Blast from the Past: Lovely Leftovers

Go to your wallet, take out two or three dollars and throw them out in the street.

Sounds silly, but that’s what you’re doing when you pitch leftovers.

Leftovers get a bad rap, but when you throw out leftovers, while they’re fresh or once they’ve gone bad, you’re throwing away your food dollars.

I think leftovers are wonderful. I often double a recipe I’m making for dinner and we eat it two nights in a row. My husband doesn’t mind (he loves home cooking), and it means I only have to reheat dinner the next night instead of making something from scratch. Since I work at home, I’m always looking for easy, economical ways to make dinner, and leftovers fill the bill.

Yesterday we had a wonderful rump roast with mashed potatoes and peas for dinner. Afterwards, there were no veggies left over but quite a bit of roast. So I cubed the leftover roast, added the drippings, and put the cubes in the fridge.

Tonight I nuked some potatoes, then sliced them and fried them in a little oil with some leftover onion slices. I added half of the beef cubes and stir-fried them until they were hot. Topped with Trader Joe’s organic ketchup, it was a delicious dinner.

I put the rest of the beef cubes into the freezer. The next time I make noodle soup, I’ll toss them in, along with any leftover celery, carrots or onion I may have sitting in the fridge at that time.

I do that a lot with meat. If I’m oven-frying chicken pieces, I like to cook extra (the family packs are always a better price anyways) and freeze the uneaten chicken after stripping it off the bones. Then it just waits in the freezer to be added to soup or chicken tortellini salad.

Sometimes I forget what I have left over in the fridge. I used to be afraid to use old leftovers because I wasn’t sure just how old they were. But I got in the habit of writing down menus ahead of time, and now I just look at the calendar to see which day we had the pork chops, or whatever. I’m pretty strict about leftovers; once they’re four days old, I’m afraid of them. So I make a real effort to use them up before the fourth day.

Often, I find weird odds and ends in the fridge and wonder how to combine them. An omelette serves this purpose pretty well. All sorts of veggies or meat taste good in a cheese omelette. A little leftover cheese is good in muffins or bread. A couple of lonely hot dogs can be sliced and stirred into a pan of homemade cornbread. Mmmm….there’s never any leftovers of that stuff!

On the rare occasions when we go out to eat, we always bring the leftover part of our dinner home with us. Restaurant portions are so huge these days that you can’t finish dinner anyway, but they taste even better as the next day’s lunch. I’m not embarrassed to ask for a take-home box. If anyone who sees me with it thinks I must be cheap or tacky, that’s only fair, because I think people like that are stuck-up and very likely not debt-free like we are.  ;)

Whether your leftovers come from the fridge, the freezer or the restaurant, the most important thing to remember about leftovers is that they’re like money…if you lose track of them, it costs you. Leftovers can really stretch your food dollar by making sure you don’t waste anything.

(Originally posted 1/21/09.)

Exercises in Frugality, Part 3

Prepaid Cell Phones

I’m not big on cell phones. I like being unreachable when I’m out and about. (Even when I’m in the middle of something at home, I’ve been known to ignore the landline when it rings unless it’s one of my kids.) But I like having a phone when we travel, or when I’m out driving our elderly minivan, so I can call for help if it breaks down.

I’ve bought TracFones for years. Some were good, a couple not-so-good. But this latest one is awesome. I bought it after we moved a few months ago, since I had to change the area code anyway.

I paid $18 for the phone, which has double-minutes-for-life, meaning every time I load it up with minutes I’ll get double what I purchased at no extra charge. I also bought a 60-minute card for an additional $20. Before adding the minutes I searched out a promo code (search words: “Tracfone promo code”) on the Internet for 60 free minutes with the purchase of a 60-minute card. Thus I got 180 minutes (and four months’ worth of service) added to my phone, at a rate of just over 11 cents a minute.

Of course, I don’t use it for chit-chat, so I rarely use up the minutes before the service date is up. But I don’t really want to be on the phone while driving or grocery shopping anyway.

The best part? I don’t get a monthly bill, and the taxes are included. I’ve seen other people’s monthly cell phone bills, and I can’t believe how expensive they are. In the past, we’ve spent about $10/month for TracFones. With double-minutes-for-life, it should be even cheaper.

Exercises in Frugality

R2D2, aka DAK

R2D2, aka DAK

Frugality, one of my favorite topics, continues to increase in popularity as the economy negatively affects more and more families.

Some people apparently take frugal tips pretty seriously; note a couple of cranky commenters at this post. Two thought the blogger’s tips were too common, and one misguided soul suggested the blogger stop homeschooling, put her kids in school and start an in-home daycare.

Instead of complaining that someone’s frugal tips are too basic, most commenters helped by sharing their own tips. I think I’ll do the same for the next few posts.

Bread machines

My beloved Oster bread machine died several months ago after about ten years of use. The unit still worked but the pan began leaking oil (or something similar) into the bread because the seal was shot. A perusal of eBay introduced me to a few people* who would love to sell me a replacement pan for $20 plus $10 shipping.

Not interested. Instead, I hit the local Goodwill and bought a replacement, a Regal for $9. It made so-so dough and baked bread that resembled a doorstop in shape and heft.

I waited patiently while watching Goodwill for a new bread machine but kept seeing the same type as the Regal. A blogging friend suggested I buy a Zojirushi BBCCX20 Home Bakery Supreme Bread Machine as she’d had great luck with it. I checked it out on Amazon: $200+, and some (though definitely not most) people had trouble with it.

I know how ticked I’d be if I spent $200 on anything and it didn’t work right. So I decided to keep being patient and checking Goodwill. But then I saw a Sunbeam breadmaker at Walmart for $50. It had pretty decent online reviews, so I decided to use my birthday gift money to buy one, but when I went back, they’d cleared out that model and replaced it with another, whose model number came up empty on a Google search. Not a good sign!

Not long after this, I stopped by Goodwill and found four bread machines. Three were Regals or looked like them. The fourth was so funny looking that I didn’t realize it was a bread machine at first. But it came with recipes, and at $5 it seemed worth the gamble.

Turns out it’s old (1990) and works great! It has quite a fan club, and I can see why. I thought I was being so clever calling it R2D2 until I found out that many people call it that.

Anyway, it makes great bread and dough, it was $50 cheaper than the bread machine I saw at Walmart, and $200 cheaper than the Zojirushi. Definitely worth waiting for!

* Sounds like a profitable racket, so I gave my old Oster and the Regal to my eBay seller daughter, hoping she can make some money off the parts, paddles and manuals :)

Frugality 101

Breakfast under the Big Birch by Carl Larsson
Breakfast under the Big Birch

I don’t usually post on Sundays but had to share this article about how families can save money. A couple of the tips are specific to the Chicago suburbs, but most are not, and you’ll find some good info there.

Here’s my favorite part:

Do things your mom used to do. Remember how your mom and her friends sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee, rather than meeting out at a local coffee shop? Or how you’d be forced to bring your lunch to the ballgame or museums? That’s probably why your parents have money in the bank now. One mom suggested buying a bag of Starbucks coffee for $8 and then brewing enough for everyone.

Some of my fondest memories are of sitting around a kitchen table having coffee: with my grandma when I was a kid (yep, Swedes let the kids drink coffee with lots of milk in it), or with the other playgroup moms when I had little ones and we met weekly at each other’s homes. Who says you need money to have fun?

Grandma’s Cooking

Isn’t she just the cutest thing? And this is just one of several short films made by her grandson, a filmmaker who wanted to preserve his memories of her.

Grandma is 93-year-old Clara Cannucciari; her 30-year-old grandson Chris is the filmmaker. When Chris posted his films to YouTube, neither of them had any idea that a turbulent economy would make their series on Depression-era cooking a smash hit on the Internet.

Clara has had an interesting life, as this article describes. Watching her in the kitchen brings back my own “grandma memories”….maybe it will do the same for you  :)

Here’s the link for the entire series of films, so you don’t miss out on any. Enjoy!