Friday, February 27, 2009

Get yourself a vacuum food jar

It takes some extra time in the morning (I wish I'd prepared for that cause I was late and had a little "talkin' to") but it is so worth it; my soup is still hot!

  1. Boil water, get it crazy hot, boil a little extra long
  2. Pour into vacuum food jar set lid on let sit for 5 or 10 minutes and dump water out
  3. Put HOT food into jar and seal asap! (This is where I finally appreciate having a microwave after 2+ years without.)
  4. Put it in your reusable bag or purse next to your water bottle
  5. Open at lunch and enjoy!

I'm having left over soup from last Wednesday, it is sooo tasty after marinating with itself in the fridge for, oh , a week and a half.

Mine's a Stanley, there are other brands as well.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My weakness

I have such a sweet tooth and it seems to be highly active lately. When 4pm rolls around you know I'm searching my desk for stray sweets I might have forgotten. This is an issue I've been having with the home cooking challenge- I haven't made sweets to bring to work for my afternoon pick-me-up! Therefore tonight I will make chocolate chip cookie dough, however cookies are not baked until the following day. I guess an apple will have to do tomorrow... maybe I can put some chocolate on it. Or perhaps it's time to go on a sugar fast- 2 years ago for lent I gave up foods with sugar added to them. It was great! I still ate sweet fruit and things, and I didn't feel deprived I actually felt lighter and cleaner. I think lent just started, I saw ashy foreheads yesterday and there were mardi gras beads at the Oscars party I went to... time to do a little googling!

Follow up: Lent did indeed start on Ash Wednesday... Maybe I'll start a late lent. 39 days! Or maybe 38... I've been wanting cookies...

Dijon Potato Recipe and Lunch!

I've been bringing salad this week, take a peek!

ingredients: mixed greens, cucumber, snow peas, grape tomatoes and avocado
(I'm sure my salads seem boring to those of you who like dressing... I'll have dressing one of these days and also give you the recipe for the dressing I make!)

Dijon Roasted Potatoes

4 red potatoes
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 c Dijon Mustard
1 tsp dried rosemary (or fresh if you have it!)
  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees
  2. Chop up washed red potatoes into about 1 inch chunks and put in large bowl
  3. Dollop mustard on top of potatoes, pour olive oil over and crush dried rosemary between your hands and sprinkle in (or pick off fresh rosemary leaves and sprinkle in.
  4. Stir til all the potatoes are nicely coated) and pour into 8x8 baking pan. (I line with foil for easier clean up. Parchment paper might work, or just clean it off with a sponge and elbow grease.)
  5. Bake in oven for about 45 minutes, more if they aren't soft. They should be super soft with only the skin for resistance. If some are hard and some are soft, bake it longer, the little burned bits of mustard are sweet and delicious.

When experiemnting with food, start cheap

Like an herb sauce. Last night, in attempt to clean out my freezer, KE and I made broiled salmon. We both have the goal of being better at making sauces so we decided to try to make a dill pesto type sauce. I made the mistake of looking up a recipe that called for parsley as well. We also had way too much dill and parsley so we made more than "one recipe" called for. It tasted green. Like grass, without the fresh cut aroma. The dill was lost amongst the parsley, almost as if the two greens canceled each other out for flavor. This was surprising, because dill is such a strong flavor!

The sauce tasted a little better on the fish, but the fish having been in the freezer for way too long it was tough and the color of a salmon t-shirt... and not in a good way. I was glad KE bought a piece of fresh salmon because he wanted to make sure to have enough left overs to take for lunch today. The fresh salmon was the perfect texture and it made the "green sauce" taste better, not that we ate much of it.

Our side dish was Dijon roasted potatoes. A favorite of mine. KE brought over a bag of baby red potatoes (the cutest potatoes!) I normally cut them but because they were so small I opted not to. This was a medium sized mistake. There were about 3 delicious potatoes, which complimented the 1 of 3 good pieces of salmon. All in all we had a 33% tasty and 66% mediocre to awful meal.

What saved this meal was dessert. I have a serious sweet tooth and because dinner wasn't done being made, let alone eaten until about 10:30pm with piles of dishes and a plethora of dirty knives and counter space I opted not to make the chocolate chip cookies that have been on the back (but really the front) of my mind. When I went to pick up dill I saw Ciao Bella Maple Gingerbread Gelato in the fridge and could not help myself. I got it. After washing and drying most of the dishes, we ended our meal alternating scooping out gelato and trying to discover the little pouches of gingerbread.

What I learned from this week's wednesday night dinner:
  • When experimenting with a new sauce or something, use herbs, it's a lot cheaper than messing up with meat (which I did last summer with my first ragu ever that sits unloved in my freezer).
  • If you are going to experiement, aim for a nigh when you have more time. We didn't finish all the prepping, cooking, eating and cleaning until about 11:30pm. Which also meant we ate late.
  • Always keep good ice cream on hand. It's nice to have something you know will be good after a 66% failing meal!
  • Take more pictures while prepping, and upload them promptly!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stories about being cheap (not always by choice)

An event through The Moth - celebrating storytelling.

"PINCHING PENNIES" on March 2nd:
Host: Kyle Grooms

7:30 Doors
8:00 Stories begin

$7 at the door*
at Southpaw
125 5th Avenue
(between Sterling and St. Johns Place)

**Please note our spacious new venue! No one will be turned away due to lack of space!**

Prepare a five-minute story about living on the cheap. Downsized and flat broke? Tell us of pawn shops, Ramen Noodles, and other desperate measures. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, busting into your piggy bank or just clipping coupons. Bring us tales of the frugal, the tightfisted and the downright stingy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Money is not the only thing you budget. Time is a more valuable commodity (for people who have money-I'm sure unemployed friends of mine would agree). There are 24 hours a day and you spend them how you want. The things you spend time on aren't always things you want to spend time on but through muti-tasking and prioritizing and a stitch in time to save 9, you can get the most out of your time.

My weekday time budget:

9.5 hours at work (incl. lunch)
8 hours sleeping (on average)
1.5 hours commuting (subway)

19 hours SUBTOTAL

5 hours "Me" time: shower, making dinner, waking up slowly, in the bathroom,
checking email, watching movies, sewing, planning meals and parties, etc.

24 hours TOTAL

Time saving and Multitasking tips:
  • When I get a seat, I read on the subway. I have a couple magazines and some library books I'm always trying to read. Much harder when I'm on the verge of sleeping, which leads me to
  • Take a cat nap on the subway, but make sure to wake up before your stop!
  • Think about what you have to do while you are at work- I keep a list (digital or old school photo by Jools* on flickr) handy to add to because I'm always thinking about my weekend and evening projects.
  • Make big meals that can spread over many meals saving time for cooking later.
  • Work on projects with your sweetie. KE and I have a list of projects we want to do independently that will work well to do together such as learning to make sauces and play the guitar.
  • If you can handle mornings, exercise in the morning- you start your day feeling productive and when you get home you have time to do what you want be it hobbies, movies, or making food for the week.
  • Make a grocery list and stick to it! Meal planning can save you time in the longrun because you won't dawdle at the grocery store (though sometimes it is fun to get inspired by ingredients).
  • Rather than feeling burdened by making food, turn it into a party. Invite friends over for a a food making party. Just make sure that you make enough marinara so everyone can take home a usable amount. If you live in a place where many people have gardens or there are a lot of U-pick places even better. Part one: picking goods, part two: making goods. You could also have parties creating your own mixes. Purchasing dried goods in bulk such as beans or flour and sugar you can make your own jars of soup and cake/cookie mix. I would make custom labels for everyone to put on their jars before the party.
  • Have potluck meals, or a weekly meal with friends. This way you socialize, and still eat. You can take turns hosting/ preparing food. Or one person can host regularly and you can have potluck meals. If it's dinner, I suggest organizing a bit to make sure it is a balanced meal. Stone soup is another option- people can bring whatever soup ingredient they have and you put it in the soup, different every time!
Do you have any other time saving or multitasking tips to share?

Home Cooking Challenege: Lunch

Today is snack plate style, but with bags.
  • container of humus made by my step mom ( a little spicy!)
  • 1/2 small baguette from Trader Joe's thawed in the over last night 350F for 10 minutes
  • snow peas
  • cucumber slices
  • cherry tomatoes
Followed by a box of raisins. I'm stuffed. I should have waited on the raisins!

Saving money and time

I started my day early today. I wanted to start running (outside- I cancelled my gym membership to save money) but needed the motivation of someone expecting me so I found a running buddy in my neighborhood on craigslist. This morning we had our first (short and cold) run. We will be doing it again on Friday (I need to make/fashion an ear band!). Cheaper than a personal trainer, and I was outside! Now I just need to lift eh weights I bought at home. Other than being headbutted by a dog that seemed to enjoy jogger bowling, it was a pretty good morning.

This way I'm saving time by still having my eveings and lunch hour to do as I wish. I just nuged the start of my day a little bit and I feel more awake. After I finish my breakfast (yogurt, blueberries, honey and granola) I'll pop in the shower and assemble my salad and head to work! I feel so productive!

Monday, February 23, 2009


This week's challenge is changing it's face. It is home cooking but what I really need to do is get rid of stuff in my freezer to make space for new stuff! I have a lot of freezer burnt veggies and a lot of fruit that has been in there for at least a year.

A freezer (and fridge for that matter) is most efficient when it is full. All that cooling energy is wasted if it's just for a big cold box of condiments.

Some of the things I found in my freezer I look forward to and dread using in the coming days:
- chocolate gelato (a staple)
- Trader Joes mini baguettes
- Trader Joes BBQ chicken
- frozen fruits, and many of them
- my first attempt at a ragu, that wasn't that great (too much turkey sausage)... maybe I can add tomatoes and make it better...
- some Jacques Torress chocolate wafers (hello cookies!)

Home Cooking challenge: Day 1

I had Store brad Honey-nut-Os with skim milk for breakfast, at home. Saved $1.85 by not buying a bagel and eating groceries I already had. Breakfast is going to be roughest to eat it requires a little more time in the morning. This is hard because I"m the kind of person who gets ready at night and rolls out of bed in time to stop in the washroom and get dressed before it's time to go.

On Saturday I went to the co-op for salad fixin's as I knew that was the hardest part of the home cooking challenge: bringing lunch in an office with no means of heating anything up.

Lunch fixin's:
$2.99 organic grape tomatoes
$5.16 1# organic mixed baby spring greens
$0.80 snow peas
$2.27 cucumbers
$1.00 organic avocado

$12.22 Sub total

Other stuff:
$3.97 Grapenuts cereal
$2.18 skim milk (quart)
$2.86 small glass jar with stopper (to take dressing with salads)

$21.67 TOTAL incl tax

My salad today consists of:
  • mixed greens
  • 5 cherry tomatoes, the little container needs to last all week!
  • 1/3 cucumber sliced thin for more crispy bites
  • hunk of smoked salmon purchased in Oregon
  • handful snow peas
No dressing as I didn't have time this morning and was too tired to make it last night when I made my salad. These greens are bitter, I need to stay away from sweet stuff before eating it (I have couple Hershey's miniatures I bought last week 50% Valentines candy. There is no reason to pay full price for candy when there is usually a holiday that just ended!

I took some cash out of the bank this weekend and today left my credit card, debit card and even my Starbucks gift card I got for Xmas at home. So far the hardest part has been drinking the water from my Klean Kanteen which tastes metallic and I fear may be tickling my throat with nickle as I continue to cough even though I thought my cough was over. I think I will look into options to reflavor my water

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Free advice!

Tips I've gotten from frugal friends on how to be frugal:

  • use what you have in the pantry, buy food when it's a good deal (and won't go bad before you have a chance to use it)
  • give yourself a cash budget for the week and don't use cards to purchase anything. When you are out of cash, you are out of money... until next week.
  • put money in savings before you even look at it, better yet set up an automatic transfer
  • get a CSA or veggie box, you'll save on veggies (be ware of getting more than you can eat!)
  • make soup!
What are your suggestions or tips? Leave a comment below with any additional suggestions for ways you (or people you know) are cheap.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dinner for 20

I recently hosted a 1920s Murder Mystery Dinner Party for my birthday. Since the kit could accommodate 20 characters, I decided to get the most out of the evening by filling the slate. I really wanted to make a meal that was reminiscent of the '20s, and I had lots of great ideas about how to do that.

In order to make a fabulous meal and not spend a lot of money, I took my list of ideas to the store to see what dishes would be the cheapest to make. With this in mind, I also compared what ingredients I already had on hand. Costco had some good prices on certain things, but WinCo had the best deals.

The official menu for the evening was:
Snack Tray
Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Marinara
Waldorf Salad
Rhubarb Jello Mold
Curried Deviled Quail Eggs
Baking Powder Biscuits.

Here's the price breakdown of the entire shopping trip:

$ 16.00 organic spinach and ricotta ravioli
$ 2.79 celery
$ 1.50 red grapes
$ 5.49 organic sweet apples
$ 1.79 10 quail eggs
$ 1.79 10 quail eggs
$ 1.00 3 packs of raspberry jello
$ 4.49 big box of spring mix salad
$ 1.50 3 cucumbers

$ 36.35 Total
$ 1.82 per person

Things I had on hand:
canned pineapple
bell pepper
Ranch dressing
curry powder
baking powder

It is important to your wallet to use ingredients on hand. Had I bought each and every ingredient specifically for this meal, I would be bankrupt! That is one of the main things I consider when preparing meals - what's already in the kitchen that I can use. Except for those times when I get a delicious idea in my mind and must have it - then I make sure to use the left overs.

For dessert, my friend Sarah made an amazing three-layer cake: Charlotte Royale on top, chocolate coconut in the middle and white ginger on the bottom. She has a knack for that kind of thing, and I don't know of anyone who could have made a better cake! In addition to this, my friend's mom sent a chocolate ganache and raspberry cake down with him.

If I had to plan dessert for this dinner, I probably would have done a build-your-own-sundae.

Lessons on frugality from this evening:
  • Incorporate "on-hand" ingredients into meals
  • Use ingredients in more than one way (I used a little bit of the different vegetables and fruits to make the snack tray)
  • Accept offers when friends ask what they can bring (alcohol fits well into this category)

Eating in the City

Walking to the restaurant known first for long lines, second for amazing pizza, there was a man a few yards ahead of me who suddenly turned and yelled and was running towards me. Ignoring the strong cold wind that was forcing me to focus on my steps I looked up and saw a black had being thrashed by the wind coming towards me. I grabbed it as it rest at the base of a tree and handed it to the man who was followed by a younger man. The gentleman reclaimed his hat, thanked me and commented on the fact that it took three people to get his hat.

When I got to Grimaldi's, preparing myself to stand outside in this cold Northeastern weather and was surprised that there was no line, just a line of empty chairs and a sad unused rope. I stepped in side and passed and empty table to join my friend at the table she'd snagged minutes before.

A similar thing happened last month when I wanted to go to al di la but was warned of the wait and no reservation policy. KE was walking home in the rain to where I was waiting and noticed there was no line. We walked over and were sat right away.

This brings me to my new theory and philosophy about eating out in New York City. Eat out in the winter at the well known local joints that have lines on days when the weather is terrible. In the summer, cook at home when the produce is fresh and trips to the farmer's market are fantastic sun filled mornings. So far this has been unintentionally working out- we'll see if it works when I'm seeking it intentionally.

The Home Cooking Challenge

The goal for this upcoming week (Feb 23 - 27) is to make all my meals and not purchase anything during the day at work- this means breakfast at home, preparing lunch and being sure to bring snack for the afternoon slump. Without a kitchenette it's going to be more difficult than it was in my last office, but I think it will be worth it. I read, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that after you do something 21 times it becomes a habit. That's 3 weeks of doing the same thing every day. That's 75% of a month. I'm going to start with 1 week and see how that goes. I don't have any travel plans upcoming so that will help. Being away for a weekend (long or short) always seems to mess up my rhythm whether it be going to the gym, keeping my room clean, doing laundry or making dinner. This weekend will be the menu planning, Thermos and Tupperware cleaning, grocery shopping and salad prepping stage. I did spend about $35 on a bunch of smoked salmon when I was in Oregon, so that will probably be a recurring ingredient in the coming weeks.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Midweek Dinner Party

Moroccan Chicken Soup
Whole Wheat Couscous
Chocolate Gelato

What I had to buy:
$2.63 Chicken broth - low sodium
$2.64 Chicken broth
$1.59 Organic red pepper
$1.38 Zucchini (1 medium one)
$0.46 Cayenne pepper
$1.76 2 Organic onions
$2.35 Butternut Squash
$3.13 Whole Wheat Couscous
$5.88 1.18# Murray's chicken
$3.51 Chocolate Gelato

What I already had:
olive oil
cinnamon stick
lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
old saffron

What I left out, cause it was spendy!
$7.00 saffron! (And that was co-op pricing!)

$25.33 TOTAL
$3.16 per serving (8 total)

Moroccan Chicken Soup (Eating Well Cookbook)

1. Combine paprika, cumin and coriander in a small bowl. cut chicken into 1/2 inch strips. Put in bowl and toss with 1Tbsp of spices.

2. Heat oil in a dutch oven of large pot over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until browned, 3-4 min. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add onions and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring until softened. Add saffron, cayenne, cinnamon stick and the remaining spice mixture; cook- stirring for 1 min. Add broth, squash, bell pepper and the chicken. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Add zucchini and carrot, simmer until veggies are tender and chicken is cooked through. Discard cinnamon stick. Stir in lemon juice.

Whole Wheat Couscous

Instructions. 1.5 cups water bring to boil. Add 1 cup couscous (butter, oil and salt are optional). Stir, bring to boil again. remove pot, let stand covered for 5 minutes. (I stirred in a little butter.)


How many people did it feed? 3 plus left overs
Total number of servings it made: 7 or 8

The soup took about an hour to prepare and cook... and that was with 3 people prepping. There was a lot of cutting, dicing, grating and stirring. It's a good recipe but not the quickest to prepare on a weeknight.

Serve smaller portions. The couscous makes this hearty soup even more filling.

Couscous is awesome! It cooks so fast, and with a little butter it was fantastic! If I ate it on it own outside the soup I'd probably have added salt as well. I was also tempted to add a little sugar and some cinnamon and make a rice pudding kind of dish out of it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Budgeting is an important part of being cheap. Knowing where your money is going is an excellent way to figure out where you can and should cut back. I joined today, an excellent way to track your finances for everything that has an online account from savings and credit cards to loan payments and 401K.