Sunday, July 29, 2012

Meal Stretcher Monday - Chili

We're on an increasing trend toward vegetarian meals in this house. I am a vegetarian, but I am willing to cook meat for my family if they wish. So why all the extra plant-based meals? I would love to say that it all comes down to health and making better choices for our bodies. I would be lying. It all comes down to cost.
Here's some ground beef I saw in the store today. At $3.38/lb, it's actually even a little cheaper than the national average, which I last saw hovering around $3.80. Remember, depending on where you are shopping, some of what is in this package isn't pure beef (remember pink slime?)

I'm not going to force anyone to stop eating meat. If vegetarianism is for you, you'll get to it. That being said, stretch your meal budget. Stop putting meat where you don't really taste it. A steak dinner? Yeah, you'll taste the meat. Chili? Not so much.

I make a good vegetarian chili. I mean, GOOD. You'll love it. Trust me. And of course, you know it's cheap.
Side note: When I have brought my chili to functions, people have often thought that it was mislabeled as 'vegetarian'. At one point someone moved my 'vegetarian' sign and stuck it on a salad bowl. Poor guy didn't realize that plant-based foods are not all salad.

Ordinarily, I make this with something like MorningStar Farms Meal Starters. While this is certainly healthier than meat, it's just about as expensive right now.

This time, I'm using straight up TVP (textured vegetable protein).
TVP is a soy product. It is a good source of protein, has no fat, 80 calories per serving, and is REALLY CHEAP. The bag in the picture cost me $2.50 at Job Lot, and makes the equivalent of over two pounds of meat.

Today, I'm making a double batch of chili. Let's compare:
4 cups of ground beef (cooked) = $6.72
4 cups of TVP (cooked = $2.50


Let's get started!

Vegan Chili Recipe (double batch)
2 cups TVP (dry)
2 medium onions (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 large can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
2 small cans (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (undrained)
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cans beans of your choice (rinsed and drained)

Put the TVP in a large bowl. Over top of it, pour 1 3/4 cups boiling water or vegetable broth. (I used broth made from a vegetable bullion, so I left the salt out of the recipe). Stir and let sit for 10 minutes.
While you are waiting, cook the onions on medium heat until tender.

Add the rehydrated TVP and stir. Cook for about a minute.

Add the tomatoes and spices. Cover and cook on low for about 40 minutes.

Add the beans and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Serve with cheese, or sour cream, or whatever you would usually choose to serve chili with.

My carnivore Husband just polished off a big bowl of it - and he has a deep and abiding suspicion of soy. Believe me; if he doesn't miss the meat, you won't either.

http://www.thethriftyhome.comPhotobucketThe Shabby Nest

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Brown Bananas Save Breakfast Bucks

I am returning to teaching this fall. I'm nervous. Mainly about the mornings. As teachers, Husband and I have to be out the door early. Early is never a good time for thinking clearly.

I keep trying to think of good, easy to grab foods for breakfast. In my pre-mommy days, I would often stop by the Dunkin Donuts on the highway to grab a coffee and breakfast. Two kids later, this idea is untenable.

It's been really warm here, and for the first time in a while, the bananas went very brown before they could be eaten. That can only mean one thing...BANANA BREAD!

I love making banana bread. I love eating banana bread. I wonder if I can turn it into a decent breakfast.


Out comes my favorite Betty Crocker cookbook.

My intention was to make their banana bread recipe, but I wanted to make a double batch, and I couldn't find where we had put the white flour. My recipe went more like this (remember, this is a DOUBLE BATCH):

2 1/2 cups sugar (a little sweet for me. You can cut back if you'd like)
1 cup butter (softened)
4 eggs
6 medium bananas (if you are short 1 or 2, just substitute with 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce each)
1 cup buttermilk (I made mine from 1 cup milk + 1 Tbsp vinegar)
2 tsp vanilla
4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt

In a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. Beat in the bananas, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth. Mix in the flour, baking soda, and salt until moistened.

At this point I filled a 12-muffin pan with half of the mixture and baked at 350 for 20 minutes (or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean).

I realized that Husband does not enjoy the idea of 'healthy' food and might get turned off by the whole wheat flour. I added a cup of chocolate chips to the second batch. He was happy.

All together, this made about 28 muffins. After we ate a few, I put the rest into big freezer bags to await our fall morning rushes. All I have to do is either thaw them by taking out a couple the night before we eat them, or pop them in the microwave that morning.

The whole wheat flour makes these really filling, and they cost me nothing, as I already had the ingredients. Compare this with spending $3-4 dollars a few times a week at Dunkin' Donuts, and I'm really saving some money.

The muffins were a little sweet for me, so next time I am going to cut back on the sugar...but let's not tell my husband that, okay?


The Shabby Nest

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Smarter Smartphone

I want an iPhone. Lots of people that I know have them, and whip them out at the slightest provocation. What movies are showing? Oh, lemme check my IPHONE. I wonder if it will rain tonight. Oh, lemme check my IPHONE. How do you get there from here? Oh, lemme check my big, fat, shiny, status symbol IPHONE.

Phone envy. It's an ugly thing.

So, I break down and go into the local AT&T store. There it is. Sparkly. Beckoning.

The lovely, if slightly over-made-up, sales lady wants to tell me all about it. I already know all about it. What I want to know is the cost of the plan.

Well, I can buy the voice plan for $40 per month, then data for another $30. After taxes and fees, I'd be looking at close to $90 per month.


Two years ago, husband and I had Verizon cell phones. We were paying $90/month to Verizon for them both COMBINED. That's $1,080 a year. When our second son was born and I went on maternity leave, we switched to prepaid Tracfones.

At the time we bought...
1) Two double-minute phones ($20 each = $40)
2) Two 400 minute/one-year activation cards ($100 each = $200)

That's $240 for a year. AND THE COVERAGE WAS JUST AS GOOD.

Yeah. I'm sticking with Tracfone.

But...I still want a smartphone. Fortunately, Tracfone has started offering them. When husband's phone accidentally went on a magical trip through washer/dryer land, we were short one phone. I use more of the texting features, etc, so we set husband up with my old phone and I got this:

It cost $50. Yeah, I know that's more than twice the cost of my old $20 phone, but it does really cool stuff! I can check the internet with it! I can download apps! I can text with a wee little touch screen QWERTY keyboard! I can hang with the cool smartphone-wielding kids!

Sure, it's not an iPhone. It can't do ALL of the cool things than an iPhone can do. The thing is, it's a compromise. It does what I need it to do. It can make calls, send texts, and take pictures, and take videos, and check the internet. Best part: I can afford to keep the kids.

Know what's even better? Look at the picture again. See where it says "unlimited triple minutes"? That means that the 400 minute card (recall: $100) that I will put on it before October will actually give me 1200 minutes. This past year, I think I only used 700. Now I should have 500 extra to waste on FaceBook! Not bad, right?

In summation:

iPhone = $1,080/ year
Tracphone = $100/year
Savings = $980

Do you have any idea what I can do with $980? (*Hint: read my other posts).

Who's smart now, AT&T?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Great Home Facial

I want to go to a spa. I'm tired, sick, stressed, and angry over some bad news today. A helpful friend, who clearly has no concept of the difference in our income levels, told me I should go to a spa and get a facial to feel better.

Yeah. That's not going to happen.

Hm. I've done a facial at home before. Maybe it's time for that again.

Checking the website of a local spa, I discovered that a facial there would cost $80 (only $75 with a Groupon!), and would entail a gentle cleansing, exfoliation, moisturizing face mask, and massage.

Please. I can do that myself, and I guarantee it'll be a lot cheaper than $75 bucks.

Here are the steps I have devised for the perfect spa facial at home, with stuff from my kitchen:


1) Send the children somewhere. Maybe convince the husband to bring them to the library or something. Or just get behind a door with a lock on it. Anything.

2) Put on something that you enjoy listening to. This can be relaxing music, one of those ocean sounds CDs, or maybe just the trashy reality TV show that you can't admit that you like.

3) Pour yourself a nice cup of healthy herbal tea. Or a mineral water. Or an enormous glass of wine. Whatever makes you feel relaxed.

4) If you wish, light a scented candle. Make sure that it is well away from anything flammable, and from small children bent on destruction.


1) Seriously, just wash your face with whatever you usually wash your face with. If you want to use a special soap for the occasion, or want to make this step more ceremonious or something, knock yourself out.


Steam is wonderful for deep cleaning those pores, and there are several ways to go about this step.

1) Get a bowl of boiling water. Put your face over the bowl, and a towel over your head and the bowl (to keep in the steam). This has the drawback of requiring you to sit with your face over a bowl.

2) Do pretty much the same thing, but with a clothing steamer. Warning: Stay at least a full foot away from the steamer as second degree burns are really unattractive.

3) Wet a wash cloth with tap water. Ring about 80-90% of the water out, then microwave it for 20-30 seconds. When it is just cool enough to touch, sit down and put the wash cloth over your face. Leave until cool. Repeat if you feel like it. (I like this method the best).


This is the simplest, best face scrub in the world. Ready?

1) Put a tablespoon of baking soda in a teacup or other small vessel.

2) Add enough water to make a creamy paste.

3) Using your fingertips, massage this gently over your face in small, overlapping circles.

4) Rinse.

Moisturizing Face Mask...

There are a LOT of recipes out there on the internet for homemade face masks. here are two that I have used and had success with:

1) For dry skin:
1/2 avocado
1 tbsp honey

Blend together in a food processor until creamy. Apply to face and leave on for 15-20 minutes. Wash off.

2) For oily skin:
1 banana
1 tbsp honey
1 squirt of lemon

Blend together in a food processor until creamy. Apply to face and leave on for 15-20 minutes. Wash off.
(See a pattern?)

That's it. Your total cost depends on how much of this stuff you have in your kitchen. For me, the only thing I had to get was the avocado, which cost me $1.99. I only used half, so this entire facial cost me a dollar.

Not bad, huh? I didn't even need a Groupon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chalk Paint End Tables - an Experiment

We have two black-laquered end tables. They were from Target, have been with us for seven years, and are suffering for it. I've thought about replacing them, but that would cost me $90 each. I don't have $180 handy, and wouldn't easily part with it if I did.

Since they are sturdy, I have decided to try my hand at refinishing, but I reeeeeeaaaallly don't want to have to strip layers of black lacquer. That sounds messy and labor intensive.

Could chalk paint be the answer?

Chalk paint is supposedly a miracle substance that can be applied right over previous finishes and eliminates the need for all that loathsome surface prep work, AND lends itself nicely to distressing later. Sounds like my kind of short cut!

TO THE INTERNET! My search for chalk paint led me directly out of my price point and area code. %^&*#$. The major brand looks wonderful, but it is much too expensive for my budget, and the nearest retailer is over two hours from here. %^&*#$, again.

TO THE INTERNET! SOME MORE! This time I searched to see if there was a way to make chalk paint at home. Answer: YES! I came across this post from Elizabeth & Co. that has a tutorial and pictures. I love me some pictures.

Starting this project, I have a little bit of work to do. First, these tables are filthy. One has been living in the basement, while the other has been subjected to the kids. Both were moved to the garage when we painted the living room last week. So, out comes the spray cleaner and a wet wash cloth and each table gets a good scrub.

See these pretty little grooves on the top?

I hate these pretty little grooves. They collect dust, dirt, crumbs, and general schmutz, so that the tables never look clean, EVER. I'm getting rid of these stupid little grooves.

Step one: clean out the grooves. For this I am merely hacking away at the accumulated crap with a flat head screwdriver. It's oddly satisfying. I think it's because I hate these little grooves...did I mention that?

Step two: wood filler. I bought a 1 oz. tube for about $5 at Lowe's. Stupidly, I underestimated how much I'd need and had to purchase a second tube. If I had just gotten the bigger tube to begin with, I'd be out three fewer dollars. *sigh*

The wood filler is pretty much applied the same way you would apply grout or joint compound, i.e. smooshing it into the grooves with a putty knife. In the tighter corners I lost my patience and just used my fingers. Note: This is murder on a manicure. Murder.

Step three: sanding! I know I don't have to sand off the previous finish since I'm using chalk paint, but scuffing it up can't hurt, and I have to sand down the wood filler anyway.

Note: This is messy. And just as bad on a manicure as the wood filler.

After everything was sanded, I gave each table a quick wipe with a wet wash cloth and let them dry while I mixed my paint.

Why, yes. Yes, I am going to add that link every time I write the words wash cloth. Thank you for asking.

I seriously lucked out while looking at the "oops" rack of paint at Lowe's. These are paints that were mixed but not purchased for some reason, and they are deeply discounted.

My quart of paint, very close to the color that I wanted, was only $3.00, saving me TEN BUCKS! This more than makes up for the money I blew on the extra tube of wood filler.

As I said earlier, I am using the recipe for chalk paint from Elizabeth & Co. She uses a container with four equal lines on it for measuring. I bought a one-quart container for about $1.50 that had ounces measured on it.

1) I put in Plaster of Paris up to the 4 oz. line
2) I mixed in enough water to make a smooth, creamy paste
3) I added paint up to the 16 oz. line and mixed!

It really was that simple!

It took two coats to cover the black. Even after two tables, I still had chalk paint left over!

I took my sanding sponge and sanded away the paint in spots to let the black lacquer show through. Maybe I went a little over board, but I like it.

After two coats of Minwax Paste Wax, the tables shine really nicely.

Here's one waiting to hold the presents at my son's birthday party. (See the balloon strings tied to it?)

And the other one is back where it belongs - holding up my coffee while I blog. Amen.

P.S. Want to know the total cost? $23. Yep. I paid 10 bucks for the wood filler, 3 for the paint, and another 10 for the paste wax. The rest of the stuff I already had. Way cheaper than the $180 needed to buy new tables!

Update: Hey, LOOK!

The Shabby Nest

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cater Your Own Party

Wow. I am so sorry I dropped off the map for almost a week! My oldest son, Leo, celebrated his 5th birthday this week, and I spent most of the week prepping for his party and some out of town guests. Since I was thinking of you...and my budget...I have some money saving ideas for you!

For this party, nine kids and around 15 adults took over our small home and back yard. The challenge was feeding all of them and feeding them well. In days past I would have had this catered by a local pizzeria that we enjoy. Usually I would order a big pan of ziti, a big pan of salad, and a couple of pizzas. They're prices have gone up since then, but once upon a time, it would have run around $70. (Now, I think they are asking $40 for the ziti alone).

Here's how much the home made version costs.

Baked Ziti:
pasta = $2
sauce = $2.50
ricotta = $1.50
mozzarella = $1.50
Ziti total = $7.50

Lettuce = $3.00
(oil, vinegar, and seasonings all came from my cupboard)

Bagged crusts: $4.00
Sauce = $2.00
Cheese = $3.00
Total = $9.00

Yes. You read that right. I fed all those people (with at least a third of a pan of baked ziti for leftovers) for less than $20.

If I had time to make the pizza crusts, I would have done it all for less than $16. Just saying.

To celebrate my victory over catering costs, I want to share my recipe for baked ziti with you.

First, boil two pounds of ziti, rinse, drain, and put into a big aluminum pan.

Add one large jar of pasta sauce.

Mix until everything is coated.

Add about 12 oz. of ricotta cheese (more or less, depending on your preferences).

Mix until everything is coated.

Take out a package of shredded mozzarella.

Mix about half into the ziti.

Sprinkle the other half on top (not pictured) and bake! Since all the ingredients are cooked, you are pretty much just cooking it to melt the mozzarella. Mine took around 30-40 minutes at 350, but that was probably because it was in the fridge for a while before cooking. Just keep an eye on it; it shouldn't take too long.

Sit back and enjoy the compliments!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Raspberry Bars

My husband is awesome. He's been working so hard to help me fix up our home this summer. Remember how we've been painting the downstairs of our house? Well, in a fit of insomnia my husband did the entire second coat by himself the other night. It looks lovely in here.

One good turn deserves another. He loves sweets, especially raspberry things. Recently I came across a simple recipe for skillet raspberry bars! They look easy and incredible, and I happen to have some raspberry jam in the fridge. The only problem is that I don't have two cast iron skillets. Actually, I don't have any cast iron cookware. I wonder, can I do this in the oven instead?

My older son is on the bus to summer program, the toddler and the husband are still asleep, COOKING EXPERIMENT TIME!

Here are the ingredients from the original recipe:
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, very soft
1 cup or a bit more raspberry jam

If you've been reading my blog a while, you'll remember that I don't keep brown sugar around, because by the time I need it, it's a brick. Instead I beat together white sugar and molasses as I need it.

So that's what I did.

It's easy as anything with the KitchenAid. It starts out sort of grainy, but just ignore it of a minute or two, and you'll come back to this.

Next, I added the flours, oats, salt, and baking soda. I opted out of the cinnamon, as I am not in a cinnamon-y mood.

The dry ingredients mix together really quickly, including the brown sugar. Next, in a bowl I beat together the egg and softened butter...

...then mixed that with the dry ingredients into this nice crumbly, slightly sticky mixture.

Since I lack the cast iron skillets suggested in the original recipe, I simply sprayed and floured an 8" x 8" baking pan...

...then pressed in half of the mixture.

I added about a cup of raspberry jam on top of this layer. This is not as easy as it sounds. My jam had been in the fridge and didn't spread well. In a few places I was in danger of accidentally tearing up that bottom crust layer, so I didn't think to stop and take photos. Next time, I'll let the jam warm up, then beat it a bit by hand to thin it. Lesson learned. Here's a picture of the jar instead.

The other half of the crumb mixture goes on top.

I decided to bake this at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes. At the end, it pretty much looks exactly like it started, only just a bit more brown on the edges and with a couple of tiny spots of jam boiling up from inside.

After they cooled, I cut them into small squares. I was afraid that this was going to fall apart, but both crusts are actually nice and crispy! They are sort of like a delicious, jammy granola bar!

There's no way these are going to last.

For more cool stuff, check this out!

Find cool stuff over at The Shabby Nest!