Friday, November 9, 2012

Quick Fixes

In order to make up for my complete spacing on not blogging yesterday, I posted the pancake recipe earlier and will post this compendium of coolness for things that save me time, money, and/or sanity.  It is definitely not a comprehensive list of all possibilities out there.  But I am juggling getting my Master's, working for a workaholic, playing peacemaker to two team ego's, and going home as much as I possibly can.  Oh yea, and occassionally running the vaccuum....

Dishes.  There's something that eats into my time.  Mandatory dishwashers in all apartments, that's something I would like to see Congress make happen...

Here we GO!

 I am a big fan of quick desserts and treats that make great gifts and/or party food...but it NEVER FAILS to amuse me what some people pay for.  This picture is not the best example because the fudge covered oreos are actually not all that outrageously priced for what you get...

Unless you are me.

Why? I ONLY EAT DOUBLE STUFFED! Those flat ones are for the birds.  So when I dip my oreos, I use a strict combination of double stuffed oreos and candiquik (I get mine from Meijer).  Why do I specifically by CQ from Meijer, you ask? Simple, it tastes like hot cocoa.  I don't know what it is about it but it is HANDS DOWN the best tasting chocolate in my opinion, and I hate most chocolate.

Yea I know.  Girl hates chocolate.  Pretty much unheard of.  so now you may wonder if I hate chocolate, why on earth am I making these?  Simple.  My best friend is visiting tomorrow and I am one of those types that likes to have treats ready for when someone visits.  My friend Gretchen visited and I had pumpkin ice cream sandwiches.  It's just what I do.  Someday, I will maybe have grandkids and they will love visiting me because I will always have cookies or some yummy food.  Which is exactly why I loved visiting my great grandmother.  She ALWAYS had something.

You basically just melt the chocolate according to the package directions, thin it down with a teaspoon or couple of oil if you need.  I only do that when I need it to coat thin, or if I am doing cake pops and it doesn't melt velvety smooth.  Chocolate can be a bit particular.  Dip the oreos and dry on wax paper.

 See? Cake pops.  These were the most colorful ones I ever made.  You can really make treats fancier if you drizzle chocolate over them. 

My technique for drizzle? Use a knife, dip it down in the chocolate (I tend to scoop just a little onto the knife) and then move it back and forth (quickly) over your treats.

Try it a few times with it going back in the chocolate bowl if you are unsure.  Especially when you drizzle in another color, it makes people think something is FAR MORE FANCY than it really is.  You can usually get a similar effect with tongs.  Just use whatever utensil you are getting them out of the chocolate with. 

I use a knife to dip oreos (scoop choc over em after plopping them in, then use the knife under them to get them out and set them down), tongs for cake pops and chocolate dipped pretzels, and either tongs or a knife for ritz. Usually a knife is easier.

Ritz? Like the crackers? Yes!  They are so versatile.  Many people know of dipping them in chocolate infused with mint oil or flavoring. And that's all great and good.  But non-minty chocolate coating with heath bits sprinkled in right after they are dipped makes a truly delicious and insanely easy trick as well.

Now, I am not necessarily going to vouch for this as I have not tried it...yet.  But I have noticed that salted caramel is the newest in vogue flavor of pretty much everything.  IF you have noticed, places like Meijer now have caramel chips on the baking row with the chocolate chips and similar.  I would imagine you could dip a ritz in caramel and drizzle it with chocolate for a deliciously posh treat. I could be wrong, but I really don't think I am.  It would also lend itself well to turtle ritz flavors.

More of my favorite tips and tricks:
  • Separate out your beef into 1/8th or 1/4th squares before you freeze it, especially if you are a single person in your house.  It is so much faster to thaw a cube than it is a whole pound.  You can also form some into burgers and put them in individual bags or similar, ready to go. In fact, I often separate chicken legs, thin cut pork, steaks, and similar when I get them into individual bags or containers.  Is it wasteful on bags? Unfortunately.  But it is so much simpler to get out the one pork chop I need when they aren't all frozen together in the pack.
  • Dip your own pretzels.  I about choked last year watching Shark Tank because someone got their chocolate covered pretzels marketed and sold by Niemann-Marcus.  If I remember correctly they were pretzel rods and clocked in at over $2 a rod...really? People actually will pay that much? I need to go into business....Seriously though, these make great gifts and party poppers.
  • Use sour cream and pesto in pasta dishes.  Pesto is pricey, sour cream is usually not.  Pesto has a hugely strong flavor, sour cream does not.  Get a great flavor by cutting back your pesto and making it a "pesto cream" pasta dish.  Chances are, picky eaters in your family will like it a little better because it won't be as overwhelming.
  • Cut chicken breasts in half.  Why is the McChicken so popular?? It does not have the thick stringy texture that sometimes comes with full chicken breasts, but still gives you that (sort of fake) chicken taste. It is great for McDonald's because they can use a thin portion of meat which costs them less, and in turn costs you less. I buy chicken tenderloin pieces and just fillet them part way through to make a sandwhich sized piece if I want one, but I would completely cut chicken breasts in half if that was what I had.  I would also whack them with a meat tenderizer, personally.
  • Stop buying lipstick and START using Burt's Bees.  This is kind of a personal vendetta against makeup companies because they have gotten ridiculously priced.  So instead of buying lipstick and then also using gloss or chapstick, I buy BB's because they have beautifully colored chapstick.
  • USE SPICES.  A variety of spices gets you new and interesting flavors with minimal extra cost.  Oatmeal boring? Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in small amounts.  Suddenly it is completely fall appropriate.
  • Freeze chicken and veggies together with spices and flavors for preseasoned packs that you can throw in a dish and bake.  The baking still takes a long time, but you don't have to pull out all the spices and prep it! After you bake it, save the broth for soup, or use it in my no knead bread recipe found here!
  • Reorganize your freezer every couple of months. I am serious, stuff gets lost back there.  My best reorganization happened right before the end of my undergraduate career.  I rearranged everything, took stock of what I had, and set a goal to buy NOTHING my last month.  And I accomplished just that! I now have a menu board where I plan out my meals, and it really helps me not waste things.  Here is the one I made;postID=5429221870264573251.  It really makes it easy for me to use things like leftover rice, for instance.  I ALWAYS make way too much, so I know if I made salmon with rice on Monday I can use the leftover rice to make some delicious MexiRice on Wednesday.
  • STOP buying stuff like Hamburger Helper, or at least use less meat in it.  I mean really...what exactly are you even paying for? The noodles? Cheap.  You probably already have noodles! The powdered cheese? Gross. The flavors? Buy a block of colby jack cheese or a different high flavor cheese like sharp cheddar, use about 1/4-1/2 of the block depending on how large of a thing you are making, and add a little milk OR a scoop of sour cream...OR BETTER YET, plain greek yogurt.  You will still get a cheesy creamy dish, it will still have plenty of flavor thanks to the quality cheese, and you won't have as many wacky preservatives.  My cheeseburger pasta, which has become a big hit with my best friend and her family, involves about a half cup or so of pasta, usually about 1/4 block of colby jack (only yellow cheese I will buy), a fourth of a pound or less (I separate into 1/8ths now) of ground beef (I like sirloin at 90/10 or 93/7, don't get that 73/27 crap ANYWHERE NEAR ME), and a small sprinkling of Hormel REAL Bacon Pieces.  I use seasoning salt on the beef, and pepper.  And let me tell you it is delicious.  Meat is expensive, and it is easy to cut back the amount you use in some recipes like that.
  • Use greek yogurt.  It has protein, and the tanginess is easily masked in things like ranch dip.  It is a great way to sneak in nutrition.  I sub out 8oz of cream cheese in my cheesecake recipes for 8 oz of greek yogurt.  I made a pumpkin cheesecake last year for Thanksgiving, and my father raved about how rich it was.  Mmmhmm.  Reduced Fat cream cheese and greek yogurt. And no, I never told him how much lower fat it was than what he thought.   :)  I even use it in my very delicious pumpkin ice cream, found here:
  • Patch jeans quick. This is sometimes a little more difficult in tight jeans, I recommend patches much wider than the hole if you can.  Flip the jeans inside out, put lace over the hole, fabric of some color over that, and use an iron on patch to keep them in place.  A few tack stitches wouldn't hurt before ironing just to make sure nothing moves.  Putting the patch adhesive side down and a little bigger than the fabric allows you to adhere it all down in one hot swoop.  My very favorite and tightest jeans are patched like this.  I do have some others that we used narrow patches on that just barely covered the hole, and that is not nearly as effective for tight jeans. Also, wearing brightly colored leggings under jeans with holes is a great way to winterize them in a way that can change with your mood.  Unless you are like me and lose your bright red leggings somewhere...
It's not easy to eat well in college, it really isn't.  Places like McDonald's lure you in with their $1 sandwiches and you may never realize that actually it is cheaper to make it at home.  I don't have an income necessarily this year as I am on scholarship, though it does come with a stipend.  But with college fees and textbook fees, you have to learn to be smart about what you buy, cook, and eat.  Those drive-thru trips will add up fast, especially if they start adding to your waistline.  I would much rather spend my money on gas to go home than dinner out every night, PLUS I prefer home cooked food.  It is a great way for me to learn to do new things and create new recipes. 

And let's face it, on the edge of a fiscal cliff and with nearly guaranteed tax increases from the end of the tax cut era or from the added taxes and price increases we will see after Obamacare is imposed, it is beneficial to look at things you can make yourself or cut back on and still feel like you are getting things just as good as you were before. These are just a few of the things I do to save a dime.

Hopefully this makes up for my space cadet tendencies!

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