Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Candy Cane Bark

It's that time of year again, for all things peppermint, due to the overload of candy canes available.  If you are like me, you probably still have a bag from last year, filled with canes that decorated your Christmas tree.  So far, I have found two edible uses for my minty stash...cookies, and peppermint bark.  Last year, I posted a recipe which called for peppermint discs.  This year, I decided to utilize what I already have on hand...candy canes that are made on dedicated peanut and tree nut free machinery, which are safe for those with allergies. 

The recipe is the same as the one I posted last year, except this time, I weighed 4 ounces of broken candy cane pieces, instead of peppermint discs.


I discovered a better method for crushing the candy:  fold a large piece of wax paper several times, and place it inside a plastic zip top bag.  Put the broken candy cane pieces between the layers of wax paper, and lightly tap them with a hammer.  This will help to prevent candy shards from cutting the bag and dumping sweet and pepperminty dust onto your work surface.
I created a double boiler by using a glass bowl over a small glass saucepan filled with  hot water.  Melt 8 ounces of your favorite chocolate, while frequently stirring with a silicone spatula. 
Once the chocolate has melted and is smooth, add the crushed candy canes, along with a drop or two of peppermint extract. 
Stir the mixture until it is well-combined.  

Spread contents of bowl onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.  Place it in the freezer until solid.
Break apart the candy cane bark into bite-size pieces.  Store in a lidded container in the refrigerator.  This size batch is typically consumed within a week by all three members of my household!

Monday, October 28, 2013

New Publication!

More of my recipes have been published! They are included in the October 2013 release of "The Killer Wore Cranberry: Room for Thirds" edited by J. Alan Hartman.  The e-book is an anthology comprised of several Thanksgiving-themed humorous mysteries written by talented Untreed Reads authors.  My contributions are:  Pumpkin Cranberry Pancakes, Cranberry Chutney, and Apple Cranberry Pie. 

It can be purchased directly from my e-publisher, Untreed Reads, and is available in several downloadable formats.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Frugal Tomato Juice

I recently came up with a quick curried chickpea recipe, which includes 1/2 cup of tomato juice.  I had in my freezer a few 1/2 cup portions of tomato juice drained from canned, "no salt added" diced tomatoes.  These were saved from a bean recipe calling for drained diced tomatoes, and set aside for later use in my split pea soup recipe.  When I used the last serving of tomato juice, and wasn't planning to drain canned tomatoes in the near future, I knew I needed to find a solution.

Later that week, I went to the grocery store, and read the ingredients on bottled tomato juice.  I wasn't happy with the sodium levels, added preservatives, and the price per ounce.  I walked over to the aisle that houses canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.  The canned tomatoes have likeable ingredients, but I rarely drain them.  The tomato sauce is not the right consistency, along with many herbs and spices, which can add the wrong tomato flavor to dals and soups.  When I looked at the can of tomato paste, I remembered my split pea soup recipe that calls for 1/2 cup tomato juice, or "1 Tablespoon tomato paste + 1/2 cup water".   DING!!!

So, here is what I did:  I purchased one 12 ounce can of tomato paste for $1.15.

I got out my 1 Tablespoon measure and began portioning out the tomato paste onto pieces of plastic wrap.

 I was able to wrap 16 Tablespoons-worth of tomato paste!  Add to that the 1 Tablespoon I used in a recipe, for a total of 17 Tablespoons from one 12 ounce can.

I placed all the wrapped Tablespoons of tomato paste into a ziptop bag that was pre-labeled with use instructions.

Now the bag is ready to go into the freezer! This week, when I make a small batch of chickpea dal, I can simply grab and unwrap a Tablespoon portion of tomato paste, add 1/2 cup of water, and move on!

Not only does this method avoid added salt and preservatives, but the price per Tablespoon is roughly $.07.  Healthy and frugal!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

1/2 price e-Books at Kobo!

Are you in need of a healthy meal idea, or just wanting a fun and yummy dessert recipe? You can purchase my e-book, "From Lisa With Love" (as well as other titles for your reading pleasure) at half price from Kobo! Use code: Sept50

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Frugal happiness find: olive oil dispenser

Last Saturday, my husband had to work, and I wanted to do something fun in the kitchen with my son.  We decided to bake a batch of cookies, which require a combination of light olive oil and applesauce to replace butter in the recipe.  I remembered that I had recently used up the last of a smaller bottle of light olive oil, and it was now time to open the HUGE jug from my recent Sam's haul.  This would not be as easy to pour from as a smaller, handheld bottle.   I had been wanting an olive oil dispenser for some time, and now I had the perfect excuse for this to be the day to find one!

I looked at kitchen stores online, and was a bit dismayed by the prices, so I switched to Googling DIY projects.  Some were interesting, even pretty, but assumed I already had in my possession an empty wine bottle, or something similar.  The necessary dispenser piece to fit on top was about $7.99 at a "big box" store, which cost less than olive oil dispensers sold at the kitchen stores.  Hmmmmm......

Suddenly, I remembered a recent email, stating that I had $4 in Rewards to spend at Kmart.  I immediately searched the Kmart website, and discovered that an olive oil dispenser for $4.99 was available in the store near my house! I excitedly ordered my son to put on his shoes, and off we went to Kmart.  To my delight, there were several olive oil dispensers on the shelf! I grabbed one, went to the register, and paid $1.06, including tax, thanks to the $4 credit on my Rewards card. 

As soon as I arrived home, I took a picture of my frugal find, along with the reason for its purchase.

Not only is the bottle filled with olive oil aesthetically pleasing, but it also does a superb job of dispensing without making a mess!  Perhaps the greatest reason for my love affair with my newly acquired kitchen gadget is due to the price.  There is a such a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that something works correctly and it didn't cost an arm and a leg.  Ahhhhh, the bliss of a frugal happiness moment!  Thankfully, I have been able to enjoy the euphoria throughout this past week, as I see the bottle out of the corner of my eye on the kitchen counter, and neatly pour its contents for other recipes. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unclaimed Property

I just HAVE to share this with you!!!

This morning, as my oatmeal apple pancakes were cooking on the griddle, I perused some of my favorite frugal blogs.  One of them shared a link to another gal's blog with a refried beans recipe that I thought looked interesting.  Something else on her blog caught my eye:  Frugality Tip #9: Check for Unclaimed Money Owed You.  I clicked on it, read the information about how unclaimed property exists in all 50 of the United States, then clicked on the safe and legit NAUPA link.  At first, I entered my husband's name for our current state.  Then it occurred to me to enter his name in the LAST state we lived in.  Eureka!  There is $130 in unclaimed cash, due to an overpayment on the truck we purchased waaaaaaaaay back in 1999.  I clicked on the claim number, entered the required information, and printed the claim form.  All I have to do now is make a photo copy of my husband's driver's license, and a document that shows proof he lived at the address appearing in the claim.  Once I get all of that into an envelope, I will mail it off, and wait to receive our $130. 

You never know, you too might have some unclaimed property!  It only takes a few moments of your time to search, and you probably won't have any trouble thinking of ways to spend or save your "found" money.  I'm thinking "DATE NIGHT(S)!" 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lesson Plan Book

I was an elementary public school teacher for eight years in Florida, before my husband's job moved us to Georgia.  One of my favorite requirements of the job was to hand-write my lesson plans, with pencil, in a book chosen and provided by my assistant principal.  I. LOVED. IT.  I am detail-oriented, enthralled with paper, swoon about being organized, and am also extremely visual.  Blocks make me happy.  They are tidy.  I am also quite the "acoustic", which means I desire the "real thing", hands-on, over electronics.  I prefer to play my actual marimba, rather than synthesized on the piano.  Same goes for lesson plans.  My handwriting, on paper, in a book that I can touch, erase, and carry with me, is bliss.  Choosing a vessel to write in is much more exciting than trying to figure out how to create a spread sheet on the computer.  While some folks think that technology is the way to go, writing directly on paper just seems simpler to me.

Now that you have all that background, consider yourself equipped to rejoice with me over my latest frugal find. 

I currently home educate my son.  He will be in 5th grade this year, and while I did create a printable set of lesson pages to help me organize all that I plan to teach, I knew there was probably a more cost-effective way. 

Several weeks ago, while perusing the $1 bins at Target, I noticed lesson plan books.  They contained only enough pages for about 25 weeks of school....yet there are traditionally 36 weeks per year.  I actually plan for 40 weeks of school, so Fridays can be lighter.  I didn't buy anything that day, but have been thinking about those $1 books ever since.   Then it struck me: buy TWO books (duh, they are only $1 each).  Use one book for the first half of the school year, and the other for the second.

But...there are only 3 blocks per page, for a total of 6 blocks when the book is open.  I need LOTS of blocks, because, as I said, I am detail-oriented.  So then I had this idea: copy one page of 3 blocks, and tape it hinge-style on the right, so that when I open all the pages, I have 9 blocks going across!


I am in lesson plan heaven!!! Along with no guilt, since no copyright violations occurred.

If you are a teacher in any capacity, know a teacher, or are visual and enjoy being organized, then I encourage you take advantage of frugal opportunities when they are available.  I am so thankful that even though I passed this one up the first time, there were two books waiting for me when I went back to the store for them!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sam's Club...haul?

How much money can you really save by shopping at "bulk" warehouses, including their annual membership fees? 

I saw an alert on Facebook last week from Money Saving Mom about Sam's Club having an Open House for non-members.  I have not been inside a Sam's Club since 2001, when my husband and I still lived in Florida.  My son and I decided to check out our nearest one this past Saturday.  I brought a pad of paper and a pen, hoping to generate a list of deals good enough to entice me to purchase a membership.  While the store was neat, clean, and organized, I just wasn't feeling it...that "thrifty thrill".  I say this because for our family's grocery needs, I am not absolutely certain that a  $45 membership can make up for the price difference between what Sam's Club offers, and what I can achieve by combining sales and coupons at the grocery store.  Here are a few examples of items we regularly purchase:

Nature's Own bread-  Sam's Club  2/$4.28, $2.24 per loaf
                                   Kroger 2/$3.00, $1.50 per loaf

100 Finish dishwasher tabs-  Sam's Club $13.78
                                               Publix BOGO 2x60 (120) $11.99 - $1.25 coupon = $10.74

90% lean/10% fat ground beef-  Sam's Club $3.68 per pound
                                                    Publix $4.49 per pound (sale)

Uncle Luke's maple syrup, 32 oz-  Sam's Club $13.28
Maple Grove maple syrup, 32 oz-  Publix  $18.29 (every day)

As you can see, it is a better deal for us to purchase the bread and dishwasher tabs when they are on sale at Kroger/Publix.  The beef and maple syrup have much better every day prices at Sam's Club.  Does that make it worth it for us to purchase a $45 membership? Not when you consider the fact that a 32 ounce jug of maple syrup will last us at least one month, usually longer.  We would need to purchase nine jugs of maple syrup each year to break even with the membership cost.   We consume beef only once per month.  Four pounds (the smallest increment Sam's Club sells) will divide into approximately five dinners for this family of three, lasting five months!

There were a few other well-priced items at Sam's Club that I would not mind purchasing regularly.  We enjoy eating a white fish once per week.  Sam's Club sells frozen, wild-caught, Kosher, Alaskan flounder, packaged by Treasures from the Sea.  Each 3 pound bag contains 12 individually wrapped fish portions....for $11.98! That averages out to $1 per person, costing us $3 per meal.  I read the ingredients and country of origin information again to see if I was missing something that would explain the low price.   Everything looked good, so I took advantage of my non-member shopping day, and tossed two bags into my cart.

Another good deal I found was for light olive oil.  I use this frequently throughout the week for baking, pancakes, and spraying on pans and popcorn.  I typically buy a name brand when it is BOGO at Publix.  Sam's Club sells a 3 liter jug for $12.88.  The sign indicated that averages to 12.7 cents per ounce.  I can never get anywhere close to that deal, even with coupons.  One jug went into my cart.

We consume quite a bit of fresh produce throughout the week.  Since I happened to be low on lettuce, I did pick up a 2 pound bag of chopped Romaine for $2.87, which is $1.44 per pound.  That is an absolutely amazing price!  12 ounce bags (3/4 of a pound) will often be on sale at the grocery store for $2.  Sometimes I will find some at Kroger for $1.49, when they are nearing their sell-by date.  Sam's Club's every day price still beats these far and wide. 

The lowest price I have seen on blueberries at the grocery store is $2 for a pint, which averages to about 12 ounces (3/4 of a pound) in weight.  I would need to purchase 4 pints to have 3 pounds, spending $8.  This averages to $2.67 per pound.  Sam's Club had 2 pounds of blueberries for $5.98, which averages to $2.99 per pounds.  Woops, I realize now that is not a great deal.

Despite some good prices, I am still on the fence.  I think that in order for the $45 membership fee to truly be a benefit for us, I would need to shop at Sam's Club more frequently.  I don't see myself heading there on a weekly basis, because I don't think of it as "that kind" of store.  It's not super close to my house, and also not convenient for darting in and out of.  My time is just as valuable as money, and therefore I should exercise thriftiness in both areas.

In an effort to make the most of my time and money spent this past Saturday, here is what I purchased from the Sam's Club Open House for non-members, at member prices:

4.25 pounds 90% lean/10% fat ground beef at $3.68 per pound-  $15.64
3 pounds frozen flounder, divided into 12 portions at $4 per pound- $11.98
3 pounds frozen flounder, divided into 12 portions at $4 per pound- $11.98
3 pounds organic mini baby carrots at $1.33 per pound- $3.98
2 pounds chopped Romaine lettuce at $1.44 per pound- $2.87
2 pounds blueberries (from Oregon) at $2.99 per pound- $5.98
3 liters light olive oil at 12.7 cents per ounce- $12.88

Subtotal of $66.31 + $1.96 (3% tax) = $67.27 total

I will be happy to shop at Sam's Club the next time there is an Open House for non-members, and we can pay member prices.  My parents told me that Costco is their favorite "bulk" warehouse, and that I can get a day pass from Customer Service.  Hmmmm, I wonder what kind of "haul" I can possibly make there?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Garage Freezer

In my last post, I shared information about stocking my kitchen pantry, an area that I take pleasure in keeping organized. 

Today, I would like to talk about the garage freezer.  I feel very blessed to have one.  When we moved from Florida to a rural area in Georgia, I soon discovered that owning an extra freezer was a necessity, especially when one has to travel a bit to a grocery store.

Thankfully, we now live in a different area of Georgia, where grocery stores are a-plenty.  The garage freezer is still in full use, since this frugal gal stocks up whenever there is a sale!

I admit that over the past several years, I have not taken the time to keep the extra freezer as organized as I do the kitchen pantry.

One night last week, after being inspired by my own blog post, I was struck with the thought that the interior of the garage freezer needed a serious makeover.  I decided to create zones: top shelf for frozen fruit, popsicles, and frozen yogurt,  2nd shelf for meat and fish, 3rd shelf for whole grains (including flours and coconut), and bottom shelf for leftovers.

The top shelf began to come together nicely.  I like my idea of corralling the 1/2 cup pumpkin purees and 1/2 cups of orange juice into plastic shoe boxes, instead of trying to stack them individually. 

My organization bliss was short-lived.  I had difficulty bringing my plan into fruition for two reasons:  1) The garage was hot, and despite employing the use of coolers and trying to work as quickly as possible, the freezer was quickly warming and defrosting the food.  2) I have waaaaaaay too many boxes of popsicles!

I moved the bags of coconut (see top shelf) to the side door, closed the freezer, and called it a night.  Agonizing over perfected tidiness was NOT worth losing all the food to defrosting!

It is now a week later.  The freezer is humming along, keeping its well-stocked insides preserved.  I have added blueberries and peach puree (upcoming blog posts) to the top shelf, used some of the foods, and shifted a few items here and there.  My desired zones are now more visible!

The Publix vanilla frozen yogurt was on sale this week, which explains why they are on the meat and fish shelf...there just wasn't room to put them anywhere else.  We still have too many popsicles, so they are on the grains shelf.  Sometimes, despite our organization desires, we just have to put things away where they fit, and simply be grateful to have them!

At least the door looks good, for now anyway....I hear there is a sale on frozen vegetables....

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stock the pantry....frugally!

As far back as I can remember, it seems I have always been frugal.  I am not suggesting that I purchase low-quality items; rather, I enjoy buying what I need and like, at a great price.  Sales + coupons (especially if they are doubled) make me smile!  There is something quite satisfying about being provided for, without blowing the budget. 

Still...there are times when I can be inspired to do better, as was the case this past week when I read the website of The Prudent Homemaker, and also her blog.  I am a visual person, and I especially appreciated all of her fabulous photos to go along with detailed explanations about how she is equipped to take care of her home and family. 

I was especially awed by The Prudent Homemaker's pantry.  Granted, her family is much larger than mine, but still....all those jars of dry beans and canned fruit, neatly organized and lined up on the shelves her husband lovingly set up for her....prompted me to do a little bit of frugal stocking of my own makeshift pantry. 

This past week and weekend, I bought a 20 pound bag of Jasmine rice (our favorite), 4 pound bags  of dried pintos and black beans, and several 2 pound bags of navy beans.   I have been saving jars with metal lids over the years that held wheat germ and tomato sauce.  They are the perfect size for storing exactly one pound of dry beans.  After washing and carefully drying my stash of jars and lids, I had so much fun weighing and filling!

I don't have the luxury of a pantry, a separate room, or even a closet for storage.  What I do have in my kitchen are several white, put-together cabinets.  

I like to keep the insides of my "pantries" tidy and organized.  The left "pantry" houses snacks, cereal/oatmeal, canned beans, pasta/rice, canned soup, and dry beans.  The middle "pantry" hosts our phone books, my cookbooks, and condiments.  The "pantry" on the right is dedicated for baking necessities.  Oooooo, seeing this picture makes me happy!  :)

My recent dry bean purchases have equipped me with 32 meals-worth of filled jars! Woo hoo!

See those soup cans on top of the navy bean jars? I will use only 1/2 can of chicken broth and 1/2 can of tomato soup per jar (1 pound) of beans.  When I prepare the first batch, I will freeze the leftover soups for the second one.    I am tickled to have gotten a pretty good deal on those soups this past week.  I had a coupon for the chicken broth, and the tomato soups were on sale for $1 each!

Are you now inspired to stock your pantry? If my blog post didn't quite do it for you, make some time to check out The Prudent Homemaker.  She has a delicious pasta e fagioli recipe that just might prompt you to stock up on supplies for it!  After preparing the dish last week and hearing the words, "This recipe's a keeper!" from my husband, you bet I was delighted to go grocery shopping....frugally, of course.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chocolate-covered Summer Berries

Summer is here, along with fresh produce, particularly berries.  Typical recipes at this time of year include pies, jellies, and jams.  If you are looking for something a bit different, quick, easy, and includes chocolate, I have just the recipe for you!  The finished product keeps for roughly two days in your fridge, so be sure to prepare only what you will be able to consume in that time.  Start small, if this is your first time (as it was for me):

1 cup FRESH blueberries (frozen will result in mush)
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 TBSP coconut oil

clean towel
double boiler
silicone spatula
medium cookie sheet lined with wax paper

STEP 1:  Rinse blueberries in a strainer.  Dry them thoroughly with a clean towel by gently folding the towel over the blueberries and patting them as you "roll". 

STEP 2:  Prepare double boiler by boiling water in bottom pot.  I used a tempered glass bowl set in the top of my glass saucepan.  Add the semi sweet chocolate morsels.  As they melt, stir with a silicone spatula until smooth.


STEP 3:  Add the coconut oil, and stir well to combine.
STEP 4:  Now add the blueberries, and gently stir well, completely coating them with the chocolate. 

STEP 5:  Spoon the chocolate-covered blueberries onto the wax paper-lined baking sheet.

STEP 6:  Use remaining chocolate to coat more berries, such as strawberries. 
STEP 7:  Place baking sheet in fridge, until chocolate hardens.  Transfer berries to a glass lidded container, store in fridge, and consume within two days. 

These chocolate-covered berries are excellent treats for the home, picnic, and gifts!  Enjoy!