Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mexican Chicken Hodge Podge Cost Breakdown

This recipe came from another recipe that has been modified to include the black beans & rice and the extra salsa and sour cream for garnishment, because I think it takes the meal another notch up. It's just a whole bunch of food all mixed up together in a bowl with Mexican-style spices.

Cost Breakdown:
  • 2 large chicken breasts (about 1lb.) -- $2.00
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil, divided -- 10 cents
  • 1 tsp. each chili powder, cumin and garlic powder -- 9 cents
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped -- 80 cents
  • 1 small onion, chopped -- 32 cents
  • 1 C black beans -- 17 cents
  • 1 C corn, thawed from freezer or canned -- 25 cents
  • 1 C instant brown rice, cooked -- 18 cents There will be leftover rice as you are only using 1 C of the rice once it's cooked.
  • 1 C salsa -- 50 cents
  • 1/2 C salsa for garnish -- 25 cents
  • 1/4 C sour cream for garnish -- 13 cents
Total Cost: $4.79

This made about 5 servings, but you could easily stretch it by adding more black beans & brown rice. Three servings were eaten that night for dinner. Two 1/2 sized servings were served up with other foods on leftovers night. And a final serving was my lunch one day. That brings each serving to 96 cents.

How I Made It:
  1. Trim both chicken breasts if necessary and cut into bite size pieces. Chicken cuts more easily when partially frozen.
  2. Heat up 1/2 of the oil in a large skillet and brown chicken. Add in spices and continue cooking until done.
  3. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside. Heat remaining oil and cook bell pepper & onion until tender crisp. Add chicken back to skillet. Add in black beans and corn and let heat for a minute.
  4. Now add the brown rice and salsa. Mix well and cook until everything is heated through.
  5. Serve in bowls and top with additional salsa and sour cream.
  6. Enjoy!
  • I freeze my black beans in 2 C increments and I only used 1 C in this recipe. With my leftover black beans and corn and rice, I'll make quesadillas with some cheese and top them with sour cream and salsa.
  • My green bell pepper was also in the freezer. I pulled it out ahead of time and thawed it. To equal 1 bell pepper I used 1 cup chopped.
  • To increase the chicken and spices add an additional 1/2 tsp of each spice for each piece of chicken you add. So 3 pieces of chicken would mean using 1 1/2 tsp each chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin.
  • To increase the spice use medium or hot salsa. I used mild in the recipe so the whole family can enjoy it. I used medium salsa in my garnish to give me the kick I like.
  • I think my favorite thing about this recipe is that it's so easy to add more of the stuff you like and less of the stuff you don't like. It's really about the mixture and the spices that get used and less about the exact specifics. If you have 1/2 cup of leftover rice from another meal and don't want to cook more, then don't. The flavor won't change. If you're a vegetarian, skip the chicken altogether and use more black beans and extra veggies. Just add the spices to the black beans and mix well to evenly distribute.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

I'm truly starting to feel like my old energetic self. I know there is more recovery time, but I feel soooo much better. Thanks for the well wishes!

I'm doing a pantry challenge this week. I did go shopping, but I bought a LOT of household items -- cat food (wet & dry), papertowels, face cleanser & moisturizer, toilet paper, etc. Not to mention $35 in antibiotics & prednisone. It really cut into my budget, but we have so much in the freezer right now that it's impossible to get anything else in there, meaning that it's time to eat the food and not let it sit there any longer!
  • Sausage & Peppers Pasta (2 meals)
  • Pork chops with sweet potatoes & a vegetable (green beans or broccoli)
  • Mexican-style chicken hodge-podge -- I'll have to post more on this one, but it's got bell peppers, onions, black beans, brown rice, chicken, salsa, chili & cumin spices, etc. I just mix it all up and serve it in a bowl with extra salsa and sour cream on the side. (2 meals)
  • Hamburgers with seasoned potato wedges and mixed veggies -- My husband will prep these because I think he makes the best tasting hamburgers EVER!
  • Pizza for family movie night on Saturday

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tangy Slow Cooker Pork Roast Cost Breakdown

I have a bunch of pork roasts sitting in my freezer after scoring such good deals on them. I've been looking for a recipe that would really hit the WOW factor here at home with everyone. I think I found it with this one. I followed some suggestions from various reviews and I thought I would share my final recipe. I've also got ways this can be turned into 3 additional unique meals, so while you may make the same pork roast it can taste slightly different each time or you can make the leftovers a whole new meal with one of the variations. My husband *loves* this meal and I'm glad because I'll be making it about every 3 or 4 weeks!

Cost Breakdown:
  • 1/2 large onion sliced -- 20 cents
  • 2 lbs boneless pork roast -- $2.94 Using the median price range of all roasts I purchased.
  • 2 C chicken broth -- 64 cents
  • 1/4 C brown sugar -- 7 cents
  • 6 T apple cider vinegar -- 10 cents
  • 4 T low sodium soy sauce -- 10 cents
  • 2 T bbq sauce -- free
  • 1/2 t black pepper -- 1 cents
  • 1 t salt -- 2 cents
  • 1 t garlic powder -- 3 cents
  • 1 t hot pepper sauce -- 5 cents
  • 3 C egg noodles -- 50 cents
  • 1 T butter -- 6 cents
  • 1 C broccoli -- 50 cents
Total Cost: $5.22

There is enough meat that we will eat twice from the roast, making the total cost more than reasonable. I doubled the broth mixture from the original recipe and I'm really glad I did. There was more than enough for us to pour broth over the noodles on the plate and for me to save for sandwiches the next day.

How I did it:
  1. Slice onion and layer on bottom of slow cooker. Optional: Brown roast on all sides using a tablespoon or so of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Slice deep gashes into the roast; I did 5 gashes giving me 6 slices. Place roast on top of onion.
  2. In a bowl mix together broth, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, bbq sauce, pepper, salt, garlic powder and hot pepper sauce. Pour over roast.
  3. Cook on low 6-8 hours.
  4. Serve over hot buttered egg noodles with broccoli on the side.
  • Another way to prepare the roast and get a different type of meal is to add potatoes and carrots in the space around the roast. This gives you almost a traditional pot roast, but with pork instead. I would probably use red potatoes since they seem to hold their shape better when cooked.
  • My husband said that the dish looked like pork stroganoff which got me thinking of another meal option. Simply take some broth after the cooking is done and add it to the egg noodles along with some sour cream. Place pork on top of the noodles or chunk it up and mix it in.
  • One of the reader comments mentioned pork bbq sandwiches with the leftovers. The reader shredded the pork and mixed in some of the broth and additional bbq sauce. We are doing that, simmering it on the stove for about 20 minutes to really blend the flavors, and pairing it with seasoned baked potato wedges and some mixed veggies. Since the pork, broth, and bbq sauce are free/leftover that leaves me a minimal cost for about 4 buns, 1 1/2 cups of mixed veggies and 4 red potatoes (maybe $1.50).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

$1.09 / lb Pork Loin Roasts

Emily at Under $1000 Per Month not too long ago posted about her Sunday ham dinner which is a tradition in their family. My daughter loves pork. Any form of pork is fine with her -- bacon, chops, ham steak, roast, etc. Pork loin roasts keep going on sale; after all, it's butchering season for many and I live in the country. I was really excited when they were $1.47/lb. I bought 2. One was kept whole for when my parents come to visit in December. The other one was cut in half. I buy them around 4lbs each, so cutting it in half gives me 2 2lb roasts. With a family of just 3 people, this is plenty for 2 meals normally.

When pork went on sale again for $1.57, I bought 1 and sliced it myself into packages of pork loin chops. I was able to get 3 packages of 3 chops each and 1 package of 5 chops, also for when my parents visit. (That ends the pork they will consume while here!) Slicing it myself saved me 10 cents a pound.

Pork loin roasts were on sale again. This time they hit the rock bottom price of $1.37 / lb. I was ecstatic. We really only eat pork once a week at most, but any meat that your family enjoys that you find at $1.50 / lb. or less is worth stocking up. Imagine my excitement when I got to the pork loin roast area, found 2 4lb roasts and then discovered the coupon tear offs for $1 off any fresh pork product. My total for about 8lbs of pork loin roasts was $8.75 or $1.09 / lb.

I am now officially stocked up on pork through December, give or take a couple of weeks.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

We have all been sick around here. My daughter woke up with pink-eye last Sunday. I thought, "No problem. I've already got the meds on hand since she just had a couple months ago." Treated and done! Monday night she spiked a fever and Tuesday we found out her minor cold had gone the way of an ear infection. Meanwhile my husband and I are dealing with a cold. For a whole week we both had a terrible headache. One day we wake up and it's just gone. Yay! Life resumed a normal course. Then everything fell apart. Sometime after the pink-eye and before the ear infection, my husband and I took a turn for the worse. I spent all day Wednesday and Thursday and a good part of Friday on the couch. I'm still sleeping about 10 hours a day, but I managed to cook a simple dinner Saturday night and again on Sunday. My goal this week is push the veggies and fruit. We need this sickness BANISHED from our house so we can prepare to enjoy the holiday season.

I certainly hope you and yours are fairing better than we have at my house. So, here's to a new week and new menus!

  • Spaghetti with sauce and bread
  • Crunchy Salmon with broccoli and brown rice
  • Tangy Slow Cooker Pork Roast served over buttered egg noodles with green beans on the side
  • Pork BBQ sandwiches -- This was in the comments section of the pork roast recipe; a reader pulled some of the pork apart and then added it to a mixture of the roast broth and some bbq sauce. My husband loves pork bbq sandwiches so he's super excited about having this one night. I'll make some seasoned potato wedges and mixed veggies to go with it.
  • Doctored Veggie Soup -- Pulling soup from the freezer and adding kidney beans, italian seasoning, and pasta for a minestrone-type soup. Will serve it up with crusty homemade bread.
  • Ham & Potato Casserole with green beans and/or broccoli

Monday, November 2, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

A delicious week:
  • Pork Chops Diane with baked potatoes & green beans
  • Chicken breasts marinated with herbs & EVOO with brown rice & broccoli
  • Italian-style salmon with brown rice & mixed veggies
  • Potato Potato Soup (nope, not a typo) with scratch bread
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Halloween Menu included Mummy Dogs (hotdogs rolled in strips of crescent roll dough and baked), Deviled Eggs, Fried Frogs Fingers (fried okra), and Dipping Blood (ketchup)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Goulash Cost Breakdown

I recently learned from my husband, who is 1/2 German and who's mother immigrated to America from Germany, that Goulash is a very regional dish. Depending on where you visit Goulash can take on a number of forms. In his 20s my husband visited Germany and tasted several different regional Goulash dishes. When we were dating and I learned my husband could make Goulash I asked him to make it one night for dinner and he obliged me. It was just like my mother's and I adored my mother's Goulash growing up; it was something we had for dinner normally once a month or so.

Now if Goulash is a regional thing and my husband's Goulash, which he learned to make from his mother, and my mom's Goulash, which has been passed down from my German great-grandparents, tastes the same, then does that mean they are from the same area of Germany? So maybe our relatives know each other.

This recipe is the epitome of comfort food. It doesn't have a lot of spices the way we make it, but sometimes my husband will use Italian Diced Tomatoes and my mom has been known to add garlic and those simple changes make a big impact on the flavor.

Cost Breakdown:
  • 1lb box of elbow macaroni -- $1
  • 1lb of ground beef -- $1.49
  • Salt & pepper to taste -- 6 cents
  • 1 large can of crushed tomatoes -- 89 cents
  • 1 standard can of diced tomatoes -- 49 cents
  • 1/2 loaf scratch bread -- 50 cents
Total Cost: $4.43

We normally eat 2 dinners off 1 pot of Goulash and often a lunch or 2 as well. It pairs beautifully with salad though we skipped that this time around.

How My Husband Made It:
  1. Boil noodles according to directions.
  2. Meanwhile, brown ground beef until done in a large skillet. Salt & pepper beef to taste. We don't use much salt as the canned tomatoes normally have plenty, but many people feel the need to salt ground beef. I would also like to add that if you want garlic in your Goulash, saute it lightly just before adding the beef.
  3. After noodles are done, drain and add to beef in skillet along with both cans of tomatoes. Heat everything until it's nice and hot.
  4. Serve generous portions with fresh, warm bread. Butter is optional, but oh so yummy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October Babies

I don't know where your mind is right now, but I'm thinking of pumpkins! I love pumpkin pie, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pudding, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie ice cream.... Seriously. If you have an ice cream shop anywhere near you find out if they have pumpkin pie ice cream and get some.

Like, now.

Canned pumpkin has its place, no doubts. And if you're seriously lacking freezer space, please stock up on some canned pumpkin during the holiday sales. But if you're purchasing a pumpkin to carve for Halloween, please don't lose out on all that delicious pumpkin meat by just tossing it after the candy binge ends. Most people think salvaging a pumpkin is hard work. It's not. Or I wouldn't do it.

There are only 2 methods I use and I'll let you decide which works for you.

Method #1: Oven Roasting

Cut your pumpkin into chucks -- assuming it's been scooped clean; if it's not scooped clean on the inside, then you'll need to start with that. The chunks should fit into a 9x13 or other sized baking dish. You'll want to add about 1/4-1/2 inch of water to the pan, place the pumpkin pieces in flesh side down, and then roast anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size, how much you put the into the oven, etc. Set the oven at 350* and check on the pumpkin periodically. Once soft (you should be able to stab it easily with a knife) remove from oven and cool. When it's cool enough to handle you should be able to just scoop the flesh out with a spoon. If it's too chunky for your taste, you can either blend it up or use a potato masher on it.

Method #2: Slow Cooker

Again, I'm assuming you've already used your pumpkin as a jack-o-lantern and that it's clean on the inside. Slice your pumpkin into easy-to-handle wedges and remove the flesh from the rind. I like using a smaller knife for the flesh removal -- a paring knife or even a tomato knife if the blade is strong enough to handle it. The flesh can be in chunks ranging in size, though mine are normally around 2 inches in any direction. Dump into your slow cooker, add a small amount of water 1/2 cup depending on how much pumpkin flesh is in the crock, and set to low. I usually check on mine every couple of hours and stab a piece with a knife to see if it's soft. Once soft I turn off the slow cooker, grab my potato masher and start mashing. Some people prefer to use a blender and blend it up smooth. I don't make much pie (just 1 or 2 if needed for a holiday dinner), so it doesn't matter to me if it's a bit chunky. Most of my fresh pumpkin is used for muffins and cookies and I don't mind a chunk or 2.

A Few Notes:
  • With either method you'll need to freeze your pumpkin in 1 or 2 cup increments.
  • I generally use the slow cooker method because my daughter is 5 and can't carve a pumpkin yet, so she paints it instead. Paint and ovens do not mix.
  • If you have saved your pumpkin seeds, you may want to roast them as the seeds are very healthy. Here's a recipe with some great tips from the reviewers.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Scheduled this week I've got:
  • Turkey nachos with all the fixin's plus carrots & dressing* on the side
  • Asian-style pork chops with sauteed green bell peppers & onions, brown rice, and carrots
  • Chicken with a cream-based sauce with spinach and potato wedges
  • Salmon with lemon-butter sauce, brown rice, and a frozen veg (undecided still)
  • Goulash -- my husband will be cooking this and it tastes just like my mom's! This is also a favorite of mine because it's very inexpensive and it makes a lot -- enough usually for 2 dinners and a lunch or 2.
* It seems with doing so much scratch cooking that I'm growing a distinct distaste for certain packaged foods, like Ranch dressing. UGH! It just tastes nasty to me. So we have less than 1/2 a bottle left and I'm going to start mixing up my own. I'll post the recipe I use, which will probably be next week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Let Me Eat Cake

I took the day off. It's my birthday, so I had pizza and cake and got some cute new (and needed) socks. It was a good day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Homemade Pizza Cost Breakdown

Can anything please a family more than pizza?

Cost Breakdown:
  • 2 C water -- 3 cents (??? Big time guessing on this one!)
  • 2 T brown sugar -- 5 cents
  • 2 T yeast -- 60 cents
  • 2 T EVOO -- 20 cents
  • 1 1/2 t salt -- 3 cents
  • 5 C bread flour -- $1.46
  • Homemade Pizza Sauce -- 40 cents
  • 1 C shredded mozzerella cheese -- 63 cents
Total Cost: $3.40

The crust portion of the recipe makes 2 crusts. The pizza sauce is for 1 pizza. I froze 1/2 the dough since I only need 1 pizza. So for the actual meal that night the cost was $2.19.

How I Made It:
  1. Combine warm water, brown sugar, and yeast in a bowl and allow to become bubbly, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add to your "proofed" yeast the oil, salt, and flour. Knead for about 5 minutes if doing by hand or about 2-3 minutes in a stand mixer.
  3. Cover and allow to rise -- about an hour, depending on the temps in your house, humidity levels, etc. Keep an eye on it.
  4. While the dough is rising make up your pizza sauce so the flavors can blend while you wait.
  5. Once the dough is about twice it's starting size, divide into 2 parts. I froze 1 part of my dough, but you don't have to. Roll out, using a bit of flour and a rolling pin, to about the size of a 12 inch pie and place on a pizza pan or stone.
  6. Top with sauce and cheese.
  7. Bake at 350* for about 15 minutes.

  • If you have time, use less yeast and give the dough more time to rise. But if you're pressed for time using more yeast will help everything rise faster.
  • I don't quite use the whole can of sauce when I make it. I just dump the extra in a bowl and use it for dipping. I like a lot of sauce with my pizza, so it's a good compromise to dip my pizza in the extra sauce.
  • Pizza can have very varying costs when you enter the world of toppings. I do buy pepperoni (the Kroger brand turkey kind) and I make one package last through about 3-4 pizzas, but it does raise the cost of 1 pizza about 75 cents. Personally, I love cheese pizza; sprinkle a little basil on top of the cheese and I'm a happy camper. But if you need toppings leftover sausage, crumbled hamburger, veggies that need using up all make great toppings and keep the price minimal.
  • This dough is a bit thicker, more like a pan pizza. You can roll it thinner and use a bit less dough to get a thin crust; this will also stretch the dough into a possible 3rd pizza.
  • If you like breadsticks, simply shape accordingly, brush with butter (and garlic!!!) and bake. But watch them because they will cook up a lot faster! Enjoy them by simply dipping into the sauce.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

  • Homemade pizza with fruit
  • Seasoned Chicken with lime sauce, mashed potatoes and mixed veggies
  • Shepherd's Pie with baked sweet potatoes and broccoli
  • Chili (from the freezer!) with corn muffins OR Salmon wrapped in aluminum foil with potatoes, tomatoes, spices, etc. and paired with corn on the cob
I only need 4 recipes this week as we went to a barn party Sunday and my birthday is Thursday, which is also the night my daughter's soccer league has a dinner fundraiser at a local restaurant. We want to support the league and I want to eat out for my birthday so it's a win-win all around! That last meal is up in the air because a lot of it will depend on how I feel the night I go to cook it. The chili is from a large batch made about a month ago; I make it in the slow cooker and then freeze the extra. We normally eat 3-4 times off of one batch so I consider that a stretchy meal.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stop Buying Pizza Sauce

If you're currently buying pizza sauce in a jar, STOP! Here's a recipe that's less than 40 cents and will coat 1 large pizza. I found this in the archives of my computer and wish I could tell you the original source, so many thanks whoever you are.

Open a small (8oz) can of tomato sauce and add to it 1 t. each olive oil, oregano, and basil; 1/2 t. each salt and garlic powder; and finally 1/4 t. cayenne pepper (more if you like your sauce kicky). Mix this up right there in the can and let it sit while you make your dough or breadsticks or whatever it is you're making.

I buy small cans of tomato sauce for 25 cents so after spices and olive oil, you might spend 40 cents. The tomato sauce I buy has no sugar in it, but it does have salt so I usually omit the additional salt altogether.

Another great option -- double the recipe using a larger (15oz) can of tomato sauce. Either make 2 pizzas or just freeze the extra sauce making the next batch of pizza half done before you've even started.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Did you do something special yesterday?

Yesterday was the 15th. Each month on the 15th I try to do something special for my kitchen. I change out the sponge, wipe down the counters, clean out the drains, give the stovetop a little TLC. Well, this month my most awesomest husband did all the dishes for me -- ALL of them. You know how you just kinda fall behind and you never seem to get them all quite done? Well, that happened to me. Actually that seems to happen about every 2 weeks. Anyway, my most awesomest husband saved the day and got them all caught up for me. I cleaned my drain catcher things out really well this month and, of course, changed out my sponge. I also spent a little time decluttering my countertops and rearranging my baking cabinet.

Right now, with flu season just getting started and H1N1 in full swing, we need to be vigilant about de-germing our homes. We need to change our sponges every 2 weeks or at least microwave them once a week for 1 minute to kill the bacteria in them (but still toss them at least every month!). We need to use disinfectant spray on door knobs, faucets & sink knobs, light switches, countertops -- basically anything that doesn't move! Make sure your disinfectant says on the bottle that it works against the flu virus and other bacteria.

Money saving tip -- When I did my weekly shopping I added Lysol spray to my list. At Kroger it cost $5 for a bottle of spray, but right next to the spray they had combo packs of spray with a container of 35 wipes for the same $5. If you've got coupons, that's an even better deal!

Favorite Meal of the Week: Baked Rigatoni

Okay, so this, I think, is a very easy dish to make. Simply mix together the following:
  • 1/2 - 1 onion (chopped) and 2 cloves of garlic -- sauteed in a bit of EVOO
  • 1 lb. cooked ground beef
  • 1 C cottage cheese
  • 3-4 C pasta (use whatever you have on hand -- I had penne)**
  • 1 jar of spaghetti sauce
Dump all this into a prepared 9x13 pan, top with mozzarella cheese and bake at 350* for about 20 minutes or until heated through and cheese is bubbly. I tend to bake mine for 30 minutes or so and let some of the cheese burn to dark golden brown.

If you want to get fancy with the cheese topping, mix up 3/4 cups of mozz cheese with 1/4 cup romano cheese and 1/4 breadcrumbs (Italian seasoned would be nice) and top with the whole mixture.

** I just cook up the whole 1 lb. box and throw the leftovers into the fridge. I then use them throughout the week for lunches. Add some cheese, reheat in the microwave, and you have mac-n-cheese. Chop up some tomatoes, add some basil, and romano cheese and you have an extremely simple pasta salad -- hot or cold. Grab a cup of frozen veggie soup from the freezer, add the pasta and some cooked red kidney beans and you now have a type of minestrone. Pasta is always easy to use up.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Turkey Pie Cost Breakdown

Sorry about the delays this week and about the lack of pictures!

Cost Breakdown:
  • 1 lb ground turkey -- $1 Found it marked down for quick sale!
  • 2 carrots -- 10 cents
  • 3/4 C breadcrumbs, Italian seasoned -- 25 cents
  • 1 egg -- 6 cents
  • 1/2 small onion -- 16 cents
  • 1 t. garlic powder -- 3 cents
  • 3 russet potatoes -- 30 cents
  • 1 C shredded cheddar cheese -- 63 cents
  • 1 C broccoli -- 50 cents
Total Cost: $3.03

The pie component makes 6 servings and cost $2.53 or 42 cents a serving. The broccoli is a side item that I don't eat. (And you won't convince me to eat it. Ever.) It added an additional 25 cents per serving to both my husband's and daughter's dinners, bringing the total per serving to 67 cents for each of them. Still, a very inexpensive meal altogether.

How I made it:
  1. Preheat oven to 350* and grease a pie pan.
  2. Mix together in a bowl the ground turkey, 2 carrots (shredded), breadcrumbs, egg, and chopped onion. (The onion is best when you chop it quite fine.)
  3. Press mixture into the pie pan bring it up on the sides, much like a pie shell.
  4. In the hollow add the russet potatoes that you have shredded. Use frozen if you have them! Fresh works, but frozen works *so* much better in this recipe. You can use shredded or cubed if you buy frozen. Use about 1 lb's worth.
  5. Bake about 45 mintues or until meat mixture is cooked through.
  6. Top with cheese and bake another 5 minutes or so.
  7. Steam broccoli -- in the bag, in a microwave cooker, on the stove top, or whichever other method works for you.
  8. Cut pie like a... well, like a pie! Serve with broccoli on the side and enjoy!
  • The garlic powder is not necessary. I just happen to love garlic. If you don't, then omit it.
  • Another way to cook this if you don't have a pie pan is to press it into a cake pan. Or use a different shape altogether. I've pressed the mixture evenly into the bottom of an 8x8 square pan, layered on the potatoes and then cut into square-ish portions. Really, just go with what you've got on hand.
  • The carrots will add a nice sweetness to this dish. If sweet is not your thing, you may want to skip this recipe. The carrot-y-ness is pretty obvious in the flavor. We love it and I love that it's another way to bring a veggie to the table, but it might not be your thing.
  • If you don't have Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, just use plain and add about a tablespoon or so of Italian seasoning to the mix.
  • I'll say it again -- frozen potatoes work better! I used fresh b/c I was out of frozen and forgot to buy them and it did work in a pinch, but I prefer it with frozen. Frozen potatoes have a different texture that in this case works better.
  • Ground chicken is a good substitute for ground turkey; usually ground chicken is what see marked down. I got lucky with the turkey. I don't recommend ground beef; it's just me, but I don't think the carrots go as well with the ground beef as they do the ground turkey or chicken.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Great menus planned this week!
  • Baked rigatoni with garlic & cheese drop biscuits
  • Hot dogs with potato salad and fruit
  • Turkey Potato Pie with broccoli
  • Pasta Salad -- going Greek by adding some feta cheese and keeping it cool-weather oriented by making it a warm pasta salad; probably some baby carrots on the side
  • Salmon (??? don't know how yet) with baked potatoes and baby carrots

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fruity Loopy Os & Pringles, A Breakfast of Champions

Fruity Loopy Os, in case your wondering, are Fruity Cheerios and Fruit Loops combined as 1 cereal. My husband considered this his breakfast of champions this morning. He ate breakfast at noon, so the Pringles are there to honor the lunch he won't actually be eating.

Shopping Trip, 10/9

I hit 2 stores and a farmer's market and spent $69.66; this price includes $10 for Halloween candy. The candy is not pictured because it is currently hidden. I do need 2 other items that somehow I forgot and I believe the total for those 2 items will be $4, so $64 for my family of 3 for the week.

Other items not pictured include a case of water ($2.89), a 12-pack of Sprite ($4 -- really, it's getting ridiculous!), a medium-sized pumpkin ($2.50), and my snack of Caramel Puffed Corn ($1.69).

Aldi marked down their instant brown rice to 69 cents a box!!! I bought 5 boxes. I have 8 boxes of instant brown rice in my stash which means I'm now set for the rest of this calendar year. Woohoo! My daughter loves the brand of cereal that Aldi carries (Millville I believe) and especially loves their frosted shredded wheat, so that's 1 of the 2 boxes of cereal. My baking purchase for the week was a container of cocoa ($1.89).

Then it was on to Kroger.
  • Eggs are on sale for 77 cents a dozen. I already have a dozen, so I just bought 1 carton. I forsee breakfast for dinner in our future!
  • The boneless pork loin was $1.57/lb, which is 10 cents more than a few weeks ago. I bought 1 at 4 lbs and will be slicing it into 1/2-1 inch slices, which will be used in much the same manor as pork chops, but way cheaper!
  • The gum cost me almost as much as the pork loin, so I wasn't too happy about that, but it's a pick-your-battles thing and I'm not willing to argue about my husband's gum. It's better all around if I just shop around until I find the best price and then stock up.
Milk aside, it was a heavy drink week and you can see where a big portion of my budget went. I bought a diet Arizona tea, Sprite zero, and 4 gatorades and most of this will be consumed by my husband. I bought an apple juice and 2 frozen juices, all of which are watered down when served and these are consumed mostly by me and my daughter. The bottled water is mostly for my husband, but my daughter will use a couple of them for soccer practice or games and I will drink a couple as well. I'm currently saving the bottles to reuse them before we recycle them. We use a water filter pitcher, too, because we drink a lot of water in this house.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Recipe: Cheese & Garlic Drop Biscuits

My blog schedule is a bit off this week due to some personal issues, so I'll try to get back on track soon. I made these lovely biscuits by combining 2 recipes and making this yummy new recipe. So delish and it paired really well with the baked rigatoni we had for dinner last night!

What's In It:
  • 2 C all purpose flour (healthy it up by using 1 C AP flour and 1 scant C of whole wheat flour)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 C butter (1 stick)
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/4-1/2 C shredded cheddar cheese*
All I had out was a blended cheese (Mexican style, so it had both cheddar and mozzarella), but it totally worked for this recipe. I love interchangeable ingredients!

How I Made It:
  1. Preheat oven to 350* and lightly grease a baking sheet. (I hate cleaning baking sheets. I lay down aluminum foil and grease that; just throw away when done.)
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and garlic powder in a bowl.
  3. Add in butter (should be nice and cold) and use either 2 knives in a criss-cross pattern or a pastry cutter and cut in butter until you have a mixture that looks a bit more like crumbs.
  4. Stir in milk until just moistened; the dough will be rather sticky.
  5. Mix in cheese until just incorporated.
  6. Drop dough by rounded spoonfuls onto baking sheet; you should get about 12 biscuits unless you make them big, which I did, and I got 9 biscuits. Notice in the picture that mine is not round. This way they look homemade! ;-)
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes but watch them!!! The first time I made these (sans garlic & cheese) I burnt them. Luckily for me my husband prefers his bread burnt and so he thought they were perfect. This time around, because they were bigger they took 12 minutes to bake up and NONE were burnt, much to my husband's disappointment.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Honey Mustard Salmon Cost Breakdown

Well, there will be no pictures this time as my camera batteries went kaput and I just picked some up new batteries last night. However, you don't really need pictures as this meal is super simple and very fast. Actually the ease of cooking of salmon is part of the reason I like it so much. Sure it's tasty and all that, but where else are going to find a meat that cooks in 10 minutes so your whole dinner is ready in 15 minutes?

Cost Breakdown:
  • 3 salmon fillets (4oz each) -- $3
  • 2 T dijon mustard -- 10 cents
  • 2 T honey -- 10 cents
  • 1 C brown rice -- 13 cents Purchased a clearance box that was mildly dented; only 79 cents!
  • 1 1/2 C mixed vegetables -- 50 cents
Total Cost: $3.83

Made exactly 3 servings as my daughter generally eats an entire fillet on her own. That means each meal was about $1.28.

A lot of people don't eat salmon because of the expense and they're right that it can be a big hindrance. I buy my salmon fillets from Aldi. They are individually packaged, boneless and skinless. A bag of 4 fillets costs $3.99. Each time I open a bag I put 1 fillet aside in my freezer, so every 3 bags I open generates another meal's worth of salmon. Since we eat salmon once a week on average, I spend $12 a month for 4 meals of salmon.

When I lived in Virginia there was no Aldi. Instead I would wait until a sale and then buy 10 packages of fish. The sale price was a bit less than what I pay now, so I can imagine that if Aldi ever has a sale on salmon I'm likely to but at least a 2 month supply in one swoop, if not more. I feel I can justify the cost of using salmon if I keep the sides inexpensive. Brown rice is generally inexpensive and goes nicely with salmon; using frozen veggies is also pretty inexpensive.

How I made it:
  1. Preheat oven to 350*. Lightly spray a small pan of your choice.
  2. In a small bowl mix the dijon mustard and honey.
  3. Place fillets in pan and spoon mustard mixture over fillets -- about 1 T per fillet.
  4. Place fish in oven and prepare rice and mixed vegetables.
  5. When everything is done cooking, place rice and vegetables on plate and place a fillet over the rice. It looks fancier this way, but if you don't like your food to touch, just divy your plate into thirds.
  6. Enjoy!
  • I will buy those veggies that steam in the bag if there's a good sale. Generally though I just buy the family size bags when they're running about $1 to $1.50, dump what I need into my micro-cooker, add a splash of water, and nuke for 4 minutes. Way cheaper than the steamer bags, but they do require the extra steps of pouring and adding water!
  • I use instant brown rice that takes 10 minutes, which is about how long it takes my fish to cook -- so convenient!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Menu Plan Monday,

Meals for the week include:
  • salmon with a honey-mustard sauce with brown rice and mixed vegetables
  • bone chicken with sweet potatoes and corn -- Bone Chicken is my daughter's name for chicken drumsticks or fried chicken, both of which we rarely eat and both of which she adores. This chicken will be rolled in breadcrumbs, parm cheese, and spices and then baked.
  • baked rigatoni with garlic bread
And leftover from last week b/c we never got around to eating it...
  • chicken in a balsamic-based marinade with roasted red potatoes and broccoli
It doesn't seem like a lot of food, but 2 of the meals make enough for 2 night's worth and usually there's a night where I either don't cook because we need to eat the leftovers or, if there are no leftovers, then I make something fun like breakfast for dinner.

This week I'm switching from salads (it's officially too cold to enjoy them anymore) to roasted vegetables. I'll alternate with vegetable soup, baked potatoes, and baked sweet potatoes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Divine Goodness

Next week my daughter's school will host a bake sale of sorts. It's a bit more involved than the ol' cookies or brownie in a zippy bag. It's whole cakes and brownies and batches of cookies. I have recently discovered, after many younger years of adoration, that I detest store-bought icing. I'm not sure when the distaste started as I can't recall in the past 5 years purchasing icing. I made chocolate icing the last time I needed it and it was decent enough. I guess I'm just not that into icing any more.

Welcome chocolate ganache! Better than icing, not quite like a pourable fudge. It's like the best of everything. In fact, you only need 2 ingredients to make it -- chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream.

Isn't it pretty!

For the "dry run" for the bake sale I made a yellow cake -- box mix style, but next week I promise make a scratch cake. I made the chocolate ganache and got it to the pourable temperature. FYI, I didn't use a thermometer or anyting; I just kept checking it until it seemed pourable. I then topped the ganache with partially thawed raspberries. The warmth of the ganache finished the thawing process and that's how I got the suprising, but lovely red raspberry juice streaks all over the cake.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Shopping Trip, Friday 10/2

I had awesome shopping today! Went to Aldi first for a lot of my basics. I did splurge on a $1.89 container of French Vanilla mix which will be used to flavor my coffee. I also bought some marked down chocolate pudding cups. My daughter loves to dip a banana in them! Then I went to Kroger to scoop up some deals. Now is the time to be buying and enjoying apples, potatoes, and squash. One of the better deals this week was 5lbs of gala apples for $1.97. Another was 10lbs of russet potatoes for $2.98. I also stopped by Dollar General, because it's one of 2 stores (Big Lots being the other) where I can get black beans for only $1/bag. Total out for the week was $49.19!!

One thing I didn't buy this week was salad fixin's. The temps around here are in the 60s most days and I just don't have it in me to eat a bunch of cold produce when I'm already chilly. Instead I bought some sweet potatoes, yukon golds, and a butternut squash so I could make this dish instead. I'm going to be replacing my salads with roasted vegetables, vegetable soup and baked sweet potatoes. I can make a big pan of roasted vegetables or a crock pot of vegetable soup each week and just use that in place of my summer salads. It's vegetables. They're in season making them cheaper. And they are so good for us! I really believe everyone should have a vegetable filled lunch.

I'll be sure to update with pictures and maybe even a cost breakdown of my roasted vegetables when I make them later this weekend.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Favorite Meal of the Week: Pizza

Ever have one of those days? We did. I did. It was not the best of times. I'm very fortunate that generally we do not buy food out and that keeps the food bill pretty low. I usually keep frozen pizza around and I'm hoping to learn how to make pizza myself in the somewhat near future. But tonight we all needed a break and because my day had been so rough we splurged and spent $12 on 2 medium 1 topping pizzas from the only place in town that makes them! With a town of only 978 people we're lucky to have the 1 place, so I'm grateful.

I hope that everyone is as lucky as I am to have a spouse that supports when you're down. Mine did. And here's what's left of dinner in all its greasy gooey goodness!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jambalaya with Pork Cost Breakdown

This is an older recipe from a cookbook that I modified to fit in with my family's spiciness restrictions. It's extremely easy to double or even triple and freezes well, so feel free to let your slow cooker do the work and make some freezer meals.

Cost Breakdown:
  • 1 T EVOO -- 10 cents
  • 1 lb pork chops -- $2.81
  • 1/4 t celery salt -- 1 cent
  • pepper to taste -- 2 cents
  • 1/2 lb smoked sausage (no kielbasa on hand) -- 89 cents
  • 1 can (about 15 oz) diced tomatoes -- 49 cents
  • 1/2 red bell pepper -- 50 cents
  • 1/2 C chicken broth -- 16 cents
  • 1 t oregano -- 3 cents
  • 1 t Cajun seasoning -- 3 cents**
  • 1/2 onion -- 16 cents
  • 2 C instant brown rice -- 36 cents
**I made this myself in order to control the cayenne (red pepper) and that controlled the spice level. To make this mix up equal parts of each white pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. Add to your mix 1/2 part of cayenne. Making it myself keeps us from having all the added salt or MSG that many manufacturers will use. Don't let the look of this fool you -- it's very authentic tasting. And if you like spicy (and I don't blame you!), just up the cayenne to a full part equal with the other ingredients. A lot of people add the oregano to their Cajun seasoning; I don't because it's not the same texture as the other ingredients and doesn't seem to mix well when I add it. This way works for me.

Total cost: $5.56

Makes 4 servings, but we only got 3 out of it. It was garage sale day and it was chilly out; I think we were hungrier than normal, but it was a filling meal and well worth it. Per person this works out to $1.85.

How I made it:
  1. Cut pork chop into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces. Sprinkle with celery salt and pepper. Brown in skillet with EVOO. They don't have to be cooked through; they will finish up in the slow cooker.
  2. Add pork chops to slow cooker along with all your other ingredients. Cook on low 7-8 hours. Making the recipe this way (with 4 servings) doesn't yield a lot so watch your crock size; crocks should be at least 1/2 full during cooking.
  3. Cook brown rice according to directions. Place brown rice in the bottom of your bowls and scoop jambalaya on top.
  4. Enjoy!
  • We were supposed to have fruit with this. Instead we had the fruit later as a snack.
  • I use celery salt because my family, and especially me, isn't into celery a whole lot. This way we get the flavor but within our control. It's not the exact same, but it works for us. If you like celery, by all means just use regular salt and add some chopped celery to your list of ingredients!
  • I did not double the recipe this time around because I'm low on freezer space. By mid-October this should not be a problem. (Good problem to have though, right?) Really though, if you can, at least double it and freeze the extra. The next time you need a 15-minute meal all you have to do is heat the jambalaya and cook up some fresh rice. Easy-peasy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mistakes Happen

I bit into a muffin recently and was utterly turned off. A million thoughts rushed through my head. I cooked this and my family ate it. What if I've poisoned them? No, this can't be. I don't make bad tasting food. Besides no one said anything to me about it. What exactly is that taste? Is that...? No, it can't be.

Two days later it happened again with a quick bread. A different recipe and the same result -- a small pocket of gross factor right there in the middle of an otherwise beautiful specimen. I knew then that my muffin experience from days prior had something horribly wrong in common with my quick bread.

I started racking my brain. What had I done differently with these 2 recipes that caused this? It bothered me for days. I dreamed about it -- seeing myself run through my kitchen with panic, tearing things from the cabinets, trying to figure out what I had done wrong. I woke up in a cold sweat and didn't fall back to sleep for a good 2 minutes.

Seriously. I need my 8 hours. I don't let a bad cooking dream bother me too much no matter how important the message might be.

I was in the kitchen rifling through my baking cabinet when I saw the answer staring at me right in the face. Salt. I had run out of standard table salt, which is what most recipes use, and used an alternate. The alternate was coarser and came from a different source altogether than table salt. My theory is that because of the coarser grain it clumped together and that nasty taste I had was an over-abundance of salt all squeezed into one tiny area.

It made me question myself for days as to what I had done wrong -- and also why my husband never said anything. Maybe there was only one nasty bite per batch. Or maybe he never noticed. Or perhaps yet his good fortune allowed him to avoid any bites of nastiness. Whatever the case a lesson had been learned: Use substitutions very carefully.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Five delicious and yummy meals for the week!
  • Jambalaya with pork chops, served over brown rice
  • Salmon with orange sauce with brown rice, a vegetable, and salad
  • Slow Cooker cabbage rolls with mashed potatoes and salad (I'm scared! Will these meet my husband's expectations?! His mother apparently made really good ones and this is my first attempt.)
  • Steak Lime Fajitas with salad and fruit
  • Chicken (marinated in a balsamic-based mixture) with roasted red potatoes and broccoli
There is some serious competition vying for Favorite Meal of the Week! I'm remembering to leave the camera in the kitchen most of the time so hopefully I'll be able to catalog all the meals for you!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I Love Baking Because My Mother Grew Up in Poverty

I always enjoy sharing about my grandma. I adore my grandma. As a child I would have gone hungry without her. (Not something I knew about until later though.... It also explains my affinity for all things seafood as my grandma is a right good fisherman!) My grandma will be 81 in November and she still works full time taking care of her "little old ladies" as she calls them. I always point out that she is a little old lady, but I've discovered that age really is just a number.

My grandma got married around age 18, had 4 children by age 30, and then her husband left her; the youngest was 4 and the oldest was 12. In the 50's it was basically unheard of for a couple to divorce. My grandma, I think, was ashamed, but she had 4 mouths to feed, not including her own! She is a smart lady, so while a one-room school seems strange to us for her it was an opportunity! She started young because her older brother was afraid to go by himself. I think starting at age 4, instead of age 6, is why she graduated at age 16 and went straight to work. It was at her job as a waitress that she met her husband. I think on how each event of her life leads to my own, so what may seem a minor detail to some, I can see how it could have vastly changed my very existence.

My grandma's first job after her husband left was driving school buses; it was a great job because her kids, especially the younger ones, could ride with her on the routes and that eliminated the need for a sitter. After a couple of years she moved on to become a church secretary. She stayed with that job for more than 35 years (30 at one church and several more at the next). For the first several years of her employment she earned $100/month. Her mortgage payment was $48/month and each child received a nickle a day or $1/month allowance. That left her with $48 for electricity/heat, phone service, health care, her car (which was a necessity as there were no buses near-by at that time), and FOOD!!!

My mother said that as children they ate like kings. My grandma, coming from a farming family, naturally grew the largest garden she could in her backyard (yards were so much larger then!) and left room for a small shed, a clothesline, room to play and fruit trees. Breakfast was often 1 egg, 1 piece of bacon, and some coffee cake. Coffee cake was a STAPLE, made as often as necessary with grandma's leftover coffee. This breakfast cost my grandma less than a dime for all 5 of them. The morning drink was 1/2 coffee and 1/2 milk. No wonder all the kids go through 2 pots a day!

But despite eating like kings the newspaper reports and charts and graphs and figures stated that a family of $XYZ income with N number of people was poverty and my grandma and her 4 children fell well below that line. The children would scoff. They had decent clothes, a house, the largest garden of any family on the block, and they had an egg and piece of bacon each every morning for breakfast! Dinners were usually one-dish casseroles assembled in the morning and cooked by the oldest daughter for dinner that night. At Christmas there were not many presents, but there were cookies and treats as far as the eye could see with one whole end of the dining room table being covered with tins of various sizes, shapes, and colors and filled with sugar cookies, molasses cookies, pecan puffs, mini-pecan pies, lemon bars, raspberry bars, chocolate chip cookies, peanut brittle, hard candy, and so much more.

The sugar cookies I make today are from a recipe that my great great grandmother made for her children. And when my great-grandparents immigrated to this country they brought that recipe, along with a few others, with them. Sugar Cookies are the first thing I remember making as a child in my mother's kitchen shortly after my dad left (and I mean shortly -- like that afternoon). I remember it so well even though I just 2 years old -- standing on the 70's green chair so I could reach the counter, clapping my hands and watching the flour burst into a cloud before my eyes, rolling out the dough with a heavy drinking glass, then using that glass to cut the dough into shapes, and putting pretty-colored sprinkles all over for sugary goodness. I do not remember how those cookies tasted, but I remember making them. And since I had my own child, really since before she was born, I have practiced baking throughout the year so that I can reach my goal every Christmas to fill one end of my dining room table with as many home-baked treats as possible.

Friday, September 25, 2009

iPod Touch Price Book & Shopping Trip for Friday 9/25

When my family and I moved to Indiana 3 months ago my husband sought out and signed up for a bundle package for our phone, internet and t.v. Four weeks later a free gift showed up -- an iPod touch. (Pretty nice free gift in my opinion.) I heard on the DS Forums about a price book app you could buy for $2. I checked it out and bought it; it's the only app I've paid for and IT'S BEEN WELL WORTH EVERY PENNY! ...even though I *just* started using it... I used it today to check if some walnuts on clearance were a good deal; they were not. And that really bugged because I'm sure someone is going to scoop them up thinking it's a great bargain and while it's not a huge savings you can save 64 cents buying the bag in the produce section rather than the reduced-for-quick-sale smaller bags.

Today's shopping was at 3 stores! Actually, I stopped yesterday by Big Lots to buy a rake and they had Cap'n Crunch cereal marked down to $1.25/box. I bought only 2 boxes because the sell by date is in a month.

I spent most of my money at Aldi's buying our usual weekly fixes -- romaine hearts, salmon, skim milk, turkey bacon, egg substitute, brown rice, fruit, and a few other things. Total out was $41.12.

Next I went to Kroger. Apparently there's a pumpkin shortage this year, so I went ahead and bought 1 pumpkin (it's sooo gorgeous, but really next year I'm growing some Hubbard Squash) along with some yogurt, bologna, cheese, my husband's Active Lifestyle milk, 4 gatorades, and yogurt. There were more markdowns than usual, though not any really good ones in the fresh meat department.
  • 1/2 gallon of my husband's milk for 50 cents. It has 4 days left on it, which, generally, is plenty of time for us to use for cereal and baking. If I still have some left in 3 days I'll freeze it in 1 cup increments for future baking projects.
  • Quart of half-n-half for $1, some of which will be used for coffee the next couple of days and then the rest will be frozen to use for Christmas breakfast of (overnight french toast).
  • Oscar Meyer turkey breast lunch meat for 99 cents each. I grabbed 3 and they are all in my freezer.
  • Scoop cat litter -- 14lbs. for $3.39; that's a better price than Aldi's!
Total out at Kroger was $27.56

Total out for the week was $71.18.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Favorite Meal of the Week: Nachos

I had to wait to post our Favorite Meal of the Week because I kinda knew everyone would dig on the nachos. We actually don't have these too often, but my husband loves his red meat so I try to give him something every week. My daughter loves nachos, too, because anything that doesn't require a fork is a good meal!

What's In It:
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • seasoning -- I grabbed some low sodium taco seasoning when we first moved here b/c I didn't have all my spices out or my kitchen organized, but I'm trying to finish those up and go to a homemade mix instead that will have NO SALT in it!!
  • tortilla chips
  • low-fat shredded cheddar cheese
  • shredded romaine lettuce
  • salsa (mild for the husband and kid; medium for me)
  • low-fat sour cream
  • chopped tomato
How I made it:
  1. Brown beef in skillet. Drain beef and rinse to reduce fat grams even more. Return to skillet and add seasoning and appropriate amount of water. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Layer on plate -- tortilla chips, beef, cheese, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, and tomato. I'm really quite picky about this and like it to be layered just so on my plate (minus the tomatoes for me). My husband is not at all picky, but I make the plates all at once so everyone's is pretty much the same.
  3. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Garlic Pork Roast Cost Breakdown

Here's a link to the original recipe. I made modifications to suit my family's preferences. Also, because I'm feeling blog-y, here's a picture of the leftovers -- in my pretty blue pyrex to boot! The recipe came out more lemon-y than garlic-y for me, but that's easily resolvable for the next time I make this dish -- just use less lemon.

We ate this for leftovers Tuesday night and like most recipes it just got better with sittin'! It was still too lemon-y, but I think the flavors blended more. Definitely worth waiting for!

Cost Breakdown:

1/2 Boneless Pork Loin (about 2 lbs.) -- $2.87
1 T EVOO -- 10 cents
1 t salt -- 3 cents
1 t pepper -- 3 cents
1 C chicken broth -- 32 cents
1/2 a medium onion -- 16 cents
2 T garlic -- 10 cents
8 slices fresh lemon peel (from 2 lemons) -- 55 cents*
1 1/2 lbs. red potatoes -- $1.20
1 small bag of baby carrots -- $2
1/2 t dried thyme -- 5 cents
1 dozen drop biscuits -- $1 These, I'm certain, cost much less, but it's just an estimate.

*I had to use 2 lemons at 55 cents each to get enough lemon peel. However, I'm using the lemon juice in another recipe, so nothing will get wasted. Because of that I'm only counting 1/2 the cost of the 2 lemons.

Total cost: $8.41

This meal made 6 servings, which gives my family 2 meals -- one on Sunday night and another for a leftovers night. Each serving will cost about $1.40. Each meal will cost about $4.21.

How I made it:

I pretty much followed the directions from the original recipe.
  1. Brown the pork on all sides in a skillet with the EVOO.
  2. Transfer pork to a slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then add the broth, onion, garlic, lemon peel, potatoes and carrots.
  3. Sprinkle everything with the thyme.
  4. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
  • By looking at the original recipe and looking at mine you can see some minor differences. I almost always use EVOO as opposed to vegetable oil. I cut down the onion as none of us are huge fans. I used a smaller roast.
  • The big change I'll make next time is to place all the veggies and whatnot at the bottom of the crock, sprinkle with thyme and put the pork on top. Usually when I do a roast this is what I do, but the instructions for this recipe call for the roast to go in first and everything else around it or somewhat on top as it all can't fit in the moat around the meat. The first time I make something I follow the recipe exactly, unless I know it's a mistake, and make notes for the second time around.
  • I use garlic in a jar. Even with a garlic press getting it from a jar is so much faster!
  • My baby carrots are expensive because I buy them organic. It's the only thing I consistently buy organic. Why? Because non-organic baby carrots are dipped in bleach before being packaged and shipped to the store. I don't want to be ingesting a chemical that was originally developed for chemical war-fare. Yes, LOTS of non-organic produce has something bad done to it, but it's all about the baby steps for me. My budget doesn't allow me to buy all organic or I would, but it's one small thing.
  • The pork loin roast (boneless) was purchased when there was a sale at Kroger for $1.47/lb. I bought 2 roasts, both just shy of 4 lbs. One roast was cut in half so we will get 2 meals out of it, plus 2 meals of leftovers. The other roast was frozen whole and is being saved for when my parents come to visit in December. Any meat you can still get around $1.50/lb is a good deal and you need to scoop it up.
  • In my original meal plan I had a salad and fruit both paired to go with this meal. I ran rather late with putting dinner on the table that night and since the meal had plenty of veggies, I skipped making a salad. I did slice 2 apples and placed those on the table for snacking after the meal was done. And I added the drop biscuits, because you just can't have a roast without some sort of fresh bread!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stovetop Popcorn (with pictures!)

In the modern age of microwaves some of us (myself being big time included in the "us") have lost out on the decadence of stovetop popcorn. It's so easy it made me wonder why I've never done it before. Air poppers for the microwave are cheap, so why shouldn't I buy one? Because I have nowhere to put it! I love the stovetop method because it uses equipment I already have on hand. Seriously, my kitchen at the house (we moved here just 3 months ago) is way bigger than my apartment kitchen was in Virginia. Still the cabinet space is limited and I have no official pantry, so I use a chunk of my cabinet space for food storage.

And then there's the price issue. A 6-pack box of microwave popcorn bought on sale with a Q costs me about $2. With my on-again-off-again obsession with popcorn I have been known to spend upwards of $4 for a 6-pack box. The shame! My husband and I generally share a bag of nuked popcorn and therefore a $2 box last through 6 snacky servings. A big bag of kernels cost me $2 and a bottle of canola oil cost me about $4. To pop up the entire bag of kernels I will probably use (and I'm being generous here) half the bottle of oil, so $2 worth. However, with my bagged kernels and canola oil I will easily get 4xs as much popcorn than from a 6-pack box (this time I'm being generous to the microwavable popcorn).

Finally, and most importantly, there is the issue of taste. My husband is the one who described the stovetop popcorn as decadent. Decadent being used to describe popcorn means I should sit up and really listen! And if it's not enough with just butter and salt, you can alter the flavor more with seasonings. I intend to do my research and try some out. I've heard of thyme, garlic salt, seasoning salt, brown sugar and several other seasonings being used in one way or another -- though not all at once. And don't forget: Popcorn is a whole grain once it is popped!!

I think the biggest show-stopper for people is the TIME issue. My popcorn took me 8 minutes to make. This is obviously much longer than microwaved popcorn which takes me 90 seconds. Please don't let 6 1/2 minutes stop you from trying this! It is well worth the wait.

And, really, with DVR who doesn't have 6 1/2 minutes for fresh popcorn.

  • 3 quart pot with lid
  • 2 T oil (I used canola!)
  • 3 popcorn kernels
  • 1/3 C popcorn kernels
Optional Supplies:
  • 1/4 C butter, melted and cooled -- My family does not consider this optional, but you may. There are alternatives, such as a butter/EVOO blends sold in stores.**
  • Salt -- My favorite part about making popcorn on the stovetop was the ability to control how much salt went into it. We used only about 1/2 teaspoon, if that much.
How I made it:
  1. In 3 quart pot add oil and 3 kernels. Turn range to med-high heat, place lid on pot and wait for one of the kernels to pop. This takes about 3 minutes.
  2. After first kernel pops, remove lid and add full 1/3 C of kernels. Place lid back on pot and shake gently over heat until popping stops.
  3. When popping stops, turn off range and *carefully* remove the lid. There's a nice ball of hot steam waiting to get out and you don't want to be in its way.
  4. Optional: Pour on butter, sprinkle salt, replace lid and shake around a bit to evenly distribute. Melt your butter at the beginning of the process to allow it some time to cool before pouring over your popcorn.
  5. Enjoy!

**If you're sneaky like me, you will slowly cut this back until the family notices and says something to you about it. Start by taking away just 1 teaspoon of the butter. Then another and another. When someone finally says something, add back 1 teaspoon and carry on with your now-less-buttery-but-still-buttery-enough decadent treat!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Menu Plan Monday 9/21

Here are my 5 menus for this week. We eat leftovers twice a week and if we run short on leftovers, then I make something fun like breakfast for dinner or spaghetti. I generally plan to have leftovers on Tuesday, which is my daughter's night for soccer practice, and Thursday because that's the night before I grocery shop, so it's a chance to clean out the fridge.
  • Greek-Italian turkey burgers with fries and fruit
  • Honey & BBQ salmon with rice, green beans, and salad
  • Garlic Pork Roast with drop biscuits
  • Lemon-y Chicken with a vegetable (haven't decided which one yet) and baked potatoes
  • Nachos with all the fixin's and fruit!

Fruit in the fridge: 1 cantalope, 2 apples, 3 nectarines, 4 pears (No, I did not plan this! LOL)

Snacks: In addition to fruit we have pretzels, almonds, the last of the carrot bread, banana muffins (in the freezer, don't know if they'll make it out or not with everything else we have), popcorn, and yogurt.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dinnertime Rules

The rules for meal time at my house are pretty simple. I hope that when you read through them you will find something that you, too, can use with your own family.

Give appropriately sized portions. It's pretty straightforward, but sometimes I'll look down at a plate and go, "Okay, Treva, where is your head tonight?" Usually it's because I've put too much food on my daughter's plate, but sometimes I put too little on one of the adult plates. With a few exceptions, my daughter eats about one-third to half of what my husband and I eat. The exceptions come in with food she particularly likes or dislikes. If she really likes something, I'll give her extra. Some of my daughter's favorite foods are salmon (she eats a 4 oz piece just like me and my husband), broccoli, green beans, raw carrots, cheese, yogurt, salad, tomatoes and tomato juice, just about any form of pork, and ANY kind of fruit. If she doesn't like it, I scale back and give her less of the item. This is important to note because of the 2nd rule.

It's also important to make sure my daughter knows that she can always have seconds. She takes a major growth spurt every year around her birthday. Seconds at dinnertime can be extremely important for her because she does not get a snack before bed. (There is simply not enough time for her to have a snack and her body to properly digest it before getting to sleep and that's not healthy.) Sometimes we do not always seconds and if that is the case I will offer something else -- fruit, granola bar, cup of yogurt, etc.

Complaining about the food is simply not tolerated. Complain and you could end up with another 2 bites of it to eat. We went through a period of time when our daughter would not eat anything. I think every kid does this. I was kind of at a loss for what to do. My husband and I tried just about everything trying to have a war-free zone and eventually we settled on Amy Dacyczyn's methods outlined in The Complete Tightwad Gazette. Basically, when our daughter complains, we remind her that it's not allowed. We don't expect her to like every food, but we expect her to eat the food we give her. It's not about a clean plate. It's about reducing waste and learning to eat what is presented (a lifelong skill of unending use in my personal opinion). If the complaints continue, I will excuse myself to the kitchen and bring back 2 more bites of the offending food.

This is where it's important to note that I'm very careful to scale back on the few items my daughter does not like -- bell peppers and brown rice come to mind instantly -- so she starts with very little of those foods, maybe 3 bites. This method will not work for everyone. It is what worked for us. It's also important to note that we have only had to resort to the 2 extra bites a handful of times; once she realized we were serious about complaints not being tolerated, they stopped. We have not actually had to do this in over 4 months.

Be respectful. We also went through a time when our daughter would spit out any food she didn't like -- and oftentimes when she did like it but forgot. The bite that is spit out is cleaned up and a new bite of food replaces it. We are now battling talking with food in her mouth. It happens every dinner time. We also spend time correcting slouching, holding her head up on her hands, and so forth. Good manners are important. It goes right along with being able to eat the food placed in front of you. I sincerely hope that my daughter will be exposed to other cultures and how they eat and live, but if she limits her diet to 20 or so food items (which I've seen in far too many children and adults) or doesn't know how to conduct herself at a table, she will pass by beautiful opportunities.

There is a time limit. Generally 30 minutes, but it can be longer. We have struggled with finding a balance to meal time. We want everyone, including our daughter, to be able to talk openly about his or her day at the table. We want dinnertime to be a positive experience and we want it to be something we do more nights than not as our daughter grows up. Right now we generally spend 30-40 minutes eating dinner as a family. There are only 3 of us, but I can imagine a larger family (think of the Duggars!) probably needs more time in order for everyone to share about his or her day. Still there are dinnertimes when our daughter is just not interested in eating; she is literally talking so much that she forgets about the food in front of her! When this happens my husband and I usually finish up long before our daughter is done eating. My husband will set a timer for about 30 minutes and let her know that it's now time for eating and not for talking. Without a timer our daughter has been known to spend up to 2 hours "eating".

The other fact of the matter is that we generally eat at 6:00 p.m. I think it's important to allow food the chance to digest some before going to sleep. And since my daughter's bedtime is at 8:00 p.m. on school nights, this means she needs to be done eating by 7:00 p.m. I think an hour to eat a meal is sufficient. And, really, if she's not done by then, she's probably not that hungry to begin with and I can allow, at that point, to let her be excused without finishing. We are not about cleaning plates, but about offering sufficient, nutritious, and hopefully tasty food.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shopping Trip, Friday 9/18

I generally shop once a week. Lately it's been on Friday morning. When I start working this could change. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of my goods. I'll work on that!

I hit up 2 stores normally and lately that's been Aldi's and Kroger. I buy as much as I can that's on my list that I can't get a better price on from Kroger due to loss leaders. There is no tax on food in Indiana; this is not the case in Virginia, my home state. There is tax on household and pet items, both of which I needed this week. I also needed a lot of basics this week, so I spent about $100. Next week I'm only buying milk, bread, produce -- the bare minimum basics, so my bill will be lower. We got some fun items this week, too.

My normal purchases from Aldi, and which I got this week, include:
  • egg substitute ($1.99)
  • boneless skinless chicken breasts ($5.99 for 3 lbs. -- not bad for when no one else is having a sale)
  • boneless skinless salmon ($3.99 for 4 fillets at 4oz. each; purchased weekly as my husband needs his fish oils for heart health)
  • romaine hearts ($1.99)
  • pecans ($2.49 for 6 oz. -- just getting what I need as I need it until the big holiday sales)
  • eggs (89 cents)
  • honey ($3.79)
  • syrup ($1.39)
  • tortilla chips (99 cents for 13 oz. -- my default was Kroger to get 10 oz for $1)
  • grape tomatoes ($1.49)
  • almonds ($3.49 -- also for my husband; these are so much better than him snacking on something with a lot of HFCS or sat. fat)
  • kitkat bar (59 cents -- a moment of weakness as I was running behind schedule and starving; I should really remember to put a new box of granola bars in the car)
  • feta cheese ($1.99)
  • milk ($1.49 -- 1 gallon skim)
I also grabbed some household items that we needed:
  • scoopable cat litter ($3.69 -- the best price I've seen outside of sales matched with Qs)
  • gallon bags ($1.99 for 30)
  • CFL bulbs ($4.99 for 3 -- best price I've gotten so far & they're brand name)
Shopping at Kroger is a bit more difficult; there's a lot more product, but they have awesome loss leaders, they take coupons and at my store they double Qs up to 50 cents. Pairing paper Qs with electronic Qs can give you some serious deals. This week they also had the whole "buy 10 of these items and get $5 off instantly at the register" so there was that to contend with as well. I buy a lot of meats from Kroger, the balance of my produce, whole wheat flour, and some treat items. I won't give a list of every item, but here are some of the better deals. Prices indicated are after store card discount, promotions, and coupons (electronic and paper).
  • palmolive pure & clear dishsoap (free after rebate; actually it will be an overage since I only paid $1.24 and the rebate is for $1.99)
  • 2 cans pringles (83 cents each)
  • active lifestyles milk (99 cents for 1/2 gallon; this is the milk my husband drinks. It has plant sterols in it which are good for your heart and help lower cholesterol.)
  • 1 box of ritz crackerfuls (free)
  • 2 suave body wash (50 cents each)
  • 2 digiorno pizzas ($2.97 each)
  • 5lbs ground beef ($7.50 -- or $1.50/lb. 3 lbs will be cooked up and frozen in 1 lb. increments for the next time we want nachos or tortillas; the other 2 lbs will be frozen, also in 1 lb increments, raw for meatloaf or similar)
One thing to note is that a lot of the stuff lasts for a while. Yes, some things have to be purchased weekly (milk and produce come to mind), but many last us a few meals. The ground beef, chicken breasts, pizza, pringles, honey, pecans, eggs, and syrup will last a minimum of 2 weeks and many much longer than that.

On Monday I'll post my menu plan!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Favorite Meal of the Week: Sausage & Peppers

Our favorite meal this week was hands down the sausage and peppers tossed with pasta and cheese. We struggle with our daughter any time there is a meal with bell peppers involved. This meal will be a keeper though! She ate 2 bowls of the dish and I was wishing I had made more. She said, "Mommy this is my favoritest meal ever."

What's In It:
  • 4 links of sausage (I used 2 mild Italian and 2 sweet because that's what I had in the freezer)
  • 1/2 each red, yellow and green bell peppers
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1/2-3/4 box of pasta (based on the standard 1 lb. size box; any shape)
  • cheese (We like Romano, but Parmesan will work, too.)
How I Made It:
  1. Remove sausage from casings if you so choose. I usually just slice mine in the casing while the links are still partially frozen. Do whatever works for you. You can also buy the sausage without any casing at all; it looks like ground meat and is very easy to use.
  2. In a skillet saute sausage, peppers, and onions until sausage is cooked through and peppers are tender to your liking.
  3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to directions on the box.
  4. After pasta is done cooking, drain thoroughly and place in a large bowl. Add sausage mixture to the pasta and some cheese (start small, maybe 1/4 C). Toss.
  5. Serve with more cheese on top if desired. (We desire!)
  • I served this with watermelon on the side, too.
  • Salting water for the pasta is optional. If you've got someone in your family with high blood pressure, like we do, then you'll want to avoid this.
  • I bought my peppers when they were on sale cheaper than the frozen bags of the same thing. I sliced them myself and put them in freezer bags to store. You could add onions to the bag, too, but my hand was tired. When I run out of these bags, peppers will no longer be on sale and I will switch to the frozen bags with the peppers and onions all ready to go.
  • We used pasta that had Omega-3 added to it along with additional fiber. You can use whatever pasta your family enjoys.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Triple Bean Soup Cost Breakdown

I find deep satisfaction in knowing how much a meal costs me. There are some great blogs out there that do this regularly, like 5dollardinners. I'm not necessarily trying to get my meals down to $5, but I do aim for inexpensive healthy meals. Today I'm breaking down the cost of my Triple Bean Soup, which is a good basic soup that you can make many simple modifications on for a whole new creation.

We use a good amount of kidney and black beans, so those I cook up myself from bags of dried beans. Anything else I need from time to time is purchased in a can. After I cook my beans I store them in the freezer in 2 cup increments, which is about how much you get when you purchase canned beans. (To be honest though there's been a lot of package shrinking lately, so with my method I think I'm actually getting more beans than if I used a can. Another bonus: canned beans often have salt added; home-cooked does not.)

Cost Breakdown:

1/2 onion -- 16 cents
1 T garlic -- 5 cents
1 T EVOO -- 10 cents
2 C kidney beans -- 66 cents
2 C black beans -- 66 cents
1 can of other beans -- 74 cents*
2 C chicken broth -- 63 cents
1 can diced tomatoes -- 49 cents
2 t basil -- 5 cents
1 dz scratch corn muffins -- $1

*This time around I used white kidney beans. Sometimes I use cannellini beans. It really depends on my mood when I go to make dinner.

Total cost: $4.54

Makes 6 servings, so that's 76 cents per serving. There are usually leftover muffins which are snacked on, but all dozen are included in the cost of the meal. Keep in mind that we are a 3-person family, so this is 2 meals for us.

How I make it:
  1. Chop and saute onion with garlic in EVOO.
  2. Rinse off beans.
  3. Add beans, broth, tomatoes and basil. Heat until the soup is hot all the way through.
  4. Serve with corn muffins on the side.

  • Use more or less onion and garlic depending on your family's preferences.
  • Vegetarian? Use vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth.
  • Not into vegetarian? Add some sliced kielbasa to the soup. On leftovers night I remembered that there were some chopped hot dogs needing to be used up, so I added those. It was a hit with the kid as hot dogs only come around once a month typically.
  • Play with your tomatoes! There are all kinds of tomatoes out there with seasonings. See if you'd prefer one of those in place of plain diced tomatoes.
  • If you need something green with your meal, add a side salad.
  • My daughter loves the basic soup simply topped with Romano or Parmesan cheese; so do I.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Tip for Tuesday

On the 15th of every month I take a few minutes to do some small, but important tasks in the kitchen. The counters are constantly being wiped down, as is the stove top, but on the 15th I take time to boil water and then clear and clean both drains in my kitchen, throw out my old sponge and bring out a new one, and empty the crumb catcher in the toaster oven. I'll do other small tasks, too -- like restocking my rag box, checking the filter on the water pitcher, sharpen a knife, and so forth. I kinda just go in there and see what grabs my attention.

In case you're wondering, I clear and clean the drains using very basic supplies. I dump in some baking soda, then some vinegar, wait a minute or 2 and then pour a few cups of boiling water down the drain. If I'm feeling particularly Martha Stewart-ish I can even boil the water with a couple slices of lemon.

But I'm not one to buy a lemon just because I want pretty smelling drains.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

I generally plan my menus to run Friday to Thursday. This will probably change once I find a job. But for now it works. Sale ads come out on Thursday in my neck of the woods so that gives me time on Thursday to finalize my plan (loosely drafted at the first of the month), check the sales, and match coupons. I don't consider myself a major couponer, but more on that later. I usually plan 5 meals and 2 nights of leftovers.

Friday, 11th -- sausage and peppers tossed with pasta & Romano cheese; watermelon
Saturday, 12th -- triple bean soup with cornbread; maybe salad*
Sunday, 13th -- ginger-ed salmon with salad, zucchini, and rice
Monday, 14th -- pork chops with mini corn cobs, salad, and side (potatoes?)
Tuesday, 15th -- leftovers and daughter's soccer practice
Wednesday, 16th -- herb chicken breasts with salad and baked potatoes
Thursday, 17th -- leftovers

*Saturday we are also providing the post-game snacks for daughter's soccer team. Snacks will include cheddar and pretzel goldfish crackers, fruit snacks (80% fruit juice and actually very tasty), and capri-sun a.m. drinks.

Lunches can be sandwiches, salads, or wraps.

Snacks include banana nut muffins, carrot bread, and corn bread (all made from scratch); pears and grapes; stove-top popcorn (which I'm learning how to make this week).


My husband loves my food; his favorite meal is meatloaf with mashed potatoes, green beans, and fresh bread. While I enjoy cooking and love to make my family happy and filled with yummy meals, I think my cooking is simply average. I know more than a beginner cook and less than a professional. I only know a couple of recipes by heart. I rely on cook books and print outs from sites like to help me get through a meal.

I adore planning things – even when I don’t follow through! Meal planning each week and then leafing through store ads and coupon matching bring me more joy than the average person. I think we have fewer convenience items than most families, but we do have them. Cold cereal and pop-tarts are probably a favorite, though generally we only get them when there is a sale ($2 or less a box for cereal and $1 a box for pop-tarts).

My husband has slightly elevated cholesterol and blood pressure so we make adjustments for him. He is not overweight (unlike my curvaceous self), but there is a long history of heart disease in his family. His dad suffered 3 heart attacks in later years and dealt daily with high blood pressure and cholesterol. My husband’s blood pressure is not so worrisome; because of an injury 11 years ago he takes a lot of medications and that is one of the side effects. He takes a pill for the cholesterol though and we have made dietary changes as well. When I post recipes or meal ideas, especially baked goods, I will use substitutions to make the dish as healthy as possible.

There is also a 5 year old in the house, but we are extremely blessed as she adores fruits and veggies and beans! We do have rules for meal time and I will discuss those in another post.

I hope that you’ll find our meals and food munchies are “normal” and that you’ll enjoy reading as I make my way into the world of blogging.