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Frugal Nugget #3: Don't Get in a Lather Over Soap

March 15th, 2010 at 04:34 pm



Listen up, all you frugalites who make your own laundry detergent. It may be harder to justify going to all that trouble once you know that most consumers overdo it on the soap, both in the laundry and in the dishwasher.

According to an interesting New York Times story, appliance repairmen will tell you that adding too much soap to dishwashers and washing machines is the "No. 1 sin."

In the old days, these appliances used a lot more water and detergents weren't so concentrated. Most people use as much as 10 to 15 times more soap than what's required, needlessly wasting their money and shortening the life of their appliances, said Vernon Schmidt, a career repairman and author of Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand.

The author advises that between one-eighth to one-half of what's recommended on the product label should do the trick.

Suds, Schmidt claims, don't indicate your clothes are getting clean; suds mean you're using too much detergent.

By now you're probably wondering whether you're guilty of overdoing it. Conduct Schmidt's simple test to find out.

"Take four to six clean bath towels, put them in your front-loading washing machine (one towel for a top loader). Don't add any detergent or fabric softener. Switch to the hot water setting and medium wash and run it for about five minutes.

Check for soap suds. If you don't see any suds right away, turn off the machine and see if there is any soapy residue. If you see suds or residue, it is soap coming out of your clothes from the last wash."


As for dishwashers, Schmidt says, there's no law that says you must top off the soap dispenser.

Check out the full story for additional interesting tips on using your dishwasher, dryer and oven.

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Frugal Nuggets represent the occasional piece of frugal wisdom for those who have mastered the basics.


Frugal Nugget #2: Meet Your New Best Friend

February 26th, 2010 at 11:54 am



My mom often used a pressure cooker when I was growing up. That rapid-fire, sizzling sound coming from the kitchen usually meant that something delicious was in the works. I have one of my own today, but truth be told, I don't haul it out often. That's going to change, because cooking meals with a pressure cooker offers numerous benefits.

If you're unfamiliar with how a pressure cooker works, it's simply a specially designed, airtight cooking pot with lid that cooks food using high temperature steam. When you add a small amount of liquid, such as water or chicken broth, the pressure cooker traps the steam that rises from the liquid and raises both the temperature and pressure inside the cooker to cook the food.

Here are four tremendous advantages pressure cookers offer the frugal cook:

1. Pressure cookers are fast.
Pressure cooking can cook food in a fraction of the time needed to cook food by other means, whether that means an electric stove, gas stove or slow cooker. Here are some sample cook times for pressure-cooked meals that typically require an hour or more in a conventional oven:
* Root vegetables: 6 minutes.
* Beef pot roast: 35 to 40 minutes
* Meatloaf: 10 to 15 minutes
* 2- to 3-pound whole chicken: 12-18 minutes
* Chicken drumsticks, legs or thighs: 5 to 7 minutes

2. Pressure cookers save you money.
Pressure cookers save you money in several ways. First, because pressure cookers cook foods up to 70% faster than other methods, you'll use less energy preparing family meals.

According to calculations made by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, a whole chicken that would require about an hour-and-a-half of cooking time in a conventional oven would cost .90 to cook in an electric oven, .17 in a gas oven and .08 in a pressure cooker.

A risotto simmering for 45 minutes would cost .23 if cooked on an electric stove top, .08 on a gas stove top and .03 in a pressure cooker.

Potatoes that were roasted for 60 minutes would cost .60 on an electric stove top, .11 on a gas stove top and .02 in a pressure cooker.

Pressure cookers use considerably less water than conventional cooking by boiling food. Depending on the pressure cooker brand, one need only add a half cup of water to cook corn-on-the-cob in a pressure cooker, for example. After three minutes at high pressure, it'll be time to butter your corn. So you'll save water, save the energy to heat all that water to boiling and save energy in cooking the corn for a shorter period of time. What's more, the corn will be more nutritious because the vitamins haven't been boiled away.

When used in summer, pressure cookers don't heat up the house like a conventional oven would, so you'll save on your cooling bills.

Best of all, pressure cookers allow you buy inexpensive dried beans or cuts of meat that would normally require hours of cooking to tenderize. Pressure cooking can turn a normally laborious, time-intensive task such as boiling leftover bones from meat for flavorful stews into a breeze.

3. Pressure cookers preserve food's nutrients.
Vegetables are a great example of how pressure cooking retains important food nutrients. Steamed vegetables retain more nutrients than boiling and because they're cooked so quickly, they also retain their bright colors and fresh taste.

Pressure cookers make cooking dried beans a snap. Dried beans are generally healthier than canned beans or other canned vegetables because they don't contain added sugars, preservatives or chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA)that are used in the inside lining of most canned goods.

Because pressure cooking is quick and easy, you'll find you have less excuses to stop for fast food or a pizza on the way home from work. Home-cooked meals are vastly better for your health than meals eaten out because they contain fewer hidden calories, salt, preservatives, artificial colors and fats.

4. Pressure cookers are good for the environment.
Pressure cookers reduce your energy usage due to reduced cooking time and so ease the load of greenhouse gas emissions you produce from your electric or gas stove.

How does pressure cooking compare to microwave cooking?

Unlike microwave-cooked food, which often heats unevenly or appears an unappetizing shade of gray, pressure-cooked foods remain moist and succulent.

How does a pressure cooker measure up to a slower cooker?

While slow-cooked foods usually require eight or more hours to cook most foods, a pressure cooker cooks most foods in under an hour, and sometimes just minutes. That's because a slower cooker operates at a relatively low temperature (about 175 to 200 degrees) over many hours, while a pressure cooker runs at a much higher temperature, typically over boiling (239 to 244 degrees). Both deliver a tasty meal, but the pressure cooker also saves significant time and money.

Using a slow cooker, or crock pot, also requires a great deal of advance planning and organization. The prep work for a meal has to be done the night before, or in the morning before you leave for work so that it will be ready when you return that evening. This is probably one reason why those who own slow cookers don't use them regularly.

Pressure cookers, on the other hand, let you to whip up a delicious meal at a moment's notice.

If you decide to give pressure cookers a try, be sure to purchase a new one that features all the built-in safety features of today's models. Older versions, perhaps like those used by your mother or grandmother, did not contain this new technology.

What percentage of your cooking is done using your stove/oven, slow cooker, microwave and pressure cooker?

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Frugal Nuggets represent the occasional piece of frugal wisdom for those who have mastered the basics.

Frugal Nugget #1

February 11th, 2010 at 05:48 am



Save the water you use to cook vegetables to water houseplants after the water has cooled.

The water in which vegetables have been boiled contains minerals and other nutrients that will help your plants thrive. Cooked vegetables leach some of these nutrients in the water, even when the vegetables are steamed.

It's not advisable to water houseplants with cooking water if you've salted the water. If you're in the habit of doing this, another option to reuse this water is to freeze it for later use in soups or stews.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Southerners at one time used water left over from boiling foods poured over bread or biscuits or simply drunk from a shotglass. Such water was known as "pot liquor," or "potlikker."

American slave cooks started the practice of saving the "broth" from cooking greens like collards, turnips and mustards to feed their families.

Potlikker may have been associated with a life of hardship, but many of those who became accustomed to drinking such vegetable water - the precursor of V8 juice - relished the distinct flavors of waters used to cook specific vegetables.

If you're a Northerner, potlikker may be an acquired taste. And while the water used to cook other foods, such as pasta or hard-boiled eggs, may not generate the same praise from Southern foodies, it can still be used to refresh your houseplants.