Monday, January 15, 2018

Hot Chocolate: Two Ways

It's hot chocolate season around here. (See picture below.)

My kids have been playing in the snow every day and today we went to enjoy a friend's huge hill. 

So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite hot chocolate recipes. 

The first is the recipe I grew up with my mom making on snow days just like these. It's incredibly easy, fantastically cheap, and so much more delicious than anything you'd get out of a packet. 

The second is a Creamy Milk Chocolate that will cost a little extra. It's high-falutin' like that. But so amazingly creamy and rich that we often have it for dessert. 

Easy, Perfect Homemade Chocolate
Serves 1 (or 2 small mugs) 
Prep time: 3 minutes
Cost: $.20 ($.10-.20/serving)
sugar: .02, cocoa: .03, milk: .15

2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp cocoa
1 C milk

Stir sugar and cocoa together in a saucepan and then whisk in milk. Heat, stirring as you do. Don't boil. 

Creamy Milk Chocolate Hot Chocolate
serves 4
Prep time: 4 minutes
Cost: $1.05, or about $.26/serving
Chocolate chips .75, milk: .30

3/4 C milk chocolate chips (preferably something higher quality like Ghiradelli or Guittard)
2 C milk
1/2 tsp vanilla (or 1/4 tsp almond extract)

Melt chocolate chips with a portion of the milk, Gradually whisk in remaining milk, stirring as you do. Whisk until smooth and to the desired heat. Don't boil. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chocolate Cupcake Dress with Vanilla Butter Frosting

So I'm more of a cake person than a cupcake person. I like the layers of a cake. I like that all the frosting isn't just piled/glopped/mountained up on top with all that delicate cake being crushed below it. I like the look of a cake, the promise when yo cut into one.

But then, I'm not eight years old.

And I must admit that my layer cakes aren't, um, well, incredibly beautiful. And to make them beautiful would require something called artistic skill, which is a wee tiny bit lacking in my brain.

Enter cupcakes. My daughters really love them. And you can make them absolutely gorgeous without a whole heck of a lot of effort. My own, personal thirteen-year-old designed this one following (loosely) this tutorial.

So, fine, if it's going to be cupcakes, then you should make a really, truly delicious cupcake. And for this part, I've got your back. Have a hop over HERE to see my two favorite chocolate cake recipes gone all cupcake. They are not hugely domed, but for decorating things like these cupcake pull apart cakes, I've found flat to be ideal. I hope yo do too.

And they are just the very best chocolate cake recipes you will find. The end.

For frosting, we used my favorite vanilla butter frosting. You may need to add a bit extra powdered sugar if you are going to make a decorative cake like this cupcake. You can't have the frosting too loose or it won't hold the pretty swirly patterns.

And the best part of this beautiful dress cake (besides the cake, which is amazing beyond amazing; did I mention that)? The cost.
Cupcakes: $1.75
Frosting: $1.90
Candy Pearls: $1.00/color-->$2.00 for us (Yes, you could get your true cheapskate on and skip these, but I didn't because I had an 8-year-old who desperately wanted them)
Total: $5.65
For 24 cupcakes, that means that you're spending about $.23/cupcake. Without the pearls, it only costs $.15/cupcake. *happiness* *diet-wrecking-ness*

[Note: These numbers are for 24 cupcakes. If you follow the recipes (cake and frosting) linked to above, you'll wind up with 36 cupcakes, so you can do math to reduce the recipes. Or do what we did and have 12 extra cupcakes sitting around for you to eat. The cost per cupcake is the same, but you're overall cost comes up to $5.50 for 36 cupcakes, or $7.50 for cupcakes with pearls.]

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Best Beef Stew Ever: aka Beef Burgundy (Minus the Burgundy)--An Alcohol-free Knock-Off

How do I decide what makes the cut for the Best of the Tasty Cheapskate this year? Well, I figure if the title is really long, then I must be on to something good. Wait, no, that's just an unfortunate personality quirk. No, the real way I know: if looking at the pictures of it makes me want to make it again. Right now. Without delay. Then I know I've got a winner.

I've made this a couple of times for our Christmas party and both times people have asked for the recipe.

It was originally supposed to be Beef Bourguignon (Beef Burgundy), minus the, uh, Burgundy (wine). Which, if you think too hard about it (you shouldn't), doesn't really make any sense. But I'm a Mormon and don't keep alcohol in the house, and even though alcohol is supposed to cook off in a stew, I'm just not particularly comfortable buying it. And although I sometimes feel like I'm alone in this little cooking eccentricity, I know I'm not alone in this. A whole slew of religious folks (Mormons, Muslims, certain Christian groups) don't drink wine. And there are others in this world with reason not to have alcohol lying around as well. So for this Non-Burgundy Beef Burgundy recipe, you're welcome. 

And for all the rest of you lushes out there, you're welcome too. Because this stew is FANTASTICALLY, amazingly awesome whether you have strong feelings about booze or not. It's just a really solid recipe that stands strong on its own without the wine.

To all you skeptics, I'd just say don't knock it until you try it.

AND, from a purely cheapskate perspective, wine is a fairly expensive ingredient. By bumping it off your grocery list, we just saved you $10 off this recipe. You're welcome, again.

This stew is slightly fussy for a soup. And you MUST give it time to simmer, or it won't be good. You don't have to DO anything while it simmers, but you do have to plan in the time.

Beef Stew: aka Beef Burgundy (Minus the Burgundy)--An Alcohol-free Knock-Off
Serves: 8-10
Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours
Cost: $7.50 (that's less than $1.00/serving; and it's so divine)
onion: .15, carrots: .40, meat: 4.00, flour: .03, Sprite: .40, red wine vinegar: .02, tomato paste: .25, beef stock: .30 (I use bouillon cubes, which are cheaper than stock in cans), potatoes: .40, mushrooms: 1.00, butter: .05, olive oil: .10, spices (mine are almost free because I have an herb garden, so I'm guessing here and giving dry spice estimates): .40

A few notes: 
-This is great with the bay leaves, thyme, and oregano. But once I totally, completely forgot them and it was still great. So you can consider them optional.
-You'll notice there's a wide range for the beef measurement (1-2 pounds). I've done both and love both. Less is obviously cheaper; we usually do more if we're feeding this to guests.
-You could just dump the mushrooms in and simmer, but I like to give them a quick saute in butter first. Because I'm fancy like that.
-If you are short on time and need a simplification, you can skip the saute of the original onion, carrot, and garlic; and just throw it in with the rest of the carrots later (I think this loses a little flavor, but won't ruin this delicious stew). Or you can cut some time (but dirty another pan) by sauteing them in a separate skillet while the beef cooks in your Dutch oven (I favor this pan-dirtying time-saver).

1 1/2 C diced onion (about 1 onion)
1/2 C diced carrot (about 1 carrot)
1 Tbsp garlic (3-4 cloves)
1-2 pound stew meat (depending on how meaty you want it), cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 C flour
salt and pepper
1 can Sprite or ginger ale, divided (I prefer Sprite)
1 1/2 C grape juice
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 C beef stock
1/2 C water
5 bay leaves
10 sprigs thyme (or about 1 tsp dried)
a few shakes of dried oregano
2-3 diced carrots
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 lb mushrooms, halved or sliced (I prefer halves)
olive oil
parsley for garnish if you're taking pictures for a blog or want to impress people, or are just a cool person in general

Heat a Dutch oven (or similar-sized pot) with a bit of olive oil. Add the onion and the 1/2 C of carrots. Saute with salt and pepper for about 5-7 minutes until somewhat softened. Add garlic and cook another minute.

While those veggies are cooking, put salt and pepper on your beef and then toss with 1/4 C flour.

Remove veggies from pot and set aside. Add more olive oil to pot. Put beef on to cook (Note: if you are using 2 pounds, you will need to do this in batches; otherwise, there's just too much meat in the pot). Brown the beef on all sides. It doesn't need to be cooked all the way through. When you're about done, add about half of the can of Sprite to the pot. The carbonation (and maybe the sweetness too) act as a tenderizer for the beef (all acidic foods do this, so here we're kind of making up for some of that wine we're not using).

Take out the beef and set it aside with the vegetables. Add grape juice, red wine vinegar and the rest of the Sprite to the pot. Boil until it reduces somewhat--about 5-10 minutes.

Return beef and veggies to pan. Add tomato paste, beef stock, and water. Add bay leaves, thyme, and oregano (if using).

Simmer. Simmer. Simmer. This is where the magic happens. Allow it to simmer covered for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add remaining carrots (2-3 diced carrots). Simmer for another 20 minutes.

Add diced potatoes (the smaller they're cut, the faster your cook time at this point, so if you're short on time, dice them smaller).

While those are simmering, saute your mushrooms in butter with salt and pepper. This is optional, but so awesome that you really should do it. And they've got to get cooked anyway, so you might as well do it with butter.

When they've released their water and browned somewhat, toss them into the stew and let everything simmer another 10 minutes.

Taste to check seasonings.

Serve with crusty bread and prepare for the best stew of your life.



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