Thursday, July 3, 2014

I love Aldi and the Easiest Recipe Ever

      My Aldi shopping experience was the exact opposite of my Save-A-Lot shopping experience of a few weeks ago.  Everyone was friendly and polite and even asked if I needed help when I looked a little lost. I *almost* didn't need my headphones while doing this week's grocery shopping. Granted I didn't need much this week.  The deals on produce are outstanding.  Let's get specific. I went to Publix right after I went to Aldi.  I needed two items that Aldi didn't have cilantro and ginger. While in the Publix produce aisle I discovered the exact same head of butter lettuce I had just purchased at Aldi for $1.49.

      That's right it was $2.00 cheaper, two whole dollars! What can I do with $2.00, well I can make the southwestern style bean salad I'll give you the recipe for at the end of this. How does Aldi match up against Walmart? Well I've got last week's Walmart receipt in front of me. Bananas at Walmart were $.56lb and at Aldi today they were $.44. Then we've got last week's grape tomatoes which were $2.49. This week I only paid $1.49. How do they do it? Well for starters, make sure you have a quarter with you if you go to Aldi. You are going to have to put down a deposit for your shopping cart. You get it back when you turn it in, so no one is out there collecting shopping carts. Second, bring your own bags, Aldi doesn't provide them for free, but you can buy reusable ones there if you forget yours. Don't even think about buying name brands, you aren't likely to find any. Plus you know how you find four different brands of kidney beans in the canned veggie section at Walmart, you'll only find one brand at Aldi, but it's only going to cost you $.59, which is $.10 cheaper than the Great Value brand at Walmart. Last, don't plan on paying with a credit card, they don't take them. Your debit card, however, will work just fine.

      Will I stop shopping at Walmart? No, the Walmart is closer and it's open twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes I do my grocery shopping at 5:45am on Thursdays. Aldi doesn't open until 9am (10am on Sundays.) Look HERE to see where the nearest Aldi to your house is! However, I don't think going five extra miles once a week is a problem, especially since I've been eating lots of fruits and veggies, which are significantly less expensive at Aldi.

      On to the food. This is hands down the easiest recipe ever, because it involves absolutely no cooking.  You can open a can right?

Ingredients

1 can of black beans
1 can of corn
1 can of kidney beans
handful of cilantro
handful of grape or cherry tomatoes
3 T white wine vinegar
1 T olive oil
southwestern seasoning
mustard
salt and pepper

Dump all three cans into a colander. (I'm not going to lie, it took me three tries to spell colander correctly.) Rinse everything really well! Then pour the mixture into a plastic container with a lid. Cut the tomatoes in half and add them. Chop the cilantro and add it.

To make the dressing add the rest of the ingredients to a small mixing bowl and whisk. Use as much or as little southwest seasoning as you like--careful, it's hot! (If you need to make your own seasoning try a blend of chili powder, cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder.) You can leave out the mustard if you like, I put some kind of mustard in most of my dressings.

Add the dressing to your salad, put the top on and shake to distribute the dressing evenly over everything.

Here's my lunch for tomorrow!

I lined the bowl with the butter lettuce, added the bean salad, and topped it with already grilled southwestern style chicken. (Yup, I did zero cooking. I was feeling tired so I bought the prefab chicken.)

How easy was that? Now . . . What did it cost? The bean salad, by itself . . . oh about $2.00 for about four servings. So my lunch tomorrow when you add in the lettuce and the chicken comes to $1.75. You can definitely just have the bean salad as a meal!  
  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Saving Money on Shampoo

Shampoo and Conditioner You Can Afford


When I moved to Florida my hair drove me insane. The water here is crazy. My usually oily hair went from needing to be washed twice a day to being so dry it was crunchy. Yes, crunchy. I was making more money then so I went immediately to the Aveda store at the mall, where they quickly sold me about $48 worth of stuff they were sure would fix my problem. Guess what? They were wrong. Not only that but I had a skin reaction to their super-duper, didn't work at all, heavy duty once a week conditioner. It didn't work if I used it once a week or once a day. So I set off on a quest to find something to fix my hair.

I read every beauty magazine article I could find and filled my shower with all of the products on the best conditioners--I didn't buy any more designer conditioners after the Aveda mishap. I only bought things I could find at the drug store/Walmart for less than $10.  At one point I had at least five different conditioners in my shower. Lets run through them really quickly--just for a cost perspective. Keep in mind that none of these worked really well--unless I left them on my hair for twenty minutes or so, every other day. Also keep in mind that in most of these cases I also bought the shampoo that went with the conditioner for continuity's sake.

Organix Teatree and Mint Hydrating Conditioner: $5.94. Smells awesome, doesn't hydrate.
L'Oreal Total Repair Damage Repairing Balm: $5.97. 
Neutrogena Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask: $6.27.
Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser: $4.97
Pantene Pro-V Repair and Protect: $3.97 and  Overnight Miracle Repair Serum: $4.97. Trust me, not a miracle, just a mess!
Aussie Three Minute Miracle: $2.97. This one actually helps, if used in conjunction with Aussie Hair Insurance Leave in Conditioner: $2.97. 

You get the idea right (The list is actually longer than this)? Well after ditching lots of bottles and tubs of stuff when I moved the last time, I eventually ran out of shampoo. I also now make $8.15 an hour, so inexpensive was now the order of the day. I *might* have spent thirty minutes in the shampoo aisle at Walmart. Well I decided to take a chance and go with the least expensive possible option. I bought 12.5oz bottles of Suave Humectant Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner for less than $2 each. 

It's a miracle. 
Humectant
Really truly. 

In just a few days, my crunchy, dry hair was back to "normal." Now that summer is in full swing here, my hair needs less moisture on a daily basis so I switched to Suave Rosemary and Mint.

Rosemary & Mint    
I'll tell you another secret. I finally found an anti-perspirant that mostly works. I work outside in the sun, I sweat. After years of swapping products. Degree Motion Sense actually does it's job. It doesn't work for 48 hours like they say it does, but it will get you through work. It costs about $3.88 at Wally World. The active ingredient is Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex Gly18.2%
Expert Protection
 Bigger secret, Suave 24 Hour Protection works almost as well, for less than half the price at $1.50. I haven't decided if almost as well is good enough for me.  The active ingredient is Aluminum Chlorohydrate at 20%.
Fresh
Interestingly enough . . . both products are made by the same company: Unilever.  

Contempo Cafe at the Contemporary


The Contempo Cafe is located on the main concourse of the Contemporary Resort. (That's the fourth floor folks.)  It's right next to that Disney dinner powerhouse: Chef Mickey's.  I have a new favorite sandwich, but I'm on a diet, so this beauty from the Contempo is now out.

Yup, no buttered, which was made with apple butter, Challah Texas toast for me anymore. What else was on the sandwich? Arugula, green apples, brie, turkey, and honey mustard dressing. It was actually a pretty healthy sandwich until they made it large enough to feed a small country and put it on buttered Texas toast. (It was, looking back, a little on the greasy side.)  Can I make a healthier, even Weight Watchers friendly version? 

Sure I can, but my sandwich just became a salad--there was no way around ditching the Texas toast, unless I made croutons and croutons are not plastic fork friendly. This was kind of a no brainer because the sandwich came with nice bitter arugula instead of lettuce. Wally World stocks 4oz bags of organic arugula for less than bags of romaine lettuce. (Organic baby carrots are also cheaper than conventional baby carrots at my Walmart.)  

I also have to say goodbye to the full fat, creamy, honey mustard dressing. Instead I'm going with a honey, dijon mustard vinaigrette made with white wine vinegar. I swapped the brie for a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese with herbs. Add in some diced deli style turkey (I used Great Value Mesquite Smoked) cube half a granny smith apple, chop some celery and toss! Just to up the freshness I always add some herbs from my mini garden to my salads. I topped this one with mint and thyme. Three points for the turkey and two points for the dressing and two more for the cheese and you've got a Weight Watchers friendly lunch! 

If you wanted to you could take that side of sesame green beans and add them to your salad. Just blanch some beans, chill and add in with the rest of your salad and sprinkle in some toasted sesame seeds. 

The original sandwich cost $9.19. Here's what I spent for enough for 4 lunches:
2 apples: $1.47
Celery: $1.58 -- and I'm not using the whole thing--plenty of snacks in that $1.58
Arugula: $2.48
Turkey: $2.50
Total: $8.03  (I had everything to make the dressing in the pantry, but if you don't add about $5.00 in shopping costs, but the ingredients will last you awhile.)    

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette Recipe:

1t honey
1t dijon mustard
1T white wine vinegar
1t olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Just whisk it all together and toss with your salad!

More Resources and Shopping Updates!

I just wanted to let everyone know that in addition to the blog you'll be able to find timely updates for shopping deals and other cheap/interesting things on my community Facebook page here:



Not everything is worthy of a whole blog post . . . like which buy one get one frees are good stock ups this week! I'm going to put those things on the FB page instead. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dieting on a Budget

I don't usually plug specific products in my blog, but this week I'm going to be doing a whole bunch of it. I don't have any relationship with any of the companies that produce the products I'm plugging. I just thing they are great--and can save you money. I just wanted to let you know before I started this blog for real.

I am on a diet. It's really hard to diet on a budget, no more $.99 packages of hot dogs for me! Before I left New Orleans and moved to Orlando I lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers.  Since then, I have put 9 of those pounds back on. Right now I feel like I've put all 30 back on. I decided the slide had to stop and I started looking at going back to Weight Watchers.  I very quickly discovered that the plan that includes face to face meetings that got me through that first 30 pounds was out of my price range. That plan costs $43 a month. So I looked at the online plan. The sign up fee is $29.95 plus a monthly fee of $18.95. Well I know eating well costs more than eating hot dogs, so that's also out of the price range because I would have had to take the money out of my food budget, which I knew was about to go up!

I did a little research online and in the App Store. I found an App that tracks just like the Weight Watchers App. It's called Pro Tracker and it cost me $1.99. It does exactly the same thing the WW App does. It takes my points for the day and subtracts from them as I tell it what I've had to eat.

If you aren't familiar with the Weight Watchers plan, this might not be for you. However, if you already know how the plan works, it's perfect. Here's how my day goes. I start the beginning of the week with 26 points a day and 49 flex points to use through the week. At breakfast I log in what I ate and the App subtracts the points from my daily total. The same thing for snacks, lunch and dinner. I also log in my exercise and it gives me additional points to use during the week.

I'm going to be very honest with all of you. I don't ever use my flex points or log my exercise points. I use them for my wine consumption and I don't count them. I stick to 26 points a day and 26 points is plenty!

I'm also going to give you some tips! Fruits and veggies all have a zero point balance, but not all fruits and veggies are created equal. When you start out you can eat as many fruits and veggies as you want, all of them! However, if you find yourself sliding or your scale is stuck, you might need to consider which fruits and veggies you are eating. Try to eat fruits that have lots of fiber: berries, papaya, citrus. Try to avoid fruits that have a high sugar content . . . things like watermelon. The same goes for veggies. Go for a high fiber content like raw greens or a high water content like cucumbers. Avoid veggies that have a high sugar content like carrots and corn! Remember that things like potatoes count as starch not veggies!

Good luck and I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Whole Chicken?

Yes, You Can!

A whole chicken? I can't do that . . . what the heck do you do with a whole chicken . . . and can I afford a whole chicken? Well the good news is that yes, you can afford a whole chicken. A whole chicken costs about the same as a package of chicken breasts or between $5 and $6, as long as you pick a small one, not one of those giant family roasters. (Those cost $9-$12.) However, there are so many more uses for a whole chicken than a package of chicken breasts. Yes, you can buy a whole roasted chicken at the grocery for about the same as a raw one, but there are two reasons to cook it yourself. First, you get to decide what herbs and spices you are using with your chicken. My grocery offers two or three kinds: regular, lemon pepper and BBQ. Yes, I love lemon pepper and I'm going to use it in this blog, but I also want fresh herbs, garlic, etc etc etc. Second thing it's that little word that starts with a P . . . yup pride. The satisfaction that you cooked it yourself, and can now brag that you made winner winner chicken dinner, chicken salad, chicken soup and whatever else you decide to do with your left over chicken. I'll come up with some more ideas before I get to the end of this.

Ok so now you have a chicken. It's in a plastic bag right? Get it out of the plastic bag in the sink. There's a lot of messy stuff in there. I rinse my chicken once it's out of the bag. I don't know if you need to or not, it just feels like the right thing to do. Then I put it directly in a foil covered roasting pan (this makes the cleanup easier and the cooking seems more even) and wash my hands. I grab the butter, herbs, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon pepper and prep those things up. Slice four tablespoons of butter, quarter the onion, smash a couple of cloves of garlic, wash the herbs and you are all ready to go. If you are going to cook immediately, preheat the oven to 350. 

The first two slices of butter and 1/4 of the herbs, today I'm using fresh rosemary and thyme from my balcony garden, get stuffed in between the skin and the breast meat. Just stuff them under the skin and push them all the way forward--you could add a clove of garlic in there if you wanted. The next two slices of butter and 1/4 of the herbs go in between the skin and the thigh meat. 

Inside the chicken I stuff the rest of the herbs, the quartered onion--whatever fits, and some garlic. If you have other veggies around like carrots or celery you could add those too! I usually run out of room too quickly--so this particular chicken only got three onion quarters. 

Next I coat the skin with a combination of salt, pepper and lemon pepper seasoning. Then cover the whole thing with foil. If you want to, before the foil, you can tie up the legs with butcher's twine or foil. I usually do, but today, because I wanted to see if it made a difference, I didn't. 

 Then the whole mess goes into the oven. Chicken needs to cook for about 20 minutes per pound at 350. My chicken is just over 5 pounds so it needs a total of 117 minutes or almost two hours. That's what the chicken people say. Reality is . . . it probably doesn't need that long. I'm going to cook it for about an hour with the foil on and then another 30 minutes with the foil off and check it. If I think it needs more time. It goes back in. 

So what can you do with your chicken once it's cooked? Well start with roasted chicken for dinner. Then harvest the rest of the meat from the bones and throw the carcass in a pot of boiling water and let it simmer into chicken stock . . . now you've got stock to make chicken soup from some of the left over meat. Just add veggies and you are all set! Chicken salad is super easy once you've got a cooked chicken. Cut the meat into chunks, add mayo, celery, relish, maybe some apple or grapes and salt and pepper and you are set for a couple of lunches. I like to make a basic spinach salad and top it with the roast chicken. You could also make pot pies, tacos, or anything else that calls for cooked chicken. The possibilities are literally endless. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner Canned

Canned Food Challenge Meal #2


Thanksgiving dinner is my favorite meal. I thought it would be interesting to make a Thanksgiving dinner casserole from all canned products. This stroke of genius came when I discovered that I had thrown a can of whole berry cranberry sauce into my cart. It was maybe the second easiest meal I've ever put together.

First I made a box of stove top cornbread stuffing. Just follow the directions on the box. The box calls for half a stick of butter, but you can actually make it without it if you need/want.  I also preheated my oven to 350. Why 350? It's my default temperature when I'm not working from a recipe.

As far as building the casserole, I started out with canned sweet potatoes, which I rinsed because they had added sugar and I didn't want it to be too sweet. I dumped them into the bottom of a 9 x 9 Corning ware dish. 

Next I drained a can of mixed seasoned greens really well. I mean REALLY well! Looking back the preseasoned greens had an awful lot of vinegar in them, and if I do this again I'll use plain greens or spinach. Then I spread about half the can on top of the sweet potatoes.

I added a can of chicken chunks next. I drained and rinsed this again. You could completely leave out the chicken if you wanted to do a veggie dish, or to cut costs. This was by far the most expensive item at $2.30. I put half of the can of cranberry sauce on top of the chicken.  I should have used the whole can! 

I topped everything with a thick layer of the stuffing and covered it with foil. I put it in to bake for 30 minutes. Then I took the foil off and let it go for another 30 minutes to crisp up the top of the stuffing. I topped it with canned turkey gravy. 

It was absolutely fantastic and I ended up with two lunches and two dinners and, don't laugh, one breakfast. Yup it was so good that I ate the last small portion for breakfast one day . . . cold. 

So here's what I used:
1 can of sweet potatoes: $.88
1 can of greens: $.99
1 can of chicken: $2.30
1 can of cranberry sauce: $.50
1 box of stove top stuffing: $1.00
1 can of gravy: $1.00

The casserole cost a total of $6.67 to put together and I got five meals out of it so . . . $1.33 per meal. Without the chicken this is a real bargain at $4.37 or $.87 per meal. Just so you know I didn't add salt or pepper to anything because the greens were heavily seasoned and I didn't want to add to that!