Homemade Egg McMuffins

Okay, here’s the deal with me and McDonald’s: I don’t eat it.

It’s not because I don’t like their food. I do. A lot. I love it, in fact.

But how could anyone who has watched “Super Size Me” ever step foot in a McDonald’s again? That movie pretty much put me off most fast food forever.

The problem is that I grew up eating McDonald’s and I still occasionally crave it. This morning, I was driving around trying to find a Farmer’s Market (closed for season, sadly), when I had a strong desire for an Egg McMuffin and hash browns. Even though I drove past at least three McDonald’s restaurants, I was strong-willed.

And when I got home, I had to make homemade Egg McMuffins and hash browns. Turns out they are fun to make and pretty good, too.

So here’s what I did:

First, I preheated the oven to 375F. Then I sprayed two ramekins with pan spray and cracked an egg in each.

Don't they look like googley eyes?

Don't they look like googley eyes?

Then I heated a small cast iron pan. While that was warming up, I grated a baked potato that was left over from the other night.

Before

Before

After

After

A little oil in the pan, add the grated potato with a generous amount of salt and cracked black pepper. You want it to taste authentic, right?

Mm hmm, that's right

Mm hmm, that's right

Then I used a rocks glass to cut cotto salami into circles the width of an English Muffin. If you want authenticity, use Canadian bacon, but I didn’t have any.

Then I did the same thing with two slices of fat-free American cheese. The McDonald’s version are not fat-free. Actually, it may not even be actual cheese. I also toasted two whole wheat English Muffins. Again, not the McDonald’s spec.

Cotto Salami, Whole Wheat English Muffins, and Fat Free American Cheese

Cotto Salami, Whole Wheat English Muffins, and Fat Free American Cheese

Once the oven was at temp, I put the eggs in the oven for 12 minutes. They came out perfect.

Baked Eggs Turned Out Great

Baked Eggs Turned Out Great

Then all I had to do was assemble it and pop it under the broiler for a minute to melt the cheese.

I garnished it with a little apple (Chef’s hint: Always garnish breakfast plates with fresh fruit. It’s cheap, easy, and people expect it). And there it is: Homemade Egg McMuffins! How fun was that? And delicious, too!

Homemade Egg McMuffin

Homemade Egg McMuffin

Have you ever tried to recreate your favorite fast food dish at home? How did it turn out? Tell your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Grocery Shopping Secrets – How to Avoid Overspending at the Checkout Line

Grocery stores are no longer the innocent corner markets set up by mom and pop. They are now highly complicated marketing machines designed to maximize profitability by drawing shoppers to the highest-profit items and hypnotizing them into reaching for products they don’t really need.

Here’s the top ten ways to improve your odds of overcoming the house advantage created
by sophisticated contemporary grocery store design:

10.   Leave the Kids Home –No matter how stern you want to be, it’s naturally difficult to say no to your child, especially if they start causing a scene. Avoid the drama by leaving them home, if possible. If you must bring them, give them something inexpensive right away – such as a box animal crackers or a juice box – to distract them until you can make your way the checkout counter.  But be careful, you will still have to run the gauntlet of the checkout line, where the most colorfully packaged, overpriced impulse items are right at kid grab level.

9.   Use a Hand Basket – If you’re planning to buy only a few items, reach for the hand basket rather than a shopping cart. You’ll force yourself to carry your purchases  throughout the store, discouraging you from adding items you don’t need. Big, empty shopping carts subconsciously trigger an impulse in shoppers to want to fill them up – which is why shopping carts seem to get bigger every year. If a store doesn’t offer hand baskets, let the manager know you’ll stop shopping there until they get them.

8.   Watch Out for Bells and Whistles – Are there flat screen TVs at the checkouts showing “cooking shows” that are really ads in disguise? Is the wine section elaborately decorated to look like a vineyard? All those extravagant extras are built into the price of your groceries.  Odds are, another store without the glitz will be less expensive.

7.   Read the Signs  – Most stores have “circulars”, or paper ad sheets, at the entrance. These are great for identifying sale items before you start shopping. While walking from your car to the door, make a point of reading any sale signs posted on the store’s windows. Usually, these are the store’s best values, loss leaders designed to lure passers by in from the street.

6.    Compare price/ounce – When comparing different brands of the same item, ignore any “sale” pricing and compare cost per ounce. Stores are legally required to post these below the sale price. You may need a calculator to figure this out and many stores discourage this comparison by making the print very small, so bring your reading glasses.  You’ll be surprised how often a sale is no bargain.

5.    Look for the generic – When it comes to canned or dry items, there’s usually a generic, or “packer brand”, alternative. In many cases, these come from the exact same production line as the name brand, but are less expensive because there are no marketing
and advertising expenses built into the cost of the item.

4.    Don’t shop hungry – It’s a physiological fact: People who have not eaten before going to the store are more likely to load up on unnecessary items. Make sure to eat a little
something so you are not at the mercy of low blood sugar or hunger pangs. Be strong! Your family is depending on you.

3.    Use Store Card – Many big chain stores now offer deep discounts on certain items to customers who use their loyalty cards, which also allow store owners to track your purchases and market directly to your preferences. But the costs of these discounts are
simply added to all the other items that are not discounted. Sign up for these free cards at the big chains, but try to buy only the discounted items. You usually will be able to find the non-discounted items on your list for less somewhere else.

2.   Zone Your List – Grocery stores are like casinos: The more time you spend in them, the more money you’ll spend. Remember, marketing experts work hard to convince you to buy their products. Minimize your exposure by zoning your grocery list for maximum efficiency – group produce with produce, canned goods with canned goods, etc. Also, spend less time shopping by going during the least busy hours  — after dinner or early in the morning, if possible. If you only shop weekend afternoons, odds are you’ll be stuck in an aisle longer and end up buying more items.

1.    Stick to your list – This is the most important rule: If it isn’t on the list, don’t buy it. Carefully create your shopping list before you set out, listing every item you need for the menus you have planned. Before you leave, double check to make sure you don’t already have any of these items. While shopping, if you are tempted to reach for an item not on your list, resist this temptation and make a note to come back for it another time. You’ll be surprised when you get home how much you really didn’t need that item.

Coupons, Who Knew?

I admit it, coupons have never been my thing.

Occasionally, I would half-heartedly wade through the Sunday paper and clip out a few coupons for products we sometimes use. But to me, the whole thing seemed like a lot of
work for very little benefit.

And then there’s the embarrassment of pulling out my coupons at the checkout line, inconveniencing the cashier and causing shoppers behind me to roll their eyes.

What’s next, a coin purse?

Well, that was all before our stagnant economy forced us to reconsider every aspect of our spending. Coupons are now a necessity: deal with it.

Fortunately, using coupons is a lot easier than I thought. It turns out there’s a whole community of people in the same boat, so there are sophisticated resources available to share information about what’s on sale where, and how to maximize the use of coupons and other discounts.

Tap into some of these resources you can easily slash your monthly food bill with very little effort.

For example, instead of going through Sunday’s coupons page by page every week, just write the date on the front page of the coupon packet and throw it in a pile. You can save these up week after week.

Then, when it’s time to shop, go to a website that catalogues every one of these coupons –  http://couponmom.com or http://hotcouponworld.com, for starters – and search for the items you already are planning to buy. These free sites tell you the dates these coupons appeared and when they expired. Go to that date’s packet and clip only the coupons you need.

These cataloguing sites also list any online coupons currently available, either from
individual stores or directly from manufacturers.

Easy, right?

Instead of searching through store sale pages (nine came in our mail Monday), try visiting a site that already has done the comparison shopping for you, such as http://www.facebook.com/ChicagoFrugalista or http://moneysavingmom.com/. There’s also forums for users to share money-saving tips and special offers they have
found.

Another great tip is to not throw away those printed coupons some stores give you with your receipt after you check out. These are called Catalina deals and are usually future discounts for products you just bought – so you’ll likely be buying them again soon. Other times, they are for cash or percentage discounts on future purchases – such as $10 off your next purchase of $40 or more.

Catalina Deal

Catalina Deal

Here’s some other great coupon tips I found:

  • Use coupons only if the item already is on sale. Grocery stores typically put items on sale once every six weeks. Wait long enough, and you’ll be able to substantially increase your savings.

  • Don’t worry if coupons expire. There will always be more coupons.
  • Look for stores that offer double coupons, either every day or on a particular day of the week.
  • Obviously, don’t buy something just because you have a coupon for it. An exception would be if the coupon makes the product free, such as when a double coupon combined with a sale price brings the cost to at or below $0.00. This actually happens.
  • Don’t throw out your junk mail anymore, you can’t afford it. Instead, mine it for treasures. Some of those offers you won’t find anywhere else.
  • To minimize embarrassment, find the right checkout line. Younger, less experience male cashiers typically will check you out quickest and with minimal fuss. Older, female, veteran cashiers hate coupons and are  more likely to slow  you down, according to one coupon website.
  • Sign up online for free sites such as Living Social, Groupon, or CouponMob. Sure, you’ll get a lot of junk emails, but occasionally there will be steep discounts on products or services you really use.
  • Planning to eat at a restaurant? Go to Coupons.com, input your zip code under “Restaurant Deals” and up pops dozens of local places offering deep discounts on gift certificates (such as $20 for a $50 gift certificate at Leona’s in Oak Lawn, one of our favorites). There’s usually a  minimum purchase, but if you’re planning on dining there anyway, that’s free money.

Let’s face facts: Times are tough right now. We can no longer afford the luxury of ignoring the discounts offered to us every day. Fortunately, there’s an entire subculture out there anxious to share information to make using these tools simpler.

Now, where’s my coin purse?