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On Spices, Spice Racks, and George

February 13th, 2008 at 05:05 pm

It's been a while since I've posted...again.

Things pick up at work and I find myself without the copious bored time that I have usually when there's nothing going on. That's my post-writing time.

Today, I'd like to talk about spices. It's been what has been engulfing my life for the past 72 hours or so.

While trying to clean/organize my kitchen the other day, I found that I have a terrible mess by my stove. There were just these random containers and stuff everywhere. I lost so much precious counter space (there wasn't much to begin with) with all those containers stacked up, ready to topple over.

So, I got online, ready to find a solution to all my problems. And then I found these:

They're great! Each canister has a magnet on the bottom, so I just stick them to the side of my fridge. Now I have an arsenal of spices still somewhat within arm's reach, and taking up absolutely no counter space. All problems are solved.

Speaking of spices, I splurged a little and bought organic spices the other day. Now, I've been told that organic spices have more kick than their complementary non-organic versions. So, for today's lunch, I packed up some chicken grilled with a bunch of spices - I don't even remember which ones - and some haricot verts a l'anglaise on the side. Anyways, they're no kidding - these organic spices are soooo much more flavorful than regular McCormick-in-a-bottle spices. And I got them at a local market, so a lot of them were actually CHEAPER than picking up a bottle of McCormick at the supermarket.

Anyone else use organic spices? I highly recommend them.

No Eating Out For a Week

February 7th, 2008 at 06:31 pm

I'm almost there.

Last time I ate out was last Sunday, when I grabbed a couple of cheeseburgers on my way home for lunch. I've been doing a lot better about not eating out so much, and when I do, I try to keep it cheap. I haven't stepped foot in a sit down restaurant in weeks.

So this week, my goal was to not eat out at all. I did cheat and get a coffee earlier in the week, but I've convinced myself that it's not a meal. =)

Anyways, we're into Thursday, and I just finished my lunch of leg of lamb and seasoned rice. IN MY OFFICE. I ain't goin anywhere. Dinner is taken care of tonight, as well as tomorrow night, and I have a pre-packaged lunch box of alfredo pasta sitting in my fridge for lunch tomorrow. Saturday will require some creativity, but I've been looking at recipes and am pretty excited about trying some of them.

I wonder what I can cut down on next week.

Today's Top Story: Food Geek Deal Makes Payday Worthwhile

February 1st, 2008 at 06:40 pm

It's payday! Finally!

I can't believe I survived the past 2 weeks on $160. Considering $100 of that went to gas money (bleh), I think I did pretty well. It feels good to have a little breathing room again.

Anyways, you're probably wondering what the food geek deal I got was.

It all begins with one of my favorite periodicals:

Text is Cook's Illustrated and Link is http://www.cooksillustrated.com/our_magazine.asp
Cook's Illustrated. For those of you who have not have the pleasure of picking up this little magazine, I like to think of it as the creme de la creme when it comes to food magazines. There are no sponsors, no advertisements, no fluff - just to-the-point useful cooking information. If you've seen the show
Text is America's Test Kitchen and Link is http://www.americastestkitchen.com/
America's Test Kitchen, that's one of their productions.

Anyways, I've been on the hunt for one of their top rated items -
Text is a Tramontina 6.5qt enameled cast iron dutch oven and Link is http://www.cooksillustrated.com/testing.asp?testingid=569&bdc=6828
a Tramontina 6.5qt enameled cast iron dutch oven. They say you can pick it up for about $40 - but I can barely find it, much less for $40. Sometimes I'll see it online for like...$60. Anyways, it's not their very top rated, which is a $240 Le Creuset - which I can do without. So I've been hunting for this thing, thinking about all the delicious French onion soup and beef stew and no-knead baked bread I can make in it.

Turns out, it's Wal-Mart of all places that has this for $40. Using their new snazzy find-stores-with-this-in-stock feature online, turns out 3 of the 18 or so Wal-Marts in a 50 mile radius have this thing. So, I made a resolution of heart to get up early this Saturday morning (as it was after payday) and suck it up to drive the 18 miles to this fabled Wal-Mart, largely to reward myself for all the no-spending I've done in the past 2 weeks. All this work for a dumb pot.

Anyways, while I was running some errands during lunch today, I drove by a Wal-Mart - one of the ones the site said was "OUT OF STOCK". Figuring I had nothing to lose, I pulled in and beelined to the pots. And there it was. Glorious and ugly green, my darling pot sat so lonely on the shelf, the last one remaining amongst its diminutive 3qt siblings. Ecstatic, I grabbed it and nearly dropped it on my toe. No, not because it was heavy, though it is pretty heavy. It's because I caught a glance at the glaring red price tag under it that said - "Clearance $30.00".

I made out like a bandit. Take that, uppity Le Creuset. I don't need your stinkin pots.

If you're looking for a dutch oven, ransack your Wal-Marts and leave none of your faith in their online stock checker thing. The
Text is Tramontina one that I got and Link is http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?product_id=5716477
Tramontina one that I got is a great deal, even at $40. If you can't find that one, there's also a
Text is Lodge one that's $50 and Link is http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?product_id=5716692
Lodge one that's $50 - it's also regarded highly by Cook's Illustrated. The handles are bigger (which is super useful with such heavy pot), the knob on the lid is better, but it's only 6qt instead of 6.5qt. But at least you get a choice of color, other than the 80's retro green.

Uh-oh. CVS is my new hobby.

January 25th, 2008 at 06:03 pm

After hearing/reading about so much CVS savings action, I couldn't help but get ready to jump in. But how? I was lost in a swirl of ECB's and "stacking". I figured, the best way to figure it out was to actually dive in and see what the fuss is all about.

Fortunately, I scored big on a deal: SoyJoy "health" bars, which look ridiculously unappetizing to this self-proclaimed foodie snob. But, they were advertised in last Sunday's paper AND there were coupons. $4 for 4 bars + $4 ECB (that's Extra Care Bucks, for you fellow CVS newbies) effectively taking the cost to be "free". Extra Care Bucks are just like little slips of register tape money that can be applied to your next purchase at CVS within 30 days.

Then came the coupons. $2 off $10. $3 off 10 bars. 1 free SoyJoy bar.

12 SoyJoy bars later, I walked out the door shelling out $6.09 out of pocket with $12 of ECB's in my pocket.

What a rush! I just took CVS for a ride, and no one was the wiser. The lady at the counter seemed suspicious at a 20-something young professional strolling in and buying a barrage of soy health bars with a fistful of coupons - but took no action to stop me. I meandered across the parking lot to my car, envisioning scenarios where CVS management would bolt out of the door and call me back on a drastic mistake on their part, igniting a freefall plummet of their stock to destroy the American economy. Alas, no such event occurred. I sat in my car, satisfied and content, knowing that CVS just paid me $6 to help take these revolting SoyJoy bars off their shelves.

I still have 11 and 3/4 of them left. Can I interest anyone in a brick of dried sticky crunchy joyful soy?

Never made it to the store...

January 21st, 2008 at 07:04 pm

After all that talk last week of not having any food left, I meant to go grocery shopping this weekend. I really did.

Let me explain...

On Saturday morning, after hitting snooze more times than I remember, the first thing I did was inventory what I had left in stock. I try to do this before knowingly big shopping excursions lest I wind up with 4 jars of spaghetti sauce. While this was going on, I opened my blinds to watch the snow fall (that's right - SNOW. IN THE SOUTH.), flipped on Food Network, and fired up my stock pot for some chicken stock.

By the time I was done, I decided it was much much too cold to go outside to go grocery shopping, and decided that Sunday was going to be the day - especially since I've got Sunday newspaper coupons coming my way.

Then Sunday came along. I did my grocery shopping pre-game, which entails searching through my coupons and grocery store ads and matching them up with each other for maximum value. I'll go to 2 markets - each market gets its own index card shopping list with its own set of coupons clipped to it. The rule is - nothing more than what's on the list unless it's a life or death emergency. Okay, maybe that's over-exaggerating. But you get the point.

But the problem this time was two-fold. First, it was still cold. And second, football was on. Lots of football. We're talking 7.5 hours of it. And they're really good games. AND a bunch of people came over. Grocery shopping was officially shot.

Here's to Tuesday. Because I'm busy today. =D

All Good Things Must Come to an End

January 18th, 2008 at 06:08 pm

Today, for lunch, I went to McDonald's.

I know it's bad for me, but after the scarring from last looking at my bank account balance, $2.14 for 2 double cheeseburgers for lunch seemed like fast food's gift for poor kids. Health benefits of lunch will not be discussed here - as it has been referenced in a previous (and rather popular)

Text is post and Link is http://lesspoor.savingadvice.com/2007/12/13/i-cant-afford-to-be-skinny_32822/
post. My only redeeming thought is that I went to the gym 3x this week already.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand. My dining at McDonald's has ended a streak. 8 consecutive meals were by my culinary hand, prepared lovingly in my little apartment kitchen as creative thoughts of epicurious muses rang in my being. By last night, the food supply was running quite dry, and I had to resort to bread and peanut butter. So this morning, I was rummaging away in my kitchen, realizing that 8 lunches and dinners later, I've exhausted all my food. So I came to work empty handed. It was quite a weird feeling.

So this weekend will be extremely frugal grocery shopping weekend. Yes, I will get supermarket flyers. Yes, I will use coupons. Yes, I will make a list. Just because I had McDonald's for lunch doesn't mean I've lost ALL sense. =)

Leftovers Left Over No More

January 8th, 2008 at 03:29 pm

I love finding creative ways of using leftovers. Being single, leftovers always abound my fridge. Then I just wind up with all these little bowls of bits of this and that, and I never really know what to do with them.

Enter George's leftover omelette/frittata. Depending on what's left over, it gets all thrown into a pan and covered in egg, either to be folded in half or tossed under a broiler and sliced.

Last night's dinner was such. Sauteed some diced onion and tomato, added in some chicken shreds, and sprinkled with some magic spices. 3 beaten eggs joined the party, and as it was solidifying, a layer of cheddar/monterey jack/parmesan bechamel (leftover from homemade mac and cheese) went on top, to be nestled inside when the omelette was slid out of the pan and folded over. The kicker was the ladle of homemade chili on top, sprinkled with a bit of shredded cheese, and I nicely emptied a good deal of fridge leftovers all in one meal.

Most importantly, it was delicious. And somewhat healthy. I should write this into a recipe.

What do YOU do with your leftovers?

George's Cheap and Easy Crockpot Chili Recipe

January 2nd, 2008 at 08:49 pm

By request from mom-sense:

After making this the first time, I realized that it was so easy that I never bought canned chili ever again. Who knows what kind of crazy is in those cans.

George's Cheap and Easy Crockpot Chili Recipe

Servings: 2-3?
Prep time: 30 mins + cooking time

1.5 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, italian sausage, or a combination)
1 cup chopped onions (frozen is easy)
2 14 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (I like petite diced or even crushed, personally)
1 ~12 oz can of chili beans or pinto beans
3 heaping tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper

Optional seasonings:
1/2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp herbs d'provence
crushed garlic
cayenne pepper (for heat)
secret ingredients

shredded cheese
sour cream
chopped onions (both sweet and green)

1. Empty all canned goods into the crock pot, along with spices, and flip it on.
2. Cook the onions (and optional garlic) in olive oil in a saucepan until just brown. Add in the meat, and cook until just about cooked through. I like to cook the meat/onions with some chili powder and salt and pepper, but it's not that necessary seeing that the meat will absorb flavoring from the sauce.
3. Drain the meat and stir into the crock pot mixture.

Cooking time: high for 2-3 hours or low for 5-6 hours.

I like to have the sauce cooking for a few hours before I cook the onions/meat and stir it in, then cook for another hour or two after. I've found that if you're using somewhat cheap meat and you let it cook in there for 5-6 hours, the meat becomes somewhat gristly and powdery. But either way works.

Also, chili is not an exact science! Feel free to play around with measurements and such. When writing this recipe down, I had to make approximations, because usually I just pour in spices until it looks "right". I just like to maintain this ratio (personal preference):


4 cans of tomato sauce to every 3 lbs of meat to 2 cans of beans and 2 cans of tomatoes.

I refer to the 3:2 meat to bean ratio as the "MBR" to my friends. So they'll request chili with a high MBR (meatier) or lower MBR (more beans).

Then, of course, every good chili cook has a secret ingredient. I can tell you what mine is, but then I'd have to kill you. =)

And homemade chili always tastes better the next day. It thickens up some, and all the flavors meld together. I always make a lot and freeze it.

Estimated Costs:
Because it's a finance blog. =)

1.5 lbs of ground meat - $2
onions - $1
2 cans tomato sauce - $1.50
1 can tomatoes - $0.75
1 can beans - $0.75
chili powder - $1?

Total: ~$7.00
Per serving: ~$2.50

Feeding 15 - Went a Little Overboard?

December 17th, 2007 at 04:19 pm

This past Saturday, I had 15 people over for dinner. You can only imagine what it looked like in my little one bedroom apartment. I have to admit - this WAS my idea. But it wasn't my idea for so many people to show up.

The past week, leading up to this eventful Saturday, I decided that it would be nice to have a bunch of people over for dinner. So, I asked some of my friends to come over, had them confirm with me, and I started to sit down and plan how much food to buy and prepare.

By early Saturday morning, when I cranked up to go to Sam's Club, I had all my confirmations in, plus a couple extra that my invitees asked if they could bring with them.

Here's the damage report:
6 racks of pork ribs: $52
1 gallon BBQ sauce: $7
1 big can of corn: $3
shredded cheddar and parmesan: $5
1 lb of pasta shells: $1
2 lbs coleslaw (just in case): $6
sodas: $3
plates and cups and misc.: $7
stuff already on-hand: $6

Total: ~$90

Now, a couple of these things are multiple use - like, I didn't use an entire gallon of BBQ sauce, just about 1/4 of it. And, still a good amount of disposableware to last another get-together. Also, there was still a pound of coleslaw leftover and a little bit of corn. All in all, ribs for 15 people for about $90 breaks down to about $6/person. Not too bad, I guess. I'm still trying to justify spending a month's worth of food money.

But what really bugs me is this:
Dinner was scheduled for 5:00PM. From 3:30PM to 5:30PM, my phone was going off left and right of people who I didn't invite who had heard about this soiree and asked if they could come, then mope about why they couldn't come when I said no. If you're going to call me an hour before feeding 15 people and want me to magically make food appear out of nowhere, you've got some nerve. People, contrary to popular belief, I'm not a soup kitchen. I'm not a cafeteria. I'm not here to feed YOU. I wish I could invite everyone who has ever walked the face of this planet. But the fact is, I bought food for 15, I cooked for 15, and I only have room in my apartment for 10. You do the math.

Okay, enough venting. Hope everyone else had a good weekend. =)

I Can't Afford to Be Skinny

December 13th, 2007 at 06:41 pm

Why is it that food that isn't bad for you always much more expensive than food that is? It makes losing weight somewhat more expensive than being fat and dying from some heart disease.

Maybe it's just basic economics. I'm sure the demand for a McDonald's double cheeseburger is much higher than a head of broccoli, therefore driving up competition and is why I can't get broccoli for $1. I'm not even going to add in costs for cooking and such. Asparagus is even worse - and I like asparagus. It's almost become a treat for me to eat vegetables.

Working off this realization, I began to wonder...when vegetables become a "treat" and I have no qualms paying $1 for a cheeseburger or 2 pieces of fried chicken, it almost seems that the two most sought after goals on these blogs - saving money and losing weight - have become enemies to one another.

Ramen noodles, widely regarded as perhaps the cheapest "meal" (at $0.10) out there, may also be one of the most unhealthiest. However, if you wanted a pomegranate, full of antioxidants and other healthy stuff that I know nothing about, it'll run you $3. It's somewhat of a stretch, but in this example, it seems like eating healthy costs 30x more than not. Not a great example, but I guess it's just something to get the point across.

To me, it seems not impossible but rather difficult to maintain a balance of healthy diet and frugality. So this goes out to all the readers: what do you do to keep costs low and food healthy?