Tuesday, August 31, 2010

RECIPE: Baked Pasta

Baked pasta is one of the staple dishes at our household, so I can't believe I haven't shared the recipe here yet! It's a very quick and easy dish to put together, perfect for when you're having a low-energy day or have a busy schedule. Even though it's super-easy to make, the kids are always happy to see me pulling this out of the oven! Serve with cooked veggies or tossed salad on the side. If you have a bit more time and ambition, you can throw together some Pull-Apart Garlic & Parmesan Breadsticks to serve with this and your family will be in heaven!

1 lb fusilli or rotini pasta
1 medium to large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
3/4-1 lb ground beef
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup light cream
2 cups (or more) grated mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In large pot of boiling water, cook pasta until al dente, then drain thoroughly and pour into lasagna pan.

While pasta is cooking, in a large saucepan, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add ground beef and cook until no trace of pink remains. Add basil, oregano, salt, pepper, crushed tomatoes, and about 1/3 of the tomato can of water (you can add a bit more or less, depending how thick you want your sauce). Simmer the sauce for a few minutes, then turn heat to low and add cream.

Gradually stir the tomato sauce into the pasta until you have the desired "sauciness" level (most of the time I have a little bit of sauce left over - you can use it to make a single serving of spaghetti or throw it into a pot of soup). Once the pasta and sauce are well combined, sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over top, then sprinkle with Parmesan. Be as generous as you can with the cheese; the nice crusty cheese layer on top is what really makes this dish!

Bake at 375F for about 30 minutes, or until nice and golden and crusty on the top.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday, the GCC Recipe Swap and Friday Favorites.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weekly Menu Retrospective #7

 Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

Breakfasts: banana blueberry muffins (subbed blueberries for the chocolate chips in this recipe), peanut butter toast (homemade bread), baked oatmeal, blueberry pancakes

Lunches: sandwiches, pizza, leftover chicken and rice


Monday: Choice of tuna burgers or lentil burgers, corn on the cob

Tuesday: Honey-garlic sausage on a bun (scored a few packages of sausage marked down to 1.88 for 6!), crispy pan-fried tomatoes (from the garden), corn on the cob

Wednesday: Macaroni and cheese, carrots and peas

Thursday: Lemon and garlic chicken, rice pilaf, green beans (from the garden) and carrots

Friday: Tuna Pockets (homemade pizza-pocket like sandwiches using refrigerator bread dough with a tuna and cheddar filling), sliced raw veggies

Saturday: Baked Pasta, peas

Sunday: Hamburgers and hot dogs, Southwestern Spiced Barley & Vegetable Salad

Snacks and Sides: Homemade yogurt, peaches, cantaloupe, bananas, pineapple

For more great menu ideas, head over to Menu Plan Monday at orgjunkie.com.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Yard Sale Report for August 28, 2010

The pickings were slim again this week on my yard sale rounds. I hit 5 advertised sales, plus a couple more unadvertised ones along the way. Fortunately, they were all very close by so I didn't have to do too much riding around! I did find two pairs of good quality running shoes (New Balance and Columbia) for $1.00 each that should fit my boys. I'm always happy to find shoes for them at yard sales, as they wear them out SO fast (it doesn't seem to matter if I buy them new, either - they still get trashed at lightning speed!)

Other than the shoes, I didn't find anything else worth bringing home today. That's two slow weeks in a row, so I should be due for an amazing bargain or two by next weekend!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

What are Your Bargain-Hunting Habits?

I've been noticing lately how many little bargain-hunting habits I've developed - things I do routinely, almost without thinking about it! So of course I started wondering whether everyone else had these regular sorts of rituals or not. Here are the things I do on a daily/weekly basis to keep my eye out for good deals:

1. Check Simplyfrugal.ca daily for new updates on Canadian freebies, sales, and discounts. This is the best source I've found so far for exclusively Canadian deals and I usually find a great freebie or coupon at least once or twice a week.

2. Patrol the reduced racks at the grocery store every time I go (my neighbourhood store has a fruit and vegetable rack and a bread/baked goods rack) and take a stroll past the meat counter to look for marked down meat and unadvertised specials.

3. Browse the "free" ads on Kijiji and Craigslist  a couple of times a week to see what goodies people are giving away (I also check the "wanted" ads to see if I can help out anyone who's looking for something).

4. On Thursdays, our big stack of sales flyers for the week gets delivered. I sit down with a cup of coffee and wade through them, noting the good deals and starting to plan our shopping trip(s) for the week.

5. On Fridays, I check the newspaper classifieds and the listings on Kijiji and Craigslist for the upcoming weekend's yard sales, and plan my yard sale route.

6. On Saturday morning (and sometimes Sunday) I head out on my weekly yard sale rounds.

7. On Sunday evenings, I keep an eye on the curb for anything our neighbours may have set out for trash pickup that I might want to divert from the landfill :) I generally keep my eyes open anytime I'm out and about for the possibility of a good curbside find. Just yesterday my boys scooped a huge box of free Lego from the side of the road (yes, it was clearly marked "free" on the box!)

What bargain-hunting rituals do you have?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

RESOURCE REVIEW: Couponchief.com

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you may have picked up on the fact that I'm not a huge internet shopper - in fact I don't think I've purchased a single thing off the internet so far this year! While my preference is to buy things secondhand and local where possible, there is the odd occasion where buying a new item (or intangible service) over the internet might be the best way to go.

This is particularly true if you have access to coupon codes that make your purchase a great deal (combining an online sale with a further coupon discount, for example). One resource I've recently discovered that is an excellent source for coupon codes is Couponchief.com. Boasting 50,000 coupons for over 15,000 stores, this site is one of the largest online coupon databases on the internet. So whether you're buying a new computer, the latest bestseller, or renting a car, you're sure to find a coupon or two that will help you save a few bucks on your purchase.

I spent some time browsing around the site and was pleased to discover that the coupon collection contains many codes usable in Canada and other non-US countries. Being Canadian, one of my major frustrations as a bargain-hunting frugalista is that so many coupons, deals, and freebies are for US residents only! So it's really nice to see a coupon collection that's more internationally inclusive.

Couponchief.com makes browsing for deals fairly easy - you can browse by tags (shoes, clothes, sports, health, etc.), by popular coupons, or by the most recently added coupons. Or if you'd rather, they also have alphabetical listings of all the stores featured on the site. If you're in a hurry and would rather search for a specific store, you can just type it into their search engine and it will quickly find you all the relevant coupons.

The site also allows for user interactivity: you can leave comments on whether a particular coupon worked for you or not, and upload coupons you've found to the site as well (you can even get paid to share coupons if you sign up for their pays-2-share program).

My only quibble with the database is that there do seem to be quite a few coupons listed that have either an unknown expiry date or that have clearly expired. It would be nice if these could be culled from the collection, since you might find yourself spending time trying to use a bunch of codes that have long since expired (for example, I noticed one coupon offering a discount on Easter flowers - I'm guessing that one's not good anymore!) I do understand that with a collection this large, it's probably a daunting task to try and keep it all up to date. So do keep in mind that some of the codes you find might not work.

Overall, I'd say it's well work a quick trip over to Couponchief.com anytime you're going to make an internet purchase - a few minutes on the site could easily lead to significant savings!

(In the interests of full disclosure, I'd like to let my readers know that I was paid to do this review; however the above assessment represents my unbiased opinion about this resource).

Have you used Couponchief.com? What did you think of it?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

RECIPE: Raspberry Cream Cheese Squares

I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for a good cheesecake. Unfortunately, most cheesecakes use several packages of cream cheese, which, even if purchased on sale at rock-bottom prices, still add up to one expensive dessert! So, I save the decadence of a real cheesecake for special occasions. In between, I get my "cheesecake fix" by making recipes such as this one, that uses only one package of cream cheese while still delivering that smooth, creamy goodness!

These squares have a white cake-y bottom and a yummy cream-cheese-and-raspberry topping, with just a hint of almond. They're even quick and easy to prepare! So go ahead and whip up a batch :)


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

8 oz pkg cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350F.
Make the base: In a medium sized bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and almond extract and beat until fluffy. Stir in flour and baking powder; mix until well combined. Spread evenly in greased 9" square baking pan.
Make the filling: Beat together cream cheese, sugar and egg. Spread carefully over batter in pan. Drop spoonfuls of jam onto mixture and swirl gently into cheese mixture.
Bake for 35 minutes or until lightly golden on top and toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool, then cut into squares. Store in refrigerator.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday, the GCC Recipe Swap, Friday Favorites and Sweets for a Saturday.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekly Menu Retrospective #6

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

Breakfasts: gingerbread muffins, homemade granola, baked oatmeal, banana blueberry muffins (subbed blueberries for the choc chips in this recipe), bacon/eggs/hash brown potatoes/toast (big Sunday breakfast!)

Lunches: pizza, sandwiches, leftovers


Monday: Southwestern Beef & Macaroni Soup

Tuesday: Barbecued Pork (still using up my stash of 99 cents a pound pork!), corn on the cob, stuffed jalapenos (from the garden), cheesy vegetable bake

Wednesday: Sausages, leftover corn, jalapenos and veggie bake

Thursday: West African Baked Beans (used tomatoes from the garden), carrots, green beans (from the garden), baguette (from the discount rack)

Friday: Hotdogs and Hamburgers, oven fries

Saturday: Sandwich/Burger buffet (using leftovers)

Sunday: Lentil soup and cornbread, Raspberry Cream Cheese Squares (recipe coming soon!)

Snacks & Sides: peaches, cantaloupe, grapes, sliced carrots, cucumber, peppers, popcorn

For more great menu ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at orgjunkie.com

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Yard Sale Report for August 21, 2010

I think this is the first time this has happened this season: I had five yard sales on my list this morning , went to all of them (plus another unadvertised one I found along the way), and came home with NOTHING!!

After all the great deals I got last week, I guess I shouldn't be too disappointed. The thrill of the hunt is part of the whole process, and sometimes it means walking away empty handed. I'd much rather do that then spend money on things I don't want or need just for the sake of coming home with a purchase or two.

I do have a couple of Sunday-only sales to check out tomorrow morning, so I'll post an update if I find anything at either of them. Otherwise, you'll have to stay tuned till next week to get a yard-sale-bargain fix :)


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Make it from Scratch: Zesty Cheese Sauce

I'm starting a new series today featuring basic recipes that all frugal cooks should have in their repertoire. This cheese sauce can be used in a variety of ways (I'll show you two of them once we get through the basic recipe).

Zesty Cheese Sauce

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1 tsp dry mustard powder
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
2 cups grated cheese (we use either all old cheddar or half cheddar and half mozzarella)

In a medium sized, heavy bottom saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in butter until tender. Add the flour and stir until well coated with butter mixture. Slowly add the milk, stirring as you add it to prevent lumps from forming. Add dry mustard,Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Stir over medium heat until sauce thickens, then add cheese and stir until completely melted into sauce.

That's it! (Wasn't that easy?)

Two great ways to use it:

1. Mac and cheese:
Cook 2 cups of macaroni noodles until al dente (you should have about twice as much once they're cooked). Stir into cheese sauce and pour into glass lasagna dish. Mix about 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese together in a small bowl. Add about 2 tbsp or so of olive oil or melted butter and mix well with a fork until crumbs are all well moisted (add a bit more fat if you need to). Sprinkle bread crumb mixture evenly over top of macaroni (I smooth the top out gently with a fork afterwards). Bake at 350F for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

2. Cheesy Vegetable Bake:
When making the cheese sauce, saute 1 diced red pepper along with the garlic and onions. Finish the sauce as directed. Cook about 4 cups of vegetables or so (a broccoli/cauliflower combo works great, but you can use carrots, peas, green beans, corn or any leftover cooked veggies you've got hanging around in the fridge). Stir the cooked vegetables into the sauce, pour into lasagna dish and top with breadcrumb mixture as described above for mac and cheese. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

What are your favourite uses for cheese sauce?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Tomatoes Are Here!

 This week's garden harvest featured lots of red, ripe Roma tomatoes (21 of 'em, to be exact). I also picked 16 cherry tomatoes (not pictured),15 jalapeno peppers (with a whole bunch more on the way) and about half a pound of green beans. My first planting of green beans is almost done producing, and the second planting is just starting to flower, so I should see a steady green bean harvest for a while yet! I'm also thrilled to report that my sweet peppers TURNED RED!!! I've tried to grow red peppers for years, but they would never change colour for me. So I always ended up with a bunch of green peppers instead - not exactly a tragedy; they are my least favourite of the sweet peppers though, and I LOVE red ones! This year's peppers are really sweet red ones and the plants are producing well despite the fact that I planted them late. You can be sure I'll be growing this variety again next year - it's called "Gypsy" and I'm officially a big fan :)

Now that the days are getting shorter and cooler, it's time for me to plant some more greens. I'll be sowing spinach and lettuce in the next day or two and once I take out the bean plants from my first planting of green beans (probably by the end of the weekend), I'll start some arugula. I'm also going to start cutting some mint and drying it, so we can have mint tea all winter long.

What's going on in your garden right now?

This post is linked to $5 Dinners Square Foot Gardening

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Really Easy Stuffed Jalapenos

My jalapeno pepper plant is producing like crazy right now! This is one of the best ways I know to use up a bunch of them - and they certainly don't last long (at least not around here).

jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded
cream cheese, softened
cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper
1 slice of bacon (uncooked) for every 4 pepper halves

The amount of cheese you need will obviously depend on how many peppers you have to fill. Start with about 1/4 to 1/3 cup cream cheese and stir in about half as much grated cheddar (you can add a bit more if you want, you just want to end up with a bit more cream cheese than cheddar in the mix). Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill the jalapenos pretty generously with this mixture. Cut the bacon slices into 4 equal size pieces and wrap a piece around each stuffed pepper. You can secure the bacon with a toothpick if you want; I usually just tuck the ends underneath the bottom of the pepper. Place the peppers in a baking dish large enough to hold them all without crowding them too much. Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes or until the bacon is cooked and a little crispy.

I shared this recipe at Tasty Tuesday, the GCC Recipe Swap and Friday Favorites.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Yard Sale Report for August 14, 2010

I'm back from my vacation (an awesome family camping trip at Port Burwell Provincial Park) and that means it's time to get back to my bargain-hunting ways :)

I hit 6 yard sales this morning. As it turned out, I made the majority of my purchases at my first stop! Here's what I found there:


-Blokus game (brand new, still in the shrink wrap) We have the two-person version of this game and love it, this 4-player one's going in my gift cupboard with a specific recipient in mind
-sunflower tray
-set of wine charms still in original packaging


-two rectangular baskets (one small, one mid-size)
-small glass pitcher (perfect for pancake syrup!)
-medium-sized Sigg water bottle


-lightweight Roots tote bag (a bit more stylish than those cloth ones!)
-small star-shaped box (my boys made necklaces for my niece's birthday tomorrow and this will be the perfect thing to present them in!)
-set of glass candleholders
-funky blue glass bottle (you can't see it that well in the photo, but it has these neat semicircular depressions all around it)

AND (drumroll, please!)
 -a Scrabble game with all the original wood tiles!! I''ve been looking for one all season as I have some fantastic gift projects in mind using these. They're actually getting quite difficult to find as there are a lot of us thrifty crafty people hunting them down these days.

I got the whole lot for $17 (I talked the lady down from $25 because I only had $17 on me!) I checked out the price of the Blokus game online and it's $39.99 new and the Sigg bottles are over $20 so I think I got a good deal for this haul :)

I only made one other purchase in the rest of my rounds this morning, but it was one that is going to earn me an Awesome Mom award from my kids:

A bunch of university students were having a yard sale and I got Rock Band, Guitar Hero Aerosmith, Guitar Hero AC/DC, the drum kit, mike and two guitars ALL for 15 BUCKS!!!!! We've had Guitar Hero World Tour for a while with just the guitars and my boys are beyond thrilled to now have the drums and mike. In fact this post is going up a lot later than usual since we've been busy giving it a thorough testing out.

Grand total for the morning: 33 dollars for 20 items, or $1.65 an item.
(A little higher than my usual average, but considering the retail value of some of these purchases, still a lot of incredible deals!)

If you found any great deals this week, I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Yard Sale Report for August 7th, 2010

Hurray! Another beautiful Saturday morning for meandering through the city on my bike, checking out yard sales. I hit 7 of them this morning, and only made purchases at two of them. Oh well, at least I got a nice ride in while I was at it.

Here's this morning's loot:

-two large ceramic pots for $2 each (I have a couple of desperately pot-bound plants that will be *very* happy to move into these!)
-set of "finger crayons" and 8 five-piece place settings of flatware, plus matching butter knife and sugar spoon, all for $5 (the finger crayons are going in my gift cupboard, the cutlery means we finally have a complete matching set for the first time ever, lol)

Grand total for the morning: $9 for 12 items (I'm counting each 5 pce setting of cutlery as 1 item), or 75 cents per item.

I'm taking a break from bargain hunting (and blogging!) for a few days to go hang out in a tent in the woods with my family :) So don't worry if no new posts appear for a while - I'll rejoin the blogosphere by next Saturday at the latest! I may post a roundup of links to some of my older posts to check out while I'm gone if packing goes smoothly and I have the time to do so. Otherwise, I'll see you for my yard sale report next week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Tour of My Frugal Fridge

I know most people who are just beginning to learn how to reduce their food bill are pretty curious to know what is hiding in a frugal foodie's refrigerator - so I thought I'd give you a little tour of mine. These photos were taken a few months ago (back in April) when my fridge was (ahem) a wee bit more organized than it is right now!

Top Shelf:

-jug of milk reconstituted from skim milk powder (for cooking and baking)
-fresh milk for drinking
-chicken carcass awaiting the stock pot
-jars of homemade jam
-bulk-purchased oats, wheat bran and wheat germ
-bottle of lemon juice (for canning - I use fresh lemon for cooking!)
-sale-priced salsa (we didn't can our own last year but we're planning on it for this year!)

Second Shelf:

-homemade yogurt in single-serving containers
-eggs (purchased at rock-bottom sale price)
-leftover gravy from roast chicken
-Mason jar full of bacon fat
-leftover cinnamon sugar from making donuts with Refrigerator Bread Dough
-cut up pineapple chunks from a sale-priced pineapple
-bacon and assorted sale-priced cheeses in meat crisper

Third Shelf:

-bowl of Refrigerator Bread Dough
-sale priced pork (99 cents a pound!) to be portioned and packed for the freezer
-carrots from a 10 pound bag bought at rock-bottom sale price

Bottom shelf:
-bulk-purchased cornmeal
-container of pigs-in-a-blanket made with Refrigerator Bread Dough


 -sale-priced fruits and veggies (obviously, these will vary with the seasons; when I took the photo it was apples, avocados, cucumbers and sweet peppers)

On the door:

-bottle of brew-your-own wine
-mayo, several kinds of vinegar (white wine, red wine, rice wine), ketchup, mustard, a few store-bought dressings for nights when I'm too lazy to make my own :)
-ground flax seed (I put it in my bread dough)
-sale-priced butter

Obviously, the contents of my fridge are not exactly the same from one week to the next, but this is fairly typical of what's in there on any given day. Often there are more little bits of leftovers (like cooked veggies and rice) waiting for creative reuse. There's usually a pitcher of orange juice in there, too; I guess we were all out on the day I snapped the photos!

What's hiding in your frugal fridge?
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