Sunday, January 30, 2011

Amazon Subscribe and Save: A Good Deal

I've been noodling around Amazon for many years now, but never understood the "Subscribe and Save" option. Subscribe and Save gives you a 15% discount on selected items (food and other stuff) if you sign up for regular delivery.

It also gives you FREE SHIPPING. And I learned that you can cancel your order at any time, so you can take the discount and cancel. Many people do that. You can set your schedule at up to 6 months hence, so you have plenty of time to decide. (Note: I don't think intending to cancel is unethical. Amy D of The Tightwad Gazette said such offers catch many fish and you don't need to feel guilty if you are a smart fish.)

I finally figured this out when I got a crisis email from Miss Em who seriously underestimated the amount of oatmeal--actually oat groats--she would consume. Mom to the rescue!

Then she requested some fancy tea. We were happy to oblige.

We are happy to oblige because Miss Em is a busy, carless student, and has less time to take care of these things than we do. Plus, of course, if your mother is pathologically frugal, it is a good idea to let her do the shopping. And, as an added bonus, parents end up paying! What a great system.

If you want to see where Amy D. takes her stand on the ethics of canceling a subscription after getting a benefit, well, it's somewhere in here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Food Bargains for the College Cook: No Driving!

Students get a free year of Amazon Prime. You all know that, right? That means you get FREE SHIPPING and don't need to meet the $25.00 minimum order (I HAVE TO).

Now Amazon is not just being NICE. Amazon wants you to buy textbooks. Textbooks are expensive. The free Prime must work, because both Frugal Son and Miss Em bought some textbooks through Amazon.

Now that you have your Prime, you can get whatever you want.

Like instant coffee.

This is an incredible deal if you like coffee with chicory. It expires in March, so you must use your judgment about dates and all.

Check out the dried fruit, peanut butter, and so on. The free shipping--which saves you both the time and money of getting to a store--may compensate for the somewhat higher prices.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Drugstores for Groceries? YES!

This comes under the category: I thought everyone knew this. However, since most of my peers don't know this, I can only assume most College Cooks are likewise unaware of the riches (or staples) lurking in the drugstore.

This may be news you can use. For many, grocery stores are at a distance from campus, a problem for the time-challenged College Cook. There seem to be drugstores on every corner. In my town of 8500, there are often two drugstores on every corner, as CVS and Walgreens are facing off.

Now you may suppose that drugstores only carry overpriced convenience foods or snack items. Not so, College Cooks. They carry more staples than you might think, AND (for after all, I am FRUGAL) they have good WEEKLY SALES.

Just for a glimpse at my Walgreens this week*:

tuna 69 cents
peanuts 1.99/lb
cereal (cheerios, fiber1) 2.50
Kraft mayo 2.99
butter 2.50/lb
bacon 2.50**
coffee of various kinds, instant and regular

Not to be mentioned in polite company, box mac and cheese (69 cents) and those bowl things that you can microwave (99 cents).

They always have pasta, milk, and eggs also, the latter two at decent prices.

Now, for the **:
* You may need a coupon. The coupons are in the ads at the front of the store. Ask a cashier for help if you can't handle this task.

** The ad says "ready-to-serve bacon." Could this be the pre-cooked slices? I've never used the product, but I would think this would be great for the College Cook. It does not require refrigeration, and can be sprinkled on some of your soups and pastas. Must check on this, faithful readers.

CVS and Rite-Aid have similar sales.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

List of Useful Foods for the College Cook: No Refrigeration Needed

It's easy for me--with a big refrigerator--to shop my pantry. I hardly ever NEED to go to the store. I always have something that will make a good dinner. College Cooks may have problems. Some might have teeny refrigerators with freezer space that will hold only a single ice cube tray. Groceries are heavy and bulky, so there may be issues with storage space. Plus, some College Cooks don't have cars (mine doesn't). Groceries may be distant also, even if you're willing to walk.

I have fond memories of trudging through the snow in Bloomington Indiana, carrying a grocery sack. Really. Fond.

Ah, the halcyon days of grad school! College Cooks now have better options in many areas. Of course, job opportunities in the humanities are even worse than they were then. At least computers are available for papers! And the internet for research!

And aseptic packaging for the College Cook.

You can have a small part of your bookshelf for these great supplies: broth, tofu, pasta sauce, soymilk, milk. Photos from Amazon are for reference only! They are often--though not always--expensive. Still, if you are in dire straits, without transportation or time, Amazon will deliver to your door. This may compenste for the higher cost. Not too shabby a choice.

My view: My favorite of the above would be the TOFU. This would make that ubiquitous ramen (which I would guess has all the nutrition of a potato chip) into a fairly healthy repast. Add some spinach for your veggies!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Electric Egg Cooker: Frugal or Foolish for the College Cook

Electric egg cooker!!?? How I despise single-use appliances. Still, I came upon one at Goodwill for $2 and I thought it might be good for the stoveless college cook who might want to eat hard boiled eggs. Supposedly, you can make hb eggs in the rice cooker. I tried. But it was very time-consuming and annoying in several ways, so I decided it wasn't worth the effort.

The one I got is by Toastmaster and has an adorable name: Egg Head. It seems to be defunct. Unfortunately, it was missing the measuring beaker, which tells you how much water to use for how many eggs cooked in various ways. After a ridiculous amount of time perusing the internet, I found the measurements for a DIFFERENT brand. And I must say: the eggs came out well. These things have a LOUD buzzer, so you can zone out without fear.

The cutest one is called Henrietta

See what I mean? There are other kinds too, I do think Henrietta would look quite cute next to your red rice cooker. There are other kinds for a more tasteful aesthetic.

Is this a worthwhile purchase? If you are planning on eating a lot of hard boiled eggs during your college cooking years, then I would say yes. It makes soft boiled and poached too, but I haven't tried it.

What do you think of this appliance?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Roadblocks to Cooking: Plus a Recipe that Avoids the Roadblocks

When Frugal Son and I decided to put together some recipes for the dorm-cooker in our family, we did so because the various guides to college cooking we consulted presented a bunch of recipes, some easy, some hard. In this, the college-focused cookbooks were not much different from any other cookbook.

We realized that college cooking, particularly the dorm variety, is defined by its limitations. Here was the list we came up with.

BIG ROADBLOCKS: No time, no skill, no car, no storage space, little money, no stove

LITTLE ROADBLOCKS: No room for messy and smelly preparation

Also, as any cook knows, it's disheartening (to say the least) to make a big mess and then have a single omelette serving one to show for it.

So, Frugal Son and I set out to counter all the roadblocks. With a few pantry items (most requiring no refrigeration), you can make a bunch of stuff.

With the rice cooker, you don't need a stove.

And with certain ingredients, you don't need to chop. We are not talking about the various "HELPERS" or "BOXED MAC and CHEESE." There are some ingredients that offer convenience, even for the picky.

To wit (and you do need a freezer): chopped onions, chopped bell peppers, chopped spinach. All these are in our cookbook. But another is frozen hashed brown potatoes.

Think about it: throw some--along with your frozen onions--in your heated rice cooker, into which you have put some oil. When the potatoes seem cooked, throw in some eggs (beaten beforehand, or just beat in the cooker). Stir till the eggs are done. You may have to keep setting your rice cooker to cook, sicne it doesn't KNOW you're doing eggs and may switch to warm.

Eggs and potatoes--yummy! Cheap. Only one pot to wash. If you made too much, heat in the micro tomorrow for another meal.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

College Cook: What's On Sale at Publix later this week

For you and your friends, dear Miss Em. Not for you the mac and cheese and other vile items. You've got your pantry and freezer filled with good things. And you can augment with the following:

canned tomatoes Hunts BOGO
Yoplait yogurt .50
5 lb bag grapefruit 2.50
fuji apples .99/lb

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mixing, Matching, Using What You Have=Soup

In my last post, I showed how a few humble ingredients, plus a humble rice cooker, could yield several wholesome, hearty, sustaining, and GOOD meals.

If you look at the ingredients and THINK, you can see that 2 soups are also possible. With soup, you need to be flexible, so amounts are as your fancy takes you.

MEXICAN SOUP: canned tomatoes, beans (rinse them), rice (cooked or not), plus some water. Aim for around 1-2 cups total. You can use salsa for the tomato part. You can use a can of refried beans for the beans. If you have some stale chips, throw 'em in.

ITALIAN SOUP: Tomatoes, canned beans (rinse them), macaroni. Add water and cook till mac is done. Add some Italian cheese if you have it. For more vitamins, throw in some frozen spinach.

Even if you are a CLUELESS COOK and GROCERY SHOPPER, you can tell, I'm sure, that these ingredients are very cheap. Think of what you can do with the money freed up.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mixing and Matching and Using What You Have: Food

Now that Miss Em's friend has learned how to use her rice cooker to make RICE AND WHATEVER and MACARONI AND CHEESE, the possibilities are, if not endless, more than sufficient.

Just buy:
canned tomatoes
canned beans
canned corn
frozen veggies of your liking
soy sauce

Then you can make:
Rice with tomatoes, beans, corn, salsa=Mexican!

Rice with veggies and soy sauce=Asian!

Mix some tuna with your mac and cheese and you have a classic American dish, especially if you add frozen peas.

Add spinach to your mac and cheese for a rather sophisticated pasta dish!

Each ingredient you add increases your options exponentially.

Check out the book Frugal Son and I put together based on the limitations of the College Cook's situation. We figured that Miss Em saves AT LEAST $500/semester over the cost of the meal plan, which doesn't cover all meals anyway.

What do you want to do with your $500?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese in Your Rice Cooker

Miss Em's friend came over last night for her second dorm cooking lesson: mac and cheese. She's been buying those little round things that you cook in the microwave: can we say YUK? Not to mention expensive with wasteful packaging?

I've posted on the beloved comfort food before, but this is a new version. Miss Em's friend is a vegetarian, so will not use the chicken broth in the original Wolfgang Puck-inspired recipe. I told my student that canned broth, including vegetable broth, is kind of over-priced. So we threw in a garlic clove, which made garlic broth as if by magic. It was good!

OK. Put about 2 cups of macaroni or similar in the rice cooker. Add water JUST TO COVER. Add some salt and your garlic clove. You could probably use garlic powder instead.

Put on COOK. After 15-20 minutes, test to see if the mac is done.

DO NOT DRAIN. The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce. Genius! At this point you turn to warm and add a little milk. (You do this when it's on warm so it doesn't curdle). I showed my student how you could mix up a bit of powdered milk in a cup (with COLD water) in the event that you didn't have regular milk.

Then we cut some cheese in small pieces and put it in. If you have a cheese grater, go ahead and use it. Or buy pre-grated. We used Cabot extra sharp.

Keep on warm and stir till cheese melts.

My student was wide-eyed in wonder during the procedure.

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year, New Semester, Buy Your Rice Cooker

The other day, one of Miss Em's friends came over. She complained about the food at her college, the cost of the meal plan, the lack of facilities, and so on. I told her a rice cooker plus a little help from me would solve her problems. She asked how much it would cost. I told her that she would need a rice cooker and a few food items to start. I would even give her a private cooking lesson.*

Two days later the lesson commenced. I took out my cheap rice cooker, put a cup of rice in it, added a cup and a half of water, threw in a handful of chopped onions and rice, and pressed COOK. If I'd had some frozen spinach, I would have put that in too.

NOTE: NO CHOPPING, so no clean-up.

We went our separate ways and reconvened about 30 minutes later. The cooker was on WARM. We had waited a little too long, so we had some sticking.

I added a beaten egg and some soy sauce. The friend looked at me as if I had solved some difficult physics problem. This is, by the way, a very hardworking and smart girl. So she picked up the point that with different add-ins (cheese, salsa, beans, whatever), you could have many different meals.

I told her that we had done a rough calculation and figured that Miss Em saves AT LEAST $500.00/semester with our methods.

So, let me reiterate: get a rice cooker.

You could even get our little cookbook.

If you have a KINDLE.

If you don't, you can get the pdf.

*As for the private cooking lesson: how many people have a private cooking lesson conducted by a Phd? This dear girl also came over one day with some questions about poetry, which were answered by Mr. FS and me: another private lesson. I'm glad to report that she got an A on her test.