Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pasta Salad Bar

My kids are picky. One weird thing about some picky kids is that they might like all the parts of a meal, but then when you put it together, they won't eat it. For example, my kids just started eating tacos as tacos. Even though they like hamburger, cheese, salsa, and olives, (and corn chips of course) when I would combine these items into a taco, they would refuse to eat it. It made me super crazy. And then I gave up (yes, I'm weak). I started putting the different taco items in bowls on the table and they would eat their tacos ingredient by ingredient. Le sigh. But now they eat them normally, so yay.

A few weeks ago when I was craving pasta salad, I was bummed because I was like "No one except Kip will eat it." And then I realized: My kids like pasta, my kids like olives, some of them like pepperoni, some of them like cheese, some of them like broccoli. And I realized that a pasta bar could meet my grown up craving and their picky kid needs (or wants as it were).

The truth is if you're a parent of picky kids and you don't necessarily want the battle of the century at all your meals, it's often a good idea to break some meals down into their individual parts, especially when you introduce new foods.

Try it. It's a party.

For our pasta salad, I combined the salad with the dressing (and actually even the broccoli because I wanted mine dressing soaked), but left the other ingredients separate.

I'd love to give you a killer dressing recipe, but mine was only so so. The toppings we used were broccoli, cheddar cheese, olives, pepperoni, and sausage. I desperately wanted artichokes as well, but we were out (the horror). They were a fantastic combination of toppings that made up for the lame-ish dressing.

Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Be a Skinny Cheapskate

Of course the real title of this post should be "How to Be a Cheapskate While Maintaining a Healthy Weight that Makes You Feel Happy and Content" But it wasn't as catchy.

And, also, as we all know, I should begin this post with a smoking hot picture of myself in a tiny little bikini. Because why else would anyone want to be skinny (or at a healthy weight that makes you feel happy and content) if not to post smoking hot, scantily clad pictures of oneself for the entire Internet to see. I can't really think of any other ways to show that we have value as human women so I really should get on that bikini photo shoot. But I haven't yet. Don't worry, what I don't have in smoking hot bikini pictures I make up for in Grandma sweater pictures, usually involving me making some sort of weird face (because I'm pretty sure that Kip waits until I'm making the absolute weirdest face possible before he snaps any picture of me ever).

Anyway, you're probably wondering what the purpose is of this post if not to post smoking hot bikini pictures of myself. I will tell you. I get pretty annoyed when people start talking about how Americans are obese because they can't afford good food. So then they have to buy generic boxes of mac and cheese which they are, we can only presume, forced to consume in unholy amounts in a vain subconscious attempt to attain sufficient nutrition and not die.

I'm not buying it--the generic mac and cheese or the argument that that's all you get to eat when you're poor.

Below you'll find Eight Tips on How to Be a Skinny Cheapskate (note; none of them involves bikini selfies; you're welcome).

1. Water. The next time I hear a snooty, rich food writer tell me that the poor are just fat because soda is so cheap, I'm going to personally fly to his chateau in France, and smack him (or her). Well, probably not because I can't afford to. I will not say that water is free because it is technically not free because you technically have a water bill that comes to your house every month. But the little half gallon of water that you should drink each day is actually a very insignificant part of that water bill. Let's face it, your kids probably waste more water than you drink putting temporary tattoos on their hands. Water is cheap and healthy and good for your teeth and perfectly wonderful in a host of ways that almost make it seem like a miracle drug. Drink it if you want to be cheap and skinny.

2. Don't freaking overeat. Sorry about the language there. But, seriously, eat enough to be full and satisfied and then stop. You can save the leftovers for lunch tomorrow or a family leftover night. If you're really hungry, then by all means, eat. But if you're only eating that much food because it's there and your mother isn't stopping you, then save some for later. The nice thing about this rule is that it applies to all food at all price points. No matter what you spend on food, you always spend less if you eat less. Not overeating always saves you money. 

3. Eat at meal times. Along with #2, I would say that reserving eating until meal times is very healthy as far as keeping the budget and the girth in check. I don't care if you're in the three-meals-a-day camp or the 6-smaller-meals-a-day camp, mindless snacking is both expensive and unhealthy. We usually do it, not because we're truly hungry, but because we got bored or stressed or we saw a food and it looked good (maybe it's on the counter staring us or we sat by the vending machine at work). Whatever the cause, cut it out.

4. Snack on fruits and veggies (or something else not junky). If you are truly hungry at 3 pm, then maybe your body really does need a snack. If that is the case, I think that most of us can agree that our body doesn't really need a full bag of Cheetos. But, wait--snooty food writer is always telling me that the poor have to eat chips because fruits and veggies are not calorie dense enough to sustain me. Um, I think that as Americans (even, and perhaps especially.the American poor) we're getting enough calories. Nutrients, on the other hand, not so much. So, for heaven's sake, if we're talking about a snack, let's try to keep our faces out of the jar of onion dip. Which is why I think if you get the 3 pm blahs you can reach for that apple (maybe even that apple with a few slices of cheese). It will sustain you until meal time (see #4) just as much as the package of Mentos you got out of the vending machine. Also, that bag of carrots and that small bag of generic Doritos cost the same amount.

5. Cut out your desserts. I do not in any way or lifetime believe desserts to be bad, but they do add cost and calories to your life. You know when I notice the price creeping up on the little "cost" section of my recipe posts? When I add butter and cream and chocolate chips to things. Again, we always hear snooty food writers talking about how cheap sugar is. This is actually fairly true. But when was the last time you made cake from just sugar? And that bag of candy you bought from Dollar General--it's still more expensive than buying no bag of candy at all. Also, sugar candies won't fill you up, so that argument is no good either. Please feel free to indulge occasionally. But if you're looking to trim down (haha, why are my puns so amazing), then cut out some or all of your desserts for a while. You might notice that you don't miss them or at least that you don't miss eating so darn many of them.

6. Eat vegetarian occasionally. Meat is a larger food expense, especially high quality grass-fed meats. I don't think cheapskates have to become vegetarians or that vegetarianism is even necessarily the healthiest way to eat. But I do know this--adding a few interesting vegetarian items to your menu keeps the weekly food budget down. It also helps you get out of the meat and potatoes/pasta rut we sometimes find ourselves in. Also, good vegetarian recipes often introduce us to interesting types of grains or vegetables, and in larger quantities than we might eat if a big gorgeous roast is the centerpiece of our meal. I believe that adding some vegetarian meals to the menu is a great way to stay healthy and cheap.

7. Buy seasonal veggies. It's so chic. It's also cheap. I'm not sure if this is true in other cities in the U.S., but here in Evansville, the farmer's market is a place to get incredibly inexpensive seasonal fruits and veggies. We're apparently not quite hip enough yet that the farmer's markets have gone all Whole Foods on us and charge a bunch. But even if they had, grocery stores are always having sales on seasonal veggies. They're just cheaper.

8. Cook your own food. It's  almost always cheaper (with the possible exception of that generic boxed mac and cheese). You can still go out occasionally, but if you're struggling with your waist and/or your budget, the first thing that really needs to go is that restaurant food. When we are used to restaurant food, I'm not even sure we're aware of how much extra food it is. Recently I went out to lunch three times in one week. That is a lot for me. Kip and I usually eat out twice a month. What I noticed about eating out so much (and I was trying not to be a big pig and I usually had leftovers to take home) was that I was never hungry by dinnertime (I'm almost always hungry by dinnertime even if I have a big homemade lunch and take an afternoon nap instead of doing an afternoon workout). My out-to-eat food hadn't necessarily looked or seemed excessive (I never got an appetizer or a dessert or a drink other than water), but it was. Maybe it was the bread with every meal. Maybe it was what they put in the food to make it tasty. Maybe they were just bigger portions. Whatever the case, my unintentional experiment with restaurant food proved (in super scientific ways of course) that eating out is just a heavier way to eat than eating in. It's also so much more expensive--a single plate of restaurant food (and I'm not eating at 5-star dining establishments) easily costs more than a nice meal for my entire 6-person family. Again, I'm not saying that eating out is something you should never do. I'm saying it costs a lot and if you do it too much, you better double up on the boot camp. Even taking my family to McDonald's and ordering two items off the dollar menu costs as much or more than making a really nice meat and potatoes meal for us at home.

So now you have enough money to buy that new bikini, and you have the smoking hot bod to go with it. Congratulations. I'll be here in my grandma sweaters making weird faces for no apparent reason at all. And eating great food, of course. For cheap.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Secret Recipe Club: Single Girl Brownie Cake

This month for my Secret Recipe Blog I had Pale Yellow--a lovely little blog with recipes ranging from vegan to, well, not vegan. The recipe that first caught my eye was this delicious looking "cheese" ball--a vegan cheese ball that Tracy admits is a perfectly delicious dip, but doesn't taste like cheese. That made me like her immediately. I love a lot of vegan food, but I don't like it when people act like vegan knock-offs (say, vegan cheese or brownies) taste just like their non-vegan counterparts. They're not. Which doesn't make them any less delicious. Just different. Anyway, I really really wanted to make that vegan cheese ball--I even bought the raw cashews for it. However, Tracy had just posted it and I wanted to give some time to one of her older recipes. Then I found this "Single Girl Cake"--a single-serving cake that is not in any way vegan:). Balance, that's what I say. It was also delicious. To me it tasted more like a brownie (or maybe a nearly flourless cake) than a regular cake. I ate it with all the fixings, including some of those raw cashews I'd bought (is it wrong to use the raw cashews intended for your vegan cheese ball on top of a homemade brownie cake? Probably. I did it anyway.)

I love that it was single serving. I have a special place in my heart for single-serving treats even though I'm in a family with four kids and a husband. Often I don't want to have a whole pan of sweets just sitting around my house for days. Often I make something just for me (yes, I do). This week my kids were still loaded with Easter candy (of which I didn't have any), so I didn't feel too bad hogging my own little brownie.

Single Girl Brownie Cake
from Pale Yellow
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes (yes, it took nearly as long as regular brownies; I don't know why)
Cost: $.45
butter: .10, chocolate chips: .22, egg: .10, sugar: .02, flour, .01

1 Tbsp butter
1/4 C dark chocolate chips
1 egg (I used a small one; a big one will make for a spongier cake)
4 tsp sugar
pinch salt
2 drops vanilla
1 tsp flour

Preheat oven to 350. Spray or butter the inside of an oven-proof mug (or any single serving oven-proof dish like a ramekin).

Put the Tbsp butter and chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring in between till it's all melted (it won't take long).

Whisk the egg and the sugar, then pour in the melted chocolate mixture. Add salt, vanilla, flour, and whisk.

Pour into your dish and bake. The original recipe said 10 minutes, but mine took nearly 20. I'm not sure why. It seems it should have cooked sooo much faster, but it just didn't. When a fork comes out clean (and it's puffed and the center is just barely more underdone-looking than the sides), it's done. Like this:

Eat warm or cool.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Why I Love Aldi

If you follow this blog at all, you know that I love Aldi. You may also know, if you happen to look at my "Cost" for making something, that my costs sometimes seem kind of low. This is not because I'm delusional or deceitful. It is because I love Aldi and shop there regularly. It's not a perfect store; it doesn't have everything you'll always need. But it is still worth your love. Here's why.

1. It has all the basics and then some--a lot or organic or unusual foods as specials that you'd pay a pretty penny for at a health foods store.

2. It's pretty fresh. For a discount store, it's practically Eden. Despite it's sometimes ho-hum reputation (the Aldi of my youth was a place my mother went to get canned goods and really wilty lettuce if she was desperate), the produce is usually perky and fresh (usually), the dairy is always fresh, and the meats are the same level of quality (or better) than you would find at a Walmart. They are definitely higher quality than anything you'd find in a Save-a-lot or similar store.

(You can see that this produce isn't packaged any kind of special, but they get new shipments almost every day and the turnover for their produce is generally so quick that things don't have a chance to get really blah.)

3. Double Money Back Guarantee. If you ever buy anything that is not fresh or good, you can return it and get your money back, plus a replacement product. So if I come home and my broccoli turns yellow in two days, I can take it back to Aldi, get my money back and more broccoli for free.

4. Excellent sales.

5. Friendly workers. Usually. I'm sure there are some bad eggs. But none of the I-hate-my-life level employees you'll find at certain inexpensive grocery stores.

6. It's small. Maybe that's a negative to some people, but I can literally walk and shop from every aisle in 30 minutes. If you've got young kids or a tendency to impulse-buy at bigger stores, this smallness is nothing but a good thing.

Yes, you have to bring your own bags. But, whatever, that's the trendy eco-friendly thing to do these days anyway.
Yes, you have to put a quarter in your shopping cart. And tell me if you find any carts left in that parking space you wanted int he parking lot--they're all put neatly away because cheap people want their dang quarters back.
True, it is not everywhere. Aldi is a Midwest thing, though it is expanding itself, so don't despair.

Below you'll see some of the other cheap stuff that makes Aldi great. You'll also notice that they're not spending their money making things look fancy or pretty. Still, I've tried almost all of these products (I'll note when I haven't) and they're very good quality. (Also, pardon the awful pictures--I was trying to be quick and not look like a creeper wandering through Aldi taking pictures of stuff.)

(The cereal's not as good as the name brand stuff, but it's just as good--and cheaper--than other generic cereals.)

(Can anyone beat this???)

These are just as good (or in my opinion better) than Nestle or Hershey. 

Haven't tried, but heck--for $.89 you could. 

An example of fancy stuff that they sometimes have. You can't count on it, but the truth is that I haven't found farro anywhere else in Evansville ever--including the expensive health food stores. I've had to buy it in cities like D.C. when I've gone to visit family. Here Aldi is running it as a special. And for $1.69

I really have no intention of ever trying Aloe Drink, but if I did I would want to try it for $.99 instead of some fancy health food price. 

It's not Charmin, but it sure isn't the generic Walmart bath tissue that I got that took, like ten feet to form a waddable amount. 

tuna: $.65

Aldi's always got some kind of fancy cheeses going on. Some are there consistently; some are not. But they're always SO much cheaper (probably as much or more than half) of what specialty cheeses are at a normal grocery store. And the quality is good. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

My Writing Blog

In an act of shameless self-promotion, I should tell you all that in addition to being a cheapskate (and a tasty one), I'm also a writer (I mean, duh, it's pretty obvious from the Pulitzer-level work you've gotten used to here on The Tasty Cheapskate).  This summer I have a YA fantasy novel coming out. You'll hear more about that later (just look under the 'shameless self-promotion' labels when you want to read more). And I super promise to get you some delicious book-themed recipes on this blog as soon as I have a definite release date for my book (see: shameless self-promotion).

In the meantime, if you'd like to check out my brand new writing blog that I designed by my very own self on WordPress in a feat of computery insanity that I wish never to repeat, go here.


What do I write about? Well, lots of stuff, but for now here's a book hint.


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