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The 25% Solution: Live Better on Less

How would you like to make 25% more? Tax-free and without adding hours to your work-day? Well, I can’t magically make your paycheck bigger, but I can show you how to live on 75% of what you earn, how to live well, and how to save money without compromising your values or even your fun. The 25% you keep in the bank can grow and fund your dreams, help you sleep at night, or support the causes you love when you give it away.

I can show you because I’ve done it and I’m still doing it. At this point, I live on about 65% of my income. In a few years, when I make a radical change in my lifestyle to support a long-time dream, I’ll live on a smaller income and I’ll be ready to follow my dreams.

Join me in the 25% Solution.

 

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Refrigerator Review Recipe: Leftover Chicken Becomes Chicken Cheese Chowder

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Do you regularly practice Refrigerator Review? We do. This week we had some celery that was a little limp, some cream of chicken soup on the pantry shelf, and a leftover chicken breast from a delicious broiled garlic-lime-rosemary chicken dinner two days ago.

He thought that I love Colby cheese and I thought he loves Colby cheese; we ended up buying it at the deli before discovering that neither of us is crazy about it on sandwiches.  No harm, no foul–relationship intact. Here’s what our Refrigerator Review looked like today:

Chicken Corn Chowder

¼ cup onion, diced

¼ cup celery, diced

1 TBS butter

1 cup water

Leftover chicken, skinned and boned and cut into small pieces (at least 1 cup—I used 1 leftover chicken breast)

1 10 ¾ ounce can of cream of chicken soup (you could use cream of celery if you have that on hand instead.)

1-8 oz can of corn

½ cup milk

¾ cup cheese

Melt the butter in a large pan (you won’t need the lid) and add the celery and onion. Add the water and cook on medium high heat until the vegetables are tender—they don’t need to be browned. Add the chicken, cream of chicken soup, corn, and milk. Stir and blend on medium high heat until everything is well combined. Add the cheese, stirring continuously until it melts. Serve with crackers or croutons. Reheats nicely!

What we did: We had 1 chicken breast left over from dinner the other night. I used this chicken breast and used about ½ cup sharp cheddar and about ¼ cup Colby cheese from the deli—this isn’t science, it’s just what I had on hand. This dish is comfort food, quick to make, and it will nicely complement your Refrigerator Review—ENJOY!

 

Pan Sauce Gravy Basics–YUM!

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You’ve got meat—beef, chicken, maybe a nice pork chop. You want it to go beyond Good into Delicious territory. Congratulations—you’re ready to make a pan sauce!

Pan sauces are an art, not a science. You can vary the ingredients, play around with them, innovate. Here are the basics, though.

Fat from meat. Sear the meat you’re going to use. Perhaps you’ll sear the meat with a little olive oil, or some canola oil, or clarified butter, or a combination of butter and oil. Sear the meat and pour off the excess fat from the pan. You want about 2 tablespoons of fat. Cook the meat to your desired doneness and remove from heat.

Liquid. You want to add some liquid to the remaining fat in the pan. This could be wine, broth, bouillon, you name it. For beef or pork, use beef broth or bouillon or red wine. For poultry, use chicken broth or bouillon and red wine or light red wine (maybe a nice rose?)

Aromatics.  You don’t want a boring sauce! Add something to kick it up a notch—fresh herbs, dried herbs, garlic, mustard, you decide. The Stinking Rose (aka garlic) is the house brand around here, but I keep spices handy. If I want a Tex-Mex flair, I might use chili power or cumin. If I want a nice Italian flavor, I have Italian seasoning herbs at hand.

Thickening. Who wants a runny sauce? You can thicken it two ways—by reducing it with heat or by using a roux. To thicken it using heat, just mix together the ingredients above, turn up the heat, stir frequently and monitor carefully. The sauce will eventually thicken, but there will not be as much of it. Still, it’s delicious!

Thickening with a roux. For a long time I was intimidated when cookbooks mentioned a “roux”. I shouldn’t have been, though. A roux is just flour and butter mixed together and plunked into the sauce. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 2 tablespoons flour to it. Stir it till the texture is uniform. Plunk the mixture into the sauce, stir well, keep stirring, and watch it thicken. Trust the chemistry—it works

Final touches. Melt a tablespoon of butter into the sauce for a decadent taste and texture. Another option: Flavored oil. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately.

Add it back. Either pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately, or add the meat to the sauce, stir to coat, and then serve.

Bon Appetit, chef!

Friday Frugal Challenge: The Laundry Edition

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Unless you’re padding around the house naked (and make a daily practice of doing so) you probably need to do a load of laundry. Today’s Friday Frugal Challenge: Save money on laundry.

Here are some options:

*Wash your clothes in cold water this week. Using hot water costs more—plus the colors in your clothes won’t run with cold water.

*Make your own laundry detergent. Check out the tutorial at  Houselogic.

*Ditch the dryer. For this week, hang your clothes up to dry rather than using the dryer.

What options work for you? We’ll be washing in cold water and I may experiment with homemade laundry detergent if I’m feeling ambitious. How about you?

 

Friday Frugal Challenge Update: Last week’s challenge was to either resell something you own or to buy something gently used. We sold two used books and made $7.83 with minimal effort. Did you buy or sell something?

Money Saver: Whipped Butter

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I enjoy whipped butter–the spreadable stuff, with the rich butter taste but without the cold hard butter un-spreadability.

Here’s my recipe for whipped butter at home:

2 sticks butter

6 TBS canola oil

Soften the butter and then, in a bowl, add the four TBS of canola oil to the butter. Whip until it is well combined, then turn into a refrigerator-proof container.

At the store, this whipped butter costs $3.32. At home it costs $1.58.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Frugal Toolbox: Freezer Inventory

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I buy lots of loss leader meats. When it’s on sale, I buy it–usually in the large “family pack” serving, although there are only two of us at home. Most of the time I bring it home, plan weekly meals around it, and freeze the excess. What happens when the freezer’s full?

I took inventory today. Long overdue…I should be doing this monthly, but the last few months of full-time work and evening graduate school kept me way too busy. But I’m not busy now, and here’s what I found in my freezers…(we have a fridge with a freezer compartment, but we also have a chest freezer which saves us a lot of money on good meat deals.)

When I took inventory today, I found some things I’d forgotten: some frozen meatballs I bought buy-one-get-one-free. I love to make my own pasta sauce, but sitting on my pantry shelf I have some ludicrously cheap spaghetti sauce I picked up on sale. Voila! Spaghetti and meatballs, and the pasta jars can be repurposed to hold my future batches of homemade pasta sauce.  I also have a 10 pound bag of chicken leg quarters. We will barbecue, have friends over for dinner, and do all kinds of cooking with those chicken leg quarters. Some steaks I bought on sale which will be wonderful for Father’s Day and for those days when we feel deprived and want a treat but don’t want to blow the budget by going out to dinner. We’re stocked!

My inventory isn’t at all complicated. I just list the item and the serving size. I like to update it once a month or so.

The good news? I won’t have to shop for about a month–and when I do shop, it’ll be for add-ons to my main dishes. Some rice, maybe some beans, refill my cumin stash, some buy-one-get-one-free pasta. I have plenty of food to last us for a good long time.

How about you? What’s in your freezer?

Score du Jour for Tomorrow: Half-Price Cheeseburger from Sonic Drive In

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June 6–one day only!–Score your half-price cheeseburger at Sonic Drive-In!

Check out  Sonic’s Facebook Page for details. Here’s your Locator to find a Sonic near you.

Bon appetit!

Weekend Cook-Ahead: Absolute Best Spaghetti Sauce

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Okay, so it’s more labor intensive than opening a jar–but it’s also far, far richer in flavor, more nuanced in seasoning, and it will fill your whole place with an incredible aroma that will leave you hungry long before it’s ready.

This spaghetti sauce will be used to make lasagna tonight (about half of it, anyway) and then the rest will go on pasta for a quick meal this week. Bonus score: the leftover lasagna makes an excellent lunch or re-heat for Refrigerator Review.

Best news yet: no preservatives or weird chemicals. Be sure to compost the onion skins and garlic peels, if you use fresh garlic.

Mange’!

Recipe: Absolute Best Spaghetti Sauce

2 TBS Olive oil

2 onions, chopped

1 LB ground beef

¼ LB sausage

8 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced OR 1 tsp garlic powder

2  28 Oz can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce (or  1-28 oz can of each)

1 tsp dried Italian seasoning

1 tsp dried parsley

¼ tsp dried basil

½ tsp dried oregano

1 TBS sugar

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Peel and dice onions, add to the oil, and add garlic. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the onions are soft but not brown. Add the meat and brown it in the garlic/oil for about 10 minutes, or until all pink is gone. Drain the excess oil.

Put the meat mixture into a slow cooker (or, if you wish, use a very large pan on the stovetop for one-pot cooking). Add the tomatoes/tomato sauce and the spices. Stir to mix and cook on low for 6-8 hours. If you’re cooking it on the stovetop, check it and stir it every hour or so to be sure it’s not burning or sticking. If it’s in a slow cooker, don’t open it!

Enjoy it with pasta, in a meaty lasagna, as a stuffing for ravioli or stuffed shells, or strain the meat and use the tomato sauce for chicken parmesan, reserving the meat and some sauce for super-meaty pasta.