Friday, January 28, 2011

Money saving strategies for a new baby

Babies can be expensive or not, it really depends on you. Here are our strategies to curbing those costs and staying realistic about time vs cost of stuff we need.

  1. Breastfeed. Seriously, check out how much formula costs, breastfeeding is free and better for you and baby.
  2. Give cloth diapers a try. Notice that doesn't say go all out and commit, but give it a serious chance. Yes disposables are convenient, and they're not ludicrously expensive, but over time it's a repeat expenditure that adds up. Plus modern cloth diapers are just about as convenient except you wash instead of going to the store, so we will see if it is a worthwhile investment that can eliminate that expenditure.
  3. Only buy things as they are needed. Do we need a baby monitor? Special baby toys? Bassinet? Swing? etc. We wont know until the baby is here. We've go the basic outfits for the first 2 sizes, and we will see what we need from there.
  4. Ask people to provide essentials as gifts instead of frivolous things. Our family got together and made (we have a carpenter in the family) our crib and rocking chair. The change table is also a chest of drawers and handed down.
  5. Look at kijiji and goodwill for needed items. Other than car seats most baby items are just fine used, you may even get them for free.
  6. Sign up  for every free baby stuff site and accept coupons and 'gifts' as they arrive. Realize that this does not mean you need to use Nestle products, but they do send a really nice free diaper bag and changing pad with a bottle.
  7. Borrow items that wont be used long-term. If you are part of a community that includes other young parents, look into borrowing items as their children out grow them. Just remember to return the favour.
  8. Share babysitting. Find other couples with young kids and exchange babysitting so that everyone gets a night out, without the extra costs.
  9. When you make a purchase, do you research. Quality items that will last more than one kid will save future costs and can potentially be resold to recoup some of the cost.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Empty the fridge menu

A meal plan designed to use what is already in the fridge and freezer.

*Bake all of the potatoes the same day you make the roast.

Roast Beef with baked potatoes & green beans
Twice baked potatoes
Baked Potato Soup
Roast beef sandwiches
Mushroom & Beef Pies

Snacks: carrot & celery sticks, apples, tangerines

Grocery List

1 bag (12-15) baking potatoes
1 block 500g cheddar cheese
1 package bacon (we use turkey bacon)
1 loaf bread (or make at home)

1 bag carrots
1 bag celery
5 apples
1 bag tangerines

In the refrigerator/freezer:
3 kg Roast beef (already in freezer from previous month's sale $10)
1 bag of skim milk powder
1 large container low fat sour cream
1 bag frozen green beans1 head Romaine Lettuce
1 sweet pepper
5-7 Onions
1 pack of mushrooms
1 can tomato paste
BBQ sauce
red wine vinegar

In the cupboard
Chicken/Beef Bouillon

Slow cooker beef roast
  1. Slice 2 onions into 1/4-1/2 in rounds. Layer these on the bottom of the slow cooker pot
  2. Place defrosted roast on top
  3. Brush with 1/3 cup each of red wine vinegar(optional), BBQ sauce, and oil
  4. Add 1/2-1 cup of water to the bottom of the slow cooker
  5. Cook on low for 6 hours or until meat is tender
Beef Fajitas

  1. Chop 2-3 small onions, 1 sweet pepper into strips. Chop up remaining roast beef into strips.
  2. Stir fry onion and sweet pepper with approximately 2 tsp cumin, 3 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp paprika for 3-5 min until soft
  3. Add chopped roast beef and about 3 tbsp BBQ sauce. Stirfry until heated through.
  4. Serve with Tortillas, salsa, sour cream, cheese, and romaine lettuce

Beef & Mushroom Pies
  1. Slice onion, mushrooms, and cube roast beef(1cm cubes)
  2. Fry onion, mushrooms, in a large pot with a shake of thyme and a pinch of pepper until soft and fragrant
  3. Add beef, 2 cups beef stock/broth, 2 heaping teaspoons of tomato paste, and 1 bay lead and bring to a simmer.
  4. Stir 2 tsp of cornstarch into 1/4 cup of cold water, pour mixture into pot.
  5. Stir until thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool
  1. In a food processor, pulse 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour with 1 1/4 cup (butter/shortening/margarine) until crumbly
  2. Add 4-6 tsp ice cold water slowly until the dough comes together
  3. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Baking Pies 
  1. Fill pie tins or other suitable shallow baking containers with beef and mushroom mixture.
  2. Roll out dough and cut to cover containers.
  3. Pierce crust with a knife
  4. Bake at 425F for 25 min or until crust is golden.

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Cooking Ahead: Meals for after baby Part 1

    As promised, the mamouth cooking ahead challenge of cooking for a several months worth of meals after the baby comes has arrived. If you are new to cooking ahead, check out Tips for Beginners and Menu for Beginners, to get taste for how easy this can be. The amount of cooking involved in the following post is intimidating and probably best done over several days.

    Meals (NC=no cooking; PP=Pre-Prep; FC=Fully cooked)

    Zesty Turkey Burgers (17)
    Salmon (6)
    Roasted BBQ Beef (2 roasts)
    Spinach & Cheese Lasagna
    Thai Stirfry (2 full meals)
    Roasted Chicken Pieces (1 pack serves 4)

    Pizza (White Mushroom Garlic; Pepperoni; BBQ Chicken) (12 of each)
    Turkey Pies (16)
    Sweet Potato Burritos (9 meals size; 7 snack size)
    Turkey Mushroom Pasta Bake (4, each serves 4)

    Sloppy Joes
    Turkey Soup (9, 2 cup portions)
    Meatballs (40)
    Butternut squash soup
    Channa Masala
    Sweet Potato Coconut Thai Soup (8 servings)

    I divided the tasks into discreet sets that will allow me to complete this over multiple days: Shopping, chopping, prepping, cooking, and assembling. My schedule looks like this:

    Day 1 (Friday):Shop
    Day 2 (Saturday): Chop & Prep (with the odd cooking + assembling because I ran out of fridge space)
    Day 3 (Monday): Cook & Assemble

    Breaking this up over several days also allows for flash freezing which preserves the quality of the food and allows for better organization.

    Grocery List:

    11-12 onions
    1 green pepper
    4 red peppers
    3 mushrooms
    1 jar Garlic
    1-2 heads celery
    1 bag carrots
    2 large butternut squash
    4c. +4 lb (about 10 cups chopped) Sweet potato
    1 egg
    3 c. milk
    1 tub sour cream
    1500g cheese (mozzarella)
    500g Cheddar cheese
    2 ricotta cheese
    5 lb ground turkey
    8 lb poultry (8 turkey drumsticks)
    2 beef roasts
    2 whole chickens
    1 pack large tortillas
    1 pack small tortillas
    3 cans kidney beans
    2 cans coconut milk
    1 big bag flat rice noodles
    1 pack lasagna noodles
    2 L chicken stock/broth
    2 cans chickpeas
    1 can tomatoes
    1 pack shortening
    1 BBQ sauce
    Red wine vinegar
    1 bag Oats
    4 jars spaghetti sauce
    2 Packs Stirfry veggies
    Pie tins
    Tin foil
    Medium ziplock freezer bags
    Large Ziplock freezer bags
    Cling wrap

    Task List: 
    Night before:
    1. Place Turkey drumsticks into slow cooker (4 in each cook for me), 
    2. To each cooker add 2-3 ribs of celery , 1 onion, 1 bay leaf, 1 tbsp parsley, 1-2 tsp thyme, a shake of chili flakes, cold water to cover contents
    3. Set slow cooker on low for 6-9 hours
    1. Remove turkey meat from bones and chop (make sure to remove all the tiny bones and cartilage)
    2. Strain stock, cool, and remove fat
    3. Chop 2 squash (2 cm cubes)
    4. Chop all sweet potato (2 cm cubes)
    5. Chop 11-12 onions finely
    6. Chop 1 green pepper (finely)
    7. Chop 4 red peppers (medium-fine)
    8. Slice 4 tubs of mushrooms
    9. Chop 1/2 head celery (finely)
    10. Chop 1/2 head celery (coarsely for soup)
    11. Chop 3 carrots (finely)
    12. Chop 3 carrots (coarsely for soup)
    13. Slice Pepperoni 
    14. Break down chicken into legs(skin on), thigh(skin on), Drummettes, Wings, and boneless breast.
    15. Chop chicken breasts into 2cm cubes
    Prepping (part 1):
    1. Make 3-6 batches of pizza dough (depending on how thick you want your pizzas)
      1. Set aside to rise for 1 hour
    2.  Put turkey stock into a large pot, bring to a boil.
      1. add coarsely chopped carrots & celery, 1.5 c. of chopped onion, 2 tsp cumin, 1-2 tsp chili flakes, 1 tbsp parsley, 1 tbsp thyme, 1-2 tsp salt (to taste), 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp rosemary, 1 bay leaf, and 2-3 cups of chopped turkey. 
      2. Simmer for 10 min. 
      3. Cool and package.
    3. Boil a medium pot of water.
      1. Add 4 cups of chopped sweet potato
      2. Mash & set aside
    4. Make pizza crusts
      1. Divide dough and make into balls
      2. Roll out on a floured surface and bake for 7 min at 400F
      3. Cool
    5. Boil 1 large package of pasta according to direction, set aside
    6. Make 8 cups of mushroom cream sauce, cool and set aside
    7. Make bean mix for burritos
      1. Fry onions and garlic
      2. Mash beans with spices
      3. Add enough water to get a pasty consistency, set aside
    Assembling (part 1):
    1. Assemble Burritos, wrap individually in cling wrap and place in a large ziplock bag with instructions
    2. Combine pasta, 4-6 cup mushroom sauce, and 2 generous cups of turkey. 
      1. Pour into tin pans and top with grated mozzarella cheese
      2. Add lid, label, and freeze.
    3. Top crusts with remaining mushroom sauce, a few extra mushrooms and grated mozzarella.
      1. Freeze between sheets of waxed paper
    4. Top crusts with pasta sauce, cheese and pepperoni
    5. Top crusts with BBQ sauce, red peppers, turkey, and onions
    Prepping (part 2):
    1. Prepare pie crust dough, refrigerate
    2. Prepare Turkey stew
      1. Cook finely chopped celery, carrot and 1.5 c. onion in a large pot.
      2. Create roux, add liquids, and thicken
      3. Add spices to taste and stir in remaining turkey
      4. Cool
    3. Mix shake & Bake ingredients and place in a ziplock bake with instructions
    Assembling & Cooking (part 2):
    1. Make sloppy joes, set aside to cool
    2. Make  meatballs and put in oven to bake
    3. Set rice boiling
    4. Set butternut squash soup cooking
    5. Make burgers (flash freeze)
    6. Cool and flash freeze meatballs
    7. Set Sweet Potato Thai Coconut Soup cooking
    8. Set Channa Masala cooking
    9. Package Salmon
      1. Write instructions on foil
      2. Top frozen fillets with pesto sauce
      3. Seal packages & return to freezer
    10. Assemble Lasagnas, label, and freeze
    11. Assemble Pies
    12. Portion and freeze sloppy joes, butternut squash soup, Sweet Potato Thai Coconut soup, and Channa Masala

    Recipes to follow

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Flexible inexpensive meals: Barley soup

    This recipe is adapted from The Simple Dollar, which is a great blog to follow for information about finances and living life frugally in general.

    1 large (or 2 small-medium) onions chopped
    1 bunch of celery chopped
    1 can of diced tomatoes
    2 carrots chopped
    1 bay leaf
    2.5-3 L stock (veggie or chicken)
    1 cup barley (the kind that takes 2 hrs or less to cook*)
    Shake of Chili Flakes
    Shake of Parsley
    Shake of Italian Seasoning
    2 tsp basil

    1. Fry the onions and celery in a little oil until the onions brown
    2. Rinse barley well, then add all of the ingredients (except the basil) to the pot, and simmer gently for 2 hours. Alternatively, toss everything into the slow cooker on high for 3 hrs or on low for 6 hrs.
    3. Stir in the basil before serving.
    This is great with homemade bread.

    *If your barley takes less than 2 hours to cook, simply adjust the cooking time on the stove top to that amount.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Convenience Foods: Granola Bars

    This is one of the simplest, still tasty granola bar recipes. Ultimately you need 5-5.5 cups worth of ingredients with about 40-50% of the ingredients as rice krispies.

    Ingredients (basic recipe):
    2-3 cups rice Krispies (more Krispies means a less dense bar)
    1 1/2 cups oats
    1/2 cup raisons or peanuts or other nuts
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup honey or corn syrap
    1/2 cup peanut (or other nut) butter
    1 tsp vanilla
    1/4-1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

    1. line or grease a 11 x 7 inch pan (I like to use silicone baking sheets)
    2. mix krispies, oats, raisons/nuts, and chocolate chips in a big bowl
    3. heat syrap/honey & sugar in a sauce pan until just boiling
    4. remove pot from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla till mixed
    5. pour over dry ingredients and mix quickly.
    6. as soon as mixed scrape into the pan and flatten (I use a piece of waxed paper on the bottom of an equal sized pan to help get an even surface)
    7. let cool then cut into bars (makes about 16)

     *I like to add a mixture of nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts), ground nuts (peacan meal), and ground flax seed, along with a mixture of oat, rye, and spelt flakes for a protein rich, healthier bar.

    Chocolate coating:
    I like to add a coating of vanilla or nut flavoured chocolate

    1 cup vanilla chips
    1 tsp nut butter (optional)

    1. put chips in a bowl
    2. boil water in a pot that the bowl can sit on top of.
    3. put bowl on top of the pot with boiling water and stir until the chips melt
    4. add a few drops of oil and mix (repeat until you have the consistency you want)
    5. dip the tops of bars in the chocolate/spread the chocolate on top.
    6. let cool (white chocolate does better cooled in a freezer for a few minutes).

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Quick & Easy Chicken, Mushroom Pasta Bake

    This is a fairly simple meal that freezes well, multiplies well, and can be made ahead. This version easily serves 8-10 people. You probably have most, if not all, of the ingredients on hand:

    450 g pasta of choice (I used penne)
    2 cups (milk, cream, or a mixture there of)
    2 cups chicken broth*
    2 cups diced, cooked chicken (or tuna or any other preferred protein)*
    1/2 cup butter/oil
    1/2 cup flour
    1 can mushrooms
    Thyme, Chili flakes, Salt, Pepper to taste
    2 tsp Garlic
    1 onion chopped finely
    1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

    1. Cook pasta according to package instructions
    2. Mix oil, flour, and spices in a sauce pan and cook for 1-2 min. 
    3. Remove sauce pan from heat and stir in liquids slowly, stirring continuously until smooth.
    4. Return to heat and cook until thickened
    5. Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, and cheese
    6. Combine pasta, sauce, and chicken in a 13"x9" pan
    7. Top with cheese (I used grated mozzarella) if desired and bake 350F for 30 min.
    * I poached 16 chicken thighs in a slow cooker on high for 3 hours, with 2 stalks of celery, 1 carrot, 1 onion, a bay leaf, parsley, thyme and enough water to cover. I used the meat from 6 of the thighs for the recipe along with 2 cups of broth. To make a richer stock, pull all the meat off the bones after 3 hours (reserve), and toss the bones back into the pot with the broth and veggies for another 8 hours on low. Strain final stock to remove debris.

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Recipes: Cooking Ahead Part 2

    After a holiday delay, here are the recipes for Cooking Ahead Part 2: Cooking day for beginners. Please remember that this is a wheat-free menu, so textures are slightly different for some dishes than you may be used to.

    Meatballs (all amounts are approximate, I just guest mate):
    1lb ground meat (any type works)
    ½ cup oats (instant, or toast them in the food processor for a few seconds)
    Squirt of mustard
    1-2 tsp Italian seasoning
    1 small onion, chopped finely
    1 egg
    Medium ziplock freezer bags

    1.       Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
    2.       Use a teaspoon/cookie scoop to measure even amounts of the mixture, form into balls and place on a cookie sheet/baking pan
    3.       Bake at 350oF for 25-30 min
    4.       Cool and flash freeze* before bagging
    *Flash freezing is the process of freezing items quickly, usually in a single layer. It work really well to prevent a big lump of frozen food from forming and will allow you to pull out only as much of each item as you need.

    Shepherd’s Pie
    1 bag frozen veggies
    4-6 large potatoes, boiled and mashed with a little butter + milk
    2-3 lb ground beef
    1-2 small onions chopped
    4-5 personal sized aluminum pans with lids (don’t use glass dishes as they can shatter)

    1.       Brown ground beef with onion, a shake of garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and a bay leaf. Drain fat and remove the bay leaf.
    2.       Once cooled layer ground beef, frozen veggies, and mashed potato into the pans.
    3.       Write instructions on the lid and place in the freezer immediately.

    Instructions: Bake at 400 oF for 45min-1hr until heated through. (Optional: sprinkle with grated cheese before baking)

    2 lb ground meat (never frozen!)
    1 egg
    1 onion chopped
    1 cup oats
    Salt and pepper
    1-2 tsp Italian seasoning
    1-2 tsp garlic powder
    ¼-1/3 cup ketchup

    1.       Combine ingredients in same bowl used for meatballs.
    2.       Divide mixture between the 4 pans, cover, label with instructions and freeze immediately
    Instructions: Bake at 350 oF for 1 hour or until cooked through.

    1 lb ground meat
    1 can kidney beans
    1 can chickpeas (or replace with 2 cans of mix beans)
    1 onion chopped
    1 can diced tomatoes
    3 tbsp chili powder
    2 tsp garlic powder
    1 bay leaf
    2 tsp Italian seasoning
    Salt and pepper to taste

    1.       Put all ingredients into a pot or slow cooker, cook on low heat for 2-4 hours (stove top) or 4-6 hours (slow cooker).
    2.       Cool and package into ziplock bags (freeze flat)

    Beef Stew
    2 lb ground beef
    1 onion chopped
    Italian seasoning, bay leaf, garlic powder
    1 bag carrots, diced,
    2-4 diced potatoes
    Other veggies as desired
    Bouillon (to taste)

    1.       Brown ground beef with onions and spices, drain fat
    2.       Add beef and other ingredients to a pot and just cover with water. Add Boullion according to direction (usually 2 tsp per cup or water)
    3.       Simmer on low for 2-3 hours.
    4.       To  thicken, use a few tsp of cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup cold water.
    5.       Cool and freeze in ziplock bags

    Sole with Garlic Butter
    5 frozen sole fillets
    5 small slices of butter (about 2cm x 2 cm)
    Garlic powder
    Tin foil

    1.       Tear 5 square sheets of tin foil large enough to encase sole fillets, write instructions on the back of the tinfoil with a permanent marker.
    2.       Place each fillet(still frozen) in the centre of a piece of foil, top with a piece of butter and shake of garlic powder.
    3.       Roll opposing edges of the foil together to form a package and freeze immediately.
    Instructions: Bake at 4000F for 30-40 min or until fish flakes

    Salmon with Herb Butter
    4 frozen Salon fillets
    4 small slices of butter (about 2cm x 2 cm)
    Garlic powder, basil (or favourite herbs)
    Tin foil

    1.       Tear 4 square sheets of tin foil large enough to encase salmon fillets, write instructions on the back of the tinfoil with a permanent marker.
    2.       Place each fillet (still frozen) in the centre of a piece of foil, top with a piece of butter and shake of garlic powder and desired herbs.
    3.       Roll opposing edges of the foil together to form a package and freeze immediately.
    Instructions: Bake at 4000F for 30-40 min or until fish flakes

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    $40 for two for a week of dinners and lunches

    This week's menu plan is designed for a couple. The meals should provided at least 3 servings for each dinner and lunch (we make the meal for dinner, then have leftovers for lunch). I use three servings because my husband eats about double what I do. This menu is based on the cook one item (roast beef) and reuse it throughout the week principle.

    1. Simple BBQ Roast beef with green bean and potatoes
    2. BBQ Roast beef salad
    3. Roast Beef Sandwiches
    4. Butternut squash soup
    5. Beef Fajitas
    6. Left overs (repeat meals until beef is completely used up)

    Shopping List:
    *prices are based on standard prices in Southern Ontario, the weight ranges reflects the standard amounts that sell for those prices based on January 2011.

    1 3kg (6lb) eye of round roast ($13)
    1 pack grape/baby tomatoes ($2)
    1 box spring lettuce mix ($4.50)

    1 small-medium red onion ($0.20)
    1 bag frozen green beans ($2)
    10lb potatoes ($2)
    1 large(2-3 lb) butternut squash ($2)
    1 orange or 1 can frozen concentrated orange juice ($0.50)

    1 green pepper ($0.50)
    10 lb onions ($2)
    10 tortillas ($2)
    1 loaf bread ($2)
    1 tub sour cream ($2)
    1 jar salsa ($2)
    1 bottle BBQ sauce ($2)

    Total: $38.70

    Pantry ingredients:
    spices (garlic, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, chili powder, cumin)

    condiments (mustard/mayonnaise, etc)
    red wine vinegar


    Roast the beef (using a 9 x 13 brownie pan or anything else that fits)
    1. Rinse and pat dry the roast
    2. Rub with garlic, salts & pepper, and BBQ sauce
    3. Heat oven to 500F, put roast in oven and turn temperature down to 475F
    4. Cook roast for 7 min per pound (for my 6 lb roast that's about 42 min).
    5. Turn off oven and don't open door. Let roast sit for 2.5 hours in the closed oven.
    6. Carve and enjoy
    *makes medium rare roast, which is more rare than we like it so I cut the ends off for dinner(they tend to be closer to medium), then throw the rest in the slow cooker on low for 4 hours with about 1/4 cup BBQ sauce, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, and 1 cup water.

    1. Boil potatoes in a pot of water until tender when pierced with a fork.
    2. Cook beans according to directions.
    3. Use drippings to make gravy if desired
    BBQ Beef Salad
    1. Using leftover beef roast, chop tomatoes, 1/4-1/2 of the red onion and slice beef
    2. Arrange on bed of spring mix
    3. Mix 1/3 cup red wine (or other) vinegar, 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup of BBQ sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over salad (rest will keep in the fridge for at least 1 week)
    Roast Beef Sandwiches
    1. Slice roast beef and assemble sandwiches
    Butternut Squash soup
    1. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large saucepan and stirfry 1 medium onion (chopped) for 2 min. 
    2. Add 2inch chopped ginger, 2 garlic cloves (chopped), and butternut squash (peeled & chopped). Stir fry for 6-8 min.
    3. Add 4 cups water and simmer for 20 min
    4. Puree soup in batches and stir in 1/4 cup orange juice and 1.5 tsp salt.
    5. Garnish with sour cream
    Beef Fajitas
    1. Chop 2-3 small onions, 1 sweet pepper into strips. Chop up remaining roast beef into strips.
    2. Stir fry onion and sweet pepper with approximately 2 tsp cumin, 3 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp paprika for 3-5 min until soft
    3. Add chopped roast beef and about 3 tbsp BBQ sauce. Stirfry until heated through.
    4. Serve with Tortillas, salsa, sour cream, cheese, and spring mix