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Archive for the ‘Effective ways to Cut Back on Unavoidable Bills’ Category

Use-It-Up Beef Vegetable Soup

The beauty of this soup is in it’s versatility; you can use most vegetables and any number of meat products that are available to you, and it will still taste delicious. Personally, I use up any leftovers I have from a beef roast,  and I incorporate whatever veggies I have on hand that are looking sad in the fridge or need to be used up from the garden. You can also go simple and use a bag of frozen mixed vegetables from your freezer. This soup is thick and hearty enough for a meal if you include a loaf of homemade bread or a salad. Followed exactly, this recipe will feed at least 6 people. You can also adapt this recipe for the slow-cooker. From my estimates, this recipe cost me around $2 in total to make. Please note, I did go a little easy on the meat because I didn’t have much left this time. This dish has a great tomato flavor and a bit of a spicy kick; if you don’t care for heat in your food, decrease or omit the red pepper flakes.

  • 1/2-1 lb. of leftover pot roast (or cooked ground beef or sausage)
  • 2 large potatoes, cubed
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock (I use my homemade stock because it’s free, but you can also use veggie or beef stock, or water with bouillon)
  • 2 can condensed tomato soup
  • 1.5 cups of chopped veggies (either raw or frozen–use whatever you have on hand that you need to use up)
  • 1/4 box of ditalini or macaroni noodles
  • 2 TBS Worcestershire
  • 2 tsps. red pepper flakes
  • salt, pepper and onion powder to taste
  1. Bring the stock to a boil; add celery, potatoes and any raw veggies to the stock and boil for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomato soup and any frozen pasta noodles. Bring back to a boil and continue simmering for 10 minutes.
  3. Add any frozen veggies, Worcestershire sauce, pepper flakes, and seasonings. Continue to simmer 10 minutes more or until pasta and veggies are tender.
  4. Add beef or ground meat and heat through. Don’t worry if your leftover beef has gravy on it; this will add flavor to the soup.
  5. Serve with sprinkled parmesan or Romano cheese on top.

This leftover soup is a big hit in my house; my fiancé is super-picky and he still loves it. This is one of those recipes that has endless variations, so don’t be afraid to play around with it in order to use up any leftovers you have sitting in the fridge. It’s great for using up some of that end-of-summer zucchini surplus as well if you have a garden.

What about you? Any no-fail recipes that you use to get rid of veggie or meat leftovers?

Top 11 DIY Recipes for Cheaper, Healthier “Convenience” Recipe Ingredients…Get Your Grocery Bill Lower Than Ever!


Cheap, Healthy Homemade Alternatives to Popular “Convenience Foods” Commonly Used in Recipes

Face it, there are a TON of ingredients that are commonly used in recipes that even the most vigilant home cook routinely reaches for on the grocery shelves without thinking that there may be a cheaper (and healthier) version available.

Here are several of the most common recipe ingredients that I’ve used in my cooking, and the DIY alternative recipes I’ve found for them. Even if you don’t use these all the time (I know life can be hectic!), they can come in handy when grocery sales/coupons are uninspiring, because they are generally way more affordable (even with sales and coupons!)  than their packaged counterparts.

These recipes are all easy, inexpensive and healthy. If you have a few extra minutes of time they are a great alternative to buying the packaged alternatives that are often laden with sodium, preservatives, and unpronounceable chemical additives. If you grow a few of your own vegetables and herbs in the summer, and/or buy spices in bulk, the cost for many of these is slim to nil.

 

$5 off Pictionary Game Printable Coupon…Start Your Gift Closet for Next Christmas Now!!

Check under zipcode 60712, and you can find a coupon for $5 off any Pictionary Game! This is perfect for my New Year’s resolution…to Christmas shop all year long, as I find awesome deals to add to my “gift” closet, so I can enjoy the Holiday season this time instead of stressing-out last minute about what gifts I do and don’t have!!

Games are always a good bet…they’re bound to fit the bill for someone on your list! My sister and I love giving each other board games for Christmas/birthdays and then playing them that same day to add a little more fun to the festivities!

Pictionary is also a sure winner for any child that loves drawing or art.

Or just buy this for you and your honey to have a good old-fashioned game night with some friends, a bottle of Pinot, and a nice Paella this Friday night!!

And since this is an oldie but goodie, it can often be found at discount stores (such as Dollar General) that accept coupons, so you can probably snag it for a song if your timing is right!!

Give my New Year’s resolution a try and see how quickly you can build up a stockpile of affordable and awesome gifts this year! I’ll be letting you in on any great deals that I find along the way…

$5 off Pictionary Game (coupons.com)

Great Wine-Lover Gift Idea for Christmas or Birthdays…Wine Bottle Umbrella for only $4.99!!

Great Christmas gift idea for $4.99!!

 

Ok, so I have officially vowed to start my Christmas shopping NOW, so I have the opportunity to take advantage of GREAT deals as they present themselves, instead of running around stores in panic-attack mode three days before Christmas, while drawing a complete blank on what I’m going to get everyone.

This sweet little deal I happened upon today from Tanga.com is awesome for four reasons:

  1. It actually serves a useful purpose. Everyone needs an umbrella (or two)…I’m constantly leaving mine places and losing them.
  2. These unique “wine bottle” umbrellas will actually be appreciated by anyone who is a wine lover…they come in several different wine-bottle designs that are all super-cute (with a few more masculine prototypes thrown in for the men in your family). I’m ordering one for my mom…she is a notorious Wino (I’m saying that jokingly with love mom, in case you’re reading this!!)
  3. I’ve actually used this website before…I received a couple FREE magazine subscriptions from them (available to small business owners), which I got in the mail in a very prompt manner…so I’m pretty sure this site and it’s deals are trustworthy! I’ve also seen their deals advertised on several other coupon blogs/sites all over the web!!
  4. The actually umbrella top (you know, the part that makes a big, wet mess??) actually STORES INSIDE THE CUTE WINE BOTTLE BASE/HOLDER, SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO LEAVE LITTLE PUDDLES ALL OVER YOUR WORK/SCHOOL/RESTAURANT/GROCERY STORE/ETC.!! Lovin’ it!!! The umbrella part corresponds with the design on the bottle you choose, so each one is different!!

 

Anyway, this a sweet gift for any occasion for only $4.99 (and no, no one is paying me royalties to promote ANYTHING on this blog, I have so far refused to host any advertising, besides the occasional ad that wordpress.com may put up on my blog, which is out of my control.) Just thought I’d share a cool gift idea with everyone!!

Click here to purchase any of the umbrella designs for only $4.99 for the Shiraz-lover in your life!!  This offer is only good for 24 more hours, according to Tanga’s countdown clock!

5 Painless Ways to Save Money On Your Meat Costs Each Week

Stay tuned till the end of this post! 🙂

 

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.

 

Pork. The Other White Meat.

 

In America, the Big Meat companies spend BIG bucks on advertising and propaganda to convince us that no meal in this country is truly complete without a super-sized slab of beef, chicken or pork taking center stage on our dinner plates.

Compare that to the status quo in most other countries, and you’ll find that meat is most often either served up in MUCH smaller portions, eaten sporadically as a treat, or merely used as a flavorfull accent amidst an abundance of rice, beans and vegetables.

Besides the debated health concerns of a meat-heavy diet, the COST of buying all that meat can really add up! Compare the price of a pound of sirloin to that of a pound of  dry Kidney beans, and you’ll see what I mean!

Now, I’m a happy carnivore (although I do have issues on the way most meat is farmed, fed and slaughtered, but that’s another issue altoghether!), so I’m not advocating a Vegan or Vegetarian diet in this post. But how can we enjoy eating our “finger lickin’ good” wings and drumsticks without spending an arm and a leg??

 

Here are my favorite tips to save big on buying meat:

 

  1.  Use a little less meat than a recipe calls for! I find most of the recipes I use for chili, soup, casseroles, meatloaf, etc. call for around 1 lb of meat. I was constantly portioning out and freezing 1 lb servings after I brought it home from the grocery store. Now, If I buy a three pound package of ground meat, I divide it into four portions instead of three. The difference is negligable, and Mike has never caught on he’s not getting that full pound of beef in his chili! You can portion out ground turkey, chicken breasts, and many other cuts of meat in the same way.
  2. Streeeetch that meat! I realized a while ago that great-tasting “fillers” can drastically reduce the amount of meat I have to use in our favorite recipes. For example, instead of just using ground meat in my burritos, I now use half the amount I did before, and replace the missing beef with some rice and/or beans. And I think they actually taste better! Or, if I use the “normal” amound of beef, adding the rice and beans DOUBLES my recipe and gives me an extra dinner’s worth of burrito filling to freeze for a lazy day! I also used to make salmon or tuna patties that were mostly…well, salmon or tuna. Then I happened upon a super-tasty recipe for Salmon Croquettes that reduced the amount of fish I had to use by adding leftover mashed potatoes and extra Panko bread crumbs! You can do this with LOTS of recipes (remember Grandma stretching out the meatloaf back in the day with bread/bread crumbs/cornflakes back in the day?) Same idea here. Grandma sure was smart!
  3. Become a follower of “Meatless Mondays”. This is a wordwide movement to abstain from meat every Monday for health/environmental reasons and benefits. I was initially attracted to this because it’s also historically a tradition in New Orleans (my favorite city of all time). Red beans and rice is cooked up in pots all over the city every Monday in epic proportions, and it tastes like a dream. I find it fun to get creative cooking without meat once a week, and believe me, it’s a challenge to tickle Mike’s tastebuds if his dinner doesn’t contain SOMETHING that once lived and breathed. Check out the Meatless Mondays site for tasty recipes, eye-opening statistics, and celebrity followers that are sure to get you on board!
  4. Buy cheaper cuts of meat, and cook them low and slow. I know, I know, you’d think the Crock Pot people paid me to endorse their products. They probably should. But I can’t sing enough praises to the slow-cooker. With little time and effort, you can turn the cheapest, toughest cut of meat in the butcher’s case into a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy. You can pay 69 cents a pound instead of $3.99 a pound, and your dinner will actually taste BETTER. Best of all, you can throw it in the pot before you go to work, and come home to an aromatic, fully-cooked meal. It’s like my own personal plug-in chef. Check out my Southwestern Pulled Pork Taco recipe (and use a pork butt roast, the cheapest cut of pork you can buy), and give it a whirl! I’ll be waiting for an email on how delicious it was.
  5. OK FRIENDS, I’M INVITING YOU TO THINK UP TIP NUMBER FIVE!! Just post your best money-saving meat tip as a comment on this post! I’ll pick the one I like the best, and the winner will get their choice of a few prizes!! (an AirWick Ultra Fresh Automatic Air Freshener System, a Lysol No-Touch Hand Soap Dispenser, or…well, I’m tossing around a few other ideas!! (must post by August 19th to be eligible to win)

 

Post in the comment box/link below to leave your favorite tip! Good luck!

Cooking For (one) or Two…6 Tips to Beat Family-Oriented Packaging and Recipes

No financial help for dinner for deux??

Is it just me, or are the cookbook/online recipe/portion size people completely against singles, couples without children and two-person households???

Everything I pick up to buy in the store is designed to feed a family of four or more. Well, HELLO, there are only two of us!!

Every recipe I find in my cookbooks or print out online serves 6-8 . For someone as math-phobic as I am, sitting in front of a cookbook with a calculator and trying to figure out the necessary measurement adjustments to feed only two hungry people produces panicky breathing and a sweaty brow. Forget about it if it’s a recipe that I’m getting out of one of my many British cookbooks I got on super-sale from Barnes and Nobles.

The metric system AND division?? Sorry honey, we’re ordering pizza tonight!!!

It’s sad that Singles and Twosomes (or smaller families, even) sometimes end up throwing away or wasting food because, due to the American status quo, it’s easier to purchase and cook their food in the same manner a larger family does. It often seems impossible not to.  It often just doesn’t get eaten in time and into the trash it goes. What a waste.

BUT WAIT, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!! Frustrated about this two-person-family prejudice, I did a little research, and came up with the following tips:

  1. Rescale/downsize recipes you are printing online.  I love browsing the web for recipes. Problem is (and it took me a shamefully long time to realize this), most recipes are written to accommodate a family of four or more. We would always end up with a TON of leftover food that often got chucked in the trash. However, a lot of recipe sites, such as allrecipes.com, allow the user to adjust the recipe to the number of servings they would like to make. No muss, no fuss, one click of the button and ingredient measurements are automatically adjusted to fit your needs!!! Love it! However, on smaller sites that don’t offer this option, you can always bust out the old calculator to split recipes in halves/quarters/thirds/etc. If you like math. I don’t, so I’m an allrecipes devotee. All Hail Allrecipes.com!!!
  2. There are a growing number of cookbooks out there geared towards the two-person family!! Yeah!! Just do a quick search on amazon.com for two-person cooking or two-person recipes and you should have a pretty nice selection of books to purchase. Sure, it’s cheaper to print free recipes from the internet, but there’s nothing like having at least a small collection of cookbooks on display in your kitchen. Ones that you actually use. Not glossy, expensive decoys to make your husband’s boss think you’re a domestic goddess when the extravagant meal you just placed before him is really take-out from the french restaurant down the street served on Grandma Audrey’s wedding gift china.
  3. Ok, you still have leftovers galore…FREEZE THEM or LUNCHBOX THEM. This is my method. If whatever we had for dinner is an easy freeze, say chili or soup or lasagna, I portion it out into 2-person sized meal servings, wrap it in saran wrap, pop it in a freezer bag, date and label it, and toss it in the freezer. Some crazy, busy night when there is no time to cook and you are starving, you will thank me!! If it’s something that’s not great to freeze (fettucine alfredo for example), It goes into Mike’s hot thermos for lunch the next day. I bought him a fantastic thermos that keeps food hot or cold for 7 hours. The lid is a serving bowl, and there’s a stainless steel spoon tucked inside of it. Lunch is served!!
  4. Start with a whole chicken. Or pot roast. Or pork roast. Whatever. I do this all the time, and not only is it great for two-person or small families, but it will save you tons of money as you can get three meals out of the deal. Using the chicken as an example, I’ll cook the whole bird (usually in the crock pot, which saves my valuable time, and saves money on utilities, AND keeps the house blessedly cool in the summer since I don’t have to turn on the inferno of an oven) on the first night, using a recipe I’ve found online or in a cookbook, and serve it up with some tasty sides, maybe a veggie and a potato or rice. The next day, I’ll repurpose the leftover chicken into another dish, maybe some chicken enchiladas, or a white chicken chili, a recipe in which I can further stretch out the remaining chicken with beans or rice or other ingredients. The third day, if there is still some life left in the old bird, I’ll do the same, but with a different dish. Usually by this time there’s not much left, so it may just be a chicken and bean soup (heavy on the beans). At the very least, I can use the chicken bones and carcass to make an awesome homemade chicken stock, and base another soup from that, or freeze it for later use. Whoo! There are similar scenarios with other meats, but that’s another blog post! And, if you scored your bird or roast when the grocery store was having a BOGO sale (like I do) you just ate for three days (and ate well) for probably under $10.
  5. Bulk bins are a two-person household’s friend. Seriously, if I have to buy one more $6 jar of tarragon that I need for a recipe, I’ll scream. I know I’m never going to use it again before it expires and dies a slow, tasteless death in my pantry. Check out ethnic stores, health food stores, and even some grocery stores for bulk bins where you can purchase as little or as much of spices, beans, lentils, rice, etc. as you need by weight. Really a lifesaver if it’s an ingredient you know you don’t use regularly.
  6. Watch what you buy at the grocery store. It’s hard to find smaller packages of ground meat, pork chops and chicken. We twosomes can combat this in two ways. One, it’s OK to ask your butcher if he can accommodate you with whatever sized package of meat you need. That’s his job. Butchers at the grocery store are often underutilized by clueless shoppers. Your friendly butcher can point you in the direction of meat markdowns, cut large pieces of meat for you to order (usually for free), and get you that one pound package of ground meat you’re looking for when the meat section cooler is full of huuuge six pound family-size bulk portions. Two, it can often be in your best (financial) interest to buy that huge, six pound family-size bulk portion. Heft it over your shoulder and take it home. Open it up, and divide it into smaller portions, big enough for several two-person meals. Wrap it up, date it, and freeze it. You’ll often snag a deep discount buying the bigger packaging, and now you won’t have to buy any ground meat for a while.

And, if all else fails, don’t forget about Fido or Fluffy. I’m not opposed to feeding Joey the occasional table scrap or two. He is healthier that I am. I don’t like to waste food when people and animals struggle to survive in some countries, so if my cat gets to eat the last scoop of Chicken Tetrazzini, so be it. I’m not gorging him on the stuff, it’s more like a treat. And he still eats his dry food just fine. If you have one of those pets that would rather pout and starve for a week than go back to his regular food after consuming even a lick of yummy people food, then you might want to abstain from doing this.

So Singles,  Twosomes and smaller families, don’t dispair!! There are ways around Minivan mentality! Hopefully these tips will help you to reduce or eliminate the food waste that often happens when twosomes are forced to buy or cook big-family style. I’ll be back with more tips, tricks and recipes later. Right now, I’m off to score some big freebies on a shopping trip, tell you all about it later!!

Why We (Gasp!) Don’t Have Cable

Don’t get me wrong, I spent YEARS paying tons of money for premium cable packages.  Hundreds of channels, including every available pay movie channel known to mankind (if there was a movie channel showing nothing but home videos of cats watching birds from windowsills, I would have paid for it), DVR, HD channel upgrades, sports packages (even though I only really watch Steeler games), pay-per-view, the whole shebang. I, as a reasonably normal gal, even once paid $9.99 for pay-per-view porn, just out of morbid curiosity, just because it was THERE, only a click away. It was a status thing. It was embarrassing to me not to have THE VERY BEST cable packages available, even though I was only making (and still pretty much am) a bartender’s salary. Who I was trying to impress I still don’t know, most of my friends at the time were college students way broker than I was.

It’s amazing what love can do for your perspective.  After Mike moved in, things like cable didn’t seem so important. We didn’t care what our friends and families thought of our lifestyle choices. We had each other.

We embraced each others weirdness, and reveled in it.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Both Mike and I are avid movie watchers. We even have a favorite show (How I Met Your Mother). We wanted a nice, big TV to watch our favorite movies on…we love to cuddle up on the couch with Joey, our cat, and watch movies on weekend nights we feel like having a relaxed, stay-at-home evening. So we waited, watched the sale ads, saved our money, and eventually bought a sleek black 42” 1080p HD Sony TV. Sweet. That was about a year ago. I still admire it from time to time (even when it’s turned off) and I’ve never for a second regretted the purchase.

For a while I had free (72 channels) of cable coming from god-knows-where in my apartment building. We got hooked on the Food Network, The Travel Chanel, and even MTV for a brief, shameful few months. Then one day we stopped getting the cable. The cable gods were no longer smiling upon us.  And I realized, in a moment of zen-like clarity, that it was not something I was willing to pay for. Definitely not the $170 dollar a month cable packages of my status-driven past, and not even the spartan $40 a month cable packages that our grandparents subscribe to. No matter what, I realized, around 85% of the time, there was never anything on the damn TV I was TRULY enthusiastic about.

OH MY GOD!!!!  I hear this all the time from friends and family.

HOW WILL YOU WATCH “DANCING WITH THE STARS??? HOW WILL YOU SEE HEINZ WARD???” My mom was distraught with the idea of it. Apparently her post-retirement existence revolved around a handful of glitzy hyped-up reality shows.

WHAT DO YOU GUYS DO AT HOME???? Ummm…we cook. We eat. We talk. We pop in a Blu-Ray. We play board games. We make sweet love down by the fire. 🙂

A TV-less existence is very freeing, both financially and psychologically. It gives you the time to do other things. My TV is off right now as I write this. Most people I know keep their TVs on for constant background noise, for endless company. Our apartment is silent except for the clacking of my fingers on the keyboard and Mike’s slightly strained snores emanating from the bedroom (he has a bit of a cold).

I like to hear these noises. They are relaxing. They are the noises of MY life. Hearing Snookie and J Wow battle it out with whatever roommate this week on the boob tube is NOT a noise from my life.

We are not loonies, we are not some post-modern- hippie- conspiracy- theorist- minimalists. We’re just ordinary people. Like I said, we watch movies. We rent them, borrow them from friends, and occasionally purchase one from the five dollar bin at our local convenience store when we’re both hankering for an impromptu low-key night in.

And here’s a tip, folks, in case the no-cable idea sounds even remotely appealing to you, or you are looking to cut some costs in the ol’ budget. We can very easily hook our laptop up to our television with a special cord (HDMI cable maybe? If anyone’s interested, I’ll ask my friend what kind it is so you can follow suit) and watch pretty much whatever television shows we want on our big screen. We can pause, rewind and fast-forward them just like with a DVR. We are not slaves to commercials. With sites like http://www.hulu.com/, we can choose from thousands of programs, episodes and movies to fit our mood. FOR FREE!!!

I’d rather use the $170 a month on two fabulous dinners out. Caribbean. Or Cajun. With cocktails. Mmmm….

It’s about priorities. What REALLY makes you happy? Endless repeats of reality shows, or Jamaican Jerk Chicken resting ever-so-proudly atop cuban rice??

I understand some of you would probably pick the reality shows, but not me. Not when I can still watch them for free. On an awesome 1080p HDTV I’m proud to have budgeted, saved, bought on sale and paid cash (GASP!!) for. Don’t let the cable companies make you think you’re a freak for not subscribing to their overpriced snooze-fest. You’re not missing much. It’s out there to be had for free on the web. If you must subscribe to SOMETHING, you can even watch live, streaming TV shows and movies via Netflix through your Playstation or XBox for around $8 a month. A much better deal. Examine your options! And if you must have the latest, greatest, and biggest TV, try saving up for it and paying with cash (GASP!!) I’m telling you, you’ll appreciate it much, much more. You’ll even admire it late at night when it’s not even turned on, sleek and sexy black thing that it is.

By the way, we pay cash for EVERYTHING…but more on that in other posts.

Good Night!! 🙂