Friday, July 29, 2011

Breakfast Ideas!

I had posted some general grocery planning tips earlier with the promise of a follow up.  I suddenly realized that I never did follow up, so here goes...

When planning out my week's worth of grocery items, I usually go whole-hog with the dinner planning.  I plan the entree, any sides, and any dessert for the whole week.  Lunch and breakfast are a little more nebulous.  For this post I'll cover some of the normal breakfast items I always have on hand.  There are so many options to choose from, so don't feel like you have to have the same thing every day.  Shop the sales, eat what you have, and switch it up according to your tastes.

We generally keep the more extravagant breakfasts to eat as a dinner...we love breakfasts for dinner.  Here are some of our normal breakfasts that we actually eat at breafast time.

cereal (I never pay more than $1.50 per box)
pop tarts (only for hubby who has to eat on the go)
yogurt and bananas
apples and peanut butter
cream of wheat
scrambled eggs and fruit
fried eggs and fruit
cheese omelet and tomato slices
breakfast burritos
muffins...all kinds
french toast
english muffins with melted cheese or peanut butter
hard boiled eggs, toast, fruit
cold pizza! (this one's just for me! no one else in my family is weird enough for that)

I always try to add in a serving of fruit in the mornings, as well as some milk or other dairy.  Most of these options take little to no time to whip up, but alter any combinations to fit your family.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Barbecue Pork Shoulder Roast

As I've been looking through the recipes I've posted, I've realized that there aren't many meats on yet.  Granted, it's a pretty rare thing for us to have a really meat-heavy meal, but I do try to do a 'meat and potatoes' type of dinner at least once a week.  Here's what we're having tonight.  It's a crockpot recipe of my own, so it's a nice pick for these steamy summer days.

Barbecue Pork Shoulder Roast

2 to 4 lb. pork shoulder roast
1 can tomato soup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. parsley
1 Tbs. chili powder
1/2 cup vinegar
1 tsp. celery salt
1 tsp. garlic powder

Place roast in the crockpot on high.  Mix the remaining ingredients together.  Pour over the roast.  Cook on high 1 hour, then low 8 hours.  I like to flip the roast halfway through, but it's not necessary.  Shred any leftovers in the sauce for a pretty yummy pulled pork sandwich.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cucmber Snacks

Hey, it's Christine again from  I have a burning question for you . . . Do you long for salty snacks?  At the same time, do you wish that you ate healthier?   I have the perfect solution for you , and it won't cost you much either.

You Need

Yep, that's it.  Peel and slice your cucumbers.  Place in a bowl and cover with cold water.  Salt generously.  I don't have a measurement.  I just threw in a few teaspoons until the water tasted salty.  Refrigerate until the craving for salty strikes.  Pull out those bad boys, and eat up. 

I love these, and they are a fantastic snack.  I grew up with my mom making these for snack and lunch often.   If you like the vinegar taste, you can exchange it for the salt.  These are a healthy substitute for chips and way more refreshing.  They are in season now, so they are quite reasonably priced.  If you happen to grow them in your garden, or have a gardening girl or guy for a friend, they are free for the picking!  Enjoy!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Zucchini Bread

Here is another of my Mom-in-law's awesome recipes.  It is really tasty, and it's a great way to use up zucchini and summer squash if you happen to have productive plants going crazy.  This makes two loaves, so give one away or freeze it for later. 

I'm posting this today for my friend Cindy, who is also a great cook.  A recipe request from her is a great compliment!

Zucchini Bread

2 cups zucchini, shredded
1 cup oil
3 eggs
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup nuts, optional
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla

Mix together well.  Grease 2 loaf pans.  Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Frugal French Toast

Hey, it's Christine from here.  I'm sitting here contemplating one of my favorite breakfasts.  I'm a sucker for a sweet breakfast, and this one has won it's way into my heart in part because it is dirt cheap.  The fact that it tastes great helps, too! 

The reason that it is dirt cheap is because I make it on Wednesday.  Why Wednesday?  Because I shop for the bread on Tuesday, of course.   You're still wondering?  Well, last week's bread is marked down on managers' special on Tuesday at my local store.  I just stop by, pick up a few cheap loaves and make Frugal French Toast the next day.  Here's how to go about it.

You Need
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
a sprinkle of cinnamon
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
margarine, or cooking oil to coat pan
Nonstick skillet or griddle
5 or 6 slices (old) bread

Butter, Powdered Sugar, and Syrup (optional, but really, why the fuss if you're not going all out?)

Beat together the eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and granulated sugar.  Dip bread into egg mixture, coating both sides.  Place in a hot skillet or on a heated griddle.  (I set my griddle to about 325 degrees.)  Heat for 2 or 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. 

Serve with a pat of butter or margarine, a spinkle of powdered sugar and a drizzle of syrup.  My kids go crazy for this breakfast.  The pretty show of sugar and syrup lets me trick their cute little minds (and mine) into thinking there is more sugar and syrup than there actually is on those slices.

If you love fast freezer meals like I do, cook more than you'll use.  I cook a whole loaf at a time.  Then I place enough pieces for a meal in a one plastic bag.  When the kids want French toast, I pull out the bag and microwave for 15-30 seconds to loosen the pieces.  Then I put the individual pieces in the toaster and toast until they are hot and crispy.  They taste just as good as the first time around!

Have a lovely day!
~ Christine

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Coconut Lemon Layer Bars

We just returned from my mother-in-law's house, where there are always all sorts of delectable treats.  Here's one that we made together to try out her new microplane grater, which is, by the way a really cool gadget.  This is a light and yummy summer treat...perfect for the sweltering heat here in the middle US.

Coconut Lemon Layer Bars

2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
6 Tbs. butter, melted
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 Tbs. grated lemon peel, can add a little more if using fresh
3 Tbs. lemon juice
1 egg
6 oz. white chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened flake coconut
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place vanilla wafer crumbs and butter in a medium bowl.  stir until combined.  Press mixture into a 9 x 13 pan.

Beat cream cheese, lemon peel, lemon juice, and egg until smooth.  Spread evenly over the crumb mixture.

Layer with chips, coconut, and nuts.  Press down firmly.

Bake 25-30 minutes until lightly brown.

Refrigerate and serve cool.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Note for Allergy Victims...

I got some new contact lenses at Sam's Club the other day and needed to wait a few minutes before I made the traffic world face my post-exam driving.  So, I did what every other normal cheapskate would do...walk around randomly pricing things.  I meandered into the cold/allergy medication aisle, and was astonished to find a fantastic deal on Adult 24 hour Zyrtec.  This was for the Member's Mark generic, which works great in children's syrup at least.  (I happen to know, because I just bought 8 oz of children's 24 hour allergy syrup there for around $5 the previous week for my two sneezy princesses.)  There were 350 full strength 24 hour tablets for under $18.  That's nearly a year's supply at the cost of about a month's supply of name brand Zyrtec at a regular store!  It really pays to shop around.  Any comments on the effectiveness of this med?

Oh, also...sometimes Sam's Club will have great deals like that for a while, then they will mysteriously disappear for eternity.  Check your club out and hopefully it'll hold true for you.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mexican Lasagna

Hannah has given me permission to share some of my favorite dishes with you.  I am so excited to tell you about this dish.  Somewhere between baby 2 and baby 3, I acquired a great love of Mexican flavors.  I could eat Mexican(ish) food many nights a week and not grow weary of the cumin, chili,  and tomato flavors.  One of my newest finds is a healthy, but still delicious, Mexican Lasagna. 
~ Christine

You will need
1 pound ground turkey (beef is fine, but this is my lean, cheap meal)
16 oz homemade, fat-free refried beans (canned is fine, but add some water to thin it out)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 or 2 teaspoons cumin, to taste (I love cumin, so I added closer to 2 teaspoons)
3/4 teaspoons garlic powder
9 uncooked lasagna noodles
1 jar (16 oz) salsa - medium worked best - mild was just too blah
2 cups water (or just fill the salsa jar again)
8-12 oz shredded cheese (Colby Jack, Cheddar, or my favorite is a Mexican blend)

sour cream
black olives, drained
Mexican-blend cheese (or whatever you used in the lasagna)
chives or green onion, chopped

Brown the turkey and drain.  Add spices and refried beans  and heat through.
 (For homemade beans, Hannah gave me the best way to cook them in this article  The basics are the same - rinse, soak overnight, cook for hours in your slow cooker until they're soft.  To make this really good for Mexican food, I followed her advice and added cumin, garlic (powder is okay), onion (powder or dried works too), oregano, chili powder, pepper and salt, as they cooked.  I didn't measure, but just threw in a lot until it smelled divine.  Then I used the leftover, spiced water as I pureed them in the blender.  I made them a little more thin than normal and it really helped for this dish.  The flavor was amazing.

Place three noodles in a 9 x 13 pan coated with nonstick cooking spray.  Put a layer of the meat bean mixture and then sprinkle some cheese.  Repeat the layers and then top with the remaining noodles.  Combine the salsa and water and pour over the noodles.  Sprinkle a little more cheese on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until the noodles are tender.  Cut to serve and top with sour cream, olives, cheese and chives.  (Each person can add topping as they desire.)

This is amazing.  My entire (picky) family loves it, and the leftovers (if you have any) are even better.  Your can serve this with a salad and chips and salsa.  Enjoy!

~ Adapted from Light and Tasty

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Toasty Turkey Subs

We tried this for lunch today and it was really tasty!  It's a good way to use up a little leftover produce or meat slices.  Feel free to vary the ingredients a little.

Toasty Turkey Subs

Colby Jack Cheese
Honey Turkey
Pepperoni slices
Orange Pepper
Red Onion
Roma Tomatoes

Turn the broiler on high.  Slice the pepper and onion very thin and spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Slice the tomatoes fairly thickly and add to the cookie sheet.  Add it to the broiler, making sure to watch carefully that the vegetables don't dry out.

Meanwhile, open each hoagie and spread each half with mayonaise.  Add cheese to one side, turkey and pepperoni to the other side.  When the veggies are tender, take them out and put the hoagies in.  Broil until cheese is bubbly, being careful not to burn them.

When they are finished, add the veggies to the hoagies and put the halves back together again.  Slice them in the middle for easier handling.  You can add lettuce or basil if desired.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Harvest is Here!

I'm very happy to report that I've officially begun harvesting some of my summer vegetables.  The lettuce has one more good cutting before it's all gone, but seemingly over night the other plants have really started to produce.  Today we pulled some baby carrots, a handful of grape tomatoes, and one summer squash.

Here's an economic look at gardening.  My one summer squash was probably about 1 1/2 pounds.  Even with the sale price of summer squash hitting last year's rock bottom price, I've already paid for the entire packet of seeds I bought with a friend.  There's already another sizeable squash growing, as well as two zucchinis which cost me 80 cents a pack last year.  So I'll pay nothing for them...

The four grape tomato plants were 25 cents each, so all I need to do is make it up to 1/4 pint to make up that cost...really about two small handfuls.

The cucumbers are really a stroke of money luck.  Two years ago, I bought one pack of cucumber seeds for less than a dollar.  Last year and this year, the plants have self-seeded (perhaps because I miss some old cucumbers under the vine?).  They are very hardy and productive.  I can't even tell you how many shopping bagfuls of cucumbers we've eaten over the two previous years!  We have about five that will be ready soon again this year.

Mostly we just like gardening for the fun of it and the taste of the produce, but it can really pay off if you put in the work.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chicken Quesadillas

These days everyone makes some version of chicken quesadillas or other.  Mine were just so-so until last night's attempt to amp them up.  They turned out great!  They use very little meat, but were so filling and yummy.  Here's my inexact recipe for last night's quesadillas.

Chicken Quesadillas

1 large boneless chicken breast
1 Tbs. chili powder
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 red onion, minced
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
cheddar cheese
12 small tortillas

Rub the chicken breast with the chili powder.  Let chicken marinate a few hours if you have time.  Cook chicken by your preferred method...grilling is great for this.  Dice chicken into small chunks.

Stir together the tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, salt, and garlic powder.

Heat a pan or griddle with a little canola oil.  When it's hot, layer a tortilla with the desired amount of cheese, add a little chicken, and a little of the tomato mixture.  Place a tortilla on top.  Let cook until tortilla is brown, then flip and cook the other side until brown.  Repeat until you use up all ingredients.

Let it cool for a minute, then cut into four triangles.  A pizza cutter works great.  Serve with sour cream and salsa.  You can, of course use larger tortillas if you want...just fold them in half instead of using two separate tortillas.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chicken Fried Rice

I had a bit of leftover cooked chicken in the refrigerator last night.  I have to admit, it wasn't enough to really make it work for a normal entree, and yet I didn't want to waste it.  Here's what  I did...I made chicken fried rice.  All you need here is the method, then you can swap out whatever you need to use up from your refrigerator.

First, cook and cool some rice.

Shred your meat.  I had five drumsticks worth, which I cut into small pieces, then doused with some leftover Asian salad dressing.  You don't have to do that, I just figured, why not?

Heat your wok or large non-stick pan with a few tablespoons of oil.  Sesame oil would be awesome, but I opted for canola.  It's what I had on hand, and it has a high smoke point.  You want that wok fairly hot.

Throw in some chopped vegetables and cook until crisp-tender.  We used carrots, celery, and onions.  I wish I had used some edamame...that would have been awesome, but we didn't.

When the veggies are cooked, if you have any fresh ginger or garlic, mince it up and pitch it in, but be careful not to overdo it.

Add in your cooled rice.  Once it warms up, the clumps will come out.  Grab some soy sauce or teriyaki sauce and splash it on a little at a time.  Keep stirring until the rice is brown.  Make sure you taste it every now and then to make sure the salt isn't too killer strong.  It will mellow out a little as the rice absorbs, but be careful. If it's tasting salty enough, but you need more liquid, add in a little water instead.  Also...if you didn't have fresh garlic, now is the time to throw on garlic powder, but please not garlic salt! 

When the rice has absorbed the desired amount of liquid, add in the cooked chicken.  Stir to incorporate and warm through.  Let it cook for an additional minute or two.  If you really want to, you can beat a couple eggs and add them in, stirring until they're cooked.  I chose not to.  It doesn't seem to add a whole lot to me, and after all, eggs are almost twice the cost they were a year ago.  Sigh...

Cut up some scallions, if you feel like it and add it to the top.  You're done.  This reheats well, and would freeze well in individual portions, too.  A whole meal out of just a little bit of chicken!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A note on lettuce...

I have a non-frugal confession.  I simply adore those plastic boxes of organic, prewashed baby lettuce blends, especially the spring mix ones.  They are so pretty and tasty, and the lettuce actually has a flavor.  It is usually a splurge for me, but occasionally I buy one.  In order to stretch it for the family, and also to mellow out the flavors for the little guys, I like to also buy a cheap head of plain old Iceburg lettuce as well, and tear up a few leaves in with the beautiful lettuce.  It keeps enough flavor to make the lettuce special, but stretches it out and makes it mild enough for the kids.  If you can't grow your own, try to make the special lettuces last.  Happy salad season!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Peachberry Cream Slushie

Here's another slushie the kids and I came up with to use up some of our quickly ripening fruit.  Do you ever scratch your head about what to do with the last two or three strawberries?  Try this one on for size.  If you use 'non-dairy topping' instead of the regular Cool Whip, you'll make this a great dessert for those of you who can't handle the milk products.

Peachberry Cream Slushie

1 1/2 cups frozen peaches
6 small strawberries
3/4 cup Cool Whip
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbs. sugar
5 ice cubes

Blend and enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Grill Day!

Today is one of the all-time great grilling days out there.  My family loves to do the grilled burger thing.  For years, I've tried to imitate my mother-in-law's amazing burger mix to no avail.  I don't know why, but I just can't get that perfect balance of salty yumminess!  I decided to try to do my own thing, and boy did it pay off.  Here's what we put in our burger mix:
     meat (obviously)
     seasoned salt
     Worcestershire sauce
      a good hit of A1.

Just a little of each goes a long way, because I've discovered that if the mix is too wet, it will be totally obliterated on the grill. 

What's your favorite meat mix?

Friday, July 1, 2011

A note on budgeting...

I've been asked to give more specifics of how to keep the grocery budget low.  There are many things that we as a family do to minimize costs, so it's hard to blurt them all out in an organized way.  Here are a few things to start off with if you're looking to cut back costs.

1. Track your grocery expenses.  Take a couple of weeks and really pay attention to what you are spending.  How much do you spend on meat each week?  How much on produce?  Sometimes just the simple steps of watching where you spend helps you to reevaluate your puchases. 

2. Visit the store at regular intervals.  This is a really important one.  The most efficient way I've found for grocery shopping is to plan a week at a time.  Some people shop one month at a time, which is very overwhelming to me, and also requires a lot of storage space.  I know some people who do just day or two at a time.  Figure out what works for you, and plan on visiting the store at regular intervals.  If you run out of something in the mean time, see if you can do without it!  There are a few things you really can't pass up...say, diapers, but many grocery items you can get creative with to hold off for a day or two.

3. Plan out your meals.  This step is key to sticking to a budget.  If you go to the store without a plan, you'll almost always overspend.  Know what you need for the week and stick to it for the most part.  I usually have a certain percentage of my budget for meat, a percentage for produce, a percentage for dairy products, then I reserve the rest for everything else, because I like to have a little wiggle room to buy up some of the good sales for the future.  This isn't to say that I always stick to this plan.  I always know what I'm cooking for the week, but if I decide to go over in produce that week, I'll make up for it with using less expensive meat.  Have a master plan, but don't be afraid to adjust.

4. Keep track of what you're spending as you go.  This really changed my grocery shopping habits.  When I go to the store, I'll keep a running tally of what I'm buying on my calculator as I walk the aisles.  If I'm going to go over budget, I reevaluate what's in the cart.  There are almost always some non-essentials you can put back if you need to.  Sometimes I come in under budget, so I splurge on something I wouldn't normally buy.

5. Know what things cost.  It's really helpful to track costs in different stores.  When I first really started to keep a grocery budget, I began keeping a small memo notebook in my purse, and as I happened upon a store, I'd write down the price of items I regularly use.  It's amazing sometimes how much the cost of toilet paper can vary from store to store!  Work out the unit price and keep it all on one page to compare.  This also helps wave a red flag for you when something is really a great deal.  There are a lot of 'sales' that aren't really all that much of a discount.  Be a smart shopper; know the difference between a great deal and a gimmick...and by the way, Sam's Club and Costco aren't always the cheapest.  Bulk isn't always a great deal, so take the time to calculate out the unit price.  After a while, you'll just remember without writing it down.

6. Plan your meals around sales.  Before I plan out a week's worth of meals, I always try to look over the store circular.  It there's a great deal on chicken drumsticks, it doesn't make sense to pay full price for pork loin chops!  Not every meal has to be on a sale item, but it usually pays to plan at least two meals based on the meat sales for the week.

7. Make a weekly meal template.  When writing out your meal plan for the week, it can be really head- scratching to come up with something affordable, but not redundant.  Rather than planning on the same meals every week, as some frugal shoppers recommend, I try to plan the same types of meals.   On a weekly basis, we have some type of pasta dish, a meat dish, something using beans/Mexican, homemade pizza night, some type of special breakfast item, and something grilled (at least during the summer).  That leaves a night or two to get creative, and you can choose lots of different things to fit into these categories.  This is not set in stone, for me it's just a really helpful tool to thinking through what we're eating.

I'll try to post some follow up articles on more specifics, such as what we eat for breakfast, lunch, and snacks (I only specifically plan out dinners).  I'll also try to get you started thinking about different simple ideas for using some of those cheap ingredients.  Happy planning!