Monday, January 30, 2012

Make It Cheap: Broccoli Casserole

Sometimes you just find a recipe that sounds great, but you just don't want to plunk down the bucks to make it.  I've found that  many recipes can be slightly adapted to make it cheap...and it often is even better!  Here's a recent experiment.

Broccoli Casserole (the real recipe...I'll give you what I did after)

2 10 oz pkg frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
2 c cooked rice
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 small onion, chopped

Cook onion in butter.  Add remaining ingredients and cook until cheese is melted.  Put in a 2 qt. casserole dish.  Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour.  Can freeze it before you cook, just add 10-15 minutes to the bake time if you're cooking it from frozen.

Here's what I did...

Broccoli Casserole by Hannah

Throw a bag of frozen broccoli on the counter to thaw.  Melt a big spoonful of margarine in saucepan (1/3 c?) and add the small chopped onion to it.  Add 2-3 T. flour and a chicken bouillon cube, cook a minute, then add milk a little at a time until it's about the consistency of cream of chicken soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cube up about 1 1/2 inches of velveeta and pitch it in.  Stir until it melts.  Add a handful of cheddar cheese, and stir until it melts.  Put in the cooked rice.  Chop up the now mostly defrosted broccoli and pitch it in.  Add salt and pepper if necessary, then bake as directed in the recipe.

By doing this I saved two cans of cream of chicken soup, and about half the cheese with things I always have on hand...and it was amazingly good!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just a quick cooking tip...

Do you ever grimace when you think of chopping and peeling because of the inevitable mess?  I used to.  Now I don't mind so much, because I've come up with a cheap method for keeping all the messies contained.

Before you begin you chop and peel-a-thon, grab one of those always present plastic grocery store bags that you probably have stored somewhere around your kitchen (at least if you're like me).  Open the bag and flatten it out immediately above your cutting board, or right in front of you for peeling.  It's so easy to just pitch the mess in if it's there before the mess happens!  No nasty trips to the trash can, trailing carrot peels across the floor!  No drippy egg shells!  When you're done with your mess making, simply tie the bag and pitch it.  It also helps keep flies out of the trash to have all the food products contained.

I have to say, Rachel Rae does something similar.  She has a garbage bowl that she uses like this.  It's a great idea, but my question is why dirty a bowl if you don't have to?  Also...who wants to have to scrape out those sticky things when you're washing the dishes?  Not me...much easier just to pitch it in a bag that's free and disposable.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Almond Ring Coffee Cake

Here is one of my Mom's personal favorites that our contributor, Claudia makes.  It is very simple, but has such a lovely flavor!  I'm hoping to be able to nab a few more of Claudia's fantastic breakfast pastries in the future.  Brew up a pot of coffee to go along with this; they really are the perfect match.

Almond Ring Coffee Cake
 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract

2 to 3 Tbs. milk
1 tsp. almond extract
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
Sliced almonds, toasted, optional

In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour and yeast.  In a saucepan over low heat, bring milk, butter, sugar, and salt to 120-130 degrees; stir into flour mixture.  Add egg; beat for 3 minutes. Stir in enough remaining flour to for a soft dough.  Turn onto a floured surface; knead 4-6 minutes.  Place in a  greased bowl, turning once to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  Beat filling ingredients until smooth.  Punch dough down.  Roll into an 18 inch x 12 inch rectangle.  Starting at the long end, roll up tightly and seal edges.  Place on a greased baking sheet, sealing ends to form a ring.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden.  Remove to a wire rack. Combine milk and extract; whisk in sugar until smooth.  Drizzle over coffee cake.  Sprinkle with almonds, if desired.  Yield: 8-10 servings.

Source: Taste of Home

Friday, January 20, 2012

How (and Why) to Shop at Aldi...

Now, I realize this seems like a bit of a simplistic topic, but not everyone is up on the rules and quirks of being an Aldi's consumer.

For those of you who are NOT couponers and don't have a competitive bunch of grocery stores around you, Aldi is a great place for you to shop.

I have memories of Aldi from back in the '90s when everything was canned, the meat and produce was atrocious, and the best you could find was cheap prices on Veg-All.  In fact, this memory kept me from taking advantage of the Aldi that is just down the road.  Then entered a hike in milk prices, along with an Aldi milk sale.  I went to the trouble of going there as well as my normal stop, and was able to save nearly $5.00 per week just on milk, eggs, and bread.  Then I got a coupon in the mail for $5.00 a $25.00 worth of groceries for Aldi and I rose to the challenge of doing all my grocery shopping at Aldi for two weeks in a row.  I have to say, I wouldn't want to be exclusively an Aldi shopper here, since the grocery stores are so competitive, but in the rural area I grew up in, I'd seriously consider it.  The most remarkable difference I've found in Aldi is in the quality of produce.  Not everything is fantastic there, but in my estimation, the quality is about as good as Walmart's produce, at a fraction of the cost.  If you're lucky enough to be there when they're getting rid of day old bread, you're really in for a steal.  They sell white loaves for as cheap as 15 cents and wheat for around 30 cents, and they're delicious.  Their bread is much better than any of the generics I've had from Walmart, Kroger, or Meijer.

If you're in a grocery rut, and you'd like to try something new to lower your costs, get $10.00 in cash and try out your local may surprise you how much you like it!

Now, here are some things to remember about shopping at Aldi's.

1. They don't pay anyone to collect carts.  They give an incentive to their customers to bring the carts back, namely, you have to put a quarter in the cart to use it.  You will get it back when you return the cart, but don't forget your quarter.  It will make you miserable, I promise.

2. They don't provide bags.  You need to either bring your own, or hunt around the store for boxes to use.  My kids get the biggest kick out of bagging our own groceries...they think it's one of the best things about shopping at Aldi's.

3. There are very few marketing techniques used at Aldi's.  If you rely on end displays and flashy signs, you may be surprised at how little you're saving.  The savings are all over at Aldi's.  If you know what things cost from store to store (I'll be posting on this some in the future), you'll see the prices and notice a difference immediately.  They generally don't give you visual clues to the deals--you have to be a smart shopper to start with.

4. If you have small kids to take to the store and you're overwhelmed at the prospect, Aldi's is a great place to start.  Their stores tend to be small and rather informal.  It's easy for you to see a runner...and the bathrooms are small and conveniently located so you can continue shopping while you wait.  They are very family friendly, in my opinion.

5. Their coffee is terrible.  This is just a personal head's up.  MOST of the generics I've tried have been really good.  Not so with the look out.

6. The fresh meats are usually not a deal, at least here, if you shop meat sales at other stores.  The quality seems to be pretty good, but I haven't been overly impressed with the prices of them.  The frozen meats tend to be a great buy, however.

7. If you're someone who doesn't do a lot of cooking from scratch, but you want to cut costs, this is the place for you to be.  There is an Aldi version of just about every pre-prepared or meal kit I've ever seen at a fraction of the price.  It's a handy place to shop the week you're just too busy to cook.

8.  Shop at Aldi for staples like crackers, canned fruit, and snack foods...that's where you get the best consistent deals.

9. Bring cash or a debit card...they won't accept credit.

Try it out, and if you're a loyal Aldi's shopper, give me a shout out about your favorite/most dreaded aspects of the store!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Flax Seed Challenge (part 2)

Here's my most recent update on the flax seed challenge.  Congratulations to me, I've purchased my first flax seed product.  I was thinking about buying some last week, but was a little put off about what to buy.  They have golden flax seeds or regular flax seeds about the size of a sesame seed, but they also have flax seed meal.

regular flax seeds

I needed to think on the practicality for a week or so, and I decided to go with the flax seed meal for this reason:  it'll be less visible to the nutrient-resisting faction in my family.  If there is a way I can incorporate the flax seed without it being visible, then that's definitely for us.  After all, it's a time-honored Mom tradition to hide vegetables and whole grains within foods, isn't it?

That was my line of thinking, then a clearance at Meijer sealed the deal.  Meijer carries a medium size bag of regular flax seed (16 oz.) and flax seed meal for the regular price of $3.59.  For some reason, the meal was clearanced to $2.99 this week.  I took it as Divine intervention (after all, the virtuous woman is supposed to seek wool and flax, right?), or perhaps just an ironic prod in the right direction! 

The Bob's Red Mill bag has all kinds of interesting information on nutritional value, as well as the heart-stopping claim that you can use a flax seed meal/water combination in place of eggs in baked goods.  Can that be true?  Only 2 Tablespoons to replace an egg?  If it is true, the purchase will be worth it!  

I'll be giving it a whirl soon, and keep you updated on the results! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sixty Minute Rolls by Susan

This recipe is so super easy that I made 10 batches of it the day I catered a rehearsal dinner for 100....and all the cooking & baking was done within a 24 hour time frame. If you are making these for a banquet or a family reunion, the best way to store them without taking up a lot of space is to use shirt boxes which can be found cheaply at a Dollar Tree. Then stack the covered boxes one on top of each other....filled with rolls which have cooled.

Recipe for Sixty Minute Rolls
Ingredients: 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup real butter, 4 to 5 cups bread flour, 3 TBSP sugar, 1 teasp salt, 2 pkgs active dry yeast.....directions: add 3 1/2 cups of flour, sugar, salt and yeast to mixing bowl. Mix until blended. Place milk, water and butter into microwaveable 2 cup measuring cup and heat for 1 1/2 minutes. Pour into flour mixture and mix until well blended. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a timec sturring well between each addition until dough forms ball and cleans sides of the bowl. Knead for several minutes (I use my kitchen aide mixer). Lift dough out of the bowl and spray bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Place ball of dough back in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover, let rise in warm draft free place for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Punch dough down. Turn dough onto floured surface. Divide dough into half. Roll each half into a lg circle. Spread with softened real butter if desired (I do this step). Using a pizza cutter, cut into 12 pieces. Beginning at wide end, roll each piece up into a crescent. Place rolls on greased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Cover, and let rise for 15 minutes. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 mins. Brush with melted butter. Makes 2 dozen.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Looking for Silicone Muffin Cups?

I thought I'd post on this, because I was very excited about this deal.  In honor of the upcoming Valentine's Day season, the Dollar Tree is all decked out in pinks and reds.  One of the items they had this time was silicone muffin cups.  There are six in each package, which of course sells for $1.  I got two, thus providing enough for my entire metal muffin tin.

Using silicone eliminates the need for both greasing and purchasing of paper muffin cups.  I tried them last night and they work great and clean up really easily.  They're usually much more expensive than $1/6, so if you want a cheap way to try them out, swing over to the Dollar Tree!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Flax Seed Challenge...

Over the holidays, my sister-in-law Kathi, and I were chatting about some of our cooking and nutrition challenges.  Somehow we got onto the topic of flax seed.

golden flax seed
For those of us unfamiliar with flax seed, they do have a startling number of health benefits!  Kathi apparently was given some by a friend, but hasn't been able to try it yet.  I've never bought it, but having heard some about it, I thought it might be a good try.  I've heard that some of the organicy, so-called 'crunchy' Moms use flax seed all the time in many different ways.

It is really good for you, and after pricing it, I've found that it's not out of this world expensive, so can we incorporate it into our diets?  Can we afford it on a regular basis?  Will the hubby and kids like it or even be able to tell?  Will we notice any health benefits (such as cancer fighting, cholesterol lowering, weight-loss miracles)?  I don't know, but I've decided to give it a try.  I'm 'making' Kathi try, too, for additional input, and since she already has it at home and hasn't tried it yet.  

I'll be posting occasionally about my flax seed challenge.  I'll be pricing it, reviewing the health benefits, thinking through any necessary frugal considerations, and I'll let you know what we think of it overall.  Let's start off this year at least giving this super food a chance, shall we?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Creative Leftovers...Smoky Potato and Corn Chowder

Okay, one of my favorite things to do is find creative ways to use up those leftovers cluttering up your refrigerator.  If I can make something yummy and new, no one minds eating leftovers.  Here was my most recent challenge which worked out beautifully.

Leftovers: Mashed potatoes, corn, some limp celery, Polish Sausage.

My solution: Make soup using my method found here.

In a stock pot, saute 3 carrots, 2 stalks celery, and 1/2 onion in a little oil.  Add salt, pepper, and a little parsley. When tender, add 2 cloves smashed garlic.  Dice up the 1/2 link Polish Sausage pretty small and cook with the vegetables until brown.

Add in 3 cups chicken broth (made with chicken base and water), mashed potatoes (there was quite a bit leftover...maybe 3 cups?).  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.

Add in the corn and heat through.  Adjust seasoning...I need a little extra salt, and a fair amount of pepper.  Then whip around my immersion blender a little just to make it creamy. was fantastic. The sausage added a hint of smokiness that really flavored the soup well. I garnished it with sour cream and a little cheddar cheese on top.  It was so popular that the kids and I each had seconds and didn't save any for my hubby!  You snooze, you lose!  (Actually, he wasn't hungry, so he was having self control, but we showed no mercy anyway.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

To Coupon or Not to Coupon...

I've had a lot of questions lately about my grocery budgeting and how I keep costs low.  I've written a previous post (see it here), which explains some of my personal tips to try and cut the grocery budget.  I'm amazed lately, though that when someone finds out my grocery budget, they automatically assume that I'm an extreme couponer.

I'd like to just set the record straight a bit on that point.  I like coupons.  I get great deals using coupons.  Coupons are great, but they don't keep my costs low.  I use coupons to get things we would normally just do without!  Every now and then, it'll help reduce my costs substantially, but I have to say, if I had no more coupons tomorrow, my budget would stay the same...or close to the same.

My meal plans are not planned around coupon deals, but around what is always cheap, or what's on sale that week.  A lot of my frugality is achieved through doing without things.  We don't buy paper towels or paper napkins.  We don't often buy chips or frozen foods.  We don't buy pricey detergents.  We aren't fixed on one particular brand for most things.  There are a lot of conveniences that are paid for at the grocery store.  As the prices keep going up and up, it's a challenge to me to find new ways to cut the costs.  What do we really need, and what is nice, but not worth the price?

I wanted to clarify this, because I've shopped for years without being able to use coupons.  I want to be an encouragement to those of you who are looking for ways to economize, but don't want to invest 20 hours of your week clipping.  There are other ways.  Women in the depression cut costs and made do on next to nothing without couponing...we can do it, too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Note on Entertaining...

I recently read a great post on the reality of being a good hostess.  To be real, this is something that has been a real challenge for me, especially as a newlywed, but I love to entertain now.  Read up Cindy's take on a good hostess: Splenda = serving.