Feed Your Freezer First

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I'm always trying to be more productive, efficient, and simplify my life. For some reason, I've had difficulty with meal preparation. I am usually very good with planning ahead and saving money, but for some reason this doesn't translate to making meals in advance.

I'm good with a slow cooker and can set up something in the morning, which usually has a couple of days of left-overs. My wife loves her Instant Pot (see review), which is perfect for when I don't plan 7-8 hours ahead.

We have a chest freezer full of uncooked food. I buy in bulk when the grocery store has deals on meat. It saves us money... if I actually plan ahead and defrost something... or have enough time to cook it.

Feed Your Freezer First

The other day, I had an epiphany. If I use my Foodsaver with this wide-mouth jar sealer attachment and these wide-mouth mason jars, I can freeze meals for later. It only takes a couple of minutes to defrost under some hot water and microwave it.

That's not the real epiphany. The epiphany is that I can use the personal finance axiom of "Pay Yourself First" to ensure that I build up a "savings" of meals.

So the first meal of everything that I make in the slow cooker is going in the freezer as my food emergency fund. This can save us money because we won't be tempted to go to the restaurant simply because "There's nothing to eat."

What do you think? Do you have a food emergency fund?

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Posted on March 22, 2016.

My Favorite EASY Holiday Party Favor: 4-Step White Chocolate Bark

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[Editor: Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope you enjoy the time off. I'll be back next week with a couple of articles before we reset for 2016.]

Last year for Christmas, I was looking for a simple, inexpensive parting gift to give to my guests. Looking for something that wouldn’t be over complicated, expensive, or time consuming, I stumbled upon a recipe for white chocolate bark.

Bark is a great party favor for the lazy and the time-starved: it requires little effort or skill, zero baking, and it's nearly impossible to mess up. It's so simple, in fact, you can throw it together the night before or morning of the holiday and have it still be ready before your guests arrive.

For this recipe, I decided to go with nuts and fruit over crushed candy canes, marshmallows, and the many other indulgent variations I've seen. I've found that by the time Christmas arrives — between holiday parties at work and with friends — most people have been eating unhealthy foods for weeks; the last thing they want is to come home with more of it.

For the fruit and nuts, I chose cranberries and pistachios — the festive red and green flecks give the bark a cheerful, holiday look. I like to use half salted and half unsalted pistachios, so it has a nice balance of salty and sweet.

The simple four-step recipe that resulted takes about five minutes to make and is a great, low-cost way to make sure no one leaves Christmas empty handed.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. white chocolate chips or slices
  • ¼ lb. salted pistachios
  • ¼ lb. unsalted pistachios
  • ½ lb. dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Melt the white chocolate in a bowl in the microwave on 50-percent power, taking out approximately every 30 seconds to stir.
  2. Once the chocolate is fully melted (should take a couple of minutes at most), stir in the pistachios and cranberries.
  3. Line the base and sides of a baking tin or cookie sheet with wax paper, and pour the white chocolate mix into the tin, spreading it evenly across the wax paper to desired thickness.
  4. Place in the refrigerator and let sit for at least 30 minutes or until completely hardened. Remove and cut into desired shapes.

I like to pack the bark in a printed goody bags from the Dollar Store or even clear sandwich bags (just cut the top off if you choose the latter), and tie the top together with curly ribbon.

 

Happy holidays!

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Posted on December 24, 2015.

Chest Freezer Awesomeness!

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Several years ago I bought a chest freezer and it's probably been one of my best tools for saving money. I just got back from the local grocery store (Shaws) and stocked up on some pork tenderloin:

Pork Tenderloin Deal

Mmmm... Pork

(Click for larger view...)

In case you are too lazy to click (and I don't blame you), I paid ~$16 for 8 pounds of pork tenderloin. According to Shaws that is typically $48 worth of pork tenderloin... saving me $32 (as if I would ever pay that full price - ha!)

To be honest, I didn't know how much pork tenderloin typically costs. I wouldn't have thought to even look up the costs of pork tenderloin, but I know that beef tenderloin is typically expensive... and one of the best cuts. So I figured it must be similar for pigs right?

In doing a few internet searches, I quickly found that $3.99/lb. was a very good price and that $4.99/lb. is more typical. And many of those results came from 2010 and 2011. So this deal at $1.99/lb. looked like a tremendous deal... one of those that it is worth clearing some space in the chest freezer for.

Truth be told, I would have bought a lot more, but the eventual divorce lawyer would quickly outstrip the savings. I could have created a lot more space as the packages aren't very big.

This is a long way to ask a question that was probably better suited for Twitter. Anyone have any favorite pork tenderloin recipes? I prefer ones involving a slow cooker. Yes, there are internet searches for that as well, but if people have some favorites, I'd love to give them a try.

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Posted on December 10, 2015.

7 Ways to Reuse Thanksgiving Leftovers

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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love gathering with family and friends to give thanks for all our blessings. But let's be honest: we also get to spend the holiday preparing for and chowing down on the biggest and best feast of the year!

But when Turkey Day is over, we’re left with a mountain of food and one big question: what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers? Do you just eat the same meal over and over again until every bit of your turkey has been eaten? If you’re ready for a post-holiday plan that puts your bounty to use, here are 7 ways to reuse Thanksgiving leftovers.

7 Creative Ways to Reuse Thanksgiving Leftovers

Black Friday Morning Muffins
Are you headed out shopping (or being forced to) the next day? You’ll need sustenance to survive the long lines, jammed parking lots, and grumpy workers. Luckily, you can make these muffins with leftovers and a few additional ingredients from your pantry! This recipe makes 12.

Ingredients:
2 cups white flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
1½ cup cranberry sauce
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
¼ cup butter, softened

Directions: Preheat oven to 400°F, and grease or line muffin tins. In one large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a small bowl, whisk cranberry sauce, egg, milk, and butter. Pour the wet ingredients into large bowl until well blended. Divide among muffin tin, and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
Post-Thanksgiving Salad
You don’t have to eat more bad-for-your-waistline food. Give your leftovers a healthy lift by trying out your version of a Thanksgiving salad! Get creative with the ingredients, such as this favorite:

Ingredients:
Chopped salad
Diced turkey
Sliced celery
Chopped and cored apples
Mixed nuts
Toasted dinner rolls in bite sized pieces
Cranberry vinaigrette

Directions: Combine all ingredients together and cover with cranberry vinaigrette dressing. Or make your own dressing by cooking 1 cup cranberry juice with ½ cup leftover cranberries and 1 tbsp of red wine vinegar in a saucepan to a boil. Remove from stove and add 1 tbsp. of honey, ? tsp. black pepper, and 1 tbsp. of olive oil, stirring frequently until well blended.
Pumpkin Pancakes
Too much pumpkin pie? Never! While your dessert may be gone, leftover cans of pumpkin can be put to good use by making the perfect morning-after breakfast.

Ingredients:
1¼ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
2½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 cup milk
1 can pumpkin puree
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp. oil

Directions: Sift dry ingredients and spices together. In separate bowl, whisk wet ingredients, including pumpkin. Pour into dry ingredients, and mix until batter is lumpy. Drop ¼ cup batter amounts onto hot griddle, turning every 1-2 minutes.
Turkey Stock
You don’t need to eat your Thanksgiving recipes immediately. In fact, you can make turkey stock to last you the rest of the year. Here’s how to do it.

Ingredients:
Turkey leftovers
2 chopped celery stalks
1-2 carrots, chopped
1 whole onion
1 bay leaf

Directions: Break carcass so that it fits into a stock pot. Add other ingredients. Cover with cold water and bring to boil on high heat. Then, simmer on low for 3 hours. Use a strainer to pour into mason jars or other storage jars. Cool, label, and then freeze.
Freeze and Save
If you would rather have your turkey whole and with a side of stuffing and pie, there are ways to maintain freshness by keeping it safe in your freezer. Almost every food item can be frozen to an extent. To help you determine how long each will last, here’s a handy guide.

  • Stuffing:
    • Storage Time: 1 month
    • Freezer Tips: Freeze separate from other food.
  • Meat:
    • Storage Time: 2-3 months
    • Freezer Tips: Chop in small pieces first.
  • Mashed potatoes or yams:
    • Storage Time: 9-10 months
    • Freezer tips: Mash up as well as possible. Never freeze whole or super chunky potatoes.
  • Gravy:
    • Storage Time: 1 month
    • Freezer Tips: Re-boil, cool, and then freeze.
  • Pie and other baked goods:
    • Storage Time: 1-2 months
    • Freezer Tips: Wrap in foil or freezer wrap and then place in freezer safe bag.

Donate
Outside of recipes, you may look at your table of uneaten or unused food and think just what can be done with so much extra. One of the most generous and selfless things you can do with your leftovers is to donate them. Extra canned good items can be sent to homeless shelters or community food pantries while certain cooked foods are welcomed by animal shelters as a tasty meal for pets without a home.
Compost
If you're unable to donate, don’t let your leftovers go bad. Instead, compost it. Everything but the actual turkey and any dairy item can be placed in a newspaper lined bin. Then, add a large scoop of the compost, sawdust, or peat moss to cover the scraps. Not only will you save your community from undue amounts of waste, but you will also be helping the environment.

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Posted on November 24, 2015.

Instantly Make Tortillas for Pennies

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[Editor's Note: Christina has a lot more pictures here]

Tortillas are a fun alternative to bread that have become a staple in my diet. They are inexpensive and they're the perfect vehicle for toppings, carrying everything from eggs to hummus to meats to sautéed vegetables into my mouth.

Tortilla Mix

Sure, I could buy small corn tortillas from the grocery store or a Mexican restaurant. Depending on where I shop, I might pay anywhere from a nickel to a quarter apiece, but I’ve been much happier with the tortillas I make at home.

Best of all -- making homemade tortillas is incredibly simple. If you can combine a few ingredients in a mixing bowl, you're already halfway there.

The recipe

The brand I buy helpfully includes a recipe printed right on the bag, which calls for masa harina mixed with water, rolled flat and fried. Simple!

However, a few minor tweaks can make the difference between good-enough tortillas and truly great ones. Here's my variation:

Makes 10-20 tortillas depending on size and thickness

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 ¼ cups of water
  • ¼ cup of oil or cooking fat
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp salt

About the changes

The addition of oil or leftover bacon grease will give the cooked product a nice toasted flavor and won’t stick to a non-stick pan.

Baking powder helps the mixture rise just enough to give the tortillas a bit of a pillowy texture.

That little bit of salt makes a big difference for taste.

Instructions

Mix 1 and 7/8 cups of masa harina with all of the baking powder and salt, then stir in the water and oil (or cooking fat).

You’ll use the final 1/8 cup of masa harina to coat your cutting board and rolling pin.

Tortilla Flat

Once smooth, form the mixture into  balls slightly smaller than a golf ball -- or whatever size you desire -- and roll flat. If you insist upon perfectly round, Instagram-ready tortillas, just use an overturned bowl to cut away the excess edges. Obviously, a tortilla press would make this step even easier.

Cook in a non-stick pan until you start to see a bit of golden brown on either side, flipping every 30 seconds.

So is making your own tortillas actually *that* much cheaper than just buying them at the store?

At my grocery store, a bag of masa harina costs $2.99 and makes 173 tortillas. Add in the nearly negligible amounts of the other ingredients, and each tortilla costs around $0.02.

At the same grocer, the cheapest 32-count bag of tortillas is $1.49 or, $0.05 each.

Tortilla Yum

Yes, three cents per is an actual difference, but the real reason I make tortillas at home is the higher-quality product.

For that little bit of effort, I’m rewarded with tasty tortillas that have a perfect texture and don’t fall apart with wet ingredients.

One shortcoming I’ve noticed with store-bought corn tortillas is that it’s easy to get them too stiff when I re-heat them and watch them break when I fold them into a taco, or worse, see them fall apart when paired with wetter foods.  By contrast, when I make them at home, they have a soft, toothsome texture, fold well, and have slightly toasted edges, and the flavor is indisputably superior.

I also get the flexibility to make my corn tortillas tiny for adorable appetizers, big burrito size, or square-shaped.

More importantly, unlike store-bought tortillas which can be packed with preservatives, I get to control exactly what I put into them.

Buen provecho!

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Posted on November 10, 2015.

5 Cheap and Easy Slow Cooker Recipes

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When time is of limited supply or money is running tight, there is nothing worse than figuring out what is for dinner. It’s a huge issue around my house, especially with a new baby in tow and both my husband and I working on side gigs for extra cash. That’s why we turn to one magical, miracle invention: our slow cooker.

5 Cheap and Easy Slow Cooker Recipes

5 Cheap and Easy Slow Cooker Recipes

Basically, a slow cooker is a pot that heats up over an extended period of time (usually between 4, 6, 8, or 10 hours). It’s perfect for turning on before leaving for work and coming home to a home smelling like you just whipped up a homemade dish on the stove. But the best part of the slow cooker besides the super low time investment is how much money it can save you. Because many slow cooker recipes are actually entire meals fit to feed a family of 4+, not only will you walk away with leftovers, but also save a ton on your grocery bills in the long run. The following five are some of my personal favorites for cheap* and easy slow cooker recipes anyone can make in under 10 minutes.

[Editor's Note: My favorite slow cooker is this Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget Programmable Slow Cooker. You can set it to cook to temperature with a meat probe. It takes the guesswork out of cooking a whole chicken or roast.]

*All estimated costs are based on current Chicago, IL grocery prices and are subject to change.

5 Easy Slow Cooker Recipes That Will Save You Hundreds in Grocery Bills

Tex-Mex Chicken:

I’m a lover of all things Tex-Mex, and this recipe hits the spot! I love to serve it with cheap tortilla shells for tacos or chips to dip in.

Total Estimated Cost: $1.83/serving

Yields: 8

Time to Prep:5-10 minutes

Cook: 6-8 hours depending on slow cooker settings

Ingredients:

  • 2.5lbs chicken (bone and skinless) thighs
  • 1 cup favorite salsa
  • Taco seasoning packet
  • 1, 6.5oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1, 6.5oz can corn kernels (or any other of your favorite veggie to add to a Tex-Mex recipe)
  • 1 small onion sliced thinly
  • ½ cup of water
  • 3 dollops sour cream

Directions:

Put chicken on the bottom of the slow cooker and then season with taco seasoning. Add corn, tomatoes, and onion and cover in salsa. Pour ½ cup of water on top and set slow cooker. When chicken is done (or when you return home from work), stir in sour cream and let set for extra 20-30 minutes on “warm” setting.

Vegetarian Chilli

‘Tis the season for chilli! But instead of slaving over a hot pot, break out your big slow cooker and try out this recipe. It takes a bit more prep time, but the results are always worth it.

Total Estimated Cost: $1.67/serving

Yields: 8-10

Time to Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 6-8 hours depending on slow cooker settings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 large white or yellow onion diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 green or red bell pepper diced
  • 2 tbsp of chili powder
  • 2 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1, 29 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 3, 15 oz cans of kidney beans rinsed and drained

Directions:

In a pan, turn on heat to medium and add oil and veggies. Saute until onion turns clear (around 4-6 minutes). Add in the garlic and seasoning and stir constantly for another 2-3 minutes. Pour seasoned veggies in slow cooker and add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and cook for 6-8 hours.

Slow Cooked Oatmeal

Who said the slow cooker only had to be used for dinner? If your breakfast time always feels rushed, try preparing your most important meal the night before.

Total Estimated Cost: $1.05/serving

Yields: 6

Time to Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 8-10 hours depending on slow cooker settings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 2 tsp of honey
  • 2 apples diced
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ½ cup apple juice (or save more money by replacing with water)

Directions:

Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on lowest setting for max time. For variety, substitute other seasonal fruits, nuts, and spices to your taste.

Cheesy Potato Soup

Slow cookers are best known for making delicious and fresh homemade soup, so why not put it to the test by trying this amazingly decadent and child-friendly recipe!

Total Estimated Cost: $1.25/serving

Yields: 8

Time to Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 6-8 hours depending on slow cooker settings

Ingredients:

  • 1, 32 oz bag of frozen hash browns potatoes (thawed)
  • ½ onion chopped
  • 1 stalk celery chopped
  • 28 oz chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbsp of flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 bag shredded cheese
  • Bacon bits and green onions optional

Directions:

In slow cooker, place potatoes, onion, celery, broth, and water and cook for 6-8 hours. When finished, make a separate bowl of the flour, milk, and cheese. Mix together and add to potatoes and soup. Place setting on high and cook for another hour or until cheese is fully melted. Add bacon bits and green onions to the second mix, if preferred.

Creamy Beef With Mushrooms and Noodles

Perfect for colder nights, this recipe is so simple, anyone can do it. It will remind you of beef stroganoff without being too heavy.

Total Estimated Cost: $2.09/serving

Yields: 4

Time to Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 6-8 hours depending on slow cooker settings

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb beef stew meat
  • 1 can generic brand cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 packet of dry onion soup mix
  • 8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1 packet of egg noodles

Directions:

Add uncooked meat and mushrooms to bottom of slow cooker. Then and water to soup and soup mix and stir. Pour the soup blend into the slow cooker over the meat and mushrooms and set for 6-8 hours. When nearly done, cook egg noodles as directed and serve as a side.

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Last updated on October 28, 2015.

How to Lose Money at McDonalds

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This article is about eating at McDonalds. Please see the disclaimer at the end of the article marked with a "*". Also, this article includes some clips from a movie with adult language. You've been warned.

It's unofficial food week here at Lazy Man and Money. I noticed my new writers submitted articles about food. I might as well follow suit.

Last week, my wife and I were scrambling to get ready to go to an appointment when we realized that we hadn't eaten lunch. Worse, we wouldn't have an opportunity to eat lunch until nearly dinner.

I remembered that we had some "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" coupons from McDonalds recently. The coupon for the Quarter Pounder with Cheese (or Royale with Cheese depending where you live) caught my eye. Hitting the drive-thru seemed to be the obvious solution.

If I didn't have a coupon and was in a similar situation, I'd go with the McDouble off the value menu. When McDonalds called it the Dollar Menu, it was a very good deal (again, considering the disclaimer below*) at around $0.25 per 100 calories. (This calculation will make more sense in a minute.)

I pull up to the drive-thru and order two Quarter Pounders mentioning the coupon. To my absolute shock, the burger is $3.99. I had expected it to be around $2.50... maybe $2.75.

Drive-thrus are incredibly convenient (especially with kids), but one of their problems is that there's little time to look at the menu and order. Communication is difficult, so I resigned myself to going down the road I had planned.

Look at this table and see if you can find out why I wasn't feeling good about the purchase:

ProductProteinFatCaloriesPrice$ per 100 Cal
McDouble2018390$1.49$0.38
Quarter Pounder3128540$3.99$0.74

If you said, "The Quarter Pounder with Cheese is nearly twice the price per calorie for essentially the same ingredients/nutrients", my response would be, "check out the big brain on Brad."

If this were the world of soda, the bigger product would only cost a few cents more and be a much value per ounce. Of course, that product is mostly water which makes that pricing model make sense. The Quarter Pounder is so oddly priced that you could buy two McDoubles, throw half of one in floor and squish it with your foot. You'd have almost the equivalent calories, fat, protein and save a dollar.

Fortunately, the coupon giving me two Quarter Pounders for the price of one, put the price per 100 calories in the same range as the McDouble with no couple.

Then again, consumers may not be smart enough to make this connection. After all look at how McDonalds sales earnings have been in the last quarter:

So what do you say? Do you order the Quarter Pounder at McDonalds? Let me know in the comments:

* Whenever, I write about McDonalds there are usually a few health nuts who fly off the handle screaming that McDonalds is unhealthy and doesn't serve food that should be eaten. I generally agree with that. However, I've known quite a few dietitians and they claim that in moderation it isn't terrible. I don't choose McDonalds because it's healthy, but because it is convenient, fast, and low-priced. And I always make up for it by eating 7 pounds of tofu injected with unicorn blood for my next meal.

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Posted on October 28, 2015.

Why Switching to an Autumn Diet is Smart for Your Taste Buds and Your Wallet

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For most of human existence, eating food that was seasonal and local wasn’t just a good thing; it was the only thing. People ate what grew nearby at any given time of year because that’s all that was available to them.

Easy Roasted Turnips Apples

Easy Roasted Turnips Apples

After World War II, when industrialization and transportation took off, agriculture changed, and we began to lose our connection to the source of our food. But despite our ability to ship anything to anywhere in the world, there is something to be said about staying in season.

Why buying in season still makes sense

The best reasons to buy vegetables in season are that they taste better and are less expensive.

Fruit that is being shipped far distances is picked before it is ripe to account for ripening off the vine in transit. Along the way, they still soften and change color, but without properly ripening, they don’t develop that same sweetness as a Jersey tomato in August or a Georgia peach in July.

Depending on where you live, it doesn’t always make sense -- Northeasterners like myself would have to subsist on potatoes and onions all winter. But it does make loads of sense this time of year, when there are nearly limitless fruits and vegetables sweet and primed for picking.

It’s cheaper to buy seasonal produce

When you buy out of season, you are essentially paying someone to grow your food, and ship it across the country -- or across many countries.

Eating what’s in season also lets you take advantage of the law of supply and demand: In June, strawberries are abundant, growing like weeds. With so many available, farmers need to move them before they go bad and set prices accordingly. Off season, we have to ship them in from California and that means we all compete for fewer strawberries, driving up prices.

What’s in season now

In the Northeast, fall might be the end of beach days and seersucker jackets, but it also gives way to juicy apples and Bosc pears (one of my favorites), beets, greens -- like broccoli rabe and kale -- and root vegetables that are great for roasting, to name a few.

Here’s a comprehensive list of what to buy now:

  • Greens (kale, spinach, Swiss chard)
  • Beets
  • Root vegetables (celery root, parsnips , turnips)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Fennel
  • Mushrooms
  • Figs
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Leeks
  • Pomegranates
  • Persimmons
  • Radishes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, kabocha)
  • Garlic
  • Shallots
  • Endive
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery

What should you do with all these? Here’s a simple autumn-inspired recipe (see final picture above):

Three-step roasted turnips and apples

(Note that you can substitute just about any root vegetable, and pears work great as a substitute for apples).

Ingredients

  • 3 medium sized turnips
  • 2 apples, any type (I like Gala)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Chop the turnips and apples into cubes.
  2. Place in a baking pan, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, occasionally tossing. Remove when they reach a golden caramel. Enjoy! :)
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Posted on October 27, 2015.

Budget Hack: Shredded Chicken

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A few weeks ago, I noticed a sale at the local grocery store... boneless, skinless chicken breast for $1.77 a pound. Usually a good sale is $1.99/lb.

This article isn't about capitalizing on that 10% difference between the sale prices. It is about the sale price of chicken in general. For years now I've seen that $1.99/lb. price. Who knew that chicken had an immunity to inflation?

Beef, on the other hand, has lost its battle to inflation. It's gotten so pricey that I resorted to mixing ground turkey and beef. By the way, that was a winning experiment... no one could tell the difference, it was healthier, and it saved money.

Chicken seems to be a big win. Most health advocates seem to agree it is a healthier alternative to beef. I rarely see the healthier food priced at a discount.

At the $1.77 sale, I bought a lot of chicken.... maybe 10 pounds. I separated a large amount of it an put it in individual bags in our chest freezer.

The question became what to do with the rest of the chicken? I had a good 3-4 pounds. I thought getting a recipe book, but I'm not much of a recipe kind of person. Instead I took out my slow cooker. I added a little water and the chicken and left it on low for a few hours.

I came back to something that looked like boiled chicken. If there's anything that lacks taste more than boiled chicken, it is called "water."

As I hoped, the chicken shredded very easily in a bowl. I now had shredded chicken to eat throughout the week. I added it to nachos to make them more of a lunch. I had it in a sandwich with cheese and guacamole. I had it in a burrito with salsa, pinto beans, and rice (super cheap meal!). Can you tell that I'm currently on a Mexican food kick?

I also added it to our dog's food and he ate right away for the first time in a long time.

My sense of taste is not very strong, so this may not be for everyone. However, I've found that when it is combined with other ingredients, it isn't like eating boiled chicken by itself.

I may just be over-excited about all the different uses I found for it, but it feels like it will become a staple in our house. Cheap staples are important, because they can curb the "I'll just grab a meal while I'm out" urges. Saving $5 here and there really adds up.

Next time I buy chicken, I'm thinking of shredding more of it to start and using my FoodSaver (Review) to freeze it for awhile. I use this FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer with mason jars so that I don't have to pay for special bags over and over again.

I'll just pull them out of the freezer, thaw them in the fridge (or in warm water), and enjoy the shredded chicken.

Do you have any budget food hacks? Let me know in the comments.

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Last updated on June 2, 2015.

Dehydrating Food Revisited

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Last week, I was in my basement digging for something and I came across my food dehydrator. If you have some kind of freaky memory, you may remember that I wrote Dehydrating Fruit for Fun… and Profit? last year. My conclusion was that it was a little bit of fun, and not that much profit.

However, I promised that when my son was older and able to eat dried fruit I'd give it another shot. My son is no longer 9 months old, but 21 months (they grow so fast) making dried fruit a healthy choice. I like it because it lasts a lot longer too.

So this past weekend, I fired it up and dehydrated a billion strawberries because they were on sale at Aldi for 99 cents a pound. I probably should have used some kind of gadget to slice them, but I couldn't find something suitable. I was left to build my skill chopping them manually. I started horribly, but by the time I was done, I might have qualified for below average.

I read the instructions and I had to dehydrate them for 12 hours. Leaving an appliance on and active for 12 hours sounds like dangerous thing for the electric bill. If I was a personal finance blogger, I might be curious to know exactly how much it is costing me.

Guess what? I am a personal finance blogger.

So I pulled out my Belkin Energy Cost Monitor and hooked it up to my Nesco Pro Food Dehydrator.

The Belkin Energy Cost Monitor has a cool feature of telling you how much money an appliance is going to cost you. So I was all set.

One problem. The Nesco dehydrator spends 25 seconds at 22.5 watts and then shoots up to 660 watts for 10 seconds. I'm not an electrical engineer so I don't know my watts from my volts, but I got a little mathy. (As always, feel free to check my math.)

During the 25 seconds at 22.5 watts it uses 562.5 (units for lack of a better term). During the 10 seconds at 660 watts it uses 6600 [units]. Together a cycle consists of 7162.5 [units] over 35 seconds or an average of around 205 watts.

I pulled out my electric bill and saw that I'm paying 6.953 cents/kWh. So 205 * .06953 = 14.25365 (per 1000). That .01425365 times 12 hours yields 17.1 cents.

If you can follow that math, congrats, you are better than me. I just know that it checked out when I used the Belkin to measure the power usage of other things. So I'm going to with it.

It turns out that two pounds of strawberries (~$2.00 worth) made 3.5 ounces when dehydrated. Add in 17 cents for dehydrating and it costs nearly $10 to make a pound of dried fruit. That's why it costs so much at stores.

My son and my wife loved them so much that I had to make another batch just so I could have some. That value was priceless.

This post deals with:

... and focuses on:

Food, Spending

Last updated on July 10, 2014.

 
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