner rescue meal is soup and sandwich. Last Sunday I had to interview a source for an article I was working on and made this soup to accompany grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s quick but to make it even simpler I used an immersion blender. Saves time and not to mention clean up.

Spicy Black Bean Soup (Serves 4-6)

1 large onion, chopped
½ chopped roasted red pepper
2 tablespoons oil
2 cans (15 ounces) of Kuner’s Southwestern Black Beans with Cumin/Chili Spices (do not drain them)
I can (14 ½ ounce) diced tomatoes with mild green chilies, undrained
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon (or more or even less depending on how much heat you can tolerate) crushed red pepper flakes

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until lightly golden brown. Stir in the beans, broth, roasted red pepper, tomatoes, pepper flakes and cilantro. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool mixture slightly. If you’re using a regular blender, add half the soup and blend then add it back to the pan. If you’re using an immersion blender, you just need to break up about half of the beans and mixture to thicken it. Reheat and serve with more chopped cilantro and sour cream.

This soup is spicy hot and pairs perfectly with the grilled cheese sandwiches.

admin / May 19, 2010

Eating Well on a Budget While You’re Traveling

Maybe you have big travel plans this summer or just planning a few days out and about seeing local sites. Either way traveling away from home and eating out can put a dent in your budget. However, with a little preplanning, you can save money and still eat well.

A Room with a Kitchen
More hotels have rooms with kitchens and they’re a smart choice. Eat half your meals in the room instead of eating out and you’ll save a ton of money. If you can’t find a hotel room with a kitchen, ask if any of the rooms have at least a fridge or microwave. If the price of the room doesn’t come with a free breakfast, stock up on things like milk, cereal, bread for toast and you can save money by eating breakfast in your hotel room.

Take It on the Road
One way you can save money while you’re traveling (and avoid the fast food drive through) is to pack a lunch before you head out for the day. If you’re traveling by car, it’s easy enough to put a cooler in with the rest of the luggage. If you’re going by air, stop by a local supermarket or drugstore when you get to your destination and pick up a Styrofoam cooler. They cost around $3-4 so it’s no big deal to just leave them behind when the vacation is over.

Amusement Parks
I know children look forward to eating food at the amusement park vendors, but sometimes the prices are double. One way you can save and still keep the children happy is to take your own packed lunch and then stop by one of the vendors for dessert.

Bed and Breakfast
Lots of hotels/motels now include a free breakfast in with the price of the room. And they’re no longer just coffee and a sweet roll. The last one we stayed at had hot dishes, cereals and make your own waffles so we were never tempted to go anywhere else for breakfast.

Supermarkets
Find a supermarket and stock up on items like crackers, fruit, cold cuts, string cheese, etc. so you can take them out and about with you. And if you have the kitchen back at the hotel room, buy some groceries just like you would at home and eat in a couple of times.

Early Bird Specials
Just about every town has restaurants that offer early bird specials. It’s a way for them to attract customers when business gets slow, and a great way for you to save. Most of the meals and portion sizes will be exactly the same, but you can sometimes save up to $5 a meal by eating between 4-6 p.m. And when you’re on vacation eating earlier frees up the rest of the day for more sightseeing.

Ask the Locals
If you want to know where all the good deals are, ask the locals. And ask the hotel’s front desk personnel for advice on cheap places to eat. And don’t forget to stop by the tourist office and ask if they have any coupon books or can recommend great deals.

Those Entertainment Books Again
Remember the Entertainment books I told you about last week? There’s one for just about every city now. Buy one before you leave. Okay, you won’t be able to use every coupon in the book during your stay but for the investment you get coupons for the very things you need like discounts to restaurants and local attractions.

Stick With The Chains
Most areas also have the same restaurant chains you’ll find at home, TGI Fridays, Olive Garden and many run specials. Plus, you can clip coupons at home and take them on the road with you.

Happy Hour
Most hotel chains and restaurants now offer Happy Hours and it’s not just about chips, dips and half price drinks any more. Many slash 50% off the price of appetizers and some entrees if you’re willing to sit in the bar.

admin / May 17, 2010

The Blog-Supermarket Wars

Things are really getting interesting where I live. It couldn’t be a better time to be a Budget Smart Girl. One local supermarket’s been printing a coupon book for things like frozen foods, breads, produce. Now their biggest rival has jumped on the bandwagon. Last week their coupon book arrived in the mail. I noticed some coupons are for exactly the same products as the other supermarket but their prices were even lower. I guess when they’re fighting for our dollars, we win.

It’s been another busy week for me, work wise and trying to catch up with gardening chores after a week of rain every single day. I’ve been planning easy to put together meals and came up with two new one. I’ll be sharing one of them later this week, the other one in this month’s newsletter.

Speaking of gardening. I’m going to try growing asparagus and potatoes. I’ll be ordering my supplies from www.gardeners.com. Even if you’re not in the market for gardening stuff, check out their two contests. One is for rain barrels. I’ve been meaning to buy one of those for a couple of years now. And as the Budget Smart Girl’s philosophy is why buy it when you can try and win it, you can guess I entered the contest. Plus, if you click on ‘growing vegetables’ you can win a $250 vegetable garden kit.

This week on Budget Smart Girl-Last week I gave you some suggestions for eating out while you’re on a budget, this week, I’ll tell you about ways to cut the cost of meals when you’re on vacation.
Also, quick tips, short cuts to get you out of the kitchen and keep you on budget. Plus, a recipe that just about anyone can make…it’s really budget friendly too.

Have a good week.

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