Your Take 

Your Take: Will Your Recession Changes Stick?

Almost Empty WagamamasWhile most of us don’t believe we’re out of the recession, no matter what the statistics say, we can all agree that we made a few sacrifices over the last year and a half. Some have made a lot of sacrifices. One of the things my wife and I cut back on was dining out. We would go out to restaurants several times a week, not counting weekend festivities with our friends. For a dual income, no kid household, it’s not uncommon because our other expenses are generally low. However, with the uncertainty of the recession and my wife starting a PhD program, we thought that cutting back on one of our largest expenses was a smart idea and we believe the changes will stick even after the economy truly recovers.

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The Frugal Foodie Cookbook by Lara Starr and Lynette Shirk

The Frugal Foodie Cookbook by Lara Starr and Lynette ShirkMy wife and I have been trying to cook more of our meals at home, rather than going out to a restaurant. Part of it is frugality, cooking at home is simply cheaper than eating out. However, an even bigger part has to do with being healthier. Restaurants tend to use way too much oil, fat, cheese, and salt (among other things) and eating out all the time can expand your waistline as quickly as it thins out your wallet. So when I was offered a copy of The Frugal Foodie Cookbook by Lara Starr and Lynette Shirk to review, I was eager to see a cookbook that had frugality, rather than a particular cooking style or cuisine, in mind.

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Homemade Apple Pie Recipe

Homemade Apple PieMy wife told me that when she was a child, her mom would make her homemade apple pie on the first day of school. Now I, being the awesomest husband in the world, remembered this and decided I’d surprise her after her first day of grad school. I thought it was going to be harder but it turns out making homemade apple pie is remarkably simple. From start to finish, it took this pie novice less than an hour to make (minus the crust, which I cheated on).

(that photo is of the actual homemade apple pie I made, you can tell it’s homemade because of the smile! :))

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 Frugal Living 

Chinese Brown Sauce & White Sauce Recipes

Chinese foodIf you’ve ever eaten at any Chinese restaurant or take out joint, chances are you’ve ordered something that’s been in a brown sauce or a white sauce. Chicken with broccoli? That’s a brown sauce. Seafood with vegetables? That’s a white sauce.

If you enjoy those types of flavors, might I recommend giving them a try at home? They’re really easy and really tasty. The hard part is finding the ingredients and preparing them!

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 Personal Finance 

Homemade Pork & Shrimp Dumplings

Homemade DumplingsDumplings are the bomb.

My sister sent me this article by Nicole Routhier in Cook’s Illustrated titled “How to Make Asian Dumplings,” [PDF] which offers up a good discussion of basic cooking methods, filling recipes, dipping sauce recipes, and wrapper recipes and wrapping technique. It’s really a great tutorial on Asian dumplings and it’s very easy to understand (with great illustrations).

The recipe we really like in the article is for the Sesame Beef and Cabbage Filling. We’ve taken the base recipe Routhier provided and put in a few changes that we really like. For example, we’ve swapped out the beef for pork and pork & shrimp (our favorite). We also have future plans to modify it so that we will use scallops and shrimp, to make it all seafood.

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 Frugal Living 

Homemade Pizza

Turkey Boboli PizzaIn posting our Valentine’s Day dinner of Homemade Provençal Rack of Lamb, I learned that quite a few of us are quite capable chefs! Sheila of GoVisitHawaii shared her scrumptious meal of lobster tails, chicken, and asparagus. Jon made something similar – “lobster tails, mushroom risotto, asparagus with brie and artichokes as appetizers.” Even Tim made some “romantic ramen.” 🙂

So, to celebrate our mutual enjoyment of cooking our own food, I thought I’d throw out another frugal favorite in our household – homemade pizza. To be perfectly honest, we buy Boboli pizza crusts from the store because we don’t have a pizza stone (it’ll cook dough better than a pan, but I’ve heard a pan works well too) and because it’s cooks much faster. However, pizza dough is remarkably easy to make and recipes widely available if you do a little searching.

We grab a package of mozzarella, a can of Don Pepino pizza sauce (look at that guy, how could you not buy that stuff? and each can is enough for two pizzas!), and whichever toppings we’re in the mood for. That will typically include cooked onions, green or red peppers, and either grilled chicken or sauteed hot italian sausage. We throw in some other toppings in there from time to time but those are are staples. It’s about ten minutes of preparation, depending on how quickly you can chop, and another seven to ten minutes of baking time.

I think the next steps for us will be to make the dough ourselves, rather than pay Boboli to make it, and start getting more adventurous with the toppings. Do you have any tips for making your own pizza or any suggestions for crazy toppings to try?

(Photo: kodamakitty, the next time we make pizza, I promise to replace the pic with a “real” one!)

 Frugal Living 

Homemade Provençal Rack of Lamb

Provençal Rack of LambMy wife and I have started a tradition of cooking our own meals for our special anniversaries and celebrations. It was a tradition we started in college when neither one us owned a car and a $25 entrĂ©e was a once-a-year treat. Back then, we celebrated our dating anniversary by making crab cakes, a tradition we’ve continued (this year, we added a cream of crab soup to the menu!). For Valentine’s Day this year, we decided to get adventurous and cook up this Provençal Rack of Lamb recipe.

Everyone knows that cooking your own meals can save you a lot of money, but the main reason we cook our special meals is because it gives us the opportunity to spend time together doing something. The money savings is significant but time spent working on a meal together is far more entertaining than getting dressed up, waiting for our reservation, sitting at a table, and waiting for food to be served. Plus, you don’t have to pay 2.6x the retail price for a bottle of wine!

I couldn’t help but break down the cost of the meal, just to see how much it really cost and was genuinely surprised (figures are ballpark):

  • Rack of lamb: We bought the rack at Costco for approximately $14, with each of us eating two chops each (just like in the picture!). $7.
  • Tomatoes: We bought two “ugly” vintage tomatoes for about $2.
  • Fresh herb pack: We picked up a package of fresh herbs designed for roasting chicken and used a little of the rosemary and thyme; I imagine the spices used cost less than $1.
  • Potatoes: We bought a 5 lb. bag for $3.99 from our local grocery store. I’m not sure how many we used but let’s say a third of the bag – $1.50.
  • Smoking Loon Syrah: Picked up a bottle from our local wine shop, $8.99.

Total price of our romantic meal? $20.49.

I challenge you to find an entree that includes any cut of lamb that costs less than $20.49. It’s a lot more work to cook it yourself and you have to clean up afterwards, but between the quality time and the money saved, you simply can’t beat avoiding the Valentine’s day crowds and cooking up your own special meal.

If you cooked something special this year for Valentine’s day, what was it? We’re always on the lookout for fun new meals!

 Frugal Living 

Rescue Brown Bananas with Banana Bread

Spotted Bananas - Future Banana Bread!My wife absolutely loves bananas and everytime we visit the store, she wants to pick up a bunch. Her eyes are invariably bigger than her appetite because every once and a while we will have a lone banana or two sitting on the counter looking all sad and brown. It won’t be totally brown, it’ll just have a few spots on it but be treated like a leper. For many months, my wife would just toss it in the freezer and declare that it will be sacrificed to the banana bread gods.

However, until last year, the banana bread gods never answered. Month after month, bananas would get tossed in and eventually our freezer was packed with all these brown frozen bananas that had no where to go! So, one day we (mostly she) decided we would finally make some banana bread. I’m really glad we (mostly she) did because it’s absolutely delicious.

I have no idea where my wife’s Banana Walnut Bread recipe comes from but here it is if you want to try it out:


  • 1 1/2 C all purpose flour
  • 3/4 C cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 lb. ripe bananas – 1″ chunks
  • 1/4 C orange juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 C whole walnuts

1. Heat oven to 325F, grease a 7 cup loaf pan.
2. Mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg and then transfer to wax paper.
3. Mix the eggs, oil (in a thin stream), within fifteen seconds, in a food processor. Process 15 seconds longer. With the machine running, add in the sugar and brown sugar.
4. Add in the bananas, vanilla, OJ, and mix for one minute. Add half the dry ingredients and the walnuts. Mix in with half second pulses. Add the remaining dry ingredients and repeat the pulses.
5. Cook in oven for approximately 70 minutes (or until done, you can use the fork test as you do with cakes). Allow it thirty minutes to cool.
6. Eat.

What’s the personal finance moral in this story? There isn’t really one, I just wanted to write about banana bread because it’s delicious. But, if you want a moral, it could be that if you have something you’ve been meaning to do, like make banana bread from the bananas in your freezer, remember to actually do it. When they say “it’s the thought that counts,” it’s usually after you do what you meant to do. 🙂

(Photo: stephcarter)

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