Stretch Your Dollars by Becoming a Kitchen Magician

Stretch Your Dollars by Becoming a Kitchen Magician

If you’ve ever struggled with having more month than money, you know the value of having a pound of ground meat on hand and making more with less. What if I were to tell you, I could turn a pound of meat into six without sacrificing taste or satisfaction? Would you take the kitchen challenge?

It wasn’t long ago that my family was in a tight financial bind. Job loss and chronic health issues combined to slash our income by 60 percent one year – and we had a baby on the way. We needed to make fast, dramatic changes just keep our heads above water

I read enough to know that food costs are the most flexible monthly expense a family has, so I looked closely at our grocery spending. Here in the U.S., many of us over-spend out of convenience.
I devised a plan to stretch our grocery dollars by making the whole family vegan – no animal products or by-products (yeah, no eggs or cheese) – because animal protein is a pricey commodity. That lasted two days before mutiny ensued. Our 3-year-old quickly became the aunt from “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” – “What do you mean no meat?!” As for my husband, let’s just say this is not what he had in mind when he vowed “for better or worse.”

If I didn’t want to lose my role as family CEO via hostile toddler takeover, I needed a Plan B. I decided to mix things up, which resulted in Mom’s Magical Miracle. The magic is that the recipe below turns a pound of ground meat into about six pounds of versatile meat filling that can be used in anything from burritos to lasagna. “Meat filling” sounds sketchy but “magical miracle” has mystique.

It’s all in the sales pitch.

The miracle is how a recipe like this can clear the clutter from a mom’s worried mind. You know you’re feeding your family well while sticking within a lean budget. Even if money isn’t an issue, cutting back on food costs allows you to focus finances elsewhere in life like sponsoring a child in need or saving up for a vacation.

Are you ready to create a little kitchen magic for yourself? Download my recipe for Mom’s Magical Miracle today. Try on my magician’s hat and let us know how it works for you and your family. Even better, share photos of your favorite Miracle Meal with us over at the Clutter Free Academy Facebook group. I can’t wait to drool over your kitchen creations.

Tonya Kubo is the illustrious, fearless leader of Kathi Lipp’s Clutter-Free Academy Facebook group. She and her husband, Brian, are raising two spirited girls in the agricultural heart of California. She writes about fighting the demons of comparison, clutter and compulsion on

Last Minute Thanksgiving Recipes Sure To Be Gobbled Up

Last Minute Thanksgiving Recipes Sure To Be Gobbled Up

There is enough drama around Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner that it’s best to keep some things very simple. The funny thing is, four of the five super simple recipes listed below are the ones that we get requests to make (and for the recipes… I end up emailing at least a couple of my kids or their friends the recipes every holiday season.

So here are  5 Quick Dishes To Make (or Bring) for Thanksgiving or Christmas. whether you’re hosting at home, or bringing these on the road, you’ll be thankful for a few appetizers and deserts you can make (mostly) ahead.

Artichoke DipQuick Dishes for Thanksgiving Artichoke Dip

8 oz cream cheese

1 c. Parmesan cheese – shredded

1 c. mayonnaise (low-fat or fat-free is acceptable) (pantry)

½ t. dill weed

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (pantry)

Preheat oven to 350

Cream the cream cheese, add the Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, dill weed  and garlic. Mix well.

Fold in the chopped artichoke hearts and then spoon mixture into a 9×9 pan.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Serve with crackers, toasted baguettes, or toasted pita points.

Serves 8 as an appetizer



Goat Cheese BruchettaQuick Dishes for Thanksgiving Goat Cheese Bruchetta


2     tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2     tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as dill, parsley, or basil
Toasted baguette
Goat cheese


Add the balsamic vinegar and herbs together. Drizzle over slices of toasted baguette or other bread and spread with goat cheese. Finish with another drizzle of vinaigrette. Garnish with thyme.



Drive By Cheese PlateQuick dishes for Thanksgiving Drive by Cheese Plate

For those last minute party invites. Just grab a plate and cheese knife from home. You can assemble once you arrive. (Or, if you’re like me, in the backseat of the car while your hubby is driving…)

Grab at the store:

Camembert  or other artisan cheese

Carr Water Crackers

1 bunch of green grapes



Roger’s Pumpkin No-Bake CheesecakeQuick Dishes for Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cheesecake

2 sticks of cream cheese

1 Cup of sugar

1 Tablespoon vanilla

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

¼ Cup Pumpkin pie filling

Pre-made graham cracker crust


Blend until creamy and fluffy

Pour into graham cracker crust.


Garnish with

Cinnamon sugar  (makes it look baked)

Shaved white chocolate


Refrigerate for a few hours



Roger’s Cranberry No-Bake CheesecakeQuick Dishes for Thanksgiving Cranberry Cheesecake

2 sticks of cream cheese

1 Cup of sugar

1 Tablespoon vanilla

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 Cup Whole cranberries in jelly

Pre-made graham cracker crust


Blend until creamy and fluffy

Pour into graham cracker crust


Garnish with any (or all) of the following:

The remaining whole cranberries/jelly.  I put this just on the outside edge of the pie.

Orange peel zest

Shaved white chocolate

Refrigerate for a few hours

And don’t forget the TURKEY!

Here’s my recipe that you’re sure to love!Turkey in the Oven

 Now it’s your turn. Tell me your can’t miss, so simple it’s embarrassing, recipe that you pull out for the holidays in the comments below.

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract




I am a mass consumer of vanilla extract.

I have vanilla on my oatmeal every single morning. The problem? I can absolutely tell the difference between vanilla extract and imitation vanilla. And the real stuff? It’s not cheap.  At our grocery store, the good stuff is $3 an ounce. Our family joke was that it would be cheaper for us to take a Baja cruise and get of in Ensanada to buy cheap vanilla than for me to get it at Costco.

So when I saw recipes floating around the web for homemade extract, I gave it a try. It is super easy (the hardest part is waiting the six weeks for the beans to masticate in the vodka.

Want to make this cheaper (and oh so delicious) version?

This is all you need:

1.75 liter bottle of Vodka

25 Vanilla Beans (If you want to just try this recipe out you can buy 25 beans here. If you want to go into mass production, here is where you can buy beans in bulk.)


1. Cut the beans lengthwise down the middle.







(This will open up the beans and let all the good “vanilla dust” soak into the vodka.)





2. Put the cut vanilla beans in the vodka bottle. Replace the lid and shake the bottle. Store the vodka bottle in a cool, dark place and shake the bottle once a week for the next six weeks.







If giving as gifts, you can order these adorable brown bottles off of Amazon. fill each bottle with four ounces of your six week old vanilla extract.









Add a cute label. (Anything can be elevated with a cute label.) This is an Avery kit with all sorts of pre-designed labels. All you have to do is add your verbiage and you are good to go!









The world’s cutest gift. With a personalized label:

Lipp Private Reserve
Vanilla Extract
Bottled 2014

Delicious and about 10% of the cost of store bought vanilla.

I’ve given vanilla extract to all of my kids and they have all demanded refills!