Budget Elegance: Cooking is a dead sexy money saver

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When I decided to become a full-time freelancer, I knew lean times were a comin’. Thankfully, I grew up in a household that, even in prosperous times, valued saving over spending and relished simple pleasures. It didn’t hurt that Dad preferred Miller Genuine Draft over pricier craft brews and that my stepmom Vicki was a budget ninja (both of these things hold true today –those two are some savin’ fools!).

Recently, my friend Paige said she needed to get better at “being poor.” Now, Paige has a great job, travels, tries new restaurants and is a homeowner, so she isn’t really “poor,” she just wants to save more cash to achieve a few specific goals for the future. Having been there, as well as actually poor when I was in college and a several years after as a young reporter and now being on a tight budget to realize my long-held dream of being footloose and fancy freelance, she clearly had turned to the right place.

Also, she was fed up with advice from a budgeting book that suggested, for example, to shop at Banana Republic, rather than Nordstrom. Frankly, neither is very wallet friendly, depending on your income and one man’s Banana is of course another man’s Nordstrom is another man’s Wal-Mart is another man’s thrift store and on and on. So, I set out to offer up some of my best lean, but luxe living tips that include a variety of budget levels.

So, each Thursday, I plan to share with you some of the tips I’ve been sharing with Paige.

Today’s tip is perhaps one of the most impactful things you can do to save money and also to enrich your life: Cook your own food.

If you can’t cook, learn. Ask a friend or relative to teach you. Watch cooking shows. Borrow cookbooks. Experiment. But for the love of God, learn how to cook. Cooking is cheaper, and it is dead sexy (Google Giada or watch this Robert Rodriguez cooking video if you need proof).

I love going out to restaurants, but it’s expensive, so when your budget dictates that going out to eat isn’t an option, make even the most simple, cheapest meals more elegant by “styling” the food and adding a flourish or two to your meal.

Most mornings, I eat a bioled egg, toast, maybe some fresh fruit and coffee for breakfast. It couldn’t be a cheaper or easier meal. It’s the original fast food! This is what my breakfast looks like when I sit down to eat:

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Lunch might be a tuna salad sandwich. Booooring, right? Not when you take a minute to make it artful:

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(Are you starting to realize that I like tomatoes?)

Learn to make pizza. It’s cheap and seriously fun to do with friends, family or a date. I was afraid to make my own crust, but it’s pretty easy and the results are rustic, beautiful and delicious:

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Also, cooking gives you something to do when you can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money to go out. Bored and want a snack? Make homemade potato chips and dip. Peel, style and eat an orange:

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Basically, play with your food. Cooking is a fun and tasty way to pass time and save money. And don’t forget, it is also sexy:

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How do you save money?

Tuesday Taste: Cream of mushroom soup

Homemade cream of mushroom soup.

Homemade cream of mushroom soup.

Last week, I decided to get crafty and make homemade cream of mushroom soup. I found a recipe at SimplyRecipes.com, but it called for several items that I didn’t have on hand. No problem, because I’m not afraid to improvise.

Here’s what I came up with and it is delicious!

 

 

 

 

Ingredients:

1 pound sliced white mushrooms
1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

Four sliced carrots

Half of a white or red onion. 
1 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped) or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

3 tbsp flour

Instructions:

Place sliced carrots in boiling water and cook until tender. While the carrots are cooking, sauté onions, mushrooms and thyme in butter with olive oil. When mushrooms and onions are tender, add carrots, stock and salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to cook for about 20 minutes. Pour milk into a saucepan and slowly add flour stirring constantly with a whisk, to eliminate lumps. Add milk and flour mixture to stock and vegetables and cook until desired thickness. Serves four. Tastes great with crusty French baguette and butter.

Eat and enjoy!

 

Tuesday Taste: Heavenly, cheesy, delectable Alfredo sauce

I like mixin' it up in the kitchen, y'all

I like mixin’ it up in the kitchen, y’all

Cooking is one of my passions, but far above the making of the food in my list of favorite things to do is the eating of the food. When not cooking at home or dining at a friend’s house, I like to visit new restaurants, take pictures of my food (yes, I’m THAT person) and then eat it.

For no reason in particular, I’m determined to keep this blog from morphing into one that is food-themed. But, I’m self-aware enough to know that food is going to wiggle its way into my words and pictures, so I’m dedicating Tuesdays to food glorious food!

On the days when you are feeling hungry for food fodder, but I’m not blogging specifically about it, visit me on the “Kitchen” page, where I’ll provide links to posts of culinary past and once in a while offer up a favorite recipe.

Upon my return to Houston from a few weeks of work and play in Austin, I couldn’t

My adorable kitchen in all of its adorable adorableness.

My adorable kitchen in all of its adorable adorableness.

wait to get back into my adorable little kitchen and whip up some good stuff. I had been craving pasta Alfredo all week, so that was the first item on my cooking agenda.

I tweak nearly every recipe –except for those passed down by my grandmothers, because they are perfect. I got my Alfredo sauce recipe from the beautifully photographed Williams-Sonoma Pasta cookbook.

Here’s the recipe as written:

Ingredients

5 tablespoons butter
12 oz. (double) whipping cream
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Nutmeg

Note: In my version, I eliminate the nutmeg and add a clove of garlic and about a tablespoon of basil. I was out of garlic (GASP!!) Sunday night however, so I made it the more traditional way. To my surprise, I didn’t miss the garlic.

Instructions

Add butter and cream in a small saucepan on medium heat. Bring it to a boil, constantly whisking it. When it starts to froth up, turn down the heat or remove it, and stir in most of the cheese and seasonings.  Add cooked pasta (I like angel hair or fettuccine and coat with sauce. Plate it and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Fettuccine Alfredo a la Melanie.

Fettuccine Alfredo a la Melanie.

I recommend serving it with a simple salad drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and a crisp Pinot Grigio (as pictured) or your favorite dry, acidic white wine, to balance out all of that richness. Also, because I just really like any excuse to have wine with dinner.

I enjoyed it while watching Downton Abbey, but it’ll taste good with pretty much any show or movie cued up.

Enjoy!

 

 

Friday fun and frivolity, plus March Madness and sporting event etiquette

Happy Friday readers! Today is a good day for a little fun and relaxation to help ease into the weekend. First, let’s all take a moment to stop and smell the wildflowers:

 

Wildflowers!

 

Springtime in Texas is synonymous with wildflowers. We happened upon these while taking a walk in the neighborhood yesterday. We are not very good at identifying plant life, but we think this is Showy Evening Primrose or Oenothera speciosa.

Readers who know something about flowers, please feel free to weigh in or correct our guess.

What we do know is that we love wildflower season and will enjoy it while it lasts.

Next, we ran across something the other day that we think is not only a hoot, but also rather ingenious. The Garden & Gun Southern Food Bracket. Click here to see how your favorites foods and flavors fare during this entertaining (and hunger inducing) take on March Madness. We are pulling for pulled pork barbecue.

Regarding the real March Madness, for the record, the Re-find gang bleeds blue — Kentucky blue! The University of Kentucky Wildcats will battle it out against the Ohio State Buckeyes (it hurts to type that school’s name and mascot). We’ll do our best to be on our best behavior during the game and to practice good sportsmanship, but sporting event etiquette is a bit tricky, given smack talk is not only acceptable, but also expected. That said, always keep it friendly.

Have a great weekend and GO CATS!

Cheers!