Saturday, September 30

I'm Feeling Saucy!

I think I've eaten more pasta and beef this year than I have in the entire rest of my life. Of course, pasta is cheap and scoring a great sale on ground beef certainly contributed to the process. Sad as it may be (I'm not complaining mind you) I have run out of super cheap ground beef, but this doesn't mean that I'll be changing the seasonal special on my menu either!

Because a jar of sauce can easily last for two or three pots of pasta I've been buying Classico pasta sauce. Hey, it's yummy! Anyhow, it's not all that cheap, really, and I've been going through at least a jar a week, and I keep wondering if I should scour for cheaper brands.

Well, the answer is not yet! You see, they had a great sale on this stuff just a few days ago. It was over $1 off per jar. Yes, you guessed it, at the risk of stretching my arms I loaded up on this stuff and have bottles and bottles of it sequestered in my kitchen. So, I don't know what the rest of you are eating, but I'll be eating chili and pasta, beef and pasta, and chicken and pasta as my primary meals for another month.

Oh, I should also write up a bit of a report on my calorie cycling progress one of these days. In case anyone out there is interested in how that is going... by way of a preview, as I am a single guy, I've probably dropped my food expenses by about a third. Not too shabby.

Friday, September 22

Chicken in a Crock Pot

Yeah baby, that's what I'm talking about! A day or two ago, while looking for something to make my freezer a less lonely place, I saw some chicken on sale. They were hind quarters and they were only about $1.50/lb. No, they weren't skinned or boned, but that's not a big deal if you are a crock pot master like me.

Okay, that's a bit over the top, as I've used a stock pot a few times, but I've never ever cooked with an actual crock pot before. Just a sec, let me lick my fingers a bit before I continue...

Anyway, last night I dumped all the chicken into my crock pot, which could barely hold it all. Hmm, I thought, what should I put in there with it? Turns out I had some cans of soup that had been taking up space for ages. I dumped in a small can of chedder cheese soup and creamy tomato and basil soup (and a can of water with each can of soup). Hey, call it pizza chicken if you want! Anyway, of course after that I raided the spice cupboard and tossed on some sage, some cayenne, a tiny amount of ginger and probably some turmeric.

Put that bad baby on low, make sure it warms up a little to ensure that it is getting some juice, and go to sleep.

Ahahahaha. I love it. I really do. I love it when I can accomplish things while I am sleeping. Some strange power of productivity instinct kicks in and I get a huge charge out of it. It's similar to the odd time I notice an Adsense click happening while I am asleep. Woooo! Go baby, earn me some cash while I take a nap. If only such mad productivity were available more often, but it's still great while it lasts.

Anyhow, euphoric episode aside, I woke up this morning to a nice warm smell. I don't know how else to describe it. The crock pot was burbling happily so I turned it off and let it start the long slow cooling process. It's not really cold yet, but I just spooned off some of the fat that had risen to the top. Of course, I could not resist giving a surface morsel a taste.

Holy cow! Better yet, holy chicken! Talk about tender and juicy. I'm sold. I've got an absolutely full crock pot that will yield me a couple meals of chicken, once I pull it off of the bones, as well as a great soup or stew base. The price of the chicken was $5.50 and I'm sure the soup was less than $1.00 per can. The only thing I need to do is figure out how much meat is on these quarter chickens. When I pulled out a piece I only got a leg.

We'll see in a short while, once it has cooled off a bit more... but I think I'm sold. I'm now a crock pot crackpot. Hey, a word to the wise, if a single guy like me can figure this out... you can too.

Monday, September 18

Running Out of Beef!

I know I have a few regular readers who will immediately understand the subject of this post...

However, for those that haven't been here before, I must sadly report that a massive quantity of ground beef which has been residing in my freezer has slowly sublimated and now I'm left with a nearly empty freezer. Oh, it is such a sad sight!

In loving memory of the lost ground beef I held an all day vigil on Sunday. Basically, I bought about five pounds of ground beef and spent all day making some chili in my stock pot. On a side note, I used a little wire "spacer" to keep the pot from sitting directly on the burner, which did stop the bottom from overheating and scalding things.

It's always a mad scientist experience. I don't actually follow recipes very often, so it's toss in the beef, start adding various spices, and see where things go. Not spicy enough, time for more cayenne. Throw in these beans, those beans, heck, what about some lentils? Why not. Once the meat is cooked it's taste test time. Too bland. More cayenne! Maybe some tumeric, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper? What other bottles have I got hiding in the cupboards? Hey, don't forget the tomatoes, onions and peppers.

I don't like my chili to be watery, so I make sure they are nice and thick like a paste. Perfect for spreading onto some hot buttered toast whether warmed up or not. Oh man, my mouth is watering just writing about it.

Anyway, the freezer is now looking less bare as I have little containers of chili taking up much of the space. I am scouring the supermarket looking for ground beef on sale, but the season is really over. I don't think they even carry the brand of beef that was on sale year round. It seems it's really a summer specialty that I was able to load up on when barbeque season started to wind down.

Oh well, I did save a ton of cash. As well, because I am still doing calorie cycling (related post), with normal/heavy eating days and light eating days, it lasted about twice as long as it otherwise would have. So, now, I wonder what will be the next big deal that I can find and write about? Maybe I should start looking into mixed vegetable protein sources, such as beans and rice, and find some tasty recipes involving cheap and nutritious food sources?

Any good and frugal food ideas to share with me?

Saturday, September 9

Crystal Lite Alternative: Lipton To Go Packets

Although I know better, and we all have our flaws, I like to drink flavored water. As with some other people, I used to drink various flavors of Crystal Light. However, as far as flavored waters go, this is very expensive. Perhaps it is the major branding efforts, or maybe it is simply the convenience of having it pre-sweetened in a variety of flavors, or possibly it is the ability to avoid having to lug around actual containers of water.

Whatever the case, it's too expensive. For quite a while I substituted Kool Aid instead. This is certainly not as upscale and comes in a strange variety of flavors targeted towards children. I would buy bags of Splenda to sweeten it myself for much less than the cost of Crystal Lite. It was a step forward, but still somewhat expensive compared to plain old water. I've tried, really, but I just can't bring myself to drink plain old water unless I absolutely have to.

In either case, when I mixed up my pitcher of water, I'd first brew some green tea and use that as the base for my drinks. At least that way I'd feel somewhat healthy about the whole concept of not drinking plain water. Hey, green tea has all kinds of health benefits apparently, so why not? It's not like it is all that much effort to let the teabag soak for a while.

I've recently discovered a new alternative. I'm not sure when it was introduced, but I'm drinking Lipton's iced tea and green tea "To Go" products now. They come in what are supposedly individual packets used to flavor a single bottle of plain water. What I do is cut open two of them and then make a somewhat diluted pitcher of iced tea.

I haven't gotten out the calculator, but I suspect the cost is very similar to that of my Kool Aid concoction. However, there is a big convenience factor here that gives Lipton's product the nod. These are tea products! I don't have to buy and brew tea in order to have my tea based drinks anymore. Also, especially when diluted the way I make them, they aren't very expensive as one box of 10 packets will make 5 pitchers.

If you are like me and have difficulty enforcing the discpline needed to drink plain water, then you should give these a try. So far the flavors I've seen are "Lemon Iced Tea" and "Mandarine and Mango Green Tea". This gives me three effective flavors by choosing two of the same or one of each when making a pitcher. So, my own convenience summary, they are tea based so no brewing, they are pre-sweetened so no sweetener additions, and they are an instant mix so no lugging water home from the store.

Now, with a review like this, I think I should be a sales person for these people or something!

Saturday, September 2

Just Passing Time

As I mentioned recently, often we are driven to spend money to relieve boredom or seek entertainment. Instead of throwing money at the problem there are some simple strategies that you can apply to keep occupied, interested and healthy. I guess this is more of a lifestyle tip than a frugality tip, but if you've become lost in the corporate world mentality then you need it.

If you have a home with a yard or with a deck, or even just a balcony, put some toys out there! No, I don't mean for children. Maybe a hammock would do the trick? Put on some soothing music, grab a good book, bring a container of iced tea and just relax and de-stress. If you need exercise perhaps put up a badminton net. You can play against a spouse, your children or your children can play one another. It sure beats having them sitting around the Xbox or Playstation. Heck, the kids can even use it for volleyball - who cares if it isn't regulation.

Not enough space for these types of toys? With just a small deck, or even without, you can perhaps put a BBQ out there. This is often a good way to get the hubby to take a larger share of cooking duties too (shh, don't tell him I said that). Standing outside flipping frugally purchased meats and vegetables is a lot healhier than sitting on your arse watching TV while someone else cooks dinner. A little bit of shared effort and contribution goes a long way towards keeping a family happy.

If you live in an apartment, then generally you may have just a small balcony. Even so, you can usually keep some planters full of vegetables, herbs or even just flowers on it. Taking the time to care for and water your plants will add something relaxing to your day. You might even get some flowers for your table, a few herbs or vegetables to use in your meals. You won't find many things more satisfying than growing your own fresh ingredients by hand.

While these things aren't exactly free, you can consider them an investment. You are investing in your own well being and that of your family. If you can find fun and healthy activities that keep family members from being bored, then you may be able to save money in the long run by not having to throw as much cash at other things which are generally used to stave off boredom.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the library. If you, your spouse or your children have free time, encouraging them to read quality books is a great way to keep the mind sharp. The best thing about the library is that it's free and family oriented. Sure, at certain age groups your children won't want to be seen with you, but at that age you can just let them off on their own once you arrive until later when it is time to go.