International (Food) Delights on the Cheap

I have a confession to make – when we were first married, I was known as the ‘microwave queen'. I didn't really cook because I thought making the dishes I loved was hard and expensive.

Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

Though I'm no chef, I've expanded my skills and recipes enough that cooking is kind of fun.

International Cusine on the Cheap

We still go out from time to time and we love discovering new cuisines. Turns out we're not the only ones.

Justin McCurry, early retiree and Root of Good creator, joined me for a chat today about cooking international dishes.

During our chat we covered:

  • how to find great ingredients at low prices
  • easy (as just Justin puts it ‘Hamburger helper easy') dishes you can try out
  • a few gems that can help you up your game with cooking

You can watch the video below or read a few of the highlights I've included.

Hope you enjoy!

Stock Your Pantry Right

It all starts with ingredients. What you have in your pantry and fridge will determine just how tasty your dishes are.

Fresh, high-quality ingredients with your herbs and seasoning can also be a very affordable way to expand your palette and try out some new flavors from around the world.

When I was researching for the Frugal Foodie challenge, I went back to one of my favorite books, The 4-Hour Chef.

In it, Tim lays out regions of the world based on flavors in a cheat sheet format. While there er were some unique items on the list, you'd be surprised how many times garlic, onions, citrus, cilantro, and ginger came up.

It was the combinations that make what we associate with certain cuisines. That means with some key ingredients, you can easily mix things up with your dishes at home.

These herbs and base ingredients are usually inexpensive in your neighborhood grocery store, but you can typically get them even lower by shopping at an Asian, Latin, or International market.

Justin picks up items like Somen, rice noodles, coconut milk, and chipotles at markets really cheap, but still high quality.

You may even find some deals on Amazon, like Justin has with curry paste!

Learn How Cook Quickly

Like anything new, it may take a minute to get familiar with how to prepare a dish. The good news is that there are plenty of resources (many free!) where you can get what you need.

I mentioned using books, but there are websites and videos available online where you can get an ingredient list and see the dish being made. 

Just type in ‘easy  

‘ into Google and you'll probably find plenty of options!

Start Exploring and Experimenting in Your Kitchen

Looking to try something new this week? I found a cheat sheet on flavors from 36 regions of the world which also includes recipes. Here are a few really easy dishes that caught my eye:

Here are a few really easy dishes that caught my eye:

Try a couple of them out and see which flavors grab you!

The Lifesaver You Need in Your Kitchen (Besides a Crockpot)!

Tonight's meal was done in 17 minutes.

(Yeah, this is real time!)

So this bug/not flu but sort of flu/ plague continues and dinner time was upon me.

I'm not going to lie; there was a temptation to get some pizza delivered or call my husband see if he would pick up something on the way home.

But we had some great produced delivered last week, I wanted to put it to good use.

So I went to one of my base recipes* and got dinner up in 17 minutes. Here it is:

Sorry for the unfancy pic, I'm not a food blogger.

The secret item that helped me save dinner? Our cast iron skillet.

Behold the Cast Iron Pan's Skills

Besides our slow cooker, the skillet has bailed us out of many meals and allowed us to cook quickly. As an added bonus, clean up is usually easier as we only need the skillet to make dinner.

A good cast iron skillet (like we have here)  is a smart investment for the busy and frugal foodie that will last you a lifetime (some tips to take care of it).

So if you don't have one in your kitchen, please grab one. It's such a lifesaver!

My Italian(ish) Cast Iron Stir-fry

With a skillet, you can quickly whip up a stir-fry based on what you have on hand. That's what I did.

Tonight's meal is Italian inspired, chopping and combining:

  • Italian hot sausage
  • baby bella mushrooms
  • sweet peppers
  • onions
  • broccoli
  • a couple of pieces of pineapple
  • two teaspoons of pesto

Rice on the side and beans rounded out everything.

Not fancy, but delicious, easy to make, and cheap. A triple win in my book!

*These are easy meals  (about 2o minutes or less) I go to when I'm pressed or time or just plain tired.

How to Save Money on Organic Food

There's a misconception that eating on a budget means ramen noodles and endless bowls of rice and beans.

I'm not knocking the ramen (or arroz con gandules as they were known in my house) – you can quickly jazz them up and enjoy a good meal. However, being a frugal foodie means you have more options, including grabbing some organic food.

Sure, you can pay top dollar for it, but there are ways you can slash your bill without sacrificing quality.

Saving Money on Organic Food

Kristia, founder of Family Balance Sheet, chatted with me this afternoon about her tricks to getting the most out of her meals and budget.

The Power of Meal Planning

Kristia sits down on Sundays and plans out her family meals for the week. She has some go to nights (like pizzas on Fridays) that makes it pretty easy to jot down her ideas.

If you’re not one to sit down and write things out, I have several meal plans here from food and family bloggers that cover various diets.

I tried to choose meal plans that allow you to ‘cook once, eat twice’ so you’re not slaving in the kitchen on your cook prep night.

Check Out Marked Down Section

Every store has to managed their inventory. As produce gets closer to its expiration date, they'll typically drop the prices.

Kristia reviews this section of the store first and will snatch up some deals!

Next time, you're at the store, see what's available and if you can use it that week for your meals.

You can catch the rest of her tips in the video below!

5 Keys to Being a Frugal Foodie

Love to eat well and taste new dishes? Here are five essential tips on becoming a frugal foodie!

For most people, food is a major monthly expense. Some days are just so hectic, it seems easier to grab something on the way home or go out for dinner.

Even if you decide to make something at home, you're sometimes exhausted and stress so frozen boxed meals or having pizza delivered seems like an easy solution.

Becoming a Frugal Foodie

The good news is that you can enjoy fantastic meals in less time than it takes to eat out.

If you're ready to eat well without having to become a chef or spend your whole paycheck, here are five crucial keys you need to implement:

Know Your Priorities

Sounds simple, but you really need to think about how you define a fantastic meal.

Some people are looking for a fancy five-course meal every night. If that's you, fine. Others might want something that's delicious, healthy, and easy to make. This challenge is the latter.

Have a Budget

You'll more than likely save some serious cash with this Frugal Foodie Challenge, but you still have to spend money.

With a budget, you'll have an easier time deciding where to splurge and where to save.

I'll share ways you can save on key ingredients and staples so you can spend a little extra on a few of your favorite things.

Eating well and having fun can go together.

Master Fundamental Dishes & Flavors

No, I'm not saying you have fill your home with a ton of cookbooks or slave away in the kitchen for hours.

Instead, I want you to just pick four basic dishes, learn how to make it and 20 minutes, and see how a few variations of spices and flavors can make it entirely new.

I'll also share four easy sides you can throw in and use while your main dish is cooking. Again, I want the whole meal ready in about 20 minutes.

This will be a huge help for those nights when you're just exhausted and don't have the energy to make a big meal.

Meal Plan Like a Champ

Meal planning, as the name suggests, is about having a menu prepared for future meals. That’s it.

It’s so versatile – you two can adjust based on your budget, dietary needs, schedule, and personality.Some people can whip it up a month ahead (you're awesome!), but for us, we're looking in bite size, weekly chunks.

Again, I know time is valuable, so I'll show you how to do it in about 20 minutes.

Meal planning is crucial because you can save a tremendous amount of money and time by having a game plan. Less temptation to spend more and you're more likely to stick with your healthy eating habits.

Embrace the Fun

As you gain more confidence, you'll start seeing how you can adjust and make meals more enjoyable for your taste. Maybe you'll be out and have a dish that you absolutely love, but don't want to have to eat out every time to get it. Go try it at home!

Thoughts on Becoming a Frugal Foodie

I'd love to hear from you. Have you always been a frugal foodie?

Gearing Up the Greenhouse

This winter we've been working on a project that I believe would not only make 2017 awesome in terms of simplifying our lives, but would also be a cool project to share here.

Since we knew were going to sell our townhouse and get another place, we carefully spent time defining what we really needed in the house.

Last year when we bought our home, we were thrilled to get a bonus with our lot. We were looking at 1/4 acre for most of the properties, but this one had just over 1/2 acre for a really good price. The catch? The space needs work.

Expanding the Garden into a Food Forest

I'll get more into our food forest plans later, but the project and goal that I'll be tracking here is  seeing if we can grow half our food.

It  may or may not sound crazy to you, but for us, who have only garden in small plots, this is huge.

I wish I could say the yard was ideal for garden right off the bat, but we learned last year that there are challenges to our space, including:

  • pockets of sunny spots amid shady areas (we have over 20 older trees in just the back yard)
  • moles, deer, rabbits, and other hungry critters
  • poor soil (clay on one end, beachy sand on the other)

In addition to preparing a new garden area, for the first time we're using a greenhouse. It's not huge, but it's a way for us to get a jump start on growing.

Over the past year, we've been working on our space. We started composting, amending the soil, began a small garden to see how things grow .

Prepping Our Greenhouse

We'd like to maximize the seeds we have, so having them start off in the green house and then transplanting seems like safer and more economical option for most of the vegetables. (The exception I keep seeing are carrots.)

We first had to decide on the right greenhouse for us.

We went ahead picked this one up. It's compact and yet we can grow about 75 seeds on a shelf, giving us a good amount of plants.

What's Growing Now

Right now we have on hand:

Herbs

  • Cilantro
  • Lemon Balm
  • Catgrass
  • Sage
  • Chamomile
  • Oregano

Flowers

  • Marigold
  • Passion Flower

Vegetables

  • Spinach
  • Kale Red Russian
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomato

Our Methods of Growing

We have two ways we're preparing seeds in our greenhouse.

The first is pretty direct. We take the pellets, add water to expand them, and then plant our seeds. Once the tray is full, we then take it to the greenhouse. Once it's ready, we'll move it to the garden.

The second, I discovered with catching Suburban Homestead. Siloé Oliveira germinates the seeds is a paper plate method. Once opened he then transplants them to their home in the garden.

Grab My Free Garden Planning Spreadsheet

With all that we're growing now and will be growing this year, I have to be better organized.

I've created a garden planning spreadsheet. You can grab for free here! Just make a copy and start keeping records on your garden.

I've also included tab with companion planting notes on some popular vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

Thoughts on Growing Your Food

I'd love to hear from you. What are you growing this season?

How to Install a DIY Rain Barrel

Last week I had my cousin over for lunch. It was the first time they've been to our new place here.

We grilled some hamburgers and relaxed outside. While eating they noticed our rain barrel and asked about it.

Why Rain Barrels Rock

Having a rain barrel can be a smart move for the environment and your own wallet.

Taking some of the rain that runs off your roof allows you to keep your garden growing. We live here in North Carolina and some summers are extremely hot. Having a close water source helps maintain our vegetables and fruits.

We also save a bit with the water bill, which is a nice bonus.

DIY Rain Barrel

The good news is that it's pretty easy to make a rain barrel. It's a fairly straightforward process. From start to finish, it took me less than an hour.

You need a food grade barrel (you can get it new, but there are some great ones used). We were fortunate that our neighbor had one that he gave away. I've seen them online for about and between $25-$55 on Craigslist, depending on the size and condition.

Please make sure you have your safety googles and other equipment ready before you begin.

The detailed instructions came with the kit we bought. The big picture view is basically:

  • Drill a hole in your rain barrel at the bottom for your spigot.
  • Insert the spigot and make sure it's sealed.
  • If you're connecting it to your downspout (like we did), you need to drill a hole in the spout and in the barrel.
  • Connect hose between the barrel and spout.

In case you're curious we picked up this Rainstation Downspout Diverter Kit on Amazon. It had everything I needed (except the barrel) and clear instructions.

After seeing how easy it was to set up, my neighbor picked up another barrel and is planning on installing his this weekend. 

I'm happy with how it turned out. My next project for the barrel is creating a stand so I ‘ll have more patio space available.

Thoughts on DIY Rain Barrel

How many of you have a rain barrel in your yard?

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