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Quick and Easy Designer Muffins

Tired of high-fat, high-cost fast-food breakfasts? I’ve got a fantastic solution: Quick and easy designer muffins.

With a little improvising, you can make and serve scrumptious muffins in a variety of flavors to make use of (and use up) ingredients you have on hand. Use this basic muffin recipe to get started then refer to the options that follow.

ORANGE MUFFINS

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce
  • 1/2 cup peeled and chopped fresh orange

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray or with paper liners. (Look HERE to learn how to make your own Tulip muffin papers from parchment paper.) In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, honey, butter and applesauce. Mix well. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, add the oranges and stir to combine. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Yield: 12 muffins.

Optional Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, or as needed

In a small bowl, whisk sugar with orange zest and orange juice until smooth. Spread on muffins while still warm.

Food Cost-Cutting Strategies for Every Lifestyle

Ever wonder why you never have enough money to save? I’m talking about consistent, regular deposits out of every paycheck that go straight into a savings account. Maybe it’s time to consider that you’re handing over your savings to local restaurants, drive-thrus, diners and coffee shops. Think about it.

What if you didn’t eat out so often? What if you were strategic in buying basic ingredients and then cooking great meals at home? What if you had all of that money tucked away in a savings account rather than the coffers of local eating joints?

No matter your lifestyle, I am confident that with the right strategies, you really can reduce the amount of money you’re spending on food.

MORE TIME THAN MONEY

If yours is a single-income household struggling to survive in a two-income world, keeping food on the table and the bills paid can be quite a challenge. The good news is that time is on your side. The one not working outside the home has the time—it takes time to carry out the best strategies—to keep the cost at rock bottom without sacrificing quality.

Full Compliance with Seasonal Law

I am always amazed this time of year to learn how few people are aware of something known as seasonal law, although I can understand it. After all, the period of time over which the law presides is measured in hours. It’s easy to miss.

Today, I need to remind you that the Law of Decadent Treats went into effect at 12:01 this morning and will remain in full force until 12:00 midnight Sunday, Dec. 25.

While it may be tempting to ignore this mandate, I wouldn’t. Law enforcement officers lurk in the most unusual places. Strict adherence is highly advisable, to wit:

During the 72 hours ending at midnight on Christmas Day, delightful decadent treats are to be freely created, consumed and enjoyed without interference or judgmental looks from others.

With this in mind, together with my desire that all of my readers and their families stay legal, I have a bevy of recipes you can whip up in your kitchen starting right now, all of which I guarantee are fully compliant with the law and will keep you out of trouble.

Or something like that.

Frugal Food Shopping 101

As food costs continue to soar, it’s a good time to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. Follow these tips and provided you don’t end up buying twice as much, you really will see your food costs plummet.

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GO WITH CASH ONLY. Shopping with cash—only cash—is one of the best ways to make a severe grocery budget work. If you have the discipline of a superhero, good for you. Use your credit card. If you’re like everyone else in the world, take cash out of the ATM and don’t let yourself spend a penny more. If you’re out of cash and you have 10 days of the month to go, it’s time to start raiding your pantry. You might have an odd menu for a few days, and so what? It won’t kill you.

PLAN IT OUT. Find recipes that fit your budget—recipes, as in cooking and preparing meals from ingredients. With very little cooking background, anyone can learn to make great soups and casseroles. Deciding on recipes and planning meals in advance will become your financial lifesaver.

SKIP PACKAGED ITEMS. You pay a big premium for packaged items like salad kits, meals in a bag, fruit snacks, pre-sliced produce, chips or vegetables that come in a steam bag. Anything that has been processed and packaged comes with an additional markup. Peeling potatoes, slicing apples and chopping lettuce might take extra time, but you will be rewarded well for the effort. And you’ll end up with a fresher, tastier result.

Your Best Thanksgiving Feast Ever—Healthy, Delicious and … Cheap!

If there’s one thing we should be thankful for this Thanksgiving, it’s this: Turkey is cheap! And the rest of the Thanksgiving dinner can be, too.

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The secret to enjoying a traditional feast without overspending is to know a few tricks. I sat down with two highly respected professionals—a butcher and a personal chef. What I learned from John Smith, professional butcher and author of Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$ and personal chef, Liz Tarditi, pretty much blew a hole in everything I thought I knew about buying, thawing and preparing a turkey.

TRICK #1: GET THE BEST TURKEY

Choosing the best turkey is easier said than done unless you fully understand the difference between a store brand or name brand bird. Just because a turkey is more expensive does not make it any better, says John. All that means is that it has a lot of advertising built into its price.

What customers don’t know is that one turkey processor will slap many different labels on his crop of birds. The turkeys are all the same, only the labels are different. This is a rule you can count on, according to John the Butcher: “Always go with the cheapest turkey and you’ll never go wrong. I’ve sold tens of thousands of store brand turkeys to very happy customers.”

EC: Fresh or frozen?

JS: First, let me define a “fresh” turkey. According to the people who make the laws, turkeys can be called “fresh” even though the moisture in the bird is frozen! If you press very firmly on the bird the meat is not frozen. The turkey processors have it down to a science. They bring the temperature of the “fresh” birds down to the very legal limit before sending them off to the store two weeks before Thanksgiving.

Frozen turkeys, on the other hand, are quick-frozen immediately upon butchering. So the freshest turkey is really a frozen turkey. The freezing process has no noticeable effect on the quality of the bird.

To Your Stress-Free Holiday

Whether you are invited or doing the inviting this holiday season, throwing a potluck can relieve a lot of stress. When everybody brings something it takes a great deal of pressure off the host and offers guests the joy of contributing to the festivities.

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HOSTING DUTIES

If you’re hosting you need to …

  • Provide the main course (ham, turkey, roast beef for example).
  • Assign each guest a dish to bring like appetizer, side dish or dessert. You can even provide the exact recipe if you have a particular menu in mind.
  • Plan for seating, table settings, tasteful decorations and background music.
  • Clear space in refrigerator for cold dishes and schedule for arriving dishes that will require oven time.
  • Gather plenty of utensils and serving dishes. Buy small containers so guests can take home leftovers, if any.

Widen the Gap with Homemade Bread

If you’ve read my book7 Money Rules for Life, you know that Rule #1 is so simple it would be easy to overlook it as being too elementary. Here it is: Spend less than you earn.

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Now think about it … “spend less than you earn” is not the same as “don’t spend more than you earn.” That implies it would be okay to spend all that you earn, but no. The operative word is “less.” You need a gap between what you earn and how much of it you spend. That is the fundamental secret for living below your means.

It’s in that gap that financial freedom can grow. You really need to read the rest of the book, but for now let’s just say that growing the gap is the challenge.

Here’s an easy way to increase your gap this week—even if only by a few dollars, because it all adds up: Make your own bread. Wait! Hear me out. I have a recipe for you that is so amazing, so simple and so foolproof you’ll be tempted to call it Einstein Bread because it’s going to make you feel like a genius.

Whacky Doodle Ground Beef

Years ago I made a terrible mistake. I froze ten pounds ground beef. That big block of frozen hamburger languished in my freezer for years. What was I thinking? I should have browned it first then frozen it in usable portions. But browning beef in a skillet can be so messy!

A few weeks ago I came upon another cheap ground beef opportunity. The expiration date was nearing and my supermarket needed to get rid of—you guessed it—ground beef. Ten pounds. I almost walked by. Then I decided to try something different, albeit a little weird.

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I put the entire ten pounds of raw ground beef into my big stock pot, added enough water to cover and set it over high heat to come to a boil, no cover, no salt. After about 5 minutes I gave it a stir to break up the big clumps, which were few. The hot water was doing all of my work for me—no splatters, no mess. When all of the pink color disappeared I knew it was done, even though it had not started to boil.