31 July 2014

Does Your Dishwasher Suffer from Bad Breath?

Next to my vacuum cleaner, my dishwasher is my favourite appliance. I think I'd give up coffee before I'd give up my dishwasher. I love the fact that I load it up with dirty dishes, push a couple of buttons and 45 minutes later I pull out sparkling clean, shiny dishes and cutlery. Bliss.

Occasionally my poor dishwasher suffers from bad breath. It hits me when I open the door and almost knocks me down. This is when I realise it needs a little TLC too and so I go to work.

First thing you need to do is clean the filters. Yes they do need to be cleaned regularly by you. In my dishwasher the filter is in three parts: a basket type of thing that then sits in a mesh basket and the stainless steel top filter. All three parts can be lifted out for cleaning. Fill a sink with some hot water and washing soda. Take the filters out, scrape off the gunk and soak in the hot water. Scrub with an old toothbrush if you need to. Rinse in hot water and put them back into place.

To help with odours and clean the inside of your dishwasher you can add 2 tablespoons of bicarb soda to the detergent dispenser. Pour ½ cup white vinegar into the bottom and run the econo or light cycle. Your dishwasher will be sparkling inside.

Once the cycle has finished, rinse a cloth in white vinegar and use this to clean around seals and the edge of the door, wiping off any gunk or grime that has built up. Pay special attention to the fiddly spots around the hinges, they can be really disgusting.

Do this twice a year and your dishwasher will always smell sweet and be sparkling clean inside.

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30 July 2014

Building Your Emergency Fund Part 1: How Much is Enough?

You should always expect the unexpected! You can be prepared for the unexpected by having an emergency fund set aside. An emergency fund is the best defence against a financial emergency so over the next four weeks, Wednesday being Finance day, I'm going to explain the why, how, what and when of an emergency fund.

Many people doubt they can afford to start, build and maintain an emergency fund. The truth is you can't afford to not have one.

A financial emergency could be an car or home repair, urgent medical expense, job loss, death or anything else requiring a significant amount of money on short notice.

Unfortunately, these challenges force many people to deal with the situation by using credit cards or taking out a loan. This simply makes the situation even more challenging in the long-term.

How Much is Enough? 

The general rule is to keep between three, preferably six months of living expenses in a readily accessible account. Of course, that's just a general rule.  Twelve months of living expenses in today's economic climate is a better goal. The proper amount for you will depend on your specific situation. No two situations are identical.

Consider if children are part of the equation. How much debt are you currently carrying? What types of insurance cover do you currently have? The answers to these questions will allow you to make an informed decision about the size of your emergency fund.

Sudden loss of income is the most common reason for needing to dip into an emergency fund. If there is a job loss, bills still need to be paid. Finding significant employment can take at least a few months. Current statistics show that if you are aged over 50 it takes an average of 72 weeks to find employment - any employment, not just in your field of expertise. You don't want to be caught without an income and without money in savings!

Australians have the safety-net of unemployment benefits but believe me when I say it is not enough to cover your mortgage, your daily living expenses and your household bills.

It is always best to have a plan in place for the worst-case scenario. It's easier to handle the smaller emergencies, like having to replace a refrigerator or get the car repaired from your general savings.

But situations will arise. It's simply part of life. And some of them will cause you major financial hardship. And that's when you will appreciate the peace of mind and security of a fully funded emergency fund.

Next week: Part 2 - Being Prepared is Always More Pleasant Than Being Caught Short

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29 July 2014

Mexican Lasagne

This dish is a favourite in our house. I like it because it's one of those simple to put together but tastes absolutely amazing dishes. The family like it because it's good. They're easy to please.

What prompted me to share it with you here was an ad I saw for a seasoning packet for a Mexican Tortilla Stack. That seasoning packet costs around $1.80 for 40g of what is basically just taco seasoning.

Mexican Lasagne
500g mince beef, lamb or chicken
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup water
1 tin tomatoes
2 tbsp MOO taco seasoning (or 1 packet bought)
1 cup grated cheese
1 pkt corn Mountain Bread

Brown the mince. Add the tomatoes, taco seasoning, tomato paste and water to the mince. Mix and simmer for 20 minutes, breaking up tomatoes, until the mixture is cooked and slightly thickened. Spray a lasagne dish with cooking spray and spread 1/4 of the meat mixture in the bottom. Cover with two sheets of the corn mountain bread. Repeat the layers, finishing with the sauce. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Bake in a moderate oven 25 – 30 minutes until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling.

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24 July 2014

Nifty Ways to Reuse Butter Wrappers

We use a lot of butter in our house. I use it in all our baking, to grease cake tins, to grease the fry pan for pancakes and scrambled eggs and of course on sandwiches and to make garlic and herb breads. I'm sure there are other things I use butter for; they just don't come to mind right now.

I prefer butter to margarine, and not just for the taste. Butter has no more than two natural ingredients in it: pure cream and salt, and only one if you buy or make unsalted butter. 

But I digress. How and why I use butter isn't what today's post is about. It's about how I use the butter wrappers, those delightfully handy squares of greaseproof paper that keep butter fresh. 

Don’t throw them away after you've unwrapped your butter. Fold them and put them in the fridge for the next time you need to:

Grease cake tins: next time you need to grease your cake tins or cookie sheets use a butter wrapper.

Press down MOO LCMs or Mars Bar slice:  when making your next batch use a wrapper to press them into the pan, no more sticky fingers. Use them to mould popcorn balls too.

Instead of non-stick spray for cooking: next time you need to sauté something or lightly grease a frying pan, use a butter paper to wipe the pan.

Separate hamburger patties: If you're out of MOO freezer paper (repurposed cereal wrappers) use butter papers to separate hamburger patties or steaks in the freezer.

Microwaving potatoes: Poke washed potatoes with a fork then wrap them in butter papers before microwaving. They'll come out soft and delicious, ready to be filled. 

Butter tops of freshly baked breads: As soon as your bread comes out of the oven, take a butter wrapper and rub it over the top! The butter will glaze the crust beautifully.

Coat your cast iron pans: After wiping out your frying pan, use a butter wrapper to rub a little butter back into the pan then wipe it over with a clean dishcloth to keep it seasoned for the next use. Saves accidentally using too much oil.

Set a wrapper on a stack of pancakes or waffles: Stack them high and set a wrapper on top to keep them buttery without loading a ton of butter on them. You can also put a wrapper on top of a bowl of rice or potatoes before serving too!

Corn on the cob: Put a butter wrapper on each plate when you serve corn on the cob. Use them to coat the corn with butter. It stops butter dripping all over hands and is so quick and easy even little children can manage their own corn cob.

Cut a cheesecake: Before cutting a cheesecake (or any other sticky dessert), wipe the butter wrapper over the knife blade to make cutting through super clean and easy.

Stop pancakes from drying out: put a butter wrapper on the plate you stack cooked pancakes on. Have another one handy to keep on top of the stack to prevent the pancakes from drying out. 

Buttering hot popcorn: Take a wrapper and stir it through hot popcorn to butter it. You'll get the buttery flavour without the kilojoules and mess.

23 July 2014

The $100/24 Hour Rule

The $100/24 Hour rule is so good if you're tempted to buy something: if it's more than $100, wait 24 hours before buying it. Then, if you still need it or really want it, think about how you can afford to get it. Do you have the cash on hand? Will you need to borrow from the budget? Will you have to go into debt to buy it (credit cards, store loans etc.)? Can you raise the money to buy it (overtime, garage sale, use birthday money etc.)?

Most of the time you've changed your mind, realized you don't really even like it or just plain can't be bothered going back to the shop to get it and you've just saved yourself a couple years worth of debt re-payments!

And I bet you don't feel deprived either!

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22 July 2014

Grandma's Chicken Soup

Chicken soup is not only good for the soul (I love the Chicken Soup series of books) but it is good for the immune system too. Seeing as this is soup month, and Tuesday is recipe day, I'm sharing my mother's chicken soup recipe.

I grew up with this soup and I've made it regularly each winter since I left home. My kids have grown up with it too. It is the only chicken soup Hannah will eat.

This soup is warming when you're well. When you're not well it is soothing and comforting and healing all in a bowl of tasty, steaming goodness.

I know I've shared this recipe before, but if you've lost it, can't remember where it is filed or have never made soup before this is the one to try. It really is easy, even if it seems fiddly to make. Give it a go, you won't regret it.

And if you would like to make it cheaper, use a chicken breast and three chicken frames instead of the whole chicken and reduce the cooking time in Step 2 to 20 minutes.

4 carrots, sliced
2 sticks celery, sliced
2 onions, diced
6-8 parsley stalks, chopped
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 chicken, size 18

1. Put a small quantity of each vegetable aside. Put the remaining vegetables into a large pot, add the parsley, black peppercorns and the bay leaf.

2. Put the whole chicken into the pot and add the salt. Add just enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove from heat. Put a dinner plate over the chicken and vegetables to hold them down in the broth. And allow to come back to room temperature.

3. Put the whole pot into the fridge. When the fat hardens, skim it off with a spoon.

4. Take the chicken out of the pot and pull it apart. Put the meat on a plate and set aside. Put the skin, bones and fat back into the pot and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1 hour.

5. Cut the cooked chicken meat into bite sized pieces.

6. Strain the contents of the pot. Keep the liquid but add the vegetables, bones etc. to your dog's dinner (take out the bones first) or to the compost.

7. Just before you are ready to eat, simmer the reserved vegetables and liquid for about 5 minutes then add the cooked chicken.

8. Warm the soup through and serve.

21 July 2014

MOO Soothing Eczema Cream

Eczema is horrible. It's red, itchy, scaly, painful and ugly. If left untreated it can leave horrible scars. And it is almost as common as the common cold. And like the cold, there really isn't any one successful treatment for this painful skin complaint.

Hannah and AJ both suffer from eczema and have done since they were babies (another reason I MOO washing powder and soap). Over the years we've spent a fortune on creams and lotions, doctors and specialists, natural remedies and some not so natural. And while some of them worked for a short while the eczema always came back and the painful cycle would begin all over again.

Until Hannah found a recipe for a homemade cream and gave it a try. And it worked! Oh joy, oh happy relief!

It soothes and stops the itching, cools the skin quickly and moisturises and softens dry scaly patches. Best of all we had all the ingredients in the kitchen.

Over the years we've tweaked it to the recipe below. It is far and away the best eczema cream we have used and its all natural - not a steroid in sight, no need for a prescription and it costs under $1 a jar.

It only has four ingredients: rolled oats, coconut oil, rosemary oil* and olive oil.

Oats have been used to soften and moisturise skin for centuries. They are know for their anti-itching properties and are an easy treatment for dry skin.

Coconut oil is rich in fats, Vitamin E, proteins and fatty acids. It is renowned for it's moisturising and anti-aging properties. Because coconut oil doesn't go rancid it can be applied to the skin it can work longer without going rancid.

Rosemary oil is know for it's therapeutic properties and is a common ingredient in shampoos and moisturisers for it's purifying properties.

This recipe can be used as a daily skin moisturizer to prevent eczema from flaring up. If by chance it does still appear this helps to nip it in the bud quickly!

You will need:
1/4 cup of oats
3/4 cup of coconut oil
Few drops of rosemary oil* (optional)
1 tbsp of olive oil
A small jar with a screw top lid, sterilised

Step 1. Finely grind the oats to a powder/flour consistency and set aside. I use my food processor but you can use a stick blender, vitamiser, mortar and pestle (if you have the muscles), a Magic Bullet - any appliance that will grind the oats into a fine powder.
Grind to oats to as fine a powder as you can

Step 2. Over a low heat, melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan until it melts.

Step 3. Add in a few drops of rosemary oil if you are using it.  I usually add 8 drops as we like the fragrance and I like the antibacterial properties of rosemary oil.

Step 4. Add finely ground oats to the saucepan and mix until well blended. At this stage the mixture will be quite thin.

Step 5. Now, pour the olive oil into the mixture and stir until blended.

Step 6. Once all ingredients are thoroughly combined remove from the heat and let it cool, absorbing all the goodness from the oats. While it is still semi-liquid pour in to a small, sterilised storage container. It won't matter if you get any of the oats in the jar, your cream will just have a little texture. If you don't want any oats, strain the liquid into the jar. Let it cool and harden for several hours.

Apply to hands and skin as needed and feel the moisturising magic at work!

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18 July 2014

Making Meals Cheaper

Classic cottage pie - leftover mashed potato, cooked mince, peas, carrot, onion and gravy

How do you make meals cheaper? If you follow a recipe exactly it can really blow your food budget right out of the black and into the red, often with just one meal.

I've seen the ads on television for $10 family dinners and I can tell you that not only are they over-priced but my budget runs to $5 per dinner, $3 per lunch and $2 per breakfast per day. I don't include the cost of the vegetables we grow; I actually take the cost of the seeds from my mad money, gardening really is something I enjoy and see as relaxing so that is free food.

These days I automatically make recipes fit my budget. That means they must be cheap. They must be nutritious. They must be quick and easy to prepare. And they must pass the Family Approval Test.

So how do I make meals cheaper without starving Wayne and the kids?

Portion control - if a recipe says "serves 6" then I make sure I get six serves and put the "spare" in the freezer for a freezer meal.

Measure accurately - when a recipe says half a cup or one tablespoon that's what I use. When it says to use a pinch of something then a pinch is what I use - a pinch being the amount I can pick up between my thumb and index finger. When it says 700g meat - I weigh out 700g and use it. Measure accurately and your recipes will be a success and you won't be wasting ingredients.

Pic of measuring cups and spoons

I buy meat in bulk. Real bulk - a minimum of 10 kilos chicken fillets/mince/steak/chops/sausages/roasts at a time and I only ever buy when it is on sale - I never, ever pay full price for meat.

I always pull the tenderloins off chicken fillets to use them in another meal. They make great skewers, can be diced for enchiladas, crumbed and baked whole, minced to make pie filling, poached and shredded to make chicken salad - you are limited only by your imagination and recipe collection.

For my family of five I use two chicken breast fillets per recipe for cassseroles/enchiladas/pies/stir fries/apricot chicken/cacciatore etc. That is plenty of meat for the five of us, with two small fillets weighing around 400g - 500g. If the fillets are large I use one fillet and two tenderloins.

Those chicken fillets are diced into small chunks. Chunks go much further than serving a whole breast per person.

For chicken schnitzels a breast fillet is sliced through to make two portions and then pressed out with my fingers. If it's a larger fillet I get three schnitzels from it. And they are easier to slice if they are partly frozen.

A mince based meal is 750g of mince and bulked out with more vegetables, pasta, rice, fresh or dried silverbeet, minced mushrooms or rolled oats.

Leftovers are always planned, never an accident. They are used for another family dinner, as the base of a new family dinner or for freezer meals on an MCBB night.

A roast chicken is used for tea on Sunday night, a stir-fry or pies or enchiladas later in the week and the frame is then used to make soup or stock. If it's a big chicken there may be enough meat left to make chicken salad for sandwiches too.

Roast lamb or beef is similar. Tea on Sunday night (we always have a roast on a Sunday), then the rest of the meat is sliced for another dinner and the scraps are diced into a curry or a French Shepherds Pie and the bones (if any) used for soup and stock.

Because we grow most of our vegetables there is very little to waste. Tonight for example I ran outside and picked a Chinese cabbage, a red capsicum and some spring onions for the stir-fry (and we're having the sloppy joes that were on the menu next month).

Sauce bottles are rinsed with a little water, cream, milk or vinegar depending on the type of sauce to get every drop out.

Bread ends are used for stuffings and to make dried bread crumbs.

Veggie peelings go into stock, to the worms or to the compost bin.

Bones are composted in the Bokashi bucket after all the meat has been pulled from them and they have made stock.

And of course I use my favourite spatulas to scrape out jars, cans and bottles. Scraping the peanut butter jar provides enough spread for two more sandwiches! The Vegemite jar is rinsed with warm water (not hot, it will explode) and used to make a rich gravy. Jam jars get rinsed with milk to make yummy milk shakes.

These are just a few of the ways I make a recipe cheaper. They work for my family and they certainly work for our grocery budget. This year the aim is $80 a week for the five of us and so far we are on track.

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Get Creative and Redesign Leftovers

Let's face it, leftovers aren't nice. They are, well, leftover. But with a little creativity you can redesign those leftovers into a delicious and totally different meal and save money and time into the bargain.

Put simply you are going to cook once and eat twice (or even three or four times). When you plan your meals look for dishes you will have leftovers from. For example when I cook a pot roast I cook a 2 - 2.5kg piece instead of a smaller single meal piece.

The first night we have pot roast with potato, pumpkin, carrots and beans. Then the next night I use some of the meat to make stroganoff and we have it with buttered noodles. Then the third night I shred the remaining meat to make enchiladas. Two extra meals from leftovers! When roasting beef comes on sale at $5.99/kg I buy three or four pieces and put them in the freezer ready to prepare some tasty, cheap meals.

This works for other staples too. When you cook rice or pasta double the amount and freeze the extra. Leftover pasta can become pasta bake or pasta salad. Leftover rice can become fried rice or rice patties.

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17 July 2014

An Easy Bedroom Makeover

You don't need to spend a fortune to makeover your bedroom. If you're bored with your bedhead transform it in just an hour with this inexpensive trick.

You will need:
Staple gun
Quilt batting
A designer flat sheet
Buttons - matching, coordinating or glamorous
Hot glue gun

Step 1. Start by covering the front and sides of the bed-head with three layers of quilt batting to give it a luxurious, padded look. Pull the batting around the sides and fasten it to the back of the bed-head with the staple gun. Don't be stingy with the staples, you want the batting to stay put.

Step 2. Using your sheet cover the front of the bed-head with the fabric, pulling it around the sides to stretch it tight. Staple it in place over the batting on the back. Again, don't be stingy with the staples.

Step 3. Using tailors chalk mark a diamond pattern on the front of the bed-head. Staple at regular intervals to create a tufted look. Hot glue a button over each staple.

You now have a custom upholstered bed-head and a brand new look for your bedroom.

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16 July 2014

How to Stop Having the Money Argument with Your Friends, Family, Partner or Spouse

Money can be a touchy subject. It’s necessary to live and many people have their own money beliefs and money habits.

This can lead to some very heated arguments. And unfortunately, unless the money issues are resolved the arguments happen again and again.

It’s unfortunate because many relationships break up over money arguments and it is completely unnecessary.

The key to ending the money arguments once and for all is to communicate.
For example, if you’re having difficulty with your big spending friends sit down with them and tell them your financial goals and objectives. Explain why going out to expensive nightclubs and restaurants doesn’t fit your plan. See if you can find common ground.

For money fights with your spouse or partner the solution is similar. Sit down and establish your priorities and goals. Create a plan together to achieve your goal. When you’re both open to communication and working together money arguments will be a thing of the past.

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15 July 2014

Finding a substitute for that weird ingredient

This week in the $300 a Month Food Challenge Wendy talks about trying recipes that use ingredients you wouldn't normally have in your kitchen.

I don't have strange ingredients in the back of the pantry. Or rather I don't have ingredients I don't use at the back of the pantry (some of the things I use may be a little strange to some folk). 

I tend to buy the same basic groceries over and over and over and just rearrange them into different recipes. It means my grocery bill rarely varies from month to month and is predictable, unless of course there is a price rise (drat those price rises). 

Wendy talked about using coconut milk in a recipe and finding it overpowering, so she gave it another go and that recipe failed the Family Approval Test too. In the end she donated the remaining can of coconut milk to a food drive.  

I use coconut cream in curry and satay and to make custard. My family likes coconut so it is a pantry staple in our home. Wendy's family isn't so keen on it and so it is an extra ingredient. Those strange ingredients in a recipe will depend on your taste, your budget and your daring as a cook.  

In the interests of keeping a happy family we try to have one new recipe a month. It may be a main meal or a side dish, it might be a cake or slice, sometimes it is a new jam, sauce or pickle. Everyone takes turns choosing the recipe from the dozens of recipe books on the shelf. 

Sometimes a new recipe is a hit and goes onto the regular recipe rotation; sometimes it is a dud and we all vow to never, ever try it again (like the infamous SALMON DISH - and yes the kids talk about it in capitals, they shudder at the very mention of it).

If a new recipe uses an ingredient that's not in the pantry I try to find a substitute I already have. If I don't have a substitute and I really want to try the recipe I buy the smallest size I can to try it. 

Then if we like it and it's an ingredient I can use in other things I'll look for the cheapest way to buy it.

Here's a list of substitutes you can use when you find you don't have all the ingredients you need for a recipe.

 Cinnamon plus a dash of nutmeg or cloves
Baking Powder - 1 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
Oregano or thyme
Bread Crumbs, fine dry - 1/4 cup
3/4 cup soft bread crumbs or 1/4 cup cracker crumbs or 1/4 cup cornflake crumbs
Butter or Margarine, in baking or cooking - 1 cup
1 cup lard or shortening or 7/8 cup vegetable oil
Buttermilk - 1 cup
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar plus enough whole milk to make one cup (let stand 5 minutes before using), or 1 cup whole milk plus 1-3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar, or 1 cup yoghurt
Chocolate, Semi-Sweet - 30g
30g unsweetened chocolate plus 4 teaspoons sugar
Chocolate, Unsweetened - 30g
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon shortening or cooking oil
Corn Syrup - 1 cup
1 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup water 
Cornflour, for thickening - 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Cream, Light - 1 cup
1 tablespoon melted butter plus enough whole milk to make one cup
Chilli powder
Egg - 1 whole
2 egg yolks plus 1 tablespoon water
Egg, in baking - 1
1 teaspoon cornflour plus 1/4 cup water
Flour, Bread - 1 cup
1 cup of unbleached plain flour plus 1 tablespoon (or 2 tablespoons for higher gluten) gluten
Flour, Cake  - 1 cup
1 cup of plain flour plus 2 tablespoons cornflour
Flour, for thickening - 1 tablespoon
1-1/2 teaspoons cornflour, arrowroot, potato flour or rice flour or 2 teaspoons tapioca
Flour, Pastry - 1 cup
Use 2/3 cups all-purpose flour plus 1/3 cup cake flour
Flour, Self-Raising - 1 cup
1 cup plain flour plus 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
Garlic -1 clove
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Allspice, cinnamon, mace, or nutmeg
Herb, Fresh - 1 Tablespoon any
1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon of the same dried herb
Honey - 1 cup
 1 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup water
Italian Seasoning
 Combination of basil, oregano, rosemary and ground red pepper
 Allspice, cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg
Milk, - 1 cup
 1/2 cup evaporated milk plus 1/2 cup water or 1 cup water plus 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
Molasses - 1 cup
1 cup honey
Mustard, Dry (in mixtures) -1 teaspoon
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
Oil, in baking - 1 cup
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
Onion, 1 small diced
1 teaspoon onion powder or 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
Poultry Seasoning - 1 teaspoon
3/4 teaspoon sage plus a 1/4 teaspoon combination of thyme, marjoram, savory, black pepper, and rosemary
Salt, Kosher
A coarse, non-iodized (make sure there are no additives) Table Salt
Sour Cream, in baking - 1 cup
7/8 cup buttermilk or sour milk plus 3 tablespoons butter
Sour Cream, in salad dressings or casseroles - 1 cup
1 cup plain yoghurt or 3/4 cup sour milk plus 1/3 cup butter
Sugar, Brown, dark - 1 cup
1 cup white sugar plus 2 tablespoon molasses
Sugar, Brown, light - 1 cup
1 cup white sugar plus 1 tablespoon molasses
Sugar, Icing -1 3/4 cup
1 cup white sugar + 1 tablespoon cornflour in blender until powdery, stirring often
Sugar, Castor
Process regular sugar in a food processor or blender for about a minute
Sugar, White - 1 cup
1 cup packed brown sugar, 2 cups icing sugar or equal amount of raw sugar
Tapioca, for thickening - 2 tablespoons
3 tablespoons plain flour
Tomato Juice - 1 cup
1/2 cup tomato sauce plus 1/2 cup water
Tomato Sauce - 2 cups
3/4 cup tomato paste plus 1 cup water

Print and tape the Simple Substitutes Tip Sheet inside a kitchen cupboard door for handy reference! 

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Tomato Soup with Chicken Meatballs

350g chicken mince
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely grated parmesan cheese
sea salt
cracked black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups tomato puree
85g dried macaroni

Place chicken mince, green onion, parsley, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix until combined. Roll teaspoons of the mixture into balls about the size of a 20-cent piece. Place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Refrigerate for 5 minutes.

Place stock and tomato purée in a saucepan over medium heat and simmer for 4 minutes. Add macaroni and meatballs and cook for 10 minutes, or until macaroni is cooked. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

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14 July 2014

MOO a Simple, Natural, Hydrating Makeup Remover

You are able to make your own natural make-up remover and it won’t take you long and won’t cost you a lot but it will remove even stubborn eye make-up without damaging your skin.

You will need:
Extra virgin olive oil

Step 1. Take the bottle and fill it three quarters of the way with water and then add the extra virgin olive oil.

Step 2. Shake up everything
And there you have it, your new hydrating make-up remover!

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11 July 2014

Keeping Track of the Food in the Freezer

Hannah was so excited when we arrived home on Saturday night. She could hardly wait to tell and show me what she had done on the Friday. And when she told me I was so excited I was like a bee in a bottle.

She had defrosted and re-organised the freezers!

Now I love my freezers. The big one is a 550 litre chest freezer, large enough to hide a body or two as I was once told. The little one is the one over the fridge. What I don't like is having to defrost and rearrange them. That chore is up there with ironing on my "jobs to avoid if at all possible" list.

The big freezer actually does hide a few bodies - of beef, lamb and chicken. This freezer is my main frozen food storage so it holds the roasts, steaks, diced meat, chicken fillets, whole chickens, chicken pieces, chicken wings, corned beef, legs of lamb, lamb chops, sausages, mince, packets of frozen vegetables, frozen stewed fruits, frozen berries (for jam), tomatoes (for sauces), diced onions, diced celery, diced and sliced carrots, sliced beans, pizza dough, pureed sweet potato, whizzed oranges for Whole Orange Cake, packets of rice, lentils, dried beans, flours, leftovers, heat'n'eat meals - all the things that won't fit in the freezer over the fridge.

The little freezer over the fridge holds bread, muffins, crumpets, pastry, spices, butter, nuts, coffee beans, lemon and orange zest, biscuit balls and cakes.

The small freezer is frost-free and easy to keep clean. Keeping it tidy and organised though is another matter. My family love to go digging for treats so there were times when it was a jumbled mess.  If you are not very careful a messy freezer means wasted food and wasted food means wasted money - the complete opposite of what we hope to achieve living the Cheapskates way.

The problem was solved easily. The top shelf is for bread, rolls, crumpets and English muffins. The bottom shelf holds everything else in ziplock bags, labelled with a sharpie. It's easy and efficient and keeps us all happy.

I've mentioned before about how I organise the chest freezer using "green" bags:
  • Red - red meat
  • Green - vegetables
  • Yellow - chicken
  • Black - roasts/silverside
  • Pink - fruit
  • Blue - sweets and pastry
Each bag has a label attached to the handles so I can see at a glance what it holds, especially as there are at least two of each colour.

I printed the labels using the Freezer Labels template, laminated them, then cut them out, punched a hole in the top and tied them to the bags.

The freezers are clean, frost free and tidy. I can see straight away how much I have of each thing and what needs topping up, which is a good thing because Tasman Meats have a great sale on this weekend and we can use more mince, chicken fillets and roast beef. Can you guess where we'll be on Sunday morning? 

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Golden Rules for Saving Money on Your Weekly Food Bill

Food is one of the necessities in life. It's also something that most of us spend entirely too much money on. Even those who think they're doing well when they do their grocery shopping are often paying more than they need to for their families' food.

By following a few simple rules, you can greatly reduce your weekly food bill. Here they are:

1. Avoid eating out. Going to restaurants is enjoyable, and it's easier than cooking for ourselves. But it's also very expensive compared to eating at home. While there's nothing wrong with enjoying an occasional meal at a restaurant, most of us do so entirely too much. Cooking at home is much more cost effective.

2. Cook from scratch as much as possible. Few of us have the time to bake all of our own bread or make all of our own snacks. But by using more raw ingredients and less prepackaged foods, we can save a lot of money. And freshly cooked food tastes much better and is more nutritious than prepackaged items, so your family will thank you for it.

3. When shopping, make sure you're getting the best possible deal on each item. Figure up the unit cost of each package of everything you buy. For instance, when buying juice, divide the price by the number of mililitres in the bottle to determine the price per ounce. This will tell you which size bottle is the best deal.

4. Don't rule out store brands. For the most part, they are of comparable quality to national brands but priced much lower. Give them a chance, and you might find that you like them just as well.

5. Comparison shop. Comparing prices at different supermarkets could save you a surprising amount on your grocery bill. But don't drive all over town every time you go shopping. That will cost you more in gas than it will save you. Find the store that consistently has the lowest prices on most of the things you buy, and stick with it unless you hear about a great deal on something you use a lot of at another store.

6. Shop wisely for produce. Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, because they are much less expensive than those that are out of season. And buy from the local farmer's market or co-op if possible. Their produce is usually significantly cheaper since it is grown locally and doesn't have to be transported far.

7. Go shopping in the right frame of mind. Eat before going to the store so you will be less likely to make impulse buys, and leave the kids at home if possible. This way you can focus on buying only what you truly need.

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10 July 2014

The Dinner Pressure's Off with a Pressure Cooker

Consider using a pressure cooker to prepare your meals. They are fast, energy efficient and today's modern pressure cookers are very safe.

The boiling point of water is 100 degrees Celsius at sea level. This boiling point changes with increased pressure, and it's this idea that is used in pressure cooking.

Food cooks around four times faster in a pressure cooker than using conventional methods. And because pressure cookers use less energy you'll be saving money and helping the environment.

Pressure cookers are ideal for preparing cheaper cuts of meat. Even the toughest cut becomes melt-in-the-mouth tender when cooked in a pressure cooker. Soups, stews, casseroles, puddings and pot roasts can be on the table in around 45 minutes, just great for a busy day.

You'll find that food often tastes better cooked under pressure, much the same way a stew or casserole tastes better if it's left in the fridge for a couple of days. The higher heat and increased pressure combines and melds the flavours together so it tastes great as soon as it's cooked.

Food prepared in a pressure cooker also retains more nutrients as they use less liquid. This means that food is better for you too.

If you haven't tried pressure cooking yet, borrow a pressure cooker and give it a go.

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On a cold and wet Thursday

Thursday is my day I spend with my Mum. When the kids are home they spend the day with us. Mum loves being Grandma and she is so proud when the boys carry her shopping bags or push the trolley around the supermarket for her. She loves that they go and get her coffee for her when we stop for a cuppa (her Thursday treat).

I love that I somehow managed to raise two strapping young men who actually like spending time with their Grandma and their cranky mother and do it without being asked.  When they are going to be home on a Thursday they always ask on a Wednesday night if I'm going out with Grandma so they can come.

But today is cold. My hands are freezing as I am typing this up. I can see through the loungeroom window that it is raining. It's dull, windy, overcast. Not at all a nice day. And it's school holidays. That means crowded shopping centres.

So today we are picking Mum up and bringing her back here for morning tea, lunch and perhaps even afternoon tea. I have knitting to do and I know she will bring hers. Hannah is home today too and she has knitting. I can see us all sitting, with cosy rugs over our knees drinking copious cups of tea, having a great old gab-fest, knitting up a storm.

There are scones in the freezer for morning tea. I have some sausage rolls and vegetable soup in the fridge to warm up for lunch and if we really want anything for afternoon tea there is date loaf in the cake tin. What is it about really cold, dismal days that make us want to eat? I have no idea, I don't really care, we'll just eat as much as we want and enjoy the day together.

Perhaps if Mum has anything urgent on her list we'll stop at Aldi when we take her home. If not, we won't bother with the shops at all today and just keep those chores for next week.

I know we won't miss it. A no spend day is a great day, especially when we are surrounded by loved ones.

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09 July 2014

Financial Tips for Unmarried Couples

In this day and age, there are plenty of couples who live together outside of the bonds of marriage. Marriage isn't for everyone but it does pose some unique issues when it comes to handling the finances. Here are some tips for those couples.

While you may love with your heart, it is prudent to think about your finances with your head. Since you are not married, you will want to keep a separate account for each person. This is where your pay can be deposited. When it comes time to pay the bills, use a joint account to funnel money into to handle such payments.

When it comes to buying big ticket items together, make a decision about whose name it will be registered in. If you purchase it together, then both names should be on it at the time of purchase. Anything that will be used by only one half of the duo can be in that person’s name and paid for with their money. Trying to recoup money given to help the other person in court can be tricky, especially without a receipt. And, if you are planning to be together for a long time, you won’t ask them for one at the time.

Then, there is your will. It is always important for couples to have a will, especially if they have kids. This way, your children are provided for by letter of the law. With unmarried couples, any properties that you buy together needs to be accounted for in a will so that it passes on to the surviving partner or the person you specify. Even if both names are on the house, you can specify that your half goes to your partner instead of surviving members of your family.

Always keep good records. This goes for all couples but especially those who have no familial ties according to the law. That way, should the relationship end, untangling your assets won’t be a disaster and cause more hard feelings.

Since more and more couples are living together it is important that they consider their financial situation in the relationship. The above tips can help you get started.

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08 July 2014

Sweet Lamb Curry

2 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2-3 tbsp curry powder
1/2 cup fruit chutney
1 green apple, peeled, cored and dice
750g diced lamb (or leftover cooked lamb from last night's roast)
1/2 cup sultanas
1-1/2 cups beef stock

Sauté onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add curry powder and chutney, and stir until well combined. Add apple, lamb and sultanas and stir well. As the stock and slowly bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 1-1/4 - 1-1/2 hours until meat is tender and liquid has thickened. Serve over steamed rice.

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