Thursday, March 12, 2015

7 Frugal Cooking Tips

I cringe when I think of how much food I threw out and wasted when we were first married. Frugal "cooking" in university days meant mac n' cheese and hot dogs. Now, I'm of the opinion that hot dogs are usually too expensive for my frugal budget. LOL. Here are a few things I do to make my dollar stretch further while serving foods my family enjoys.

1) Flavour is King

I'm a big believer in flavour. Garlic, ginger, onions, fresh herbs (grown at home), and dried spices are super cheap. Frugal and plain foods like potatoes or rice can be kicked up several notches when cooked in different ways and with different seasonings. Even humble beans and rice can be satisfying when seasoned properly. Our family loves burrito bowls. Make some brown rice and season well (make cilantro lime rice, for example). Make a pot of black beans and season with spices like cumin, chili powder, garlic, onion, etc. Top the rice with beans, diced tomato, cilantro, shredded lettuce, a bit of cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole....whatever you like. Frugal, flavourful, relatively healthy, and our whole family likes them.

2) Don't Throw Out Bacon Grease

This tip is related to #1. Bacon grease is immensely flavourful. Rather than throwing it out, save the grease and keep it in your fridge for a couple days (or freezer for longer). Use a teaspoon or two when frying eggs for breakfast or roasting potatoes. Use it for sauteeing veggies for soups. Use it in pasta dishes, sauces, and salad dressings. A very small amount adds a ton of flavour. Clogged arteries are overrated, anyway.

3) Make Soup Stock from Bones

In my area, a rotisserie chicken from the deli costs about $8 on sale. I know you can find them cheaper in other cities, though. I can stretch that chicken into 4 or 5 meals for our family when used creatively. My family is not a fan of dark meat. However, after we use up the white meat, I don't throw the bones and meat out. I put the whole thing in a large pot or crockpot and make soup broth. After several hours, I strain the broth to keep for soup and pick off all the dark meat to use in soups and casseroles. If I'm not in the mood for making chicken broth, I will just put the chicken carcass in a freezer bag and in the freezer until I'm ready to use it. I use beef and ham bones in the same way.

4) Don't Make Meat the Star of the Meal

If I ever have a hefty grocery budget, this might be one frugal tip I might ease up on :-). The point is you will save more money if you add just a cup of diced chicken to a pasta dish rather than serve a whole chicken breast on top of pasta....obviously. If I do make meat the star (meatloaf, for example), I make sure to add a big cheap side dish like mashed potatoes or rice to go with it. Related to that, our family does many meatless meals. Meatless pasta dishes are our favourite.

5) Find Creative Ways to Use Leftovers

Small amounts of leftover rice, pasta, potatoes, cooked meat, veggies, tomato sauce, etc. can be turned into a huge pot of soup. Restaurants do this all the time..."soup of the day", anyone? Back in our university days, little amounts of leftovers would get thrown out way too often. Now, I make an effort to put those leftovers to good use. A huge pot of soup on the weekend is one of my favourite ways to use up those little bits of leftovers. My family cannot tell the difference. I might throw some leftover taco meat, coleslaw, and rice together to make hamburger soup, for example. I have often diced up leftover hamburgers (from the bbq) that I threw in the freezer to make cheeseburger soup. The other week, I turned a big pot of leftover sticky rice into Arancini (fried rice balls) and served it with some marinara sauce I made from leftover tomato sauce.

6) Use Your Freezer For Saving Excess Food

I buy big jars of tomato sauce and freeze whatever I don't use for a whole meal in a container or ice cube trays. I also freeze leftover beans, rice, pineapple tidbits, etc. The key is to actually look in your freezer and use up what you have before buying more. When planning my grocery menu, I have a look what's in my freezer and see what I can use from there first. I will work that into my menu and maybe use that in a pasta sauce during the week. Even small amounts of tomato pasta and sauce get frozen. I use these for making pizza sauce, marinara dipping sauce, or adding just a tablespoon or two to stews, soups, or sauces.  Last week I found a container of leftover tomato sauce in the freezer that I threw in a pot, added some chicken stock and cream to for tomato soup with grilled cheese for lunch. My husband thought I had made canned tomato soup...I wasn't sure whether to take that as a compliment or not. haha.

7) Use Aged Cheddar Cheese Instead

We love cheese around here, but cheese is expensive. When using cheese in casseroles or soups, buy aged (or old cheddar) cheese instead of milder cheeses. Aged cheddar costs the same as medium or mild cheddar. You can use usually use way less cheese than the recipe calls for if you used old cheddar since aged cheeses are much more flavourful. This works well in things like broccoli cheese soup or casseroles.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

10 Years

It's been an interesting couple of weeks. I've been feeling weird lately. I've been feeling old. Old and weird. This year marks our 10 year wedding anniversary. 10 YEARS. It's also my 10 year high school graduation reunion. 10 YEARS. That is one scary thought. 10 years flew by. In 10 more years, Elianna will be 15. Okay, stop it. Just stop it. It's just freaking me out way too much. I can hardly handle it.

We've had lots of birthday celebrations around here, a cold snap, and this week spring will soon feel just around the corner. The kids have had a few of their toys back and are doing a better job of cleaning up.

I am slowing working toward some of my goals for 2015. Brielle is almost sleeping through the night. This is huge for me as I'm starting to feel like a human again. I say "almost" sleeping through the night because she still wakes up around 1 a.m. every night, but after that, she is usually sleeping until 7 a.m. She has still had a few pretty bad nights, but those nights that she sleeps 6 hours are all I need to feel incredibly better. She is not weaned yet, but I'm hoping to work hard toward that this month. Nate (I've suddenly started calling him this, mostly by accident, but it seems to be sticking for some reason...) is still in the process of being potty trained but has made significant progress. I've been working on making a little bit of side income by babysitting here and there. I am hoping to figure out a way to make a little more consistent side income eventually, but this is helping out lots in the meantime. This month I am going to start tackling my health. I am frustrated by the fact that I am pretty much at my highest non-pregnancy weight ever. This past year, exercising and eating well were at the bottom of my priority list. They weren't even on my priority list. I did absolutely nothing for exercise, and my diet was horrible. This week I am starting my own "diet" plan, so to speak, but I won't say much about it until I know it's working! Don't worry, it's nothing unheard of or unhealthy. At least, I don't think so. I have at least 30 pounds to lose...hopefully I will accomplish this in time for my 10 year anniversary.
That's about all for now,

Monday, March 2, 2015

Menu Plan

What's on our menu this week:

  • Hamburger Vegetable Soup

  • One night of an indulgent food extravaganza including the following menu:

Crab Rangoons
Copycat Olive Garden Salad
Cheesecake-Filled Strawberries
Sopapilla Bites

For those in my family who don't appreciate the finer foods in life like crab rangoons, they can have leftover hamburger vegetable soup. Yes, I really am making 2 desserts.  Both of which I plan to taste in the same day. What? You've never heard of second dessert?? The diet can start tomorrow :-D.

  • Roast Beef, Mashed Potatoes, Veggies
  • Leftovers
  • Pasta with Pesto Sauce, Caesar Salad
  • Mennonite-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
  • Pizza
  • Leftovers
Now, I'm off to prepare for our food extravaganza :-)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sleep Success...?

Do I even dare hope that there will be a new normal around here? Brielle has finally started sleeping better at night. I can hardly believe it's even happening. We've had about 3 good sleeps out of the last 5. I am almost scared to even report progress in case things revert back to the way they were. Last night I only got up once (briefly with Nathanael). Brielle woke up, but only for 10 minutes or so and then fell back asleep on her own (I didn't get up). It was like a dream. A very, very good dream. I cannot even describe how wonderful it is to wake up without feeling like you've been hit in the head with a sledgehammer. This is the best way to describe how I had felt every single day for 364 days.Quite honestly, the sleep deprivation was starting to have some very serious effects on my health, including my mental health. I feel the least healthy I have felt in my whole life. For everyone's sake, things had to change.

I ended up attending a free sleep clinic just over a week ago, which did not teach me anything really new, per say. However, what it did do was help me realize and admit to myself what a terrible state I was in, the toll this sleep deprivation was taking on everyone, and how it didn't have to be this way. It helped get me motivated again, which was what I really needed. I ended up going home, reread the sleep sense book (which has a similar strategy to the sleep clinic) and started on a plan. There have been setbacks and things, but overall, I immediately started seeing small (and now large...really large) improvements. The toughest challenge is that I'm sticking to an incredibly strict napping/sleeping routine and schedule (within 15 minutes). I have noticed that the days where things are not exactly the same (Sundays), it does not go well. Sticking to this strict schedule, though it has its drawbacks, is worth it. Oh yes, it's worth it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What's on the Menu

February is almost over, and we have not spent a single penny on going out to eat this month. Woohoo!

Monday: Tacos

Tuesday: Asian Salmon & Rice
(I bought a GIANT bag of jasmine rice a few weeks ago, and I tried a new method of cooking it. Well, that new method turned the rice into rice mush. It was not that great. We ate it anyway. I thought, well it's going in the garbage, but the insanely frugal me thought there must be some way to use up super mushy rice. It's almost too mushy for fried rice, sadly. Well, lo and behold, there is a recipe for mushy rice's even kind of fancy...the Arancini. Also known as....Rice Balls. Perrrrfect. These little fried rice balls look pretty crazy tasty.

Wednesday: You guessed it...Arancini (sounds so much tastier than Rice Balls), marinara sauce, veggies on the side

Thursday: Roast Beef, Mashed Potatoes, Veggies

Friday: Pizza

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday: Beef Borscht (using leftover roast beef)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Good Things

Good things lately....

Our littlest sweetheart turned 1.

She hates anything on her head and refuses to keep her toque on or any clip or headband. The night after her party, I slept for 6 hours (in a row, even!) for the first time in a year. It was amazing. I felt like a new person. Last next night was horrific again, however, and she cried an awful lot in the night. I still have no clue what the deal is with her, but we will keep at it. I have her on a fairly strict sleeping/nap schedule in hopes of improving her sleep. I have seen small progress overall, so I am feeling encouraged (especially after experiencing that one night of sleep! ahhhhhh....)

A genius no-heat way to get curls. I tried this on a whim (and didn't even try very hard at it), and it worked SO well. Love, love, love this method! I especially love that you can put your hair up like this, have it look cute as an updo, and then take it out to get these awesome curls. Probably the easiest and most awesome hair thing I've discovered. I will try it a few more times to see how it goes, but I am excited!

I scored a big bag of girls clothes for $30....super pumped about that. (I think there were like 13 pairs of jeans in it! Plus capris, shorts, shirts, dresses, and a jacket). Probably close to 50 items. Pictures to come later...

It was 50 cent week at our local thrift shop a few weeks ago, and I got some fantastic deals for Nathanael for next year. Pictures to come of that, too...

I also bought myself an early birthday present that has made a world of difference in daily upkeep of my house so far. daughter can use it to (that was a big part of the reason I purchased it). Will share more about that later :-). I mainly use it in my kitchen and entry way, and it cost less than $20 to buy. Can you guess what it is??

Monday, February 9, 2015

Menu Plan & Taking All the Toys Away

Here are the meals I've planned for this week:

Chicken Noodle Soup - Mennonite Style - & Biscuits

Asian Salmon, Rice, & Mixed Veggies

Copy-cat Chick-Fil-A Nuggets, Fries, Veggies & Dip

Creamy Mushrooms over Rice with Mixed Veggies

Breakfast for Dinner

Coconut Curried Lentils & Rice, Mixed Veggies

Crockpot BBQ Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Veggies

Yes, I did take away all my kids toys. Toys, books, puzzles, and stuffies...they are put away. I cleared off the bookshelves, crafty/puzzle closet, toy boxes, everything. I have been at war with the toys in this house for far too long. One day, I had just "had it." It's a bit of a story that includes crayon on walls, unexpected hair cuts, and toys everywhere. I have noticed my kids are pretty obsessed with "stuff". I realize it's more of a heart issue than anything, and taking everything away isn't going to "fix" it, per say. It doesn't solve the root of the problem, I know.

This decision was mostly for my own sanity. As I joked to my husband, I had two options. 1) Hop on a plane to Bermuda or 2) Put every single toy, book, game, puzzle, movie away. Being the responsible and mature adult that I am (Ha!), I chose option 2.

For the past 4 days, things around here have gone so much better. Our kids loved going outside to play, making up their own games, making blanket forts, giving each other rides in the laundry basket, and tons of make-believe-games with their few (as in 4 or 5) toys I have let them have for now. In fact, the change has been so fantastic that I'm thinking about selling 75 percent of the toys once we get back to earning the toys back. Sure, some won't agree with our decision, but it has been the right decision for our family for now. Inspirational reading regarding this topic includes Why I Took My Kids' Toys Away  and Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids.

I pass no judgement on to other families who love toys and have many. Every family is different. This is just the right direction for ours. My husband is completely on board with this. Our goal is not zero toys. The goal is fewer toys. Actually, no. The goal is eventually addressing the heart issues that go along with our consumer-driven, entitled, keeping-up-with-the-Jones society.
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