October 23, 2008

Cheap Eats and Frugal Recipes: Rice

Rice is great for a food budget. First, rice is cheap. Once cooked, it feeds a lot - you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Plus, rice is easy to prepare and to store. You can also freeze rice by itself, along with most rice recipes (depends on the other ingredients). It can be savory or sweet; a side dish or an entree or a dessert.

Brown rice, or whole-grain or wild rice is very nutritious - much more so than the more familar white rice versions. Put rice with beans, and you create a complete protein, too.

Basic Rice Recipe -- How to Cook Rice

1. Rinse your rice 2-3 times before it goes into the pot. This gets rid of excess starch on the kernels, helping to prevent sticky rice as well as rice stuck and burned on the bottom of the pan.

2. If you have time, soak your rice in some water. Makes it plumper on the plate. This is really a must for whole grain (brown) rice -- soak it for a couple of hours, makes a big difference.

3. Don't use that Minute Rice or Precooked stuff. You don't need it, it doesn't taste as good, has less nutrition, and costs more.

4. Use a pot that has a tight fitting lid (steam is crucial to cooking rice) and a nice heavy construction. Me, I like my ceramic-covered cast iron pot ....

5. Some say not to salt or butter the rice while it's cooking. I ignore them. I salt the boiling water, and I add a couple of tablespoons of butter, or olive oil, for taste. I might throw in a garlic clove on a whim. You get the idea. Depends on what I'm using the rice for -- olive oil, for example, isn't really good if I'm going for a dessert if you know what I mean.

6. Older rice takes longer to cook than fresh rice. It's doable, though, just needs more time in the pot. Best if you've stored your rice in a tight jar in the pantry (air tight).

7. How much water? Put in 1.5 cups of water (one and a half cups) for each cup of white rice, 2.5 cups for wild rice. Yes, you can substitute stock for this - chicken, pork, whatever.

8. Put the rice and water on the stove and bring it to a boil over medium heat. (Some folk put whole grain rice into a hot, dry skillet and let it "fry" for a bit before combining it with the water - I might do this if I have time, and I always do this if I'm making Spanish Rice because it adds a little crunch to the dish.)

9. Add the butter and salt.

10. Turn the heat down to low and put the lid on tight.

11. After about 15 minutes, check the white rice. If it looks done, there's no liquid in the pot, and there are little holes that have popped up on the surface, you're done. Whole grain, or wild rice, takes a lot longer because it hasn't had its outer covering stripped away. It's going to take about 45 minutes to cook.

12. Remember, it's not criminal to pop up that lid and check on things - particularly when you're just getting started here. Sure, steam will escape but that's not going to be the end of the world. Stir the rice around, check your liquid levels -- if it's even hinting at burning on the bottom, you've got the heat too high.

13. Key to rice: low heat and patience.

14. Cheap, frugal rice dishes? Chicken and Rice, Broccoli Rice Casserole, Chicken Fried Rice, Spanish Rice, Rice Pudding, Rice-Stuffed Bell Peppers, Rice and Bean Cakes, and any sort of Chinese Stir Fry with veggies on hand come to mind ... rice is used a lot around here.

15. For more rice recipes, surf around these sites and see what tickles your fancy:

Recipes.LovetoKnow.Com - Rice

All Recipes.Com - Rice

16. Don't forget the chop sticks!!! Rice is the great excuse to use them - makes for a fun meal.

October 22, 2008

Sweet Drinks With Stevia

In an earlier post (link shown below), I reported on the new beverages that will be hitting our grocery shelves, sweetened with stevia. Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and other companies are on the bandwagon. (This, after they've been selling their products using stevia in Japan for years. Arggg!!! But I digress....)

In the meantime, I thought I'd share several beverages that are pretty popular around here on the homefront, made with all-natural, no calorie Stevia (I use the KAL brand):

1. sweet tea (I brew tea, then add ten "shakes" of the KAL powdered stevia, or about ten eyedroppers of the liquid KAL version, then fill the gallon pitcher with filtered water);

2. Kool-Aid (yep, just use the unsweetened packages)(same amount of stevia as above);

3. limeade (I juice around 5 large limes, 7 smaller ones)(same amount of stevia as above, also for the gallon pitcher);

4. pink lemonade (for one gallon, I use around 4 lemons, 1 package of KoolAid unsweetened strawberry mix, and the same amount of stevia as above);

5. iced coffee (for one serving, mix fat free half-and-half - or soy milk - and good coffee till the color is right, then add two shakes of the powdered stevia - or more, sweeten to your taste -- I find that powdered stevia works better than liquid here, for some reason; pour over ice)(sometimes I add some real vanilla extract or a touch of cinnamon before the ice goes in).

Yep, I've started using liquid stevia as well as the powdered version. Why? Got a great deal for liquid KAL brand on sale at Sun Harvest, of course. Just scooped them up and figured I'd learn to like the liquid, too.

For More Information:

Stevia Goes Mainstream

October 13, 2008

Is the American Economy a Giant Ponzi Scheme?

MIT Professor F. Kriesel thought so, back in 1998, and reading his copyrighted article, "American "New Economy- a giant Ponzi pyramid," is eerie.

Go read it in its entirety over at the MIT site, HERE.

Some highlights:

Greenspan is describing a process where a huge percentage of the American public (70% of all households according to one account) have in the past few years put their savings into stocks, bonds, CDs and other financial instruments. The average savings rate in the US dropped to a historic low of 3% of income, but it is now possible to borrow money in many more ways than ever before. Mortgage companies will lend you 125% of the value of your house. -- Yes, that is correct, the banks will lend you more than your house is worth! -- Mortgage loans, personal loans, credit card debt, revolving loans, car loans have provided the funds for the American worker to buy more and more of this ever increasing mountain of capital....

When we bear in mind that most of today's investors put their life's savings into this scheme in the expectation of being provided with income out of it upon retiring, we begin to realize what human tragedy lies in store for them. If we now consider that the Gross Domestic Product of the United States was only $7.61 trillion in 1996 (the last year for which we have data) and compare it with the $12 trillion of the "miracle money" accumulated just since 1994, we can see the scale of the disaster looming over the American and world economy. ....

October 2, 2008

Should You Be Saving Dollars?

When I was very young, and he was very old, my Great Uncle Billy told me a story about how part of my family got to Texas. I can still see him, setting in the shade on my cousin MaryBeth's huge porch, me on the concrete steps with Texas Stars on each column that bookended the wide front stairs and Billy, in his favorite wooden Adirondack chair.

Uncle Billy, rolling his own cigarettes in trembling leathered, liverspotted hands, would spin tales of robbers and indians and wild beasts, beautiful women and brave gentlemen, and I would be spellbound for hours. And, one thing I remember very clearly: our ancestors had lost everything in Tennessee during the Civil War, and came to the Texas Hill Country to make a fresh start. For this trek, our great-grand-something, Tom, had lined his boots with layers of old Confederate Dollars to keep his feet warm and dry. That's all those dollars were good for anymore.

There's a similar lesson in Gone With the Wind, if you'll remember -- there are taxes to be paid on Tara, and Scarlett's father has put all his savings in now-worthless Confederate paper. Remember? That's when she sews up the green dress and goes to Atlanta....

Of course, we're not facing the devestation of war in this economic crisis - people are looking back in history to the Great Depression not the War Between the States - but the question of how much our dollar will lose value is still one of merit.

How Many Dollars Will You Need Next September to Buy What You Bought This September?

We all know that today's dollar doesn't buy as much as it used to purchase. Your grocery bills over the past few months provide that information. But how weak will the dollar get -- how many dollars will you need next September, to buy the exact same necessities that you bought this September?

1. Krista Das over at the Australian version of the Daily Reckoning interviewed Bill Bodner last December, and here is part of what Bill Bodner had to say (emphasis added):

"In looking at the dollar from a long-term standpoint, it's almost sure that the dollar is going to decline, and someday, go where all paper currency goes, which is to money heaven. That is to say it's going to die. ...

"But the U.S. dollar forecast for 2008 is very, very hard to predict. It depends on what you think is going to happen in the world at large. What I think is that there is going to be a continuation of the credit crunch. I think that we've reached the top, and in fact, that we are past the top of the credit expansion that began more than 25 years ago.

"So we're looking at a major, major top and a major, major turning point in which, now, you could expect asset prices to start down. And if that's true, you're going to see a lot of people who are going to need dollars. They're going to need currency to pay their bills. The credit expansion pushed up the level of debt all throughout the system, not just in the U.S. but worldwide.

"A lot of those debts, most of those debts, are calibrated in dollars so that when people go to pay off the debts, they have to come up with real money. And so I think what we're going to see in 2008 is the first stage of a credit decline, and that's going to mean that people are going to need dollars. They're going to want dollars, and the price of the dollar is probably not going to go down too much. But again, I'm purely speculating on this."

2. Budget Travel reports that right now, the US Dollar buys "about half as much" in 13 western European countries (Spain, France, etc.) than it did only 7 years ago.

3. In November 2007, one "trends researcher" at Information Liberation predicted a Panic in 2008 with the US Dollar "free falling"as much as 90% and gold reaching $2000/ounce. He predicts "the Panic of 2008 will lead to a lower U.S. standard of living."

What Does This Mean to You? Should You Be Saving Dollars?

1. If you are already simplifying your life, then lots of folk that used to think you were crazy, strange, or just plain cheap (have you been called bohemian or a hippie-wannabe yet?) may start looking at you in a whole different light. Heck, they may even ask you how they can simplify too, wouldn't that be nice?

If you're an active simplifier, good for you! Attaboy! Feels good, doesn't it?

2. If you've got excess cash right now, I think I'd be thinking about buying gold with my dollars. I'd save gold not sawbucks. All the folks at Daily Reckoning have been recommending this for years - and history (whether you're looking at the Civil War or the Great Depression) proves it true, gold is a good asset to hold in troubled times.

3. Of course, this assumes that you SAVE. According to the statistics I've been reading on the Web, odds are high that if you are an American - you are not saving, and haven't been in quite awhile. Here's an idea: START.

For more information:


Very Skeery Stuff

The NestEgg Index and 12 Tips on Saving

October 1, 2008

Freebie Dangers: ActiveX Controls on Printing Online Coupons

A variety of online sites offer coupons that can be printed and used at your local grocery store (or elsewhere). However, many of these sites require special software downloaded to your hard drive in order to accomplish printing the coupons -- and some of these downloads include placing ActiveX controls on your machine. (If you have security software in place, it will stop this from occuring automatically and ask you to decide whether or not to allow the ActiveX control to proceed.)

What is an ActiveX control? Should you allow this, or should you forego the coupon offers?

1. ActiveX controls only work with Windows - if you have a Mac, just skip the rest of this post.

2. An ActiveX control has full access to your Windows operating system. This comes with a risk that there may be some damage to software you've already installed on your PC, or that it may harm data you've stored on your computer. Your safest route, when offered something with an ActiveX control, is to decline the download. But, what if you're chomping at the bit for those coupons you've discovered online?

3. If you want the coupon printing function, then you need minimize this risk. First, Microsoft has set up a registration system so that some browsers (ie., Internet Explorer, etc.) can identify and authenticate an ActiveX control before downloading it. Make sure your browser is doing this (for example, will the latest version of Firefox or Safari check the Microsoft registration?) Second, check around the web for those that have been using the coupon site without a problem. The really popular, time-tested coupon sites will probably offer a safer avenue to their coupon offerings than some lesser-known websites.

4. One last thing: don't print what you don't think you'll use. Each coupon is going to use up printer ink - and those color coupons can really eat into your printer budget.
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