Archive for category Saving Money

Homemade Candied Ginger & Ginger Simple Syrup

I’m a big fan of ginger in savory dishes, but only recently have I been turned on to the sweet side of the spicy root. Store bought crystallized ginger is tasty but can be a fairly expensive ingredient for baked goods because its sold in small quantities.

My friend Jenny also spoiled me with Red Rock Ginger Ale and I’ve been mildly obsessed with how hot-but-cream-soda-y it is. At $5 for a 4-pack it’s not cheap either and well, I am.

Homemade Candied Ginger Recipe

Always looking for ways to make things myself, I grabbed a $2 hunk of ginger at the Farmer’s Market and began my research. Obviously the first step to ginger anything is peeling it and my mom (who taught me most everything I know about cooking) showed me a neat trick.

Since it’s easier to show than explain, I made my very first YouTube video just for y’all:

Now that we’ve got our ginger peeled, it’s show time. This recipe is a 2-fer because you end up with chewy spicy candied ginger and a wonderful ginger infused simple syrup – the starting point for ginger ale!

I have big plans for all that candied ginger so stay tuned for some baked goods featuring the ingredient!

Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you bake, you’ve probably shelled out a pretty penny for vanilla extract. Nothing beats that extra sweetness and flavor in a cake, frosting or cookie! At $8.99 a pop for the cheap-o corn syrup stuff or $20+ for the really good stuff, its pricey. You can be like my friend Joey and buy a gallon at Sam’s and yes, that should last you a while.  But what if you could easily make your own at home?

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Now when I say easily, please know it doesn’t take much effort, but I didn’t say fast. If you start now, you could have some ready for Christmas cookies! I’ve had the one above going for about 2 months and it’s not dark enough yet. Luckily I’m patient and have plenty of store bought vanilla bean paste to last a while. I find that we are pretty disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Have you ever spent much time thinking about how vanilla extract is made, what makes it wonderful and where it comes from?  If you just want to hurry up and get your extract started (the sooner the better…) then skip down to the recipe. Otherwise, stick around and I’ll share what I know about this amazing “bean”!

What is Vanilla?

Vanilla beans actually come from an orchid. Crazy right?  I just saw the Vanilla Orchid in person at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (the orchid greenhouse is the best part!)  To get high yields, orchid farmers hand pollinate the flowers. Once formed, the beans are cured and fermented for up to a year to allow the aromatic flavors to develop. (Now you know why it costs so much!) Commercial vanilla extract uses grain alcohol to dissolve the flavor compounds of the vanilla.  The FDA requires a very set ratio of vanilla bean to water to alcohol in order to label it vanilla “extract”.  From what I’ve read, it takes up to two full years for vanilla extract to reach its full flavor. We won’t be quite so precise (or patient) with ours.

I put my jar in the pantry where its very dark with the door closed.  I see it there and I remember to shake it up.  One of the things I read that I’m excited to try is that as you use the extract, top it off with vodka. Supposedly the extract will stay flavorful for 7 years. I also can’t wait to try the same approach with lemon peels, lavender and other flavors that might make a nice extract for baking!


Ideas for Decorating an Apartment: Vinyl Wall Designs

Renters can decorate too, or so that’s what I’m telling myself.

After owning a home that we completely remodeled, living in a (very new) rental is somewhat of an adjustment. We were used to spending nights and weekends on DIY improvement projects and now we don’t know what to do with ourselves!Target Birds & Branches Vinyl Clock

I love to scour the Target endcaps for cheap clearance finds. On one fateful trip, I found this glorious “Birds & Branches” clock for just $6.24 (check the tag!) and it had to come home with me.  That was back when we owned our place and I never did find the time or the right place to hang it… Until now!

Target Clearance Price Tag

Our new rental has tons of style with pretty moldings, high ceilings and lots of details… but it doesn’t necessarily reflect anything about us or our taste. The blank wall above the fireplace was screaming for some art and this clock was the perfect size.

What’s great about it is that when we’re ready to move, the vinyl peels right off.  We even hung the clock part with a thumb tack so as to make the tiniest hole possible.

Removable Vinyl Wall Art

The clock came with extra birds that we felt would clutter the look.  My uber creative hubs had the idea to put one bird above the window molding for some added flair.

See him way over there on the right looking back at his buddy on the clock?.. No? Ok, I’ll zoom in:

Vinyl Wall Art

Overall we are excited to be city dwellers and have accepted the fact that we just have to get creative in our decorating. Stay tuned for more ideas as we slowly put together our new place!

Budget Friendly Creamy Tomato Bisque Recipe

An abundance of canned tomatoes from a recent coupon shopping trip left me thinking up a multitude of ways to use this versatile ingredient.  Y’all know I’m a frugal gal, some might even call me cheap (and I’d take it as a compliment!).  Often times, shopping what’s on sale leaves you with an interesting combination of ingredients on hand.  A little creativity and you can get dinner on the table:

Creamy Tomato Soup Recipe


Here is a (very short) snippet of my grocery shopping list from this week.  I scored 8 huge cans of tomatoes for 43¢ a piece, 12¢ sour cream, 67¢ shredded mozzarella and paid 69¢ for 7 delicious ciabatta rolls. (If you have a Publix nearby and want to grab these deals yourself check out SouthernSavers for the Publix Weekly Ad w/ coupon matchups for more details.. you have until 4/23!)


SouthernSavers Publix Weekly Ad

A kitchen full of assorted random ingredients just leads to me get creative and after a few suggestions from Twitter and Facebook friends, I decided to make a chunky tomato bisque, (thanks @mariafrey!) Except that I made it chunk-less (you’ll see what I mean)…


Making this soup allowed me to reconnect with two of my kitchen utensils that don’t get a lot of action: My big ol’ stockpot, and  the stick blender that I used to puree this chunky soup silky smooth!


Stockpot with Onions and PeppersCuisinart Stick Blender

I followed the recipe pretty closely, making small adjustments based on what I had and seasoning to my taste. Its a big batch so you can feed 6-8 easily depending on whether its an entree or starter.

If you add up the extra produce, I made this whole pot of soup for less than 4 bucks! And you know tomato soup gets even better the next day so we’ll be chomping on this with half a sandwich for lunch tonmorrow!

I have a couple more recipe suggestions to try including a super simple tomato sauce (thanks Kristy!) and a tomato eggplant sausage penne that my sis likes to make. I’ve still got 6 cans of tomatoes left so I’ll be adding these to our menus for the next few weeks!


A Letter to Whole Foods about Coupons

Dear Whole Foods,

Wow! Your stores are beautiful.  Filled with fresh, local and crisp produce. Brimming with prepared food options: Barbecue, pizza, GeLAtO, cupcakes, and the biggest salad bar I’ve ever seen.  Tons of variety in the dry goods too.

There’s just one problem.  Your wares and goods don’t fit my budget (for the most part).  But we could change all that… with coupons!

I visited your store for my very first time yesterday in Atlanta, GA. And I loved everything about the experience – except what happened with my coupons.

You see, I checked your sales flyer online and printed some “Whole Deal” store coupons. Using Mambo Sprouts and a couple other sites I also took the time to print some corresponding manufacturer coupons.

I came in with my coupons and grocery list and quickly got distracted by all the shiny veggies.  Nom!  When I refocused, I grabbed what was on my list..Garden of Eatin Tortilla Chips, Muir Glen Tomatoes, 7th Generation Paper Towels and a product I’ve never tried before, So Delicious Coconut Milk. I bought these items because they were on sale and you offered coupons. Many of them the manufacturer also offered coupons that helped keep me in line with my budget.

Then I got to the prepared foods section.  Oh my, I would have had one of everything if I hadn’t just eaten dinner (frugal tip: don’t shop when you are hungry… especially at WF).  I was tempted by several things, but I did actually grab a pack of sliced pancetta at, GASP, full price.

Sales and coupons are what got me in your front door. But when I got to the register to pay, I was surprised to have several coupons handed back to me.  I politely explained that every store I shop at allows you to use a store and manufacturer’s coupon together, so he called a manager for clarification.

The manager gave me a little talking to about how he would do it this one time, but that Whole Foods doesn’t allow a store and manufacturer’s coupon together.  Whoa! Really?  That makes no sense and here’s why:

Let’s take the example of the Seventh Generation Paper Towels that cost $2.69 regular price
(Wow, I would never pay $2.69 for paper towels even if they were made of pure cotton!)

Whole Foods Coupons: Fail or Win?

You offered a $1 off any Seventh Generation product coupon here and
Seventh Generation also offers a $1 Manufacturers coupon on their website.

1.  A Whole Foods Coupon is like a sale that you have to be savvy enough to get in on. Not everyone gets the discount, but these are also not reimbursed by the manufacturer directly.

That coupon makes my paper towels $1.69 (still more expensive than Marcal with a coupon). This price alone would not get me in your door for paper towels, I have TONS of other options.

2.  Manufacturer’s coupons are reimbursed directly by the manufacturer plus 8 cents!

That coupon together with my Whole Foods “sale” coupon makes my paper towels 69¢.  Now we’re talking!  The funny thing is, using these two coupons together, Whole Foods actually makes 8 cents more (a total of $1.77) than if I hadn’t used the Manufacturer’s coupon, but your consumer pays less overall. What a great value to your customer and it doesn’t cost you anything!

Not only that, but you actually got a new customer in the door and made a sale that you wouldn’t normally make, AND you got 8¢ extra!  Sounds like a win-win, except that this is exactly what the manager would not allow.

It’s interesting because when we are talking about National Brands like 7th Generation and Muir Glen (made by General Mills)… I can buy these products at almost ANY grocery store.

Publix for example takes competitors coupons and manufacturer’s coupons together.  Did I mention their regular prices are also lower?  The tomatoes I got were $1.99 at WF and only $1.69 at Publix.  I have the option to use them there, but I would love to add Whole Foods to my rotation of stores to shop at because of the products you offer that I can’t get anywhere else.

So whadya say Whole Foods, can we work on this policy and get some eco-minded (but also budget-minded) new customers in your store?  I hope so!

Cook Up Some Savings: Old Navy/Publix Deal!

Shopping is fun right?  Well its even more fun when you can score an awesome deal.  Most of my friends and family either think I’m nuts, want to get in on the savings or their eyes glaze over when I talk about my coupons and how I save money on anything I can.

I want to share an example of how I shop and let you all decide if its awesome or totally insane!

What do Old Navy & Publix have in common? Nothing really except that this week you can score an awesome deal combining their promotions!  Publix has a coupon on the very back page of their ad  for $10 off a $50 Old Navy, Gap or Banana Republic Gift Card – Um, that’s 20% off and I haven’t stepped foot in Old Navy yet!

Old Navy also gives away tons of coupons on their Facebook page each week in a little game called Barker’s Bones.  This week they have a $10 off $50 printable coupon in their ad too.

So if I redeem my $50 gift card (that I’ve only paid $40 for) I can actually get $60 worth of stuff!  I’m up to 33% off….Now all I need is a great sale.

Old Navy just so happens to have every single sweater in the store Buy One Get One Free, coats at 60% off and a TON of clearance. Ahhh!

I went today and grabbed 3 cute shirts, a tube dress for my cruise, 2 sweaters and a pair of jeans and still had 88¢ left on my gift card which they kindly returned to me in cash. My out of pocket cost was only $40 for everything shown below. The sweaters alone were $26.50 each regular price.  You could easily do something similar to pay for Christmas gifts or update your winter wardrobe.

Alright, if you think I’m nuts you are free to stop reading… if you want in on this deal head to Publix before 12/14 (12/15 if you live in FL).  If you want this weeks sale items (BOGO sweaters, 60% off coats etc) print out your $10 coupon now and head straight to Old Navy with your gift card (these are only valid til tomorrow 12/11).

If you want to wait, next week’s sale will be good too:

Layering Camis $2
Men’s Slippers $5
Performance Fleece $5
Jingle Jammies $8
Men’s & Womens Wool Blend or Frost Free Jackets $30
Coupon for $20 off $100 in the Old Navy Flyer (Hint: if you really need a lot of clothes, you could buy 2 gift cards at Publix this week and save them for this coupon next week!)

Ten Kitchen Tips: Meat

Photo Courtesy of TheBusyBrain

I have to admit, when Jason and I first got married, I was more than squeamish about handling meat.  Growing up, I was grossed out by fat, bones, skin and because my mom is awesome, she would trim up and cook my meat longer than everyone else in the family. Call me spoiled, but I was all about lean, pristine cuts (boneless skinless chicken breast, pork loin, ultra lean ground beef).  These lean cuts are not only more expensive, they can also be very dry and chewy.

Over time, I have branched out to less perfectly trimmed meats because they are typically cheaper and more flavorful. However, I’m still not a fat and gristle kinda girl.  Here are my top 10 ways to make any cut of meat delicious and save money doing it.

1.  Shop when the meat is on sale.

I have a stock up price for most cuts of meat that we enjoy.  Make use of your freezer to buy when its cheap and then use over time.

Cut of Meat Good Price Cut of Meat Good Price
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast $1.99/lb Whole Chicken 99¢/lb
Split Chicken Breast 99¢/lb Pork Loin $1.99/lb
Boston Butt $1.69/lb Pork Chops (Bone-In) $1.59/lb
Lean Ground Beef $2.99/lb Steak $4.99/lb
2.  Trim and bag into family-sized portions.

For our family of 2, that’s two chicken breasts, a lb of ground beef, or two 1″  thick pork loin medallions,  which fit nicely into a quart-sized freezer bag. If you have a family of 4, double it and use a gallon size storage bag.  Trimming the meat in advance means its ready to use, saving you time on weeknights.

3. Marinate

Marinades and dressings are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to doctor up your meat. (They are often B1G1 and have coupons too!) It requires a little bit of planning ahead, but you can pull something out of the freezer, dump some marinade in the Ziploc and throw it in the fridge overnight to thaw.  Or, if you are really organized, you could add the marinade BEFORE you freeze it and then just take it out the night before you want to cook it. My favorite marinade is sun-dried tomato vinaigrette!

4. Brine

Brining is not technique used that often by home cooks. My dad brines fish and meat before he smokes it to help it cure and flavor it.  But I learned recently that you can brine anything and it results in an oh-so-tender grilled hunk of meat.  Try a sugar brine on porkchops – just make sure you rinse or pat the brine off before you cook it (if you don’t it will be too salty).

5. Slowcook

The slowcooker is one of my ultimate time-savers. Who doesn’t love a hot meal ready and waiting for them after a long day, especially when its cool outside? This works great for cheaper cuts of meat because you always end up with a tender flavorful result. My dear friend Erica introduced us to Chicken Parisienne and its one of our go-to favs!

6. Jaccard

Most people have never heard of this tool. Actually, it looks more like a weapon.  My Jaccard has 48 tiny blades that pierce meat with spring-loaded action! Tough cuts are broken down, and marinade can penetrate better into the meat. It also evens out the thickness for more uniform cooking.  I see them at TJ Maxx/Ross frequently for $20, or you can find one at Amazon for about $25. We’ve give away several as gifts because its just that awesome!

7. Skip It

One of the best ways to save on meat is to skip it all together.  I’m not suggesting becoming a vegetarian by any means, but skipping meat just one night a week is great for your wallet and your waistline.  Also, eating low on the food chain helps save energy and natural resources (that’s the hippy in me talking 🙂 ) Try my roasted tomato pasta for a tasty meat-free dinner. If you can’t go totally meatless, try reducing your portion size at each meal instead!

8. Roast

My favorite way to cook pork tenderloin is to season and pan sear it on all sides and then roast it in the oven for a good 40 minutes. A nice crust forms on the outside of the meat and the inside stays very tender. We love this Pork tenderloin with roasted grape sauce.

9. Don’t Overcook – Pretty Please!

At first, I cooked everything to death for fear it wasn’t done (did I mention my squeamishness).  Even now, I have trouble eating a steak that isn’t well done.  But, overcooking is a surefire way to end up with a dry, rubbery piece of meat.  You can look up the cooking times for various cuts of meat and levels of doneness.  A simple thermometer lets you check the internal temp of the meat and decide if its done.

Cut of Meat Perfect Temp Cut of Meat Perfect Temp
Poultry 165 F Pork 165 F
Steak, Med 160 F Steak, Well 170 F
10. Let it Rest

Its tempting to pull a steak off the grill or a pork loin out of the oven and immediately slice it.  But there is good reason to let it sit for 10-15 minutes tented with foil.  High temps release the moisture in your meat as steam. If you immediately cut it open, that moisture is lost to the air. Oops! By letting the meat cool down some, the moisture is redistributed within the meat instead of escaping meaning a more juicy steak for you!

Cures for the Shop-A-Holic

I’m a girl, which I think genetically means that I like to shop (someone back me up with the scientific evidence). But I’m also cheap frugal. Normally, I get my retail therapy by shopping with coupons – its a fun hobby of mine that has also allowed me to divide my grocery and household budget by two.  But I also LOVE shopping for home decor (think vases, lamps and other pretty stuff) and kitchen gadgets (mortar and pestles, colorful knives, cake stands).  Normally when I need this kind of retail therapy I hit up TJ Maxx, Ross or Target clearance, but even at discounted prices you are spending real money (no coupons!) and it adds up.

Jason and I instituted a rule that if we are out shopping and really like something, we have to decide right then and there where it would go in our home. This has helped us to think through whether its really needed “this would go beautifully above the loveseat” and has prevented the impulse “but I really liked it and it was on sale” type of purchases. 

But, shhh, its not that fun!

My mom also taught me that if I really love something at one of those stores, I have to snag it that day because it will be gone tomorrow. (Thanks Mom!)

So this rule has been modified a bit: Buy it if you really love it – all stores have a return policy. If you haven’t found the perfect spot for it or used it within 30 days you probably aren’t going to, so leave the tag on and save your receipt. If the vases on the bookshelf make you smile everyday for a month, then you know it was a good purchase, if not, return it and wait for something you do love to come along.

Another fun way to appease my itch to shop is snapping pics with the iPhone of things I love but don’t really have a place for. Think of it as a digital shopping adventure that helps you figure out your decorating taste so that when you do need something you know what you’re looking for. I file them away in a folder on my desktop for easy perusing. You can also come up with some great inexpensive DIY ideas this way too!

Here are some photos from my last window shopping adventure to TJ Maxx:

Colorful Candle Holders $1.99 ea

Graphic Leaf Print Lamp $29.99

Cupcake Batter Pen $5.99

I already knew this, but now you know that I like a modern aesthetic, bright colors, and have an obsession with large graphic flower and leaf prints. The candle holders would look awesome as a dining table centerpiece (they hold votive or tall candles). The lamp I would rather have two of. I’m a fan of symmetry and would love to have them on bedside night tables or end tables next to a comfy couch. The cupcake batter pen I took a picture of just because it gave me an idea. I have tons of squeeze bottles from my baking and chocolate making (you can get them @ the craft store for $1 with a 40% off coupon). I just cut a larger hole in one tip and use it for mess-free cupcake distributing and even pancake dispensing. The Amazon description for this product says if you don’t use all the batter, put the cap on and leave in the fridge until the next day! Why didn’t I think of that?

What are some ways you reign in your need to shop?

Out with the 70’s

I mentioned earlier that we are in the midst of a master bath redo – in fact, we are nearing the end of  5-year  whole house DIY makeover.  Everything from the kitchen, to the floors and even the ceilings have been updated and there’s not a single light fixture in our house that was around when we moved in.  Call us crazy, but we have really loved taking our first house, a 1970’s contemporary, and updating it to suit our needs – one little step at a time.  With everything else pretty much wrapped up, our master bath was the only eyesore left:

This was just a few days after we moved in, and as you can tell, we had already decided the wallpaper had to go (little did we know how painstaking that would be). And this obsession with brass was prevalent in all the fixtures in our home – now completely eliminated!

We have done every project on a budget. Shopping clearance and online sales, choosing smart materials and putting in the time to learn the DIY ropes.  And we’ve been rewarded with a house we love coming home to (or in Jason’s case working in).  So needless to say our approach to the master bath was no different.  I love to start with a plan, so here is a mood board I put together of the products we were able to score at a discount thanks to some good sales and some out of the box (literally -thanks Ikea!) ideas.

The demo is done, as are the floors and trim. Last weekend we painted everything a calming blue and next weekend we are onto vanity construction. This may take a while since these aren’t vanities at all. We bought two Ikea Engan dressers and will be modifying them to accommodate plumbing for the vessel sinks as well as a slate mosaic countertop.  I guess we inherited more construction traits from our dads than we thought.  Stay tuned for more DIY adventures!

Quick Tip: Paint Can Upgrade

Want a simple way to make painting easier? Poke holes in your paint can!

No seriously,  grab a hammer and a sharp nail and punch a couple holes around the inner most rim of your open paint can. It will allow any excess paint from pouring or brush-wiping to drip back into the can. This conserves paint, prevents spillage and makes it easier to get the can open next time because you don’t have all that extra paint in the rim to unstick!

Paint Can Manufacturers -if you’re listening – go ahead and add this feature in the factory and save us the trouble!

Another option is this cute little blue plastic pour spout that snaps on the rim and also helps keep paint out of the rim.  As you can see, we used both options to keep our paint can rim nice and clean.  We are in the midst of remodeling our master bath (DIY of course).  Look for more posts on that project in the near future!