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Turn tantalizing foreign cuisine into budget meals

“Well, if I’m going to cook an authentic Argentinian meal, I’m going to have to buy grass-fed beef,” I said to myself. “But the spousal unit is totally going to kill me when he sees how much this meal cost.”

It’s thoughts like that that almost derailed the personal challenge I had taken to to cook a signature dish from all 193 countries in the United Nations.

But I’m off and running now, and you can follow my culinary adventure at Cliffieland: The Global Cooking Challenge.

One of the first things I learned is that some international cuisine can be a little pricey. Grass-fed beef [about $9.99 a serving] and authentic Cypriot Halloumi cheese at about $2.80 a serving (well, most cheeses actually) will set you back some.

But, happily, I discovered that the most familiar dishes from many less well-known countries are actually not only tasty but pretty damn easy on the pocketbook.

Take Botswana, for instance.

Seswaa, something of a national dish, is simply boiled beef, which, in and of itself sounds as exciting as fried dirt. But slow cooked for four hours, properly seasoned and paired with Bogobe, or sorghum meal, and you’ve got yourself a surprisingly tasty, authentic and inexpensive meal, with roast chuck being about $2.99 a serving.

Oh, yeah, sorghum. You’ll get really familiar with unfamiliar things quickly. (And at less than a dollar a serving for sorghum meal, you may want to remain familiar with it.)

For comparison, between pricey meats and various ingredients, your standard boeuf bourguignon (hello, France!) would cost about $8 a serving when all is said and done.

In my book that’s a pretty delicious budget meal. It certainly beats the cost of picking up dinner at the average rotisserie chicken place.
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 Frugal Living 
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Can you do Thanksgiving dinner for less than $20?

Is it possible to put together a recognizable Thanksgiving Dinner for $20?It’s now a week until Thanksgiving, and since thawing a turkey takes a few hours shy of forever, you’d better start your meal planning now. That is, if you don’t want to end up doing the walk of shame to whatever sad buffet restaurant your ill planning consigns you to. (Full disclosure: I’ve eaten out for Thanksgiving exactly once and I am still kind of traumatized, but maybe it’s actually great and I just don’t know.)

My wife and I like to cook, and we usually do it up for Thanksgiving. But I’m still amazed at the lengths people go to, and what they’re willing to spend, to put an impressive Thanksgiving dinner together. For all the Martha Stewart or Alton Brown wannabees out there, that free-range “heritage” bird can cost you more than a $100, not to mention all the black truffle mashed potatoes, organic kale and all the other delicious stuff you can make to go along with it if you feel like spending the money.

But what if instead of having a foodie Thanksgiving, you had a frugal one?
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 Personal Finance 
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5 Popular Myths That Cost You Money

One of the fun parts about reading and writing about personal finance and money all day is that you run into a lot of good advice and a lot of bad advice. Over the years, I’m amazed at how much of both is repeated with great regularity.

Whereas some bad advice hurts no one, a lot of money myths are costing some people money (and helping others make a lot more than they should!). So today I’ll be hitting five popular myths that span your entire life, from spices to gasoline, with the hope that it spurs a discussion that helps us all understand why these myths are wrong and why they’re costing us money.

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 Reviews 
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Review: Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O’Dea

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O'DeaWe’ve had a slow cooker in our kitchen repertoire for several years now and in that time we’ve made fewer than a dozen dishes in it. For those keeping score at home, that’s about one every three or four months. The reason we don’t use it as much as we probably could has to do with our lack of creativity in the slow cooking department. Our cooking is very much dominated by our ideas. We think of things we enjoy and we try to make them, or dishes similar to them, which leads us to a lot of stews, which take just as long to cook, but never to stews in a slow cooker. I chalk it up to having not grown up with a slow cooker (it’s not prominent in Chinese cuisine) but the reality is I’ve had no inspiration, since I love plenty of things I didn’t grow up eating.

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 Frugal Living 
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How to Dry Fresh Herbs

Herb GardenThis year, we’ve decided to grow a bunch of herbs we enjoy on a regular basis because buying them in the store costs way too much and they lack the flavor of fresh herbs. Our basil, thyme, dill, mint and oregano are all growing like crazy in planters on our deck. If you’ve ever grown herbs, you know that you end up with far more than you could possibly use.

Herbs get their flavor from their oils. This is why you can get a good whiff of an herb’s flavor by rubbing your hands on the leaves and smelling them afterwards (much easier than trying to smell the leaves directly – that gem of a tip comes from my cousins Jonathan and Kate). This is why air drying herbs late in the summer is the best way to maintain flavor.

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 Family 
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How to Cook More, Eat Out Less

Cooking Is Fun!For health and financial reasons, my wife and I have been cooking more of our meals at home. We started because we thought it would be fun, and it certainly has been a wonderful adventure, and with the economy recovering, we see this as something we’ll stick with even after things get back to “normal.” While we still go out to eat every once and a while, we’ve learned that cooking is a skill everyone should develop and nurture.

Reasons You Should Cook More

Before we get into the how, let’s talk a little about the why. You don’t need scientific studies to tell you that it’s much healthier to eat a home cooked meal and it’s far cheaper too. Restaurant food is designed to taste great, not make your body feel great. It’s chock full of fat, sodium, and other ingredients that taste wonderful but can wreak havoc on your body over long periods of time. Portion control is also non-existent as plate sizes are huge and portions of generous to make you feel like you’re getting the most out of your dining dollar.

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 Personal Finance 
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Homemade Dumpling Wrapper Skins

Homemade DumplingsLast weekend, my lovely wife had a few of her classmates over for dinner and a movie. For dinner, we made homemade dumplings from “scratch,” except for the skins which were store bought. We must have made close to two hundred dumplings, evenly split between a shrimp and pork filling and a pork and cabbage filling. After a quick 12 minute steaming, a little crisp frying in some sesame oil, we enjoyed the dumplings with some wine.

We made as many dumplings as we had store-bought dumpling wrappers (or are they called skins?) and we still had filling left over, about a cup and a half worth of each. Since raw shrimp and raw pork don’t last very long in the fridge, we needed to make up the rest of the dumplings quickly and pop them in the freezer.

So last night, after an afternoon of football games, I found myself at home with no skins… so I thought I’d try to make skins from scratch.

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 Your Take 
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Your Take: Your Favorite Meal

Flaming Wok (Not Me!)As I mentioned last week, my lovely wife and I have started cooking more because it’s fun, healthier, and easier on the wallet. We’ve documented some of our creations on Bargaineering, from pork and shrimp dumplings to pizza to to homemade apple pie. We’ve even gone super high class and cooked up a Provençal rack of lamb earlier this year.

How do we pick what we want to cook? It’s a mixture of what’s on sale that week at our local grocery store and the meals we absolutely love. We both loved dumplings so we thought it would be fun to make our own filling and “make” dumplings. My wife always had homemade apple pie on the first day of school and so I made her a pie when she started her new graduate program.

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