More Kitchen Hints

Getting dinner to the table. Isn't that the struggle moms go through daily? Add the stress of time contraints to financial woes, and it's almost enought to make you throw up your hands and head to the closest drive thru. But wait! A little prep can make life so much easier! Here, let me share some of my favorite kitchen tips...
Grab a heavy-bottomed skillet. You know that nifty defroster plate they show on infomercials at 2am? You don't need it. Nothing thaws meat out quicker than that massive frying pan you have tucked under the counter. Basically the same thing they're hawking to the insomniacs. Just put your frozen products in the bottom, wait a half hour to an hour, and you should be good to go (depending on the size of your frozen item, of course).

MYO! Do not be afraid to make your own wherever you can. About every other month, we make a huge batch of faux-Bisquick, at the cost of probably $1.50, and at least double the amount you'd buy in the boxes. Here's the recipe we use. Also, we no longer buy vanilla extract. It gets pricey, when you bake as much as we do. To make your own, buy some good quality beans (I wouldn't be doing grocery store beans here, you may want to order them - see "spice it up" section), split them down the middle, and sink them in a jar of cheap hootch - we use vodka. Wait 6 weeks, and viola! Homemade vanilla extract! And, the best part? As the liquid level decreases, you can simply add more alcohol...and you can get away with doing this for quite awhile before you'd be tempted to start a new batch.

Browning ASAP. When you buy your ground beef, brown it as soon as you get it home. Cook it up with a little onion, drain it well, and freeze it flat in a ziploc bag. As you need some, break off a piece and add it where needed.

Spice it up! I loooove Penzeys Spices. Maybe not the most frugal option in the world, but I think having a cabinet full of spices makes me less likely to go out and buy pricey ingredients at the grocery store. So everything I need, I order from them. Or, if you're fortunate enough to live close to one, go visit. Stop in and smelllllll. Be inspired.

Choose your appliances carefully. After a few years of homemade meals, you get a feel for what smaller appliances garner permanent counter space, which ones hang out in a cabinet, and which ones are vanquished to the back pantry. My toaster oven is always at the ready. What a versatile gadget this is! We make chicken nuggets, tater tots, grilled cheese, corn muffins, garlic bread, cookies, warm-ups, lots of things that, before, I'd have had to fire up the expensive full-sized oven for. Also on the counter is the hot air popcorn popper. We use it almost every night, and it's a great deterrant for snacking on potato chips. The crockpot, little deep fryer, and roaster are always at the ready under the counter (well, the roaster's in the basement, it's too big to fit under the cabinet). And the bread machine? No man's land (otherwise known as the back pantry).

Instant cookies. The next time you make cookie dough, make an extra batch and put it in a container in the fridge. Then, after a ho-hum dinner, delight your family with a few homemade cookies, preferrably baked in your toaster oven while you dined. Or, if it's easier for you, roll come cookie dough into balls and flash freeze. Then thaw on a cookie sheet and bake as usual. I often do this with my sister's favorite cookies, peanut butter cookie dough wrapped around a Rollo. We've always got a bag of them stashed in the chest freezer.

Cook ahead. Just had a chicken for dinner? Why not throw the carcass, some celery, onions, carrots, water and bay leaves into the crock pot and make some stock? Freeze in some Depression Tupperware (margarine tubs) with whatever meat you can pick off, and you have the makings for a very quick soup. Throw a few containers in a stock pot, add some veg, throw in some dumplings made from faux-Bisquick, and give me a call (I'll be right over, I swear!). Easy-peasy dinner, and the kids will think you slaved all day.


  1. This was great stuff! Lately I've been using my crock pot a couple times a week. Today I made a big batch of crock pot mac and cheese, threw in some ham and we will be good to go for a few meals.
    Take care,

  2. Banish the bread machine?!? It's a whole lot cheaper than buying bread. Remember the rye rolls!

    It's been a bit since I made cookie dough, but you've awakened that beast. I've yet to beat the Toll House recipe on the back of the Nestle bag.

    I don't do much with the crock pot, but I should dust it off for a trial. I have next week off, and I should do some cookin'! Too bad that I can't cook ahead for our trip South (Christmas would string it out too long for perishables).

    I did find some Mer de Sel on Amazon, and I'm dying to try it too. Not frugal, but right up there with Pensey's