Book reviews are in — they like me! They really like me!

My new book from Penguin/Portfolio has gotten three very good reviews in the publishing trades. And no, these weren’t all written by my mother.
The reviews include:

  • Publishers Weekly: Said the book’s advice and approach is better than Suze Orman’s, and concluded that, “This funny, pragmatic guide will have you laughing all the way to the bank.”
  •  Kirkus Reviews: “O’Connor uses humor to great effect,” and says the book, “will resound with readers seeking not only cost savings, but a reduction of the stress around financial changes.”
  • Go Banking Rates: This leading personal finance blog just named “The $1,000 Challenge” as one of the “5 Personal Finance Books You Absolutely Need to Read This Fall.” Calling the book  a “hilarious and savvy guide,” the reviewer added, “you should definitely check out this new book from Brian J. O’Connor.” (Scroll to the bottom.)

The book is also getting notice from other personal finance and business writing expert. Including:


Recipes from “The $1,000 Challenge” (a work in progress)

recipe-box2I promised readers of my spectacularly well-reviewed book, “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese,” that I’d post the recipes I mentioned in the book, especially from Chapter 10.

I’m a little behind from promoting the book, so I will post the recipes here as I dig them out of the recipe file, so please bear with me and check back. I promise to have everything up by Nov. 4.

Let me know if you try any of these, how they work out, and if you find any money-saving or calorie-cutting improvements to be made.


Bottom Round Roast

Adapted from GoldilocksFindsManhattan

This is a good recipe because my grocery store often runs sales on Bottom Round Roast. Properly prepared, it’s as good as any roast of beef, just don’t overcook the damn thing.

  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced and mashed
  • 1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon of fresh time thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper (to be crushed), or more to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 Bottom Round Roast, appx. 3 pounds
    ( you can also use Top Sirloin or Blade roast)

The recipe also calls for a meat thermometer. Personally, I despise meat thermometers because they are untrustworthy, lying pieces of trash. Or maybe I just don’t know how to use one. Nonetheless, the little hunks of garbage never work for me, so I go by time and temperature. As I mentioned above, the key here is to not overcook the damn thing. Better to have it come out rare and give a few slices a quick nuke in the microwave, if need be.

Preheat the oven to 425. Meanwhile create rub with minced garlic, thyme, and kosher salt by crushing garlic, salt, pepper and thyme together in a mortar and pestle, add olive oil and massage over meat. (I don’t have a mortar and pestle, so I use a cutting board and the back of a spoon.)

Set meat aside and bring to room temperature(about 20 minutes). Roast in hot oven for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 and cook for another 30-40 minutes. You want the internal temp at about 120-130. This is rare, but you can cook it to your liking.  Let rest for 10-20 minutes under aluminum foil. (Resting is important because this roast has had a very hard day. After all, it started out the week as a cow.)

Serve with creamy horseradish sauce. I prefer Inglehoffer, but Boar’s Head is good, too, or make your own if you’re so inclined.


Turkey Meatballs

This is a Weight Watchers recipe, and a darn good one. Regular meatballs, esp. the frozen kind or the ones you might find at a wedding buffet, are enormously unhealthy – they are like, 117 Weight Watcher points each (I think). This recipe is supposed to yield 60 meatballs at a Points Plus value of 1 point per 2 meatballs (or if you make ’em big, 1 point per meatball). However, that recipe also coats the meatballs in barbecue sauce, which I omit, since I use these meatballs in other recipes.

I just make the whole recipe, shape the meatballs and then divide that total into the total points for the entire recipe, which is 33 Points Plus. So, if you want to make two enormous 16.5-point meatballs, knock yourself out. I use a lot of onion – a big honkin’ Vidalia – and a lot more garlic. This recipe originally calls for chopped onion, but I mince it (somewhat) in a mini-chopper to get a finer consistency. You also could run the quick oats through a mini-chopper to make them finer, too. I also mince the garlic.

  • 1-1/2 pounds uncooked ground turkey breast
  • 1 cup uncooked quick oats
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 large uncooked onion, minced (at least 1 cup)
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
  • Lots of fresh-ground black pepper( recipe says 1/2 teaspoon, I use more)

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine everything  in a big bowl and mix well. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Shape meatball mixture into 60 1-inch balls and bake at 350ºF until cooked through, about 25 minutes. Then I let them cool and divide them into freezer bags, with enough meatballs for two healthy adult servings, which I find to be 8 meatballs per person.


Meatballs with Peppers and Onions

  • 16 Turkey Meatballs (8 per serving, from the previous recipe. If frozen, thaw first.)
  • 1 Red pepper thinly sliced (dice if you want)
  • 1 Yellow pepper thinly sliced (or diced, if you must)
  • 1 Large Yellow or Vidalia onion, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons good olive oil
  • 16 ounces really, really good tomato sauce

Slice all the vegetables and sauté in the olive oil, slowly, until everything is nicely cooked, in a big frying pan, wok or whatever you’ve got. Start with the onion and after five or ten minutes, add the peppers. Don’t turn it all to mush, but it should be softened, with the colors of the peppers still bright. If you want to mince a clove or two of garlic at the end, that won’t hurt, either. Add the tomato sauce and heat until it just barely bubbles, then throw in your meatballs and lower the flame. When the meatballs are heated through, you’re done. Eat quickly with some cheap red wine and a salad in a nice red wine vinaigrette.

This recipe is really nothing more than a low-carb delivery system for the heavenly tomato sauce that Mrs. Funny Money cans each fall with our friend, Cynthia. The whole recipe is fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market, lots of fresh basil, tomato paste, lots of garlic and a little onion, sugar, lemon juice and salt. If you aren’t into canning, find a really good canned sauce that is your go-to, watch for coupons (or like it on Facebook to get offers) and stock up on about six jars when it’s on sale.

When I can get red, yellow and orange peppers I slice up one of each to get the color combo, especially in the fall when they’re cheap — $1 apiece at Kroger. Otherwise, I use two red peppers. Some dollar stores sell produce, and the peppers there are cheaper because they are ugly, gnarly lookin’ things, which we don’t care about because we are slicing them anyway. You can use some green pepper (if you must) but I think they’re too strong. In general I loathe green pepper and find it acceptable only on pizza, but if you like ’em, add as much as you want.  If you don’t have the time or whatever to make turkey meatballs, find some spicy turkey sausage (or whatever sausage you want) and substitute that. If you cut it into about 1-inch slices the sausage is approximately meatball-sized.

This is a highly adaptable recipe, so I encourage improvising with whatever you have on hand. The other night Mrs. Funny Money and I had absolutely nothing in the house because we’d had three weeks where one of us was out of town, then she was sick, then the previous weekend was devoted to catching up on household and boat chores, so no grocery shopping got done. We did have one leftover Andouille sausage from a jambalaya recipe, plus a box of bargain penne pasta I’d picked up on sale. So, we sliced the sausage, simmered it in two cups of tomato sauce, and tossed it with the pasta. If we had mushrooms to add, that would have worked even better. Or you could create a mixed grill in tomato sauce, with a grilled chicken breast, sausage and shrimp, plus vegetables.


Lobster Stew with Pastry Lid

I have two recipe outlets I check every week, without fail: City Kitchen by the inventive David Tannis and A Good Appetite by the adorably unfussy Melissa Clark, both in The New York Times website on Friday or Saturday. This recipe is from Tannis, and came out in 2012 when lobsters where cheap, cheap, cheap. Even here in the dusty Midwest I could get frozen lobster tails for $5 apiece, and whole cooked lobsters (under a pound) for the same. Although this recipe looks a tad daunting, it’s really not, especially when you are a lazy Philistine such as I.

One way I made it easier was to skip making the pastry lid. Instead, I used puff pastry from the supermarket freezer case, an idea I stole from another recipe in Real Simple magazine. I had some left in the freezer from who knows what holiday recipe, and it worked great. I cut the lids with the top edge of the serving bowls I’d be using, so they fit perfectly. Just one warning: They call it “puff” pastry for a reason, which you will discover if you heat it up in your toaster oven. When it puffs up to hit the heating element in your tiny toaster oven and bursts into spectacular flames, you’ll which you’d used the oven instead, and I certainly wish I had done so. Thankfully, Mrs. Funny Money was not around to witness the whole mess.

Other confessions: I skipped the celery leaves and I couldn’t find potato starch, so I used Wondra instead. And although I bought crème fraîche, I forgot to use it, and the whole thing tasted just fine, plus it already has all that half-and-half and, anyway, crème fraîche is kind of pricey. Who knows? Maybe it’s the secret that takes this wonderful dish and makes it an orgiastic, life-transforming delight and I’m really missing out.

This takes about 45 minutes and makes two wonderfully romantic servings. Serve with a nice acidic white wine, like a nice sauvignon blanc, or a good yeasty champagne. If it’s the right time of year or you can get your hands on some really good tomatoes (hydroponics work OK in the winter), just slice up one tomato per person, arrange on a salad plate, sprinkle with fresh chopped basil and black pepper, and then a touch of olive oil and tarragon vinegar. Perfect.

  • 2 lobsters, about 1 1/2 pounds each, or 12 ounces lightly cooked lobster meat
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup finely diced celery
  • 1 cup finely diced leek
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons potato starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche (yeah, sure)
  • 2 baked 6-inch diameter flaky pastry lids (If you must, see this recipe at The Times. I substitute frozen puff pastry.)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon or dill
  • 1 tablespoon chives, cut very small
  • 2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves, from interior stalks.

Steam the lobsters in a large pot with about an inch of rapidly boiling water over high heat. Cook for 6 minutes, then remove them and cool in a large bowl of cold water. Take the meat from the claws, tail and knuckles. (Discard the shells or use them for lobster stock.) Then cut the meat into roughly 1/2-inch chunks and set aside.

Melt the butter in a wide, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and leek, season with salt and pepper, stir and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the lobster meat, cayenne, thyme and lemon zest and stir together. Pour in the half-and-half and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the potato starch (or Wondra) mixture and cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Check the seasoning and adjust, then stir in the crème fraîche. (As if.)

Spoon the hot lobster stew into 2 deep bowls. Place a baked pastry lid on each. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley, tarragon, chives and celery leaves, and serve immediately.


Aunt Frannie’s Chili

A great throw-down meal for when you’re too tired, stupid or pissed-off to cook dinner or pack lunch. My editor, Joanna, likes it Cincinnati-style, served over spaghetti. I have not tried it for breakfast – yet – but I’m sure I’ll soon have eggs over easy over chili, chili over scrambled eggs or, if I’m feeling fancy, a chili-cheese omelet.

Aunt Frannie’s Chili (or AFC, for short) freezes great, so make a bunch, and it is a terrific dish to make for someone who’s sick or needs an easy hot dish to help get them through a tough time. Our church, the wonderful and generous First Presbyterian of Birmingham, Mich., runs the Casserole Club, where families that have been thrown for a loop by a serious illness or other setback can sign up for a little help. AFC is the go-to dish for the contribution from me and Mrs. Funny Money, but in those cases we keep the seasonings on the mild and low-sodium side.

As with the meatballs, peppers and onions mentioned above, AFC is highly adaptable, so feel free to play around with your own versions. Make it with chicken, or cuts of beef or whatever you want. Add more of what you like, leave out what you don’t. I am considering a lower-carb version, keeping the black beans (lowest in net carbs) and substituting diced red pepper for the pinto beans and chopped cauliflower for the creamed corn. And to really cut the fat, I guess I could substitute chicken, too. We’ll see how that all works out. I use ground sirloin, so it’s already pretty low fat, and Mrs. Funny Money harbors deep suspicions about chicken chili.

  •  1 pound lean ground beef (sirloin if you can swing it)
  • 1 large chopped onion (I use two, and we can all use the added fiber, amIright?)
  • 15-ounce can of black beans
  • 15-ounce can of pinto beans
  • 15-ounce can of cream-style corn
  • 14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes with green chilies  (You know, Rotel, or the generic knock-off. I use two. If I’m making a batch to give away, I use one can of Rotel, one of plain chopped tomatoes).
  • 1 package of ranch dressing mix
  • 1 package of taco seasoning mix (Yes, taco, not chili! McCormick makes a low-sodium one that’s good, when you can find it.)
  • 1 cup water (I usually omit this, since I don’t drain the canned goods, and I’m adding liquid already with the extra can of tomatoes.)
  • Minced garlic or garlic powder to taste

Brown the beef and onions, about 20 minutes, in a large pot, then add the minced garlic. Add the rest of the stuff and mix it up good. Heat it up to bubbling, then let it simmer until everything is heated through and nicely combined. This makes 6-8 servings, depending on the people involved.

This recipe is an easy one to double or even quadruple, and I usually employ my son, Funny Money Jr. (or, as I call him, Li’l Money, ’cuz that’s all he leaves us), as my Vice President in Charge of Can Emptying.

Instead of making it in one large pot, I use a big skillet and a big steamer pot, like you use for corn or lobsters. Brown the meat and onion and garlic one batch a time in the skillet. While you’re doing that, open all the cans and line ’em up on the counter. When the meat’s done, dump it in the big pot and have the kid start emptying all the canned stuff into the pot. Then add the dry spices. Keep it all on low (don’t scorch! It’s a god-awful mess to clean!) and continue browning batches of meat, onion and garlic until the pot’s full. Stir it up good.

This is a good assembly-line approach to make a gallon of chili to freeze and give away, while keeping the mess to a minimum. But I’m NOT kidding – keep the heat under the big pot low, mix it every few minutes (letting it sit is suicide) or I guarantee you will end up with a scorched layer of chili on the bottom, and one big difficult mess to clean up.


Recipes to come

London Broil with Flank Steak

Fish in Chili Sauce

Zucchini Latkes

City Kitchen Clams with Pasta

Insalata Caprese

Strawberries Over Drop Biscuits

Killer Guacamole

Beer-Can Chicken