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.