Monday, August 12, 2013

Think Christmas--No it's not too early!

Today is part one of my 2 part series on how to prepare for Christmas financially.
I know what you're thinking 'Christmas, is this woman crazy?'.  Well there's only about 4.5 months until Christmas (see a countdown clock here) and you know that those 4.5 months will fly by.  Don't get caught with your proverbial pants down this year; prepare early!
Personally I'm one of those wackos that starts shopping for the next Christmas on the 26th of December.  I like to pick up gift sets, wrapping paper, ribbon, bags, ornaments and boxes as early as the day after Christmas.  Other items go clearance the first week of the year.
But enough about that, today I want to talk about how to prep for Christmas. 
  1. Start Saving.  Estimates vary from source to source, but it seems as though the general consensus is that Christmas costs the average family approx. $800.  If you haven't started planning yet that means you should be saving approx. $44 a week in order to pay cash for Christmas.  I'm not saying you should spend $800, only that you should look at your finances, set a budget and start to save.
  2. Look for ways to offset holiday expenses.  Some ways to do this...
    1. Swagbucks earns you points for using their search engine, watching videos, answering polls, doing surveys and shopping through their affiliate links.  You can redeem your points for giftcards.
    2. Secret Shopping.  MSPA has a list of accredited secret shopping services you can sign up for.  NO real secret shopping service will ask for money upfront.  On average shops pay about $5 and you'll get to eat for free!
    3. Survey sites.  I don't belong to too many of these, but I have gotten onto a few consumer panels via Communispace that pay me $10 in Amazon gift cards every month that I'm actively giving my opinion on new products!  Mindfield is a great company to start with.  They have high pay outs and a low cash out threshold. 
    4. Unload unwanted items via eBay, consignment sales, craigslist or consignment sales.  This will get you cash and help declutter--a win-win!
  3. Make your list, check it twice.  Giving is wonderful, much better than receiving if you ask me, however do you really need to buy for your 2nd cousin twice removed, or your hairdresser or your daughter's pre-K teacher?  Probably not.  Make a primary list of people you need gifts for.  Next make a list of people you'd like to be able to give to.  Baking cookies, making fudge or even a thoughtful card are probably all you need to to for those secondary people.  Remember you don't have to give to everyone, especially if you're on a tight budget.
Hopefully this has given you a little food for thought.  Check back next week for part 2 in my 'Think Christmas!' series!

**This post does contain affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Roast Pork and Pepper Sandwiches

We all get stuck in cooking ruts.  You know the times in your life when you end up cooking the same 2 dozen or so dishes in a cycle.  In an attempt to breakout of the seemingly endless loop of 'best hits' I've been cooking I decided to attempt roast pork sandwiches.  I was going for something similar to a Philadelphia style roast pork sandwich.  The results...erethral.  The pork had the benefit of marinating overnight and simply zinged with flavor.  To make this dish even better it's a fantastic make ahead dish.
The marinade recipe below is my house recipe.  I use it on chicken, fish, pork and it is delicious on potatoes.  This keeps in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.  You can easily double, triple or halve this recipe, but I definitely recommend making at least what the recipe calls for because it makes creating a flavorful dinner a real snap.

Marinade Ingredients
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or micoplaned
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
 Marinade Directions
Put all the ingredients in a mason jar.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake.  Presto, done.

Pork Sandwich Ingredients
  • 2-2.5 lb pork loin, tied if need be
  • 1/3 c. house marinade
  • .5-1.5 c. chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 2 sweet onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Rolls, whole grain mustard and provolone cheese
Place the pork tenderloin in a gallon size zip top bag and pour 1/2 c. marinade over it.  Make sure the pork loin is well coated.  Allow this to marinade at least 8 hours, 24 hours is best.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Heat the olive oil in a large, oven safe saute pan (I love my Cuisinart stainless set seen here) over medium high heat.  Sear the pork loin well on all sides and remove to a plate (this will take 3-5 minutes per side).  Deglaze the pan with half a cup of chicken stock.  Once the brown bits are up add the Worcestershire, bell peppers, onions, salt and pepper.  Stir well and place the pork loin on top.  Place the pan in the oven and cook about 2 hours (about 20 min. per lb of pork.) until the pork is done. 
Allow the pork to rest 20 minutes.  Slice the pork nice and thin.  Serve up with the pepper and onions on a lightly toasted roll topped with provolone and mustard.
Make Ahead: Follow the directions.  When the pork comes out of the oven allow it cool at room temperature for an hour.  Refrigerate the pork and veggies.  To reheat place the veggies in a sauce pot with 1 c. chicken stock and warm over medium heat.  While the veggies are warming slice the cold pork very thinly. (A benefit of letting it get cold is it will be much easier to slice)  When the veggies are warm place the pork in the pot and allow to warm.  If you've sliced the pork thinly enough it should only take 1-2 minutes to heat.