Friday, September 12, 2008

Frugal Ingredient - Oatmeal for Anytime!

Yesterday I talked about buying a large container of oatmeal to save money on breakfast. What to do with that big container, though, if you are tired of a bowl oatmeal after a few weeks?

Oatmeal can be a main ingredient in Muffins, Granola, Pancakes, and much more! But enough about breakfast foods...

Oatmeal can be incorporated into more than just breakfast! A well-known favorite is oatmeal cookies. Quaker Oat's Famous Oatmeal Cookie Recipe is the best one out there, in my opinion. There is a plethora of variations on this cookie as well. Baking your own cookies at home is always a frugal choice over buying packaged cookies. There are plenty of variations on this recipe as well. Adding any flavor of baking chips (chocolate, butterscotch, white chocolate, etc) will definitely give this recipe new life.

In addition to use in sweet foods, oatmeal can also be used in Meatloaf, Meatballs, and more meatballs!

By the time you've tried all these different ways to incorporate oatmeal into your everyday eating, you'll have to go out and buy some more!

What are some of your favorite recipes involving oatmeal?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Frugal Ingredient - Oatmeal for breakfast

Oatmeal might not seem like a frugal food when you look at the instant packets in the cereal aisle of the store. They can run up to $3 a box (or more!) for just 6-8 servings. Not my idea of an inexpensive breakfast.

But on the bottom shelf below all those "convenience" oatmeals, you can find oatmeal that comes in a large container for a considerable amount less per serving. Whether you get Quick Oats or Old Fashion, the process for making a bowl of oatmeal is the same. If you are unsure about the measurements, they are usually right on the side of the container.

Not a fan of "plain" oatmeal? Add fresh fruit, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, maple syrup or anything else you can come up with! Buying dehydrated fruit pieces from the bulk section of your grocery store can add a bit of fun to this normally boring breakfast, too. The sky's the limit with this one, so have fun and enjoy!

Trent over at The Simple Dollar makes his own oatmeal packets. Check out the post for a cost analysis and some ideas about flavoring!

What do you like to have in your oatmeal? Please share your concoctions in the comments! My personal favorite is a little bit of cinnamon and brown sugar and a handful of raisins.

Tune in Friday for more things you can do with that large container of oatmeal!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Making a Meal Last - Macaroni and Cheese

Whether your family prefers Kraft Mac and Cheese with the powdery cheese sauce mix, or the slightly classier velveeta-style, I wouldn't be surprised to find out if the last serving is scraped out of the pan and every noodle is gobbled up. The best way to stretch a box of macaroni and cheese is to add 1 cup of macroni noodles from the pasta aisle. These are bigger and will possibly have a different cooking time. Here's how I do it:

Mac-and-Cheese noodles cooking time - 8-10 minutes
Macaroni cooking time - 6-8 minutes.

After the water has come to a boil, add in the mac-and-cheese noodles and set a time for 2 minutes. When the timer goes off, add 1 cup of macaroni and re-set the timer for 6 minutes. Test for done-ness when the timer goes off the second time. And don't forget to stir!
Prepare the sauce in the normal manner - it will still cover all of the noodles and you'll have 1-2 more servings! Whether you are feeding more mouths at once or you end up with leftovers, extra food for a low cost is never a bad thing!

This can be done with whatever type of noodles are your family's favorite - I just find that macaroni tends to go on sale more frequently.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Making a Meal Last - Tacos

Tacos are a quick and easy meal to put together - mostly because once you are at the table, some assembly is required! And that is what makes it a fun meal. For me, a meal of tacos involves the following:
  • Tacos Shells or tortillas (about $1-$2 for 10 servings)
  • Grated Cheddar Cheese (grate your own and you are most definitely saving money)
  • Shredded Lettuce (use what's on sale - iceburg or romaine both are equally yummy)
  • Salsa (I am particular about my salsa, but you can usually find a store brand for $1-$2 a jar)
  • Sour Cream (about $2 for a medium size container)
  • Diced Tomatoes (if it's in season, I buy fresh, otherwise just drain a can!)
  • The all-important ground beef filling (enhanced with a $0.50 package of taco seasoning)
The last time I made tacos, I had 1 pound of meat and a very hungry boyfriend. I knew I wanted to make sure that there were leftovers so I could make my famous taco salad the next day for lunch. How could I make 1 pound of ground beef outlast my boyfriend's appetite? The answer: A can of pinto beans. I rinsed and drained a can of pinto beans and browned them right along with the meat and followed the directions on the package of seasoning. It was flavorful, added extra healthy protein to the meal, and I successfully had leftovers for the rest of the week. I plan on trying this with black beans next time.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Making a Meal Last - Storage Solutions for Leftovers

Air is the enemy of food. Being able to store your leftovers in an air tight way will allow you to store them safely until you want to eat them. There are a LOT of options out there. Getting started might be expensive if you are starting with nothing, but it doesn't have to be. Let's go over some of the options there are nowadays.
  • Disposable Options
    • Plastic Bags
    • Plastic Wrap/Tin Foil
  • Reusable Options
    • Containers like rubber maid or Tupperware
    • Containers like ziplock or gladware
    • Containers from products you already buy
The disposable options that I listed are going to give you a smaller start-up cost, but in the long run, you might be spending more money. Personally, I reuse plastic bags, plastic wrap, and tin foil whenever I can. Rinsing a plastic bag and letting it dry out is not that difficult and it saves the bag from the landfill for at least a few more uses.

The reusable options will have more of an up-front cost, but they also have the added benefit of, well, being reusable. There are many sizes and shapes available. However, they will take up some space in your kitchen. Using containers from products you already buy - margarine tubs, yogurt containers, and anything resealable - does not come with any additional cost, however, I would not advise freezing or reheating in these containers as many are not meant for extra use.

Personally, I use all of the above options. I have slowly amassed quite a collection of containers from shopping sales an using coupons. I have also bought Tupperware at yard sales and thrift stores.

Containers can be used for:
  • portions of dinner from the night before
  • loose cereal, beans, or rice when the bag breaks

Plastic bags can be used for:
  • portions of pretzels, chips, or cut fruit or veggies in a packed lunch
  • keeping homemade cookies from getting stale
  • keeping flour and sugar in to keep the bugs out
Plastic Wrap and Tin foil can be used for:
  • wrapping meat in meal-sized portions to be frozen
  • wrapping uneaten block cheese
  • wrapping anything that might be an unusual size/shape
  • covering a plate of food to bring to a relative or friend

What are your favorite food storage solutions? Please share them in the comments section!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Frugal Ingredients - Keeping the Pantry Stocked

Keeping cooking staples in your pantry is a great way to keep your cooking costs lower. Buying items on sale that you know you use often is a great way to lower your cost per meal. If you are just getting started, starting over after a move, or looking for some new ideas, here is a list of what I always keep on hand:
  • Flour
  • Sugar (regular, brown, and confectioners)
  • Baking powder/soda
  • Salt
  • Vegetable Oil and Olive Oil
  • Herbs and Spices
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Salsa
  • Crackers
  • Cereal
  • Cheese (mozzerella, cheddar - in the fridge)
  • Eggs (in the fridge)
  • Milk (in the fridge)
  • Better-Than-Bullion (chicken or beef - in the fridge)
  • Chicken Breasts (in the freezer)
  • Ground Beef (in the freezer)
  • Frozen veggies (in the freezer)
Buying all of this in one shopping trip will make it an expensive trip, however, a lot of these are non-perishable and can make more than a few meals. You will not find yourself replacing them very often. And when you see that items on this list are on sale, stock up! You know you'll use them.

Just looking at this list, I can make chili, cheese omelets, soup, flour tortillas, nachos, crackers and cheese, pasta with meat sauce or chicken parmesan. That's just a few things I came up with off the top of my head. Keeping a well stocked pantry/fridge/freezer with things that YOU like to use in your cooking will save you a lot of trips to the grocery store. It will also help you to feel secure that even if you don't know when your next paycheck will show up, you know you can make yourself dinner!

Frugal Ingredient - Dried Beans

I think anyone you talk to will tell you that beans are an excellent addition to any diet. For those who don't eat meat (and everyone else for that matter), they add an excellent amount of protein to your diet for pennies on the dollar. When checking out the rows and rows of cans of beans in the grocery store, you'll see that you can probably get a 15oz can of any of your favorite beans for about $0.50 - $1.00 depending on brand and any sales. Not bad, right?

Well, I can do you better. Look around the cans - below, above, to the right or left and you will see bags of dried beans. In my area, I can get a 1 pound bag of dried beans for about $1. Maybe less, maybe more. Now, you are probably wondering what is so great about that - the cans are a comparable price or less! However, a pound of dried beans is equal to 4 cans of beans! That's right! Buying a pound of dried beans for $1 is like buying 4 cans of beans for $0.25 each. A sweet deal.

I'm not going to kid you, though. Cooking with dried beans does take a little extra planning and time. But for a little extra time and preparation, you can save a great deal on your groceries. The directions for soaking and cooking beans are normally right on the bag, but you can also check out this page for basic bean preparation information. The quick rule of thumb is as follows, though:

1/2 cup of dried beans (pre-soak) = 1 15oz can of beans
1 1/2 cups of beans (post-soak) = 1 15oz can of bean

Yes, you heard me right. The beans will TRIPLE in size when you soak them. Do not make the mistake of thinking that they look so little. The first time I worked with dried beans - I had more chickpeas than I could figure out what to do with. Storing dried beans is easy. They should be stored in air tight plastic or glass containers (bags work fine, too) and they can be kept indefinitely if stored at room temperature.

Want to know more about beans?
Basic Bean Prep
Storage and Soaking
Cooking Your Beans
Bean Recipes

A little about me

Welcome to Cooking Frugal. My name is Catherine and I'll be serving up tips and tricks for saving money while still making delicious food for your friends and family. Here's a little about me so you can get an idea of what perspective I am coming from.

I'm single.
I'm a woman.
I live on my own in a 2 bedroom apartment.
I live very close to the town where I grew up and about 20 minutes from my parents.
I have a boyfriend that likes to EAT.
I grew up watching my mom stretch a dollar as far as it could go.
I love to cook and to a lesser extent, bake.
I do not like to follow a recipe.
I cook like I am cooking for an army.
I L-O-V-E leftovers.
I love anything from Mexican, Italian, or Chinese cuisines.
I like to buy in bulk, but finding storage space is always a challenge.
I have a hard time passing up a good deal.
I read a LOT of personal finance and general frugality blogs.
I hope to provide some new information to all of you through this blog.