Archive for Mrs. Not Made of Money

Why Your Cluttered Pantry is Costing You Money – And How To Fix it

Small PantryIs your pantry a hodge-podge of items in disarray? Could you quickly grab key ingredients to make a pasta dish or aren’t you sure you have any tomato sauce on the shelves? For me there is nothing more frustrating that not being able to locate certain items to make a meal when I know that I just purchased them. I also feel badly when I clean my pantry and discover that I have 5 bottles of oregano, all stuffed into different little corners. It costs money to keep buying ingredients only to have them become lost in the pantry abyss. Since I cook almost all our meals at home, I’ve had to be diligent on keeping my pantry in tip top shape and in making sure I can easily find what I’ve intended to cook.

I’ve used a simple organizational method for my pantry for a while now. It is not high tech and doesn’t cost a lot of money. So with the thought that an organized pantry will allow you to stretch your food dollar even further, here are some ideas that have worked for me:

1. Remove everything out of the pantry. I mean pull out all the stuff, even if you can’t tell what it is. I usually pull out everything and put it on the kitchen table. The next step involves checking expiration dates, spoiled items, etc.

2. Discard items that are out of date. Check every single expiration date and items that obviously look like they can’t be eaten. Canned goods usually have a very long shelf life. However, opened bags of cereal and chips may have gone stale. Likewise, if you have items that you know you are not going to eat but the expiration dates are still good, arrange to donate them to a local food bank who will gladly take them.

3. Before returning items to the panty, make a plan where they will go based on use. Either sketch it out on a sheet of paper or make a mental map of locations. I keep all the items I use the most on the shelf that is at eye level. These are the flours, spices, pasta noodles, etc. Cereals go up on the top shelf while snacks that the kids like go on the lowest shelf so everyone can reach them. On the very bottom of the pantry is where I store baggies, foil, paper plates, etc.

4. Group like items together. I don’t have labels on the shelves, although I do think that is a good idea. As I return items to the pantry based on the plan I developed, I place all like items together. Canned goods are located on one shelf, but grouped by type (i.e. canned vegetables are together, soups, tomato sauces). Breads and rolls are on another shelf. As I mentioned before, all cereals are on the top shelf. Staple items are on the middle shelf since I use them the most. I have all the flours together in one area, cooking oils in another, spices placed together in a clear bin which allows me to easily see what spices I have. This makes for a very visual pantry and it’s easy to see what ingredients you have for any given meal.

5. Train everyone who will be responsible for replacing or removing items where they should go. With my system of locating like items together, everyone knows where grocery items go. In fact, the kids help to put the groceries away after my weekly trip.

6. Perform periodic maintenance. I’ve found that about every 2 months I need to do a maintenance check that everything is where it needs to be. With a very busy family, sometimes things are not returned to their proper place so we really need that periodic maintenance.

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Start Saving Now For Your Summer Vacation

Summer VacationNow that the holidays are nearly over, my thoughts are turning to Summer. I know it sounds silly to be thinking of Summer vacation now, but I know that the next few months are going to pass by quickly and if I don’t make our plans now for Summer, I will be way behind when I finally get around to it. I have to jockey everyone’s schedules to make it all happen and it usually takes months of planning to do it.

Planning your summer vacation now makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, it gives you something to look forward to. If you’re planning a beach vacation, during stressful times you can remind yourself that in a few short months you’ll be relaxing on a beach. A trip to another city is sure to provide opportunities for new cultural experiences. Whatever type of vacation you prefer, knowing that a vacation is coming soon is certain to help break up the monotony of your regular life.

Getting your summer vacation planning started now also helps you get prepared for your vacation. That summer vacation may encourage you to start a new diet to lose those five extra pounds before you put on a swimsuit. A trip that includes sports activities like hiking may require a little effort to build your endurance before the big getaway. Even that trip to another city may require some planning to make sure that you fit in all of the attractions that you’d like to see.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, planning your summer vacation now allows you enjoy your vacation without incurring any debt. After you’ve decided where you’d like to go, you’ll need to estimate the cost of your trip. Then, divide the total cost of the trip by the number of weeks that are left before your trip. By putting this amount into savings each week, you’ll be able to pay for your vacation in cash.

Imagine the peace of mind that will come from having saved enough money ahead of the time for your vacation. People who are unable to pay for their vacations before leaving home put everything on their credit cards. Each time they have to pull their cards from their wallets they inwardly cringe at the thought of the bills that will be waiting for them at home when their vacations are over. Fortunately, that won’t be a problem for you. By making a plan to save enough cash to pay for your vacation ahead of time, you’ll be able to totally forget about finances for the duration of your holiday.

Planning your summer vacation now is a great winter diversion. Planning ahead of time makes you more prepared to enjoy your time away from the real world. Just be certain to include planning for the financial aspects of your vacation, too.

Tips For Freezing and Storing Your Holiday Baked Goods

Christmas cookiesOne way to make your holiday baking go better is to have a plan for freezing and storing your holiday baked goods so that you don’t have to do all the baking in one day or that you can spend a day or two baking and freeze for later. It all depends on the type of time you have available but learning to freeze and store the delicious creations will help a lot.

First, you’ll need the right suppplies to be able to freeze and store your holiday baked goods. You’ll need parchment paper, freezer safe containers, plastic zipping bags, butcher paper and spray oil. These things will help you save your baking goods properly so that they taste freshly baked on the day you enjoy them.

Some of the baked goods that freeze the best are brownies, quick breads, cookies, muffins, snack cakes, yeast breads, regular cakes, cheesecake and pies. All of these need various methods of freezing to ensure that they are still fresh and tasty when it’s time to eat them. One important tip to remember is not to freeze any of your baked good recipes that are low fat or fat free. They are best cooked and served the same day as they get dry or conversely gummy when frozen.

The hardest of the above to freeze are fully made cakes, cheesecakes and pies. These require specialty containers to ensure that they don’t get too much frost and that you also thaw them properly for best results. We’ll start with these.

Christmas Cup Cakes* Fully made cakes – If you completely frost and prepare a cake you can still freeze it. It takes a little more work, though. Use parchment paper or freezer paper oiled up really good with spray oil that is flavorless like corn oil or you can also use Crisco. Then wrap the cake tightly with the freezer paper, wrap that with plastic wrap, freeze until solid and then put the entire container into a tin or hard freezer safe box to protect it from other things in your freezer. Unwrap completely before thawing.

* Cheesecakes – These have very high moisture content, but can be frozen if you are careful. Most cheesecakes are made in a spring form pan. You can freeze directly on the spring form or you can make a round of hard cardboard (or buy one at the craft store). If using cardboard, the best way to do it is to wrap the cardboard with foil. Slide the cheesecake onto the foil-wrapped cardboard; you can spray some spray oil on it first to help remove it later. Then wrap with plastic wrap (bottom and all), spraying oil on the top layer too. Wrap with multiple layers, freeze fully, and then place in a harder container to protect. Unwrap completely to thaw in refrigerator. When almost completely thawed, put back on spring form bottom or other serving platter for serving. For fruit-covered cheesecake, make that at the time of serving for added freshness.

* Pies – Freezing cream pies does not work very well, so use these instructions for fruit pies and make creamed pies closer to the time of serving. You can freeze pie crusts in their tins and bake from frozen. To freeze a fully baked fruit pie, place it in the freezer uncovered, freeze, and then pop it in a freezer bag. To serve, thaw overnight in the refrigerator or thaw on the counter for three to five hours. Break open the seal so that the moisture from freezing can escape to avoid a mushy crust. You can freeze unbaked pie crust the same way. Just unwrap, slit the crust, and bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 Fahrenheit and bake for 45 more minutes.

The other items mentioned above can be frozen very easily just by first bringing to room temperature, then starting in the refrigerator. Finally wrap with freezer paper or parchment paper, and then pop into a freezer bag. You can freeze these items for six months. To thaw, just take out and put on the counter. Or for anything with eggs in it, start in the refrigerator.

Other Tips for Freezing Your Holiday Baked Goods

* Cookie dough – The great thing about cookie dough is that it can be frozen and saved for up to six months. You can make a lot of dough, separate it up into “serving” sizes and freeze in a long bar to chop into the right size for baking. You can also save in balls for cookies like peanut butter cookies that are supposed to start as balls. Thaw, and then process as usual. Always unwrap fully before thawing.

* Raw yeast dough – Shape the dough after the first rise into the shape you will bake it in. A ball for a roll, three balls for a clover roll, a log for a bread loaf, and so forth. Shape the dough, freeze on a pan in the freezer, then pop into freezer bags. You can also wrap the dough in parchment or freezer paper, then pop into a larger freezer bag to keep more in one bag. To prepare, thaw in the prepared baking pan that you want to cook the bread in. It will rise as it thaws. You can start in the fridge the night before or you can do it within 3 to 5 hours the day of. It’s up to you. Bake as usual according to your instructions.

Gingerbread Men* Fully cooked cookies – You can also freeze fully cooked cookies. Find a round freezer save container and put a single layer of fully cooled cookies in the bottom, top with parchment paper, adding layers until the container is full, topping again with parchment, and then sealing the container. To thaw, just remove cookies to a serving platter and let thaw for about 2 or 3 hours the day you want to enjoy them.

* Quick breads or muffins – Fully cool the bread or muffins after baking, then wrap tightly in freezer paper, parchment paper, or foil. Then wrap with plastic wrap tightly and put inside a freezer bag. The extra steps will ensure that your bread is moist and delicious after thawing. To thaw, unwrap and thaw on the counter for 2 to 3 hours, or in the fridge overnight. Wrapping in foil is especially good with coffee cake. You can thaw in the foil, then toss in the oven to warm.

Freezing your holiday baked goods and storing them for later is a great idea because you can bake just a little at a time, or have a quick bread baking day, a cookie dough mixing and freezing day and so forth. Most of these items will still taste fresh with proper storage for up to three months, some for six months. If you have extra freezer space, this gives you quite a long time to prepare for your holiday baking.