Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Making dinner on a monetary (and time) budget

Donna Freedman wrote a post over at Get Rich Slowly about economical cooking and eating.  It sparked some controversy.  I can relate even though I don't do things quite the way she does, as I'm a shameless foodie who flakes out on cooking anything elaborate during the week.

Here's the thing: Unlike Donna, I'm not okay with eating the same thing repeatedly until it's gone--which is why I freeze them and eat them later, or use the leftovers in another dish.  The things I have been known to eat every night are pasta (which I shouldn't, and I don't make a big bowl of it and reheat it, I just love tomato sauce and pesto), or soup and crusty bread.  If it's my mother's homemade chicken soup, heck yeah I'll eat that until it's gone.

I do make one-dish meals, and they turn out very well.  And you can do this, and make them delicious (and Earth friendly, and vegetarian, and whatever else you prefer).  I suppose they aren't technically one-dish meals if you include a salad or vegetable or rice, but those aren't too difficult to add (and I often have leftover rice or a salad going in the fridge).  Or I'll steam some frozen spinach or broccoli in the microwave for the side.  But here are some things that I do for quick meals:

Curried lentils, peas, and potatoes. Steam some rice while you cook this dish if you like, and saute a leafy green or add a side salad if you're worried you're not getting enough vegetables.

Moong Dal.  See above.

Eggplant and Vegetable Casserole (or even just a simple ratatouille).  I really enjoyed the leftovers of that one.

Eggs.  Omelets are a great thing to eat.  Or I'll poach a couple of eggs for dinner.  Yes, I know, I'm not eating vegetables if I make the poached eggs and not the omelet (I stuff omelets full of vegetables), but if I eat boxed mac and cheese I'm not eating vegetables either. 

Butternut squash and apple soup.  I will eat this with crusty bread and/or a salad.

Chili.  Actually, one thing I'll do with chili is make a very sloppy quesadilla with it.  I just put a little on one side of a soft tortilla, add a little cheese, fold it over and heat over medium heat until browned, flip it, and let the other side brown.  Add some salsa and I've got lunch or dinner.

Or I'll just make a quesadilla with some beans, random vegetables, cheese, and spices.

Sometimes I will just have mac and cheese or noodles and butter.  I know, not a perfect meal, but once in a while it's fine.  Or sometimes I'll eat a salad with baby artichokes (which feels very luxurious to me).  But you don't have to eat the same thing every night, or cook a brand new meal every night.

Or I'll make a skillet meal.  Sautee a cup of rice with garlic and onion (and fresh mushrooms, if I'm using them), add two cups of stock, allow to cook, and towards the end, add protein (tuna or leftover meat or beans) and vegetables (frozen spinach, broccoli, peppers, etc.).  I also add whatever herbs I want--oregano, basil, rosemary or spicy things like cayenne pepper, depending on what I'm trying to go for.

These meals don't take long to cook.  They freeze well, and and they taste quite good the second time around.  They are meatless (or less meat--I make the butternut squash soup with chicken stock, but it works well with vegetable stock as well).  I consider myself a foodie but I'm also lazy and often quite tired by the time I get home.  So this works pretty well for me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Moroccan Style Lamb

The one thing I would refuse to give up in my kitchen is my slow cooker.  I could give up a lot of things, but not that.  I do not use it when I'm at work--my job is over an hour away, so I'm not comfortable with that thing going for 12 hours unsupervised by anyone (unless you count my cat, which I don't.).  However, I use it all the time on the weekends, especially when I have people over for dinner.  It really saves me a lot of work, makes my place smell fantastic, and allows me to relax and hang out with my guests instead of rush around to get dinner ready.

I recently made Moroccan Style Lamb, one of my favorite things to make in the crockpot.  I got the recipe from Crockery: Dinners (Great Recipes Collection), which has been my go-to source for good crockpot meal recipes for years now.   This is an easy dish to make, and it the spices (cumin and turmeric) will have your home smelling like heaven.

You basically take 2 pounds of boneless lamb that's trimmed and cut into stew meat, add it to a mixture of two peeled and sliced carrots, 2 peeled and quartered onions, 2 cups of chicken broth, 3 chopped tomatoes and spices (1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric, and a 1/4 teaspoon or more of crushed red pepper if you want it a bit spicy).  Cook for 9-10 hours on low or 4 1/2-5 1/2 hours on high.  Take out the meat and vegetables and place in a platter, add a package of cous-cous, turn the crockpot up to high if it was on low, add some raisins or currants if you'd like, and add some turmeric.  Let the couscous cook.  Place some couscous on your plate, and put the lamb and vegetable on the couscous.  Eat.

It really is that simple.  It's delicious and no trouble at all to make, and it looks really fancy.  And the leftovers are really, really good.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Only in the 1950's. . .

Two thoughts:

1) Only in the 1950's would someone be so sanguine about radioactive stuff being put on their face.  Um, no. 

2) Only in the 1950's would an ad think it was convincing to have the actress wear a nighgown with puffy princess sleeves.  Then again, the actresses in the skin cleanser ads now smile like they've just won the lottery.  I don't know about you, but when I wash my face, I don't smile because I don't want soap in my mouth.  I also don't wear puffy sleeved dresses to bed--or when I'm washing my face.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kitchen crock solutions

I had toyed with buying one of those huge ceramic crocks you can get that holds kitchen utensils like tongs and spatulas and wooden spoons, but then I thought I'd use what was on hand.  This isn't so much because I am a frugal goddess (HA--I actually bought something completely frivolous a couple of weeks ago when I could have just made do with what I have so don't mistake me for a wise feral homemaker) but because I truly hate shopping.  Getting a kitchen crock would have required me to go to the store and fight the crowds and look at a bunch of crocks that would have had me thinking, Eh, I dunno, it's got ducks on it.  Do I really want to spend money on something with ducks on it? while random people ask me where the table linens were because for some reason, even when I'm wearing a winter coat, everyone thinks I work at whatever store I happen to be in.  It's weird.

It wasn't pretty--I didn't have a jar that was large enough to hold them all, and I wasn't about to use all of my canning jars on them, but I did manage, and no one comes into my place and gasps in horror at the fact that I've got three slightly mismatched containers to hold these things.

Two of them are plastic storage containers whose lids are missing.  Well, instead of tossing them, I used them.  The other is a chipped canning jar.  Instead of tossing it, I used it.  It works.  And it saved me a trip to the store and wondering if I really should buy a ceramic thing with ducks on it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Slow cookers are a gift from the culinary gods

No, really.  They are.  I love slow cookers.

People like to tout these as great things to have if you work a lot and want a meal ready when you get home.  Well, if you live very close to where you work, it's doable but I work over an hour away from where I live.  So I won't be letting a meal cook in the slow cooker for 10 or 11 hours.  That's just not going to happen; I doubt the meal would be edible.  If you have a timer (they are available, and some models have one built in), you can set it for the cooking time and the cooker will switch over to warm when it's done.

I have a couple of basic, manual models and I give them quite a workout on the weekends.  First, you can quite comfortably leave these things unattended for several hours, so I can run errands, clean, do laundry, or hang out with my friends or family if they are over for dinner (this is really nice--you don't have to rush around and get dinner ready; you can actually talk to  your guests.  Amazing, I know).  They cook food at such a low temperature that you can literally set it and forget it.  It makes the toughest cuts of meat very tender, so you can buy more inexpensive cuts.  And it uses far less energy than your stove or your oven, which is a plus.  They also do not heat up your entire kitchen the way your stove or oven do, so they are actually quite useful in the summer.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Links

Do you like historical fiction? Then you may enjoy This is the House, which was written by my good friend The Historic Muse. (I actually do know her in real life.) 

Seriously?  I'm pretty sure my cat doesn't care if she's getting gourmet food or not.  She eats centipedes, for God's sake.  She does prefer to try and eat popcorn if I make it, but as far as I'm concerned, that's a no-go.

March 22, 2012 is World Water Day.  I'll be posting more about this over the next few weeks but thought you'd enjoy the link.

Please send your best wishes to Cash Only Living, who just got back after spending two days (!) in the ER.

The Frugal Graduate wants to know what your time is really worth.

Shojin Dressing.  I'm going to try this this long weekend.

Short on cash? Rent out your driveway for parking spaces.

NicoleandMaggie blogged about hated signage memes, and the comments section turned into a festival of pet peeves.  Yes, I added mine.  Let's just say I don't like glurge.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A new use for a Parmesan cheese container

I used up the very last of the Parmesan cheese and was struck with inspiration that I'm sure everyone who has a blog similar to mine has had.  I soaked off the label, cleaned it out very well, made sure it was completely dry, and filled it with baking soda.

Baking soda is my go-to for cleaning the kitchen sink and the bathroom; now I don't have to worry so much about too much coming out from the box.  I can just shake on as much as I need, add a little water and/or soap, and clean.  Done. 

I do not keep or hoard old containers in the hopes that I'll use them--that would be rather ironic.  I hoard cleaning supplies and old containers to hold them! Or, I went into bankruptcy from my addiction to buying personal finance books.  Oh, foolishness.

However, if I think of a use for something I go for it as soon as I can. If I cannot do it for whatever reason--it requires work I don't have the time to put in, or materials I do not have on hand, I don't bother right way.  I recycle it or toss it and keep it in mind for next time.

Just. . .make sure, if you do this, that you keep the cheese and the baking soda clearly marked.  These are not things you want to mix up.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sweetheart Chocolate Cupcakes

Sweetheart Chocolate Cupcakes--with and without frosting
Ha! Do you like the name I gave to these?  The recipe is from my Nana--my father's mother--it was her cake recipe.  It's actually supposed to be baked in a tube cake pan, and that's the way I usually do it, but I found these heart-shaped cupcake tins and what can I say? I gave in to an impulse buy.

This cake is very dense and very chocolaty.  I used a recipe for chocolate buttercream frosting.  I usually use a different frosting recipe but I figured I'd give something new a try.

Nana's recipe is called "Fudge Cake."  I'm accustomed to very light, spongy cupcakes so this was a bit of a surprise for me, even though I know full well what her cake tastes like.  It's ironic, because the first time she made cake for us, I didn't much like it.  I was a kid and I was used to cake mix cake, which was much lighter and more spongy than this.  But as I grew older I found I liked denser desserts like this.  I got the recipe from my mother and started to bake this for my and my father's birthdays (we celebrate together as our birthdays are ten days apart).  My father loves this cake. He grew up on this cake.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Links

Apparently, adopting your boyfriend or girlfriend can be a way to somehow protect your assets if you're filthy rich and really optimistic.  Of course, when things go south it's not like you can dissolve the relationship.  Also, it's a gross concept.

This sounds like a good idea if you have children who aren't me, but what do I know, I don't have kids.  The one time my parents had me cook dinner when I was a kid, I managed to mangle franks and beans.  Protip: do not keep poking the hot dogs with a fork, they will split as you boil them.  Also, stirring the beans will turn them into a mushy, pasty mess.

This man has 50 credit cards and has never missed a payment.  It sounds like he did it for the rewards the cards were offering.  It sounds a lot like work to me to keep track of all of those.

Len's got some Valentine's Day fiscal facts.  Len, just a tip, it's true: most of the women I know would prefer dinner to jewelry.  Being waited on is priceless. 

The New York Times had an article on mindful eating.  I have many thoughts on this, but I'm just parking this here for now for your edification and amazement.

In other news-that-is-not-news, the Times also has an article about how the cost of the single serve Keurig coffee capsules are way more expensive than a bag of beans or ground coffee.  No kidding! You can get a K-cup filter basket if you want to save money on coffee and reduce waste that ends up in the landfill (those plastic containers, ugh).  Be warned: my sister says it makes a mess--I don't think it is ideal for the Keurig system, which seems to require a cover to keep grounds from spewing out.

I want to read this book.

Every few years I hear about the glories of local currencies.  These have been going strong for awhile.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Before and After--remember this before you buy

This video has gone viral, and I think it's great.  Some programs out there work well, but they take a lot of time and you're not going to get the ripped abs that the models in their ads have. 

There's nothing wrong with buying a workout video or a product if you a) recognize that the ads are  trying to get you to buy the product, so at the very least exaggerating things and b) have a realistic goal in mind.  Oh, and c) you can afford it.

This is good to keep in mind even if you use a product and swear by it--the next time you want to beat yourself up for not having the results the ads show, there is probably a reason for it that has little to do with your commitment, skill level, or willpower.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Food storage

Canning jars--useful for more than pickles
I cook with a fair amount of beans, split peas, lentils, rice, and pasta, and these things can be really inconvenient to store. Beans I tend to soak, cook, and can (and froze before that) so I didn't have to worry about soaking and cooking every time I wanted to use them. But the ones that don't require soaking and cook quickly--the lentils and split peas--they still need to be stored. And while most pasta can stay in the box, it's easier to see what you have and how much you have when you store it in clear containers. I got a bunch of canning jars from the friend of mine who gave me her pressure canner. Included in this were some ginormous ones--I think they are two- or three-quart size. I read somewhere that the USDA does not recommend that you use these for canning any longer, but they work just fine for storage. I have plastic screw caps that I had purchased specially for my canning jars--when I open a jar of home-canned salsa, beets, or beans, it's nice to know that I can just screw these on top and they'll stay fresh in the fridge. If I didn't have them, I'd use lids and bands.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Last minute soup

I was under the weather earlier this week--tired and a little run down. I needed to eat something, I needed something comforting and a little light, and I thought soup would do the trick. I had to go to the grocery store to pick up a few things and I thought to myself, Eh, I'll just pick up a soup mix or a can of soup instead of defrost the soup I have in the freezer. Of course, I came home and realized that I completely forgot to get the soup. So I did the next best thing. I took a jar of home-canned chicken stock (you can also use store-bought chicken or vegetable stock), added about 2-3 teaspoons of garlic granules, a teaspoon or so of oregano, a teaspoon of thyme, some salt (I wouldn't go over a teaspoon) and about a teaspoon of pepper (go lighter on this if you're not into spice). I had a bag of mixed vegetables in the freezer--carrots, cut string beans, peas, lima beans. I also added the remainders of a bag of peas in the freezer (it was a couple of tablespoons) and the remainders of a bag of frozen corn (it was about a 1/4 of a cup). I put in a couple of bay leaves, brought it to a boil, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. I have to say, it was quite tasty. The thing I liked about this was that I could use whatever was onhand and it would be ready relatively quickly. No, it's not fantastic gourmet stuff but when I want something comforting and quick, it does the job. It's also versatile. Use premade stock and you're good to go. Put in whatever odd and ends you want.

Friday, February 3, 2012

This sums up every single personal finance book, blog and article out there

OK, this isn't a panacea for people who are actually poor--and there are plenty of people who don't go buying stuff and have a difficult time keeping their heads above water, and I hate snippy lectures to people who just don't have the resources to buy less. No kidding, Sherlock! But I'll admit--I thought of people I've encountered who make decent money and charge more than they make, and complain and I laughed when I saw this.