Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pop's Favorite Breakfast

My dad used to make these as midnight snacks, when we used to watch the Ted Turner show and then Bela Lugosi marathons all night. I was maybe 7 at the time. I've since brought the recipe to many a broke college student or friend. I've heard them called "Bird's Nests" or "Toad in the hole"

Midnight Specials

1 egg
1 piece of bread
1 smallish glass that has around a 3" diameter
salt & pepper
spray grease
-option - slice of cheese

Heat up your pan on medium heat. Butter both sides of the bread, not a thick coating, just an even smear. Press the top of the glass into the buttered bread to make a hole in the middle of your bread.
Toss your holed bread into the pan. Spray a quick squirt of grease into the hole. Crack your egg into the hole in the bread. Add salt and pepper to the egg. Fry this until the white of the egg is mostly done. Flip over to cook the other side. It generally takes a few tries to get your timing down so the bread is golden and crunchy - not burned or soggy - and the egg is as done as you like it. Pops likes the runny yolk on this one, the bread sops it up.
When you've flipped the special, that's the best time to toss a piece of cheese on top. It will melt as the other side cooks. When the bottom of the bread is crisp and golden, take it out and slap it on a plate. Fry the buttered hole piece on both sides and toss on top of your creation.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure this one is mad with the ass building. Grease, starch and cholesterol. But, dang, it's sooo yummyyyyyy. My kids love these.

Wine rocks!

Wine can really add some interest to your cooking.
Red - beef or sausage
White - chicken or pork

Toss 1/4 to 1/2 cup of wine into anything you're cooking.

Baking lemon pepper chicken? Give Mr Chicken one last drink.

Stir frying beef strips to add to veggies? Hit em with a bit of the red.

Just remember, let the alcohol cook out. If you're trying to sauce up your date, don't do it with the food. Do it with the dessert. Heh.

Chicken and Rice - the spanishy version

Even this recipe has two variations: those who really like tomatoes and not so into the tomato thing.

Chicken and Rice - simple
1# boneless chicken
2 cups Instant rice
2 cups water or 1 can chicken stock and water to make 2cups liquid
1/2 tsp saffron
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 chicken boullion cube
12 chopped green olives
2 tbsp olive juice
1 chopped onion
3 stalks celery, minced
1 tsbp margarine
Caesar dressing
1 tsp Green tabasco sauce
Lemon Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat chicken in dressing and marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Chop veggies and olives. Saute veggies and olives in a small pan.
Put chicken in a baking pan and coat both sides liberally with lemon pepper. Cook for 20 minutes. Don't overcook the chicken. When chicken is done and cooled enough to touch, chop into bite sized pieces.
Get out a pot and add water or stock, add boullion cube, minced garlic, olive juice, green tabasco sauce, cumin and saffron and bring to a boil.
Add cooked veggies, olives & chicken. Stir
Add rice. Stir.
Turn the eye off and cover tightly.
Wait 10 minutes.
Check your rice and taste it. Add whatever it needs to be best for you.

Chicken and Rice - the tomato version
Use the above recipe - just add
1 more cup of rice (not water, too. This has more liquid in it)
1 can chopped tomatoes
Use chicken & tomato boullion instead of straight chicken boullion
1 jar of salsa
1 tsp lemon juice or lime juice
1 tbsp sugar

Follow the rest of the recipe as normal, except...

Put marinated chicken in a baking pan, coat liberally with lemon pepper. Coat chicken with salsa, cover pan with foil and bake 25 minutes.

Use the juice and salsa from the pan in the rice water. You won't need to add salt to the water but you should add sugar to cut some of the acid from all the tomatoes. Add canned chopped tomatoes and lemon juice to the rest before you cover the pot to let the rice cook.


And then god made rice....

I use a lot of instant rice. It's fast, moderately cheap and can be done a zillion different ways.

Beef and Rice
1#ground beef
1 can peas
2 cups instant rice
1 cube beef bullion
Onion Powder or chopped onion
1 tbsp Minced Garlic
Seasoned salt and pepper to taste

Brown & drain the beef. Toss in the garlic while the meat is still hot. Add a couple shakes of onion powder and pepper. Boil 2 cups of water, add the boullion cube and let it melt. Add peans and 2 cups of rice to the meat, stir.
When the water comes to a rolling boil, pour it over the meat mix, stir and cover. I usually put the pot back onto the hot, but off, eye that I just boiled water on. Wait 10 minutes, stir. Check to see if the rice is ready. Taste it and see if you need more salt, pepper...

Feel free to add a can of chopped tomatoes to the meat. If you're using fresh onion, boil it in the water before you add the water to the meat.

Chicken or Turkey and Rice - cream style
1# chicken - boneless
1 can peas
1 can carrots
1 can other - pick something you like: tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts
1 can cream of soup - pick one: chicken, asparagus, celery, mushroom.
1 cube boullion - pick one: chicken, chick & tomato, veggie
Italian dressing
3 cups Instant rice
1 can stock - pick one: chicken or veggie - or just use 1.5c water
Minced garlic

You may decide to use a bag of frozen mixed veggies instead of the canned veggies. Go ahead! If you have a stalk of celery or two getting soft in the drawer, chop it up and toss it in. Half an onion staring at you? Put it out of it's misery. Wilting scallions? Some lonely carrots? Toss em in! A serving of odd veggies from the day before last? If you think it'll work and be tasty, waste not, frugal friend!

Thighs are really easy to debone. Don't be afraid. The chicken is already dead, he's not going to care. Rule of thumb is one thigh per person plus one for the pot. Or go with breast halves... same rule. Pull off the skin, cut the meat from the bone, scrape off any fat you can get rid of. Trim anything off that you don't want to eat. If you want to save time on cooking day, debone your chicken and freeze it that way.

Chop your chicken into bite sized pieces and coat with italian dressing. Let it marinate in the fridge for at least a half hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Open your stock and put in a pan to simmer. Add boullion and minced garlic. Add cream soup and stir. The goal here is to have a creamy, pourable liquid, not a lump of can shaped goo.

In a baking pan, add your veggies, rice, spices and some salt & pepper. Add marinated chicken chunks. Pour warm soup stuff over everything. Stir to coat, get it all. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

Dump, stir, dump, cover. Cook. How easy is that?


My beau and the kids love beefaroni. I'm not that into Chef Boyardee. Buying as many cans of that crap as I'd have to, to feed our tribe is just crazy. I decided to see if I could just make something like it. It was a hit!

Beefaroni Recipe
1# ground beef
1 can 4 cheese Spaghetti Sauce
2 boxes Mac and cheese - one Kraft and one Crap (or two Kraft if you're not pinching pennies or found a good sale..)

Brown and drain your beef. Boil the water and cook the macaroni for the mac and cheese. Add the cheese sauce packets to the dry beef, stir. Add the spaghetti sauce, stir. Add the cooked and drained macaroni. Stir. Put the pot on a hot (but off) eye with a lid on it and let it settle for about 10 minutes.


I generally serve this with a side of grapes or some other fruit.

This is a simple and quick meal. It's usually one of the first meals that I let the kids test their cooking skills with.

Pantry Pride

A well stocked pantry can save your butt. Doing one from nothing is expensive and sucks. I've found that with a few simple odd things and watching the sales, you can generally stuff your pantry. Here's a few lists of my must haves in the pantry. I try to pick up one or two things just for the pantry when I do my weekly shopping. It's like having a food savings account. With the right crap in your pantry, you can usually pull something out of your hat when you have an empty wallet. If you need just one for a dinner, see if you can afford to get two. If not, ok. Maybe next time.

General dry staples:
These are the ones that it comes in really handy to have when you have to fake something from scratch.
Baking Soda
Baking Powder
Brown Sugar
Corn Flour (Maseca)
Corn Starch
Potato Flakes
Dry beans
Rice - regular and instant
Pasta - 2 different forms, like spaghetti noodles and rotini

Standard Spices:
If I can't get these for 50 cents a bottle, I buy the giant size. We do go through some spices around here.
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder
Italian Seasoning Mix
Adobo Crillolo
As many different boullion types as I can find.
Lemon Pepper
Chili Powder
Ground Red Pepper
Seasoning Salt

BOGO Stock:
When these come on buy one get one sales or if it's something that is just naturally cheap, make sure you have at least two of them in your pantry and maybe one in the fridge.
Ken's Vidalia Onion Salad Dressing
Ken's Raspberry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
Italian Salad Dressing
Caesar Salad Dressing
BBQ Sauce
Kikoman Stir fry sauce (the green label)
Favorite Salad dressing
Rice a roni
Macaroni and cheese
Spray Oil
Taco sauce

You need at least one:
Minced Garlic
Lemon Juice
Pancake syrup
Cake mix
Gravy mixes - beef, chicken, turkey, white, mushroom
Taco mix packet
Fajita mix packet
Sloppy joe sauce (the cheapest you can find)

Canned goods:
Choose 5 different veggies and keep at least 2 cans of each in the pantry.
Spaghetti sauce x3
Tomato sauce
Chopped tomatoes, get a few different variations
Chicken stock
Beef Stock
Veggie Stock
Cream of Chicken Soup
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Chili beans or Kidney beans

Super Cool to have:
Taco Shells
Rice or cellophane noodles
Tiger Sauce
Pickapeppa Sauce
Just add water pancake mix
Water chestnuts
Bamboo shoots

Once you get your pantry stocked, the amount of things you can do with a little of this and that is amazing. It takes a while to get it set up and to remember you have to replace stock from time to time. So worth it.

Making xmas gifts - babbling brainage

This year as usual, money is tight. We have a seriously large extended family. I have to get on the ball with xmas this year.

I'm thinking that for my brother's girls, we may make them beaded bookmarks. We made one for Steele and he loved it. Or I'll start them charm bracelets and get them new charms for birthdays and yule.
Hmmm. Or we could go with my standard fallback position: books.

I could also make my niece an apron. Paige really liked the one I made her last time. The new one could be 1950's style.

Gwen's family will probably get photo albums of the kids. Been wanting to do them for years, so far the count is 5 that I'd have to make and I really should do one for the jailbird. The sick on that one is the man hours of choosing photos and writing/printing a zillion little tags with info on them.
I'm not too sure I have the time to do this one. Again.

I'm considering making fudge and misc candies for gimmies.

Mike's family generally gets store boughten or gift cards.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grandma's Chicken and dumplings

This recipe was my grandmother's recipe that my father used to make and now it's my turn. I cheat and use boullion rather than boiling down and picking whole chickens. We're a white meat kinda family, so the whole chicken thing doesn't fly so well here. Nanny used to get up at 5am and start making breakfast, supper was usually started by noon. She was old school southern. I start this soup pretty early in the afternoon and clean while it's cooking. The longer it cooks, the better it is. Second day is super yummy!

I add a whole lot more of everything than he used to, but then I'm cooking for 8 for two days with some lunches to go, a bowl for Dad and usually a bowl gets given to a friend. Which calculates to about 22 servings. The soup bowls are kinda big, too.

I have a pasta maker. It's a hand cranked deal that crafters are using for clay nowadays. I like to use it to make the noodles. I often have a child who is more than happy to crank the handle for me while I work the noodles. They like to drop the noodles in the pot as well. Kid fun, yay!

This can be an expensive dish if you really like the veggies. I'm just going to put a list of veggies that work well. Pick the ones you want and add them in until you're happy.

3 large cans of chicken broth
3 Goya chicken boullion cubes
6 Telma chicken bouillion cubes (really really good)
4 whole chicken breasts - skinless boneless
Lemon Pepper
Italian Dressing
3 tbs Minced garlic
2 - 3 tbsp Italian seasoning mix
Veggies, like......
Snow Peas
Red Potatoes

Trim the chicken breasts and put in a ziplock bag, coat them with italian dressing and put in the fridge until the oven gets to 350.

Chop veggies into bite sized pieces. Note: adding corn, broccoli or cabbage will drastically change the flavor. Try it without these first, then go ahead and play with the recipe.

Cook the breasts in a foil covered baking pan, generously spray greased with about a half cup of water in the bottom. Sprinkle the breasts on both sides with lemon pepper, seal the pan and bake for 40 minutes.

Get out the stock pot, dump in the broth and about 6 cups of water. Add the boullion cubes, Italian spices, garlic and the bite size cuts of veggies. I generally have about 6 cups of veggies. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Add more water as it cooks if you feel it needs it.

Once the chicken has cooked, if there is liquid in the pan add it to the soup.
Chunk the breasts into bite sized pieces and throw them in the simmering pot.

Now it's time to make the noodles!

I generally do 3 -4 batches of dumplings (noodles), kids and adults steal them outta the pot before and after if I don't make a ridiculous amount of noodles, I hear about it on second day.

1 cup Flour (not self rising unless that's all you have)
1 egg
1 tbs oil (use olive oil if you want to)
1/4t salt
Pepper - about 1/4 tsp, add more if you'd like
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning mix (to make the noodles look special)
a little water

In a bowl, add all dry ingredients, stir and make a well.
Beat the egg and oil together, then pour into the well.
Stir with a fork until it starts to hold together, then knead by hand.
Add water 1 tsp at a time until you get a nice elastic ball.
Rip the ball into halves. Grrrr! Show it who's boss!
Turn the soup up so it'll be at a nice rolling boil when you're ready to drop the noodles in.
I do my noodles in the crank machine to a setting of #5. (Start at #1 - twice, #3 - once, #5 - once)
If you're going low tech and want to roll them out by hand, it's about 1/8th of an inch thick when you get done.
I place my rolled noodle slab on a decently floured board and sprinkle more flour on it and stroke the flour to cover the entire slab. This extra flour is what thickens the soup. Don't use too little or too much. It should be a nice coating about like what you find on decent powdered donuts.
Cut the slab into 3/4 inch by 1 inch rectangles. It's ok if they're not perfect or perfectly square, they taste yummy anyway.

Drop the noodles one at a time into the bubbling center of the pot. After you drop about 20, give the soup a stir and keep dropping until you're out. Take note of the noodles. Yank one out and try it. Does it need more pepper? Is it too thick? Too thin? You can fix it for the rest of your noodles.

I tend to do my noodles one batch at a time so the dough doesn't dry out on me while I'm fighing people away from the soup pot and making more noodles with the help of a child and one or more curious cats.

Do the other half of your dough ball. Roll and drop.

Repeat until you have as many noodles as you want. Like I said, I generally do 3-4 batches. Once you have added all your noodles, turn the pot to a simmer and clean up the wreck you made while making noodles. By the time you're done and have dug all the noodle leavings out from under your nails (usually while grumbling about forgetting to take off your rings) the noodles should be cooked enough to eat.

At the very least, let the pot simmer for a half hour after the last noodle is dropped. It gives the flour a little more time to thicken the soup.

Taste the soup. Does it need anything? Adjust until you're happy.

Grab out the big bowls, you're about to be a dinner goddess.

Split Pea and Ham Soup

This was my first try on this one and it came out really good. Yippie!

Two bags of dried split peas.
One block of cream cheese or One Pint of half and half
Goya Ham Boullion - 6 packets
2 cups diced ham bits
2 tbsp Lemon juice
Pepper to taste

Soak peas overnight.
Cover with water and boil until soft.
Add 6 ham boullion packets while starting to boil.

Once peas are soft, blend soup in food processor or use immersion blender to make smooth. Pour back into soup pot. If you use a food processor, you're gonna have to do it in batches.

Add cream cheese by teaspoons and stir until they have melted and disappeared. You'll have to turn the pot back on to low or medium to keep an even heat in your soup to melt the cream cheese.


Add half and half and stir.

Add lemon juice and chunked ham and let cook for another 15 minutes or so. Don't let it stick to the bottom of the pot.

Taste it. Does it need more ham flavor? More salt? More pepper? More sour? Add what you need to make it taste right. Is it too thick? Add water to get it to a consistency you like. Taste it again after any addition.

If you overdo the sour, add some sugar to fix it.
Sour will fix a too salty problem.
Salt will fix a too sweet problem.
(General rules of thumb

Potato Soup

There are a few kitchen tools that look strange but come in really handy. My current favorite - the immersion blender. (RIP- thunderstick, I loved you!) Mine just broke, but I got a food processor from Freecycle, so I can make do for a while. Also, as mentioned, a food processor. Mine collects dust for months at a time, then for a few months I wear it out. She gets long vacations, but when I need her, she's there. What more can you ask?

To make this recipe, you're gonna need a potato ricer (masher, whatever you were told this silly thing was called) or a food processor or immersion blender. I usually use my low tech, hand held, not electric, potato ricer. It's an odd looking thing that is a stick with a metal circle on the bottom that has all these little squares cut out. Yeah, that thing.


5# red or idaho potatoes (red preferred)
Idaho potato flakes
Goya Ham boullion -Small box has like 6 or 8 packets in it
Medium Onion
Half a bunch of celery - use the leaves and heart
One grated carrot - if you want to, more won't kill the soup
Pint of half & half (or just use milk)
Pepper to taste
Italian spices for fun

Peel and chunk up the potatoes. Cover plus some with water.
Add 6 packets of boullion. Boil until potatoes are soft. Don't let all the water boil out.
Grate the carrot into the soup while it's boiling. Finely mince onion and celery. Toss it in the pot. Let it cook for another half hour or so.

Turn off the eye and move the pot off it. Mash the potatoes into the soup. Make em as small as you want. When you're happy, add the half and half (or milk) and stir it in. Add potato flakes, half cup at a time, stirring and waiting until you're at a consistency you like. Be careful, you may end up with mashed potato flake balls in yer soup. Too thick? Add more milk or water. Add spices.

Taste it. Does it need more ham? Add the other two boullion packets. More pepper?
Some garlic? Have leftover ham? Chunk it up and toss it in. Go ahead, it's just soup not astrophysics.

When it's cold and I see that my local store has bags of potatoes on BOGO, it's time for soup. Yummmmmmmm

If you want to get tricky, switch the onion for some leeks or some scallions.

Soup Recipes - the beginning

When it gets cold, I start making soups, baking and wearing socks. That's how my close, close chums's starting to get brisk in sunny florida.

I also start on soups when it starts getting cash thin around here.

I am going to post my favorite (and cheap) soup recipes. You can add all sorts of stuff depending on how much cash you have and what sales are happening at a store near you.

I generally dig through the veggie bin and occasionally the canned goods to see what I can find to toss in.

Hope you enjoy them and can use them to squeak through on a bad week.
When you know your budget is going to be tight, do a soup that will last for about two days and use the spare funds in your gas tank or wherever.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

CVS Extra bucks rock!

I'm building my kids photo albums. Each child has their own, with copies of their fingerprint card, birth certificate, spare ss card, report cards and school awards in the back, photos in the front. We're about at 2 albums per kid as I write. If an emergency happens, we snatch albums and hit the street running... and everybody has their needful info.

I got my CVS extra bucks card. How this thing works, you scan the card every time you purchase anything. It deposits a little into an extra bucks account, then every 3 months you get a coupon or you can look it up online and it lets you know how much you have in the account to spend at CVS. This ain't real cash, it's like a store credit thing. With 7 of us getting prescriptions and the occasional gallon of milk (since it's usually cheaper there than anywhere else), if we're good about scanning the card, we get a neat little windfall. I should remember to use the card more often than I do, I think.

This has cleared me to print photos for my kid's albums for free every 3 months.

First shot - happened during a buy 50 get 20 free photo special. I got 127 photos, a pair of toddler gardening gloves and some candy necklaces for 27 cents.

Second shot - had to print online bc online prices were 15c per photo as opposed to 29c per photo in the store. Got 78 photos and a gallon of milk for $3.03.

Free photos can be found here and there online. Don't pay for prints unless ya gotta.

Use your noodle, do some research and double check to make sure you're paying what you think you are. I was one button away from printing photos at twice the price, but I asked before I hit print just to be sure.... and ended up going home and online printing twice what I could have in the store.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Recipe: Pork and Rice

If you've been keeping up, you've seen the lists of stuff you can do.
Here's how to implement it.
Should be service for 5 or 6, depending on the size of your servings.

1.5-2 lbs Pork Loin end cuts (roast or chops that didn't turn out perfect)
Italian dressing
2 stalks of celery
1/2 medium onion
3 fresh carrots or 1 can of carrots
1 can of peas
1/2 tsp saffron
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 cube chicken & tomato bullion
2 Tbsp margarine
2 Tsp Green Olive juice
Spray Grease
3 cups of minute rice

Marinate the pork in just enough italian dressing to coat it really well for at least 30 minutes. I didn't say "let the pork swim in marinade". Err on the side of caution. The longer it soaks, the better it is. Spray baking dish with grease and throw in pork and marinade. Cover with foil and cook at 350 until pork is cooked through. Pink pork is bad. Depending on the thickness of the cuts, it may be from 30 minutes to an hour. When pork is done, pull the meat out of the juice and let it cool for 10 minutes.

While your meat is cooking, dice the celery, onion and carrots. Throw it in a pot with the margarine and cook this until the veggies are softened. Once it's finished, add the garlic, peas, saffron and boullion. Turn the pot off and cover it.

Once you have removed the meat from the baking dish, pour the juice into a 4 cup cupmeasure.
Add water until you get to 3 cups of liquid. Pour into your pot of veggies and stuff and re-cover the pot.

Dice your cooked pork. I cut out any fat or gristle and feed it to our "felines in residence, who own the planet and just barely allow us to live here".

Once the meat is diced into 1/2 inch chunks, put the pot of veggies and water on to boil.
Stir the pot well and make sure that boullion cube melts down or somebody's gonna get a mouthful of salt lick. When it's boiling rapidly, add the pork and stir, then add the minute rice , stir again and take it off the hot eye. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

Add pepper to taste and stir before serving.

Veggie additions:
Diced squash or zucchini
Diced tomatoes
Diced mushrooms

Rice can be nice or it can ROCK!

Rice is stupid cheap. For some reason, I can't get normal rice to work in my new house. Fine. I've switched to minute rice (or the store brand equivalent). The cool thing about minute rice is that it takes 10 minutes to make and as long as you keep it covered, it turns out perfect every time.
I'd rather spend a little more and not wait 30 minutes to find out I ruined dinner and it's going to have to wait another 30 to be served. That is, if I have enough for a do-over.

There are a few staples that make rice a really cool side dish and not just cheap salted starch.

Flavorful Rice Additions:
Chicken and Tomato Boullion
Chicken Boullion
Beef Boullion
Vegetable Boullion
Chicken broth
Beef broth
Vegetable Broth
Green olive juice (and the olives, too... unless the picky eaters strike you down)
Sazon by Goya (It's a spanish seasoning packet)

Rice needs salt to taste decent at all. You can trade the salt for any of the flavor additions in the list. When you cook a meat, after it's done you may want to drain and/or strain the juice, measure it and use it in your rice (with some extra water to make enough liquid for your serving needs)

Veggie and Spice Additions:
Saffron (can be found in the spanish aisle on a little hook, it looks like dark orange hair)
Carrots -diced or grated
Chopped Celery
Chopped Onion
Canned Tomatoes (use the juice as part of your liquid measurement)

If you can add a brightly colored veggie or something to your rice, it makes it a little prettier than a pile of white things on your plate. Not to mention, adds something healthy to your meal.

Be adventurous. It's rice, not particle physics.

Squeaky clean for dirt cheap

Once again, let me mention that we have 5 kids and 3 adults.
That's a whole lot of butt scrubbing and hair washing.

I tried bar soap. Kids being kids, they melted a bar every two to three days.
I looked at the prices of body wash and was amazed that 12oz of liquid body soap was running about $3 or more.

It's not antibacterial, it's not magical. It's just soap that smells pretty.

Think, think, think.

V05 shampoo is 88 cents to a dollar at most stores. It comes in a dazzling array of scents.
I bought Aussie shampoo and saved the pump bottle. Once it was empty, I started filling it with V05 Tangerine Splash Shampoo and gave the kids a 3 pump limit. I have no idea if they hold to that, but I'm only refilling the bottle once a month and it costs me under $2 to do so.

I moved their Shampoo and Conditioner into pump bottles as well. Using the pump makes the stuff last longer than hoping a kid can squeeze out a small amount and not a handful of soap.

I had to explain to the boys why conditioner is important. Shampoo opens the hair shaft to get all the dirt and extra oil out. Conditioner closes the hair shaft back down to make hair smooth and not suck dirt up like a sponge. (Ah, the joys of oversimplification!)

Those little poofy sponge things are fine, but they don't feel to me like they exfoliate enough. We live in a hot climate and sweat like pigs most of the time. I found scrubby gloves for a dollar a glove. These things ROCK! I try to replace them every 6 months or so. They don't fall out of your hands and into the water, needing to be resoaped. You can use one finger to scrub well behind your ears and not accidentally get a whole pouf stuck to an earring. Children under 5 don't fit the gloves too well, but they don't need to be on perfectly to work.

How to navigate a dollar store.

There are a few different versions of "dollar store".

  1. The Dollar Store where everything really is a dollar.
  2. The Dollar Store where everything really is a dollar but really was made in another country for less than 12 cents and usually isn't worth the effort of opening the front door.
  3. The Dollar Store where everything isn't a dollar but most of it is discount.

Go into each dollar store in your area and take a wander around. Try to figure out which version you're in. Make mental notes of the types of items they stock and if it really is #2. (Yeah, did that on purpose)

Items I'm happy with and have found for a dollar:

Baby socks, travel wipe containers, small bags, garbage bags, ziplock bags, lip balm, pregnancy tests, orajel, italian dressing (for marinades), foam stickers for crafts, deodorant (read the active ingredient percentages on the back) coloring books, baby books, headphones, mp3 speakers, kid sunglasses, baskets and containers for an amazing array of uses, hairbrushes, party supplies, helium balloons, odd kid toys.

Things I'm not at all happy to have bought for a dollar:

Aluminum foil, spray oil for cooking, floor cleanser (due to oz amount) , off brand shampoo or body wash.

Remember: Even tho stuff is a dollar you still have to use your brain. Some things are a dollar at the dollar store and 88 cents at walmart or big lots. You can buy some things for 1.50 and get twice the amount at another store or spend $1 for a little bit at the dollar store.

At the "not everything is a dollar" store you can get boxed oatmeal for a great price. It's as good as the generic anywhere else. You know what you eat and what you need. Do your research.

It's all about research and common sense.

Recipe: Grandma's Coleslaw

This is a sweet and tangy coleslaw. Some people don't like the sweet coleslaw thing, so this recipe isn't for you. Or you can adjust it to taste.

One small head of cabbage
2 tbsp vinegar
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c Mayonaise
salt and pepper to taste

Cut cabbage in half and remove the core in triangles. Cut notched halves into half. Sliver cabbage as thin as you can get it. Toss it in a bowl with the vinegar and stir. The vinegar will break down the cabbage, so let that sit for about 5 minutes. Add a bit of salt and pepper and the sugar. Stir again. Let sit another 5 minutes. Add mayo. You may need more or less mayo to make it creamy. Taste it. Too sour? Add more sugar. Too sweet, add more vinegar ( a little dab will do you) Let it sit in the refrigerator for another 5 minutes. Stir and taste again.
As with any of my recipes, feel free to adjust a little here and a little there until it becomes your own uberyummylicious version that makes your tribe happy to see it on a plate.
Coleslaw is wonderful on hot dogs or hamburgers or as a side with BBQ. It's a decent cheap veggie that you can utilize on many a dinner plate. I send this to potlucks and the bowl comes back clean.

Recipe: Fried Cabbage

Cabbage is the cheapest veggie on the planet. When I have to get big cheap, I usually do one or two meals with cabbage. The kids didn't get into cabbage when our tribe began, because our Lady didn't do cabbage. Now, they all eat it happily.

Small-Medium head of Cabbage
Seasoning salt
3 tbsp Bacon grease or 1/4 c butter (margarine)

Yeah, I said bacon grease. Grandma lived past 100 and ate all kinds of things that make the health-crazed have spastic episodes. As with all things, in moderation. We do enough salad nights and fruit salad nights to make up for the occasional fried something.

Cut cabbage in half, then cut triangles to remove all the core.
Cut the notched halves into halves.
Sliver the cabbage as thin as you can get it.
Toss the bacon grease or butter into a large pot. Add slivered cabbage and some seasoning salt.
Cook covered on med-high, stirring every 4-5 minutes. Cook until cabbage is limp. My kids don't like it crunchy. If it starts to turn brown, turn your pot down and stir more often. Once the cabbage is tender, taste it. Add more salt to taste. If you like a really buttery flavor, add more butter.

I generally serve this with rice and chops. I'm happy just eating cabbage and rice. The rest of the family are hard core carnivores, so I can't get away with that for the whole family.

Stupid cheap and yummy.

MP3 players on the mad cheap.

I've learned that with electronics, you get what you pay for. Know your product.

Whenever I decide to buy something, I research it through websites that have ratings and reviews. It's all well and good to buy an mp3 player for $10, but if it has an internal battery that can't be changed out and tends to die, you just wasted your cash, buddy. If it runs on aaa batteries and sucks em dry every 6 hours, you'll spend your life recharging batteries or buying cheap batteries that don't even last THAT long. Know your product.

I'm a big fan of Creative Labs MP3 players. Yeah, ipod this and zune that. Uh-huh, if I wasn't poor, sure! *ahem* I mean "thrifty".

I'm not above snaking something on ebay in the last 20 seconds. Done it, had it done to me.
Being able to deal with returns.... not a big thing when you buy from ebay. It's easy to get hung out to dry.

I'm all about the factory refurbished. They made it, they oughta know how to fix it and shine it up real pretty....

Or go to shop, go to savings center

If you're considering a purchase, get on their mailing list and bide your time until they have a free shipping event or a way to get free shipping.

Right now they have a 20GB Dell DJ for $35. That's mad cheap.

They also have their 2gb Stone Plus for $25. Still mad cheap.

They have other models of the Stone, but unless it has a digital readout, you're wasting your money and won't be happy with your purchase. I'm not into the one with the speaker. Useless piece of swank, says I. One more thing to break or worry about. Pbbth! If I wanted to hear my kid's music, I'd be buying them stereos, not MP3 players.

The Stone Plus is light enough that I bought a lighter leash for $4 and attached the MP3 player to it by removing the lighter holder thing and attaching the MP3 player (with a little elastic band that came off some sneakers) to the bottom of the pulley. My kids can now clip their MP3 player to their belt loop and pull it up to their face so they can read the screen. Keeps it from dropping on the floor or getting set down and lost. For less than $5.

Personally, I think the video option for mp4's is a laugh. Raise your hand if you wanna go blind trying to watch crap on a 3 inch screen. It may have been ok for Dick Tracy's watch, but I've got other priorities than developing a "sexy" squint. (Crow's feet are HOT!) I'd rather spend the money on having more GB for music on my mp3 player than eating space with music videos.

If you can find a better 2gb MP3 player for $25, let me know.

The 20gb Dell DJ is one screaming heck of a deal. I bought one for our Lady when they were $50 at the site. She's a music buff and has a sick amount of music on her hard drive. She was sporting a 128MB MP3 player that she bought for $20 three years ago. She freaked out when she actually got it in her hot little hands. She loves it. It's got some heft to it, but it's not overly large. Go ahead, search Ebay for something with that many GB and see how much it's going for. Try an electronics superstore. Once you stop gaping at the screen and your heart rate returns to normal, you'll fall all over yourself trying to get to the Creative website. I promise.

Quantities are limited. They won't last forever. If you're going to hang onto it and give it as a Christmas present make sure to test it out first. That way if anything is wrong with it, you can have it replaced before the 90 day warranty gives out.

Recipe: Sausage and stuff

My goddess-mother made this for us while we were living with her. It rocked. (if you like sausage)

1lb sausage or kielbasa
1 med-large potato per person
1 medium onion
1 bag of decent frozen broccoli florets. (I will only buy pictsweet, the others taste like tree chunks to me)
1 cup of shredded cheddar (total) or one slice of cheese per person.
Two tablespoons butter or margarine.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Slice sausage on an angle into 1/4 to 1/2 inch ovals. Cut onion into decent sized chunks. Cube potatoes and leave the skin on.

In a large pot melt the butter on medium high heat. Add the sausage and onions and let them cook a bit. Add potatoes and cover. The potatoes will steam. Stir every 10 minutes to keep the potatoes from sticking. Add some salt and pepper. When the potatoes are almost done, add the frozen broccoli and stir. Cook until the broccoli is hot and the potatoes are done. Take off the eye and add the cheese and stir. Keep it covered. Let it sit for 10 minutes and taste it. What does it need? More salt? More pepper?

Serve in bowls.

I can't do a cost analysis on this one because it would vary way to much. You can get potatoes on bogo, sausage on bogo and onions on bogo. This meal can be done for the price of cheese and broccoli if you shop it right. (That's not totally true, because I always consider a bogo at half the standard price, but you get my meaning...)

Recipe: Sausage and Sweet Potatoes

The Family really dug this the last time I made it.
I'll do the recipe as service for 5 since our tribe is so large.

One pound of sausage or kielbasa
Four medium-large (not gigantic) sweet potatoes
Two tablespoons butter or margarine
Two tablespoons pancake syrup or brown sugar
One chopped onion (or 1/2 tsp onion powder)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Slice sausage at an angle into 1/4 to 1/2 inch ovals.
Cube sweet potatoes into medium-large squares. Generally it's a half inch slice that I cut into 4 or 6 pieces depending on the diameter of the potato. Don't bother peeling them.
Cut onion into decent sized chunks or if the family is anti-onion sneak in some onion powder.

Melt butter in a medium sized pot, add sausage then add potatoes and onion. Drizzle syrup or brown sugar over everything. Cook covered on medium setting, stirring every 5 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender. Keeping it covered helps steam the potatoes, the more you stir it the longer it takes to cook, but the more the flavors merge. Add a little salt and pepper when it's near done. Once the potatoes are done, give it a taste. What does it need? More sweet? More salt? Make it yummy.

Choose a side vegetable or two. I like green beans and diced tomatoes with a touch of onion powder. Carrots aren't a best choice because they taste similar to sweet potatoes and it's too much root food.

Can't do sausage? Personally, I hate the stuff. I appreciate the savory nature of it, but my tongue says Nope. Try tossing in a cubed chicken breast. Use a little chicken boullion instead of salt. Have some of that pork loin end sitting there? Use that instead.

It makes a really pretty plate and sweet potatoes have so many fab vitamins it's totally worth a try.

Cost analysis:
Sweet potatoes: $4
Sausage : $2.50
Onion : .50
Green beans can x2: $1.00
Tomatoes can: .50
Seasonings : negligible
Total: $1.75 per serving

Cheap Meat not Scary Meat

I live in Florida and in the circulars, Beef and Chicken usually runs over $3 a pound currently.

Unless you're me.

Cheap Chicken:

Albertson's consistently has boneless skinless chicken breast on sale at under $2 per pound. If you're buying buy one get one chicken, do the math. It's simple, divide by two. Chicken breast at 4.99 per pound -bogo is $2.50 a pound. If it's in another circular at $1.79/lb, then your better deal is the straight buy, not the bogo.

Set yourself a limit. I won't buy meat at more than $2.50 per pound and my goal is $2/lb or less.
Know how much you need for your recipes. Watch and wait for the sales and freeze like mad.

Example: I'm serving 8-9 people and can make leftover lunches for 2 people. My service goal is 10 servings. My entire family except Steele only likes white meat. Since he's also my gluten-free kid, and loooooves chicken legs when I do chicken I can cook dark separately for him. Most of my chicken breast recipes involve 3lbs of skinless breast. Normal price : 3.99/lb for the tits, 2.69 for the legs. Watch and wait. I won't buy legs unless they are under $1 per pound. I get him the family package of legs and separate that into freezer bags of 2 legs each. One family pack generally yields 4 bags. Count how many is in the flat when you're at the store. Make sure it's an even number unless you're buying two packages. They run about $3.50 per flat. Which is like 88 cents per serving. I wait until I can get boneless skinless breasts for under $2/lb. That's $6 per service for tits. Which is like 70 cents a serving since I'm serving 9 or 86 cents if I'm serving 7. I also have picky eaters, so it's usually a good idea to have a few breasts frozen separately for those who won't eat my main course because of the meat. If your family doesn't care so much about the white/dark issue, keep your eye out for whole fryers. They pop up in sales for under a dollar pretty frequently.

Leg/thigh quarters in a bag:
I've found that in these the leg bones are usually broken. If you can deal, get the deal. I've seen these bags for 50 cents a pound. Don't spend over $1/lb for them. You can get thighs and legs separately for $1/lb without the broken leg issue. Cut them to separate the legs from the thighs or not as you choose, dependent on what your family likes.

Cheap Pork:
Roasts - these are great in a crock pot to make BBQ out of. Or just a pork roast. Since we have a whole lot of people, I rarely do roasts. You have to calculate an extra pound per 5 people due to the fat content and possibly a bone, unless it's a loin roast. Be aware you may need a backup plan in case you don't like any of the cuts. My standard pre cooked weight is 1/3lb per person. If it's heavy, I have spare for work lunches, if it's a little under, I add an extra veggie to the dish to make up for the mini-meat. You can find these for under $2/lb pretty frequently. I see them at least once a month in the circulars.

Pork loin roast:
This is what they make boneless pork chops out of. If you see pork loin roast at 2.19/lb and boneless chops at 3.69/lb start laughing. You can go to the meat-man at any store and have them cut a pork loin roast into pork chops, and you can even request the thickness you desire.
Which means you get boneless chops at 2.19/lb that other fools are buying for a dollar plus more per pound. When you get home, count out how many chops you need per serving and bag & tag those suckers. Again I say : count em in the store. Know how many service packs you will have for meals. Stash a service pack away every once in a while, it will save you when the meat sales suck.

Sometimes the pork loin roast you saw in the circular is the end cuts of a loin roast and not useful for boneless chops. These can be cooked and then chunked and tossed into a salad or rice and veggies or slivered for chinese cooking. I won't pay more than $2 per lb for end cuts.

Economy chops or bone-in chops:
These pop up on buy-one-get-one sales regularly. Remember to adjust your poundage because this cut has a bone in it. Use the same ratio: add a pound for every 5 servings. I'd suggest washing these chops before you freeze them because they tend to have lots of bone meal on them due to the cutting.

These will eat your lunch. When I buy them, I super cheap two other meals that week to absorb the cost. It's due to the bone and gorge issues. They have lots of bone in them and my family tends to want more than the standard 1/3lb pre cooked weight. You can find them in the under $2/lb price every so often. There's no real reason to deny yourself. Just steal from this to do that. Use backup meat for one meal and do a super cheap meal. Plan ahead.

Country ribs:
If you have picky eaters who complain about fat in their meat, this one can be tricky. They have more meat than regular ribs and can be cooked in the same fashion, but they have a high fat content. When I cook these, I have to spend time removing the fat after they're cooked to stop the bitching at the table.

This is a great bogo item. You can find it on sale -non bogo from time to time as well. When you see it, if you can do it, get some. Freeze it and use it when you want to. Make breakfast for dinner. Throw on top of some burgers and look like the coolest mom ever. Toss it on top of a salad and have the kids grin when they find large chunks of bacon in there. Watch the weights. Bacon comes in 12oz packages as well as 16oz packages. If one store has bacon on bogo at 5.00 for 12oz packages and another has 16oz packages for 2.50 each, get the larger package.

It's pretty easy to find sausage or kielbasa at a 2 for $5 rate. It's 2.50/lb but I slice it thin-ish and go under my 1/3lb per person average, but I add extra veggies to make up for the lack.
It's savory and can do lots of stuff, so it's a good fast go-to if you're low on time. It can be found at a 2 for $4 rate, but check the weight. Store brands are usually the same price as name brand on sale, but of heavier weight.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tools of the Ubercheap

Food tools:
Weekly circulars
Meal plans
Discount cards

Clothing tools:
Clearance racks
Discount stores

Everything else:

The Rule of Three

Everything costs. Either time, money or work. Usually a blend of all three. You can get away with two of the three, but almost never one. Something costs time and work, but saves money. Or it costs money and time, but no work. It's the rule of three.

With the economy floating in the toilet. It's always a good thing to know ways to live cheap.
I don't mean, we bought the rib-eye because the prime rib was way overpriced. I mean how to maximize your money so you can have shrimp on occasion (without it being a special occasion!)

When you're in college, living on ramen is a standard. When you have kids or a mate, that gets tired fast. It's all about the planning. Have the joy of the hunt and save! It will take some time and some thought, but it's totally worth doing if you need to economize.

I like healthy food. I am serious about eating balanced meals. With 5 kids and 2 mates, my list of likes and dislikes is frightening. I've started taking meals to my father, since Mom isn't around anymore to cook for him. Add another plate to the stack and more likes and dislikes to the list.
One of our sons is wheat intolerant. It makes it even tougher. And it's not just about food.

My 14 year old daughter wants name brand clothing. My second son can kill a cheap sneaker in 2 months with ease. My 3 year old creates stains in her clothing that take mild explosives to remove. My 16 year old son gets ink on everything he owns and is happy to wear clothes with large stains, holes and other unacceptable defects. Our man wears his jeans until prayer is the only thing holding them together and is amazingly specific about their cut, style and hang.

We're all technophiles with lobster tastes and hot dog budgets.

What do you do? Research, research and more research. Know your humans, know your products and know your abilities.

It's possible to live well on little cash. It just takes some know how and some effort.