29 March 2013

How to Keep Your Coffee Beans Fresh

Whether you use ground coffee or whole beans, to make a fresh cup of coffee each morning, it tastes better when it is fresh. If you drink coffee daily, you probably have too much of a supply not to be concerned about how you store it. Keep reading to find out how to store ground coffee as well as whole coffee beans.

There is something about the smell of coffee that awakens the senses. Early in the morning it is like a pick-me-up. Ground coffee in a bowl on the stove can help eliminate unpleasant odors in your kitchen. But it is far better to drink it and savour the taste as well as the smell.

Some Facts about Coffee

Here are a few things that may interest you to know about your coffee. One, when you open the coffee bag, you hear this burst of freshness. If it is vacuum sealed or valve sealed, then it is the air rushing in. Coffee will begin to lose its freshness from that point.

Two, it is not good to buy coffee in large quantities. Every time you open the container to get more coffee, you are exposing the remainder to air, moisture and light. Keeping only a two week supply on hand is ideal. If you want to buy in bulk, store larger quantities in airtight containers, only opening to refill your smaller supply container every two weeks.

The best coffee is that which is freshly ground whether you purchase it from the store that way or you grind it yourself at home. 

Storing your ground coffee and coffee beans

There are four enemies of good coffee: moisture, light, heat and air. All can render your coffee unpalatable. Moisture is a particular enemy as it can lead to moulding (yes, coffee can go mouldy). So, when considering storage locations for your coffee, find a place that is dry, cool and dark. The freezer and/or the refrigerator may seem like good choices because they are cold but they are also full of unwanted moisture. If you choose to keep your coffee in the fridge or freezer, an air- and moisture-tight container is essential.

For fresh ground coffee, store it in a clear plastic or glass canister. Make sure they have airtight gaskets under the lids (recycled Moccona jars are ideal, as are Tupperware containers). Keep them in a cool, dark area. If you plan on keeping the coffee on the bench, use an opaque container to keep light out.

Some people like to grind their own beans for brewed coffee. You can store your whole beans in the same way as ground coffee. Since the beans have less surface area, they do not go bad as fast as ground.

I buy the beans and grind them fresh myself. I usually do enough for two or three days at a time, keeping the ground coffee in an air-tight Tupperware canister. The beans are kept in an air-tight container in the fridge. Optimally, grind the beans as you need them each day, but every two or three days works for me.

Maintaining coffee’s goodness is a delicate balance. To get the very best from your coffee, short-term storage is the most favourable.

28 March 2013

8 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste

When food shopping for the week (or month), a lot of thought goes in to our selections - yet many of us give very little thought about just how much of what we buy and prepare goes in the trash. On average we throw away approximately one third of the food we buy each week. That's one third of your grocery budget going into the rubbish bin!

You wouldn't take $25 cash each week and toss it into the bin, so why toss the equivalent in food?

 Here are some helpful tips to help reduce food waste.

1. Freeze Unused Food and Leftovers
Wait to have that second helping of casserole. You might find that you're not as hungry as you thought. Freeze what you have left over, even if it is just one serving. Freeze in microwavable containers and take them to work. Remember to freeze broths, tomato sauce or paste you might have left over. It all adds up. You will be amazed how much food waste you can avoid producing. 

Make sure you plan one or two "mufti" meals a month to use up your freezer stash. We tend to have these types of meals over the weekend, when everyone just helps themselves to whatever they fancy.

2. Evaluate What's in Your Rubbish
Examine what you're throwing away. If you're throwing away half of what you buy, then buy smaller portions or purchase airtight containers for long-term storage. Gel bags keep vegetables fresh longer and are an inexpensive option for long-term food storage. Tupperware type containers are  good for the fridge, freezer and pantry and being air-tight keep food at it's best longer.

3. Rearrange the Contents of Your Fridge
Keeping your fridge organized will prevent you from forgetting ingredients and having them spoil. So, keep moving things around and you will always be able to keep an eye on what you have and its condition. Check for expiration dates; toss out anything that is more than a few days past the use-by date printed on the package.

4. 3 Degrees

This is the setting that will assure your food doesn't go bad. On the average fridge, settings tend to be much warmer, which encourages food to spoil faster. So using a fridge thermometer (you can get them at any homewares store) will help ensure that your setting is correct.

5. Plan Meals
Make a meal plan for the week. Do an inventory of your pantry to see what you have. You'll be surprised how many recipes share certain ingredients. Plan three or four days to make recipes and two to eat leftovers (those mufti meals from point 1 above), taking in to consideration that you may dine out a couple of nights or have dinner with friends.

6. Rethink Buying in Bulk
Consumers buy in bulk to save money but fail to realize that if they buy more perishable goods than they need and throw away rotten or unused food, they might as well be throwing money in the bin. If you must buy in bulk, try pre-portioning meats and veggies and freezing. Herbs, bread, meat and veggies can all be frozen.

7. Shop More Often
If you do all your shopping for the week at once, fruits and veggies that you buy for a particular meal might go bad before you can use them. Instead, make a couple of small trips to pick up more produce. That way your food is nice and fresh.

8. Have a Back-up Recipe in Mind 
If you miss the opportunity to prepare a certain recipe, always have a backup recipe so your ingredients don't go to waste.

Remember - our perishables sit in landfills creating methane gas. Are you a part of the solution?

If you answered "yes," then you're well on your way to reducing the amount of food you waste, and saving yourself thousands of dollars a year in spoiled food.

27 March 2013

Hummingbird Cake, an Easter Tradition

Easter in our house means lots of things, all of them bringing the family together. Sometimes it's a camping trip, other times it's picnics. Almost always, regardless of where we are, it means Hummingbird Cake for dessert on Easter Sunday.

The first time I had this beautiful cake was an Easter Sunday, many, many years ago. My step-sister Liz brought the dessert, a magnificent cake, topped with dozens of tiny chocolate and candy coated Easter eggs for the kids.

Oh my was that cake good. Moist. Rich. Light and full of a wonderful flavour. And it's been an Easter tradition ever since.

So, with Easter Sunday just a few days away, I brought out the recipe yesterday to check I had all the ingredients ready for baking on Saturday night. The boys' eyes lit up when they saw what recipe I was looking at, they love Hummingbird Cake too.

So I thought I'd share the recipe with you, and a little of the story behind our Easter tradition. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Hummingbird cake

3 cups plain flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
250g crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts, divided
2 cups diced bananas (about 3 regular bananas)

Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Prepare three 22cm round cake tins by greasing well, lining the base with baking paper and flouring the sides.  Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup chopped nuts and bananas. Spoon batter into 3 well-greased and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake  25 to 30 minutes; cool in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto cake racks to cool completely. Spread frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with 1 cup chopped nuts.

Cream Cheese Frosting

250g cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
500g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine cream cheese and butter; beat until smooth. Add icing sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

Store this cake in the fridge as it has cream cheese frosting. Let it come to room temperature to serve.

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money - No. 6

Take a Look at Those Monthly Payments

Evaluate every monthly payment you pay. Are you paying every month for a gym membership you don’t use? What about a cable box that you’re renting monthly to watch the premium channels, yet the only channels you watch in that room are free-to-air? Trimming just one of these monthly payments would definitely make your money go farther.

26 March 2013

MOO KFC Style Chicken Coating

Fried chicken, especially the KFC type, is very yummy. It's also expensive and not all that good for you - the fat content is very high.  You can replicate that delicious fried chicken flavour easily with this chicken coating. Remove the skin from the chicken and bake it in the oven instead of frying and you cut the fat content considerably, making it a healthier treat.

2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
2 tbsp celery salt
2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp dry mustard powder
2 tbsp ground ginger
4 tsp garlic salt
6 tbsp chicken stock powder
8 tbsp paprika

Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Store in an air-tight container.

To use: Coat skinless chicken pieces in plain flour, then in beaten egg (or milk or buttermilk or cream), then in coating mixture.  Set in fridge for 30  minutes. Place onto a baking sheet and spray with olive oil spray. Bake in a moderate oven until chicken is cooked through.

25 March 2013

Very Handy Magnetic Bookmarks

Knitting is something I enjoy, but finding an easy way to follow the pattern and mark my spot without actually writing on the pattern used to be a bother.

These days I use these very cute magnetic bookmarks. They wrap around the pattern page and simply slide down line-by-line. No more losing my place and no more mistakes in complicated patterns!

You will need:
40cm sticky backed magnetic strip, 12mm wide
45cm ribbon 15mm wide
Fabric glue or a glue gun

Step 1. Cut the magnetic strip in half so you have two pieces 20cm long.

Step 2. Carefully lay one of the magnetic strips on the ribbon, 1cm in from the end. Repeat for the other strip.  You will have a gap in the centre of the magnets.

Step 3. Put a dab of glue on each end of the ribbon. Fold the ribbon over, pressing it down so it sticks. Repeat for the other end. This will give you a nice tidy end on your line marker. Alternatively, if you don't want to glue the ends, cut a 'V' notch in the ends to stop them fraying.

To use your magnetic line marker place one side of the marker under the line you are reading, folding it over and sticking the other side under the page. The magnets should line up so it sticks to the page.  As you finish each line, slide the marker down the page.

You can make these line markers in any length (for wider or narrower pages) and width (wider magnets/ribbons).

They are very handy in your knitting or embroidery bag, but they're also great for children just learning to read "chapter books" as my niece calls them.  They're also great bookmarks as they don't damage the pages of your book or magazine.

22 March 2013

Top Tips for Organic Food on a Budget

These days, organic food is big business. More and more consumers have realized the benefits of organic foods and of course supermarkets have responded by stocking more organic products. But due to the high demand and strict requirements of organic products, their prices can be rather high, and the “organic” component can often be dubious, especially in imported products.

For those who are eating on a budget, the price of organics can be a turnoff, often doubling a grocery bill. But there are ways to get organic foods for less. Here are some tips:

* Avoid the supermarket as much as possible. Supermarkets are generally the worst place to buy organic foods, because prices are high and quality tends to be low. Instead, try buying organic foods at health food stores or better yet, wholefood stores.

* Visit your local farmer's market. Farmer's markets are among the best sources for local produce. And farmers that sell locally are much more likely to produce organic foods, even though they may not have gone through the expensive organic certification process. Detailed information about the products is usually available, and you can ask the vendor any questions you may have.

* Buy from organic food delivery services. These services sell boxes filled with various types of organic foods at discounted prices. You can get boxes of fruits, vegetables, meats or other items, or you can buy boxes that contain all sorts of organic foods. Most services offer a variety of options, so there's sure to be something that meets your family's needs. The prices are fixed, it’s delivered to your door and while the prices may be slightly more expensive than your supermarket, the quality is always superior (and often far superior) and by staying out of the supermarket you are avoiding those impulse buys.

* Buy non-perishable organic foods such as grains and cereals in bulk. Stores can sell items such as these in bulk much cheaper due to the lack of packaging. And as long as they're stored properly, they will keep for a very long time. I buy rice, flours, dried fruits and legumes in bulk and store them in the freezer until they are needed in the kitchen.

* Shop around. Different stores often have vastly different prices on organic foods. Take note of prices at local stores, and check prices online as well. When it comes to organics, it definitely pays to seek out deals.

* If you truly can't afford to go completely organic, adding more organic foods to your diet can still be of benefit. The most important things to buy organic are meat, cheese and milk. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, try to at least buy the foods organic that are most prone to pesticide contamination. These include peaches, apples, caspicums, strawberries, lettuce and carrots.

* Grow your own organic fruits and vegetables. It's simple to do, and when it comes time to harvest, you'll have plenty of food for your family and then some. Bottle, dehydrate or freeze the excess and you'll have delicious home-grown food to eat in the winter, too. You can find all sorts of information on organic gardening and food preservation in the Member’s Centre.

The benefits of organic food are many. It's better for the environment than food that's grown with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and it's certainly better for our health. And if you are willing to search for the best prices, eating organic isn't as hard on your wallet as you might think.

21 March 2013

MOO Gel Air Fresheners

Winter is coming, meaning windows and doors will be closed and heaters will be on. I love the fresh air flowing through our home during the warmer months, and to keep that fresh scent in the air I use air fresheners during the cold, gloomy and stuffy winter months.

I don't buy them however. I don't particularly like the artificial scents, and I'm not absolutely certain the ingredients in them are safe to have in our home, so I MOO them.

They are quick, easy, and cheap - so much cheaper than the bought ones. And they are safe to have in our home, using only natural and safe ingredients.

You will need:

2 sachets plain gelatine
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cold water
20 drops essential oil
1 tbsp salt
2 - 5 drops food colouring
1 glass container to hold your air freshener.

Step 1.  Dissolve the gelatine in the boiling water. I use a whisk for this, it's so much easier and ensures  the gelatine dissolves completely.

Step 2. Add the cup of cold water, the salt and the essential oil and whisk until the salt has dissolved.

Step 3. Pour into your container. I use a "You'll Love Coles" salsa jar because I like the shape and it's a good size. You can use any jar or dish you like. Obviously if your air freshener is going to be on display you'll want it to be attractive so look around the house, you are sure to have something you can use.

I use pure essential oils.  They cost more, but they are better quality so I use less of them. I tend to go for "fresh" scents like orange and lemon, use your favourite. You can also change the fragrance depending on how you feel - lavender is lovely in a bedroom for instance.

Food colouring is optional. No food colouring, you'll have clear air fresheners. I use the natural food colours I use in baking. Again they cost more, but I use less. You can skip the food colouring if you use coloured glass bowls or jars to hold your air freshener.

Salt. Salt is an essential ingredient, don't be tempted to leave it out. The salt acts as a preservative. No salt results very quickly in a mouldy, stinky mess in your jar. With salt, you'll have an air freshener for up to a month, depending on the weather and the strength of your essential oils (the fragrance fades over time, just as it does with the bought air fresheners).

That's it! Easy. Cheap. Safe.

19 March 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money - No. 5 Ditch ATM Fees

By now it should be habit, but so many people continue to pay ATM fees, and they don’t need to.  They can easily stop wasting that money ($1.5-  $2 a pop!).

Refuse to pay service fees at ATMs. Determine where your closest 2 cost-free ATMs are and then only use those. We are surrounded by ATMs, they are everywhere - in shopping centres, supermarkets, convenience stores, hotels, malls, even outside banks. Finding your bank's, or an affiliated bank's, shouldn't be difficult. There is no excuse for paying ATM fees, keep those service fees in your pocket rather than the banks’ till.

What to do with All Those Green Tomatoes - Make Raspberry Jam!

It's the end of summer, but my tomato bushes are still producing dozens of tomatoes every day. The bushes are dying off and the small tomatoes aren't getting big and red and juicy - they are staying small and green.

If you have green tomatoes and don't want to make pickles, you may like this Mock Raspberry Jam, it's a wonderfully easy way to use up green tomatoes.

Mock Raspberry Jam

2 1/2 cups green tomatoes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 packet raspberry jelly crystals

Use a food processor to chop the tomatoes very fine, or grate them.  Put the tomatoes and the sugar into a large saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 20 minutes, uncovered. Turn down heat. Add the jelly crystals and cook until the jelly is dissolved. Pour in sterilized jars or freezer containers. Stores in the fridge two weeks and in the freezer for up to 6 months. Makes three 500ml jars.

This jam will taste just like raspberry jam, it will even have the "raspberry" seeds in it.  Use it on scones, on toast or in jam drops - no one will know the difference.

18 March 2013

MOO Aftershave

If the men in your life use aftershave, they are sure to love any of these MOO aftershaves.

Simple Aftershave

1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. cologne, more or less*

Step 1. Mix rubbing alcohol and water.

Step 2. Add your favourite cologne. Shake to mix.

Store in a clean bottle - recycle an empty aftershave bottle if you have one.

Note:  Use samples of your favourite cologne, like the little ones you collect from department stores, they are usually the right size.

Peppermint Fresh Aftershave

30ml peppermint essential oil
1 cup rubbing alcohol
1/2 cup witch hazel
30ml lavender essential oil
60ml glycerine
15ml eucalyptus essential oil
A clean, empty bottle

Step 1: Combine the rubbing alcohol, witch hazel and glycerine in a clean jar and shake hard to mix thoroughly.

Step 2: Add the essential oils in slowly, especially the lavender since you don't want to overdo it.

Step 3: Close the jar and shake thoroughly. Refrigerate the ingredients for three or four days and shake it about once a day.

Step 4: Your aftershave is ready. Remember to shake the bottle well before each use.

Bay West Indies Aftershave

2 cups of witch hazel 
30ml rum
zest from one organic orange
1 cinnamon stick
3-5 cloves
3-5 whole allspice
1/2 teaspoon glycerine 
1/2 teaspoon aloe vera 
25 drops Bay West Indies Essential Oil

Step 1.  Add the orange zest, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, glycerine and aloe vera to a 600ml jar.

Step 2. Add the rum.

Step 3. Add the witch hazel. Shake to combine.

Step 4. Add the 25 drops of Bay West Indies essential oil. Cover with a tight fitting lid and shake well to thoroughly combine all the ingredients. Place in the fridge and shake daily for 4 weeks.

Step 5. Once the aftershave has steeped for four weeks strain it through a coffee filter (you may need to repeat this a couple of times to get a clear aftershave). Store in dark, glass bottles (again, re-use empty aftershave bottles). This recipe makes enough to fill two 250ml bottles.

Note:  You can buy Bay West Indies essential oil online or at most health food shops. It is a very strong scent so add the suggested 25 drops and then test the fragrance. If it's not strong enough add another 5 drops and test again.

14 March 2013

MOO Vaporub

Winter is on it's way (although it may be a warm one if this heatwave doesn't end soon) and with winter come colds and flu, snuffly noses and chesty coughs. A common treatment to relieve the symptoms of these winter nasties is vaporub.

Vicks Vaporub is the brand we are all familiar with, and most of us have used it and could well have a jar of it in the medicine chest right now. But Vicks Vaporub (and the other commerical brands) contain some things that we really don't need to be using, especially on our children, such as turpentine and camphor set in a petroleum jelly base.

There's not denying the relief and comfort vaporub gives, so instead of using the commercial product, why not MOO it, using safe ingredients?  It's easy, so easy you'll wonder why you never thought to MOO it before.

You will need:

1/2 cup coconut oil
10 drops pure eucalyptus oil

Stir the eucalyptus oil into the coconut oil. Store it in a screw top jar.

To use: take a small amount of the vaporub and gently massage into the chest or throat.

Now this is a MOO, and it is made of safe to use ingredients, but the same cautions must be taken with it's use. It's for external use only, do not apply to the inside of or under your nose, don't eat it  or apply it to your mouth. Apart from the fact that the eucalyptus will burn, it is an oil based product which could end up in the lungs.

13 March 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money - No. 4 MOO Your Own Cake Mixes

Save money by limiting the expensive or extravagant items you buy. For example, if you love an exotic, organic cake mix but it’s expensive, buy one every other month. Consider it a special treat when you have it, rather than something you must have every week or two.

Or better still, MOO cake mixes, store them in ziplock bags and you can make a cake whenever you feel like it.

MOO Vanilla Cake Mix

4 cups plain flour
4 cups SR flour
6 cups white sugar
1/4 cup baking powder
2 tsp salt
2-1/4 cups unsalted butter*

Combine all the dry ingredients and then cut in the shortening with a pastry knife until it is very fine.  Place in a 4 litre airtight container.  Store for up to 3 months in the fridge.  Bring the cake mix to room temperature to use it.

*Note: Use real butter, do not be tempted to use margarine.

To make a cake:

4-1/2 cups cake mix
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 c vegetable oil
2/3 c milk


Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Celsius.  Grease and flour a 33cm x 23cm cake tin.  In a large bowl mix eggs, vanilla and oil. Add the cake mix, stir to combine. Then stir in the milk.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle.

12 March 2013

MOO Crumpets

I love crumpets at any time of year, but at over $2 a packet they have been crossed off my shopping list. I don't need to buy them anyway, they can be made using the ingredients I have in the pantry - and they are really easy!

Oh, and you will not believe just how good freshly made crumpets are - you'll never eat the bought ones again.

4 cups flour
2 teaspoons dried yeast
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
500ml warm water
150ml warm milk
½ teaspoon bicarb soda
Butter for greasing

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the centre and add water slowly, mixing well until a thick batter has formed.

Knead well until thick and smooth . Cover and leave in a warm spot for an hour to rise.
Add the bicarb soda to the warm milk. Stir milk mixture into the dough, beating well so there are no lumps. The batter should look like thick pancake mix.

Grease  a frying pan and egg rings or crumpet rings and heat to a moderate temperature. Place 1 tablespoonful of mixture in each egg ring or 2 tablespoonfuls in each crumpet ring. Cook over moderate heat until bubbles rise, leave a little longer so the bubbles set slightly then turn crumpets and brown the tops.

After turning crumpets, remove the rings and re-grease. Then start the next batch cooking. This recipe makes about 45 egg ring- or 20 crumpet ring-sized crumpets.
Toast to serve. These crumpets freeze well.

Note: You can buy special crumpet rings from cookware shops for around $3 each. A cheaper option is to use 425g tuna cans that have had both ends removed.

11 March 2013

Magical Easter Treasure Rocks

Easter is early this year, just a couple of weeks away.  While I love the idea of lots and lots of chocolate and hot cross buns and other Easter goodies, it's becoming a lot like Christmas - focus on the getting, not the giving.

So, with that in mind, these Treasure Rocks are a novel way to have some fun with the kids, without overdosing them on chocolate.

You will need:
Bicarb soda
White vinegar
An eye dropper or pipette
Treasures to hid in the rocks - small, individually wrapped chocolates or lollies, marbles, jewels - whatever you have

There are no specific quantities for this activity, it will depend on how many Treasure Rocks you want to make and their size.  Eyeball it - I started with 2 cups of bicarb and about 3 tablespoons cocoa (you don't need a lot, just enough to add some colour).

Step 1.  Combine the cocoa and bicarb soda in a large mixing bowl. Whisk it or sift it to get any lumps out.

Step 2. Add just enough water to make a stiff paste. Be careful, it's easy to add too much. You want the paste to be the consistency of  playdough, soft and pliable but not too runny, it needs to hold it's shape.

Step 3. Take some of the bicarb dough and flatten in slightly so you have a pocket to put the treasure in. Add the treasure and wrap the dough around it. Roll into a rough ball shape.

Step 4. Put the Treasure Rocks on a cake rack to dry.

To use them you can hide them around the house or garden (if it's dry) and let the kids hunt for them or you can simply have them as a table centrepiece ready for fun after Easter Sunday lunch.

When all the rocks have been found it's time to work the magic.

You'll need the white vinegar now - in a big bowl, or several smaller bowls if there are a few kids to entertain.  Give them all an eye dropper and let them choose a Treasure Rock.

To find the treasure they need to dissolve the rock by dropping vinegar on it and watching it fizz and disappear. The more vinegar they drop on their Treasure Rocks  the faster they fizz and the faster their treasure will appear.

For a really exciting bubble and fizz, drop the rocks into the bowl of vinegar, just be ready for a volcanic eruption!

10 March 2013

Homemade Mocha Coffee Syrup

One of my indulgences is good coffee. Another is good flavoured coffee. Sometimes a freshly brewed mocha is just the thing, but buying them is out of the question - the last one I bought cost $4.70! And buying syrup - well I could but why would I, especially as this is MOO month.

No, this syrup is easy to make, tastes divine and costs around 70 cents to make! Best of all it's really quick, taking about 7 minutes from go to whoa, and it can be used straight away. If I'm out of syrup and want a moccacinno I can make the syrup in the time it takes for the coffee to brew - perfect!

Mocha Coffee Syrup

2 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cups cocoa (sift it if it has lumps in it)
1 1/2 cups water
3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Warm all ingredients together in a small saucepan, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Pour into a sterilized bottle and keep it in the fridge. Add a slug or two (or two tablespoons for those who don't do "slugs") to your freshly brewed coffee and enjoy!

I use this maple syrup jug to store the syrup because it has a great seal, but mainly because it looks pretty on the bench or table.

Why not make a batch now? You know you want to, so go ahead. I'll put the coffee on and have one with you :)

07 March 2013

MOO Super Strength Shower Cleaner

There are times when everyone's shower screen, tiles and base need cleaning. I wipe our showers over every day with a microfibre cloth, but every now and then they just need a really good scrub.  I'm not fond of scrubbing - it's hard work!

But I do like the showers to sparkle and shine, and I like to know they are clean, so I use this amazing shower cleaner.  It's a spray'n'wipe cleaner (truly!) and it shifts soap scum and built-up verdigris like nothing else. And it's so easy to MOO, is very frugal (costs about 50 cents to make) and you'll have the ingredients in your cupboards, so no need to buy anything special.

MOO Super Strength Shower Cleaner
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup dishwashing liquid

Step 1.
  Warm the vinegar in the microwave for 40 seconds.

Step 2.  Slowly stir in the dishwashing liquid, mixing until it is thoroughly combined with the vinegar.

Step 3.  Pour into a 500ml spray bottle.

To use: Spray showerscreen, tiles and base liberally with the Super Strength Shower Cleaner. Set your timer for 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes wipe over with a wet cloth. The soap scum and grime will wipe away, no scrubbing needed. Rinse the shower with cool water and you're done!

It really works.

  Be sure to use full strength dishwashing liquid (I dilute mine 50:50 with water for dishes and general cleaning) and you can use the cheapest detergent you can find - I often pick up dishwashing detergent on sale at $2 shops just for making Super Strength Shower Cleaner.

06 March 2013

The Slush Fund

I often talk about my slush fund, and older Cheapskaters will know what I'm talking about, but a question recently had me explaining to a new Cheapskater just what my slush fund is.

In the traditional sense a slush fund is money put aside to use for illicit purposes, mainly being bribery, particularly political bribery.


In the Cheapskating sense a slush fund is what is left from your allocated grocery budget each week, fortnight or month (depending on how you budget). For example if you allocate $90 a week for groceries this week, but only spend $84.30, then you have $5.70 left over. That money goes into your slush fund.

I shop monthly for most groceries, with a few things being a yearly stock up; meat, poultry and bulk dry goods are bought quarterly. It's not nearly as complicated as it sounds. I allocate $280 a month for regular groceries. What is left from the $280 is put into my slush fund (which is a pocket in my purse) and the next month I draw $280 and do the shopping. What isn't spent goes into the slush fund.

And that's how a slush fund is built, Cheapskates style.

This money is then used to build my stockpile (and I'll explain that in another post) or pick up a few extra good specials or even treats without me needing to find the money - it's in the slush fund.

I carry my slush fund money in my purse so that if I am out and see a really super fantastic special, I can buy it. Sometimes it's used for a bulk meat buy when there's a super special on, like last week when sides of lamb were $4.99/kg at Tasman Meats (I used my slush fund to buy two).  I've been known to clear supermarket shelves on a really good sale, all made possible because I have a slush fund.

Without it, I'd be scrabbling to find extra money to buy that lamb or clear those shelves. That money would either have to come from future grocery allocation or another category, leaving it short.

At the end of the year my allocated grocery budget will still be $80 a week, or $4,160 for the year and if I've withdrawn the grocery money and spent the slush fund, the money spent will still average $80 a week or $4,160 for the year.  If I haven't spent all the slush fund there will be some left in my purse to start the new year.

Most people take their grocery money (or do the shopping and just pay the bill) without thinking about the leftover cash. It gets put into general funds, and by that I mean it stays in their purse or wallet, mixed up with their other money and gets spent on whatever.

At the end of the year their grocery budget will be what it is - on budget, over or under, but they won't have anything extra to show for it.

Building a grocery slush fund is a wise move for any homemaker, regardless of the size of the household. Singles can benefit just as much as families and couples.

Your  grocery slush fund is allocated money you've not spent, and so put it in reserve, and use it when you need money for those grocery bargains and bulk buys so you can stock up debt free.

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money - No. 3

Strategy No. 3 Take Care of Clothing

It is very easy to spend a lot of money on clothes, mostly because they are not properly cared for. In fact next to food, clothing is often the next largest category in a family's Spending Plan. It's easy to keep the clothing bill down (and the family well dressed) if you just take proper care of your clothes.

Re-hang clothing that’s been worn just a couple of hours and wear it again before laundering (constant washing and drying is hard on your clothes and is a significant factor in it looking worn and shabby after just a few wears). 

Use covers to protect out of season or clothes you don't wear very often from dust.  

Pre-wash by hand as soon as possible any clothing that gets a stain (give stains a rub with Stain Removing Soap and let them soak until washing time).  

Change from your work clothing to lower cost t-shirts and shorts or slacks when you get home to ensure you get at least a few years from your work clothes. Have children change out of school uniforms when the come home – they’ll get another wear out of them. And make sure they wear their after-school clothes for the week – they’ll only be in the a couple of hours before bath time and bed.

Do any repairs as soon as they are required - sew on that button, fix that hem, patch that hole in the knee - and your clothes will always be presentable and you'll get a lot more wear out of them.

05 March 2013

A Quick Substitute for Corn Syrup and a Cracker Recipe

You may have noticed, I know I certainly have, that there are some really lovely recipes floating around on the Internet. I'd love to try them, and often save them to a folder on my desktop.

But come time to make the recipe it contains one ingredient I can't easily source here in Australia, and it's also one ingredient I don't really want to use: corn syrup.

And so I move on to another recipe.

A little research and some fiddling around has resulted in a MOO Mock Corn Syrup that does an amazing job in those recipes, and it's so easy you can whip it up in about two minutes, and I'm pretty certain 99.9% of households will have the ingredients on hand at any time and best of all it will cost you about 20 cents!

MOO Mock Corn Syrup
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup warm water

Mix the sugar and the water together until the sugar has dissolved.

That's it! I told you it was easy and that you'd have the ingredients in the house.

Use this sugar syrup in place of corn syrup in any recipe you come across that calls for it.

Another common ingredient in American recipes is the humble Graham Cracker. Again we don't have anything quite like it on our supermarket shelves, but it's another thing that can be MOOed really easily.

Not only that, these little wholewheat crackers are delicious. They are nice to nibble on, they make fantastic pie crusts and are great in a crumble topping.

Graham Crackers
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
2 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups wholewheat flour  (I use Spelt)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk

Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees Celsius.  Mix oil, honey, molasses and vanilla together in a large bowl. Combine all dry ingredients and add to honey mixture, alternating with milk. Mix well to form a dough. Divide dough in half. Roll out on a greased biscuit tray, so the tray is completely covered, it will be very thin. Use a knife to mark into 5cm squares. Repeat for remaining dough. Bake 15 - 25 minutes until outer edges are lightly browned. Let cool on cookie sheets. Store in an airtight container.

Raspberry Tart Biscuits

These little biscuits are divine, perfect for afternoon tea, and so much nicer than the bought versions.  You will need two heart shaped cookie cutters, one larger than the other to make these biscuits BUT if you don't have heart shapes, use circles - they'll look just as pretty and taste just as good.


3 cups plain flour
5 egg yolks
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/3 cup ground walnuts
1 1/2 cups raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.  Mix the flour, egg yolks, butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl. Add the vanilla and mix again. Remove the mixture from the bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface until it creates soft dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

After removing the dough from the refrigerator, lightly flour the surface again and roll the dough out to about 3mm thick. Using the larger heart-shaped cookie cutter cut out the cookie dough until all dough is used. On half of the cookies, use the smaller heart cutter to cut out the center of the cookie; this will be used for the top.  Beat the egg whites and then brush the whites onto the tops of the cookie.  Place the outside edges left from cutting the smaller hearts on top of the larger cookies - this will make a border.

Next, mix the 2 tablespoons of sugar with the ground walnuts. Sprinkle this mixture over the tops of the cookie (the smaller hearts). Bake both sets of the cookies for 10 minutes in the pre-heated oven. Allow them to cool completely.

Once the cookies are cool, spread a thin layer of raspberry jam in the cookie bottom. Place the top on the cookie. This recipe makes about 26 Raspberry Tart cookies.

01 March 2013

Welcome to MOO Month!

It's March, the month where Cheapskaters focus on MOOing as much as they can.  The challenge for the month is to MOO at least one thing a day - and it's much, much easier than you'd think.

MOOing is simply Making Our Own. Anything. It could be washing powder (easy with Cheapskates Washing Powder) or vanilla extract (so much easier than you'd ever imagine). Or it could be newspaper seed pots or PJs for the kids, new curtains - absolutely anything you can think of.

The goal of MOO month is to help you realise that you don't need to buy everything you need or want, most of those things you can make yourself, and in doing so save yourself money, time and energy, and show a kindness to our planet that modern living pushes aside.

We have been brainwashed into believing that we can't make the things we need, that we must buy them because bought is so much better.

That is simply not true!

Yes, it's a great marketing ploy and it's worked really well - until now.

Now it's time to take control of your money, so that you decide what it gets spent on.

You don't need to be a great cook or an amazing dressmaker or have the greenest of thumbs to MOO. Anyone can, you just need to try.

Making peanut butter couldn't be easier. Ditto making vanilla extract. There is absolutely no excuse for not being able to make your own vanilla extract - all you do is drop some vanilla beans into a bottle of vodka and put the lid back on and that applies to most MOOing.

Throughout March I'll be adding one new MOO idea a day right here on the blog. I'd love if you tried them all, but if you can't, try to MOO one thing you need or want (and leave a comment below so we can share your MOOing).

You'll be surprised at just what you can MOO, and at how much lighter and cheaper your grocery trolley will be when you MOO regularly.

Choice Shopper!

My membership to Choice not only means I have the best independent research to make my big purchasing decisions but then they do the shopping around for me. I simply have to give them the model and a price I've seen advertised and they call me within 24 hours with the best price after having talked to all the stores. I've bought a fridge freezer, two heaters and an iPod and between them saved $1,300! You can either have it delivered or pick up from store. When I picked up the iPod the sales guy asked me how on earth I'd got such a great price!
Contributed by Tori Ames