Tag Archives: frugality

Stir It Up! Fast and Easy Stir-Fry Cooking


On busy days, it’s often more than a little tempting to get an expensive drive-thru dinner just because the ingredients you have at home will take too long to make into a meal. But I’ve found that if I keep ingredients handy in the pantry and refrigerator for simple meal prep, I can have dinner on the table in a flash – and protect my pocketbook from that ravenous Fast Food Monster at the same time!

One of my favorite quick fix meal preparation methods is stir-frying. Including the prep time of chopping up meats and veggies, I can usually have a meal on the table from start to finish in about 15-20 minutes. It’s just a simple process where you rapidly cook meat and vegetables in a small amount of oil. The process is similar to sauteing, except you use less oil, hotter temperatures, and usually a wok. I do most of my stir-frying in my large heavy skillet on the stove-top because I don’t have enough storage in my kitchen to keep my wok handy. I’m usually just too lazy on a hectic day to walk to the cupboard down the hall to grab the wok.

You can find basic stir-fry instructions in almost any good general cookbook or browse through books at the library on Asian cooking. With a quick search online, you’ll discover that the Internet’s full of great recipes – and all for free! Don’t you just love that price? It warms my little frugal heart.

Here are few simple tips to keep in mind when you pull out your first wok recipe:

  1. You want the oil in your wok or frying pan hot enough that it’s slightly smoking, otherwise the stir-frying will be too slow and your vegetables will be limp.
  2. Cut your ingredients into thin, bite-sized pieces so they’ll cook evenly and quickly.
  3. It’s helpful to choose vegetables and meats that will all cook at about the same speed, otherwise you have to keep track of when to add the different ingredients so everything’s cooked, but nothing’s overcooked.
  4. Cook the meat first, remove from the pan, and then cook the vegetables. Add the meat back into the pan at the end of cooking. This keeps the flavors distinct and separate, and also keeps the meat from overcooking.
  5. If you have ingredients that need to be added at different times in the cooking process, chop them up ahead of time and put them onto separate plates. Then you can just pick up the plate and dump the contents directly into the wok or frying pan as needed.
  6. When stir-frying, you want everything chopped and prepped in advance because you can’t stop stir-frying partway through the process to cut up vegetables or slice meat.
  7. Once you start cooking, keep stirring and tossing constantly or things will burn or cook unevenly.
  8. Fresh vegetables are wonderful in stir-fry meals, so when your summer garden really starts producing, you’re in the middle of stir-fry days.

To make stir-frying easy as can be, you’ll want to keep stocked up on some pantry staples. Keep watch for the following items when they go on sale – then you’ll be ready to stir-fry at a moment’s notice: fresh garlic, crushed red pepper, sesame seeds, red chili paste, fresh ginger, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, chopped peanuts and cashews, Chinese spice blend, sesame oil, peanut oil, soy sauce, Teriyaki sauce, rice vinegar, beef broth, cooking sherry, cornstarch, rice, and Asian noodles.

Happy fast-and-easy cooking, everyone!

~Debi


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Funding a Frugal Holiday Season

santa-piggy-bank

With the holiday season upon us, we often hear the familiar refrains of our favorite Christmas carols and seasonal music. But too many of us tend to sing different words to the familiar tune of Jingle Bells: Continue reading

Using Up Leftovers


Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Original Simple Mom’s Idea Book by Deborah Taylor-Hough (Simple Pleasures Press, 2015).


Lfrgigieftovers. We all have them, don’t we? But what do we do with them? I don’t really like keeping them in my refrigerator until a science project on mold develops, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to use leftovers for without driving the family crazy. I don’t care to hear another chorus of that all-too-familiar song, “What?! Meatloaf… AGAIN?!” 

Probably the most important step with leftovers is making sure to keep them safe. We’re not really saving any money on our family budget if that frugal dinner of leftovers sends everyone to the hospital with food poisoning! To keep leftovers safe, cover and refrigerate within two hours of a meal, freeze to keep more than three days, and thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator. 

I try to plan one meal each week to use up leftovers. Often it’s during a lunchtime with just the kids and I, but sometimes there’s enough food to feed the entire family. A complete meal of food that’s been “found” in the refrigerator is like getting an extra meal each week for free. 

It’s a good idea to try and change the way the leftover is served from one meal to the next. Rather than serving leftover fried chicken, you could take the meat off the bone and prepare cold chicken sandwiches for a change of pace. 

Suggestions for Using Leftovers

  • Bread (loaf ends, slices starting to dry).  Use in bread pudding, French toast, meat loaf extender, croutons, stuffing, bread crumbs

  • Egg (hard-cooked).  Use in casseroles, salads, sandwiches.

  • Fruit (fresh, canned or frozen).  Use in smoothies, milk shakes, gelatin desserts, cobblers, fruit bread, muffins, jam, freezer pops.

  • Meat, poultry, or fish (cooked).  Use in soups, stew, salad, quiche, enchiladas, stir fry, sandwiches, pot pies.

  • Potatoes (cooked).  Use in meat pies, salads, soups, stew.

  • Rice or pasta (cooked).  Use in casseroles, soups.

  • Vegetables (cooked).  Use in casseroles, quiche, salads, soups, sprinkled over a baked potato, in pot pies.

Pancakes, French toast, or waffles can just be popped into a sealed bag in your freezer. When you have enough assorted breakfast leftovers to make a meal, each person can have a variety of different items. To reheat, toast in the toaster on the Pastry setting.

Coffee and tea can be frozen in ice cube trays, then transfer the frozen coffee/tea cubes to plastic freezer bags. These work well for iced coffee or tea, and won’t dilute the drink when the cubes melt.

Syrup drained from canned fruits can be mixed with a bit of milk and made into creamy freezer pops for a refreshing hot-weather treat. The leftover fruit syrup can also be frozen into cubes and used in cold summertime drinks.

If you make a lot of pie crusts, put the scraps into a plastic freezer bag. After collecting scraps for awhile, you’ll have enough for an extra crust. 

Party Tray 

One of the things our family does regularly with leftovers is to prepare a meal we call “Party Tray.” I’ll take all the collected leftovers out of the refrigerator and freezer, reheat them, and then divide the food items among our plates. Everyone gets a little dab of this and a little dab of that – maybe only a bite or two of each item, but after the plate is filled with bits and pieces from past meals, it takes on the look of a plate from a party buffet line. I usually add some sliced cheese and crackers, plus a few cut-up fresh veggies, to complete the party theme. 

My kids love this Party Tray meal idea. I hesitated for a long time to serve Party Tray to my husband, but one Saturday I just threw together a Party Tray meal for lunch. I was so surprised — my husband thought it was a great idea and wanted to know why I didn’t do this when he was around. So Party Tray has became a regular event, enjoyed by the whole family.  

Soup and Bread Night 

One night each week we have a Soup and Bread night. I’ll either bake a loaf of fresh bread, a bunch of hearty rolls, or a big pan of cornbread. I keep a covered bucket in the freezer for storing assorted leftovers (meats, vegetables, rice, beans, etc.) to make soup. One woman told me she drew a lady’s face on the soup bucket and called the lady the Freezer Fairy. Her children could hardly wait to feed their leftovers to the Freezer Fairy. 

Each week, they were excited to see what delicious soup she was going to make for their family (by the way, the Freezer Fairy’s magic doesn’t work well on fish, so don’t add leftover fish to your soup bucket in the freezer). 

Happy frugal eating!

~Debi

 


61ghrkhptflThis post is excerpted and adapted with permission from the book, The Original Simple Mom’s Idea Book by Deborah Taylor-Hough, available in both paperback and Kindle ebook formats.  You’ll find more handy hints and simple ideas on topics such as frugal family entertainment, organizing your summer, avoiding mosquito bites, simplified party planning, and lots more!


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Low Budget Meal Planning

Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Original Simple Mom’s Idea Book.


by Deborah Taylor-Hough


40f11a4f52c0a9f96ae4fba44388a707How much of your family’s hard earned money goes to groceries? $150 per week? $100?

Believe it or not, it’s relatively simple to spend as little as $50 per week on groceries for a family of five or six. But slashing the food bill down to those lower numbers means you may need to rethink the way your family eats. Continue reading

Contentment Robbers & Thieves

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

piggy-bank-thief-1024x533A while back, someone told me that they were tired of being in debt and were ready to get their spending under control. But they were concerned about the fact that they still enjoyed spending money to pamper themselves. They were looking for inexpensive “luxury” ideas. Continue reading