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Accessories, Tips, Secrets of Instant Pot Rockstars!

Everyone, it seems, is talking about Instant Pot—the revolutionary electric pressure cooker that for all the hype, promises to turn anyone into an overnight culinary rockstar. Well, bring it on!

Instant Pot with Beans Rice and Fresh Vegetables

The latest model (10-in-1, which means it does just about everything short of vacuuming the living room) is an egg-cooker, sauté pan, slow cooker, rice cooker, cake maker, yogurt maker, sterilizer, pressure cooker, food warmer, and steamer. Whew!

10-in-1-Instant Pot

 

Someone on Facebook may have even promised you the best Broccoli and Beef this side of Shanghai, from scratch, start-to-finish in just 15 minutes in your Instant Pot!

And the glowing reviews of IP Barbecue Short Ribs and Cheesecake (cheesecake?!) all from scratch in a matter of minutes at the hands of even a complete kitchen klutz seemed to be some kind of gift from the food universe. Read more

Cheapskate Gourmet: Salad Dressings

If you think eating well means eating out—home delivery, pick-up, or dining-in—you may be feeling the effects of restaurant dining in your wallet as the cost of restaurant meals is now soaring in ways we’ve not seen before.

Yesterday, I was shocked to read the new (disposable) menu at a small local hamburger joint in our town. The same classic hamburger that was $7.95 pre-virus, is now $11.95. Will prices decline as this thing settles down? I wouldn’t bet on it.

It’s time for us to change our thinking and start digging in to find every realistic way imaginable that we can save time and money every day.

A plate of food on a table, with Blue cheese and Salad

If I can make the leap from being a diner-in-debt to making irresistible meals at home that often taste even better than those from a restaurant—at a fraction of the cost of eating out—you can, too.  One way to do this is to learn how to make gourmet salad dressings at home.

For many years ( before there was a Food Channel), I was uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martha Stewart, Martin Yan, and Jacques Pepin.

Every weekend I had standing appointments with one or more of them. They came right into my home and demonstrated unique techniques while I assumed a prone position, curled up in my favorite blanket, first-row-center in front of the television. They sparked confidence in me. From that start, my love for making great meals economically has grown.

Today, I want to share my basic recipes for what I consider to be gourmet salad dressings. So fresh and easy. Tasty, too.

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Make It Better Yourself: Panera’s Mac n’ Cheese, Starbuck’s Lemon Loaf

According to a Reuters news story that ran long before we had to teach our kids the meaning of “quarantine,” one-third of U.S. adults are eating out less frequently than three months prior. The reason? Mostly the cost. No surprise there. Not even drive-thru fast food or curbside pick-up is inexpensive these days.

In the same survey cited by Reuters, two-thirds of the respondents said they consider eating at home to be very or somewhat cheap. And that’s because … it is!

A dining room table

Now, somewhere in between not-eating-out because it’s too expensive and eating-at-home because it’s cheaper there has to be a solution that makes eating at home not only cheap, but satisfyingly delicious, too.

Copycat Panera Mac & Cheese

Everyone has their weakness—mine happens to be macaroni and cheese and in my opinion, it’s hard to beat Panera’s signature Mac & Cheese. But that $9 price tag is hard to swallow.

Everything in me has been determined to figure out how to make this myself at home, and for more like $.80 a serving. And now that’s exactly what I do—as often as I dare.

A bowl of Macaroni and cheese

This Copycat Panera’s Mac and Cheese Recipe is, in my opinion even better than Panera’s. It’s smooth and creamy thanks to a secret ingredient that may make some of my dear readers wince.

In a word: Velveeta.

I know what you’re thinking, but if an ingredient or technique makes a dish taste better and gives it a heavenly texture, I am all for it. The key lies in how much Velveeta you use—only a very small amount.

I promise you, people will go nuts for this Mac & Cheese. Just don’t mention the V-word. It’ll be our little secret.

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16 Practical Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget

If soaring food prices are getting you down, help is on the way! Here are some basic saving strategies, practical solutions, and novel ideas to stretch your food budget—and make your life easier.

Granted, one of these strategies on its own is not likely to make a huge difference. But lots of small strategies working together—that’s the way to see huge results.

grated cheese

Grate savings

You pay a lot to have someone else grate your cheese for you—at least twice the price of buying cheese by the block. Currently, at my supermarket, cheese in blocks runs from about $2 to $2.50 a pound for the store brand to about $5.00 a pound and more for name brands. The very same cheeses, pre-grated, run almost exactly double across the board, $4 to $10 a pound. Here’s the tip: Grate it yourself. It will stay fresher and you’ll save money, too.

Pro tip: Commercially grated or shredded cheese comes with an added ingredient like potato starch or modified cornstarch to prevent “caking” or “clumping.” Well, guess what? Those anti-caking ingredients inhibit melting, too. Now you know why pre-grated or shredded cheese doesn’t seem to always melt as readily, often leaving an odd thickened texture.

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Frugal Food and Grocery Shopping 101

As food costs continue to soar, it’s a good time to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. Grocery bills and eating out can wreck a budget. Follow these tips and you will rein in those costs. Start discovering your own ways to eat on less.

Now more than ever it’s time to slash expenses in order to preserve cash.

Grocery store

Stop the take out, delivery

I get it. It feels as though we are in some kind of temporary, horrific season when it’s our right to do whatever it takes to just get through one more day until we never have to think about this again. At least you can get no-contact delivery of the food you’re used to. Right?

Please, stop those thoughts. We don’t know. Life is never certain, but more uncertain now than ever. The decisions you are making right now—such as paying for all these meals, delivery fees plus overly generous gratuities with credit—are going to come back to bite you hard. You cannot continue to opt for that feeling of entitlement even if you know for certain your job is coming back and things will be back to normal soon. You can’t know any of that. Life is uncertain.

Paying $20, $35 or more to take-out or to have your favorite restaurant bring it out to you, so you can get you through one more meal is about as unwise a decision as you can make right now.

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How to Slash a Family’s Food Budget without Causing a Revolt

The year was 1992. We’d just come through 10 long years of repaying more than $100,000 of credit card debt I’d stupidly amassed. I’d come this close to losing my marriage, my family, our home and basically blowing up my life. Debt has a way of doing that.

A woman sitting at a table

After ten years, we’d brought that awful balance down to just $12,000. I could not wait to get it paid to $0. I got this wild idea to write a newsletter about our journey (back then, no Internet, no email, only an IBM Selectric typewriter … yep, that long ago!) hoping that enough people might pay $12 a year to subscribe. They did, oh boy did they. And Cheapskate Monthly was born—during a recession.

Long story short, The Los Angeles Times called, Oprah called, Dr. James Dobson called and the rest is history. The world has changed incalculably in those 28 years. There have been economic highs and lows. We’ve endured the recession of 1992, the horror of 9/11; the Great Recession of 2008. We’ve come through and each time, been better for what we’ve learned. And some things never change.

What you are about to read is from Cheapskate Monthly, Issue No. 2, February 1992, which I found in a neatly preserved file my dear mother-in-law left with my name on it. She’d typed out the contents of each of those early newsletters, together with a note that I might like them one day in the future.

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Make Your Own Spreadable Butter

You’ve seen the little tubs of “spreadable butter” in the dairy case of your supermarket. In fact, you may purchase them because they’re just so convenient. And if you watch your prices you know the typical spreadable could almost be considered a luxury item. 

A piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden cutting board, with Butter and Bread

Most “spreadables” are part real butter, part canola oil. Others have olive oil or some kind of an oil blend. What all of these spreadables have in common is that they remain perfectly soft, even while refrigerated. 

Today I want to tell you how you can make your own spreadable butter for half the price. 

One 8-ounce tub is the equivalent of two sticks of butter. Depending on the brand, spreadable butter runs from about $.30 for store brands to $.50 for name brands, per ounce. Curiously, butter costs just about the same per ounce ($.30 to $.50) unless you buy it in bulk at Sam’s or Costco, while canola oil comes in as low as $.05 an ounce. Read more

Outdoor Grilling on a Budget

Getting our outdoor grill cleaned, polished, and ready for summer got me thinking about how much fun it would be to celebrate. After all, the first day of summer comes but once a year, so why not do things up right with an amazing menu and a few good friends to kick off the season even if that means grilling on a budget.

A bowl of green grass

 

What happened next I can only attribute to a momentary lapse of good judgment.

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 20-oz Porterhouse steak: $159.95—plus overnight shipping.

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Make Sure You Have These 9 Essential Pantry Items

Have you been paying attention to what’s going on with the cost of food? I just read that the average cost of ground beef in the U.S. has once again hit an all-time high. I believe it, and not only beef. It is shocking how grocery prices are going up, which underscores the need for a well-stocked pantry.

 

A person looking at the camera, with Kitchen Pantry

 

The way to fight back is two-fold:

  1. Buy groceries when they’re on sale
  2. Eat at home

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it can be if you make sure your kitchen pantry is well-stocked. It’s annoying and expensive to not have basic items on hand. You don’t have what you need and don’t have time to go get it, which means, of course, you’ll just have to go out for dinner. Again. 

Taking the time and effort to make sure you always have the following 9 essential pantry items will save a lot of money, provided you pick these items up as they go on sale. Think of this as a project. 


MORE: 5 Fabulous Ways to Hack a Boxed Cake Mix 


Evaporated milk

I basically detest the stuff because I had to drink it as a kid. But used in cooking and baking, evaporated milk is fabulous! Keeping a few cans in your pantry ensures you’ll always have milk on hand when the recipe calls for it. Read more