Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fajita Marinade (S)

I love Mexican food! I could eat it every single day of my life. I love getting fajitas at a restaurant, but hate the price tag that comes with them. This marinade is what I came up with to duplicate the flavor of restaurant style fajitas. It is great on chicken, beef (not ground) or shrimp as well as vegetables. I typically use onions and green peppers, but zucchini or summer squash would be great too.

This recipe is enough to marinate 4 chicken breasts, 2 bell peppers and 3 onions. If I'm using steak I usually use 2 pounds, and usually a flank steak. I serve this on a low-carb tortilla or on top of lettuce with sour cream, salsa and cheese.

(Beef broth not pictured)

Pin it for later.

Fajita Marinade
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 t. grated lime rind (make sure not to get any of pith (the white stuff under the rind) because it tastes bitter)
  • 2 1/2 T. fresh lime juice
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 t. ground cumin (if you don't love the flavor of cumin back it down to 1 t.)
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. oregano
  • 1/2 t. black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 c. low-sodium beef broth or stock
  1. Whisk all ingredients together.
  2. Pour over meat and vegetables and let marinate for a minimum of 4 hours. Overnight is best to really let the flavors soak in.

***Do not marinate meat and vegetables in the same container. This leads to cross contamination. If you are using more than one variety of meat, put them in separate containers as well.




Monday, December 30, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 12/30/13-1/5/14

Wondering why or how to meal plan? Read this first.

Happy New Year!!! I feel like I say this every year, but I can't believe how fast this year has flown by. This year has been marked by a blessing of our 4th child, as well as many changes for our family. I'm excited to see what 2014 will bring. One of my goals for 2014 is to try one new recipe each week, so I'm on the search for yummy things to try.

Here's what we'll be eating this week:

Monday - Chicken and black bean burrito bowls with salsa, Spanish rice and sauteed green peppers and onions

Tuesday - New Year's Eve pizza party - I'm bringing the dough and pizza sauce

Wednesday - Jalapeno Popper Chicken Chili

Thursday - Sloppy Joes with fresh veggies

Friday - Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables

Saturday - Chicken Noodle Soup

Sunday - Leftovers

Here's what's coming up this week:
  •  Fajita style marinade - great on chicken, beef and veggies!
  • Kitchen Tip - creative way to drain the fat from ground beef

Monday, December 23, 2013

Countdown to Christmas: Caramel Corn

My mom does NOT like to cook or bake, and she will be the first one to tell you. The love of cooking skipped a generation in our family. However, my mom makes some rockin' caramel corn. It isn't something that she makes very often, but boy when she does the whole family enjoys it. She usually makes it around the holidays and will give some as a gift to my grandparents, and then we eat the rest. :) This is definitely an indulgent snack, but just do it, it's the holidays. It is so good people! You MUST try it!


Marcia's Caramel Corn
  • 8 quarts popped popcorn
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1/2 c. corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cream of tarter
  • 1 t. baking soda
  1. Pop the popcorn. Air popped is best, but if you have a kettle cooker (like myself), just use 1 T. oil, no salt or butter, while popping.
  2. Heat the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and pinch of salt in a small sauce pan until it boils. Let it boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.
  3. Add the baking soda and stir until completely combined.
  4. Pour over the popcorn. Let it cool slightly before eating. Store in an air tight container.
***If you like nuts in your caramel corn, you can add some peanuts or another nut of your liking to the popcorn before you pour the liquid mixture on top of it.

Meal Plan Monday - 12/23-12/29/13

Wondering why or how to meal plan? Read this first.

We made it! It's finally the week of Christmas. I love this time of year and all the memories that are made. We had family visit this past weekend and we'll be spending Christmas day with my parents and my brother and his family. My kids are completely amped up!

We are spending quite a bit of the week with family, so this week's meal plan is very simple. Here is what we'll be eating this week:

Monday - Easy Slow Cooker Chili

Tuesday - Leftovers

Wednesday - Lasagna with 7 Layer Salad (look for the recipe later this week), and garlic bread (This is a very non-traditional Christmas dinner, but it's what my mom wanted to eat.)

Thursday - Egg Roll in a Bowl (This was so good last week that my hubby requested it again this week. Seriously, try it, it's AMAZING!!!)

Friday - Homemade Pizza  with fresh veggies

Saturday - Ham, cheesy potatoes, salad and rolls

Sunday -  Leftovers

Merry Christmas to you and your family! Have a great week and happy eating!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Favorite Thing Friday: Food Processor

Today's Favorite Thing Friday is truly one of my most favorite things that I use in my kitchen. It has so many functions and capabilities I'm not sure what I ever did before I owned my food processor.


I personally have the Cuisinart  Prep 11 Plus 11 Cup Food Processor. It comes with four different blades: stainless steel medium slicing disc, stainless steel shredding disc, metal dough blade and a chopping/mixing blade. I feel like I'm am continually finding new uses for it.

Here are the top ten ways I use my food processor:
  1. Shredding cheese - I can literally shred an entire block of cheese in under 30 seconds. Sounds like a party trick, right?? I love the texture so much more of freshly shredded cheese vs. pre-shredded bought from the store. And seriously, what is that white crap that they put on the pre-shredded cheese? Grosses me out!
  2. Pureeing vegetables for making baby food - Super easy and you can make it super smooth for a younger baby, or leave it a little chunky for an older child.
  3. Making salsa - I make this salsa almost every single week. After throwing everything in, it takes about 10 seconds to get the consistency I want.
  4. Pureeing soups - I don't have a great blender, so I use my food processor instead.
  5. Shredding potatoes for hash browns - beats the pre-frozen potatoes any day, and is cheaper just to shred them yourself.
  6. Shredding carrots and zucchini - I shred a bunch at a time for soups or stir-fry, and just freeze what I'm not using. 
  7. Shredding soap - I've started making my own laundry soap and liquid hand soap. Both require shredding a bar of soap, and I can do it in less than 30 seconds this way. Now before anyone freaks out and thinks its gross to shred soap in the same thing I use for food prep, I wash it EXTREMELY well after I shred the soap.
  8. Slicing meat - We don't eat a lot of deli meat in our house, but when the sticks of pepperoni are on sale for cheaper than the pre-sliced variety, I will slice my own. You definitely could slice lunch meat out of a chub of ham or turkey as well.
  9. Making hummus - in the last year I've grown to love hummus, and it is so easy to make at home. Try this recipe for a basic hummus.
  10. In place of a pastry cutter - when I am making a recipe that instructs me to use a pastry cutter to cut the butter in, I use the food processor instead. Not only can you do it quickly, but by using the pulse function you won't take it too far and over process it.
If you don't own a food processor you should. It will make your life in the kitchen so much more simple. If you have any great uses that I haven't listed, be sure to leave them in the comments below.
Stainless steel medium slicing disc (4 mm)
Stainless steel shredding disc
Chopping/mixing blade
Metal dough blade - See more at: http://www.cuisinart.com/products/food_processors/dlc-2011chb.html#sthash.2wZWdrd1.dpuf

Monday, December 16, 2013

Countdown to Christmas: Grandma's Christmas Sugar Cookies

When I was a little girl my Grandma would come and visit a few weeks before Christmas to make cookies with my brother and me. She would always bring all the goodies needed and always brought an old work shirt of my Grandpa's to wear; so we wouldn't ruin our own clothes of course. It wasn't Christmas until Grandma had come to bake cookies. I have such fond memories of this time, and now it is a tradition that has been passed on to my kids to do with my Mom.

This past weekend we made cookies, new memories and plenty of messes. And of course the kids were completely sugar buzzed. That's half the fun, right?

These cookies are great for cutting shapes out of. They work fine for just making drop cookies as well. It's a very versatile cookie.

                                                     (I love the how the kids decorate!)


Grandma's Christmas Sugar Cookies
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. sour milk (add 1 T. of white vinegar to the milk to make it sour)
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4-1/2 t. salt
  • 2 1/4 c. flour
  1. Cream the sugar and shortening together. You can do by hand or with an electric hand mixer.
  2. Add the egg and mix again.
  3. Pour the 1/2 c. of milk into a 1 c. glass measuring cup. Add the 1 T. of white vinegar and the 1 t. of baking soda to the milk. Stir to combine and then add to the dough mixture.
  4. Add the baking powder, salt and flour to the mixture and mix until completely combined. 
  5. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Roll out dough onto a well floured surface. Cut into desired shapes.
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Let the cookies completely cool before you decorate them.

Meal Plan Monday: 12/16-12/22/13

Wondering why or how to meal plan? Read this first.

The countdown to Christmas is on. I'm not even remotely ready, but I still have 9 whole days right?? I'm totally procrastinating this year. This past weekend my kids and their cousins, along with my Mom made Christmas cookies. It was fun and slightly stressful but we made them and they are delicious. Look for that recipe later tonight.

Here's what we're eating this week:

Monday: Egg roll in a bowl

Tuesday: Bacon, Cheddar, chicken and rice bake with broccoli

Wednesday: Spaghetti with salad and French bread

Thursday: Salsa chicken casserole

Friday: Homemade pizza with fresh veggies

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday: Chicken quinoa soup

Here's what is coming up on the blog this week:
  • Countdown to Christmas: Grandma's Christmas Sugar Cookies
  • Favorite thing Friday

Monday, December 9, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 12/9-12/15/13

Wondering how or why to meal plan? Read this first.

If you're like me, your calendar is filling up with Christmas parties and activities. I love this time of year and all of the gatherings that happen. I'm always so excited to go to parties and try the variety of foods that people bring. 

Here is what we'll be eating this week:

Monday - Lasagna Roll-ups with a side salad

Tuesday - Chicken burrito bowls, with black beans,  sauteed green peppers and onions, Spanish rice and salsa

Wednesday - Easy Slow Cooker Chili with corn bread

Thursday - Simple Sesame Noodles with stir-fried chicken and broccoli

Friday - Christmas Party - I will be bringing Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars (the recipe is in the comments section)

Saturday - Homemade Pizza with fresh veggies

Sunday - Christmas Party #2 - I will be bringing a veggie tray

Have a great week and happy eating!!!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Favorite Thing Friday: Cookbooks

I love cookbooks. The recipes, photos, techniques and new ideas that are in them speak to my creative side. Every time I enter a  bookstore or library I immediately go to the cookbook section. Now I realize that not everyone has such a draw to cookbooks, so I've compiled a list of my four favorites.




Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book - This is full of tried and true recipes. The recipes are simple, easy to follow and very good. I've loved everything I've ever tried from this book. I also have a sentimental attachment to this one. My Grandma F. gave me this cookbook at my bridal shower with a sweet message written in the cover. She also sparked my interest in cooking at young age, so this is definitely a book I will cherish and hold on to.


Dining on  Dime - This book is a great resource to have. There are so many money saving tips, recipes for everything under the sun, including homemade cleaners, and filled with food that your family will actually eat. I reference this book frequently and enjoy using the recipes to make things from scratch. It's amazing how much money you can save if you're willing to put in just a little bit of time and effort.



Joy of Cooking - Talk about the mother of all cookbooks! With over 4500 recipes you're bound to find something for everyone in this cookbook. Not only is filled with a plethora of recipes, but it has tips for entertaining, menus by cuisine, measurement equivalent and substitution charts and so much more. This is definitely a book you want to add to your collection!


The Pioneer Woman Cooks - If you're looking for some down home good cooking this is your book. Ree Drummond (a.k.a. Pioneer Woman) makes some awesome food! Her cookbook is loaded with yummy recipes, really neat photography of her family's cattle ranch and sprinkled with a dose of humor as well. Everything I've ever tried from her has been delicious! She also has a great website loaded with recipes.

Add some of these books to your Christmas list. Your family will thank you later!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to Tuesday: Roasting Vegetables

Roasting vegetables is such an easy and flavorful way to enjoy eating vegetables. It also is a great way to use up random veggies you might have laying around in your refrigerator.

The best types of vegetables to roast are: potatoes (any variety, but my favorite are red), broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, carrots, onions (any variety), celery, parsnips, turnips, zucchini and summer squash. These vegetables are hearty enough to stand up to long cook times in the oven without becoming mushy and gross.

The key to roasting vegetables that are not mushy is cutting everything the same size. This way things will cook evenly. Also, DO NOT under season the vegetables. Bland vegetables = gross!


Layer all the vegetables in one single layer. If you find your baking sheet is too crowded then use two. Some vegetables will come out crunchy while others will be mushy if they are too crowded.


Look at those yummy vegetables, all nicely roasted. The flavors have developed and they are nice and tender, NOT squishy.


Roasted Vegetables (this is the amount I prepare for my family of 6 without leftovers)
  • 1 head of cauliflower, chopped
  • 3 small florets of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and then chopped
  • garlic powder, Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil, enough to coat the vegetables
  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Chop all vegetables into even sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Liberally season with garlic powder, Kosher salt and pepper. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the vegetables. DO NOT drown the vegetables in the oil.
  2. Place them in one single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring once. The vegetables should be tender.
 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 12/2-12/8/13

Wondering how or why to meal plan? Read this first.

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday. We had a great day just relaxing, enjoying family and eating wonderful food. I'm totally maxed out on turkey for a while, and thankfully our leftovers are nearly gone.My husband and I also had a great time celebrating our 10th anniversary!


Here is what we'll be eating this week:

Monday: Taco salads (using ground beef and black beans)

Tuesday: Sweet and Spicy Chicken Stir-fry over brown rice and with broccoli and cauliflower

Wednesday: Baked Ziti (I'm going to omit the ground beef and add spinach. Hopefully my family will still eat it.) with side salad

Thursday: Grilled chicken with Roasted Cauliflower with Bacon and Parmesan cheese

Friday: Homemade Pizza with fresh veggies

Saturday: Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

Sunday: Leftovers

Here's what is coming up on the blog this week:
  • How to roast vegetables (Was supposed to do this last week but never got around to it!)
  • Week 3 in our "Count down to Christmas" treat series
  • Favorite thing Friday
Have a great week and happy eating!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 11/25-12/1/13

Wondering how or why to meal plan? Read this first.

Happy Thanksgiving week! I hope everyone has a great time connecting with family and friends this week.

Here is what we will be eating this week:

Monday: Jalapeno Popper Chicken Chili

Tuesday: Slow cooker Asian glazed chicken over brown rice and broccoli

Wednesday: Grilled teriyaki chicken with roasted vegetables

Thursday: Thanksgiving Meal

Friday: Out to dinner for our 10th Wedding Anniversary!!!

Saturday: Thanksgiving leftovers -  Here are some ideas on how to use up all that turkey - turkey pot pie, turkey tetrazzini, turkey chowder. And if you still can't figure out what to do with the leftover turkey, freeze it. It will stay good for 3-6 months if sealed well.

Sunday: Pizza at my parent's house

Here's what's coming up this week on the blog:
  • How to roast vegetables - super easy and very delicious!
  • Week 2 in our "Countdown to Christmas" treats series

Have a great week and happy eating!!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving Meal with Grandma's stuffing

I love Thanksgiving - the planning, the food, the family and great memories that abound. As someone who loves to cook I get so excited to start planning the meal once November rolls around.

I'm even more excited this year because I will be making my Grandma's stuffing for the first time. I have so many good memories tied to this stuffing. My Grandma passed away in September, so this will be our first holiday season without her. She loved all holidays and always put such special emphasis into decorations, especially table decorations. I was just joking with my cousin about how Grandma even had salt and pepper shakers for each holiday. As much as she loved to decorate, she loved having her family together even more.

My cousin is blessed to have a copy of the recipe for Grandma's stuffing in Grandma's handwriting. Thanks for sharing this photo with me, Amy Jo!



Here is what I will be making for Thanksgiving this year:
  • Turkey - I skip all the basting and brining and use an oven safe bag. I use Reyonld's Oven bags, turkey size. This is truly one of the most simple way to make a turkey. I remove the organs (disgusting I know), rinse and dry it, chop an onion and throw it inside, season the outside with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme and poultry season, give it a good coat of olive oil and then put it in the bag and let it cook. It's done in nearly half the time as the normal way of cooking a turkey. It comes out moist and delicious without hardly any fuss at all. Check it out!
  • Mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Grandma's stuffing (recipe to follow)
  • Green bean casserole
  • Corn
  • Rolls
  • Pumpkin Pie
Grandma's Stuffing
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 c. celery, diced
  • 1 loaf dry white bread (leave the bread out on the counter over night to dry)
  • 1 1/2 t. poultry seasoning
  • 1 1/2 t. salt (add some seasoning salt too if you like things a little saltier)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • milk to dip the bread in
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Melt butter in a sauce pan, add onion and celery and fry over low heat until tender.
  3. Dip bread in the milk and cut or pull into smaller pieces.
  4. Put bread into a greased casserole dish. Add vegetables, seasonings and egg. Mix until very well combined.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Countdown to Christmas: Kelly's No-Bake Cookies

I LOVE No-Bake Cookies. I love them so much that I can't make them all that often because I eat way way way too many of them at a time if they are in my house. If I smell or see them its like I lose all self-control. Must be that peanut butter and chocolate combo. Also, I love the fact that they are so simple to make and are done it no time at all. As a busy mom of four, I need to save time where I can.

I was telling my dear friend Kelly about this a few years ago and she gave me her recipe for No-Bake Cookies, and now it's the only recipe I use to make them.

The ingredients: sugar, butter, creamy peanut butter, milk, cocoa, and QUICK cooking oats (not Old Fashioned oats)


Put sugar, butter and milk into a medium sized pot over medium heat and combine. Stir frequently and allow the butter to melt.


 Add the cocoa and bring the mixture to a boil. Make sure you really stir in the cocoa to combine it.


Let it boil rapidly for 2 minutes.
 

Turn off the heat. Add the peanut butter and oats. Stir until everything is completely combined.


Spoon onto wax paper (or aluminum foil works fine too). This recipe makes 25-30 cookies.

 Let the cookies cool and set. 15-20 minutes is usually a good amount of time. Enjoy!!



Kelly's No-Bake Cookies         makes 25-30 cookies
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 5 T. cocoa
  • 2/3 c. peanut butter
  • 3 c. QUICK oats (NOT Old Fashioned oats) 
  1. Put sugar, butter and milk into a medium sized pot over medium heat and combine. Stir frequently and allow the butter to melt.
  2. Add the cocoa and bring the mixture to a boil. Make sure you really stir in the cocoa to combine it.
  3. Let it boil rapidly for 2 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat. Add the peanut butter and oats. Stir until everything is completely combined.
  5. Spoon onto wax paper (or aluminum foil works fine too).
  6.  Let the cookies cool and set for 15-20 minutes before eating.
Now will someone please come over so I don't eat all of these???

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Tuesday: Building a Pantry Stockpile (Part 2)

If you missed the first installment, read this first.

Now we know why it's great to have a well stocked pantry and items that it should include, but where should you even start?

Let me break it down...

  • Start by making a list of things that you keep in your pantry. Now highlight or star the things that you find yourself purchasing most frequently. If you purchase it more than once a month I would qualify that as frequent. In my house that would be pasta, flour, bread flour, chili powder, cereal, pizza sauce, canned tomatoes, Rotel, brown rice, peanut butter, etc...
  • Whatever items were your top 10 items are the ones that you're going to start building your stockpile with. 
  • Decide where you're going to keep your stockpile. This is definitely something you want to think about ahead of time in case you come across a screaming deal on something. I use two shelving units in a corner of my basement storage room. It could be in your actual kitchen pantry if you have room in there. Wherever it works, clear out the space and have it ready.
  • Start setting aside a part of your grocery budget to allocate to a stockpile purchase. If that's $2 a week great. If you can do more, even better. I realize every one's finances and grocery budgets are different, so do what you can and don't sweat it if you don't have a lot of wiggle room in your budget right now.
  • Decide either in your mind or on paper if that helps, a price-point of what you feel comfortable paying to stock up on a specific item. For instance I WILL NOT pay more than $1 for a box of pasta. It goes on sale almost weekly for a $1, so really there is never a reason to pay more than that. By purchasing 8 boxes at a time for $1/box I can almost guarantee that there will be another pasta sale by the time I need to purchase more. Most sales  run in 8-12 week cycles, so if you have room in your budget try to stock up on enough to last you that 8-12 weeks. I promise you that once you start to pay attention to the sales cycles you will start seeing the patterns and know when to stock up.
  • It takes time to build up a pantry stockpile. It will not happen over night. So start small and go from there. It took me about 6-9 months to feel like I really had a good amount in my stockpile. 
Here are some pictures from my pantry stockpile.


In my pantry stockpile you will see that right now I have a lot of baking supplies, pasta and canned goods as this is a great time of year to stock up on those items. Also, once you get a handle on building up your food stockpile, try your hand at toiletries. Depending on where you live in the country and what stores are local to you, you can get many toiletries for pennies on the dollar or even free.

Once you get to a point where you have a rockin' stockpile you will only need to purchase things when they are truly on sale, rather than paying full price for them when you run out.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 11/18-11/24/13

Wondering how or why to make a meal plan? Read this first.

Here's what we're eating this week:

Monday: Beef with broccoli over brown rice

Tuesday: Tacos, sauteed peppers and onions with Spanish rice

Wednesday: Leftovers for the family (I'm going out with my girlfriends!!!)

Thursday: Italian Wonderpot with grilled chicken and side salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza with fresh veggies

Saturday: Creamy chicken and spinach pasta

Sunday: Small group pizza night, I'm just bringing drinks

Here's what's coming up this week on the blog:
  • Part 2 of how to build your pantry. Here's part 1 if you missed it last week.
  • Week 1 in the series "6 Weeks of Christmas Treats". I'm really excited, but I think my family is even more excited because they get to sample the treats to make sure they're good enough to share with all of you. :)
  • Darcie's Thanksgiving meal - I LOVE Thanksgiving and now I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Have a great week and happy eating!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Frugal Friday: Stock Up!

This time of year, meaning the up coming holidays, is the best time to stock up on certain food items. The 6-7 weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas are the best weeks to stock up on baking supplies, spices, canned goods, turkey, ham, butter and eggs. I will usually try to stock up on enough dry goods and spices to last my family for the next 4-6 months. Around Easter they will have a sale again, although typically not as good.

Stock up on eggs, you must be crazy right?? Wrong. Even though they have an expiration date, they can last 4 to 5 weeks past their expiration date!  According to the American Egg Board:
  "The oil coating which seals the shell's pores helps to prevent bacteria from entering the egg and reduces moisture loss from the egg. RAW SHELL EGGS REFRIGERATED IN THEIR CARTONS WILL KEEP FOR ABOUT 4 TO 5 WEEKS BEYOND THE PACK DATE WITHOUT SIGNIFICANT QUALITY LOSS. (The pack date is usually a number from 1 to 365 representing the day of the year starting with January 1 as 1 and ending with December 31 as 365.)"

So stock up on eggs because they are a great source of protein that won't break the bank. I personally love to do a breakfast casserole on Thanksgiving and Christmas because they feed a crowd without killing my grocery budget.

Turkeys will be at their cheapest the last full week before Thanksgiving (this year that would be the 17th-23rd), and then on "clearance" after Thanksgiving until they get rid of most or all of their turkeys. Same goes for hams, only right before Christmas rather than Thanksgiving. I will usually pick up an extra turkey and ham to eat later in the year. They are both good in the freezer for at least 6 months to a year. And who says that you can only eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

So for the next 6 weeks watch your grocery ads and see what you can grab for a steal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Tuesday: Building a Pantry Stockpile (Part 1)

Pin it

Having a well stocked pantry can relieve so much stress in your life.  If you keep most of the ingredients on hand that your family uses most, you'll always have something you can throw together. When you keep your pantry well stocked you'll always have something to eat which lessens the need to eat out or order in. And once you get your basic pantry started and can start a stockpile you will be prepared for that unexpected job loss, a time of less income or to be a blessing to someone in need.

So what entails a basic pantry? I've included a list of what we keep in our home. This list may or may not work for your household depending on preferences, food allergies, etc...

Here are a list of items I try to keep in my pantry at all times:

Baking Supplies: all purpose flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour, white sugar, yeast, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, Truvia (Stevia sweetener), corn meal, corn starch (or arrowroot), vanilla extract, cocoa powder, shortening, cooking spray, chocolate chips, nuts (assorted varieties for snacking and baking), powdered sugar, old fashioned oats

Seasonings/Oils: salt, kosher salt, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, ground ginger, seasoning salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, parsley flakes, basil, oregano, soy sauce, canola oil, olive oil, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, hot sauce, chicken bouillon, beef bouillon

Condiments: mayo, ketchup, mustard, various salad dressings, BBQ sauce, jelly, peanut butter

Canned: corn, green beans, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomatoes with jalapenos, artichoke hearts, pizza sauce, kidney beans, tuna, spaghetti sauce, tomato juice

Breakfast foods: various cereals, quick-cooking oats

Dry Packaged Goods: various cuts of pasta, stuffing mix, dry Great Northern beans, dry black beans, dry pinto beans, white rice, brown rice, quinoa, tortillas

Snack Foods: various crackers, popcorn (NOT microwave), pretzels, tortilla chips

I know this list looks overwhelming, but truth be told you probably have quite a bit of it in your cabinets already. Next week we'll talk about how to build up your pantry so you can have everything you need on hand, while saving money in the process.

Part 2

Monday, November 11, 2013

Kitchen Tip: Spices

Wondering what are the essential spices to have on hand? Or do you ever wonder what spice goes with what other spices or type of cuisine? Check out this handy little chart.

Meal Plan Monday: 11/11-11/17/13

Wondering how or why to make a meal plan? Read this first.

You'll notice that we're eating soup a few times this week. That's because it is freezing here now, and it even snowed today! Here's what we'll be eating this week:

Monday: Teriyaki chicken with mashed potatoes, broccoli and peas

Tuesday: Chicken tortilla soup

Wednesday: Tuscan white bean & spinach soup

Thursday: Spinach &mozzarella egg bake

Friday: Crock Pot chicken taco chili

Saturday: Homemade pizza and fresh veggies

Sunday: We are having appetizer night at our small group. I'll be making Buffalo Wing Hummus

Have a great week everyone and happy eating!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 11/4-11/10/13

I'm a day late on this but better late than never. :)

Monday: Pizza Casserole

Tuesday: Baked Spaghetti Squash with Zucchini and salad

Wednesday: Better than Panda's Orange Chicken over brown rice and broccoli

Thursday: Chicken Taco Casserole

Friday: Healthy Veggie Quiche and salad

Saturday: Homemade Pizza with fresh veggies

Sunday: Leftovers

Have a great week!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to Tuesday: Soaking and Cooking Beans

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If your family eats a lot of beans, it can get pretty expensive to purchase them in the can. Yes the can of beans is super easy and convenient, however the salt content is out of this world and per unit is much more expensive than soaking and cooking them yourself.
 
Cost Comparison: Cans of beans typically come in a 15oz. size. A can of beans runs between $0.79-$1.00, sometimes less if you can match it with a coupon. A 2 pound bag of dried beans at my Aldi runs about $1.99-$2.49 depending on the type of bean.You can make the equivalent of 8 cans of beans out of 2 pounds of dried beans. That means that soaking and cooking your own beans will cost you between $0.25-$0.31 per can vs. $0.79 for the store canned beans. If you replace just one can of beans per week you can save your family $24.96-$28.08 per year. We usually use about 3 or 4 cans of beans so the savings really start to add up. Every little bit of savings adds up to a big difference in your bottom line.

How to make the beans:

There are two ways to cook dried beans ~ an easy way, and an even easier way. :)

On the stovetop:
  • Pour the bag of beans in a stockpot.
  • Cover the beans completely with water and put a lid on the pot. Let it sit to soak for 6-8 hours. 
  • Dump the beans into a colander or fine mesh strainer and give them a rinse. Also do a quick rinse of your pot to ensure that any dirt or grit is removed.
  • Put the beans back into the pot. Cover the beans with enough water to be about 2" above the level of the beans.
  • Put the lid back on and turn your burner on high.
  • Bring the beans to a rolling boil, and then turn them down to medium.
  • Let them cook until the beans are tender (at least 1 hour).
  • You may add salt at this point. DO NOT add salt before this point or it will keep the beans rock hard. I learned the hard way. ;) I typically don't add salt because I'm adding them to soup or another dish that has salt in it already.
  • Drain the beans. Let them cool completely in the strainer.
  • Scoop 1 1/2 c. of the cooked beans into a zip top baggie. Squeeze all the air out before sealing, seal it and then lay it flat. Store them stacked in your freezer.
Slow cooker method:
  • Pour the bag of beans into a large colander or fine mesh strainer. Give the beans a good rinse and do a quick sort to make sure no rocks or other large debris are present.
  • Put the rinsed beans into your slow cooker and fill to the top with water. I have a 6 qt. slow cooker and 2 pounds fits just perfectly.
  • Put the lid on and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 7-8 hours, depending on how hot your slow cooker gets.
  • Once cooked, you may add salt if desired.
  • Drain the beans and let them cook completely.
  • Scoop 1 1/2 c. of the cooked beans into a zip top baggie. Squeeze all the air out before sealing, seal it and then lay it flat. Store them stacked in your freezer.
It is really that easy! Give it a try and enjoy the savings in your grocery budget.

 


Monday, October 28, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 10/28-11/3/13

Wondering how to or why you should meal plan? Read this first.

Here is what we will be eating for dinner this week:

Monday: Taco Salad with Spanish rice, salsa, black beans, corn salsa

Tuesday: Sweet and Spicy Stir-fry (We had this last week but my husband loved it so much he requested to have it again this week. Just a note, this is SUPER spicy, so if you don't like spice, be sure to tune the sriracha WAY DOWN or omit it all together. We love spice, and thought it was hot.)

Wednesday: Minestrone Soup with rolls (These rolls are AMAZING!!! This recipe makes a lot, so if you have a smaller family, cut the recipe in half or freeze some for later)

Thursday: Lasagna with salad and leftover rolls from Wednesday

Friday: Homemade Pizza with fresh veggies

Saturday: Dinner with friends while we watch the UofM/MSU game! I'm just bringing drinks.

Sunday: Appetizer night at small group and I'm bringing bean dip and chips. I'll be using the leftover salsa from Monday, and making refried beans to use in the dip.

Happy eating and have a great week everyone!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Frugal Friday: Make Your Own Seasonings



One way to save a bit of money on your grocery bill each week is to make things from scratch that you would normally buy prepackaged. Not only will you be saving money, but you'll also be serving your family healthier items by cutting out all the preservatives and additives that are in prepackaged food. It's kind of frightening all the junk they put in there.

One of the easiest things you can make is your own seasoning blends. Typically you already have most, if not all of the spices in your cabinet, you just need to mix them yourself.

My favorite seasoning mix to make at home is taco seasoning. Here is an easy, inexpensive recipe.

Taco Seasoning
  • 1/2 c. chili powder
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 T. garlic powder
  • 1 T. cumin
  • 1 T. oregano
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 t. pepper
Mix all ingredients in an air tight container. Use 2 tablespoons as substitute for 1 packet of taco seasoning. This makes the equivalent of 6 taco seasoning packets. Stays good for up to 6 months stored at room temperature. I purchase all my spices (well the ones that I can) at Aldi.

Savings Break Down:
  • Chili Powder - $.48
  • Onion Powder - $.06
  • Garlic Powder - $.06
  • Cumin - $.06
  • Oregano - $.06
  • Paprika - $.02
  • Salt - $.02
  • Pepper - $.04
  • Total - $.80 vs. $4.74  ($.79 each) for 6 Store Bought Packets
This breaks down to be $.13 per serving by making it yourself. That is a savings of $.56 per packet. Now I know that doesn't sound like a ton of money but if you make tacos just once a week for a year that adds up to be a savings of $29.12! All the little ways of saving add up. Plus you'll be saving your family from having to eat the nasty additives and chemicals that are in the prepackaged packs.

Here are some more seasonings you can make at home.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kitchen Tip: Don't throw away those peels!

Citrus season is coming! I for one am very excited because I LOVE grapefruit and oranges. The winter is typically the time you can find citrus produce at it's cheapest and tastiest.

About nine months ago I came across an article that told how to make a household disinfectant cleaner using citrus peels (any variety you choose) and white vinegar. Super cheap and super easy! I gave it a try and I'm never going back to conventional cleaners. Now for those of you who are wondering if vinegar actually kills germs, yes it does. It's been used for years and years as a natural disinfectant.

What you will need:
  • 16 oz. spray bottle
  • 2 citrus fruits if they are larger, 3 if the fruit are smaller such as lemons
  • White Distilled Vinegar
  • Quart size canning jar, or a similar size container with a lid
  • A funnel (not entirely necessary, just makes it easier)

To make the cleaner:
  • Select which type of citrus to use. I typically use grapefruit, but have used orange too and loved that.
  • Peel the fruit and put it in the bottom of the canning jar.
  • Pour white distilled vinegar over top until the container is full.
  • Put the lid on it and leave it sitting on your counter for 2 weeks. You don't have to do a thing, just let it marinate together.
  • Once your 2 weeks is up, remove the lid and pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer (colander) into a mixing bowl.
  • Grab the funnel and pour the liquid into the 16 oz. spray bottle.
  • Voila, your cleaner is complete!
Note: DO NOT use this cleaner if you have a stone surface counter such as granite, etc... However you can use it on other hard surfaces.

Price Breakdown:
  • 2 Grapefruit - $1.25
  • 16 oz. bottle - FREE (I waited until one of my other cleaning bottles were empty)
  • White Distilled Vinegar - $.23 for 16 oz.
  • TOTAL - $1.48 for an all natural cleaner (plus you got to enjoy the fruit too!)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to Tuesday: Meal Planning



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I know meal planning can seem very overwhelming and honestly it can be if you let it, but it doesn't have to be. I've been meal planning consistently for about 5 years and let me tell you it has made a difference in my grocery budget, my time and my sanity.


So why meal plan?
  • It quells the "Mom (or Babe) what's for dinner tonight?" chorus that you hear each day. I finally got sick of saying "I have no idea". This gives them a definitive answer and they don't need to ask again. Check one for my sanity. :)
  • You no longer have the "5pm panic" of what's for dinner. We've all been there...the kids are whining, your stomach is growling, nothing sounds good and your husband is headed home from work and you don't have a flipping clue what you're going to make for dinner. Meal plan to the rescue!
  • By having a plan and sticking to it (sometimes that's the hardest part, can I get an amen?) your need to eat out or order takeout will lessen. Now don't get me wrong, I love to eat out as much as the next girl but it is so dang expensive!! Eating at home is so much cheaper, and typically healthier too.
So how do I meal plan?
  • Make a list of your family's favorite 25 meals. If you're struggling with that many, try 15. If you can't find that many, then you need a date with Pinterest. :)
  • Grab your calendar and see what's happening that week. Take into account what activities you have going that week. For example, if you know that you won't have much time to cook a dinner one night, utilize the Crockpot that night.
  • Decide what day you're going to grocery shop. I always grocery shop on Sunday. I love to grocery shop, but I loathe grocery shopping on Sunday because everyone and their dog is at the store, but it's the only day I can go without my kids, so I'll take it! I start my meal plan for the day after I go shopping, so my plans run Monday-Sunday.
  • Take a quick inventory of what you already have in your cupboards, fridge and freezer. By utilizing what you already have on hand you're going to save yourself money and time at the grocery store. You can shape at least a few meals based on what you already have.
  • If you're on a budget, which a lot of us are, pull out your sales flyer or look online at the ad. Get a feel for what is on sale that week, then look back at your list of meals and see if there are a couple that you can pair with items on sale. Obviously, you can't buy everything on sale, but every bit helps. If this step overwhelms you skip this step for now and just get planning meals consistently under your belt.
  • Decide what you want to eat this week. Just start by planning 5 dinners and work your way into 7. We usually eat out one night a week and sometimes end up eating leftovers another, so plan accordingly if you do too. And also, consider the season of life you're in. If you have a bunch of little ones or teenagers in a bunch of activities, don't plan elaborate dinners that will take all afternoon to cook. Once you get the hang of it, and if needed, plan breakfast and lunches too.
  • STICK TO YOUR MEAL PLAN!!! I can't emphasize this enough. Also, be thinking about if you need to pull meat out of the freezer, etc... When I first started I would put a note next to the meal on the previous night to pull out ground beef (or whatever it is) for tomorrow. That way you're ready to go and don't have to bail on your plan.
  • Give yourself grace. Remember it is going to take time to get the hang of things. Life happens, kids get sick, unexpected company comes to town, etc... Even if you only stick to your plan 3 days a week, that's progress. Just by having a plan you'll be leaps and bounds ahead of where you were before.
Okay, so that was a lot to digest, but just take it one step at a time. Just do it, your stomach and sanity will thank you! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Meal Plan Monday: 10/21-10/27/13

Here is a list of this week's meals. I don't really plan for breakfast or lunch but these are a sampling of what we do for those two meals.

Breakfasts: cereal, oatmeal, toast, scrambled eggs, yogurt, pancakes
Lunches: sandwiches, quesadillas, salad, cut up fruits and veggies, leftovers
Snacks: cut up fruits and veggies, Wasa Rye Crackers with Laughing Cow cheese, popcorn, nuts, Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffin

Monday: Burritos - Spanish rice, chicken breast flavored with taco seasoning, green peppers and onions, refried beans, salsa

Tuesday: Sweet & Sour Chicken with broccoli and brown rice

Wednesday: White Bean and Quinoa Soup

Thursday: Creamy Kale Spaghetti Squash (I will be substituting spinach for kale, and artichokes for sun-dried tomatoes because that's what I have on hand)

Friday: Crockpot Chicken Taco Chili

Saturday: Homemade pizza with fresh veggies (this is the BEST dough E.V.E.R.!) We literally eat this every week!

Sunday: We have small group at church this night and I signed up to bring a pasta dish. I will be bringing Baked Parmesan Spaghetti.

WELCOME!

Hi and welcome!! I hope this blog will help you not only plan your meals more effectively, but also help you learn some tips and techniques that will help you around the kitchen. If you have a question about something in the kitchen, let me know and I'll do my best to answer. I am by NO MEANS a chef, just a homemaker who loves to cook, provide healthy meals for my family and learn new things. Come along as we learn together....