Saturday, March 28, 2009

My new waffle maker

Years ago I had a waffle maker, but it was pretty cheap and it broke. Since then I've been looking for a frugal, but not cheaply made alternative. On Wednesday I went to Target and I finally found one! The waffle maker I bought was one I had looked at before, but never bought because it was $59. On Wednesday it was on sale for $8! I didn't hesitate for even a moment, before taking advantage of that awesome sale. (Then I was so elated I didn't hesitate for even a moment before I bought a $3 tea latte from Starbucks to celebrate!:P)
I love making waffles, because they are so easy and so very tasty that I can whip up a batch on the spur of the moment. Just this morning, I was tired and didn't feel like cooking breakfast and my kids were clamoring for pancakes. I was trying to convince them to eat some cheerios (it wasn't working) when I remembered my new waffle maker. Even the baby changed her tune from pancakes to waffles after I suggested it. I made honey bran waffles, which are not only very delicious, but healthy. I've found that waffles can almost always be made healthy with better results than you can get with pancakes or scones.
Now I just need that $250 stand mixer I've been looking at to go on sale!:P

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My 3 favorite "breakfast for dinner" menus

I like having breakfast for dinner, because breakfast foods are pretty much always frugal, tasty and quick to make! Here are my 3 favorite breakfast food menus.

Pancakes with grits and bacon

Pancake recipe
2 1/4C Bisquick
1C milk
2 eggs
1tsp baking powder
1Tbsp sugar
1Tbsp lemon juice
1/2C fresh or frozen blueberries

Mix together all ingredients except the blueberries in a large bowl until combined. Add the blueberries and stir a few times to incorporate them. Begin heating a pancake griddle or large skillet over medium high heat. The griddle or skillet is ready when a drop of water sizzles and jumps. Lightly coat the bottom of the skillet or griddle with butter and drop the batter onto it in 1/4-1/3C measures. Make sure to leave space between them for easy flipping. Cook the pancakes on the first side until bubbles appear all over the surface and the edges look pretty dry. Flip the pancakes and cook on the other side until done. Remove the pancakes to a cookie sheet or plate. Repeat the process until all of the batter is used. Serve the pancakes with syrup and enjoy!
Note: I use Bisquick in this recipe because it is easy and I bought a HUGE box of it from sams club for like $4.

Grits recipe
4C water
1C grits
1tsp salt
4tsp butter
Heat the water until boiling. Slowly add the grits, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Lower the heat, cover and simmer the grits until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add butter and salt, stirring to combine. This makes a lot of grits, but the recipe can be easily halved. I bought 15 pounds of grits from sams club a while back for like $5!

Waffles with eggs and grits and fruit topping

Honey bran waffles
3/4C all purpose flour
3/4C whole wheat or spelt flour
1/2C oat or wheat bran
2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
1/4tsp baking soda
1 1/2C buttermilk
1/3C honey
1/2C melted butter (1 stick)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2tsp vanilla extract
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add wet ingredients and combine with a wooden spoon. Don't stir a whole lot, or the waffles will be tough. Cook in a preheated waffle iron until done.

Fruit topping
1/4C water
1/4C sugar
1C blueberries, blackberries or sliced strawberries
1Tbsp lemon juice
Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the berries and lemon juice, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until thickened.

Polenta with eggs, bacon and cinnamon rolls

Polenta recipe
1C cornmeal
5C water
1Tbsp butter
1-2tsp salt
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour all ingredients into a large ovenproof skillet and stir until blended. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir briefly. Return skillet to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the polenta rest for 5 minutes, then pour it into a large, buttered bowl. I like this polenta even more than grits!

Classy cinnamon rolls
(These take less than an hour to make!)
For the dough:
3/4C cottage cheese(whole milk!)
1/3C buttermilk
1/4C sugar
4Tbsp butter, melted
1tsp vanilla extract
2C unbleached flour
1Tbsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
1/4tsp baking powder

For the filling:
1 1/2Tbsp melted butter
2/3C brown sugar
1 1/2tsp cinnamon
1C chopped pecans or walnuts

For the glaze:
2/3C powdered sugar
2-3Tbsp milk or cream
1tsp vanilla extract

Make the dough first. In a food processor combine the cottage cheese, buttermilk, sugar, butter and vanilla. Process until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda and pulse just until the dough clumps together. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it about 6 times with floured hands. Roll the dough into a rectangle that is about 12x15 inches.

Make the filling second. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the dough with the melted butter, leaving about 1/2 inch on all sides that is unbuttered. Combine the cinnamon, sugar and nuts together in a bowl. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the buttered part of the dough and lightly press it in with your hands. Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, lengthwise. Gently press the seam to seal and roll the dough so that it is seam side down on the counter. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 12 equal pieces. Place the rounds into a greased, 9 or 10 inch springform pan. The rounds should be lightly pressed together in the pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the springform pan and then remove the springform ring. Transfer the rolls to a large plate.

Make the glaze last. Mix the sugar, milk and vanilla together in a bowl. It should have a smooth, thick, but pourable consistency. Drizzle the glaze over the rolls and let sit for 15 minutes. So delicious!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Our windfall

March is a month of windfalls for my family. First we get our tax return and then my husband gets a reenlistment bonus payment every year on March 29Th. This year they will add up to $10,860 after taxes (the bonus has $1800 taken out of it!) Here's what we're doing with the money.
1. $10,000 in long term savings
2. $600 in our vacation fund (We're saving $3,000 for a trip to Disney world in October!)
3. $260 in "fun money"

It's not very exciting, I know, but our savings was pretty well drained last year when we bought our house and that extra $10,000 will bring us almost back up to where we were. Also the roof on our house is going to have to be replaced sometime soon , and the water heater is getting pretty old. I have to take my oldest daughter back to the orthodontist this summer as well and I know that's going to cost an arm and a leg!

It can be tough...Always saving, always waiting until it's "safe" to buy everything, but every time I'm tempted to just go ahead and buy that second car, or that swimming pool, or that new furniture, I think about back when my husband and I were first married and broke. We used to pretty much just live paycheck to paycheck and anytime something happened it was a major issue. It took a lot of time and hard work and sacrifice for us to get to the financially stable spot we're in now. That feeling of security, of knowing that the worst thing that could happen really isn't that bad, is way cooler than anything I could buy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

5 ways I've become more frugal in the past 3 years

I've always been a frugal person, but since the birth of my 3rd child 3 years ago, I've had to become even more so. I don't know why exactly, but we really started feeling the financial pinch after she was born! For one thing, we started having more definite goals, like buying a house and starting an IRA and going on vacation and buying a second car. All of these things would cost a lot of money and we didn't want to completely drain our savings account to pay for them. Here are the 5 main things I started doing to attain my dreams without hemorrhaging my life savings away.

I made a budget
I know personal finance books and blogs are always saying this, but it bears repeating: CREATE A BUDGET. I would say that creating a budget was the single most important thing I did in my quest to save more money. All I did was to figure out our monthly income after taxes ($3600) Add up all of our set monthly bills ($1300) and subtract the $1300 from the $3600. Then I took that number ($2300) and divided it by four ($575), because there are about 4 weeks in every month. Then I figured out how much money I would need every week for food ($125), gas($30) and miscellaneous expenses ($170). My weekly expenses add up to $325 per week, which I take out in cash and divide into separate envelopes. Using cash to pay for these expenses really helps us to stay on track. It's too easy to overspend when using a debit or credit card.(At least it is for us!) Anyway, if you add up my weekly money and set bills money, it comes out to $2600. This is $1000 less than my $3600 income. My goal is to save $500 per month and with this budget, I almost always meet that goal. Even if something unexpected happens (And it does...Every month) I still have a $500 buffer zone.

I bought a smaller house than the bank said I could afford
When my husband and I first went to the bank to apply for a loan, the loan officer said we could afford a mortgage payment of $1700 per month!!! On a $3600 a month income! Luckily, we knew that was crazy, but I still can't believe the bank people tried to convince us of that! We opted instead for a $805 a month mortgage with no PMI because we were able to put 20% down. The house we bought wasn't the biggest or the nicest house we looked at. It doesn't have 4 bedrooms or a finished basement, or big bathrooms. It DOES have a big kitchen and 2 porches and a huge backyard. Most importantly it has a mortgage that we don't have to struggle at all to pay every month. That peace of mind is worth more than 2500 square feet and separate bedrooms for each kid.

I started shopping at sams club and walmart for groceries
I never used to want to shop at these places because I am a total food snob. I wanted to shop at the gourmet store for aged beef and exotic grains and European butter! What I realised about a year ago is that I could save hundreds of dollars every month by shopping at walmart and sams club instead. Now I only go occasionally to the gourmet store to pick up hard to find items, and then only if it falls within my grocery budget.

I learned how to make expensive foods myself
I used to buy turnovers and scones and artisan bread and brownies and lemon curd and preserves at the store for a hefty and ridiculous price. It was mainly ridiculous because these items and many others are easy and cheap to make at home! With a little practice, pretty much anyone can be a gourmet cook.

I put up a clothesline
Last Summer my dad put up a clothesline for me in my back yard. The first month I used it instead of my dryer, my electric bill went down by $35! In the fall, spring and summer I use the clothesline for everything except my towels. Towels dry really stiff if you don't put them in the dryer.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Frugal muffins

Buying muffins from the store or from a bakery is probably one of the most un-frugal things you could do. This is because muffins are some of the easiest to make and most frugal baked goods on Earth! Muffins are a quick bread, so that means you can easily whip up a batch on a whim (which is something that I often do!). Store bought muffins are extremely fattening and usually filled with a TON of sugar and preservatives. Homemade muffins can be made with less sugar, whole wheat flour, nutritious additions, less fat and best of all...No harmful chemicals. I eat them for breakfast, send them to school with my kids, give them to my kids as an after school snack and I even serve them as dessert! Anyone with an oven and a muffin tin can make these versatile treats. Here are a few of my favorite recipes!

Zucchini muffins
(I know this probably will seem like a weird type of muffin, but rest assured these are absolutely delicious!)
1 1/2C cake flour
1tsp baking soda
1tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp powdered ginger
1/4tsp ground cloves
1/4tsp salt
2/3C finely chopped walnuts
2 eggs
3/4C brown sugar
1/2C canola oil or 1/4C walnut oil and 1/4C canola oil
2C grated zucchini
1/2C raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine flour, spices, baking soda and walnuts in a small bowl. Beat the eggs, sugar and oil together in a large bowl until very smooth. Add the zucchini and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and raisins and beat until just combined. Spoon the batter into a muffin tin lined with paper muffin liners, filling each cup about 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

Blueberry muffins
4Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2C sugar
1 egg
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1C unbleached flour
1/2tsp baking soda
1/4tsp salt
1/3C sour cream or whole milk yogurt
3/4C fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt together in a separate bowl. Add half the flour mixture and half the sour cream to the butter mixture and using a rubber spatulas, fold until the flour is almost completely moistened. Add the remaining flour and sour cream and fold until completely combined. Fold in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into a muffin tin lined with paper liners, filling the cups almost to the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the muffins spring back when lightly pressed and the tops are lightly browned.

Carrot muffins
1 1/2C unbleached flour
1 1/2tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2tsp salt
2tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2C canola oil, or 1/4C walnut oil and 1/4C canola oil
1C sugar
3C finely grated carrots
1/2C raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, soda, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil and sugar until well combined. Add the flour mixture and beat well until Incorporated. Beat in the carrots and raisins until combined. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 of the way full and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are browned and spring back when lightly pressed. YUM!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Frugal anniversary

Tomorrow is my 8 year wedding anniversary. My husband and I got married on March 18, 2001 in what actually turned out to be a very frugal wedding ceremony! My mom's friend was a Notary Public and she came over to my parent's house and performed the ceremony for free. The whole thing literally took about 5 minutes and my husband and I still laugh about it, about how nervous we were and how we managed to flub our wedding vows. Our frugal wedding luckily set the stage for our frugal lifestyle afterwards. We started out our life together with no debt from a big wedding, so when we (unexpectedly!) had our first child right away...It wasn't nearly as financially devastating as it could've been. I've been a stay at home mom since I became pregnant with her and the only reason I was able to do that is we had no debt at all starting out. Even our car was paid off, because it was the one my parents bought me in my senior year of high school.
Anyway, here is what I plan to make for the occasion!

Frugal fish and corn chowder
4 slabs thick cut bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2-1tsp cumin(depending on taste)
1/4tsp turmeric
1tsp dried thyme or 1Tbsp fresh thyme
4C chicken broth
2C diced potatoes (if using russets, peel)
2C fresh or frozen corn
1C shredded carrots
1/2-1 pound orange roughy fillets, skin removed if present
1/2C heavy cream or evaporated whole milk
Cut the bacon into 1 inch dice. Cook over low heat until most of the fat is rendered and then turn the heat to high to crisp the bacon. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour out the bacon fat from the pan, reserving 2 Tbsp. Cook the onion and bell pepper in the reserved bacon fat for 5 minutes. Add the cumin, turmeric and thyme and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes. Add the broth, potatoes, corn and carrots and bring to a boil. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add the orange roughy fillets, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until fish is opaque and flaking. Break up the fish fillets with a wooden spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste and remove the pan from the heat. Let the pan sit for about 10 minutes and then add a little of the cream or evaporated milk to see if it separates. If the chowder is still extremely hot, the cream might separate, so it's best to check. If the cream blends well with the chowder, add the rest and stir it in. Serve and enjoy! This is my favorite chowder. I make it a lot in the summer, when fresh corn is plentiful.

Rosemary scones
2C all purpose flour
1Tbsp baking powder
1tsp salt
2Tbsp sugar
2Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
6Tbsp butter
3/4C milk
1 egg
preheat oven to 400 degrees
Place flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and rosemary in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and process until the butter is the size of small peas. In a small bowl, combine the milk and egg. Add the milk mixture to the food processor and pulse until the dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and shape into a disk. Place the disk on a cookie sheet and pat it into a round about 1 inch thick. Cut the round into 8 wedges and separate them. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned and the bottoms are crisp and browned. These scones go well with pretty much any soup or chowder!

Lemon filled cake
2 1/2C self rising flour
1 1/2C sugar
1tsp vanilla
1C milk
1 stick butter, softened
3 eggs

1C sugar
1/4C light corn syrup
1/4C water
2 egg whites
1/4tsp cream of tartar
1/4tsp salt
1tsp vanilla

Lemon curd
3 eggs
3/4C sugar
1/3 fresh lemon juice
1Tbsp lemon zest, finely grated
6Tbsp butter, cold

(Make the cake first)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease 2 round cake pans and line the bottoms with greased parchment. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Mix milk and vanilla together in a separate bowl. Add butter, eggs and 1/4C of the milk to the flour mixture and beat well with a mixer at medium speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl down and add the remaining milk. Beat just until combined. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Cool for ten minutes and then remove the cake from the pans onto a wire rack to cool completely.

(The lemon curd can be made up to 2 weeks in advance)
Bring about 3 inches of water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. Combine the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and zest in the top of the double boiler and mix very well with a fork. Cook the egg mixture over the simmering water, stirring often for 8-10 minutes. It will thicken into a bright yellow sauce and coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the lemon curd from the heat and cut the butter into small chunks. Add the chunks a few at a time, stirring them well into the curd before adding the next batch. Store in a tightly covered glass jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

(Make the frosting after the cake has cooled completely)
Bring about 3 inches of water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in the top of the double boiler. Beat for 1 minute with a mixer at low speed. Place the top of the double boiler over the boiling water and lower the heat to maintain a simmer in the water below. Beat the egg mixture with a handheld mixer at high speed for 7-14 minutes, until it has tripled in volume and holds stiff, curly peaks when the beaters are stopped and slowly lifted. Remove from heat and add the vanilla, beating for 2 more minutes.

To assemble the cake, place one layer top side down on a cake stand or large plate. Spread the layer generously with the lemon curd. Place the second layer top side up over the lemon curd. Cover the cake with a complete and thick layer of frosting and enjoy your beautiful creation. Store this cake in the fridge.
Note: If you don't want to make lemon curd, you can use 1C of raspberry or blackberry jam instead.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My favorite frugal lunches

Lunch is probably my favorite meal, because I'm only cooking for me, so I can eat whatever I want. It's probably also my most frugal meal of the day, because I use this meal as an opportunity to eat leftovers and other odds and ends I can't really use for breakfast or dinner. Here are some of my favorites!

Homemade soup with muffins
1 tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 pound chopped vegetables, such as carrots, celery, cabbage, zucchini, corn, etc
1 pound meat, cooked and shredded or diced
1/2C dry rice
4C chicken or vegetable broth
2Tbsp fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, dill, sage, tarragon or basil.
1Tbsp acid, such as lemon juice or soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce

Heat 1Tbsp oil in a large soup kettle. Add the onion and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the broth and tomato and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables, meat and rice and return to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add the fresh herbs, acid ingredient and salt to taste. Let sit for 5 minutes to let the flavors meld. Some of my favorite soup combinations are:
1. zucchini, corn, carrots, shrimp, tarragon and lemon juice.
2. Carrots, cabbage, zucchini, peas, chicken, rosemary and Worcestershire sauce.
3. corn, carrots, celery, white fish (such as orange roughy) dill and soy sauce.

Munchable muffins
(preheat oven to 400 degrees)
2C all purpose flour, or 1C white flour and 1C whole wheat flour
1Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1C milk
1/2C melted butter or vegetable oil
2/3C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1C blueberries, blackberries or raspberries (optional)

Mix together flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, milk, oil, sugar and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir a few times. Add the optional berries and stir the batter until all dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter into a muffin tin lined with paper muffin liners. Fill each one up to about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for about 20 minutes. I have to hide these muffins from my husband so there will still be a couple left for me!

Artisan Apple balsamic salad
1/4 large English cucumber, peeled and cubed
8 grape tomatoes, quartered
1/2 sweet apple, peeled and diced
10 baby carrots, chopped
1/2 Haas avocado, peeled and diced
1-2Tbsp walnut oil (walnut oil is kind of expensive, but it lasts for a long time in the fridge)
1-2Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt to taste

Mix together all fruits and vegetables together in a large bowl. Drizzle oil and vinegar on top and mix well. Add salt to taste and mix again. I love this salad!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My favorite frugal dinners

Pita bread hummus dinner
Pita bread recipe
1 1/4C water
2Tbsp oil
2tsp yeast
1 1/2C white flour
1 1/2C whole wheat flour
2tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 475
Place the ingredients in the order given in a bread machine and set it to the dough cycle. Add more flour if the dough seems too wet. When the cycle is finished, remove the dough to a floured counter and punch it down. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and shape them into balls. Place the dough balls on a greased baking sheet and cover them with damp paper towels. Let the dough rise for 20 minutes. Grease a second baking sheet and set it aside. Working with one dough ball at a time and keeping the rest covered, gently stretch each ball into a flat round about 6 inches across. Place 4 on each baking sheet. Bake one sheet at a time on the bottom oven rack for 4 minutes. These pitas are best consumed right after baking.

Delicious Hummus recipe
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained.
1/4C tahini (sesame seed paste)
juice from 1 lemon
3Tbsp water
salt to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve with pita bread!

Cooling cucumber salad
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
salt to taste
2Tbsp olive oil
1-2Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Place cucumbers and tomatoes in a large bowl. Add the salt, oil and vinegar and mix well together. Serve with pita bread and delicious hummus for an awesome dinner!

Chinese stir fry recipe
1 1/2C cooked shrimp
2C broccoli florets
2C shredded cabbage
1C shredded carrots
1C sugar snap peas
2 large zucchini, cut into long spears
3 scallions, chopped
1Tbsp minced ginger
sauce ingredients:
3Tbsp rice vinegar
1Tbsp corn starch
4Tbsp soy sauce
1Tbsp roasted sesame seed oil
1Tbsp brown sugar
Mix together sauce ingredients in a small bowl
Heat 2Tbsp oil in a large wok or dutch oven. Add the broccoli and cabbage and zucchini and stir fry for 4 minutes. Add the carrots, ginger, shrimp, scallions and snap peas and stir fry for 2 minutes. Drain any accumulated liquid from the pan and return to heat. Stir sauce ingredients and add them to the pan. Stir fry for about 1 minute, or until sauce visibly thickens and begins to coat the vegetables. Remove from heat and serve over hot rice.

These are my 2 favorite frugal dinners. I hope you enjoy them!