Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Works For Me Wednesday: Trash Cans In Every Room

This week I'll share a very simple idea that helps to keep my home neater and works for me!

It's so easy- keep a small trashcan in almost every room. This way there is a quick and immediate way to dispose of trash instead of leaving it out waiting for when I go into the other room where the trashcan is.

I have a tiny plastic one with a lid on my dryer for dryer lint and other laundry and pantry trash. A small lined wicker basket works in the dining room for when I am sewing, sorting mail or paying bills-I just move it to right beside me and the trash goes right in where it belongs. I also have one in the bedroom and of course, the bathroom and kitchen! The bulk of our garbage goes in the kitchen trash can, so that one is larger. I keep a smaller lidded one beside the kitchen trash can for recyclables. It just keeps everything looking neater and eliminates small piles of trash and reduces steps in the long run.

The several lined wicker wastebaskets that I have came from yard sales for only 25 or 50 cents each. The plastic ones are mostly from the dollar store. I used a cardboard box for my recyclables until I found a nice white one at a yard sale.

Keeping trash where it belongs- that's what works for me!

For more WFMW posts, please visit Rocks In My Dryer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Get Out All Your Ingredients!

When getting ready to cook or bake, I get every ingredient that I will need out of the cupboard. I set them all out on one side of the bowl where I will be working. Then as I use each ingredient, I either move them on the other side or put them right back in the cupboard. I get appropriate measuring cups and spoons out right at first too, so I have everything that I need right at my fingertips.

This tip accomplishes two things: I always know what ingredients I already put in the recipe(sometimes I just forget!) and before starting to cook, I can take stock of my ingredients and make sure I have everything before I am in the middle of mixing and realize that I don't have enough of something! This really reduces quick trips to the store.:-)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Frugal Fridays: Eating Well On A Very Small Budget-Part 2

Today I will share some more about eating well on a small budget. This post will include the stuff that I forgot when writing this grocery post and will include some info about meal ideas, menu planning, using leftovers and showing hospitality on a budget.

There are so many things to learn when it comes to living frugally and on a budget. I love knowing that the grocery budget is one category that I am often able to cut a little when money gets tight. And money is often tight, isn't it? That's just life!

The first step to eating well on a small budget is to cook foods that are not as expensive. It is very hard to "eat cheaply" when one must have steaks or other more expensive items at least once a week. We like our special dinners just as much as the next person, but they are the exception, not the norm. For the most part, we eat very simple meals and meat is an ingredient much of the time instead of being the main part of the meal. My husband loves meat, while I could almost be a vegetarian.:-) I try to cook plain meat about once a week. This is often pork chops,a roast or fish bought on a good sale or roast chicken. I will often stretch a large piece of meat out over a couple of days, especially with chicken, a roast or ham. This week I baked a ham( bought on sale at Easter) so our dinner menu looks like this:

Monday- Make-Your-Own Salad with grilled chicken, herb bread
Tuesday- baked ham, sweet potatoes, steamed asparagus
Wednesday- ham bundles(a yeast dough with a ham mixture inside), leftover soup, salad
Friday-white beans cooked with ham bone, corn muffins
Saturday-Waffles with creamed eggs and ham

Even after these meals, I will still have enough ham leftover to freeze enough for another casserole or two to use later. Soups, stews, rice and pasta dishes and other casseroles are a great way to stretch meat. I read somewhere that when making soup, only 1/2 to 1 cup of meat is really needed as it stretches so far! Yet many recipes call for 2 cups or more. It depends on the recipe or dish as to how much meat I will use, but as a general rule, I will use less than the recipe states. Meat is expensive so by stretching it out and not eating as much at one meal, I am able to save money.

Like I stated earlier, our meals tend to be simple. It is just more practical that way and we always get plenty to eat! Some examples would be soup and bread, a casserole and salad or a piece of meat accompanied with a vegetable side dish and either bread or a potato. We eat dessert once or twice a week as I do like to bake a sweet treat every now and again! Growing up, we ate home-canned fruit with almost every meal, but rarely a sweet dessert.

One of our favorite frugal dinners is rice cooked in chicken broth(in place of water for flavor) with diced chicken, onions, celery, mushrooms and garlic added in. I add it all together at the beginning and cook it just like regular rice and it turns out really well. We also enjoy breakfast for dinner about once a week.

I love planning my menus for a week at a time. It is so freeing to be able to look at the list and know what you are having for dinner. It is also a great way to be sure that you are using up food that you already have, if you plan your menu by "shopping" in your refrigerator, pantry and freezer first.

Some like having 4-6 weeks of menus and then just rotating them over and over. I prefer the creativity of using leftovers and trying new recipes with what I have on hand so making a menu a week at a time works well for me. Neither way is "wrong"; the important thing is to come up with a plan that will help you to efficiently feed your family and maximize your grocery dollars. And keep in mind that a written menu is not set in stone; it can be changed every now and then!

Here's last week's menu:
Monday-Chicken gravy over rice, steamed carrots
Tuesday-tortelloni with marinara sauce, mixed veggies
Wednesday-cheese quesadillas, tomato soup
Thursday-hamburger steaks, scalloped potatoes(free with coupons), salad
Friday-Israeli spice chicken, tabouli, hummus and pita bread
Saturday-salad bar( we ended up having some pizza at a friend's house, so moved the salad menu to this week!)
Sunday-burritos(from freezer), fresh strawberries

In my house very little food goes to waste. Often little bits of meat, veggies, rice etc. can be thrown together to make a nice soup or casserole. One lady I've read about keeps a coffee can in her freezer. Every little spoonful of leftover "soup" ingredients goes into the can. When it is full she makes soup and has pretty much a free meal! I often use my freezer to store extras that we just can't use up before they go bad. Instead of making one large casserole, I'll make 2 smaller pans and freeze one for later. It just makes more sense money and time-wise.

I still have a lot to learn about maximizing my use of leftovers and extras of certain items. Some things that I already do: leftover lentil and rice casserole gets tossed with some fresh veggies, an oil and vinegar dressing and chilled for a yummy salad the next day. Leftover bread can be used for croutons, breakfast casseroles, bread crumbs,bread puddings, and making your own Stove top stuffing mix or just your own dressing from scratch. I keep a baggie in the freezer to add a piece or two of leftover bread until I have enough to make something out of it. Leftover veggies can be thrown into quiche, as well as used for soups, casseroles and stir-fries. I cook the carcass whenever I roast a chicken and make delicious broth to either use immediately for soup or to freeze in 1 or 2 cup portions for later use in recipes. Some cooks freeze the broth in an ice cube tray for when a small amount is needed. A tip I got from my mom is to save the broth from steaming veggies and add it a little at a time to a freezer container. When you have collected enough, this makes the most flavorful base for veggie soup!Leftover baked potatoes can be shredded and fried for hash browns or used to make potato salad. I go to different cooking sites and often google "how to use______________" to get more ideas on what to do with what I have. Not very recipe or idea will be your taste or work out but chances are that out of several tries, you'll find at least one that will become a dish that your family enjoys. I'm trying to compile a list of different foods that I might have leftovers of and different ideas on how to use them. This way leftovers are often fresh and different and are something your family may look forward to instead of dreading.:-)

My husband and I really enjoy having friends over for meals and I also enjoy taking meals to families who are in need-whether because of sickness, a new baby or whatever. This can sometimes be difficult on a small budget. Hospitality and sharing with others is so important. What a blessing it is to be able to share your resources with someone else! I may not always have enough money to buy the very fanciest food, but I can give the best that I do have.

We have others at our home for a meal at least 2-3 times per month. Often this is a spur-of-the-moment decision and I generally will serve whatever I already had on the menu. If I have advance notice, I'll plan something kind of nice for that night. This is not to impress but in realization that not everyone may enjoy beans and rice as much as we do! In this day and age, it is uncommon for many to eat a home cooked meal regularly, so I've found that even serving simple homemade soup and fresh bread along with a salad or relish tray is well-received. I usually try to serve a small dessert, like cookies, brownies or pudding or fresh fruit with whipped cream. I try not to focus so much on the food that is served but the welcoming aspect of our home and just enjoying time spent building relationships with others.

Another option is inviting friends and asking them to each bring something for the meal. Most people do not mind this at all. In fact, most will ask if they can bring something. Sometimes I take them up on the offer and suggest a salad, bread or dessert and sometimes I know that I have everything I need. As a hostess, use your own discretion in this area.

In taking food to others, I try to just double what we are having that night. Again, simple dishes, such as pasta or rice, are not expensive and pretty much liked by all. Always be sure to check for definite food dislikes and allergies before deciding on a menu. Keeping a well-stocked pantry and a few pre-made main dishes in the freezer will mean that you almost always will have a little extra to share with others should the need arise.

When going to potlucks, I normally take either bread or a baked dessert as these are inexpensive for me to make. If I have a lot of something, like chicken, I'll do a crock pot of that. Having a giving spirit while still staying within your budget requires a very fine balance.:-)I love to cook for others so this is something I could easily go overboard with!

I hope these suggestions and ideas will be helpful to someone. We can all learn more so please leave any of your own ideas in the comments!

For more frugal ideas, please visit Biblical Womanhood.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fresh Lettuce

I gathered this small amount of fresh lettuce from my container garden yesterday. It was so yummy added to the spinach I had on hand for last night's salad!

Homemade Peanut Butter

Yesterday, I tried making my own peanut butter. It was really easy and fast using my food processor. I enjoy replicating store-bought items, not only for the potential money-saving or health benefits, but to have the knowledge of what all I can actually make in my own kitchen!

I used 1 pound of unsalted dry roasted peanuts and the finished amount of peanut butter was an almost-full pint jar of peanut butter! I followed the instructions for making peanut butter as stated in my food processor's owner's manual. I processed the peanuts in two batches(2 cups at a time), letting the peanuts mix and grind for around 2-3 minutes. Every so often, I stopped and scraped it down and then let it go again. At the end of 2 minutes or so, some natural oils began to form. I continued to mix until the peanut butter was the desired consistency. I added a little salt to taste and a little honey for sweetener. I will store this in the refrigerator.

It tastes very fresh and good, but doesn't have as strong of a flavor as I expected plain peanut butter to have! It will be delicious with honey and my homemade wheat bread.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Spring Cleaning: Bathroom

Yeah! I finally got back to my cleaning yesterday and spring cleaned the bathroom. This is an itty-bitty little room with no windows, so it isn't too hard to clean! While I did a few things that I don't do during weekly cleanings, I felt for the most part that I just scrubbed everything really well. It didn't really feel like spring cleaning to me. But just the same, I'm glad to have this room out of the way as well!

Here are some pictures of my bathroom from last year, just in case someone is dying to see it! LOL!!!

Here's what I did:
-washed mirrors
-scrubbed toilet, sink, tub and shower
-cleaned baseboards and walls
-cleaned trashcan(also did kitchen trashcan)
-cleaned bathmat(I washed the shower curtain and liner not long ago, so didn't do them this time.)
-swept cobwebs
-swept floor
-mopped floor

Only one more room to do in this little house-the office. I hope to get to that next week!