Friday Frugal Challenge: Pick a Recipe–and Here’s How

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Today’s Friday Frugal Challenge: Make a new recipe using your loss-leader savings.

You save money by cooking at home, but you can definitely get into a rut. For awhile there when my son was young we alternated between about three ground-beef dishes in any given week. My son still won’t eat pot roast after overdosing on it during his youth. But my sad fate need not be yours! You can find great recipes to try at home, and your Friday Frugal Challenge is to do just that.

How do you know if a recipe will work for you? The plain truth is, some just won’t.  Here’s how you know:

Read the ingredient list. You hate garlic. You love the dark meat of the chicken, not the white. You don’t eat red meat. Tomatoes don’t agree with you. Does the ingredient list appeal to you? Be honest, but leave a little room for flexibility. I didn’t like spinach till I tried it in a chicken Florentine recipe—everything else that went into the recipe sounded great and the result was excellent.

Level of difficulty. There is no shame in not knowing the intricate ins and outs of cooking. If you can make a tasty, nutritious meal, you’re in a pretty good place. I’m willing to try some new techniques, maybe once or twice a month, but in general my life right now is too crazy to spend hours pioneering something I’ve never tried before with no guarantee of success. Choose a recipe that looks like something quite do-able for you.

Can you tinker with it? These days, with only two of us at home, I just don’t cook anything with more than four servings. I usually divide the recipe so that it makes two or three helpings. This hack saves us money because we’re not crazy about leftovers. Can you tinker with the recipe to make it work even better for you? Play with the spices and seasonings, maybe, or experiment with cooking it in the slow cooker instead of on the stove? I’m enjoying adapting recipes to use with my pressure cooker.

Develop trust. I absolutely love, love, love RecipeTinEats.com. The recipes are right at my level, they include a nice blend of new recipes for old favorites of mine and innovative ideas. Maybe you are intrigued by SeriousEats.com or delish.com. There are so many recipes to choose from that if you find a good source for tasty stuff that you enjoy making you should freely experiment from that source.

So this week I found chicken breast on sale for a delectable $1.49 per pound and a fine pork butt roast for just under a dollar a pound. This week looks like carnitas and schnitzel (found a great recipe for it on my go-to site!) with some barbecued pulled pork sandwiches and stuffed chicken breast. Looking forward to trying something new (the carnitas) and using a tried-and-true recipe (the stuffed chicken.)

Bon appetit!

 

 

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Score du Jour: It’s National Donut Day!

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Happy National Donut Day!

Here’s a great round-up on the sweet, sweet deals that won’t leave a hole in your wallet. (I’ll show myself out now…)

 

Friday Frugal Challenge: The You-Tube Edition

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We saved $90 in car repairs today. It took a grand total of 25 minutes: 10 minutes of scanning You-Tube videos and 15 minutes of actual under-the-hood repair time.

While the repair was minor in our case, the parts cost $35 and the labor for the repair (replacing an ignition coil on our Toyota) was $90 the last time we paid for the repair. The You-Tube video was free. Keeping our Toyota, a daily driver, running smoothly was priceless.

You can use You-Tube to learn just about anything. Want to learn to sew? Cook a frozen chicken in your Instant Pot? Pronounce a word in French so you don’t sound like such a rube when you order at the restaurant? You Tube’s got you covered. Want to train your dog to fetch a beer from the fridge? Learn how to French braid your daughter’s hair? Want to learn to pack a suitcase for maximum efficiency? You-Tube’s your go-to.

This week, find a way to save money by watching a video on You Tube. Try a new recipe for whatever loss-leader meat is on sale this week. Learn to sew buttons on and repair hems. Learn how to fix something that regularly goes wrong on your car (this is the third ignition coil out of 4 to go bad on the Toyota…)

Happy learning!

Save Money on a Used Car: Three Mind Tricks that Save You $$

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For most people, buying a used car ranks below getting a root canal in terms of sheer aesthetic pleasure. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Try these three simple mind tricks and save money (and stress!) when you’re buying a used car.

Keep your options open. You really, really want a Dodge Challenger–that whole American muscle car vibe speaks to you. Check out some options: a Camaro, a Mustang, maybe even a Dodge Charger. When you’re car shopping you can find the best deal on the best American muscle car you can find. Plus it’s fun to make car dealers compete for your business.

Look at the price of the car, not the monthly payments. In a perfect world, we’d all have cash on hand to buy our dream cars. This is not, however, a perfect world. So when you shop for a car, do the math first. Figure out how much car you can afford and use online calculators like Bankrate to figure out what you can afford monthly. (Super pro tip: Line up the financing in advance unless you can get a super-low dealer finance rate.) Shop for the car with the overall price in mind and redirect the car dealer when she quotes you monthly payments.

Fall in love with the car after you buy it. This is the best way to get a great deal. Car dealers count on you making a quick commitment to that lovely car and they do everything they can to get you to commit emotionally. Don’t fall for it! If you’ve kept your options open and you’re looking for the best deal possible on the best car you can find, you can afford to fall in love after you make a great deal.

And one bonus tip: Never be afraid to walk. You don’t have to be nasty or snide, just make it clear that you’re looking for the best deal on the car you like. If the dealer wants to play games, you can thank him or her and hit the highway. Don’t be surprised if you get a call in a day or two from the car dealer who swore you’d never get a better deal–offering you the deal you wanted in the first place.

 

How Your Pressure Cooker Can Save Dinner (and $$)

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Sure, you’ve heard the stories about the explosion in Granny’s kitchen back in 1978. Your dad regaled you with his tales of scraping the liver and onions off the ceiling and the windows when Gran’s pressure cooker went kablooey. You swore you’d never try that in your kitchen.

Well, my friend, put aside your fears along with that scraper and get ready to save money and eat well. I was just like you, unsure about pressure cooking and afraid to try. I got over my fears, and you should, too.

For one thing, pressure cooking isn’t hard at all. I mastered the stove-top pressure cooker in exactly one try after consulting Chef Google for the basics of technique and thoroughly reading the instruction manual. I cooked a pork loin roast to delicious perfection without batting an eye. If you’re squeamish about the whole stove-top thing (cue the flashback to Granny’s horrified face…) you can use an electric pressure cooker, which takes the guess- work out of the process and lets you set it and forget it.

But the real proof is in the paydirt premium. A pressure cooker can save you money in a few different ways.

First off, my pressure cooker helps me with really good home-cooked meals faster than the oven. The pork roast I cooked my first time out was a two-pound roast, and in the oven it would’ve taken about fifty minutes to cook. It took thirty minutes in the pressure cooker and bringing the cooker to pressure took about half the time that preheating the oven takes. Bottom line: I’m a lot less likely to say, “Screw this cooking at home thing. I’m tired and I don’t feel like cooking. Let’s go out to eat.” Some meals that taste delicious–I’m talking about you, pot roast–cook so much faster in a pressure cooker that they are a viable after-work option. I don’t have to wait till my day off to cook this type of meal.

Another way my pressure cooker saves me money is by allowing me to buy cheaper cuts of meat for my main dishes. I scored the pork loin for $1.25 a pound as a loss leader although it’s a fairly tender cut of meat. Most loss leaders are a tougher, cheaper cut than the pork loin. This is where the pressure cooker comes through. Tough cuts of meat emerge from the pressure cooker tender and tasty and absolutely delicious.

Pressure cookers save you money by using less energy than heating up the whole oven. Okay, it’s not a major ka-ching thing, but every little bit helps, right?

I also find that I save money because the pressure cooker helps me to eat real food and cut back on the processed stuff. I can control what I put into my pork roast by seasoning it myself. No strange chemicals injected into my pork roast to enhance flavor–that’s why God made rosemary and sage. My dinner cost less than the fancy pre-packaged version and I controlled the amount of salt. I recognized everything I added to the dish–no diphospate oxide chemicalchloride paste here!  My health will ultimately thank me.

I chose the stove-top pressure cooker partly because of its lower cost and partly because I knew that I wouldn’t use most of the features on a multi-cooker. A stove-top pressure cooker is significantly cheaper than an electric pressure cooker (aka Instant Pot or multi-cooker) but if you will use the additional features in the multi-cooker, by all means go for it. A friend with the multi-cooker tells me that she uses it at least three times a week and feels that it was a great investment for feeding her family. She also makes yogurt in hers, and so her kids have breakfast once or twice a week from the multi-cooker, too. More power to them!

So reconsider the generational curse of Granny’s Liver and Onion Explosion. A pressure cooker can save you money and make cooking at home easy and quick.

First-Timer Pork Loin

Ingredients:

1 pork loin (mine was about 2 pounds)

1 cup chicken or beef broth

1 tsp. dried rosemary OR 1 tsp sage OR 1/2 tsp of each mixed together

1 tbsp olive oil (canola oil or any other oil you choose will work, too.)

Salt and pepper

Salt and pepper your meat and rub the spices over the surface. Heat the olive oil in the cooker. For stove-top cookers, just use the big pan to brown the meat on your stove. For multi-cookers, use the saute feature. When the meat is browned, set it aside and drain off the oil. Pour the broth into the cooker; if your cooker comes with a trivet, put the trivet into the cooker and rest the meat on top. Put the meat in the cooker and follow your pressure cooker’s instructions for cooking. For the 2-pound roast, my stove-top cooker took 30 minutes; it may take a little longer in the multi-cooker because the stove-top cooker generates a little more pressure than its sophisticated cousin and therefore cooks faster.

You can let the pressure cooker come down to room pressure naturally or–if you’re hungry like I was!–you can run cool water over the stove-top cooker to cool it off quickly.  Your multi-cooker will have instructions on how to use the quick-pressure release.

Check the temperature of the meat using a meat thermometer. You’re looking for about 160-165 degrees; the meat may look a little pink at first but if you let it sit for 10 minutes before you carve you’ll find that it cooks a bit more and it’s juicy and tender.

If your meat isn’t done yet, all is not lost. Put it back in, bring the cooker back to pressure, and cook it for another five to ten minutes.

I made some basil carrots–carrots cooked in butter until tender, then sprinkled with basil–as a side dish. Fresh pineapple for dessert made a healthy, really tasty meal.

 

 

 

 

Friday Frugal Challenge: Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

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This week, take the Two Out of Three Challenge.

Each day for lunch, instead of hitting the fast food or grabbing some Fritos out of the vending machine, eat a soup, salad, and/or sandwich. Here’s how you do this week’s Challenge.

Take a little time to stock up with soup (love that homemade, and with my new pressure cooker I may just make some tomorrow when I’m off), salad fixings, and sandwich supplies. Each day you’ll pack a lunch consisting of two of these three delicious items.

Tonight, for example, I’m taking a salad and a sandwich to work. Tomorrow I’ll play with my new pressure cooker and make some homemade potato soup on my day off. Then on Sunday when I work again I’ll take some homemade potato soup, a leftover corn muffin from tomorrow’s rib cookout, and either a salad or a sandwich.

Because there are only two of us, I make a big salad using a head of lettuce, cukes, peppers, and onions. We also use the pre-made salad during the week with dinner. Because I’ve taken ten minutes to make it in bulk, I save money all week long and save time on my lunch prep. Grab and go makes for a happy morning!

I’m looking forward to simplifying my lunch routine, which tends toward the “Oh good grief, what in the world will I eat?” I’m also looking forward to eating nutritious home-cooked food, customizing my salads, and saving some money.

Bon appetit! Let me know how your Two Out of Three Challenge treats you this week!

Friday Frugal Challenge: Turn It Off and Pull the Plug!

This week’s challenge is quick and easy. If it becomes a habit, it can save you some money on your electric bill.

Turn off the lights and unplug the plugs.

When you leave a room, turn off the lights, fans, and other electric devices. Unplug the items you aren’t using or recharging (I found my kitchen to be a fertile field for unplugging what with the toaster, the blender, the electric pencil sharpener we keep handy on the counter, etc.) Appliances use some energy when they’re plugged in, even if you aren’t using them.

 

 

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