Monday, February 21, 2011

Fudge Mug Brownie

Ever had guests arrive and need something quick and delicious to serve? These take 60 seconds to cook, use ingredients on hand, and can easily be modified for carob or gluten-free options.

Fudge Mug Brownie:
4 Tbsp flour (all purpose)
4 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp water
(if you like a more cake-like texture add a dash of baking powder)

Mix all ingredients in a mug and microwave for 1 min (slightly less if you want a 'melting chocolate cake' type effect).

Carob Variation:
Decrease sugar to 3 Tbsp and add extra 1Tbsp each of water and oil.

Gluten-Free option:
Simply substitute Gluten-free all-purpose flour instead of regular flour.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Learning about your finances

Here is a quick and dirty list of some good introductions to managing your money accompanied by some accessible blogs that are updated on a regular basis.

The Total Money Makeover - Dave Ramsey
This book takes a straight forward look at finances, getting on track, and controlling your money without it controlling you. The plan is simple, and has been proven by thousands of people over many years to work, but it will require some dedication (well rewarded) on the part of the saver. This is a great introduction to getting out of debt, setting goals, and enjoying life without worrying about money. [Warning: this is a book from the US so some of the information around government investment vehicles does not apply directly to Canadians, but the principles are good].

The Wealthy Barber - David Chilton
A best seller for decades this is a Canadian based, easy to read, and straight forward book about money written as advice from a barber. The plan is simple, and for many people will meet the need to make saving a habit without unduly effecting their current life styles. It's a great first step toward taking control of your finances.[Canadian based]

The Simple Dollar - Trent Hamm
This blog is updated regularly (often multiple times a day) with answers to reader questions, financial tips and advice, and general tips to save money in everyday life. This is a great place to slowly gain information in a broad spectrum of areas to help you save money. Posts are typically short and reference places for further reading for those seeking more in depth information.[US based]

Get Rich Slowly - J. D. Roth
Another blog that touches on a variety of information relating to finances. Frequent guest posts from famous financial gurus grace this blog including from TLCs "Till Debt Do Us Part" Gail Vaz-Oxlade. Posts are normally focused on a single topic and relevant to daily living. [US based]

Making Money Make Sense - Gail Vaz-Oxlade
Updated less frequently than the previous 2 blogs, this offers Canadian specific advice for getting finances on track with periodic guest posts that focus on areas where people can trim money. For example how to create a stylish but inexpensive wardrobe that will last. The blog is focused on making money easy to understand for everyone.  [Canadian based]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cookbook Review

One of the keys to cooking tasty meals for less is a selection of useful and inspiring cookbooks. Here the 4 cookbooks that (along with the Internet) provide 99% of my information and recipes:

More Make-A-Mix Cookery
This book teaches you how to make pantry and refrigerator mixes (similar to the store bought cookie dough, muffin, cake, bread, shake 'n bake, etc mixes).
Reason I love it: this is a great guide for what kinds of things are shelf stable, but can create the tastes you want. This is my go to book for non-freezer, make-ahead foods.
Cost: I picked mine up for 50 cents at a garage sale

The Joy of Cooking
This book provides explanations about ingredients and recipes that will allow you to tweak recipes to get the taste you want. It also provides almost every basic recipe you could want.
Reason I love it: although it lacks pictures, this is the backbone of my cooking. Want to make a more delicate muffin, richer soup, learn about an unusual ingredient to accommodate someone's dietary needs? this is the first place I go.
Cost: about $25 (or check out garage sales)

Hello, Cupcake
This book is a great introduction to how to decorate baking of all sorts. Once you have the concepts down, the book provides beautiful pictures for inspiration.
Reason I love it: The materials needed (ziplock bags and candies) and the concepts are simple and
accessible to everyone. I use this book for inspiration in creating my own themes snacks and treats.
Cautions: I have not had great success with the cupcake recipes at the back (dry and an odd taste). I far prefer the lightening cake recipe from the Joy of Cooking.
Cost: about $20

Great Fast Food

This book's recipes just seem foolproof. I get something unusual and delicious every time, it's a great way to add some variety to your family's staple meals. Best of all, the recipes are quick and fairly simple to make and every recipe has it's own picture.
Reason I love it: Even recipes I think will be strange end up tasting wonderful. The recipes immediately become family favourites and teach a few time saving tricks along the way.
Cost:about $20

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meal planning for beginners

Meals planning can be pretty intimidating, here are some tricks to get started.

Remember to start small and recognize that over time this becomes a lot easier. Plan a basic breakfast for each day, and keep this simple. Finally, search the web and use other people's ideas to get started.

Flexible plan
Goal: choose 5-6 meals that will form dinners, and leftovers for lunch. This leaves 1-2 meals per week to eat out, go over to someone's house, etc.

Tips: Use local flyers to choose 1 meat, and potentially a few veggies that will make up the back bone of your meals. Try to prepare the meat differently several times throughout the week. If you can cook once and re-purpose the leftovers even better. Check out these Turkey and Roast Beef  examples for ideas.

Breakfast: Bagels & Cream Cheese/Cereal & Milk

Snacks: Yogurt, Granola bars

Meal 1: Vegetarian Stir-fry & Rice
Meal 2: Sloppy Joes (ground turkey)
Meal 3: Soft Tacos (ground turkey)
Meal 4: Hamburger Surprises (ground turkey)
Meal 5: Taco Salad

Structured Plan:
Goal: Created a detailed plan for each meal and day of the week.

Tips: Start out coming up with 6-7 dinners that can double as lunch leftovers. Slot these into your meal plan, then fill in the breakfasts. Then add the snacks.


Breakfast Snack Lunch Snack Dinner
Su Granola + Yogurt Clementine Oven Roasted Chicken Legs + Sm. Salad (1/2 Romaine, Tomato, 1/2 Pepper, 1 carrot) Yogurt  + Apple Chicken Soup
Mo Oatmeal Carrots & Celery+ 1/2 c. raisins Left over Oven Roasted Chicken Legs + Sm. Salad (1/2 Romaine, Tomato, 1/2 Pepper, carrot) Yogurt + Apple Herb Butter Salmon + Brown rice + Beans
Tu Granola + Yogurt Carrots & Celery+ 1/2 c. raisins Left over rice w/ soy sauce + Sm. Salad (1/2 Romaine, Tomato, 1/2 Pepper, 1 carrot) Yogurt + Apple Slowcooker Beef Stew + Potatoes
We Granola + Yogurt Carrots & Celery+ 1/2 c. raisins Potato Salad + Sm. Salad (1/2 Romaine, Tomato, 1/2 Pepper, 1 carrot) Yogurt + Apple Chicken soup + Bagel w/ cream cheese
Th Oatmeal Carrots & Celery+ 1/2 c. raisins Greek Salad (1/2 Cucumber, tomato, mushrooms,  feta, red onion, pepper) + Bagel w/ cream cheese Yogurt + Apple Chicken Ceasar Salad (1 Romaine, parmasan, 1 Chicken breast)
Fr Granola + Yogurt Carrots & Celery+ 1/2 c. raisins Left over Slowcooker Beef Stew + Ceasar Salad (1/2 Romaine, parmasan) Yogurt + Apple Salad (1 Romaine, Tomato, 1 Pepper, carrot)
Sa Oatmeal Clementine Chicken soup + bagel w/ cream cheese Yogurt + Apple Greek Salad (1/2 Cucumber, tomato, mushrooms,  feta, red onion, pepper)