Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mr. Gooch Cooks (Multi-Veggie Caprese Salad)

Mr. Gooch liked the idea of his creations being out on the web, so he asked to be a regular recipe contributor to About a Bit of Everything. So here is his second installment.

Mr. Gooch is always using the kitchen like a laboratory. He sees a dish in the newspaper, a magazine, a restuarant review and will want to recreate it. However, he knows that in most cases he will have to make some changes. The reason: I am a picky eater. So to accomodate me and to avoid eating the same 7 things over and over, he concocts, modifies, formulates and creates like crazy. But he loves it. It frees his creative side and makes him feel like "King of the Kitchen."

Multi-Veggie Caprese Salad

Peppers (Use green, red, yellow and orange to add color)
Grape/Cherry Tomatoes
Fresh Mozzarella, drained
Grated Parmesean Cheese
Italian Dressing (I prefer a spicier version)
Fresh Basil

Cut vegetables and mozzarella into bite size pieces keeping quantities of each ingredient about equal
Combine in large ceramic bowl
Drizzle liberally with Italian dressing
Stir so all pieces are coated in the dressing
Let salad sit in refrigerator for at least one hour
Prior to serving, stir and sprinkle with parmesean cheese and torn basil leaves

Add any cooked meat like chicken, beef or salmon to this to make a meal instead of a side dish.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Tiny Garden

This year, I have a garden...a small garden...think of it as a garden with training wheels. I only have a few herbs, two pepper plants and three tomato plants in this little garden of mine. But Mr. Gooch and I are getting excited because it looks like the pepper plants will each have a pepper to pick early next week. I can't believe how excited we are for 2 peppers.
And the test run has been pretty good so far but I swear, the weeds grow faster than I ever imagined. Another problem was that the cilantro went to flower faster than I thought it would. Next year, I will have to watch that one like a hawk. All the herbs smell so good when we are cutting them for use in our cooking. Earlier today I hauled out the food processor and made fresh pesto from our basil plant for dinner tonight. It smelled so great. I also harvested parsley, dill and oregano. I am going to make a dill sauce for salmon tomorrow night. This batch of oregano and parsley will be washed, air dried then frozen for use this winter.

For next year, the plan is to have a large garden. So we will have cucumbers, french beans, peppers, corn, tomatoes, strawberries and salad greens. I can't wait. I have already started ordering seed/vegetable catalogs and have started saving my yogurt cups to start the seedlings in next spring.

Basil Pesto
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts or shelled pistachios (omitted)
2 sprigs fresh parsley
2-3 large clove garlic, mashed
6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions: Place all ingredients except oil in food processor. Process with several on/off turns until blended. With processor running gradually add oil to make a smooth thick paste.

Lemon-Dill Sauce
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: Combine all ingredients at least one hour before serving. Cover and chill. (May make the night before.)

Yield: 1 1/4 cups

Reduction of Stuff by 100 Items

So I was reading several of my usual financial related/frugal living web sites and blogs and came across a review of a challenge by David Michael Bruno on his site. It is the 100 Thing Challenge (http://www.guynameddave.com/100-thing-challenge.html).

Now while I think that owning only 100 things would make life easier, I know that I could not survive. I am a materialist. I like my books and my shoes and my baking stuff and my new dishes we got for our wedding and the jewelry my parent have given me that were purchased during travels and and and. Yes, I will admit, I like my stuff.

So I came up with my own version of the challenge. The Reducing Stuff By 100 Things Challenge. The plan is to donate 100 of my belongings the Howard Brown Health Center Brown Elephant Resale Shop by the end of August. The Howard Brown Health Center provides health care and services for the LGBT community in Chicagoland. To learn more you can visit http://www.howardbrown.org/. I am a firm believer, if you cannot donate to the charity of your choice through a direct financial donation, there are other ways to show your support. This is one of the ways that I show my support.
From a financial perspective, the donation of 100 items means we will have a healthy tax write off for 2008.

I will post updates as the count down to 100 continues.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Book Review - The Automatic Millionaire

I just finished reading The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach. The premise is that you if you automate your payments to various accounts and funds, you will become a debt-free millionaire.

The goal is to have a minimum of 10% of your gross income removed from the paycheck before it hits the checking account through the direct deposit at work. Whether it is all put into a 401K/403B/IRA/ROTH IRA account or split between retirement, emergency account and debt is up to one's own financial picture.

According to Mr. Bach, the way to make this work is to have direct deposit of your paycheck from work and have your checking account set up for automatic electronic payments. Since you have direct deposit, through payroll you can arrange to have certain amounts directed to various accounts. These include your organization's 401K/403B, another savings account or a money market account. The money comes out of your paycheck automatically and requires no effort you your part to make sure it gets deposited. If you do not have a 401K/403B available to you, then automatic payments to an IRA or ROTH IRA should be set up with your bank.

If needed, you should divide your 10% between the building of an emergency fund of three months of living expenses and paying down your credit card debt, paying the card with the lowest balance first.

The major key to Bach's Millionaire plan is to purchase a home and to make double payments each month towards the mortgage. This will allow you to pay off the 30 year mortgage in just over 20 years saving thousands in interest.

For more information on becoming an Automatic Millionaire, visit http://www.finishrich.com/.

All this sounds good in theory but one of the other tenants of the book is that you don't need a budget. To my way of thinking that concept may be OK if you are already well versed in your financial situation and have already made the commitment to become debt-free.

The problem comes if you are just starting on the road to becoming financially secure or have just come to the conclusion that your current financial status is not quite what you had hoped. That may call for a more basic assessment of your financial picture which would include tracking all spending for three months to get a good strong handle on where your money is going, writing down each debt with its interest rate, balance and minimum payment as well as all income from all sources. Until you have that information and have gotten a handle on your spending, this may not be the book for you.

In the upcoming months, I will continue to read and review various finance books that address different levels of financial savvy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Working From Home - Harder Than I Expected But Easier on the Budget

I have survived my first week in my new consulting/working from home gig and I already have run into a few snags.

I am learning that working at home is HARD. I am constantly getting distracted. Mr. Gooch works nights so for much of the day it is as if I am alone since he is sleeping, but once he gets up it is harder to stay on task. We are still getting used to seeing each other during the week so we end up talking and goofing off when I should be working. Also, I am having a hard time getting into a routine. My goal had been to get up, work out, then head to the home office at what was my usual starting time at the law firm. That has not happened. I also have to get used to just being home. I have a list a mile long of things to do around this place and feel like I should be working on those items. I have to remember that I still have to get work done versus doing something like trying to prep the trim in the bathroom to get painted.

And I still have not met with my accountant. Hopefully that meeting will happen next week. I need to get all those ducks in a row before I invoice anyone for services rendered. I have been such a slacker.

The one shining moment of the week is when I realized that I have hardly spent any money. My only expenditures were dinner for Mr. Gooch and I at Chipotle, lunch with a potential client, coffee on the way to a meeting with my supervisor and some books at Borders (one of which was work related). A total of $73.15. My usual expenditures when I was working in the office were significantly higher than that once I figured in Diet Cokes and snacks from the vending machines, the morning latte, the afternoon snack, gas and parking.

So for next week:

1. Try to get into a regular routine
2. Meet with accountant
3. Pick one thing off the "to do" list to complete over the course of the week
4. Organize the office

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mr. Gooch Cooks (Peppers)

For lunch today, Mr. Gooch made tasty cooked peppers. He read about a restaurant in Chicago having stuffed tomatoes with spicy couscous. Not being a fan of the tomato, he created his own version utilizing a seasoned feta cheese. Have to love the creative cooking husband.

Couscous Stuffed Peppers
½ teaspoon season salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon chipotle Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
8 oz ground meat
4 Peppers (Red, Yellow, Orange)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
8 oz. couscous/maftul (cook with broth instead of water)
1 tablespoon parsley
½ teaspoon cumin
4 oz. feta cheese

Knead season salt, garlic powder, onion powder, chipotle Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ground meat together insuring thorough mixing. Then brown meat in pan and drain of excess fat.

In separate pan sautee minced garlic then cook couscous (maftul) with broth flavored to match meat choice. Add parsley and cumin before boiling.

Try to time couscous and meat to finish about the same time. Adding them to feta cheese while hot will help cheese melt and make the next step easier.

Before combining couscous and browned meat, drain any excess fluid.

Combine cooked meat and couscous in bowl with feta cheese. Stir to coat meat and couscous with cheese.

Hollow 4 medium peppers and fill with stuffing. Cook for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or grill on medium heat wrapped in foil.

Works great with brighter colored peppers, yellow or orange or red. For authentic flavor use lamb, but beef and chicken or turkey will work just fine. Just remember to mix seasonings with meat before cooking. I prefer finding a feta cheese that is pre-mixed with Mediterranean flavors but you can always spice up plain cheese.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mmmmm, Amish Friendship Bread

I love to bake. I can't really cook, but I can bake like a mad woman. This weekend I baked Amish Friendship Bread, an active yeast sweet bread. The way that most people get their starter is from a friend, so it works a bit like a baking chain letter. I received my starter from my Mother-in-law. The nice thing about this recipe is that you will be baking delicious bread every 10 days.

Upon receiving the starter, the just follow the recipe below.

Do not use metal spoon or bowl for mixing
Do not refrigerate
It is normal for batter to thicken, bubble and ferment. Just release any air that collects in the bag as a result of the fermentation

Day 1 This is the day you receive the batter/starter; do nothing
Day 2 Squeeze the bag
Day 3 Squeeze the bag
Day 4 Squeeze the bag
Day 5 Squeeze the bag
Day 6 Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Put in larger ziplock bag and squeeze until mixed
Day 7 Squeeze the bag
Day 8 Squeeze the bag
Day 9 Squeeze the bag
Day 10 Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk to the batter in a large bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour four 1 cup starters into ziplock bags. Keep one starter for yourself and give the other three to your friends along with the instructions.

To the remaining batter add:
1 c. oil
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
3 eggs
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 c. flour
1/2 c. milk
1/2 t. baking soda
1 large box instant vanilla pudding
2 t. cinnamon

Pour into two large, greased and sugared (with cinnamon and sugar mixed) loaf pans. You can sprinkle some extra cinnamon and sugar on top. Bake 325° for 45-60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

I am not a fan of cinnamon, so I omitted it folded blueberries and raspberries into the batter and used plain sugar to dust the pan.

If you don't have anyone to give you the cup of starter, the recipe for the starter is below.

This is the Amish Friendship Bread Starter Recipe that you’ll need to make the Amish Friendship Bread (above).
Do not use metal spoon or bowl for mixing
Do not refrigerate
It is normal for batter to thicken, bubble and ferment. Just release any air that collects in the bag as a result of the fermentation

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110°F)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup warm milk (110°F)

*In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water for about 10 minutes. Stir well.
*In a 2 quart glass or plastic container, combine 1 cup sifted flour and 1 cup sugar. Mix thoroughly or the flour will get lumpy when you add the milk.
*Slowly stir in warm milk and dissolved yeast mixture. Loosely cover the mixture with a lid or plastic wrap. The mixture will get bubbly. Consider this Day 1 of the cycle, or the day you receive the starter.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Attack the Shrubs and Share the Hostas

Today Mr. Gooch and I attacked the row of shrubbery and hostas. I have been dreaming of taking them out since the day we moved in. The shrubs are fast growing, need to be trimmed almost weekly in the summer and bugs seem to love them. So out they go. Cue sound of chain saw. The best part is that once the shrubs and hostas are gone, I can start preparing the beds for our garden next year.

The only problem I have is the hostas at the base of the shrubs are in great shape and can probably each be divided into several smaller plants. I didn't just want to throw them way so, on the advice on one of the community boards I frequent, I offered them up on our local Freecycle group. To find your local group, visit http://www.freecycle.org/. I will let you know how that all goes.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Organizing the Pantry

So my big project yesterday was organizing the pantry and lazy susan. We have a teeny kitchen with little storage space so being organized is key. The lazy susan and the pantry found in the stairs to the basement are the only spaces we have for storing food, staples and supplies, especially since I hate having things cluttering up the countertops and on top of the fridge. Turns out that after grouping like things together, we even have some extra space left over. Along with more cans of soup than we really need and not as many crackers as I thought.

Plus it gave me the chance to use my labeler (which makes me a total nerd, I know). Mr. Gooch was not as thrilled as I was about the organizing until I told him that our shopping list is tiny this week since I found several of the items I was going to put on the list when organizing and rearranging.

No before pics, it was too awful. But here are a few updated pics.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Relaxing, the To Do List and cutting grocery costs

So it has been a few days since I left the law firm and began two weeks of relaxing before starting my new jobs. So where is the relaxing? With a To Do List as long as my arm, I guess it will take more than a few days to stop clenching my teeth and feeling like I am a hamster on a wheel. The plan now is to take the list and just tackle one task a day for the next 12 days. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

I am now in Michigan for a few days visting with family. Will be borrowing Dad's chain saw to cut down the shrubs this weekend. Now just need to get a pick axe to help with getting out the roots. I hope to have photos to post early next week.

At dinner last night, my cousin-in-law and I were discussing ways to trim our grocery budgets. I shared with her http://www.couponmom.com/ and http://www.thegrocerygame.com/. I have used Coupon Mom with some success. Another site that I have used to maximize savings at Walgreens and CVS is http://www.moneysavingmom.com/.


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