30 January 2010

Freezer Cooking: Waffles

Don't those waffles look delicious?!?! Trust me, they were this (snowy) morning and will be as we eat them over the coming month. I had more than 4 cups of Buttermilk left that was going to spoil soon, so I needed to use it up - hate to waste! I immediately thought of Buttermilk Pancakes. However we already have a bag of pancakes in the freezer that I made about Monday. I decided we could go with Buttermilk Waffles instead - something yummy to add to our breakfast menu. Little Man eats a pancake or waffle each morning with his yogurt anyway, so making a big batch today (that will probably last all of February) will save me some time over the coming month.

After making two dozen waffles, I flash froze them and then put them in freezer bags for easy access (same way I freeze the pancakes). Each morning I will pop the waffle in the toaster oven & in about a minute, Little Man has a hot breakfast! If I switch it up and give him a pancake, I simply put one in the microwave for almost a minute at about 75% power.

This is just the beginning of my Freezer Days stock-up. Instead of one or two power cooking days, I'm just going to continuously build up over the coming week (maybe 2) by doubling/tripling some recipes to stock the freezer. I will definitely be making these again - we have already eaten all of them!

26 January 2010

Dear Nick Jr...

Patrice, over at the Williams Family Blog, wrote a hilarious letter to Nick Jr. today. If you've watched that channel at all, you really should read it. She cracks me up!

Patrice's adorable son, Jonah, has EB. EB is a skin disorder that I'd never even heard of before, but you can read more about it over at her blog and at the DebRA website. They are also doing a neat auction to raise money in honor of Jonah's first birthday.

Recipe Review: Buffalo Burgers

So let's first clear up that when I said we were having Buffalo Burgers, I did not mean meat that came from the animal. I actually have had Bison Burgers and although not terrible, I certainly won't be ordering one anytime soon.

I meant Buffalo as in Buffalo Wing Sauce. I had a Buffalo Burger last week when visiting my parents from one of our local favorites and decided I needed to recreate them this week. We ended up having them tonight and they were delicious!  Here's how I did it...

Hamburger Patties
Buffalo Sauce (I use Franks)
Blue Cheese Crumbles

1. Make & cook hamburger patties as usual. I made mine very plain...just 80/20 ground beef with some cold water mixed in (a trick I learned from my MIL - makes them very moist & juicy).
2. Heat some Buffalo Sauce in a small shallow dish in the microwave (15 seconds - just enough to warm it a bit). Dredge the cooked hamburger patties though the sauce and place on baking sheet.
3. Top with Blue Cheese Crumbles. Put under broiler until Blue Cheese starts to melt & bubble a bit.
4. Put Buffalo Burgers on buns & serve!

I served these with baby carrots (no celery here, I find it repulsive!) and fries (which I abstained from - yay me!). Sorry there are no pictures, we gobbled them up too fast!

24 January 2010

Meal Plan Monday

After a break from menu planning last week (thanks to a stomach bug & heading out of town for 4 days), I'm back at it again! I'm still sort of participating in the Pantry Challenge, but I've definitely had to do a lot of supplementing. That's OK - I like this groove. I'm basically looking at what I have on hand (mainly meat & produce that I've gotten on sale) and then planning around that. So my grocery list usually consists of small ingredients needed for these recipes. In addition to that, I can check the weekly loss leaders & stock up as we go.

This week, we'll be eating...
Monday: Buffalo Burgers w/ fries & raw carrots
Tuesday: Potato Soup (in the Magic Pot!)
Wednesday: Pork Chops, Green Beans, Rice
Thursday: Empanadas (first shot at this...we'll see how it goes)
Friday: Pizza Night (trying a new dough recipe made in the bread machine)
Saturday: Leftovers OR Steak, Potatoes, Roasted Broccoli or Brussel Sprouts
Sunday: Pasta with Sausage & Roasted Peppers (this is a family favorite!!)

I'm also making homemade chicken salad to enjoy throughout the week. Definitely a Southern favorite!

Check out hundreds of other Meal Plans at Org Junkie.

22 January 2010

Consignment Love

The season has begun! Consignment season that is...

I love, love, LOVE children's consignment sales. Why? Because kids barely wear their stuff before they move up a size, so you can get almost brand new items for pennies on the dollar!  We definitely would not be able to afford to buy a whole new wardrobe for Little Man each season at full-retail, so consignment sales are essential to his wardrobe. (And generous grandparents are really helpful too!) Some people find wearing/using other peoples items a bit sketchy...thankfully I'm not one of them.

Up until this point, I've gotten really into buying toys & "big ticket" items at consignment sales. Some things I've gotten at consignment sales are Snap-n-Go stroller ($10)Bounce-n-Spin Zebra ($20)Little Tikes Swing ($2),  Little Tikes Workbench ($12)LT Sports Toy ($5), and the list goes on. Well as you can imagine with all of that and the recent addition of Christmas presents, I'm now on a "no more toys in my house until Little Man's Second Birthday" kick because we have way more than he even plays with.

Just like couponing, I'm picky about what I'll buy at a consignment sale and how much I'll pay for certain items. Here are a few steps I follow in order to having a successful consigning experience:

1. If at all possible, be a consignor or volunteer.  A MAJOR benefit of consigning/volunteering is you get to shop early before all the good stuff is gone! I've gotten so many great deals and high quality clothing items by shopping this way. Another bonus is you clear out some of the clutter around your house and make money on it - wahoo! Many clothing sales will give you a higher percentage of your sales if you volunteer (for example - our MOPS clothing sale generally gives consignors 50% of what their clothes sell for, but you receive 65% if you volunteer).

2. Inventory the clothes you have for the upcoming season. Last week I did a quick inventory of what Little Man had for spring & summer. Turns out he has plenty of 18month shorts & a few pair of 24month/2T that I bought on clearance last year. Of course he's moving into 24month clothing now, so I doubt those 18month shorts are going to get a lot of use but I tried a couple of pair on him anyway. I think they will work for those early warm weather days, but now I know I need to be on the lookout for 24month/2T shorts and lots of tops. He'll need some shoes too, but I'm a bit funny about buying shoes. Not because I don't like second-hand (I love it!), but because I've been burned more than once with foot growth spurts. I try to wait until we need the next size up, then check out local consignment stores or places like TJ Maxx to see what's around.

3. Make a list of what you need. Consignment sales can often be overwhelming and you can get caught up in the moment, then you get home and think "Did I really need to buy ALL of these toys?" Make a list & do your best to stick to it. Of course you can always be flexible if you run across a really great deal (like a huge box of 250 Duplo Blocks for $6!). The list will definitely help you remember what you've come for.

4. Set your standards. I've always had champagne taste on a beer budget. I like for Little Man to be dressed in Polo and Baby Gap. Yes, I can be a bit snobby when it comes to clothe, and No, he's not always dressed in those brands. However, name brands are certainly what I look for at consignment sales because they often mean better quality and will last longer. I also set mental price limits, like I don't want to pay more than $4 for single piece of clothing. Usually it's more like $2-3 unless it's a great name brand and in really good condition. Another reason I say to look for brands is because sometimes there will be a Target or Walmart brand t-shirt marked for $3. Just in the last two days I've seen t-shirts brand new for $3.50 & $4 at both of those stores. To me, it's just not worth saving at most $1 for something that's used.

5. Set your plan of attack & have fun! Use resources, like Consignment Mommies, to find and plan for local sales. Leave your little ones with your husband on Saturday mornings and go shop! My girlfriends and I like to make an event out of it. We'll meet for an early breakfast, then head out to the sales. It's so much more fun when shared with others!

Let me show you how I've used this to really help me save some big $$...
I already told you I took my inventory last week and know what I need to fill up Little Man's wardrobe for the coming warm months. So, with list in hand I headed out to a HUGE consignment sale where my parents live (seriously, this sale takes up 2 fair ground buildings...talk about overwhelming!). I headed straight for the clothes because that's the only thing I needed (I did pass by some really cute toys along the way, but I stayed strong!). I combed through all the 2T clothing and only came away with 3 pieces. You know why, because I didn't consign or volunteer so I couldn't shop early! I missed most of the good stuff...bummer. I did manage to buy 3 great pieces for $2 each...(1)Baby Gap blue cargo shorts, (2)Gymboree t-shirt that matches the Gap shorts to make an adorable summertime outfit, (3)Cherokee brand blue & white stripe knit collared shirt. The last item is usually something I wouldn't buy (because of my brand issues at consignment sales), but it was a great price and looked brand new. I doubt it had ever even been worn. I considered it a great buy & know Little Man will get lots of wear out of it. If I bought those three items at full-retail, I would have easily paid close to $40, but I only paid $6! That's a savings of $34 on just three items!

Well, as you can tell I'm pumped about consigning season & hope you have lots of fun with it too!

Check out lots of other frugal ideas at Life as Mom.

16 January 2010

Thoughts on Food, Inc.

I've recently seen a few blog mentions about Food, Inc.  Tonight I finally broke down, got the hubs to rent it on iTunes, and we watched it together. I expected it to be very one-sided and it definitely was, however I feel  like I have quite a bit to think about now. Here are just a few thoughts I had after watching...

-At one point they mention meat filler washed in ammonia to help kill the E. coli that lives in the meat because of the way in which they are raised. Yes, AMMONIA! I've been eating ammonia...yikes! Obviously it hasn't killed me, but I'm not thrilled with ammonia entering my body without my knowledge. Probably won't truly enjoy another cheeseburger until I've found a local, grass-fed source for beef. Of course this should be in our family before too much longer since my FIL will be getting a cow to raise this spring for this purpose. Yay!

-They talked a lot about corn and how it's taking over everything in our country. You should have seen the list of corn derivative products - CRAZY. I'm allergic to corn, so I was rooting for them during this segment. I'd love to see us depend on corn less. A lot less, thank you very much!

-They bashed Smithfield Pork quite a bit. I wasn't thrilled with this segment, probably because it hits really close to home. Smithfield is a NC company (where I live) and one of their "big wigs" in an NCSU alum (so are the hubs & I).

-This lady's story broke our hearts. Her 2.5 year old son died from an E. coli outbreak in 2001. The company knew about the E. coli for almost a month before they issued a recall on the meat. She's working very hard on Capitol Hill to have legislation passed to prevent this.

-He runs a grass-fed farm and he raises cows, pigs, and chickens. They clean their chickens in an open-air structure, yet their meat had FAR less contaminants than ones raised in factories. He was very exuberant & cracked me up. He also had some crazy eyes!

-I was very disturbed to see what this company is doing to small, local farmers. I vehemently disagree with the fact that you can patent a genetic strand (what they've done with seeds). Of course it's not their fault that they've been allowed to do this. Our government really needs to take a stand and not allow LIFE to be patented!

-They had some surprisingly positive things to say about your consumer dollar & Wal-Mart at the end of the movie. I was very happy to hear that since I do a lot of our grocery shopping there. I buy all of Little Man's YoBaby Yogurt their because it's cheapest ($3.12/6-pack).

-I was exceptionally annoyed when the showed a clip with the image above. Is it disturbing? Yes. However they took this COMPLETELY out of context. There are pigs on top of a hog house. How do hogs get on top of their house? What is that surrounding them? Well, while they were busy misleading their viewers, they didn't take the time to explain that this occurred when Hurricane Floyd came through and dumped enough rain to flood the entire eastern part of our state. The reason the hogs are on top of that hog house (and their subsequent waste that  is going everywhere) cannot be blamed on anyone. Ugh...I was really irritated by this.

If you decide to watch this movie, keep an open mind. Remember this is only one side of the story. The creators of this movie are trying just as hard to persuade you to their side as the food processors & meat packers are trying to hide their practices. It's never as cut & dry as it may seem. It did give me quite a bit to think about and how I can spend my consumer dollars as my voice. However small those consumer dollars may be...

13 January 2010

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Little Man rarely eats meat, with the exception of Chicken Nuggets. Maybe that sounds like your toddler too. I was searching for a healthier & cheaper version of chicken nuggets to feed him without much luck. One day I decided just to wing it. The results were delicious! My husband has requested they go into our regular menu line-up. I'll probably oblige because they are so easy & tasty.  They're not pretty, but their taste more than makes up for the presentation. I thought I'd share my "recipe" (if you can even call it that!) with you.

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
Italian Dressing
Plain Bread Crumbs
Seasoning Salt
Oil (I used Canola)

1. Using a knife or kitchen shears, cut chicken breast into bite-sized pieces.
2. Marinate chicken pieces in Italian Dressing for at least an hour.
3. In a gallon size Ziploc, pour bread crumbs (between 1/2 - 1 cup) & seasoning salt (to taste, probably between 1tsp & 1tbsp).
4. Put chicken pieces in bag & shake to coat.
5. Put about 1tbsp of oil in skillet over medium heat.
6. Put chicken pieces in skillet, cooking 1-2 minutes per side. Then turn to brown on all sides. You may need to add more oil as you're cooking.
7. Once chicken is cooked through, remove to a paper towel to drain off any excess oil.
8. Eat & enjoy!

I put these in the freezer & heat a few up at a time for Little Man. Definitely a delicious, quick meal!

12 January 2010

Homemade Applesauce

My Little Man LOVES fruit. I mean the child is obsessed. I literally have to hide fruit until he has finished eating everything else I want him to eat and then bring out the fruit. I also have to sneak fruit into our cart out of his sight at the grocery store or he'll throw a fit. Obsessed, I'm telling you. 

With his love of fruit also comes a love of applesauce. Normally I buy huge jars of unsweetened applesauce and it that jar might last a week. Thank God that store brand applesauce is not expensive. It is processed though, even the unsweetened variety. I'm always looking for healthier foods for our family (especially Little Man). Well, I found a great deal on apples this weekend so I bought 9lbs and made some applesauce last night. Then I canned it. 

I have fallen in love with canning. Do you can? If not, you should give it a try. It's easy & can save your family lots of money while providing delicious, healthier foods. I want to show you just how easy canning is. A winter lesson on canning - ha! Can you tell I'm itching for some warmer weather? :)

Step 1: Buy this book. I call it my canning Bible. It's awesome & inexpensive. It's also pretty timeless, so it should be good forever.

Step 2: That book will tell you to buy (or borrow) these basic products...I'm sure all of this can be found at your local Wal-Mart
-Boiling Water Bath canner (similar to this one)
-Mason Jars with rings & new seals (I bet if you ask around, you'll find lots of people with mason jars they want to get rid of)
-Wide-mouth Funnel (like this)
-Jar Lifter (like this)

Step 3: Follow the instructions in the book. I would love to tell you exactly how to can, but the process really depends on what you're canning. It's not hard - I promise. 

I used the instructions in that book to make Little Man's applesauce. Here's what I did...

Gather lots of apples...I like to use 3 different varieties & at least one of those need to be Granny Smith. The others don't really matter, but I never use more than one type of red apple.

Wash the apples because they are yucky & usually coated in wax or food-grade shellac. Disturbing. Don't worry...you're going to peel them. But think twice before you eat the peel of an apple again.

Pull out the Peeler-Corer-Slicer that your grandmother gave you (or take a million hours to do this process by hand...your choice).

Put the slices in a big pot with some water, but not much because apples are like 67% water anyway. Turn on the heat to medium-high. Stir frequently getting the top apples to the bottom.

See how they are starting to turn brown...yuck! I sprinkled some of that "fruit saver" stuff on top. Not much, but enough to stop that color change.

While your apples are cooking down, gather up your old friends...

These were so handy when I was living in Canning-ville this summer. While residing in Canning-ville, I produced the following:
Bread & Butter Pickles: 15 pints
Kosher Dill Pickles: 14 pints

Okra Pickles: 4 pints
Salsa: 16 pints, 13 half-pints
Pasta Sauce: 1 quart, 32 pints, 1 half-pint
Pizza Sauce: 10 half-pints
Chili Base: 19 pints, 1 half-pint
Green Beans: 23 Quarts
We have been enjoying these throughout the winter. All the hard work & late nights were definitely worth it!

Oh Canning-ville how I miss you, your fresh fruits & veggies, and most importantly your warm temperatures. Please return soon!

Ok...back to the present. Now prepare your jars, lids, & new seals. Basically you put them in hot water (but not boiling) until you're ready to put your applesauce in them. (Sorry there are no pictures for these next few steps - You have to work quickly & hubs wasn't home to help take them while I worked)

I pureed the cooked apples in my food processor, then returned the puree to the pot & brought to a boil. This is where I burned myself BIG TIME. Ouch - be careful with boiling applesauce.

Put your applesauce in your jars. Put the seals & rings on the jars. Put sealed jars in your boiling water bath canner & process for 20 minutes. Remove jars & let them sit for a while (like until the next morning) until the jars seal. You'll hear a pop - it's a great sound because that means it worked!

Here's your finished product...a beautiful quart of applesauce!

Well, actually three beautiful quarts of applesauce and a big bowl full leftover. It takes 2.5-3.5lbs of apples to make one quart of applesauce, which may seem like a lot of apples for not a ton of sauce. But I promise, it's worth it!  Notice I added no sugar and it is delicious!

I really wanted to make fruit leather, but I didn't have parchment paper on hand & I was afraid to try it without.

11 January 2010

Meal Plan Monday

I'm giving myself a C in the Eat from the Pantry Challenge right now. I'm mostly eating from my pantry, but supplementing some since I did a lot of pantry-eating in December. My grocery budget (which includes groceries, household items, & health/beauty items) is already at $125 this month (out of $400!) and it's only the 11th. Yikes! That's mostly due to Super Doubles coupons & a Buy 1 Get 2 Free sale on Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts at the Teeter. Oh well...I think the rest of the month will be pretty inexpensive (fingers crossed!).

Here's the dinner Meal Plan for this week:
Tuesday: Soup & Grilled Cheese (Hubs has a dinner meeting)
Wednesday: Beef Strogonoff w/ Veggie TBD
Thursday: Chicken Pie, Green Beans, Roasted Carrots (yummy!!!)
Friday: Homemade Pizza Night!
Saturday: Steak, Potatoes, & Roasted Broccoli (at home date night!)
Sunday: Tex-Mex Chili (we didn't get around to it this week)

I'll also be making homemade Apple Sauce sometime this week since I scored apples at Aldi today for $0.66/pound! So I bought 9lbs. Oh my goodness...I've discovered a new love affair for Aldi, especially their produce if it's all that cheap (which it seemed to be). 

Check out all the other Meal Plans over at Org Junkie!

10 January 2010

Let's talk about contentment...

Do you ever find yourself saying, "If wish I had _________." You can fill in the blank with whatever you want: a bigger house, a Coach purse, a YMCA membership, a cleaning lady, etc. I know I've said that statement many times.

Shortly after I had Little Man & became a SAHM (stay-at-home mom), I decided I really wanted a Y membership. Not only to get in shape (which is TERRIBLY needed), but also for social reasons. Most of my friends have Y memberships & it's almost expected that everyone should have a membership. We could meet up, work out, take a Zumba class together, then grab our kids from childcare & head home. Sounds like a great morning routine to me.

One tiny problem - we simply cannot afford it. It's $71/month for a Adult/Dependent (read: Mommy & Child) membership at my local Y. That doesn't seem like that much money to some people, but we just don't have that extra in our monthly budget. Sure, I could sign up & pay for it each month, then put one week's worth of groceries on the credit card in its place. But what happens when the credit card bill arrives? We still don't have the money to pay for it in full. I know this is what lots of people do, but we have made a conscious decision to stop living like that.

Is it fun? Honestly, no. I would love to hop in the car each morning & spend some "me" time at the Y. My rear end would thank me. However, what does feel good is not having the stress of added consumer debt and working to pay off the small amount we have. So, I'm exhibiting a bit of self-denial in order to live like you should by paying for things when you have the money for it. It's just not smart to pay for this month's expenses with next month's money (even though we've lived like that before). What happens if next month's money doesn't come through? You're in trouble.

My point is, let's stop "keeping up with the Joneses" and start living within your own means. As Dave Ramsey would say, "Act your wage." Be content with what you have. No, you may not have all your "wants", but you probably have all your "needs". And you still have SO MUCH MORE than so many others around the world. Of course, that's an entirely different blog post...

Please don't think I'm perfect and always content. I'll tell you right now that I'm not. I was at my Bunco group tonight and everyone was talking about the classes they had attended this week together at the Y. Oh how I longed to be a part of that conversation (mostly so my thighs don't jiggle so much). However, I am choosing to be content with what I have, while working to achieve our goals. But you can bet that as soon as our debts are paid and we have an expendable $71 each month, I'll be at the Y!

08 January 2010

Recipe Review: Homemade Pizza Success!

I have not had much luck making homemade pizza in the past. I just never get the dough quite right. Since I'm eating from the pantry this month and I had all the ingredients on hand, I decided I'd try it again.

I used the pizza dough recipe over at Little Birdie Secrets. SUCCESS! I threw in some garlic powder and Italian seasoning with the dough, which gave it a delicious flavor.I topped it with homemade pizza sauce (that I canned last summer), freshly grated mozzarella, and mini-pepperonis that I had leftover from a Sicilian Strata I made around Christmas. I was so surprised that you cooked it at such a high temperature (500-degrees!) the entire time, but that must have been the secret. My only complaint was the center was a little doughy,  not much, but not as done as I'd like. Next time I think I'll pre-cook it for 4-5 minutes instead of just 3.

Sorry there's no picture - it was gobbled up too quickly to snap one!

07 January 2010

Got felt?

I promise I have more going on in my life than coupons, groceries, & cooking...even if my blog posts don't reflect that. I have an entire shelf of sewing projects waiting to be worked on, as well as Little Man's ABC Quilt I need to continue hand-quilting. And let's not even think about the bathrooms that I constantly avoid cleaning.

What is intriguing me most right now is the huge pile of felt that I got at a crazy cheap price at Joann's after Thanksgiving sale. I'm planning to make a lot of felt food to go with Little Man's kitchen he'll be getting for his birthday (in July - I'm a planner). I'm also planning to make a felt playhouse similar to this. I'm looking for some other felt crafts, so if you read this & have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!

06 January 2010

"You'll go broke buying bargains"

My FIL used to frequently quote that to me. At first I just ignored him because I LOVE to shop, but after a while it really started to sink in. He hasn't quoted me that in a long while, so either he's given up or I've gotten better about my shopping. Let's hope it's the latter :)

When I first started "couponing", I would get caught up in the coupon-madness and all the good deals I could get. Then I would get home, look at what I'd bought, and wonder, "What the heck am I going to do with some of this stuff?" I've gotten a bit smarter in my coupon ways. Now I only use my coupons on items that I already like and use. (For example, I'm a Colgate girl & I only like Colgate GEL toothpaste. I do not like actual toothPASTE. YUCK! No Crest or Aquafresh for me either. Just Colgate Gel, thank you very much.) My only exception to this rule is FREE items - I'll always get those. Even if I don't want them, I'll donate the items to Storehouse.

All of that lead in to show off my Harris Teeter Super Doubles deals. Starting today, the Teeter will double your coupons up to $1.98. So all those $1.00 coupons that just miss the triples cut off can get used up. You don't get nearly as many free items, but I tend to get good deals on some of our health & beauty items, especially when I combine the VIC specials & my coupons. Here's what I got!

Sun-Maid  Raisins (15oz box):  $1.62/box
Irish Spring Bar Soap (3-pack):  $0.69/3-pack
Colgate Toothpaste: $0.50/each
Gillette Shampoo: $2.49/bottle
Vive Pro Shampoo: $2.99/bottle
J&J Baby Wash: $1.00/bottle
Band-Aids: $0.50/box
Total Spent: $15.29 + tax
Total Saved: $32.08
(I really hope that math is right. I also bought milk, eggs, & BOGO strawberries while I was there & tried to subtract their costs)

I was a bit hesitant about this trip since I'm participating in the Pantry Challenge, but it was totally worth it to get those good deals on some of our favorite products.

05 January 2010

Stuffed Shells - A yummy review!

I made these stuffed shells tonight & they turned out superbly! Good thing because they were much more labor intensive than I was expecting. I'm all about working smarter, not harder, so I was seriously questioning why I was stuffing a zillion jumbo shells this evening while Little Man & Daddy were having a blast playing in the Duplo blocks.

I doubled the recipe because I wanted to get rid of the entire box of jumbo shells in the pantry. Even though it took a long time to stuff all those shells, it made a TON. We had this dish for supper tonight, plus enough for two more to put in the freezer. Yay! I love to have freezer meals. :)

I also had a lot of the ricotta mixture, so I stuck it into a freezer bag to use later in lasagna, baked spaghetti, etc.

Freezer score!

As I mentioned previously, my Mother-in-Law asked me to clean out & organize her freezer and in return I could take whatever I wanted. Monday I cleaned out her deep freezer and scored all this meat! Yippeee! That should definitely help out my grocery budget. And don't worry...I didn't take ALL her food. She still has plenty of beef, chicken, pork fish, and even venison.

04 January 2010

Meal Plan Monday

Happy Monday! I can't believe all the holiday "breaks" are over & we're getting back to our regularly scheduled lives. Honestly, I'm a little worried how my Little Man is going to do now that it's just us again & I won't be giving him the same amount of 1-on-1 attention that he's received from family over the last couple of weeks. Oh well...we'll get through it & hopefully with few tears from both of us.

Just a reminder that I'm participating in the "Eat from the Pantry Challenge" over at Life as Mom, so my meals for this month will be mostly coming from our freezer & pantry. This may be tough since I did this most of December, but I'm giving it a shot!

I did get a boost of grocery confidence from my MIL today who told me that if I came over to clean out, organize, & inventory her freezer(s) while she played with Little Man that I could take whatever I wanted. Free food & I get to organize (my nerdy passion & probably your's too if you're checking in from I'm an Organizing Junkie). Um, OKAY! I'll report back with what I score from her freezer.

So, here's what we're eating this week:

Monday: Shepherd's Pie from this awesome book
Tuesday: Stuffed Shells w/ Cesar Salad & Garlic Bread
Wednesday: Honey Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry w/ Rice, Pineapple, & Roasted Red Peppers
Thursday: Pork Chops w/ Green Beans & Mashed Potatoes
Friday: Homemade Pizza night using this pizza dough recipe...last time I tried to make my own dough it was a DISASTER, so I'm hoping a new recipe will do the trick.
Saturday: Cheesy Broccoli, Chicken, & Rice Casserole
Sunday: Tex-Mex Chili in the Crockpot (for the hubs to enjoy while I'm playing Bunco with the ladies!)

"Supplemental" groceries for this week were:
Romaine Lettuce
Cesar Dressing
Croutons (putting a ban on the bag salads for this less expensive & possibly healthier option)
Ground Beef (3lbs of 93/7)
Ricotta Cheese (2-15oz containers)
32-oz Blocks of Cheese: Seriously Sharp, Colby, & Mozzarella (We LOVE cheese! I grate all my own in lieu of buying the pre-shredded because it tastes so much better this way. Hopefully this will last us a few weeks.)
Grated Parmesan (yes, the kind in the green can - it's my BFF)
Fruit (oranges & bananas were on sale and I even had a coupon for the oranges which Little Man LOVES!)
Total: $51.17

This wasn't too bad, but I'm hoping to do better over the rest of the month.

Does anyone have any money-saving tips to share with me? The hubby has set a really strict grocery budget for 2010: $400/month for ALL food including eating out. Then today he told me this also includes household & health/beauty items! Needless to say, I'm looking for all the help I can get!

02 January 2010

Eating from the Pantry - Check In

So far (all 2 days of it!), we've been pretty good in the "Eating from the Pantry" challenge. I'm trying to remember "it's all about attitude" and think of my new grocery budget as an adventure rather than a restriction.

I'm going to keep track of what we're eating to keep myself accountable. I won't be keeping up with our breakfast dishes because we always eat at home (or not at all in my hubby's case). I am forcing myself to eat up some things I'm not really crazy about, like Instant Oatmeal...today's flavor, Peaches n Cream. Let's just say I'll be very happy when all those packets are finished & won't be buying more anytime soon.

Here's what we've had so far:

Jan 1:
Lunch - Leftover Chinese (yum! I love the Lee Family!!)
Dinner - Shredded Beef Tacos w/ Rice
    Note: I combined the leftover rice & beef with some black beans I soaked overnight & cooked today in the crockpot to create a small "Fiesta Casserole" to store in the freezer. So, another "pantry" meal ready for later this month! All I'll do is top it with cheese & cook, then serve with shredded lettuce, sour cream, & salsa. Yummy!

Jan 2:
Lunch - Ham & Cheese Loaf w/ Waffle Fries (All from the "pantry"...had half a French Loaf leftover in the freezer, so I defrosted it & put some spicy mustard on my half, then topped with leftover Thanksgiving Ham and mozzarella cheese. Wouldn't have been my first choice of cheese, but it's what we had & it was really tasty!)
Dinner - Pizza & Game Night with friends...so tonight was a "splurge" on the pantry challenge. Our good friends came over w/ their 2 little ones & we ordered pizza. I could have made pizzas from scratch w/ all the ingredients I have here, but I didn't. Oh well. I did pay with cash from my Christmas money, so we'll see at the end of the month if I choose to include this in our food bill (& reimburse my Christmas fund) or treat it as a Christmas splurge. =)

Grocery Check-In: 
I made an "emergency" trip to the grocery store today because we were out of YoBaby Yogurt & Applesauce. Staples in my child's diet. I also bought some beer because the hubs wanted some with his pizza & I needed two for some Beer Bread mix I plan on using up this month. Total spent $15

Tomorrow I'm hoping to have some "alone time" & check out a few grocery stores (Walmart, Aldi, Sam's Club) prices in making my "Price Book". This is a concept Mary Ostyn highly recommends in her new book, which is awesome for the frugal cook. According to her book, she thinks you can spend $75/person/month on groceries. This means that our food budget should really only be $225/ month. I would be ECSTATIC if we could get our budget that low, but my goal for now is just to stay under $400. Baby steps...

Pantry Challenge

There's an "Eat from the Pantry" Challenge going on over at Life as Mom. I really love this concept and frequently use it when I feel our pantry & freezer are getting overloaded or if I've used most of my grocery budget already. I also employ this tactic when I know we're going to be out of town a lot, like in December.

So now my poor refrigerator looks like this...

YIKES! Not only is it bare, but it's dirty! Perfect time to clean it I suppose.

My pantry is a bit more stocked...

but not overly so (probably b/c Harris Teeter hasn't had tripled lately!).

And if you're wondering about the laundry basket at the bottom of my pantry, I use it to throw all our kitchen linens in. Since we switched to cloth napkins & our laundry room is not on this floor, I needed an option like this. I also use two dish cloths per day (one for dishes & one to scrub down Little Man after each meal), so this is perfect to hang wet kitchen rags on each evening to dry before I throw them in the basket until laundry day.

It's important to note that I do have a TON of green beans, salsa, pasta sauce, chili base, and pizza sauce from our garden this past year. They are all housed in the basement & brought up when needed. I also have a deep freezer in the basement, which has some fruit & veggies from the past summer and any meat that I stock up on when there's a sale.

Even though I know I won't be able to participate fully in the challenge, I decided to do an inventory of the fridge, freezer, & pantry to see what I do have and create as many meals as possible from what's here on hand. (Random Note: when taking "inventory" of the deep freezer, I found several bags of Breastmilk. Little Man stopped nursing in September, yet I'm having a hard time tossing my "liquid gold".) I was SHOCKED when I brainstormed 20 meals from what I have on hand with just a few additional ingredients from the grocery. Yay! Of course I'll have to pick up fruit, yogurt, and a few other things for Little Man. But I'm VERY hopeful of coming in below my $400 grocery budget this month.

01 January 2010

Happy New Year!

2010 is HERE! I love the start of a new year...you hang a blank calendar, you have a clean slate, and mentally there's a new beginning to create better habits. (I say mentally because you could totally decide to change your ways any day of the year, yet we tend to focus on change at this time of the year only).

I usually don't set resolutions, mainly because I'm horrible at keeping them. I'm too strict on myself and if I mess up once, then I give up. Since I've figured out that specific resolutions don't really work for me,  I try to set some goals or have certain things in mind that I'd like to work toward.

In 2009, my goal was to become more "eco-friendly" and it also resulted in saving me money. Pretty much the only EF (eco-friendly) thing we were doing at the time was driving a Hybrid (because it was an SUV that got great gas mileage) and using cloth diapers (because Little Man's skin was too sensitive for the chemicals in disposables). Obviously neither of those reasons were anything close to EF (we weren't even recycling for goodness sake!), so we changed our focus (more like I changed my focus and my hubby reluctantly & rather begrudgingly went along, but whatever). So we started recycling (WOW! we probably have more recycling than trash) and stopped buying paper napkins and started using cloth (I had them already so that was a switch that saved us money). We still use paper towels, but MUCH less often. I switched to reusable grocery bags (until I lost them in our basement renovation. Luckily they've been found now!). I started to scale back on my cleaning products & have fallen in love with vinegar, however I still can't give up my soft scrub with bleach for my white laminate kitchen counters. My in-laws & I had a HUGE garden, so I was able to eat, can, & freeze a lot of veggies. This not only saved me money, but I consider it EF since I didn't have to purchase these foods from the grocery store & throw away all the packaging. I also got really into consignment sales, which took care of the "Reuse" portion of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle! I'm sure I can still do more, but I'm quite happy with what we accomplished this past year.

For 2010, my goal is Discipline for myself. The foremost area of discipline for us is financial discipline. We have created a strict budget (which only allows me $400/month for groceries...prayers for prudent culinary creativity please!) and have to stick to it to work towards our goals.  We want to eliminate the little debt we have & start building 6-months living expenses in savings. I'm looking at the numbers and thinking there's just no way, but with God all things are possible, so I'm just going to trust and pray for discipline, as well as self-denial (which I'm not so great at). I'm also feeling like I need to bring in some income for my family. I'm not sure how, as I want to continue to stay home, but I'll be praying for an opportunity to arise that will provide me with both options. My constant goal is to strive to be more like this lady. I also want to be more disciplined with my time. I spend way too much time reading blogs & popping onto Facebook. I need to spend more time tending to my family, my house, and myself. I have been so slack about spending time with God. It's just pitiful that I can spend hours on the computer, crafting, & watching TV, but won't carve out some time for HIS WORD. I'm frustrated with my lack of discipline in this area of my life. I really need to spend some time working on my physical self. I cannot remember the last time I did a physical activity and I need to get my ever-expanding rear in gear! I have whined about wanting a YMCA membership for sometime now, time to stop whining and start moving. I have the 30-Day Shred DVD and a great neighborhood to walk in (maybe run? ha! let's not get too ambitious) - those two things are a great start. As you can see, my much needed word for 2010 is DISCIPLINE!

So, what is YOUR goal for 2010? I'd love to hear about it & encourage you on your journey to reach your goal!