Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Frugal Activity of the week- Beer Bread

Food again? Yeah, I know.

Last night Paul and I enjoyed a nice, simple dinner- cheese, summer sausage, and bread. Not particularly healthy, but it kept me out of the kitchen after a long day of cleaning and organizing the living room. It is also one of our traditions- the cheese and sausage came from one of those Hickory Farms gift sets that were on clearance after Christmas.

The beer bread makes the meal, in my opinion. 5 minutes of work in the kitchen for a loaf of bread? I'll take it!

I personally use self rising flour, since I had some on hand. Once that's gone, though, I'll be mixing double batches and storing one for the next time around. Here's the basic recipe:

3 C self-rising flour*
3 Tbsp sugar
1 bottle of beer.

Seriously, that's all there is to it! Mix all ingredients well(use a fork or a spoon- a whisk just turns into a club), dump into a greased loaf pan, and bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes. Do not preheat the oven. Comes out better if you don't.

*If you don't have self-rising flour on hand, just mix 3 cups flour with 1 Tbsp baking powder and 1 tsp salt.

This makes a great gift, a great filling side dish, or, if you're like us- add cheese and sausage and make it dinner...

And it is very inexpensive- if you have beer in the house anyways. We have bachelors living in the apartment below us, so we know where to get an extra beer or two! Craft beers work VERY well for this- I've used Pumpkin Head, last night's was Sam Adam's Hefeweizen. We tend to buy a 12 pack of the "seasonal" beers and usually find one or two that we don't particularly enjoy- now it is just an excuse for beer bread!

See this and more at Kitchen Tip Tuesdays hosted by Tammysrecipes.com!

*Oh, and I slice my bread upside down. When it is done, I take a tea towel, cover the loaf pan, and invert it (so the bread pan can soak right away, and the crust doesn't continue cooking). I end up with upside down bread on my counter, and I just don't take the time to stand it up on end.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Circuit Scheduling

So, my house is semi-upside down after moving stuff around the house this week. I came up with a little plan that's worked pretty well so far, and I wanted to share!

Here's what my To-Do list looks like:

1. Laundry
2. Dishes/kitchen
3. Parlour
4. Bedroom
5. Kids' room
6. Laundry
7. Bathroom
8. Pantry
9. Dishes/kitchen

Looks undetailed, doesn't it? Well, what I've been trying is to set the timer for 10 minutes and pick up wherever I am in the circuit. I always start with filling the dishpan with warm water, starting the washer, and filling the brita. Then I start on the "actual" room I'm supposed to be in.

What I've been doing has been working. I usually get through 3 complete circuits every 2 days- and I'm starting to see a real difference. The most important thing is to take a break every 3-4 stops on the circuit. If I don't, I'll burn out.

Big week!

So this week is just winding down. It is 10AM and I just got out of bed- I'm so exhausted! Got quite a bit accomplished this week since the kids were taking some serious naps to sleep off a virus or something.

1. Planned, bought, and put up a new set of shelves above my sink. Now I have a place for my blender, toaster, and food processer on the top shelf, plus a nice and neat basket of baggies, foil, and saran wrap. There's also a "under shelf" basket for dishtowels and my coffee supplies. This freed up space on the "laundry" shelves- now I can *actually* put the detergent up on the shelves!

2. Moved the crib into the livingroom. Moved a dresser to the old crib area, and set up a laundry folding station using one of those mini-hanging areas (think small version of a clothing store rack) and the surface of the dresser. A drop leaf table sits next to the dresser, so I can either use it to fold or for crafting.

3. Organized the snack area.

4. Did A LOT of research on frugal living- started looking into gardening for the spring, MYO recipes, and bread/bagel making.

5. Made 3 batches of yogurt this week- 2 lowfat and 1 whole milk mini-batch for Everett.

6. Didn't do much shopping, hit Walmart for the shelves and some groceries, Target for some freebie juice, but that's it.

7. Stepped on the scale and found that I'm down 10 lbs since my anniversary (no small feat considering we ate nothing but junk from the 20th of December through the 1st of the year!)

Goals for next week:

1. Start implementing morning and evening routines. I'm going to work on setting these up today.

2. Work on taxes- I do taxes for several people- and I am just waiting for 1 piece of paperwork for our personal taxes.

3. Find recipes using dried split peas (not soup!) and eggs. I have a TON of eggs that I need to use up.

4. No moving furnature on the schedule. I'm going to do a "Circuit" week this week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Kitchen Tip Tuesday- Breakfast and Snack station

One of my favorite kitchen organizing ideas is a snack station. Ours is really a breakfast/lunch/snack station, since I keep the cereal, oatmeal, and some nutrition bars there too.

There's a section for oatmeal packets, instant breakfast powder, dry cereals, and fiberone and soyjoy bars. There's nutragrain bars and ClifBars in the baskets, along with trail mixes, cocoa mixes, and freeze-dried fruits. I have a section for Everett's baby food- the jars of foods he's already tried go in the snack station. There is a small basket for the "stick drinks" that mix into water, and a few super-fast lunch options (ramen noodles, soup, and meal bars).

If you look closely, there's a clementine box on the top shelf- that's where the "sick kit" is. Our sick kit has all of the cold-related meds, cough drops, a couple cans of chicken soup (because sometimes Mom gets sick too!), and a thermometer.

The one thing that makes me happiest is the fact that the whole set up cost under $25! I bought the shelves at Walmart- right now they are $12.44. The under-shelf baskets were under $3 apiece, and the baskets were all from the dollar store.

Everything in the snack station except for the cereals and baby foods was FREE after coupons, ECBs, and/or RRs.

This also doubles as a part of our emergency kit- If we had to evacuate, everything is in one place for me to grab and go. Power outage emergencies are taken care of, too, since there's plenty of foods that don't require cooking.

Looking for more kitchen tips? Visit Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes!

Menu Planning, turned on its ear

Lots of people subscribe to the "you must menu plan!" mantra. I don't. Quite frankly, I never know what challenges the kiddos will present to me on any given day, not to mention Paul's fluctuating schedule.

So I menu plan differently. On my fridge there is a white board calendar. It is what I use to keep track of appointments, Paul's schedule, and a running list of dinner ideas using stuff from the pantry and freezer. All of the recipes that make it onto the white board have been knocked down into prep steps that take 5 minutes or less, with a 10-15 minute chunk during the "actual" cooking. I can even bake bread and pizzas this way!

Full pantry + couponing= peace

Sounds funny, right?

Well, it's true. For me, at least, knowing that I have enough on hand to feed my family even in emergencies just makes me feel better. The emergency doesn't have to be one of the "typical" ones- it could be that we're snowbound, one of the cars goes out, one of us gets sick and we can't leave the house, etc.

Here's my "must have" stock up items

Tomatoes- diced, crushed, whole, and several jars of ready-made sauce
Pasta- I have 20lbs of pasta- Ronzoni SmartTaste- 3 shapes- all free after coupon
Beans- 10lbs of various types of dried beans. Plus another 5 of lentils and peas.
Rice- 2 types- instant for Paul's rice pudding, and brown for everything else.
Canned soups- large variety, about 30 cans.
Cereal- 6 different boxes of healthy stuff- plus a big container of Maypo

Baking supplies:
Flour- I have AP, whole wheat, and self rising on hand.
Sugar- white, brown, molasses, and corn syrup
Yeast- a jar in the fridge
baking soda, powder, cornstarch, cornmeal, and oats

Using JUST what is in my pantry, I can make a wide variety of meals. Add in my fridge and freezer stuff, and we could eat for quite some time if we were stuck.

And that makes me feel better!

Super baby food deal!

I was at Walmart, and I was peeking down the baby food aisle. The Stage 1 jars of Beech Nut baby food are on rollback for 40¢ each. Combine with the $1.50/8 coupons out there, and you will get 8 jars for 90¢.

Even if you don't have a baby in the house- don't laugh, but the pureed carrots can be snuck into pretty much anything tomato based.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Deals I got so far this week!

Well, I'm back in the saddle. Sort of.

Today I hit CVS- no weekly deals that were pressing, but I had quite a few of the $3 CVS brand coupons to use up. Here's what I got:

Transaction 1:

Nasogel (monthly) 7.99
Reinventing beauty .99
CVS GE water 6pk 3.99
candy bar 50¢
Total 13.47 + tax
-$3 CVS q
-$2 Nasogel IP
-$8 ECB
Paid 45¢ out of pocket, rec'd 9.99 in ECB

Transaction 2:
Soyjoy 6pk x4- $24
Diet Coke 2L x2- $2.50
CVS fabric softener sheets- $3.99
30.49 +tax
-$6 (2x $3/10 soyjoy)
-$3 CVS q
-21.49 in ECB
paid 10¢ out of pocket, $24 in ECB

Transaction 3:
Soyjoy x2 $12
24/7 lip plumper $10 (I really wanted one!)
CVS gallon storage bags $2.49
24.49 + tax
-$3 CVS q
-$5 24/7 CRT
-$2 24/7 q from reinventing beauty
-$3 soyjoy
-11.00 in ECB
paid 52¢ oop

Then I went on to Rite Aid. Now, I am NOT a RA girl. The one closest to my house is less than desireable. But the deal was too sweet, and I desperately needed diapers. I went in looking for the huggies, but walked out with 10 packs of diapers....

2x Huggies diapers- 19.98
2x Huggies Wipes- 6.98
Used $5/$25 RA coupon
-$3 (2x $1.50 diapers)
-$1 wipes
Paid 17.96 out of pocket.
-$4 (diaper and wipe SCRs)
-$10 (KC SCR)
-$2 (Caregivers Marketplace)

Seriously, folks, after rebates, we will have paid $1.96 for 2 packs each of diapers and wipes!

RA trans 2
8x RA brand diapers- clearanced to $5 per pack- plus on sale at B1G1 50% off.
total- $30
-$5/$25 q
paid $25 for 8!!! packs of diapers! or $3.13 per pack!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Organizing on the fly...

Or should it be "on the sly?"

I was supposed to go through the clothes in the crib. And I meant to, really I did. But it was WAY too cold to hang out in the draftiest room of the house this week, so rather than do that, I found myself another project.

This week I got a decent amount accomplished:

I reorganized the stockpile crates and found a new home for them- now they live in the lower cabinet in the pantry where I used to store excess pots and pans (which have been put in the donation bag). Now I have room in the pantry for my laundry sorter.

I organized the dish hutch and the drawers attached to it.

Organized the snack area/kid food area. What was once a jumble is now neat!

Baked bread for the first time- something I've been meaning to do for quite some time!

In addition to the "normal" laundry, I did 4 loads of blankets and bathrobes.

All of this- with a sick toddler!

Not too shabby!

Frugal Activity of the week: Pizza dough from scratch

I've been hemming and hawing about yeast breads, doughs, and the like for quite some time. A mess of epic proportions comes to mind- we tried buying the pizza dough from the store once, and we ended up with flour on everything, an inedible crust, and a gigantic mess, along with a new inside joke.

I decided that enough was enough, and dipped my toe into the waters of bread with pizza dough. I found a recipe on the King Arthur website, and felt sufficiently scared by the directions, but I'd already promised Paul pizza... so I dove right in.

I have now made 2 batches of pizza dough, using the recipe here at the King Arthur website. It was pretty easy, once I got past the LONG instructions!

It really was quite good. The only changes I'll make is to use 50% whole wheat flour next time, scatter some cornmeal on the bottom of the pan after proofing and before baking, and brush a bit of olive oil on the edges.

Here's one of our favorite pizza combos!

Hawaiian BBQ pizza
4-5 slices deli ham, sliced into bite size pieces
1/2 can crushed pineapple, drained well
mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheese
BBQ sauce

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Frugally staying warm

It is 7 degrees outside. SERIOUSLY! Al Gore, you promised Warming!

Ok, ok, ok. We need to keep warm. Here's some of the things we've been doing.

1. Reroute the dryer vent.

We've been doing this for a couple of winters now. Our dryer vent usually gets stuck in one of those window things that allows us to vent outside the house. In the winter time, it is WAY too cold to allow this to continue- the housing for the vent is very drafty, and really, why in the world would I want to throw all that heat and moisture out the window?

To do this, take a pair of old, ripped pantyhose, and fit over the end of the vent hose. I personally don't wear pantyhose often, so I've taken to buying either clearanced odd sizes that are marked down to under $1, or the little knee highs that come in the eggs at Walmart for 33¢. As they fill up with lint, pull it down further into the toe to maximize airflow. Either way, clean it out once a week. Make sure you vacuum out your dryer at least once every quarter- personally, I do mine once a month.

2. Keep that heat IN!

Use draft dodgers at the bottom of your outside doors. In my case, we live in an apartment with unheated hallways- so I use the draft dodgers there.

Install plastic sheeting on your drafty windows. You'll be amazed at how much heat escapes, and how much warmer it will feel in your home.

Close doors to rooms you're not using during the day- for us, that is the kid's room. We don't have a door to that room, so I hang an old comforter over the door.

3. Bake. I make something in the oven at least every other day- usually more often. Sometimes it is dinner, sometimes a snack, sometimes it is the next day's breakfast. Leave the oven door open after you're done.

4. Cook warming foods- I don't know about you, but "comfort foods" like mac and cheese, chicken casserole, soups, and shephard's pie never fail to keep me warm. Ditto for spicy foods like curry, chilis, and enchilada lasagna.

5. Dress the part. I personally HATE long sleeves- more accurately, I hate having fabric on my forearms while typing, doing dishes, cooking, etc. In the winter, though, I layer up- tank top, then long sleeved t-shirt or turtleneck, and then a sweater, sweatshirt, or track jacket on top of that. I'll wear leggings under jeans if it is REALLY cold, and always warm socks.

My babies get double layered all the time- right now Everett is hanging out in his onesie, socks, then a thin set of jammies, and a feety blanket sleeper on top of that, with a hat on his head and a bib to catch the drool/spitup. Abby's got on a turtleneck onesie, leggings, socks, a sweater, and a pair of jeans.

I'm working on making crocheted bootie slippers for both kids- but that would require some time, of course!

6. Blankets, Bathrobes, and Snuggies, Oh my!

I'll admit- my mother-in-law got us Snuggies (well, actually, they're Slankets from QVC) for Christmas. After laughing at the commercial for the last 3 months, I've developed a love for the thing! Sure, I look like a cult member. But I'm a WARM one! We put ours in our beds, which prevents Paul from burrito-izing himself with the comforter. At night, we stay nice and warm with the snuggies, a down comforter, and 2 fleece blankets.

Bathrobes are worn all.the.time in this house. Paul and I both have nice, warm fuzzy bathrobes, and Abby just got one this past Christmas.

We also keep lots of blankets around- and I'll let you in on my little secret. I always buy or make blankets that are at least one size too big for the bed it is meant for. Abby's got a full size comforter for the portable crib, along with a queen size fleece and a throw. Our bed has all King sized blankets on it- even though it is a Queen. The key to marital bliss is a King blanket on a Queen bed.

7. Sip warm drinks. I keep the teakettle out all the time this time of year. I also pre-fill Everett's bottles with water, and set them out on top of the stove so that they get nice and warm by the time he needs them (always check the temperature before giving to baby!). We all drink "ghetto spiced cider" made with spices and apple juice. Abby really likes my milk-mixtures- pumpkin spice milk, gingerbread milk, and warm vanilla steamers. I make these primarily for my "designer knockoff" coffee drinks, but she likes them too!

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Frugal Activity of the Week!

This week, I am starting a weekly series on frugal activities- some fun, some kitchen, some cleaning, all easy.

I'm going to cheat and write about something I've been doing for some time now. Making homemade yogurt is super easy, and very rewarding. When Abby was a baby, I was looking for healthy foods to feed her- and full fat yogurt was one of her favorites. I didn't learn how to make homemade yogurt then, in fact, I didn't even know it was an option! My mom bought one of the fancy yogurt makers and started making her own- so I went looking for a workaround. Here's what I do for homemade yogurt:

You'll need:

1/2 gallon of milk (personally, I use 1%, but you can use any kind you like)
1 small container of plain, ACTIVE CULTURE yogurt (I use single serve size of Fage or other greek style yogurt)
1/2 cup milk powder
crockpot insert and cover
candy thermometer

Pour milk into the crockery insert, and leaving cover off, microwave for 20 minutes. Check temperature, milk needs to get to at least 180 degrees. Once it reaches temp, cover, and wait until milk drops back down to 110 degrees (112 max!). I've done this both inside and out of the microwave, and I find that I will check more often if it is on the kitchen counter, and the temp seems to drop faster. Pull the starter yogurt out of the fridge now so that it will reach room temperature.

Once the milk has cooled to 110, whisk in the milk powder. Dump the starter yogurt into a small bowl, and refill the container with some of the milk mixture, pouring over the starter. Whisk till loosened, then pour all of the starter/milk mixture into the crockpot and whisk well. Cover, and place in incubation area. *

*Incubation areas need to stay at about 100-110 degrees. If you have a gas stove, you're done. Place lidded crockpot in oven with door shut overnight- the pilot light will do the trick. If you don't have a gas stove, you've got to get more creative. You can use your crockpot on warm (test it first!) or a heating pad wrapped around the crockery with a bathtowel insulating everything will work.

Let the yogurt develop overnight, or throughout the day, depending on when you start it. It will start to set up and thicken within a few hours, the longer you let it go, the thicker it will be.

We eat the yogurt plain, or "Greek" it for dips, or turn it into yogurt cheese. "Greeking" involves lining a strainer with a coffee filter, setting that on top of a measuring cup or something else to catch the whey, spooning yogurt into filter, then letting it drain off the whey for an hour or so. Yogurt cheese has the consistancy somewhere between ricotta and cream cheese- and it is made by "Greeking" the yogurt overnight.

I mix yogurt cheese with preserves (current favorite is a blueberry/cherry blend) and spread on bagels or toast.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year- Renewed life

Tara over at Seeking Deals inspired me to post my New Year Resolutions for 2009.

I, too, am struggling with organizing. Two years ago, Paul and I were both working full time plus overtime, our home was more or less livable, clothes were usually clean, and dinners weren't a struggle. Well, the last two years have seen the birth of two preemies, our decision to have me stay home with the kids, Paul's job loss and 10 months (and counting) of partial employment, hospital stays and multiple doctor appointments. In that time, our lives have become nearly unrecognizable- with a messy house, finances in disarray, and a harried, tired set of parents.

So my resolution is this: To streamline the finances, the house, and our day-to-day activities. I am going to break everything down into weekly, manageble goals so that I don't become overwhelmed and give up.

First thing I'm addressing is the house. We've got soooo little space- and right now some of it is being underutilized. The kids' room is too cold for them to sleep in, the pantry has a couple mostly-empty drawers and a cabinet that's filled with stuff that belongs in the kitchen, the back hallway closet is currently holding a radiatior that no longer works and is taking up half of the space, and our closets are in dire need of organizing and new shelving.

Here's the plan for giving us more space:

1. Move the crib out of the kids room and put it in the parlour. Abby sleeps in there anyways. Use space under the crib to store diapers, wipes, and toys.

2. Move the computer, desk, and filing stuff out of the bedroom and into the kids room.

3. Move the playpen into our bedroom, and set it up where the desk used to be.

In order to be able to do these things, my goal for the week is to clean out the crib and the area around it. Since it hasn't been used as a bed for quite some time, outgrown and out of season clothes have taken up residence. These need to be sorted into keep and donate, then organized by size for the keepers, bagged and stored. Once this part is done, Paul and BIL will be moving the crib for me!

Next week's goal is to get the desk area prepped to be moved. This means A LOT of paper purging and filing, separating the desk stuff from the bedroom stuff, and organizing the desk drawers so that they are *GASP* usable.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Deals at CVS!

Last week, I took a break from CVS. There was nothing that caught my eye, and we're well stocked up at this point. I have a mental list of things that we're low on (liquid fabric softener, dryer sheets, freezer bags, to name a few).

Wouldn't you know that CVS got into my brain and figured out a way to get me into the store?

A new coupon came out over the weekend: $3 off any CVS brand item. Find it here on page 14.

CVS makes their own version of all of the items on my mental list. Actually, the CVS brand garbage bags are a favorite over the national brands. So looks like I'll be stocking up!

Impromptu Cooking Day!

So I did something I don't usually do- I got inspiration from the dried bean aisle!

I was at Big Y picking up the last of my pasta stash on the last day of the sale, and for some reason the tiny bags of beans and salt that claim to be "quick minestrone" caught my eye. I love minestrone. Heck, I love soup. But what I don't love is the salty mess that the little baggies call minestrone, with still hard beans and overcooked pasta. And they take over an hour to make...

I know that I can make a good minestrone in less time than that! So, I doubled back to the produce section, grabbed celery, carrots, and a bag of onions- none of which were on sale- and headed home. I had already picked out some bulk sausage (oops, I was supposed to make that into spaghetti sauce!) and as soon as I got home, into the stockpot it went.

In about 20 minutes, I had a delicious, homemade minestrone with sausage. I also had about 4 cups of already chopped onions. Hmm... what to do?

I had a 5lb log of ground beef that I'd been ignoring in my freezer- got it for $6.82 at Walmart- the big downside is it was 73/27- ugh. I had heard about boiling ground beef instead of frying, and I figured I'd give it a try. My tallest stockpot went onto the stove, and the giant log o meat went into it, along with some water and a good handful of grill seasoning.

I can't say it came out GREAT- but perhaps that is because I had high expectations. The meat itself was perfect- it was the broth I was disappointed with. Forget about the sheer amount of fat floating on the top- it was not nearly meaty-flavored enough for me. Sigh.

Ok, so I took the whole entire stockpot, dropped the collapsing-sides strainer thing in to keep the meat in the bottom of the pot, and stuck it out on the porch. 25 degree weather CAN be a good thing!

Once cooled, the fat rose to the top and formed a hardened disk that is easy to lift out. Fat went into a bowl for now- I'll need a bit of it later.

Then I cleaned out my two big stockpots and started the final part of my cooking day- chili and shephards' pie filling. Used up the rest of the onions, carrots, and celery, split up the meat, and made a batch of lentils for the shephards' pie.

All in all, I ended up with 6 batches of shephards' pie filling (I freeze them in foil-lined casseroles, then pop them out and store in gallon size bags), and an as-yet undetermined amount of chili. When I'm freezing chili, I don't add beans. They take up a lot of space in the bags, and I can just as easily start a batch of dried beans in the rice cooker when I plan to make a batch of chili with beans. I have more pantry space than freezer space!

It has been requested...

So I'm back! Been in hiding dealing with the insanity of the holidays- 7 Christmas parties, 14 hours of baking, and a mountain of laundry I've been ignoring. I'm going to run some catching up posts, then I'll post about the current deals at CVS and wherever else catches my eye.