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Friday, December 31, 2010

The ultimate in meal planning

I had to share what I just discovered tonight. I did meal planning yesterday and got to Jan. 22nd...but I wanted I did some grocery shopping for things that we use and that were on sale and/or that I had a coupon for.

Here's what I wrote on another site:

So, I sat back down to go through the food once again (I think last time I had planned through the 24th or 25th of December). Well....I think I might have actually gotten through January....not quite sure how it happened.....this will be SO awesome if it's true.....just need to verify meals with inventory to make sure I didn't schedule something that we didn't have supplies for (had help, and not sure they crossed off things as I mentioned attention
So, once I figure this all out, you'll probably see a HUGE happy dance SweetPea on here.
Hubby decided we needed to go to Disney to celebrate his finishing his BA degree, we need to replace a sleeper sofa, I have to pay the $100 fee for him to receive his diploma....those are the major "long term" expenses that I'm working with right now, not to mention trying to build our savings back up a bit. you can understand why I'm freaking out a little....this would be better than I have ever done before and I might just have a major mental freak out if this is correct.....the chance to actually put money AWAY.....too awesome

*followed by this update:*
Having done all of my have to tell you this....I have dinners planned through February 4th!!! Not sure exactly how I did this....guess I gave up planning when I got Christmas, but apparently there was a bit more in stock than I had thought.
NO grocery shopping in January other than for milk, bread, meds.....this should allow for saving up and for paying towards the family vacation....and for paying off the home equity loan (which is HUGE because once that's paid off, I can start looking for a replacement minivan....should have it paid off in a few months!!)
Phew....brain hurts...not sure how I did this, but wow
Just figured it out....since 11/4, I've spent a total of $571.61, but have gotten food for 13 weeks, which works out to $43.97 per week for a family of 4, plus 2 cats and a dog....WOW!!! I have managed to impress myself

Now THAT'S how you do it ladies!!

End of year round up

Well, it's the last day of 2010 and I thought I'd look back over the blog. I've gotten a couple of new followers, missed SEVERAL months due to general distractions or personal antipathy, and have posted numerous recipes, both from my personal family cookbooks, or from some generous, kind-hearted friends.

So....the questions, as I've asked before is....does anybody actually read this thing, or is it just being written as a catharsis for me to deal with my crazy-busy-hectic life??


So....There was Black Friday (I laughed because I haven't shopped on BF in years....and the most recent was an accident - I actually forgot it was BF and ran out to get shelving for DSs bedroom...crazy!). Did you find any bargains?? Was it *really* worth it to rush out early, stand in line with all those other people?? Eh, I prefer my method...get a cup of coffee, sit in the main part of the mall, and chuckle at all the people running around like crazy.

Then there was "the last shopping weekend before Christmas" where stores saw yet another boom in sales as those who had postponed their shopping tried to get gifts for all those people that they felt obligated to give gifts to. Please note the word "obligated" That is NOT what Christmas is about, yet it seems that is what society has turned it into....just another mass-market commercialized day in the year. {sigh}

Finally, there is the Day After Christmas.....HUGE discounts....what can I say, that one is harder for me to break that BF because that's when I buy the clothing for the children for next year. This year was NOT fun as I couldn't find the lined cargo pants and jeans that my sensory-sensitive son likes to wear. Managed to find them online - and still on sale! But it was still crazy trying to find them - apparently they aren't carried anywhere other than Old Navy...if anybody else knows where I can get them, PLEASE tell me!!!

However, thanks to a productive morning (up at 5am, out by 545am, not back home until noon...and I was out with my Mother doing her shopping and my shopping!!), I don't have to buy birthday or Christmas presents for either child!! I even found a few things for my husband....didn't look for things for myself this year as I'm determined to MAKE my clothes (have had some fabrics sitting in my storage for nearly 7's time to turn them into clothing). Once DSs pants arrive, my shopping (for presents anyway) will be 95% for awesome is that??!!???

Now....groceries...oy! I thought I only had groceries to get me through 12/25....last major shopping trip was back in November....early November at Well, I sat down yesterday and played with more meal plans, and it looks like I have most of January taken care of as well!! I *did* do some shopping yesterday due to sales and having coupons that matched with what was on sale. If I did as well as I think I did, I may not have to do a major shopping trip until sometime in February!!! WooHoo!!!! This is more than awesome....this is freaking mindblowing!!

DS has discovered Sci-Fi novels, and was upset at the language used in just the first paragraph of the one he bought (gift card from grandparents...both kids thought it was awesome that they got to spend their own "money" for their books). So....we started substituting new words....


You get the idea.....but sometimes it's too when discussing our DDs behavior and it ends up being: she needs to stop acting like a spoiled rapidly dissolves into laughter...yup, some interesting changes going on in the house

Well, I hope that you've enjoyed 2010...I will do my best to post more regularly in 2011...

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

We all make them, some of us keep what are some of YOUR resolutions for 2011??

In a couple of groups that I belong to, this question was raised, and since I responded there, I thought I'd post them here....feel free to add your own.....:

  • 1-get back to daily workouts

    2-learn more frugal recipes and cook double batches of meals so that we have them ready for nights when things are really crazy

    3-work through the stashed fabric and actually finish outfits for myself and the children (DS just wants more cargo pants, but DD and I have enough outfits for whole new wardrobes....but all still in the flat-fold fabric

    4-learn how to do more than make pickles

and from another group (still my responses):
  • 1- to do better at planning so that we don't get caught between paychecks with little money in the bank

    2-to spend less on spur-of-the-moment purchases

    3-to go to the store without the children when I can

    4-to make the clothes that I bought supplies for (mostly me and DD) instead of purchasing cheaply made things from mass-market stores

    5-to learn how to make pet treats because store-bought ones are WAY too expensive

    6-to learn how to can more things (though apparently the pickles are a HUGE hit) and how to do other preserving

    7-to make double batches of certain meals so that we have them ready for those nights when things are just too crazy

    8-to NOT have fast food in the house more than once a month

I probably should add in...become a better manager of my time. SO much of my time seems to be spent on things that, in the long run, are trivial....and not enough time is spent with my family or getting the things done that I need to do (to further save money)......ah, well....would be nice if we had just a 28 hour day every now and then, but.....

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spirit of Christmas

So, it's Christmas time again....and the question is...what is Christmas all about. Yes, it celebrates the birth of Jesus. Given that we live in a materialistic society, it seems that Christmas has become nothing more than a retailers buy buy....with the children shouting gimme gimme gimme.

We should remember that it's about GIVING, not about GETTING.....God GAVE us His Son...what's so hard about that?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't have presents under the tree or anything like that, but we need to remember what Christmas is really about.

Oh, and since this is where I give frugal tips and hints and such...if you feel the need to give presents, why not do something that costs less, but means more. Give of yourself, give some of your time, make things by hand ......cut back on your list of who you "must" give presents to. And most importantly, give to those less fortunate than yourself. Keep in mind that, no matter how bad things might seem for you, there are always others that have less than you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas prep

So, being as it's Black Friday...the biggest sales day of the year, supposedly, I thought I'd jump back online for a brief post.

When shopping for Christmas gifts:
-carry a list of the people you are buying for, their favorite colors, sizes, interests
-make sure you have noted which stores have what on sale and try to "cluster shop" meaning try to get to all the stores that are close together before venturing out to further locations.

If you cluster shop, you may be able to find things more inexpensive at one of the cluster stores than at one of the ones farther away (remember to take into account driving time, gas used, etc. when figuring this out)...yes, Store X might have that perfect sweater on sale for $10 cheaper than store B, but it's another 20 miles away, across a mountain, using a good amount of gas and then the time to drive there, find a parking space....just to get 1 sweater....really??!!???

Pre-plan for the next year!!

If you run into some "can't pass up sales" and have the money available, take advantage of them. Case in point: Target had long-sleeve sweaters for girls on sale for $10, they also had baby cord pants on sale for $10. I bought DD a sweater and pair of pants that she can wear this year, and another sweater and pants (different colors) for next year. Since she tends to grow slowly, they ones for next year might even be a little too big when next Christmas rolls around. I did the same for DS and pajamas....he grows in spurts and is already wearing 10s that will be too short by the spring (most likely) I bought him 12s for this year, and 14s for next Christmas (also on sale for $10).

Just remember to monitor your don't want to end up with a huge credit card bill just because you fond some great deals....they'll still be there, and don't forget the day after Christmas sales are only a month away!!

Monday, October 25, 2010

brief break

I am in the middle of filling out my inventory needs for the upcoming craft fair, so I won't be able to post any recipes or whatnot for a few weeks. Please bear with me. If I can get caught up, I will post before the craft fair, but if not, those of you that are local to me, please stop by ExpoLand in Fishersville, VA on November 13th and 14th!!

And I'm still looking for more inexpensive recipes as well as feedback from those of you who have tried some of the recipes I posted!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yummy Soup!!!

So, with the beginning of fall temps around here, it's kind of kicked me into "warm, filling food" mode...which means soups, stews, chili, and LOTS of baking (not really good for me since I taste as I go).

Last night, according to my family, the Loaded Baked Potato Soup was a grand slam, out of the park, why bother running the bases when you could just walk, kind of meal...yes, THAT good!.

Here is the recipe in it's original form, from the Diabetes & Heart Healthy Cookbook:

1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes (russet preferred)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons imitation bacon bits
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup fat-free half and half
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sliced green onions (green part only)
1/3 cup shredded fat-free or reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup fat-free or light sour cream

1-preheat oven to 350 F

2-pierce each potato several times with a fork. Put potatoes on a baking sheet.

3-Bake for 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a fork or knife.

4-Let potatoes cool for at least 10 minutes. Peel the potatoes or cut the potatoes in half and scoop out the flesh. Put the potatoes or scooped-out flesh in a medium saucepan. Mash with potato masher until slightly chunky.

5-Stir in the broth, bacon bits, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 6-8 minutes, or until the flavors have blended, stirring occasionally.

6-In a medium bowl, whisk together the half-and-half and flour. Whisk into the potato mixture along with the green onions. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened.

7-To serve, ladle into bowls. Top each serving with cheese and sour cream.

Now.....for my version:

potatoes - any kind, as many as you want
3-6 cups of water (and 3-6 chicken boullion cubes....3 of each if you want a single batch, 6 if you want a double batch)
bacon bits
diced ham
onion powder
garlic powder
1-2 cups half-and-half (again, depending on if you are making single or double batch)
3-6 tablespoons all-purpose flour (single or double batch)

Notice....not too many measurements here because, honestly, it is to YOUR family's personal taste. The version I made last night had NO accurate measurements for the onion powder, garlic powder, salt, or pepper....basically what I thought "looked right".

ALL the steps are exactly the same. I add the ham in step 5 and I do *not* add in the green onions, nor do I top with cheese or sour cream....nobody in the family thinks it needs these things.

Last night, hubby added pinto beans to his serving....I guess there's room for more improvement, alterations, but once again, it all depends on your own family.

Cheers! Larisa

Monday, October 11, 2010

as promised....more recipes

So, I asked some friends for their favorite, easy, inexpensive and filling recipes, and here they are:

Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti
1 box of spaghetti
1 can of Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 can of Cream of Chicken Soup
2 small cans of Chicken Breasts ( believe the name is Swanson's)
1 can of Rotel tomatoes
1 pound of Velvetta cheese

Cook spaghetti and drain. While that is cooking, add all remaining ingredients to roasting pan or oven safe dish. Cut Velvetta into cubes. Add spaghetti and stir well. Cover with tin foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Stir well when done.

  • Hamburger Tator Tot Cas.

    HB Meat( or turkey)

    1 small can of cream soup( I use cream of chicken but you use what you like)

    tator tots


    Brown your meat and add in soup( sometimes I also add corn here too). In a 9x 13 pan layer HB mix, tator tots, cheese.( Repeat layers until your pan is full or you run out) cook in oven on what ever your tator tot bag says to bake on. ( all your doing is cooking your tator tots)

Otherwise I do Beef Broccoli with left over beef (from the pot roast or grilled meats)

1 lb thinly sliced meat cooked to medium rare or so otherwise it dries out, c. of broccoli fresh or frozen, 1 c. carrot slices, 1 small onion sliced, 1 c mushrooms (optional for kids who hate them), 1 can beef broth, 1 1/2 TBSP Corn Starch, garlic, red pepper flakes, soy sauce

to 1 c. beef broth add corn starch and 2-3 Tbsp soy sauce and mix in, set aside. unless already cooked cook your meat set aside

to a wok or skillet, add 1-2 TBSP oil and heat to medium, add 1 clove of garlic (or 1 tsp of the already minced stuff in a jar) 1/2 - 1 tsp red pepper flakes and cook until garlic starts to turn slightly brown. Add carrots and broccoli (if fresh) and cook 3 minutes, if using frozed broccoli add now with onions cook 2 minutes more, add mushrooms cook until softened. Add the beef back in and heat through. Add beef broth and cook until slightly thickened. serve with white rice.

We eat this alot because it's great for leftovers, is fast and easy.

I love to use my crockpot, especially when I'm running all day.

I throw a chicken, potatoes and carrots in the pot with some water, whatever seasoning and it's ready at dinner time.

Chili! Very easy! Get the packet of chili seasoning at the store and follow the back. I will add sausage to it sometimes too.

Pot roast in the crockpot too.

All these I spend maybe 20 min in the morning. Then I will usually make a salad and have dinner rolls with them

tacos and spaghetti are quick and easy can also get pre-cooked fajita meat.....slice some onion and bell pepper and saute til tender.....takes about 10 minutes!

2lb hamburger 4c mozzerella 2 loaves french bread

slice loaves lengthwise and hollow out......brown hamburger (season to your liking...can also put in spaghetti sauce or maranara sauce)....mix in cheese.....put in hollowed out bread.....brush top of bread with garlic butter....wrap in foil and bake 10 minutes at 350* foil and allow to brown....pair with chips or a salad depending on how you season it....serves 6.....we tried this the other night....i only used 1 loaf....fed 5 of us with one big slice left over!

super quick and easy! ranch bean casserole

3 cans ranch beans (if you're not in the south you will have to use chili beans)

1 bag fritos

1lb grated cheddar

mix beans and chips til chips are well coated....put in greased 9x13 with cheese....bake at 350* til cheese is melted......serve with sour cream and salsa

easy chicken parmesan

1 chicken breast per person

1 jar maranara sauce

1lb grated mozzerella

bake chicken til almost each piece with maranara sauce......bake for 10 - 15 each piece with mozzerella....bake til cheese is melted....serve with green beans or a salad

buy the premade in 9x13 pan.....bake according to pkg directions.....during last 15 minutes of baking time top with maranara sauce.....during last 5 minutes add cheese.....bake til cheese is melted......again....serve with green beans or salad (we eat a lot of green beans and salad! left overs are great for making meatball subs

my fav easy (vegetarian) dinner is baked ziti....cook a box of pasta, add a jar of sauce, sprinkle with cheese, put in the oven at 250 until cheese is melted....and voila! yummy goodness! (I usually heat up the sauce before putting it in the oven, and add some veggies if I have them on hand, and italian seasoning....)

1lb smoked sausage (ekrich's sp?)

2 cans green beans (i know....there she goes with the green beans again!

2 cans new potatoes

slice sausage into a sauce pot.....add green beans and potatoes (with liquid)....heat to boiling....serve

veggie/beef casserole

1lb hamburger

1lb grated cheddar

1 can each.....cream of chicken, cream of mushroom and cheddar cheese soups

1 lg bag frozen veggies

brown hamburger and drain.....add remaining ingredients except for shredded cheddar.....mix with shredded cheddar.....bake at 350* til cheese is can also substitute tuna for the hamburger and also add two cups rice

something we came up with....."mixed up mommy" and mixed up daddy" named

1lb hamburger

1 onion chopped

1lg potato chopped

for mixed up mommy you need one pkg taco seasoning....for mixed up daddy you need one pkg chili seasoning

brown hambruger.....add potatoes and onions.....cook til tender.....add seasoning mix and mix with a layer of shredded cheddar (yea...i know....we eat a lot of cheese as is or put in a 9x13 dish....cover with cornbread mix and bake til cornbread is golden

upside cornbread....similar to mixed up daddy....omit the potatoes and onions....put in a 9x13 dish.....cover with shredded with cornbread mix....bake til cornbread is golden

Mexican Lasagna

1 lb of ground beef (turkey would be fine as well)

flour tortillas (taco or burrito size, doesn't matter)

1 can cream of mushroom

1 can cream of chicken

1 can enchilada sauce

2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese

Directions: preheat oven to about 460, brown and drain grease from ground beef and put it back into the frying pan, put the cream of mushroom and chicken and the can of enchilada sauce in with the beef and mix all together until there are no lumps. Line a 9x13 non stick baking pan with torn up pieces of torillas, then top with a thin layer of the beef mixure, then a thin layer of cheese. Repeat (torn up torillas, beef mix, cheese). Then bake in oven until top of cheese just begins to brown.

Let it cool before serving and enjoy!

Sweet & Sour Meatballs

1bag- frozen meatballs

1jar frame jelly

1 jar Chilli sauce (usually found by the ketchup)

There is no exact measuring in this. Put the desired amount of meatballs in the crockpot. In a sauce pan on the stove add to tasted the grape jelly and chilli sauce. Simmer on low until grape jelly is more like a sauce. Poor over meatballs in crockpot. You can serve with mashed potatos and use any extra sauce in the crockpot as a gravy or you can add the meatballs to hoggie buns and have meatball sandwhiches.

Hope some of these work for you!!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

fast dessert...only 1 recipe

Really quick....need a dessert that doesn't take a lot of time?? Here you go:

Chocolate graham cracker pie crust
LARGE package of INSTANT chocolate pudding (do not use the kind you have to cook!)

Mix pudding per directions for pi (2.5 cups of milk instead of 3, I believe), pour into choc. pie crust, cover and chill.

That's it!

Serve with whipped cream if desired....we don't let our kids have the whipped cream since they have enough sugar in the pudding and crust....well....not when they are having it as a snack before bed.....and even our 10yo can make this...7yo probably could too, but she says the bowl is too heavy for her to hold and

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

how's it going?

So....I did some quick posting yesterday and will continue to look for recipes in my free time. There are also recipes in my February posts.

I'd love to get some feedback if you use any of the recipes - particularly YOU,

If anybody has any recipes that don't take all day, are yummy, and can boost your image in the kitchen, please go ahead and post them here or in your comments.

Today it's all about catching up with housework, so I will be back later this week or next week.

Monday, September 27, 2010

more easy meals

Crunchy Taco Salad

1 lb ground beef or turkey (buy what is on sale, with the seasoning, you can't tell the difference!)
tortilla chips (or doritos!)
chili beans in chili sauce OR taco seasoning

Brown beef/turkey and drain. Stir in chili beans or taco seasoning and water and simmer about 10 minutes. Divide lettuce into 4 servings and spoon a portion of the meat on top. Top meat with salsa, tomato (and cheddar cheese, green onion, and sour cream if you prefer), crumble tortilla chips (or doritos) over each salad.

Beef fried rice

Remember that left-over pot roast???

Shred pot roast leftovers. Cook and chill rice (depending on the number of servings you need). Heat beef in skillet lightly coated with oil (olive or vegetable or whatever you prefer), and add soy sauce to taste. Stir in cold rice, and whatever vegetables you h ave on hand (yes, I use leftover veggies in this all the time). If you don't have leftover veggies, grate a carrot and dice a small amount of onion. Heat thoroughly and serve.

Balsamic chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 onion, sliced (or more if you prefer)
balsamic vinegar
olive oil

Heat oil in skillet and add chicken breasts and balsamic vinegar. Cook chicken thoroughly. When chicken is done cooking remove from skillet and set aside. Add onions to skillet and saute until tender. Add chicken back to pan and re-heat. Serve with rice or pasta and a veggie.

Turkey-Broccoli Casserole (great for Thanksgiving leftovers!)

2 10oz packages of frozen broccoli
2 cups coarsely chopped cooked turkey
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
grated cheddar cheese

We cook our broccoli before making this because the first time I followed the recipe exactly, the broccoli wasn't cooked all the way...might have been the old oven, but still...ick!

So...cook broccoli (or at least heat thoroughly!). Preheat oven to 375. Layer broccoli in a 12x8 inch baking dish. Spread turkey evenly over broccoli. Mix soup with milk until smooth and pour over turkey. Sprinkle grated cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Chicken with beans and rice

If you have leftover chicken, this will make good use of it! We sometimes have a whole roast chicken as a meal, and this is one way I use the leftovers so that we don't get bored.

Leftover chicken
Zataran's family size red beans and rice or black beans and rice

Cook beans and rice as directed, adding diced, cooked chicken as it is approaching a boil (really, as soon as you have the rice, water, and spices in the pot, start adding the chicken). Once all the chicken is added (use as much as you like), cover and cook as directed on the rice and bean package.

This is a fairly fast and filling meal. My children are fairly picky eaters and both of them love this!

Shrimp and fries

Another fast and easy (and inexpensive) meal....not gourmet, but better than fast food!

Pre-cooked, de-veined, peeled shrimp or easy-peel shrimp
french fries or tater tots

Cook shrimp until pink (or simply re-heat if they are pre-cooked). Meanwhile, cook fries or tots as directed on package. Serve with salad.

*if the shrimp are easy peel, I would suggest thawing them before tossing them into the water...makes it a LOT easier on your hands if you are peeling them cool instead of boiling hot - my kids freak out if they have to peel their shrimp...go figure .

3 Easy and yummy meals

Ok, for my friends who want to actually cook meals instead of microwaving them....or who don't cook at all but want to start, here are some of the ones that I use on our hectic nights:

Ravioli with tomato sauce, salad, bread

Buy store-brand meat ravioli and cook as directed (I say store-brand because it tends to not be as spicy as name brands and costs less....I can't have spicy food)
Buy your favorite tomato/pasta sauce and heat over low while ravioli cooks
Make a fresh salad - or buy the bagged salad mixes which is what I do in the fall/winter months
Use regular bread with butter and a little garlic salt (if you prefer), or have rolls or biscuits (yes, I use the canned most often)

Roast beef/pot roast

If you have a slow cooker, this is a definite plus, but there are several oven-bake options as well (roasting bag and seasonings already packaged together - we've found that these have a lot of salt, however).

I tend to get a 4 pound roast, which yields enough for a pot roast dinner with leftovers to make beef fried rice and maybe a few other meals.

Thaw roast
Place roast in slow cooker with a small amount of water, Worcestershire sauce, onions (quartered) or else use dried minced onions, and whatever seasonings you like
Turn on low cook for 8+ hours, cover, and walk away.

By the time you get done with your workday, your house will smell wonderful and you will have your dinner nearly ready. Nearly because, of course, you need a vegetable or 2 to go with the roast.

Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp (either precooked, deveined and peeled, or uncooked will work)
garlic (or dried minced garlic)
olive oil
chicken broth (or white wine)
thin pasta noodles
Parmesan cheese

Heat a small amount of the oil in a skillet and saute the garlic. Add shrimp and cook until done. If using pre-cooked shrimp, heat thoroughly. Meanwhile, cook pasta until tender. Drain pasta, add shrimp (in oil and garlic) and toss. Serve and top with a squirt of lemon (if desired) and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Getting it all together

Wow, it's been nearly 2 months since my last post....I'm going to start making notes on my schedule to post at least every other week.

A friend of mine from our "Mothers of PreSchoolers" days mentioned how she didn't understand how some people could turn out gourmet meals......she doesn't really cook, you guessed

I will be posting over the next few weeks (I hope) some recipes that don't take a lot of knowledge or time, and don't require any special equipment (I don't consider a slow cooker special equipment, but you might). All of the recipes will be fairly inexpensive, easy to make, filling, and ones that will try to increase your cooking confidence ( impressed with yourself will you be if you go from not really cooking to making shrimp scampi and have it taste like it was made in an upscale restaurant??!!).

Please give me your feedback and post any of your favorite recipes as well!

Monday, August 9, 2010

saving on kids and food - part 4, kids and clothing

So, both of my children are in elementary school (last year for my son...wahhhh!), and clothing is starting to become an issue. Not that they are asking/demanding/throwing a fit, but just that they are noticing more. Personally, I have never been one to bow down under peer pressure to wear only certain brands of clothing, and I am doing my best to raise my children to be the same. Right now, they get most of their clothing from WalMart, KMart, Target, or wherever I find decent, appropriate clothing on sale...most often clearance. As they are still growing, I find it senseless to spend more than $10-$20 on ANY piece of clothing, except for winter coats. Walmart shoes, while inexpensive, are the choice of both children because they have learned that, when they outgrow their current pair, it's not going to break the "mommy bank" to go out and get another in the next larger size. They also know that, if they want a certain label, they will either have to save money from their allowance (more on that in another post), or wait until it goes on sale, at which point, it might not be in their size (but they also might have gotten over the "need" for the item).

If you've been to the stores recently, you will notice that fall/winter clothing is starting to hit the floors, and summer clothing is starting to go on clearance....this is the time to buy for NEXT year. Yes, I know....let's use my daughter as an example....we just did the pre school closet/dresser clean-out (for both children), and she ended up with almost NO summer clothing left. Fortunately, there was a good sale going on and I found her some shorts (in her current size) for less than $4 a pair. I bought her 2 pairs in her current size as well as some in the next size up....seriously...if I waited until next year, instead of $4 a pair, I would have had to pay $8 a pair....nope, not me. Bathing suits are the only thing I hesitate to buy early...simply because they don't always fit correctly, and you can't tell that without trying them on...and DD doesn't like trying a ton of clothes on unless it's something she So...I tend to wait until we need them to get them, and I force her to go with me.....avoids the possibility that the seemingly demure 1-piece is actually a butt-thong, high-leg tramp suit.....don't get offended....I'm talking about a bathing suit for a 1st grader!!!

Keep your child's favorite colors and interests in mind if you aren't taking them shopping with you (safer and cheaper if you don't take them with you) and you can usually get them a good amount of outfits (mix and match if you really work on it) that will last the school year. For my daughter, we have gravitated toward pink, purple, and turquoise/light blue. She can mix and match nearly her entire wardrobe, which actually means less clothing we had to buy, and more outfits because of all the versatility of the pieces. Buying basics can also help save money....a few good pairs of jeans, some plain skirts or jumpers, and some neutral sweaters and shirts and you have the general idea. Of course, if you have a girly-girl, you need to add in a special dress or 2....and that means that besides sneakers, you need some dress shoes....and tights in addition to socks...

For boys, at least if they are like mine, you will need jeans, sweatpants, short-sleeve tshirts, long sleeve tshirts, sweaters or sweatshirts, 2 pairs of slacks (dockers work fine), sneakers, and dress shoes, plus dress socks in addition to regular sport socks.....

ALL of these items go on sale throughout the year, but make sure to ALWAYS check the clearance sections before heading right to the main clothing section (case in point, though about my husband and not my children - he needed new dress shoes and I was hunting for a good pair. All the ones in the main section were $45 or more, but then I stumbled on the clearance section - not clearly marked in the store I was in - and found a pair of dress shoes, in the size he needed and style he wanted, for $13!!!)

Have fun and see shopping as an adventure....think of how much fun you can have while actually SAVING your family money.....make it a game...set a limit (and this also goes for groceries) and see if you can get everything you need for that amount...or less.....

saving on kids and food - part 3, kids and food

Ok...this is really more for those who have school-age children....let's start with lunches since my children are already begging for all the dyed, sugared, CRAP that they see in the store.

Be smart and read the children like yogurt, provided it's a "crush cup" or "gogurt"....but not all products are made the same. If your child has a food allergy, please keep that in the forefront as you buy these products. Now, since yogurt is fairly healthy (I say fairly because so many that are marketed towards children have a mess of things that we don't need, but that make it more appealing), I tend to purchase it for my children - but, only if it is on sale or if I have coupons (bonus if I have a coupon AND it's on sale). Don't be afraid of purchasing some if it is near the expiration date. Instead, put it in the freezer! When you pack it in your child's lunchbox, it will stay cold and be edible by the time lunch time comes, and you are actually "extending" the life of the yogurt by freezing it (really just slowing down the decomposition/spoiling, but still, getting more days that it will be good to eat).

When you want to pack fresh fruit (and this will probably draw criticism), opt for the small packages of pre-cut apples. They will stay fresh longer, and you won't have as much getting thrown away because of the apples being "brown" (why children can't get that the apple still tastes the same is beyond me, but if the apple is brown, my children won't touch it). Buying large bags of baby carrots is a better bargain because you can divvy them up into smaller bags for single servings. At some salvage marts, you can even find small containers of peanut butter for rock-bottom prices, and those can also be used as part of the snacks (a place near me was selling them for $0.10 each, and the containers are fairly decent sized - enough to have a small apple with and maybe even have some left over!).

If your children want to purchase lunch from school, like mine do, one thing that might work for you is to have them choose a few days a month, with meals that they REALLY like, with the understanding that they will be packing the rest of the time. When my children bring home the lunch menus, I go through it with each of them (separately works best) and mark which day each child wants to buy (by using their initial). Some days, even if they want to buy, they don't get to - barbecue and corn dogs are days that neither buys because I know the food will just end up getting thrown away, and that's $2 in the trash...not in my Set a limit....I've said that $20 per month, per child is the most I will pay for that means each child gets no more than 10 school lunches in a month....that's the most...which means half bought and half from home....most often, they choose less because they would rather see what snacks I have packed for them :-)

Be reasonable....don't expect children to want to try new things in their lunch....the old stand-by in our house is PB&J, but of course, if there are allergies, don't use that.... When you send in a thermos, fill it part way with the drink (water, juice, even milk) and put it in the freezer the night before. In the morning, finish filling it and pack it in the lunchbox - it will stay cold until lunch. As with the family dinners, try to make sure you have a variety of foods...proteins, carbs, etc....peanut butter has protein, as does lunchmeat, but sometimes there are additives that our children don't smart, read labels. A typical lunch for my children (from home) will include a sandwich (usually PB&J), either some fresh fruit or veggies, juice, and either cookies or crackers. Before you get indignant, the cookies are most often homemade, which means I control the amount of sugar in them instead of purchasing the processed, additive-filled cookies from the store. On special occasions there might be a small piece of chocolate in their lunch as a surprise (birthdays, most often).

If your children are older, have them help with making purchases for their lunchboxes as well as making their lunches. By the time they are in 3rd grade, they should be able to tell what an acceptable lunch is and pull the items they need to make it. Because I have my children work with me to get their lunches together, they are less likely to ask for junk and more likely to make smarter choices when we are at the store or meal-planning, it just takes practice and consistency! up next.......

saving on kids and food,-part 2, food cont'd

Start planning....keep in mind your family don't want to plan a meal that takes long to cook when you have activities planned that get you home later than normal....those are the nights for simple meals - soups and sandwiches, a roast that's been cooking all day in a slow cooker, something along those lines (and yes, sometimes our family does chicken nuggets and french fries because they are fast and easy, the kids will eat them, and it gets everybody back on schedule when we have late nights).

If you do a roast and have a good amount leftover, it does NOT have to stay as a roast. You can add the leftovers to a vegetable broth with fresh veggies and have a yummy soup; throw shredded roast in with cooked (and cooled) rice, some soy sauce, veggies and you have a beef stir fry; slap some on some bread, add cheese and heat, and you have a quick and delicious sandwich....there really are LOTS of recipes you can use to turn leftovers into completely different meals. The trick is to go through your cookbooks (or find recipes online or check out some books from the library) and have some ready to go.

Remember to have variety...while you might like red meat several nights a week, most people's bodies can't properly digest a huge amount....alternate with poultry (ground turkey instead of ground beef in spaghetti makes a healthier meal with little to no taste difference), seafood, or even meatless meals (3-cheese tortellini in marinara sauce, for example), and change up the vegetables as well....don't always have broccoli or some other vegetable as you and your family will get sick of it...alternate....have fresh salads every few nights, introduce new veggies every now and then (a big one in our house is the California blends either plain or with cheese - these are broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots..nice and healthy).

Those are the you get more confident, you can add salvage stores to your shopping routine - GREAT discounts on the supplemental foods - side dishes, condiments, drinks - but seldom on, take a deep breath and get started!.....Next up...basics of saving on the things kids need....

saving when it comes to kids and food - part 1, food

So, it's almost time for the kids to head back to school...time to get ready to start saving in a pretty big way.

I have been meal-planning for well over a year now (after a brain-fog induced break of about 3 years), and the money I've managed to save has allowed for us to pay off a car, reduce the amount of our home equity loan by a huge amount, and upgrade some thing that we normally stick to the lowest level of (kids shoes, for example). A friend of mine recently asked if I was still working on saving money and then asked if she and i could sit down one day so that I could show her how to get her grocery budget under control. With 4 children, I can see where she's coming from, so I said that once the kids were back in school, we should get together and I'd sit down and show her what *I* do, understanding that it won't be exactly the same for her.

So, here's the basics to get going on meal-planning and saving money.......

Initially, it will require a little bit of time because one of the key components of getting this to work is knowing what you already have available to you. So, a couple of days before you are ready to shop, you should start taking a food inventory. Yes, I said a couple of days....if you try to do it all in one day, you will end up tired, frustrated, annoyed, and ready to trash the whole plan. Start with 1 of the following: pantry, fridge and attached freezer, cabinets, or...if you have one....a separate freezer. Just plan on taking the inventory of 1 of these...if you get to more than one, consider yourself in bonus-land! Since I've been doing this for a while, I can take inventory of all the places we store food in less than an hour. You are NOT taking stock of things like salt, herbs, spices, oil, etc., but instead are looking for the bigger ingredients, side dishes, etc. (soups, pasta, veggies) as well as main ingredients (beef, seafood, poultry).

Plan on your initial inventory day(s) to total about 3 hours of need to be fairly accurate when taking inventory so that you don't find yourself in a jam later in the month. For example, instead of writing ground beef, write "3 lbs ground beef". For me, I tend to purchase the value packs that weight about 5 pounds and divide it into separate ziploc bags of 1 pound each (or thereabout since my small kitchen scale seems to keep hiding from me...just make the amount in each bag close to equal). This way, you can see that, depending on the recipes used, you can make 5 nights of spaghetti, tacos, hamburger stew, or other recipes that call for 1 pound of ground beef/hamburger.

Ok, now that you've gotten an accurate list of what you have (and hopefully you have like things grouped together - makes things MUCH easier! - try putting all beef together, all pork, all poultry, all seafood, all veggies, then misc), it's time to see what you have and what you need to purchase....well, almost......this is where you can take 1 of 2 paths. The first is to start planning meals based on what you already have without seeing what is currently on sale at the local grocery stores. The second path is to set your inventory aside and go through the circulars from the grocery stores, making a list of what they have on sale (which is what you are going to be buying more of than anything else).

I switch back and forth between these 2 steps depending on what we have on hand when I do my inventory (which, after you've done your first month of planning doesn't take anywhere near as long!). Currently, I have meals planned out through 8/23, mainly using what we had on hand, with minimal grocery purchases. Payday is coming up, though, so it's time for me to double-check what we have left and plan as far as I can, then go through the circulars and coupons to prep for the next grocery run.

So, say you want to go the circular route first. You need to have your inventory out as well because, if you have a lot of poultry, you don't really want to buy too much more, especially if your beef inventory is small or non-existent. Go through ALL grocery store circulars, even if they aren't stores you typically go to....if they are stores you pass in your daily travels, even if you haven't shopped there before, make a note of what they have on sale that you will use. That's a BIG thing...a bargain isn't a bargain if the item will just sit and not get used by the family. I tend to have a notebook with me when I go through the circulars and I have a page for each grocery store where I write down everything, including the price, that I'm interested in buying (it also helps if you note the NVgranola bars for Nature Valley instead of just writing granola bars - makes for easier coupon matching later).

Once you have your potential shopping lists done, do a quick read-through to compare the prices at each store - cross off the ones that are most expensive, but make sure they are identical items....don't cross of steaks at one when another store doesn't have steaks, but has roasts...make sense?? Now you start your planning. You should do your best to have a meat, veggie, and carb at each meal....sometimes it will be difficult (especially if you have picky eaters), but do your best.

By now, some of you are probably ready to give up because this is too hard or takes too long, or you have small kids and no time....baloney! Kids sleep, and you can do this in little chunks of time....or, it mustn't be important enough....Our grocery bills have been cut in half (if not more) since I started doing this on a regular basis....that's a decent amount of money (say, close to $500 a month) that I have been able to put towards paying off debts....your choice.

Ok....try to have a variety of meals during a week - heck, you can even start by just planning for a week to get used to meal planning. Also, remember that leftovers are our friends, not something to wrinkle your nose at, then toss when they go bad. If you have children, try to keep their tastes in mind, but do NOT cater to them. They need to learn to try new things, and in our house, the rule is that you must have at least 2 bites of something. If you don't like it, you are more than welcome to make yourself a PB&J...but nobody will make it for you.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Summertime chaos

Wow, sorry to have not posted anything since March. I looked back and that was around the last craft fair, which always leads to craziness, then the end of school, and summer travels, as well as summer school work for the kids, and house repairs for my and never seems to end.

Anyway, we are getting tighter with our grocery budget, not really because we are more financially limited but because hubby will be starting a new job and will be "buying back" his prior govt (military) service, which means that we need to have the money ready. By doing this, he'll be applying his military time towards government retirement, which isn't a bad thing.

In the meantime, I'm up to my eyeballs in new craft items and trying to keep the children relatively safe this summer, while taxi-ing them to swim lessons, etc. wow....seems like it wasn't that long ago that summer vacation started, and now it's already almost over.....but before school starts back up, there are: doctors appointments, vet appointments (new kitten), teeth to be extracted (DD again), paperwork to be filled out, lessons to learn, sewing to be taught, recipes to be experimented

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Competitive?? Me????

So, I've been told that I'm competitive....ok, I'll own up to it in some respects. However, I find it hard to believe that "competitive" is often the first thing that people think of when they hear my name. Now, of course, I'm entered in a "fabric stash busting contest" on one of my favorite websites - Pattern Well, the contest started in February, but I was busy working on business-related projects then, so I couldn't really get to clearing out my stash. It ends on the last day of the month, and I'm trying to figure out how much stash I can actually work with and get cleared out. But competitive??? Nah....see, if I was competitive, I would be furiously working to catch up to the leader, who has over 70 yards of finished projects entered in the contest.

I'm actually having fun and not even worrying about trying to win. It's pretty cool to just sew and clear out fabrics that I've had for a long time (years in some cases). Of course, there is always more fabric and more projects....what I need is more time to complete all that I want to

Will be working at the local craft fair/show this weekend, so new sewing until Monday because I'll be too wiped out. Then I have to upload all the new items into my Etsy maybe no sewing until the middle of next week....crap... Of course, I could always just say the heck with the contest and just get to work on the summer items that I have for myself and the ones that DD picked out for herself (too cool having my 6yo pick out her patterns AND her fabric!). I also have fabric to make 2 pairs of cargo pants for DS, but I think I'll wait until closer to the end of summer for those - he tends to really shoot up over summer vacation, probably because I decrease his ADHD meds and increase the food available for him (and allowing him to graze all day probably helps as well!).

So....not sure what the point was to all this....just random brain drain, I suppose. I will be trying to finish off the rest of today's wall (MBR, wallpaper), which really should only be 3 more strips of wallpaper, but a lot of cutting around things (lightswitch, smoke detector, door moulding, etc.), so more labor intensive than it really needs to be. Want to start looking for artwork to put up on the walls because it looks SO huge and empty now that it's lighter, but hubby says we should wait until the room is done before looking at artwork. We've already vetoed Surrat, Dali, and Degas. Cassat isn't high on the list either. I'm thinking Monet, but that might be too light for a room that is already done in light colors....maybe VanGogh.....of course, these would all just be prints.....and there's always the other option of "whatever I find at: Target, Ross, Michael's, TJ Maxx"

night all

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sewing and such

So...the Spring craft show is this weekend. I spent last week sewing like a demon and wound up sick with a serious head cold, and have now given up on any more business sewing. But, since sewing is also one of my ways to kick back and relax, I've resorted to delving into my fabric stash and am making clothing for both my daughter and myself. It's nice to be able to work at my own pace and not have a deadline that I'm racing to reach.

So far, I've made my daughter's Easter dress as well as a test version of it (she's very petite and I didn't want to make a dress only to have her swimming in it), a dress for myself, and 2 skirts for myself. I will finish a smock dress for her tonight, and will move on to a skirt for her and a button-up top for myself....maybe tomorrow, maybe Thursday.

So, I'm pretty sure this only applies to a few people (the sewing part), but the bottom line is that sometime, you have to take a day or so and just do what you love, so that you can get back to being balanced. There are days when it seems like all you do is give, give, give, or take care of everyone but yourself. When you realize that you are having all your days like that, it is time to take the chance to reset so that you can be a better you. Seriously, if you aren't taking care of yourself how can you expect to take care of anything or anyone else??

My family, I know, appreciate all that I do around the house, even though they don't always say thank you - when I stop doing something, they notice. The same can be said when you stop taking care of yourself. My children and husband noticed that I was no longer enjoying my sewing and that I was getting edgy and upset and were wondering what the problem was....that made me sit back and re-evaluate. Sometimes you need to do NEED to do it for yourself AND for your family.

I'm finding that I am actually enjoying sewing clothing's nice when the stress if lifted. I'm also finding that I'm enjoying relearning who I am and what I enjoy. I have learned that I do NOT really like wallpapering a huge bedroom, but will finish it because I started it. I have learned that I actually like cooking from scratch, but don't mind whipping out a batch of cookies from the fridge section of the grocery store. Another thing that I've learned is that I'm my own worst critic and I'm slowly figuring out how to relax towards So, I no longer stress out if I can't get all the laundry washed/dried/folded in a day, which is pretty

Take time for you and you never know what new things you might discover!

Sunday, March 14, 2010


...if anybody is even bothering to read what I write since there are seldom any comments. It's a little disturbing, but then again, I can always take the view that writing here is cathartic and not really care if anybody reads or not.

Regardless, I have sent off a box of samples to be reviewed by a video blogger who reviews Etsy shops. Now, I sent the box on the 2nd and she still hasn't received it, but then again, she lives in Canada...still, it said 5-10 days...argh. I'll call tomorrow since the only info on the USPS website is that it was accepted on the 2nd..whatever. Also getting ready for the Spring Craft Show at Expoland (Fishersville, VA) on the 20th and 21st. I think I've done all the sewing for least all that I can fit in without making myself totally sick and stressed. I'm hoping that this will be a great show - the fall one was MUCH better than I expected. I have some new items and more of the items that sold out in the fall, so I think it will all work out. Right now I'm debating whether I should price everything separately, or just have my price lists out like I've had at the last couple of shows....will ponder this for a little while (I have small price tags, so that's not the problem....going through EVERYTHING and tagging it might take a while, though).

Dinner was not a home run tonight. Hubby had asked if, should the price be acceptable, I could get swordfish and cook it for dinner. Ok, found some at a decent price and that's what we had tonight, along with Alfredo pasta and peas. Well, first off, DD protested loudly that she did NOT like peas, followed by her stating that the fish smelled funny. No, it wasn't bad, but she's used to tilapia, salmon, or catfish, so yeah, I could see where she was coming from. We have a house rule of "2 bites, then get PB&J" so we reminded both children of that. DD ended up with her sandwich. Having never had swordfish before, I was not sure of what ot expect, but hubby said that with a little lemon juice it is fantastic...therefore, lemon juice was put on before I even tasted it. Ok, so it wasn't too bad...definitely different from the flounder and other fish I grew up eating. However, hubby made the comment that he didn't think it was frozen while at it's freshest, so he wasn't too impressed - not at my cooking, but at the fish in general. Hey, we tried it, but we are now thinking that if we want good seafood, we should wait until we are actually closer to the sea (living in the Shenandoah valley has it's perks, but fresh seafood is NOT one of them!).

So, the discussion about dinner went into a discussion about when I was younger and how I used to go fishing with my Nanny or crabbing off one of the local docks. That then led to a discussion about family vacation and possibly introducing the children to fishing and crabbing the way *I* used to do it....well, not on the Rt 50 bridge because it would be too distracting for a 6yo and a 9yo (one of which deals with ADHD)....but maybe near my mother's house. SO I've called her and she is going to check to see when the rides open up in Ocean City and when the park that she works for opens back up (Easter weekend, I think), she's going to check the fishing/crabbing schedule and we will go from there. Now, we could go up for our DSs birthday or we could wait and go up for hubby's we are still trying to figure out the logistics. More than likely, this will be our only family vacation that is more than one night away from home, given the finances and job situation - nothing bad, just things are up in the air right now - so we want to really give it some thought.

And that's pretty much my thought process for tonight....time to head off, get the kids' their snacks and get them to their rooms, then I'm going to play with fabric....for me and the children, not for my business.....

Monday, February 1, 2010

Money Saving Recipes - Goulash

3/4 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 (10 ounce) can condensed tomato soup
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 1/2 cups penne pasta (or large elbow macaroni)

1-In large skillet, cook ground beef with onion and carlic until beef is browned and onion is tender. Drain well and add pepper, oregano, soup, green pepper, and undrained tomatoes. Stir well and simmer uncovered, for 10 minutes to blend flavors (feel free to leave out the green pepper if you choose).
2-Cook pasta until almost al dente. Drain and stir pasta into mixture in skillet.
3-Bring mixture to a simmer; simmer, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes or until pasta is tender and mixture is blended. Serve immediately.

Money saving recipes - Beefy mini pies

1 (10 ounce) package refrigerated flaky dinner rolls
1/2 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup shredded colby cheese (or cheddar)
2 eggs
1/3 cup light cream
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed

1-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove rolls from package and divide each roll into 2 or 3 rounds. Place each round into a 3-inch muffin cup, pressing firmly into bottom and up sides.
2-In a heavy skillet, cook ground beef with onion and garlic until beef is done. Drain well. Place 1 Tablespoon beef mixture into each dough0lined muffin cup. Sprinkle cheese over beef mixture. In a small bowl, beat together eggs, light cream, and dill weed. Spoon this mixture over beef in muffin cups, making sure not to overfill cups.
3-Bake at 350 degrees for 10-13 minutes or until filling is puffed and set. Serve immediately, or flash freeze in single layer on baking sheet. When frozen solid, wrap, label, and freeze.
4-To thaw and reheat: thaw pies in single layer in refrigerator overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes or until hot.

Money saving recipes - egg rolls

Egg Rolls
1/2 pound ground pork
1 carrot, shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1 cup shredded cabbage
2 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon mustard
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon water
1 (12 count) package egg or spring roll wrappers
*to make dipping sauce, mix 3 Tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 Tablespoon mustard, and 1 tablespoon vinegar*

1-In a large skillet, brown ground pork until almost done, then add carrot and galric and cook for 4-6 minutes or until pork is cooked thoroughly. Remove from heat, drain well, and add green onions, cabbage, soy sauce, and mustard.
2-Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl and blend well.
3-To form egg rolls, place one wrapper, point-side down, on work surface. Place 3 Tablespoons filling, 1-inch from corner. Brush all edges of the egg roll with cornstarch mixture. Fold point over filling, then fold in sides and roll up egg roll, using cornstarch mixture to seal as needed.
4-Fry the rolls in peanut oil heated to 375 degrees for 2-3 minutes, turning once, or until deep golden brown. Egg rolls may be frozen after frying; flash freeze, then package and freeze up to 3 months. To reheat fried egg rolls: place frozen egg rolls on baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until crisp and hot.

*note: for the shredded cabbage, you can buy a coleslaw mix, or go even less spicy (my family has 2 who can't do spicy and 2 who love spicy) and use broccoli slaw. Yes, they make broccoli slaw - shredded carrots and broccoli. My children actually ate more of these than they did the ones made with any form of cabbage.

Money Saving Recipes - Master baking mix

So...I mentioned some recipes that my family uses, and I thought that I'd post them so that others can use them. The first is the mega-mix, which can be used for everything from pancakes to cookies to cakes.

One large batch (roughly 29 cups)
5 pounds of flour (whole-wheat, oat, or all-purpose)
2 1/2 cups dry milk (powdered milk flakes)
3/4 cup double-acting baking powder
3 Tablespoons salt
2 Tablespoons cream of tartar
1/2 cup of sugar
2 pounds vegetable shortening (4 2/3 cups) - also known as Crisco

1-Sift dry ingredients together*
2-Cut in shortening so that mix looks like cornmeal
3-Store in refrigerator if using whole-wheat or oat flour. Room temperature storage is ok if using all-purpose white flour.
4-Use the master mix in your favorite recipes that call for a baking mix, or try one of the following recipes:

Biscuits: 3 cups mix, 3/4 cup water, blend and knead for a few strokes. Pat out and cut. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes (makes 1 dozen).

Pancakes/Waffles: 3 cups mix, 1 egg, 1 1/2 cups water. Blend. (makes 18 pancakes or 6 waffles - depending on amount of batter used).

Muffins: 3 cups mix, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 1 egg, 1 cup water. Mix water and egg, then add to dry ingredients, mix and bake at 400 degrees for 15-25 minutes (depending on the size of the muffins). Makes 1 dozen medium-sized muffins. Try substituting juices for the water. You can also add nuts or raisins. Experimentation is definitely encouraged with these muffins!!

Gingerbread: 2 cups mix, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup molasses, 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Beat egg, water, and molasses, then mix with dry ingredients. Pour into greased (or sprayed) 8"x8" pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Drop cookies: 3 cups mix, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1/3 cup water, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 cup nuts and/or chocolate chips, mix. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes (makes approximately 4 dozen).

Coffee cake: 3 cups mi1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg, 2/3 cup water, blend. Pour into greased 9" round pan and cover with topping of 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 Tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (1/2 cup nuts and/or raisins are optional). Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

Yellow or Chocolate cake: 3 cups mix, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 eggs, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon vanilla (plus 1/2 cup cocoa for chocolate cake). Blend sugar into mix. Beat eggs and water and add half of mix. Beat for 2 minutes and then add rest of mix and beat again for 2 minutes. (for chocolate cake, mix cocoa with dry ingredients). Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes (2-8" layers).

Cornbread: 1 1/4 cups mix, 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal, 1 egg, 1 Tablespoon sugar, 1/2 cup water. Mix and pour into greased 8"x8" pan or cornstick pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 25 minutes.

Shortcake: 2 cups mix, 1/2 cups water, 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 Tablespoon sugar. Mix and knead a few strokes. Roll 1/2" thick, cut into 3-3" cakes or bake in 8"x8" greased (or sprayed) pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.

* to sift dry ingredients, I use 2 sifters - a large one and a small one to sift all things together before cutting in the shortening. The smaller one is handy in actually breaking down the milk solids into smaller, powdery bits similar to the flour, etc.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

part 3 cookbooks and such

In part 2, I mentioned a cookbook that I use quite a bit....and then forgot to tell you what it is. The cookbook that I use for egg rolls and beefy mini pies is called : The $7 a meal cookbook by Linda Larsen (touted as a Pillsbury Bake-Off Recipe Tester). I got mine from BAM! (formerly known as Books-a-million) and it is well worth the price. The first chapter is all about cooking on a budget and addresses topics such as your spending habits, "The indispensable list" (this would be the inventory of your pantry/cabinets/freezer that I mentioned in previous posts), how to use coupons, etc. She then goes on to present recipes for appetizers and sauces, breads, breakfast on a budget, beef, chicken and turkey, pork, seafood, vegetarian, pasta, sandwiches, soup, chowder, and chili, pies and pizza, vegetables and side dishes, and desserts. All of which can be made for $7 or less!!! How awesome is that?? The last 2 chapters are devoted to an equivalent's chart and a food preparation glossary.

Trust me, I was doubtful about purchasing this cookbook because, in today's society, how likely is it to REALLY be able to feed your family for less than $7?? Well, I'm definitely convinced that it *IS* possible!! The 2 favorite meals for my family - egg rolls and beefy mini pies - are actually in the appetizer section and cost $6.56 and $5.64 respectively. Now, this is following the recipes exactly. My family doesn't have a huge need for shredded cabbage, however, so sometimes the cost of the egg rolls is a little higher due to buying packaged col slaw mix or even broccoli slaw (not as spicy as coleslaw mix, and my family actually ate more of these than of the original ones). We also skip the cream sauce for the beefy mini pies, which cuts the cost of making those (yes, the first time I made them I did the sauce, and hubby and I liked them, but the children didn't....they taste just fine without the sauce).

Ok, so I've given you 2 of the cookbooks that I use when working to cut the family budget, so let's take a look at cookbooks in general. Do *NOT* fall under the belief that you can never have too many cookbooks (even if you are a graduate of culinary school!!). Something that goes hand in hand with cost-cutting and such is clutter control...odd, but really, it does. I will admit, I seldom found a cookbook that I didn't like, and if I didn't get it for myself, it usually found it's way via a family member as a gift. Recently, I began what could very well be a 9 year odyssey of creating a cookbook of family favorites. Really, it isn't for me because *I* have the original cookbooks - well, some of them - but it will be for my children for when they move out on their own. It is part of my plan to raise children who can at least take care of the basics (house repair, clothing repair, car maintenance, at least 7 meals, preferably more), and I decided that since my oldest is in 4th grade, I should probably get started on it. While working on this project, I discovered that a LOT of my cookbooks only had a few recipes that I relied on. I decided it was time to clear out the underused cookbooks and free up some more space (space that can be better used to store cooking supplies bought in bulk!! See, told you they were related!!).

So, I have started the family cookbook and have gotten down to 8 cookbooks that I use regularly, They are: Betty Crocker cookbook: Betty Crocker Microwave cookbook:, The Joy of Cookin:, $7 meals, More With Less; Don't Worry, Dinner's in the Freezer; Eat for Life (I think that's the title - it's from the Body for Life program and has GREAT recipes in it); and Where's Mom Now That I Need Her? (sadly, I have found that this is no longer available....this gets the least amount of use because of the high fat and sodium content in the recipes, but it also addresses clothing repairs, home remedies, etc. and it had a companion book called Where's Dad Now That I Need Him?...also one thatIi haven't been able to find lately).

I will probably clear more of these out as I continue to add to the family cookbook (currently being saved on the computer for those times when I actually have an hour to sit and write). You may be more comfortable having tons of cookbooks, but once you start meal planning and actually keeping in mind the foods that your family likes, you will find that you have the recipes memorized and don't NEED the books to help you out.

I have found that it is best to always have back up meals - macaroni and cheese, tv dinners, etc. I know, you are probably gasping in shock right now, but let's be real here....there are going to be nights when the last thing you want to do is cook a meal that you then have to remind the children that YES, they HAVE had it before and YES they DID like it (sound familiar to anybody out there??). While not the healthiest, it is hard to beat tv dinners for $1 each, or pot pies for $0.69 each, and sometimes you need a little spontaneity in your meals and you KNOW the kids will love you for tonight...we are supposed to be having balsamic chicken and really, after shoveling the driveway, clearing off the cars (ok, hubby did most of the driveway), and running errands, I really don't feel like dealing with we are having beef stew....from a can....GASP!! with potato rolls and cookies that I baked (with DD) as dessert.

No, I'm not perfect, and sometimes the plans have to get tossed out the window because life throws a curveball (like this past week when my 6yo DD ended up with a broken nose due to a playground accident)....nope, didn't follow plan there....or maybe we did and it was just a quick and easy meal...see, I'm still a little foggy about everything from Thursday afternoon up until this morning. Anyway, the point is not to seek perfection and be a coupon maniac (like the people we hear about getting hundreds of dollars of groceries for $20 or thereabout), the point is to save YOUR family money while cooking mostly healthy foods for them. I don't subscribe to the idea of perfection because there was only ever one perfect person, and that is NOT me. We are all human, we all will have times of failure and success....don't beat yourself up if dinner consists of hungry man dinners and juice boxes...sometimes that's what you need because you get to spend more time with the family.

Take a look at what you have been spending on groceries....for us, it was $1000 every month. Decide how much you want to be able to save every month - it sometimes helps if you decide that you want to save a certain amount so that you have it to put towards paying off a bill (this is how I paid off my van, bought in 11/2004, by 2007...yep, 6 year loan paid off in 3 years). I decided I wanted to cut the groceries in half...down to $500 a month, so that we had more money to put towards my van and the credit card that we had outstanding at the I did the work. Now, I average between $400-$500 a month, with birthday months being a little higher since the children get to choose their meals and desserts.

The one thing that will probably be your biggest block is your disbelief and doubt. You are probably reading and saying that there is no way I have the time to do this, or there is no way this is really worth it and no way it really, yes, it does, yes yes yes....did I mention that the groceries I bought for this month were bought with NO coupons being used??? If I had taken more time, imagine how low the final cost would have been!!

So, the real question is this: is it worth $500 to take 4-6 hours (the first month only) to take inventory, shop the circulars, and hunt the coupons?? If not, enjoy overspending and wasting food. If yes, by all means, leave me a comment or ask me a question and I will keep posting the things that work for me and my family!!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Meal planning contiunued - 2

So, you have your list of what is on sale at the local stores. By the way, now would be a good time to mention that I typically shop at 3-5 different stores, depending on if the savings is worth the little extra drive (little because 4 of my favorite stores are located right near each other and the 5th is located close to the elementary school my children attend).

There are many meal planning calendars available for free online. The ones that I use (I have a weekly and a monthly that I fill out and keep for referring back to) came from, but there are others out there ( has a weekly one for lunch and dinner). Since I only plan our dinners, I use the sections for breakfast and lunch as "buy" or "have" sections - based on what recipes I choose to use for each dinner.

Figure out your schedule and the meat rotation, and then add in vegetables or other sides, making a note of what you already and have what you need to buy. It is easy to plan meals based solely on what the stores have on sale, but you also want to add in your coupons (also found in the Sunday paper and at various online sites, including ones for specific stores - sometimes).

Ok, are you scared yet?? Did I mention that our family was spending in excess of $1000 for groceries and my last run (last night) only totaled $266?? Hopefully, that savings makes your fears go away. Does it take time?? Yes, the initial month takes a good deal of time...but you can do it over a few days....inventory the freezer/fridge one day, the pantry/cabinets the next day, and shop the circulars on day on day 4...whatever works best for you. When I restarted shopping like this (last year), my first month took me a total of about 6 hours, including matching coupons up to everything that I had on my list. It now takes me about an hour.

Here's where the savings start. Say you see whole chicken on sale for $0.89/lb. Buy 2 if you have the room. Even if you think there's NO WAY you and your family will eat an entire chicken, go ahead and get one. Now, the first time you have chicken (btw, it takes about 2 days, sometimes more for a frozen chicken to completely thaw out, so be forewarned), you will have a roast chicken - seasoned the way your family likes it. For us, it's an olive oil rub with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper and sometimes a squirt of lemon juice. Cut off as much meat as you can, eat what you want/need. The next step is to boil the carcass for broth (and to remove the little bits of meat still on the bone). Keep all the meat in a storage container in your fridge or freezer and the broth in a pitcher (I add seasonings while cooking the broth, but you don't really have to). With me so far?? You have 1 chicken meal and 1 pitcher of broth. Next, plan to use the leftover chicken in at least 2 different meals. One that goes over well in our house is chicken with red beans and rice. You are probably thinking I'm nuts to do this meal from scratch....I don't. I buy a Zataran's family size box of red beans and rice (less that $2 and it not only feeds my family at dinner, but also gives my husband at least 1 lunch to take to work), and while it is boiling, I shred some of the leftover chicken into the pot - this way the chicken also absorbs some of the seasoning. That makes 2 meals from 1 chicken...not too bad, huh??

Now, since you have the broth, why not make some homemade chicken soup (especially in the winter months!!). Again, you already have the main ingredients - broth and meat - leftover from that one whole chicken you bought. Another option is chicken, easy, and filling and will use up a good amount of remaining chicken meat. Just add cooked and cooled rice, whatever vegetables you have on hand (we've used shredded carrots, cabbage, broccoli slaw), soy sauce, and if you choose, 1 egg. Now, remember that whole chicken you bought at $0.89 per pound?? You just got 4 meals from it, with some leftovers for you or your spouse to take to work (cutting down on the expense of eating out). Pretty cool, huh??

The same can go for pot roasts, though not exactly the same recipes. I do our pot roasts in the crockpot and let them cook all smells great and they end up SO tender! One meal is pot roast with whatever sides I chose (usually potatoes and salad), one night we have a simple meal of beef and gravy over either rice or noodles, another night, I make vegetable-beef soup, and the final night could be beef stir fry or beef eggrolls (another great recipe I found in a cookbook...details later). Again, 4 meals from 1 cut of meat. These are actually bargains that are made even better when the store has a "Buy one, Get one free" deal going on (one of mys tores does this regularly).

Value packs...are they really worth it?? Yes and no. If you and your family don't like pork, it makes no sense to save $.20 per pound for a family pack of pork chops when they will just sit there and get freezer burn. However, if you can handle pork chops once a month, it is a good deal when you can find them on sale (my family doesn't really like pork, but after a month of nothing but beef and chicken, I wanted something different). Value packs of hamburger tend to be pretty good deals. Remember, hamburger isn't just for burgers and meatloaf, it can be browned and used in stew instead of stew cubes, spaghetti, lasagna, egg rolls, shepherd's pie, etc. Really, it all depends on your family and your eating habits.

But what about breakfast and lunch???

Well, since both children are in school, they eat breakfast with me every morning, and we have discovered that generic cereals and pop tarts are actually less expensive and taste just the same as the name brand ones - even if we DO have coupons!! So, I make sure to have at least 3 different cereals and 2 different kinds of pop tarts on hand, plus we have store brand pancakes and waffles that can be heated in the toaster or microwave. Ok, not very healthy - well, not as healthy as cooking every single thing from scratch, but hey, we ALL have busy lives, and this is about saving money on food, not anything else.

Lunch is typically PB&J with fruit and a juice box, however, sometimes they want something else. That's when coupons and such come in because both children like to take hot soup in their thermoses when it's cold outside and my son has started taking ramen noodles to school (always VERY cheap). I also make sure we always have lunch meat, cheese, and bread on hand and lots of fresh fruit for them to choose from. Yogurts are bought on sale and with coupons and are a hit with both kids. The key to kid's lunches is to make them both healthy AND fun...and by no means should you completely restrict sweets. Just don't make sweets a regular part of your shopping or lunch-packing routine, and it will all work out. When the holiday candies come out, every now and then, drop one in your child's can make a bag last for weeks and weeks by doing this, and it won't really add to your grocery bill, but it may make your child believe that you think they are special (c'mon, we all think our children are special, but kids being kids, they often need tangible proof).

I did forget to mention one important your mortgage and any other major bills BEFORE you do your grocery shopping!!! This way, you won't fall behind on payments and you will know exactly what you have available to spend on food and still keep some in the bank for emergencies.

Feedback is always welcome...and if you have tips you'd like to share, by all means, send them to me and I will make sure to mention them and give you credit!!

Am I *really* that strange??

So, I went out to do grocery shopping last night - the night before we were supposed to get more snow. Yes, ok, that was a little odd, but WE didn't *need* bread, milk, eggs, toilet paper, *WE* needed the monthly supply of groceries.

Yes, I said "monthly supply" as in, I do one major shopping trip a month, and fill in with swing by stops when we are running out of milk. While I actually like grocery shopping (especially if I can go by myself and actually take my time), I have figured out that shopping once a week, or even every 2 weeks, still makes the groceries a larger par of our budget than they need to be.

At one point, we were spending well over $1000 EVERY month in groceries, and a lot of that was ending up in the trash because nobody wanted to eat leftovers or else we forgot what exactly was in each storage container. So, I started meal planning. I wasn't exactly new at this...back when hubby and I were living in NY with our newborn son (2000) we were living of less money, but still had a mortgage and a car payment to worry about, not to mention the bills for the utilities, medical expenses, etc. How to cut costs....lowest cable service we could get and actually have more than 3 channels, lowest phone service that still gave us long distance since we had no family living nearby, and planning every single meal possible!!!

So, flash forward and we now have 2 children, both in elementary school, I'm still at home taking care of the family and running a small business that really feeds my creative needs. Hubby is still making more money, but as anyone with kids children get older, they seem to get more expensive as well. Now, besides the mortgage, a car payment, bills for utilities, etc. we also have expenses for each child to have one outside-of-school-activity. Cut down on gas by having them take lessons at the same place (one does boxing and one does karate). Oh, and because we took a rather long break from being conscientious about our spending and the current house needed some serious repairs, we also have a home equity loan hanging over our heads.

It's now 2010 and I have been back to meal planning for about a year now. I am really only planning our dinners, but the cost in expense is astounding! On this most recent trip, I went to 2 stores (the 2 that had the most on my list for the best prices) and completely forgot to take my coupons (whoops!). After the 2 stores, my total for the groceries was $266 - and that's for a family of 4 with 2 cats and a dog!!!! Yes, I still need to pick up some seafood items, but they are at a different store and at 9pm, I was pretty much tired of the people who were freaking out over the storm and acting like morons to everyone else that was shopping, so I came home.

Since the last store is close to the elementary school, I will head there Monday morning and pick up the last few items (including cat food, which means that this weekend, the cats get dry food)...I still don't see going over $300.

Now, the title is because people (friends and family) can't seem to figure out HOW I do this and seem to think I'm rather odd because I do my shopping this I *really* that strange for wanting to save the family money AND have a good variety of healthy meals??? I don't think so.

How do I do this?? That's the question that *everyone* (and yes, that means family I haven't seen in years as well as friends that I see regularly) keeps asking me. In reality, the first month is the hardest, and each successive month gets easier and easier.

First month of meal planning: TAKE INVENTORY!!!! Of your freezer, your pantry, and your cabinets. Since hubby is totally on board with me shopping like this, our anniversary present to each other was a deep freezer, which is housed in the garage. Now, I know some of you can't do this, but there's a great book available (I bought a copy from after I had marked so many pages in the library copy that I ended up being cheaper to just buy my own copy. The book is called "Don't worry, dinner's in the freezer" and is by Jill Bond). I say this is the hardest month because of the time you have to put into it. In order to save money, you NEED to know what you already have....and don't be too upset if you find that you have 3 bottles of vegetable oil, 1 of olive oil, or multiples of other items.

Ok, once you have your inventory, it's time to start your shopping list. ALWAYS make your shopping list before you make your meal plans!! Make a note of what is on sale at the grocery store(s) from the Sunday circulars. I usually have a couple of notebook pages: meat, seafood, produce, frozen, misc. and write what is on sale with a notation for which store (M for Martin's, K for Kroger, etc.). That is your main shopping list because that will save you the most money. If you meal plan BEFORE you shop the circulars, you will always spend more money - pork roast isn't on sale this week, but you already planned a meal for it....can increase your total bill significantly.

Ok, so now you have your main list and you know what you already have on hand. In my family, eggs are the big thing these days. My son had a severe egg allergy for years and only recently tested negative, so eggs are always here: omlettes, pancakes, cookies, etc.....they all require eggs. Buy eggs in the 1.5 dozen packs and you don't have to add them to every single list....or whatever your family goes through on a regular basis.

Next step is actually planning the meals. As I said, I only do this for dinners and I use our family schedule to dictate the complexity of the meal and the cooking time. There are 2 nights that we know will be late dinner nights (we typically eat around 5 or 530, late nights mean dinner is at 6 or a little later). You want to have a good variety of foods or else you and your family will get bored, so try to buy red meat, poultry, seafood, pork, even do some vegetarian meals. Oh, and do NOT throw out your leftovers!!

More in the next post..............

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010 - new outlook, etc.

Etsy shop has been busy since Black Friday, which has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it means that people actually like my things, and a curse because I've got numerous packages to keep shipping out but I only make runs to the post office twice a week. Of course, there's also the taxes that I need to figure out for the last quarter of 2009...ugh.

However, I'm trying to stay positive and have a better outlook on life and everything that comes my way. I have my creative energy back and will be starting on new projects in the immediate future, some of which will be listed on Etsy, and some which will only be sold locally at the craft fairs. I have gotten several new patterns for more chic, updated wardrobe items for myself, and as much as I would like to be working on them now, I will delay starting them until late spring/early summer with the hope that I will have lost some weight and inches.

I'm working on getting an even tighter grip on the family finances, though the recent fabric purchases undermine that a bit. I'm hoping that we will be able to pay of Ken's car by the end of April as we will probably be looking for a new car for me near the end of the year - it would be nice to have extra money socked away in savings to put towards a down payment in addition to the trade in of my current car.

So, things are going to be more focused around here: focus on better eating, healthier living, more productivity. With any luck, there will be HUGE changes in the family life - more time together as a family, actually doing things together and enjoying the time together instead of bickering and being plugged in to electronic entertainment.

Onward and upward!!