Category Archives: Holidays

Recipes specifically for or about any American holiday

Weekly Eating – 3/19/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

So, remember how we had five 20-year-olds at our house for St. Patrick’s Day? Turns out they are just as much old people as we are! They got in around 8pm, we played some games, and then everyone headed for bed around ten. They are welcome back anytime! 🙂

st. patricks day preparation

I made a big green breakfast spread for them, and they hit the road early so as to get home, presumably to sleep for 16 or so hours. What is it about sitting in a car for hours that just exhausts you?

st. patricks day green breakfast

Then on Sunday, I realized Monday was the next Bull City Food Swap! I had some pierogi in the freezer so I took those out, but I wanted another item too (you can never have too much to trade), and I had found a recipe for sweet potato biscuits I really wanted to try out. So I whipped up a batch and OH MAH LAWD Y’ALL…

sweet potato biscuits

Biscuits. Are. So. Good.

Fresh and hot out the oven, drizzled with butter and honey… swoon

fresh sweet potato biscuits from the oven with butter and honey

So I packed up a few packages of biscuits to trade too, but kept a good batch for us to nom all week. I also prepped some overnight oats, since the steel cut kind is not my favorite to microwave.

refrigerator full of overnight oats

Monday:

Breakfast – Tried the overnight oats, with golden raisins, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds. I added what I thought was a “pinch” of salt but whoa boy, it was too much for even me, the die-hard salt lover. Good thing my office drawer still had a jar of my favorite breakfast. I split it in half and mixed in some non-salted oats and all was well.

Lunch – I made a much more successful batch of black beans over the weekend, and brought in a big container of beans & rice.

black beans and rice with hot sauce

Snack – I was an unstoppable snacking machine today. I had some grapes and strawberries just before lunch.

strawberries and grapes

Then a handful of pistachios in the afternoon.

handful of pistachios

And finally a granola bar on the drive home so I didn’t gnaw my arm off. What the heck?

granola bar in the car

Dinner – I tossed a bunch of cans into a slow cooker, and came home to Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup. Deeeeeeelish and soooooo easy.

slow cooker tortilla soup

The Bull City Food Swap was fun, even with me showing up almost an hour late! I got my times mixed up, thinking it started at 8 when really it was at 7. So I rush in at 7:45, just as the swapping part is wrapping up…

cutting fresh bacon

But, since I had high-value trades, I still made out like a bandit with 3 types of energy bars, granola, gingersnap cookies, chicken sausage, and homemade carrot cake. People went nuts over the pierogi… maybe 3 hours for a few dozen really is worth it?

bull city food swap trades

Tuesday:

Breakfast – More overnight oats, which does not make for exciting pictures, so I spared you 🙂

Lunch – Leftover refrigerator soup

refrigerator soup

Snack – A mixed berry pecan energy bar from the swap. They are sort of Larabar like, made mostly from dried fruit, nuts, and dates. And hot damn are they delicious…

berry pecan energy bar

Dinner – Since it was the first official day of spring, I made my Spring Green Creamy Gnocchi! With cut up chicken sausage added, because seriously, if I could put a scratch-and-sniff on this screen for you, I totally would. IT SMELLS SO GOOD.

spring green creamy gnocchi with chicken sausage

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Sweet potato biscuits with honey, & fresh pineapple. I love that pineapples have been on sale a lot lately.

sweet potato biscuits with honey and pineapple

Oh, and we woke up to a dusting of snow… happy Spring?

second day of spring snow

Lunch – Leftover gnocchi, and the rest of the beans and rice. For once I actually felt really full after lunch 🙂

spring green gnocchi beans and rice and salsa

Snack – I didn’t even want to snack until almost 4pm, when I cut up some mini cucumbers and had it with turmeric hummus.

cucumbers and turmeric hummus

Dinner – One pan salmon, asaparagus, and potato wedges. We gettin all fancy up in here. (By fancy, I mean lazy).

one pan salmon, asparagus, and potato wedges

Dessert – We don’t often have dessert, unless popcorn and/or wine counts. But since we had high-quality carrot cake in the house, we split a piece, and totally inhaled it. Addictive, for sure. This is why I don’t keep it around!

homemade carrot cake

Thursday:

Breakfast – Sweet potato biscuits and honey, and a protein shake

sweet potato biscuits with honey

Lunch – Last of the tortilla soup

leftover tortilla soup

Snack – Berry/nut energy bar. These things are seriously so good. On my list of things to figure out how to make now.

Dinner – Split pea soup!

split pea soup ingredients

Super easy, nice and warm on a cold day, and totally delicious with some multigrain bread.

split pea soup

Friday:

Breakfast – Sweet potato biscuits with honey. I almost forgot to take a picture I inhaled it so fast! And a bag of honeydew & pineapple.

sweet potato biscuits

Lunch – Leftover gnocchi, and the tiny bit of leftover salmon and potato wedges. Waste not, want not!

gnocchi and leftover salmon

Dinner – I looked at my fridge and realized I had a batch of slow cooker pinto beans that needed used ASAP, and had a half a cabbage. Turns out there aren’t a ton of recipes using those two ingredients, but one with pasta sounded interesting, so I did an experiment.

cabbage pinto bean and carrot pasta dish

It turned out decently too. I steamed the carrots and cabbage for about 20 minutes until soft, then added in the beans, about 1/3 lb of spaghetti noodles and 1 cup water, and simmered for 10 more minutes. Then I sprinkled on some garlic salt and cayenne, and it was actually pretty tasty! And super cheap.

 

The Weekend

This weekend I’ve a baby shower to attend, so I’ll spend a little bit on a gift for that. I think I’ve come up with the best way to contribute to the food at a low cost to me.

baby shower cake pops

I have a white cake left over from my “3/3” party (I made Tres Leches cake, but the mix made enough for 2 so I froze one). I thawed it, and made my own cream cheese icing, to create cake pops! Then I decorated them with sprinkles, and they are totally adorable, and basically free (given I already had all ingredients paid for).

And I also have a girls’ night planned, which will include dinner at a local Thai place (SO EXCITED!) and probably a drink or two afterwards. I think it is so important to have friend groups to just hang out and relax with. Whatever the expenditure ends up being I consider worth it, and an investment in my health and happiness!

 

Food Total: $27.66

WHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

This week’s food total is something I am quite proud of! I based my meal plan havily around pantry staples, and with making my own bread products plus the trades from the Swap we ate like kings on very little cash. I needed to balance out last week’s spendiness.

Staples $7.49 Fruit/Veg $18.45
Vanilla frozen yogurt quart 3 Asparagus 1 lb 1.09
peppermint extract 4.49 Green grapes 1.5lb 3.04
Bananas 7 1.85
Kiwi 4 1
Cabbage 2.6lb 0.77
Avocado 4 1.94
Russet potato 8lb 2.79
Frozen peas & onion 1.98
Honeydew 3.99

And this is even with factoring in the “splurges” to make Shamrock Shakes (frozen yogurt, peppermint extract) and green breakfast (honeydew, kiwi, grapes) on St. Patty’s Day.

shamrock shakes

Lessons Learned

I really need to incorporate more soups in the meal plans! It is unfortunate the boy is not a big fan, but I’m slowly bringing him around. The split pea soup was something I was nervous about (he HATES peas) but he actually said it was pretty good! Soups made with pantry staples and legumes are soooooooo cheap y’all. I’m going to shoot for a similarly low bill next week too.

It can also never be said enough, but eating leftovers is so important to saving money and being frugal! I ate tons of leftovers this week, which is basically like free meals. You’ve already paid for the ingredients, and cooked the meal, so re-eating it is free. Whereas if you don’t eat leftovers and trash them, you are contributing to food waste and throwing away dollar dollar bills. Just suck it up and eat the leftovers! The world and your wallet will thank you.

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Weekly Eating – 2/12/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Over the weekend I cooked up a big batch of black beans in the slow cooker, which became some meal prep black beans and rice lunches, my best black bean soup, and a little left over for burritos or whatever is needed later.

black beans and rice lunch meal prep

I also finally got up the ambition to make a butt-load of pierogi! If you have had pierogi, you know how damn delicious these carb-on-carb dumplings are. If you have not, you are missing out on some serious buttery deliciousness.

mashed potato pierogi

Not going to lie, there is almost zero redeeming nutritional qualities to pierogi, but they are amazing, even more so when homemade, and I intend to take them to the next Bull City Food Swap. These will be a very high-ticket trade item, so I’m hoping to get some good swag in return!

mashed potato pierogi ready to freeze

Monday:

Breakfast – Cherry Waffles! The boy’s favorite fruit is cherry, cherry everything and anything. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day this week, I picked up a can of cherry pie filling with the intent to make some sort of delicious things with it. And I did.

cherry pie filling waffles

They came out very soft vs. crunchy, but I actually preferred them that way. And I turned more of the cherries into a berry sauce by boiling it down with some cherry juice added.

cherry pie filling waffles

Snack – So there were some muffins left over at work from last week, and we all know I can’t say no. So I had a second breakfast of a banana nut muffin. No regrets.

banana nut muffin

Lunch – there was a grilled cheese & soup potluck today! It was amaaaazing, and so perfect on a chilly, rainy day. I stuffed myself silly on jalapeno popper grilled cheese and southern Pimento grilled cheese, chili, tomato soup, and I brought my best black bean soup.

grilled cheese

Snack 2 – I was feeling a little guilty about the carb-licious day, so I snagged a cupful of fresh raw veggies from the veggie tray someone brought to snack on at my desk all afternoon.

veggie tray

Dinner – I’ve been jonesing to try a spicy Thai carrot and sweet potato soup ever since I traded for some at December’s Food Swap. I roasted some carrots and sweet potatoes, and whizzed it up in a blender with ingredients including cayenne, garlic, ginger and tahini.

spicy carrot and sweet potato soup

Topped with some cashews and golden raisins, it was absolutely perfect! I’m in love. Just in time for V Day. (Even if the boy said it looked and tasted like baby food…)

spicy carrot and sweet potato soup

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I found this recipe at my friend Stephanie’s blog, and for once was excited for a smoothie with turmeric! It has a pretty strong flavor, even for a die-hard exotic spice lover like myself. This turned out great though, the yogurt makes it smooth and the mango was the major flavor that stood out.

mango and turmeric smoothie

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa, steamed broccoli, and leftover lentil veggie burgers

beans and rice with veggie burgers

Dinner – Tuna noodle casserole, a childhood classic 🙂

tuna noodle casserole

Tonight was also spa night! The puppers needed a trim badly, I cut off almost a whole dog’s worth of fur. Yes, I did it myself, and yes I used scissors. He is an amazing animal and calmly stood still the whole time. That face though, right?!?

puppies after a fur trim

And mama also got a haircut finally! I’ve been complaining about it for months, but my frugal heart won’t allow me to spend money on going to get it cut at a salon. So usually I ignore it, and go 2-3 years between cuts. But I figured, hey, the dog doesn’t look completely insane, may as well try myself next! (Yes, I used different scissors).

giving myself a hair cut

And you know what? It came out ok! I took off almost 6 inches, and there was still so much left that not a single person commented on it all week. LOL.

Wednesday <3:

Breakfast – For breakfast on Valentine’s Day, not only did hubs get his usual coffee in bed, but I also used the remainder of the cherry pie filling to make cherry heart shaped pancakes! With some cherry sauce and a little melted chocolate, oh my, it was heaven.

cherry pancakes with chocolate sauce

And then proceeded to make Twitter jealous, ha, not my intent…

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa, and leftover turmeric mango smoothie

black beans and rice with turmeric smoothie

Snack – our admin gave us cute valentines with a KitKat, and a coworker brought in special white chocolate dipped cookies!

Valentines

Dinner – I cook 364 days per year, but this day is the boy’s day to cook 🙂 He did a fantastic job, with bouquets of flowers inside the door and on the table.

Valentines day bouquet

We opened a bottle of the “good wine” (yeah an actual bottle, not a box!), and he impressed me with a salad to start, followed by fresh baked bread, and mozzarella stuffed shells. He even got a bunch of parsley and diced it to put on top you guys! It was soooo tasty, omg.

Valentines day table set with wine and flowers

Didn’t even get a picture, because a) we scarfed it down too fast and b) no tech allowed tonight. He got a cute handmade card from me, and a chocolate bar that said “you’re one in a billion”  🙂

Thursday:

Breakfast – Mixed berry smoothie

mixed berry smoothie

Lunch – the rest of the carrot-sweet potato soup & blueberries

spicy carrot sweet potato soup and blueberries

Snack – handful of peanut M&Ms on my way back from a meeting

handful of peanut mms

Dinner –I made the split pea soup recipe from Plant Powered For Life, and it was damn delicious. I can’t believe I’d never had split pea soup before now! And I had some green beans that were going to go bad soon, plus a half bag of cranberries, so I simmered them together with a little lemon zest for a tasty tart side dish.

split pea soup and cranberry green beans

Friday:

Breakfast –Loaded baked sweet potato with black beans, sauerkraut, salsa, and avocado. It’s a pretty weird flavor combination, but I’m finding out more and more that that’s what I’m all about! I love the sweet potato sweetness, plus the creamy avocado, and the red cabbage sauerkraut is just the right salty tang.

loaded baked sweet potato

Lunch –black beans & rice & salsa! I may be boring but it is always guaranteed to be delicious. And super cheap.

black beans and rice and salsa

Snack – blender hummus and bell peppers/cauliflower

blender hummus with raw veggies

Dinner –Stir Friday! It has been a while since a stir Friday has happened, so I was excited about this one. Basmati rice in the rice cooker, and I found a stir fry mix on sale $1.69. It was so green and totally vegan, and the boy said “for what it is, it didn’t suck, good job”

green veggie stir fry

The Weekend

This weekend we are taking the leap and finally doing TSA precheck! We have some serious travel coming up between a back-to-CT trip for work, a long overdue vacation, and at least two family weddings this year, so it made sense to finally get it. Hopefully it will make traveling slightly faster and less stressful.

We are also ripping off the band-aid and doing our taxes! Who knows if we will owe or if Uncle Sam will owe us, but I will feel 1000 times better having this particular chore off the to-do list.

Food Total: $80.12

Well, I overshot my $75 stretch goal but I’m under my $100 goal, so I’ll call this week a win! It also included a trip to both Harris Teeter and Kroger, to take advantage of sales and coupons unique to each place. I am lucky that I live about a mile from both stores.

$25.77 coupon $8.56
Dairy $10.99 Staples $0.00 Fruit/Veg $11.15 Extras $3.63
Chobani 4pk x2 7 Stir fry veggies 14oz 1.69 Vday choc bars 2.97
HT brand yogurts 5 2 Stir fry broccoli 12oz 1.69
Sliced provolone 8oz 1.99 Bananas 11 3.14
Asparagus 1lb 1.84 Tax 0.66
5lb Potatoes 2.79
$54.35 coupon $19.10
Dairy $0.00 Staples $17.61 Fruit/Veg $14.11 Extras $22.63
Sargento sliced cheddar 0 Garlic bread loaf x2 3.58 Frozen pep/onion mix 1.5 Foil 200 sqft 6.99
Sesame bread loaf 1.49 Sweet potatoes 99/lb 2.65 Cracklin’ Oat Bran 4.99
Bagels- plain 6 0.89 Avocado 0.99 ZZZquil 5.99
Canned tuna x3 1.5 2lb green beans 2.99 Toothpast 3 4.66
Pasta x5 2.5 Bell peppers 2 1.98
extra wide noodles 1.99 Pint blueberries 2 4
pasta sauce can 0.89
Pancake/waffle mix 1.79
Grits 1.29
Pancake syrup 1.69

I do find it slightly amusing that aluminum foil is more expensive than any grocery item I buy… but 200 sq ft should last quite a while. And it makes me feel pretty great to have no spending at all in the “Meats” column this week.

Lessons Learned

We have been going pretty hard on the carbs lately, and I’m not sure why. Other than they are constantly on sale. I’ve gotten super cheap pasta, rice, bagels, and bread lately. It’s unfortunate that our food system encourages the consumption of pretty nutritionally void foods while making things like “salad mix” cost $6 or more… but also, during the winter and rainy season I really am not feeling salads. Winter is for comfort food. So long as I keep fitting in my jeans, I won’t panic yet. I know spring is right around the corner, and with it the abundance of produce I’m beginning to crave.

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Hand-Dipped Chocolate Covered Strawberries

With Valentine’s Day being tomorrow, you may be one of those people who is desperately searching the internet for the perfect “last-minute” ideas. Maybe you are almost ready to run to the store and shell out way too many dollars for over-priced and sub-par drug store candy.

Or perhaps you are celebrating solo, or with your friends, and just want a little treat for yourself or your girls, to make the day extra special. But you don’t have all day to slave over a hot stove.

Here’s your answer!

Chocolate dipped strawberries. They are universally loved, as who could resist a sweet, juicy fruit dipped in chocolate? And they are marvelously easy to make, taking mere minutes plus a little bit of chill time. But, you could make them as fancy as you wish, by mixing dark, regular, and white chocolate, sprinkles, coconut, crushed nuts, or any other whim of your imagination.

coconut oil and chocolate with a strawberry

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chocolate chips (whatever kind you like)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • Berries

20170213_195254

Step 1: Put a smaller pan over a large pan of water, and bring the water to a boil. This helps to melt to the chocolate, but keep it from burning or getting scorched on the bottom. The coconut oil also helps to make the melted chocolate smooth and glossy.

very last minute valentines day dessert idea

 

Step 2: Once melted, dip your strawberries in! Hold them by the green parts and the top, and drag through the melted chocolate.

Dipping a strawberry in chocolate

Mmmm look at that melty goodness! You could use any kind of berry or fruit for this honestly, bananas or pineapple would also be great.

20170213_195415

Step 3: Lay your chocolate covered berry on wax paper, on a plate or cookie tray that can fit in your refrigerator or freezer.

Chocolate dipped strawberries

Step 4: Put the berries in the fridge or freezer, to harden, at least 10 minutes. If using the freezer, don’t forget about them! You don’t want strawberry ice cubes. They are best fresh!

20170213_200815

The fun part about making your own chocolate-dipped treats is that sometimes you have extra melted chocolate. And you can go as crazy as you want! I had some almonds and peanuts, so I made nut clusters with mine, and sprinkled it with sea salt. The same idea applies, just let them chill for 10 minutes to an hour in the fridge before enjoying.

 

Do you have any Valentine’s Day plans tomorrow? If you want to avoid the crowds and overpriced “prixe-fixe” food, I’d suggest a simple yet impressive meal at home; everyone loves to be cooked for 😉 <3

Recap: Best of the Budget Epicurean in 2017

 

Since July of 2011 with my very first post, many things have changed. The blog got a new site and hosting, as well as a new name to reflect changes in my life and the direction of my writing. It has evolved from “College Approved Food” with a focus on extreme cheapness and college-budget-and-skill-level recipes, to the Budget Epicurean, which is more expansive, and still combines my main passions of money and food.

While I do create and share many cheap recipes such as my Favorite One Dollar Lunch, Best Black Bean Soup, and The Perfect Breakfast that costs basically fifty cents per serving, I also love to get creative with recipes for Chia Seed Pudding, Tropical Granola, and reviews of fun food places like Cowfish and RocknRolls Sushi.

I also decided to put more emphasis on the “Budget” in Budget Epicurean and began sharing more financially related articles like How to Save on Grocery Bills, Meal Planning, My Frugal Beauty Manifesto, and Why a $1000 Raise Didn’t Change My Life.

This is also the blog’s 600th published post!

At an average of 1200 words per post, and 600 posts, that means I have written 720,000 words on this site y’all!

It also happens to be the last day of 2017. It is the perfect time to look back over the past 12 months and assess what has gone right and what we could do better. I always like to see where this blog has been, and how it has changed over the course of the year.

Top Dozen Posts of All Time

If we go by numbers alone, throughout the year, the top 12 posts skew towards older posts, since they have been published longer. The top 12 posts in the almost-7 year history of this blog are:

12. Frugal Last Minute Gift Ideas
11. Homemade Energy Drink Mix 
10. Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
9. Twice the Wine for Half the Calories!
8. Ginger Peach Slow Cooker Chicken
7. Slow Cooker Red Pozole With Pork
6. Breastfeeding: All About It
5. What Are Vitamins?
4. Grapefruitcello
3. Meal Planning: What it is, why you should, and how to do it
2. Salsa Chicken Soup

And the #1 most viewed post: One Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake

It consistently comes out as the top viewed post almost every day! And why not? It definitely hits all the marks of a classic hallmark recipe of the Budget Epicurean:

  • Cheap total cost & cost per serving
  • Can be made with what you probably already have at home
  • Very filling and delicious
  • Stores well for later eating
  • Easy to multiply up or down to feed one or twelve
  • Customizable to suit all palates/picky eaters
  • One pan, for minimal prep and cleanup

This coming year, I will be trying to focus more on these super simple yet delicious recipes. For y’all of course, but also for selfish reasons! I also hate dishes and love simplicity. So I will be focusing on freezer meals, slow cooker meals, meal planning and meal prep, and one pan meals as much as possible.

Top Dozen Posts of 2017

However, I like to break it down into the current year alone, and rate the top posts month by month. This gives me an idea of what readers are responding to now, and what type of content I should focus on and continue writing about. In that case, we have:

  1. January: Slow Cooker Enchilada Casserole
  2. February: Make Ahead Egg Muffins
  3. March: How to Cook Dried Beans in a Slow Cooker
  4. April: Nuts & Dark Chocolate Sea Salt KIND Bar
  5. May: Turkey & Cheese Rollups
  6. June: Venison Pot Pie
  7. July: Venison Penne Alfredo
  8. August: Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow
  9. September: Salmon & Couscous Salad
  10. October: My Commuting Mistake
  11. November: A Tie! Between Holiday Weight Loss Plan and Why A $1000 Raise Didn’t Change My Life
  12. December: 12 Days of FI Christmas*
    *more about that in a second!

Clearly, I need to get ahold of more venison and create more venison recipes! People seem to really like those, and I get a lot of search traffic from Google. I love “atypical” foods, including meats we don’t all get to try. See my recipes for brined Pheasant and Elk Burgers.

2017 was also a record-breaking year for page views and number of comments. This humble blog has skyrocketed from about 200 average page views per day to nearly 750 views every day! I’ve been choosing to engage more on social media (find me on Twitter and let’s be friends!) and in the blogosphere in general. I’ve found a literal bottomless well of writers and bloggers to read, follow, interact with, and learn from.

I am so thankful, as these bloggers words have challenged and changed many of my perspectives, motivated me, taught me so much, and helped me make positive changes in my life. Reading blogs and interacting through comments and social media have brought me several new blogger friends & relationships that I cherish.

If you need some new folks to read, follow, and inspire you, check out my What I Love page.

2017’s Biggest Blog Accomplishments

And the 2017 coup de triumph? The 12 Days of FI Christmas of course! Thanks so much to I Dream of FIRE for thinking up this awesome music video project and making it all come together. We had such a huge, positive response from the FI community.

It was an absolute dream for me to be part of a thing that was featured on RockstarFinance! Nice things were said about it by the outstanding Physician on FIRE, J. Money, RootofGood, and many others featured. If you haven’t seen it yet, please enjoy below!

This video and the corresponding avalanche of response brought the blog its new peak views, and broke 1,000 unique organic pageviews in one day!! I can’t tell you how exciting that is. All these great FI Bloggers who think being in our video means they “made it”, when really I feel like I’ve made it! Just goes to show you the power of a community, creativity, and positivity.

Also, notice that roller-coaster looking graph? The bottom line is individual unique visitors, whereas the top line is pageviews. That means the big spikes are people who visit, and then click around to many different posts in one visit. So that big spike on Sunday 12/17 had 1064 unique visitors, and 1967 page views. Thus, each person who came to the site, on average clicked on one other article.

Whomever is coming to this blog and then staying a while, reading through all of the post archives, Thank You and I Love You!! <3

I’ve also begun branching out into the world of Virtual Reality. The Budget Epicurean has brought you videos of Homemade Kombucha, Freezer Meal Planning, Turkey Mushroom & Spinach Lasagna, how to make Stovetop Popcorn and more. Well, we stepped up our game this year with the Virtual Reality video of Cracker Cookies!

There are a few virtual reality cooking games and simulators, and I’m sure that there will be “famous” chefs flooding the VR spaces soon. Currently, there are no Virtual Reality cooking shows. The Budget Epicurean hopes to change that, for the better.

However, we want to bring you real content, to show that you don’t need to be a highly trained five star chef to feed yourself and your family. Literally anyone can learn how to cook healthy, whole food meals at home. We want to invite you into my kitchen to see in real time, step by step, how to make the delightful, frugal, yet tasty recipes you’ve come to know and love here.

So What’s Next?

I don’t really do “resolutions”, because generally speaking, big amorphous goals with no way to measure, track, or keep yourself accountable do not work. However, I do believe in setting goals for myself and my lil’ corner of the internet.

Looking ahead, some of my goals for 2018 include:

  • Continue posting 2x/week, and no less than 1x/week
  • Read a minimum of 1 book per month and 3 blogs/day
  • Grow my subscribers list to double the current number
  • Write and send quarterly newsletters to my subscribers with custom content found only in these emails
  • Record, edit, and publish 3 new VR cooking videos
  • Write, edit, and hopefully publish my biggest project yet!
  • Release the next few meal plan bundles to Amazon
  • Create meaningful side income to support this blogs’ growth and future projects

Hopefully more to come on all of these things in the next few months. Feel free to engage online, through email, or leave a comment any time! I love nothing more than hearing from and interacting with readers like you.

 

What are your best moments or memories of 2017? What are you looking forward to or aiming to accomplish in 2018?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes

 

O – H !

Anyone?

(The correct response is, I – O!)

If you’ve never had a Buckeye candy, boy are you missing out! They are balls of sugar and peanut butter dipped in chocolate, and so rich and creamy it is positively mind blowing. We have started calling them sugar-sugar-peanut butter-butters, because that is an accurate reflection of the ingredients list.

They are named after the state tree of Ohio, the Buckeye tree. A buckeye nut is dark brown with a lighter brown circle, and is a part of the chestnut family. The buckeye nut itself is not edible, but this candy after which it is named most certainly is edible! It is darn near irresistible, in fact.

The Ohio Buckeye nut, photo from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesculus_glabra

I made a big batch of these for a cookie swap with some friends, and they were a total hit! Only one person had had them before, so it was extra fun to watch my friends experience these for the first time. They were described as “peanut butter fudgy wrapped in chocolate” and “like a ball of Reese’s” and “mmmmmmmmmm…”

They are very quick and easy to make, with just a handful of ingredients. And they are no-bake! That’s right, no oven required. All you need is a refrigerator or freezer to get the peanut butter balls to harden before dipping, and a microwave to melt the chocolate. Honestly, the inside peanut butter ball is so tasty and fudge-like, you could probably get away with no coating it and just calling it fudge!

This recipe makes approximately 5 dozen Buckeyes, depending on how large or small you roll them. You will also need at least one toothpick, for dipping the peanut butter balls.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 1 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla flavoring

Coating:

  • 1/2 cup chocolate melting chip, baking chocolate, or chocolate chips
  • 1 – 2 tbsp coconut oil or Crisco

Step 1: In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream the butter and peanut butter well. Blend until it becomes soft and thick.

Step 2: Add the vanilla, and then slowly add the powdered sugar. Be careful not to just dump it all in, or the powdered sugar will explode everywhere! Not that I know from experience or anything…

Step 3: Once it is all mixed and has become a soft but firm dough, scoop out by teaspoon-fulls and roll into balls. Put the peanut butter balls on a wax-paper or foil-lined pan, and refrigerate or freeze for an hour or more. You want the balls to be hardened and cold, so that the liquid chocolate solidifies faster once they are dipped.

Step 4: In a microwave safe bowl, add the chocolate and the oil. Microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring in between, until it is melted. Take your peanut butter balls, and stick a toothpick in one side. Dip the ball into the chocolate and swirl it around a little, leaving only a small section of light brown at the top. Let the melted chocolate drip off, and then place back on your tray.

Put them back in the refrigerator or freezer to let the chocolate harden. They will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, and they can freeze well for up to 3 months. They are super rich and addictive, and so easy to make! In about an hour, you can create several dozen of these treats to share, sell, or keep all to yourself. Enjoy!

 

Have you ever had or heard of a buckeye? Do you have any family recipes that you make every year?

The 12 Days of FI Christmas!

For a little holiday fun, I Dream of FIRE, My Sons Father, and yours truly, the Budget Epicurean, have put together a fun-filled Financial Independence related take on the 12 Days of Christmas! if you’d like to know the full story of how this creative genius came about, the post is right here on I Dream of Fire’s site.

Featuring financial lyrics and several of the top FI bloggers of all time, we hope you enjoy our music video:

Full lyrics

On the first day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
A paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the second day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the third day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the fourth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
A 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the fifth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the sixth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the seventh day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the eighth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the ninth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
9 dividend stocks, 8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the tenth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
10 rental houses, 9 dividend stocks, 8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the eleventh day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
11-year-old cars, 10 rental houses, 9 dividend stocks, 8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

On the twelfth day of Christmas my good friend gave to me
12 months of YNAB, 11-year-old cars, 10 rental houses, 9 dividend stocks, 8 Bogle books, 7 percent markets, 6 tax write-offs, 5 rewards cards, a 4 percent withdrawal rate, 3 Vanguard funds, 2 IRAs and a paid-off mortgage (debt free!)

Featuring (lego) appearances by:

Just click the links to go to their blogs, and find out more! Thanks for watching and reading, have a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Think this is awesome? Tell all your friends! And share it on Twitter:

Check out the 12 Days of FI Christmas music video! https://youtu.be/9rOS6ZENyX4 via @I_dream_of_FIRE, @My_Sons_Father, & @budgetepicurean Click To Tweet

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

 

There are certain things about your childhood that you will never forget, and experiencing or thinking of these things just takes you back. Maybe you had a particular place you always vacationed (oh hey, Conneaut Lake Park), or a song that every time you hear it you are transported to a certain place and time, or a specific smell or meal that always reminds you of happiness.

For me, it is cracker cookies.

They are called many things, from wafer cookies to sandwich cookies, but I have always known them as Cracker Cookies. Cracker cookies have always been my favorite Christmas cookie. Those light, buttery, sugar bombs were so dang addictive, I couldn’t trust myself around them.

We used to spend hours in the kitchen together, my mom and I, and usually my sister or grandmother. Mom would be rolling the dough, lovingly trying to get it to just the right thickness to be crispy and wafer thin but not crack in half under minimal pressure. I’d have a bowl full of sugar and a fork, and mom would toss the little rounds of dough at me as they came off the shot glass.

I’d wriggle the dough around until nicely covered in grains of sugar, and line them up in neat rows on the baking pan. Then I’d stab-stab-stab-stab, exactly 4 times, to make holes with the fork. I never did know why… maybe to bake evenly, maybe it just made them look pretty, maybe mom just needed to keep me busy until the first batch was done and could come out of the oven.

Regardless, we would then have dozens of little dough circles, piled on the cooling racks and waiting to be filled with yet more butter and sugar, to create a cavity causing sandwich of happiness.

The dough recipe is the original recipe my family has been using for decades, whereas I tried a new filling recipe this year. You can find infinite icing recipes online using regular sugar, powdered sugar, cream cheese, and all sorts of what-have-you. The beauty is that you can change your filling at any time, you could even go super crazy and try something fruit-focused like jam.

Another fun fact of these is that they are not just Christmas cookies.

Oh no. These little minxes can be changed up with the drop of a dye, to become wedding colors, or graduation centered, or a pastel array for a baby shower. The dough can be dyed as well as the frosting, for infinite variations. If you are super ballsy, you could even dip the finished sandwiches in chocolate! Whoa, nelly, make sure you have an appointment with your dentist lined up soon 😉

Recipe makes approximately 36 cookies, or 18 sandwiches. Can easily be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled for your cookie swap. If you’d rather watch me make these in Virtual Reality, simply Click Here or scroll to the bottom of the post!

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick room temperature butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp half and half or milk
  • Extra sugar for coating
  • Plastic wrap
  • Rolling pin
  • Baking sheets
  • Stand or hand mixer

Directions:

  1. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream your butter well for about 5 minutes. You want it to be very soft and light, almost liquid.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, and vanilla. Let it mix for 7-9 minutes; it will become quite dry and crumbly. At this point you may lose faith, but trust me, this will become dough very soon.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of milk or half and half. You can also use heavy whipping cream for richer flavor, or almond or coconut milk. The dough should begin coming together and smoothing out. If it remains a little too crumbly, you can add one more tbsp slowly.
  4. Once the dough has become smooth and sticky, scrape it out onto some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to a week. You could also freeze it for up to 6 months at this point.
  5. After 2 hours or 2 days, take the dough back out and flour a large surface. You can use your counter, tabletop, or a large cutting board or silicone baking mat.
  6. Place the dough on the flour with the plastic wrap on top. Begin rolling out the dough, pressing down firmly and evenly. Flip the dough, replace plastic wrap, and roll some more on the other side. You want to roll until it becomes about 1/4-1/8 inch thick.
  7. Once the dough is rolled out, cut circles with a 1-2 inch cutter, or use a plain shot glass. This is the easiest method I’ve found.
  8. Put the circles into the sugar, and mix it around to coat well on both sides. Place on an unsprayed cookie sheet.
  9. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, turning once. You want them to be just barely beginning to brown on the bottoms.
  10. Take them out and let sit for 3-5 minutes on the pan. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Once cool enough to handle, you can begin filling them!

 

Filling ingredients:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well. Add in the vanilla as well.
  3. As it comes together it will thicken and become smooth. If not, you can slowly add a tiny splash of milk.
  4. Color it however you like, and spread a teaspoon onto one cooled cookie. Gently press another on top to complete your sandwich.

 

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

Yield: 18

Cracker Cookies: An Heirloom Family Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick room temperature butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp half and half or milk
  • Extra sugar for coating
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Instructions

  1. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream your butter well for about 5 minutes. You want it to be very soft and light, almost liquid.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, and vanilla. Let it mix for 7-9 minutes; it will become quite dry and crumbly. At this point you may lose faith, but trust me, this will become dough very soon.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of milk or half and half. You can also use heavy whipping cream for richer flavor, or almond or coconut milk. The dough should begin coming together and smoothing out. If it remains a little too crumbly, you can add one more tbsp slowly.
  4. Once the dough has become smooth and sticky, scrape it out onto some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to a week. You could also freeze it for up to 6 months at this point.
  5. After 2 hours or 2 days, take the dough back out and flour a large surface. You can use your counter, tabletop, or a large cutting board or silicone baking mat.
  6. Place the dough on the flour with the plastic wrap on top. Begin rolling out the dough, pressing down firmly and evenly. Flip the dough, replace plastic wrap, and roll some more on the other side. You want to roll until it becomes about 1/4-1/8 inch thick.
  7. Once the dough is rolled out, cut circles with a 1-2 inch cutter, or use a plain shot glass. This is the easiest method I've found.
  8. Put the circles into the sugar, and mix it around to coat well on both sides. Place on an unsprayed cookie sheet.
  9. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes, turning once. You want them to be just barely beginning to brown on the bottoms.
  10. Take them out and let sit for 3-5 minutes on the pan. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Once cool enough to handle, you can begin filling them!
  11. In a large bowl, cream the butter for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  12. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, and mix well. Add in the vanilla as well.
  13. As it comes together it will thicken and become smooth. If not, you can slowly add a tiny splash of milk.
  14. Color it however you like, and spread a teaspoon onto one cooled cookie. Gently press another on top to complete your sandwich.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin
http://www.budgetepicurean.com/comfort-food/cracker-cookies/

 

 

It’s the world’s first Virtual Reality Cooking Show!

Want to watch me make these cookies start to finish, real time, in Virtual Reality?! You know you do. While watching, simply click and drag the screen to get a full 180 degree experience. Or if you have a VR head set, you can watch it in VR and feel like you’re right there in my kitchen with me.

Let me know what you think, and we may bring you more delicious content soon.

 

 

This post contains some affiliate links to Amazon products. They are the exact products I have and use, and if you purchase through these links this site receives a small commission. Thanks for stopping by!

Ultimate Epicurean Gift Guide

Obligatory Disclaimer: This blog is part of the Amazon Affiliate program. If you click on some links and purchase products, this blog receives a small payment at no extra charge to you. This is in part how we keep the good stuff coming, so thank you!

 

When you need to get a gift for someone, but you don’t really know what to buy, you inevitably turn to the internet to help with your search. Whether you are counting down the days until Christmas and frantically trolling through Amazon or ThisIsWhyImBroke, or you have a birthday, wedding, a baby shower, anniversary, or a house warming coming up, everyone has got to eat & drink.

Anyone who is a frequent home cook, aspires to be a more frequent home cook, or is just a lover of food is bound to find most of these things useful. All of the items on this list are things which I personally have and use, or would be thrilled to receive as a gift! I’ve researched the best brands and deals, so you don’t have to.

Obviously, if you already have an Amazon Prime membership, the free 2-day shipping is an added bonus. If you want to try a FREE 30-day trial, sign up here! But even without it, you have enough time until Christmas if you order now.

Price Range: $5 – $20

Rbnexia Metal Long Chopsticks Set of 10: $5.99

If your giftee likes to make their own sushi, or often enjoys eating sushi or other Asian-inspired meals, consider this lovely set of chopsticks. Stainless steel metal chopsticks are reusable, and dishwasher safe. Think of all the bamboo saved by using these year after year rather than the disposable packs from Sushi Palace.

Tea Spot Steep & Go in Green Tea: $8.95

This is the Steep & Go adaptable tea strainer I reviewed a few years back, and it is still going strong. With adaptable rings to fit to almost any bottle size, this little guy makes having your tea anytime, anywhere a breeze. No hot water required. By the way, there were only 19 left as of writing this, so get to it! If Amazon happens to be out, you can check the Tea Spot’s website for other cool steepware options, as well as all kinds of teas to go along with your gift.

Amazon Basics Silicone Baking Mat Set of 2: $9.62

Silicone baking mats are a gift from above to regular bakers. For holiday cookie making, easy cleanup after roasting, to fruit leathers and protecting your counters from dough and mess, silicone mats can do just about anything parchment paper or aluminum foil can do, but they are freezer, oven, and dishwasher safe and reusable up to 1000 times!

Bamboo Cutting Boards Set of 3 Sizes: $12.99

A key aspect of healthy cooking is lots of fresh produce, and possibly protein from meats. But it is important to keep those items separate while prepping. With this set of 3 different size cutting boards, it is no problem to know where to cut the peppers and where to cut the chicken. Bamboo is also a highly eco-friendly material, as bamboo is fast-growing and easy to cultivate, while the handles allow for ease of grabbing them out of cupboards.

Desert Creek Cinnamon Creamed Honey: $14.57

If you haven’t tried creamed honey, you haven’t lived! It is honey, but creamy. I don’t know how to describe it, just trust me, it is delicious. Try it on fresh hot toast, in your tea, or on top of desserts.

Stainless Steel Chilling Stones: $14.99

These reusable chilling stones are like ice cubes that won’t water down your drinks. Keep them in the freezer, and you will be ready any time for ice cold whiskey, wine, orange juice, tea, or water, but without the extra water. Well, maybe you don’t need these in your water but… you do you.

Glass Caffeine Mug with Silly Scale on Back: $15.00

Coffee is what makes the world go ’round and powers the adult world. If your giftee is a java-lover, and/or a science nerd, they are bound to giggle at this chemically accurate mug with accompanying accurate silly scale on the opposite side. Watch them go from Zombie to Genius as they sip their morning cup-a-joe.

Justin’s Nut Butter Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups: $15.02

Justin’s Nut Butters does some great work, and makes some amazingly delicious products. Especially their Almond Butter. This is the cleanest substitute for a Reese’s addict like myself. Chocolate and Peanut Butter are just meant for each other. I’ve got one waiting for me after my holiday diet wraps up in January!

Cuisinart Set of Three Strainers: $15.47

I received this exact set of strainers as a wedding gift, and had no idea at the time how critical they would become in my kitchen! The large strainer is perfect for making my homemade chicken stock, to get out all the little bits of carrot and herbs and leave a clear stock for making minestrone, ham and white bean soup, and chicken tortilla soup. The smaller one is perfect for straining kombucha, to make sure no chunks of SCOBY get into the finished product, or to make loose leaf tea drinkable (since I lost my mana-tea).

EcoDefy Automatic Soap Dispenser: $15.95

We all know that moment when your hands are covered in bread dough, icing, or raw chicken, and you need to wash your hands. But how do you get soap and turn on the water without contaminating your whole sink?! Automatic soap dispensers were one of the best investments we made when we first moved into our house. We ended up buying one at first for our kitchen, and loved it so much there is now one in every bathroom as well. You will also need 4 AAA batteries per dispenser, and maybe some soap to go with it. I like the Softsoap moisturizing Milk & Golden Honey.

Multiuse Silicone Dishwasher Safe Spoon Rest: $15.99

If you’re like me, you usually have at least two if not five different utensils sitting in or around your spoon rest at one time. You may need a spatula, whisk, spaghetti spoon and soup ladle all in one day. The spoon rest gets crowded, the utensils awkwardly fall off the side, and your counter is covered in sauce. No more! This silicone, dishwasher safe set of 2 rests has you covered from any angle.

Or, for the more whimsical among us, this adorable “I licked the spoon” kitty cat spoon rest: $13.18

 

Hammond Candies Holiday Classics Hard Candies: $17.00

The Hammond’s Candies factory in Denver, Colorado has been in operation since 1920 making holiday classics like candy canes, peppermint sticks, and ribbon candies. Transport yourself back in time with this Holiday Classics assortment of hard candies in an adorable holiday tin.

Ovente Black 1.5L Glass Electric Tea Kettle: $18.99

When you want to heat up more water than would fit in one cup in the microwave, but don’t want to wait until a pot on the stove boils, an electric kettle is the perfect answer. I find that the 1.5 L size is about right for 3 cups of hot tea, and it stays hot enough throughout all three cups. This one has a handy LED light that turns blue when it’s boiling, and a stay-cool pouring handle.

Haitian Organic Superfood Dark Chocolate 5 Pack: $19.90

These beautiful 70% dark chocolate bars are nonGMO, vegan, gluten-free, soy free, filled with superfoods, made in Haiti, and Fair trade certified. That’s a big mouthful to say; delicious!

Mr. Kitchen Glass & Steel 8 Cup French Press: $19.95

I have this exact 32 oz size, and it makes more than enough for 2 large steaming cups of coffee, or a double batch of hot loose leaf green tea. Perfect for when you don’t want to make two trips, or have more than one person to serve. The double filter keeps grounds and leaves out of your cup, and makes the perfect, smooth cup of coffee without the bitter aftertaste. Use together with the electric kettle above for the perfect hot beverage.

Glass Locking Oven Safe Meal Prep Containers:$19.99

Definitely one of the most-used gifts I’ve ever received, these glass containers make meal planning and food storage a dream. The lids lock in place, meaning they are completely spill proof. Never again will you have to clean out spilled chili from your lunch box, or wipe fruit juice off your refrigerator shelf. They are also completely oven, freezer, dishwasher, and microwave safe, meaning you can transport your food straight from cooked to frozen and back to the microwave for lunch without a second thought.

Amish Country Hull-less Popping Corn 4 Pack: $20.88

Popcorn is an awesome frugal snack, and can be made easily on the stove top with oil, using an air popper, or by putting 1/4 cup kernels and 1 tbsp oil in a paper bag and microwaving it. This set of 4 types is hulless, meaning less “digging in your teeth and gums for days after eating it”, and more enjoying.

Price Range: $21 – $35

Reversible Memory Foam Anti-Fatigue Chef’s Mat: $22.99

Our kitchen has a memory foam mat which was purchased on a whim when we first moved in. It has turned out to be one of my favorite kitchen accessories, as it really keeps your feet and back from getting sore after hours of slaving over the stove  😉

Kusmi Teas – One Moment Assortment of 5 Flavors: $26.50

This is a brand I found on our honeymoon in France, and fell in love with. When I came back to the states, I immediately put it on my Christmas wish list. My current favorite is their “Spicy Chocolate” black tea from their “Afternoon Teas” set.

18-Piece Canning Starter Set: $26.99

Dang, for less than $30 you can get your friend or family member started on a lifelong skill that can save thousands of dollars over the years. All you need is a large pot to boil the jars, and you are on your way to making home-canned peachescanning your own beans, and preserving garden fresh salsa and pasta sauce. This set comes with 4 quarts and 4 pints with lids, a funnel, and a recipe book. May I also suggest these Tattler reusable canning rings & lids for extra savings?

Hamilton Beach 7 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker: $29.96

I actually did a double take when I looked this one up. Slow cookers are so affordable, it is silly to not have one! All you need to do is make 2 home-cooked meals rather than go out to a restaurant and it’s paid for itself. You can of course get a low-maintenance basic one, and those run even less. I recommend the larger one if you’re cooking for two or more, or do big batches to freeze. Slow cookers can save you money in so many ways:

  • Make big batches of cheap staples like rice or beans
  • Save money by making crazy-cheap soups and stews
  • Cheap cuts of meat become fork tender with long-time cooking
  • Home cooking is easier & faster with minimal prep
  • Avoids the temptation to just order take-out or pizza
  • Cook ahead and freeze extra for instant meals later
Simply Gourmet Stainless Steel Measuring Cups & Spoons: $29.99

These spoons are extra-long, which is handy if you need to get the last tablespoon of baking soda out of the box. The cups and spoons have a hole in the handle, which means you can easily add an O-ring to connect them all together, and avoid digging through your drawer looking for the size you need.

Hottest Hot Sauce Gift Set 4 Pack: $29.99

I had to throw this one in there since I’m a Carolina girl now, and have recently acquired some Carolina Reaper peppers. This is legit the hottest pepper in the world, and the Scorpion, Ghost Pepper, and Habanero are nothing to laugh at either. Use with caution!

Cuisinart Immersion Blender: $31.95

Anyone who makes smoothies, milkshakes, pesto, hummus, soups, beverages, and/or sauces could use an immersion blender! I’ve used this guy in my own kitchen to create the perfect smoothness in my tomato basil soup, vegan dark chocolate peppermint hot cocoa, black bean soupgreen tea matcha latte, and to mix up my breakfast coffee protein shakes (sans banana). It is WAY easier to clean than a full blender when you have a small job to do.

Spices of the World Gift Set: $34.95

This is the Budget Epicurean, and what could be more epicurious than trying a new spice blend from an exotic cuisine? This World Spice set of 16 different mixes contains the flavors of Ethiopia, India, Africa, South America, and more. With everything from Za’atar and Tikka Masala to Chinese Five Spice and Harissa, these spices will entertain in the kitchen for months to come.

Price Range: $36 & Up

Cuisinart Electric Wine Bottle Opener with Vacuum Sealer: $37.22

This electric opener and sealer makes a nice glass of red easy breezy. With the touch of a button, pop that cork and get your relaxation on. Then don’t worry about having to finish the whole bottle, because it also has a vacuum sealer to keep unused wine fresh for days.

Home Brew Ohio 1 Gallon Wine Making Kit: $38.42

This is the kit that got us started on our home-brewing adventures! We have made 2 gallons of grape wine so far, and are working on our first gallon of mead now. This kit has everything you need to get started except the juice. Buy it as frozen concentrate or as 100% juice in any flavor you want to try. The carboy, airlock, bucket, and tubing can be reused over and over. If they like wine making, it will only cost a few dollars in upkeep to replace the other ingredients, and keep the homemade wine flowing.

NeoMega Avocado Oil Super Pack 4 Flavors: $39.99

We all know that avocados are the darlings of the millennial food scene, but there are many scientifically proven benefits to avocado oil, like reducing cholesterol, it contains leutein (important for eye health) and oleic acid, a healthy fat, and it may help gum disease and promote wound healing.

Neomega Nutritionals was started in 2016 by local Durham NC mom of three. After leaving the world of clinical research, she decided to pursue her passion for clean eating and healthy pantry options. With flavors like Ginger Turmeric Orange, Chili Pepper, Roasted Garlic, Rosemary, and Basil, this oil is perfect for all your soup-finishing, fish or chicken-drizzling, salad-dressing needs.

Sunbeam Stand Mixer With Dough Hooks & Beaters: $59.99

A stand mixer is SO GREAT if you make any amount of dough based items. I use my stand for my homemade pretzels, pizza dough, and plain and ciabatta bread. It’s also awesome for holiday cookies. This is basically a newer version of the old one my grandmother gifted to me about 7 years ago, and mine is still goin’ strong. No need to spend hundreds on a fancy gadget with a dozen attachments when a whisk and a dough hook does the trick for just about anything.

Ninja Professional Blender 1000: $75.99

If you have a gift exchange with a $100 limit, or a recipient you really like, consider giving them the gift of fresh smoothies, soups, and milk shakes on demand. This is the exact blender I asked for about 2 years ago, and it is still going strong. After endless peanut butter banana smoothies, blender pesto, blender hummus, smoothies, and more, the Ninja keeps performing day after day. With 1000 watts of power, it crushes ice like a champ and blends to perfection, and the best part is that it is all dishwasher safe!

Authentic Italian White Truffles 1 oz: $270

If you want to prove your love to someone, or show off your ridiculous wealth, consider supporting the Italian economy while making someone’s pasta taste weird and earthy. Just kidding, if you are this wealthy, please email me immediately so we can be friends*.

 

 

There you have it, my epicurious friends, a personally curated list of the Budget Epicurean top gift picks. Hopefully someone on your list will love these things, and you will make someone else’s table a little brighter this holiday season.

Xoxo,
BE

 

*Meant in the spirit of jest and sarcasm. Obviously, this is also a perfectly legitimate gift option if this is your price range. However, you are likely on the wrong blog…

Give Thanks

 

The Budget Epicurean is taking a Thursday off from posting to enjoy the Thanksgiving Holiday. I hope you all have good food, a warm roof over your head, and loving relationships!

Things I’m thankful for:

  • Good health
  • Working heart, lungs, joints, brain…
  • My BFF/hubs
  • A loving family
  • Amazing friends
  • 2 cute furbabies
  • Clean drinking water
  • HOT, running water
  • Washer/dryer
  • Dish washer!
  • Electricity
  • Air conditioning
  • Enough $ to pay the bills
  • More than enough $, to invest
  • NO DEBT* (except mortgage…)
  • *An affordable house I own
  • Education
  • Medicine
  • Insurance
  • A secure, great job
  • The blogging community
  • Pumpkin scented candles
  • Colored leaves
  • PIE
  • Mochas
  • Probiotics
  • Popcorn
  • Red wine
  • Laughter
  • Board games
  • The internet
  • Netflix
  • Mutual funds
  • Kind strangers
  • Kroger freebie Fridays
  • ALDI / LIDL
  • Reusable grocery bags
  • Coupons
  • Freedom
  • Choice
  • Rational thought
  • Personal & civic rights
  • PP & IUDs
  • Holiday-only cookies
  • Hot cocoa
  • Hot apple cider
  • Hot tea
  • Fuzzy socks
  • Fuzzy blankets
  • Heated car seats
  • Honda engines
  • Earmuffs
  • Boots!
  • Garden planning
  • Sunlight
  • Root vegetables
  • Poinsettias
  • Life renewal in the spring

 

I could probably keep going, this is just off the top of my head! May y’all have more things to be thankful for than not.

<3  B.E.

Hosting a Cookie Swap Party

Disclaimer: Some of the links take you to a product, which if you buy, will give this blog a tiny commission, so I can eat more cookies. Thanks!

 

With the winter holidays just around the corner, you may be feeling stressed already, sad and anxious, dreading travel and spending time with crazy aunt Millie… or you might be filled with the holly jollies, stringing lights everywhere, humming Christmas tunes to yourself, and dreaming of all the seasonal things you plan to do.

Hopefully, you have several things to look forward to this holiday season. Regardless of if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Quanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or anything else, the winter holiday season is always a season of joy, love, tradition, and generosity. And food. Lots and lots of food. Especially desserts.

If you don’t have holiday traditions already in your own family or friends group, might I recommend starting one?

There are a million and one ways to enjoy the winter, regardless of what you believe, what the weather is like, and where you live. But one of my all-time favorite traditions that I hope to start myself in my new home state is a Cookie Swap.

There are basically two ways to do a Cookie Swap.

  1. Everyone brings already-made cookies, in an agreed-upon amount, and each person goes home with some number of each kind of cookie
  2. Everyone brings a recipe and ingredients, and then you bake them all together; each person still goes home with some number of each kind of cookie

Obviously, the kind of party you could or should host depends upon who has the facilities. If you are all in college or graduate school or tiny one bedroom apartments, then baking six dozen of five kinds of cookies might be a stretch. But if you have a decent sized kitchen with lots of counter space, I’d recommend that route!

A cookie swap is an awesome holiday tradition for several reasons.

Saves Time

If your family is at all like mine, you used to spend a LOT of time making cookies. Like, weeks upon end of flour, butter, sugar, mix it all together. Add the eggs, add the milk. Roll, make sure they are all the same size, dust with flour, roll some more, preheat to 350. Set the timer, whip the filling, thaw the dough, chill the icing.

The time it takes to make each kind of cookie is quite nearly inversely related to how delicious it is. Sure, there are some exceptions (really outstanding sugar cookies? sure) but that’s pretty much how it goes. You know that those cookies only Nana knows the full recipe for and take 18 hours in total are damn delicious.

My very scientifically accurate cookie vs time graph

So imagine you wanted to have all those tasty cookies, which on your own would take about 96 hours of work to create. But then you get to have them all, after only one day. Magic and sorcery you say?

Nay. Only the magic of teamwork.

Saves Money

In a similar way that you can use the magic of scale to save yourself time making lots of kinds of cookies in one go, you can also use the magic of economy by purchasing ingredients in bulk. You can probably find a cheaper price per pound on sugar if you know you will need 30 pounds of it versus 3.

You can agree to buy all ingredients at once and then split it all ways, or assign specific ingredients to certain people. It helps to have at least one very organized person in the group to organize the little details like this.

It is also very likely that you will save money versus buying holiday cookies at the store. Sure, if you buy generic crap off the day-old bakery shelves, you definitely will find better deals. But for a homemade, unique, made with love dozen cookies? Those things sell for easily $5-$20 per dozen, depending on the intricacy of recipe.

Recipes to try:

Bonding

Along with saving money on the actual cookies themselves, you are saving yourself some money by enjoying some frugal entertainment. Instead of going out to a movie and spending $15 on tickets plus $10 on concessions, a happy hour with $8 drinks, or dinner and maxing out your credit card, you can make new friends, and get closer to friends you already have in the comfort of someone’s home for almost free.

You can start many more traditions inside this tradition as well. Maybe make up your own words for traditional Christmas songs. Or have a theme, like a type of nut, a color, or “frosted” each year. One of the best ideas I’ve seen is to have everyone write down their recipe in a journal. Then each person gets to take home a copy, that will have all the cookie recipes each year.

Imagine a few decades from now, passing those books on to family or loved ones, and telling stories of holidays past. That time you spilled the flour all over the floor, the time your friend set off the smoke alarm because she got drunk and forgot to set the timer, or that time your cute neighbor came over to crash the party because it smelled so good.

If you think this sounds great, then now is your moment! Here is how to set up your very own cookie swap:

  1. Decide if you want everyone to bake at home, then just bring cookies and hang out, or if you will all bake together.
  2. Determine who would be interested in coming, and from there who could host the party and when.
  3. Invite a group of about three to seven people. That would be enough variety but not overwhelm most kitchens.
  4. Choose your cookie recipes. It could be a family recipe handed down for generations, or a new one you’ve always wanted to try. I wouldn’t recommend going too crazy your first year, unless you are already a pretty accomplished baker.
  5. Compile all the recipes and figure out your shopping list. Obtain all the ingredients. (And maybe a gallon or two of eggnog, wine, or whatever holiday beverage tickles your fancy)
  6. Show up! Make sure to have plenty of baking sheets, cooking spray, tin foil, wax paper, hand towels, a mixer, whether a hand mixer or standing like a KitchenAid, and plastic ware or tins for everyone to take home their bounty.

That’s all there is to it! If you are the host, be considerate of guests with little touches like holiday music, holiday scents, and having plenty of drinks and snacking foods. If you are attending, be considerate of your host and make sure you help clean up afterwards! Cookie baking does turn your kitchen into a flour-and-egg warzone.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a friends’ family cookie swap, and it was SO MUCH FUN! We drank wine, mixed, tasted, and talked about life. Grandma shared her wisdom, Grandpa was shocked that I could do shots of whiskey with him, we told stories and laughed a lot. I got to go home with a box full of 7 different kinds of cookies, but more importantly a bunch of fond memories, and the anticipation of doing it again next year!

 

Do you have any fun holiday traditions? Have you ever hosted or attended a cookie swap?