admin / February 28, 2011

The Blog-National Indoor Gardening Month

Before I forget congratulations to Dana for being the winner of the cake giveaway last week.

February’s winding down and did you know that it’s National Indoor Gardening Month? I have a stack of gardening catalogs sitting on my coffee table right now. Although the yard is still covered in a couple of feet of snow, I’ve been thinking about the upcoming gardening season. Getting the vegetable garden planted is my first priority. I’m buying raspberry and blueberry bushes this year too. I’ll also try growing lettuce in containers again…wasn’t too successful last year!  Here’s a bargain I saw in the Lakeside Collection catalog http://www.lakeside.com/Sets-Of-3-Garden-Grow-Pouches/details.asp?I=FP3&N=36+10&Nao=6&R=916043011FP34

As well as flowers they also have cherry tomatoes kits. And check out some of their other gardening items. A rain barrel for less than $40. Best price I’ve seen on one of those. If you live an an area that doesn’t get a lot of rain, or like me, in a city that has watering restrictions, a rain barrel is a big plus, and it saves you money too.

Articles I found this week-

Frugal’s back in style-

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/In-Recessions-Wake-Frugal-nytimes-2844094476.html?x=0&.v=1

Foods that can stay in the pantry for a long time-

http://shine.yahoo.com/event/green/forever-foods-9-cooking-staples-that-can-outlast-you-2456896/

It’s almost March which means the newsletter. Plenty of good stuff to tell you about including some great deals on spa and beauty services for us budget conscious girls.

Have a good week.

admin / February 25, 2011

How Not to be a Boring Cook

I have to admit I enjoy eavesdropping. A few weeks ago I heard a lady complaining to her friend about how tired she was of cooking and eating the same meals day after day. It’s not only people who are trying to stay within a budget that get bored, but it happens to everyone at some point. We get busy so we reach for our favorite standbys or we get stressed and make the same comfort foods. When we’re on a budget there’s a tendency to go around the store in automatic drive putting the same old boxes of this and that into the cart instead of taking a chance on something new. Every so often I find myself in this food rut and here’s what I do to snap out of it without going over budget-

Cookbooks
When was the last time you looked through the cookbooks sitting on your shelves? Or how about the cookbooks you use on a daily basis? Are you just sticking with the same recipes and not being adventurous enough to try something new for your family?
Even picking up a new cookbook can be just want you need to zap you out of a slump. And no you don’t have to buy new books… although many bookstore chains do have some great buys in their bargain sections. Why not take a trip to the local library, bring home a few cookbooks and spend an hour or so looking through them. Sometimes that’s all you need to get some inspiration.

Shop Somewhere Different
I have a very upscale supermarket close to where I live and while I don’t go there more than a couple of times a year when I do, I head to their deli. I might buy the odd item or two but mostly I go there to get ideas for dishes I can make at home but at half the cost. So if you have a similar market in your area stop by and see what inspires you the most.

Even the Not So Upscale Supermarket

I stick with my local supermarket because I earn points and get a discount when I buy gas. However, yesterday I wanted to buy some of my favorite tea and knew only one supermarket in town stocks it. I decided to do some grocery shopping and it’s amazing what switching stores can do for your creativity. I found some spices in the international section that I’ll be using in soups I plan to make next week. Take a trip to a new to you store and see what new ideas you can come up with.

Take a Cooking Class

Don’t think you have to be a master chef or have lots of money to take cooking classes. Where I live there are several community education programs that offer numerous cooking classes for all levels of experience, plus they’re fairly affordable too. If you’re not that confident about doing actual hands on cooking you can opt for a demonstration only class. In both cases the teachers usually give you a pack of recipes to take home. Not only will these new dishes get you rethinking dinner, but just seeing someone else do some cooking will also spark new ideas.

Go on a Restaurant Tour

No, this one isn’t going to cost you a penny. With the help of the Internet you can find the Web site for just about any restaurant and most sites offer a complete list of their menu items too. Peruse it and see what inspires you. Maybe challenge yourself to come up with something similar but within your own budget. Just before the holidays I saw a flyer with a menu for a restaurant that was just about to open. I noticed they had bread pudding. When I checked out the description under the listing I saw they used cinnamon rolls instead of bread. That got me thinking. I often make bread pudding and always looking for ways to make it different. I gave the cinnamon rolls a try and have to say it was the best bread pudding I’ve tasted. Switch just one ingredient in a recipe and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Web sites

While you’re checking out restaurant Web sites there are plenty of cooking and food related ones that can help you put together new dishes. Here’s a site with links to many-

.http://www.bestcookingsites.com/recipes.html

admin / February 23, 2011

Forget the steak… five reasons to love stews

 When the temperature dips there’s sometimes nothing better to eat than a bowl of hearty stew. It’s comfort food at its very best and some of my favorite food memories from childhood are indulging in a stew my grandmother had cooked. Meat, vegetables and a savory liquid that are simmered together for hours on top of the stove to take away the chill of a winter’s day. It’s not surprising that just about every cuisine in the world has its own version. However, the best thing about a stew is, apart from the fact it tastes so good, it’s the budget smart cook’s best friend.

Easy on the Cook

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 or casserole dish but my grandmother taught me it’s the essential part of making a delicious stew. My grandma would put flour, salt and pepper onto a plate and toss the cubes of meat in the mix. I’ve found a freezer bag with the same mixture is quicker, clean up is easier and you can make sure every single piece of meat gets coated. Then all you to need to do is saute the meat in a pan.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 this extra trouble. Turn the meat, with spoons and not a fork as you want to seal in the juices and flavor, until it’s browned on each side.

Easy on the Budget
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 another money saving trick is to use cheaper things like thighs and drumsticks when you’re making a stew featuring chicken. The bones add lots of flavor. And as most of us 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.

One Pot Cooking at its Best
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. 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 want a ready cooked meal when you come home from work, opt for cooking your stew in a slow cooker.

Freezers Love Them
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.

Add Your Own 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.

The Quicker Cooking Version of My Grandmother’s Beef Stew

Grandma never followed a specific recipe but this is one I remember from watching her put a stew together. Her version took most of the day but I’ve found this one can be put together in under two hours.

1/4 cup flour

Good pinch of salt and pepper

2 tablespoons oil

2 medium sized onions, chopped into bite size pieces

3 carrots, chopped into bite size pieces

3 cups beef stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Bouquet garni (she’d use cheesecloth and add a couple of bay leaves and sprigs of thyme and parsley)

1 pound of skirt or flank steak cut into small chunks

1 tablespooon of Worchestershire sauce

1/4 pearl barley (optional)

Mix the salt and pepper with the flour in a freezer bag and add the meat, shake it so everything gets coated. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the meat until it’s lightly browned, remove from the saucepan and set aside while you prepare the rest of the stew.

Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they’re softened.

Add the stock and whisk in the tomato paste.

Add the bouquet garni and then the carrots and the meat and if using it, the pearl barley.

Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for gently  1 1/2-2 hours, checking on it occasionally.

I’ve also found this works well as a casserole in the oven too…if not better than the stove top version.

Serves 4-6.

Grandma would serve it with cabbage and mashed potatoes. I also like roasted parsnips too.

admin / February 18, 2011

Bargain Foods-Black Beans

One of my favorite budget foods are beans…and they’re good for you too. No fat,  lots of protein and high in fiber which experts say most of us don’t get enough of these days. Plus, with so many varieties you might never get bored.

Once upon a time I purchased canned beans thinking you couldn’t get much cheaper than that. I had tried dried beans but didn’t like the hassle of soaking them and then standing over the pan to make sure they didn’t boil over on the stove or worse still, stick to the saucepan.

Well, that was until I heard about using the slow cooker. Now I’m hooked and won’t go back to using canned beans other than keeping a few in the pantry for emergency meals.

Slow Cooker to the Rescue

If you have a slow cooker, cooking beans is simple. First of all I wash the beans and then soak them in the slow cooker. Add the beans and enough water to cover them plus about another inch. I let them soak for about four hours then drain and rinse them. I add them back to the slow cooker and add water to cover them plus about 3-4 more inches and let them cook on low for about 6 hours. I’ve been doing this overnight so when I wake up in the morning the beans are cooked and ready for any recipe I want to try.

They Go a Long Way

I estimated that the one pound bag of dried beans I bought for just 99 cents netted about 3 1/2 cans so it’s cheaper and doesn’t take that much time and effort.

Black Beans

This week’s focus is on black beans. They’re great in soups, Mexican dishes and even some stews.

Last week I cooked a one pound back of beans and netted eight black bean and roasted vegetable burgers, a batch of black bean soup for the freezer and some smoky black bean nachos which I’ll give you the recipe for. Not bad for my intial investment of 99 cents.

Black Bean Recipes

There are lots of black bean recipes out there and here is a link to some you might want to try-

http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/cat/365/

Smoky Black Bean Nachos

These are easy to make and taste great as an appetizer or even lunch, and if you wanted to make more of a meal you could add chopped leftover chicken too.

1 cup cooked black beans

1 package Tostitos roasted garlic and black bean flavored Artisan tortilla chips

2 slices Borden Singles Sensations-Hickory Smoked Swiss

2 slices Borden Singles Sensations-Chipotle Chedder

And if you like more cheese 1/2 cup shredded cheese

Sour cream and salsa for dipping

Set the tortilla chips on a baking pan, sprinkle with black beans and tear up the 4 slices of Singles Sensation evenly over the chips, then add the shredded cheese and heat in the oven for about 375 degrees for about 10 minutes or until all the cheese has melted.

If you can’t find the Bordens cheese, try tossing the beans with some smoked paprika before adding them to the chips for a smoky flavor, same goes for the chipotle. If you can’t find this cheese trying sprinkling some chipotle seasoning over regular cheese.

Serves 2 as a meal or 4-6 as an appetizer

admin / February 16, 2011

Adding Flavor to Everyday Foods

Food prices are creeping upwards again which makes me want to get maximum flavor out of all the foods I prepare. Over the years I’ve been experimenting with a few ideas and simple ingredients that are inexpensive-

Select One Food Over Another

The iceberg variety always seems to be the cheapest lettuce in the produce department. However, once in awhile it’s great to have some variety even if it does cost 20 cents more. Some of my favorites are romaine and red leaf. Another tip is if salad is going to be the main course, go with the lettuce with more flavor. The same goes for parsley. If I’m just using it a couple of teaspoons for seasoning I’ll opt for the curly variety but if it has more of a staring role in the dish, flat leaf is my pick.

Roasting Vegetables

I like roasted vegetables all by themselves but try adding them to soups, stews and even things like homemade bean and vegetable burgers. I’ve been experimenting with making my own veggie burgers and started out using chopped vegetables but I’ve discovered roasting them first gives the burger a richer flavor.

Worchestershire Sauce

One thing I’ve loved to add to foods since I was a teenager is Worchestershire sauce. It’s a staple in my pantry and I use it in soups, stews, sprinkled on top of burgers, shepherd’s pie and also pot pies. Great stuff, not that expensive and a little gives food a big boost.

Make a Switch

Even a simple dish like mac and cheese can become gourmet tasting by using a different cheese like gouda or one of the smoked varieties. I’ve also found if you pick a stronger cheese you use less of it.

Flavored Peppers

Sometimes browsing the spice aisle at the supermarket is just want you need to add some pizzazz to simple dishes. I found this one last year and just like the sauce of the same name I’ve been using it in lots of recipes.

Don’t Throw away the Stock

If you have any leftover stock try using it when you boil rice or potatoes…or any vegetable for that matter. It really gives the dish a richer taste and it’s a great way to use up something you might just pour away.

Grill Mixes

 

The folks at Spice Hunter sent me these awhile back and have to say I’ve used them for everything but grilling. I’ve added the seafood mix to fish chowders, the steak variety to marinade tofu for pot pies. The poultry mix for yes, the roasted vegetables and also homemade stuffing. Find a good grilling blend and try it in some of your favorite dishes instead of salt and pepper.

Smoked Paprika

Another pantry staple I wouldn’t be without is my bottle of smoked paprika.  I had trouble finding it a few years ago but now see it in most stores. It’s more expensive than the regular paprika but gives you more bang for your buck because a little goes a long way. It adds a smoky intense flavor to whatever you add it to and puts a new spin on old favorites. I’ve used mine in everything from soups to the decoration on deviled eggs. And when I make Shepherd’s Pie, I also sprinkle some on the mashed potato topping.

admin / February 14, 2011

The Blog-Sometimes Bargain Items Are Awful

Last week I learned a valuable lesson that not everything that’s a budget price is that great. Last month I bought a pack of eight rolls of toilet paper that were on special at the supermarket. It wasn’t until last week we started to use them and my husband was the first to complain. I quickly agreed that it was the worst toilet paper I’d ever seen. It looked fine on the roll but proved to be just one ply and so thin if you held it up to the light you could see through it. You’d have to use twice as much paper as other brands and hence save no money. Lesson learned, stick with old favorites because sometimes bargain specials are neither. And there’s more to the story. I e-mailed the company and told them how unhappy I was with the purchase and have to say they responded quickly and are sending me coupons for their other brands.

Remember the soap nuts I mentioned in this month’s newsletter? I purchased the sample package and also the sample size of the all purpose cleaner. Quick service and they send you a coupon for 12% off not only your next purchase but all future ones too. The package arrived after I’d finished doing the laundry but I’ll let you know what I thought about them in next Monday’s blog. I have tried the all purpose cleaner and it does an excellent job. I like the fact it’s in concentrate, looks like you can use it on just about any surface and it’s a good price too.

The articles about saving money keeping rolling-

My late father would have loved this one-

http://finance.yahoo.com/banking-budgeting/article/111978/6-costs-you-should-always-negotiate?mod=bb-budgeting

When it pays to buy used-

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/First-Person-5-Things-I-ac-3815880417.html?x=0

Yes, we’ve been warned-

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Higher-food-prices-ahead-apf-2876382522.html?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=8&asset=&ccode=

Another food focused week on Budget Smart Girl, first of all how you can add flavors to every day foods. Then the first of a series of articles on cooking with beans and legumes. This week it’s black beans and a recipe for smoky black bean nachos.

Have a good week.

admin / February 11, 2011

Breakfast on a Budget

 Eating a hearty breakfast has many pluses. It keeps your blood sugar constant…no mid-morning or afternoon snacking. Studies have shown that people who eat a good breakfast tend to weigh less. Children do better at school. Best thing is breakfast food items are some the least expensive at the store. So why do so many of us skip the most important meal of the day? Probably because we don’t have time or find the same old foods boring.

Here are some of my ideas for breakfasts that can be put together either the night before or even prepared at the weekend for week long eating.

Oatmeal

I have to say I’ve always been a big fan of oatmeal. I know lots of people don’t share my enthusiasm for it but it’s inexpensive (shop the bulk bins and it’s even more of a bargain), and it fills you up. I prefer the old fashioned variety to the instant kind but didn’t want to spend time cooking it every morning. A few years ago I found a recipe for baked oatmeal. I tried it, liked it but over time I’ve adapted it to suit my own taste. It’s very simple to put together and each Sunday I make up a batch, store in the fridge and just heat it up each morning in the microwave.

Orange and Cranberry Oatmeal (serves 6)

1 ¾ cups of oatmeal…not instant

1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Zest and juice of one small orange (I’ve also been using the candied orange peel I made during the holidays and it’s a treat. About two tablespoons is all you need)

¼ – ½ cup of brown sugar depending on how sweet you like your oatmeal. My philosophy is you can always add more but you can’t take it once the dish is made.

A pinch of ground cardamom. I’ve used this instead of cinnamon because I think it pairs perfectly with orange and cranberry but if you don’t like it use cinnamon. And be careful with the cardamom because it is very pungent and can easily overwhelm all other flavors.

3 ¾ cups of liquid…it’s your choice if you want to go with all milk or a combination of milk and water. I’ve found you should use at least one cup of milk for a creamier consistency.

Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray and add everything and give it a stir so all the ingredients get evenly distributed. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until it’s set and lightly browned.

As you can see from the photo it set solid and doesn’t look like your usual bowl of oatmeal so each morning spoon some into a bowl and heat it in the microwave for about a minute and then add more milk.

Eggs

 

Remember the book I was reading just before the holidays called Healthy Mixes?They have a great section on breakfast items and one that caught my eye was the baked eggs you can freeze and use whenever. It’s just eggs with water baked in a pan and then cut into individual portions and add a slice of bacon and cheese. I thought I’d cut that chore down even more and here is a batch I made the other day by adding bacon pieces and shredded cheese. This batch used six eggs, twelve tablespoons of water, cracked pepper, half a jar of bacon pieces and about 1/3 cup shredded cheese. It cooks in a 375 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.  I’m also thinking about a cheese and chili egg mix and a cheese and salsa one too. Defrost one the night before or in the microwave, add an English muffin and you’ve got breakfast on the run or even an easy lunch.

Breakfast Burritos

No matter what restaurant I go to if a breakfast burritos is on the menu I order it. And they’re simple to put together at home. I use scrambled eggs, black beans, cheese and salsa, roll everything up in a tortilla and microwave just long enough to heat it through and melt the cheese. Another one of my favorite picks is huevos rancheros. Tortillas, fried eggs, beans, salsa, sour cream and if you like it, some cilantro too.

PB and J with a twist

One of my other favorite fast breakfast meals is the PB and J sandwich. Try different jams like blueberry or peach for something different each morning. And who says it has to be on bread. I’ve made PB and J sandwiches using waffles. They’re great with PB and sliced bananas too. And yes, if you really want to splurge, melted chocolate drizzled over them as well.

Hope these have given you some ideas for making the most important me

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