Get Creative In The KITCHEN!

Filed under :Challenges, Freezer, Organize Your Pantry, Pantry

How many times do you find yourself in the “couple more days till payday” situation?  Well, today is August 29th and that’s where I am….  It’s a couple more days until we’re paid our salary (we’re paid on the 15th and the last day of the month).  I usually do my shopping on the day of or the day after payday.  I’m out of a couple of main ingredients in the pantry (milk & butter, etc) so many items that I could have prepared in the kitchen are “off the list”.  But that doesn’t mean that our pantry and freezer doesn’t still have plenty of food stored.  It does –  it’s just the items that I don’t usually cook, items we don’t usually eat, or items that take a little more “preparation” time and effort.  Do you know what that means?  Instead of going to the grocery store and buying more food, we’re going to MAKE DUE WITH WHAT WE HAVE.  It’s time to get creative in the kitchen!

The  best way to start is to RAID the pantry and the freezer.  You’ll be surprised at just what you have lurking or hidden in your food storage.  Today I found a package of split green peas, some frozen sausage patties, some frozen bacon, spiral pasta, a package of Italian dressing seasoning, some frozen shredded cheddar cheese, and frozen scallops.  So, for dinner, I’m going to get a bit creative with these items and make my family a gourmet meal!  Also, there are a couple of fresh produce items that I have and they need to be used ASAP so they do not go bad – I have two Roma tomatoes and two zucchini.  We always have plenty of tea bags – so just 2 tea bags and 1/2 cup of sugar will make a 1/2 gallon of tea.

Tonight’s dinner menu is:

  • Pan-fried marinated sea scallops in a zesty Italian sauce
  • Pasta salad with tomatoes and zucchini (sprinkled with shredded cheese)
  • Split pea soup with sausage and bacon bits (sprinkled with shredded cheese)
  • Sweet Tea
  • Jello for dessert

How does that sound?  Just imagine what this dinner will look like on the plate – green pea soup, white scallops with Italian dressing seasoning, multi-colored pasta salad with red tomatoes, green zucchini and orange shredded cheddar sprinkled on top, and for dessert – orange Jello :-)

Sometimes when you are forced to make it work and you are forced to be “creative”, you’ll find that those can be some of the best dinners you’ll ever prepare.  Don’t give in to the ease of going to the grocery store, buying more food and “breaking” your shopping schedule as well as your budget – stick to your guns and MAKE DUE WITH WHAT YOU HAVE .

If you are going to be joining us for the ORGANIZE YOUR PANTRY CHALLENGE (coming up Sept 15th), then using the items NOW that you have in your pantry will help you to get it cleaned out before the challenge begins in mid-September.  My plans are to only purchase the grocery items that absolutely have to have between now and Sept 15th and try to use up what I already have in my pantry.  So, for the next 2 weeks, I’ll be posting the meals that I’m creating from my pantry and freezer storage.  Hopefully, this will get you motivated and give you ideas for your dinners.

UPDATE:  Dinner was wonderful!  Because it was items that we don’t normally eat, the taste was especially good :-)   Also, the split pea soup was a complete hit!


Leftovers…. A Great Way to Stretch Food & Save Money

Filed under :Extreme Frugal Meter, Food Items, LEFTOVERS!

There are so many jokes about leftovers…. You’ve probably heard them all.    But American families throw away so much uneaten, edible food.  Throwing away leftover food is like throwing away money.

Did you know that I sometimes “overcook” just so I will have leftovers?  Why, you ask?  I’m going to list a couple of reasons and then expand on each one:

  • Cooking a little extra ensures that I will have a nice meal for DH to take to work for lunch the next day.  This saves our family so much money!  If I account for the cost of the original meal, then the leftovers are FREE and his lunch is FREE.  This is so much better than him having to leave work (cost of gas) and drive to the local greasy spoon or fast food drive thru for a quick burger and fries (at least $5).   Also, it’s less stressful for him – he can heat his food at work, go into his office and shut the door, and enjoy his lunch break without having to fight traffic or get out on extreme weather days (high temps, low temps, or even rainy weather).   By DH taking his lunch to work everyday, I figure we save around $1,250 per year!  This doesn’t even take into account that he’s eating much better, homecooked, healthy meals!
  • Cooking a little extra one day saves me time & energy the next day :-)    Yes, sometimes it cost just as much in electricity to cook 1 cup of something as it does to cook 2 cups of the same item.   Let me give you an idea – RICE.  I cook my rice in a rice cooker.  I always cook probably DOUBLE what we need for a meal and plan to save 1/2 of it for a meal later.  Rice is excellent to freeze in Ziplock bags too.   So for tonights meal, I cook 6 cups of rice (instead of just the 2 cups we plan to eat) and then I freeze 2 cups in a Ziplock bag (for a meal in the future) and save the last 2 cups in a Ziplock bag in the refrig for a meal to eat within 2 days.  It’s just as easy for me to cook those 6 cups as it would be to cook 2 cups.  And, for 3 meals with rice I only have 1 clean up of the rice cooker :-)    Oh, and did you know that you can microwave the refrigerated rice (or the frozen rice) and it will turn out just like it came out of the rice cooker the first time?   Also, many dishes call for pre-cooked rice – like fried rice or rice pudding.  So, it’s nice to have some in the freezer ready to go in a just few minutes.
  • Cooking a little extra one day,  saving it in the refrigerator and then AMENDING it a little, gives me a completely different meal the next day.  How about an example?  If we have baked chicken today, I will make sure to bake enough so that either the next day or the day after that (always within 2 days!) that I will have a meal that will utilize the extra chicken I baked.  There are 3 of us in our home – so, if we have baked chicken tonight, I will bake 8 chicken breasts.  We will eat 3 of them tonight, I will make a lunch plate for DH for the next day, and I will save the last 4 for a future meal that uses cooked chicken.  Some example meals for the extra baked chicken breast are chicken soup, chicken & dumplings, chicken spaghetti, chicken pot pie, and chicken fried rice.  See how I can transform the baked chicken into something completely different for the next meal?  Oh, if you noticed, I also pre-planned the extra chicken for the future meal to include enough for DH’s lunch the next day.  Once again I’m going to bring this up — NOTICE that I cooked all of the chicken in 1 baking dish and only had to wash that baking dish once and not twice :-)   Can you tell I’m not a fan of washing dishes?  And, it would basically take the same amount of electricity using the oven to bake 4 chicken breasts as it would to bake 8 chicken breasts, so you’re saving money on electricity too!

So plan on cooking extra and plan on having leftovers when you make out your meal list for the week.

How do you ensure that you DO NOT end up with a refrigerator full of leftovers?  Easy – make sure that you package and date all leftovers from meals before putting them up in the refrigerator.  AND, every day, check the refrigerator and get creative on meals that will use your leftovers.  Make sure that you consume all leftovers within 2 days!  If you follow these simple rules, you will not end up with a refrigerator full of leftovers to throw away.


Coffee, Anyone??

Filed under :Coffee, Extreme Frugal Meter, Food Storage

How many times have you made a larger pot of coffee than what you needed?  I personally have wasted so much coffee in the past!  And coffee isn’t cheap!   And definitely NOT when you’re pouring it down the drain.  So, this tip is going to show you how you can save money on your coffee purchases as well as save a little $$$ on electricity.

We’re going to get EXTREME on the FRUGAL METER!  First – ALWAYS make a FULL POT of coffee… never only make a portion of a pot.  Why?  Well, think about it for a little while…. you’re going to all the trouble to make it, so why not make the entire pot for your efforts?  Second, it’s just as easy to make a full pot as it is to make a 1/2 pot, right?  Keep this in mind – what you do not consume after initially brewing the pot of coffee is not going to go to waste :-)

Now, 2nd step is to pour your cup of coffee into your cup and turn off the coffee maker.  The coffee in the pot will continue to stay warm enough for you to have at least 2 cups of your favorite beverage :-)    If you decide you want cup #3, well, it’s so easy to pop your cup into the microwave for 20 seconds and warm it back up.  And, you’re not consuming electricity by just leaving the coffee pot turned on.  You’re also not COOKING your coffee with the coffee maker which makes it taste bitter and strong.

Let’s say that you’ve had a couple of cups of coffee and you still have plenty left over that is cool in your coffee pot.  Wait for it to cool down to room temperature and then pour it into a glass quart canning jar.  Then put the lid on (you can re-use a “used” canning lid) and put the rim/band on.  Put this in your refrigerator!

Tomorrow morning when you’re half asleep and craving a cup of coffee to wake you up, pour you a cup from the refrigerator and microwave it (test your microwave to determine the proper amount of time – since all microwaves are a little different) to your desired temperature.  Imagine having a piping hot cup of coffee in about a minute instead of waiting on the coffee maker to brew.  I personally cannot taste a difference in the refrigerated cup of coffee after it’s been reheated in the microwave.

And not only have you saved yourself some time, but you’ve saved some electricity and you get a day off from washing the coffee pot :-)

We drink a good bit of coffee around my house so the longest that I’ve kept brewed coffee refrigerated is 2 days.

Give this tip a try and see what you think!  Post your comments below – I’d love to know your results and opinions!


Are Your Throwing Away Spoiled Food?

Filed under :Food Storage, ZIPLOCK Bags and Containers

One of my favorite commercials that I’m seeing on TV right now is the ZIPLOCK commercial.

It points out that average Americans are throwing away over $500 in food each year.  Do I believe it?  You bet!  Just this morning, I microwaved a waffle, put syrup and butter on it and then tried to eat it.  Guess what?  It had freezer burn!  YUCK!  So into the trash it went.  Then while scouting the refrig, I saw a plastic clam shell pack of raspberries that I got on sale at Target 2 weeks ago!  Well,  these were beyond saving…. they were covered in mold.  Into the trash can these were thrown.  So I definitely do believe that we throw away alot of food each year.  How could I have saved this food?  Well, I c0uld have frozen them in protective ZIPLOCK bags and I would not have had to throw away spoiled food.

One of the most important things we can do to be frugal and save money is to store and make use of food wisely.  I have to admit that I am a ZIPLOCK fan… I purchase them in bulk packs at Sam’s Club.   These bags and the containers that ZIPLOCK have available do help me alot.  I just need to make a more conscious effort to preserve and use food wisely.

Back to the ZIPLOCK bags… did you know that you can wash, dry and reuse them?  Not only is this good for your pocketbook, it’s also great for the environment.  I found a drying rack on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Countertop-Bag-Dryer-Reuse-Plastic/dp/B0009L8DG8

But since this rack is showing a price of over $18, I am going to see if I can make one myself from some scrap wood and some cheap dowels from Lowes or Hobby Lobby.  I’ll post my creation (and instructions) later.

How do you clean your used ZIPLOCK bags?  It’s really quite easy.  Turn the bag inside out while holding it over the garbage can — make sure that you have emptied all of the crumbs, etc from the bag.  Then place it (along with your other used bags) into a sink filled with a couple of inches of warm, soapy water.  Let the bags soak for about 5 minutes and then use your dishrag or sponge (whatever you use to hand wash your dishes) and carefully wash the bags paying particular attention to the corners.  Then rinse them in your side sink that you have filled with a couple inches of warm, clean water.  Hang the bags to dry – and after they are dried, flip them back with the right side out, fold and store in a kitchen drawer until you need to use them again.

Then use the dishwater and rinse water to wash your other dishes :-)    Always make sure to wash your ZIPLOCK bags in the dishwater prior to washing any other dishes.

There are so many uses for ZIPLOCK bags… I will make another posts soon on that topic.