Fun stuff and free stuff

I like both. It seems when I get busy and engrossed in projects, I need a few moments here and there to do something fun and hopefully it’s for free. One thing I don’t do often enough is enter contests and sweepstakes online. It’s so much easier than it used to be. Before the internet, I remember entering contests and sweepstakes where you had to fill out a form, buy  a stamp and mail it. Now, if all I’m doing is filling out an online form, and my computer has an “autofill” function that does it for me, I like to enter these and see what I can win.

So far I’ve won:

  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Free food (usually small sizes)
  • Gift cards, $5 and $10, nothing dramatic
  • Sample size products

So when I run across something that’s easy and free, and doesn’t invade my privacy by asking too many personal questions, I’ll do it. One extra tip for you, if you like a product or a company of products, check out their website. They frequently have newsletters in which they will email you tips and recipes, or links to sign up for free samples or coupons. One that I’ve signed up for is Laura’s Lean Beef. They sell it in Bi-Lo and probably other stores. It’s ground beef that has a lower level of fat. It tends to be more expensive than the store brand, so I don’t get it very often, but they do offer coupons regularly and I always watch for it anyway for when it gets marked down. I signed up on their website for their newsletter so I could be informed of goodies and freebies and coupons.

Right now they have a grill giveaway promotion with a new winner every week. There are still a few weeks left. Filling out the form online is really easy and it doesn’t ask any personal questions, just the usual like “confirm you are over 18”, your name, address, phone, and email address. I’m ok with that. They list the first name, last initial, and location of the winners, and one was from Greer!

Anyway, I entered, and here’s the link in case you want to enter:

Laura’s Lean Beef Grill Giveaway

Update on my existing project – organizing my food, shopping, and grocery budget using an advanced recipe organizer. I had 3 organizers that I had narrowed down, Cook’N, Living Cookbook, and Master Cook. I decided on Cook’N and got it from Amazon and received it yesterday. One word of warning – if you buy it directly from the publisher, you’ll get the latest version and probably have an easier time with tech support (if you need it) because you’re a direct customer. If you do what I did and buy it through Amazon, you’re going to initially get a discount, but you’re going to be buying an older version because it’s what they provided at the time to Amazon. So, you’ll have to do what I did, and update a few times (luckily it’s free) before you can even run it. Anyone out there who has experience with software knows what I’m about to say … updating from a commercially available older version might go through multiple iterations and restarts and weird errors before it will get up and running at all. I started last night, got tired, finished up this morning, and am still not full updated. I have been able to use the software and enter a recipe with the details I wanted to add, but I’m frustrated at the stumbling blocks with the updates.

I’ve contacted tech support and hopefully will get an answer. They never did answer my first question that I had asked last week when I was trying to decide between the softwares, but that didn’t bother me very much because I wasn’t a customer at that point. Now that I’ve bought it, I hope I get a fast tech support answer. We’ll see.

The way I have decided to organize my “cookbook” is by the ingredient that’s on sale. That’s what guides my grocery purchases. Sure, there are some times when we just want something, so I get what we want, but 90% of the time, my menus go according to what was on sale when I went shopping. Not only the sale items, because that’s just not good enough, but I got to the back of the store and pick out the clearance items and the ones with the “hot price” sticker on them that marks down something that’s already on sale. If I’m not well past 50% off, I wait. Sometimes my freezer is full, sometimes I’m running low, but I stick to the plan. So, my chapters are not the typical ones “Main Dishes, Appetizers, Desserts …” but “Ground Meat, Fish and Shrimp, Dairy, Whole Meat…” etc. As I develop it I’ll share it with you in case that helps you too. Primarily, I shop at Bi-Lo and Publix, so the brands and prices I’ll use will make sense with the selection at those stores.

In case you want to evaluate those same cookbook / recipe organizers, and not just the Cook’N, I have some links below:

(this is a repeat from previous post)

I had narrowed my choices down to Living Cookbook, Master Cook, and Cook’N.

I decided on Cook’N. One bonus you should know about – when you go to their website, sign up for their newsletter before you buy the software! You will get an email that gives you a code for 20% off! I’m always looking for the best price and getting this bonus before I had bought it makes a difference.

Cook’N recipe organizer software with bonus 20% off, directly from the software manufacturer.

If you would prefer to buy it from Amazon instead, maybe you have other things you want to buy, here’s a link to get it at a discount from Amazon with free shipping:

Cook’n Recipe Organizer Version 10 – as of today, $39.99 plus free shipping

(these are the links to the others to evaluate if you want)

Living Cookbook 2013 by Radium Technologies – as of today, $34.95 plus free shipping
Radium Technologies website – same price, says they have special offers, and have a free 30 day trial. I always recommend trying trials if they are available. In this case, I didn’t do it, because my particular checklist really led me to Cook’N instead, but everyone is different.

Mastercook 11.0 by ValuSoft – as of today, $16.73 depending on the shipper. Seems to vary.
According to the software manufacturer, they are already on Master Cook 14. Amazon is way behind, but when I’ve searched for version 14, I’m just finding it on their website. The price is $19.99 on the website and you get some extra goodies with that, a year subscription, and for an extra fee you can get a physical disk instead of just the download. I always prefer a disk.
ValuSoft website Master Cook 14
ere’s the direct link to the Master Cook web page with tech support.

My experience so far – I like the interface with Cook’N and so far am happy with my purchase. Entering the recipes was really easy, and the autofill is fairly intuitive and contains the most common things so far. Also, there are those extra fields I told you about that were important to me because I have a lot of variables. Since I buy things on sale and the product dictates the recipe rather than the other way around, every recipe has to be a bit flexible.

I started with a recipe that was out of a Wild Game cooking cookbook  (one I love!). The recipe called for ground meat, in this case, moose meat, but I substituted what I had – which was prepared, seasoned meatloaf from the Bi-Lo meat department. With that in mind, I didn’t have to add the meatball ingredients like bread crumbs, egg, and seasoning since the prepared meatloaf already had that. With the Cook’N software, it was easy to make those comments in the “ingredient info” boxes, instead of having to notate tons of ifs ands and buts in the description.

The update situation was a little frustrating, though. I was eager to get started and ran into a snag and had to contact tech support. I’ll stay on top of it and let you know if their support was helpful and how quickly they responded. Tech support is very important to me, because if something doesn’t work, why have it?

If you’re interested in the cookbook I’m starting with, here it is:
Preparing Fish & Wild Game: The Complete Photo Guide to Cleaning and Cooking Your Wild Harvest

I had prepared the Moose Meatballs With Cranberry Barbecue Sauce, and I substituted prepared meatloaf for the meatballs. You could also substitute ground chicken, ground turkey, ground beef, seasoned meatballs or meatloaf, prepared hamburgers (Bi-Lo frequently has these – they have a Bacon Cheddar and a Portabella version often!), or sausage. If you use the straight ground meat, go ahead with bread crumbs (I also substitute crumbled corn flakes, grits, oatmeal, or other grain-based product depending on what I have on hand) and seasoning.

Yesterday I needed apples and bananas and I stopped by the fresh meat counter anyway to see what was on sale. I found prepared hamburgers in the Portabella style, 0.60 lbs for $2.57, with a “hot price” sticker taking off $1.50, which means I got the meat for $1.78 per pound ($1.07 for 0.60 lbs actually, but if you figure it out per pound, it’s $1.78). Also, in their fresh bread department, I found seeded rolls, a package of 8, normally $2.99. marked down to $1.99, with a “hot price” sticker taking off $1.50. So, 8 fresh rolls for 49 cents. That dictates what I’ll be fixing tonight, which will be the burgers with fresh tomatoes (from a neighbor’s garden) and pineapple (from the epic Dole sale a couple months ago at Publix) and greens (Fresh Express 12 ounce package was 99 cents, marked down from $2.99) on the seeded buns with a salad on the side.

You see why I need to be flexible. I try to be organized, but unless I’m strictly working from my freezer, I can’t really meal plan more than a few days in advance since my meals are structured according to the sales. I just have to had at the ready recipes that everyone likes, that are flexible, and guided by the main ingredients. It is a normal day for me to have full meals with main dishes, side dishes, salads, and drinks that cost less than $3 a meal. In this case, I have the meal and leftovers for less than $2.

I have high hopes that the recipe organizer software will be a force multiplier in that regard. I’ll keep you updated.

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