Top Money-Saving Tips of 2009

Check out Good Morning America Food Editor Sarah Moulton’s Best Cookbooks of 2009 (video!) Notice a certain orange-covered book on that list?   To celebrate, I’m giving away 5 copies of  Family Feasts for $75 a Week.  To enter, comment and share a money saving tip of your own.


You know the drill. You walk into the grocery store with a long list and a finite budget. The last thing you want to do is spend two weeks’ worth of grocery money on one week of food. But prices these days make it ever more challenging to stay within a budget. What’s a smart shopper to do?

1. Make a list and check it twice

Lists are tremendous money savers. Begin by thinking in terms of meals. Before I head to the store, I scribble out ideas for two weeks of dinners. Half the meals are family favorites: cheesy chicken enchiladas, creamy potato soup, and pasta carbonera are regulars. I then thumb through cookbooks and fill the rest of the two weeks with new and interesting-sounding recipes.

Once I’ve decided what we’ll be eating for the next couple weeks, next I write down the ingredients that I lack for those recipes. I skim recipes, check the pantry, dig through the freezer, and check my cupboards, making sure that everything I’ll need is either in my kitchen or on my grocery list.   Once I have all the dinner ingredients written down, I add the items we typically use for breakfast and lunch, as well as goodies to make baking possible.

2. Go to the store less often

When you run out of something, write it on your grocery list.   But don’t race to the store the instant your list gets an item or two on it.  Every trip to the store is a  temptation to impulse-buy. So I challenge myself to go just a day or two longer between shopping trips. We live 20 minutes from the store.  The other day when I didn’t want to run to the store just for hamburger buns, I made my own fresh homemade rolls.

3. Expand the list of things you can make yourself

Did you know that you can easily make your own granola? Homemade white sauce takes 5 minutes to make and costs a fraction of a can of cream soup.  Homemade salad dressing is equally fast and will save you a cool $2. Not bad for a 5 minute time investment.  Even better if it saves you a trip to the store where you would potentially spend much more on impulse buys.  Learning to make just one item per week will consistently give you more money in your pocket.  Remember, it’s not only this week’s new recipe that will save you money.  Gradually learning to make a variety of things for yourself will make your savings snowball.

4. Stock up when prices hit rock bottom

And I mean REALLY stock up.  In October I bought enough ground beef on sale to last til February, which effectively extended that October sale for months, for me anyway.  This month I put lots of $1.50/lb butter in the freezer, enough to make baking more affordable all winter for us.

5. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes

To earn a repeat appearance in my kitchen, a recipe needs to be tasty, easy to cook, and have ingredients that are affordable and easy to find.  Don’t overlook ethnic food. I’ve found Chinese, Mexican and Ethiopian food to be both affordable and delicious. This West African Peanut Chicken is a good example. And here’s another bonus:  ethnic grocery stores often have great prices on things like spices, sesame oil, coconut milk, and specialty pasta.

6. Remember WHY you want to save money

I developed my money-saving strategies so that I could stay home with my kids.   You may be dreaming  of finding enough extra cash to pay off a car or take a cruise or have another baby.   Keeping your goals clearly in mind will make it easier to do the little daily things that will move you towards that goal!

Family Feasts for $75 a Week

Welcome to the Owlhaven!  Click the recipes tab at the top of the page to get a preview of some of the 200 recipes in my book.  Also included are hundreds of frugal shopping tips, sure to save you money at the store. My cookbook is available at:

If you’d like to read the very first review of the book, visit Merlot Mudpies.  There are lots more reviews to read at!

10 ways to use up all that zucchini

Here are ten ways my family has eaten zucchini in the past three weeks. All kid-tested, Owlhaven approved. Let’s do it Letterman-style, saving the best til last.

10. Pasta salad (something like this) except with tri-color pasta, cubed cheese and cubed raw zucchini. Perfect for a picnic.

9. Cubed raw zucchini all on its own, served with salad dressing. Easy and yummy. It is OK to use a big zucchini for this, but scrape away all seeds and soft insides, and just use the firm outer flesh.

8. Korean hamburger zucchini stir-fry

7. Omelets with minced zucchini, mushrooms, and cheese.

6. Zucchini cakes ala Pioneer Woman’s friend Ryan

5. Zucchini bread

4. Grilled beef, zucchini, carrots and potatoes (like this) I boil the carrots and potatoes for just a few minutes before putting them on the grill pan with the zucchini. Cook the meat on a separate grill pan until cooked through. Then combine with veggies. This recipe disappears like lightening!

3. Pasta with zucchini ala Pioneer Woman.

2.Chocolate zucchini cake. This recipe is excellent.

1. Our very favorite way to eat zucchini is simple. Dip in egg, then coat in flour, salt lightly, and fry in hot oil. Yum! I am planning on trying this oven-baked version soon, as I feel a trifle guilty at the fat content of my version.

I’d love to hear what you do with excess zucchini. This week we decided to start feeding the biggest zucchinis to our cow– that way we can eventually convert zucchini to beef!

Midnight snack: Mushroom egg pasta

Or breakfast. Or lunch.

This evening around midnight I was writing away, but getting increasingly sidetracked by hunger pangs. I kept telling myself that I just ought to go to bed, but the quiet of the night lured me to keep writing. And besides, there was that rumbling in my stomach. No wonder. Dinner had been at 5, on the way to soccer practice.

An egg, I thought. And toast?

Oops. No bread.

Pasta? But that would take so long….

I got out my trusty cast-iron skillet, dropped on a bit of butter, and thought. And peeked into the fridge.

I discovered an opened package of egg roll wrappers, and realized that one square would make a perfect single serving of pasta.

Onto the stove went a pot with an inch of water so it would boil quickly. I fried my egg, leaving it just a little yolky in the middle, then slid it onto a dessert plate. I sliced two mushrooms, and fried them too.

By then the water was boiling. My egg roll wrapper went in, just for a couple minutes. I pulled it out with a fork, draped it across my egg and topped it with mushrooms.

Now there’s a snack.

Or breakfast.

Or dinner.

I think now I’d better do some aerobic typing to make up for the calories.

Chicken Enchiladas

This recipe is a favorite at our house. It is sooooo easy to make a second one to freeze that I went ahead and listed amounts for two 9×12 casseroles. This freezes beautifully and is also great as leftovers. Even if your family will only eat half a 9×12 dish at a meal, remember that you can serve it again in a day or two.

4 lbs boneless chicken
2 T. vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
3 cups corn
1 minced onion
4 c. pureed tomato
2 packets of taco seasoning
20 flour tortillas
5 cups grated cheddar

Start by chopping 4 lbs of chicken. I used boneless thighs that cost $1.19/lb. Cook that in a large skillet on medium high with a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil. Don’t stir the meat until it gets a nice lovely brown color on one side. Then stir and cook the rest of the way. Once the meat is mostly cooked, add 4 cloves of garlic, 3 cups of corn, and one minced onion. Continue to cook a few minutes til onions are soft.

Now you are going to need about 4 cups of pureed tomato. You can puree fresh whole tomatoes in the blender, or if you’d rather just use regular tomato sauce, you’ll need about 3 cups of tomato sauce mixed with a cup of water. Once you’ve done that, pour 1/2 cup of sauce into each of two casserole pans and spread it around to coat the whole bottom of each pan. At that point you should still have three cups of sauce remaining.

Dump the rest of the tomatoes into your skillet full of cooking chicken (I told you that skillet needed to be large, right? Add 2 packets of taco seasoning and let it simmer for a few minutes.

While that mixture simmers, put a double layer of flour tortilla into the bottom of each of your casserole pans. Tear the tortillas as needed to make them fully cover the bottom of each pan. Once your chicken has simmered for a few minutes, layer 1/4 of the mixture into each of the two casserole dishes. Sprinkle each dish with about a cup of grated cheddar cheese, then put on another layer of flour tortillas. (20 tortillas should be plenty for two casserole dishes.) Divide the remaining chicken mix between the two dishes, and top each dish with 1 or 1-1/2 more cups of cheese.

You’ve just made two meals and spent probably only five extra minutes for that second meal. Cover one casserole tightly with foil and freeze for up to 6 months. Cook the other casserole at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and the cheese on top is nicely browned. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream and more salsa if you wish.