Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How to Make Your Own Spreadable Butter

We gave up margarine and those spreadable "tub butters" a while ago. These days it's strictly butter (although not organic -- that's the next step). Margarine and the tubs have quite a bit of "bad" fat so we decided to make the switch. Sam's Club has the best price around on butter at roughly $1.46/lb, but the price fluctuates so I stock up when it gets low! You can freeze butter!

The problem with the butter is that it's not spreadable and I don't always have the forethought to get it out and let it soften. So I made my own spreadable butter! The original recipe is here and it took all of about 3 minutes. I used olive oil because I don't have any canola on hand and I can definitely taste the olive oil (which is fine with me, but if you don't want to taste it you may want to use the canola). I'm planning to switch to coconut oil in the next few months and we'll see how it is with that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Take on Snickerdoodle Blondies

A few weeks ago I saw a blog post for Snickerdoodle Blondies. I love Snickerdoodles so I made a mental note to try these out. This week my Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine arrived (it was a freebie -- I think from my sister) and it has a blondie recipe in it that looked delicious.

I made the blondies first (I've never made these before!) and they were awesome and super quick and easy. I compared the Snickerdoodle Blondie recipe on-line and it was significantly different than the Everyday Food recipe. The on-line version appears to make more (it calls for a 9X13 pan) and requires a mixer. Because I'm lazy and prefer not to dirty my mixer for a batch of cookies, I adapted the Everyday Food version and voila: Snickerdoodle Blondies sans mixer!

Snickerdoodle Blondies v.2

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1.5 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
(I use the Sneaky Chef flour mixture of equal parts unbleached white flour, whole wheat flour, and wheat germ -- you can't see the whole wheat brown in these!)
1/5 teaspoons coarse salt

1/2 Tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Optional pinch of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line and 8 inch square pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Brush pan with butter (just use the wrappers from your 2 sticks of butter). In a large bowl, whisk together butter and sugars until smooth. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and salt; stir just until moistened. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top. Mix together topping ingredients and sprinkle on top. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Allow pan to cool completely. Remove cake using foil or parchment and cut in to squares.

(BTW -- all I did was add the cinnamon/sugar topping to make these "Snickerdoodle". Last time I put butterscotch chips on top!)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Hair Dilemma

I have this really bad habit of not getting my haircut. I manage to find my way in to a salon about twice a year mostly because I hate coughing up the money for a haircut. I finally found a place in town that only charges $25 and gives a great cut. Most places charge at least double that. But most times I hate taking $30 out of my budget for a hair cut that I'll need again in 2 months. It kills me! I'd rather buy something fun that lasts longer (like the used FoodSaver I found on Craigslist for a steal!).

This week I finally concluded that I can manage $13 for Great Clips every 2 months or so -- and that's without a coupon. My husband and I both got haircuts this week at Great Clips for $10 TOTAL with coupons (earlier this summer we had coupons for $2.99 each!). Can't beat that! I chose an easy, simple cut that I like and the guy did a decent job. It looks better than long and scraggly with split ends! Sure, I would rather go to the nicer salon and get the somewhat "nicer" cut, but in the long run, it just isn't worth the money to money. And for some reason reaching that conclusion has freed me to go to the cheap place for the haircut!

What I really need to do is befriend someone who cuts hair and barter for something (homemade bread for a month??). But for now, Great Clips is my new hair salon.

Friday, September 25, 2009

90 Days!

Just a friendly reminder that Christmas is 3 months from today!Make a list now for everyone and keep your eyes open for sales and specials.

I've been working all year on homemade gifts. I didn't get nearly everything I wanted accomplished, but I'm close! Too bad it takes me 12 months to get there! I really love how these hanging towels/dish cloth sets worked up!

Where's the Beef?

I took advantage of a great sale on ground beef last week ($1.97/lb for 93% lean all-natural ground beef!) and bought 20 lbs. I set to work re-packaging it into 1 lb bricks for the freezer. I had 12 lbs wrapped in foil and put in Ziplocs (it finally dawned on me NOT to put raw meat directly in Ziplocs because then I have to throw them out) before it occurred to me that I could prepare the meat to make it easier for dinners later on. I ended up with: 12 1lb bricks of raw meat; 32 meatballs; 18 hamburger patties; and 3.5 lbs of cooked ground beef in 1 lb packages. I should have planned better and made a couple of meat loaves as well.

I cooked the beef in the Crock Pot. I put 5.5 lbs of meat in the Crock, added 3 cups of water and turned it on high for 6 hours. Every 2 hours I stirred and broke the meat apart. Interestingly, it cooked down to 3.5 lbs. I was surprised by that difference especially as it didn't have much fat in to start.

I've also decided that it's probably time for a FoodSaver now that we have two freezers. I can never decide if something like that should be a "necessity" for our home or if it is a "toy" for me (because I know I'd love it!).

Sorry about the title... I had to!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Leaf Garland

I saw this project in a recent Oriental Trading magazine. I decided instead of ordering it, I could make it out of felt using left over sticky gems from Ella's birthday party. I figured it would take us (Ella and me) about 30 minutes... every single pre-school teacher reading this is on the floor laughing!

I used Swagbucks to find some leaf printables. I cut those out of paper and then traced them on to the felt. Then I had to cut THOSE out. At this point, with my very antsy 3 year old ready to eat glue, I realized my mistake: you must trace and cut the leaves BEFORE telling the toddler they are doing a craft. After Sesame Street (read: AN HOUR LATER), all the leaves had been cut out (and I opted to skip the orange piece of felt). Then it was lunch time.

After lunch (ANOTHER HOUR), we sat down with some glue, a toothpick and our gems. We carefully chose the gems and placed glue on to them using the toothpick (that was the best idea I had all day - no mess!) and glued them on to the leaves. In deciding how to hang our leaves, I decided to go with garland and used a tapestry needle to thread some orange cotton yarn through our adorned leaves.

It turned out way cuter (if not way sparser) than I had hoped. While it was time consuming, it was very easy and we both had fun. I'm thinking that we could pretty much do this for every single holiday out there (hearts, snowflakes, shamrocks, Easter eggs, etc).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Last week was my birthday. The week prior I jokingly asked my husband if he was going to decorate the house for my birthday because I always decorate for everyone else. The morning of my birthday I awoke to a Hawaiian paradise! It was the sweetest thing ever!

Going Organic Through Bulk Purchases

Like most women on a tight budget, I'd love to go organic, but seemingly could not fit it into my grocery budget. A few months ago I ran across some information on a company that sells bulk natural and organic products called Azure Standard. Azure Standard delivers on designated routes via big rig while also offering many products via normal shipping methods (like UPS). For the past few months I've been perusing their website and catalog, noting prices and comparing with local stores and vendors.

What I found out was that if I worked at it slowly, buy in bulk and pay careful attention to prices, I can afford to go organic on my $60/week budget. For instance, the main reason I was interested in Azure Standard is my ridiculously huge use of flour. I can't keep that stuff in the house. Azure Standard sells a 50lb bag of organic, unbleached white flour for about $.75/lb! I can buy 10 lb bags for just over $1.00/lb. I found that Fresh and Easy sells their organic flour for $1/lb sold in a 2 lb bag. They were the only store even close to Azure Standard on price (the rest were double that price plus some!). The same is true of coconut oil. Buying a large container from Azure Standard is the cheapest, but Fresh and Easy has a smaller container for very, very good price if I just want a small amount for a tad more.

I received my first Azure Standard order today and the quality is amazing. My husband opened the bag of paprika and we were both startled by the fresh aroma! I bought a 5 lb bag of wheat germ for $1/lb. A 12 oz jar at Wal-Mart was $3.50!

My plan is to set aside a portion of my monthly grocery budget and replace whatever I've used up with a bulk purchase from Azure Standard. It will probably take me a good 6 months to make the full conversion to organic (sans meat -- I just can't seem to find a decent price on organic meat anywhere).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Remember Your Library!

I have always loved the library. As a kid we lived two blocks from our public library and I made a daily trek during the summer and multiple treks during the school year. I particularly enjoyed going on Sundays because they were slow and the head librarian would let me help check out books. Those were the days when library books had pockets and cards in the back and you actually had to stamp the due date in the book. Today when I go to our library, I scan my library card and simply set everything I went to check out on the counter. The items all have radio signals in them and the computer automatically checks them out! It really is amazing. Over the past few years, however, I really haven't been taking advantage of all our library has to offer.

Since the beginning of the school year I've been making weekly trips to the library -- ALONE. It is definitely a trip I look forward to each week. I'll check out 7 videos (the limit), usually a few for the kids and a few for us. I've been determined to introduce Ella to something other than cartoons. So far she's watched Gidget (she loved those), High Society (not so much), Cheaper By The Dozen (liked that one) and some Shirley Temple movies. My husband and I have been watching old Star Trek movies.

I've also used my weekly library trips to pick up a few books. I've read Julia Child's autobiography, The Time Travellers Wife, and just picked up Julie and Julia. Because our district is so big, I can request books I want to read from other branches and they will be sent to my branch of the library.

I've also had fun perusing the cookbook section recently. I've picked up a couple of kid cookbooks (Rachael Ray and such) and I have a request in for a few of Julia Child's cookbooks (they are quite popular right now!). I also perused the Sneaky Chef cookbooks to see if they were something I wanted to purchase. I really liked them and I just ordered them on Amazon using Swagbucks gift cards (so they were FREE!).

I've been loving my weekly trips to the library (and I just went on-line to request some more Star Trek movies)!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chicago-Style Stuffed Pizza

I consider myself fairly adept at the art of pizza making. I can't remember the last time we ordered our for pizza. I just can't pay $10-$20 for something I know is simple, delicious and cheap to make right out of my own oven. Last week I was craving "Chicago Style" pizza. I looked on-line and discovered that I can order it frozen and delivered for about $20 (which my husband thought was outrageous, but I thought was a great deal). I opted, though, to give making it myself a shot first. There are only a handful of dishes I haven't been able to replicate to my satisfaction (like Buffalo Wings -- I just can't get those to work)and I was pretty sure I could handle a stuffed pizza.

I used this recipe with a few modifications. I did not use spinach. Instead I add more cheese and some pepperoni. I didn't have any crushed tomatoes on hand so I combined tomato paste with diced tomatoes. I did not have a 12 inch pan so I made 1.5 batches of the recipe in 2 9 inch circle cake pans. I had dough left over so I'm thinking I could use just a single batch of the recipe for the dough.

The result was very, very good! The recipe is spot on. I had a hard time getting the crust under the sauce to cook. The heat of the oven was so high that my edges were starting to burn, but the crust on top wasn't baked. Next time I'll bake the crust then add the sauce for the last 5-10 minutes. This pizza takes A LOT of filling. If you don't use the spinach, you'll need to add in a lot more cheese or some other filling. I made the 1.5 times the recipe for the filling, but that only filled 1 pizza. I was still pleased with the results and will definitely be making Chicago Style pizza again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Brownie Bites

The Brownie Bites displayed on a fun yard sale find!

I have a friend who is an organic chef. She can cook like no one I've ever met and she rarely uses a recipe so I generally can't replicate the fabulous dishes she creates. Last month at her daughter's birthday party she served the most decadent and sublime brownie cupcakes. I asked her for the recipe, knowing full well that she probably just had it in her head and that it changes every time she makes. Lo and behold, the brownie cupcakes were based on an actual recipe! Woo hoo!

These puppies are decadent so I made them in mini-muffin form a la Brownie Bites. If you make them in regular sized cupcakes, I'd suggest only filling the cups half-way. It is all you will need, trust me. A dab of chocolate frosting on top of these is pure bliss.

Brownie Cupcakes
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (or 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder and 1 Tablespoon oil for every 1 ounce of chocolate)
6 Tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a double boiler melt the chocolate and butter. Or, if using the powder conversion, melt butter and stir in cocoa powder and oil. Set aside and allow to cool. In a large bowl combine eggs, sugar and teaspoon. In another bowl combine flour and salt. Add cooled chocolate to egg mixture and mix. Then add flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix. Spoon into desired baking pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Homemade Crayons (Kind Of)

Ella and I spent an hour or so this week re-purposing the broken crayons in her art box. The hardest part was getting the darn paper off the crayons. I have no idea how kids manage to get so many wrappers off on their own!

We broke the crayons up in to smaller pieces, put them in a silicone heart ice cube tray from IKEA and baked them at 250 degrees in the toaster oven. When the "silicone" container began to melt a bit, I realized that perhaps the ice cube tray really is JUST for ice cubes! I caught it before it melted all over my toaster oven, thank goodness. We let the crayons cool down and then put them in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Ella is absolutely delighted with her "new" heart crayons (particularly when played with on a Sushi mat). I'm thinking these would make super cute party favors (with coloring books from the dollar store) for a birthday party!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Birthday Deals

September is my birthday month and I think I've signed up for every birthday club under the sun! So far I've received coupons for:

15% off at The Children's Place
Free burger at Red Robin
Free entree (up to $15) at Lone Star Steakhouse
Free dessert at Bucca di Beppo
20% off my entire purchase at Michaels

We can't possible take advantage of ALL the free stuff, but we always go to Red Robin for a free burger. It is definitely worth the time to find the websites of merchants and sign up for their birthday specials!

Monday, September 14, 2009


I have been making my own vanilla extract recently. I'd like to re-package the vanilla from the large vodka bottle in to smaller containers between 2 and 4 ounces. I can't find anything that is relatively inexpensive.

Any suggestions?

Making Money at Yard Sales

My sister and I continued our yard saling adventures this weekend. I can say with confidence that we are absolutely addicted. We happened upon an entire subdivision having yard sales so we stuck it out there for 2 hours. I was able to snag a hamburger patty maker that my husband has wanted for a quarter; a food scale for $1; a Little Tikes sand/water table for the kids for $2; and a dozen large mouth Ball canning jars with the lids and 4 packs of pectin for $3.

We stopped by a very small, thrown together yard sale not expecting much. Then we spied $100/pair Lucky Brand jeans. The dude wanted $1. YIKES!

The jeans won't fit anyone (well, maybe Sarah, but I'm not about to give a 10 year old a $100 pair of jeans even if they were only $1), so I'm planning to list them on eBay and make some money on them. It looks like used pairs sell for about $20.00, not a bad return on a $1 investment. I just sold the three BOB Book series I bought last weekend on Amazon. I netted $15 total on those three book sets.

And there it is -- my newest way to make money. Finding a treasure at a yard sale and re-selling it at a higher price. You just have to know what to look for. I knew the BOB books were selling on Amazon for about $8/box. My sister, the fashionista, spotted the Lucky Brand jeans and knew their worth (I would never have even noticed them).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Return to Yard Sales

For the first time in many, many years, I went yard saling yesterday with my sister. I have avoided yard sales in the past because I just didn't have room in our apartment for any more "stuff"!

The last time I had and went a yard sale was in the mid-west (Michigan). Yard sales where I grew up start at 7 AM and people are outside of your house by 6 AM! There are always tables and everything has a price. I found none of this to be true here in Vegas.

I met my sister at 7:30 AM and we thought we were getting a late start. As it turns out, we didn't start seeing signs for sales until well after 8 AM. Many of the "sales" we found had one table with a few items (maybe 20) and that was it. Some just threw their stuff on blankets in the driveway! And NONE of it had prices! I found that people had no concept what their stuff was worth. Most of the items were way overpriced, particularly the clothes. For example, one lady had baby clothes she was trying to sell for $2 each (shorts, onesies, sleepers, etc). Then she sold me three sets of BOB Books for $1 per box and this Madeline collection for $2! The books were true yard sale prices, but she could have made more money selling them elsewhere. I saw so many kids clothes priced at $2 and above! Crazy.

I was really frustrated over the lack of prices on stuff, especially when there were a lot of people looking and trying to figure out a price. I finally just picked up what I wanted and offered a price when I was through looking. That definitely worked better!

Yesterday's return to yard sales was definitely an eye opener and I'm looking forward to going out again this Fall as the weather cools off.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cookies, Cookies, and Baking Powder!

It's still hot here -- 103 or so yesterday, which means that my oven is still OFF. But I'm getting rather annoyed that I haven't been able to bake in three months. So this past month I tried out two new cookie recipes. I made the dough, baked a small batch in the toaster oven and froze the rest of the dough for later.

The first one, Dishpan Cookies, I've wanted to try for a while and I finally managed to get some corn flakes on sale with a coupon. The recipe I originally found (which I can't find now) did not call for coconut or chocolate chips and the resulting cookies were rather boring. I added in some butterscotch chips and they were much better! The nice thing about these cookies is that they are HUGE!

Yesterday I made "Clean Out Your Cupboards Cookies", which was included in Mary Hunt's Everyday Cheapskate newsletter. I didn't have many of the ingredients listed, so I used coconut, butterscotch chips (I swear they make every cookie good!), chopped pecans, and orange cranberries. They are absolutely delicious, but a tad dry (I'll cook them less next time). They do not flatten while baking so make them the size you want them!

I'm almost out of baking powder after making the cookies yesterday. Did you know you can make your own?? I had no idea!

Dishpan Cookies

2 C light brown sugar
1 C white sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 C Oil
4 eggs
4 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 ½ c quick oats
4 C cornflakes

In a very large bowl or dishpan, cream sugars, vanilla, oil, and eggs. Add flour, soda, and salt. Fold in oats and cornflakes.

Drop by 1/4 measuring cup onto ungreased cookie sheets. This batter might be a little dry and you may have to moosh it together with your hands to get it into a ball when you put it onto the pan.

Bake for ten to twelve minutes in a preheated oven, or until edges are lightly browned. If you want them to be chewy, bake a little less, crispy, a little more.

Clean Out Your Cupboards Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons flaxseed
1 cup flaked almonds
3/4 cup peanuts
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
chocolate, melted for dipping (after cooking), optional

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Beat in the eggs gradually until fully combined, and then beat in the peanut butter. Fold in the dry ingredients until fully combined. Form into ping-pong sized balls and place about 1 inch apart on non-stick cookie sheets. Press down lightly to flatten and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly golden. Let cool. Then, dip half in the melted chocolate, if preferred. Yield: 36 to 40 cookies.

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