Friday, December 3, 2010

No More Miniumum Payments!

In April of this year I wrote the post below.  I am happy to say that effective 11/19/2010 I made my FINAL payment on my last credit card and am now 100% credit card debt free!  In less than 1 year I managed to rid myself of almost 10K in credit card debt.  Grant it a bit of saccrifice was required but the relief I feel after ridding myself of this huge burden is well worth it.  Here's to living on a CASH basis.  My new motto is: If I can't pay for it with CASH now then I don't NEED it!  To learn how I did it read on....

Original Post: April 2010
You make your minimum credit card payment every month and the balance never seems to go down.  That's because making the minimum payment ensures that you will be paying that credit card for many many years to come.  Check out the scenario below based on one of my credit cards.  Yes, the interest rate is insanely high I know!  Despite my decent credit rating the credit card company decided to jack my interest rate from 9% to 26.24% last year.  Why you ask, I have no idea: I assume it's simply because THEY CAN.  Needless to say that card is CLOSED and no longer usable, yay me!

Balance: $3961
Interest Rate: 26.24%
Minimum Payment: $130

If I continue making just the minimum payment it will take me 17 years to payoff this card.  That's right, not a typo 17 years!  I will have paid $6440 in interest, nearly double the principal amount that I owe.  Is that insane or what???

After reading Life or Debt 2010, the book that saved my life and bank account, I kid you not, I discovered a method for eliminating my debt and avoiding 17 years of minimum payments and over $6000 in interest.  To get full details you're going to have to read the book for yourself, which I highly recommend.  To give you the gist of it the method is a snowball effect.  You attack one item of debt at a time starting with the smallest and working your way up to the largest.  Every time you pay off one item you move onto the next larger item and add whatever you were paying on the previous item to the payment for the next item in line.  I know sounds confusing, read the book the author explains it much better than I do!

So let's say instead of making the minimum payment of $130 per month on the card in the earlier scenario I attack it with a $600 payment each month.  The results are astounding! By making a payment of $600 per month the card will be completely paid off in 8 months and I will have paid only $263.68 in interest.  That's a savings of $6176.32 in interest!  Yes, making a $600 a month payment is a bit tough and requires discipline, planning and cutting back on non-essentials, but with those kind of results how can I not?  Don't take my word for it, see how many years and dollars you can save yourself with this Debt Reduction Calculator from CNN Money.  Then go get Life or Debt 2010, to save money do what I do: use the most important piece of plastic in your wallet, no it's not a credit card!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Adventures in Cooking: Vol. 9

Here are a few recipes I have made lately using up the last remnants of this summer's gardening bounty. 

First up, Black Bean Tostadas with Cucumber Corn Salsa. I dreamt these up when I was trying to find a way to use up some of the cucumbers I had grown.  The lime flavored salsa provides a fresh and healthy compliment to the home made tostada shells which are ten times better then any store bought tostada shells.  Overall this is a very light but satisfying meal!  Serve along side some beans or rice and you are good to go.

Next up, a taco salad I made with Marinated Veggies.  This is a very versatile recipe feel free to use any veggies you like.  I cooked the veggies and served over some mixed greens with fresh made refried beans, jack cheese, sour cream, corn salsa from Trader Joe's and avocado. 

Last but not least, Skillet White Beans, Spinach and Tomatoes over LInguine.  This is a quick meal that packs a flavorful punch.  I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned, added extra garlic and subbed feta cheese for the parmesan.  Whole wheat spaghetti was my base and I served this along with some garlic cheese toast, yum!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Adventures in Cooking: Vol. 8

It's been quite a long time since I last posted anything.  Honestly it has been a very very busy summer for me and my son.  We've had a ton of adventures outside the home so there hasn't really been much cooking.  Things are starting to whined down now and school will be back in session soon which means it's time to tighten up the budget and get back to cooking at home!

The last time I posted I announced that I was going vegan.  I tried it but I haven't quite been able to give up cheese, I just love it too much!  I did find an almond cheese that is delicious.  It could easily be used to veganize the recipes I am about to share.  Another flaw to my vegan plan has been eggs.  Since we have been dining out a lot I have found it difficult to find non-meat dishes that don't contain eggs, especially when eating breakfast out.  So, I have decided that for now I will stick with being a lacto-ovo vegetarian for simplicity sake.  Perhaps veganism is something I will pursue more in the future but for now, "Imma Vegetaaaaaaarian!"

Our garden has been very successful. We ended up with a ton of zucchini early on.  Right now we are overloaded with tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers.  My main cooking goal has been to utilize the delicious goodies that our garden has provided.  Here are a few recipes that I cooked up with them.

First up, Calabacitas Tacos!   This recipe made great use of our home-grown tomatoes and zucchini.  I originally got the recipe from a blog I follow called Last Night's Dinner which is full of delicious recipes, many of which I plan to make in the future.  I used fresh oregano instead of dried and the combination of it mixed with the fresh sweet corn was amazing!

Of course I still had more tomatoes and bell peppers left over so I decided to make my Veggie Pizza.  I have been making variations of this pizza for awhile now but never quite like this, I think this is my favorite so far.  The recipe utilizes a loaf of Trader Joe's Panne Rustico bread as the crust which you can pick up at your local store for about $3.  All in all it's a great tasting pizza for a fraction of the cost and calories as take-out pizza.  You can jazz this recipe up any way you want.  My son made his half of the pizza with pepperoni and cheese.  The Quattro Fromaggio cheese from Trader Joe's is my favorite for this recipe because it combines several kinds of highly flavorful cheeses that make for a tasty pizza.  You could also use just mozzerella or a mixture of italian shredded cheeses.

Last but not least is tonight's dinner, Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas. I always cook the dish before I calculate the nutrition information.  In retrospect this dish is pretty high in calories.  In the future I will probably only use one tortilla folded in half for each serving instead of the full two to save about 140 calories.  Other then that these were yummy.  The classic tomato and garlic flavor mixed with the southwestern style black beans and fresh corn were just right.  You can never go wrong with cheese right?  The gooey goodness of the melted cheese completes this dish.  These go perfect with some lime drizzled avocado.  Cilantro would have been nice too but I didn't have any.

Until next time, happy cooking!

- j

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adventures in Cooking: Vol. 7 (The Vegan Edition)

As of Monday I took the plunge into veganism eliminating the dairy and eggs from my previous decision to become lacto-ovo vegetarian.  The decision came after some research, like most of my decisions usually do, and the The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet (which I of course picked up at my local library) sealed the deal.  Cooking without dairy can seem overwhelming but I can assure you it is easier then even I thought it would be.  Check out the recipes below that I either found or concocted myself.

Black Bean and Veggie Wrap
This is a very light and veggie packed lunch that I whip up while at work.  The black beans give you a protein punch and the avocado adds some healthy fat.  I wasn't even missing the cheese of a typical burrito. The more lime the better!  Add a dash of salt to the mix and you have a tasty and quick lunch that won't leave you wishing for a nap when you are done.

Vegetarian Sloppy Joe's Filling
I found this recipe on My Veggie Kitchen.  I thought I would give it a try since my son is fighting the conversion slightly so I wanted to give him something meat like.  This filling was pretty good I must say, but my son didn't care for it much.  I highly recommend cooking the bulgar first, I wished I had done so to make it more tender.  These really aren't half bad and reheat quickly on the stove, just add a little water and warm through.

Fruit and Veggie Salad with a Kick
This is a nice salad that makes good use of the fresh fruits and vegetables abundantly available in the spring season.  I love pineapple and thought it would be great in a salad so I gave this one a shot.  I didn't care for the dressing much but then again I forgot to add the pineapple juice to the mix.  I served mine over greens, even-though the recipe didn't call for it, in an effort to get in some extra veggies.

Vegan Spicy Enchilada Casserole
Saved the best for last!  I previously posted my recipe for Chicken Enchilada Casserole, a go to dish for me in the past when trying to make my food dollar stretch.  I got a hankering for some enchiladas and decided it was time to come up with a creative way to make them vegan friendly.  Viola, this recipe was born!  The soy chorizo from Trader Joe's is the best I have had so far.  It has a nice spice to it and the enchilada sauce they sell complimented it well.  I made this stretch into 15 servings and got the seal of approval from two 12-year olds.  I even had a non-vegan friend fooled!

Happy Cooking Folks!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2010 Spring/Summer Garden Update in Photos

Adventures in Cooking: Vol 6

Recently I decided to become a lacto-ovo vegetarian, a personal decision to eat healthier with less fat and cholesterol.  At this point I am still eating dairy and eggs, man I loooove cheese, but I am planning to switch to soy dairy all together once I get used to not eating meat and poultry.  That being said my latest adventures in cooking are all meatless recipes.

Potato and Soyrizo Tacos
I love chorizo, but I hate the fat that it contains.  I was a little leary about the soyrizo but was happy to be pleasantly surprised.  These were excellent!  My son and his friend gobbled them right up eventhough I offered a ground beef taco as well. I topped mine with some Wholly Guacamole I got at Costco, soy cheese and some fresh made salsa.  The leftovers were stuffed into a burrito with some canned beans and wrapped in a wheat tortilla. 

Strawberry Romaine Salad
This is a tasty salad with an easy to make homemade dressing.  I used frozen strawberries that I thawed out before-hand.  I added the juice from the strawberries as well as a few whole strawberries to the dressing mix and liquified in the blender. I subbed a baby lettuce mix for the romaine lettuce because that's what I had on hand. All around a delicious salad.  Would have been good with some blue cheese crumbles and some walnuts.  My son wasn't too keen on this one though.  He is new to eating salad though so the fact that he gets some leafy greens in his diet makes me happy so I made him an alternative salad with his favorite fixens.

Watermelon, Blueberry Salad with Feta
This is the perfect blend of sweet and savory.  I used a feta dressing I got at Trader Joe's for $1.99 in place of the dressing created in this recipe.  The feta dressing worked perfectly with the feta that was already in the salad.  Delish!  I will definitely be making this one again!

Green Monster with Strawberries, Banana and Peanut Butter
I made this smoothie in place of the usual one I make as a means to switch things up a little.  I used a chunky peanut butter with flax seed from Trader Joe's instead of the creamy one called for in the recipe.  The color of the shake isn't all that appetizing but it is indeed a tasty breakfast treat.  My son liked it better then our usual Green Monster. Sorry no photos for this one.

Veggie Greek Wrap
Costco has a fabulous tatziki (creamy mediterranean yogurt sauce).  For about $7.00 you get a huge container of goodness.  It is great with pita chips as a veggie dip and as a salad dressing, my favorite of all.  I created this quick fix lunch with the tatziki sauce in mind.  I even made hummus myself to use in the recipe.  If I want to cut calories I ditch the hummus and tortilla and make this Greek Side Salad.

Crisp Garlic Oven Fries
I look for every opportunity I can to use my Mandoline Slicer, it's my favorite kitchen gadget!  These oven fries, more like chips actually, were a breeze to make thanks to my mandoline.  In 10 seconds flat my potato was cut into perfectly sized round discs.  These oven fries cook up great and are very good.  My son and I dipped them into some ranch dressing, who doesn't love ranch and fries right!  The spices were just right.  I paired them with a dinner salad for a complete and  light evening meal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Adventures in Cooking: Vol. 5

Oatmeal Breakfast Cookie
I was looking for an alternative to the standard bowl of oatmeal with raisins my son and I have been eating for awhile.  This was mainly for my son's sake as he really doesn't like oatmeal but I like the health benefits it offers both of us.  The recipe as outlined is only for one cookie so I multiplied all ingredients by ten and made a whole pan full of oatmeal bars, approximately 12 servings.  I also added chopped up dried apricots, pears, peaches and prunes for an extra fiber boost.  I think I will add some almonds or walnuts to the mix next time around for a little crunch. They came out chewy and delicious! 

Green Monster Smoothie
I found this recipes on a blog called She Runs, She Eats.  I was looking for something different then my standard morning shake that would provide me with a couple fruit and veggie servings to start my date off right.  I found just what I was looking for in the green monster smoothie, complete with some banana, apple and spinach.  I know spinach in a shake sounds weird, but I couldn't taste it at all.  This shake is light, refreshing and delicious.

Easy Enchilada Casserole
Many people know me for my enchiladas.  I used to make them traditional style warming each tortilla and rolling up the meat and cheese one by one, a very time consuming process.  I discovered that making this casserole took half the time and tasted just as good.  This past weekend I taught the secret of my enchilada casserole to a handful of friends at an enchilada themed dinner party.  We went through 5 lbs of cheese, 12 lbs of chicken, 120 tortillas and a ton of salsa and sauce.  All well worth the work and everyone went home with a pan of their own.  This recipe makes at least 12 servings easy and every bite is a mouthful of happiness, I promise.  The recipe is for a red version but you can switch the red salsa out for salsa verde and use green enchilada sauce instead of red. Both the red and green versions are yummy, I suggest you try both!  An easy way too cut down on the cooking/waiting time is to boil the chicken in a crockpot beforehand.  Just drop the frozen chicken into the pot, fill with water, set to low and let it cook while you are at work.  If you prefer a non-meat version just double the cheese and leave out the chicken.

Meatloaf Muffins
My son has been getting bored with his daily school lunch which usually consists of a sandwich or two.  He loves meatloaf and could eat an entire loaf by himself.  I found this recipe and decided to jazz up his daily lunch with a meatloaf sandwich instead of good old ham and cheese.  I subbed out half of the bread crumbs with some old fashioned rolled oats for extra fiber and protein.  These perfectly portioned servings were tasty and the kiddo really liked his lunch.  I cut two muffins in half and placed them on some wheat bread with a little ketchup. 

Lentil and Rice Casserole
I am currently focusing on non-meat meals as a means to get more fiber into my diet and less cholesterol.  I love lentils but have never used them any other way besides soup.  I saw that they were in this casserole and thought I would give it a try.  The brown rice makes it filling but it isn't heavy like some casseroles can be.  You can add just about any vegetable you like to easily mold this recipe to your veggie preference. I used diced tomatoes in place of the tomato soup to keep the sodium down and mozzerella instead of swiss because that's what I had on hand.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spring Garden 2010

Since discovering how cooking fuels my soul I've felt a strong urge to complete the process by growing my own food.  Earlier this Spring, if that's what one can call this crazy weather, my son and I started our first home garden.  We planted 2 types of bell peppers, zucchini, cumcumbers, strawberries and some herbs as well as some annual flowers.  We are also growing some tomatoes that we inherited from my Grandfather.

I have found gardening to be an exciting hobby.  I look forward to checking out the garden every day and am amazed by the progress.  Not only is it fun, it's cheap!  Yes, the initial investment of the EarthBox was expensive, but it can be used over and over again for years to come.  I plan to add a new box each year to expand the garden with new goodies.  Each veggie seedling only cost about $1-$2 plus the cost of soil, not bad when you consider the cost of buying veggies in the store.  The added benefit is that I know the food is being grown with organic soil and no pesticides.

Below are some photos of the progress.  Click on each photo to see a larger image.

Here are our strawberries.  They were purchased pre-planted at a local nursery.

These were our planting supplies.  We went with an EarthBox for the veggies since we rent our property I didn't want to kill the existing grass by building a garden bed over it.

On the left side are the bell pepper seedlings.  On the right the cucumbers are on top and the zucchini are on the bottom.  They were so small!

These are our herbs we're growing cilantro, rosemary, basil and oregano.  Yuuuumy!

Here's my son being my little helper planting the flowers.

Now for the progress.  Here are photos of the current state of the garden, it's been approximately 3-4 weeks since we planted.  Things are growing like crazy!

Mmmm mmm mmm the strawberries are growing nicely.  Got a couple that are turning red already.  Can't wait to bite into them!  Check out the close-up below.

Check out the size of these veggies.  The zucchini is really taking over.  I'm probably going to have to replant the cucumbers so they can get some sun.  You can't even see them in the upper right.

Got these tomatoes from my 90 year-old Grandfather. He and my son have been planting tomatoes the last 3 years.  This year my Uncle planted them on their behalf and we took them home to make sure they are getting enough sunshine and water.

Check out the cilantro growing like a weed.  Cant' wait to make some guacamole with it this weekend!!

Last but not least here is a super cute photo of my little garden helper.  Shakes, one of my two babies, decided to hang out in the sun while I photographed the garden this afternoon.

Adventures in Cooking: Vol. 4

The last few days I have been eating vegetarian. Here are a couple tasty recipes.

Primavera Salad a la Trader Joe's
I love LeBoulanger's Primavera salad, but it is so huge and high in calories due to the dressing they use.  Here is a lower calorie and lower fat recipe with ingredients all available from Trader Joe's.  The best part is the dressing.  At 25 calories per 2 tablespoons it doesn't get any lower in cals!  I whip up this salad at work in less then five minutes.

Eggplant, Black Beans and Zucchini
This was pretty tasty.  Reminded me of Rachel Ray's Black Bean Chili, but spicier.  I didn't have any eggplant on hand so I doubled the zucchini.  I also added some spinach to get in some more greens.  The recipe calls for a tablespoon of chili powder but I was a woosie and only used 1/2 a tablespoon.  The chili pepper gives it a great kick of flavor.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Adventures in Cooking: Vol 3

Cheesy Stuffed Chicken Roll-Ups
I concocted these on a whim.  Very tasty and ubber cheesy, YUMM-Y! Very simple to make and you get to work out all your stress an anger for the day on a helpless piece of chicken!  

Easy Tamale Pie
This is a tasty, easy to make meal that you can make stretch.  My son especially liked it.  I would have liked more of a real tamale taste myself.  But not bad If you want to whip something up quickly.

Roasted Asparagus
I looooove asparagus and was so happy to find it was back in season!  Asparagus is good on it's own but add some parmesan to the mix and it really packs a flavor punch!  My son didn't agree but he hates asparagus, worth a try though right?

Green Beans Sautee
A delicious and flavorful recipe for green beans sauteed with onions.  My son gobbled them right up, though he swears it was just because he was "really hungry."  I think he just really liked it and didn't want me to know.

Zucchini Oven Chips
I will be the first to admit that I have never really liked zucchini.  Something about the mushy texture just grosses me out.  I thought I would give this recipe a try as a means of getting more vegetables in my stomach.  Boy was I surprised, these are great!  I forgot to spray the cooking rack with PAM first so if you make these be sure to do so because mine stuck like crazy, but they still tasted great!  The kiddo even gobbled them right up!

Strawberry Oatmeal Breakfast Shake
My friend Dwayne concocted this one.  We were discussing alternatives to oatmeal for breakfast and he told me about this shake that he has for breafast.  The oatmeal makes it very filling and you get an extra serving of protein from the protein powder.  Thanks D!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cooking: Fuel for My Soul

For the last several years now I have been surrounded by very talented artists who amaze me with their creations on the regular.  I would always think to myself why can't I do that, however I was never able to bring the thought of creating a piece of artwork to light.  I just never felt the urge or passion it would have taken to, as many of my artists friend have told me, just do it. Looking back on it now I can see clearly that creating art, in the traditional sense, was just not a passion that I had or felt like pursuing.  There was nothing inside driving me to paint, photograph, collage or dabble in any form traditionally labeled as art.

In the past couple of months I have been cooking frequently.  Experimenting with new flavors and recipes and using those around me, especially my son, as taste testers.  I get so much joy and happiness out of creating food.  It's like creating a fine piece of artwork and the ingredients are my pallet.  Cooking calms me and I feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment when I see someone enjoying the finished work of art I have created.  Nourishing other people nourishes my soul!

I have been thinking lately about the whole cooking process and decided to start a garden to incorporate the growing aspect of the food into my cooking to create a complete package.  My son and I planted our first garden this year.  Since we rent and don't own the property that is our backyard we decided to use Earth Boxes.  We started small with tomatoes, two kinds of bell peppers, zucchini and cucumbers.  We are also growing four kinds of herbs and some strawberries.  Photos of the garden process will be posted soon!

Cooking has turned out to be my form of art and something I will continue to pursue!  It has also been a fun way to bond with my son.  We have baked and cooked together several times.  I delight in knowing that he will not be a single bachelor who can't cook when he grows up.  Instead he will be a great catch who can cook too!  (now now ladies he isn't grown yet!)