How to save a few bucks at home during tax season

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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Are you flying high on the wings of a refund, or sinking into the depths of despair because the government still hasn’t taken its cut?

I’m right on the borderline this year, and if I get anything back at all, I doubt it would pay for popcorn and a movie. Luckily, I’m handy in the kitchen and can always shave a few bucks with some creative cooking and a bit of elbow grease.

 

Orange vanilla french toast bake

Here’s the perfect on-a-budget brunch choice when you are not interested in compromising quality. Use any nearly-stale bread you have on hand, although I don’t think it would be as good with a strong flavoured loaf like rye. Good choices would be Italian or plain white sandwich bread.

This keeps getting better as it soaks, so for convenience, prepare it the night before. Serve with yogurt and fruit for a whole breakfast on a plate that at least 6 people will enjoy.

Just a note on zest … an acquaintance who is no stranger to the kitchen asked the other day what exactly it meant, so I’m guessing quite a few of you have the same question. Zest is the thin coloured outer layer of the peel. The white part, or pith, is bitter. The best way to finely zest is with a micro plane or the finest side of a box grater. Coarse zest can be obtained with a bar zester — not in every kitchen, I know — or use a sharp knife to cut it off in small strips then chop to the consistency you want.

1/2 loaf sandwich bread or 1 whole small loaf Italian bread, cut in 1-inch slices

1/4 cup soft butter or margarine (approximate measure)

3 eggs

1-3/4 cups milk

1 tbsp. white sugar

2 tsp. freshly grated orange zest (1 large orange)

2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

Lightly butter both sides of each slice of bread and place in a single layer in a 9- by 11-inch baking dish, squeezing the slices to make them all fit — don’t overlap too much but fill every space. Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, zest and vanilla and pour evenly over bread. Refrigerate at least an hour. Allow to warm up 30 minutes then sprinkle brown sugar over the top. Bake at 425 F for 25 minutes or until top is golden and puffed up — the time depends on how thick and dense the bread is. The delicious soufflé-like result is good enough to stand on its own, but stir 1 tbsp. orange juice into maple or table syrup and warm together for an exceptional finish.

 

Honey garlic ginger chicken thighs

I buy bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs for their value but also for their juicy flavour. If you choose boneless, reduce the temperature to 400 and start checking for doneness 10 minutes sooner. Allow 2 to 3 thighs per serving.

12 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 2-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/4 cup liquid honey

3 tbsp. cup soy sauce

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 tbsp. lemon juice

Place chicken in a heavy plastic bag. Add all remaining ingredients and massage well. Refrigerate a couple of hours or up to overnight. Remove thighs and shake off excess marinade. Dry thoroughly. Roast at 425 F for 20 minutes.

Flip them over and cook another 10 to 15 minutes, until the meat separates easily from the bone and the juices run clear. While chicken is cooking, bring marinade to a boil in a small pot. Reduce heat and simmer, covered,

5 minutes; discard garlic if you like, although it’s delicious. Pour over chicken thighs and serve with rice and whatever vegetable your family enjoys.

 

Mini chocolate sandwich cakes

A decent cake mix costs a couple of dollars. For a perfect frugal finish on a Saturday night, invest that money instead in a jar of marshmallow fluff ice cream topping and make these simple scratch cakes. Your kids will love helping out with this one — nothing like child labour to bring costs down.

1 egg

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

1-3/4 cups flour

7 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa (1/2 cup less 1 tbsp.)

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup milk

2 tsp. vanilla

Icing:

1/3 cup soft butter or margarine

1-1/4 cups marshmallow ice cream topping

1 cup icing sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Beat egg, oil and sugar until fluffy. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Combine milk and vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with wet, starting and ending with dry. Three of dry and two of wet are sufficient. Refrigerate 15 minutes.

Using a small ice cream scoop or 2 soup spoons, spoon batter onto parchment-paper-lined baking sheet at least 3 inches apart — don’t try for more than 9 per tray. I give the paper a squirt of non-stick spray, as well, because these tend to stick.

Assuming you get 18 scoops, bake at 350 F for nine minutes, or until slightly mounded in the centre, about 1/2 inch deep, and the tops are dry but not cracked. Larger cakes need longer in the oven; smaller, less, of course. A tester is hard to use because they are shallow, so I touch them lightly to make sure they are not still wet in the middle. Allow to rest on the baking sheet 5 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Repeat until all the batter is used.

For the icing, cream butter until fluffy. Add topping, icing sugar and vanilla; beat until creamy and completely combined — scrape down the bowl a couple of times. Spread icing on half the cakes, topping them with their best pairs.

 

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram,

P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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