Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Go Ducks! Curry

This absolutely delicious and gorgeous looking recipe was inspired by Aarti the Next Food Network Star's recipe, Beatnick Spinach. We took her recipe as the building block and varied it to work with what was in our pantry. Really, the only differences were we didn't add ginger because we didn't have any, we used yellow split peas instead of moong dal, and added some madras curry powder. We added a lot more dal than her recipe calls for because we love it so much and it is loaded with protein.

Here is a link to Aarti's recipe, By the way, she has lots of amazing recipes and so far, I have really enjoyed her new show. I was sooo excited when she won the Next Food Network Star. Someone who cooks the kind of food we eat normally!!! I've already gotten lots of great ideas from her.

I forgot to mention the reason behind making it! I want to share recipes that feature items that are on sale during the week at the grocery store. Well, at our Safeway, fresh spinach and tomatoes were on sale.

The college football season is just around the corner. While we were eating this, we realized our dinner had the same colors as the University of Oregon and their mascot is the duck. Show some school spirit with your food!

Aarti's version probably serves 4. We adjusted the portions for the 2 of us.

Go Ducks! Curry (Inspired and adapted from Aarti)

3/8 cup yellow split peas plus water to cook them in
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 small onion
1 serrano chile, seeds removed and diced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin powder (wish we had cumin seeds)
madras curry powder (we're bad about measuring spices, it was probably 3 tablespoons, we like our curry)
1/2 big tomato, diced
baby spinach, we probably used 1/2 of the 10oz bag

1. Start cooking yellow split peas before starting the spinach. If you want to cut down on cooking time, soak the yellow split peas in hot water for at least 30 minutes. To cook, first, look the split peas over, removing any debris if necessary. Place 1 part peas in a large pot with at least 4 parts of water. Bring to a roaring boil, reduce heat, and simmer. If the water evaporates, just add more. It may take 35 minutes, it may take longer, for the peas to be tender and mostly done. Keep in mind, you're going to finish cooking them with the spinach. If you cook them too long, they will get too soft for this recipe. If they do turn to mush, they would make a delightful dal curry.

2. Heat oil. Warm but not too hot that it will burn the garlic.

3. Add garlic. Let it cook for a moment before adding the onion and chile. Cook until onion is soft.

4. Add spices and saute 30 seconds to a minute.

5. Add diced tomatoes and cook until soft. I wanted to eat this just by itself on a piece of bread. It smelled amazing.

6. Add lentils and about 1/2 cup of water. Simmer for about 5 minutes.

7. Add spinach and cover so the leaves wilt. Stir and simmer for about 5 more minutes. If you would like it a little wetter, add another splash of water. We liked ours a little drier than is in the Aarti video, so we let it simmer until there was just a little liquid left in the pan.

We had our Go Ducks! Curry with rice and a piece of grilled flatbread. It was beautiful looking and tasted amazing.

Price Breakdown

.16 yellow split peas (.48/lb at Winco)
.12 garlic (.34/head of garlic)
.24 onion (.35 lb @ .68/lb)
.04 serrano (.03 lb @ 1.49/lb)
.15 spices (guess, depends on how much you pay for spices)
.24 tomato (1/2 of .47 lb @ .99/lb)
.49 baby spinach (1/2 of bag @ .99/bag)
.25 rice (.56/lb - Purchased in bulk at warehouse store)

Note: I enjoyed a piece of homemade grilled flatbread with my dinner and that was not included in the price, although a basket of very filling bread that lasted for several meals cost less than $0.75 to make.

Total for hearty diner for two, plus 1 leftover meal:

$1.69 or $0.563/meal

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coffee Scrumptioness

I love, love, love coffee. Have mentioned my love for coffee? I love it dark and with half-and-half. Some friends of ours introduced me to a new way of making my coffee. They made coffee a few times after dinner and it was amazing. There was something about it, I couldn't put my finger on it, that was really extraordinary. They had us over last weekend and I saw one of them making the coffee. And they put cinnamon in with the grounds! The cinnamon is simply divine. Just a couple of dashes in the grounds is all it takes and the coffee tastes completely different. Today I tried an experiment. I make my coffee one cup at a time using a pour-through coffee maker. It's the thing you set on your mug with a filter and coffee and pour hot water through. So, I added a few drops of vanilla extract to my mug before I made the cinnamon coffee. It is amazing!!! If you like this, keep an eye out for my warm spiced milk recipe that I will be sharing soon. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cajun Red Beans and Rice

Z and I made a fantastic dinner together last night use only ingredients that we already had and it was super tasty. Z made the rice and I made the sauce. The amount of the sauce was enough for a hearty dinner and enough leftovers for a small dinner for the two of us.

Z's Rice

Rice (however much you want to cook)
cajun seasoning
olive oil
cumin (there really wasn't cumin in ours last night but there would have been if I had found it sooner)

Z just added the spices to the water with the rice and cooked it the way he always does. After it was cooked, he added some olive oil to the rice and mixed it in. That did something amazing to the rice!

Red beans

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
16 ounces tomato sauce
bell pepper and onion mix (same stuff I use in the fajitas!)

I used a small handful of the frozen bell pepper mix and ran some warm water over it so I could chop it into small pieces. I love, love, love garlic so I used about four enormous cloves. And then there are the spices.... It was totally an experiment. First, I sauteed the garlic in some olive oil with a few whole peppercorns. When the garlic was cooked slightly, I added the peppers and onions. After that had heated up a little I added the tomato sauce, spices, and kidney beans. The sauce simmered for almost a half hour. As far as the spices go, I used some of the same Cajun seasoning, lots of cumin, salt and black pepper, hot pepper sauce, and bay leaf. Even if there is already a lot of heat from chiles, don't forget the black pepper. For me, ground pepper feels like it wakes up my tongue. Careful with the whole peppercorns. When you bite into one, it's a burst of spiciness. I think it's great but may be a bit much for some folks. Enjoy!

P.S. We made this for the potluck lunch at Z's office and it was a huge hit! I know because I went to work with him to eat free food.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


E-coupons are something that I have only discovered in the last few months and think they are fabulous. You can coupon without even trying. Basically, you register your store card with a website, you select the coupons you want on your card, and when you go to the store, when the cashier hits total, your coupons are applied. The two websites that I know of are:

Some of the store rewards cards that can be registered are Safeway, Fred Meyer, Dominick's, Pavillions, Vons, Randall's, City Market, Fry's, King Soopers, QFC, and Smith's. There were more but I had never heard of them. We use most of our coupons at Safeway, so I go to the Safeway website and use the links there.

Z and I were talking about this blog the other day. He said that I was just going to use this as a place to brag even more about all the grocery deals I find. Ok, he is right. But, it's to be helpful. Between August 12th and the 22nd, we used $21.45 just in e-coupons. And with some of those e-coupons we received a $2.00 catalina courtesy of the manufacturer to be used on our next purchase.

I guess to wrap this up, the e-coupons are super easy to use. You can print out or e-mail yourself lists of the coupons on your card. I see it as a gateway into more serious forms of couponing for those who aren't into these kinds of deals and another tool for serious couponers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brown bag it

I think packing your own lunch and keeping lots of snacks around is one of the keys to being cheap or frugal...depending on how nice you're being. Pre-packaged snack items like granola bars, snack bars, fruit snacks, etc. are some of the easiest things to get for free or nearly free with coupons. I have a crate where I have been stashing boxes of things that will be great for lunch. If they were in the cupboard, I would probably eat them. But since they are in the lunch-stuff crate, I know I won't touch them.

I never know what school I am going to be at so I have to make sure I pack a lunch that doesn't have to be refigerated. Besides, the fridges at schools are usually packed full anyway. I probably don't eat like an average, reasonable person so my lunches might sound weird. It's just kind of evolved out of what's in the cupboards and what I like.

Ace's Lunch of Cheap Champions:
  • Packet of instant oatmeal (kept in a tupperware container with a spoon). Bulk oatmeal works great too. I would add a little brown sugar and cinnamon. I use instant because we had like ten boxes of it and for price purposes, it's easier to figure out.
  • Fresh carrots
  • Fruit (I love apples and pears but I only have them occasionally. It's whatever is on sale and in season that week, dried pears that we made ourselves, or a mini-can of fruit)
  • Yogurt cup (It's pricey compared to the rest of the food we buy but I love them. And they don't have to be refrigerated)
  • Sometimes a hard-boiled egg or two and they taste just fine not cold.

Then, I always keep a few extra snacks in my bag for during the day or if I'm just extra hungry at lunch. I think dry cereal makes a fantastic snack. Just make sure and keep it in some sort of container rather than a plastic baggie. The baggie rips and you have cereal all over your bag. Plus, if you don't eat it that day, I think the container keeps it fresher. If we have crackers around I will take those. I always keep a snack bar or granola bar in my bag. My guess if I had paid for everything at about full price, it would come out to around $1.50 with snacks. That's not so bad. And, since I didn't pay for the oatmeal or the snack bars, and certainly didn't pay full price for the yogurt, it comes out to around $1 or less.

If you have have access to a fridge, leftovers are fantastic for lunch, too. Remember to bring home your tupperware and containers. Another thing to remember, get creative with your containers. Plastic baggies cost money, try finding reusable containers. I like the individual yogurts that have plastic lids. Those are great for lunch-sized portions.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Peruse your grocery stores' frozen veggie section and see what they have. I love eating fresh veggies but for some things we make, the frozen ones work great, too. We found a coupon at the store for some Fred Meyer brand bags of veggies. We thought we would try it out. We got a few bags of of bell pepper and onion mix. We used it to make homemade fajitas. It was super tasty and way cheap. So, when there was a sale recently, we got as many bags of veggies as we could fit into our freezer. They were $.50 for a twelve ounce bag. That works out to be around $.67 a pound for bell peppers and onions. We can't find fresh for that much. Plus, we use the exact amount of the frozen veggies as we want and what is left over isn't going to go bad.

Here is what we use to make our fajitas. Yes, it may be boring to lots of people (people who don't have as much money in the bank as we do) but we like it and it's cheap. Cheap, as in, less than $1 for an entire satisfying meal for the two of us. And it's great for when it's hotter than blazes out. This is one of the only cooked meals we have had this summer.

Olive oil
Frozen peppers and onions
Corn tortillas
Black beans
Toppings-Always salt and hot sauce or red pepper flakes, black pepper, occasionally cheese, salsa if we have it, onions if we have it, I love sour cream on it but I'm too cheap to get it.

Note on the tortillas: We get the small corn tortillas in the big package. I think ours has like a hundred or so. I have no idea but it's a lot. We divide it into dinner portions, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze them. We know that if we are hungry, we will eat three small tortillas each. We create packages of six and stack them in the freezer. To unthaw I just put them on the counter about an hour before we're going to eat. Or, if I'm not going to be home, we just put them in the fridge the night before.

And before cooking cooking the veggies, put them in a colander and run hot water over them. This cuts down the cooking time by quite a bit.

Monday, August 9, 2010


One of my favorite cheap snacks is hummus and carrots. I eat this all the time! I'm sure there are plenty of great recipes out there but I've included the one that I always make. I don't include tahini. When I first started making my own hummus, I would add tahini. But, I didn't notice a difference when it was in the hummus and I didn't notice when it wasn't in it. So, I don't add tahini.

1 can drained and rinsed garbanzo beans
a couple teaspoons of bottled lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 (I like 3) cloves of garlic, grated
salt and lots of pepper

I have made hummus quite a few times in a normal-sized food processor but my mini-processor works soooo much better. I can't get my hummus as smooth in the bigger processor as I can in the small one. I don't really know how much lemon juice and olive oil I add. I just add some, mix it, then add some more of something if it doesn't have the consistency or flavor I want yet. As Gordon Ramsay is found of yelling, "Taste your food!!!" Season your food the way you like it. If raw garlic is not your thing, I find roasting it first makes it much more mild. Another thing you can do, is grate or chop it, and saute it slightly on the stove with the olive oil you'll be adding to the hummus. I love the spiciness of the raw garlic, so I just use that now.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ace's Tips on Becoming Cheap

I am back from two weeks visiting family and friends a few states away. They love hearing about my couponing adventures and wanted to know more. While chatting, I gave them some of my tips but realized, there was so much more to my grocery shopping prowess that I didn't have a chance to share. For me, my grocery deals aren't just about putting together coupons and sales, the real savings comes from combining my grocery shopping skills with other habits. Here is a list of basic things that I found made a difference in the amount of money I spend.

  • Become a coupon collector. You see a coupon, take it. I get coupons from the Sunday paper, packages of products I use, displays in stores, cash register coupons, Fred Meyer's coupon exchange basket.
  • e-coupons are my new favorite thing. With these, you register your store card online and load coupons to it. I have read that if you can't find your store card, you can call customer service and they will tell you the membership number. If you shop at Safeway, you can go to their website and find the links to the e-coupons and sign up. Otherwise, try or for other grocery stores. In my case, I have been able to use the e-coupon with a paper manufacturers coupon.
  • Pay attention! When you go to the store, look around and see if you can find any coupons up for grabs. Or, check the store ad before shopping, maybe some of the items on your list are on sale or have in-store coupons. In my case, yesterday while wandering around the Safeway, there was a soda display that said enjoy a free soda on us. I took it to the register and didn't even have to give them my Safeway card or do anything else, it was that easy.
  • Keep your coupons organized. You have to experiment to figure out what system works best for you and what level of organizing you can handle. We have one of those plastic, accordion coupon books that is alphabetized. Plus, a file folder for coupons that we have extra or just to store clipped coupons that haven't been put away, yet. Every couple of weeks I sort through the book to take out any coupons that have expired. This system does take some time since I clip the coupons, sort the coupons, and put them in the book. But, it's what works for me. I am not always great at keeping the coupons organized or in one place. Last week while I was gone, apple juice had gone on sale. With the sale and coupon, I could get the juice for free. Z knew where the coupons were and he made the ridiculous number of grocery shopping trips it sometimes takes to use all the coupons. When I came home, I started organizing somethings and found eight more coupons. No more free apple juice because the sale was over and the coupons were expiring that day.
  • Find a coupon blog for your area. I enjoy figuring out the coupon deals at my local stores but I do read an area blog in case there was something I missed. When you're first getting started with serious couponing or are super busy, the blogs are a great place to start. The Pacific northwest has quite an abundance of writers. I tried looking for coupon blogs for my family in the Rocky Mountain region but I didn't have much luck.
  • Keep your pantry well-stocked. This takes some time and is an investment. I know a number of different meals I can make just from things in my pantry and freezer. Not having anything to eat at home is no longer an excuse to go out to eat. There will be posts about pantry recipes.
  • Keep your pantry organized. I have written a little about this before. It doesn't matter how little you paid for something when you throw it out because it is expired.
  • Watch the cash register screen while checking out. Make sure you are charged the correct prices, especially on produce, and make sure they scan all your coupons.
  • Print coupons with discretion. There are lots of sites where you can print coupons, including Red Plum, Smart Source, and manufacturer websites. We use them sometimes but very rarely. Printer ink can be expensive and you can end up printing a bunch of coupons that you don't use.
  • Rebates. Keep an eye out for available rebates. In this case, you have to spend money and wait to get it back. The rebate is for the price of the product before coupons. We have done our share of rebates. Just watch for the check in the mail and don't accidentally throw it away.
  • Clearance racks. Keep an eye on clearance items. Try to use coupons with these items.
  • Free samples! I learned about the power of free samples from some friends who had a closet full of free samples they had accumulated. There are plenty of websites that list places to get free samples. And, often times, there are coupons included with the sample.
  • Pack your lunch, instead of eating out. Find items you like that will keep if you don't eat it that day.
  • Learn to eat out more cheaply. I will share more about this later.
  • Measure your pasta! A serving of pasta is usually about 1/2 cup dry. When cooked and on your plate, it doesn't look like that much food. What most of us put on our plates is usually two or more servings. When you measure your food, you're not only making it last longer, you're not overeating as much.
  • Find staples you like and figure out multiple ways you can use them. Some of my favorites are millet, rice, couscous, pasta, split peas, lentils, bulgur, beans, and assorted flours. I would suggest going to a bulk section and seeing what kinds of grains and legumes are out there. See something that interests you, get enough to make a meal, and try it out. Buying in bulk is great because you can get as little as you want. I would add quinoa to the list but I'm too cheap to buy it.
  • Don't buy microwave popcorn. Make it yourself on the stove top. Popcorn kernels from the bulk section are pretty cheap. I'm sure there are millions of different ways to make popcorn but this is what I do. I don't have an airpopper but if I did, I would be a very happy camper. I would be able to make popcorn that I could pack in my lunch. Stovetop popcorn doesn't keep very well, eat it while it is fresh. I start with a high-sided pan or sauce pan with a lid. I add a little oil, probably about one tablespoon (just a rough guess) with the heat around medium or a little lower and add 1/4 cup of popcorn. 1/4 cup is a pretty substantial bowl of popcorn for one person. I swirl the kernels around occasionally. Once they start popping, move the pan more frequently and take off the heat when the popping stops. Yummy!
  • Be a smart grocery shopper. I spend a lot of time window shopping at the grocery store. I have suggested this to a lot of people and always hear, "Oh, I don't have the time" and so on. Well, I spend the time and I don't spend the same amount of money as you. We usually go to the store on the first day of the weekly sale with the coupon organizer to see what is on sale and what coupons we can match up. We will buy groceries we want or need later in the week when we have had a chance to think about if we really need that item or not. Or at least, all the grocery stores have their weekly ads online. Take a look through them.
I have a whole lot more tips and suggestions on how to be cheap and make the most of your grocery shopping adventures but I will leave those for later.