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Archive for the ‘Kitchen Tips’ Category

I absolutely love the egg sandwiches you can get at various fast food joints.  This summer, my daughter and I have been on a huge kick, eating egg and muffin sandwiches for breakfast, sometimes snacks, and sometimes for lunch.  They are so easy to make and quite inexpensive.  For one sandwich, here’s all you need:

1 English muffin

1 egg

butter to fry egg

cheddar cheese (one slice just slightly smaller than your English Muffin)

one slice deli ham

Have all your ingredients out and ready to go.  Begin heating a small frying pan over medium heat.  Begin toasting muffin in toaster.  Butter your pan.  I just grab a stick of butter and swipe it quickly around your pan.  You can prepare your egg however you prefer.  We like ours scrambled.  I usually just crack the egg into the pan and scramble in the pan.  As the egg starts to set up, begin to scrape it into a pile about the size of your english muffin.  When muffin pops out of toaster, put the cheddar cheese on one side of muffin, then set the other side on top to start softening the cheese.  When your egg pile is set up enough to turn, flip it, and continue cooking until done.  Put egg on top of cheese on muffin, put ham on top of egg, put other size of muffin on your sandwich and you are ready to go!  Yum!!  I can make one of these in just a few minutes and my daughter says they give her a lot of energy to get her through a morning of summer PE.

Here are a few tips:

I shop for English Muffins at the day old bread store (where I also try to buy all my bread).  Last time I was in, they had Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) on English muffins and bagels.  You can’t beat 2 packs of english muffins or bagels for a total of 89 cents – less than 8 cents per muffin.  Stock up – bread products freeze great!

I buy a 2 lb block of cheddar at Sam’s club for about 5 bucks.  It keeps great and is good for snacks and cooking.  I probably use less than 1/2 an ounce of cheese on the muffin sandwiches, so the cheese costs about 8 cents per muffin also.

I really like the Egglands Best Eggs.  We were buying an 18 pack at Sam’s Club for about 3 bucks, but many of my magazines had 50 cent off coupons for EB eggs lately, so I clipped them all.  My Kroger doubles coupons, which results in a 12 pack of Eggland Best Eggs for 1.59.  That works out to about 13 cents an egg.  If you want to buy store brand eggs, you can often get them on sale for about a buck a dozen.

Finally, I have been buying Oscar Mayer prepackaged deli ham.  The round slices work perfectly for these muffins, which is the main use I have for the ham.  One 7 oz. pack can be found on sale for about 3 bucks or less.  There is probably at least 30 slices per container, so about a dime per piece of ham.  They usually have a long shelf life both before and after opening.

So, my total for a muffin would be:  8+8+13+10=39 cents.  Add a penny or two for butter and electricity for toaster and stove if you like.  Not too bad!

Enjoy!

Lynn

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I’m all about good food, but also like to save money and save time.  This recipe covers all the bases.  First off, one of my main grocery shopping strategies is to take advantage of sale meats.  Last week, Kroger had pork shoulder on sale for about 1.39 per pound, so I bought a 6 pound roast and threw it in my garage fridge (check the sell by date – mine was good for a couple weeks).  Yesterday morning around 8 am, I started the Pork Shoulder in the crockpot.   By 6pm, we were ready to eat.   Here’s the recipe:

Crockpot Pulled Pork

1 pork shoulder (6 lbs is a good size and fits in a large crockpot)

olive oil to sear pork

1 can beer

1 onion, cut in half then sliced

salt and pepper

Put the sliced onion in the bottom of your crockpot, add some salt and pepper (use your judgement), and a splash of beer.  Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium high heat and sear the pork as best you can on all sides.  I think you could just throw the pork directly in the crockpot, but I like to sear mine first.  Add pork to crockpot and pour over some more beer.  Add more salt and pepper.  Put the cover on the crockpot and heat on low for at least 8 hours.  I usually like to flip my roast about half way through cooking, but you don’t have to.  About an hour before you want to eat, pull out the pork and set it on a plate to cool, breaking into some chunks if you can.   Let cool for about 1/2 an hour.  You can leave the lid off the crockpot and let the onions and juice cook down a bit.   After 1/2 an hour, don some gloves if you have them (this helps keep your hands clean and also seems to help mitigate the heat a little bit), and start pulling any fat off the meat, take out the bone, and shred the meat back into the crockpot.  The gloves really help with this (I keep a bag of plastic disposable gloves in my kitchen and they are great for lots of things.) and you can usually shred the meat in about 15 minutes or so.  The dog is my best friend while I am doing this!  At this point, the meat is pretty much ready to go, but you can let it sit in the hot broth with the cover on for a while longer until whenever you are ready to eat.

To serve, we eat this on buns, with a little BBQ sauce served table side for those who desire it.  For a family of 4, we got one dinner the night I cooked this, plus I bagged enough to freeze for another generous dinner, and had enough leftover for a couple of lunch sandwiches.

Not bad – 2 dinners and a couple lunches for under ten bucks!

Enjoy!

Lynn

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This month’s Cooking Light magazine had a feature on hamburgers, and one of the recipes provided details on how to make your own fresh ground beef for really tasty burgers.  All you needed was some time, a cut of beef, and a Kitchenaid mixer with the grinder attachment.   The most time consuming part for me was digging all around my house for the box with the kitchenaid attachments we had bought when we bought the mixer.  They are infrequently used and had been put away SOMEWHERE after our kitchen remodel two years ago.  I had to comb the house for about a half hour before I found the dusty old box on the back of the top shelf in the furthest corner of the basement storage area.

Cooking Light‘s recipe suggested Brisket, but I did some research online that recommended cuts such as chuck steak as well.  A local grocery had boneless “English Roast” on sale for about $2/pound.    This cut apparently comes from the same area as chuck and looks pretty much the same as a pot roast cut to me.  I bought a 2.5 pound package.

Per Cooking Light‘s instructions, I put the parts of my grinder attachment in the freezer for about an hour.    The next time I tried this, I did not have time to chill the attachments and it didn’t seem to matter.   I cut the roast into strips that were small enough around to fit in the chute of the grinder.  They were about 3/4 x 1 inch and maybe 3-5 inches long.  I laid them all out on a cookie sheet and tossed them in the freezer for about 30 min to an hour.

Once the meat was partially frozen, I set the Kitchenaid with grinder attachment to speed 4 as specified by my manual.  Then I put a bowl under the grinder and started feeding the meat into the hopper using the wood plunger to push it through.  As the nice ground meat started to come out, I was reminded of a scene in Pink Floyd’s The Wall and started singing “we don’t need no education…”

I was able to feed 2.5 lbs of meat through fairly quickly.  Since both Cooking Light and my manual said to grind the meat twice, I dumped what I had in the bowl back onto the cookie sheet and ran it through the grinder again.  This is slightly messier than the first run, but still goes quickly.  I  then put the bowl of beautiful ground meat into the fridge to use for dinner.  All in all, I think i spent about 30 minutes prepping the meat, running it through the grinder, and cleaning up.

The first time, I made burgers from the meat.   I thought they were amazing but my family did not jump up and down as much as I thought I deserved:).  My husband suggested that next time I might try running the seasoning through with the burger on the second grind so that I wouldn’t have to mix so vigorously while making patties and could pat the patties a bit looser.

This week I made tacos with 2 lbs of ground English roast.  I trimmed off a bit of the fat, but left most if it to be ground in with the meat.  I always have trouble breaking up the big chunks of ground beef as I cook it, but this time I got a lovely fine crumble.  I did strain all the liquid and fat out, and in the morning, that bowl had mostly  gel and very little fat.  The tacos were terrific.

I can’t wait to try fresh ground beef for other recipes like sloppy joes, meatballs, and bolognese sauce.

Try it, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Lynn

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For those of us who cook most of our family meals at home, menu planning can help save money, time, and frustration, but sometimes it is hard to find the time or initiative to get a meal plan going.  In the past, I have used weekly or even monthly menu plans, but as our family gets busier, they have fallen by the wayside.  I have also noticed that it is not always easy to track if you are having variety in your menu (my family often accuses me of cooking nothing but chicken!) or to remember to make old family favorites.

I have spent the last two years teach Excel skills to college students in my job as a visiting faculty, and this summer decided to use a spreadsheet to track my menus.  It gives me a good way to see if we are getting variety, and also to remember old family favorites or to know when we actually cooked the leftovers languishing in the fridge.  Here is an example of my spreadsheet (you can click on it to see the full size version – use your back button to come back to this page when you are done):

The beauty of this list is that I can sort it in a variety of ways if I want.  For instance, sort by protein type to look for ideas for chicken.  Or if it is a special day for a certain family member, sort to find their favorites.  Another thing that sometimes happens at our house is that one family member may miss a dinner due to other plans and on that day, we try to cook something that person doesn’t like.  So we could sort by the “hated by” column to find dinners to make when someone is absent.  I often forget where I have the recipe saved for some of our infrequent dinners, so there is a column to help with that as well.

You could customize this however it works best for you.  You might want to add a column with costs, so that you can find cheap dinners when you need to.

As I always told my students, Excel is an amazing tool and you can do so much with it, both within your career and in your life.  Let me know if you find this idea helpful.

Regards,

Lynn

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This tip may seem a bit self-evident, but I think it bears repeating.  The best way to make sure you don’t run out of things and have what you need is to keep a running list and check it before you go to the store.  If you keep things on your fridge with magnets, put up a piece of paper titled “Grocery Shopping” or something like that and when someone uses something up or you notice you are running low, WRITE IT DOWN.  If you don’t like paper clutter on your fridge or have a stainless steel fridge that won’t hold magnets, keep a list in a designated drawer in the kitchen.  Everyone in the house should learn to write things down.  The best way to convince people of this is when you run out of things they like or need.  Don’t buy it if it isn’t on the list.  Then when you hear, “Mooooommm, why didn’t you get more microwave popcorn at the store yesterday?”  Just shrug and say, “It wasn’t on the list.”  It won’t take long for people to get in the habit of writing things down!

Oh my – I am back to work on Monday, so my posts will be a lot shorter, but I’m going to try to keep up with them.  I think next week’s theme is going to revolve around tips for helping kids settle in to school and do their best.    Education is a number one priority at our house and my work experience teaching college freshman also helps me see what might help younger kids prepare for their future.  Let me know if there are any specific topics you’d like me to address.  Over the weekend, I have some more decluttering updates as well as some other things to share, so check back soon.

Best regards,

Lynn

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This is a very personal issue.  I like to read about some of the heavy duty couponers and many of them practically have small stores in their homes.  For me personally, I have found that overdoing the stockpiling not only leads to a feeling of clutter but can also lead to waste.  Over the last year, I have slowly been trying to organize my pantry items and in particular make sure that all like items are together so that you can avoid buying unnecessary duplicates and also keep your rotation going properly.  I have also been working on “decluttering” the pantry.  When there is too much junk in there, things get hard to find.

So, how much to stockpile?   First you might want to consider the purpose your pantry serves FOR YOU.    People concerned with preparedness may want to have enough food stocked to last a certain period of time.  Here I would advise people to carefully consider what they stock.  I read a study about people in Europe during WWII that concluded that in times of stress, people have an even stronger need than usual for foods that are familiar to them.  During a disaster is probably not the time to introduce your family to foods they typically do not eat.  Stock what you eat and keep up a good rotation so your stock is always relatively fresh.

People also stockpile for the frugality aspect – buying when things are on sale or cheap/free with coupons.  In this way, they avoid paying the highest price when they NEED something.  Again, stock what you use and don’t overdo it.  I used to like to keep several boxes of dishwasher detergent on hand until I read somewhere that dishwasher detergent chemicals can lose their potency over time.    I don’t know if this is a proven fact, but I  have noticed that older boxes don’t seem to clean as well, so now I only keep the box I am using on hand and start to look for a backup on sale when that box is maybe 3/4’s gone.

Other people keep a well-stocked pantry only to make sure they have on hand what they need to make what they want without special trips.  In this case, your stockpile probably won’t be very large.  Just replace your items with new ones as you use them.

Most of us will fall into a combination of these three types of people.  I myself mostly like my pantry to have things I need in it so I can cook without worry.  But I hate to pay full price for anything, so will stock up a bit when I see something on sale or am shopping at Aldi’s for staple items.  Things I use often and quickly, like canned broth and tomato sauce, I will buy by the case at Aldi’s because I know they will be used within a reasonable time.  Other staples like flour and sugar, I like to have a single backup bag of each when the canisters run empty.   Once I pull a backup into use, I have plenty of time to shop for the replacement package at a good price.  Of course, sometimes when the prices are really good (sugar tends to go on sale around the holidays), I may stock a couple of backups of flour and sugar, but am careful not to overdo it and end up with 2 year old flour coming into circulation sometime in the future.    Between these two approaches I also have a small level of preparedness.   My family could easily make it through a snowstorm on what’s in the pantry, but probably not last for a year off of what is there.

What it boils down to is picking a system that works for you.  I buy cases of some of the items mentioned above and probably use them up within about 6 months.  Other canned items, like kidney beans,  don’t get used as often, so I feel comfortable with a couple cans on hand at a time.  If I see a good deal on non-perishables like toilet paper, kleenex, or freezer bags, I will stock up to the extent I can store things comfortably.

What works for you?  If you looked in your pantry, what have you currently got the biggest stock of?  I just picked up a flat of diced tomatoes at Aldi’s recently.  12 cans at 49 cents each was not even a budget buster.  Second place would be the giant block of paper towels from Sam’s Club.  I just wish they were easier to store!

My biggest tip if you struggle with your pantry stockpile is to start putting dates on things and figure out how fast you use them up and if they stay good for the time you have them.  I knew my old system wasn’t working when I realized that I had 2 boxes of graham crackers in my basement that were a year past their “best by” date.  Fortunately they tasted OK, but when I eventually got a fresh box, the difference between old and new graham crackers was pretty obvious!  I have realized that we eat graham crackers sporadically, so I don’t usually keep a backup box anymore.

Last pantry tip of the week coming tomorrow.

Best regards,

Lynn

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Sometimes the best deals to be had come in big packages.  If your store is running a special on ground meat, but it’s on a family package of 5 lbs. or more, what are you to do?   Split the package and freeze.  Here’s my technique.

I get alot of hamburger and almost all my ground turkey at Sam’s Club.  Their ground beef packages are usually about 6 lbs and our average meal uses up about 2 lbs, so there are 3 meals in that large pack of beef.  If at all possible, I plan on making one meal straight out of the pack so I only have two more 2 lb. blocks to freeze.  I always like to freeze things in the smallest bags I can to save money on the bags themselves and also to avoid too much space in the bags which might allow freezer burn.  I can get 2 lbs of ground meat into a quart freezer bag if I’m careful.

I use a kitchen scale to make sure I am splitting up the portions pretty evenly.  I try to get them within about an ounce of what I am aiming for.  First, I pre-weigh a plastic container to use for weighing the meat.  If you have a “tare” function on your scale, using that feature (I put the container on the scale, then press the tare button) will automatically subtract the weight of your container giving you the true weight of your meat.  Otherwise, weigh your container and subtract off the weight yourself to see how much meat you have.

I lay out as many pieces of cling wrap on the counter as I have blocks of meat to freeze.   The cling wrap should be enough to wrap entirely around a block of meat.   I also get out the number of freezer bags I will need and date them with a Sharpie and write what I am freezing, e.g., 2 lbs Samburger (my nickname for Sam’s Club Hamburger).  Dish up meat into your plastic container until you have the weight you want, then dump the meat onto  a piece of cling wrap.  As long as your hands are dirty, continue measuring meat and dropping on pieces of cling wrap.  If you are saving one batch for tonight’s dinner, just leave the last one in the plastic container and cover and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook with it.

Wash your hands and wrap each of the piles of ground meat tightly in the cling wrap.  Then slide each block into a labeled freezer bag and zip closed, squeezing out as much air as possible.  It really helps to label them beforehand because sometimes it is hard to write on a cold sweaty bag of meat!  If you have any doubts about whether stuff will fit, label only one bag to start.  You may have to mush your block of meat around a bit to fit into the freezer bag, but the cling wrap should hold things together.  Once you are done with all the bags, place them in the freezer.

I really like this method because it is a lot easier to get the frozen meat out of the bag with the addition of the cling wrap.  Just be careful that you don’t crease the cling wrap into the meat before it’s frozen.  If you have to peel cling wrap off the frozen block of meat to do a quick thaw, it will be harder if any of the cling wrap got tucked into the meat a bit.

I hope this helps.

Best regards,

Lynn

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