Deals and Steals in the Kitchen and Beyond

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Who out there doesn’t love a bargain? I find that there is nothing more satisfying than getting a really good deal because not only do you end up with that certain something that you have been eyeing but you also walk away with cash to spare in your wallet. Over the years I have become a pretty savvy shopper, there are very few things that I will ever pay full price for simply because there are so many ways to avoid doing so. It goes without saying that some of my favorite deals are generally centered around the kitchen and cooking but I certainly will do my best to find a deal no matter what I am buying from shoes to sheets.

I am often asked how I get such great deals so below I have compiled some of my best tips and tricks for scoring a great deal whether you’re looking for a new appliance, a pair of shoes or even a brand new car! The key is to be willing to put in just a little time and effort before you shop AND to be able to walk away if a deal isn’t good enough. As the consumer, you’re the one in the power position. Companies both big and small want your business and most will do whatever it takes to get the sale. Being a smart shopper can save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars over time. So let’s get saving!

Spend Money, Make Money

If you’re going to be shopping and spending why not make some cash back in the process? I love getting paid to shop whether it’s in the form of rebates, cash back or rewards and it’s so easy to do.

  • Reward Credit Cards – If you use credit cards frequently, get a card that rewards you for shopping. Cards like Discover® and VISA® will give you straight cash back for purchases made with their card. You can cash that out or apply it towards any balance you carry. In my opinion, the best cards to have are the ones for specific stores that you frequent because most of them not only offer amazing coupons and discounts but reward certificates as well. They are literally paying YOU to shop at their store! My favorites store cards are Williams-Sonoma Visa®, The Children’s Place, Macy’s, Kohl’s and the best of the best, Amazon. Because I use Amazon for so much of what I buy, I end up making a good amount back every month that I turn around and apply towards my future purchases. The key with using these credit cards is to ensure that you continually pay off your balance as you use them to avoid any finance charges. You certainly don’t want to negate part of any savings you may have gotten by carrying a balance. I use these cards to get the coupons, deals and cash back but I pay them off as soon as they post online so that I don’t pay any interest at all on my purchase. Get the deal, avoid the debt!
  • Rebate Sites – When shopping online take advantage of the many rebate sites that are available such as Ebates/Rakuten, Ibotta, Swagbucks and Upromise. They are all FREE, easy to use and offer cash back in addition to any coupons or discount codes they provide. I have earned hundreds and hundreds of dollars through Ebates just by doing my normal online shopping, you really cannot beat that deal!

Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

Gone are the days of spending hours cutting and sorting coupons. In this day and age of electronics, finding and using coupons are easier than ever. Once you have your apps downloaded saving money becomes as easy as 1-2-3!

  • Stack Coupons – Coupons are your best friend when shopping as they can earn you both discounts and even FREE product. Stacked coupons are even better. Many stores such as Michael’s, Bath and Body WorksThe Children’s Place, and Kohl’s will let you stack coupons to get even more savings. As an example, at Bath and Body Works you not only get a percentage off of your sale but you can also take advantage of their free product coupons at the same time.
  • Combine Coupons – Combine your coupons with sales, rewards certificates or rebate money that you might have to lower your out of pocket cost even further as you shop. As an example, I recently shopped at Williams- Sonoma and thanks to a 25% off coupon + free shipping, a $25 rewards certificate I earned from using their store credit card and a $25 gift card that I earned by using my AMEX credit card I was able to purchase a new Cuisinart® bread maker for only $37!!!!! Had I just taken advantage of their sale without the coupon, rewards and gift card my out of pocket cost would have been $109 PLUS shipping cost. That is savings of over $70!
  • Coupon Apps – Download rebate, coupon and store apps to increase your savings and to easily keep track of discounts and deals. Plus, you never have to worry about forgetting your coupons at home. Check out money savings apps like Saving Star, Snip Snap, Shop Kick and Card Star.
  • Store Savings Cards – This is perhaps the easiest way to save money and it costs you literally nothing. If a store offers a discount card, sign up! When you shop there you will get the best price and the best coupons every time. I know those little savings cards can be a pain to store and carry so my tip, and one that I use myself, is to get yourself a small hole puncher and key ring. Simply punch a hole in the corner of each card, add them to the key ring and toss in your bag. When you need to use them, they will all be in one convenient place!
  • Online Discount and Promo Codes – Before clicking “buy” online, always run a quick Google® search to see if there are any applicable promo codes for your purchase. Some of the most reliable sites for promo codes are Retail Me Not, Coupon Cabin, and Brad’s Deals.

Everything is Negotiable

If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Do not be afraid to speak up to negotiate a better deal on something you really want. The worst thing that will happen is someone will tell you no but the best thing that can happen is that you save yourself some moola!

  • Do Your Homework – For big ticket items, like a car, do the research before you go shopping. Know what a fair price is for what you’re looking to buy and use that information to negotiate the best price you can. To make the negotiations go more smoothly, bring printouts of your research with you so you can show them in black and white what a fair deal looks like.
  • Damage Discounts – When shopping at discount stores such as Home Goods or Marshall’s often times you will come across a great item but it might have a slight imperfection. When you get to the register, point out the issue and ask for a discount to compensate for the imperfection. At the very least, most stores will offer 10% off without a fight. If you feel that the item’s condition warrants a bigger discount, speak up.
  • Buying in Bulk – If you’re buying multiples of the same item or even if you’re just making a huge purchase, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount or a better deal. Often times stores will throw in a little something extra with your purchase or even give a discount when buying in multiples.

Sales and Clearance

The easiest way to get a great deal is to shop sales and clearance tables.  It takes very little effort and can save you a ton of money! Sometimes you can double down on these deals at stores that allow you to use coupons in conjunction with their sale and clearance items. Michael’s is a store that will occasionally allow coupons to be used with their sale and clearance items, keep an eye out for those!

  • Holiday Sales – Look for great deals throughout the year such as President’s Week, end of summer and Black Friday. Stores usually offer steep discounts at these times of year so it pays to shop their sales. While Black Friday offers some of the best pricing of the year for holiday shoppers there is no need to brave the crowds, there are just as many amazing deals right online so you can cozy up, grab your cup of coffee and shop from the comfort of home. Another wise time to shop online is Cyber Monday because just like Black Friday, there are tons of deal to be had and they all get delivered right to your front door!
  • Future Discount Sales – At certain times throughout the year many stores will offer “store cash” to incentivize you to return at a later date to shop again. These are generally great deals if you know you will have a future need for something. Just be aware that when it’s time to redeem the “store cash” the prices within the store will not be as great since most stores do not run store cash redemption and sales at the same time. That being said, since what you’re buying is essentially “free“, the fact that it’s not on sale matters a little less.
  • End of Season Clearance Tables – Many, many times I’ve had my eye on something but really couldn’t justify paying full price or even the sale price for it so I wait until end of season sales. You can get products for up to 90% off in some cases! I especially love the clearance sections at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table because you can occasionally get lucky and score amazing deals on very expensive, brand name items such as Staub® and Le Creuset®. Always take a look at the clearance sections in stores and as I mentioned above, if something is slightly imperfect or missing pieces don’t be afraid to ask for a deeper discount. With clearance items, stores are looking to unload all of that stock quickly and if giving you a few extra bucks off helps to move product, many will work with you on pricing.

My last bit of advice is to frequent discount stores to find great deals, particularly on brand name items. I have found Staub® enameled cast iron pots for as little as $45 in stores like Home Goods or Tuesday Morning. The boxes looked beat up or it was “last year’s color” however, the pots themselves were in perfect condition. You can also find excellent deals there on seasonal serving pieces, cookware, bakeware and cooking tools. I generally don’t care for buying food at places like these but the exception for me is extracts. Pure vanilla extract and pure vanilla paste has become so expensive in recent years that I always keep an eye out for it in discount stores when I am shopping. Just recently I was at Home Goods and came across bottles of NielsenMassey pure vanilla extract for only around $11/bottle. It currently retails in WilliamsSonoma for $30/bottle. That is an incredible savings for the same exact product, why pay more if you don’t have to?

Finding a great deal isn’t that hard when you take advantage of the right resources and know how to shop. I am all about saving money because the less you spend for what you want, the better you will feel better about your purchase. Nobody likes to waste money so why give it away if you don’t have to? What are some of your money saving tips? Feel free to share below!

 

 

 

Spiced Pumpkin Coffee Cake

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My daughter Emerson happens to be the world’s WORST eater. She is super picky about every single thing that goes into mouth from fruit to meat to pasta. For whatever reason she takes issues with the way most every food tastes and feels in her mouth EXCEPT pumpkin. For some inexplicable reason this child actually loves baked pumpkin goods. So for her birthday, I decided to make her a delicious Spiced Pumpkin Coffee Cake. I am not a huge pumpkin person myself however, this cake was incredible. It was moist, flavorful and the perfect treat for a crisp, cozy fall day.

This recipe comes from none other than Ms. Paula Deen who happened to put out this amazing Fall baking magazine a few years back in 2014. It was a lovely publication filled with recipes featuring pears, apples, pumpkin and squash. If you happen to have this issue in your collection of recipes and cookbooks, it can be found on page 83. I followed the recipe as written except for one minor change which was to replace the 1/4 cup of sour cream with a 1/4 of low-fat vanilla yogurt. I also threw in an extra splash of pure vanilla extract because you can never go wrong with a little extra vanilla. Happy fall, y’all! Enjoy!

Ingredients

Topping

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup canned 100% pure pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sour cream OR 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt

Instructions

Topping – In a small saucepan cook the butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract and salt over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes or until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour until smooth. Turn mixture out onto a plate and allow to cool completely.

Cake – Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8″ square pan with parchment or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, vegetable oil, eggs and sour cream/yogurt until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk until just smooth.

Pour the batter into prepared pan. Break up the topping mixture into chunks and sprinkle all over the top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm or allow to cool completely.

**Tip – Mashed cooked sweet potato or puréed cooked butternut squash can be substituted for the pumpkin.**

Warm and Cozy Cinnamon Baked Apples

baked cinnamon apples

The only thing better than biting into a crisp fresh apple is digging into warm, spiced baked apples which are not only delicious but relatively healthy. Baked apples make a great stand alone treat as well as a fantastic topping for ice cream, french toast, pancakes, waffles, toast or even chicken! They are also incredibly yummy stirred into vanilla yogurt, it makes for the perfect filling breakfast. I like to make a big batch of these apples and then keep them in the fridge so I have them on hand all week for my breakfast and snacks.

This recipe is great because nothing really needs to be exact. Feel free to add a little more cinnamon and spice or if you like your apples more “syrupy“, add a little more liquid or even a dash of maple syrup for flavor and stickiness. There really is no way to mess this recipe up so get comfortable playing around with the ingredients and flavor profile.

One quick trick to speed up the prep time is to use an Apple Corer and Slicer which makes the job so much easier. I feel that the apple slices are a little on the thick side so I like to halve them however, you can bake them “as is” just be sure to increase the cooking time. Serve the apples warm right out of the oven, at room temperature or even cold. They will keep for a few day if placed in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs unsalted butter, divided
  • 2-3 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla sugar or granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 5 large baking apples peeled, cored and sliced to medium thickness (Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, etc)
  • 3-4 tbs water or apple cider

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a large baking dish with 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter. Set aside.

Mix together the brown sugar, vanilla (or granulated) sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss the apples slices in the mixture and coat evenly.

Place the apples into the baking dish and add the water or cider to the baking dish. Dot the apples with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until apples are tender but not mushy.

Autumn Spiced Apples

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Spiced apples are absolutely one of my most favorite things in the whole world. They are warm, delicious, cozy and remind me of everything autumn which in my opinion is the best time of the year! This is one of those recipes where being accurate and measuring is completely unnecessary, I like to fly by the seat of my pants with this one. I add a “little bit of this” and a “little bit of that” until I stumble upon the perfect amount of spice and flavor. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different spices and apples, you simply cannot go wrong here. Since this is such an easy recipe to master, try letting your kids in the kitchen with you so they can give it a whirl themselves!

My favorite apples to use when I am making this recipe is a combination of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp. The Granny Smith apples add just the right amount of tartness to balance the sweetness and they hold up well when cooking. Honeycrisp apples are the perfect blend of sweet and tart and work really well in cooking as well but are also excellent apples to grab and eat raw. When making spiced cooked apples you can slice them up in nice big wedges or dice them up as I did above. To get nice, even pieces and speed up the cooking process I used my Vidalia Chop Wizard . It’s a great little gadget to quickly chop and dice veggies and fruit and it’s worth the small investment especially for those who aren’t comfortable with their knife skills.

I love to top my pancakes with a huge scoop of warm spiced apples, drizzle them with a little Apple Butter Syrup and then top it off with a nice dusting of confectioners sugar. It is the perfect Sunday morning treat especially on those cool, crisp fall days. They are also delicious stirred into yogurt or as a topping on your vanilla ice cream. Serve alongside pork, top your chicken, spread on toast or even eat them straight! They are so delicious no matter how you eat them and they are the perfect accompaniment to many dishes. Turn on your creativity and whip up a batch today. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3-4 apples, any combination of varieties
  • 1-2 tbs unsalted butter
  • splash of apple cider OR apple juice
  • few sprinkles of granulated sugar
  • few pinches of ground cinnamon, apple pie spice, baking spice, nutmeg OR other spice
  • dash of pure vanilla extract

Instructions

Wash, peel and core the apples then slice or dice them up. In a small saucepan set over medium heat melt the butter. Add the apples, cider or juice, sugar, spices and vanilla extract. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender but not falling apart. Adjust seasonings as needed and serve warm or store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Kitchen Must Have – Sur La Table “Dizzy Dog” Cutter

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Stay with me here because I know this sounds like a silly and useless kitchen gadget but believe me when I tell, this just took my hot dog to the next level of perfection! I love my grilled dogs nice and charred, the darker they are cooked the better in my opinion. I love the crispy skin and slight crunch when you bite into them. The problem is, the inside of the hot dog remains the same no matter how long you grill the outside. Until now.

The Dizzy Dog® cutter cuts a spiral into each hot dog that when grilled, expands and allows the heat to get into the dog and cook it as evenly as the outside. Not only you do end up with a delicious charred skin but now the inside is perfectly cooked as well. Trust me when I say, they are absolute heaven! Even my kids, who don’t like hot dogs at all, eat these because they love the way they are cooked. And let’s be honest here, who doesn’t love a fun spiraled hot dog to boot? The other nice thing about the spiral design is that you can get condiments into all of the nooks and crannies and you can even stuff the spiral with yummy things like cheese or bacon. Mmmmmm.

“Spiralizing” the dogs only takes a few seconds each. You just pop them into the plastic cylinder and spin the cutter mechanism, it couldn’t be any easier. Even cleanup is a cinch, just toss it in the dishwasher when you’re all done. I highly recommend this nifty little gadget, I don’t think you will be disappointed. If you’re interested in getting one for yourself, just click here to be linked to the Sur La Table website. Act quickly before they are all gone for the season! Normally priced at $9.95 they are on sale for only $4.99! They would make a great stocking stuffer for the grill master in your life. Enjoy!

Homemade Instant Oatmeal

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A delicious, warm bowl of oatmeal is a great and hearty way to start your day but the ingredients that are in those instant packets aren’t always the best. Instead of grabbing a commercially prepared packet of oatmeal, grab a jar of your own homemade version! It’s super easy to prep and you can control the amount of sugar you use as well as choose your favorite add-ins. If you’re concerned about your sugar intake you can use less sugar or even replace it altogether with stevia, the Truvia® brand is my favorite.

For the batch pictured above, I used brown sugar, cinnamon and reduced sugar Craisins® however, you can change up the spices and use any other add-in you would like. Try out dried fruits, chocolate chips, or even chopped nuts. You can store your individual serving size oatmeal in cute Mason jars or small resealable bags. Make a few batches at a time, it only takes minutes to pull together and you’ll have a delicious breakfast ready to go each morning. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking or 1-minute oats
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbs packed brown sugar
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 tbs mix-ins, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, etc.

Instructions

To prepare – Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Store in a small resealable bag or Mason jar. Makes 1 serving.

To cook – Empty the oatmeal into a small bowl or cook right in the Mason jar. Add 2/3 cup boiling water and stir. Cover with lid or plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir again and serve hot.

Italian Tomato Sauce

Sauce

I am often asked for my recipe for tomato sauce which I always struggle with because when it comes to sauce, I don’t follow a recipe. When I first started making sauce over 20 years ago I asked my mom for her “recipe” and she gave me a bunch of vague measurements and ingredients to throw together and then…..”VOILA!!”………sauce! So I’ll now pass along my list of vague measurements and ingredients to throw together and hopefully you’ll end up with a delicious pot of sauce as well.

Really good, flavorful sauce develops in time so if you can, let it cook for hours on the stovetop. The longer, the better! If you can’t be home all day to babysit it, use your Crock-Pot! I’ll usually brown the sauce and onions first and then add everything to the Crock-Pot to cook. You can put the meat and onions in raw however, I don’t think you get the same depth of flavor as when you brown them first so I recommend not skipping this step. Taste your sauce periodically and adjust your seasonings as it cooks because there is nothing worse than bland tomato sauce. My favorite way to taste the sauce, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, is to have a piece of “gravy bread“. Dip a slice of folded white bread in the sauce and enjoy! So yummy!!!…………….and very hard to eat just one slice!!

Try adding some red wine, make it with meat or without, let your meatballs cook in the sauce or don’t. There really is no one way to make sauce and depending on my mood and what’s in the house, my sauce will turn out a little different each time. My favorite way to make it though is with sausage meat and red wine. Cooking the onions and garlic in the sausage fat really adds so much flavor to the finished product as does a good, rich red wine. It’s also a great way to deglaze your pan! Fresh basil is the perfect finishing touch!

Use this “recipe” as a guide and don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients or adjust the amounts to suit your own tastes. Part of being a good cook is learning to become intuitive in the kitchen, following a recipe is great (and I do it often) but learning to cook using what you know about flavors and ingredients is a skill worth developing. Sauce is the perfect thing to practice on because most sins are easily correctable. So tap into your inner Italian and get cooking!!

Ingredients

  • 1 – 1.5 lbs sweet or hot Italian sausage with fennel, casings removed OR 1 – 1.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4-6 garlic gloves, smashed then minced
  • Red wine, about 1/4 – 1/3 of the bottle
  • 2 (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tbs dried parsley
  • drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
  • handful of fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons

Instructions

In a large pot set over medium heat cook the sausage/ground beef until nicely browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onions to the fat and cook until slightly softened and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned meat bits and onion stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Add the meat back into the pot along with the crushed tomatoes, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and parsley. Drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil over the top. Cover and allow the sauce to simmer for at least 2 hours, longer if possible.

In the last few minutes before serving, toss in a nice handful of fresh basil and stir.

**Tip – I like to freeze cleaned fresh basil leaves in a Ziploc bag so that I always have fresh basil on hand. When you need some for a recipe just grab a frozen handful and crumble it right into your dish**

Kitchen Must Have – Cast Iron Pots/Pans

cast iron pots and pans

Cast iron pots and pans have so many benefits and are a wonderful (and inexpensive) addition to any kitchen. They are naturally nonstick, virtually indestructible, easy to clean, and they hold the heat very well. If properly taken care of, cast iron can last for generations. Once you get the hang of using them I have no doubt they will become some of your most favorite pieces, I absolutely love mine.

The two most common kinds of cast iron that you can purchase are seasoned cast iron and enamel coated cast iron. The seasoned cast iron pans are coated in oil and then heated to a specific temperature in order to create a naturally nonstick cooking surface. The enameled cast iron pans are offered in an array of vibrant, beautiful colors. These colors are created by a process in which a glass particulate called “frit” is applied to the cookware, the cookware is then fired in extreme temperatures where the frit transforms into a smooth porcelain. This process bonds the porcelain to the cast iron creating a very smooth nonstick cooking surface.

Both options are excellent choices and offer certain benefits however, in my opinion I think that the seasoned cast iron pans have a slight edge. For acidic foods I always prefer to use my enameled cast iron but for all of my other cooking and baking, I always grab my seasoned cast iron pots and pans. For starters, they are far more inexpensive than their enameled counterpart. Enameled cast iron pots and pans can run you hundreds of dollars, especially if you invest in some of the big name brands such as Le Creuset or Staub. The seasoned cast iron is also more durable, over time you might find that the enameled cast iron chips or stains. Lastly, I find that with repeated use, the seasoned cast iron actually has a better nonstick surface. The one drawback to the seasoned cast iron, which can easily be avoided, is that it can (and will) rust if not taken care of properly. The good news is though, even if you end up with a little rust on your cast iron it’s something that is correctable.

I highly recommend taking a look into the Lodge Cast Iron  line of pots and pans.  They are very affordable, excellent quality, and they even offer a line of enameled cast iron pots and pans that are far less money and of equal quality as the more expensive name brands. I usually purchase my Lodge products on Amazon as they almost always offer the best price. Below is one of my most favorite and useful pieces, their 12″ frying pan. It’s such a great and versatile piece, you can make everything from eggs to chicken to apple crisps in it. If you own even just one piece of cast iron in your kitchen, this should be the one!

 Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet – 12 Inch Classic Cast Iron Frying Pan with Assist Handle (Made in USA)

For those that are new to cooking with and caring for cast iron check out this great video below from the Tasty YouTube channel. It offers some great advice and will get you off on the right foot with cast iron. So many people think cooking with cast iron is hard and requires a lot of work but this video will show you just how easy it really is. Once you go cast iron, you’ll never want to go back. Enjoy!