Tag Archives: general information

Movie tickets for $9! For two tickets!

9 Jun

The recipe blitz will resume tomorrow but I had to share this deal:

I’ve been a bit leery of sites like Groupon and Living Social for a while now but I know too many people who trust them completely. So, when I saw a deal on Money Saving Mom for two movie tickets for $9 as an offer from Living Social, I knew it was time to try it out.

The deal is this:  login or sign up for a Living Social account. You can use this link to access the deal (apparently it’s an online offer only) you buy a voucher for two tickets for $9 from Fandango (before you even sign up, check Fandago first to see if it’s available in your area. I can use it by my house and my parents’ house, but not my in-laws’). I’ve used Fandango in the past and it’s awesome, especially for those must-see movies. After you purchase the deal, you’ll get an email with the promo code number which you can use to buy your movie tickets online only; you can’t use the promo at the theater’s box office. It’s a limit of one purchase per customer, and both tickets must be used for the same movie/time. The voucher expires September 9, 2011.

With so many movies coming out this summer that we want to see, this will definitely come in handy!

Full disclosure: If three of you buy the deal, I get my tickets for free. Please do not feel any pressure to purchase the tickets because of the incentive. I just think that $9 for two tickets is an amazing deal that I bought before I knew about the referral incentive, especially when you consider the $22 we paid for 2 tickets. For a matinee. Absurd.

Renovation in progress!

30 Mar

The Empty Kitchen has been pretty quiet lately. I thought I’d explain why…

We’re under construction.

This blog, much like my thought process, has become a bit scattered lately. I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to consolidate and organize my posts and pages in a way that’s easier to follow and a bit more user friendly. Unfortunately, like most construction projects, this is taking a bit longer than I had anticipated. I’m having a bit of difficulty with the static pages and links and all that good stuff but I’m working on it!

I’m hoping to finish construction by sometime next week. In the meantime, there will be a Fantastic Product Friday post this week (thanks to a suggestion from my friend Heidi) but not too much else. I have a couple of long posts in the works and I’m excited to finish and post those once the reorganization is complete.

While you’re here (and thank you for visiting), have a look at some oldies but goodies, or just click on the recipes tag on the sidebar for a listing of all the recipes I’ve posted thus far:

Grieving a sandwich

The Aldi Experiment–the original post

Tacos: they’re messy but they’re good

Burn notice

Ha, ha! Fooled you!

Fantastic product Friday: Shout Wipes

11 Mar

In an effort to start blogging on a quasi-regular schedule, I am instituting Fantastic product Friday. This is a feature where I will share some of my favorite products for the kitchen and around the house. If you have a product you would like me to try out, please feel free to contact me. If you have a favorite product you’d like to rave about, guest bloggers are welcomed!

I cannot eat without dropping food on myself. While eating my lunch today, I dropped an onion ring in my lap, an onion ring on my shirt and ketchup on my cami. I’m not worried about the stains, though. Why? Because of these:

Wonderful stain removing goodness right in my pocket.

Next to my KitchenAid mixer, these are my favorite product that I own. Many of my clothes (and my daughter’s clothes and even stranger’s clothes) have been salvaged by these wonderful little stain removers. If you don’t keep them in your purse or wallet or car or wherever, run out right now and get some. I think they’re $1 or so for a package of 4 at Target.  A nominal price to pay for stain removal and clothing salvage.

Have you used Shout wipes? Or are you more a of a Tide To Go kind of person?

Categorical menu planning

5 Jan

It is common knowledge among my family and friends that I hate my job. I want nothing more than to be able to submit my two-week notice and walk away, free and clear from the gray-hued, fluorescent-lighted pit of despair that holds me hostage 40 hours a week. Unfortunately, my family is not in a financial position to allow that to happen. We’re working our way towards that place, but it’s a really long walk. Kind of like the Oregon Trail.

If you’re familiar with the Oregon Trail (the game, not the real thing), you know that in addition to staving off dysentery, mending broken bones, forging rivers and hunting buffalo, you need to stop and buy supplies. For me, buying those supplies is what happens at the grocery store. And I never, ever go into the grocery store without a list. I’ve tried shopping without a list and it has been nothing short of a disaster (like trying to trade your bullets for oxen, only to find out your oxen have asthma and an attitude problem).

Just like the pioneers learned the hard way that it’s difficult to forge the river without a proper raft, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s difficult to make a grocery list without a menu plan.  In an effort to learn from my mistakes,  that’s what I do. I make a menu plan. For a while, I was just browsing my cookbooks and websites, trying to find new and old favorites. This method was not working. It was an abysmal disaster in every. Conceivable. Way.

So, I started doing some research on how women in the 1950s made menu plans (I have an obsession with anything 1950s kitchen related. We’ll discuss that another day). What I found was that they broke their meals into categories: casseroles, meatloaf (which will never, ever happen at my house), pasta, etc. I totally fell in love with this idea. It was also how my sleep-away camp fed us (Friday pizza bagels!) but I don’t think that’s why I loved the idea. I love the idea because it’s just so simple and makes complete financial sense.

In an effort to not make a totally unilateral decision, I talked to my husband about this new method. To my amazement, he liked it! But not before he made his mandatory suggestions. However, unlike most of his mandatory suggestions, these actually made sense. He suggested that we have 14 categories written down on little pieces of paper; each of those categories is assigned a number and each week, we pull a number out of a hat. This way, he rationalized, we still have the simplicity of menu planning by category but we keep some variety.

I thought about it. And I agreed. And so far, this method has worked out splendidly.  We’re trying a ton of new recipes, we’re saving money and time, and having a menu lottery is kind of fun.

Now, if I can just figure out how to shoot buffalo instead of those annoying rabbits…

Grocery budget guidelines

21 Jun

One of the first questions that people ask when they’re setting up a kitchen or a household is “how much should I allot for my grocery budget?” From the USDA to the Simple Dollar to the Dollar Stretcher, everyone has his or her own opinion on how much a family should spend on its good. Since I’m not one to let my opinion be discounted, here’s my opinion on a family’s grocery budget: it depends on the family. 

Yup, it depends on the family. That’s my professional opinion (using a very loose interpretation of professional) and I’m sticking to it. There are so many variations in family diets and circumstances that it’s hard to nail down an exact amount for what a family should be spending on groceries. For instance, a family of 7 is going to spend more than a family of 2; a family of vegetarians is going to spend less than a family of meat-eaters; and a family that grows its own vegetables and livestock will most likely spend less than a family that purchases everything in a grocery store.  How do you tell all these different families with completely different circumstances that they should all spend the same amount on food?

The truth is, you can’t. Grocery budgets are not something that fit squarely in a box but there can be guidelines. A range, if you will. A range will help out anyone just beginning to establish a budget determine where his or her family should fit. The following is my proposal for grocery budget guidelines. They are based solely on my experience based on shopping for 1, 2 and 3. They should be taken as suggestions only; please feel free to apply them according to your own family circumstances (if you feed a family of 4 or more, I would love to hear from you!). These guidelines also assume a basic understanding of cooking, such as boiling water, properly cooking meat, and pan frying. They do not assume more sophisticated cooking skills like baking bread or sauteing. They also allow for 1-2 restaurant meals per week, no food assistance, the use of leftovers for lunches or more than 1 dinner and a weekly grocery shopping trip at a traditional supermarket:

  • $35-$50–this should feed a family of 1, possibly 2, for a week. This is a tight budget and takes careful planning, as well as a ton of cooking from scratch, but if you are on a limited or small income, it’s totally doable. I know because for the first 9 months after my daughter was born, this was our budget. A great resource: Cheap. Fast. Good! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. I found this book in our library and it got us through many months on a small budget. It is also one of the reasons I can to cook.
  • $50-$75–this should feed a family of 2 or 3 comfortably for a week. This type of budget also needs menu planning and careful shopping since it’s still not a tremendous amount of money. To make this money go a bit farther, make sure you follow these smart shopping suggestions. I don’t have a cookbook suggestion for this budget but All Recipes is always great, no matter what the budget. We didn’t spend much time in this range but I remember the day we figured out we could spend $60 per week on food. We felt like royalty!
  • $75-$100–this is what I use for my family of 3, but it can also easily feed a family of 4. It may seem like a lot of money, and when we moved up from $35, it really was. But if I don’t carefully menu plan and watch the price of every single item I buy, this can easily exceed the $100.  I have to say that I’ve become a lot more lax with our budget and I’m not always as price conscious as I should be; if your budget is in this range, act like it’s in the $35 range. Your money will go a lot farther.

The ranges that I have listed are probably pretty generous to many.  I know there are lots out there who can feed a family of 8 on $40 a week and I am in awe of those people. Most of us just cannot do that. But I think these guidelines are pretty realistic. They are reflective of modern grocery prices at a traditional supermarket, capture what a family might eat on a weekly basis and budget for foods that are not Ramen, peanut butter sandwiches or macaroni and cheese. They are not rooted in any fact other than my own experience. However, I hope that they are helpful in providing a baseline for your grocery budget.

It’s OK if you mess up. It’s OK if you go over budget once in a while. Grocery budgeting is hard and it’s not a perfect science. It takes a lot of planning, discipline and self-control. Just remember that you can do it!

Avocado Thursdays

3 Jun

Photo from margaritastewart.blogspot.com

 

Avocados are awesome. 

I didn’t always feel this way about avocados. I had to grow to enjoy them after a very traumatic experience making guacamole dip for 44 people. I was 16, had no idea how to cook and avocados, with their skin and large pit, were very daunting. All I remember was spending a great deal of time in an outdoor make-shift kitchen for one hour, pitting and peeling avocados. My hands were so green at the end that I looked like I had just murdered Kermit rather than made guacamole. My fingernails, cuticles and hands were stained green for about 2 days. Needless to say, it was a long time before I was able to look at an avocado with anything but contempt and disgust. 

Then I had an awakening. I’m not sure when it happened, I just know that it did and I have been forever changed.  I have now realized that they are delicious and healthy and green and vegetarian. They can be used in so many different recipes and provide all sorts of good nutrition for not a lot of money. I love them so much that I’ve decided to devote every Thursday throughout the summer to avocados. With that, I proudly introduce Avocado Thursdays! 

Before I send you into the magical yet complicated world of avocados, I feel compelled to share with you what I wish I had known when I was standing under that tent–how to properly peel and pit this wonderful fruit (yes, it’s a fruit. Who knew?!).  Here’s a video that can explain it way better than I ever could: 

It really is that easy! It takes practice but once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you thought it was so intimidating. 

The other part of avocados that I find particularly daunting is picking one that’s ripe. Fortunately, my supermarket has made this an easy task by adding a “Ripe Now” sticker to the avocados, but if I shop at Aldi or somewhere else, it’s not that easy. To help, I found these tips: 

Now that the basics are covered, I will be providing 1 avocado-centric recipe every Thursday from now through the end of the summer. If you have a favorite avocado recipe, please feel free to share! 

If you’re interested in learning more about avocados, you can visit www.avocado.org

Guest post: Organizing recipes

1 Jun

I have returned from my unexpected vacation (although I’m not exactly sure “vacation” is the right word)! There’s a whole bunch of new posts, including several recipes, that I’ll be sharing this week so make sure you stay tuned. In the meantime, please enjoy this guest post from My Friend Kelly:

Whether you’re a novice or master in the kitchen realm, trying out new recipes and keeping favorites handy is a great way to stay organized while cooking. Recipe books can be great to find new ideas, try a different meal or just dream about the perfect dinner party menu.

Personally, I love to tear recipes from my favorite magazines, print from my favorite websites and incorporate my Grandma’s box of awesome recipes. But how do you go from this:

to something organized and useful? There are 5 easy steps that can refresh your recipe list and create a great kitchen resource.

  1. Set Limits – Unless you’re interested in printing the entirety of allrecipes.com you should be discerning about the recipes you’re willing to try. For example, I don’t cook pork. It’s icky. I hate sweet potatoes (orange spuds of death). And while I tried it on vacation, I never want to make my own haggis. There’s a certain amount of guilt that follows an unused recipe – if you don’t want to cook or eat it, toss the recipe. Additionally, if your family doesn’t eat a lot of desserts, don’t clip 400 pie recipes. I’m pretty sure vegetarians don’t hold on to a lot of beef recipes. Focus on what you enjoy the most.
  2. Create Categories – I barely have the patience to pull ingredients out of the fridge and make a meal. I definitely will not be more motivated if I have to sort through a stack of glossy pages looking for the ONE recipe to use up stale Ritz crackers. The answer is to create categories that make sense for your family. I use: Drinks, Appetizers/Light foods, Main Dishes, Side Dishes and Desserts. If something doesn’t fit perfectly I just choose the closest category.
  3. Clip and Sort – I’m pretty paranoid about my computer getting close to my stove, knives and water so for now I keep all my recipes on paper. Once the recipes are clipped I sort them quickly. This means taking a stack and pulling out all the drink recipes, then another pass to pull out all the dessert recipes and so on. Sorting your recipes means if you need a dessert for a party you have options all in one place. And if you’re looking for a side dish with corn the options are easy to compare.
  4. Use a Binder – the first binder I started is getting full so it’s time to add a second one. It’s a simple 1” binder with clear view sheet protectors. Awesome for preventing food splatter, holding multi-page recipes and recipes printed on both sides.  Binders are the right size, cheap and easy to replace, simple to clean when splattered with sauce and you can buy them at most major retailers.
  5. Adapt as Needed – I once made a nasty, nasty artichoke dip and promptly crossed that recipe out of a book. Yes, a book. With the binder method it’s a lot easier to toss that scrap of paper and save the room for recipes you like. Just like the Half Blood Prince, note when your own method works better. Should you cut out the onions that overpower the dish? Can you substitute low-fat sour cream without noticing a difference? Will this dish freeze or should you eat fresh? Does your oven need to be at 435* instead of 400*?Make all the notes and changes you want by either writing on the recipe or sticking a note in the sheet protector.

I know that someday I’ll probably have a little computer that scans, organizes and catalogs my favorite recipes for me – some websites already do! But the most important thing is to start trying the recipes you have now instead of waiting for the perfect website or device. It’s a lot cheaper and takes less time to throw some magazine clippings into a binder with sheet protectors.

 What’s your favorite method for organizing recipes to use in your kitchen?

Thanks, Kelly, for these great tips. I use all of them in some variation. For the record, Kelly’s opinion of the sweet potato is entirely her own and not necessarily that of The Empty Kitchen.

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