August 13, 2009

Learn From My Mis-steaks

Sorry, I couldn't help it...
If anyone from my neck of the woods wants to blame me for the rain we had yesterday, go right ahead.
You see, I bought steaks to cook on the grill (filet mignon, no less).
That just about guarantees rain.
So, I broiled them in my oven.
The Uh Oh:
I sprayed Pam on my broiler pan, and as the steaks broiled, the Pam proceeded to smoke and burn.
The steaks were great, but the smoke was not necessary (nor was the cleanup - I had more important things to do: play Sorry with my son and eat ice cream).
The Ah Ha
From now on, I will spray the meat instead of the broiler.
Problem solved.

July 23, 2009

I finally made it to the Connecticut Natural Food Mart
and here is what I got for $46.26


Not included in this picture but included in the total spent was
2 bottles of Nesquick chocolate milk (helper rewards)
One large tomato
One large green pepper
It doesn't seem like a lot of food for $46 does it.
Food is so expensive.
But this is a great deal for this area.
For example, the cucumbers were $0.33 each.
The tomatoes were $0.89 per pound.
Was the savings enough to warrant the gas a used to get there and back?
Here's the thing.
This stuff is FRESH.
Do you see all of those green beans?
They are GREEN. And spotless.
The green beans in my local grocery store were faded and "banged up".
From one head of romaine and one head of red leaf lettuce, I got a huge bowl of greens (and I tore them in small pieces).
For lunch I had a sandwich with one slice of turkey on whole wheat bread with some mayo (can't give up the mayo) and sliced green pepper and tomato.
The pepper was so crispy. The veggies were so yummy.
I cut up part of a cucumber tonight. It was so crispy and fresh. Much better than what I am getting in the grocery stores around here.
I say it was worth the trip.

July 22, 2009

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

I bought a new pressure cooker yesterday. I already have one but this one is narrower so it fits on my stove's burner, is heavier, and has more safety features. It also cost less than half of what I paid for the first one. I paid $30 at BJ's for this one:




I justified my purchase by deciding that since we do not want to eat as much meat, and my husband went to all of the trouble to fix our freezer, and my mother in-law gave me a Foodsaver, I would cook dried beans and freeze them for future use. Canned beans have sodium and do cost more, even if they are much cheaper than filet mignon.


So it is on its maiden voyage now. And I'm not sure if I am using it right. Fortunately, if it doesn't turn out right, I have wasted less than a dollar's worth of chick peas, as opposed to $15 worth of filet mignon.

The steam is barely escaping the pressure release valve. The burner is on low (or nearly low). But that's what the instructions were. So we will see. I am checking after an hour of cooking because when it got going the pressure was really high and I am hoping I don't run out of water. If it looks okay it has to go another 20 minutes. This is without prior soaking.


I know I can also use a crockpot and then I don't need to babysit it, but who wants a crock pot on all day in the summer? Besides, this is less electricity.

My hour is up and I am letting the pressure decrease on its own. I don't like running cold water over the pot, it just goes against my grain.

I love chick peas. Of course I love canned chick peas with the sodium, but I'm hoping I learn to adjust. I've been making a salad out of my dinners lately. I used to do this when I was on Weight Watchers. I'm not losing weight because I am not doing the other t
hings I need to do, such as not eat junk food, but it's a start!

Anyway, for example, yesterday I baked chicken breasts and made rice, peas, and a salad. So, I filled my plate with a layer of salad, sprinkled on some rice, peas, and cut up chicken. Topped with two tablespoons of dressing.

Once the salad warmed up just slightly and the cooked food cooled down to lukewarm, it was absolutely delicious.


I have leftovers for dinner tonight.

Guess what else I discovered?



This is good stuff. Full of chocolaty flavor, but not full of fat. (Still has calories though...)

It was on sale this week, will have to buy more before next week!


Checked my chick peas. They still need more time to cook, but there was plenty of water, so I am starting up the pressure cooker again for another 20 minutes. I think that's all it will need because they were edible (and not bad considering there is no salt).

Tomorrow my goal is to finally make it to the natural food store. I also want to make black beans in the pressure cooker and make a salad with the black beans and leftover chicken for dinner. I will have to buy the black beans though. That's one thing I do not have in storage.

One thing I want to try this summer but haven't yet: smoothies. I have some (over)ripe bananas in the freezer just waiting for their moment in the spotlight.

I also want to grind up some of my white wheat at my mother's house (she has an electric grinder, I just have a hand held one that I have never used) and bake some cookies etc.

Some day I will try baking bread, but right now I am not that motivated because it is summer. My mother in-law offered me her bread maker and I turned her down. I am kicking myself now.

Enough rambling for one day.

Afterthought

Next time I will soak my beans first, which should cut the cooking time by about 1/3. Why use all that electricity?

July 21, 2009

Week of July 20th 2009

Monday
S pent: BJ's $71.88, Olivers $73.35
B reakfast: chocolate chip pancakes
L unch: sandwiches, frozen pizza (everyone gets their own)
D inner: sea scallops, marinated, skewered, & grilled (something different)
rice & orzo
grilled carrots & zucchini
green salad
C ost cutting: used romaine hearts in salad instead of bagged, pre-washed. grated own carrots instead of buying grated carrot. Bought sea scallops and Newman's dressing on sale.

Tuesday
S pent: $0 Weekly Total: $145.23
B reakfast: chocolate donuts (healthy, I know. It was a summertime treat)
L unch: sandwiches (everyone gets their own)
D inner: baked chicken breasts with Parmesan cheese
basmati rice
peas
green salad
C ost cutting: used up greens, chicken breasts bought in bulk, rice on hand. Donuts purchased at warehouse store instead of Dunkin Donuts

Wednesday
S pent: $9.92 Weekly Total: $155.15
B reakfast: cereal, leftover donuts
L unch: sandwiches, spaghettios (everyone gets their own)
D inner: leftovers for some of us, Taco Bell for others. Oh, well.
C ost cutting: leftovers!
Thursday
Spent: $46.26 at the Natural Food Store and $14.63 at my local grocery store Weekly Total: $216.04
Breakfast: bagel, cereal, leftover pancakes (everyone fended for themselves)
Lunch: sandwiches, spaghettios
Dinner: frozen pizzas, hot dogs, black bean & chicken salad, corn on the cob
Cost Cutting: used leftover chicken from Tuesday for the salad
Friday
Spent: $0 Weekly Total: $216.04
Breakfast: leftover pancakes, cereal, cooked granola
Lunch: sandwiches, spaghettios (got to get Patrick to eat more variety)
Dinner: leftover pork tenderloin from the freezer, green beans, egg noodles w/ gravy, green salad
Cost Cutting: using leftovers
Saturday
Spent: $8.46 at Dunkin Donuts (an emotional reaction) Weekly Total: $224.50
Breakfast: donuts etc
Lunch: sandwiches, spaghettios
Dinner:

What Am I Going To Make For Dinner NOW???

Dinner is my nemesis. Actually, FOOD is my nemesis but we won't go there. I can't decide on a food plan because of my many sided food personality. There's the comfort food side of me like in Taste of Home. I've considered once a month cooking. I've tried E-mealz. I have my favorite blogs that feature scrumptious recipes for comfort food.
Then there is the side of me that wants to eat the whole grains, dark leafy greens, yellow & orange veggies, and legumes laden meals. The Reversing Heart Disease kind of food plan. The, if I eat this way I will be forever skinny food plan.
Then there is the part of me that wants to be able to feed my family of five (including two teenagers now, thank heavens one is a girl...) on $75 a week (instead of $300+).
So how do I reconcile all of these sides of me without blowing a gasket, or responding "I have no idea" when my kids ask me what's for dinner? This is getting on my nerves. I will gladly clean 20 toilets and fold 100 loads of laundry if I didn't have to decide what to have for dinner EVER AGAIN.
So do you want to read about my latest program? It is called the TAKE EVERYTHING I WROTE ABOVE AND INCORPORATE IT INTO ONE PROGRAM PROGRAM. And here is how it works:
  1. I read the grocery store flyers (which come on different days and include different weekly schedules, if I wasn't already crazy enough
  2. I look at what I have in my freezer/pantry/food storage
  3. I try to choose healthy items from the sales flyers
  4. I look through one or two of my THOUSANDS of cookbooks for inspiration
  5. I loosely come up with a week's worth of meals
  6. I write a shopping list
  7. I go to my warehouse store, grocery store, and natural food store
  8. I wash all of my fruit, salad makings, etc so that they get used
  9. I try to MAKE THOSE DINNERS while BEING FLEXIBLE and NOT WASTE ANY FOOD
  10. Try to include: something different, something comforting, fish, chicken, legumes, a variety of veggies.
  11. I learn from my experience in finding new (and cheaper) ways to prepare even healthier foods
  12. And I do all of this PRAYERFULLY, seeking the Lord's guidance.

Sounds easy, right? Well anyway, we'll see, we'll just have to see...

So today I looked at the flyers and I went to the warehouse store and the grocery store. Tomorrow I plan on going to the natural food store.

So far I spent $200, but that includes $32 on a new pressure cooker and $30 on a new pillow, so make that $138.

As for meats, I only bought 1 pound of sea scallops for tonight and a large package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts from the warehouse store. I am going to go back to get a roast because of this recipe, but then I hope to fill out the rest of the week with beans and stuff in the freezer (leftovers of this and that).

As far as grains, I did not buy any. I have half a bag of potatoes and tons of pasta. I have even more tons of rice. Plus I have containers of various specialty rices and couscous etc. So I won't be buying any starches (other than bread) for awhile. Tonight I used up one of my specialty rices.

Tomorrow I will go to the natural food store to buy fresh fruits and veggies. I will try not to overbuy. It is so easy to do because everything looks wonderful and it takes me forever and a day to get there and back and so why waste the trip? Well, I don't want to waste the food... So I will try to buy a variety but not a large quanity to get us through a week.

Meanwhile, I hope to have enough breakfast and lunch foods to get us through the week... I'm really going to try to make us stick to eating what we have on hand.

Oh, and one more strategy, keeping track.

May 27, 2009

Going Green Update


I've eliminated paper napkins.

We have several cloth napkins. We use napkin rings with our initials (marked with a Sharpie, nothing fancy) to keep track of our napkins. At first we were constantly throwing them in the laundry, but we have learned to be conservative with our use. Not that it matters much...there is always room for a cloth napkin or two in a laundry load.

Food Storage, Anyone?


Oh, the plans I have for myself this summer.
We'll see what I actually get to.

I just came across this WONDERFUL blog called PREPAREDNESS MATTERS.

It's full of lots of ideas on how to plan, purchase, and use food storage.

Take a look.

April 2, 2009

Going Backward to Go Forward

I just read about a great idea at Pillaging With Buffie to help weed the unworn clothes from the closet. When organizing your closet at the change of seasons (when you are presumably taking out the old season's clothes and putting in the new season's clothes), hang the hanger backwards. Only do this initially. Then, as you use clothing hang it correctly. At the end of the season (or year or whatever), anything that is still hanging backwards has not been worn in the determined amount of time AND IT'S TIME TO GET RID OF IT!!!

(She suggests we try this with our husband's clothes too. Now THAT idea is BRILLIANT.)

Now, I do change out some clothes, but I'm thinking I will designate APRIL FOOLS DAY as the day to turn all of my hangers backwards. Then next April Fools day will be the day to clean out.

There is only one problem...April Fool's day is during tax season...I may have to rethink this.

I still love the idea, Buffie. Thanks for sharing!

Psst...

I found this article at Talk About Tuesday

March 27, 2009

Girl Talk


Call it an organizational tool.

I was given this Vera Bradley bag as a gift.

First, I love bags.

They are one of my indulgences.

(Books, cookbooks, and chocolate being the other three)

But this bag, I love most of all.

Its size and shape are perfect...I can easily find all of my stuff in there.

The outside pockets are the perfect fit for my (in desperate need of a charge) cell phone.

The handle is extra wide and oh so comfortable.

Take a look for yourself.

After all, Mother's Day is just around the corner...

A Pale Shade of Green



I had been feeling guilty about the amount of paper towel we would use and throw away.
I was also feeling overwhelmed about our grocery bill.
So we decided to try to go without paper towels.
We put our open roll in the pantry.
I loaded a drawer with white terry cloth rags that I had previously purchased at my warehouse store.
And for the messy things that need to be wiped up and thrown away we use old paper. There is always plenty of that around.

It has been at least two months.

And I don't miss them at all.

Now to get rid of the paper napkins...

March 7, 2009

And We Have a Winner!


Yesterday I moved my cookbooks from one cabinet to another. One good thing about reorganizing is that you get a renewed interest in the things you are organizing and sometimes rediscover something you forgot you had. I came across a slim cookbook "Campbell's Weeknight Cooking". I think I bought it from a school fundraiser. Well, I never even used it....until tonight. I planned this week's menus with a few of its recipes. Tonight was the first one, and everybody liked it. This one will go into my permanent recipe box.

Chicken Broccoli Divan

4 cups fresh or frozen broccoli flowerets (I used fresh)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 can Campbell's Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
1/2 Cup milk
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2 Tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon butter, melted

Heat oven to 350 degrees
Arrange broccoli and chicken in a long baking dish
Stir soup and milk together and pour over chicken and broccoli
Sprinkle cheese over soup mixture
Mix bread crumbs and butter and sprinkle over the cheese
Bake for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the bread crumbs are browned. (I cooked mine for a lot longer because I am having oven and thermometer issues, and I overcooked the chicken. 40 minutes probably would have been perfect)

The cheese was just enough to give it a nice flavor without being too cheesy. The kids didn't care for the broccoli like that (they like it plain, no cheese sauce even, what is wrong with them anyway?), but the husband and I like it.

Quick, easy, yummy, everyone will eat it. That's 5 stars in this house.

March 4, 2009

I'm Just a Copy Cat

I am not a creative person, but I have the gift of recognizing a good idea when I see one! While checking out some great tips on Works for Me Wednesday I came across this great post entitled
10 Small Things That Make My Everyday Life Easier. Now, I'm all for making my life easier, and I love lists; what couldn't be better?

So here is mine:

10 (Small) Things That Make My Life Easier

  1. Bags. I have a bag for seminary. A bag for scouts. A bag for church. A bag for prizes (for seminary and scouts). All this in addition to my purse. Everything is ready to go. Lots of things have a place to go. And they are easily portable. Love my bags.
  2. Crock Pot/Slow Cooker. At the very best I can make a delectable stew, or a pot roast that does not have to be browned first. Or I can cook a chicken to have on hand. At the very least I can throw in some frozen meat along with some kind of flavored sauce and serve it with rice or noodles. Once it's cooked, that is.
  3. Blogs. And the favorites/bookmarks option. That's where I find such great ideas from some great people who are willing to share.
  4. Scriptures. I will paraphrase a great quote that keeps getting passed around: Someone keeps adding to the scriptures because every time I read them I find something new. They are full of advice you can count on. They strengthen me and prepare me for the day ahead.
  5. Prayer. I wasn't planning on putting spiritual things on this list, but I cannot help it. They matter that much. A conversation with my Father in Heaven is the best way to help my day.
  6. Calendar. I have a desk blotter type calendar on my refrigerator. With three children, scouts, dance, school activities, band, doctors, and dentists, it is an absolute must.
  7. Spiral notebooks. For note taking and list making.
  8. Small chocolate candies. In my purse. Need that pick-me-up. Dove milk chocolate with almonds is my favorite.
  9. Books/talks on cd. Now that I commute an hour a day, I am loving the time to listen to inspiring words. I also have the New Testament on cd and started using that to "read" the scripture block I will be teaching the next day in seminary. Right now I am listening to a talk on the Power of the Atonement.
  10. E-mail. I can ask people questions at any time of the day or night. I can relate information to large groups of people at one time. Think of how much time we save by not having to call 10 people about a meeting when we can write one e-mail. What did we ever do without it?

March 2, 2009

Can't Wait

(photo courtesy of 11th Heaven's Homemaking Haven)

Monday night is Family Home Evening in our house. That always includes a treat. I'd like to do something special and different each week, but even if I have plenty of energy and time, some of us are not keen about new and different things. It is also child #1's half birthday. We celebrate 1/2 birthdays around here because they fall in the dreaded Jan - March time period and we need something to celebrate then. We celebrate by having some form of cake. This should work out perfectly, even though it's new and different:

Cake Balls

from

11th Heaven's Homemaking Haven

I'm going to have to change the name to Cake Bites because my kids are just at the age to have a field day with that name.

This is one I've been waiting for awhile to try, but haven't had the time. Hooray for snow days!

p.s. I'll let you know how they are.

UPDATE: Yum, oh yum, yum, yum. They are delicious just cold and without the "dipped in chocolate" part (we didn't have time to dip them all). However my kids COMPLAINED because they were cold (from being in the freezer). But I just ate one out of the fridge that was dipped in chocolate, it was decadent. I used a devil's food cake mix (Dunkin Hines - it's the only kind I buy) but I didn't have any canned frosting so I made my own vanilla buttercream frosting. We rolled them in melted semi-sweet chocolate, but I want to melt some white chocolate and try that too.

Making Up For Last Week's Creamy Goodness

(photo courtesy of Iron Chef Vegan)

Every Monday is pasta night at our house. I've always wanted to assign every weekday a theme for dinner but well, just haven't. At least not yet. But Monday is a guaranteed pasta night, which makes Monday something for my kids to look forward to instead of dread for obvious reasons.

I've been wanting to make this sauce for awhile, but since it takes time to cook and I've been working, I haven't had the chance. Today, however, we are snowed in (WHEN will Spring get here anyway?), and therefore an opportunity has arisen. Horray.

This recipe comes from and older edition of The American Heart Association Cookbook.

Lentil Spaghetti (Pasta) Sauce
(by the way, I always double the recipe and freeze the leftovers)
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic glove, minced
1 T olive oil
1 1/2 C dried lentils, washed
dried hot red pepper to taste
pepper
4 C beef broth
1/4 t basil
1/4 t oregano
1 16 oz can tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 T vinegar

Saute onion and garlic in oil for 5 minutes
Add lentils, peppers, broth
Cover & simmer 30 minutes
Add remaining ingredients, simmer uncovered 1 hour
Stir occasionally

Sometimes I omit the oregano and add chili powder and serve over rice.

My husband and I love this. My kids won't eat it out of principle. But they will eat the pasta. They take care of their own toppings.

By the way, the above picture is not of this particular recipe, but it looks just like it.


Four Out of Five Ain't Bad


(Photo courtesy of Google)

Last night I made chicken soup by winging it. I don't wing it too often. Now, this blog is not supposed to show off what a great cook/homemaker I am, it is to share what I've learned, and to help me remember what I've done that works and what doesn't. So, I'm going to tell you the good and the bad. Here is how to make it in three levels of detail:

Christy's Easy 4 Out of 5 Chicken Soup

Chicken
Chicken broth
Carrots
Celery
Onion
Rice

Simmer the chicken in chicken broth until done...you can use frozen chicken, just simmer longer. Skim frothy junk off top.
Take out chicken.
Strain broth and put back in pot.
Chop carrots, celery, and onion fine, or better yet, use an electric chopper to make your life easier.
Throw the super chopped vegetables into the chicken broth.
Add uncooked rice.
Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop up chicken into small pieces (use that electric chopper already!)
When timer goes off after 15 minutes, add chicken to pot, heat through and voila, you are done.

Now, I like chunky soup, but on a whim I chopped everything up fine to appeal to my picky eaters and it worked. Something about everything being small made it easier to handle eating stuff-all-put-together-and-not-separated-or-even-touching.

Okay, here are the specifics, if you are like me and have to know EXACTLY what I did:

First, I buy large packages of Purdue boneless, skinless chicken at my wholesale club (I go to BJ'S). This chicken comes in individual 1/2 (or thereabout) pound packages. I love them because I throw them all in the freezer and then easily take out as much as I want. They are sealed in a heavy plastic which makes it very easy to get the chicken out of the packaging while still frozen. Just run it under hot water for 5 seconds, cut off the end and slide out. I had both boneless thighs and tenderloins so I took out some of each. I used three packages.

Now this is where it gets costly. I buy the cartons of chicken broth (much better than canned IMO). You could use water and bouillon cubes but I've done this before and it is more oily, blah. You could also start with a whole chicken, make your own broth, etc, but then you can forget about the quick and easy part. Pour in enough broth to cover chicken.

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer (near low) for 30 minutes (because they were frozen solid). Another advantage to chopping the chicken up fine is if you overcooked it no one will notice if it's tough. Or, if you undercooked it it will easily finish cooking when you put it back in the soup.

I used 4 medium carrots, about 5 small celery stalks, and a medium onion. The advantage to chopping the onion really small is that picky eaters may not see it.

I used 2 cups of rice (I had about 8 cups of broth). This was too much. We wound up with chicken and rice. No soup. It was still good though. You could cook the rice separate but then it wouldn't get the advantage of the chicken broth and it would make more work. My youngest reminded me AFTER I put in the rice that I promised I would use the pasta stars I have in the pantry the next time I made soup. So, you could use small pasta too. I have no idea how much you would want to put in. When I do make it I'll probably cook it separately, or follow a recipe.

This made tons of food. And four out of 5 in my family not only ATE it, but actually LIKED it.


Dinner Anyone?


(photo courtesy of Sandra @ www.fullbellies.blogspot.com)

Last week I made two meals. TWO. It was one of those weeks.
But one of the reasons I only made two is because we had lots of leftovers.
One that I made was this yummy goodness from Sandra.

Virginia's Baked Spaghetti

I should write some kind of review, I suppose. It was creamy, cheesy, hardy, warm, and delicious. How's that? Sandra warns that this recipe makes a lot, and she is right. It took three dinners for us to finish it. This is being archived under potlucks and missionary dinners. The only thing I would do differently is break up the spaghetti into small pieces before cooking (or cut it up after cooking). You could also use a different pasta, but it might not fit in the dish if you are cooking a full recipe because other pastas are bulkier.

Check out Sandra's cooking blog, Full Bellies, Happy Kids for more delicious recipes. Let me know if you try anything else.

January 29, 2009

My Laundry Routine

Why am I telling you this?

Because it works for me, so why not share?

I love schedules - they motivate me to get things done - and let's face it, housework is not very exciting - which is another reason for this blog - talking about it and reading about it are motivators also.

I have bounced back and forth between a designated laundry day and a load-a-day strategy.

I have a well and septic, which does not fare well with doing laundry all at once, but I do have a front-loader washer which uses much less water and makes it feasible.

I used to spend Mondays planning meals and grocery shopping while my washer and dryer did the work.

However, I have switched to the load or two-a-day method for two reasons:


The dirty clothing piles take up less room

and

We can get away with less clothing (not on our bodies, but in our closets) because it is not "tied up" in a dirty laundry pile.

So, here is my laundry schedule which I just perfected:

Monday - colored clothing
Tuesday - towels
Wednesday - colored clothing
Thursday - whites & lights
Friday - colored clothing
Saturday - towels and sheets
Sunday - a day of rest for me, the washer & the dryer

My plan during tax season is to get a load in before I leave for early-morning seminary and have them dried, folded, and put away before I leave for work.

Now some might think I need a life for spending time contemplating a good laundry schedule, but is very helpful when your teenager tells you his/her favorite jeans have to be washed immediately and you can respond - "you know the schedule".

Now, to just stick to it...

Getting those Yellow Veggies

I've had various winter squashes (that word just doesn't seem right) sitting in my pantry for a month(s). I buy them because I know they are good for you, and I actually like them, but... I've never mastered the art of cooking them. Once in awhile I'll buy it from the store already peeled and cut in chunks, but I'm trying to save some $$$ and cut up chunks of squash do not last long in one's pantry, certainly not a month(s). So, behold, I found some great info on one of my favorite blogs The Lazy Organizer. She wrote a post on making baby food, which is not necessary in my house, as my kids are ages 15, 12, and 10, and we all still have our teeth, but within that post she wrote about steaming the squash. Follow the link - she has great pictures.


So, I steamed it, peeled it, mashed it up with a fork, and added butter and brown sugar. It hit 3 out of 4 of my "what will make me want to try it" criteria (in order of importance), it was


easy

quick

tasty

The only one it missed was

my kids will eat it

Trust me, there are not many things that make that category.

This post was part of the Lazy Organizer's Talk about Tuesday carnival.

Give it a look.

Oh, and if you have a hard time cutting up the uncooked squash, it helps to have a sharp knife. But you probably already knew that.
I have to learn things the hard way.