Movie Night: A Poppin’ Good Time!

If you love popcorn (who doesn’t?) you might be interested to know that the typical American consumes 68 quarts of the stuff every year.

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If you mostly eat concession stand movie popcorn, those 68 quarts are costing a bundle. To get a handle on that cost without giving up the joy, why not have more at-home movie nights (your local public library is likely to have all kinds of movies on DVD you can borrow for cheap or even free) when you make your own popcorn? Add a little variety to your popcorn and you might find it not only cheaper, but better to stay home now and then.

Kettle Corn

  • 1/2 cup un-popped popcorn kernels
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Place the popcorn, sugar and salt in a large pot with vegetable oil. Cover then place over medium heat. When you hear the first pop, shake the pot and continue shaking back and forth to ensure that the popcorn kernels and oil do not burn. Once the popping has slowed, remove the pot from heat. Servings: 5.

In a Pinch You Can Use This for That

Have you ever discovered you’re all out of a certain ingredient just when you’re in the middle of preparing a recipe? I hate when that happens. And I know myself well enough that I don’t want to run to the store. For me an unscheduled trip like that could easily cost $40, maybe more. That’s just how impulsive I can be. I’ve learned that when I’m in a pinch— I need a pinch-hitter!

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NEED AN EGG:  Combine two tablespoons of water, two tablespoons of flour and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.

THICKEN GRAVY: If you’re out of flour, you can substitute pancake mix up to three tablespoons. It works well, just don’t go over three tablespoons or your guests will be looking for the maple syrup.

BREADCRUMBS: Crumble 1/2 slice of bread and mix 1/4 cup broken crackers to substitute.

BAKING POWDER:  For each teaspoon of baking powder, substitute: 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch

BUTTERMILK: Combine one cup of fresh milk and one tablespoon vinegar.

Frozen Summer Treats are Cool

In these sizzling days of summer it’s tempting to load up the freezer with pricey frozen treats. Or to duck into a coffee shop or juice bar to grab one of those decadent blended coffee chillers or a fruit smoothie. But the big price tags can make even the creamiest concoction or slushiest treat hard to swallow.

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Giving up favorite cold treats isn’t your only option. Make these yourself and you have great summertime treats at home for just pennies, not dollars.

Banana Berry Freeze

  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 ripe banana, peeled
  • 3/4 cup strawberry daiquiri mix
  • 1/4 cup Pina Colada mix
  • whipped cream

Place all of the ingredients, except the whipped cream, in a blender and process on high speed for 10-15 seconds until smooth. Pour into two wine glasses and garnish with whipped cream. Yield: 2 servings

Clone of Wendy’s Frosty

  • 1 cup milk (low fat okay)
  • 1/2 cup Nestle’s Quik powdered mix
  • 3 cups vanilla ice cream

Allow ice cream to soften in refrigerator for 1 hour. Mix all ingredients in blender. Yield: 4 servings

Outdoor Grilling That Won’t Bust the Budget

In that your humble columnist has recently become the proud owner of a new outdoor grill (it’s a honey!), you can pretty much count on more columns in the future devoted to this subject starting with today.

photo credit: combust

photo credit: combust

But first, I must admit to a momentary lapse of good judgment. Wanting to initiate this bad boy in a manner consistent with its awesome capabilities, I visited the website of Lobel’s of New York, “the best source for the finest and freshest USDA prime dry-aged steaks, roasts, specialty meats, and gourmet products that money can buy.” Unveiling the mother of all outdoor grills seemed like an event worthy of a few high-quality American Wagyu steaks delivered overnight on a bed of dry ice. I checked the price. Gulp! One 16-oz Porterhouse steak: $118.98—plus overnight shipping.

Just the thought of forking more tha hundred bucks on a single steak jerked me back to reality with enough force to cause whiplash. Surely there has to be frugal ground somewhere between Lobel’s and what’s left of the buy-one-get-one-free hotdogs sitting in the freezer.

More Ways to Slash Your Food Bill

Could you use an extra $25 or $50 next week? If you get motivated there’s a big chance you can slash your family’s food bill by that much—maybe more—each week, without sacrificing health and nutrition. And that will be tax-free cash you have in your hand, not money that requires more overtime or a garage sale before you can get your hands on it.

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There’s not one single way to reduce food costs significantly and consistently. It has to be a combination of strategies: buy right, eat out less and cook at home more.

COUPONS. You know that couponing can be very effective. But you have to do it right, or it will just be a big waste of time and money. Check sites like The Grocery Game (my favorite) and Coupon Mom. The secret is to combine a manufacturer’s coupon with a sale. That requires that you keep your eye on sales and also hold onto coupons, but not so long that they expire.

It’s All About that Sauce

Sometime ago, I posted an impromptu fan poll on our Facebook page asking, “What is your greatest financial temptation?”

photo credit: paddyspig

Answer choices: accepting more credit, vacation, clothes, new car, stuff for house, eating out or none-of-the-above. I thought I could easily predict the outcome: stuff for the house would win.

The runaway winner at 41 percent was “eating out.” I guess I should not have been surprised.

How much do you think the average American— spends in a year by eating out at restaurants?

In 2013, the average “consumer unit” spent $2,625 when eating food away from home, according to the U.S. Department of Labor—a consumer unit being defined as 2.5 people of whom 1.3 are earners, in a household with 1.9 vehicles. You know, your typical family with half a kid, someone working one-third of the time and a vehicle that’s so on its last leg it could only be considered nine-tenths of a car.

Regardless the humorous definition of a typical family, I find that $2,625 figure to be not only startling, but worse, seriously understated. In 2013, 81 percent of the money spent at full-service restaurants in America was paid in plastic. That means only 19 percent pay cash.

The Scoop on Free Ice Cream

Is there anything better than ice cream on a hot summer day? Well, yes there is—FREE ice cream! And I’ve got the scoop on where you can get free goodies like ice cream on your birthday and other times, too.

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Most of these stores and restaurants will require you to join a club or sign up for e-alerts. So do this: Create a free email account at Yahoo or Gmail exclusively for these kinds of special offers and freebies. That will help keep your regular email inbox free of all the notices and offers that are sure to show up.

Baskins-Robbins. When you sign up for Baskin-Robbins Birthday Club you get a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday and other special offers and coupons throughout the year.

Dippin’ Dots. When you join the Forty Below Club, you will get a free cup of Dippin’ Dots ice cream on your birthday.

Friendly’s. Once you join the BFF Club you’ll be eligible for a free three-scoop sundae with the purchase of an entree just for enrolling and a special treat on your birthday, too.

Dairy Queen. Join the Blizzard Fan Club to get a buy-one-get-one-Blizzard-free coupon. Kids also get a free ice cream treat with a kids’ meal.

Of Culinary Lore and Exceptional Marketing

Quite possibly my favorite thing about writing this column is the mountain of reader feedback it produces. I have the best readers in the universe, too. Nearly every letter turns into a love fest, which charges my batteries, making me love my readers all the more.

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Do you recall the letter from Pat, who complained of her lettuce turning rusty? I responded that the rust colored stains on lettuce are harmless evidence of the natural breakdown process and indicate that the produce is not exactly fresh. The brown edges and spots can be cut away, leaving the rest of the lettuce perfectly edible.

Well, that question together with my response brought a tsunami of input from readers insisting that Pat’s problem is that she is cutting her lettuce with a metal knife.