How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget

A rice cooker can make almost everything you want in the kitchen.

A rice cooker may seem fairly limited as far as kitchen tools go. It can accomplish one simple task very well, and that’s it.

But it’s time to expand your horizons. With a little creativity, it’s possible to use a rice cooker instead of your other kitchen tools to make all your meals and save on your food budget.

How a Rice Cooker Works

A rice cooker is made up of an electric heat source, a pot and a thermostat. In normal use, you fill the pot with rice and water and heat it.

Once the water boils off, the temperature inside the pot can rise above the boiling point. Once the thermostat detects this, the rice cooker turns off or, with newer models, goes to a “warm” setting. If your rice to water ratio was correct, you’re left with perfectly cooked rice after flipping just one switch.

Many home cooks have realized that, with some tinkering, you can cook many things in a rice cooker — not just rice. The most famous proponent of the rice cooker is probably the late film critic Roger Ebert, who took a detour from cinema to write his guide to rice cookers in 2009, called “The Pot and How to Use It.”

We spoke to Neal Bertrand, a resident of southern Louisiana who published his own rice cooker cookbook, called “Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People.” Bertrand, through his own experimentation and the input of cooks from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, assembled 60 recipes that can be made using a rice cooker.

‘A Portable Kitchen’

A rice cooker can make much more than rice, from pasta to seafood and even beef. And using this one tool to cook can really help you save both time and money. For example, making pasta is a matter of putting it in a bowl with water and a little olive oil, followed by all the other ingredients.

Most of the recipes just require waiting until the rice cooker switches from “cook” to “warm,” but for gumbo and other dishes with lots of liquid, Brennan recommends using a kitchen timer as well. In addition, some of the meat dishes require browning in a skillet, though he said the rice cooker can also be used to brown meat in a pinch.

For someone extremely budget-conscious, a rice cooker can potentially replace many normally-used kitchen tools, including a stove.

“I call it a portable kitchen,” Bertrand said. “All you need is a rice cooker, your ingredients and a source of electricity.”

Bertrand said readers of the cookbook had told him they were able to eat during power outages in Louisiana by plugging their rice cookers into generators.

Buying a Rice Cooker

A decent rice cooker should cost $40 or less, according to The Sweethome, a home goods review website. Using the right credit card could go along way in making that expense more affordable and in rewarding any future ingredient purchases. (Here are a few credit cards that reward you for grocery spending. But before applying, make sure to check your credit. Many rewards credit cards require good to excellent credit scores to qualify. You can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

To get any potential rice cooker chefs started, we’ve provided Bertrand’s recipe for Black-Eyed Pea & Sausage Jambalaya. Bertrand said it is a favorite from his cookbook. Enjoy!

1 lb. smoked link beef or pork sausage, sliced and browned. (Browning optional)
1 (15.5-oz.) can black-eyed peas with jalapenos
1 (10.5-oz.) can beef broth
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) uncooked white rice
1/2 stick butter, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Brown the sausage in skillet and drain excess grease. Add all ingredients to rice cooker, stir, cover and press down COOK switch. Once the meal is cooked, and the COOK switch pops up to WARM mode, let it stand covered 10 minutes before serving.

Image: tisskananat

The post How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget

A rice cooker can make almost everything you want in the kitchen.

A rice cooker may seem fairly limited as far as kitchen tools go. It can accomplish one simple task very well, and that’s it.

But it’s time to expand your horizons. With a little creativity, it’s possible to use a rice cooker instead of your other kitchen tools to make all your meals and save on your food budget.

How a Rice Cooker Works

A rice cooker is made up of an electric heat source, a pot and a thermostat. In normal use, you fill the pot with rice and water and heat it.

Once the water boils off, the temperature inside the pot can rise above the boiling point. Once the thermostat detects this, the rice cooker turns off or, with newer models, goes to a “warm” setting. If your rice to water ratio was correct, you’re left with perfectly cooked rice after flipping just one switch.

Many home cooks have realized that, with some tinkering, you can cook many things in a rice cooker — not just rice. The most famous proponent of the rice cooker is probably the late film critic Roger Ebert, who took a detour from cinema to write his guide to rice cookers in 2009, called “The Pot and How to Use It.”

We spoke to Neal Bertrand, a resident of southern Louisiana who published his own rice cooker cookbook, called “Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People.” Bertrand, through his own experimentation and the input of cooks from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, assembled 60 recipes that can be made using a rice cooker.

‘A Portable Kitchen’

A rice cooker can make much more than rice, from pasta to seafood and even beef. And using this one tool to cook can really help you save both time and money. For example, making pasta is a matter of putting it in a bowl with water and a little olive oil, followed by all the other ingredients.

Most of the recipes just require waiting until the rice cooker switches from “cook” to “warm,” but for gumbo and other dishes with lots of liquid, Brennan recommends using a kitchen timer as well. In addition, some of the meat dishes require browning in a skillet, though he said the rice cooker can also be used to brown meat in a pinch.

For someone extremely budget-conscious, a rice cooker can potentially replace many normally-used kitchen tools, including a stove.

“I call it a portable kitchen,” Bertrand said. “All you need is a rice cooker, your ingredients and a source of electricity.”

Bertrand said readers of the cookbook had told him they were able to eat during power outages in Louisiana by plugging their rice cookers into generators.

Buying a Rice Cooker

A decent rice cooker should cost $40 or less, according to The Sweethome, a home goods review website. Using the right credit card could go along way in making that expense more affordable and in rewarding any future ingredient purchases. (Here are a few credit cards that reward you for grocery spending. But before applying, make sure to check your credit. Many rewards credit cards require good to excellent credit scores to qualify. You can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

To get any potential rice cooker chefs started, we’ve provided Bertrand’s recipe for Black-Eyed Pea & Sausage Jambalaya. Bertrand said it is a favorite from his cookbook. Enjoy!

1 lb. smoked link beef or pork sausage, sliced and browned. (Browning optional)
1 (15.5-oz.) can black-eyed peas with jalapenos
1 (10.5-oz.) can beef broth
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) uncooked white rice
1/2 stick butter, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Brown the sausage in skillet and drain excess grease. Add all ingredients to rice cooker, stir, cover and press down COOK switch. Once the meal is cooked, and the COOK switch pops up to WARM mode, let it stand covered 10 minutes before serving.

Image: tisskananat

The post How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

9 Ways to Get the Most Out of Shopping at Your Local Farmers Market

Not all farm-fresh products are created equal. Here's how to make your farmers market work for you.

Farmers markets certainly aren’t anything new, but they have seen a major renaissance over the last several years, with literally thousands popping up all over the country, particularly in urban areas.

That’s great news for folks who love fresh produce and supporting local — or at least local-ish — businesses and farmers. (Don’t know where your nearest market is? The USDA has a handy farmers market locator.) The typical products available usually were grown within just a couple of hours of your market’s opening and harvested within the last 48 hours, as opposed to things you buy at the grocery store, which are frequently shipped across the country for days on end.

That’s great for the environment, but is shopping at a farmers market really a good deal for your budget? Similar to the grocery store, it really all depends on how you shop. Here are nine ways you can make the most of shopping at your local farmers market.

1. Shop Early

It’s a good idea at the typical grocery store, but it’s imperative at the farmers market if you want the very best selection, so grab your coffee and get yourself to the market within 30 minutes of opening to ensure you get the day’s best, especially when it comes to your local fish monger, if you have one.

2. Compare Prices

Just because supplies are limited doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out a few vendors before making your purchase. Quality and price can vary dramatically from stall to stall, so taking a stroll through the market can pay off. Likewise, some markets tend to be more expensive than others, so if you have several in your area, you may want to check out which has the best offerings at the best prices.

3. Take Cash …

Most vendors don’t accept credit cards, so you’re going to need to grab a bunch of cash before you head out.

4. … And Your Own Bags

Yes, farmers market vendors do typically have bags available, but they appreciate it if you have your own, as it helps keep their costs down (which, in turn, keeps yours down as well).

5. Avoid the Ready-to-Eat Items

Yes, those cinnamon buns look delicious, and, yes, that coffee smells amazing, but is the price worth it? A lot of these items are sold at a considerable markup. So, while a splurge every now and then may be fine, making that $4 coffee and $5 bun a weekly routine can obviously add up quickly.

6. Consider the Proteins

Most meats, eggs and cheeses you’ll find at farmers markets are offered by small farms that tend to treat their animals humanely, use organic, vegetarian feeds and no hormones. They also tend to carry a pretty hefty price tag because they aren’t mass producing these items and have to cover their costs. If your household tends to eat a lot of protein, you may want to consider talking to the farmer about buying in bulk — like a side of beef — at a considerable savings. (Want to save even more? Here are a butcher’s secrets to saving money on meat.)

7. Get to Know the Vendors

Shopping at your farmers market is a lot like living in a small town. If you go regularly and get to know the farmers, those relationships can pay off. They’ll point you to the items they’re particularly proud of that week or that they know you’re going to like. They may even slide you a few freebies now and then.

8. Ask for Recipes & Preparation Ideas

These folks know their products and probably eat them regularly themselves, so don’t hesitate to ask for their favorite preparation or recipe. They’ll probably be excited to talk about it if they aren’t overly busy, which is another good reason to show up early.

9. Visit the Farm

If there’s a vendor you’re particularly fond of, why not head to their farm some time during the week to see their operations up close? A family trip to a working farm can be an amazing experience, especially for kids. It’s a great way to give them an appreciation of where their food comes from and why being a good steward of the land is important. You may also be able to pick up some of the farmer’s products at an even better price.

Image: mapodile

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11 Ways My Family Saves at Restaurants

save-at-restaurants

I’m a busy mom of seven children, who has also been married for 20 years. We have experienced times in our family when money was scarce and times when money was more abundant. Normally, I prefer to cook at home using crockpot freezer meals, but sometimes it’s nice to take everyone out for a little change of pace.

Because we have a large family and it can be quite costly to eat out, I learned how to shave money off of our restaurant bills. We do take the time to splurge every now and then, but when we are on a tight budget, we’ve learned several tips to help us save money when we eat out.

1. Share a Meal

Many restaurants serve large enough portions for two meals. In order to save money, sometimes my husband and I will split a meal that we’re sure we’d both like. Some restaurants do charge a fee if you plan to split your plate, but many do not. Be sure to ask your waiter or waitress if you think this is something you’d like to try to make sure you’re not in for a surprise when you go to pay the bill.

Tip: Choose a meal that is typically larger than most, or one that you’ve seen served before, to be sure you’ll have enough food.

2. Order à la Carte

At my favorite Mexican restaurant, I can order a chile relleno off of the dinner menu, or I can order the chile relleno “à la carte” (with no sides). On this particular meal, I save myself $5 over the meal option, and it’s usually just the amount of food that I need. Mexican restaurants are the perfect place to order à la carte, because you can fill up on chips and salsa if it’s not quite enough. Of course, you can try this at other styles of restaurants, too.

Tip: On days when you have a larger appetite, you may want to try another money-saving technique.

3. Subscribe to Restaurant Email Lists

This is one of my favorite ways to save money on restaurant bills. If I know that I will be traveling to a certain town that has a certain restaurant, I will find their website and sign up for their email list. Many restaurants will give you coupons toward your next visit. They will also send you coupons for your birthday. Some of these coupons you may find worthless, but many of them are “buy one, get one free entree” coupons that you can use to save $10 or more. Be careful, though, the coupons that they email out do expire, so be sure to watch those expiration dates.

4. Order Off the Lunch Menu

Ask if you can order off of the lunch menu. Some restaurants will allow it and some won’t. In my experience, the restaurant I do this at charges an extra dollar if you do, but I feel the extra dollar is still more than worth it in the long run.

5. Only Go Out at Lunch Time

It is a well-known fact that most restaurants will charge less at lunchtime than dinnertime. Typically this is because the portion size is smaller. We have found that if we save our eating-out time for lunch, we spend less.

6. Don’t Order Appetizers

Ordering an appetizer is a great way to kill a restaurant budget. While it can be fun to indulge occasionally, it is best to leave these money-grubbing foods alone if you’re trying to spend less.

7. Drink Water

If we were to buy a soft drink for each person in our family when eating out, we would spend over $18 on drinks alone. Drinking water saves you at least $2 per drink in most restaurants. It would save you even more if you typically order wine or other alcoholic beverages.

8. No Dessert

Desserts add up quickly. Save your dessert purchases for very special occasions with your significant other. Not only will this help your final bill, it could help with weight loss, too.

9. Have Kids Share an Adult Meal

A friend of mine orders one large adult meal for two to three of her kids to eat at a time. It ends up saving them several dollars per order and they typically have more than enough to eat as well.

10. Plan Ahead

If I know I want to eat out but don’t know where I want to go exactly, I will map out my route and look at the restaurant websites in the area to get a bit familiar with the menu. Recently, I was on a trip to San Diego. My husband and I were planning to eat at a nearby restaurant, but when I looked at their online menu, I discovered that the prices were double what I had originally thought. We quickly changed our direction and found a much lower-priced restaurant by using the same tactic.

11. Seek Out ‘Kids Eat Free’ Restaurants

On one of our last vacations, this was a great way to eat cheap while traveling. If you are eating out with kids, this is an awesome way to save some money! Do an internet search for “Kids Eat Free (City and State)” and see what comes up. We found a different restaurant to do this at every day. Some restaurants let you get one kids meal for each adult entree you’re paying for and some even let you get two.

[Editor’s Note; Eating out too often can certainly break your budget if you’re not careful. You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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Lunch Is More Expensive Than Ever. Here’s the Easy Way to Save

save-money-on-lunch

Are you taking your lunch to work? Good. You’re probably saving a lot of money, and very likely calories as well. You’re also part of a growing movement.

It turns out that people aren’t eating lunch at restaurants as often as they used to, according to recent data from NPD Group, a global research firm. Lunch visits to restaurants, which represent 33% of U.S. restaurant traffic during the day, were down by 4% percent in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, according to NPD.

Part of the reason is the rise in the number of people working at home, the research firm said. Add to that more shopping online, which cuts down on foodservice meals and snack breaks, and increases in menu prices, and you get less overall lunch traffic.

A pricing analysis done by NPD Group found that the price point where consumers are most satisfied and most likely to visit is when they feel it is “affordable to eat there often” and “good value for the money.” Average lunch checks in the second quarter of 2016 have increased by as much as 5% compared to the same quarter a year ago. NPD Group said that has also moved them beyond consumers’ “sweet spot” price.

“Simply said, who can afford to go out to lunch on a regular basis when checks have risen for some as much as they have recently,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group, restaurant industry analyst, in a press release. “Historically, foodservice lunch has been the occasion where consumers didn’t want to invest a lot time, money or energy into this meal. It’s apparent by the drop in lunch traffic that the current value proposition isn’t meeting these needs.”

How to Spend Less Than $2 a Day on Lunch

If you’re still buying your lunch most days, chances are you could experience some significant savings with just a little bit of advance planning. In fact, it’s possible to spend less than $2 on lunch every day by making it yourself. You can see how the savings can quickly add up, especially if you’re currently spending $10 or more each time you eat lunch.

That extra money can go toward saving for a dream vacation or a new car. You could even pay down your student loans or credit card debt, which can dramatically improve your credit scores. You can see how your spending habits and debt are impacting your credit by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: Maridav

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Americans Will Eat 28 Billion Chicken Wings This Year

eating-chicken-wings

Football season is upon us, and that means it’s also pizza, beer and chicken wing season for a lot of folks.

Americans are expected to eat 28 billion – yes, BILLION – chicken wings this year, and more than 1 billion of those were consumed on Super Bowl Sunday alone. That’s according to the National Chicken Council, and that huge number got us thinking: What does 28 billion of something even look like? We were curious, so we sat down with a calculator and did some math. Here’s what we found.

28 billion chicken wings …

  • Is enough for every American to have nearly 90 wings each. And it’s enough for every man, woman and child on Earth to have four wings each. It might be time to change those song lyrics to “I’d like to teach the world to wing …”
  • Is enough to wrap around the world at the equator more than 44 times (I told you we did math …).
  • Would cover every single NFL football field with an 8-inch stack of wings. So, um, who’s bringing the blue cheese dressing?
  • Weigh approximately 5.25 billion pounds. That’s the equivalent of 17,500 blue whales, the largest animals on the planet. (By the way, there may or may not actually be enough blue whales in existence to match the weight of America’s chicken wing consumption this year. Scientists put their population numbers somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000.)
  • Will cost Americans as much as $36 billion this year. That’s more than residents of Arizona paid in federal income taxes in 2012, and it’s on par with the estimated GDP of Serbia this year.

If you love going out for wings, especially during football season, we hear you. There’s little that goes better with a couple of beers and your favorite team on the big screen. But it’s good to keep in mind, especially if saving money is important to you, that eating out a lot can really eat into your budget (yeah, pun intended).

Seriously, Americans spend a lot of money eating out, evidenced in part by the massive amount of junk food we eat every year. (You can check out this round up to find out how much beer, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs potato chips and more we consume.) It’s even worse if you’re splurging to eat out and using your credit card, especially if you can’t pay it off every month. High levels of debt can seriously damage your credit score. You can see where yours currently stands by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.

If your credit is in rough shape, you might be able to improve your scores by paying down high credit card balances, disputing errors on your credit reports and limiting new credit inquiries while your numbers start to come back up.

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How Much Junk Food Do Americans Really Eat?

Image: wildpixel

 

 

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11 Easy, Tasty Lunches Under $2

Business woman working in small  office, Barcelona.

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The 16-Cent Breakfast That Will Satisfy You for Hours

oatmeal

If you like oatmeal, you’re going to love this: You can eat breakfast for less than 16 cents every day. Yes, 16 cents. So, if you’re stopping for oatmeal at, say, McDonald’s a few times a week and paying $1.99 a pop (national average) — or at Starbucks, where you’re shelling out $3.45 for your oats (suggested retail price, and you know you’re also buying coffee) that’s an annual savings of somewhere between $285.48 and $513.24 on oatmeal alone.

You can find the full recipe for 16-cent oatmeal here. Below is the breakdown for the cost of oats three times a week (156 days a year):

$24.96: Oatmeal at home (oats at 12 cents, milk at 3 cents, sugar at less than 1 cent)

oatmeal_bowl

Oatmeal might be the cheapest healthy breakfast option around.
Photo: Diane Labombarbe

$310.44: Oatmeal at McDonald’s

$538.20: Oatmeal at Starbucks

Increase those oats to five days a week (260 days), and the savings start looking like an extra car payment (or two), a sweet new barbecue grill or a weekend getaway — between $475.80 and $855.40.

$41.60: Oatmeal at home

$517.40: Oatmeal at McDonald’s

$897.00: Oatmeal at Starbucks

Beyond the financial factor, oatmeal at home is just healthier for you. McDonald’s fruit and maple oatmeal has 290 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 32 grams of sugar, while Starbucks blueberry oatmeal has 220 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 13 grams of sugar.

If you make your oatmeal at home, you can closely control how much fat and sugar are in it, but you can expect that a single serving of oatmeal with blueberries will have roughly 161 calories, 1.6 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar. (The blueberries are going to tack on additional cost per serving, but you’re still looking at HUGE savings.)

You Have Time to Make Breakfast. Here’s How

Don’t think you have time to make oatmeal every morning? Make it ahead. Get bored eating the same thing every day? Mix it up a bit with different fruits and nuts. Try some bircher muesli. It’s delicious, and you can store it in the refrigerator for a quick grab-and-go breakfast that’s especially good in warmer months.

There are plenty of ways to save tons of money on food, especially if you’re willing to cook a little. You’ll find that planning ahead is key, as is using some smart shopping techniques.

Your credit score is also a huge deal when it comes to saving money over your lifetime. If you’d like to see how, check out Credit.com’s lifetime cost of debt calculator. You can also check your free credit scores, updated monthly, to see where you can make improvements on your credit report.

More Money-Saving Reads:

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