Computer Problems

Arrrggh! No internet!

Arrrggh! No internet!

Sorry I’ve disappeared lately. We’re having problems with our internet connection. I should be backonline soon! Look for a new post Monday!

November 21, 2008 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

Menu Plan Monday

It’s time for Menu Plan Monday over at I’m an Organizing Junkie once again. Here’s this week’s plan:

Monday: Basketball Game! Buffalo Wing Soup and sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks with dip

Tuesday: No School! Baja-Style Fish Tacos, Mexican Chicken Soup

Wednesday: Sausage Rice, Salad

Thursday: Basketball Game! Peking Chicken Pizza, Tossed Salad

Friday: Chicken and Black Bean Taquitos with Adobo Sour Cream, leftover Mexican Chicken Soup

Saturday: Mediterranean-style Burgers with Rosemary Mayo, Greek Salad

Sunday: Grandma’s Birthday!

November 10, 2008 at 8:07 am Leave a comment

Pizza Gets My Vote!

kate-and-lily-at-the-polls-11-4-081

Pizza can be healthy, as well as economical … if you make your own. It can also be customized to suit your occasion or your family’s varied tastes, so pizza can be a valuable tool in your frugal arsenal. There are several options when it comes to pizza dough. Pillsbury sells a pre-made refrigerated dough and you can also find frozen balls of pizza dough in the freezer section of your grocery store. Pre-baked crusts are also available. The most economical (and tastiest!) way is to make your own. A little flour. Some yeast. Salt. Sugar. And you have it. Try a few dough recipes until you find one you like. Prepare ahead and you can have a delicious meal on the table in very little time and with little cost.

Here are a few pizza dough recipes to get you started:

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough from Culinary in the Desert

Pizza Dough from A Year in Bread

Brown-Eyed Bake’s Pizza Dough Recipe

Pizza Dough from Judy’s Gross Eats

After a hectic day of after-school activities and all the election day brouhaha, I tried a new pizza recipe that was a hit with my family: Peking Chicken Pizza. The pizza was delicious and quick since I used pizza dough from my freezer and leftover chicken. This is a great example of how thinking outside the box can turn a simple meal into something extra special.

peking-pizza

Peking Chicken Pizza
Recipe from Culinary in the Desert (Adapted from Rachael Ray)

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and fresh ground black pepper
cornmeal, for dusting
12 or 16 ounces prepared whole-wheat pizza dough
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons plum sauce
3 tablespoons barbecue sauce
6 ounces shredded Monterey Jack
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
3 tablespoons chopped orange bell pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a pizza stone placed on the lowest rack.

Heat a grill pan over high – drizzle oil over chicken and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Grill chicken, turning once, until done – about 4 to 6 minutes on each side. Remove and let cool. Slice into very thin strips.

Sprinkle enough cornmeal to slightly cover a pizza peel. Stretch and roll out dough to a rough 12″ circle on a lightly floured surface and transfer to the cornmeal-dusted peel. Sprinkle the edges of the dough with sesame seeds. Spread plum sauce and barbecue sauce over the pizza – arrange the sliced chicken on top and scatter with the cheese. Sprinkle the top with the scallions and peppers. Slide pizza onto the stone and bake until the crust is golden and the cheese has melted, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.

Makes about 4 to 6 servings.

November 5, 2008 at 12:13 pm Leave a comment

A Pantry is a Wonderful thing

When we first looked at this house, I was thrilled with the 2 acre yard, the old red barn in back and the big old trees shading the house. When I saw the big kitchen, I was ecstatic. But when I saw the pantry … I was sold. At some point the pantry had been a full bathroom. Tub, sink, the whole nine yards and a spacious bathroom at that. Due to pipes that often froze, the former owners took out the bathroom and replaced it with a *huge* pantry.

I’d grown up with a good pantry. My parents grew most of the food we ate. We raised our own beef and on a couple of occasions (still seared into my brain) chickens. My mom always had a huge garden and put up corn, beans, tomatoes, strawberries. We even raised our own popcorn! We had apple and pear trees, a grape arbor and persimmon trees. There wasn’t much we had to buy at the store. So I’d always wanted a nice-sized pantry.

Having a nicely stocked pantry can save you both time and money. It lets you keep ingredients on hand so that you don’t need to make an expensive run to the grocery store at the last minute. It gives you flexibility in your meal planning. I have several meals that I can make strictly from pantry ingredients. I keep those ingredients on hand all the time. If unexpected guests show up or we end up at home for a meal I’d planned to be somewhere else, I can pull together a healthy meal quickly and inexpensively. Rachael Ray’s Smoky Black Bean and Rice Stoup is a great pantry meal. Jambalaya Pasta is another family favorite that I can usually throw together on a moment’s notice.

Having a pantry also allows you to take advantage of great sales when you find them. When I find a good price on certain items, I always buy as many as I can. I stock up on things like fire-roasted diced tomatoes or chicken stock that I know I’ll be using week after week. Pasta often goes on sale. I enjoy using unusual pasta shapes instead of the regular spaghetti or elbow macaroni. When I find something unuasual, I always pick it up. Using mafaldo or buccatini can make that ordinary pasta dish seem extra special without spending extra money.

My pantry also allows me the space to keep unusual ingredients to help make our meals more special. A couple times a year we find ourselves making the two-hour tip to a town that has a Trader Joe’s. I love TJ’s. There are so many exotic items that we never find out here in the rural Midwest. I have a shelf full of things like vindaloo paste and mango chutney. (To die for with some Fried Green Tomatoes with an Indian Twist!) I have soba noodles and lemon curd. Thai, Mexican, Cajun, Italian. My pantry is a lot of things but it certainly isn’t boring!

I take advantage of sales and try to keep my pantry well-stocked at all times. My pantry is full of onions (red and yellow), garlic, potatoes (sweet, gold and russet). Salsas, chutneys and salad dressings. Herbs, spices or flavorings. Vinegars, wines, honeys.  Canned tomatoes: stewed, diced, fire-roasted, crushed. You name it. I have it. If I watch a show on Food Network and want to recreate the recipe, odds are I have most of the ingredients or at least a close substitute. All without running to the store. And most are purchased inexpensively. Places like Aldi’s, Big Lots or dollar stores can be invaluable sources for unusual and inexpensive ingredients. You can often find small bottles of herbs and spices for under a dollar. Balsamic Vinegar or olive oil can also be found inexpensively. Also check sale tables and “Manager’s Specials” at your local grocery stores. I’ve found many great things marked down half or more simple becaus ethese extras didn’t fit on the newly re-arranged shelves or because the store was no longer buying for that particular vendor.

A well-stocked pantry not only saves you time, it can also save you money!

November 3, 2008 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

Menu Plan Monday (A Little Early!)

One of the best ways to save money when grocery shopping is to make a list and stick to it. In order to do that, you need to know what you are going to be making. Taking a few minutes every week to jot down a menu for the week can cut down all of those last minute shopping trips that always result in several impulse buys. I try to take a few minutes every weekend to look through all the recipes I’ve bookmarked through the week and pick a few to try. I look at the calender so I know which nights we’ll be out or in a hurry so that I can plan accordingly. For instance, if I know we have the early basketball game, I might plan a meal around a crock pot recipe so that it will be ready when we come home. If I know that one night we’re going out or eating a meal at someone else’s home, I won’t plan a meal for that night and that way I won’t have food left in the refrigerator going to waste. I’m also flexible. I usually list 6 or 7 meals each week but I feel free to switch things around if the need arises. If suddenly I find that we’ll have dinner guests, I might switch to a pasta dish or something that stretches well and serve the chicken I’d originally planned on another night. If pork chops don’t sound good for some reason, I’ll switch nights and make pizza instead. I also keep my options open and might switch Thursday night from Fried Chicken to Blackened Chicken if we’re in the mood for something spicy. The goal is to actually use up what I buy for the week. I also pay attention when I’m shopping and adjust accordingly if there is a really good sale at the store. If chicken breasts are on sale, I might switch in another chicken dish instead of a beef or pork meal.

A good place to look for menu planning ideas is over at I’m an Organizing Junkie who hosts a weekly Menu Plan Monday Blogging Event. Check it out for lots of great ideas.

Here’s my plan for the week:

Monday: Basketball game! Florentine Frying Pan Pizza, salad

Tuesday: Basketball Game! Slow-cooked Pulled Pork Sandwiches, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese

Wednesday: Grilled Mozzerella Sandwiches with Tomato and Basil Tortellini Soup or Zesty Black Bean Soup

Thursday: Leftovers! I’m going to the Taste of Home Cooking Show!

Friday: Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup/Chicken Soup, bread, green salad

Saturday: Taco Night!

Sunday: Blasted Chicken, mashed butternut squash, salad

November 2, 2008 at 10:44 am 1 comment

Soup: A Quick and Inexpensive Meal

Soup makes an easy and inexpensive meal any time of the year.

Soup makes an easy and inexpensive meal any time of the year.

I like to save money, but with four kids I’m all about the quick and easy. Soup is a great way to fix a healthy, homemade meal for your family and save both time and money. Soup is easy to make. It can be made out of virtually anything in your refrigerator or pantry. It’s very forgiving. Out of parsnips? Throw in a potato. Have some celery going bad in the crisper? Throw it in! Have a two year-old that loves carrots? Throw some in! Best of all, you can easily make a larger batch of soup for only a little more money. Since soup is generally better the second day anyway, make a double batch and serve it for lunch through the week or even freeze some for a quick weeknight dinner when you aren’t up to cooking.

My favorite soup started out as a way to have the Olive Garden’s Zuppa Tuscana at home. As I played around with the recipe, it became less like the restaurant version and turned into a family favorite. Chock full of leafy, green kale and chunks of potatoes, this soup is inexpensive to make and to cut the cost even further you can use homemade broth and can cut back on the amount of sausage used in the soup. Don’t leave out the sausage though. The flavor of the soup depends mainly on the taste of the sausage so use sausage that you love. We find that the spicier, the better. You add just a touch of cream, just to give it a creamy look, not enough to add a lot of extra fat and calories. You can also use milk if you prefer.

Here are a few more delicious soup recipes to add to your repertoire:

  • Simple White Bean Soup from Simple Daily Recipes is quick, easy and filling.
  • Sopa Aguada (Mexican Pasta Soup) from What’s Cooking? is simple to make and can easily be adapted to the tastes of your family. Odds are, you have everything to make this one in your pantry right now!
  • Bean, Bacon and Chicken Soup from Karin Calloway is another one of our family favorites. I ofen use leftover chicken and whatever bacon I have on hand in this one. Feel free to play around with the proprtions to suit your budget.
  • Ecuadorian Locro from She’s Becoming Doughmesstic is a potato soup I made recently and I think it has to be my favorite potato soup recipe of all time. The recipe called for Muenster cheese (which I had in my fridge left over from another recipe.) It added a unique flavor to the soup though I think the recipe would hold up with any other cheese.
  • How about a hearty bowl of French Onion Soup? It always hits the spot and can easily be topped with leftover bread and whatever cheese you have on hand. I often use fewer onions than the recipe calls for, depending on how many I have on hand or if onions are on sale that week.

Teresa’s Toscana Soup

4 cups chicken stock or broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more, depending on your tastes)
1 medium russet potato, scrubbed
2-3 cups Kale, chopped
1/2 pound spicy Italian Sausage
1 tablespoon heavy cream (more or less)

Place stock in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add salt and pepper flakes, adjusting for your tastes. More pepper flakes if you prefer a spicier dish, fewer if you don’t.

Cut the un-peeled potato in half, then into 1/4 inch slices and then cut those slices in half and add them to the soup.

Add the kale.

Brown the sausage. Drain and add the sausage to the soup.

Let the soup simmer until the potatoes are soft. Stir occasionally.

Add cream, stir and remove from heat.

Serve immediately topped with Parmesan cheese.

October 29, 2008 at 8:15 am 2 comments

Sometimes All You Have to Do is Ask

Yes. We even got our cat Bella and our purebredd German Short-Haired Pointer Sophie for free!

Yes. We even got our cat, Bella and our purebred German Short-Haired Pointer, Sophie for free!

There’s something to be said for being open and honest. After all, what do you have to gain by pretending all is well in your financial world? These days, who isn’t struggling financially? I’m not suggesting that you go out begging for things, just that you open yourself up to taking advantage of happy opportunities. 😉

We spend a lot of time shopping at garage sales and thrift stores and often talk to friends and family about our adventures. We talk about bargains we’ve found and things we’re still looking for. Because people know what we are looking for and because they know we are open to previously-owned items, we’ve “lucked” into quite a few wonderful — and free — surprises:

  • Tons of hand-me-down clothes and toys from friends and family for the kids. Such a great help, especially when the kids were small.
  • A new (to me) computer desk given to me by our neighbor who was moving.
  • Loads of produce from a neighbors garden.
  • Several nice filing cabinets and a desk from a national politician’s local office after the last election.
  • A big mirror to go over the vanity in our bathroom (and one for the girl’s room too) when a local hotel was doing a big remodel.
  • A beautiful wooden king-sized headboard and frame.
  • A hot tub given to us by an acquaintance who was getting a new tub. The delivery people would haul away the old one when they brought the new one but if we’d take it out before they came, we could have it. It had been used in the house and was just like new.
  • A Ford Explorer! Yep. Free! My hubby’s boss had one about the same year as ours. He was looking to get rid of his and when he heard that ours needed a new transmission, he gave us his to use as parts. When it got here, it turned out his was in much better shape all around so we drove it and got rid of the original one!

Those are things we’ve gotten for free — just by opening ourselves up to the possibilities. Sure I could just run to the mall for the kid’s clothes or to the grocery store for produce but when you look at the money we’ve saved, you can see how the money we’ve saved by looking outside the box has improved our quality of life.

Put the word out. What do you need? Firewood? There’s probably someone out there willing to give you the wood if you chop it up and/or haul it away. Need new kitchen cabinets? Lots of people tear out perfectly good cabinets because they are tired of them or they don’t care for the style. A friend was able to carpet her (large) family room for free when she was able to find a carpet that had been incorrectly installed in someone’s house. The carpet store came back and replaced it and was just going to throw the brand new carpet away.

At the same time, what do you have laying around that you aren’t using? Is there someone out there who would be thrilled to have it? Wouldn’t you be thrilled to stop tripping over it?You know what they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! Let people know what you want. You never know, you may just get something you need! A good place to start looking is Freecycle. Freecycle is a great way to fid just what you were looking for (or to find a home for some of that clutter piling up around you!) Be sure to check out your local Freecycle group.

Have you ever gotten something really great for free? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

October 28, 2008 at 9:50 am Leave a comment

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About Me

I'm a stay-at-home mom with four great kids, three cats and two dogs. I want to live the good life but I want to save money too and I'm not willing to live on boxes of mac 'n cheese and hamburger helper to do it! I deserve to have a life ... a good life!

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