10 tips for getting dinner on the table faster

You’ve had a long day and the last thing you want to do is spend time in the kitchen making dinner. I love to cook and even I have those nights. It’s tempting to pick up the phone and order something, but you don’t want to blow your budget either. Here are my 10 tips for getting dinner on the table faster.2014-10-05 19.39.46

1. Start with a clean kitchen

There is nothing worse than coming home to a messy, disorganized kitchen except trying to make dinner in one. Each night after dinner we run the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen a bit. Before going to bed, we try to empty the dishwasher so it’s ready to go for the next day. Keeping the counters clear of clutter gives me space to lay out ingredients and do my prep work. If things start to build up, take 20 minutes on Saturday or Sunday to clean off all your surfaces to start the new week fresh.

2. Have a plan

You don’t want to come home after a long day and have to figure out what to make for dinner. I don’t do a formal meal plan but I do have a white board on the fridge with options for the week. I list out a number of things I have all the ingredients for so I can come home and pick something from the list based on how much time I have and how tired I am. Having that list keeps me from wandering around the kitchen, opening the fridge, freezer and cabinets looking for ideas. Always make sure you have some quick items on the list like spaghetti, grilled cheese and tomato soup or tacos.

3. Use convenience foods wisely

Two convenience foods that I love are frozen meatballs and breaded chicken cutlets. I get both of these items at Costco. Frozen meatballs can be thrown in the crockpot or a pan with some sauce and you have a number of options for a quick dinner. You can make spaghetti or meatball sandwiches. You can also make sweet and sour meatballs or Swedish.  I use the breaded chicken to make sandwiches, chicken parmesan or as a topping for salads. I also buy minced garlic since we use a lot of garlic in our house and I hate chopping it. Using these items saves me a lot of time in the kitchen.

4. Turn on the oven or preheat your pan

If you are using the oven, preheat it before you start anything else. I also do this for the pans I am using. Start pasta water and preheat your pans. This will save you time once you start cooking. There is nothing worse than being ready to go and realizing that you have to wait for pans to heat up. Starting with hot pans will also make cooking faster which will save you additional time.

5. Pull all of your ingredients together before you start

Get together everything you will need before you start cooking. Having a clean kitchen will give you the space to do this. Put out your knife and cutting board, the can opener if you need one, and all the food you will need. You don’t want to go hunting for things later.

6. Chop once

I do all my prep work at the same time. I cut all my produce and place it in bowls, then I prepare any meat that needs to be cut. Having everything all lined up and ready t go into the pan reduces the chance that something is going to burn while I’m cutting other things and saves me time.

7. Put the trash can next to you

One of the biggest time wasters is moving around the kitchen, especially to throw things away. Bring the trash can to you or use a garbage bowl on your work surface to save yourself steps.

8. Precook and freeze

Whenever I buy ground beef at Costco, I cook the entire batch at once and freeze it in one pound packages. When I need ground beef for chili, spaghetti, sloppy joes, or tacos, it’s already cooked. This saves me so much time on busy weeknights. You can also freeze other meats as well that will be added to recipes. This is a lifesaver when I want to make something in the crockpot that requires cooking the meat before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

9. Make a double batch for another night

Yesterday, I made a double batch of chili. It didn’t take me any longer to make a huge batch than it would have taken to make a single batch. Not only did we have chili last night but I now have chili in the freezer for another night when I don’t feel like cooking!

10. Prep more than you need

If you have time on the weekend, I highly recommend doing some prep work for the week. If you know you are going to need three onions and two peppers, chop them over the weekend. This can save you valuable time during the week. If you can’t find time on the weekend, cut an extra onion during the week if you know you need one the next day or a few days from now. If you only need half an onion or pepper for a recipe, chop up the other half to use in another recipe. You are much more likely to use up the leftover amount if it is already chopped and ready to go which helps reduce food waste.

Bonus tip – Clean as you go

Okay so I couldn’t stop at 10. When I’m cooking, I always clean as I go. When things start simmering, I dump my garbage bowl and clean my knives. I put everything I can in the dishwasher. I start to wipe the counters. Using that time means that there won’t be much left to do after dinner. My goal is to get everything back into the condition it was in before I started making dinner (or better!) as quickly as possible so I can unwind for the evening.

What tips to do you have to get dinner on the table fast? Have any of my tips worked for you? Are there any tips that you plan to try?

 

4 reasons to not use credit cards

Today’s guest post was written by blogger, Jana Lynch. Jana and I are both living a very counter-culture lifestyle and loving every minute of it.

Photo by Daniel Oines

Photo by Daniel Oines CC

 

Confession: I don’t use credit cards. Neither does my husband. We survive fine, too.

We stopped using them about seven years ago when we decided to pay off all our credit card debt. We realized how out of control we were when we used them, and we realized we couldn’t be trusted with them in our wallets. It was how we got into debt in the first place.

At first it was difficult; we had become accustomed to charging any and everything and using cash or our debit cards seemed…weird. But we knew what we stood to gain if we refrained from using them so we stood firm in our resolve. It worked, too, because we paid off our credit card debt and have managed to remain that way for 3 years. And, seven years after our initial commitment, I’ve realized that, in addition to the debt, there are a few things I don’t miss about credit cards.

For instance:

  1. Having a bulky wallet. Carrying all those cards around bogged down my wallet and made my purse heavier than it needed to be. I’m pretty much resigned to having a ridiculously large mom purse, but I can slim down my wallet. Now I can find all the important cards (like my insurance or library card) when I need them and my purse is lighter.
  2. All those bills to pay and fees for late payments. I am not the most organize person and, even with having a list of bills written down, I sometimes manage to forget one. When I had credit card debt, it was more bills to remember to pay and not paying those had serious consequences. Plus, I’m fairly lazy and want to spend as little time as possible paying bills. Without the credit cards, that happens.
  3. One less worry about ID theft. Last year, my alma mater’s system was breached and identities dating back to when I was in school (mid-late 90s/early 00s) were compromised. Then there were all those breaches at Target and other stores I can’t think of right now. Not having credit cards, and not having to remember which card I used at which store, gives my paranoid brain a little peace of mind. It’s one card to keep track of, and it’s a debit, so I know instantly if there’s a problem. No waiting for a statement to figure that out.
  4. Less bills to pay. I’ll admit that I am not great at remembering to pay bills on time. I have the majority of our bills set up for an autodeduction and the ones that aren’t (utility bills) get paid once a month, on one particular payday. When there are credit card bills due, it’s one more thing to remember to pay, it’s more money going to someone else than staying in my account, and it’s one more chance to make a mistake that might, quite literally, cost us. Without them, it’s easier to pay the bills and I’m more efficient. Plus, the extra money helps out with other expenses.

This is not to say that credit cards are evil. If you can use them properly, then have it. I just know, and have a proven track record attesting to it, that I can’t. So I stay away.

Getting out of debt, and getting credit cards out of my life, was one of the smartest choices I made. And while it’s not easy, refraining from credit card use, I do it. I would love to walk into a store and buy all the things and not worry about how I’m going to pay for them that day. But I also know the stress it’ll cause isn’t worth it.

So I keep the credit cards at home, locked away.

Everyone is better off.

How about you? Do you use credit cards? Why or why not?

Jana Lynch is a blogger at Jana Says, where she talks about everything from parenting to pop culture to mental health issues, and runs the blogger mentoring program Bloggers Helping Bloggers. You can stop by and say hi on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

 

My #next5 financial goals

When we are slogging our way through paying down debt, we often forget to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We just see debt starring us down and it seems like we will be in this stage of life forever. I’ve been feeling that way for the last few weeks. Today, I am intentionally taking a few minutes to search for that light with a little help from some friends of mine.

Sometimes fate kicks me in the butt when I really need it. Today, my friend Camilla at No More Hamster Wheel wrote a post about looking ahead five years.  She asked “If Nothing Changed in the Next 5 Years Would You Be OK with That?” It got me thinking about what I want my next five years to look like financially. It also inspired me to rewatch Kevin Buchanan’s video about your #next5 years.

So what do my next five years look like financially?

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1. Pay off our non-mortgage debt in 18 months.

When I look at it that way, the road doesn’t seem that much longer. We’ve been at this for a long time and seeing that we are 18 months away from that goal is huge for my motivation!

2. Build up a nice, beefy emergency fund.

After we finish paying off the debt, I can’t wait to have more cash in the bank. This will allow us to weather most storms that come our way.

3. Pay cash for a nice trip for our 15th wedding anniversary.

Our 15th anniversary is May 18, 2016. We should be able to pay off the rest of our debt, build an emergency fund and save up for our trip. I’m not sure if we are going to go back to Las Vegas, where we got married, or go back to Italy. Either way, it’ll be awesome and paid for with cash.

4. Move to a lower cost of living location.

Connecticut is a very expensive place to live and with that high cost of living comes restrictions on what we can do with our dreams. Moving to a lower cost of living location would allow both of us to spend more time, if not full-time on our dreams.

5. Be completely debt free.

I currently have a five year plan to be completely debt free if we were to stay in Connecticut. If we do end up moving, we will do so in a way that I can still be completely debt free by 40. Hitting this goal would give us an incredible amount of freedom going forward. I can’t wait to have a payment free life!

Of course, we have a lot of other financial goals, like saving more for retirement and purchasing a newer car for my husband, but these are the five that keep me going. These are the five that get me through those months when I’m tired of living on such a tight budget.

What are your #next5 financial goals? How can I help you get there?

How no turned into yes in three days

Today’s Wednesday guest post is written by Liz Neunsinger. Liz and I share a passion for education and getting our financial houses in order. I’m so happy that Liz is sharing her story about how she and her husband both got on the same page when it came to their finances, even if it took him a bit longer to jump on the bandwagon. Her story shows that we can all change our ways. We just need a place to start.

tugging at money

The most important thing I learned about my marriage came when we decided to get out of debt.

My husband and I married in 2010. At first, we didn’t combine our finances. Neither of us had a clue about how much debt the other brought to the marriage or how much the other made. We paid bills willy-nilly and were getting by. Savings or investments? Forget it! We were all over the place with no path and no goals.

About 8 months after the wedding, I had the opportunity to attend Financial Peace University (FPU) through my work. This was the 13 week FPU course offered in 2 days of intense study. My husband couldn’t attend with me. The first day I listened hard. Wide eyes and dreams floating in my head, this was what we were going to do!

I went home that night and spoke at 100 miles a minute for 3 hours about how great this course was and how it was going to change our lives! We needed to combine our debt, combine our finances, and get on a plan. Finally, when I took a breath, I asked what he thought. “No.” he said so matter-of-factly. My heart sank. We were not on the same page. He didn’t want to combine finances because he didn’t want me to pay for his debt. He didn’t like the budget restricting his purchase power. Bottom line, without his willingness, this plan was going to fail.

I went to the next day of FPU with a sad heart. I listened and dreamed, but it wasn’t the same as day 1. The next day went by. On the 3rd day after we talked about a budget, my husband said, “OK, let’s do it.” Immediately, I realized what happened. He needed a few days to think about and research this new plan. He needed time to ponder. I, on the other hand, was impulsive and excitable. I was ready with little thought. This nugget of information has been the pinnacle of communication in our marriage ever since on EVERYTHING! When I want something, I tell him what I want and he researches it for days. When he wants something, by the time he tells me about it he has already researched it and chosen what he wants. I’m very amenable to his request because I know it’s calculated. Then we budget for it and purchase it.

The best thing that could have happened to us is to decide to get out of debt. Not only has the budget been a monthly map to staying debt free, but the lesson I learned about how to communicate with my husband has kept us strong for 4 years. By the time we talk in depth, we’re both in a mindset to have the discussion, which leads to the best outcome.

When you talk to your spouse, how can you use your personality styles to get you both on the same page? How can you help your partner understand your side before passing judgment? What can you share with your spouse about your communication tendencies that will help them talk with you?

To follow Liz and her adventures in education and finances, check out her blog Study Paycheck.

Because sometimes you just need a coffee

This morning I woke up later than usual. I was up late last night reading, doing laundry and dishes. I wanted to write a blog post and do a few things for my other site but housework was tugging at me. I packed up my Chromebook and am currently writing this post at Starbucks.

I have three hours to be creative before I must go to work. I could have stayed home and been distracted by counters that need to be wiped down, laundry that needs to be done and odd job phone calls that need to be made. Instead, I am enjoying my skinny soy caramel macchiato and writing this post.

Why you need blow money in your budget

This is why everyone needs a little blow money.

Whatever you want to call it (blow money, mad money, fun money), every budget needs a bit of it. This isn’t lunch money if you eat out everyday. This isn’t entertainment money. This is “I want an occasional coffee while I’m writing” money. This is “I want to meet a friend for lunch” money.

Jeff and I each get $50 per month to spend on whatever we wish. I usually spend mine on coffee, Costco frozen yogurt (wow that stuff is good), the occasional lunch, and books. Fifty dollars might not sounds like a lot but most months, we don’t even spend it all. That $50 saves my sanity, too.

Before we allowed ourselves some blow money in the budget, we would have a few good months and then fall off the budgeting bandwagon. A DVD would turn into other purchases and snowball out of control. We felt like we were deprived because there was no room to purchase a pack of gum. That deprivation led to rebellion and later regret. We would retighten our belts only to fall again.

Blow money made all the difference. We each had a little bit of money to play with, to do whatever we wanted with. Since we started allocating blow money, we have not fallen off the wagon. That doesn’t mean we haven’t had months with emergencies, but we haven’t broken our budget with wants. We no longer feel deprived.

If you are having trouble staying on budget, try adding some blow money to your budget. It just might bring you peace and get you back on track.

Do you work blow money into your budget? How has it helped you stay on budget?

10 books that influenced my life

If you are on Facebook, you might have seen people posting about the 10 books that influenced their lives. I was tagged by a friend of mine to do mine. I thought it might be interesting to post the list here with some brief explanations to inspire you to read more. An article in the Wall Street Journal this week discussed the positive effects that reading can have on your stress levels. Reading for just 30 minutes a day can really help to improve your well being. I hope some of these books encourage you to read more.

Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters

This book is probably one of the two most influential books I have ever read. I have attempted to read a lot of motivational books. Attempted is the appropriate term because a lot of them I never finish. Jon’s book  hooked me in right away. His writing style is witty and fun, while making you really think about what you want to accomplish in life. Start was the inspiration for my other website, Accounting In Focus, which I launched a few months ago (I’ve been working on it since January). It also inspired me to start writing here again on a regular basis. I love the progress I’ve made and I don’t think I would be here if it weren’t for Jon’s inspiration. The book is full of practical steps to get yourself started on the path to awesome.  He has another book coming out next year called Do Over and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The Total Money Makeover

This is the other book that I would consider most influential. Back in 2008 after cancer and lots of debt, Jeff and I knew we needed a plan to get back on track. We were both scared and thought we were doomed. Dave Ramsey helped set us on a path to get our financial house in order. We started using Dave’s baby steps and a budget. While we haven’t been perfect over the years, we’ve paid off over $120,000 in debt so far and are still budgeting each month. I’m not sure where we would be if it weren’t for this book. It really did change our lives.

Gilgamesh

After two nonfiction books, we need to add a bit of fiction into the mix. I read this book my freshman year in college. At first, I didn’t want to read it because mythology was not really my thing. It was because of this book that I came to love mythology and become interested in ancient history. The story was fascinating, yet not overbearing like the Odyssey. A few months after reading this book, I met my future husband who would have not been nearly as interesting had I not read this book. I honestly believe that this book helped to open the door to my relationship with my husband. It gave us something in common early in our relationship upon which a 13 year marriage has blossomed.

Charlotte’s Web

This is one of my favorite children’s books. It also has an excellent message: you don’t need to be big or important to change someone’s world. This message still resonates with me today. Even little things like holding the door open for someone or smiling when you pass her on the street can make a difference in someone’s life. I think it’s part of the reason I try to be nice to people. You never know when you might be able to brighten someone’s day with a little kindness. It’s a simple message but an important one.

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No

This is the book that taught me how to say no. Before reading this book, I was stretched too thin. I just had too many commitments. If I didn’t have a lot of commitments, I thought there was something wrong with me. After reading this book, I started to make priorities. I was able to set boundaries with other people for the first time in my life. I just wish I had found this book earlier. NOTE: There are a lot of biblical references in the book but the message was still excellent. I am not a religious person but I still got a lot out of it.

The Millionaire Next Door

I actually read this book before I read The Total Money Makeover. This book put me in the proper mindset to accept the direction in The Total Money Makeover. The Millionaire Next Door discusses the money habits of the average American with a new worth of $1 million or more. The average millionaire does not drive a new car or wear fancy clothes. A lot of the folks that do that are not actually wealthy at all because they are spending all their money to look wealthy! It made me realize that if we wanted to accumulate wealth, we couldn’t do it if we spent all of our money on stuff.

Pride and Prejudice

I love this book. I have actually read it four or five times in the last few years and I own the BBC version on DVD which I watch at least four times a year. It is a story that endures the test of time: family strife, embarrassing family members, trying to find your place in the world and misjudging others. It is a story to which most people can still relate.

Julius Caesar

This was the first Shakespeare work that I really enjoyed and the one that gave me an appreciation for his work. Although I had difficulty with the language at first, I didn’t give up when we were assigned this play in my sophomore English class. One of our assignments was to pick a speech from one of the many Shakespeare works we had read and deliver it in front of class. I picked Mark Anthony’s address to the country after the death of Caesar. It begins “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. I was a bit nervous as this one of the first speaking assignments I had ever done. I decided that if I was going to go, I would go big. I wore my leather sandals that day, which my friends and I called my “Jesus sandals.” When it was my turn, I jumped on a chair and then on a desk and delivered the speech. It was the first time I punched fear in the face and that experience broke down the door for future leadership and speaking opportunities. To this day, I channel my inner performer each time I teach a class.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I know this one is going to sound a bit cliche as I have seen this on a lot of lists, but this book reminded me that literature can be a wonderful escape. I remember reading the first book and couldn’t wait to get the second. I started reading them right before the last book was published so I was able to read them all in a very short amount of time. It rekindled my love of reading after finishing college, which was filled with years of reading books because I had to not because I wanted to. Harry Potter reminded me to read because I wanted to.

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

Just as Harry Potter brought me back to reading after college, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey brought me back to fiction after a long dry spell. My husband saw this book when he was purchasing Christmas gifts for me last year. He knew I was a huge fan of Downton Abbey and picked it up for me. At first, I was not that excited about it, but once I started to read, I instantly fell in love with this book. The story revolves around a group of people living in an apartment building who come together watching the show. While many of them have insane lives, they find common ground once a week. It’s one of those books that you are sad to come to the end of because you want to keep enjoying the characters. It is an entertaining novel and spurred me to read other books by Wendy Wax and explore other authors. It got me reading fiction again.

What books have made an impact on your life? What should I read next? 

Making your wife happy without breaking the bank

This week’s Wednesday guest post is by none other than my husband, Jeffery W. Ingram. Yes, this is how he refers to himself. Even when he signs a birthday card, he signs “Jeffery W. Ingram.” It’s just one of the many things I love about him. When he approached me a few weeks ago about writing a guest post, I was a little afraid at first. Previous guest posts have been creative takes on shopping with coupons and recipes for guys. This post is a bit more serious (just a bit). I’ve written a few pieces on communication over the years but this is the first time I’ve gotten his perspective. It was very interesting when I read his perspective and led to a good discussion. It helped to open my eyes and made me thing about how I communicate with him. I hope it helps you as well.

I have a great marriage.  My wife is my lover, my think-tank partner, my muse, and my best friend. However, after reading Nick’s article here and his article at the Good Men Project, it got me thinking (a dangerous past time its true).  I was forced to start asking myself some important questions.

Do I really listen?

By listen I mean hear the words and understand what she mean by them.  I know I think I do or else I would ask questions and try to fix her problems.  I love fixing her problems.

I know I am not alone when I say that I might hear my wife.  However, I do not always listen.

Here is recent example of what I heard.

Kristin: “Jeffery so glad you are home.  I know you had a hard long day at work.  While you were doing that, I did the laundry, saved us a billion dollars, cleaned the kitchen, got us some dinner, and saved many children from a burning house.  So I had a hard day as well.”

Jeffery: “Wow, you also did a lot.  We both had a long stressful day darling.  How about we take a break and have some fun, just you and me.  You are the light of my life, you give me hope.”

This would have been the conversion if I listened.

Kristin: “Jeffery, I know you are doing a lot of work.  We both are.  I am sorry to tell you there is a lot of stuff that needs to happen around the house.  I need your help getting it done.”

Jeffery: “I love you. Let me start helping more.”

What my imagination tells me she heard

Kristin: “HELLLLLLLLLLLLLP”

Jeffery: “No”

What I really said, “Wow you did a lot today”

sheHeard

Now, I do try to listen.  However, she is a woman and I am a man.  We are always going to place effort into our communications. However, the main burden is on me.  My instincts lead me through life with a confidence; it helps me make quick and usually good decisions.  However, I need to remember to temper it with reviewing my decisions and seeing how to make better decisions going forward.

I can love my wife without breaking the bank

Since you are on my wife’s blog you know that she is frugal.  Well, I am cheap unless it involves my wife.  I would buy her the Crown Jewels to show her my love. I would take her for dinner and an opera in Rome every night.  It would be easy to spend lots of money on her, unless I listen.  She might be okay with me splurging on her at times.  However, if I go over the top (and I love going over the top), I could go bankrupt pampering her.

Since I started listening to Kristin, I know that my over-the-top pampering would drive her into a stress coma.  I needed a more cost effective way to show my love to her.  My first act was simple. I threw in a load of laundry before I went into work.  It wasn’t much.  However, she told me how happy it made her.

The cost to me was 1 minute in my morning routine; the benefit to her was that the first thing she would not see after waking up was a load of laundry.  If she did, her day would start off thinking about the entire task that needed to happen today and she would have to do it since I was already at work.  It helped free up her mind so she could dream a little more that day, a much better outcome then if I brought her the Crown Jewels. She would have just passed out, losing her mind to the fear of the massive debt I created to buy them.

Let’s add in a little old school

In the past, I wrote numerous love notes to my wife: To K from J, to my angel, or to my perfection were the three models I used.  I had forgotten about them.  I did them when we first met and slowly over the years the frequency declined until I had basically forgotten about it.

I loved doing it.  They were as much for me as they were for her.  I have a hopeless romantic trapped in me.  I still tried to be romantic.  However, my approach changed.  However thanks to a story from my hustle friend, Tricia, I was reminded about the notes.  So, I now randomly place my wife notes in the morning.  Little love notes, to let her know I am thinking about her and to let her know how much she helps me.

So What?

These things might seem little and they are little.  You might be thinking, “Jeepers Jeffery, you spend a freaking two whole minutes a morning starting laundry and write a little note . . . whoopdeefreekingdingdong.”  You would be right; it only takes two whole minutes, maybe three.  However, I feel better and work better.  She feels better and works better and only for the cost of two minutes.  Once it a blue moon you might be able to pull a big wow factor.  Ultimately, the little things are what makes or breaks a marriage.

I hoped you enjoyed.  Want to help me get to three minutes a day being nice to my wife, please comment below and let me know what is the little thing you wish someone would do for you?  And what are the little things you do for your better half.  Heck, if we are lucky I might get up to 5 minutes today.  After you comment, go do a little something for the person you love!

When you just don’t want to make dinner

To say that last week was a difficult week would be an understatement. We ended up eating out a few times and spending all of our entertainment budget for the month (and we still have a little over two weeks to go). Saturday night, we really wanted to order pizza. We were so tired and neither of us wanted to make dinner. Jeff even offered to use his blow money to order pizza. It was tempting. Really tempting but we didn’t do it.

We both knew the entertainment budget was gone. We did have blow money but I didn’t want to spend it. We had bought a bunch of groceries in the past few days so we had food.

We just didn’t want to make anything. The thought of standing in front of the stove was not at all appealing. I know you’ve had those days. The days when you aren’t sure if your legs would support you to stand in front of the stove to make grilled cheese.

I started to think of all the food I had bought that week. I made a Costco run on Friday night. I had stocked up on a lot of things. I could make hamburgers or hot dogs. My knees ached at the thought. Too tired for hamburgers or hot dogs.

It was getting late and we needed to eat something. We had no cereal in the house, no lunch meat either. I was starting to cave and was about to tell Jeff to order pizza when a light went off in my head.

2014-09-14 17.05.51Frozen meatballs.

I had a  huge bag of frozen meatballs from Costco. I put some in a bowl and thew them in the microwave for a few minutes to defrost them. While they were in the microwave, I poured a jar of sauce in a pan. I sat down as the meatballs mingled with the sauce. Twenty minutes later, we had hot meatballs and sauce, hot dog buns and mozzarella cheese.

Three minutes of effort and we had meatball sandwiches for dinner. They might have been the best meatball sandwiches I’ve ever had. Well, they were the best three minute effort meatball sandwiches I’ve ever had. They were really good, really quick and a hell of a lot less expensive than ordering pizza.

Since we did not order pizza, I made some pizza dough on Sunday. We will have pizza this week.

What do you make when you just don’t want to cook? How do you keep yourself from ordering take-out?

You can make amazing pasta at home

Have you always wanted to make homemade pasta but felt overwhelmed by the process? It is actually a lot easier that you think. I have been making homemade pasta for years, so when Mary Nolte asked to write a guest post about the process, I knew you would all love it. For me, there is nothing better in the world than a bowl of homemade pasta.


pasta 6

Want to feel like a gourmet chef? It’s not that “store-bought” pasta is incredibly expensive, but this recipe will help you save a few pennies with the added bonus of making you feel like a gourmet chef. Your friends and family are sure to applaud your efforts when you serve up this pasta in any of its versatile varieties.

Basic recipe:

Begin with about 3/4 Cup of all-purpose flour. Make a well in the center. Crack an egg into a clear juice glass or a small jar. Check it for any small pieces of shell. It’s easier to remove it from a small clear glass than after it’s already in the recipe. Pour the egg into the well of the flour.

If you have a KitchenAid mixer, use the dough hook and mix on slow. If you do not have a fancy appliance, fear not! My grandmother mixed pasta by hand and it tasted all the more delicious. Actually, use a standard table knife to mix the dough. It will be easier to clean than a fork and will be just as effective.

To the flour and egg, I use up to a teaspoon of salt. Salt quantity is to taste, but I recommend that you use at least 1/2 teaspoon.  I use Himalayan pink salt, but standard table salt or sea salt is perfectly acceptable.

Mix these three ingredients until a stiff dough is formed. Remove the dough and seal it in a baggie until you are ready to form the pasta. If I intend to make several batches, this is a good breaking point. Simply keep placing the dough balls into baggies and into the refrigerator until you’re ready for the next stage.

Variations:

There are many delicious variations of Home Crafted Pasta. Simply add the additional ingredients while stirring in the egg. Here are a few ideas:

Garlic: Add minced garlic (fresh or from a jar is fine).

Herb: Use your imagination! I use oregano and thyme.

Spinach: This is slightly more involved. I process a few hands full of spinach in a blender with a few tablespoons of water along with the egg. More flour may be required to accommodate the additional liquid, but the pasta is so delicious that you won’t mind having a little extra.

Any of the above in various combinations!

At our local farmer’s market, there is a vendor who sells many other variations, including beet, mushroom, lime and cilantro, garlic and chive, lemon and pepper; and black pepper and basil. I suggest that you use your imagination and search online for other ideas and variations.Pasta 2

To craft the pasta, remove the dough from the baggies and either roll it out old-fashioned style onto a floured table top or use a Pasta Maker. I only got my pasta machine very recently. Until I got it, I modeled my Grandma Emmie’s method by using a rolling pin. I LOVE the machine. It runs about $25. I lucked out and got mine when it was on sale for $20.

Once the pasta is rolled to about 1/8 of an inch thick, you can leave it to dry for a while, or you can cut the pasta and then let it dry. Again, you can cut it the old-fashioned way by using a knife or even a pizza wheel. Perfectly symmetrical and evenly cut pasta is not necessary. That’s the beauty of it all! Cut the pasta narrow or wide, anywhere from 1/8 of an inch up to approximately 1/2 inch wide.pasta 4

Once the pasta is cut and slightly dried, “fluff” it into some flour to keep it from sticking together. Gently roll it into “nests” and protect it well in baggies and containers until you’re ready to use it. If you’re going to use it within a day or two, it can be refrigerated. If you are stocking up, it can be frozen and will keep nicely in the freezer for 4-6 weeks.

A key point for when boiling home crafted pasta is that it doesn’t need to be boiled as long as store-bought pasta. For example, spaghetti sized home crafted pasta really only needs to boil for about four minutes. Since this seems to be a matter of personal taste, I recommend that you set a timer and check the pasta at each one minute interval beginning at four minutes. Some people like their pasta more al dente than other people, right?

Home Crafted Pasta has double potential because not only do you get to be creative with the actual pasta; you also get to be creative with the sauces and embellishments. Here are a few ideas:

Your favorite go-to sauce: I use a very inexpensive store-bought sauce and to each jar I add one teaspoon of sugar and one teaspoon of minced garlic. The sugar causes this sauce to darken slightly as it heats through. You can make this more hearty by combining it with ground meat as per your tried and true method.

Olive oil and garlic: Heat a desired amount of olive oil in a sauce pan. Do not overheat. Add minced garlic, to taste. Drizzle over the pasta.

Alfredo: Because I would be as big as a house if I ate Alfredo sauce on a regular basis, I try to avoid this one. Recipes are easy to find and I have made it a time or two, and it is delicious.

Herbs, pesto: I absolutely love basil! I recently learned that the word pesto is a variation of the word pestle and doesn’t necessarily mean just basil. You can pestle anything with a little olive oil and sea salt, including:

Spinach: Process some spinach and sea salt with olive oil and use as a pesto. Delicious!

Veggies: Roast or lightly sauté fresh vegetables such as zucchini, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, etc. Toss with your home crafted pasta for a delicious vegetarian dinner.

Meats: Try broiling chicken or salmon with any of the combinations described and top your pasta with all of the deliciousness that you can imagine.Pasta 1

To any of these, you can add favorites like black olives, feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, capers…the possibilities are endless! Enjoy!

Have you ever made homemade pasta? 

Mary Nolte is the author of The Ice Cream Truck, a collection of food related short stories. She is currently working on two new books. For more information on Mary, you can check out her website.

What if you didn’t have a mortgage or rent payment this month?

My husband and I have been using the 28 day budget since November of last year. It has made cash flow planning so much easier since we get paid every two weeks. No worrying about what to do when we get three paychecks in a month. No more worrying about how to budget for groceries if there is an extra few days in the month. I really like the plan, but I love it now.

Our September budget runs from September 3 to September 30. Our mortgage is due on the 1st of the month. That means that in the September budget, there is no mortgage payment due. Over the past ten months, we’ve seen other expenses fall out of the budget range. It was nice the month that our utilities dropped off the budget since those are a fairly large expense.

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Making a budget without a mortgage payment did two things for us.

First, that gave us a LOT of extra money to throw at the debt snowball. That $1,900 is going to make a huge dent in the HELOC we are currently paying off. POW!

More importantly, it made me see what our budget could look like when we are finally 100% debt free, when we no longer have a mortgage payment. Seeing that budget gave me renewed drive to keep pressing on and get our debt paid off.

If I wasn’t sure about the 28 day budget before, I am now a true believer.

What would you do if you didn’t have a mortgage or rent payment one month each year?