The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

Frugal Café Philosophy
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Frugal Café's Savvy 16: 16 Kitchen & Shopping Tricks to Save You Money & Time

By Vicki McClure Davidson


Larger chickens yield a greater meat-to-bone ratio, so buy the largest one you can find. | Photo credit: MS Office
Larger chickens yield a greater meat-to-bone ratio, so try to buy the largest one you can find. | Photo credit: MS Office
  1. Muffins and a Shoe Horn: A shoe horn will easily lift freshly baked muffins or cupcakes out of the muffin tin without tearing and can go right into the dishwasher when done. Of course, the shoehorn is for kitchen use only!

  2. Buying Whole Chickens: When buying a whole chicken, an easy, fool-proof way to find the best meat-to-bone ratio in your bird is to look at the dollar amounts on the price stickers of the chickens. The larger the dollar amount, the bigger the bird. I always look at the price, because the font size for the weight is usually too microscopic for me to find, let alone read. Because chickens are brought to market at approximately the same age, they all have about the same amount/weight of skeleton. The difference in the birds' sizes is a result of the amount of meat on the bones. The heavier birds offer a far better bargain because they have a greater meat-to-bone ratio. You can apply this same rule of thumb when buying chicken pieces, but be sure that the wrapped packages have an equal number of chicken parts and types of pieces. Otherwise, more complicated calculations must be done, and well, that's more than I ever want to deal with when grocery shopping.

  3. The Wonders of Wood: When stirring anything hot on the stove, always use a wooden spoon. A wooden spoon never gets hot, it won't melt, nor does it scratch the insides of cookware. I also prefer stirring thick batter or cookie dough with a big wooden spoon. I've bent the handles of several metal mixing spoons and totally broken the handles of plastic ones before it dawned on me that wood has been used successfully for centuries. Now I'll never use anything but wood. It's sturdier, doesn't rust, and just feels plain GOOD to use. Never put wooden spoons into the dishwasher. The chemicals in the detergent will dry out and mar the wood's finish and some of it may absorb into the wood itself. The heat of the water in the dishwasher, and that of the hot air used to dry dishes, are both too intense and will quickly ruin the wood. Just wash wooden spoons by hand and let them dry naturally.

  4. Reheating Cold Bread Products: To quickly warm or reheat biscuits, pancakes, or muffins that have been refrigerated, place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist (reheating bread products in the microwave can often dry them out or make them tough and gummy) and help it reheat faster. Start the microwave timer at 10 seconds, and if the muffins or biscuits are still cold after the first 10 seconds, microwave them for another 10 seconds. Much easier to add to/increase the time than to decrease it. Keep an eye on reheating pancakes. They are much thinner and heat up faster than you'd expect. They can become hockey pucks in just a few seconds of overheating.

  5. Salt the Pasta: Unsalted pasta will taste bland, no matter how much seasoning is added to the finished dish. Add enough salt to make the water taste seawater salty. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes in the taste—trust me!

  6. Fresh mushrooms that are kept in cool, dry places and allowed to breathe last longer. | Photo credit: admiller,, Creative Commons
    Fresh mushrooms that are kept in cool, dry places and allowed to breathe last longer. | Photo credit: admiller,, Creative Commons
  7. Storing Mushrooms: After you buy fresh mushrooms, remove them from the plastic bag or wrap. Plastic bags or wrap speed up their aging process by retaining moisture, making them become slimy more quickly. Instead, store the mushrooms in paper bags in the refrigerator. The paper bag lets them "breathe" so that they stay fresh longer. Also, don't wash mushrooms before you put them into the fridge. They absorb moisture quickly. Instead, make sure that they're totally dry before putting them into the storage paper bag.

  8. Measuring Sticky Foods: Before you pour or spoon any sticky substance into a measuring cup for a recipe (i.e., peanut butter, honey, jam, shortening, etc.), fill the cup with hot water and let it sit for a minute. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry the cup. Next, add your sticky substance, such as peanut butter, to the measuring cup—once it's been measured, invert the cup over the mixing bowl and the peanut butter (or other sticky substance) will plop right out with no effort. You can also spray the inside of a measuring cup with non-stick spray before measuring for easy clean up.

  9. DIY Microwave Ring Mold: Because microwave ovens cook from the outside in, vegetables and some other foods are best when they are prepared in a ring mold or bundt pan. To fashion a cheap DIY one yourself, just place a glass ovenware custard cup, microwave-safe water glass, or preserving jar in the center of a microwave-safe round casserole that has the proper diameter.

  10. White Mold on Cheese: If you discover a light coating of white mold on a block of cheese, try giving it a rub down with salt. Not only does it work at removing the mold, but it's much easier than shaving it with a knife or cheese slicer and cuts down on waste.

  11. Killing Bugs in Pasta: When you buy dried pasta products at the store, immediately pop the box or bag into the freezer when you get home. Keep it in there at least 72 hours (3 days). This amount of time will kill any microscopic insect eggs that are inside the linguine, macaroni, vermicelli, even ramen noodles, and will prevent the varmits from hatching. After 72 hours, you can store the pasta in an air-tight container or keep them in the freezer or refrigerator. No more bugs suddenly appearing in your dried pasta!

  12. Avoid buying cut flowers in grocery stores that have the florist department near the produce department. Your flowers will last longer.
    Avoid buying cut flowers in grocery stores that have the florist department near the produce department. Your flowers will last longer.
  13. Buying Cut Flowers: If you buy cut flowers at the supermarket, avoid purchasing them from those grocery stores where the florist department is relatively close to the produce department. Why? They will age faster. The invisible ethylene gases many fruits and vegetables emit when ripening (particularly apples, pears, and avocados) will hasten the wilting of cut flowers, shortening their lives and beauty quickly. Potted plants are also affected by ethylene gases. Cut flowers that are the most sensitive to ethylene gases are roses and carnations. Click here to learn more about how quickly ethylene gas ages fresh produce.

  14. Shipping Cookies: Wrap cookie varieties separately to keep their flavors from mingling. Wrap the cookies in manageable-sized sleeves, then surround the sleeves in bubble wrap for best cushioning. Don't mix soft and crisp cookies in the same package. The crisp cookies absorb moisture from the soft cookies and become soft themselves. Too bad it isn't the other way around...

  15. Making Garlic Salt: Save some money by making your own garlic salt. In a sealed jar or container, pour in an ample amount of regular table salt. Remove the skin and cut off the rough little root ends of two or three garlic cloves. Bury the garlic cloves in the salt, mix it all around, and close the container. Store the container in a cool, dark place for a few days. When you think about it during the next few days, mix them around a bit a few times a day. The salt will absorb the garlic flavor and, lo and behold, you'll have garlic salt for just pennies.

  16. Using Bacon Ends: Bacon ends and pieces can be used as a burst of flavor for a variety of dishes. Chop them up into bits and then fry them. Use them as a base for gravy (make the gravy with the fried chopped bacon ends and pieces in the gravy). Add a few to hamburger to add extra flavor or use them (fried and grease drained) as a flavor enhancer in casseroles. Add cooked bacon to soups or pinto beans. Save the bacon grease to flavor vegetables (a bit added to broccoli or green beans really gives them zip!)

  17. Adding Chopped Nuts to Batter: When adding chopped nuts or fruit to a cake or cookie batter, they will disperse more evenly in the batter if they're lightly floured before being added to the concoction.

  18. Fixing Those Burned Baked Goods: I just hate it when I'm multi-tasking between the kitchen and the computer on weekends. That's when I often lose track of time and burn muffins or cookies in the oven. If they aren't too burned (just the bottom), you can save them. Breads, rolls, and cream puffs that are burned on the bottom can also be salvaged. Let the burned bread item cool, then simply sand its blackened base lightly with the smallest holes on a box grater. Amazing! Gently grate until the burned layer is removed and it's just the right shade of brown.




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