Thursday, February 25, 2010

Comfort Food....the Country Fried Steak

I made this for dinner last night, and it's a treat in a comfy sort of way. Nothing fancy, just good eatin'

Country Fried Steak

1 largish round steak, cut about 3/4" thick
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups milk

Take the steak and pound it thoroughly with your meat hammer. Put in a bag with the flour, salt, and pepper, and shake well.

Meanwhile, heat the 1/4 cup vegetable oil until hot in a cast iron skillet

Gently lay the coated meat in the heated oil. Brown meat on both sides, and add 2 tablespoons water.

Cover the skillet, reduce heat to very low, and allow to cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Uncover the last 15 minutes to crisp up the coating. Remove steak from skillet and keep warm.

Add 1/4 cup flour to the drippings in the skillet, and stir until lightly browned. Add milk, all at once and stir constantly until boiling. Use medium heat. Boil and stir for an additional 1-2 minutes and remove from heat. Correct seasoning.

Serve gravy over the steak along with some mashed potatoes on the side. Add some cooked green beans as a veggie, and you're set for a comfort meal extraordinaire.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Beef Stew for the Crock Pot

An easy, cheap, beef stew that tastes better than the canned varieties.

2 lbs beef stew meat (or round steak cut into cubes)
1 can condensed tomato soup, thinned with 1/2 can water (you can also use mushroom soup and a few drops of kitchen bouquet if you don't like tomato)
1 large potato cut into chunks
1 can peas, or 1 small package frozen peas
1 carrot sliced (or a good handfull of baby carrots)
1 large onion chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper
dash Worcestershire sauce

Mix all of these ingredients in your crock pot, cover, and cook for 8-10 hours on Low, 4-6 hour on high.

Serve with corn bread or hot biscuits.

Cheap Computing

I consider my computer a necessity....not a luxury. I use it to work, play, and communicate.

Like most people, mine isn't the latest and greatest, and I have an older model stashed away. I gave another older model a new lease on life with Linux.

My living room PC is solid, works wonderfully, and is very dated. However, it works just as fast as my office PC thanks to Ubuntu.

What is Ubuntu? It's a variety of Linux....a free operating system developed by the open source community. It's easy to install and configure (it does the work for you in 99% of the cases), runs quickly, and breathes life into an older machine quite well.

I use my Ubuntu box as a multimedia machine. I have a cable running from it to my television and my stereo system. This way, I can download music and play it through the stereo. I can watch TV on Hulu and Youtube, and sit on the couch and chat with friends and family. I can sync my ipod and mp3 players (you still need Itunes to restore an ipod), and I can watch movies stored on my external HD.

Ubuntu is VERY user friendly, and there's a ton of online support in addition to several great, reasonably priced books. Just Google "Ubuntu" for more information. It can also be set up as a file or print server and even comes with, an office suite that is very compatible with MS Office.

Why let that computer gather dust? Give it a new breath of life and see what it can do!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cheap Tunes

Tired of listening to your mp3 player through those cheap earbuds, but don't have a lot of money for a stereo or docking station? Put your own together for much less.

The ipod docking stations are spendy if you want something with sound better than a boombox or clock radio. I found this out the hard way AFTER I purchased my ipod. I started looking into maybe building a dedicated setup that would sound good and cost less. Most of the articles I ran into on the Internet built setups for about the same price....out of my lower middle class budget.

I ran into some great deals out there. So, for the budget enthusiast who loves his or her tunes, here is my list. Just hook these components up, plug in your ipod and enjoy beautiful music for less.

The barest bones system....

This will put out nice, clean sound, have a small footprint, and will make a nice set for normal listening levels in a small bedroom, den, or office. The clarity is shocking. Of course you will need to bring your own mp3 player or ipod to the mix.

Dayton Class T Amplifier

This is an amazingly tiny 15 watt per channel (more like 5 in real life situations) that produces the most amazingly clear sounds.....sounds much more expensive than it is. It won't rattle the walls, but you will be hearing breaths in between songs on vocals, fingers moving across guitars, and even some bloopers (the Searchers have a squeaky drum pedal on their recording of Needles and Pins). Amazing detail, and usually runs about $45 regular price with power supply. It's on sale until the end of the month for $34. You will need to pick up speaker wire.....Parts Express sells this for don't want to go thicker than 18 AWG (smaller numbers are THICKER)....the speaker connects on the amp won't easily accept it.

This amp comes with a cable to hook up your computer sound card or an mp3 player via the headphone jack. If you have a portable CD player as well, you're set. If you want to use an ipod via the docking connection (it DOES sound better). Try this cable available on works well, and is $13 instead of $49 for an Apple Dock. You will have to charge your ipod elsewhere but you can do that at your computer at end of day.

Dayton Bookshelf Speaker Pair

Here is a nicely built set of bookshelf speakers for $32.50....on sale for $29.00 right now. These are highly rated on the Parts Express site, and they're a good value capable of nice clear sound. No earth shaking bass, but we're going for good sound, not thumpy here.

At retail price, this system comes in at about $100 when you include shipping. Bose products START at $300 and go up to $600 for ipod docks, and the $100 system, while not as loud or punchy, is capable of sound just as detailed. A bit of savings there.

Another plus is that I've ordered from Parts Express many times. They've always shipped quickly and gotten my orders correct. Everything has arrived well-packed and save.

Upgraded System

If you like a bit more punch to your music, you can always upgrade the speakers. I recently went to Best Buy, looking for a set of bookshelf speakers. Over among their Bose, Klipsch, and other well-known brands were a pair of their own brand, Insignia. I checked them out, and they were amazingly well made....beautiful craftsmanship. I auditioned them, and they sounded at least as good as, and better than some of the more expensive speakers.....amazing sound, and NICE BASS for the price. A set went home with me for my ipod system and I have to admit they're a pleasure to listen to.

These cost about $84 for a pair, and you can order them online and pick them up at the store. Watch for sales; these go on sale every 4-6 weeks or so, but they're a good deal at full retail too.

Upgrading to these, you still have a reasonably priced system, better sound, and you can easily take the speakers to a home theater later if you please. Happy listening!

Monday, February 22, 2010


....a few years back, a friend of mine was going to run to the store and get gravy mix for dinner. She was out, and didn't know how to make it from scratch.

Trust me, it's easy, cheap and fast. Here is a basic recipe that will give you gravy in a jiffy, and is so good that you may never buy a gravy mix again. Vary it as you like and use whatever options you please to make it meat gravy, vegetarian gravy or whatever. It all works....just taste and adjust. :)

Basic Gravy

2 tablespoons meat drippings from your roast, chicken, pork chops, or 2 tablespoons vegan margarine for veggie version.

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 cup broth, boullion, milk, water, veggie stock or any combination thereof.

Salt and pepper to taste

Kitchen bouquet or Gravy Master browning sauce (optional)

Start heating your drippings in a pan of your choice. Once hot, stir in your flour and stir until the mix is bubbly and smooth. If you want a browner gravy, continue to stir until mixture is a golden brown.

Add liquid. There's a debate on whether to add it slowly or all at once. I'm an all at once person. My end product turns out smoother (for me).

Cook and stir over medium heat until boiling. Boil and stir for 1-2 minutes.

Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper, or other seasoning of your choice.


Southern Sausage or Bacon Gravy for Biscuits

Cook and brown sausage or bacon until done; make a double batch of gravy, use the drippings from the meat of choice, and stir in cooked meat at end of the cook.

Hamburger Gravy
Do the same with hamburger as you would with sausage. Use either beef stock or milk as your liquid as you like, and stir in a little chili powder. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Really Should Be Cleaning

I will be shortly enough. Cleaning got me thinking about how much I used to spend on cleaning products. I still have a kitchen sink cabinet that I need to get into and clean out. About 90% of that stuff is unnecessary and I don't know why I bought it. *scratches head* I worked janitorial for 15 years and I know better. The pitfalls of advertising.

In reality, you only need a few items, all cheaply and readily available, to clean your house safely, effectively, and inexpensively. Sorry, no homemade cleaners here, just practical stuff you can pick up at your local market or dollar store, and get the job done.

Here's my el cheapo list of things to get the job done....first is my list for housecleaning.

Hand dishwashing liquid
This is a great, all purpose, neutral cleaner. Do yourself a favor, and buy a well-known brand in this product. You will use much less and it will be less expensive in the long run. I like Ajax(tm) for a balance of cost and performance.

Use this for....duh....washing dishes, and almost any all purpose cleaning which doesn't require a germicide. It is formulated to be a degreaser already, so given time, it will dissolve almost any mess that you have. Next time, when you're mopping your kitchen floors, add a squeeze to your mop water (go easy because of suds), and run the bucket a little higher than normal. Before you mop, put the bottles of a couple of trigger sprayers into the bucket and fill them up. Label them accordingly and use for touchups on kitchen counters, trip, appliances, and the like.

If you have a really nasty mess, a little bit of Arm and Hammer washing soda will make this into a degreaser extraordinaire. Wear gloves when using.

Automatic Dishwasher Detergent (if you have a dishwasher)

Oven Cleaner (if you're not blessed with a self cleaning oven)

Glass cleaner that is unsurpassed. Mix a small capful with water in a spray bottle, add a splash of rubbing alcohol and you're set for mirrors, glass, and all kinds of shiny surfaces. A half gallon is less than a dollar, and will last for years.

Note: never mix this with chlorine bleach....too many people have left a shiny bathtub and a beautiful corpse behind doing this. DEADLY FUMES.

Soft Scrubbing Cleanser with Bleach
Keep a bottle of this on hand for those coffee, tea and fruit stains on countertops, or when things need a mild abrasive to come clean. I buy the Bab-O(tm) with bleach at Dollar Tree and it works just fine.

Spray Bottles
Pick up a half dozen or so of the 32 oz size next time you're at the dollar store. Mix your own chemicals, label accordingly and save big.

Scrubbing sponge with white pad
This is a gift from the gods. The white pad provides enough scrubbing for practically anything you throw at it, but won't damage even non-stick or soft plastic surfaces. 3M(tm) is the BEST brand none....and rinse properly last practically forever. To sanitize, wet them and put in your microwave and zap for about 30 seconds. Remove carefully, they're hot! You can also put them in the dishwasher. Use them until they start disintegrating.

Germicidal Cleaner
This is for the bathroom. It's available as Pine-Sol(tm), and other names usually ending with "disinfecting cleaner" or "deodorizing cleaner"

Use the bucket trick for mixing and filling up spray bottles (label them), using the amount directed on the bottle. Spritz on, use a scrubbing sponge for problem areas, and wipe dry. Clean and sanitized.

Arm & Hammer Washing Soda(tm)
Add this to your dishwashing liquid when you need a cleaner with extra kick. A tablespoon or so is the most you will need (more is not better). Also useful in grimy laundry.

Now for the are my suggestions on what gets the job done quickly and safely.

Laundry Detergent (powder or liquid)
Do yourself a favor and buy a product with enzymes (if you're not sensitive to them). They work much better on getting the last of the stains and stink out of even grungy clothes. Sears Ultra Plus(tm) powder is a great value and works well. I haven't tried the liquid variety.

Do keep a small jug of liquid detergent on hand for cold water washes and delicates. Also great for when you're washing a bulky item; sometimes powders don't completely dissolve when you're doing comforters in cooler temperatures.

Fels Naptha(tm) Soap
Keep this, and a spray bottle of water on your laundry shelf at all times. Whenever you run into a spot on your clothes, spritz the spot with some water, rub it with the Fels Naptha bar, and set aside for a few minutes. It's especially good for greasy spots and a bar lasts for ages using it this way.

Oxi Type Cleaner
This can be Oxyclean, Oxobrite, Sun Oxygen Cleaner, or the stuff I buy at Dollar Tree. They all work about the same.

Use this instead of bleach for your white clothes (follow the directions on the package), and put a scoop in a gallon of cool water for things like blood stains. Let it soak for a bit (overnight is necessary sometimes) and even dryer set blood stains will budge!

Fabric Softener or Dryer Sheets (if you tend to use them)
Go cheap here, especially for dryer sheets. There's not a lot of difference in performance.

Distilled white vinegar
Use about an ounce of this in your final rinse for dark clothes. Removes that very last bit of detergent and lint from dark clothes and helps keep them looking fresh.

(Note: some folks like to use this as softener or all-purpose cleaner. I find it is far better for rinsing stuff than cleaning or softening. To everything there is a season....)

Lemon Juice
Keep a small bottle of reconstituted lemon juice in the fridge at all times, and keep a REAL LEMON for your recipes.

The reconstituted lemon juice is for the occasional rust stain. Dab or pour on until saturated, let sit (preferably in the sun if you have a nice day), and wash when the rust is gone. It takes time, but it works, even on rust marks from furniture on carpet.

Hair Spray (cheapo stuff)
This is one of the few aerosols that I will recommend keeping on hand. Keep a cheap can of hairspray on your laundry shelf. When that uncapped ball point pen leaks, spray it on to the stain, rinse, and repeat if necessary, and wash as usual. Thanks Mom for this has saved me MANY times over the years.

There you have it.....with spring around the now have a list of stuff that will get your digs clean and not break the bank. Happy cleaning.

Who is Peg Bracken???

You will note that many of my recipes were inspired by Peg Bracken. If you're under 40, you may well not remember her, and her books are sadly out of print.

Peg Bracken (1918-2007) was an advertising copywriter from Portland, OR, my home city. 50 years ago, she published a little cookbook that was called "The I Hate to Cook Book." The book is a gem....full of irreverent humor, quick and delicious recipes, and lots of kitchen wisdom from a woman who didn't fuss in the kitchen but was nonetheless extremely knowledgeable.

She also published "The I Hate to Housekeep Book" "Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book" and many others.....all full of her brilliance. In 1986, she published "The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book" (yes the spelling is correct), which took several of her books and consolidated them into one large volume. If you find any of them at Amazon, estate sales, thrift shops, or book stores for a reasonable price, by all means pick them up. They're pure gold for cheap easy recipes. Peg was a lady who learned her stuff BEFORE the processed food revolution, could make anything from next to nothing ingredient wise, and do it well, and do it fast.

Another interesting fact about her....she worked with (and was friends with) Homer Groening, father of Matt Groening of Simpsons fame, and I believe was neighbors of Homer and Margaret (hmmmm.....Home and Marge Simpson....wonder how he came up with those names). That's fun, because you will recipes in the book occasionally pop up with a Simpsons name such as Patty's Patties, or Selma's Oatmeal Cookies.

I am hoping that this blog is befitting her memory. Sadly I never had the chance to meet her, but she was my "kitchen guardian angel" for many years.

Edited to add: It appears that her daughter is re-releasing this volume and it is available for pre-order at It is definitely a worthy purchase at $ will save you that in the first month of using it vs. mixes.

Cheap Easy Chili

Here is a chance for some more savings. I love the convenience of canned and frozen products, but sometimes the cost and taste both leave something to be desired. Here is a chili recipe that's easy to make, doesn't take much longer than the canned variety, and doesn't use anything expensive or extravagant. Another Peg Bracken inspired gem.

Cheap Easy Chili

1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 - 16 oz can kidney beans, black beans, or pinto beans, or two cups of leftover cooked dried beans
1 tablespoon chili powder (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar (remember the tomato trick)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt
1 or dashes cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you like it)

Brown hamburger and chopped onion in a pan with a heavy bottom. add garlic and drain off fat

Add all remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes or until as thick as you like.

This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily and freezes well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tomato Products....the good, the bad, the bitter, the sour...

Next time you're at the grocery store, stock up on some of the cheapest tomato sauce, tomato paste, and whole or diced tomatoes that you can find. Don't worry about the brand; we're going to use the great equalizer and make them into a good product for cooking....table sugar.

If your tomatoes are bitter or sour, try sweetening them up with a teaspoon of sugar. This will generally work to make your recipe tastier and really levels the playing ground on whether or not you use the expensive product or not.

Actually, the sugar works great on ANY canned vegetable. Try adding a teaspoon of sugar, and a tiny bit of minced or grated onion to your next can of peas, corn, carrots or whatever. It makes a huge difference in the flavor. Plus, it allows you to buy more by price, choosing canned or frozen according to your budget, rather than worrying as much about taste.

(I buy the Kroger Value canned vegetables and the off brands at Grocery Outlet, and with this treatment, nobody ever complains at dinner)

On Using the Smoke Alarm as a Timer

Everyone has done it. We're in a hurry, trying to get dinner on the table, and we turn the pan on too high and BAM! scorched food.

If the food in the pan isn't too badly scorched, you can transfer it to another pan (take care not to disturb the scorched food stuck to the bottom), and add a 1/2 teaspoon of instant coffee dissolved in a little water. Stir it in, and it will take care of the remaining scorched taste.

Thanks to my mother for that tip and thanks to Stella (long ago retired school lunch cook)....the originator of that one. It works very well.

And, while you're at it, put some water and dish soap in that scorched pan and put it aside to soak for a day or so before you deal with it. You deserve it for juggling so many things! :)

Cooking Rice

Well, this one sounds pretty obvious and it is, but please bear with me. Many years ago, when I was teaching MS Office at a local women's center, my co-worker was teaching life skills. Our student base, a lot of them being neglected and abused as children, never really learned how to do the basics. We had one class where no one knew how to fix rice, except for the boiling bag type or the instant type....or the rice mixes!

All of those things are great when you're in a hurry, but a bag of long grain rice is still cheaper, and will make MANY more servings on your food dollar. Plus, with a little creativity, you can have just about anything that you can get in a box, only better. All for about the same amount of time it takes to cook one of those boxes.

So, here goes....

Basic Rice Recipe

For each cup of rice, you need 2 cups of water. Add a little salt (about 1/2 - 1 teaspoon per cup of rice) to the water, a lump of butter if you please, and bring the water to a boil. Add your rice, return to a boil, and reduce your heat to low. Let the rice simmer for about 15-20 minutes (40-50 minutes if using brown rice) or until tender and the water is all absorbed. Serve forth, as is, or use in these variations.

Fried Rice

Take 2 - 3 cups rice and refrigerate until well chilled.

Put a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a little oil, and some leftover cooked chicken or pork, along with a green onion, sliced. Amounts aren't critical here. Fry until onion is tender.

Add rice to mixture in skillet, and stir and saute until hot. If you like a browner type of fried rice, add a little soy sauce and stir until the color is of your like (careful, it can get too salty real quick). Stir everything until it's well combined, hot and starting to look a little dry.

Move rice to edges of skillet, leaving a little well in the center. Beat 1-2 eggs and drop into the well. Cook and stir until eggs are set up and mix in with the rice. Serve immediately.

PDX Pilaf

Follow the above recipe, except use 2-3 slices cooked bacon and add a handful of frozen peas or other frozen veggie that you like, with the rice. Omit egg if desired.

Onion Rice (inspired by Peg Bracken)

Make basic rice recipe, except add a half package of onion soup to the water. Cook as normal, and stir well when done.

South o' the Border Rice

Make basic rice recipe, except substitute salsa for 1/2 of the water. Stir in some crumbled bacon or cooked ground beef at the end if you would like a main dish.

Chicken Rice

This one's simple....use chicken broth in place of the water in the basic rice recipe, and add a tablespoon of dried parsley or a teaspoon of poultry seasoning. Serve with, baked chicken! :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

On Laundry...

....I just finished up with the laundry and I'm happy that task is over. I used to make my own laundry soap from the recipes that circulate the Internet. I still do at times because I make my own handcrafted soap, and the ugly failed batches get put into the laundry gel bucket. It works fine and it keeps those batches from ultimately going to waste.

Recently, while between scraps, I found a sale on Sears Ultra Plus Detergent. It was $22.99 for a 275 load size. That works out to about 8 cents a load in a top loading machine.....much less than other national brands, so I decided to give it whirl.

I've used it now for many loads, and I have to say that it's the best bargain out there. It cleans as well as the more expensive products, even on nasty, DISGUSTING clothes, and leaves the clothes smelling clean, not perfumed like a tropical fruit smoothie.

If you have an HE front loader, this detergent is an even better value. It's HE certified, but unlike most of the HE detergents out there, you only use half a scoop in a front loader (makes me wonder about some of the other detergents). That works out to 4 cents of chemical for a family size load.....a really CLEAN load of clothes.

For that price, I'm only making my own laundry soap again if I have scraps.

My View of Frugality....

I called this site True Frugality for a reason.

So many sites are concerned with saving a cent or two that they take you through a million steps to get something inferior to what would only cost you a little bit extra to get already.

So when I say frugal, I also mean your time. Time is money in the business world, and we all have when you're working long hours, YOUR time is more valueable than ever. I want to keep that in mind as this blog expands.

Peace and blessings,

The Meat Mix

I love the pizza delivery people and it shows. Unfortunately, it's expensive, and nutritionally I know I'm much better off with preparing something fresh in my own kitchen.

This meat mix is nice to have on hand for those nights that you don't want to cook but you know you should fix the recipe for the meat mix follows, along with a few ideas for quick and easy meals.

Meat Mix (Inspired by Peg Bracken's 4 way Meat Mix)

For each lb of lean ground beef (get as many pounds as you can afford) add...
1 slice of bread, soaked in milk or water and squeezed to a pulp
1 egg
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (or 1 tablespoon of the dried kind)
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Mix this all together thoroughly in a large bowl. Take out enough to form a nice sized meat loaf for dinner that night and bake at 350F for 1 - 1 1/2 hours until juices are clear.

Meanwhile, take the remaining mix and form into patties and meatballs. Package in approximately 1 lb portions and freeze.

Then, when your back's to the wall and you need a meal, you can make any of the following.

Stuffed Peppers

Take 3-4 green peppers, cut the tops off and remove the seeds. Place on a glass plate or pie plate, add a couple tablespoons of water and cover with plastic. Zap in the microwave about three minutes to blanch them.

Put the blanched peppers into a baking dish, and fill with the frozen meatballs. Pour a can of tomato sauce (or spaghetti sauce) over all, cover with foil and bake for about an hour. Serve over rice.

Salisbury Steak
Brown a package of patties....don't bother to thaw a heavy skillet. Set aside. Drain off excess fat and set aside.

Add about two tablespoons reserved dripping to the skillet, and add one small onion, finely chopped. Saute until tender and slightly transparent.

Add two tablespoons flour to this mixture in the skillet and stir until smooth and bubbling.

Add a cup of beef broth, beef boullion, or even water all at once to the simmering mixture. Stir constantly over medium heat until it starts simmering. Plop the patties in there, cover, and simmer until thoroughly cooked, about 30 minutes. Serve with your favorite potato.


This one's easy. Just brown the meatballs, drain off excess fat, and add a sauce....I usually use a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup thinned with 1/2 can of water. Cover and simmer until done, about 45 minutes. Tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, tomato soup, gravy mix and water all work too....use what you're in the mood for.

Just a few ideas....and preparation time for all of them is wonderfully short. Cheap, simple, substantial meals with a minimum of fuss.

Welcome to True Frugality!

The last year has been hard on everyone, economically and emotionally. I've had to restructure stuff at home, at work, in hobbies, and in life in general.

Practically everyone else I know is in a similar boat. So, I figured, "Why not start a blog on true frugality?" Not the tips like "vinegar will substitute for all your household cleaners" (nonsense), or save the planet and your utility bill with a new $1500 high efficiency washing machine.

No, I want this to be real life posts, for real life people, with real life problems. I won't promise that I will always meet this goal, but I think I have enough to share about food, bills, fuel, and the like that someone may benefit. So wish me luck!