Recipes? Pfff… I don’t need no stinking recipes

I hate following recipes. That’s probably part of the reason that I’m not a huge fan of baking. I have to follow a recipe when baking. It’s annoying how chemistry works and I can’t just put in things as I see fit!

This is why I like to cook. I find it challenging to create good meals when I don’t have a plan and I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I did this twice this week. I made beef stew and something I like to call chicken goop.

The beef stew went well. I browned the beef in batches which left lovely browned bits on the bottom of my Le Creuset 7 1/4-Quart Dutch Oven. I then added onions, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms. A splash of wine (I don’t measure when I’m cooking), a good bit of Worcestershire sauce and a couple good squeezes of Dijon mustard. I didn’t have any beef broth, so I used water and beef base. I didn’t cover everything entirely, which was a good thing because everything sunk down into the liquid and it wasn’t too much. I added bay leaves, granulated garlic and ground thyme. It was covered and simmered for 4 hours. I then cracked the cover and cooked it for another hour to let some of the liquid evaporate. Added some pepper and a cornstarch slurry and a few minutes later, we had stew. I had to hunt down all of the bay leaves (don’t eat those, not good eats), but it was great stew. I just threw in what I had and made due for things I didn’t.

The chicken goop has become one of my favorite recipes. It’s easy, it’s hearty and it’s different every time. I know the name doesn’t sound very appealing but I don’t know what else to call it. I throw some chicken breasts into a small crock pot. I take a can of cream of mushroom soup and some chicken broth, about equal parts I think (again, remember that I measure nothing). This time I added some chicken grill seasoning. I actually added a lot of grill seasoning, but I figured in the crock pot, it was probably needed. I even added a bunch of Parmesan cheese. Once that was all mixed together, I poured it over the chicken. Cook for about 5 hours on low (my crock pot cooks hot I think), until the chicken starts to fall apart if you try to pick it up with a fork. You can serve this over rice, mashed potatoes or noodles. It’s warm and hearty. If you wish you can even add veggies toward the end of cooking. I imagine broccoli would be good. Mixed veggies, too. I’m not allowed to put veggies in the chicken goop or there might be a husband revolt. I just serve green beans or corn on the side. This is also a good meal to serve with a salad.

I’m at the point in my cooking life where I know what flavors appear to work together and which ones do not. I’ve played around with spices enough to know that rosemary has no place in lasagna (trust me). I have made some errors in judgement before but for the most part, things turn out well. I encourage you to try different flavors and see what works for you.

Ten things I’m not cheap with

My friend, Jacie from my knitting group, challenged me this week. She asked me to come up with ten things that I’m not cheap with. I’ve been thinking about this since Thursday and I finally came up with a list. It’s funny because the more I thought about them, most of them kinda are frugal purchases. They are not cheap purchases but they do save me money in some way. These are in no particular order.

1. Clarks Shoes – I love my Clarks. They are comfy and not terribly expensive. I can usually get them for about $40 per pair on sale. I am not a shoe person. I think I own less than 10 pairs of shoes. My Clarks last a really long time, even the pair I wear almost everyday. I could buy cheaper shoes but they would wear out faster or not be as comfortable and I would either have to replace them or they would just sit in the closet.

2. Victoria Secret Underwear – I have tried all different kinds of less expensive underwear but I don’t like them as much as VS. I get coupons all the time for free pairs. Last time I purchased them, I got 10 pairs for $25 and got another pair for free. They wear well and last a long time.

3. Veal Parmesan – I know this one sounds odd. I love Veal Parm. I’ve never been able to make it at home the way I can get it in little Italy in Hartford. It’s one of my favorite foods. I don’t eat it often but when I get a craving, I have got to go. I’ve found a few placces that offer restaurant.com deals or we’ll go for lunch when the prices are cheaper.

4. Sock Yarn – I’m a knitter and I firmly believe that you should not knit with crappy yarn. Especially when that yarn is going to end up on your feet. The yarn has to feel good. If not, I’m not going to wear the socks anyways. I do try to go up to Webs a few times a year and buy in bulk so I get their discount. Knitting socks is not frugal but it’s wonderful for your feet and it keeps me crafty.

5. Aveda for my hair and skin – Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different shampoos and skin products. I have very fine hair and problematic skin. I have had fewer problems since I started using Aveda products. I love the way my hair feels and my skin is much less prone to breaking out. It may be expensive but I love the way it makes me feel.

6. Pedicures – When I’ve had a stressful day, there is nothing like a pedicure. I usually go once every six to eight weeks during the summer. It’s $30 plus tip. The place I go to massages your legs and you get a back massage, with a warm towel, while waiting for your toes to dry. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal!

7. Tipping for service – I waited tables in high school and college so I know how hard it is. I always tip at least 20% when I go out to eat. It’s just not something I’m willing to be cheap about.

8. Computer equipment – Since I work from home, I need my computer equipment to work hard for me. I don’t skimp when purchasing computers or other related equipment. I have a high speed scanner which saves me a ton of time in my paperless office, and  a DYMO label printer, which also serves as my postage meter (saves me so much time during tax season). Plus, have you ever priced out one of those rental postage meters? My DYMO paid for itself in a few months compared to having a postage meter. My scanner saves me a ton of money on paper because I’m not copying all my clients information and keeping hard copies. This doesn’t mean I spend a ton of money on my computers. My last computer was purchased from TigerDirect.com for about $300. It was a smaller name computer, made in the USA and I’ve been very happy with it. A similar priced “big name” (maybe starting with a “D” or a “G”) would have cost me at least double that.

9. Car Repairs – I keep my cars for a long time so I make sure they get all the maintenance they require. I make sure to do all the scheduled maintenance when it’s due. I’m due for the 90,000 mile service soon and I’ll get it there on the button. I do make sure to find coupons for the dealer when I bring it in. I also get free oil changes for life as long as I do my major service at the dealer. I still replace my own wipers and fluids between services. I know how to change a battery and a headlight. The big stuff, I leave to the professionals.

10. Kitchen stuff –  Most people who know me would probably say this is my number one thing. I would probably have to agree with them. I love to cook and I have to have good tools. This means that I am willing to purchase things that will last, like my KitchenAid mixer and my  baking pans from Williams-Sonoma. The gold touch pans from Williams-Sonoma are the greatest backing pans I have ever owned. I’m slowly saving up to replace all my bakeware with these pans.  Many items, like my Le Creuset dutch oven, were given to me as  birthday or Christmas gifts. Kitchen stuff is always a safe bet for a gift  especially if it’s Le Creuset. These items make me a better cook and make cooking more enjoyable. When I enjoy cooking, I do it more often and we eat out less. I always look for sales or outlets when purchasing kitchen stuff. For example, every year I get a coupon at my birthday for 20% on item at a local kitchen store. That coupon is generally used to purchase another piece of Le Creuset. I’ve tried less expensive enameled cast-iron pans and none compare to Le Creuset. I’ll end up giving those pots to my grandkids someday.

So there you have it. No dollar store shoes for me and no bargain basement cookware. I am cheap so I can stretch my dollar to buy the things I am not willing to compromise on. What are you not willing to compromise on? Are there any items on my list that you think  could be compromised on? Have you found a better replacement for any of the items I currently have on the list?