Big Taste on a College Budget

If your like me (unemployed/self-employed or just frugal) saving money is very important. But being a frugalista is hard… especially when trying to dine on a dime. I don’t want to sacrifice taste! But right now it is very important for me to keep my grocery bill small and few/far between.

I’ve started planning meals ahead. Then buying in bulk when possible. My menu consists of recipes that use things I have on hand and also items that make great leftovers or freeze well. I follow sales/circulars and plan meals around the best deal.

As much as a like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches– I don’t want to have to live off them. In trying to come up with meals on a budget, I came across an item that we used to eat a lot of in college. Ramen Noodles!

I got a great recipe from my mom. She made Shrimp Lo Mein while I was back home last month. She used the oriental flavor noodles and stir fry vegetables. At first I wasn’t sure about a recipe that called for ramen noodles…but it turns out that it tastes like take-out from your favorite Chinese restaurant– but better/fresher!

I loved that the meal was quick, inexpensive and delicious. (Which are my main recipe requirements these days)

Yesterday I attempted a similar meal, but this time with beef.

RAMEN BEEF AND VEGETABLES

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef boneless sirloin steak, cut into thin strips
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 packages (3 ounces each) beef flavored ramen noodles
  • 1 bag (16 ounces) fresh, refrigerated stir-fry vegetables ( or a mixture of fresh veggies of your choice)
  • 1/4 cup stir-fry sauce (teriyaki or soy sauce works too)

Preparation:

1. Spray nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Cook beef in skillet 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown. Remove beef from skillet and set aside.

2. Heat water to boiling in same skillet. Break up noodles into water; stir until slightly softened. Stir in vegetables.

3. Heat to boiling. Boil 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in contents of ramen seasoning packets, stir-fry sauce and beef. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until hot.

Makes 4 servings

Tips:

  • To add a nutty, delicate flavor, replace 2 tablespoons of the water with dry sherry.
  • To easily cut the beef into thin strips, pop it in the freezer first for about 30 minutes. Beef is easier to cut when partially frozen.
  • Try other variations such as chicken, seafood, pork, etc. Try different mixes of vegetables.

Serve with crisp egg rolls or wontons!

Jim and I both loved it. It was so quick and easy. I used beef this time since it was on sale. I used frozen vegetables instead and prepared them ahead of time. This way they were partially steamed and could be added when directed. If produce isn’t on sale or in season, try a bag a frozen stir-fry vegetables that are sure to be on sale or at least less expensive.

Since this meal turned out so well, it got me thinking. Are there any other recipes that use ramen noodles?

And wouldn’t ya know–

A spiral bound cookbook compiled by a college student. The recipes are sure to fit into your tight budget and busy schedule. $9.99 from Amazon.

It includes fast, easy and filling food such as:

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup, Tuna Noodle Casserole, Ramen Fajitas, Summer Picnic Salad and more!

I’ll definitely have to try some of these! It brings back college memories and I know I’ll be saving money while preserving taste.

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Getting a hop on Easter

We’ve been in our home just about 1 year now. And although we’ve had friends over for a house-warming and many events, we haven’t officially hosted a holiday meal or had the whole family over. But that’s about to change…

Jim and I will be hosting Easter dinner in our home. I’m excited but nervous at the same time. I’ve never cooked a ham, let alone an entire holiday meal. Easter seems easy enough, right?

Decorations √

Dinnerware and serving platters √

Dining room furniture and china cabinet (finally) √

Menu and Recipes not finalized…

So as you can see I’m trying to get a jump on my Easter planning. Everything else is taken care of except the cooking and cleaning. I need to determine my menu and start gathering ingredients.

Any ideas for great recipes or family favorites?

Traditionally, both our families served ham for Easter which makes things easy– except again… I’ve never cooked one on my own. Guess there’s a first for everything! Then usually at least one kind of potato and some veggies. Jim’s family is used to having the home fries/yummy fried potatoes that his mom cooks. Guess I’ll need to try to replicate her potatoes. I know it will take a few attempts, but I know Jim won’t mind being my taste tester! haha

Biscuits or rolls? Dessert? Should I fix any starters or appetizers? OMG someone help! I know I tend to go overboard so I need to plan a simple menu and make things easy for my self for once.

We will celebrate at dinner time– so maybe I should fix something special for breakfast/brunch… especially if my parents are coming. Maybe a breakfast casserole is the easiest– although french toast sounds good. Or maybe I could try to master my Gram’s famous Cinnamon Buns!

Besides all the good food– I hope to prepare Easter Eggs in interesting ways. I have some supplies and I’m gathering different techniques that will allow me to create artistic and even keepsake eggs. Guess this will be my first time blowing out eggs and draining the shells so they will last. It’s been years since I’ve dyed eggs but I remember how fun it was. Jim thinks it’s childish but I think it’s just a craft or activity that I can do using the creativity and all the time on my hands. I certainly have plenty of time to ensure that every little detail is right.

Good thing I’m getting an early start to my Easter plans! Hosting my first family holiday is certainly a challenge but it had to happen sometime. I think I’m up for the challenge!

Smoothie Mood Booster

Although the weather isn’t that warm yet,  I’m making a cool treat that’s sure to satisfy.

I found this recipe for a cool concoction that is not only rich and indulgent– but that’s actually good for you.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup chocolate milk (soy milk recommended)
  • 1 1/4 cup frozen raspberries (unsweetened are best)
  • 1/2 cup banana, sliced
  • 3/4 cup chocolate sorbet
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (optional or try a drop of mint extract)

Preparation:

  1. Combine the milk, raspberries and banana in a blender.
  2. Add the sorbet and mint.
  3. Blend until smooth.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups; serves 2

  

And now since my mouth/teeth have recovered… I can finally use straws again. This blend offers not only a mood boost no matter the season… but also has a trick up its sleeve.  There is overwhelming evidence that chocolate can stimulate the brain– but wait there’s more! It works well as a PMS potion.

If you use chocolate soy milk you can conquer the mood swings associated with PMS. Soy contains plant-based hormones that can relieve some of the pain that women feel during that time of the month. Also, if you add fresh mint it is not only the perfect garnish, but it may also help reduce cramps.

So gals, the next time pain cramps your style– whip up this fruity, frothy, feel-good recipe.

To peel or not to peel– a kitchen ordeal

I recently received an email, one of those “forwards” that circulates. I hesitantly checked it out and found it interesting. The video is of Dawn Wells (Maryann from Gilligan’s Island) providing a kitchen tip. An easy way to peel potatoes??

It seems easy enough, but does it really work…

Read the email below and then check out the video for yourself. I know I’ll be trying this tip soon to see if it really works.

EMAIL:

WATCH THIS… A REAL TIME SAVER —–
 
Peeling boiled potatoes – THIS IS INCREDIBLE!
 
 
There is a link at the bottom  that is interesting.
 

 
This is really great, I am going to try it the next time I want mashed potatoes or potato salad!
If you take the time to watch this, you will not only be glad you did, but you will forward this to all your daughters, sisters, moms, etc…
I haven’t tried it yet, but I will!  Just when you thought you knew everything about boiling potatoes …

To all who love making potato salad but hate peeling the boiled potatoes, here is the solution for easy peeling. This will  BLOW your mind. Well, we do learn  something new every day.

I wish I had known about this thirty years ago.  Peeling the cooked potato was the least desirable part in making a potato salad.  Enjoy. 

Click here: YouTube – Dawn Wells Potato Peeling Video

Liquid Courage… more like liquid diet

Going to the dentist is like “pulling teeth”– haha!

And in this case that’s exactly what happened to me. Yesterday I had two of my wisdom teeth pulled. I was nervous before had and really wished I had something to steady my nerves… but I’m sure it wouldn’t be smart to get drunk before having this procedure.

I was pretty lucky. Jim had told me what to expect since he went through this recently. And thank goodness for numbing agents. I didn’t really feel much… just weird that’s all. Having someone feel around in your mouth loosening your tooth and also the slight cracking noise.

The worst part was honestly the bleeding. It lasts longer than you expect and it isn’t pleasant to have wads of gauze in your mouth all night. I did sleep well (thanks to some advil liqui-gels) and didn’t have much pain this morning.

So today I get to lounge around the house and crash on the couch. It’s the perfect day to be recovering— it’s raining! I just wish I could eat. I’m starving and all I can think of is food. The whole liquid diet sucks. Drinking fluids helps my mouth feel good but I have to pee like every twenty minutes. I had some applesauce for breakfast but there isn’t much in this house I can eat. Guess we didn’t plan this out very well.

I could make some jell-o but the thought of that makes me sick. Pudding would be nice or even a milkshake. I’m hoping to get a chocolate Frosty from Wendy’s later. But for now I’ll have some broth from chicken soup and keep dreaming about things like pasta and cheesesteaks.

If I get really hungry and down— I guess I could whip up a smoothie of some sort… although I don’t know that I have anything besides milk and some frozen fruit. Does anybody have a great smoothie recipe? Or any recipe or menu that required limited chewing?

Set it and forget it

Sorry if this sounds like an infomercial or cooking show… but I love my crock pot and I want to share my experiences and in hopes that it will inspire you.

As soon as I had an apartment of my own I knew that I wanted to buy a crock pot. My mom always had one and used it from time to time. It seemed to be an easy appliance to use and it made preparation and cooking easy and especially fast.

I really learned to love it when I began working full-time and didn’t have a lot of time to cook. I could prepare the meal the night before or that morning. Most recipes call for the food to cook between 6 and 10 hours.

My Crock Pot is a brand name slow cooker. This is a misconception— just like calling tissues kleenex all the time when that is simply just one brand name.  Xerox, TiVo, Google, are other examples of brand names that get used for all generic products of the same sort.

This particular style Crock Pot allows you to set a timer and when the time runs out it will turn the heat down to keep the food warm only. You have 3 settings– high, low and keep warm. This means you can never over cook or burn while you are away. You don’t have to worry about leaving the pot on while you’re at work.

The best part about my Crock Pot is that the pot itself comes out of the cooker/appliance. This allows you to serve at the table and clean in the sink or even in the dishwasher. That’s right– I said DISHWASHER. I try to avoid buying anything that isn’t dishwasher friendly. For example, my George Foreman grill didn’t have removable plates so it was very difficult to clean and made me avoid using it that often. So I purchased a Cuisinart Griddler instead. It has removable plates, both grill and griddle style.

Recently I cooked a couple of meals that turned out nice. Pork and Tomato Ragout and then Saturday I cooked Vegetarian Lasagna. I highly recommend both. The recipes make enough for a full meal and even leftovers. In our case I still make the full recipe and either freeze or store the leftovers. It may just be the two of us but I don’t see the need to cut the recipes in half all the time.

Cookbooks are out there for slow cookers specifically. And if you do want to reduce the recipes, look into getting a conversion chart. It will make your life easier. Or check out websites like www.allrecipes.com. It allows you to pick a recipe and change the number of servings. It will then regenerate the ingredient list with the smaller amounts.

Although most people think slow cookers are just for soups, stews and cider, they work well to cook meat and all kinds of things. Some recipes allow you to put in raw ingredients and sometimes you will need to cook the ingredient partially or all the way before adding it to you pot.

And if this doesn’t sound good enough, you can even cook desserts. English Bread Pudding is on my list to try next. Dessert is one of those things that you love to enjoy but don’t always want to take the time after dinner to create. Dessert shouldn’t be put on the back burner and you shouldn’t always have to eat something quick like ice cream and cookies.

Are you still sitting there? Go out and buy one! And save some money too… hit up and Bed, Bath & Beyond (if you need one of their coupons– I have about a million)

Happy Cooking!

Content in the Kitchen

It feels so good to be in the kitchen!

I’m cooking dinner in the crock pot  (pork and tomato ragout). And more importantly I’m making food to have on hand. I already made some chicken salad for lunches and now I made some pasta and potato salad with extra ingredients from the crock pot.

Iced tea and lemonade made up and then I need to make a dessert tomorrow. We are going to a cousin’s for St. Patrick’s dinner. Not sure what to make yet but I know I’ll have fun looking in cookbooks for the perfect recipe!

message me if you want any recipes that I mention in this blog