Quick Tip Tuesday: Finding a Ripe Avocado

Raise your hand if you love avocados? Is your hand up? It should be. Now raise your hand if you can’t pick a ripe avocado to save your life. Yup, my hands are up. I have wasted a ridiculous amount of money on the un-ripe avocado, or even worse one that suddenly is over-ripe. Thanks to the internet there is a solution. The dish I made this week is delicious when topped with avocado, and man did I pick a good one, and it was sooooooooo easy.

(Image from My Fridge Food)


Mother’s Monday: The Instant Pot

As part of our new year, new blog theme we’ve got going on here at MMC, we’ve decided to introduce Mother’s Monday, a post to feature our favorite items & products: those things that don’t really fit anywhere else. While this should be a semi-regular occurrence, it will not be a weekly post.
What better way to start this series then for a favorite among all of us: The Instant Pot. This beauty has earned Amazon’s coveted orange “#1 Best Seller” tag, and is an item we can’t live without. While the list price can range well above $200, you can usually find it on Amazon for less than $150. Currently it’s listed for $118 (see here); and available for less than $100 through Amazon’s open box warehouse (see here). I promise I am not an Instant Pot salesman – I am just in love with this product!
We’ve featured a number of recipes that use a pressure cooker on the MMC blog. Many recipes can be converted to pressure cooker recipes to save time. We make soup, broth, roast, chicken, pork – you name it, we do it! Towards the start of this blog, Kayte wrote a piece on why everyone should own a pressure cooker. You can read the full article here, but in short, Kayte explained how she was able to take frozen meat and turn it into a delicious (and edible) pot-roast in under an hour. That’s the same line Kayte used to sell me on buying one too! And it’s completely true. She then went on to talk about all the things you can do with your pressure cooker.
But what’s more, is how many different things this bad boy can do. Space is always limited in the kitchen, so a multi-use gadget is a much better investment in my mind. This is way more than a pressure cooker. The newest (basic) Instant Pot offers 7 features: pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, saute/browning pot, yogurt maker, steamer and warmer. It has 14 built in programs, but is easily manually programmable. It holds a massive amount of food (6 whole quarts!). However, it has now come to my attention that there is now a bluetooth enabled pot.
I’m one of those people that either burns the rice, or cooks it to mush. My Instant Pot gives me perfect rice EVERY time. Of course, a rice cooker can do the same thing, but then I’d have to own both devices. It can be an electric skillet, allowing you to saute or brown food. I’ll be the first to admit, that while this feature is intended for use prior to slow-cooking or pressure cooking (subtext: you don’t have to do as many dishes), it was excellent when we moved and I couldn’t locate my pans!

Weight Watchers – Week Eight

Hamburger Hash – 9 points. My mother used to make this, and it is quick and easy when you are out of inspiration and time.  Crumble and brown 1/4 lb ground beef for each serving, along with a generous amount of chopped onions (about 1/2 cup for 4 servings).  While meat is browning, peel and cut one medium potato per serving into thin slices.  When meat is brown, drain any extra grease, add potatoes, mix well, and add 1/2 cup of water.  Cover pan and simmer until water is gone and potatoes are tender. Serve with green or fruit salad or veggie side dish.  Add ons for family could be bread, biscuits, and/or dessert.
Bubble & Squeak – 8 points (2 links turkey breakfast sausage). This is an old English recipe I have been making for years.  Put link sausages in a skillet with about 1/4 cup of water, cover and cook until water is gone and sausage is done. Peel and quarter a small potato (138 grams) for each serving.  Cut a cabbage into wedges.  Boil potatoes and cabbage until just tender and drain.  Remove sausage from skillet and add potatoes and cabbage (spray skillet with Pam if needed) and continue to cook briefly, turning as they start to brown. Add sausage back to skillet, cover and remove from heat.  Let set for a minute or two (it loosens the brown bits on the bottom of the skillet). I like to sprinkle a little apple cider vinegar on my serving before eating.  Add ons for family could be bread and/or dessert.

Thai Sauteed Chicken with Basil – 4 points (1/4 recipe). Serve over 1/2 cup of rice (3 points). This recipe calls for both fish sauce and oyster sauce, which can be found at most grocery stores.  However, if you have access to an Asian store, get it there for a fraction of the price. Asparagus would be even better than green beans, but I only buy it when it is in season (early spring).  I used red pepper flakes instead of the Thai chili, and dried basil instead of fresh (about a tablespoon). Add ons for family could be extra rice, bread, and/or dessert.

Tuna salad sandwiches – 4 points (1/2 recipe).  Drain one 5 oz can water-packed tuna. Add one chopped hard-boiled egg, 2 tablespoons finely chopped onions, 2 tablespoons dill relish or chopped dill pickles, 4 tablespoons light mayo and 1 teaspoon of mustard.  Mix well and serve over shredded lettuce or as a sandwich filling.  I also like to add about a tablespoon of sunflower seeds (1 point) for some crunch. Add-ons for family could be chips, bread, French fries, and/or dessert.

Weeknight Enchiladas – 9 points (2 enchiladas).  If you cut the cheese in half, it would bring the points down to 7.  Use fat-free refried beans, or better yet, make your own – they are easy and much tastier. For a more authentic Mexican taste, use crumbled feta instead of pepper jack cheese, waiting to add the cheese on top until after baking.  Serve with salad.  Add ons for family could be Spanish rice, tortilla chips, and/or dessert.
Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup – 5 points (1/8 of recipe, includes 1/4 ozs parmesan sprinkled on top). This is a real keeper, and the point count is low enough you can easily add a slice of crusty bread or some crackers.  The recipe calls for it to be made in a slow cooker, but I did it on top of the stove, simmering it for several hours to fully develop the flavors.  However, it could be made in about 30 minutes if you are short on time. Add ons for family could be garlic bread, crackers, and/or dessert.

Frugal Friday: Ebates

Over a year ago, I posted about one of my favorite ways to get a little more bang for your buck: Ebates. With the new year here, and some changes to the program, I want to make sure everyone knows about it!
 Ebates is a way to get cash back on purchases you are already making. It is a website, but is also available as an app. You may have even seen some TV commercials for it. I’ve been using this site for nearly 3 years. I don’t make a lot of online purchases, and I forget about ebates almost every other time. Initially Amazon was not included, which is a majority of my online shopping, but it is now. However, in that time, I’ve gotten over $150 back on purchases I was going to make regardless. This cash is in addition to cash back from my credit cards rewards program. Cash back ranges from 1% up to 10% or more. Additionally, Ebates includes sales and discounts for some stores.

So how does it work? When you’re ready to do some shopping, go to the ebates website (or app) and log in. Then search for the store you want to shop at. Ebates will display how much cash back and the terms. Click the store, and a ticket will open into a new window, then the store website itself will be displayed. At this point you shop like normal. It sounds like a lot, but it honestly adds 30 seconds to your shopping experience.
Ebates actually has recently added the ability to get cash back for in-store purchases at certain stores if you link your credit card. Again, this is in addition to any discount, loyalty programs, or credit card cash-back programs you are already a part of.
Ebates policy allows for a certain number of days before your cash back appears, but I typically see it within 48 hours. Cash is sent back to you each quarter. Typically it’s sent back via paypal, but sometimes there are options for gift cards.
New users receive a $10 gift card after their first $25 purchase, so sign up today.

Quick Tip Tuesday: Rainy Day Boxes

What this post should really be called is “Rainy Day Boxes will save your sanity” when it’s too cold out, too wet out, or for whatever reason you just can’t go out. There have been many times that Pinterest has just been a time waster, but with these boxes, I swear I struck Pinterest gold. I promise this is a really short post, I just threw in a lot of pictures!
You can find tons of ideas for these boxes by searching Pinterest for rainy day activitiesbusy bags, inpendent play boxes, quiet boxes, and sensory boxes. I’ve collected craft items, and random things from the Target dollar section, and a few dollar stores. A box of beans is a favorite around here. They are great for construction trucks, or for animals to play in. Another favorite is good for developing fine motor skills: putting items in the hole of a wipe box. For my youngest, we’ve given him coins, blocks, and other toys. For my older son, we use the same items, or mini dinosaurs, and give him a clothes pin to pinch and put them in with. You can make it more difficult by doing everything of one color first. We’ve also used many of the objects for sorting. The Target dollar section is full of flash cards for learning, matching and memory games!  Here are some of the things we’ve done. 

Construction trucks in beans

Dinosaur Dig. (These bones are from the dollar store!)

Construction trucks in beans & rainbow rice.
Fine motor skills: Items into a wipe box
Practicing threading, knots, etc.

I store almost all my activity accessories in these Creative Options Project Boxes. They are (currently) $50 on Amazon, but I have seen them for less online, and purchased mine for $20 at Costco (item# 552250). I just saw some at Costco this weekend! They are 14.25″L x 14″W x 3.25″H and can also hold 12″ x 12″ scrapbook paper. I have stored them all different ways though, based on my living space!

Beads, Beans, Rice, Cutouts, Minianimals, Pipecleaners, Stickers

Dinobones, Sponge Numbers, Mini Foam Blocks, 
and objects to practice threading

Paint, play dough, paint brushes, stamps

For most of the year I stored my sand and beans in a gallon bag in one of my boxes and pulled them out as needed, dumping into a container. Since it’s been cold and we’ve been using them more, I dedicated two shoe box containers, one for sand and one for beans for easy access.

Weight Watchers, Week Seven

Meatballs and gravy – 9 points. (3 meatballs, 1/2 cup gravy). Prepare meatballs and fry, then drain off the grease and add one can of fat-free cream of mushroom soup and one soup can of water (this is for 12 meatballs, making 4 servings).  Bring to a boil and then simmer for up to an hour until sauce is thickened and meatballs are cooked through. Serve over cauliflower rice, and with a salad or veggie side dish.  Add-ons for family could be rice, noodles, bread, additional meatballs, and/or dessert.

Pork chops baked in mushroom soup – 6 points. (3 oz of meat per chop, fat free soup.) Brown the chops on both sides with a little Pam if needed. Put in an oven-proof dish and top with one can condensed cream of mushroom soup.  Add one soup can of water to the skillet you used to brown the chops, stirring to dislodge any brown bits.  Add to dish with meat and soup, stirring a bit to mix (it will still be lumpy).  Bake in 350 degree oven for about an hour or until chops are done and sauce is thickened. The sauce is great over rice, noodles or mashed potatoes. Serve with roasted veggies or a roasted sweet potato. Add ons for family could be rice, noodles, mashed potatoes, crusty bread, and/or dessert.
Chicken Stir Fry – 6 points. (Serves 4, using 1 lb of meat and 4 Tablespoons oil).  Cut raw chicken breast into bite sized pieces and marinate in soy sauce and chopped garlic for about 30 minutes.  While chicken is marinating, chop a variety of raw veggies into bite sized pieces.  I like to use a combination of any of the following but let your imagination be your guide: mushrooms, green onions, broccoli, green peppers, thin sliced carrots, snow peas, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, sliced zucchini, and any kind of greens. Divide the veggies into categories according to how long they take to cook.  For example, broccoli, peppers, onions & carrots together (start with them), then mushrooms, snow peas, zucchini (they are second), and then bean sprouts, water chestnuts and greens.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy pot, and briefly stir fry the veggies starting with those that take the longest.  After a minute or two, remove to a bowl, add another tablespoon of oil and briefly stir fry the next veggies, removing after a minute or two.  Continue until all the veggies are cooked, then add the last tablespoon of oil and cook the chicken (don’t add the marinade).  Stir fry the chicken for a minute or two, then add all the veggies back to the pot, cover and cook for a couple of minutes.  Remove the lid and add soy sauce. This is great on its own, but you can also serve over rice.  Add-ons for family could be rice, bread, and/or dessert.

Rosemary Ranch Salmon – 6 points. (4 oz of salmon).  I haven’t tried this because I don’t like salmon (long story), but I will definitely be trying it with cod.  It sounds delicious and very kid-friendly.  Serve with cole slaw (2 points) or another veggie dish or fruit salad.  Add-ons for family could be potatoes, rice, potato salad, bread, and/or dessert.

Tex-Mex Spaghetti Squash – 7 points.  This recipe says it serves two, but you would have to be a really big eater.  Kayte and I fixed it and it can easily feed 4.  We used  2 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese instead of the Pepper Jack called for, 2 Tablespoons of sliced black olives, and baked the squash without adding oil.  I would recommend using twice the amount of all the seasonings and add salt and pepper to the stuffing mixture.  Be sure and add the reduced fat sour cream (we used crumbled feta cheese) when serving. This is meatless but would be good with the addition of ground beef or turkey. Add-ons for family could be crusty bread, meat, and/or dessert.

Tomato Cheddar Soup – 7 points. This is with regular cheese and without the croutons, but the point total is low enough you could add them if you wanted to.  I would recommend using the regular sharp cheddar cheese, not the low-fat, because you want the creaminess and melting qualities. Add-ons for family could be crusty bread, a sandwich, fresh fruit and/or dessert.

Frugal Friday: Bing Rewards

In addition to our Quick Tip Tuesdays, here at Modern Mother Cubbard we are starting Frugal Fridays. Like the QTT, these post probably won’t be every week, but you should see them on a semi-regular basis.
This week I want to talk about one of my favorite frugal finds: Bing Rewards. Bing is a search engine from Microsoft. If you create a Microsoft account, Bing rewards you for all your searches. How many times a day do you search? You could get rewarded for it!

So how does it work? Sign up for an account here. Change your default search engine to Bing. For every 2 PC searches you earn from 1 point up to 15 points. You also earn 1 point for every 2 mobile searches up to 10 points. On your rewards dash board there are usually three links to click. These links range from current events to neat pictures for a total of 3 more points. On Tuesdays, they have a quick trivia game (takes me literally 1 min) for 3 more points. So daily you can earn a minimum of 28 points, just for changing your search habits! To put that in perspective, $5 rewards start at approximate 500 points.
Rewards range from sweepstakes to xbox credits to skype credits to gift cards for Starbucks, Sephora, Macys, Fandango and Babies-R-Us. My favorite use of my rewards so far is for a free month of Hulu! We are cord cutters, haven’t had cable for two years. I use Hulu to watch many of my favorite shows. Thanks to Bing, I haven’t paid for Hulu in over a year! $7.99/mo doesn’t seem like much, but I have saved at least $100 at this point, and received hours of entertainment!

Here’s some more information from the Bing Rewards FAQ.